Winds Of Change
The story of a Montessori school in the heart of Bordeaux
Nestled beside a river in a peaceful suburb called Bordeaux is a double storey school under thatch where happy school children go about their work. This is the scene that awaits a visitor to The Willows. It’s hard to imagine that this school started off humbly in a garage, so let’s take a peek into the past…
The rambling garden of the Pledger house was constantly filled with the sight and sound of four young children and a host of neighbourhood friends keeping busy by making mud pies in the river, or scraping knees climbing trees. It seemed only a small step to turning this delightful ad hoc arrangement into a little school. Win Pledger, a trained teacher for the 6 – 12 year age group, who went on to specialise in preschool, was encouraged by the neighbourhood mothers to formalise a school, and so the children and friends were coaxed indoors to the garage where chairs and tables, paints and handiwork, songs and games awaited them. Although Win knew nothing about Montessori, the principles were unknowingly in place. “Montessori is after all just common sense” she says. Shelves were erected and toys displayed, independence was encouraged, scrubbing and cleaning became the children’s responsibility because there was no one else to do it.
In 1979 Montessori came to South Africa when Lena Wikramaratne and Lilian Bryan ran a six week introductory course on the Montessori method at Inanda (The first full-time A.M.I. course was introduced by Strilli Oppenheimer at Inanda in October 1982). Win attended the six week introduction and completed the 3–6 year Montessori course in 1983. An excerpt from Win’s journal (August 1980) runs as follows: “Attended a film on the Montessori method of teaching – Follow the Child. Most interesting. One day I hope to have a similar class. Montessori equipment will cost R3000.00 but it will be well worth it.” An extremely enthusiastic Win Pledger came away with a new vision for her school. A loan was procured and within weeks the first set of Montessori materials was on its way from Holland to sunny South Africa. A Montessori school was born.
The adjacent property was acquired, the house was let to tenants to cover costs and its garden expropriated to accommodate the playground. Michael, Win’s twelve year old son, together with two school friends, built a rambling tree house in the pecan nut tree at the bottom of the garden. A cycle track wound its way through the trees, and numerous animals took up residence in the little farmyard, a boon for our city children.
In 1985 the school expanded and the adjacent house was altered into a school. All the dividing interior walls were demolished and children filled the second classroom. The original ‘garage school’ was renovated, providing much needed space.
Over the intervening years, the school has grown to include a toddler class, an aftercare facility and a primary school. Many years on, Win looks back fondly on the seemingly uncomplicated days of her school’s formation, through the muddle of building operations, the scary times of servicing large bonds, the search for effective teachers, the many responsibilities that surface when running a large school, and on into the future, which beckons ever so brightly for The Willows, for Montessori in South Africa, and indeed for the children who have enjoyed the privilege of a Montessori education.