Montes­sori teacher ‒ a school closes its doors at year’s end

Grocott's Mail - - PEOPLE - STAFF RE­PORTER

There are many won­der­ful teach­ers in this life who un­selfishly ded­i­cate their lives to serv­ing a com­mu­nity in ways that can only be de­scribed as re­mark­able. These teach­ers more of­ten than not, don’t seek the lime­light and shy away from praise.

What makes them happy is to wit­ness the growth and ma­tur­ing of the young souls in their care and to cel­e­brate their achieve­ments with them in the chal­lenges of life. They gen­tly nur­ture the chil­dren that have been placed in their care by par­ents who have every hope that their chil­dren will grow up to be spe­cial and reach their full po­ten­tial, as every child de­serves to do.

Every com­mu­nity in South Africa prob­a­bly has an ex­am­ple of such a per­son and Gra­ham­stown is no ex­cep­tion. In 1986 a small, in­de­pen­dent pre-school opened its doors to the Gra­ham­stown com­mu­nity with six ex­cited and bub­bly three, four and five-year-olds bounc­ing through the front gate, ready to learn and ex­plore. There to re­ceive them was An­toinette van Winkel, the Direc­tress of Tim­lin Montes­sori School.

Trained in Montes­sori Ed­u­ca­tional Phi­los­o­phy through the Lon­don Montes­sori Teach­ers Col­lege, she had a spe­cific mis­sion: to fol­low in the foot­steps of Maria Montes­sori, a physi­cian, sci­en­tist and ed­u­ca­tor who dur­ing the early part of the 20th cen­tury in Italy, cre­ated a new aware­ness of the im­por­tance of un­der­stand­ing how chil­dren learn and to al­low them the free­dom to grow nat­u­rally through ex­plor­ing.

Van Winkel be­lieves pas­sion­ately in the po­ten­tial and joy of young learn­ing minds and wanted to pro­vide a ded­i­cated, ex­cel­lently equipped school for them where they could learn “in the loving way” dur­ing their early years. Her per­sonal dis­cov­ery and sub­se­quent study of the Montes­sori Method helped her es­tab­lish what has been a very suc­cess­ful and im­por­tant ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion in the Eastern Cape for the past 31 years.

She served on the re­gional com­mit­tees for Montes­sori South Africa and has given of her time and knowl­edge to many teach­ers, stu­dents and par­ents pro­mot­ing Montes­sori ed­u­ca­tion. In 2009 she was one of the re­cip­i­ents of the Absa/Sowe­tan Provin­cial Award in ac­knowl­edge­ment of her con­tri­bu­tions made as an Early Child­hood De­vel­op­ment Prac­ti­tioner. Her care­fully in­te­grated ap­proach of Montess­sori ed­u­ca­tional phi­los­o­phy made it a house­hold name among ed­u­ca­tors in Gra­ham­stown where she im­mersed her­self in the teach­ing of three-six-year-olds pro­vid­ing a bril­liant foun­da­tion for start­ing for­mal school. Her tire­less car­ing for and loving of chil­dren, re­gard­less of their spe­cific needs and chal­lenges, cul­ture or na­tion­al­ity, is a tes­ta­ment to the life of Maria Montes­sori whose way of teach­ing has become widely ac­cepted around the world.

In the early 1900s Montes­sori wrote: “… we dis­cov­ered that ed­u­ca­tion is not some­thing which the teacher does, but that it is a nat­u­ral process which de­vel­ops spon­ta­neously in the hu­man be­ing. It is not ac­quired by lis­ten­ing to words, but in virtue of ex­pe­ri­ences in which the child acts on his en­vi­ron­ment. The teacher’s task is not to talk, but to pre­pare and ar­range a se­ries of mo­tives for cul­tural ac­tiv­ity in a spe­cial en­vi­ron­ment made for the child. We then found that in­di­vid­ual ac­tiv­ity is the one fac­tor that stim­u­lates and pro­duces de­vel­op­ment…”

Based on sci­en­tific ob­ser­va­tions of chil­dren from birth to adult­hood, the Montes­sori Method has proved to be very suc­cess­ful in ed­u­cat­ing the whole child, some­thing that Van Winkel be­lieves in un­equiv­o­cally. Above all else, An­toinette is an en­thu­si­as­tic, in­spir­ing and creative teacher, who lives through the ex­pe­ri­ences of each and every child in her care, find­ing stim­u­lat­ing new ap­proaches to make learn­ing a life-long joy, year af­ter year giv­ing of her skills un­selfishly and with great love.

Dur­ing the early years of teach­ing, she also vol­un­tar­ily of­fered 10 years of sup­port as a La Leche League Leader in the com­mu­nity, help­ing count­less moms and babes get off to a great start in life. She is unashamedly proud of all “her chil­dren” and the sup­port­ing Tim­lin fam­i­lies and holds them in her heart. Dolly Tukulu joined her in 2009 as a full-time as­sis­tant to­gether with the part-time ser­vices of en­thu­si­as­tic and in­spired teach­ers. She has drawn on the ex­per­tise of will­ing pro­fes­sion­als in our com­mu­nity from sci­en­tists to artists to share their knowl­edge with young and ea­ger minds.

An­toinette van Winkel re­tires from teach­ing at the end of this year when Tim­lin Montes­sori School will close its doors and an era will come to an end.

All the past chil­dren and par­ents of Tim­lin cel­e­brate this re­mark­able woman who has con­trib­uted to the vi­tal im­por­tance of early ed­u­ca­tion for all our chil­dren here.

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