Spotlight Simone Davies
It’s with great pleasure that we introduce you to Simone Davies, founder of Jacaranda Tree Montessori, a Montessori playgroup in Amsterdam. We randomly happened upon Simone, and her unique aesthetic, as we were researching Montessori as a philosophy of life on the internet. We’ve been smitten by her work ever since, and we think you will be too. Her approach to Montessori is more than just an approach to education. It’s an approach to how she lives her life. Simone also runs The Montessori Notebook, which is a wonderful resource for families, with a plethora of excellent Montessori tips. We hope you enjoy our little exchange.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
Hi there! I grew up in Sydney, Australia but have spent the last 9 years living in the Netherlands. I’m happy to be back in Europe where all my grandparents came from.
I have two very-quickly-growing children, now 14 and 13 years, who are my favourite people to hang out with.
And I live a pretty simple life – I have my bike that gets me around town, I enjoy meeting up with friends for coffee, I love taking photos, and I do yoga and a bit of running. Sitting on the front steps to our home with a book or my knitting and a lovely cup of herbal tea is my favourite thing (although I don’t do it enough).
My one indulgence is travelling. We like to spend one week by the seaside or in the woods each year, somewhere here in the Netherlands. Then living in Europe is great for exploring by train. And every other year we try to visit my family in Australia.
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
I love this question! Although I’m probably just sitting in nature.
Q: Switching to Montessori, what advice do you have for people experiencing Montessori for the first time?
I guess it would be to view the world from the child’s perspective. When we see the world through their eyes, we gain so much understanding and respect. And this will help you guide and support the child.
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your path to Montessori?
I’m a self-confessed idealist. And fell in love with Montessori when I was looking for a school for my children. I’d been to a traditional highly-academic school myself and been stressed out trying to keep my scores top of the class. I got a “good” education but I wanted more for my children. To learn to love learning, not to just pass tests.
“ When we walked into a Montessori preschool I was so touched. ”
The thought that had been put into the activities laid out on the shelves. Everything was so beautiful. I wanted to start exploring everything myself, so I knew it was the right environment for my kids.
My children and I attended Montessori parent-toddler classes and it wasn’t long before I decided to become the class assistant and soon after take the Montessori training.
Q: You run a school called Jacaranda Tree Montessori. Can you tell us about that?
When I arrived in the Netherlands, I was surprised that there were no Montessori parent-child classes here. So 7 years ago, I started Jacaranda Tree Montessori. I rented a room in a beautiful old school building, put 6 classes on the schedule, and wondered if anyone would come! A year later I was already looking for a bigger location and increasing the number of classes.
The children come with their parents once a week to explore the Montessori environment. And I support the parents too to become “Montessori parents”. I am passionate about parent education as I feel that this will have the biggest impact on these families. What the parents learn in class and in our parent workshops, they can put into practice every day in their families.
Q: What’s it like to live in Amsterdam, rich with a historic, Montessori culture?
Amsterdam is a small city but has 20+ Montessori primary schools and even a few high schools. What is even more impressive is that all schools in the Netherlands – from classical to Montessori, from Dalton to Steiner – are in the public system, and free for children to attend. This makes Montessori accessible for all families…the only problem sometimes is being able to get a space! I once heard that 5% of kids go to a Montessori school.
Just around the corner from Jacaranda Tree Montessori is the head office of Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). You can still visit Dr Montessori’s study there – very humbling. The only sadness is that there is no AMI training centre here in Amsterdam.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”?
To be honest, it would be hard to pick just one moment. Falling in love visiting my first Montessori classroom; finding a row of pegs along the top of a painting at the end of the day where a child has mastered pegging that day; watching a two year old making orange juice, looking at the empty orange peel in their hand, pausing, and then making their way to the bin. All those little moments. Amazing.
Q: Can you tell us more about the Montessori Notebook?
The Montessori Notebook is my online Montessori home, to help parents bring Montessori into their daily life.
Over the years I’ve been sending newsletters to parents every 2 weeks with tips how they can use Montessori at home. I printed the newsletters out and put them in a folder for parents to look through any time. Soon the folder was bursting and I thought that maybe the information would also be useful for parents who don’t live in Amsterdam.
So at the end of 2014, I put everything online into a website called The Montessori Notebook. Everything is aimed at making Montessori accessible and easy to digest for busy parents. It’s been particularly amazing to see the response to the short videos I made.
I’m also starting to put my parent workshops into e-courses on The Montessori Notebook and it has been super fun to work with families online too!
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
My favourite thing about Montessori is concrete learning – holding and exploring the materials and making discoveries with your hands. So my favourite Montessori quote would be, “Never give more to the brain than we give to the hand.”
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
I think you can read all the books, but nothing beats observing in a Montessori classroom to really understand how a child has self-discipline to make choices for their learning without being led by an adult, how children can have freedom to move about in a classroom without it being chaotic, and how peaceful children become when they find that activity that captures their attention, their concentration and their focus while they work to master it.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
I’m constantly inspired as my own understanding of the Montessori philosophy deepens. It’s like layers of an onion and you can just keep peeling back layer after layer. You can look at Montessori as just an approach to learning at school. But I love how Montessori can also be a way of life.
And I have had the luck to meet Montessori teachers from all over the world and visit other schools – they are truly an inspiration.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this spotlight with Simone Davies!
Written by:Bobby George