I am surrounded by the impending-storm, afternoon hustle-and-bustle of 28 children sort of trying to convince their bodies to work constructively, a few caving in to all out giggles with friends, others have given up entirely and are just lying on the floor reading. This seems an appropriate choice to me on this crazy afternoon. Three children are following me around trying to ask me a question while I help another student find something and the classroom phone rings. I grab it (outside contact with an adult, hooray!). It’s the principal, asking me if I remember a certain student, he’s here now, is it ok if she sends him over to say hello?
I have recently become aware that in the arena of Montessori parenting, I am quite the old fuddy-duddy. My first child was born in an age before the release of the iPhone 3G. Conversely, by the time my second child entered the Children’s House, I owned an iPhone larger than the size of her head!
Our neighbor Joe visits several times a week. Joe is eight years old, polite and respectful, happy, bright-eyed, a popular kid in our neighborhood. When he steps onto our front porch, he’s usually looking someone to play with. Sometimes, his mother sends him to fetch his sister.
The very first article I read that sold me on Montessori did not have the word “Montessori” anywhere in it. Seven years ago, when our first child was at the cusp of transitioning from baby to toddler, my husband and I walked into a Prospective Parent class at a local Montessori school. Until that evening we had understood Montessori to be an alternative method of education worth investigating. We walked out with several handouts, one of which was written by the founder of the school, Donna Bryant Goertz, and titled “Owner’s Manual for a Child.” It is written from the point of view of a child in the first plane of development and begins with these words, “Dear Parent, I want to be like you. I want to be just like you, but I want to become like you in my own way, in my own time, and by my own efforts. I want to watch you and imitate you”. I still possess my copy from that evening: creased, tear-stained, and printed on green paper.
Mary memorized Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem The Swing effortlessly, through the natural absorption of story and song that is one of the gifts of childhood. Stevenson’s timeless collection of poetry for children, A Child’s Garden of Verses, has always been on the bookshelf beside Mary’s bed. It is also present in her classroom library. Mary’s mother and her teacher read poetry to her often, sometimes singing as they read.
“What do you think?”
“I’m sure you will do the right thing.”
“Do you have any ideas?”
“How might that work?”
“Your children go to Montessori school? I heard that’s fine for preschoolers, but when they are older, won’t they need something different?”
Ben was quiet and seemed uncomfortable in his own skin, a boy’s boy with a father who hung out with the guys, who watched sports during those years a couple of decades ago before wives and girlfriends had begun to join in. Ben’s father didn’t much know what to say to his wife and daughter. And his son Ben seemed barely comfortable enough on the sports field and with his buddies. He was stocky in a muscular sort of way, with a husky voice that came from his struggles with allergies.
Give the experience of listening to poetry by reciting poetry to the children. The guide selects short poems that he/she really enjoys from among adult poems, not children’s poems.
When we hear a title or label our mind conjures images and stereotypes from memory and repeated experience. The stereotypical role of the conventional teacher is so different from the role of trained Montessori adults working with children in a prepared environment, that the term teacher misleads and confounds our understanding. It is for this reason that I consciously choose the term Guide.
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 […]
I asked this group of well-educated professionals what they remembered from their own education about pi. Someone responded, “3.14159.” “You’re right,” I said, “that is the value of pi, but does anyone remember what pi means?” At once they seemed to adopt the sheepish demeanor of students in a traditional math class, each of whom is saying to him or herself: “I should know this but am afraid to answer because I might get it wrong. I hope the teacher doesn’t call on me!” To relieve their discomfort, I supplied the answer: “It is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.”
As a classroom teacher, I remember fondly our studies in Human History: first examining and classifying the human animal; then drawing connections between our closest living relatives, and most recently to the epic stories of the earliest of humans and how they changed with and adapted to their dynamic living environments to suit their needs.