Today, in my series Meet a Montessori-family, let me introduce you to Zainab and her family. Zainab is a Montessori teacher, based in London and the mother of two children. She runs Montessori workshops for parents in London. Find her at the Montessori Studio.
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?
I’m a Montessori teacher, mother to two, daughter, sister, wife and friend. I am from a mixed heritage family, and my children have another culture to add to the mix too. We live a life close to family and friends between West London and South London, where I grew up.
How did you first become interested in Montessori? What was it about Montessori that really resonated with you and how did you learn more about it?
I have a degree in Graphic Design, so after a wonderful few years in an amazing design agency in Shoreditch I took some time out to spend in South Africa. It gave me the space to ask myself what my ideal job would be, and working with children has always been close to my heart. My sister-in-law advised me to speak to her children’s Montessori teachers for an idea, and that turned into going to the MCI open evening and feeling immediately moved by the ethos and approach. There was something about listening to the child’s truth and allowing children to have access to materials without interruption which really resonated with me. I also loved how play was taken so seriously, that it was actually named ‘work’!
You are a trained Montessori teacher so how did you training impacting your Parenting?
I think it’s often the case that just because you are a teacher, it has no bearing knowing at all as to what to do as a parent! I’ve taken lots of advice from wonderful family and friends to help me through the first few years of my parenting journey and continue to do so. It has definitely given me flexibility and humility about changing approaches depending on the needs of, well, everyone. It has also helped me step back, observe, see things ‘scientifically’. This has been a real gift as I have really enjoying watching my children grow with me, and independently of me – a very special thing which I highly recommend.
When parents first find Montessori, it might be because of the toys or some specific materials, piece of furniture. Are there any Montessori “branded” items you regret buying?
I have always erred on the side of less is more, with clothes, toys, activities, even décor. I do remember thinking that I should really get up to date with nursery design or lovely children’s outfits when I was in the thick of breastfeeding, but it just never seemed to suit us. My husband and I gratefully borrowed many items, happy to return once the children had grown out of them and chose not to spend money on the children beyond too much need. Of course there are a few things here and there that we spent on, but to be honest I’ve been liberal about buying arts materials like paints, inks and weaving bits which have never let me down. My rule is if I think I love it, sleep on it, then see if I still love it in the morning – I almost never do.
Talking about “materials”, what would be your must have items?
Arts and crafts materials. I still gather these things wherever we go and it has fostered a great passion for creative arts, not just in the children but in myself as well. I do have some ‘Montessori’ shelf activities I got from a local nursery setting that closed down, so had huge discounts but outside of a classroom setting, they sort of, don’t work so well, so I’m glad they weren’t bought new. Pens, pencils, scissors, stamps, needles, pins, thread, clay, cutters – these things have been so fruitful on so many levels and work through all the ages and stages my children (and I!) pass though.
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?
It was one of the things about you that I found so warm, when we first were in touch – it resonated with me completely - the understanding that the Montessori principles need not be limited to a classroom, an expensive one at that. Money nor postcode nor socio-economic state should be a barrier to enjoying the benefit of the Montessori approach in the home and family, and for us it’s very much about the mindset, the theory and philosophy behind Montessori. As my children are growing, I would say the connection of the spirit is what drives us as a family – even when we waiver in spirituality and connection. It allows us to pass through the many changing phases that come with family life with some thread of light woven into us. The principles of encouraging independence, problem solving and discussion, and creativity of thought and imagination are ones we definitely try to hold firm to.
I recall you talking about how Montessori can be seen as expensive and exclusive. With your work, you want to show how Montessori can be done by everyone. Can you tell us more about your work with parents and community?
I’m really glad that is what you remember about my work – from the beginning I’ve been very aware that it has such an ‘elitist’ aka ‘monied’ aka ‘white’ undertone – the common practice of Montessori today does not welcome everyone from all backgrounds, even though the original work of Maria Montessori absolutely does. I began my business working with home-schooling families, those who have stepped out of the mainstream system to find their own feet, and I went onto working directly with parents through my workshops to connect with home life, as so many parents were speaking to me in my nursery settings about what more they could do at home to support their children. It was clear that they genuinely felt at a loss as to how to connect with their own children, especially if they are at work for the majority of the week.
As a mixed-race, Muslim woman and mother, race and heritage are really important to me, and it became increasingly clear that people of colour really feel that Montessori wasn’t aimed at them, generally speaking, unless they really put hard work behind incorporating it into their lives . I make effort to work within community spaces, with low costs to my workshops to make them as accessible as possible, and to connect with those who otherwise would not see Montessori as having a place in their home. If the effort is put in for one child in the home, one home in the street or one street in the neighbourhood it can this can be life-changing for whole communities.
What are your future projects regarding your child’s education? (if you homeschool, talk about how it might be Montessori based)
We have recently decided to send my very sociable daughter who has just turned 4 to the local, mainstream school. I had plans for possibly home-schooling her, then flexi-schooling, or keeping her at her wonderful Montessori setting for another year, but she really seems ready and keen to have that social experience of school, as we all know it to be. I just cannot provide her with that social scene, and we continue to take a Montessori approach at home, so I am hoping to take the best of it and work with it. After everything that has changed in the world recently, gratitude has taken top spot in terms of priorities, and we are very thankful to be living near a lovely, local school that we can walk to, build a community around and which means I can go back to working more days per week. This decision feels well suited to us all – following the child is often one of the hardest decisions to make if you feel committed to one path already, but it is also so beneficial too for growth as a family.
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If you are not planning to homeschool, how do you see yourself keeping the Montessori principles relevant once your child attends school?
I feel like I have so much more to learn - I am hoping to go onto study my masters inshallah, so continued learning will be both personal and with the children within the home. Your wonderful monthly box is a great boost to our routine, as well as trying to reaffirm the exactness and precision which Montessori does so well but can be lost in the throng of mainstream education. Every Montessori related book I read gives me new vigor about how to weave it into our life.
Do you have a favourite resource, such as Montessori book or a blog that inspire you?
As research for some online courses I am writing, I have started listening to some wonderful podcasts and I am really enjoying the Baan Dek ones which have been running for a while now. It’s so interesting to see how Montessori is done over in the states with such investment behind it. And it goes without saying your newsletter is my regular read as is got such useful reminders and links. Facebook groups are great to see what is currently happening on the ground for families too. I have also just started reading the Tao of Montessori by Catherine Mctamaney and I already love everything within it.
What would be your tips for a parent who has just discovered Montessori?
If you buy anything, buy a small step and some adhesive hooks.
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 your group – I find it so informative, reassuring and community building. I remember asking questions about a floor bed transition for my son, and feeling so grateful for the immediate support from complete strangers after being too sleep deprived to swim through google for my answers. It’s a great resource for books too, especially with so many wonderful books written by Black and POC authors being shared recently, there has been a big surge in sharing titles and reviews. You are so clear about positive etiquette with each other and I really support this as such an invaluable and supportive online space.