Today at Mothers’ Voices I am delighted to share with you the story and the wisdom of the wonderful Simon Davies, a mother of teenage children who is also an inspiring writer and Montessori teacher. Originally from Sydney, Australia, Simone is running her own Montessori happy place, the Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
In this interview, Simone is sharing with us the most helpful principles of the Montessori philosophy that worked for her children over the years, what we do differently when we “Montessori at home” than in schools, the importance of living the values we preach and tips for the inner work that we, as parents, need to do when raising children.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family? What is your story?
A little about myself. I’m a life long learner who is also an idealist. So when I had my own children, I realised that I didn’t want them to just go to school to pass tests. I also wanted them to love learning. So when I visited a Montessori classroom for the first time, I fell in love. I love that the children had freedom to choose what they wanted to work on, they learned through very beautifully designed tactile materials, in a calm and inviting environment. The respect from the teachers towards the children touched me as well.
It wasn’t long before I left the corporate world, followed the AMI Montessori training, and have been working with parents and children ever since. I love working with toddlers the most and started my own school 10 years ago, Jacaranda Tree Montessori. I also blog and run online courses about bringing Montessori into the home at The Montessori Notebook. And this year I published a comprehensive guide to raising toddlers the Montessori way called The Montessori Toddler.
My children are now 18 and 16. My son started at university this year, living 2.5 hours away by train. And my daughter is in her last two years of a Dutch high school. They attended Montessori school from the age of 1.5 years to 12 years old and I love that they will always have that foundation.
I grew up in Sydney and I love the great outdoors. But when we had a chance to move to Europe for a year, we jumped at the chance. 12 years later we are still here, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I love the accessibility to travel to other countries by train; I love the European lifestyle, discussions and tolerance for different ideas; and most of all I love being able to cycle about and haven’t owned a car since we moved here.
Looking back to the days where your children were little, what were the most helpful things from the Montessori philosophy?
I think that the most helpful things I gained from applying the Montessori approach are:
Slowing down - I’m naturally a fast-paced person. But applying the Montessori approach from the early years helped me to slow down to my children’s pace and explore and appreciate the world around us together. I have enjoyed every moment of raising them and when you live mindfully like this, it neither feels like it goes too fast or too slow.
Respect for the child - It didn’t feel right to shout at my children yet I still also wanted to cultivate their cooperation. Through the Montessori approach, I learned to give them freedom within limits. They’ve had a lot of freedom to explore at their own pace, in their own way. And I’ve been able to apply kind and clear limits when needed. This respect for each other has been an important part of raising children who respect themselves, others and the environment and take responsibility too.
Keeping them curious - I love that we are the child’s guide in the Montessori approach. So when they asked questions, rather than just giving them the answer, I’d encourage them to find out together. They made so many discoveries for themselves, with me supporting them when needed.
You are an experienced Montessori teacher and you have also adopted the Montessori approach at home, with your children. What is different when we “Montessori” at home?
I think the things I mention above about allowing time for exploration and connection, and having respect for the child are a large part of applying Montessori in the home.
We also see young children as enormously capable and set up our homes so they can have more success and be involved in our daily life. You see children can learn to dress themselves (with some assistance at first), to help prepare food for snacks and mealtime, to cleaning up their own spills, and they love contributing.
In addition, I love seeing things from their perspective. When they have a tantrum or snatch a toy off another child, we don’t see them as naughty. We try to see what they are going through and support them to calm down, teach them skills they need, and make amends if needed.
When we “Montessori” at home, we see ourselves as planting the seeds and supporting them grow into the most beautiful version of themselves without our own agenda for them.
Originally from Australia, you have lived and raised your children in The Netherlands. What has been the biggest challenge as a mother raising your children abroad?
Not surprisingly, being a long way from family and old friends is the hardest part of living on the other side of the world whilst parenting two children. Very thankful for Skype and Facetime, parents who like to travel to see us, and our own village here in The Netherlands. It makes it possible to feel in touch with family and friends, and get the support we need.
In a moving and at the same time empowering blogpost "There are many family constellations. Ours is not so different." you wrote a paragraph that stayed with me since then : « And in Montessori we realise that our children see what we do, more than they listen to what we say. So we need to try to navigate all of life like our children are watching. Because they are. » What do they need to see ?
Children need to see their parents living the values they preach. Yes, what we do is far more powerful than what we say.
If we talk about being kind, gentle and accepting, then we need to model this not only with our children, but with our extended family, neighbours, and people who see the world differently to us.
We are often aware of not speaking in a way that we don’t want our children to repeat. And it can be as small as not sitting on a low table if you don’t want your children to climb on the table ;).
If you had to ask yourself a question, what would that be?
I find the work we do on ourselves so important to how we raise our children. So I would ask what practices I would recommend to others to show up as the best parent we can be.
For me, I love meditating every morning. I don’t even get out of bed but do it snuggled in my bed.
I practice gratitude all day every day.
When I feel frustration towards someone, I breathe and put myself in their shoes. It makes me recognise they are showing up the best they can in the world too and I shift from frustration to having enormous love for them instead.
I spend time in nature. If I can’t get there for a while, I’ll try to book a cabin during our school holidays for a simple getaway in the woods, mountains or seaside.
Every evening, I have a bath and read a book. Mostly something fiction, rather than something to do with work. I find it important to have things outside of my children and my work to balance and inspire me with fresh creativity.
Thanks for the chance to share this with your readers.
With love and light,
Thank you so much Simone for sharing with us how the different dimensions of your life and work (the teacher, the writer, the mother, the woman..) are interwoven.
Simone’s website and blog The Montessori Notebook is a goldmine of resources, online courses, tips and professional advice as well as heartwarming stories. If you live in The Netherlands do have a look at Simone’s classes at Jacaranda Tree Montessori.
And wherever you live around the world make sure you follow also Simone on Instagram and check out her truly inspiring book “The Montessori Toddler”