What a Difference a Year Makes
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What a difference a year makes. This is the start of a new school year, and we’re also celebrating Dr. Montessori’s 150th birthday. It’s eventful. Some of us are figuring out how to do school in the middle of a pandemic. Some of us are figuring out how to unschool, or home school, or take a gap year with a five year old. Some of us are maybe back to school for a “regular” school year, but it’s been six months since we’ve been in this setting, and a happy, outgoing, confident child is hugging our knees and timid, shy, cautious. Maybe we’ve been made aware of ways we’ve hurt others, and looking to grow. Maybe we’re just looking to grow! Whether it’s your first year or your one-hundred-fiftieth, this year is new and we’re ready.
The world has changed. In the past 150 years, certainly, but even in the last year, in the last six months. We like to say, everything that was a given before is a question now. There is no “business as usual,” no “what we’ve always done.”
The best part of Montessori is how prepared we are for the unexpected. Granted, Montessorians are not a group of people known particularly for “shaking things up” just for kicks, but we are actually trained for change. Prepare and pivot is our whole world.
Dr. Montessori encourages us to prepare the environment. What challenges and experiences might the children encounter, and how can we create conditions for success?
Am I creating Grace & Courtesy lessons for how to put on and take off a mask? How to offer and accept an apology, being intentional about the phrases “I accept your apology,” or “I forgive you” rather than “it’s okay?” How to ask for help when I’m working, or how to know I’m available when we’re working together at home?
The world doesn’t look like it used to. It doesn’t look like it did a year ago, much less 150 years ago, or even 114 years ago when Dr. Montessori opened the first Casa dei Bambini. In the last 150 years a lot has changed, and the world will continue to change. BUT!
Human development hasn’t changed. We still need to interact with our world, first using our hands. We still need to develop language skills, and use those skills to build relationships and affect change. We don’t know what the next 150 years will bring, we don’t even know what the next months will bring, but we do know we’re ready for it. Though the world doesn’t look the way it did when Dr. Montessori was born, the children born today have the same developmental needs as she did, and we’re prepared to meet them, no matter what the external world looks like:
Meet the child where they are, and grow from there.
If we now know we were doing something incorrectly or hurtful before, we model graceful apology, learning to do better, and the ever-important message that even — especially! — adults make mistakes.
If last year’s classroom leader comes back to school timid and afraid of their own shadow, we know the relationship comes first, and only when the relationship is established can we do anything resembling academics.
If children are unable to come to school, we figure out how to use technology in a way that is actually quite in-line with Dr. Montessori — emailing adults to set up a time for a video call with a child to work on building on learning and the relationship even though we can’t be in the same place, creating and using printable resources rather than wooden ones available in the classroom, prepare and pivot.
Everything doesn’t need to look the way it did before to be wonderful, or even to be Montessori! Dr. Montessori herself demanded we observe and meet the needs of the child in front of us. Not make the child adjust to meet my expectations, or the needs of the environment, or the plan I originally had in mind. The child who is in front of me today — in person or otherwise — is the child I will serve, always.
If the last year has taught us anything, it is to expect the unexpected. Development hasn’t changed, but the world has, and the world will continue to change, at an increasingly rapid pace. We cannot foretell the future, but we can prepare children for it, connecting them with materials and experiences that support emerging language, logic and problem solving, patience and grit and tenacity, courage and integrity and resourcefulness, compassion and joy, freedom and discipline, task persistence, executive function, love of learning. These are qualities of a state Dr. Montessori called “normalization,” and what she named the single most important result of our whole work. We are preparing children for an unknown future when we are perpetually reminded how much can change, and how quickly, and we’re more ready for this task than we know. Prepare and pivot. Thank you, Dr. Montessori, and happy birthday to you.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder