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Montessori Around the World - Meet Elisabetta and Kaia

Welcome to Montessori Around the World. This is a series of interviews with Montessori families and caregivers from around the globe. Here you get to see the similarities and differences in how Montessori is practiced and read first hand about how it has shaped people's lives.

So, Elisabetta, what’s your Montessori story?

To give a bit of background, I am half Italian and half Filipina. I was raised in the United Arab Emirates, went to university in the UK and then returned to the Middle East to work in Oman, where I currently live with my child, Kaia (almost four years old), and my husband. I was an Engineer and let me just say that I never considered home schooling before I had my child! I was convinced I would go back to work and send her to nursery. I certainly did not think I had the patience or skills to be a home schooler! But, when Kaia turned one and I began to explore different nurseries, I started to have doubts about whether this was the path I really wanted to take.

Through my online research, I found images of beautiful environments and materials, all with the caption “Montessori” and that led me down the rabbit hole of Montessori-related blogs and Instagram accounts. After reading so many articles, I realised that the schools and nurseries available near me wouldn’t come close to what I wanted for my child. I started to think: “I could do that! I could just do some of those things at home!” or “I love that interior! That would look so awesome in my living room!” So I started to DIY what I found online, watched my child flourish with the new stimulation, and, in doing so, I also found a creative outlet for myself. With each passing month, I would learn more about Montessori pedagogy and soon it became such a big part of our lives that I couldn’t see education or even childrearing in the same way.

Has Montessori affected your lifestyle and how you chose to parent / care give?

Most certainly, a million times yes! My husband and I used to dream of how we would want to raise our child and how we hoped they would become as an adult. He didn’t really feel like his job was a true representation of himself. I, on the other hand, did two years of medical school before giving it up to pursue Civil Engineering – a move that at the time felt like such a huge risk and was attached with so much societal pressure. Both of us felt that our schooling let us down. We were sort of pushed along and pressured into fields that we didn’t really know anything about and that led us to feeling unfulfilled as adults and, most importantly, feeling like if only we had the time as kids to learn what we really enjoyed, we would be experts at it by now!

So when we learnt about Montessori, everything just clicked. It described everything we felt about education, society, and its pressures. Montessori offered a method that didn’t adhere to the system we had grown accustomed to and instead brought the focus back to where it belonged: on the individual, listening to the child, following their dreams, and in doing so honouring our own.

Please share a Montessori success and / or unsuccessful attempt story that has stuck in your mind.

So far the two biggest attempts that made a huge impact on this journey are potty training and Instagram. Both were instances where I felt I truly learnt what it meant to “follow the child.” For potty training, as with many other mums, I felt quite a bit of societal pressure. Playdates would often involve mothers asking each other: “Is your child potty trained?”, “How did you do it?” etc. I knew I wanted to follow Kaia and would just show her how to use the bathroom and offer pants without pressuring, but by the time she approached three, I started to get seriously worried. Was I doing something wrong? Why didn’t she want to use the toilet? Should I just use some sort of reward system? Should I just take off her underwear so she can understand? I started getting so frustrated, but every time she would refuse pants, I would just say “Okay no worries, if you want it, it’s here” and wait a month before asking again. Seriously, it was so hard! But then one day, just after she turned three years old, she finally said “yes”, put pants on for the morning, used the toilet, and then after her nap said “No, thank you. I want nappies now”. So again, I was confused. I thought “Should I push for it?” but again, as hard as it was, I resisted the temptation to push. Another few weeks passed and then she would say “yes” and wear the pants for longer. Then, at three years and two months old, she just never asked for nappies again. Simple as that. I didn’t do anything! Absolutely no “potty training”. I just showed her, waited and didn’t pressure her. We’ve only had three “accidents” before she learnt to use the toilet. Something that had frustrated and worried me so much for so long was resolved just like that - by letting her do it in her own time. The experience served as a huge reminder to let go of expectations and let her follow her own path.

The second instance that taught me a lot was “Instagram”. I must preface by saying that I love both Instagram and Pinterest. They have been a fountain of inspiration for home schooling, my professional life and my personal interests. But unfortunately, at some point I realised I was starting to substitute mainstream expectations with Montessori ones. I would see children around the same age as Kaia reading and I would think: “Oh my gosh, did I introduce beginning sounds too late? Did I miss a window? Am I presenting it wrong?”. All those questions can be helpful in assessing your home schooling journey, but rather than using them to criticise your capability, they can be used as springboards to explore new territory and tailor your future lessons. There’s also a very real trap of doing things just because they are “Instagram-worthy”. If something doesn’t work for your child, no matter how pretty it is, it just isn’t worth it! So I would say in using social media, I constantly need to remind myself that these are ideas to try and share and nothing more. The real day-to-day journey that goes on with your child at home is magical and should always be your guide rather than the images you see online.

What’s your favourite Maria Montessori Quote and why?

If it’s not too obvious from the previous answer, it would be the classic “follow the child”! In its simplicity, it is both the guiding light when I am confused or upset and a reminder of what our hopes and dreams are for Kaia’s future.

What do you consider to be the most important aspect of Montessori at home?

At the moment for my home, it’s order. Through Montessori, I have discovered minimalism (which I am still exploring). I found that the two complement each other so well in the physical space of the home. Being intentional in what is on the shelves, scaling back on the visual clutter and so freeing up both our time and minds to do more creative work has been really awesome for both Kaia and myself. Having order helps her to become more independent, take ownership of her surroundings and gives her the freedom to move from one interest to another without cluttering up her space.

What one piece of advice would you give others starting out on their own Montessori journey?

If you can or when you have the time, read Maria’s books! I am still very much making my way through her work, but every time I read her words I understand more and more why the curriculum and the method are the way they are, and why this is the right choice for our family. If you can find out more about the “why” rather than getting hung up on the “how”, then I think it will really guide you through this most awesome journey.

You can see more about Elisabetta and Kaia by following their Instagram account:

Interview of Elisabetta Nebbia by Mie Mari Sløk Rusdal and Jude Saffron

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