Oksana Koval, author of “Afraid of the dark,” was inspired by her work with children and Montessori training at The Center for Guided Montessori Studies. She tells The Montessori Post about her inspiration and future projects.
What is your Montessori background? I hold two Montessori certifications – Early Childhood and Elementary I. My first Montessori school and training was in Pacifica, California. I started in a small, privately owned school called Montessori School of Linda Mar. Though I had a background in Elementary Education (I hold an AA diploma in Elementary Education from Ukraine), I did not have formal Montessori training at the time, so my director, Ms. Dolores Rosales, offered to send me to training. I took classes at the Bay Area Montessori Training Center for a few years and worked as a Montessori teacher assistant for a while. Once I moved back to Illinois I worked at the Alexander Graham Bell Montessori, where I was the lead EC teacher, and finished my training. While working there I published my first book, ‘Montessori Dictionary,’ and then second book ‘What is peace?’ You can find these books on Amazon.
In 2019 I realized that I would like to work with older children and a position opened up at the Nature Walk Montessori in Round Lake. They needed both an elementary teacher and an assistant. I started as an assistant and then became a lead teacher while receiving my certification with CGMS. My classroom was featured in CGMS training materials by Claudia Mann. She was also my field consultant and we continue to collaborate and learn so much. Overall I have about 13 years of Montessori experience.
What prompted you to write ‘Afraid of the Dark?’ In short, my work with children and my training prompted me to write ‘Afraid of the Dark.’ One summer day during a field trip, I was sitting on the school bus next to a six year old boy, whom I didn’t know at the time and he casually shared with me how much he was afraid of the dark. Later that boy ended up in my class and I continued to think about our conversation. Other children and their parents shared with me similar fears and how much it impacted their lives and their ability to learn, form friendships and communicate. At the same time I was taking my training at CGMS and learning about the Great Lessons and the cosmic curriculum. I realized that the Great Lessons, particularly the Story of the Universe, helps to understand the greatest unknown for children, which they sense, but do not fully understand, and therefore fear – the dark. I decided to put it into a story that is easy to understand and it is simple and short. I specialize in simple and concise books. Also, one of the main characters is an insect that often visits our classroom. I felt like it would be appropriate to have him tell this story. I did some research and it turns out that about half of all school children suffer from nyctophobia, or the extreme fear of darkness. I thought that if I write this book it will help children with this fear. I wanted this to become a good night story children could have by their bedside. Honestly, I sometimes get afraid of the dark, so what do I do? I read or think of my own book! And I go to sleep with a smile on my face.
What projects do you have planned for the future? Getting rid of fears has been my own professional and personal goal. One of my favorite quotes by Maria Montessori is the following:
“Not in the service of any political or social creed should the teacher work, but in the service of the complete human being, able to to exercise in freedom a self-disciplined will and judgement, unperverted by prejudice and undistorted by fear.” – To Educate the Human Potential by Maria Montessori.
I am constantly working on myself to adhere to this standard. This takes a lot of work. I start my day with yoga and meditation. I set an intention. Becoming fearless and unbiased so I can lead by example. I am thinking of writing more books in the series of “Facing Fears.”
What have you learned through the process of writing your book? This is not my first book, it is my third, but it is my first book where it is a story with illustrations. So I worked with an illustrator from Bangladesh. While I was really happy to support his work financially, because he is very talented, it was not without challenges. There was planning, scene scripting, budgeting, coordinating visions, timelines, time zones and language issues. But we made it work and I am very happy with the final product. Also, when it comes to printing on Amazon there are a lot of formatting details that I was not familiar with because I did not use so many images and settings before. It took me a long time to publish it even though the text and illustrations were ready for quite a while.
The other really important lesson I learned is that I’m truly setting an example for my students. More than half of my students in class are book writers and they look up to me and want to do it just like me. So far they have been hand writing and illustrating their story books, but now when I read my latest book to them, they are asking questions on how to publish their books on Amazon. Also, before reading this book to my class, I asked how many of them are afraid of the dark. Seven out of eleven children raised their hands.
What else that you would like to add? I also have a background in journalism and yoga. I received my BA in journalism from San Francisco State University. I also hold a yoga for kids teacher certification and I used to teach yoga classes. My hobbies include yoga, meditation, reiki, volleyball, dance, traveling, permaculture, photography and cooking. I love writing, researching and learning new things. I was born in Ukraine and I speak several languages including Ukrainian, Russian, English and a little bit of Spanish. I am married with four fur legged children. They are Oliver, Lola, Pinto and Bear – all Boston Terriers, all classroom support animals (two of them with more than 5 years of experience (Oliver and Lola) and the other two (their puppies) just started their training.
I believe that social-emotional development has been taking a huge dip due to COVID and other fears. It becomes more and more important to focus on the emotional and mental health of both students and teachers.