One of the most common questions parents ask me is "how to choose a Montessori…
I have a series on this blog about Montessori schools.
I interview school owners from all around the world. Although, for now, they are all based in the UK!
How to choose a Montessori school is such a common question and I have answered that question here.
Today, I have the pleasure to introduce you to Sarah Cummins, founder and head teacher of Garden City Montessori School.
I am totally biased here as it's my son's school!
Q: Hi Sarah, could you introduce yourself and tell us more about you?
I am originally from Ireland and the second eldest of four children. My dad worked for an international engineering company and we traveled a lot with his job. I definitely love to travel! We settled back in Ireland when I was about 10 years old and I finished my schooling there.
I train in Martial Arts and currently preparing for my 3rd Dan. I also do boxing and self-defence. I teach boxing on a Friday night in Letchworth and help teach Karate on Sunday mornings. I find these physical activities help balance my mind.
I love to read but don’t do enough reading for fun. I’m working on that! I really enjoy hanging out with my children. They are all so different! We go to movies or grab a hot chocolate together. I do try to spend 1:1 time with each of them but it isn’t always easy!
I have four children. Eloise is 19, Abigail is 17, Henry is 11 and Michael is 9. I have two step daughters too, Erinn is 14 and Darcey is 11. Andrew is my husband and he is a prison officer. We have a Cockapoo named Toffee who comes to school with me sometimes and three cats and a snake!
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your path to Montessori?
My dad always taught us to use our hands to learn! I remember him getting frustrated at how my math homework was being presented and he would find objects to help me make sense of it – just so I could have that experience with it! The first Montessori nursery opened in my small town when I was in my final year at school in Ireland and my cousin started to attend. I went to observe there and just fell in love. I took on an extra project for my finals and studied all about Montessori.
It was from then that I knew that is what I wanted to do. That same year both my parents died and my plans changed. Life just happened. When I decided to revisit the training a few years later, I realised I could not afford to do it in London, where I was living at the time and I didn’t want to go back to Ireland so I moved to Canada! I moved to Toronto a month before the training started and completed my training in such an amazing city!
Q: You have set up your own Montessori school. How was the journey to set up a school in UK?
I honestly was not prepared for the journey as much as I thought I was! I was the consultant in setting up a new school in New Jersey in America but that experience was so different that setting one up myself in the UK! My youngest two were in a local Montessori but they changed to EYFS and I felt the time was right for me to explore opening a school. I knew Montessori was the only education I wanted for my children for as long as I could possibly give it to them. I fell in love with the building and started to explore who it belonged to and that is how my relationship with LGCC (Letchworth Garden City Church) began.
I presented my plan to their leadership at the time and they all loved it and supported me through every stage. They still do!
It has not been easy to stay authentic Montessori but we do. We all work so hard to ensure we do. I have realised that Montessori isn’t as well understood or known here in the UK than in other countries. I am still working on ways to change that. I wish there were more Montessori schools in the UK. Actually, I just wish all schools were Montessori, maintained and other!
Q: What would you say to a parent who wants to learn more about Montessori but doesn’t know where to start?
First to just realise that Montessori started her philosophy for education, not home. Her materials are school materials and you don’t need to have them at home. Montessori is a way of life, it is understanding your child and how they grow and develop. Making small adjustments at home can make a huge difference too.
I also want parents to know that it’s not expensive at all to be Montessori family. It’s not all about expensive wooden toys. Get creative and explore the social media world. Always ask yourself what is the purpose of whatever activity you are introducing your child to and go from there. Always try to involve your child in as much of your daily life as possible with and give them opportunities to be independent.
Explore Montessori online and see what is out there – nationally and locally. Find a group you like and dive in! Figure out the parts you are comfortable with as a family. It’s not about perfection at all, it has to work for the family.
I recommend reading ‘Montessori from the Start’ and ‘The Montessori Toddler’ before reading any of M. Montessori’s books!
Q: What are the benefits of attending a Montessori school?
There are so many!
Montessori encourages children to be active in their own learning journey. A child who is interested in their learning will continue to learn, Montessori follows the child’s interest and guides the child to explore their interest as far as they can.
Children learn self-discipline and they benefit from the routine within the Montessori environment. Children learn to be independent and self-motivated and they learn to take care of themselves and those around them as well as their environment.
Children have the opportunity to think outside of the box – they question the world around them and explores solutions to every day situations.
Children learn to take responsibility for their own decisions and choices. They learn that their decisions can impact others too.
Montessori encourages children to work for themselves rather than a test score. Learn because they want to learn, rather than they have to.
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Q: Do you have a favourite Montessori quote?
It’s hard to pick one!
“The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.”
I love this one because I strongly believe that education should be for life, if we educate children without preparing them for life, we fail them.
Q: Do you have a favourite Montessori material in the classroom?
I do! I love to see a child work on the roman arch for the first time but my favourite has to be the decanomial square, or the golden beads or the moveable alphabet or colour box 3, oh and the maps!! Was I only meant to pick one?
I have some I struggle with too – the baric tablets, the thermic bottles and the botany cabinet! I always have to reread my albums before I give these lessons to ensure I get it right. I struggle to pronounce all the names in the botany cabinet so work hard on those!
Q: What are your future projects for the school?
I want to see the school grow further – but not too fast! I am very interested in a secondary school but have to explore the reality of that in this area.
I would like to be able to offer bursaries for families who could not afford the school normally but are committed to Montessori education.
I would like to grow our community work also.
Thank you Sarah! If you are interested in visiting the school, they have an open day on the 5th of October.
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