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.
Years ago at a convention of educators, a lecturer showed a video of a young toddler trying to walk.
With each new fall, the little boy got back up, unfazed, and continued.
After a few minutes, and with a bunch of benevolent “Ooohhs” and “Ahhhhs” from the audience, he was eventually walking.
When the video stopped, the presenter left up on the screen an image of the boy, now proudly standing tall, and she said: “Isn’t he precious? and all those little falls of his – so cute!”
The audience was beaming in agreement.
The Children’s House level of Montessori education stands alone in its provision of an incubated space and time for a child to cocoon himself in anticipation of a metamorphosis, an entirely new species of human being.
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.
I had an interesting conversation with a prospective parent recently who teaches at a local college. She shared that she and her colleagues are constantly discussing “how underprepared kids are for college in terms of ‘soft skills.’” By soft skills she meant skills other than the purely academic — the personal qualities, habits and attitudes that make someone a successful college student and, by extension, a good boss or employee later in life. She had just come from an observation in toddlers and primary and was surprised to have seen that in Montessori, “starting in toddlers students develop the self-motivation, independence, and follow-through that many college students lack!” In other words, beginning at these very young ages, Montessori children are already developing the soft skills that will benefit them so greatly later in life.
When Dr. Montessori opened her first classroom in 1907 in the San Lorenzo tenement housing in Rome, she had two cabinets of materials for the children’s use. One was filled with the materials she had designed and made for the children based on her earlier work in hospitals, and the other was filled with toys that had been donated to her by her friends.
If you saw me walking across campus with a clipboard in my hand, I would probably be on my way to substitute in a primary (3- to 6-year-old) classroom. I keep a stack of blank slips of paper and a pencil on the clipboard, because I know how much new readers simply love reading handwritten words and phrases. It is simply magic to them that I can have an idea in my head and make it manifest on a piece of paper and that they can decode it! It’s an excitement that all of the Bob Books and other primers in the world can never match.
“What do you think?”
“I’m sure you will do the right thing.”
“Do you have any ideas?”
“How might that work?”
Outside my bedroom windows, along the back property line where my neighbor’s yard begins, I can see the four cherry laurel trees we planted a few years ago. Three of them are flourishing – getting tall and treelike – while the fourth is not doing so well. It is not as tall as the others and is skimpy in canopy. It’s not its fault. When we planted these trees we were not terribly discerning about the location. The gardener helping us said that the laurels should do well whether in sun or shade. So we planted them in an offset row across the back of our yard to serve as screening. We hadn’t taken into account the future growth of all the surrounding trees that now cast that part of the yard into deep shade, where the fourth laurel lives.
“Your children go to Montessori school? I heard that’s fine for preschoolers, but when they are older, won’t they need something different?”
We expect what we purchase to be tailored to our particular specifications. There is almost nothing we can’t find, nothing we can’t ask, and nothing we can’t get delivered.
“The fundamental basis of education must always remain that one must act for oneself. That is clear. One must act for him or herself.” –Maria Montessori