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For more about the Mammolina Children's Home click here to check our school FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

Mammolina Children's Home
Montessori Kindergarten
School location: Chaoyang District, Xiangjiang Beilu, Liyuan Xiaoqu A36
Postal Address: Jianguomen Guojiyouju 100600-6739
Beijing 100600
Tel. (8610) 84705128
Fax. (8610) 84705127

From an interview given to Little Star, Beijing's new education Magazine*

A new Montessori kindergarten opens in Beijing September 2005. China born Sasha Gigliesi is behind this new school that welcomes children 2 ?to 6 years old. She speaks about what makes her school different, and what the
Mammolina Children's Home stands for...

Q&A: You were born in China in 1966. That’s when the Cultural Revolution began. Do you believe that growing up during those years had anything to do with what you are doing today?
Q&A: It certainly did! When I first came into contact with Montessori over ten years ago, I was trying to find a way to provide the best possible education for my own children. A friend of mine who was studying Montessori introduced me to the philosophy. I realized immediately that I had found what I was looking for. The contrast between the kind of schooling I experienced when I was a child, and Montessori, were as different as day and night.

Montessori provides what we call the “prepared environment? This allows children to be able to chose their own work, and learn with minimal direct adult intervention. Traditional systems (and this is common to most cultures, not only Chinese), see children as helpless and in constant need of being taught, forced to do things, nagged, criticized, and so on. When I was growing up, we were expected not to ask questions. We were expected to learn the “right?answers. We had to be quiet, sit still, and do as we were told. Creativity and imagination were discouraged. To think of alternative answers to any questions that we were taught was disrespectful. Teachers, as our elders, should never be questioned. I did have a teacher or two who encouraged us to ask questions and challenged us to think for ourselves, but these were the exception, not the rule. So, when I found Montessori, I felt like I’d found a treasure chest! It was like finally opening a door to a cave filled with riches, after a long quest for something I sensed existed and was possible, but had never experienced. And there it was! I could offer it to my children! After all, there was a better alternative, and they didn’t have to go through the same enthusiasm and curiosity killing system I had to fight off all the way throughout my own childhood.

Q&A: Why did you decide to call your kindergarten “Children’s Home?rather than “Children’s House?or “House of Children,?like most other Montessori schools do?
Q&A: When Dr. Maria Montessori opened her first kindergarten in 1907, she called it Casa dei Bambini. In Italian, the word “casa?can be translated as both “house?and “home? “House?became the accepted translation. We feel that this was unfortunate, because what Dr. Montessori intended was indeed to provide a “home?for the children entrusted to her.

Those children were slum children, their parents were poor, and both father and mother had to work to make a meager living to support their families. The children were alone most of the day. They damaged and defaced the buildings, and were completely wild! These were families who were living in new social housing projects. The owners of the property started getting worried about the damage done to the buildings, and when looking for a solution.

Dr. Montessori ended up in charge of taming the “street urchins?as they were called. So, when she opened her first kindergarten, she was in fact providing children with an alternative home environment ?a home away from home.

That’s why we decided to call our kindergarten “Children’s Home?because we want to make sure we provide 100% Montessori ?not an adapted, compromised version of it. That is why our setup is quite different from other schools in many aspects.

Q&A: You mean, it’s different because to be 100% Montessori, you want children to feel at home? But don’t all schools want that? And don’t all Montessori schools have very much the same kind of setup?
Q&A: Yes and no. Yes, I do believe that children at this age need to feel the school environment as less of a school and more like home. It also eases their transition. It is difficult for many of them, in the beginning, being away from Mom for most of the day. And no, because not all schools provide “Montessori?in the same way.

It is true that most schools try to make children feel as comfortable and welcomed as possible. I have no doubt about that. But what I am referring to is the fact that the Mammolina Children’s Home does provide a unique environment in many ways. It is a project that took many years to take shape and become a reality. We wanted to follow that vision we had that there is a big difference between “school?and “home??when there should not be! At least, not for children in this age group.

A school can be less like a “house,?and more like “home,?providing a support system for each child, far more individualized and personalized than most schools manage to provide. And this is when Montessori can really make a difference!

Q&A: In what ways is Mammolina Children’s Home different?
Q&A: All schools are very similar in that they provide, usually, standard spaces for children to use: classrooms, a place to eat, a playground, and so on. Montessori classrooms are usually different from traditional classrooms, even for younger children, because there is greater freedom. Children do not usually sit all the time at their tables, doing what they are told. There are moments when adults engage the children in group activities, but these are not what predominantly occupies the child. Children are provided with a wide variety of sets of objects of daily life use, didactic materials. They are encouraged to explore, experiment and use them as much as they want in order to become independent. Children are guided and encouraged in subtle ways to discover as much as possible of the environment by themselves, but should never be forced, coerced into or told what to do. Order, cooperation and responsibility are the natural consequence of the freedom that is never taken away from the child.

The fact is, however, that even in many Montessori schools, classrooms still look a lot like regular classrooms: a room, with shelves and materials, tables and chairs. Children have to do a certain amount of work even when they would rather be learning naturally and constructing their own self. Also, because schools often rent their facilities, they are limited to use what space is available and adapt it as best as they can. Usually that means being able to do little more than decide where the shelves, materials, tables and chairs go. Classroom space is also limited, and children often share an area that is less than optimal.

The Mammolina Children’s Home was conceived from the very beginning, even at the construction stage, with a very specific purpose in mind: to provide the best environment possible for children. Our spacious 280sqm classroom, is prepared to give children all the space they need to grow and develop according to their own individual needs. Integrated spaces make it much more like home than the traditional classroom space. The Montessori prepared environment is divided in 5 basic areas: practical life, sensorial, language, mathematics, and culture. In a typical classroom, these are usually just defined by the materials on the shelves, placed around the classroom. We have areas devised that create integrated synergies because the whole space was conceived and designed in such a way that children will feel that this home away from home, an environment with something special to offer; they will look forward to coming to school and spending time here. They will enjoy it, discover it, and make it their own. There is space to work alone or in group. Children can find a quiet space if needed; a semi-private reading area; or an interior quiet oriental garden. A child sized kitchen provides true practical life work...

Children need quiet and time to contemplate, reflect and organize their world even more than adults do, but often this need is not met. This is one particular aspect of the Montessori environment that we want to make sure children will not be deprived of.

Q&A: Will parents be able to observe their children at Mammolina Children's Home?
Q&A: Parents often ask if they can observe their children in the classroom. It is a common practice in most Montessori classrooms to allow parents to come and visit. Sometimes, the presence of visitors is a good opportunity for the children to show their acquired social skills. At times, Montessori students and directresses from other schools also ask to come and observe. The requirement is that adults should be discrete and interact with children as little as possible, when observing a classroom. There are several reasons why this is requested. The number one reason is because the presence of unfamiliar adults in the environment disturbs the normal atmosphere of the environment and children get distracted.

While we hope to encourage observation, some adults also are not able to be quietly present. We have addressed this issue by creating an upper floor level for observation. In this way, adults can observe without disturbing the normal classroom routines, and without having any time restrictions imposed on them. Most schools will let parents observe for an hour or two, but that is insufficient. The child’s work cycle is far longer than that, so parents should be able to stay for a full half day, or even whole day, if they wish to. With our setup, we can provide these conditions.
Q&A: Does Mammolina Children’s Home aim at more than providing a unique environment for children?
Q&A: Another thing that we want to make sure that we do is help promote Montessori. That means to help to clarify certain misconceptions about what Montessori is: what can, and should, or not, be expected of Montessori. We have a number of resources that we want to make available to parents who enroll their children with us and the community in general, including other Montessori teachers / directresses. These resources will be available from our school library to both foreign and Chinese students, parents and teachers alike. A children’s section will also be available. Anyone interested can apply for membership and a library card.

One other important aspect of the work we want to carry on is to raise awareness of the fact that Montessori educates for Peace. This aspect of Montessori is ignored in many schools today. Dr. Montessori had but one hope and dream: to bring about World Peace, and she trusted children could do it. She left this message with us: ?i>I beg the dear all-powerful children to unite with me for the building of peace in Man and in the World.? These words are engraved on her tombstone.
Q&A: Do you think that your kindergarten can be seen as a model Montessori school, an example to follow? The space is indeed unique...
Q&A: That is something that I would like to be asked again 10 or 20 years down the line from now. We have put a lot of thought into our school, based on our years of studying, working with children, visiting and observing other classrooms. We have tried to learn as much as possible from everyone, and this space is what we came up with as our response to problems seen. It is our solution, our contribution to Montessori. It is a space for the children. I trust that the children will help us make it a model kindergarten, as we “Follow the Child?as Montessori asked us to do. Time ?and the children ? will tell if we have created a model Montessori kindergarten...

...We certainly hope so!

ˇˇ Still have questions about the Mammolina Children's Home? Click here to check our school FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) page.

* The interview is here reproduced in it's entirety,
not in its edited, published form and has been adapted for our website.

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