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.

Competition in Montessori

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We thought we would take this opportunity to address the role that competition plays in Montessori. There's a misconception that Montessori students don't compete.

We think this is the farthest thing from the truth. Montessori students are fierce competitors. As a matter of fact, we think that, in many respects, they're more healthy competitors than those traditional students they're often compared against. Why? Because Montessori students compete with themselves. They're not trying to measure up to their peers. They're trying to meet, and then excede their own expectations.

Imagine, for instance, two students locked in a heated race to see who could achieve the results of an activity the fastest. The winner only needs to beat their opponent. They don't need to beat themselves. Our own personal best is what keeps us striving. Not to mention, in Montessori, no one has to fail in order for our students to succeed. Another way to say the same thing: Montessori students don't set each other up to fail. They set each other up to succeed!

A Walk Through a Montessori Classroom

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Let's take a walk through a Montessori classroom. Are you ready?

On any given day, at any given moment, you'll notice that no one in a Montessori classroom is doing the exact same thing. The only thing that they are doing the same, is following their own interests.

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You'll notice that a teacher isn't standing in front of the class, orchestrating the daily activities to a large group. Instead, our directresses are providing one-on-one presentations, specifically geared towards the individual abilities of the student. After all, no one is the same, and everyone, most certainly, learns at their own pace. 

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Our main task is to inspire the children to actively explore the environment, becoming their own teachers.They paint and draw, cut and sew, engaging in a plethora of different art activities. They're not instructed what to illustrate, or put to paper. Instead, that comes from within. They're developing their own imaginations, their own creative lines of flight, and no one knows better than them. Our job is to observe. To follow their interests.

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There are no heirarchies in a Montessori classroom. Students are always free to work in any part of the classroom that they please. They're not confined to a desk or table and chair. They don't need to raise their hands, and wait to be called upon. As a matter of fact, the classsrooms are mixed age, so everyone has the opportunity to learn from each other. 

Here, you'll notice that a few older students are working together, collaborating on a math activity. They formed a group spontaneously, having decided, collectively, to tackle this adventure with some friends. They don't compete with each other, they only compete with themselves. They're here to support one another, to help one another learn. There are no judgements, or giggles if someone makes a mistake. Mistakes, they understand, are part of the process.

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There are no heirarchies in a Montessori classroom. Students are always free to work in any part of the classroom that they please. They're not confined to a desk or table and chair. They don't need to raise their hands, and wait to be called upon. As a matter of fact, the classsrooms are mixed age, so everyone has the opportunity to learn from each other. 

Here, you'll notice that a few older students are working together, collaborating on a math activity. They formed a group spontaneously, having decided, collectively, to tackle this adventure with some friends. They don't compete with each other, they only compete with themselves. They're here to support one another, to help one another learn. There are no judgements, or giggles if someone makes a mistake. Mistakes, they understand, are part of the process.

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Why is Montessori so successful? Why does it work? Because the children are happy. They want to work. We have a saying at Baan Dek. Social success leads to academic success. Here's the trick, and our society treats it like a secret: Montessori students are doing exactly what they want to be doing, exactly when they want to be doing it. They're following their own interests...