This week's homeschooling interview is with Kari of Stella Nova Montessori. I am so happy that she agreed to answer my questions because she has SO MUCH experience working in various Montessori environments, including her home. Kari is honest and realistic, and I love her love of all things Montessori. I hope you enjoy the interview!
Tell me about yourself...
My name is Kari Nowosielski and I’m the owner of Stella Nova Montessori. I have a traditional education background (my BA in elementary education) but moved across the country to Florida for my first teaching job in a public Montessori school! From there, I got my AMS 6-9 certification as well as my MEd. I have been teaching Montessori off and on now (with breaks to have my children!) for 15 years. I’ve been the head 6-9 teacher at both public and private Montessori schools across the US. I have a six year old, who attends a public school Kindergarten (and who only had Montessori experience with me at home) and a 3 year old, who is enrolled at the Montessori school where I teach. We currently live in rural CT.
I currently (well, pre-quarantine!) teach a toddler Montessori inspired class at my local Montessori school, run Montessori playgroups for parents and their children ages 0-3, and am working hard on expanding my business!
What advice do you have for families who are interested in homeschooling?
My best advice is that- well, you aren’t alone! I guess I “technically” homeschooled my boys from the ages of 0-3 (before they attended other schools), but with my years of experience and degrees- I absolutely can be lost, too. I do know this: do what is right for your family. I think of it as an extended version of “follow the child”- when you’re homeschooling, or living in a time like we are today where we can’t utilize outside resources, we have to focus on the needs of our family as a whole and maintain a balance, if at all possible. This means taking care of yourself, too. I never thought I’d really say this, but I am using screen time now. We just have to, at moments, for sanity. I need to work, need to shower, need to make dinner! I’m just super picky about what they are watching.
As far where to start, look at your child’s interests and start there. Try to excite their curiosities. Ask them lots of questions (What do you think about the grass growing out of the sidewalk? Why do you think that bird is flying up that high? Wow, yeah, I wonder why the sky is blue. Let’s see if we can find the answer together!) Read books. Create. Follow their lead and their imaginations.
Slow down with your everyday life if possible. Have your kids (even the littlest ones!) join in on the cooking, laundry, cleaning, gardening, etc. I’ll be honest, it’s not always easy to have patience to go slow when it feels like there is a million things to do. But, education can start here.
What has been the hardest thing for you about homeschooling?
When my oldest was younger, I had come to the hard realization that I wouldn’t be his best teacher. We can just clash at times and he I feel that he learns best from someone else. I’ve known this about our relationship for some time- that it can be hard to be mom and his teacher. It’s a fine line for us and we have to dance around it. It’s a balancing game and I try to always follow his lead and try not to pressure him at all. I realize this might not be the most helpful thing to read in an article about homeschooling! But I don’t want you to feel alone or like you are the only one if you are in this situation. Maintain that mom-child bond FIRST and foremost. Teacher can be second.
Now, my six year old is the age that I am trained to teach, so my experience in his developmental plane has made things a little easier. One thing that can help this age group is to use a work plan. It can look almost any way- but I made a word document that has 5 columns and 8 rows. Each column is a day of the week and each row is a space to fill out what he wants to do that day. If he doesn’t finish an “assignment,” we move it to the next day. He uses a fun stamp to track what he has completed. He can do what he wants, when he wants, essentially (although this does take my gentle guidance during “school time”). It’s not always a lot of work- we haven’t filled out all 8 rows in a day yet. Your work plan can be as simple as a to-do list for each day, but my biggest tip is to fill it in with their help, so they will be invested and are excited about their activities ahead.
Where do you find your inspiration?
My favorite Montessori books are conveniently linked on my blog for you (click here)
as well as my blog and social media recommendations (click here)
BUT, in a quick list, I am most active on Instagram and follow:
-@branchtobloom- has been making great YouTube Tutorials
-@courtesyandgrace- gorgeous homemade Montessori materials for practical life/art
-@gabrielle_plenty.of.trays – is a homeschooler that seems to have a great balance! Has printables for sale/free
-@littledawns- great blog and early childhood activities
-@littlesparketsy- gorgeous printables for sale that I highly recommend
-@mamashappyhive- wonderful activities with a focus on nature
-@onetree.montessori- great resource with printables available
-@thisfrenchmom- creative, unique ideas for activities and recently started an Etsy shop
-@pinchofprek - Reggio with a Montessori twist!
-@montessorifamilyuk- a Montessori parenting coach based in the UK
What's your favourite Montessori material or activity and why?
This question is TOO hard to answer because I’m fascinated with everything. The biggest thing I take away from Montessori is that it fosters such a love for life and learning. It has made me a more passionate teacher and it helps me to guide students to becoming more independent BUT to become who they truly are meant to be.
As an adult and college graduate, when I did my Montessori training, I cried in class because for the first time in my life, math made sense. I had always been able to do what was asked of me in math classes throughout my life, but I had never understood why I was doing it and how it related to a bigger picture. Montessori put that into perspective for me. The math anxiety I had held onto for my entire life was washed away as soon as the golden beads entered my life... and then the bead stair, the bead chains, the stamp game, the bead frames, the checkerboard… I can go on and on.
How are you practicing self-care during this time?
During the quarantine, what works best for me is to create my own little bubble. I don’t listen to any news. I know that if something important happens, my husband will tell me (and he is okay with this). I don’t know if that’s particularly selfish or healthy, but it’s the best I can do so that I can be there for my family.
I have also recently purchased an exercise program that is similar to physical therapy and yoga in one, to help with postpartum issues that I have been suffering from for years (physical therapy/health assistance in the US is infamously SUPER expensive and this holds true for me). So, I am finally taking care of me!
Now you see why I love Kari so much! Follow her on Instagram @stellanovamontessori for honest, realistic and inspiring posts. She also has a great website and blog that you should definitely check out. The free printables library will continue to grow, so sign up for her newsletter to get updates.