Last month, teacher and author Simone Davies helped to make over New York Times writer Karen Barrow’s playroom for her children using Montessori educational principles like creating a sense of peace and instilling autonomy in children. You can read that article here. As our parent community continues to grow at Polis, and upon release of her new book, “The Montessori Toddler,” we wanted to reach out to her in hopes of sharing with you her Montessori expertise and perspective. Simone is an AMI trained Montessori teacher and mother to two children. She has been working in Montessori classrooms for 15 years and runs her own school in Amsterdam.
1. When you meet a family who is new to Montessori, where do you start? How do you introduce Montessori? And then, how do you cultivate their interest? Is it different per family?
Yes, every family is unique, and it is my job to find the best way to reach them.
I love to provide many different touch points for parents – some people will come to an in-person Introduction to Montessori workshop, some will read my book, some will sign up for my newsletter, others will watch a YouTube video I’ve made discussing one part of the Montessori approach, etc.
And I keep adding to these to help parents continue their journey adding more and more aspects of Montessori into their homes.
For some people, they will start with setting up their home for their child to have more success; others love to set up a few Montessori activities to engage their child; and yet other families will start with more the parenting aspects like having respect for the child in their interactions.
And these three aspects continue to build as the family deepens their understanding of the Montessori approach.
2. When you talk about your own relationship and growth within Montessori, which steps along the way matter to you to include? Which stories and moments continue to resurface, igniting within you a renewed sense of joy for the work?
I like to say that I started with Montessori in a more practical way, adding elements of Montessori into my home like having my young children’s plates and glasses down low in the kitchen, a movement mat on the floor for my baby, a place by the front door where they would place their shoes, bags and coats, and placing a limited number of toys on low shelves, which would be rotated to meet their needs.
And it has taken years to cultivate living Montessori in a deeper way. To really trust the child and see our role as their guide, not as their boss or servant. That balance between giving them space, and them knowing that you are there as a rock to support them.
The moments that have often had the deepest impact on my Montessori journey are the ones where you support a child having a difficult time, when they are at their worst, and the connection created from a “difficult” moment is never lost on me.
3. How do you see families interacting differently with Montessori? What are ways in which the engagement looks different?
Some of the things I see in families applying the Montessori principles are:
- slowing down to the child’s pace when possible and allowing time
- listening to the child
- getting down to the child’s level
- having deep and rich conversation in daily life
- sharing meals and meal preparation together
- finding the beauty in the every day moments
- handling the child with soft hands
- being curious with their child and the world around them
4. How do children interact differently with Montessori? What do you see in your classroom that surprises and delights you?
Montessori children are so capable. They trust their bodies, they trust in the adults around them, and they love the world around them. Some will move quietly, handle objects with such care and precision. Some children will move fast and with enormous energy and enthusiasm.
I think the uniqueness of every child is what continues to surprise and delight me. I cannot predict anything, which makes me keep observing and observing, curious what will unfold next.
If I had to choose one thing I delight in every day, it is doing food preparation with the children in my classes. My favorite part is watching them take the banana peel or orange rind to the bin. The bin opens with a foot pedal and watching them work this out is always a Montessori moment.
5. You’ve said before that an important piece for you is parent education, and how significantly their own growth benefits the child. With that in mind, do you believe Montessori is for the parent, or for the child? Why?
I really do see so much value in parent education, as this helps the child to really benefit from the Montessori approach 24/7. So I see Montessori as for the whole family.
The parents are often more relaxed, and the joy returns to their parenting. The child develops skills, confidence, and feels seen, understood, and accepted.
So you see the parents developing alongside the child.
6. When you create materials for families to enhance their Montessori education, what is that curation like? Are you looking to what inspires you? Children? What you see has a lot of interest in your own work?
I love looking for new ways to help families bring Montessori into the home. Using the Montessori approach can be a complete paradigm shift for many of us and requires us to keep practicing, evolving and questioning the ways we have done things before.
I get inspiration from everywhere when creating these materials. I love exploring design, typography, everything Japanese, heading into nature, living slow and mindfully, and reading vicariously. And I hope then people find a fresh perspective in the materials I produce.
Then I’ll write a newsletter about questions that keep coming up in class, or I’ll be inspired by something I’ve read that I want to share, or I’ll make a blog post into something I can post on Instagram and start a conversation there. It keeps changing and evolving, and it never gets boring.
If it ever gets boring, or I turn into a grumpy Montessori teacher, then that is my last day in the classroom 🙂
7. How have your trainings / online courses evolved? How has the reception of them evolved, and how do you stay engaged in the work?
I’ve been running parent workshops for over 10 years, and in 2016, I started the first online versions. I think I might have been the first to offer Montessori online courses. I kind of geek out on technology and have put everything together from scratch by myself.
The first course was sent by email to participants in text format only. It wasn’t long before I added videos, an online learning platform, and some of my favorite workshops are now run on Zoom with live participation from families all around the world.
Even though people keep requesting the same workshops, they will be different every time I run them. I keep updating the courses with any new information and examples that are helpful, streamline them, and make them more interactive – not only do the workshops continue to improve, it keeps it interesting for me, too.
I think people seem to be implementing the principles more effectively and more quickly – not just from following my courses, but I think that resources like Instagram are really helping to show families what is possible. And Montessori is spreading further and faster than ever.
For me, I stay engaged with the work with variety. Every couple of years, I seem to be doing something new to keep things fresh and the variety of being in the classroom with children and parents during the day, and then doing online courses and traveling for workshop, and now spreading The Montessori Toddler book far and wide, I love it all.
8. In the efforts you have made to enrich the education of parents, what have they taught you? What have you learned from working so intimately with children and families, and how has it affected your work and love for Montessori?
It’s so true – I have learned and grown so much from working with families.
Someone once I asked if I’d done a psychology degree (I haven’t – lol) as I find I am as much being a guide for the parents as for the child. And this often means being witness to a lot of their spiritual journey. It’s such an honor.
What I think I keep learning is that every child, parent, and family is different. And we keep needing to take their perspective, help where we can, but let them have their own experience, too.
9. Lastly, how does building relationships with families and children look different per community? What tips can you give us to best meet families in energetic New York City?
I’ve had the good fortune in the past couple of years to travel to various countries and communities. And what I see is that we are more alike than we are different.
Most communities are struggling to find enough time, to stay connected, to reach busy families.
The most successful approach I have found is to keep meeting parents where they are at, these days often with bite-sized pieces of digestible and beautiful information.
And when we keep being an example and sharing all we know in lots of different formats (as even parents learn in different ways!), we can keep changing this world into a more peaceful place.
One family at a time.
Read more about Simone’s work at The Montessori Notebook.