Yvonne Rinaldi

matriarch

ˈmeɪtrɪɑːk

noun: matriarch; plural noun: matriarchs

  1. a woman who is the head of a family or tribe.

“in some cultures the mother proceeds to the status of a matriarch”

    • an older woman who is powerful within a family or organization.

“a domineering matriarch”

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I am perched on the edge of the visitors chair in Yvonne’s office that is reminiscent of a fishbowl. Two of the four walls in her office are floor to ceiling windows looking over the grounds of Caboolture Montessori School. Next to me is Yvonne’s collection of Elephants, every colour every size. I draw in a deep breath while taking in these beauties, thinking of the traits I know about these extraordinary mammals and the matriarchs that lead them – wisdom, strength, intelligence, natural born facilitators, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness, patience, confidence, and compassion. The banging in my chest, the fluttering of wings in my belly and my shaky hands, do not at all mirror the woman sitting comfortably in her office chair, stockinged legs crossed, arms lounging on the arm rests, chest, heart and face open, smiling and confident.

The planning of Caboolture Montessori 20 years ago, was the result of two women making a decision to commit their passion, time, and money into a venture that they wanted to succeed.

“Then three years later I left and went to a bigger school, then nine, nearly ten years ago I heard that they were looking for a principal here.

I decided to come back home.”

Yvonne, like Dr Montessori has training in the medical field. Medical technology and haematology were the fields that Yvonne first trained in, she held a position working with children in Zulu land looking at protein calorie malnutrition. Working closely with little ones she discovered that children were a lot more than physical entities, that they have an amazing capacity. Ever the student, Yvonne needed to know how to understand children on a deeper level than she had been trained for. About to become a mother herself, she sought a type of schooling that would nourish the whole child, the answer was given to her through word of mouth.

“That was 39 years ago, after that I looked at education, I managed to get myself two degrees. Firstly traditional education, and when I was doing my masters, I decided that again Montessori seemed the best thing because it was appealing to all areas of learning. So Montessori is it”

Yvonne’s education on a cellular and intellectual level of children’s development and growth is what sustains her. Her wise assessment and constant wonder of watching a child be able to do things for themselves, their own development and education and not being held to the “monkey see, monkey do” phrase, influences her. She takes her job seriously in influencing others to see the wonder that she sees.

“To get the best out of who they are as adults is looking for the best in children. It’s really not words and I really believe that so strongly. That every child is magic, and it’s up to us to remove those barriers to allow the magic to happen, and then provide scaffolding for them. I have millions of these moments for me. I mean for me it’s a daily occurrence. When I see one of the students and their eyes brighten up and they say over and over again, “I have done it” and you know they have done it. That to me is a glorious moment”.

When selecting people that she can nurture, learn from, teach, be playful with as well have the strength to lead, Yvonne seeks people that: lead with their heart, must be open to learning, know how to be professional, but, most importantly knowing that their own learning is vital for the children. That it is essential for the children to see their role modelling.

“Three or four times a week, I refer to Dr Montessori’s readings and books. And read them again. When you read things again you see if from a different perspective every time. I tell the kids that. I tell the staff that. Learning doesn’t happen in one go it takes repetition, but, repetition when you are ready and you’re ready at different stages, in different areas of your life.

It is always good to go back to good things. Good books, good memories, good people. You will gather more information”.

“They really are my children. Yes my staff are my kids – in a way. It is one on one when you want to reach a person it’s not just about relationships it’s about inter-relationships and intra-relationships. If you know who you are then you will give the best to the other person. So it has to be one on one first, when you are talking to a group absolutely you will start getting a conversation going. But if you are a leader when you are in a group, you try and get everyone else to talk. When it’s two of you, you can really focus on each other. Individuality in the class room is the same you still have to have your focus on everybody, but when you are talking to a student it’s just the two of you in that space. It encourages active listening and most of all trust. If you trust somebody you will give them the best and you will want to do your best. If you don’t trust them it is superficial, you don’t go down inside. Growth is from everyone. When people say look around look what you have done. I am not being patronising when I say that, it’s not what I have done, it’s what we have done as a group. There is no way. No way, that one person alone could’ve every achieved what we’ve got here. It’s just not possible. I have staff that are so committed, so passionate and when I know that they have got that, I can aspire and push for bigger things. Yes, what we have done is phenomenal and it is not ending, now it is what is coming next? What is the next challenge?”

 

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A well respected and wise matriarch with an ability to communicate, know when to take charge and know when to listen, when to connect with other leaders and draw from their wisdom in making decisions. Yvonne, shares with me her perspective on her first five years as the head of her tribe.

“My first five years of being a principal were absolutely terrifying. Terrifying. You feel that there is so much weight on your shoulders and you really don’t have that person next to you to say, “Well let’s do this or let’s do that”. So your decision making, your perception and how you see things is totally reliant on you. The responsibility was phenomenal and at the time, I didn’t have all the knowledge and I didn’t have the experience, I mean experience is something that nobody can buy or teach you. You learn through the process. So there hadn’t been enough process, I had been a teacher, I had been a curriculum director with others helping me make decisions. Those first five years was, “you breathe, you get in do the best”. Every time. Every time I was in a difficult situation, I would go to the bathroom, if I needed privacy,

“I would say think with your heart and do the best that you can with your heart not just your head. If it’s wrong then it will be wrong, but, you have done it with the best you can give at that very moment”

Now days when I look back I think, I was ok. I don’t know if I am proud yet, but I feel that I can relax more, I still have the moments when a big decision comes my way, now I don’t feel like I will crumble, I feel like I look around and grab people to support me. I have learnt that lesson, that, there are people that will help you and I also have an amazing board. When you have people above you and you know that they are there for you it helps a lot”.

Yvonne also draws on the life of other phenomenal humans.

“Mother Theresa I feel that, that, woman spent so much time in so much angst with no support that she was phenomenal. I mean Jo of Arc is another woman that is phenomenal. I need to bring in a man. Leonardo Da Vinci, I mean that man, the brain that really says it all for Montessori. The creative side of the brain, the logical side of the brain. I mean he had art, technical skills and information. I mean if I could have them all here, I would crawl under the table and let them go for it, they could do it all. But I can’t so I suck out the elements of each. If I could have anyone working beside me in the school? I mean the obvious choice would be Dr Montessori. But I think really I would like Madame Curie, she was an explorer, she was one that never felt she had enough and even what she found and discovered she was not happy with that, she kept going.

Seeking more of her openness and female intelligence I ask what the word “woman” means to her;

“Apart from Mother I think woman to me is arms outstretched and positive and powerful”

Of course finishing of for the quote of the day is none other than the Montessori quote.

“Let me do it by myself”.

I am grateful for Yvonne for sharing her story, her journey of wisdom, strength, intelligence, social intelligence, openness, decisiveness, patience, confidence, compassion, and for being the matriarch that has guided my family through our Montessori journey for eight years. She has shown every single one of these traits to the most important boys in my world.

 

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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 54

Day 54

Pupil free day today. Boy 2 had to finish the last part of his book review this morning, it was a scrapbook. I am the least crafty mother on this planet. When the boys were little I NEVER had paint in the house, we never sat around cutting things out or making crafty things, no that was all reserved for their two days at the Montessori children’s house. I remember them having play doh, but we always played with it outside. So to make a scrapbook worthy of a school assignment was slightly stressful. But it looks great, there are a couple of photocopied coloured photos out of the book, he has written quotes and information throughout the scrap book amongst actual gum leaves, he has crated boarders around the pages and themed each page and written relevant informative information on each. The trick to getting him to complete this creative work! Tell him if he completes it to the outstanding column in the rubric and have it finished before I go to work.  I will get his father to call into the bike shop on the way home to pick up a new tyre for his mountain bike. Seriously this sneaky and underhanded bribery worked. He was frantically looking for scissors, glue and tape, he was photocopying interesting photos and maps to include in the scrapbook, he rifled through draws to find the Derwent colour pencils. He did a very good job in a short amount of time, there was no whinging and bitching he got stuck in and proudly showed me the finished product. I did help him a little bit with when he couldn’t decide what to include and what he thought may be relevant. I just had to find the currency that would put a rocket under him.

While this craft work session was happening at the kitchen table, boy 1 was outside with his homemade sling shot. He found the instructions and list of materials needed in the book that boy 2 was reviewing. He cut up a piece of leather and rope tied knots and spent the morning perfecting his shot. I did have to scream out to him a few times to stop shooting stones up onto my tin roof. There was also a few close calls with my glass windows.

Nice early blog post today. As I am off to work and don’t want to be sitting up at midnight again.

End of day 54

Still thinking about some of the topics, thoughts, goals and dreams that my husband and I were talking about next to the fire last night. Kind of screwing with my head but also refreshing to be so open.

Really hate working on a Monday afternoon, busiest shift of the week. I hope I am working with good staff.