I am delighted to be sharing this interview series with you, where I will be talking to a different woman every fortnight about parenting, motherhood, their daily rhythm and what makes a beautiful childhood. So without further ado, let’s meet the mother…
This week, I’d like to welcome Singaporean mama of two Jasmine Ong to Frida be Mighty. I first came across Jasmine through her brilliant blog Three Minute Montessori and quickly fell in love with her practical and approachable take on the Montessori method, proving you don’t need a huge home or endless resources to create a nurturing environment for children. Jasmine brings so much wisdom to her work, and I’m sure you will enjoy reading her answers as much as I do…
Can you introduce yourself and your family?
My name is Jasmine and I live in Singapore with my husband Andrew and our two children who are both under 6.
Do you have a daily rhythm? What do your days look like?
Our daily rhythm has been slow and consistent. At one point, we were eating Japanese food every Monday for a whole year. I often wish children would do things faster, but that is a very un-childlike perspective isn’t it? So I have tried my best to slow down to the child’s pace so that I can truly follow the child instead of always charging ahead of him. I liken rhythm to the beat of a drum. The slowness creates an atmosphere for most of the song, but it builds up to a crescendo, so we have our weekly and special occasion highlights (like birthdays), where we step out of the rhythm. Either way, we make memories.
You are a trained Montessori teacher, as is your husband Andrew. What sparked your love of the Montessori method?
I fell quite irreversibly in love with Montessori when I started understanding that it wasn’t about the materials but about the principles. When an opportunity arose for us to move to London, I had to sign up for AMI 3-6 Assistant training, and my husband Andrew joined me the next summer for AMI 6-12 training. I learnt two things from my training: firstly, instead of turning your home into a classroom, fold the young child into the rhythms of family life; secondly, make Montessori your own, adapted to your time, budget, space, local resources and culture.
What do you think the main difference is between a Montessori education and a more mainstream one?
I’d like to make a distinction between education and schooling, where I see schooling as more narrowly focused on academic achievement and education as being about preparing the whole child for a life ahead of him. If you see Montessori as a way of life, as I do, then you can educate your child in a Montessori way even if you place him in a mainstream school system, for parents are their child’s first and main educator.
All education systems will state that they put the child first, and in my former life as someone who taught and led in schools, and worked at education headquarters, I came across many outstanding teachers and leaders who truly lived out that motto. But the key difference between Montessori and other forms of education is for me the great humility the adult must have. Dr Montessori called it the spiritual preparation of the adult. I call it being attuned. No longer should we consider ourselves the central figure in the classroom, but to be there in service of the child, grounded in careful observation.
You run an online course looking at how Montessori can be applied to the “second plane” of development (6-12 year olds). I see so many resources geared towards very young children, so it’s refreshing to see quality resources being developed for parents with slightly older children. What is it about this age period that attracted you?
The intellect of the 6-12yo remains vastly underestimated. They have a great sense of humour, an immense appetite for knowledge, a natural curiosity about the world. And schools have not kept pace with that! Dr Montessori strikingly described students in her day as butterflies pinned to a board. It’s depressing to look around a hundred years on and realise that Dr Montessori’s metaphor actually still applies in some schools in 2019.
Andrew and I spent many Tube rides imagining how we could make some of Montessori’s ideas accessible to parents, believing it would blow other people’s minds just as it blew ours. In fact, the 6-12 AMI training was what made Andrew decide to move from teaching 17-18 year olds to 6-12 year olds.
I always love it when you share photos of your home as every corner of your home is so well considered and attractive – not surprising perhaps given you are trained not just in Montessori, which places a strong focus on the child’s environment, but also in interior design! What tips would you give to parents who want to bring Montessori principles into their home design but don’t have the budget or space to recreate everything they see on Pinterest?
I enjoy working with constraints, whether it’s financial or spatial. Some of the most creative solutions have been born of necessity (or sheer desperation). Find the tightest space or awkward corner- often it’ll turn out to be the perfect size for mounting a pegboard for some vertical storage or an adorably cozy nook for a child to curl up with a book.
What do you think makes for a beautiful childhood?
A beautiful childhood is not just about an inviting home, or gorgeous playscape. It is not even about the places you went and pictures you took. A beautiful childhood is one which embraces imperfection, knowing that the parent-child bond is stronger for it. The imperfect parent trying to be more patient and wise. The imperfect child trying to construct language, personality, coordinated movement, all from scratch. Parent and child, sitting together with big, unpleasant emotions. Parent and child, understanding when one party has a rough day and offering compassion and not judgment. Young children are capable of great love in ways both spoken and unspoken. I know, because I’ve been the beneficiary of that.
If you could share one insight or piece of advice with other mothers, what would it be?
Don’t fret about whether you are Montessori or this or that philosophy or not. Choose a few words that describe the kind of parent you would like to be. And gradually choose to become that parent, perhaps by unloading baggage that shouldn’t have been yours to carry or meeting your own needs for learning and self-care, and finding a way of being with your children that is mutually enjoyable.
Finally, what is your favourite children’s book?
Sunshine by Jan Ormerod is a classic. Its illustrations of an independent young child are down-to-earth yet captivating. Plus it’s a wordless picture book so it would suit multilingual families too.
Thank you so much Jasmine! You can find Jasmine on Instagram here and on Facebook here, and read her beautiful blog here. Jasmine is running an online course beginning on the 4th March on Montessori in the second plane (6-12 years) which you can find out more about here. Jasmine has kindly offered me a place on her course for free (but only after I sent her a message telling her I was planning to enrol anyway), and having met both Jasmine and Andrew in real life I’m confident the course will be excellent!