A Montessori Infant-Toddler Classroom Tour: Christie of Aid to Life Education
Toddler Class Set Up
This week's interview is such an exciting one for me. When Layla was around 10 months old, we started asking around to see what Montessori programs were available. My mom found out about a special program that was a Montessori parent-participation class and we immediately signed her up. Layla attended the infant class from 12-15 months and then the toddler class when she was around 16 months old. It was fascinating to see her progress each week and how she became used to the routines and expectations of the class. The classroom is especially prepared for each age group with enough activities for children to have choice, but not too much so they become overwhelmed. There was time to explore the materials, enjoy snack as a group, and have a song or two. We made friends and Layla loved her time in "Christie's class." The biggest factor in the success of that experience was Christie, who was so supportive and welcoming. I knew she had experience, but through this interview really discovered how much time she has dedicated to her Montessori training...it's impressive!
I was so excited when Christie agreed to answer some questions about her classroom, Montessori experience and family. Hope you enjoy the interview.
Tell me about yourself.
I was born and raised in West Vancouver, Canada by my parents, who immigrated here from New Zealand. I have two older brothers and an older sister, all now living in different parts of the world with their families! I have been married for 13 years (together for 18) and am a proud mom to 6 year old twin boys.
When did you first learn about Montessori?
My mom found out about Montessori while she was pregnant and chose to put me in a 3 year Casa program. Elementary Montessori was not available to us where we were living so I transitioned into a traditional school for the remainder of my education.
I always loved working with children so when I was in high school and had to do a volunteer work placement I chose to do one in a Montessori Day Care. This turned into my first job and the reason that I decided to become a trained Montessori teacher!
infant class set up
I know you have a lot of Montessori training and experience. Tell me a bit about your journey.
After finishing high school I chose to go straight into the 3-6 AMI Montessori Training at the Montessori Training Centre of BC. After graduating in 1999, I started working as an assistant (which was the BEST decision in my opinion to gain experience) and enrolled in university. I started plugging away at night school and took on a co-teaching position, then a head teaching position in a Casa environment. In 2001 the AMI Elementary Training came to Canada for the first time so I decided to register. I graduated in 2003 and did a few more years in Casa (7 in total) before moving up to teach one large 6-12 year old Elementary class for 3 years. Then, in 2009 the AMI Assistants to Infancy Training also came to Canada for the first time so of course I had to take it! My husband and I were planning on starting a family so what better course than this one to round out my Montessori knowledge? I graduated with this certification in 2010.
Your infant toddler Montessori program is so successful and well known in the Lower Mainland. How did it come to be?
During my Assistants to Infancy training I knew that my next step had to be working with parents and little ones. With a lot of guidance from my Montessori trainer, Maria Teresa Vidales, and the help of a business coach, I started a company called Aid to Life Education. I offered home consultations, teacher mentorship, talks, workshops, designed a Parent-Child program, and went on the hunt for a location. As we know, spaces are very hard to find, especially in the Lower Mainland! So as I was visiting schools, the Head of North Star Montessori offered me one of their empty classrooms to ‘get off the ground’. I started in January of 2010 with 1 class and only 3 children!! Every semester I kept on growing and every year the business slowly improved. After 5 or 6 years of running my classes out of North Star and having a wonderful working relationship, we decided to make the classes an official part of the school. For the past 4 years we have continued growing the programs and we now offer 11 classes per week, with 66 children enrolled per semester. Our success has come mainly through word of mouth and parents returning to the program every time they have a new baby! Because the parents are there with me during class, we really become a team. This partnership can be very valuable, as I am there to help guide them to see their child through new eyes.
You do a lot of Parent Education at your school. What advice would you give parents who are interested in a Montessori education for their child?
Do your research. The more you learn about Montessori the more you will discover how amazing this teaching method is!! Knowledge is power. I highly recommend that families go visit different schools. It really is a gut feeling and even if someone says it is a great school, you have to feel like it is the right place for your child and family.
You have twin boys. How has being a Montessori educator influenced your home? How do you foster independence with your children?
Now reflecting back it is so amazing to see all of the ways the influence of Montessori has had on their growth and development! In the early years I had so much fun setting up my home with the right movement areas, organized play rooms, having everything accessible for them to use, etc. They learned to feed themselves at a low table instead of in high chairs and learned to sleep in low beds instead of in cribs (which some people thought was crazy!). I also always tell parents it is not ‘easy’ in the beginning, it is actually more work because you are an observer and your environment needs to change when your child changes!! However, the benefit of setting up your home in this way is truly immense when at 2 years old you see them cleaning up after themselves, getting dressed, putting themselves to sleep, etc. Now at 6 the boys are extremely independent (although we have other challenges!!).
I know you get many questions from parents in your program (I was one of them!) What advice would you give parents about creating a Prepared Environment at home?
Sit on the floor and look around. Imagine yourself as your child. Are there opportunities for your child to be independent with their belongings? Do you have low hooks for their coats, a shoe rack for a small selection of their shoes, a little bench or stool for them to sit on when getting ready, a cabinet for their kitchen items that they can access easily, an open storage shelf to organize their toys? Please DECLUTTER. We cannot expect a child to clean up when they have way too much stuff as it is totally overwhelming for them.
a toddler class in action (Layla is in there!)
What is your favourite parenting book?
Janet Lansbury “No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline without Shame”
Anything else you'd like to add?
Why is all of this so important for the young child?? By setting up and providing our little children with these prepared environments full of organization and the means for independent activity, they will gain an immense amount of positive self-esteem and a feeling of ‘I can do it, I am capable,’ which they will internalize and carry with them for their entire life!!