Welcome to Jescott

I've recently been chatting to a few of our Montessori Child Facebook friends about my own Montessori centre - Jescott Montessori Pre-school. 
Jescott has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My Montessori mum, Barbara Langford, opened the pre-school when I was two years old, and I was part of the inaugural class, and it has remained pivotal in my life ever since. It is a pleasure for me to invite you to a virtual tour of my lovely little Jescott. I can't show you every single detail but I can give you an overview and share some of my favourite attributes!
So welcome to 6 Lorne Avenue, Magill in South Australia...
  
Jescott - a 'home away from home' for our little learners - was once a residential cottage. We had to make adjustments, of course, to create a 'classroom' environment but we actually didn't have to change all that much. This has allowed the building and garden to retain its home-like atmosphere. I know that some people prefer big, purpose-built centres but I can't imagine being anywhere other than my cosy little cottage! 
These photos were taken on a particularly sunny day, so the red blinds are pulled down, but when it's not too hot we like to keep these up to allow natural light into the classroom. 

   
Our front garden is home to our flower and veggie patches, as well as our rainwater tank. When we are tending to the garden we often get the chance to wave hello to members of our local community who walk past the front fence.

  
This is the first sight that our children and parents see when they walk into our "Cottage" classroom. This is our little Dining Room, where children are able to independently access their snack boxes when they feel hungry (or pour a drink from the fountain when they are thirsty). We prefer to allow for a self-motivated snack, rather than having an enforced group snack, because we find it is more respectful to the needs of each child as an individual. It also helps children to begin to learn to "listen" to the signals of their bodies in terms of hunger, thirst and satiety. In order to ensure that we still provide children with the 'Grace and Courtesy' experiences of a shared meal we do have a formal communal lunch time in the middle of the day. In both the spontaneous snack and the formal lunch the children serve their food onto a plate before taking a seat, and wash their plates and glasses at the end of their meal. In our lunch room we have a small dishwasher that the children fill as we feel this has become an important 'Practical Life skill' in our modern world.
The white shelf, with wicker drawers, serves as the storage point for the snack boxes but it also features information for parents. This little entry area houses Montessori books, staff profiles, our centre policies and our 'Partnerships and Participations' box where parents can drop in suggestions, feedback or ideas.

  
On either side of this doorway you can see our Family Pockets. We try to offer as much information as possible to our parent community. (And yes, my newsletters / parent info articles are just as long as my blog posts and product descriptions!). Walk through the doorway from the Dining Room and you find yourself in the Practical Life Kitchen.

In the Practical Life Kitchen we have tried to provide all that our little ones need to cook, bake, measure, mix and match! We have a small fridge (which the children access independently) and a small sink. Aprons and towels are accessible to the children as they need. On the shelf we have a row of baskets that are labelled (with pictures and words) that house different categories of tools. From left to right we have 'Mixing & Mashing', 'Juicing', 'Grating & Peeling', 'Measuring', 'Transferring' and 'Sifting & Straining'. These baskets allow children to make careful, deliberate and considered choices about which tools they require for a particular task. It offers the chance for planning, problem-solving and self-correction. Instead of an adult handing out the required implements the child is able to reflect on his/her needs and try to identify what would be required in that situation. Above these baskets we have chopping boards and mixing bowls, with sealed plastic containers filled with fresh fruit and vegetables (these are also labelled with both picture and words). Below the utensil baskets we prepare some 'Practical Life Activity Trays' for the children. These isolate specific skills to allow for revision, refinement, repetition or remedial exercise. Usually we create the trays when we have observed a child struggling with a particular element of a meaningful cooking experience. For instance, if we are baking muffins and a child spilled a lot of flour when sifting then we might prepare a tray with two bowls, a sifter and some flour so that the child can practice this specific skill in isolation. 

   
Our Kitchen features one large table because we usually find that food preparation and cooking are communal experiences. The tables can be separated if needed but the children seem happiest when the table is together (regardless of whether they're engaging in collaborative cooking or parallel practical life work!). On the far wall of the kitchen we have a spice rack, our compost bin, our cleaning area and our bread maker (which we use regularly). The cleaning tools that we offer children include a bowl and sponge for cleaning spills, a bowl, sponge and squirt bottle for cleaning the tabletops at the end of the session, dustpans and brushes, sweeping brushes and a mop and bucket. The children use these throughout the session, whenever they have created a spill that they wish to correct, but also use them at the end of the work cycle when the teachers and children work together to clean the classroom. You can see in the photo on the right that we also have a photo display in this room. It shows some of our Practical Life processes - it is partly to help inform our parent community of the value of this Kitchen area but it also inspires the children to reflect on their past experiences to inspire new ones!

   
On the way from the Kitchen to the main classroom you pass the children's bathroom. It might seem a little strange for me to include a picture of this but I actually think it's a relevant stop on our virtual tour because of one particular detail; the doors. I've visited a lot of early childhood environments - Montessori and traditional, long day care and sessional - and not all of them have doors on the cubicles for the children. The argument for the 'open-plan' bathrooms that many centres have is that it is for safety, so that the children are never out of the view of the adults. I personally would not feel comfortable to offer that environment to a child because I firmly believe that even our youngest children deserve a sense of privacy and dignity. Our cubicle doors are quite short, and also have gaps on the sides, so it is easy for a teacher to quickly peek through to check if a child is okay, or to respond to a request for help, but they still provide a sense of protection for what is a personal moment. 

   
This is an 'overview' shot of our main classroom. It's not a huge space (as I said, we are in a cosy little cottage!) but it's still hard to get it all in one image. You will notice that our walls are not overly decorated. We have a couple of parent information boards - one with photos showing examples of each Montessori curriculum area and the other with our 'Learning Together' program which details the group experiments and experiences that aren't visible in the prepared environment. In keeping with the Montessori principle of avoiding competition (and not offering external 'rewards') we do not publicly display children's art and/or work. We are able to display some photos (as mentioned above), because we feel this maintains an emphasis on the process not the product and therefore it does not cause the children to feel anxious, judged or pressured. On the back wall you can see one special painting - a graduation gift from a lovely family (thank you Centofantis!). It shows an image of the world with children circling the globe hand-in-hand.
As you can see in our photos we have lots of open shelving filled with a variety of inviting and intriguing activities. We meticulously review and refine this environment to cater to the ever-changing dynamics of our classroom community.
The blue circle mat on the floor is useful for group gatherings (we don't have set 'circle times' in our centre - but that's a story for another day! - but we do sporadically gather as a group for spontaneous conversations, stories and so forth). The circle mat also provides a good line for 'Walking the Line' activities where children carefully balance as they take heel-to-toe steps while carrying props (such as our Balancing Bird).  

  
This is our little reading area. Our book shelf has three shelves - one for fiction, one for non-fiction and another for 'theme' books that relate specifically to the experiences or explorations currently occurring in the classroom. The little picture on the wall is a pencil drawing of the earth with the Montessori quote "Free the child's potential and you will transform him into the world". The cupboards that frame the reading area contain additional resources that don't fit on the shelf. It is handy having them in easy reach like this so that we can spontaneously 'follow the needs of the child', even if an interest arises suddenly in the middle of the day! Behind the cupboard on the left we have a little tent that folds flat for storage but 'pops up' to create a little sanctuary when a child needs some some space away from sensory input. We call it our 'Relaxation Tent' and children request it when they feel tired or overwhelmed. On the shelf between the cupboards we have our Montessori Globes and also some of the little tokens of appreciation that we have received from our lovely families. This spot also houses mum's Excellence in Teaching plaque and my 'Rising Star' trophy from the Early Childhood Education and Care Awards. To be honest, I feel a bit uncomfortable about receiving an "award" (yep, I'm truly a Montessori child - I genuinely only need intrinsic motivation, the external accolades don't really fit me!) but in both awards the parent community were behind the nominations, so we display the trophies as a way of celebrating our entire Montessori community. 

    
We have a 'stationery stand' in the middle of the main classroom. This is a relatively new update to our prepared environment and I love it! We actually inherited it from one of our 'sister schools' (thanks Cedars!) and it has made such a positive impact - especially since we added our carefully labelled baskets! We definitely find that the picture/word labels (used here and in our Kitchen) really assist children with becoming more organised and orderly. It also helps to create a 'reading environment', where words are prominently displayed and their practical purpose is on show. Beside the stationery shelf we have two little chests of drawers, each labelled with an individual child's full name. When a child creates, draws or writes on paper he or she will then carefully place this in the drawer for safe-keeping. Above the drawers we have our drying rack (where wet paintings sit in tiered baskets to dry) and our recycling baskets (we try to embed sustainable practices into each element of our daily routine).

   
Another little 'Practical Life' gem in our classroom! Our coat rack and shoe rack. In Adelaide we have a lot of months where the weather is really changeable - freezing in the morning, warm by the afternoon (or vice versa!). So it is important for our children to have somewhere to hang their jackets or cardigans so they can access them as needed. The coat rack provides a practical life lesson in learning to hang clothes (I'm always surprised by how few of our children know how to do this initially!). It also encourages children to engage with their buttons / zips - and this helps us to identify if any of them need to work with the Montessori Dressing Frames to master these skills. Our shoe rack is a great place for children to store their shoes (and socks) if they wish to be barefoot in the classroom. We find this is quite common - particularly in the summer - as many children seem to feel more comfortable and balanced with bare feet. We have a little shoe brush on the rack too so that children can shine their shoes or remove sand/debris from the base. 

   
Okay, let's step outside! A big part of Montessori is the 'indoor-outdoor flow'. Within the Montessori method the walls and roof don't provide a physical distinction, but not a philosophical one. Meaningful experiences can happen whether it is indoors or outside. Learning can happen indoors or out, fun can happen indoors and out, nature can be indoors or out...and so on! So our outdoor area is an extension of our classroom - beginning with our undercover area which even looks a lot like our indoor prepared environment! We have a little outdoor cafe area (the white tables), shelves with the practical life tools required to set up the cafe and then a shelf of activities beside some tables. Further down the verandah area we have our rabbit hutch. Our rabbit is a vital part of our classroom community - we all take great pride in caring for her - and the children enjoy observing her while we are outdoors. Next to our rabbit's hutch are our mini-bins (one for rubbish, one for recycling and one for 'green' waste - these mirror the three real bins that are picked up by our local council). 

   
Just like our indoor classroom has a space for parent information, so too does our outdoor area! In between the bag hooks is our Parent Information Station - which holds resources about Montessori, about local events, copies of all our parent correspondence and more! At the moment we have a little display set up featuring photos and mementos from our "Save the Orangutans" fundraiser.

   
We are blessed to have a large outdoor area with lots of established trees. This is one of the benefits of having been in the same place for 25 years - when mum purchased the property back in 1989 it was affordable to obtain this double-block. If we tried to purchase the same land size in this area today it would be nearly impossible (not only because of the price range but also because so many of the double blocks have already been sub-divided!).
 
   
We have a second building - our 'Treehouse' room - at the far end of the garden which houses our 'Nido' Playgroup and also provides a space for our formal group lunch time and our Music and Movement sessions. These photos show the little outdoor area beside the Treehouse which is meant for our toddlers in the Nido.

   
Just a couple of my favourite features outside - I love the little 'hidey-hole' that Andrew sculpted into one of the bushes for us. Andrew does our gardening and maintenance at Jescott so he is a regular fixture there each morning and on the weekends. The families who arrive early are quite familiar with him...although some of the children haven't quite figured out our dynamic as I recently had a child ask "Is your little boy coming back soon?". I know Andrew looks young but I didn't think he looked young enough to be my son! Anyway, Andrew is very thoughtful in the way that he tends to our garden, and when he noticed a little hole naturally emerging he decided to cultivate it to create a little cubby hole for the children. They love to hide in it, crawl through it or use it as a 'goal' to aim for when kicking the soccer balls! Another of my favourite features outside is our little Hat and Shoes shelf near the sandpit. We used to find it very challenging to locate all the shoes and hats after children had removed them to get into the sand - now we have a designated place where the children independently place these items prior to getting sandy! 

   
I will need to add a few photos from our Treehouse room, but for now I'll just offer my favourite spot. Our little reading and relaxation area is a cosy spot for children to curl up with a book, or relax with a wistful look through the windows to our garden. Books are such an important part of my own life, perhaps this is why I feel so proud about creating a little area where children can enjoy the peace and pleasure of the printed page.
Well, I guess that's it for now! I could add hundreds of photos and still feel like I hadn't showcased every part of the little 'home away from home' that I love so much. I know Jescott better than the back of my hand - every detail, every feature is etched into my memory, my heart and my soul. I'm so proud to share this part of my life, and my Montessori world, with you!
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Comments

  • Dhanu - May 10, 2017

    Hi, In my 18 years experience I haven’t seen this kind of environment. Hat’s off to you for thinking about our Montessori children. Awesome……
    Let it grow up for some more environments like this.
    All the best!
    Regards
    Dhanu ( India)

  • Irene - Montessori Life As We Know It - October 28, 2013

    Thanks so much for sharing this Jessica, such a timely post as we went to a school tour today!

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