I chose the Hippie School

 

 

I chose the “hippie school”

I knew nothing about Montessori when I had my first child, at the time my sister-in law was working as a nanny in London for some very wealthy families. She sent me an email saying that I needed to find a Montessori school or Children’s house to send my child too as it is an extraordinary learning philosophy and that “her children” all attended Montessori. When it was time to send my boy to kindy, I searched google and an address popped up for a local Montessori Children’s house.  When I did a drive by I was initially worried as it was in a suburban street and it looked like a normal house from the outside with some metal play equipment in the playground. It was about 15 minutes from our house and I was shocked that such an alternative learning opportunity would be so close.

On the day of our interview when I parked the car and was walking into the children’s house, I noticed straight away that there was no brightly coloured or plastic toys anywhere there was nothing fake about this environment. There was grass, there was metal play equipment, metal bikes, there was pot plants everywhere, a sandpit, and a large rectangle shaped water play area.  When my son and I meet with the director she was kind and gentle and had a beautiful vibe and manner about her she radiated peace and calmness, I was so thankful when she told me that if we accepted the offer to attend that Jack would be in her class. She guided us down to the class room where he would be and the moment that I stepped into the class room, my eyes were wet with tears and knew immediately that this is where I would feel comfortable leaving my first born child.

The class room had about 10 children in it, they were all working quietly with intense concentration, co-operation, respect for each other – unbelievable for 2.5 to 4 year olds who were only at the Children’s house from 9 – 12, two days a week. The setting was astonishing, the floors were covered in beautiful rugs, the table and chairs were child sized and all made out of wood, there was small glass and crystal vases on the tables, filled with flowers that I had seen growing in the pots in the playground. Around the room was wooden shelves that looked like open bookshelves all holding handcrafted in Italy, Montessori designed materials, there was cooper and china bowls holding items like shells and marbles, rocks, there was bookshelves in the book corner and child sized brooms and dust pains and brushes and dusters in the home corner. Easels and paint were set up. I enrolled my boy that day and he was to start in the New Year. His first day of kindy, I was completely terrified to send him, I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second son, I was emotional and questioning if I was doing the right thing by sending my precious boy to an independent, alternative learning environment and maybe should just send him to a conventional kindy. When my husband saw the children’s house he completely freaked out, he didn’t want our son to go there, he thought the centre looked second rate and slapped together and that children at 2.5 years shouldn’t be allowed to cut flowers with scissors, or help with cooking and that the playground looked boring without plastic toys. He along with a lot of others called it the “Hippie school”, and almost everyone I met questioned me on this style of learning. The end of the first day, I was at the children’s house half an hour before finish time and observed my son through the window and knew immediately that I had made the perfect choice in following my instincts. He was having a wonderful time and from that day until 2 years later when he would leave for prep he absolutely loved his time at the children’s house.

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Always flowers in a Montessori environment

 

 

Montessori school’s offer what is called a Journey and discovery. This is an experience for the parents only. It is an opportunity to spend a Saturday and Sunday being the student.  The program enables parents to have a better understanding of how the children are taught. At school I always felt that I was able to fly under the radar and was sort of forgotten about. I have always felt that I didn’t receive a good education. Maths was the absolute worst for me and I still get anxiety when I think about or have to do maths. At the journey and discovery the teacher unknowing how much I fear maths, gave me a Montessori material that would teach me how to do long division. After the material was explained to me and I was shown how to use it and work out simple sums, I had it mastered in about 30 minutes. I had to excuse myself and went to the toilet to have a sob, because for all those years I had feared maths and in that short amount of time it made sense to me. I immediately knew this is where my child would be going to school.

 

Unfortunately that didn’t happen and he ended up at the local catholic school where he attended classes there for prep, grade 1 and first term of grade 2. I pulled him out the day after he had his head flushed in the boy’s urinal. This was the final straw after bullying not just from students but the teachers and meetings with the principal. He was labelled a trouble maker and a disturbance to the class. I had several meetings with various teachers and principals because I was trying to let them know that he was not naughty he was bored and frustrated. I asked for extra work for him and was denied and told to tell him to behave in class.

The day I pulled him out of the catholic school, I immediately called the Montessori school that was 2 minutes from our home and booked an interview with the principal. She welcomed us and gave us a tour of the grounds, she spoke to my son at eye level, she asked him how he wanted to be taught and what he wanted to learn, she asked him about his behaviour and he answered honestly (he said he wasn’t patient and that he like to talk), she questioned him on his interests at school and at home, she enquired about his friends and family, she asked if he liked sport and reading. They had a wonderful chat. I was secondary to this interview and was ecstatic about that because he was the one that would be spending most of his time there. The principal and I did chat and I ended in tears because she made us feel so welcome and I knew from the way that she had answered all of his questions that he would learn a lot here not just reading and writing. That the holistic approach to education and that each child is encouraged to take responsibility for their learning would be perfect for my boy. The way the school is committed to providing students with the opportunity to become self-motivated, confident, self-disciplined, and responsible is exactly what I wanted for my boy. When the principal spoke about how they teach the children that, learning the right answers will get you through school – learning how to learn will get you through life! That Montessori teaches students to think, not simply to memorize, feedback and forget. I again had tears. These two beautiful humans went on to have a deep and loving friendship where they challenged each other and learnt a lot of valuable lessons.

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Grandparents day at Montessori.

 

The basis of the schools approach is the simple observation that children learn most effectively through direct experience and the process of investigation and discovery. No two students learn at the same pace nor do they necessarily learn best from the same methods. I love the school goal: to be flexible and creative in addressing each student as a unique individual. This has been cemented for me with the learning styles of both my boys. They learn completely differently one is a book reader and the other is much more comfortable learning through doing and moving.

We have now been at the school for seven years, my eldest boy is in high school and my youngest is still enjoying his time at Montessori. I am forever grateful for this learning style and my mother instinct to not follow traditional education style.

 

Day 44

Day 44.

Looking at the gated area that is filled with garden beds, potted plants full of colourful blossoms, and outdoor play equipment. I could see one little head amongst the rosemary, one blonde little girl with a blue watering can drowning purple petunias, a wooden chair sitting in the shade held one little guy reading a book, and another boy was scaling a climbing frame. I witnessed this 10 second snap shot of a Montessori day as I went to pay for boy 2’s senior shirt for next year. I was in a foul mood because I had already worked 24hrs in 48hrs, I have to do night duty for the next two nights, I was feeling exhausted and we had an awful school morning, I was cranky because I had to go to the shops to pick up cricket whites for tomorrow for boy 1. But when I walked by that scene and even though my two are in older grades at school, my bitchy mood lifted slightly, because this school and a good education for my boys is why I do the crap shifts, with the penalties. Since the day boy 1 was born I have been focussed and driven in why I work. I have fought from the day boy 1 started his first day at the children’s house, to keep them in an education method that has nurtured them, has let them learn and grow and challenged them. A method of learning that has cultivated broad thinking, open minds, to work independently while also being considerate of the multi age class they are a part of.

Montessori has enabled my chalk and cheese boys to thrive in different ways. One boy is very strong willed, opinionated, has strong views on subjects that he is passionate about and doesn’t suffer fools and is happy to let them know, he can be arrogant and thinks he knows all. Montessori helped him channel all of these qualities in positive ways and was encouraged to study and learn about the subjects that he was interested in or wanted to learn more about. His principal from our very first interview with her knew exactly how to handle his arrogance and know all attitude and would sit and debate, challenge or make him carry out research on his views. They ended up with a solid and deep relationship.

Boy 2 is all about movement. He likes to move, he likes to study moving things, if he can use his hands or body to learn he flourishes. He is a thoughtful, kind, gentle giant my youngest boy. From day 1 of the children’s house if he was able to wash a window, sweep a floor or water the plants he was in his element. But put him in front of a bookshelf and ask him to pick a book and he will do anything in his power to find another activity. The directors that he has been blessed with throughout his Montessori journey have all recognised this in my boy and adjusted his learning accordingly ( for one book review he was allowed to read an instruction manual on how to build a car engine. He read the manual, built the engine and got top marks for his review). He came home today and talked to me all afternoon and during dinner about the new project that his teacher will be running every Friday, that is being facilitated by a local university, where the kids are given an iPad, an app and materials to code and build a different robot each week. He was thrilled this afternoon that his group was the first to finish coding and building their robot for this week and could start on the next level one for next week.

End of day 44

Spent money on a new pair of thongs today that are not at all comfortable. I hate them already.

Spent time on Pinterest today laughing my head off at quotes about night shift. Made me feel much better.

 

Maria Montessori

Today’s feminist Friday celebrates Maria Montessori.

This is the woman whose education theory will give Prince George of Cambridge (who started kindergarten this week) the grounding of his education.

I won’t go too much into the Montessori philosophy that I adore and am blessed to be able to educate my little Princes in this way. I want to talk about the passionate, determined woman that developed the theory. A theory that is based on independence, freedom within limits and a child’s natural psychological, physical and social development.

Montessori Education is directed by a trained Montessori teacher, utilising beautiful, usually wooden specialized education materials developed by Maria Montessori, in blocks of uninterrupted work cycles, within mixed aged classes.

Italian born Maria Montessori came into this world on the 31st August 1870. She was born to an accountant and a mother who was well educated and had a passion for reading. As her education advanced she smashed through barriers that had restricted women. Maria admirably studied and graduated as an engineer, her parents urged her to chase a teaching career as this was a well-known career choice for women. Maria had other ideas and interviewed at the all-male medical school. On refusal of entry to the school Maria’s last words to the Professor were “ I know I shall become a Doctor”.

Pope Leo XIII went in to fight for Maria, and she was accepted to the University Rome in 1890. After two years at the University she graduated with her diploma after studying physics, maths and natural science. Her diploma and the Popes blessing qualified her to apply and successfully receive several scholarships for Medical school. Maria was the first woman to enter medical school in Italy.   Of course being the only women in medical school, a woman of passion and dedication she was on the receiving end of a lot of discrimination. On the 10th July 1896 Maria became the first woman to qualify as a Doctor in Italy.

After her employment at the San Giovanni hospital, she was asked to speak to congress about equal wages for women. At the time a journalist asked her what her parents thought of her becoming a Doctor. “They know intuitively when someone really cares about them……it is only the upper classes that have a prejudice against women leading a useful existence.”

Maria undertook a position as a surgical assistant, this lead to her having to visit mostly the poor, and their children. After visiting an asylum in Rome, she became fascinated with the children and how they respond to lack of sensorial stimulation, and how this contributes to their condition. Fast forward to 1904 and after years of studying, researching and observation, of children at the Orthophrenic School, she transformed her role from Doctor to educator. She had accepted a position of lecturer at the University of Rome, in one lecture she told the students: “the subject of our study is humanity; our purpose is to become teachers. Now, what really makes a teacher is love for the human child; for it is love that transforms the social duty of the educator into the higher consciousness of the mission”.

Maria was asked by some property developers who had rescued a building, and refurbished it into housing for the poor. If she would be able to keep the children occupied while their parents worked. As a result this was the birth of the very first Casa dei Bambini or “children’s house” on 6th January 1907.

She discovered that when she offered the children an environment, and activities that encouraged their natural development they were able to educate themselves.” I did not invent a method of education, I simply gave some little children a chance to live.”

By 1908, 5 year olds were reading and writing in five “Childrens houses” around Rome and Milan. Switzerland followed her example and began transforming all kindergartens into children’s houses.

In 1912 the Montessori Method book which was derived from the notes of her first training course of 100 students was second on the US nonfiction bestseller list and had been translated into 20 languages.

In 1939 under house arrest for being Italian in India at the beginning of the war, she spent her time developing, what is now called the cosmic education which educates 6 to 12 year olds.

In 1947 she addressed UNESCO on Education and Peace. 1949 saw her receive the first of 3 nominations for the Noble peace prize.

She died on the 6th May 1952, with her son by her side, who she bequeathed her legacy of work.

There are now more than 22,000 Montessori school in at least 110 countries.

 

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