Second Generation Montessorians
Liz Cundari, mother of Carlotta (Cycle 2, Wangaree) and Margaux (Cycle 1, Cooinda), jokes when she tells her story of her Montessori beginnings. “I spent more time in the principal’s office than any other child.” But for good reason, Liz’s mum was the principal of the Montessori pre-school she attended in the States (Williamsburg, Virginia). Liz tells her story of finding every excuse in the book to visit her mum in the office to spend time with her. “I struggled separating from my mother. I just always wanted to be with her. I often laugh about how I was probably the only child who didn’t learn independence at a Montessori school.”
Yet, now as an adult and a mother herself, she recognises how untrue that feeling really was. Her parents instilled in her and her sister the skill of independence; to go out into the world and be her own person, even to the extent that she chose to hurry and finish her degree in three years not four and pursue a career in consulting. She flanks her parents philosophy to child rearing to be entirely Montessori in flavour and in wisdom. For Liz, Montessori was all around her, she grew up in a Montessori environment; at home and among the friendships her mother kept. “Mum treated her staff like family and would hold staff and board meetings at home. My mother’s closest friends today are the ones she made at school.”
Liz still recalls how wonderful the community was around her, and how everyone in the ‘village’ held similar values and would treat children with so much respect. “As a child I remember being at the supermarket with my mother and people coming up to her to chat. She was like the town “celebrity” and believe me it was a small town.”
Liz found homeschooling her own children during COVID like going back in time. “As a child I remember polishing pennies. At the time I didn’t realise that my mum was helping me with my fine motor movements. So I gave my children similar tasks. We did a lot of baking too, which is great for maths and problem solving skills, just like I did with my mum.”
It’s not really until you are a mother that you take the time to think about what it is that you want your child to get out of school. One thing that stands out for Liz is her ability to synthesise complex information and to present it back simply. She attributes her love for reading and ability to make complex matters simple to her Montessori background. “We read a lot, and every day,” she reflects.
Liz and her husband decided to return to the States for a 6-month sabbatical after the second lockdown and enrolled the girls into the very Montessori school she attended as a child and the one her mum so capably guided for over 20 years.
“I was so proud of the girls for stepping right into a new school in a new country with such confidence and ease. I attribute this to the strong foundation they received here at Montessori East and the universality of the Montessori environment. I was bursting with pride that Lottie attended school every day in a building named after my mum and Margaux was taught by my first teacher, Ms. Angela.”
Liz Cundari joined the Montessori East community in 2018 and is currently Vice Chairman of the School Board.
Ceinwen Berry, mother of Bonnie in (Cycle 1, Elouera) and Jack (Cycle 2, Cooinda) grew up in Canberra in the 80s. At the time, preschool education was very limited in what it offered and parents were looking for something more. Montessori was a bit of a buzz word at the time and it piqued the interest of her mother and a small group of like minded parents.
“If I think back, my mother was rather entrepreneurial. She really wanted a Montessori education for her children but there was no Montessori school in Canberra to speak of. So, she and a few other women held a town hall meeting to gather support, and form the Canberra Montessori Society. By the start of the next school year, they were able to open the first two cycle 1 classrooms in Canberra, one on each side of the city. Mum was the first president of the Canberra Montessori Society and the first Principal of the school.”
Ceinwen was one of the foundation students of that school, which has now evolved into the Canberra Montessori School based in Holder.
At first they had to share space in a conventional preschool, packing up the materials at the end of each day. But soon they found a more permanent home in a church hall and Ceinwen’s mother recruited a Montessori guide from the States, as there was no one qualified in Australia. From thereon in, the school blossomed and the primary program launched.
Ceinwen has strong memories of how close knit the community was. Still to this day her mother’s closest friends were Montessori mums. Even when Ceinwen went on to the local public school for primary and then high school, she always came home and played with her mum’s friends’ children, who were Montessori kids.
“Montessori was all around me. It was at home, Mum was on the board and helping out at the school; it just became part of my life. I always knew when I had children that they would go to Montessori. It was always going to be this way.”
Ceinwen’s memory of Montessori was that it was led by the parents. Now as a parent herself, reflecting back, she realises that the common denominator among all of the parents at her mother’s school was their belief in a Montessori education for their children, which, in her opinion is what held the community together and enabled these friendships her mother had and still has to continue to this day.
Just recently, Ceinwen recounts a discussion she had with her brother, who also went to Canberra Montessori School and completed the primary program. Together they agreed that the legacy this foundation of education gave them was a ‘no fear of learning’, “we never had this anxiety about learning and it was ok if we weren’t the best at everything, this never concerned us growing up. I think this is why I have been so good at working in high pressure environments. I never held this fear of getting it wrong. I’m self motivated too, I can draw on my own will without support. We both think this stems from our Montessori background.”
Her friends have often asked her why she puts the effort into the early years, shouldn’t she be spending private school fees when her children are in high school? Ceinwen is a strong believer that if you set down the foundations for your child early, you can be confident that they can find their way when they are adolescents.
“Montessori children for me are strong and confident, happy to be who they want to be, and they have the grit and stamina to get through obstacles in their own way.”
Ceinwen cites that real life for an adolescent is really about the social pressures, not academic. Intelligence comes. “What school should be about is helping a child navigate their way in society,” she says.
Ceinwen Berry joined the Montessori East community in 2021 and is class parent for Cooinda.