Updated: Apr 8, 2022
I am super excited for today's interview! Julie has a lot of experience as both a Montessori parent and guide. Her Instagram account is full of inspiration and easy to accomplish activities...I always look forward to seeing what she posts next. I really appreciate Julie's focus on respecting and following the child and setting up a prepared environment.
I am so happy she took time out of her schedule to chat with me. Enjoy the interview...
Tell me about yourself...
Hi, I’m Julie and I live in the Charleston, SC Lowcountry with my husband, Mike, and mini Goldendoodle, Peaches. We have three grown children and are delighted to have become new grandparents during this last year! I’m an AMI primary certified guide and, prior to my certification, assisted for several years in both primary and lower elementary classrooms while studying early childhood education. I left the classroom after the birth of our first child and began creating a Montessori at home lifestyle for our family. I also developed a passion for and worked in interior design for a few years before being drawn back to Montessori.
When our youngest left for college, I founded The Prepared Nest to inspire other families to consider Montessori at home. For the past few years, I have been guiding a few local children (6 weeks to 6 years old) privately in our home — with spaces prepared and designed for their developmental stages. On occasion, I’ve made my way back into a few local Montessori classrooms, as a substitute assistant and/or guide, working with children from six weeks to six years. I’m also coaching and consulting with grandparents on how to better connect and foster relationships with their young grandchildren, especially as they interact in these virtual times.
Tell me about your homeschooling experience and your current work in your home...how do your prepare your space and plan your time?
Montessori at home schooling was not in my initial plan for The Prepared Nest, however, our children did benefit greatly from a Montessori at home prepared environment and lifestyle. As far as my recent work with children in our home, it really began as offer to care for a few friend’s children randomly, but quickly stirred a piece of my heart that missed working with children. In no time, I was back guiding and, prior to #stayhome, the children were thriving.
The families I’ve worked with had no firsthand experience with Montessori but soon realized just how Montessori principles meet the developmental needs of all children. With one shelf in our sunroom and two small shelves in our kitchen, I began individualized work with one young friend at a time.
I have four closed door cabinets containing infant, toddler, preschool and kindergarten age materials for rotating. Based on the individual child’s stage of development, I prepare our sunroom shelf with 8-12 activities (both store bought materials and DIY) and incorporate sensorial, language, math and culture lessons and experiences. Our two small kitchen shelves work beautifully for practical life, art and science. Less is more! I think it’s incredibly helpful to prepare the shelves each morning before the child arrives (or wakes up, for homeschoolers).
The child is always free to choose an activity. If there’s something new on the shelf, it’s often sought out and I will show her how it’s intended to be used before she works with it alone. She may want me to continue to sit beside her and/or participate. In any given morning, there will be work, play, snack, stories and outdoor time. I may also play a little classical music. I do my best to be consistent in having the child return materials and care for the environment — especially at the end of our “work time”. The day doesn’t always go as I had imagined but, regardless, we definitely grow and learn together!
What advice do you have for families who want to homeschool, but don’t know where to start?
Whether homeschooling or creating a Montessori home environment for the young child, it’s very important that the physical environment and the adult guiding the child are prepared. This begins with seeing the world through the child’s eyes. Is there a low shelf for activities, attractive art at her eye level, a small table and chair, low hooks for jackets, etc? Be sure to sit on the floor and scan the room. Are plugs covered and wires out of reach? Make adjustments as needed to keep the child safe as she explores while keeping her growing independence in mind.
Next is the adult’s role as an observer. Does the child need large movement activities? Is she attracted to small objects? Is she asking to work at the kitchen sink? Once her needs and interests are identified, activities can be created to meet those needs. Please don’t let the IG posts and photos intimidate you. Take baby steps and follow your child. You will learn through trial and error exactly what resonates with her. A rhythm will form and, with each activity ‘win’, you can add more with confidence. Discover, explore and grow together. Be kind to yourself as this really is a process. The ultimate goal is for the child to become an active family participant, foster her independence, and to develop a love for learning.
What was the hardest thing for you when you started teaching?
I would say the hardest part of teaching in any situation is not becoming an obstacle between the child and her experience. Relax — or as some say, “sit on your hands,” — and enjoy observing your child learn. Your newly honed observation skills will let you know when your guidance and help are really needed.
Where do you get inspiration?
I’m inspired daily by the amazing online Montessori community. I never like to single out favorites as I respect and admire so many of the dedicated teachers/guides, parents, grandparents, and caregivers sharing inspiration and ideas on their accounts. There is something for everyone at every stage of their journey! I’m always happy to direct people to accounts, books and podcasts I know of that may align with their needs.
What’s your favorite Montessori material or activity and why?
Oh, such a hard question! I have so many favorite Montessori materials!! ️Today, I’d say the moveable alphabet has my heart. I love watching as the child begins to discover sound connections, letter symbol connections, and ultimately build words.
How are you practicing self-care during the pandemic?
I’m walking and biking more than ever (4-6+miles daily), noticing more of nature’s gifts, cooking daily and eating healthful nutrients mindfully, reading and connecting more purposefully via screens with family and friends.
Please check out Julie on Instagram @thepreparednest She has so much to offer and you won't regret following her. You can also read her blog on www.thepreparednest.com Contact her if you are interested in her coaching and consulting for grandparents (which I think is such a fantastic idea!).