why a mom, a granny and a marketeer started a Montessori school on a teeny tiny island in the Caribbean
A little before 9 am, a car pulled up in front of an unassuming building in a quiet neighborhood on a tiny island somewhere in the Caribbean sea. A mother unloaded a stroller from the trunk of a sensible car, while the father grabbed the infant seat and made sure it was securely fastened to the stroller. Two round eyes peeked out of the back window. This was the very first family to tour The Montessori School in Curaçao; with them, my outlandish idea, became a reality.
How it all started
My daughter was around 9 months old and my husband - an integrated marketing agency owner- and I had just returned from a month-long trip to Australia with a few pit stops in the U.S. along the way. Instead of the easy-to-handle baby with enviable pincer grasp, I seemed to have returned with a cruising stranger I couldn’t figure out. Our old routines didn’t work and I had no clue how I could meet her needs.
Naturally, I turned to the Internet for help. I remembered I started following Adrienne from Learn with Adrienne when I was pregnant, so I checked out her Facebook page where she shared helpful tips and activities for toddlers. The relief was short lived, because my little one mastered each and every activity within a few days and was completely bored with it after. She was also getting increasingly frustrated, so when Adrienne posted about bilingual families on her page I responded immediately, thinking my daughter might be struggling with being raised multi-lingual. Adrienne recommended that I follow Ayelet from Strength in Words. I joined Ayelet’s parenting community and I felt like I finally found a place where I could get help. Together we figured out that my little one might be in that stage of life where she was learning to self-regulate and dealing with possible sensory issues. Ayelet gave me tools that worked, but what she also gave me was an interview that would change our lives forever!
She interviewed Jeanne-Marie Paynel from Voilà Montessori and her simple suggestions based on the Montessori philosophy had an immediate and real impact on my daughter’s behavior. I was so excited that I went on a mission to make our home and lives Montessori. Needless to say, it was a disaster. My daughter protested vehemently against all the changes I made and I reached out for help in Jeanne-Marie’s parent community. She recorded a video that literally saved my life. She explained the development stage my daughter was in and why she was behaving the way she did. She also predicted what stage she would graduate to next. I felt like I met a wizard, who knew things no one else knew.
But Jeanne-Marie debunked that myth early on. Apparently, what she was telling me was no secret at all. Dr. Maria Montessori figured it all out ages ago and Montessori schools all over the world were catering to children’s developmental needs on a daily basis. I needed to know more and Jeanne-Marie happily obliged.
Through Jeanne-Marie’s easy to follow presentations, I got to know the basics of child development and how the Montessori method ensured that the child’s changing needs were met. I was amazed at how well my daughter responded, and that alone made me a fan, but also how complete the method was. It didn’t cover only language acquisition or motor skills or emotional development. It covered everything. Montessori is a way of life and I happily jumped on that bandwagon. A Montessori guide and friend (big shout out to Françoise!) once told me, Montessori is like seeing. Once you see something, you can never unsee it.
The Montessori method appealed to me, because it is child-driven. From day one, I have tried to meet my daughter’s needs through breastfeeding on demand (despite well meaning relatives suggesting to put her on a schedule) and observing her to figure out what challenge she was up for next. I respected her and treated her like a human being (because she is!), even before she was born.
Montessori also fosters independence. I believe the role of a parent is to keep a child safe and share his or her life experiences with the child. And above all, let the child figure things out and decide for herself. The Montessori method is all about helping the child do things himself.
Emphasis on grace and courtesy. I feel it’s important to learn how to peacefully coexist with fellow human beings. The emphasis on grace and courtesy, care of self and care of the environment were the missing pieces in other philosophies. In fact, I am still amazed at how open and loving Montessorians are.
Throw in the fact that the Montessori method is backed by modern science and it’s hard not to love the method.
The Montessori School
Because I’m such an overachiever, I panicked when I saw how fast my daughter adapted to the increased independence she got. I figured, how am I going to keep up with her development pace? How will her teachers at school help her reach her full potential? I consider myself an average jane and even I was bored at school many many years ago. What would it be like for my daughter who was used to having her voice heard and whose love of learning was encouraged, instead of stifled to stay on pace with her peers? I remember being denied many experiences as a child, based on my age and not my abilities, which left me demotivated. I didn’t want the same fate for my daughter. As my husband was unwilling to move away so that our daughter could attend a Montessori school, I concluded that my only option would be to start one myself. I asked my mom whether I was crazy and she said no. In fact, she wanted to help me. I contacted Jeanne-Marie, only hinting that I might be thinking about maybe exploring the possibility of a Montessori learning environment for my daughter and she suggested starting a school. And to my surprise and delight, she wanted to help!
The future looks bright
We’re welcoming our first students at The Montessori School in the beginning of 2019 (assuming those work permits are coming in soon!). This journey has been amazing and we couldn’t be more grateful that we have met some wonderful and supportive Montessorians and non-Montessorians alike along the way.
In the new school year 2019 - 2020 we will be fully operational with a nido (3 months to walking age), a toddler environment (walking well to 2.5 years) and a primary environment (2.5 years to 6 years). We'll be a tri-lingual environment (full-immersion programs where the children learn Spanish, English and Mandarin) and all day. Three meals a day, snacks, drinks and a whole lot of convenience especially for working parents. And within a few years we'll expand to include an elementary and adolescent program. We have the land, we have the will, we have the support from experts. And we have faith, we’ll have the capital when needed.
It is our ultimate dream to build a Montessori village where children from birth to 18 can get a quality education. Where our older generation can receive all the benefits Montessori and intergenerational interaction has to offer. Where adults can come together to discuss life’s big questions in a peaceful environment. Where dreams become reality.
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