Joanna Riley’s dream of running her own school took years to achieve. This month she finally achieved her ambition. She told Fiona Finch about opening a new Montessori school in Lancashire’s Ribble Valley.
Joanna Riley was so impressed by the example of an Italian teaching pioneer she has set up her own school.
The first pupils are being enrolled this month at the newly opened Ribble Valley Montessori in Chipping, which specialises in early years education and childcare.
Joanna, a mother of three from Longridge, said: “We are blessed with the most beautiful premises and outdoor environment.”
The ambition to teach using the Montessori method grew after the former teaching assistant at St Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, enrolled on a foundation degree at the University Centre at Blackburn College in 2010.
She said: “One of the first modules was how children learn. I read for the first time about Dr Maria Montessori. It was when I discovered she had been one of the first female doctors in Italy at the end of the 19th century. I was absolutely hooked.
“She was a doctor, teacher, philosopher, feminist, anthropologist and lived from 1870-1952. She is recognised as a visionary and leader in the field of early childhood education.”
Fast forward and with further study to gain an honours degree at Blackburn College, an Early Years teaching qualification at Manchester Metropolitan University, placements at Wharfedale Montessori school at Bolton Abbey, near Skipton and a Montessori diploma, Joanna had begun the search for premises.
The 52-year-old former police constable, who had also worked for an Outward Bound Trust, counts herself fortunate that the early learning pre-school premises, adjacent to Brabin’s Endowed School, were available.
She has now redecorated and furnished the facility.
Inspired by Montessori’s philosophy that a “school should be beautiful and accessible” she has set about designing and creating a conducive learning environment with scope for many activities both indoors and out.
Montessori education places emphasis on learning through all five senses to allow children to develop physically, socially, emotionally and cognitively .
Joanna said: “Montessori early years’ settings will combine the method with the statutory Early Years Foundation stage.”
She has combined study with work and said: “I was working and bringing up three children through GCSEs and A-levels. It was tough.”
At Manchester Met she became a full-time student: “By that time I knew I wanted to open my own Montessori school.”
In Montessori much emphasis is put on gaining independence.
For example, independence at dressing skills, including doing up zips and fastening buttons will be encouraged.
In the school’s garden it is intended youngsters will become aware of the seasons through sowing, growing and harvesting food.
There will be a full range of balance bikes and plans for purposeful activities, including sand and water play and a range of activities indoors and out.
Joanna said: “The tasks are isolated and we’ve different areas of learning. In a Montessori setting you have a sensorial area of learning.”
“There’s a misconception children are allowed to do what they want when they want. What we offer is freedom with limits. We have a range of activities – they can choose what to do.”
Once children have been shown how to work with, for example, a new material or skill, they can choose what they want to do and for how long: “There’s a lot of freedom but freedom within limits. That’s my take on parenting – you do the same in your garden with your children.
“You give them toys to play with or tasks they can do at home.
“We might teach them how to do something – and show them how to do it safely, then stand back and monitor them.
“How many times do children turn round and say, ‘I want to do it myself?’”
She continued: “At Ribble Valley Montessori we encourage children to be independent, self motivated, joyful learners who are
confident, curious and capable.”
Joanna is proud to have gained a Montessori Centre International diploma which took her two years to complete, including her professional placement at Wharfedale.
She expects her young pupils will be typically aged three to five.
“My biggest regret as a mother is I did not discover Dr Marie Montessori when my own children were that age.
“I’ve taken eight years to gain my qualifications. But sometimes you get a goal and idea and you’ve got to stay focused.”
* Montessori’s first school, the Casa dei Bambini opened in Rome in 1906.
Maria had developed a child-centred education based on her scientific observations about child development.
It recognised a child is eager for knowledge and will learn well in a supportive, appropriately prepared environment.