Ruth Theuermann-Bernhardt is a cultural anthropologist, a communication expert and the founder of MasterMum, a multifaceted course program in Austria for mothers. MasterMum not only serves as a platform for mothers to meet other women in similar situations, but Ruth uses mental coaching tools and group work to connect with women.
Ruth and her husband have two children, ages 6 and 4, and her oldest will begin school at Guidepost Montessori in Vienna this fall. She recently sat down with Katherine Price Beuchert, Vienna's Head of School, to share Montessori insight, her genuine interest in people and to encourage others to follow their own paths.
Question: Tell me more about MasterMum and the work you do with mothers and children.
Answer: I studied ethnology, and my focus has always been on women and the research of women, whether generational or the affect of their socio-economic situation. I later worked in media and press until I learned about applied kinesiology, and I became a practitioner.
I founded MasterMum to help women physically and emotionally, and to focus on the inter-connectedness of the body’s systems. This can be everything from allergies to mental or emotional health. The tools I work with include observation, listening closely to what people are saying, and asking their body and their system what is wrong.
I work with mothers and children, as there is an obvious symbiosis between the two. I work with children who might be stressed in school or having a difficult time learning or concentrating.
Q: How has this, the power of observation, informed your parenting?
A: I allow my children to make mistakes. If a child is learning to walk, it wouldn’t be considered a mistake if he fell. I also let my children fight -- they’re siblings! I believe it helps them learn to get along.
Q: What drew you Montessori originally?
A: I attended the Pikler group in Westbahnstrasse, and it opened my mind to experience what my kids can do: They can climb, fall, maybe even get hurt. The group gave me a lot of knowledge. And people were always watching when I practiced Pikler, like at the playground. My kid was always climbing higher! This trust in my child is important.
This trust also came with my children's eating, for example. I needed to accept their needs. I’m a vegetarian and hardly eat sugar and no gluten. It’s what is good for my body. However, my daughter eats meat. I want my kids to have options! They need to make their own experiences!
In terms of kindergarten, we first had Noah in a private, Catholic kindergarten, because there were no nearby Montessori Children’s Houses with availability. However, when I picked him up, I could tell it had been too much for him -- the noise, many kids, many toys. We were then offered a space at a forest kindergarten in the north end of the city. Both our children were there for a year, but then my husband and I realized that this parent-directed concept -- one where all pedagogical decisions or whether plastic versus glass cups was even discussed -- was not for us.
Q: And then your children began at a Montessori Children’s House?
A: Yes, though at first, I felt guilty about having had my children in three kindergartens. Then I thought, my kids have different experiences! Times are changing, and they will need flexibility and to get along with different systems and different people. We picked the best out of each system: the Lantern Festival from the Catholic Kindergarten, outdoors from the forest kindergarten, and now the wonderful Montessori experience! It’s enriching that they saw so many things.
In life, you should always keep in mind: If there is something you’re not happy with, you can change it. You’re responsible for yourself and your well-being!
Q: Do you feel Montessori is accessible? Do you feel at ease with the pedagogy?
A: I’m not so worried about it; I take elements to integrate at home. The elements of Montessori that make life easier, we keep! For me, it’s one thing to be at the Children’s House, and another to be at home. The children bring home things they want to integrate -- the peeler for veggies, for example, to prepare themselves. Things they are fascinated with that make their lives more fun, easier, practical, these are at home with us.
Q: Walk me through your decision process to enroll at Guidepost Montessori.
A: First, I’m really convinced about Montessori, how it makes my children happy. They can try things, learn, and experience. They are so proud of themselves, not because they were pushed into trying something, but because they decided to try.
This convinced my husband and me. To be honest, the school system, as it is right now, does not make me happy. I work with a lot of kids, and I see them suffering in the typical school system.
Q: What kinds of aspects affect the children who come to your practice?
A: Pressure -- the time pressure -- and the feeling that children must learn a certain thing now because, this week, they’re working on page five, for example. Nothing is based on their individual situation; it is only based on the curriculum. This leaves children stressed, scared not to achieve, feeling like failures, and somehow already having lost the joy of learning.
Q: How did you decide for private education, and for Guidepost?
A: At first, we were talking about the financial situation, having two kids at the same school at the same time. Is it possible? Do we want to afford it, instead of using this money for other things in our lives? Before Guidepost, we were enrolled in a multi-aged Montessori classroom at a public school. And we would have considered a public school, but it must be said that public schools only go until 12 or 1 o’clock, and if you are a dual working family, you have to pay for aftercare, which can be expensive. People calculate zero dollars for public school, and it’s simply not true!
Choosing between public school then aftercare in the afternoon or an all-day school and Montessori aftercare at Guidepost, it was easier to choose Guidepost. My child will get more out of the school, and we gain quality coverage in the afternoon.
Q: Were there any other factors?
A: At other schools, if your child attends aftercare, homework is a big chunk of this afternoon time. If you pick the kids up too early, then you must do homework at home. I appreciate that in Montessori there is no homework. (You can read more about the topic of no homework in Montessori here.)