“The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” — Dr. Maria Montessori
Take a group of 4- and 5-year-olds to a playground with the latest, greatest equipment and watch them become absorbed in a pile of rocks. The Montessori method of education builds on that natural curiosity, and Fallon Beaudin, an early childhood educator at Lake Air Montessori Magnet School, says this age group is her favorite.
“I really relate to kids, even more than adults sometimes, because they’re usually very honest and very curious,” she said.
A single mom, Beaudin is a hard worker. She plowed through her master’s degree in one year and then completed her Montessori certification in a single summer. Her balance to all that hard work with children? More hard work with children. She’s taught swim lessons since she was 15.
Wacoan writer Megan Willome spoke with Beaudin by phone about the benefits of a Montessori education, how she and her ex-husband manage joint custody of their two children and the power of the mind-body connection.
WACOAN: How did you get to Waco?
Beaudin: I’m from Corpus [Christi], went to Texas A&M in College Station. I started there, then met my ex-husband, [Marcus Beaudin]. We moved to Waco because he went to law school, and then we planted here. We were married 10 years. Both of us stayed here for the kids.
WACOAN: Did you get your degree from A&M?
Beaudin: I was pre-dentistry at A&M, then switched to education because of the hard science courses. I like science, but I’m stronger in humanities and social services.
I was only 1 1/2 years in [at A&M], then continued at McLennan Community College, then I transferred to Stephen F. Austin [State University] through their online program through MCC. I got my degree in elementary education, then got a master’s in early childhood [education]. My master’s was also through Stephen F. Austin’s program. [Editor’s note: MCC now offers bachelor’s and master’s programs in education through Tarleton State University.]
WACOAN: Tell me why you switched to education.
Beaudin: I like working with kids. I’d been a swim instructor since I was 15 and a lifeguard. I love teaching swim lessons, so I thought maybe I can teach school. My favorite ages to teach was 4 and 5, so I thought I could teach kindergarten or first grade.
Then at MCC they have their child development center. I worked there as a work-study. I loved working in the day care with infants up to 5-year-olds, so I thought I definitely want to stay in early childhood. I was also a teacher’s aide at Crestview [Elementary School] for one year.
I got pregnant at 22, then again at 23. [My kids are] both close in age, 15 months apart. I guess I just wanted to be an educator when they started school.
When I graduated with my bachelor’s, that was the year that all those teachers were being let go by Waco ISD — 2009, 2010. It was a horrible economic time. They weren’t hiring anybody. I couldn’t get a job, and I was trying really hard, so I went into the master’s program because I had no idea what to do. I finished my two-year program in one year — just did it real fast, doubled up on hours, took 34 hours in one summer. It was insane.
All the while I was teaching swim lessons and lifeguarding at the [Waco Family YMCA]. I’ve always been a hard worker. I just kept working with kids while I was going to school. I never stopped working.
WACOAN: Where did you first teach?
Beaudin: My first job was at Texas Christian Academy, when they had a pre-K program. I worked there for a year, then they closed pre-K to work on budgeting, so I was forced to find another job.
I saw that Lake Air [Montessori Magnet] was hiring because my friend Lisa Howard recommended it. Alta Vista Elementary and Lake Waco Elementary and Lake Air Middle combined to make Lake Air Montessori Magnet. I started there when they’d just joined together. It was a pilot year.
WACOAN: How long have you been at Lake Air?
Beaudin: This is my seventh year. In working there I’ve become a better person. I’ve become more kind and loving and tolerant of people, more encouraging to students. Lake Air is a sweet place. We don’t raise our voices with children. We respect them. We are understanding.
We understand that behavior problems are outcries for help. It’s an opportunity to teach them a skill. Behavior issues are usually them not knowing how to do a skill. It’s our job as leaders to model those skills for them and be patient. Children imitate adults.
I like that it’s 3-year-olds to eighth grade. It makes a sense of family. I have a connection with those kids I first taught all the way through middle school, up until they go to high school.
WACOAN: Lake Air is a magnet school. How does the application process work?
Beaudin: It’s a lottery. The application process is for kids from age 3 and up. If your name is drawn, you have the opportunity to come. It’s an equal opportunity process. The magnet is pulling in kids from all over the city who want to be Montessori learners and families that support our vision.
WACOAN: If a parent were interested in a Montessori education but didn’t know much about it, what would you tell them?
Beaudin: Montessori teaches kids to respect themselves as a whole person. We don’t teach to the test. We teach kids to think. We don’t isolate social studies and science just because they’re not being taught on a test that year.
We try to push the boundaries in terms of what society thinks is normal or usual. We teach a lot of yoga in class. We teach kids to be empowered and to use their big voice and stick up for themselves when they feel unsafe, but they know all the teachers there love them and they can come to us if they need us to support them and back them up.
Not to toot our own horn, but we have the lowest [discipline] referrals in WISD because we approach behavior in a different way. We don’t seek to punish or reward — we keep it a neutral environment so kids take responsibility for their own behaviors.
WACOAN: I know you had to get extra training to become a Montessori educator.
Beaudin: When I was hired at Lake Air, they said, ‘You need a Montessori certification.’ You can go to a state school, and that [certification] is honored anywhere. You can go to something online, like the University of Phoenix, but will it be accepted? Montessori has legit training centers. Some are American Montessori Society [programs] and then there’s Association Montessori International. They’re internationally recognized. You can go anywhere in the world and teach — it’s honored in any language. Montessori is cross-cultural.
I went to [Houston Montessori Center] with American Montessori Society. I went all summer, Monday through Saturday, eight hours a day. I lived in Houston. [WISD] gave me an apartment. You room with people you’ve never met before, all doing the same thing. It was five women who’ve never met, living in the same apartment.
My car didn’t have air conditioning back then, and I was driving from Waco to Houston. My kids were so little, 3 and 2. My ex-husband kept them in Waco and did dad duties.
Then [as part of the certification] they came for two years to watch me teach. Then I did final exams and an oral exam. It’s comparable to a master’s degree.
WACOAN: You said WISD paid for this?
Beaudin: Now they don’t send people to Houston anymore. They were training all these teachers and then some were leaving after the first year, so they weren’t seeing a lot of retention. I was in the first group of the first year of the program. There are only two or three left out of the original 10.
WACOAN: Let’s talk about your children.
Beaudin: My son, Everett, is 10. My daughter is 9, Lottie.
My son is very into computers, technology, gaming. He loves engineering. He’s a good artist. He’s in the gifted and talented program [at Lake Air]. He likes to plan structures, architecturally, draw things that can be built. He’s quiet, has a funny sense of humor. He’s sensitive and kind.
My daughter is also in gifted and talented. She’s very creative, a good artist. She loves to spell, to write. She’s very theatrical, loves theater, and singing and dancing. She’s on the swim team with the YMCA, the HEAT (Heart of Texas Aquatics Team). She’s a renaissance girl, really good at everything she does and tackles. Very outgoing, very funny.
WACOAN: Did they start in Montessori?
Beaudin: They went to MCC [Child Development Center] from 6 weeks to age 4, then transferred to Lake Air. They’re now in fifth and fourth grades. At work, I see them off and on during the day.
In Montessori they group the kids, and they have the same teacher for three years: infant and toddler (birth to 3), early childhood (pre-K; ages 3, 4 and 5), lower elementary (first through third grades), then upper elementary (fourth through sixth), then secondary (seventh and eighth). I do early childhood.
WACOAN: What do you like about that age group?
Beaudin: I’m pretty patient. They’re very affectionate, and they also are unconditional lovers. You can trust that they’ll be excited to see you. They’re so small that they’re easy to line up, even when you have 21. It’s kind of like herding cats but still really fun.
WACOAN: You mentioned earlier that this age became your favorite when you were teaching swimming lessons.
Beaudin: I’ve done that since I was 15. I stopped after I gave birth to my daughter, in 2009, so from 2000-09. Then I started again last summer. My kids were old enough to be at the Y and just hang out and swim and go to the game room and explore a little bit. I thought I may as well work, so I worked all summer. I taught private swim lessons. I love teaching people how to swim. I teach all ages, even adults.
WACOAN: What reasons do adults give who have never learned to swim?
Beaudin: It’s usually the way they were raised. Their parents are fearful of water and that is passed down because then they’re not exposed to water. Or if they were, they’re exposed in a scary way — ‘It’ll make you drown’ — instead of giving them a proper swimming education.
I’m for getting your kids in the water as soon as you can. I’ve taught a lot of infant classes, just to get them acclimated to it. The scariest and most dangerous thing is to teach them to be afraid of the water. If they fall in or accidentally get pushed in, they’ll fight it, and that’s how you drown. If you’re calm and relaxed, you can float. You can feel your body and understand what you need to do to stay afloat. It’s a lot safer.
WACOAN: How much time do you spend at school outside of the classroom?
Beaudin: There’s so much stuff we do at the school after hours — a lot of trainings, a lot of conferences and meetings.
There are fundraisers we do with school. We just did one with Pack of Hope. We [collected] over 3,000 food items at our school. Teachers head up those fundraisers by encouraging parents to bring things.
WACOAN: It sounds like between teaching school during the year and swim lessons during the summer, you’re pretty busy. Do you have any time for other activities or interests?
Beaudin: [Over winter break] I also am working a fireworks stand for two weeks, through New Year’s Eve.
WACOAN: Have you ever done that before?
Beaudin: It’s my first time! We camp out in a trailer because you can’t leave fireworks by themselves or people will steal them.
WACOAN: Is there anything you do just for you?
Beaudin: I like working out at Gold’s Gym. I do Pilates and yoga. Yoga is a great way to meditate, connect with yourself. Saying your mantras is important to clear your brain because we’re attached to phones and technology. We need that separation from the world. You can focus on what your goals are in life and be mindful.
Recreationally, I like going to parks, movies, veggin’ out, watching TV, just regular stuff. I’m more of a homebody.
WACOAN: What does working out do for you?
Beaudin: It keeps me grounded and focused. The mind-body connection is so strong and so powerful. When your body feels healthy and fit, you can think clearer, have more energy at work. It makes you a more healthy person. When you work out, you start to be more nutrition-conscious.
I love nutrition. That’s my back-up passion, if I hadn’t gone into education. I’ve done every diet in the book. I’ve been a vegan, a raw fruitarian (that’s where you only eat raw fruit and veggies). Did that for six months. Food is so interesting to me.
WACOAN: What do you like to do with your kids on the weekends?
Beaudin: We love to go to Cameron Park. We like to walk. We like to feed the ducks. We like to smell flowers, take pictures. I like photography.
WACOAN: What about favorite restaurants?
Beaudin: We love Mexican food. Our fave is [Taqueria El Mexicano Grill] #9. We eat there a lot. We like Baris, the rolls. We like the Lego room at Poppa Rollo’s. I’m a creature of habit, so we order the same things everywhere we go. We like to cook at home too, to create a balance.
WACOAN: Do you cook more during the week or on weekends?
Beaudin: During the week we’re more fast-food driven, when Lottie has swim team or dance. Otherwise weekdays are ramen, cereal, sandwiches. On weekends I like to make soup. I like to make bacon-and-egg casserole, easy things.
I only have my kids half-time. My ex-husband, he’s an attorney in Waco. He’s remarried. Monday and Tuesday [nights], my ex has them. He brings them to school the next day. Then Wednesday and Thursday [nights] I have them, then we do every other weekend.
WACOAN: How do you and your ex-husband make that arrangement work?
Beaudin: Proper communication, respectful communication. Being on the same page for the children, especially expectations for behavior. We established that at the beginning and have kept that consistent so it’s not so hard. They’re both doing so well in school and are very happy kids. It doesn’t seem as if the divorce created a lot of stress for them — I can’t know for sure.
WACOAN: So I’m guessing this arrangement impacts the way you keep balance.
Beaudin: We make the balance work.
Also I’ve learned to be listening to my body. This month I’ve been sick — cold, stomach virus. I work with little kids, so that’s to be expected in colder months. But listening to my body and getting rest if I need to rest, if I want to go on a little vacation. I try not to worry and stress out if things aren’t going well because that makes it worse.
WACOAN: Have you gone on any fun ‘little vacations’?
Beaudin: I just went to Ireland this summer with my grandmother for eight days. It’s something she’s always wanted to do. I said, ‘Let’s go while you can.’ I helped with the stuff millennials are good at, which is finding things online, planning things, arranging things, using the internet. My grandma, it’s a little harder for her to do that. She was good at keeping me focused on the vacation, appreciating the beauty of Ireland, the history, keeping me mindful, helping me soak it up. It was really beautiful.
It was a bus tour with CIE [Tours International]. A bus guide drives you all around the country and tells you every fact in the world while you’re there. There were people from all over America, about 50 people. You stay with this group the whole trip.
WACOAN: Do you and the kids take trips?
Beaudin: My kids like to go to Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park [Camp-Resorts]. They’re so old-school. I love camping with them. It’s so easy to get to. There’s one in Burleson, one in Kerrville.
WACOAN: One outside Fredericksburg.
Beaudin: They have specials, really awesome specials: buy one night, get one free. Me and my friend who is single, she has two kids too. She’s my co-teacher, my neighbor. And then my other friend, he’s single with two kids. We get a cabin for nine people, then do the buy one, get one; so it’s like $30 per night. My kids love it because we’re all crammed in one cabin.
Single people can feel really lonely, but if you find friends in similar situations, you can join families. Technology has made it easier to find people.
WACOAN: That’s good advice. What other advice do you have for moms in similar situations?
Beaudin: Let your kids be themselves and foster their uniqueness. And encourage them to stand up for what they believe in and to be hard workers and to be kind and to always love everyone around them.
Be your own guide as far as raising your children. Sometimes we want to go to how we were raised and copy or mimic our parents, but analyze whether that’s the best way for you and take leadership of your own life.
Also listen to your body and your heart and never do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or compromised. Be confident in yourself and you can surpass burdens or tribulations that come your way, even when it’s hard.