We live in a multi-cultural society, so what will our children gain by attending a bi-lingual school? Philippe Fraser, Director of Islington’s Mars Montessori nursery, explains the benefits
First of all Philippe, could you give me a little bit of background to Mars Montessori – when it was originally launched and the ethos behind it?
Mars Montessori was a successful Montessori nursery and was originally started as Islington Green Nursery in 1990. It is tucked behind Browns in Collins Yard just off Islington Green. It always had high quality as its ethos.
I became involved in 2008 and wanted to marry the high quality of care it already delivered with a bi-lingual programme. I passionately believe in teaching children languages when they are young. We have a window of opportunity in the early years during which children can soak up languages without difficulty. Many parents I speak to recall finding it difficult to learn French when they were younger – their children who come to our nursery certainly don’t!
Why do you focus on the 2-5 age range?
The younger the better really. We are a small group of three nurseries, and two of them accept children from the age of one. However the nursery in Angel is the smallest (which has the advantage of giving a very family-feel to the setting), accepting children only from the age of 2.
This age group really has a window of opportunity to learn new languages. Young children will easily learn a new language. We believe that bringing up children in a bi-lingual nursery will help them acquire or improve a very useful skill. Being bi-lingual brings so many long term benefits. Babies and toddlers are cognitively advantaged by growing up in two or more language environments.
You have only 24 children at the nursery. Does this small number really aid with the learning environment?
Yes, our small nursery allows us to spend a huge amount of one-on-one time with the children. Each nursery nurse knows her group of children really well, and this makes a big difference to a child’s development.
Why French as the second language?
I’m half French, so it seemed like the natural fit. French is still the most widely studied second language at primary schools, so children from any nationality background will benefit from a French bi-lingual nursery as they will be able to continue their French at school. We also use British Sign Language as an aid to further help children quickly acquire new vocabulary.
Looking at the Islington nursery, do you have any figures of French-speaking families in the area?
Islington is a really great cosmopolitan part of London. There are many established local families as well as people from all nationalities, all with a great sense of community. It is one of the reasons I like Islington so much, and why I moved here myself earlier in the year. Just over half our families have at least one French parent, and this gives the language programme great momentum that the non-French families really benefit from.
How do you go about teaching the children the basics of the French language?
We do not need to “teach” the language. We provide all our normal activities in both languages, so the children are exposed to French in a natural way and learn it in the same way as they would learn their mother tongue. This way when a child is working with a French nursery nurse doing painting, construction activities, or being read a story, it all takes place in French.
Why is being bi-lingual beneficial?
There are many advantages to being bi-lingual. The most obvious advantage is learning a new language, which can help you when you travel to other countries. However, this is just one small part of it. Learning a new language gives you insights into another culture; this in turn helps you understand your own culture. Having two ways of looking and talking about things helps make you more broad-minded. It helps you with lateral thinking. Studies show that on average bilingual children do better at maths and sciences because of this.
And how does the Montessori method fit into the curriculum you offer?
Montessori ethos and methods influence everything we do. The Montessori teacher training is a really high quality so our team are very capable to teach the children. The Montessori method involves child-centric planning, so children’s interests are used to plan and further their learning. The specific Montessori equipment is made from natural materials. The equipment itself has good pedagogical reasons for being used, and the fact that they use natural materials is also beneficial for children.
When your children leave at 5, what will they be prepared for?
We prepare our children for the best possible start in life and our children are prepared to go on to an English primary school or (if parents are lucky enough to receive a place) to a French primary school.
Find out more by visiting marsmontessori.com