Two short years after we dissolved our co-operative daycare, I am a bit surprised to say we are doing it all over again. While the previous experience was a beautiful thing and our daughter got enriched, loving care in a more positive environment than anything I’ve seen on offer in the city with children from our street who are more like siblings than friends, the co-op was a massive amount of work for the parents. We started from the ground up, with little or no background, and literally built the programme and the space to house it in. I can honestly say I grew as a person from the experience but it was not always easy. There were constant staffing issues. There was the huge emotional investment people have in their children. There were ideas that sounded cool but did not work. There was duty parent syndrome (your kid was sure to throw epic meltdowns the days you worked) and the emotional energy it takes to work with little children. Then there was the time: to cook, clean, prep the activities, sew the aprons, commit to the duty day and attend the meetings. There were one or two personalities in the mix that made things much more difficult than they needed to be. We once had a three hour meeting on a swine flu protocol and walked out of there without consensus. I have memorized the chemical content of Benefect and can tell you that if you can stomach the taste, you could use it to disinfect your diaper pail to the 99% standard upheld by stage one hospitals and then use it to flavour your martini (please be sensible and do not try this at home). Mostly though, when it came to making a commitment to the third year, we simply couldn’t do it anymore. Wearing my brand new baby in a sling across my chest, I broke down in tears as I told the group that we were going to bust up the co-op and send our daughter to the Montessori school around the corner. I was touched that the hands on my shoulders were not angry for they too had had enough.
In the two years since, I have rarely regretted that decision and though we have fond memories and enduring friendships from the co-op, V has been well served by her experience at Montessori. In fact, the more I learn about Montessori, the more in awe I am of what how effective it is at making children the stewards of their own lives. In addition, our daughter has been lucky enough to have a teacher who I think must be the most gifted educator I have ever encountered. She really gets our kid, foibles and all, and at bedtime, the teacher is the person she loves right after her family. Her Tree of Life project this year has inspired a mania in the kids in a way that Hannah Montana never could. So when the time came for us to make our decision for next year, we opted to complete the three year cycle even as the siren of free public education called our name.
Then in April, the news came down that the school wasn’t renewing the teacher’s contract. A scuffle of personalities between her and the owner meant our daughter and her friends would not finish the final year of their journey under the guidance of this amazing woman. We could have sent her to French Immersion but having paid the deposit we can barely afford, we were furious. Other families were also furious so we called a meeting and tried to influence the school to keep the teacher but it fell on deaf ears.
Six weeks later, things are in a very different place and I can’t help reflecting on how change is made. We have rallied five other families and have five more on a waiting list. We have poached not only the magical teacher but her also her magical French teaching assistant, an artist from Paris. We have decided to turn the main floor of our home and our garden into a bilingual Montessori school with an arts extension. During school hours, they will attempt to re-create as nearly as possible the Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) that Maria Montessori developed through her extensive writing and her schools in Italy and India. At the heart of it is the belief in an education for peace – from the inside out. Wow does that sound hokey but I think for many of us, this resonates as our children grow up in hostile urban environments. A hundred years ago, Montessori looked around at the destruction created by war and decided it was time for children to grow up differently, to turn their strength inward. She started with some of the poorest children from the slums of Rome and by providing them with an orderly setting and giving them the time to let things pass repeatedly through their hands in simple ways and then in gradually more complex ways, she nurtured the soul of the child that lay dormant in the street urchin.
The method hasn’t changed much over a hundred years so there will be no long-winded discussions about curriculum, apart from the fact that we are adding in an arts extension because it is of value to us and also to the teachers. Since most of us work in the arts in one way or another, we feel it is a natural adaptation, that art is rooted in our “culture”. I saw the arts curriculum plan last weekend and am bewitched by their deep consideration of the child’s physical, developmental, academic and creative capacities and they way they have weaved artistic “tools” into the prepared environment in an almost lyrical way. The best bit is that parents will simply leave for work every day and let the seven little elves, aged two to five, take over the house as a place to do their work and live and grow. When we return home we may see the evidence of their endeavours but we will be careful not to intrude by asking too many questions.
The evenings will be an adjustment for sure as we move into even smaller quarters but it is kind of an interesting sort of challenge that I hope will force us into new spaces. Anyway, it’s too late to reconsider now as we’ve made the leap of faith so we’ll just have to see where this takes us. I may be an idiot but I am excited about this madness.