Spotlight Radicle Beginnings
Nichole Holtvluwer is passionate about Montessori, childhood, and learning. It’s clear from her words, as well as her work at Radicle Beginnings, that she has found joy, passion, and true calling in her work. Here is her story.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
I was born in Boulder, Colorado and raised in the suburbs of Denver. My dad, Eddie, is a rocket scientist (for real – an aerospace engineer and the smartest person I know) and my mom, Bobbin, was a full-time stay at home mom to me and my younger brother, Michael. Michael and I are amazing, and we both have struggled. I, endlessly with traditional education, and Michael with some pretty severe disabilities. Bobbin was not your average stay at home mom, and Eddie was not your average rocket scientist, that’s for sure!
I love them both endlessly, and Michael too (along with his service dog, Fender).
I made it to graduation by the skin of my teeth and proceeded to fail out of college, twice. It was after these consecutive great “failures” that I realized I thrive in the company of children. Miraculously, or was it already set in the stars(?!), in January of 2000 I was hired to be an assistant in the toddler environment at a Denver-area AMI Montessori school. Despite so much self-doubt and lack of direction, by day two with the toddlers I knew it was my calling, though I did not realize at the time what a great journey it would be…
I spent the beginning of my 20’s training to become an Assistants to Infancy AMI Guide at the Montessori Institute of Denver, (finally succeeding in school, thank you Judi Orion, Liz Hall, Karey Lontz & AMI for that!) and seeing as much live music as possible. I traveled the country seeing bands such as Sound Tribe Sector 9, Leftover Salmon and Bela Fleck & the Flecktones all the while reading the Absorbent Mind, Understanding the Human Being and The Discovery of the Child. I have a box full to the brim with ticket stubs, backstage passes, festival flyers, and autographs. I also have a folder full of Montessori quotes, sayings and ideas. During this formative time in my personal development, music moved my body, Montessori moved my mind, and both fed my soul.
I taught my heart out for many years, and in 2012 fell in love with the greatest man I’ve ever met. This forced me to learn to balance my professional love (teaching) with my personal love (him). It wasn’t until I had a partner in life that I realized I was giving way too much of myself to the children and was feeling burnout looming on the horizon. I needed to find balance.
That same year I left my teaching job of 5 years to start up a Toddler Community at the Montessori School of Washington Park in Denver, CO. It was a great learning experience, creating an environment for toddlers, and I luckily had a director that backed me 100% in my mission to follow the child. The result was an environment so high-functioning and beautiful that I spent the next four years in a perpetual state of awe. Toddlers are so capable, when we establish an environment that allows for them to thrive.
During this time, I had the opportunity to raft down the Colorado River, through the Grand Canyon. Seven days straight with no distractions, no sirens, no children, just the river, the stars and the sounds of nature led me and my partner to pack up our things and move out of the city. We now live in Evergreen, Colorado, a lovely little town in the mountains just outside of Denver. We are about 45 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of the city and have a constant flow of wildlife in our backyard – from deer and elk to bears and mountain lions – and so many birds – my favorite being the hummingbird. The hummingbird has the essence of a toddler — so busy and constantly moving, but with a grand purpose! There is never a dull day around here, and the beauty of this land keeps me in that perpetual state of awe that I love so much. Added bonus: my observation skills stay very keen living with nature.
“Toddlers are so capable, when we establish an environment that allows for them to thrive.”
In May of 2016, after guiding my heart out, I left the Toddler Community to focus on Radicle Beginnings, and life outside the prepared environment.
I now find myself a year out from teaching. My company, Radicle Beginnings, is picking up speed and I am looking into the future as to how best meet the needs of my little community here in the mountains and bring more Montessori to the children around me. I am in “phase 1” of one of the adventures I speak of below. You’ll have to stay tuned to see which one though…
I love to travel. I also love to be home. I love to cook and bake (sans gluten & dairy!) I love nature. I am learning to fly fish. I continue to thrive in an orderly environment, even outside the classroom. I am a procrastinator and perfectionist. I inherited my red hair from both my grandmothers and am the only person in my family with this rare gift. I find peace in the golden ratio and spirals of the universe. I have endometriosis and am in pain more days than I am not. I am an outsider and love to observe. I am a walking jukebox and can sing along to more songs than imaginable. I believe in aliens, in fact, I think we are aliens. I am a visual learner and use my eyes most to navigate the world – even though I’m basically blind without my beloved contact lenses. I am madly in love with my partner, Daniel. I am very open. I love bison. I am a toddler whisperer.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?
Too hard to choose! A 4 year old recently told me, “I love all the colors!” and I’d have to say I agree.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
I have a few favorite books.
In regards to reading Montessori, Education for a New World, hands down. At least that’s my most highlighted book of hers to date. Basically all 69 pages of the Clio Series is neon-yellow. She was such a radical thinker!
In regards to fiction, I’d have to say it’s a tie between Shantaram and Still Life with Woodpecker.
Favorite film – Amélie!
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
Starting my school/parent learning space.
Travel. More specifically, selling everything we own and living out of a pack, seeing the world, observing children of every culture and finding great fly fishing spots along the way.
Becoming a mom.
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
The capabilities of the young child.
Traditional education failed me. It wasn’t until I became a Montessorian that I realized how brilliant I am. How brilliant we all are! The idea that I can assist in creating a foundation of loving to learn, a confidence in exploration, a friendliness with failure – well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
Trust the child’s natural development.
Trust your intuition.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
All. The. Time!
In my interactions with toddlers, one of my favorite moments was during lunch one day. I was brand new to teaching and found myself working hard to break the habit of saying “good job” to the children. Ava, 2.5 years old came over proudly expressing to me that she’d eaten ALL of her carrots. Knowing full-well that she was looking for praise, I simply said, “Oh! Did they taste good?” Totally taken aback, Ava looked at me with that “you caught me off guard” toddler face and exclaimed, “YES!”, to which I asked another question, and on and on we went having a lovely conversation. Had I given her what she was looking for, that age-old, but detrimental “good job”, our conversation would have ended right there.
“Traditional education failed me. It wasn’t until I became a Montessorian that I realized how brilliant I am. How brilliant we all are!”
It was in this moment that I realized it is the adult’s role, and great privilege, to encourage and draw out conversation, not just mindlessly respond.
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
“If salvation and help are to come, it is from the child, for the child is the constructor of man, and so of society. The child is endowed with an inner power which can guide us to a more enlightened future.” Page 1, Education for a New World
Q: What inspired you to share your Montessori story on your blog and social media?
My friends didn’t want to listen to me talk about Montessori anymore.
Kidding (sort of) aside, it’s my passion that drove me to become more public in sharing my Montessori story. I enjoy writing and taking photos, which lends itself very well to Instagram, my social media platform of choice.
After bearing witness to so much beauty, and seeing first hand these great capabilities of the young child, well, I couldn’t not share.
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
I think the best advice I have for parents incorporating Montessori into the home is that this philosophy isn’t so much about the materials as it is the “prepared environment”. Preparing an environment that meets the needs of the child – both psychologically and physically is the best thing we can do.
“It was in this moment that I realized it is the adult’s role, and great privilege, to encourage and draw out conversation, not just mindlessly respond.”
I think that this idea of creating a space for a child to thrive can often be overlooked in our fast-paced, capitalist driven economy. Adults often want quick solutions, and Montessori isn’t that. Montessori is about patience, and following the child, and trusting in their natural development. Montessori is about preparing yourself, and taking the time to observe the child’s behavior and only step in when absolutely necessary.
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
I have given away more copies of “Understanding the Human Being” by Silvana Montanaro than my bank account would like to admit. For quality information about the first three years of life, this is it!
Going further, observing in a school. It is my belief that Montessori is best understood when seen.
For people who live in a town where quality Montessori is not present, social media can serve as a great learning tool. However, with anything on the internet, one must “weed” through the masses to find those individuals doing it right. I cannot rave enough about Nicole at the Kavanaugh Report. For an adult who is not trained and has simply read books and done research, she is knocking it out of the park!
Lastly, reaching out to me and Radicle Beginnings, of course.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
Being a part of a community that has collectively decided to come together for the child is what drives me. I often comment on the blessing of being a Montessorian, because it is so collaborative. Collaboration gives me great hope for reforming the education system!
“Humans have so much untapped potential, and I sure hope to see some of that engaged in the coming years.”
And toddlers. Toddlers inspire me whenever I am in their presence.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
Currently, the future of education looks pretty bleak. Yes, there are great educators doing great work all over the world, but the masses still lack the education they deserve. It breaks my heart to see the United States going in the direction it is headed. After 17 years with toddlers, and seeing their unyielding love for everyone, I know that we all are capable of more. More love. More kindness. More patience. More acceptance. More collaboration. More respect. It’s all possible, if we treat the child from conception onwards as a contributing and valuable member of our society.
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
Alive and well!
I named my company “Radicle Beginnings” because I can see that often times just the word “Montessori” will put people off. By many, Montessori is thought of as only attainable for the wealthy, and while much of that statement is true, it’s true because our society has the educational and developmental path backwards. We want free and cheap care during the first years of life and spend thousands of dollars towards the end of brain development. I believe that our time, energy, and yes, money is best spent during the formative years of the absorbent mind phase. College is important, but nothing is more important than the first plane of development! Can you imagine what our world would look like if all children had the opportunity to begin life in a prepared environment?! Humans have so much untapped potential, and I sure hope to see some of that engaged in the coming years.
So, in 100 years my hope is that the information Maria gathered so graciously for us, and the information we have learned since will grow together into this positive, healthy education system that doesn’t have a name, but instead simply and truly follows the child. Wouldn’t that be grand?
Written by:Charlotte Wood