Spotlight The Prepared Nest
Julie Mitaro is a trained Montessori Educator and Parent, helping families bring Montessori home through her work at The Prepared Nest. A home is not like a classroom, and there are ways to incorporate a few Montessori principles into home life, without a complete overhaul. Julie makes this so accessible! After you’ve read her interview, hop over to her site, and learn more about her relaxed, natural parenting philosophy.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
Montessori captured my heart at age 19 when I was studying early childhood education at the University of Michigan. I really didn’t know much about Montessori, but I was certain I wanted to work with young children. I was hired as an assistant in a Primary classroom led by an accomplished AMI Directress. From that year on, I knew I would never look at children and their development the same way.
I continued my schooling in the evenings and worked full-time as an assistant at the Primary and Elementary levels, including a partial year assisting Mary Raudonis Loew in Charleston, SC. From there, I made my way to the Toronto Montessori Institute and, by 24, had completed my AMI Primary training under the direction of Audrey Sillick, Judy Buckman and Renilde Montessori, Maria Montessori’s granddaughter. At the time, I didn’t have the perspective to fully understand these ‘formative’ years in my Montessori career; I had been assisting and training with some of the most respected, talented and knowledgeable AMI Montessorians in the world, and it became a part of me.
The next few years were exciting! I was leading my own Primary classes, married and our first child was born. He spent his in utero months in my Montessori classroom and his nature and temperament have always reflected that year. The birth of our son led me to become a stay-at-home Montessori mom and to create Montessori-inspired spaces in our home. We relocated to Connecticut and were thrilled to welcome two daughters in the following years. I continued to come up with creative ways to foster our children’s natural development with Montessori principles guiding me. As our children’s rooms became more attractive, calm, organized and purposeful, I felt the rest of our home could benefit from some of the same. And so my love for designing, renovating and decorating had begun – with Montessori’s influence at its very heart.
When our youngest was in high school, a close friend encouraged me to partner with her in an interior design business. We had fun and learned a lot together. But my heart was calling me back to Montessori. It was time to pursue my dream and vision: The Prepared Nest. In 2015, after we had moved to the Charleston, SC area, I founded The Prepared Nest to serve as a resource for adults interested in enriching a child’s natural development in the first critical years of life— birth to six —at home. I provide Montessori inspiration through my blog, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and Houzz accounts.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?
My favorite color is green … the color of growth.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
Although not available in bookstores, one of my favorite books is Life is a Journey of…Learning — a collection of quotes, stories and cartoons by Shaun B. Higgins. “The journey is shaped by our experiences; the people we meet, the changes we go through, and the things we’ve learned.” It is a small book, but its messages deliver a large impact and is a precious gift to our family.
A favorite film of mine is Lion, a biographical story of an adopted twenty-five year old man’s search for his biological family after being separated accidentally from them as a young boy in India. Led by sheer determination and the technology of Google Earth (thanks to former Montessori students, Sergey Brin and Larry Page) he finds his way back to his family home; a place he had not seen since he was five years old.
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
It’s hard for me to imagine a new adventure at the moment because I’ve just embarked on The Prepared Nest. I would love to expand my vision and build relationships in disadvantaged communities— helping pregnant teens and young mothers in particular. Because Montessori principles can apply to all children in all walks of life, the possibilities are vast.
“I find it hard to pass any child without noticing something about the moment that references Montessori.”
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
I immediately found the respectful and kind nature of the Montessori community and environment most appealing. There was an atmosphere of collaboration and genuine care for one another and everything within the environment. It drew me in and had me wondering…
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
Regardless of how Montessori is introduced to a person, it takes time to absorb and understand all that it encompasses. Visit and observe an accredited Montessori program. Ask many questions and for reading recommendations. Whether you’re a parent or a new staff member working in a Montessori school, learn to ’stop, look and listen’ before interacting with a child who is busy at work or play. The child is guided by his/her own natural way of learning and we need to understand what that means and how it happens.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
I find it hard to pass any child without noticing something about the moment that references Montessori. The most recent was holding my friend’s granddaughter. I was wearing a textured necklace and the baby quickly discovered it. She touched, tasted and manipulated it with great focus. I waited quietly and observed her in my lap because I was sure her neural pathways were on to something!
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
Maria Montessori was 81 years old when she was being honored by a diverse group of people at the 1951 International Montessori Congress. She scolded the audience for admiring her and said: “I am but a finger pointing to something beyond myself. Look not at the outstretched finger but at what it is pointing to. Look at the child.” She was tireless in her message and genius in her discoveries. Seems the only recognition she was longing for was our promise to listen, observe and follow the child. And she knew the world would be a better place if we would do just that.
Q: What inspired you to share your Montessori story on your blog?
I decided to share my Montessori journey on a blog site to encourage parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers to bring Montessori-inspiration ‘home.’
“I immediately found the respect and kind nature of the Montessori community and environment most appealing.”
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
Follow The Prepared Nest! :) A great place to start is by getting down on the floor and seeing the environment from a child’s perspective. What are the potential safety issues? How inviting is the space for a child? Is it set-up to encourage the child’s exploration and independence?
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
It’s always wonderful to see a classroom in action. Otherwise, although a bit dated, the book Look at the Child by Aline D. Wolf says more about Montessori parenting, with very few words, than any other book I’ve read. It was given to me as a gift by a dear friend and co-teacher.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
Most recently, I have been an occasional substitute at a local Montessori school, working with infants and young children six weeks to six years of age. Reconnecting with the Montessori community and the classroom has inspired me tremendously.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
The traditional model of education we have known in the United States is not meeting the needs of many students today. Montessori should be more than a possibility; it should be considered as a solution that can serve all children. Maria Montessori wrote,“My experience of over forty years, with children of all races, of different religions, belonging to the most divergent social strata— from royal palaces to the worst slums — has shown me that the child obeys in his development natural laws which are identical for all.”
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
Montessori principles and materials are still meeting the needs of children 100+ years after Dr. Montessori founded her method of education. Technology will continue to evolve and have its place in a child’s education. But the child, especially in the first six years, will continue to develop according to his/her innate tendencies and urges— and we must continue to provide opportunities, experiences and environments that meet those needs. As the Montessori conversation continues to grow, my hope is that Montessori education will be leading the educational movement. I’m pointing that way, anyway!
Written by:Charlotte Wood