Literacy in our Montessori environments

Every term at The Children’s House we send out feedback questionnaires to our parents. Some of the parents reported back that they would like to understand a little more about how we do literacy in our Montessori settings. As a result I held a literacy information session last term for all those who were interested. It was an interesting session when I was able to demonstrate many of the points I make below (and many more) using the activities in our environments.Literacy- Writing

Literacy is a key area, not only does it have its’ own section in our environments, but we consider it in all areas of learning.  Reading, writing, speaking and listening are all important life skills. We use our literacy skills to communicate our thoughts about everything. From expressing our needs, insecurities and pleasures to giving explanations of scientific and mathematical concepts; well the children at The Children’s House do, where questioning, expressing yourself and experimenting with language are all encouraged.

Bath bomb experiment

Montessori uses an indirect approach, focusing on the skills needed to be literate rather than ‘teaching’ writing and letters before the child is ready. The skills needed include fine motor skills for instance the pincer grip, hand eye co-ordination and dexterity. Tracking skills, concentration, listening skills, visual and auditory discrimination and sequencing are all needed too. The teacher in our Montessori environments plans activities for each individual child where they can practice these skills. Activities may include buttoning, the pink tower, clapping games and activities designed for the individual child. How individual children learn, a child’s particular interests and experiences are all used to provide appropriate activities and opportunities for the children in our rich environments. If all this is taken into consideration it will provide a long term foundation and ensure a deeper understanding and sustained learning for the child.

Knobless cylinders

With so many distractions in today’s world, particularly from various screens even in our youngest children, it is important that whatever we do to encourage literacy is not only appealing to the child, but is fun. These are a few of the methods we use at The Children’s House in Overton and Steventon.

  1. Reading to the children. In my early days as a Montessori teacher there was a child who just was not accessing any of the literacy activities and I could not understand why. I tried to draw him in using some of his favourite television characters, but with limited success. It was only when I spoke to the parents and found that they ‘never had time to read themselves let alone their child’, that I began to understand. Shortly after the parents made a real effort and started reading to their son at bed time. By the time he left us he enjoyed spending time in our book corner and was even accessing some our word building activities.

Book corner reading

We read to the children throughout the day, either on a one to one or to a large group. Parents and grandparents come in regularly to read to the children too, which everyone enjoys and often gives the son/daughter/grandchild something to look forward to. If you read books you enjoy this enjoyment is conveyed to the child. The children love choosing books from the mobile library that comes to Steventon and we take the children to the library in Overton too.

  1. Role models: This can be from older children, being seen reading and enjoying books, writing and using appropriate language as well as adults. We don’t’ segregate children by their age, enabling the younger children to learn from the older children and the older children are able to support the younger children. This is what Montessori referred to as ‘vertical grouping’.

If a child sees those he looks up to enjoying reading, it may be something they will try to do too. The language adults’ use is vital too. Using the correct terminology and rich language, providing opportunities for children to be listened to, modelling sentence structure, using open ended questioning and sustained shared thinking are all methods to help a child. Never underestimate the capabilities of any child. You will be amazed at what they will absorb and often throw back at you and in the appropriate context at a later date.

In our recent Montessori accreditation report it says:

“The children benefit from the exemplary role models of the whole staff team; the adults’ use of language and narration of the experiences on offer mean that the children are exposed to a rich language environment and staff expertly engage the children in sustained shared thinking”.

  1. Have fun with literacy. As well as fun with storytelling, there are also lots of pre-reading games. Memory and listening games, Kim’s game and we make up lots of variations on I spy and odd man out games. All the time the child is increasing their phonological awareness. Rhyming games can be lots of fun and if they make up words that sound a little rude, everyone has a giggle. If a child has a positive experience they will want to try it again and again and before you know it they will not only be making up silly rhyming words, they will be spelling them out with the moveable alphabet themselves. (Children usually learn to write with the movable alphabet before learning to read in a Montessori setting)

LMA Montessori pink box 1

  1. Providing lots of opportunities for mark making. Large areas where they can use their gross motor skills to draw anything from large circles to representations of a recent experience. It can be painting with water on the outside wall or making patterns with chalk on the patio. Gradually the child will move onto using smaller areas like drawing in the sand and using a variety of media and mark making materials before they move onto using pencils and making patterns with our insets. Our insets not only provide an opportunity to practice their fine motor and pencil control, but shape recognition and creativity are enhanced too.

water painting

  1. Providing multi-sensory experiences to assist the child to absorb the shapes and sounds of the letters. The child hears the sounds, feels the sounds using the sandpaper letters and sees the sounds written down. The children often enjoy making rubbings of letters with crayons, writing letters in the sand and matching them.  Montessori schools have always used phonics to assist the child from first hearing the sounds, to word building, word lists, reading phrases, then sentences and books. Always at the child’s pace, adding steps or removing steps as the child needs.

letters in the sand



I hope the above provides a taste of how we encourage literacy at The Children’s House. Please feel free to ask me, Marianne,  any questions or come and see us at Steventon or St. Luke’s Hall in Overton.

“Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Let me do and I’ll understand!”-Confucius

Many of us are familiar with this quotation as it rings true with many of us. As we go about our daily lives how often do we actually use it as a means of helping to share information or to learn and teach?

In our busy lives we may just quickly tell a work colleague how to do something before moving on. We later become frustrated when they ask the same question the next day. If we had showed them how to do it, guided them when they tried it for themselves and then stood back to make sure they could do it unaided, they would not have needed to ask again.  It is always worth investing the time at the start; this not only gives you more time later, but leaves the learner feeling more confident and valued.

It is the same with children. It can be argued that it was because Maria Montessori realised, through her own observations, the significance of the idea of this quote with her first children, the widespread success of her philosophy and method occurred. The children under her care were considered what we call today ‘special needs’ children, but they passed the exams set for children attending the mainstream schools at the time. She provided opportunities and materials for the children to learn through movement, through their hands and senses. Children were shown how to undertake skills like buttoning and encouraged to explore and feel materials.

Dressing Frame – large buttons

When children play with objects, they gain what Piaget called a ‘physical knowledge’ of the object, if they are given the opportunity to explore further they then can start to understand relationships between objects for example, long and short, ‘Logico-mathematical knowledge’.

Our Montessori environments at The Children’s House in Overton and Steventon are set up with this in mind and we use many of the materials Maria Montessori designed herself.


The geometric solids

When working with the geometric solids, one of the earlier materials, children at The Children’s House, learn the properties through exploring them first and working out which ones they can build with or roll. They may then go on to find similar objects before being given the proper names of the solids, for example sphere, cylinder and cube.

'I can put on my own shoes'

We show children how and then give them the freedom to practice as many times as they need. They are often so pleased with themselves when they have achieved it all by themselves and show a real sense of pride.

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It is often the temptation of the adult to rush and help a child, but we need to think what may the child gain if we don’t.

2015-06-29 11.07.14The adult in the Montessori environment plays a vital role as the link between the child and the activities. They may demonstrate, share ideas, provide vocabulary and importantly know when to take a step back.

If all our children were given the time and space to explore and investigate ideas, concepts and materials, rather than being told to memorise facts, I am sure our children would understand so much more about the environment they live in.



We are 10 years old!

Steventon Children’s House April 2005

On April 18th 2005  Steventon Children’s House opened it’s doors for the first time. It was myself and Sally who welcomed the 2 children that morning.  The day before, my wedding anniversary, was spent setting up the Montessori environment, opening boxes of equipment and trying to make sure it looked welcoming, organised and inviting. I still remember that feeling of quiet excitement and anticipation of all that could happen.

Steventon April 2005

The three weeks previously, since I had left my previous job as Montessori teacher, had passed in a blur. My husband had made all the shelving and I was busy with publicity, ordering materials, organising finance and working out the best way to fulfil the needs of the children who we would be responsible for. I was determined that the child would be at the centre of everything and  decided upon our motto ‘where little people come first’ very quickly.

Hampshire County Council were very supportive, provided me with a grant and persuaded me to open in the April and not wait until September. Ofsted went out of their way to speed up the registration process, with everyone’s support I was able to produce policies and documentation by their visit in March.

Playing in the garden summer 2005

As a horticulturist I already knew some of the villagers of Steventon as I had worked in their gardens. They were keen for me to succeed and donated items they thought I may find useful as well as helping to spread the word and providing support. Our neighbours across the road, whose garden I had looked after in the past, were keen that we use their large garden as a large playing area. We still use their garden today for our weekly sport sessions and nature hunts.

Marianne Preece, Jungle Jim, GY

Sir George Young and Jungle Jim helped us to officially open Steventon Children’s House in June 2005

In 2011 we were turning children away from Steventon so I opened Overton Children’s House from the newly refurbished St. Luke’s hall in the centre of Overton.

Overton Children’s House Spring 2011

In April 2013 we became collectively The Children’s House (Hampshire) Ltd. Steventon is now double accredited with both MEUK and MEAB and has won very high praise and a great reputation in the Montessori world. Overton is a little younger, but achieved its first Montessori accreditation in record time after opening.  Both settings are still improving all the time and are better now than they ever have been. We are looking forward to going through the re-accreditation again over the coming months. We remain the only accredited Montessori nursery schools in the area.

There have been an incredible number of changes over the last 10 years, not only in the Early Years sector, but also in society as a whole. A three-year olds experiences now can be quite different to the three-year old 10 years ago, attitudes to children have changed and the paperwork needed to look after children is ever-changing and ever-increasing. The constants are our wonderful Montessori philosophy that ensures we treat every child as the individuals they are and follow their needs. The other is the child whose spirit and inner drive to grow and learn remain. The child is our future, if we look after the children in our world we are looking after not just everybody’s future, but our planet’s too . It has been an absolute privilege to have watched and learned from all our children in the last 10 years.

Why is Montessori accreditation so important?

            Did you know that almost anyone can set up a school and call it a Montessori?  It was through helping out at a ‘Montessori’ setting which made me start training as a Montessori teacher, as I was sure that the setting was not following Montessori principles, in fact it was all a little chaotic and gave out the wrong impressions about what Montessori philosophy is all about. I was determined when I set up Steventon in 2005 that I would make becoming accredited a priority not only to give our setting credibility, but for the parents and the children too.

There are around 800 ‘Montessori’ settings in the UK of which only about 170 are accredited.  Our Children’s House’s in Overton and Steventon are both accredited with the ‘Montessori Evaluation and Accreditation Board’, ‘MEAB’. We are the only accredited settings in the local area, although I am aware of other local settings who call themselves Montessori. Being a Montessori accredited setting is not the same as an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’, in fact to be Montessori accredited, the setting has to be, in my eyes, a much higher quality environment for the child; and the staff more committed to learning, self-appraisal and quality improvement.  The criteria for Ofsted and MEAB are very different, they have different purposes and a different emphasis. Having now experienced several Ofsted inspections and gone through the Montessori accreditation 5 times, I feel our settings made huge improvements after each accreditation process. The assessors work with the settings to look for ways to improve and make 2 visits to ensure actions have been implemented. The emphasis is on learning, improving and working together for the sake of the children.

The benefits for accreditation are considerable. Below I have listed just a few.

  1. Demonstrates that the setting fulfils the criteria of a high quality Montessori provision.
  2. Demonstrates that the setting trusts and respects a child’s need to learn through freedom of choice.
  3. Reassurance that the setting is expected to have qualified Montessori teachers leading the learning.
  4. Demonstrates the setting has effective links with parents.
  5. Reassurance that the setting is expected to meet national regulatory standards.
  6. Demonstrates that the setting has a prepared learning environment that supports a child’s natural path of development.

How do you know if a setting is accredited?

Every accredited setting has a triangular plaque, is able to use the logo and has a report, that is freely available. The reports of all accredited schools are available on the website:

You can follow the link on our website to read our report or I can send you a copies of our reports.

We are quite excited as both our settings are soon due to be re-accredited. We not only know that we will all learn from the process, but all our children will benefit too.



We raised £488 for Sport Relief!!!!!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA sport-relief-logo101_4027

The children at Steventon Children’s House and Overton Children’s House, 2 accredited Montessori nursery schools west of Basingstoke have been finding out about children who are less fortunate than themselves in this country and other parts of the world. They were keen to do something to help especially if it involved having a lot of fun!

The children made sheep masks to be woolly jumpers and lots of cakes in preparation for the big day. Parents and staff too also donated all sorts of wonderful looking cakes.

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Parents, grandparents, siblings and friends all came along to support the children for their jumping challenge on Thursday afternoon. James, our wonderful sports coach who does sport every Thursday afternoon with the children, helped all the children jump as high and as far as they could. In return their sponsors gave them lots of money.

Everyone stayed to enjoy lots of cakes bought in aid of sport relief .

Serving parents cakes at Steventon

Serving parents cakes at Steventon

So far £100 has been raised from cake donations and a further £340 has been raised in sponsorship from the total of 29 children taking part.

Overton and Steventon Children’s House’s strongly belief in the importance of exercise and healthy eating for young children. Sports coaching and organic fruit and vegetables are therefore provided at no additional cost to the parent. If you would like to find out more, we welcome visitors on Friday mornings or do contact us to make an appointment.







Preparing for nursery…

‘So how can I help prepare my child for starting with you?’

This is a question I am asked and answer frequently before the start of a new term.

The key to a child settling in and thriving at nursery is feeling happy and secure. The staff including the child’s key worker will work with the parents, once the child starts to achieve this, but here are a number of ideas parents can do before the big day.

1.       Visiting the nursery before the child is due to start.

It is so much easier for the child if they have already met the teachers, know the layout and where their favourite activity may be when they start. Think about how much more confident you as an adult feel on the first day of a new job if you already have met some of the staff, know the dress code and where to go for lunch.

2.       Talking about the nursery.

Talking about the nursery will make it familiar and something comfortable to think about. This could be about who may be there, what they may do and the food they may enjoy. Talking could be prompted by driving or walking past it, perhaps doing trial runs to find out how long it will take to get there.

3.       Finding out about Montessori education.

The more you understand about what goes on at your child’s Montessori nursery, the more you can help your child and prepare them for their time there. It will also help when you talk about the day with your child. Young children benefit considerably from consistency between their various environments, so if parents can bring a little ‘Montessori’ into their homes it will help their children. Take the time to read information about what Montessori philosophy is all about and ask staff who can give you further information or lend you books. I would also recommend the book ‘Learning Together’ by Kathi Hughes which provides information about what ‘Montessori’ means as well as practical ideas of what you can do at home with your child. We do have copies at both Steventon and Overton Children’s Houses that parents can borrow, together with a range of magazines, leaflets and books. This site is also a great way to learn more about Montessori education

4.       Enjoying books and talking with your child.

If children enjoy reading stories at home, as part of their daily routine, they will be more interested in the literacy activities at nursery. It will help them to concentrate as well as encouraging them to learn the skills needed to read for themselves. As parents, your children will take their lead from you; if they see you enjoying a good book for yourself, they will want to do the same.

As part of our settling in process we do ask parents what their children’s favourite books or stories are. Reading a child’s favourite book to them when they come into the nursery often helps a child forget how anxious they were about starting.

Discussing the books and making time to chat with your child at meal times will help your child with their communication skills. Talking, learning to listen and expressing themselves are all skills needed for life, but will also help them make friends at nursery as well as giving them the confidence to talk to the teachers.

5.       Regular routine.

Establishing a regular daily routine will really help the child when they start nursery. Children thrive on consistency and predictability, it helps them feel safe and secure  and is an important aspect of the Montessori curriculum. A regular home routine will help provide them with a secure base from which to explore the world and their new nursery school.

A good bedtime routine, including enjoying a story together, will promote healthy sleep patterns. This will help them get up in the morning for nursery, build up their immune system, promote concentration skills and regulate emotions, all of which will help them at nursery.

6.       Let your child become more involved in day to day tasks at home.

Young children are driven by a need to be independent and they want to be involved in the daily rituals in their home. The role of the adult, both at home and in the nursery, is to support each child as an active learner to ‘help me do it for myself’. At nursery the children are shown how to do jobs to both look after their own personal needs and the nursery itself. These include activities from sweeping the floor to getting dressed. Independence and active learning is therefore supported.

The benefits for all children who are able to do simple tasks for themselves are considerable and are a subject for a future blog. Children gain confidence and self-esteem as well as skills needed for maths, reading and writing. Their co-ordination and motor skills are practised as they learn many valuable life skills. Imagine how a child will feel when they are able to help a friend zip up their coat or have laid the table for the family meal.

The sooner you as the parent encourage the child to do things for themselves, the sooner they will be able to do it well, without any help at all from you. It takes time and a lot of patience and the end result may not always be as you would do it, but the benefits are well worth it. If you do the tasks for your child that they are capable of, you may find resistance later on when you do need them to do it for themselves.

Ideas of things your child can do may include putting toys away, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, drinking out of a cup, dusting, sweeping, gardening, pouring drink, laying and clearing the table, washing windows and cooking.

7.       Visiting friends with similar aged children.

If your child is already familiar with another child who attends the nursery, it may help them feel more comfortable in the first few days. The opportunity to visit other children could help their social development too. Learning social skills are an important part of growing up, a life skill, and an important aspect of the Montessori curriculum. These include saying please and thank you, greeting people, learning to respect others feelings and desires, learning to consider others and learning to share. Children are all shown and encouraged to do these as part of their routine at nursery.

I am sure you may also have other ideas to help prepare children for nursery, so please feel free to add to this list.

I would also welcome any other comments, particularly about any other topics you would like me to write about.


An Introduction to me and Montessori

montessori nursery school manager

I’m Marianne Preece the Director of The Children’s House (Hampshire) Ltd. Overton Children’s House and Steventon Children’s House are 2 accredited Montessori nursery schools situated between Basingstoke and Andover in North Hampshire. Together they make up the business. I am passionate about Montessori Education and would like to enable as many children in the UK to have access to it and as many adults to understand what it is all about so I hope this blog will help me with this mission.

Through this blog I will share information about Montessori Education, answer many of the questions I am asked and expel the myths, often using examples from my nursery schools.  I am on a journey to make Overton and Steventon Children’s Houses the best they can possibly be and will share some of this journey with you. This may include  fitting Montessori into what the government says we should now do,  becoming an eco-school,  parenting classes, Montessori training and encouraging parents and the local community to be more involved in all that we do to help the child.

I welcome people to become involved through posting comments, sharing and asking questions and follow me from making my first tentative steps into the blogging world to hopefully a proficient blogger. If you have a question about Montessori Education please do ask.