Anna-Maria Yotsova, founder, on unique learning environment that support children talents in all ages
When Anna-Maria Yotsova established Otkrivatel Montessori School, in 2012, she was driven by the desire to create an exemplary bilingual multicultural nursery and primary school based on the Montessori method. The task was challenging, but she succeeded. Four years later, Otkrivatel Montessori School expanded as an elementary school, and in 2022 it went further by opening a secondary school that offers IB curriculum. Anna-Maria Yotsova is perfectly prepared for this path of educational innovation. She is one of the two Montessori pedagogues in Europe internationally certified to work with children in all three age groups: 0-6, 6-12 and 12-18 years. She has specialised in some of the leading Montessori kindergartens in the US and is the founder of the Montessori Society Bulgaria, affiliated to Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). We talked with her to learn more about Otkrivatel Montessori School.
The Montessori method is over a century old. Why is it still relevant today?
The Montessori method is not just an educational programme, but a system that gives a starting point for personal development. And this is something universal and immune to the changes of time. The method is even more relevant in our hectic lives, where the outside stimuli and noises are much stronger than they have ever been before. This is not the best environment for children to develop their potential. On this background, the Montessori method provides space and opportunities for children to develop metacognitive skills such as attention, focus, concentration, consistency, and mathematical thinking. These are not confined into a single curriculum subject, but are skills that the students can apply in each aspect of their lives, while at school and as grownups. They help them to be successful and to develop into authentic people. This authenticity is translated into the way they express themselves, the way they think and the ideas that they generate.
What is Montessori's solution for dealing with a deficit of attention in children?
The Montessori method is all about engaging young children in a way that touches their inner self and creating such an environment at school that helps them to gradually internalise these skills. When a child is in a supportive environment and community, where their interests are respected, when they are not forced to stop what they are doing because there is a regular break between classes – then they remain focused on what they are doing and enter the so-called flow. This is when they give the most of their capabilities and become able to quickly master the skills in which they are interested.
The general public thinks that the Montessori method is all about giving children freedom. This is only partially true. This is the point of departure.
Discipline and responsibility make the rest of the equation and are used as the means of achieving freedom. The Montessori method helps children realise that they are free to do what they want, but only if they have the self-discipline to choose something meaningful and targeted. They also can communicate with others freely, but they have to realise that they should do this in a respectful way. This is a process that does not happen overnight, it takes time and consistency.
What does the method look for children who are already at school?
Regardless of the children's age, the Montessori method aims to model the skill of deep concentration and putting maximum effort in what they do. Of course, the context in which this happens is different for the different ages. For toddlers and preschoolers it aims to help them become functionally independent, to develop their self-perception and to create a culture in which mistakes are accepted as an integral part of the learning process. They have to learn how to do small chores, to write and read, to decipher the words. Elementary school students have to deal with greater challenges, such as making a timeline, participating in a project or organising an outschool trip. For a teenager, the biggest effort is to fulfil their duty to the community. For example, they can be responsible for the class's shared meal, or the order in the classroom or the budget for some shared activity. In case they fail in doing their budget or preparing the food, there would be real consequences for the community – their classmates would go without money or food. This is a very effective form of natural feedback that teaches independence and responsibility.
Why did you decide to expand Otkrivatel's activities with a secondary school?
We prepared for this for a long time, as we wanted the full educational circle in an age appropriate way. Modern education somehow misses the mark with children aged 12-18 and fails to recognise that this is an age of raging hormones, when children are focused on themselves and anticipate adulthood. This is not an intellectual, but an emotional age. Montessori education for teenagers is a beautiful thing as it allows them to flourish and grow into aware, responsible and proactive adults. At this age, they need the elements of the lives of the adults.
We opened the secondary school after we found a bigger building for our new premises. Moreover, we are also turning it into a training ground for other teachers who want to see first handedly the Montessori method in action and to implement it, or parts of it, into their kindergartens and schools. In early children development, teachers need special Montessori materials, but when working with teenagers you need only adults with the proper attitude and life experience who are able to create the conditions of building a community of teenagers.
Why did you decide to become the first Montessori school in Bulgaria using the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum?
The IB and the Montessori method have the shared mission of helping the development of critically and creatively thinking young people who are interculturally aware and have the audacity to dream big about how they can positively change the world. In actual fact, the IB is the modern interpretation of the Montessori method, with contemporary ways to think, standards, practices and sustainability. The IB puts the Montessori method in a context of practices that do not depend only on how good a teacher you are, but help the entire organisation to follow certain principles in a holistic culture.
How does the IB curriculum benefit children?
The main advantage is the emphasis of intensive foreign language education and interdisciplinary learning. The curriculum is very challenging because it is not confined to what is written in the textbooks. We work at a large scale.
The students graduate with international diplomas that open doors all over the world. Currently, there are over 5,000 IВ schools globally and the ambition is to create a network, an ecosystem that at an international level helps young people to develop this worldview and skills to be able to apply positive leadership in the society when they become adults.