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Mammolina Children's Home Montessori Kindergarten
School location: Chaoyang District, Xiangjiang Beilu, Liyuan
Postal Address: Jianguomen Guojiyouju 100600-6739
PR of CHINA
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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?
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!
In what ways is Mammolina Children’s Home
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.
Will parents be able to observe their children at
Mammolina Children's Home?
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.
Does Mammolina Children’s Home aim at more than
providing a unique environment for children?
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.
think that your kindergarten can be seen as a model
Montessori school, an example to follow? The space is
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
...We certainly hope so!
Still have questions about the Mammolina Children's
Home? Click here to
check our school FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
* The interview is here reproduced in it's entirety,
not in its edited, published form and has been adapted
for our website.