I opened my first nursery, Woodentots Montessori, when I was just 21, from my nanny flat in my employer’s family home. Reputation grew and 30 years on, I now have 4 Montessori Nurseries in North London, 3 of which are a collective in Camden. They are very much part of the local community and each year well-established Woodentots traditions are revisited. I’ve had the privilege to work with incredible children, many of whom are now making their own way in the adult world. A rich mix of Montessori, Forest School and Steiner, the Woodentots approach also incorporates Nature and Creativity as core elements of the ethos. A pinnacle moment for me was to be awarded Montessorian of the Year in 2017 – it was wonderful to have my personally developed approach recognised like that.
As the years have rolled by, I have always been blessed with a team of dedicated teachers who hold the Woodentots ethos true to their hearts. My role nowadays is to oversee my schools, ensuring they maintain the high standards and values I expect. This new chapter in my life enables me to have more time to work with parents – something I particularly value and enjoy. I run regular Parent and Child Groups and Open Parent Discussions on the inevitable parenting struggles we all experience. Whilst I’m not an expert in the traditional sense, over 30 years I’ve seen it all, and have learned the value of both listening and being able to be a reassuring voice to parents that phases and struggles are inevitable but do pass.
As I have evolved in my work and career, I can look back on my own various phases – as a young, inexperienced teacher feeling my way and gathering knowledge on teaching and early years, then a mother of 2 young girls juggling being a working parent and mama. This era of motherhood was perhaps the most challenging, and yet was very important in enabling me to fully connect and understand where my Woodentots parents were at, helping me to become a better teacher. I understood what the parents may have been through each morning before they even entered through my doors, why their child had to bring their own toys to nursery, and I also felt a deeper personal understanding of child development. This is why I believe it is essential to ask about the child’s home life – it’s all so inherently connected to their feelings and how their day might unravel.
I opened Woodentots Nature Babies in 2017, my bespoke day nursery for babies. I remembered looking at day nurseries when my own girls were small, and feeling they were just too institutional for my liking and ethos. So once I could step back a little from day to day teaching, Nature Babies was born, offering home-cooked organic food, eco nappies, and daily Forest School for 16 little ones. I made the classroom a beautiful space, painted in calming azure, with floaty pink fabric representing the womb, and the toys all made from wood. Cooking is another passion of mine and believing good fresh food incredibly important at this early stage in their lives, I cook for the Nature Babies every Monday, following organic, baby led-weaning and using many of my own recipes. I am planning a cookbook for babies to follow on from my forthcoming book, ‘My Kitchen Drawer’. In truth, now aged 53, the Nature Babies project was my opportunity to be with babies again. I love their company but I’m hoping I’m a while off becoming a grandmother!
Paula is a Montessori teacher and Forest School Leader who has run the much loved Woodentots Montessori nurseries in North London for over 30 years. Recently recognised as Montessorian of the Year, Paula’s schools offer a unique and rich mix of Montessori, Steiner and Forest School, with child-led creativity at their core.
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