Spotlight Real Life Montessori
Kathleen Clark-Perez is a trained Montessori guide and parent, who shares adventures, stories, tips, and beautiful photos about life at home with a young child at Real Life Montessori. It is beautiful to see how this philosophy has no walls; Montessori translates beautifully into home life.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
Sure! I am an AMS certified, early childhood, Montessori teacher and I have been a directress at an amazing school for almost five years now. My husband and I welcomed our son into the world two years ago and our lives have changed for the better in so many ways.
When M was born I was torn about leaving the classroom that I had built from the ground up. The classroom environment almost felt like my first child (emphasis on almost). The school was so supportive and allowed me to share my all-day job with another talented teacher. She and I have been co-teaching for the past two years so that I can have the afternoons at home with M.
I hold a bachelor’s degree in anthropology with a minor in Spanish. I had every intention of pursuing a master’s degree in cultural anthropology, but fate stepped in and introduced me to the amazing Maria Montessori.
My interests outside of my family and teaching are photography, sewing and clogging (an appalachian style of dance in which the dancers wear tap shoes, think riverdance meets old-time music).
My dreams are to renovate our 100 year old home, start a large garden in our backyard, ride my bike more and sew more of our family’s clothing.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?
Ah, this is a tough one for me. I love the color chartreuse, but I also love the colors mustard and plum, especially when they are together. I’ll have to go ahead and say chartreuse, but I’m a pretty big fan of most colors.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
Another toughie! I love the book The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevski and my all time favorite movie is The Royal Tenenbaums by Wes Anderson. Lala Land came very close to becoming my new favorite movie, but The Royal Tenenbaums is still number one.
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
I imagine starting a Montessori school that is located in the woods in a beautiful home that has lots of giant windows and hardwood floors. I think about how the children would need to bring rain boots and raincoats so that we could tromp through the woods and splash in puddles and sit quietly and listen to the rain sprinkling on the leaves. I then think about how fun it would be to come back to the school, filled with natural light, to make hot tea and snacks and draw or write about our experience in the rainy woods.
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
I got started with Montessori after volunteering at a Montessori-based school during my time as an undergrad. I had no idea what Montessori was, but after being in the classroom, I knew something very special was happening. The children we sitting in various positions, like on the floor, or at a small couch, or at a large table near their classmates. The classroom felt like a home and the children felt safe enough to ask questions and take academic risks, like making up experiments or choosing their own research topics. I was so taken with the freedom of movement the children had and that all of the children were not required to do the same thing at the same time.
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
My advice is to observe Montessori classrooms in action. Observe a few and note the similarities and differences. If you come across a teacher that you feel connected to then adopt he or she as your mentor. Montessori teachers love to talk about Montessori and part of the job is to be an ambassador for the Montessori philosophy. Invite this teacher to coffee and ask all of your questions.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
Yes! I’ve had several, but the most recent moment was when the children in my classroom began clapping after I presented a new work on silver polishing. I have been teaching for almost five years and this was the first time the children had erupted into spontaneous applause after a lesson. Montessori wrote about how this happens in Montessori classrooms, but I was starting to think that it was not going to happen for me. This really illustrates the fact that being a Montessori parent or teacher is a lifelong journey. Things will not all come together right away. It is a beautiful process, that takes time to unfold.
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
I cannot narrow it down, so here are my top three at the moment:
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.”
“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”
Q: What inspired you to share your Montessori story on your blog?
I find so much inspiration from reading the blogs of other Montessori parents and teachers. This made me want to join the conversation and get to know the other people around the world who love the Montessori philosophy just as much as I do.
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
My advice for parents new to Montessori is mainly to turn off the t.v. and the iPad (a little is fine here and there) and begin to incorporate the children into everyday activities around the house. Involve the children in folding the laundry, chopping vegetables, setting the table, washing windows, making the beds, picking flowers to display in the house, sweeping, dusting and so many more. These tasks will certainly take longer when small hands are helping, but remind yourself that including your child in these tasks makes them feel capable, confident and needed. Children take so much joy from purposeful work.
“…being a Montessori parent or teacher is a lifelong journey. Things will not all come together right away. It is a beautiful process, that takes time to unfold.”
Check out Montessori in the home blogs and you will find tons of ideas. DO NOT feel like you need to purchase a ton of super expensive materials. Yes, you will make some purchases, but it is less about the materials and more about the idea that young children thrive when they are included in activities that actually have a purpose.
The Montessori items that I rely on every day are:
The learning tower
A child-sized shelf (ours was made by a good family friend)
A round coffee table with a small wooden chair for M to use for works
A fairly blunt crinkle cutter (some of them are really sharp)
Lots of beautifully illustrated, reality-based books
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
Oh my, let’s see here. For parents, I will have to say Montessori From the Start by Paula Polk Lillard and for aspiring teachers I’ll go with my first Montessori book and say The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori. There is no end to fantastic Montessori literature.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
The Montessori peace curriculum continues to inspire me every day. It can seem like the math curriculum and the language curriculum are the most important part of the Montessori framework, but a seasoned teacher or parent knows that children are not going to happily learn math and language concepts if they are located in an un-peaceful environment, filled with chaos and anxiety. Children must have a peaceful environment, a peaceful guide and be learning to find inner peace in order to truly internalize new concepts.
I used to think of the peace curriculum as something that the children and I would get to once the real work of math and language was done. I was so wrong. Now I understand that the main purpose of every work in the Montessori classroom is to provide children with a sense of inner peace through the joy of purposeful work.
Maria Montessori was an activist for women’s rights and peace. I am inspired by her friendship with Mahatma Gandhi and their consensus that, “If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children” (Mahatma Gandhi).
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
I hope that public Montessori schools continue to grow in reputation and number. I do not work in a public Montessori school, but I have heard how hard the teachers work to use the Montessori method within the constraints of the state standards. I am hopeful for public Montessori schools because every child deserves a Montessori experience no matter their socio-economic status.
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
I see it continuing to thrive around the world. Technology is already allowing us to take Montessori workshops via webinar and I can only imagine that our ability to connect with fellow Montessorians will grow as technology becomes more sophisticated. Early childhood, Montessori classrooms will still be protecting children from too much screen time, even in 100 years.
Written by:Charlotte Wood