Today, in my series Meet a Montessori-family, let me introduce you to Sophie. She is a long standing member of our Montessori Facebook group, a primary teacher and she is about to set up a nursery inspired by the Montessori principles. She has two sons. Her blog and Instagram account is full of inspiration.
I see Montessori as a way of life. The name of my business has always been Montessori-family as I am convinced that every family can benefit from the Montessori education. And every family will use Montessori in its own way.
Can you tell us a little about yourself, your family and about where you live?
Of course, I’m Sophie. I live in South East London with my 2 boys – Zachary (3.9yo) and Elijah (2.4yo) and my fiancé, Andrew who has recently completed a year and a half of work in Qatar. I’m a primary school teacher, born and bred in Lewisham and mainly taught in Lewisham schools until 3 years ago when Andrew and I moved up north for his work. We left everyone! Friends and family on both sides! And took 3 week old Zach to Teesside, near Durham to start a new life. As you can see, life has been pretty hectic over the last few years but we are finally back in our old home, close to our nearest and dearest and settling back into London life.
How did you first become interested in Montessori? What it was about Montessori that really resonated with you and how did you learn more about it?
Being up north with no friends or family around and a 3 week old baby gives you A LOT of time! And although I took Zach to every single baby group going, I didn’t really find a parenting style I felt comfortable with until he was about 10 months old and I was looking into nurseries. Our closest one (thank you dear universe) was an outstanding Montessori setting called The Montessori People. The minute I walked in I felt at ease and at home. The calm wooden interior, the green grassy rugs, the minimalist set ups, the classical music playing… I signed him up on the spot and then delved deep into the world of my new hero Dr. Maria! I bought books, read blogs, followed a gazillion Instagram accounts, joined this wonderful Facebook group and have never ever looked back.
What changes did you make in your parenting style since you have discovered Montessori?
I think the biggest change that I’ve made is the trust I have for my children. I let them use (child) knives, I have marbles in the playroom, they operate machinery like the hoover, blender, the dishwasher. Previous to my discovery, I would have been too scared or too convinced that they would hurt themselves or damage the machine somehow, but they’re so capable and it allows me to relax a little and not be constantly switched on and watching them all the time. Sure, it’s taken a bit of time and practice, these things don’t magically happen. But I think that’s my most favourite thing about this whole journey, I’ve put in some hard work, some strict ground rules, clear instructions so now when they’re in the kitchen, I can relax. I don’t have to be switched on ALL the time. Parenting is so hard, whichever way you slice it but Montessori has given me a systematic, formulaic approach which I can trust and relax into.
When parents first find Montessori, it might be because of the toys or some specific materials, piece of furniture. Is there any Montessori “branded” items you regret buying?
I spent a lot of money on baby things that we didn’t get enough use out of. I’ve kept them for any subsequent children we may have but the ‘object permanence box’ and the ‘3 shape puzzle’ haven’t quite had their day yet. Likewise the colour tablets, my kids have been much more drawn to other ways of colour sorting, like using felt, or hula hoops etc.. Perhaps they’ll have their day one day but I definitely do regret buying them!
Talking about “materials”, what would be your must have items?
Wooden trays and baskets! Schleich animals, Safari Toobs, die cast vehicles, quality musical instruments, a boombox and some audio stories and almost anything magnetic! (like the magnetic apple tree, magnatabs, magnetic tiles)
With my work, I want to show that any family can use the Montessori principles at home with their children. How would you define yourself as a Montessori Family? What are the Montessori principles that are the most important for you? (if you say to someone, we are a Montessori inspired family because we do this and that)
I’m definitely still on a journey, I’m not going to claim to be an expert at all! But our family really tries to focus on independence. Making their own lunch, getting dressed, cooking… We also include them with daily life whenever we can. We cook together every Tuesday and I film it and create a little montage. They love that and it celebrates their participation and achievements. We also make a conscious effort to follow their interests and I can’t stress how much more creative and in touch I feel with my own interests after discovering this way of life because it has taught me not only to follow the child but to follow myself too.
What are your future projects regarding your child’s education? (if you home school, talk about how it might be Montessori based)
So many plans! First and foremost, I’m opening a preschool in September! We’re not calling it an official Montessori nursery as I’m not qualified (yet!) and we won’t have all the special materials but the ethos is there. The Montessori foundation at heart will be there. We’ll be underpinned by the respectfulness and the minimalist approach. I’m very excited! It’s based in Westerham, Kent and can take up to 24 children aged 2-5. It’s a preschool which means our focus will be on ‘preparing the children for school’ across all areas from confidence, self care, grace and courtesy, fine motor skills, creativity, phonics, maths – you name it! At some point, I’ll go back to school myself and become Montessori accredited. I can’t tell you the energy and buzz I have for that. That’s how I know I’ve really found my calling!
If you are not planning to home school, how do you see yourself keeping the Montessori principles relevant once your child attends school?
Zachary and Elijah will attend our preschool until they go to school so I’m very thankful for the opportunity to basically combine homeschooling and work for the next couple of years. After that, they’ll attend our local primary school. Primary schools have a bad rep these days for being too prescriptive and rigid but I have hope that things are changing and becoming more child-led as time goes on. Early Years (Nursery and Reception) is particularly fantastic for open ended, accessible shelves and is based on a ‘observation’ system where the teacher is much less the centre, just like Montessori. At home, we’ll have all the Montessori materials necessary to reinforce grammar and maths learning being done at school. From my teaching experience, home life has a much greater impact on a child’s academic and emotional success than the school they attend. I have faith and hope that a mainstream school and Montessori home life can co-exist.
Talking about project, you are going to be the manager of a local preschool. It’s going to combine various pedagogical approach, could you tell us more about this? How is beneficial to combine more than one approach?
We’re going to combine Montessori with The Curiosity Approach which focuses on giving the children beautiful, open ended, real life objects and allowing them to spend the day imagining and creating their own ideas. I think my personality is also a combination of both. With Montessori there’s not much room for elaborate, enchanting environments. It’s beautiful in a different way but it doesn’t call for fairy lights, glitter or a lace eye mask! There is something really special about a cosy dimly lit, reading nook or a receiving a ‘call’ from a child’s Grandma on an old rotary dial phone! The Curiosity Approach is going to bring a touch of charm and personality to the space.
I’ve read your last blog post about how you are working on your children’s self esteem, in light of the current highlight of racial injustice. You are a “beautiful” mixed race family. How do you make sure you help your children to be themselves and what would you like to say to other parents about race?
Thank you so much. When I was pregnant with Zachary, my fiancé and I sat on the beach and listed out all the qualities we wanted to instill in our unborn baby. We had about 20 of them! We then whittled them down to 6 (three each!) to make it achievable and one of them was self-esteem. It’s always been really important to us. We talk a lot with them. We talk a lot about feelings in particular. Even just falling over we’ll ask how they felt, they’ll generally say ‘scared’ or ‘sad’ but it’s about building a healthy habit of being able to identify and openly talk about how they feel.
To others, I would have the same advice. It’s hard to talk about race. It’s uncomfortable and it can be scary and nobody wants to say the wrong thing but you have to begin your journey somewhere. Start small. Buy a book with a non-white main character. Mention it to your child. Then buy a non-white doll. Talk about skin colour. Stress that we’re all beautiful. You don’t have to overhaul your whole toy collection or your parenting approach but you do have to start somewhere. By not starting at all, you’re part of the long, chronic problem of black people being oppressed, judged and mis-treated for no reason other than their skin colour. It doesn’t matter how you start, just start.
Do you have a favourite Montessori quote?
There are so many beautiful quotes and things that resonate with me but one that I hear in my head most days is :
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed”.
We do lots of activities together and I have to remind myself to stay quiet, not to interfere, not to over-instruct or over-praise. Showing them first in total silence is the most effective technique I’ve found! Less is more when it comes to teaching a new skill. I also love “play is the work of the child” just to recentre myself throughout the day or when the room is a giant mess.
So, you are also a member of our FB group, what are for you the benefits of the FB group, how does it help you as a parent?
I love that group! My only uses for Facebook these days are groups and marketplace! I think the benefit for me is just feeling like part of a community. I lacked that for so long up north in my motherhood journey that now I really cherish mum friends and the ability to share and ask questions freely. It also helps me keep my standards high at home when people post and share their ideas and achievements and gives me confidence that this way of life, this method, this wonderful approach to life WORKS!