A HENLEY woman who founded the first Montessori schoolÂ in the area has been honoured.
A HENLEY woman who founded the first Montessori school in the area has been honoured.
Jennifer Blain, principal of the Denning Montessori nursery at Fawley, was named one of this year’s five most inspiring figures in childcare by Nursery Management Today magazine.
The 51-year-old, who lives in Deanfield Road with her husband Jonathan and their three daughters, set up the school in 1991 after teaching at a Montessori school in Marlow.
She employs two staff and caters for up to 12 children, aged two to four, at Fawley village hall, where she sets up desks, chairs and play and learning equipment.
For the past five years she has also run forest school classes in which children learn about the outdoors in a neighbouring copse.
She was nominated for the award by her husband, an author who helps with the school’s marketing. He gathered testimonials from parents and former pupils and sent them to judges.
Mrs Blain was presented with a trophy and certificate at a ceremony in London last month.
She said: “It was very exciting — you always have that bit of modesty where you wonder if you’re succeeding in inspiring others, so it’s nice to be recognised. I think they chose me as a good example of someone who has run a small school successfully for a long time. I’ve worked very hard over the years and feel privileged to work in this beautiful rural site.”
Mrs Blain grew up in Devon and first taught in London, where she trained in the Montessori method.
The system, devised by Italian academic Maria Montessori, lets children have some choice over what they study and encourages them to move freely around the classroom.
She moved to Marlow in the Eighties before coming to Henley. Her school bears her maiden name as she was not married when she opened it.
Her daughters Talia, 11, Xanthe, 16, and Kezia, 18, all attended the school before going on to Valley Road Primary School in Henley. Mrs Blain also taught Ruby and Molly Schofield, the daughters of television presenter Phillip Schofield, who lives in Fawley, and the children of former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman, who lives in Stonor.
In 2011 she was shortlisted in the Sue Ryder Women of Achievement Awards.
Mrs Blain said: “I’m very inspired by children and am lucky to have always had such wonderful staff. I’m still very passionate about my career as it’s such an enjoyable job.
“We have a lovely family atmosphere and often go on nature walks and things like that. It’s important to get outside as much as possible.
“I often bump into former pupils and their parents and they talk about the fond memories they have of their time here.
“It’s funny because some of them still think of me as ‘Miss Jenny’ even though I’m married now.
“There’s a little community of people who’ve attended and a lot of pupils come back for work experience or as part of their teacher training.
“Parents say their children picked up a real love of learning and it really cemented their confidence and self-esteem.”
The school celebrates its 25th anniversary next year but Mrs Blain has no plans to retire.
“I thought I might feel differently about it once my youngest daughter left but I love being with this age group,” she said.
“I can definitely see myself carrying on for as long as possible.”