Jacaranda Tree Montessori is Simone’s playgroup in Amsterdam (Netherlands). They have classes for babies, toddlers and preschoolers along with their parents.
Simone is also the genius behind The Montessori Notebook, an online resource for parents who want to incorporate Montessori into their lives and homes. You may have seen her fabulous video with tips for setting up your home environment for children:
How did you discover Montessori and what made you fall in love with it?
We were looking for potential preschools for our first child and visited the opening day of Castlecrag Montessori School in Sydney, Australia. It was such a beautiful environment, the teachers were approachable and so respectful of the children – it made a big impact on me. The way the materials were laid out on the shelves, made you just want to start working with them. The place felt like a little house made just for children.
What were you doing before you opened your school? Did you have experience running a business prior to starting your school?
I was working in a nursery with a Montessori bilingual program in Amsterdam. After 2 years, I really missed working with parents. There were no parent-child programs here so I decided to open my school to see if there was any interest.
I did a Bachelor of Business (Accounting/Management) at a university. I had worked in the family business doing some bookkeeping, but had never run my own business. Nor, ironically, did I ever want to run my own business. My parents had worked hard when they owned their own pharmacy, so my idea was that it would just be easier to be an employee.
What made you want to open a school (rather than just teach or send your child to Montessori)?
I decided to open a school because I find it so important for the parents to learn how to implement the Montessori approach in the home.
I also wanted to be able to collect my children from school and be able to look after them in the school holidays. So I designed a program that was open when my children were at school from 9am to 2:45pm, with breaks for school holidays.
How long did it take between the time you seriously started planning and the day you opened?
It took me 3 months from planning to opening my first class. Most of this time was writing a business plan and looking for a location. Once I found the space, I opened 2 weeks later. Admittedly the shelves remained unpainted for the first term of classes!
How did you find the right space for your school?
I made a lot of phone calls to find a location. I rode around on my bike looking for empty spaces for rent, I spoke to the local councils to see if they could help, and I called anyone people would suggest. I also tried calling schools to see if they had any space in their building to run a parent-child program.
My Dutch improved a lot as I would try to speak Dutch with everyone and write down the correct terms they used!
I was lucky to find a temporary space in an old school building that I could rent per day. We used this space for the first year until all the tenants had to move out for the building to be renovated.
I was back searching for locations and found our current space on a Dutch property rental website. We have been in this location for over 5 years and are in the process of moving to a new space.
What were the main things you worked on during the planning stage?
During the planning phase, I wrote a business plan covering all aspects of the business. Running a parent-child program does not have specific regulations here, however, I still did a lot of research on the requirements for childcare settings to ensure we met all the safety and other standards.
I prepared a budget and looked for materials online, from educational suppliers and in local shops. I didn’t purchase anything before I had found a location – I made a list of all the materials and where I could find them.
How did you budget for your startup?
The budget for start up was basically materials and furniture. I looked up prices for these to get a good idea and spoke to a wood workshop to give me some prices for making some shelves, chairs and stairs. I was able to afford enough materials and furniture to start and have added to these over the years.
Describe your program in its first year (Days, hours, ages, capacity, number of staff etc.) How is it different now?
The first year I ran 5 morning toddler classes and 1 afternoon baby class. I had 8 children in each class by the end of the first year. I did not have any employees.
We run 5 morning toddler classes and 3 afternoon classes (1 baby group, 1 toddler group and 1 preschooler group). I have 12 children in each class as the new location is larger. I still do not have any employees but have volunteers from time to time who assist with the classes in return for learning more about the Montessori approach.
How did you get your first few students? What were your recruitment tactics when no one knew about your school?
My classes are English-speaking so I contacted international organizations like the British Women’s Club and the American Women’s Club. I advertised on expat websites like Expatica. And then word of mouth spread quickly among the English-speaking community. At first, most of the students were just looking for an English-speaking activity rather than Montessori. So it was fun to teach them more about the Montessori approach.
Tell us about your emotional journey. What was your biggest challenge/ hurdle during the startup phase? What gave you the most satisfaction?
The biggest challenge during the startup phase was finding a location. Then there were 2 crazy weeks before I opened the class to get all the materials, furniture and equipment in place. But this was also the greatest satisfaction – having my little class ready and my first visitor.
How do you manage to do it all?
I’m still doing it all myself from the classes, to marketing, accounting and parent education. I’m always looking for the most efficient way to do things and automating things like having our application form on the website, which automatically goes into a Google doc.
I like to spend time with my family in the afternoons after school so do a lot of the administration and newsletters in the evenings. I’d say it’s not always in balance but I do get to take school holidays off so I can relax more then.
Even though I work 40 – 50 hours a week on these classes, I love the work so much that it doesn’t feel like work. When you see the children develop and, even more so, the parents, it gives me such enormous satisfaction.