Montessori Programs for Everyone? Exclusive Interview with June George
There is something in Montessori for everyone. Our guest is the co-founder of Baan Dek and Montessorium; please welcome June George.
June George – A small Bio for our Readers
June George, originally from Bangkok, Thailand is the co-founder of Baan Dek, the first accredited Association Montessori Internationale in the state of South Dakota, and Montessorium, which creates delightful, engaging activities and apps for children, and helpful, inspiring resources for parents. June’s latest project is Primary, an app for parents, with tools to encourage positivity, engagement, and learning.
What sparked your interest in Early Childhood Development and Education?
Growing up in Bangkok, Thailand, I was fascinated by the idea of helping children learn and improve – not only their skills and capabilities but also their lives. From an early age, I saw how critical things like independence and the ability to foster a love of learning were. And wanted to find a way to help create this type of environment for children to learn throughout the world. A safe, loving, compassionate environment, an environment suitable for supporting the interests of each and every child.
What are the most Critical Factors that impact a Student’s Attitude, Behavior, and Social Development?
We believe that children are naturally inquisitive. They are born with a desire to learn. We only need to chat with a child for a few minutes to make this observation. So, what happens when we become adults? What happens to the ways in which we engaged with the world as we were growing up? For most of us, somewhere along the way we lost the desire to learn. Or, maybe it just slowly faded away. Maybe it was lost in school, or with our friends, or maybe we lost it ourselves, reluctantly pursuing other people’s interests. Having the right type of environment to keep this desire alive – to make learning a lifestyle – is what we believe is the single most important thing that will impact the development of a child.
Importance of Early Childhood Development Programs
Maria Montessori has a wonderful quote that goes something like this, “There are many who hold, as I do, that the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.” With this quote, we are instantly transported to a different understanding of what it means to learn and – most importantly here – when we learn.
There is a fairly well-adopted idea in our culture that learning doesn’t start until Kindergarten, that until you are in the traditional educational system, the value of learning is somehow not imparted. Or, further still, and this is a mindset we also see: children simply are incapable of learning at a young age. As you can well imagine, we are strong believers in the importance of early childhood education, and the idea that children are way more capable of engaging with the world than we can even imagine. We would go so far to say, following Montessori, that you will learn more in this window of time than in any other – including university.
About the Association with Baan Dek School.
When we opened Baan Dek in 2007, quickly becoming the first accredited Association Montessori Internationale in the state, the mobile technologies were in their infancy. The iPad, for example, did not yet exist. When the iPad launched in 2010, we saw a real opportunity to take everything we were doing in our single, one-room classroom in Sioux Falls, SD, with less than a handful of children and bring these core Montessori concept to a much wider audience. We envisioned our apps as primers to the world of Montessori. Small glimpses into a different way of thinking about education and childhood. Our intention was never to replace the classroom, but to raise awareness of the Montessori approach to learning. Essentially, to jump start a conversation…
What are the Essential Elements to a Montessori Program?
At their core, all accredited Montessori schools (and this is an important distinction) have a shared set of traits and values. These include, at their most basic, a fundamental respect for children and their families. Meeting the individual needs of children and establishing a relationship with parents to help create consistency, fostering a lifestyle of learning. From Shanghai to Boston, if you find an accredited Montessori school, you should have a very similar experience in terms of those standards: independence, collaboration, personalized learning, etc.
Now, how those diverse and culturally different schools implement those traits and values, and how they express themselves, should only vary by degree, but not by kind. Our best advice for those interested in pursuing a Montessori program are to research if the school is accredited and if the teachers are qualified. Also, make sure you think it will be a good fit for your family.
Is Montessori Right for Every Child?
Speaking from experience alone, we have yet to find a child that hasn’t benefited from a Montessori learning environment. With that in mind, however, we have witnessed a few families for whom Montessori was not a great fit. This was basically due to their expectations of how they envisioned education. Many grew up with a certain mindset of how their children should learn, having learned that way themselves.
For example, rote memorization was an important factor for many of these families, as was standard metrics and frequent regulations. Our perspective has always been that these are great opportunities to try to showcase what makes Montessori great. But at the end of the day, the families need to feel comfortable with where they are sending their children.
Advice for parents who would like to educate their children the Montessori way in terms of choosing schools? How early should kids start?
We would recommend that parents research the schools they are interested in and schedule a time to meet with the teachers and visit the school. Ask hard questions. See how you feel about the answers. Observe the classrooms in action. Is the school accredited? Are the teachers Montessori trained? How do you feel about the experience? These are all great ways to start thinking about enrolling your child in a Montessori school.
With respect to at what age your child should start, we would recommend as soon as possible. As we believe that Montessori is a lifestyle. You can definitely get started at home, encouraging independence and supporting the natural development of your child. Essentially, allowing your child to help himself or herself as much as possible.
Tell us more about Montessorium.
Montessorium was born out of a need to share what makes Montessori great. We wanted to share these lessons and insights with the entire world. Our idea has always been to try to democratize Montessori education, making it accessible for everyone. If you are in a small village in Africa, or in a large city like Bangalore, we would love to be able to give you a small taste of Montessori. One of the ways in which we have envisioned this happening is by increasing awareness through technology. By utilizing technology, we believe we can meet families where they are, offering a glimpse into what makes Montessori so relevant.
We started with a series of introductory apps, letters, math, colors, etc. thinking about them in terms of primers: primers into the world of Montessori. With our newest app, Primary, we’ve built an app for parents. It’s an app that encourages positivity, engagement, and learning. Ironically, we’re hoping to equip parents with the tools they need to put down their phones and spend more time working with their children.
What are some of the challenges in running your Montessori Program?
Finding the right people, people that have the same passion and commitment can sometimes be a challenge. When you find the right ones, however, it’s like magic. Working with children is always so rewarding because they are seeing and inventing the world as if for the first time. Speaking of magic.
Importance of implementing structure in your home that encourages both independence and sensory/motor development.
Having a structure and a routine is an important part of early childhood development. Consistency, as we like to say, does wonders. It helps children develop a sense of trust and independence, almost a reassurance that it is okay to follow their interests.
Of all the work you have done, what make you the most proud?
The opportunity to impact the lives of the children we serve and change the face of early childhood education.
Tell us about your family, and how do you balance the demands of your profession and your home?
Well, it actually works out quite nicely! My partner at work is my husband. What we do is our life and, our life is what we do!
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