Inspiring the Littlest Linguists
Canadian Bobbie Holliday teaches the nursery class at the Children’s House Montessori Kindergarten and spends her days cultivating English language development in children ages 1 to 2.5. This task is made even tougher when you consider that English isn’t always the little ones’ first (or even second!) language.
What brought you to Beijing? How did you end up teaching small children?
I was a second language teacher in Guangzhou for five years and Paula [Zhou, principal of The Children’s House Montessori Kindergarten] was my colleague there. Neither of us were Montessorians, but she came to Beijing and was very impressed [with the Montessori method]and decided to get some extra training in it. The Children’s House was opening this class and she called and offered me the job. I jumped at the chance to move to Beijing.
How old are the children you teach?
1 to 2-and-a-half years old. One child in this class is 11 months old and has already been exposed to four languages. As a second language teacher that really interests me.
What can you teach children this young?
I wish that people who ask me that question could come into the classroom and see how involved the children are in their work. When they are painting, I see these brilliant colors coming out in their work, and I say to them, “Oh, those colors look really nice,” and the kids turn and look at me as if to say, “I know, you don’t need to tell me.” It’s like they don’t need my affirmation. I always expect that they can do things by themselves and they can, even at this young age.
What is the most challenging thing about teaching such young children?
Being quiet! I know most people who meet me find that difficult to believe [laughs]. Even though I’m given the allowance to have more conversation here, there still needs to be space for the children to stand back and take everything in. That’s something I need to remind myself of sometimes.
What’s your best teaching tool?
Our library has been the focal point of this class. I don’t want to set them up for failure and so we have kept our books down to the cardboard and cloth variety. But I have started to include a picture encyclopedia. The library is the place where the kids head as soon as they come in in the morning. Even my high-energy boys spend a lot of focused time looking at the books.
What do you find most rewarding about teaching?
When the kids remember something. Montessori is all about creating an environment where the kids can learn on their own. When a kid gets their mat out and unrolls it all on their own, or when they’ve finished and they put all their work away without having to be asked – when I see that kind of memory and sequencing happening I’m excited and that’s just such a huge reward for me. The kids come in here expecting to learn something.
Is there anything about being in China that makes your job different?
I think we have a little more freedom here to design our own program. Of course, we have to be true to the international community, but we can take a few allowances and not be so controlled by a curriculum. We have the world on our doorstep here.