Reflections at the end of the first year

Until yesterday I hadn’t been into the playground of St Ann’s Well gardens since planting seeds with Boudicca and Emmeline in April 2011.   It was quite overwhelming to see The Montessori Place community spread out across the grass.  Over recent years I have been to many end of year picnics, but they have always been a single Children’s House affair.  There was something so striking about seeing us all together in one place for the first time; the children from the Elementary, Children’s House, Infant Community and Parents as Guides groups along with their parents, siblings and other friends.   What struck me most was that all the picnic rugs seemed to be touching, part of a growing circle.  On the surface we were bound together by food, conversation and (by the end) a need for warmth. But what was equally gratifying was to reflect that everyone there, whatever their age had had the opportunity to get closer to the intelligent love of the Montessori philosophy over the last 12 months, and it was those shared ideals that drew us together as a community.

It is pretty rare in the UK for Montessori to break beyond the 3-6 age group, and yet, thanks to your support, we have blossoming communities at each age and stage of development from before birth up to the ancient 8 year-olds of Leonid and Cassius.  (As an aside, Dr Montanaro, the octogenarian matriarch of Montessori 0-3 training laughed at our English use of ‘-year-old’.  ‘Why are you calling them old’ she would smile ‘when they are still baking in the oven’.)

The Montessori for Bumps programme has had a slow gestation. Unlike the Infant Community and Parents as Guides groups, which have precedents in other countries, there was no established model to bring to the UK.  Instead we have combined best practice from elsewhere with a ‘keep it simple’ philosophy, and created a programme that sits alongside other antenatal programmes rather than replacing them, focussing on the life of the child in the months before and after their birth.  I have enclosed a postcard that beautifully captures the essence of Montessori for Bumps, yours to give to a pregnant friend.

At the other end of the age range we have also been focussing on the second birth each of us has made, the birth into adulthood and adult society.  In the last few weeks I have been reflecting on this metamorphosis as I have watched Painted Lady caterpillars growing steadily in the corner of the Children’s House. They progressed quite happily as one form of life until some inner guide called them to stop, wrap themselves up in a silk cocoon, and set about the process of transforming themselves into the adult form.  The Montessori approach similarly invites us to view human development as a succession of rebirths or transformations rather than a linear progression. So I found it quite powerful to see this remarkable evolution taking place before my eyes while preparing for last weekend’s discussions about Montessori secondary education.

At the Montessori secondary school Forum we made the commitment to open the first Montessori adolescent community in this country within 5 years.  The Forum, held at The Montessori Place, brought together Montessori parents and professionals from both Brighton and London and felt like the first of many connections between these two thriving communities. The widespread enthusiasm to fulfil the Montessori continuum through to 18 years was palpable.  Our task now is to turn an inspiring vision into a practical reality.  Over the coming months we will begin to answer the next tier of questions about staffing, curriculum and qualifications.  We will continue to hold regular Forums to share and discuss the emerging plans, with the next event in the autumn, probably in London.

By that time we will have welcomed a number of new faces to The Montessori Place as new children join each of the three communities.   Sam and Nina Mazloum are arriving from London with their three daughters Maisie, India and Saffron, joining the Elementary, Children’s House and Infant Community respectively.   Jeremy and Tricia Hipps have already arrived from Minnesota, and unlike Sam and Nina are specialising in boys: Owen is joining the Elementary and Walter the Children’s House.  Lily-Grace is also moving down from London with her parents Cara and Pasquale and joining the Elementary.  Ingrid is also starting upstairs in September, but has less arduous journey to make, from the lower-ground floor.

Also joining the Children’s House in September are Rudy McHugh (who’s parents are Dave and Ruth) and Leo Pearce (James and Hisako). Indigo and Ethan will be migrating downstairs from the Infant Community, although after starting her ‘transition’ a few weeks ago and not once looking back, Indigo already feels part of the Children’s House.   And Beatrice Taylor-Robinson (Karl and Celeste) and Alivia Zahra (Von and Irina) will be taking their places in the Infant Community.  Just in case you haven’t memorised all those names already,  you will find a copy of the latest Family Directory enclosed with this letter.

Moving on to the adults, we are delighted that Peter Friend will be joining Steph in the Elementary in September.  Pete has already written extensively about Montessori education – you can read his article on the first three ‘planes of development’. It is well worth a read as it provides a wonderful overview of this key principle of the Montessori approach.  Finally, Karen Pearce who recently became a co-director of The Montessori Place along with Paul and I will be with us full-time.  She is leaving her post as Head of the Maria Montessori School in London to return to her passion – the day to day work with the children in the Children’s House.   Karen brings an un-paralleled wealth of experience to The Montessori Place having led her own class for 20 years before mentoring 10 others (including mine) over the last 5 years.  She will continue to share her expertise as a lecturer and course leader at the Maria Montessori Institute in London on Friday afternoons.

As well as all these welcomes, the end of the summer term is also a time for good-byes. Yesterday we said good-bye to Isabel and Amelia DeRoy and Emma Langenhoven who are returning to Canada, and also to Benjamin Kariz and Sanya Tapsell.   Each of them, and their parents, have enriched our lives at The Montessori Place.  I wish them every joy on the next steps of their journeys.

Allow me to finish by reminding you of two key dates for your diary. Firstly, the start of next term on Wednesday 5th September and secondly, the next Journey & Discovery workshop on the evening of the 28th and the morning of the 29th September.  That’s it for now! I wish you a lovely summer and look forward to hearing about all the wonderful adventures when we meet again in September.

Rob Gueterbock