Spotlight Montessori on Mars
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?
Until a few years ago, I’ve lived near a street called Montessori Lane (Manila, Philippines), where a huge Montessori school sat on the entire stretch of the street. When I was younger though, I thought Montessori just meant “school” and little did I know then that Montessori would become more than just a street name to me, it would become my way of life.
I used to be a Montessori guide, working with children from 3 to 6 years old. Then I set up and ran my own little Montessori children’s house, with a pond under a huge mango tree in the middle of a quaint garden, in a small provincial community because I wanted to bring Montessori to places that cannot afford it (I probably had the lowest tuition fee of all the Montessori schools in the country).
I had to give up the school when I was about to get married because it would be too far from where I would live, but Montessori is still very much in my everyday—more than ever actually—now at home with my husband Nikko whom I’ve known for 2/3 of my life (we met when we were only 11 years old), with my 3.10-year-old daughter Cara who I feel like I’ve known all my life that I forget that there was a time when she wasn’t actually in it yet, and our 3 pets—a dog, a cat, and a rabbit.
My passion for Montessori branches out into other interests like nature, travel, culture, art, and so on and so on and I imagine myself as what Maria Montessori said about the child, “…the child is interested in everything.”
In just this first question alone, I have mentioned the word “Montessori” at least 10 times and it is my dream to keep writing and speaking about Montessori and contributing to the amazing worldwide work of spreading this beautiful philosophy and way of life.
Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What’s your favorite color?
White—its different shades and possibilities! And I cannot imagine living in a space that doesn’t have greens.
Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?
I always enjoy the writing, wisdom, and wit of Alain de Botton. And a movie called ‘Wit’ has stayed with me and changed my life by changing how I saw death. But if someone twisted my arm and compelled me to choose just one book to read and one movie to watch for the rest of my life—the book would be Harry Potter (I’m going to negotiate that all 7 books should be counted as 1) and the movie, Ever After.
Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?
It involves my husband, my daughter, and me holding hands or hugging (me in tears for sure) while experiencing a natural marvel (it may be seeing and dancing with the northern lights or may be watching migrating Monarch butterflies in flight) that expands and enriches me and at the same time humbles me and reminds me how small I am in the grand scheme of things. Small—but there’s space for me here; there’s space—and a task—for everyone, everything here.
Q: What first appealed to you about Montessori?
I was looking for a place to train to be a pre-school teacher when I first visited a Montessori classroom and it was hard not to fall in love at first sight. The beautiful prepared environment and its purposeful materials—I immediately knew this was something I want to be surrounded with everyday. And when I learned and gained more understanding of the Montessori philosophy that was rooted in deep love and respect for the child and all creatures, I fell deeper in love and I was certain that this was how I wanted to live.
Q: What advice do you have for new Montessori adults?
Remember that while Maria Montessori was a genius and while she also found wisdoms and inspirations from many sources, her greatest teacher, the one who really led her to the Montessori principles and the practices we are so passionate about until today; is the child. So, let each child be your guide. And when feeling lost, remember to look at the direction that Maria Montessori said she’s been pointing—the child.
And every so often, go back to Maria Montessori’s own writings. No matter how many times you’ve read her words and wisdom, you somehow seem to take away something new from it every time.
Q: Did you have a “Montessori Moment?”
There are so many stories from my decade with Montessori; but one that I know will stay with me for a long, long time is this: One time while she was washing the dishes, my daughter Cara asked if she can try to wash the big, heavy glasses (before then, I wash these while she washes smaller ones). Ready with my usual reply (and also in my mind preparing myself in case there is a breakage), I said, “You decide.” And she went on to carefully wash the big heavy glasses. Then suddenly, while washing, with so much sweetness and sincerity she said to me, “Thank you for giving me a chance, Mom. I love you.” “Giving me a chance”—she has never heard those words put together in a sentence that way before—but she said those then and I teared up as I was watching her because I thought, this is what Montessori is! Giving the child her due and deserved chance to bloom as she’s naturally designed to, to give her the chance to test ideas and to try the things she thinks she can do, to make mistakes, to discover herself, to find her space and unique role in the world. And to see this—me giving her a chance—as an expression of my love so much so that it elicited an “I love you” from her even when she didn’t actually hear me say “I love you” out loud! That simple, short, not-even-a-minute Montessori, parenting moment I’ll bring with me for a long time.
Q: What’s your favorite Montessori quote?
“If this is done… the child will reveal himself as the greatest marvel of nature. We shall be confronted by a child not as he was considered before a powerless being an empty vessel that must be filled with our wisdom. His dignity will arise in its fullness in front of our eyes as he reveals himself as the constructor of our intelligence, as the being who, guided by the inner teacher, in joy and happiness works indefatigably, following a strict timetable, to the construction of that marvel of nature: Man. We, the human teachers, can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. If we do so, we shall be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul, to the rising of a New Man who will not be the victim of events, but who will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.”
“The children will develop a kind of philosophy which teaches them the unity of the Universe. This is the very thing to organize their intelligence and to give them a better insight into their own place and task in the world, at the same time presenting a chance for the development of their creative energy.”
“Of all things love is the most potent. All that men can do with their discoveries depends on the conscience of him who uses them.”
“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole community.”
Q: What inspired you to share your Montessori story on your blog and social media?
I’ve always said that one of my goals in life is for what I do to have an intangible benefit, a good that I would not, could not be able to see or reap. When I became a teacher, I thought I was in a good place to start that goal. But now with blogging and social media, it’s great that I can reach more people. My ideas and insights, the experiments I do and experiences I gain can benefit not just the children in my classes or in my family, but also, possibly, children I will never even meet!
Q: What advice do you have for new parents trying to incorporate Montessori at home?
If you are preparing for a coming child, think less is more. As a new mother or parent, you are all the materials your new child will need—a smile to see, a voice to hear, a hand to touch. So cherish and claim that you are your child’s first material. And hopefully, as she grows, you will still be her favorite material—you definitely will be the most pervasive, the most impactful. In The Joyful Child, Susan Mayclin Stephenson said, “The most powerful tool parents have for sharing their way of life and values is the examples they set. In every waking moment of the child’s life, especially in the first three years, she is learning and becoming more and more like those people she finds around her.” So since you are part of your child’s prepared environment, work on the Prepared Adult first—the necessary mindset and perspective, the faith and humility!
Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?
The child! Maria Montessori said, “It is not true that I invented what is called the Montessori Method. I have studied the child, I have taken what the child has given me and expressed it, and that is what is called the Montessori Method.” So observe the child with faith and humility, really watch him with fresh, objective eyes; looking at the evidence the child presents us and setting aside our own expectations. Then don’t be afraid to experiment on how we can interpret the clues the child is giving us and on how we can provide him with thoughtful, purposeful opportunities so that he can keep pursuing what his inner drive compels him to do.
Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?
The Dalai Lama said, “Children are born mindful and with wisdom we can keep this skill alive—Montessori is wonderful in this way.” And it is the child’s mindfulness—and mindfulness of the important things (think of a newborn gravitating towards her mother or a joyfully curious child in nature)—that continues to inspire me. It’s a child suddenly worried because she was told that paper came from trees and she was concerned that the papers she’s been using came from trees that were cut down and not replaced. Or a child sitting on the floor because she offered her chair to her grandmother. Or a child who understands that even the smallest worm in a compost bin has an important role in the world. The joyful, mindful child continues to inspire me.
Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?
An education as “help to life” not just in terms of preparing our children for adult life, but “help to life” meaning 1) an education that aids the child’s natural drive, that cooperates with the child’s nature, where the “curriculum is the child”; 2) an education that focuses on cosmic task—ours and others.
An education with a culture of valuing the good and gratitude instead of grades; peace instead of prizes and praises; cooperation, contribution, and celebration (of differences) instead of comparison and competition.
Q: Where do you see Montessori in the next 100 years?
I found it so funny when E.M. Standing told the story of how Maria Montessori told her school teacher that she didn’t want to be famous because she didn’t want the kids of the future to have a hard time memorizing yet another biography! But I do hope that in the next 100 years, Montessori will be the norm in education—including public schools—that everyone (unlike me who as a child only knew Montessori as a synonym for school) will know Maria Montessori and learn about her philosophy as it is not only a beautiful way to commune with the child, but a beautiful way to live; to see the world and all its parts; a way of taking in the universe and giving yourself back to it—with curiosity, awe, love, gratitude, responsibility, and peace.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder