By Jacquleyn Price
Crash! Oops! Another personal lesson is being learned as I hear a loud clatter coming from within the preschool environment!
Here I sit (which is difficult for me, as I like to be where the action is with the children), smiling about the wonderful consequences this kind of ‘accident’ creates for our small community of friends. I can imagine the scenario: one child runs for the broom, another for the newspaper and another redirects fellow students away from the broken pieces. If need be and depending on the age, the ‘transgressor’ is supported and is given an incidental lesson on how to carefully sweep up their plate fragments by their peers. This is Blue Moon Montessori School in Heathfield, Cape Town – a place where we learn through our errors, no matter what our age or the area of learning we are in, and the community supports us.
Blue Moon on the move
Our school is small but we have grown, due to the expressed
wishes of our families. At the moment, our three-to-six and
six-to-nine age-grouped environments are at maximum
capacity, with a still-expanding nine-to-12 environment. The school grows year by year as children themselves age and move on to the next age grouping.
They say many rare, precious or unexpected things happen ‘once in a blue moon’. At a time when I had decided to take a holiday from teaching, a request came from a close friend of mine to care for her young boy, and thus a home Montessori preschool environment began. It took just two years and increased enrolment to outgrow the home space.
Serendipitously, an old special needs school building was found standing empty in an adjoining suburb. So, we took the plunge and converted the small classrooms into a beautiful open-plan Montessori preschool environment.
Two years later, our parents of the then six-year-old children informed me that they would have to continue their children’s education the Montessori way, so what plan did I have for them? I took a big breath, and needless to say, in 2012, our six-to-nine environment began in an upstairs space.
I have always had a special place for Montessori education in my heart, having seen many years ago the way my own daughter blossomed under the guidance of some very inspiring Montessori directresses. The key aspect I clearly remember was the genuine respect shown towards her individuality and development, and the language used in this process. This motivated me onto the path I am still following today. I have spent some time in the traditional schooling sector, and for this I was grateful, as it enhanced my understanding of early childhood development – yet I could not ever work with children in any other way than with the principles of Montessori.
Here at Blue Moon, we enjoy the fact that we can plot our own direction and not be bound by past traditions. Our flexible approach allows us to adapt to our growing needs. What is vital for us is to have a relationship not just with each child, but their families as well. We offer them opportunities to question some of the things we do. In doing so, we honour Maria Montessori,1 who said that it is through observing children’s behaviour that we can adapt learning environments to meet each child’s developmental needs.
It is thus imperative that we constantly reflect on our daily practices, so that we can help children become adaptable adults with practical abilities and sound critical thinking skills. As one father of a nine-year-old said to us: “I wish my staff at work had the time management and self-regulation skills that I see in my son and his classmates.”
Parents also play a part
One of our annual highlights is a parent evening we call the ‘silent journey’. Parents are asked to walk silently through the school environments for half an hour, beginning in the area used by the youngest children and ending in the space used by
the oldest, looking at all it encompasses – the layouts, the details of the materials and some displayed lessons. The reason for the silence is so that no one is distracted or able to distract others. Once this period ends, the parents may choose any of the tasks prepared by our directresses (teachers). This is always an enlightening experience for all, in that it gives each parent a direct look at what their own children experience. They also see how learning occurs: new concepts are built upon earlier experiences; these same concepts start with a concrete and manipulative experience, moving on to abstract thought and application to real life. Feedback we receive reveals that this is one of the most successful parent evenings we have.
Real-time, real-life learning
Another example of real learning occurred recently by chance
for our eight-, nine- and 10-year-old children, when some of
the lunch salad made its way in different directions across the
table. After discussion with this group of children about respect, we asked them to choose consequences to the
They collaborated by pooling together money earned at home from doing chores and, during school-time, went to a local supermarket to buy ingredients to make cheese, tomato and lettuce sandwiches to give to disadvantaged community members. At the till, they were R1.70 short, at which point the fascinated and kindly manager immediately gave from his pocket. This show of generosity impressed the children no end.
‘Learning In-Reach’ and ISASA
We give back to the community in other ways as well. Blue Moon has started ‘Learning In-Reach’ – we invite early childhood development practitioners from Grassy Park to join us for workshops, where we share our experiences, some quality childcare practices and maths lessons. A facilitated platform is provided for our guests to safely tell us their difficulties and thus, through conversations, to gain new insights and skills. We explain Montessori mathematics, offering ideas on making practical materials and applying concrete teaching concepts in their own classrooms. Many of these women disclose that they feel the national curriculum is imposed upon them with such rigidity that it offers no opportunity for spontaneous play for young children.
Joining ISASA provides us with professional guidance about school governance and, at present, we are engaged in the Independent Quality Assurance Agency (IQAA)2 self evaluation process.
A new Blue Moon on the horizon
Moving forward into the future, Blue Moon is looking for a bigger space to accommodate more children. Our community’s desire is to build a sustainable building that will be purposely designed to support an integrated curriculum for all ages, based on Montessori principles. We also want to offer community facilities that present opportunities for adult education and organic food gardening. Of course, this plan comes at a cost, and raising the funds is another challenge ahead for us.
We see ourselves as a good school; a team focused on nurturing independent and self-constructing happy children and contented families. Our loyal support and academic staff members consciously work hard to ensure that all of their
practices are in keeping with the true Montessori philosophy.
In addition to being the founder and owner of Blue Moon Montessori School, Jacquleyn Price is also the current president of the South African Montessori Association (see: http://www.samontessori.org.za/).
1. See, for example: http://www.dailymontessori.com/dr-maria-montessori/.
2. See: http://iqaa.co.za/about/iqaa.
Category: Summer 2015