I’m excited to bring you the next interview in the Essence of Montessori Series. Today’s interview is with Simone Davies of The Montessori Notebook. Simone is a very experienced Montessori mum and guide with a beautiful heart. She has a lovely aesthetic that comes through in all that she does. My first encounter with Simone was when she gave me some kind feedback on one of my first posts on this blog. I have followed her work with admiration ever since. I’m so excited to be meeting her next month in Amsterdam! This interview was the first thing I read this year and it gave me a wonderful perspective to start off my parenting journey for the year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Without further ado, relax and enjoy.
Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m the youngest of three in my family and observed a lot as a child – how to avoid getting into trouble mostly. I grew up with my nose in books. We used to go on holidays at the same place every year. The older kids would play together and I would climb up a tree with a book and stay there most of the time.
I grew up in Sydney, went to traditional school, studied Accounting and Management at university, and changed jobs every couple of years – I worked as a tax consultant, for media companies, for a film festival, and for an animation company. I enjoyed them all but didn’t think I had found my calling. And then I had children and life took a different path. Things fell into place when I started being interested in Montessori – I love working with the youngest children, I love seeing things from their perspective, and making a small impact in supporting their learning.
I also love travelling overseas, interesting conversations, making things, and taking photos.
How did you discover Montessori?
I had heard about Montessori when I was living in London working at a cafe. The owner’s children had gone to a Montessori school and came across as very balanced children. So when we started looking at schools for our own children, I jumped at the chance to visit the open day at a local Montessori school.
When I walked in, I loved the care with which the classroom was prepared. Everything looked so attractive, plants scattered through the room. The biggest thing I noticed was the Montessori teachers and how respectful they were to the children. I was immediately in love.
I started attending a parent-toddler Montessori program with my son in 2002 and learned a lot myself about Montessori. It wasn’t long before I became an assistant in the class and taking the 0-3 AMI training with Judi Orion. Since then I have worked in Montessori in Sydney and the Netherlands and set up my own parent-child classes in Amsterdam in 2008 called Jacaranda Tree Montessori.
I love working with both the parents and the children – when the parents also learn, they can include Montessori in their home 24/7 and the children benefit so much.
What does Montessori parenting mean to you, and what are some of the ways that you have implemented Montessori at home?
Montessori parenting to me means being your child’s guide. This means accepting them for who they are, helping them build skills for things they find hard, and to support them to take responsibility for themselves. It’s also nice to have a beautiful environment to challenge them, but being together in a respectful way is the most important to me.
Since my children were small, I’ve always involved them around the home and love spending time with them. They have inherited my love of baking and help out whenever there are visitors coming. We don’t have a list of chores or pocket money for jobs around the house. Everyone helps out a little. It just happens very naturally.
I love heading outdoors with them. We spent a lot of time in parks and bushwalking in Sydney when they were smaller. Now we live in Amsterdam, we are on our bikes every day. They aren’t around as much as before but I will still book a date with them and catch the train to the seaside or we will stay somewhere for a few nights in the countryside in the school holidays.
I see a parent’s role as planting seeds and letting them grow into the human they are meant to be. This means I’ve had to drop any expectations I had for them, let them blossom, while allowing them to make mistakes, learn from them, and know that I will be there to give them just as much support as they need, especially when they are having a hard time. When things go wrong (and they do), I’m there to help them make amends and help them take responsibility for what they have done.
How has parenting changed from from the first plane to the second plane and now to the 3rd plane
Luckily the changes happen gradually as the children have grown. When they were small, I couldn’t imagine a time when my children would be cycling themselves to school and heading away with friends. My children are now 17 and 15.
When they were in the first plane, we spent all our time together. I chose not to work until they started preschool and we would hang out morning, afternoon and night. They played mostly in the living room or backyard where I had an overview of most of what happened. I let them explore a lot on their own, but I was ready and available to step in to help and then step back again. Once they were 3 years old, they started at a Montessori preschool for 5 half days and we would spend time together in the afternoons. There was a lot of practical daily care and keeping them safe in these years.
In the second plane, they started to spend more time with friends after school but still spent a lot of time at home too. I remember the second plane being less volatile – less tantrums and more conversations. It was fun to see them exploring their own ideas and being a sounding board. They were very creative and made their own magazines and comic strips. They spent time building huts in the building playgrounds here, they played sports, and they had a lot of free time to play in the street and no homework. We built up to them cycling on their own bikes to school through the city, still with an adult. To prepare for high school, they started cycling 5 minutes ahead of me and I would check their bike was parked and locked up at their school before heading on to my classes. It was during this time that I was running my own classes but arranged my classes so I could pick them up from school each day and I would be able to write newsletters and answer email while they played at home.
In the third plane, they are becoming more and more independent. They have homework and exams for which they do their own planning; my son has a part-time job and is active in his martial arts; and my daughter enjoys time with friends and some music classes. They get themselves around the city, often are at home before me if they have a free period from school, and can help me out with cooking if needed. It’s still important for me to be around as much as possible. I’ll be in the kitchen and they will come to talk about something important to them, sometimes they feel overwhelmed and I can help them make a plan, and sometimes we just play some board games and connect with each other. Teenagers can be volatile – a lot like toddlers – but once they are calm they will apologise for an outburst or work out how to solve a problem.
What benefits have you observed in your adolescents that you would say is a result of their Montessori childhoods
The conversations we have now are fascinating – so lovely to see them developing their own ideas about the world and to be challenged by your own children – something that I think stems from open-ended questioning and getting them to think for themselves.
They are remarkably open-minded. I’d like to think that comes from modelling acceptance of people as they are. Growing up for a large part in the Netherlands has played a part too.
They don’t need me to nag them about their school work or exams. They are self-disciplined, work hard when they need to, and have a good balance.
They enjoy helping others – something that has been nurtured at home and in their Montessori school. My son visited a friend with Aspergers every week for a few years, my daughter is my unofficial intern helping in my classroom and making materials, and they are super sweet with their nieces and nephews when we visit Australia.
And the thing that impresses me most is their kindness. They are respectful to me and to others in their life. They may not agree with me on everything, but we try to make things work for everyone. I remember the first time my daughter wanted to go to a concert with a friend at a concert venue in the centre of Amsterdam when she was 14 years old. I wanted her to be able to go and see one of her favourite bands whilst also making sure she would be safe. We worked out that they would come here to eat dinner first, I’d cycle with them and subtly make sure they got into the venue ok, I warned her about people spiking drinks etc (she didn’t even buy a drink!), and I would be waiting for them afterwards (I wasn’t the only parent).
What is the most challenging part of being a Montessori parent
The most challenging part is letting go of control. They are their own unique selves. I cannot mould them into who I want them to be, or to meet any unfulfilled dreams of my own. I’m just here to support and guide them, and the rest is up to them. On one hand it’s the most difficult thing; and on the other, it makes parenting the easiest too.
Any tips for new Montessori parents?
I think that the one thing I would recommend to any parent is to not push things. Our children are developing perfectly on their unique timeline. It’s hard not to compare ourselves or our children to others. But letting go allows us to enjoy every moment, be present, and have no regrets.
You are a screen free household. Is this in following Montessori principles or a personal choice. Has it been hard to stay screen free? What do you do in place of TV
We are not screen free, but have always been mindful of using screens. I subscribe to the philosophy of Sue Palmer in her book Toxic Childhood. We allow the children a little screen time so they don’t feel different to their peers and can relate to them. But we never allowed them endless afternoons watching tv, playing on ipads, or letting mobile phones take over their lives.
When they were small, we would limit screens to some well-selected films or programs sitting on the couch together, available to talk to them. There weren’t even iPads in those days. We would simply take books to cafes with us, have a few things in my bag like a notebook and pencils, and we would take them for walks to explore the people in the kitchen or watch out the window if they got bored. At home there was always a variety of activities which they could choose from, they would love helping out cooking and baking in the kitchen, or helping me to hang out washing or running around the backyard in their pyjamas and gumboots.
Around 6 years old, they would have half an hour screen-time a day. They turned it off when they were done and usually chose for games where they were working on designing their own zoo or minecraft.
They have had basic mobile phones since they started cycling to school by themselves in high school. Teenagers communicate a lot by messaging apps, just as we used to sit on the telephone with our friends. In the last years, we have left their screen use mostly up to them, providing guidance to their use and having conversations about using them responsibly. They never have phones at meal times and it doesn’t really impact on our daily lives. If it did, it’s something we would have a discussion about.
I think that technology isn’t something to be scared of. But mindful use is important.
What do Montessori spaces look like for adolescents? Please share pictures if you can.
Up until they were about 12 years old, I would still rotate the toys onto shelves with them on a regular basis. Their toys, mostly Lego, got a lot of use by keeping things fresh.
Over the last few years, they’ve moved on from toys – they listen to music, make art projects, read books, have friends around, bake etc. So their spaces have evolved a bit as a result. They were also sharing a bedroom but we put a wall down the middle of the room to give them some privacy once they were teenagers.
In their bedrooms, they have a space to sleep, to store clothes, a place for books, and a large bean bag each for relaxing. They have a space to work in their rooms, we have a couple of desks in the living room that anyone can use, they have places around the home to relax, and having musical instruments about the home means they will tinker on the keyboard or try out something on a ukulele as they pass by. We have a large cupboard in the living room with our board game collection and sometimes we have a family puzzle out on the kitchen table for everyone to work on.
Why do you Montessori?
I have applied the Montessori principles in our daily life to encourage my children to be curious, to love learning, to develop into their unique selves, to raise them to be respectful and responsible human beings, and to support their whole development. It’s not just a method of education, but a way of life.
I forget that I am practising Montessori as I guess I spend a lot of time with like-minded people. When I travel and see people shouting at their children, speaking up for them on the playground, or telling stories about their awful teenagers, it feels like a much more peaceful approach that we have chosen to follow.
Thank you so much Simone for being willing to participate and for all your contributions to the Montessori world. I really love how you ended your email and I’ll add that last line here “It’s been such a fun journey. Some people would say it goes quickly. But I have enjoyed every moment and would not change a thing.” Thank you!
My favorite part of the interview was reading about the children as adolescents. I love that the differences are differences of the heart. I also appreciated the reminder that parenting is a series of stages. Now that they are young and need so much from us it can seem like we are unable to do all that we want to do but knowing that the time will come when they wont need us as much allows us to enjoy this stage as we wait. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did and that it encourages you on your Montessori parenting journey.
You can find Simone at the following places on the internet. She also just wrote an amazing book. If you have a toddler in your life, you need to get it ASAP!
Thank you for reading!