I will warn you from the start that this is going to be a long post. I have made in long in the hope that for those of you that are interested in exploring a radical approach to educating your child, it will be filled with information that may be of use to you.
So what is The Montessori Place?
The Montessori Place is a beautiful school in the heart of Hove, UK that is led by Montessori principles and practice. It is thanks to this environment that I have been inspired by how I choose to raise my daughter, Yara.
One hundred years ago, Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that children are born with a profound desire to interact with their environment in an intelligent way. She found that children flourished when they were left free to direct their own learning, within a prepared environment.
She pioneered a radical approach to education based on the scientific study of how children grow and learn, and the design of living and learning environments that meet their changing developmental needs.
How did I find out about The Montessori Place?
While living in Zambia, my mother had trained as a Montessori teacher by correspondence and helped out at the little primary school that I went to for a couple of years. So Montessori was a name that I had heard about, yet never really given much thought to until I became a parent.
When Yara was coming up to 20 months old, it was clear to me that she was looking for more stimulation from other kids that I couldn’t offer her at home. I was beginning to despair on my quest to find playgroups that we could both go to for a couple of hours and both come away feeling fulfilled rather than me feeling like I’d lost the will to live. I also needed more time to work on my growing photography business so was exploring the different child care options available to us that would offer her interaction with children whilst staying in line with our values and belief systems that we were instilling at home.
I looked into nurseries within walking distance from our home and after viewing a few of them I knew immediately that this was not something that we wanted. It felt like she was going to be another child on the list being looked after by people who saw it more as a job, rather than a vocation. I was beginning to despair, when a friend of mine, Rachel Mortimer, asked whether I had considered Montessori.
I went back to the Internet and came across The Montessori Place, which instantly felt as if it was more in line with what we were looking for. I contacted them requesting a tour. To my surprise, Paul, one of the founders, got back to me saying that he would be delighted to show me around on my own without Yara. I was intrigued as to why she couldn’t come along because I had assumed my decision would be based on how Yara responded in the environment. After over an hour meeting with Paul in the beautifully quaint Infant Community room, it all became clear to me. I needed this space alone to talk to him, to get to know him better and explore whether this was a community and lifestyle that we ALL wanted to join.
I knew that whoever I gave permission to look after my child would essentially be sharing their world views with her, intentionally or not. After meeting Paul, I knew immediately that it would be an honour to have someone with such a strong passion for his work and a refreshing approach to education care for our child.
What were my first impressions of The Montessori Place?
When I entered the Infant Community room I was delighted and amazed to see how different it was to any other environment I had ever seen setup for children. It was a miniature version of a quaint home. No plastic toys and things out of reach, but rather beautiful wooden furniture, low shelving with flower vases and loads of beautiful little boxes that I wanted to pick up and discover what was inside. Everything in the room was for the children to explore and look after.
The Infant Community had 12 children ranging in age from 15 months to three years old. Following this class was the Children’s House with children aged three to six and The Elementary with children aged six to nine. The idea is that these age ranges closely emulate that of a community where the younger children learn from the older ones and visa versa. The children arrive each morning and are free to explore the areas of work that have been set up for them such as table scrubbing, polishing, painting, food preparation, sewing, listening to music and the language corner. The children are encouraged to perform their activity alone so that they can immerse themselves fully in it and if they need a demonstration of how to do it, they can ask. The work of the Montessori teacher is mainly done before the children arrive in the morning by setting up the activities and then they sit on the sidelines as gentle guides encouraging and demonstrating when necessary.
I loved it and after both my husband and Yara had gone to have a look for themselves, we made the decision to enrol her. We got lucky and they had space for her starting at 22 months, 4 mornings a week for about 4 hours a day. At the end of each morning the children would share a delicious vegetarian meal prepared in house by the chef along with the additional help of some of the children during their morning activities.
How did the settling in period go?
After Paul had met Yara in the Infant Community he came to our house to see Yara again for some tea and homemade scones, which made the whole transition for her (and ultimately us too) so easy. She saw him now as a friend so on her first morning she marched into the room excited to begin opening up the boxes and discovering all of the hidden treasures in ‘Paul’s house’. Her settling in period was 2 weeks, beginning with one hour the first morning and gradually increasing by 15 minutes each day. There was not a single tear from Yara, rather a beaming smile of excitement each morning as I dropped her off and afternoon when I picked her up. Table scrubbing was a big hit for her!
The transformation in Yara was incredible in those first few months. Eliminating TV from her life, the stimulation that she was receiving in the community together with the changes that we made at home all contributed to this. I felt like I could understand her in a whole new way, was more aware of her capabilities and how I could create an environment for her to be able to express herself.
A year later our life plans changed and we moved to Turks & Caicos so we were unfortunately only able to spend a short period in the community at The Montessori Place. It was however a period of time in which my husband and I both grew as parents and Yara blossomed into the delightful child that she is. Almost a year later I still see so many of the lovely qualities that she gained there and feel strongly that she will take them into adult life too.
I intend to write more on Montessori, what I have learnt at The Montessori Place and how I have implemented it in my life. If there is something specific that you would like to know, please comment below.