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Spotlight Voilà Montessori


Jeanne-Marie Paynel provides gracious articles and tidbits at Voilà Montessori, in addition to personal coaching, webinars, and helpful downloads. It’s so clear she is passionate about this work, and in helping parents to feel successful in supporting their child’s development. As a parent and educator, she is a wealth of information. We loved hearing about her Montessori Journey, discovering this philosophy, adapting it into her life as a parent, and helping new parents bring Montessori into their lives.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?

I’m the mother of two young adults (20 and 16), living in San Diego, California, with my French husband of 21 years. We moved here from Paris when our first born was 2 years old. I had lived in La Jolla as an adolescent and remembered it being a very pleasant life and thought it would be easier to raise my daughter here. My son was later born in San Diego. When we first moved I was working in advertising as a graphic designer, having graduated from Mills College with a BA in Studio Arts – Photography.

It wasn’t until a few years later, when my husband and I were contemplating a move back to Europe, that I realized I was no longer challenged or excited about the graphic design work I was doing and started thinking about going back to school. I researched what was possible in the realm of Montessori education, specifically the international diplomas. I had always enjoyed working with children from a very young age and loved being in their presence, yet having been influenced by those around me and fallen into the path of advertising, I had gotten away from this passion. Things were about to change.

“We need to remember that parents are only as old as their children. Why do we expect them to get it, without having the knowledge we hold?”

I remember it as if it was yesterday; it was a Monday morning (I had negotiated having time off from my manager position at Intuit to better raise my children) and the children, now 8 and 4, were settled back into their school routine, so I finally had a moment to delve into my research. I called the Montessori Institute of San Diego, an AMI training center, only to learn that they had already started the full year primary training. I was told if I was interested I could most probably catch up since it had only been a week, but that I had to meet with the training director the following morning at 8 a.m. I hung-up after having made the appointment and knew my life was about to change. I called up one of my mother’s good friends (my wise mother, Perdita Huston 1936-2001, was no longer available) who had known me since I was a teenager (I was now 43); I started sobbing and sharing my desire to make a big move in my life.

The following morning after letting my team know I would be coming in a bit late, I went off to MISD to meet Dr. Silvia Dubovoy. As I entered her office I remember having a feeling of knowing I was in the right place; the sensation was one of feeling like I already knew her, as if she was a mix between my Greek therapist back in Paris I had seen in my mid-twenties, my paternal and maternal grandmothers, as well as my own mother.

spotlight voila montessori

Dr. Dubovoy asked why I was there; I simply answered, “I believe children are much wiser than we give them credit for and I want to work with them.” She comforted me in saying, “You have come to the right place,” and invited me to attend that morning theory lecture on natural movement development. The lecture confirmed this was where I needed and wanted to be, and even revealed that I had followed Montessori principles unknowingly as I raised my children. After the lecture I returned to work, only to give my boss my two-weeks’ notice … and as I had correctly anticipated the day before, my life then changed forever.

Today, after having finished my Masters in Montessori Education in 2005 and two AMI diplomas (Primary in 2005 and Assistant to Infancy in 2011 from the Denver Institute under Judi Orion), I devote my work to sharing all of this knowledge with families around the globe. My desire is to make sure that what I wished I had known before having children is common knowledge for all. I aspire to bring joy and confidence to families everywhere by translating their children’s needs into manageable sound bites.

After years of working with children in the prepared environment as “Miss Jenny,” I decided to branch out and offer private home consultations to families in the San Diego area, and created Voilà Montessori in 2011. Today Voilà Montessori serves families worldwide as I continue to guide and mentor them using today’s technologies to virtually connect with their homes. It’s a dream come true.

Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?

Red, though I wear a lot of black … but then that is not a color, is it?

Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?

The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati (1945).

Just one film? That’s hard … Inside Man (2006) with Denzel Washington, Clive Owen and Jodie Foster, or The Intouchables (2011) with François Cluzet, Omar Sy and Anne Le Ny (in French).

spotlight voila montessori

Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?

I travel the world and spread the Montessori philosophy as a way of parenting to families and institutions everywhere. I have so many dreams of how to make that happen … a film, a book, speaking engagements, or better yet opening schools and orphanages that would be excellent representations of the potential Montessori has to offer.

Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?

The notion that I needed to get out of the way of my child and that she would guide me to be her parent. I first discovered Montessori when I picked up the only book I read during my first pregnancy, “L’enfant” by Maria Montessori (the French translation of The Secret of Childhood). It gave me the permission to enjoy and simply be with my child as she helped me re-discover and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.

Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?

For those working with children today, I ask that you give the same grace and courtesy that you give the children to their parents. Too often I see parents feeling judged as opposed to being given the compassion and support they need. We need to remember that parents are only as old as their children. Why do we expect them to get it, without having the knowledge we hold? If we are to serve the child, we must also serve the parents and caregivers. And for those who have different passions on how they want to share their Montessori knowledge, I say go for it. The world needs all of you.

Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”

The first one that comes to mind is while I was in my Primary training, I would come home and be excited to share the lessons I had been presented that day. I remember showing my then four-year-old the folding cloth lesson. That night he proceeded to set the table with all of the napkins folded with their corners meeting in the middle. It was a beautiful sight.

The other one would be in the prepared environment when I could sit back and enjoy the ballet of children going about their activities. There is so much truth in Dr. Montessori’s quote, “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.’”

spotlight voila montessori

Another very important Montessori moment for me was while sitting in the audience of the AMI – Annual General Meeting in Amsterdam listening to Dr. Steven Hughes and seeing the primary sequence chart I created on the screen. Dr. Hughes and many others have adopted my chart which illustrates the full three years of presentations we offer children in the Primary environment. I had needed a vision of the ‘whole child’ when working and had come up with this visual aid, which has just recently been translated in Spanish.

Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?

The two that guide my ongoing work are…

“To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely. A child is passing through a period of self-realization, and it is enough simply to open up the door for him.” (The Secret of Childhood).

“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.” (Education for a New World).

Q: What inspired you to share your Montessori story on your blog?

As I mentioned earlier, it is a passion of mine to share what I believe should be common knowledge for all and especially for those in the presence of children. I do not share much of my personal journey but instead I choose to create short educational videos with my husband. These videos are simple activities that adults can present to young children. I show these activities from the child’s perspective, modeling the importance of slowing our movements and not talking when wanting to share a new skill or activity.

Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?

Seek out a Montessori consultant before you purchase anything; it is best to meet with one during the third trimester, that way you will feel prepared for the birth and ready to welcome your child in an environment that has been adapted to his or her needs.

“Parenting was never meant to be done alone.”

Keep things simple and believe in your parental instinct — it is a muscle that is developing with your child — trust that you and your child know what is best. Most importantly, enjoy this time and learn to ask for help. Parenting was never meant to be done alone.

Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?

Observing a toddler or primary environment; I can never tire myself of watching children be so autonomous and competent as they go about their tasks. This can be tricky though, there are many that call themselves Montessori and yet do not respect the authentic method nor the children. Be sure to do your homework before choosing an environment to observe.

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

The universal aspect of it. I am so grateful to be working with families from so many countries and to have met so many wonderful colleagues from all corners of the Earth. The fact that it is culturally sensitive is so important to me.

Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?

I have seen education evolve in my lifetime and I appreciate the fact that people are questioning the traditional school system and creating alternative ways of guiding our children. To this day though I strongly believe that if Dr. Montessori had been a man we would not be where we are today, as I also wish she had trademarked or copyrighted her curriculum.

Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?

My hope is that in 2117, Montessori is one of the mainstream universal education systems. I also hope that parents are given supportive guidance on how to nurture their children’s full potential from the start. Encouraging all children to learn at their own pace, bringing peace to this great planet of ours.


Written by:

Charlotte Snyder

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