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Lucy Smith

Lucy Smith

Lucy studies on our BA (Hons) Montessori Early Childhood Studies degree by distance learning and works full time as the manager of a nursery, where she plans to introduce the Montessori teaching methods that she learns. She’s also a keen sledge hockey player.

Who are you and what do you do at ARU?

I'm Lucy Smith, and I'm a distance learner on the Montessori Early Childhood Studies degree at ARU. I don't attend the university physically, but I do Teams calls with my tutors, and also have access to Canvas, the online system where I get all my material from. My tutors are always on hand on e-mail and discussion boards too.

Why did you choose distance learning?

I work full time at Little Acorns Nursery in Peterborough. I started as a Level 2 in 2018, then did my Level 3, followed by Level 5, but I always knew I wanted to do more. So I looked at my options and saw this opportunity come up. Michelle Wisbey, one of my tutors, knew the owner of the nursery I worked in at the time, so it was recommended to me. I got the information, had a chat with Michelle and it was a no brainer.

It all sounded perfect, and I was able to do it alongside working full time, which is amazing.

Did you always know that you would go to university and if not, what changed your mind?

The distance learning. I'm just so happy there's the opportunity to do it now. I would never have gone to university physically. My school ended at 16, and I went to a local college for six weeks, just the first half term, but I couldn't bear to go back. I just did not like it. I didn't like the environment. I struggled to fit in. So that's when I decided I needed a bit of time to get experience, build my character up a little bit, before going on to the next step.

Until two years ago, when I moved out with my partner, I’d lived at home with my mum and my sister for 21 years. I had never moved house. So to me the thought of moving somewhere new, to be with people that I don't know, is very scary. I've learnt from working with children that if you don’t feel comfortable and secure, you won't learn as efficiently. You have to meet your basic needs first to be able to learn and absorb information.

So I would never have gone to university had I not had this experience. For anybody else who wants to do a university course but is nervous about going to university or moving away, then this is a perfect opportunity for them.

Is your current nursery a Montessori setting, or do you hope to move into one afterwards?

I work at a chain nursery – there are three, but soon to be four in September - and the nursery I have managed since October is a baby unit, so all under twos. Some children can stay up to two and a half, but that's our maximum. At the sister setting for toddlers and pre-schoolers there’s a whole Montessori room with a lot of Montessori resources. So I'm going to work with the owner and the manager of the other setting to bring Montessori into the baby unit as well.

With my degree coming to an end, my plan for the year is to bring in the experience I’ve got from that, the teaching and the understanding of it. I’ve already made a start in the change management module I’m doing this Trimester with Michelle. We’ll review how the few changes I’m making go, then build on that.

What was it that made you want to get involved with education in the first place, and specifically Montessori education?

I had a brother and sister born when I was 10 and 12, and I always absolutely loved caring for them, teaching them, even at that age. I picked Child Development Level 2 for one of my GCSE options. When I was eighteen, I had a couple of years off studying, did some travelling, worked part time in retail just to earn a bit of money. Then I went to America for a month and met some friends who I’d met online as part of the ice hockey community. That was amazing experience - I think it was very valuable for me.

But then I wanted to continue from my Level 2 to get a Level 3, Level 5, and now my degree. My game plan was to have a couple of years of life experience, which I just absolutely loved.

So you play ice hockey too?

Yes, but it stopped when the COVID lockdowns happened and I didn’t get back into playing it. I've just started playing sledge hockey, which is a different aspect of the game that challenges upper body rather than lower body. It's a parasport, so it's inclusive. People who are paralysed, or if they don't have use of their legs or don't have legs, can sit on the sledge and just use their upper body strength and arms to pull themselves along, as well as the sticks to move the puck around and score goals.

The club in Peterborough is very inclusive and don't just say you have to have a disability to be able to play. Anybody's allowed to try and, because I love the sport, they said come and give it a go. So that's what I'm doing. Great Britain has a paralympic team, and the GB coach is actually one of my friends. I aspire to become skilled in the sport and maybe work within the GB squad!

What's the most valuable thing you’ll take away from your course?

I've met so many amazing tutors who I hope to stay in contact with, but also the amount that I've learned, the experiences I've had. Michelle invited me to work in one of her settings for two days, which was invaluable experience. All the things I learned there, the use of all those resources, go round in my mind now when I'm planning for the setting I work in.

We've just had our Ofsted inspection too, and I think it really helped towards that. We were rated ‘Outstanding,’ which I am very proud of. On the learning walk with the inspector, I was able to talk to them about the things I’ve changed to help the children’s development across different areas, review how it had worked, and talk about things that weren’t working well that I plan to change in the future. I explained about introducing Montessori methods and how I'd spoken to parents about it, and how they were all very on board. I think, based on our discussion, she could tell I was learning a lot from my course and that I had good knowledge.

Which aspects of your course have most helped your career development, and why?

Definitely time management, because with distance learning you're not going into university on a regular basis. At school, if you've not done your homework you might get a detention. At uni it's very much about being self disciplined. If you don't do it, then it's on you. You're the one who doesn't get the grade. No one's telling you off. If you don't do it, you don't get the outcome that you want.

So a lot of self-discipline, time management, and just being motivated as well. Motivating yourself, and giving yourself the environment you need to be able to do your work. I've learnt a lot from when I started to now, and I'm very different in terms of the way I manage my time. So I think that's really helped.

One of the modules we do is the Early Childhood Graduate Competencies, and that basically ensures your degree is full and relevant. You don't just have all the knowledge and no idea what to do with it - you get experience. You have to do 25 days of placement and, because I work in a nursery Monday to Friday, I'll very easily cover that.

How much opportunity have you had to learn from other students on the course?

Last year the Course Leader received feedback that the students felt as though they could have more of a community, with it being distance learning.

So she created a Teams chat for all the Montessori Early Years students, and we use that almost on a daily basis now. Just sharing things, sharing experiences. If we've come across a good article that we think the others might benefit from or would want to read.

Equally, Michelle will send us things even though she’s not required to as part of the teaching. If she sees something, she'll send it to us, which is very, very useful and very kind. I think it's definitely a community feel, and I can't wait for graduation where I'm actually going to meet all these people in person!

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I'd say to enjoy every moment of your life. Life has ups and downs, and not everything goes to plan. It's just part of how life is. But try and enjoy it as it comes and ride through the bad times. Use the people around you for support and then, when you're having good times, support the people around you that maybe aren't.

It sounds really cliché, but I think that it is the advice I'd give, because as a teenager - a bit of grumpy teenager - I would get down on myself quite a lot and sulk a little bit if I wasn’t having a good time. But I think now I've learned that not everything goes to plan, it's fine. Just focus on the positives and move forward.

What projects are you currently working on, both on and off the course?

On the course, with this being my last trimester, a lot of my focus is on my undergraduate major project. That's an 8,000-word piece of work with a lot of research, and I've chosen to look at the effect early years education has on attainment at school and reception.

I hear a lot of people say “Oh, you can tell he's gone to nursery” or “You can tell she's been to preschool” in my line of work, but I want to know why. What effect does it have? How much of that is true? I think exploring and understanding it more will really help in my career.

At work, it's about managing the setting day-to-day. We've got a fairly new team, and I'm new to it, so it's about developing that team and moving them towards the Montessori method transition.

And obviously in my personal life, there’s sledge hockey practice!

BA (Hons) Montessori Early Childhood Studies

Study on one of the only specific Montessori Early Childhood Studies degrees to become a Montessori teacher, in Chelmsford or by distance learning, including a Montessori placement.

Little Acorns Day Nursery

Little Acorns' aim is to provide your child with the highest standard of care and support by making your child’s time with them enjoyable, exciting and encouraging. Your child will also learn the 'Practicality of Life' through the Montessori Teaching Method.

Meet Kate

Kate Larsson graduated from our BA Montessori Early Childhood Studies in 2023 as a mature student, and has since been requested to facilitate a workshop at the Montessori Europe Congress in Gdansk as well as recently taking on a new role as the Manager of a thriving Montessori Nursery & Pre-school in Cambridgeshire.