During his second year in our community, Dmitri, now seven and a half years old, became relaxed and natural. He participated in everything that did not require his performing before a group. When a child or children memorized and practiced a poem to recite to our class and then took it on tour around the campus, Dmitri shuddered. If invited to join someone in doing so, he recoiled in horror, but he watched with lively interest as two children went to the front garden and sat on the bench under the tree to memorize a poem. He peeked out the door into the rear garden and listened as a child delivered lines from atop the tree house to another child on the far side of the fence.
They came in from the playground knotted together by tight feelings for their injured friend. “He’s hurt. He fell off the slide. Ned pushed him.” Ned was supporting Bart, who was hopping along, his face squeezing out tears and his jaw clenching in sobs. Breathing heavily, pushing and stumbling, with heads bobbing and backs bent as they jockeyed for close, clear gapes at the bloody knee, Ned and Bart’s buddies accompanied them to gain the safety and reassurance that presenting the disaster to me always bestows.
Since leaving the classroom recently, after thirty-some years in the delightful company of children, I have spent a considerable portion of my time leading the development of the parent education programs for our school. It has given me a new and different joy, and a great appreciation for parents. It is an honor to work so closely with parents who are the primary educators of our children, who are the children’s models, their supporters, and their greatest source of love and admiration.
Two boys took turns reading with zest and dramatic expression the tale from Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” to a small group of children, alternating with one another as their voices gave out. How well they read this difficult language and how genuinely they enjoyed it!
“I’m going to most of the Conversations with Donna Bryant Goertz,” said the mom, “as many as I can, anyway,” she added. “But not the one on death! I can’t bring myself to think about dealing with this subject with my child. I’ll wait to face that when I have to.”
It takes time for children to differentiate between fact and wish. It takes time for them to realize that they cannot make something become so simply because they say it is so. After all, children hear adults say all manner of outlandish things, things that stun and amaze them. It must seem to children that […]
We know that one of the very best things any parent can do for their child’s development in reading is to read aloud to the child. Over the years, many parents and former students have told us stories of their experience reading and being read to. What these stories tell us is that reading aloud together is far more than just a support for reading development; it can be a vital and deeply cherished time in which parents and children explore the world together through books and conversation. Here are a few of the stories we have heard.
When the child is seen to be responsible and skillful with the chopper, he is introduced to activities that include the blunt-tipped, serrated knife. It is more challenging because it has only one handle and that handle is close to the blade. One hand can be kept safe by holding that handle securely away from the blade, but the other hand must be kept safe by placing its palm on the non-cutting edge of the knife and holding all fingers and the thumb curved upwards. To distinguish the non-cutting edge of the knife from the serrated edge, the cutting edge, is not left to observation for a child so young. The non-cutting edge is marked with a thin stripe of red plastic tape. In the activity set, the knife is placed always in the same place and in the same position on the tray. While in use it is always set down in exactly the same place in the same position. The guide does so with utmost attention and intention, conveying with her facial expression her exquisite care and respect for the knife and her recognition of its danger.
Surely this father would have preferred having a conversation with me about the daughter he has in my class and her development. We had opened a discussion several times only to set it aside in favor of his more urgent and immediate task of attending to his toddler’s development. Never did this father roll his eyes, make a sarcastic comment, or express the slightest displeasure to me over being interrupted several times. His entire being seemed suffused with alertness and calm. It seemed that repeating as many times as necessary the words and gestures his daughter needed were to him the most ultimately meaningful and fulfilling experience.
She was twenty and she told us that her mom had read aloud to her every night till she went off to university. The first time she came home for a visit her mom kissed her and said goodnight. “Wait,” she said to her mom, “we can’t go to bed till you read to me!” And so their custom continued, but over time it evolved into each of them alternating to read to the other from their current book.
“Oh, no,” I thought, “they’re too angry to listen to her. What will they say? What will they do? It’s true, we do just sit down together at a time like this and take a deep breath before we try to speak, but they are not going to listen to her.”
What we seek to avoid are the cheap substitutes which are so highly prized in our society today, as they have been throughout the history of western civilization: superiority, pride, competition, control, praise, rewards and punishment. What Dr. Montessori discovered was that what had always seemed to be necessary to bring out the best in human nature often brings out the opposite. Yet even in our Montessori communities around the world, we struggle moment by moment, day by day to keep those practices out of our schools and our families.
I am capable of being the finest example of your best attributes and values expressed in my very own way. If you will prepare a home environment carefully and thoroughly for me, keep my materials and tools in order and good repair, set the limits clearly and firmly, give me long slow periods of time to work on my secret plan, I will do the work of developing a new human being, me!