Building castles with my nephew at his new Montessori school


Today I was lucky enough to be my nephew’s special guest at his new school.

Honestly, I’ve never been anyone’s special guest before and this was a huge honour for my extra ordinary self.

Especially considering that my mom had told me that growing up, he’d always remember this.

And what a privilege that would be – to be part of the memories of my favourite, extraordinary little man. 

Let me tell you a bit about this little guy:

When he was younger, my curly-haired, barefoot, energetic little nephew took just a little longer to develop particular functions. By that I mean, there were a few things he didn’t pick up on automatically.

Like when he’d play peekaboo, he didn’t always know there was a face behind his parents’ hands that was going to pop out and give him a fright. He just didn’t anticipate that something was about to happen.

And when he was supposed to cross the street, he didn’t turn to his mother, tug at her hand and then proceed; his free-spirit would lift his little legs and he’d just run, as fast as he could. He just didn’t have a particular sense of danger.

His mom explained that while he wasn't autistic, he was on the autism spectrum, so “everything had to be taught to him.”

But after RTI therapy – a kind of social intervention that helped teach him particular social and practical skills – things changed, and it was almost as though his diagnosis had somewhat been reversed.

He also had OCD and ADHD though, and tended to close off every time someone raised their voice.

So when he began mainstream schooling and his teacher would raise her voice, he focussed on the loudness of it, rather than the instruction she was giving. And before long, after becoming slightly more anxious and the bullying started, everything was met with a “leave me alone” and his response to every family picture was a conflicted no. He would say, “people are going to laugh at me”, so he steered clear of cameras altogether.

His mom said, “It just wasn’t an environment for him.”

A new beginning:

So he moved to his new Montessori school at the beginning of the year where the classes are smaller and everything is practical.

Everyone learns from each other in a safe space adorned with posters on the wall echoing the importance of kindness and respect.

See, I spent some time with my nephew at his new school today. Like I said, I was lucky enough to be his special guest. And when I arrived, the very first thing I noticed was a particularly moving message in the hallway:

“Don’t become preoccupied with your child’s academic ability but instead, teach them to sit with those sitting alone. Teach them to be kind. Teach them to offer their help. Teach them to be a friend to the lonely. Teach them to encourage others. Teach them to think about other people. Teach them to share. Teach them to look for good. This is how they’ll change the world.”

When I got to his classroom, appropriately named, The Explorers, he was sitting on his work mat, building a castle. I walked up to him and smiled and started stacking cards and balancing them against each other.

“You have to put them straight”, he said. He was far more gentle and focussed than I was.

Another little boy came up to us and asked if he could join, because at the school, they’re taught to ask and respect one another, and not reach or cross over someone’s workspace, but go around  it.

So we all built castles together for a bit, before we did some crafts. 

We made a frame together, made of sticks and decorated with feathers, paper flowers and glitter.

A different approach:

While we were busy, the 1 of 3 teachers in the class told a little boy who was running to be careful and use his “walking feet”, similar to when she tells them to use their “inside voice” and “respect their environment”. Similar to when they want to have something to eat.

Where discipline meets freedom, they have snack time between 8 and 11am – a period when he’s allowed to get up, make himself a plate, eat, and then wash and dry his plate, of course. Now, he’s always mindful to be tidy and aware of his fellow students.

Other times he can work on his daily or weekly work schedule on his work mat. His work schedule is his academics he’s supposed to complete for the day and then the entire week. But he gets to do it in his own time though.

His teacher explained to me that he gets to prioritise what is important to him. So if he wants to build a castle now, that’s okay. He’s responsible enough now to know that he also has to make time for his academics.

His teacher was reiterating exactly what his mom had happily and proudly told me earlier in the week about his new environment at his new Montessori school – “It doesn’t work for everyone, but it worked for him.”

He is currently in the grade 1-3 grouping (ages 6-9 years), which is great because he gets to learn the required work and carry it over, should he excel in certain areas and need a bit more time in others.

It’s also given him the time he’s needed to develop both academically and socially.

So it made sense that he was a little shy and not too chuffed when I told him I was going to give him a wet kiss goodbye in front of his friends.

He’s got a lot of them now and they tend to crowd around him. He’s potentially the coolest kid in his class and possibly the leader of a very cute little gang – who knows? Is it possible to be extra extraordinary?

I'm super proud of how far he's come and while I didn't want to be that embarrassing aunty that makes everyone awkward, I just couldn't help myself.

“Hug me like you love me,” I said, as he wrapped his arms around my waist.

He let out a huge sigh, looked up at me, rolled his eyes before he smiled, and then squeezed.

Read more:

Does your child go to a Motessori school? Do you feel it's better for them than the mainstream schooling system? Share your story with us by emailing to

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