Whenever people ask me to recommend apps for their children — specifically the preschool set — at the top of my list is always “every app by 3 Elles.” Formerly Les Trois Elles, these three friends — Marilyne, Valérie and Gaël — are sequestered deep down in the catacombs of Paris, churning out amazingly gorgeous and layered Montessori apps for the children of the world. (Okay, I may have made up the thing about them living in the catacombs, but you let me live in my world, and I’ll let you live in yours.)
Recently, Valérie, one of this trio of fantastic women, contacted me to let me know that they were ready to release their third app, Montessori Geometry. So I gave it a test-run with my daughter (who is three) and frankly, it’s another home run. Already my girl is identifying shapes as cylinders or isosceles triangles, so that makes me pretty happy. But instead of another dry review, I thought it would be nice to celebrate the convergence of threes with a little insight into the history of 3 Elles and what we can expect from them down the road. Here is my interview with Valérie:
3 Elles is aptly named – can you tell me a little bit about the personal histories of the three women that founded the company?
We all grew up in very different places. Gaël grew up in the Loire Valley, Marilyne by the sea in Brittany and I lived most of my childhood in Montreal, Canada. Gaël and I went to the same business school. She’s worked in marketing all of her life and is still head of marketing for a luxury brand today. She managed to have three children while continuing her career and setting up Les Trois Elles. A modern day mom-business woman heroine! Marilyne holds a PhD in Medieval French Literature, a Montessori Teacher three-six Degree and has three girls. She is responsible for PR and school relations. She is the kind of person who steps into a room not knowing anyone and comes out with “friends!” I had two different careers: I first worked as a management consultant in the credit card/debit card business. After the birth of my first child I studied to become a Montessori three-six teacher and taught in a school for eight years while having three other children. Les Trois Elles combines both of my professional lives!
How did the three of you meet?
We met in Lyon, France. Gaël and I were studying for our masters degree in a business school with Marilyne’s boyfriend while she was studying at university. Although we are very young, this was 18 years ago! We were friends before becoming business partners. Our main objective: offer quality educational apps to parents and professionals. Our motto: Fun educational apps made by teachers.
I feel that your apps are very true to the spirit of Maria Montessori. Can you tell me about your background in Montessori and why you are so passionate about that teaching style?
It’s always difficult to sum up the whole Montessori “method” in just a few words, it is so rich and so deep! When I trained to become a teacher, I remember being amazed by how extraordinary everything she wrote was, and how true it remained more than 90 years later! The one sentence I love above all is: “Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” How true!
Maria Montessori was the first woman to ever become a doctor in Italy. She spent thousands of hours observing children, and her pedagogy is the result of her observations. Montessori schools use concrete material that children manipulate and learn from. Obviously, this is not possible on a tablet. However, our apps encompass most of the key points of Maria Montessori’s pedagogy:
- Sensorial learning: the more senses are engaged in learning, the better the learning. In our apps, children hear, see, interact and they can even talk (in Montessori Letter Sounds they can record themselves).
- Individual rhythm: because each child is unique and cannot be narrowed down to his/her age. With the iPad/iPhone, each child can learn at his/her own pace.
- Auto-correction: everyone learns by making mistakes. Our apps don’t have beeps or “uh oh” sounds, they include a gentle auto-correction to let the child know he should try something else.
When you first conceive of a new app -where do you get your inspiration from? Where do you begin?
We have three sources of inspiration:
- The Montessori material guides us as it is a very elaborate “table of contents” of a child’s development. Even though some prefer numbers to letters, some are fast and some are slow, every child has to go through every step of the material, the only aspect that will change is how long he/she will stay on it before going to the next one.
- Schools/teachers/parents/therapists — in other words our current users also inspire us from their comments, feedback, ideas…. Obviously, this source of inspiration is constantly growing as there are more and more people who use our apps, and more and more schools that use iPads in their classrooms. In France we visit schools to observe children and talk to the teachers. Although we can’t physically do it in the US, we are trying to develop a network of techno savvy teachers.
- The third source of inspiration is our graphic design team. Our apps are very solid pedagogically because of our background but we also want them to be beautiful and our graphic designers have not disappointed us so far. Our next app was largely inspired by them.
Three apps, three women — I won’t throw an apple of discord and make you choose your favorite of the other two “elles” ^_^, but do you have a favorite of the three apps?
Funny you should mention that! Three is a very important number in Montessori:
- Children’s developmental cycles last three years: zero-three, three-six, six-nine…. That’s how the classrooms are organized.
- All the learning is done with the help of three-period lessons: first you name, second you ask the child to recognize and third you get them to name.
To answer your question, Montessori Letter Sounds is my favorite app, because it reminds me of how wonderful it is to teach children letter sounds. I remember so fondly seeing the spark in their eye the first time they write a word with the movable alphabet (sound it out)! It is a critical learning step for the rest of our lives and I’m proud we managed to put so much in one single app.
Who are the inspirations for Tam & Tao – are they based on real children?
Tam and Tao do not exist as such, but they were inspired by all the children we met during our years in the classroom.
What can we look forward to from 3 Elles? Can you tell us about anything you have on the drawing board?
Ideas for future apps is not an issue here! Our only problem is that we only have three heads, six hands and 24 hour days! 😉
We are trying to recruit an in-house developer to release more apps in 2013. There is an important language update coming on Montessori Numberland by the end of 2012/beginning of 2013; we are adding five languages including Chinese and Japanese. We are also working on the logical “sequel” to Numberland: First Operations — release in March 2013. In early February, we will be releasing Animated Shapes Studio. It is slightly different from what we’ve done so far in that it’s not a math/language app, it’s more “creative.” It builds on Montessori Geometry as it uses the same shapes (and a few more). It is very “3 Elles” in that it has precise pedagogic objectives: children will learn and understand how animated films are made and will be able to free their imagination to create their own.
What’s your advice for parents who want to use the iPhone/iPad as a tool for education?
The iPad is a very powerful educational tool. There are a lot of well designed educational apps that will allow children to learn while having fun. Our advice to parents is: “Stay in control of what is happening on the iPad; choose the apps you download carefully by checking the content and reading a few reviews. Educate your children on how to use the device: when, what, where and how long.” Unfortunately too many parents give out their iPad to be “in peace,” creating iPad monsters instead of 21st Century tech savvy (and educated) children.
Can you recommend any websites or books to parents interested in learning more about Montessori?
- Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler is an interesting book to read, because it is written by a father who discovered Montessori through his child.
- At the Heart of Montessori: Infant Toddler (0-3 Years) by Clare Healy Walls
- The Secret of Childhood by Maria Montessori
- Montessorimom is a good website with a lot of resources: http://www.montessorimom.com/
Thank you so much Valérie for taking the time to answer some questions for GeekMom, and for being a part of a team that creates such incredible educational apps for tech-savvy moms and children!