Spotlight Elizabeth Houghtaling from Montessori Country School
Elizabeth Houghtaling is a toddler guide at Montessori Country School.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
In my early twenties, I had the opportunity to volunteer as a teacher in a traditional school in a small city in Northern Ethiopia. I lived in Ethiopia for several years, loving every moment, soaking up the vibrant culture and deep-rooted traditions. During those years, I was able to travel throughout Africa. These experiences offered me a personal appreciation of the beauty of other cultures while also opening my eyes to the reality of disproportional wealth between my home country, the United States, and the places I was visiting and living in Africa.
Upon my return to the States, I experienced feelings of being extremely overwhelmed as I grappled with my place, role, and future in a first world country. In thinking about my future, I reached an epiphany and began to understand that I could have an impact on the world and future if I pursued a profession working with children.
On a whim, I applied for an assistant position at a Montessori school in Denver, Colorado. I was hired and began working in a 3-6 Primary classroom. It was there that I had the “ah-ha” moment I had been searching for. I realized that Montessori education was the way we were going to be able to change the world for future generations. And that is where my journey began.
Since that time, I have completed my 0-3 and 3-6 Montessori diplomas, a birth doula training program, and my partner, Andrew and I, have started a family of our own. I am a teacher at the Montessori Country School on Bainbridge Island in Washington State and both of my children, Elsa (6 years) and Gus (14 months) attend school at MCS. I am the facilitator for the Parent/Infant program and the guide for our Toddler Community. I love working in the 0-3 Montessori environments because of all the work I do with families. My true interests lie in helping families feel supported during their transition into parenthood and to help them create a community where they feel encouraged through guidance in respectful parenting practices.
My dreams are to travel with my family and hopefully take them to Ethiopia some day! And, to create Montessori Parent/Infant programs that are accessible to ALL families.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: what’s your favorite color?
My favorite color is: turquoise in its most natural form☺
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about film?
I love to read and probably read close to 2-3 books a week! I always alternate between fiction and non-fiction so as to not burn out too quickly. I’m currently reading “Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World.” By Deborah Reber and I’m really enjoying it!
I really don’t know what my favorite movie is, it’s so hard to choose! My husband and I are huge Miyazaki fans and I love watching “Ponyo” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”.
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
My latest dream adventure has been to go back to school for my doctorate. Since my children are still very young, I don’t feel like I currently have the time to devote myself to more schooling, but my hopes and aspirations are to return to school to study infant psychology in the future. Infancy is such a transformative period in a human’s life and this stage truly becomes the building blocks for the construction of ones’ self. I crave to have deeper understanding of this time in order to help the families I am working with.
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
As I mentioned before, I was hired as an assistant in a Montessori classroom and when I started I knew nothing about the philosophy or Dr. Montessori. As I began to work in the classroom and observe the children within the environment, I was awe struck; it just penetrated my whole being. I was so moved by the respect the adult and the child displayed for one another. The compassion and motivation children had while working in the classroom, when interacting with each other, and the honor they gave themselves.
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
This work is a labor of passion and love. Some days you feel like everything has come together perfectly and other days you leave feeling discouraged. Be easy on yourself. This is a practice that takes a lifetime to master. Go back to your notes, your readings, and your inspiration. Take great care of yourself. Sometimes this calling is all consuming and the children and the families we work with deserve us at our best; and this means we have provided enough time to replenish ourselves.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
My first “Montessori moment” came when I was an assistant in a 3-6 classroom in Denver as mentioned above. My second “Montessori moment” occurred soon after I began my 0-3 Montessori certification. I was in a lecture with my trainer, Susan Tracy McDaniel, and she said, “The first complete, perfect prepared environment for the child is the womb.” My mind was blown! This is when I feel that I truly found my life’s work. From this moment on, I knew I desired to support families from the very beginning of the journey into parenthood.
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.4)
Q: What inspired you to share your Montessori story?
I was inspired to share my story because I have witnessed the miraculous possibilities for families and children when they feel supported. I want to urge more schools and Montessorians to start Parent/Infant programs. Having started two Parent/Infant programs in the past several years, I have observed the positive impact this program can have on the whole family. When provided with parenting resources and a connection to a community, families have the ability to flourish.
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
Find a community! I would look for a Montessori community in your area and try to connect with the staff and families from the school. Start small. The philosophy can seem overwhelming at first and the need to feel like you must implement it all at once can be discouraging.
I think the most important advice I can give is to observe your child. They will be your guide as you set up your environment to naturally aid in their desired interests.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
I am fascinated by the fact that all the brain research that we are doing today, continues to prove the methodology that Maria Montessori developed over 100 years ago! It’s amazing!!!
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
When I think about the future of education, I can’t help but focus on all the work we have left to do in the realm of birth-three education. For so long, education has been viewed as something that starts for the child at the preschool age but as Montessorians, we know that this development begins at birth. We desperately need quality programs for infants and toddlers, with caregivers trained in child development and emotional intelligence. In a perfect world, families would receive in-home support during pregnancy that continues on as the start their journey into parenthood. I would love for future conversations and actions to be focused on offering quality educational care for all children, and specifically for children in the first three years of life.
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
We will no longer be talking about “education systems” because ALL our conversations will just be about the Montessori Method. ☺
Written by:Charlotte Wood