When Prince George strolled into his first day of pre-school at Westacre Montessori last week, he looked relaxed and happy – a sure sign that he was ready for school and it was the right place for him.
That’s because it is just the place for a future king, says Louise Livingston, director of training at the Maria Montessori Institute, where many of George’s teachers studied.
Following the methods pioneered by Italian educator Maria Montessori, Westacre Montessori School in East Walton, which is not far from the family’s country home, Anmer Hall, in Norfolk, stresses that children think for themselves as early as possible.
“There is a lot of focus on independence and helping children do things for themselves and make their own decisions and their own choices,” Livingston tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.
“They will be encouraging him – right from the minute he walks across the doorstep – to do things for himself,” she adds.
In his first days, George will do “simple practical activities,” like pouring, removing and replacing bottle tops and lids, fastening buttons and hooking zippers. He’ll also participate in group activities with other children, like story time, singing songs and learning about festivals.
At Westacre, like other Montessori preschools, there is a mix of age groups – up to age 5 in the Norfolk school’s case. “The younger children learn by watching the older children and the older ones really benefit by helping the younger children,” says Livingston.
“There is great benefit for learning and social behavior in an atmosphere where there’s no competition because there is a mixed-age group. Children don t think about what anybody else’s age is,” she adds.
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George, who will be 3 in July, is spending a few days a week at the preschool, starting off with a couple of hours a day to settle him in.
And the little royal went in well-prepared – his bright powder-blue backpack filled with essentials, such as indoor shoes and a change of clothes, Livingston says, adding that there are many activities, like painting, where he could easily get wet.
If he wanted to bring a book, George would be encouraged to do so, but he would have to leave it in a library area to be shared and read by and with the other children, Livingston says.
For more about Prince George’s first days at school, see PEOPLE’s latest issue, on newsstands Friday