9th April 2015
From birth, for life.
Back in 2010 we spent many hours thinking through how to sum up the aspirations of The Montessori Place in a few words. We knew we wanted to emphasise two things; first that the Montessori approach was a way of raising human beings rather than a system of education; second that the approach supported the child’s journey from the first moments of life through to maturity. In other words we really didn’t want to do another Montessori pre-school where everyone starts at 3 and leaves at 4.
We discussed many different names, even thinking seriously about not using the word ‘Montessori’ in the name – at one point we were going to be a “Centre of Developmental Education”. In the end we decided that, despite all the misconceptions, we should stick with Dr Montessori’s name and do our best to fulfil her vision. We also dumped words like ‘school’ and ‘centre’ as sounding too institutional, and were left with the idea that we would just be a place where Montessori stuff happened.
As for the strap line, the ‘from birth’ part is fairly self-explanatory, although here too we wondered if we should say ‘from the start’ or ‘from the beginning’ so as not to exclude Montessori for bumps. The ‘for life’ part turned out to be the simplest way we could express the work we wanted to do fulfilling Montessori’s vision up through the years, as well as describing the experiences we offer the child to help them create a view of themselves, and the world, that stays with them forever.
Nonquam non Paratus (Never Unprepared)
Since the beginning of the year that vision of creating an environment for adolescents through to 18 has edged tantalisingly close. At the beginning of the Summer Term we hope to exchange contracts on a 13-acre property called ‘Annan Court’ – currently a 100-bed conference centre – that is close to ideal for our needs. The site, near the village of East Hoathley, has some beautiful mature woods, one-acre of walled garden for growing, numerous outbuildings and hard courts for sports, all bound together around a large central courtyard area that gives the site the feeling of a hamlet.
The name Annan Court alludes to Annandale and the Scottish boarder regions that were once ruled by the Johnston clan. Intriguingly the archway leading to the walled garden bears the Johnston coat of arms and the clan motto Nonquam non paratus which literally translates as ‘never unprepared’ but was apparently more commonly understood as ‘Aye – ready!’ In its original form this motto captures – with serendipitous accuracy – the Montessori goal for the 18 year old; phrased as a double negative it seems to convey a sense of quiet assuredness coupled with a deep strength as they stand on the threshold of society. And in the battle cry of the colloquial version it is easy to hear the exuberance and vitality of the adolescent as they step out from the Land School towards university or other destinations.
Our acquisition of this site is by no means complete, and we are doing our best not to count our chickens before they have hatched. We are, however, exactly where we planned to be 24 month ago when we announced our plans to open the secondary school in 2016 with the residential component – and full opening – in 2017.
The extent of the property also offers a solution to the growing size of the Elementary Community which is on course to outgrow the capacity of the first floor sometime in 2016. Working out the expansion of the Elementary to another site outside of Hove will require both pedagogical and practical consideration, and we will start those conversations with you all once we have exchanged contracts. Currently we envisage a period of a few years where we have a 6-9 community in Hove and a 9-12 community at Annan Court before gradually growing both of them back into 6-12 communities.
At the beginning of the year we spoke about our plans to start a second Children’s House somewhere in Hove this September. For fairly obvious reasons we have decided not to pursue this at present, preferring instead to complete the acquisition of Annan Court and exploring the options for locating the second Children’s House there.
Lära för Livit(Learning for Life)
Early in March some of you came along Lesley Ann Patrick’s inspiring narrative of the ‘Week that Was’ in the adolescent community she guides in Sweden. Her session brought together Montessori families from London and Brighton to find out more about life at a Montessori land school.
The strap line of the school in Sweden is ‘lära för livit’ which translates as ‘learning for life’. Naturally, it is similar to ours but with an emphasis on a lifelong exploration of the world, at least in translation. This gives me a neat lead-in to share with you some of the things we do at The Montessori Place as part of our own continued learning, beyond the day-to-day time with the children.
As a team we don’t get that much time to meet up together, so we really value our breakfast get together on a Friday morning. This tends to be focused on policies and regulations, so here we rely on the coffee and croissants for inspiration. Not surprisingly then, we look forward to our bi-weekly ‘Prose and Practice’ sessions at the end of the day when we revisit Montessori’s writings or look at a presentation from one area of the curriculum and discuss how it works to convey an idea.
As you know we also love to visit other schools to see how others put Montessori principles into practice. In March Lea visited the school in Minnesota that Owen and Walter Hipps returned to last summer. During the February half term, Paul and I visited three adolescent programmes in Colorado and New Mexico, each of which interprets Montessori’s vision for a secondary school in a slightly different way. In New Mexico the ‘school’ consisted of a fully functioning mixed farm that generated $150,000 a year in revenue from the sale of dairy and vegetable products. During our visit some of the students had just come back from a course on the science of compost and were busy testing and turning the pile and identifying microbes in their laboratory. In Denver the schools where much larger – one had some 250 students in their middle and high school. Here we got to see and discuss how the academics were integrated with the practical works the students carried out, including preparing lunch for the whole school each day.
Looking forward, I shall be going to Sweden to spend a week with Lesley Ann and the students at the land school for the first four days of the coming term, living and working alongside them. And just before half-term we will say goodbye to Laura (for a few weeks) as she too heads to Denver until the end of the Summer Term. Laura is looking to gain another Montessori qualification, this time for the 0-3 age group. She will complete this course in 2016 at the same time. Lea will cover for her in the Children’s House while she is away.
Many of you too have furthered your Montessori understanding at the Parent Study Groups. The next sessions of these are on May 7 and June 10. On the 29and 30May (Friday evening and Saturday morning) we have the next Journey and Discovery. There are few better way to experience Montessori as your child does than to attend this two-session event. If your child has moved from one community to another since you first attended, you might find it beneficial to come again this time with slightly ‘older’ eyes.
Other events coming up this term are the Garden Party on the evening of the 3July and then the Community Camping on the weekend of the 24and 25July. Like last year we will finish school just after lunch on Friday before heading up to Johnny’s Field for two days of camping. I don’t know if these can be considered under the subheading ‘Learning for Life’; perhaps just the ‘Life’ bit.
Hello’s and Goodbye’s
This coming term Tabitha Farthing and Aurelia Wright are graduating from the Infant Community to join the Children’s House. Meanwhile, we welcome Sophie (Raul and Ivy Lourenco) and Leila Fridman (Polly and Daniel) to the Montessori Place as they join the Infant Community.
Ane, Ace, Pia, Trinity and Issabella (Stephen and Tracey Bennett) are all leaving behind the first plane of development and begin the next phase of their lives in the Elementary Community. Later in the term they will be joined by India who will leave behind one sister in the Children’s House to be with another in the Elementary. Issabella, and her sister Annabelle are moving from the Maria Montessori School’s Children’s House in Notting Hill. Annabelle will be joining Karen in the Children’s House.
This will also be Lin Lin’s last term with us, as she prepares to head back to Malaysia with her husband Lionel. Through my sister, I had heard many lovely things about Lin Lin over recent years as my niece and nephew’s guide at their Children’s House in London. We are very grateful for the contribution she has made to the children here since September.
Later this term you will also meet life-long Brightonian, Effie Smythe. Effie is just completing her Montessori 3-6 training and will be with us from the time Laura is away.
There is one last goodbye that I have to share with you. On Easter Sunday, just after end of term, Pebbles, our much adored guinea pig died. He had been unwell for a couple of weeks and, despite Zoe Coker’s best veterinary efforts, continued to get worse. Milly, Eva and Lena came in to bury him in the garden. He now rests by the hens under a rosemary bush.
Finally we would really welcome your feedback on your experiences with us at The Montessori Place. I hope we have met your expectations – if not don’t hesitate to let us know. And, as ever, it’s also helpful to hear what you think works well.