Everyone has a different idea of what Montessori is. For some, Montessori is a radical new approach to learning, to following the interests of the child, knowing that everyone learns independently and at their own pace. For others, Montessori is one of the few educational systems that adopts the importance of social success, where children are encouraged to collaborate, instead of compete. When you combine these two notions, the idea of individually improving yourself based on your own needs within an environment that lovingly supports and guides your development, the power of Montessori truly starts to take shape.
Here's an example, one that helps to highlight the brilliance of Montessori:
A few months ago, one of our older students in the toddler classroom spontaneously, which is to say of her own volition, decided to help one of our younger students with his shoe. He was having a bit of trouble getting them on and needed a little help. As he sat down on the stool, she carefully, and with a compassion all her own, helped him adjust it just so. She was kind, patient and assertive, remembering what it was like to need help. More than anything, she was mindful of not taking away any latent confidence.
For this soon to be three year old student, it wasn't about doing the "right thing", as if there was some sort of a prescriptive social norm, where nothing less would be acceptable. She wasn't looking for a compliment from her teacher. Or, praise from her fellow students, as if she'd just outsmarted them in some sort of underlying, existential competition to win affection. On the contrary, it was a natural, generous, unrehearsed act. The sort of measures that make you think hard about academic and social dynamics.
Fast forward a few months. Immediately, you'll notice a similar scenario. This time, however, the one-time recipient of the help now assumes the position of the helper. Observing a younger student struggling to get on her shoe, this two year old boy now exerts the same goodness to his younger peer, as was once exerted towards him. As we warm heartedly watch on, we can't help but wager a guess at a definition of Montessori: it's exactly what's depicted in these photos.
Then we remember an inspiring quote from Maria Montessori. In a lecture presented in San Remo, Italy in 1949, she extols, "The child who owns nothing and promises all, who is to be found everywhere - in the homes of the rich and the poor, in all races and all nationalities; the child who knows nothing of political parties or of any other social distinctions and discrepancies; who, wherever he is born, appears with the same characteristics; who comes from we know not where, and is always a miracle, so complex in its promise for the future."