A Montessori school is a collection of children, teachers and parents who are all there for the same reason. We have all sought out a place where there is academic stimulation, respect, safety, support and peace. We often see the child’s sigh of relief when walking into class after the morning’s hectic pace. Teachers feel that way, too. It’s a feeling similar to pulling a warm, soft blanket around you on a chilly morning. The classroom is a place where, no matter what is happening in the world outside, we are safe, respected, happy and fulfilled.
Montessorians have spent time thinking about every piece of the classroom experience –the calming color scheme, the trays and pitchers from various parts of the world, the classic art, the happy plants and animals, the soft music, the enticing boxes and baskets full of carefully crafted didactic materials. After preparing the classroom environment, teachers examine everything that comes into it – songs, stories, books, games that are positive and supportive of the child and the curriculum, foods that are in line with the nutrition curriculum, words and actions that follow the peaceful classroom model. Teachers are conscious of their tone of voice, movement and dress so as to communicate calm, grace and nurturing.
The outside observer is always surprised to see that the children in a Montessori classroom exhibit these same traits. They speak softly and respectfully to one another, move carefully and are mindful of every action. When problems occur they practice how to solve these problems face to face with others, using well-chosen words. A Montessori child would no more use a hurtful word against another than raise a hand against them. Of course, there is a unique learning curve for every child but most can solve problems peacefully and confidently by the age of 6.
Very often our new families have already adopted a “Montessori” lifestyle even before they knew anything about the educational method. They tend to organize their homes so children can be more independent in taking care of themselves. They are calm and thoughtful and conscious of their parenting style and goals in raising children.
Years go by and our graduates grow up and make their own choices. This is the best part to me – watching what these grown children do with their lives. I ran into a former SWMS parent yesterday whose son is now a senior in college and is writing game apps quite successfully. Her other son is sorting through contracts as a professional athlete. There are movie deals, commercials – all kinds of exciting possibilities. And he’s just finishing college, too. Their mom and dad have worked hard to get these boys through private school and college. I said, “It sounds like they’ll be taking care of you now!” She crossed her fingers and grinned.
When travelling to teacher conferences throughout the country we notice that wherever we are, there is a peaceful community spirit among Montessorians. It’s as if they’ve brought the peaceful classroom with them. In fact, it’s as if that peacefulness surrounds them wherever they go. I recently attended a luncheon for educators and during the introduction I noticed all the college deans and public school officials standing around in their black suits while we Montessorians were standing in a comfortable little clump in our peculiar ethnic-looking clothes, reminding me of a Garrison Keillor piece on the radio once in which he said, “…and the Montessori people were there in their broomstick skirts and Birkenstocks…” (I must point out that our younger colleagues are much more fashionable!) Everyone was quite friendly and polite but for the Montessorians it was like a family reunion. It was all we could do to behave during the elegant lunch and long presentation. There was a discussion on the Montessori Method and by the end the non-Montessorians were saying, “I’m sold – how do we do this?” At that moment the impetus to incorporate Montessori techniques into the Utah public school system was born. I wondered how long this would take to come to fruition and marveled at the idea that one day our state would be saturated with families living the Montessori way.
Last week I stepped in for a moment on a planning session at Westminster College for the first college-based Montessori training program in Utah. This will be the first program of its kind between San Diego and Oklahoma City. It’s enormously exciting and has attracted the attention of educators from across the country. The room was alive with the pulse of that Montessori spirit. More Montessori teachers, more Montessori students, more Montessori families!
We are hosting a parent/teacher workshop in September about Montessori parenting. In working on a title with the presenter, Sonnie McFarland, I thought about her book which blends Montessori theory with yoga practice, positive discipline, best practices theory and several other gems that she has gleaned from a life lived well and mindfully. Really, what she is talking about is not so much how to educate children or how to discipline them, but how to live your life as your very best self and how to teach your children the same. It’s about being thoughtful about every single thing that you introduce to this carefully prepared environment – your life. It’s about being honest and respectful of every living (and non-living) thing. It’s about taking peace with you wherever you go.
Duna Strachan, AMS
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA