A New Generation

We're really blessed at Baan Dek. We have an amazingly diverse and eclectic community, comprised of so many beautiful and considerate students and families. With over seven different foreign languages represented in our school, (which is relatively small, especially considering that we're located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) we're increasingly overwhelmed by the humanity and compassion that we see exhibited on a daily basis.

Sometimes it's difficult to read the newspaper, or turn on the television, and understand exactly what's going on in the rest of the world, when you can glimpse into one of these classrooms and see the germination of a new generation of global citizens. One of our lovely parents, Sarah Sibert, took the opportunity, not only to educate her child on the value of others (or was it the other way around), but also took the time, to share her story with us.

We have so much to learn from children..

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"When my daughter Piper brought me the scarf – an outdated black and red silk square that avoided the donation box and found new life in the dress up box – she asked me to help her tie it. “Like a belt?” I asked. “No, around my head like Manar,” she replied, referring to the hijab-wearing mother of her schoolmate and friend, Hamza.

Her tone was put off, as to say “how else would you tie a scarf?”

“Oh yeah, like that!” I said in my best that-was-my-next-guess voice, feeling very lame I hadn’t thought of it myself. I jumped right to work wrapping and tying, making sure that it was secure for whatever came next in Piper’s re-enactment of reality called “pretend play”.

My concentration floated between thoughts like how does Manar tie hers so pristinely? I should ask her to teach me… and more awakening thoughts like how cool is this that Piper’s circle of friends includes children and adults who can literally bring her the world – in their clothes, their languages, their travels and their customs.

Considering that during my own childhood, the only woman I ever saw wear a headscarf was my grandma on rainy days to protect her hair, I felt really optimistic and hopeful that Piper – and all the world’s preschoolers – will grow up genuinely intrigued by the things that make us different and even “try on” a few of them.

Once it was tied, I was expecting questions about why she wears a scarf and why I don’t, and oddly enough, nothing. She fluttered about in her butterfly dress and scarf reading books and singing songs to pretend friends.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. To Piper, Manar is no different than any other mom – she kisses her son when he is hurt, reminds him constantly to stay away from the street and brings a purse chock full of fruit snacks to play dates. She just does it wearing a really cool scarf."

Frued on Montessori

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Anna Freud was a strong supporter of Maria Montessori, and the Montessori approach to education. Her father also corresponded with Montessori, and professed his respect.

Anna Freud writes, in the preface to Maria Montessori: A Biography, that as a contemporary, she is impressed that "the most important elements of the Montessori method" entered into modern discourse "in one form or another" and became indispensable components in the education of small children...". She lists both sense perception studies and metaphysics as the primary elements that contributed to the success of Maria Montessori.

In a letter of correspondence, Freud himself states, "I am in deep sympathy with your humanitarian and understanding endeavors, and my daughter, who is an analytic pedagogue, considers herself one of your disciples."

Architecture and Montessori

Before we opened Baan Dek, we had a vision for what it could become. We mapped out the coordinates, so to speak, and determined, from the start, that architecture, including design and aesthetics, could play an instrumental role in the formation of the school. In our estimations, it was necessary.

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Here we were, preparing to follow the interests of our students, and we were surrounded by structures and artifices that were not built to accommodate the specific needs of the children. The toilets were too large and cumbersome, the sinks were difficult to navigate, let alone reach, and it seemed to us that the children would just feel out of place. And, that's not taking into consideration the edifice itself! Imagine living in a world that wasn't built with you in mind.

As a result, we decided to seek out some of the best architectural minds in the universe, to tackle this specific set of constraints: how to build a Montessori school for children, one that could intensify their abilities and capacities to learn. After considerable research, and numerous conversations, we decided that the pioneering work being conducted by Arakawa and Gins, was an amplification, or exemplification, of the work of Maria Montessori, and that they would be the perfect collaborators in this project. So, we contacted them.

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Arakawa and Gins were so very receptive to our concerns and ambitions, and we just hit it off, exploring the multifaceted intersections, convergences and divergences, of their work, and the practices and methods of Maria Montessori. There's actually a full scale set of architectural plans for Baan Dek, at the center of a proposed community named Yuma, which would be dedicated to discovering and researching the ways in which we learn and live.

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Yesterday, we discovered a number of the original documents that we exchanged with Arakawa and Gins. Perhaps like Kierkegaard's Victor Eremita, in Either/Or, who unearths a manuscript in a secret compartment of a used writing desk, we uncovered the following questions in a document, in an old paper shredder - defying shredding! Upon our initial exchange with Arakawa and Gins, we composed a number of questions to help us knead out our respective paths.

Here's one that we thought would be relevant, and that you might be interested to read: "Maria Montessori proposes, in The Secret of Childhood, that the 'creative urge of life' is essentially, love. She has a peculiar phrase for this particular articulation: she names it an "intelligence of love".

Later, in The Absorbent Mind, Montessori posits that, "The child is a well-spring of love. Whenever we touch the child, we touch love. It is a difficult love to define; we all feel it, but no one can describe its roots or evaluate the immense consequences which flow from it, or gather up its potency..." For us, it must be said, there is a logic of life that exists beyond the logic of yes and no and that is the logic of love. We see, in your work, this logic continually being put to work. For instance: in your adamant love for life, at all costs. How would you make our classrooms, classrooms of love blossoming? If nothing else, this work must be precise and rigorously determined, but how do you construct a rigorous love? How intelligent, or sentient must it be? Can the architectural surround touch the love of the children?" 

How would you respond? Please feel free to leave a comment below!

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To learn more about the work of Arakawa and Gins, we recommend that you visit their website: www.reversibledestiny.org

Our Montessori Story

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We wanted to take this opportunity to share our story. Of course, everyone has one, and we'd love to hear yours too.

We discovered Montessori the way most people discover Montessori: entirely by accident. It was out of sheer coincidence that we happened upon the Maria Montessori Institute in London. Bobby was actually visiting the University of London, where he later enrolled to pursue a PhD in philosophy. June, on the other hand, had always heard about this seemingly mysterious pedagogy and wanted to find out more.

Located near Belize Park, the training center is so very close to where Marx is buried, and Freud lived during World War II. There's a great sense of history there. You feel like you are a part of something, just by strolling down the streets. You're surrounded by greatness, as it were. And, hope.

That's basically how we felt about Montessori. Without knowing exactly what it was, something about it just clicked. You see, we were intrigued by this concept, "Montessori". We had heard it before, but we didn't know exactly what it was. Was it a person? Was it a school of thought? Was it a city? We were eager to find out more.


For those that are unfamiliar, here's a little bit about Montessori.

Maria Montessori, often considered the first female physician in Italy, innovated the Montessori approach to education. In short, the Montessori method concentrates on the specific developmental needs of the child. Montessori believed that everyone learns differently, and at their own pace. As a result, she created a new type of classroom, a prepared environment, to accommodate and stimulate the individual interests of her students. The Montessori method has successfully been in existence for over a century. In many respects, Montessori was an outsider, a rebel. Steve Jobs might have even called her a troublemaker, or confidante.


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Montessori inspires us to take education into our own hands. To never cease to approach old problems by inventing new questions.

For us, personally, Montessori is intuitive to the way we think & feel and experience the world. It's an approach to education that makes learning fun and joyful and playful again. Truly playful, in fact. Actually, for many, Montessori is more than a pedagogy. It's a way of life. It takes the passive verb "to be" out of education, and electrifies it with the active verb, "to become". It's about seeing the world through the eyes of children and never forgetting the lessons of our ancestors: relishing the taste and touch and smell of wonder and curiosity and the beautiful. We're just starting to fully understand how many senses we really have!

When we first opened Baan Dek, the first and only accredited Association Montessori Internationale in the state, we quickly discovered that our greatest challenge was not educating the children. After all, that's something that happens spontaneously, and that comes naturally. Rather, the obstacle that confronted us was trying to "educate" the community. Which is to say, to merely introduce a new idea.

Our greatest ambition, then, was to "educate the community", not only on the importance of Montessori, but also, on the importance of early childhood education. As Montessori said, "The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period birth to age six."

If you think about it, this is a pretty radical concept, as our society is geared entirely towards the age of university studies. Yet, developmentally, we learn more in this short window, from pre-birth to six years old, than any other time in our life. What a powerful, almost disorienting thought.

With that in mind, we set out to introduce new families to this innovative and tried method of education. One of the ways in which we felt we could jumpstart the conversation was, not by saying Montessori is better than other forms of education, but instead, trying to create the conditions in which parents could discover Montessori for themselves. That's exactly how we discovered it, entirely by accident.

We wanted to celebrate Montessori. To showcase what makes her so relevant, for so many. We wanted to give back. Even if it's just a small insight that you can glean from Montessori, it's enough to store it in your back pocket, to use the concept or idea for another project, on another day.

To this end, we authored Letter Work and Number Work. If we impart anything to our parents, students and readers, we hope it's that they are inspired to develop the courage that thought demands. We hope that they learn to think for themselves, and to care for others. Imagine a world committed to education. What would that look like?

We love what we do; we do what we love. It's a phrase we take seriously at Baan Dek. It's also a something we learned along the way. We would absolutely love to hear your story. It doesn't have to be about Montessori. What's something that you discovered by accident? Something that started you down a new path. Education is an adventure.It's active and involved. True education, we would say, participates in the world and takes joy from collaborations. We love to collaborate. We hope you do too.

On Being a Montessori Directress

Q: What do you like best about your job? A: I like that every day is different. It keeps me on my toes. I love how you work and work and work on something with a child or with the class and all of a sudden, it happens, sometimes in the most unexpected ways. There are amazing things happening every day in my class.

Q: What do you like least? A: It's hard to have every day be different :) Children are autonomous, and we all have the right to make our own decisions in the classroom. Sometimes, the stars align and it all goes sideways. That's when you just breathe and smile, and, really, it's not that bad.

Q: Why do you feel that being a Montessori teacher is the right career path for you? A: I was given this beautiful gift of a Montessori education, and I know it was formative to the person I am today. I love the benefits it gave me -- I didn't struggle with school. I like and crave challenges. Hard work is its own reward. I love learning. If I can give that to another, I would like to pay it forward.

Q: Would you ever teach in a tradition classroom and why or why not? A: My undergrad isn't in education, and teaching in a traditional environment holds no appeal for me. I am doing this work largely because of all the benefits I know it gave me, and I don't see those same gifts bequeathed in traditional early childhood or elementary education.