Thankful: Montessori

It’s the American Thanksgiving, and across the country, families are gathering together to acknowledge the things for which they are grateful, to share abundant meals and family traditions, honoring the harvest and hearth, what we reap and what we sow.

Today, I am grateful for Montessori, and for the thousands of teachers and parents across the globe who are committed to asking more of ourselves in the name of the Child. Much is made about the educational promise of Montessori, about the ways in which Montessori kids remain motivated to learn across their lifetimes, about how innovative Montessori graduates are when they change the world as adults. Those are all good things, and I am grateful for them, too, but they are not what makes this method exceptional. They are the examples of what happens when we think differently about children and ask more of ourselves as adults.

Montessorians believe that children are inherently good, that they are intrinsically motivated to learn and that they seek to make the world a better place. Montessorians prepare their environments so carefully because we understand that it is through the prepared environment that these essential qualities of children can persist unaltered. This is a method that is ever forward-looking. We protect these qualities in children because, we believe, by doing so, they will persist when those children are adults. And what a world it would be if most of us remained inherently good, intrinsically motivated to learn and constant in our efforts to make the world a better place.

Montessorians often use the language, “Follow the child.” In our curriculum, it suggests that we look to children’s demonstrated interests as windows through which the concepts necessary for their advancement can be presented. In our efforts to resolve conflicts with children, it means we try to see the child’s best efforts and understand which of the child’s needs were unmet that led to the disruptive actions. In our parenting, it means we try to slow down and create a pace in our homes and in our families that allows children to contribute in meaningful ways. But in the larger lens, in generational time, “follow the child,” reminds us that the child has qualities we may have lost as adults. The child knows only compassion, while we may struggle to find it in the midst of our own injuries. The child knows only community, while we may think of ourselves as “us” and others as “them.” The child knows curiosity and wonder, while we may be too burdened by our daily have-tos to notice very often what an extraordinary world we live in. We follow the child because the child has the potential to become the adult who changes the world for the better.

We follow the child because we understand, humbly, that the world we have built is not the one to which we aspire. It’s hard work. It’s often lonely work. It demands of us that we put aside our righteousness and our certainty, that we reflect on our values and the ways in which we may not be living them out, that we make hard choices because the potential is so beautiful if we can get it right. Today, I am grateful for each parent who humbly asks if there might be a different way to do this, even on the days when it doesn’t go as planned. I am grateful for each teacher who diligently prepares a space for children’s goodness, even on the days when we don’t get it right. I am grateful for the promise of Montessori, and for the potential of the child, and for our collective, hopefilled ability to imagine a different world and our collective, humble commitment to care for the children who will build it.

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