Former Montessori teacher Briony Russell, from Wadhurst, has just published a book entitled Cook and Educate, which aims to teach children all about healthy foods and how to prepare them. Eileen Leahy finds out more about this appetising project
What made you decide to write this special cookbook?
The activities in Cook and Educate had been tried and loved by children over many years in my accredited Montessori school. I have been teaching for 15 years, and essentially wanted to put into print what I know works in practice.
Why did you think it was an important book to do?
I was very keen to spread the word about the value of encouraging creativity. Opening a young child’s eyes to all aspects of the world is incredibly important and rewarding. If you can create curiosity in a child, their enjoyment in learning will last a lifetime. It was also important to convey how easy it is for young children to absorb a wide range of knowledge, if you offer it in a simplified fun way. As the 19th-century writer and physician Alfred Mercier said: “What we learn with pleasure we never forget.”
What are the fundamental differences in the Montessori teaching method?
Montessori schools have been established worldwide for over 100 years. They follow the principles of Maria Montessori, who was a true pioneer of child-centred education. Montessori saw that children learn best by doing, and that happy, self-motivated learners form positive images of themselves as confident, successful people. We see each child as a unique being and foster their independence from a very young age. Fundamental is the belief that a child’s early years from birth to six are the period when they have the greatest capacity to learn. Children in Montessori schools work individually most of the time, coming together when they wish to, at different periods during the day. Some mainstream schools, including primaries, are now also embracing these Montessori methods into their classrooms.
How did you get into teaching Montessori?
When I became a mother, I wanted to have a career that would allow me more time with my family. Teaching seemed the obvious option. The more I researched Montessori, the more enthusiastic I became. I retrained and qualified as a Montessori teacher when my daughter was a baby. It is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I continue to be incredibly inspired by the new generation of Montessori teachers, who I now tutor.
What kind of recipes can we expect to find in Cook and Educate?
They include things like caterpillar bread, global fruit salad, honey fudge, Welsh rarebit and strawberry jam. A little cooking is involved, under the supervision of an adult, and there is also lots of information to help children develop their cooking skills, as well as their knowledge of the world. So, for example, with honey fudge children would learn about the life of bees, and also make the honey fudge. When cooking the Welsh rarebit, they would learn about the geography of the UK, too.
Are you a keen cook, and do you grow your own vegetables?
I like to cook food from all over the world, and I have large collection of cookbooks. I always pick up a recipe book if I go anywhere for the first time.
I have always been very keen for my daughter to help in the kitchen and to be able to cook, too. She was making Sunday roasts at around eight years old! I haven’t mastered the art of growing my own vegetables yet – but
it is a goal for the future.
How did the artistic collaboration with the book’s illustrator Jo Ansell come about?
Jo is a very talented local artist and sculptor [exhibiting all over the UK, including at Pashley Manor in Ticehurst]. She is also a qualified teacher and worked for me as an art teacher, generously sharing her talents with our pupils at Casa dei Bambini. She was my first and only choice as the illustrator for my book, and luckily she said ‘Yes’ immediately.
What’s next for you? Will there be more books or workshops in the pipeline?
Cook and Educate is the first in a planned series of books combining creativity and knowledge. The next will celebrate the seasons and will include cooking and crafting. Jo and I are currently organising a series of workshops for both children and parents.
Cook and Educate is priced £12.99 and is available to buy from Barnett’s Bookshop in Wadhurst and www.cookandeducate.co.uk