La Maison Montessori de Pékin is a new French/Chinese kindergarten which opened on September 23rd. The school is tucked away in a warren of hutongs between Dongsishiqiao and Beixinqiao. Hidden on the tiniest of alleys, (too narrow for two bicycles to pass), is a beautifully renovated house, complete with Qing decorative motifs and its own courtyard.
Co-founder Julie Castellotti who hails from Provence, always dreamed of having her own smaller school. She worked as a Montessori teacher for many years at larger schools, but felt constrained by their size and bureaucracy. “You can’t really care for the children as you want, and you have to follow the rules of the group in a bigger organization,” she says.
Castellotti’s dream became a reality when two francophone friends, Natalie Roitman and Li Shuwen, approached her with a business proposition. They both had children of kindergarten age, but they wanted an option other than the Lycee Francais de Pekin, because they wanted to give their kids a Montessori education.
Currently there are eight children enrolled at the school, and Castellotti thinks there is room for maximum six to eight more. “If we get to 14 and we think it’s enough we will stop,” she explains. “What we want to do is keep it small with the feeling of family. We want to have time to talk with the families, to really know the children. In primary or high school, it’s more about curriculum, but kindergarten is really about the child’s emotional and physical development, and the child’s history. And so we really want to be able to connect to the family. The teacher can’t work on their own; they really need to build a team with the family.”
Currently there is a Chinese teaching assistant working with Castellotti, and as the school expands she will add another Chinese Montessori teacher. “I want to keep a good ratio for teachers for safety, but the more teachers you put in a classroom, the less the children feel at home. That’s why we haven’t brought the third teacher in yet, because it would be 3 teachers for 8 children and the adults would take too much space.” The hutong house has 3 separate classrooms, and when the school is at capacity each adult will have their own room, to ensure children are well supervised at all times.
At lunch time the children are served meals from a local restaurant, Xiaoju Canting, which is owned by Yann Bascou, the French father of one of the pupils. They use organic meat, fresh vegetables, and home-made yogurt to create both western and Chinese dishes. “The chef is excellent,” raves Castellotti, “Sometime we have some quiche, sometimes some broccoli and eggs. Both kinds of cuisine.”
Fees are dependent on which payment structure parents opt for; single payment fees are RMB 53,200. If parents choose to pay in two instalments it costs RMB 55,200 per annum.
The school offers an after school program which includes musical awareness, body movement and expression, cooking, art, French, Chinese and English. Most classes are bilingual (French/Chinese), although the cooking class on Saturday morning (10.45-11.30am) is open to English speakers. The French class for non-native French speakers is on Fridays from 5.30 to 6.15pm, and is suitable for kids age 3½ and up. Castellotti is amply qualified; before training as a Montessori teacher, she taught French at university, so she really knows her stuff.
After school classes are morning and afternoon on Saturdays and from 5.30-6.15pm on weekdays.
For more information on the school see our listings page
Photos courtesy of Aisling O’Brien