The Eaton Community Montessori Project
Having gone to a Montessori Children’s House myself, I always knew that I wanted the same kind of learning environment for my own children. When my husband and I moved to the South-West Region of Western Australia I found myself pregnant, without work and without a Montessori School!
I spent lots of time at the local library and after having gotten to know the head librarian very well, she introduced me to a local traditionally trained teacher with two young children, who was interested in the Montessori Method. We met and became friends, and often lamented the lack of Montessori programs in the region. Through my involvement in the region’s Early Years Network, I became aware of some government funding that was available for service projects related to the advancement of children under the age of 8. Initial discussions with my teacher friend and the head librarian, along with a representative of the government department offering the funding, led us to seek and receive $50 000 to set up a pilot program in the local public library. And so the Eaton Community Montessori Project was born…
We purchased a basic set of infant toddler and children’s house equipment, and set up a Montessori Resource Section in a small alcove in the library. We offered two sessions per week (one on a weekday morning and the other on a Saturday morning, to cater to working parents), where up to 12 families could come along, for free, to learn more about the Montessori approach to education and parenting. The response was phenomenal with waiting lists blowing out to 9 months in advance within a few weeks. The families who were taking part in the workshops were so enthusiastic and interested in the “Montessori Way” and we were inundated with requests to set up a continuing program for families who had completed the library workshops.
This led us to seek further funding, from the Federal Government this time, to the tune on $100 000. We then secured the lease of a spare classroom at the local high school, and purchased a second, more comprehensive set of equipment for our Montessori Children’s Club. We decided to incorporate as a non-profit association to formalize our management and keep our project running for the benefit of the community in the long term. The Children’s Club started out charging a very modest fee for participating families, and soon had a large group of willing parents and children coming along to three morning sessions each week. The club caters to children from birth to age 6, with parents accompanying them to sessions, and has some school-aged children attending as homeschoolers. The funding also allowed us to train two traditional teachers as Montessori teachers, spreading the load for the founding teachers. We all work as volunteers. The club has been running for 1 year and this month reached capacity enrollment.
The parent community voted to seek registration as a school and we hope to set up our formal program at the beginning of 2009. Our strongest desire is to start a Montessori Learning Community that offers something for everyone in every stage of their lives. Our intention is to offer antenatal classes, infant toddler classes, a children’s house program, a primary program, an enrichment program for children in traditional schools, a parenting program, a Saturday morning extended family program for grandparents, dads only workshops, and we are currently seeking funding to set up a support program for families caring for someone with dementia using the techniques outlined by Dr Cameron Camp. Our fees are no longer the lowest in the world! In fact we are charging the highest fees in the region, but families have now experienced the joy of a true Montessori learning environment, and realize that you really can’t put a price on what we are offering.
I believe that several factors have contributed to the success of our project and the overwhelming community response:
- A free, no strings attached, introduction to Montessori, and a chance for us to get to know each family in an intimate setting over an extended period of time (families attend sessions for 10 weeks before graduating)
- The chance for parents to attend classes with their children (many parents are pleasantly surprised and very grateful for the acknowledgment that Maria Montessori gives parents as their children’s first educators)
- The strong parental education program offering a chance for parents to meet each other and explore Montessori parenting ideas (reduces social isolation in a time where most families live far from immediate family support)
- The spirit of community service generated by volunteers within the community – a whiff of commercialism really turns people away (the fact that the teachers are prepared to work for free speaks volumes)
- The funding from government sources which allowed us to set up the program and purchase all of our equipment with no financial risk to our organization (this was a vital part of our ability to run programs for free or low fees)
- A lack of educational alternatives in the area, at a time when many parents are feeling disillusioned with the state education system
- The wonderful course “Building a World Class Montessori School” run by Tim Seldin and Sharon Caldwell in Canberra, Australia this year. This knowledge is allowing us to plan ahead for our true vision and helping us to create a place of learning that will stand the test of time. It was worth every penny.
We would be happy to share any lessons we have learned along the way and would love to reflect on our somewhat “different” practices with other teachers, schools and communities. Keeping the Montessori vision alive and vibrant within our community, country and the world is very important to us.
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Last Updated (Thursday, 22 July 2010 09:10)