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Interview with school founder Maria Smirnova (Part 2)

Mar 24, 2022

Maria Smirnova has been working with Montessori for almost a decade. She used to own and run various Montessori schools in Paris and implemented Montessori Sports at that time. We had the privilege to ask her some questions to  learn from her experiences! Thank you Maria for a wonderful talk! 

Below you find part 2 of the interview. If you want to read part one, click here


Ruben: What I remember, the training at your school was  during pre-COVID measures time. No lockdowns, no travel restrictions. So we spent a few days in Paris with your staff. What I felt, at least, was also like it was some kind of bonding experience for the teachers because they were doing sports together.

And they were overcoming sometimes also some internal doubts because in our experience, and I don't know if you can acknowledge that, many guides in Montessori have some kind of self-doubt with regards to sports.

Exactly. And it's true that the way how the whole training happened, it was for us a team building event. It was really this opportunity to get on the field with our training shoes and the outfit we never see each other in, and you know, get together into trying to hit the ball and miss it and trying to do other things or do that again or practicing those animal postures, which is also very funny to do.

So it was definitely a very positive experience. And to your second point, it’s also the case with sports, but it was also other areas of education like music or other things, because what we aim in Montessori is to have this enlightened generalist who would be with the children, who would know not all the details about everything, but would know enough about many topics.

And of course, when you've never done music and you're supposed to teach music, you may not feel comfortable and it's the same with sports. If you are expected to teach sports to the children, but you have never done sports, or you have not been particular into sports all your life, that's a lot of going out of your comfort zone. And sometimes it can be really challenging for the adults.

And so it's also important as a school leader to understand that, and to see where is the right stretch for everybody.

And this work on yourself is also what is part of the spiritual preparation of the adult and that's part of what we are here for in Montessori.

So the first obstacle like spaces and infrastructure, you can solve it in any case, if you're creative enough. The second one, like some kind of self-doubt or obstacles that the teachers see ,  it was also solved once they started. And especially in the Children's House, because the knowledge and experience you need is basically just to prepare the sports environment. Of course, you need a little bit of basic movement skills, but only very basic. It's not that you need to be an expert on football or basketball or swimming or whatsoever, because in the first plane, we offer general guidelines and general movement patterns, control of the body control of an object.

And in many cases there are, of course, a lot of women working in the children's house. And it also, I think, empowers the women to move and to get active in sports. And in this way, we also saw not only in your school, but in many other schools worldwide that the little girls, they also find it more easy to start to get into movement and sports. I don't know if you also find that or you had a different experience in your school?

I definitely think the guides need to do sports themselves because that will create the best and most sustainable stimulus for the them and thus for the children to include sports in their daily lives. I think that it's empowering girls and women in general to do sports and all kind of sports. That's definitely a big lifetime task for our society because it's still very divided: these sports are for boys and these are for girls. Or dancing is for girls and football is for boys.

And then depending on the countries, it varies a little bit. I now live in Brussels and I can see that in Belgium, it's much more equal. So you have as many teams for hockey and football, for girls, as for boys. But in France, it's probably not the case.

So I think it is important to give a really strong foundation that goes back to this first plane from 0 to 6. When you can create the basics, strengthen your body you can do any sports you want afterwards, and you have more choices in life and that's what Montessori is also about.

Of course. Accelerated by the measures taken by governments during covid, things are moving towards online environments. And that's also what we've done with Montessori Sports. Many of the teachers in your schools they also did the online course. Can you tell a little bit more about that?

Yes, it was actually very complimentary to what we did on site, because of course, when you're on site, you try to do what is even more valuable in a physical presence to have more practicing, while the more theoretical parts you can do online.

So it was really very complimentary. And all of the guides who did that, they really thought it was a great addition to the physical onsite training we had.

Yeah, actually the whole theoretical part, we embedded it in the system and the practical part, in the online environment, the teachers, they can work on the practical part, send in the videos, upload them and then we have a talk about the prepared environment with them.

Do you have any recommendations? So suppose you're a school head somewhere on the planet and you think: Hmm this sounds interesting? I want to implement Montessori Sports into my school. Where would you start?

From the very beginning, probably already thinking if it's, let's say, a new creation of a school to think how sports can be already part of it. Because again, we don't need to make complicated theories around that. Montessori was the first one who talked about movement and how important it is to not only the physical development, but also psychological development of the child, and that from little babies, movement is already the expression of the will, the willingness to do something, to go out and get something.

And so this movement is really life in the end. And so when you can have this opportunity to set up a school which already thinks about how we're going to do sports, when this is possible, when you can have more space, it's always better, of course.

But even if it's limited, still having in mind, how can I transform space or in different parts of the day of the week to accommodate sports and then also providing those opportunities for the staff, for the teachers to get on-board straight away.

So, when Montessori Sports is implemented at the school level, any new teacher who comes in should be on board, doing the training, practicing, having some peer coaching from their colleagues,. That should be also included in the overall educational plan.

What about implementing sports programs or involve children with for example autism or other capacities? I remember one case, that's why I ask you.

We did indeed have children with learning differences. And from our experience, they could actually follow  the Montessori Sports exercises very well because it's a very holistic approach where you use your body, you use your imagination, you use some social interactions.

And because they can rely not just on their intellectual ability, but on the whole body and the whole mind, the spirit altogether, that actually works for them. So you would sometimes not even know that this child has any difficulties.

And in the beginning we had the idea that we should put him in the program of the Children's House. And then we said, let's try in his regular normal plane of development. And there was a big difference. I remember it was much easier when he was just amongst his age peers and you hardly noticed any difference.

Yeah. Very nice. Well, I think, we got a very good basic idea about the implementation of Montessori Sports programmes in school settings with very difficult circumstances, no infrastructure to do sports inside or outside. And I think that it's very clear that you need a leader with inspiration and with energy to bring this programme forth. And if you do that, you see that it's very successful for the children. One last question is about the parents. Have you had any feedback from the parents about the sports programme?

So parents have always asked about sports and how do you do that? And when we didn't do anything particular, it was always a little bit strange because I felt that I had just excuses when we were talking to the parents. So when we implemented the Montessori Sports programme, they were super enthusiastic and also had a presentation about Montessori Sports, about the how and the why.

And they were very much on board and really very happy that we did that training. So that's always a plus also from this perspective that we look at the child in a holistic way and that that really resonates well with the parents’ community.

I think it's a very good conclusion of this story. Thank you, Maria, and we hope to have you another time here for an interview.

Sure. Thank you.


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