“Teeee-churrr.” A round-faced boy with gleaming eyes is gradually, but steadily moving into my personal space. I am sitting cross-legged on the story rug getting ready to lead a circle time. Although I have repeated this process, by my estimation, about 8,000 times in the last 31 years, each day with children is different and remarkable to me in some way. This is just one of the pleasures of being in a Montessori classroom. One cannot predict what is going to happen each day, but one can be certain that the children are going to make their own discoveries again and again, and that the thrill associated with their sense of wonder is utterly infectious. I am privileged to have been an observer of this phenomenon, and to soak up some of this pure joy from the exuberance of the young child who is experiencing the “prepared environment” of the Montessori classroom. Now we have talked about and demonstrated personal space many times during our grace and courtesy lessons, or when assisting with a conflict between children. But this boy is not thinking about this social courtesy. His eyes are wide as he zooms in closer, and closer, obviously examining my face with that x-ray vision that only the young possess. Then he is just about two inches from my face, and I can smell his little graham cracker breath. I hold my own breath out of habit, as I am aware that a child’s olfactory sense is so acute. I remember being offended as a child when my teachers had that sour breath or coffee breath. He breaks the silence and says it again, quite slowly. “Teeee-churrr. Your eyes. They have CRACKS!” This made me laugh - hard. And I knew that he wanted to know why I had crow’s feet, and I needed a short answer so that the children who were coming to circle didn’t split apart like little neutrons blasting about in a million directions. So I gave him the boring answer, “Yes, I do have cracks, you are right. People get lines in their skin as they get older.” I knew very well that this explanation did not satisfy him one bit, but I went on to lead the children in song. “This is a song called “The Snowman. The composer is still living and his name is Mr. Sanford Jones.” I asked a child to put the photo of Mr. Jones upon our composer frame. “He lives in North America, in the United States of America, in the state of Georgia, in the city of Savannah.” (As I say these words, children are chosen to bring the map pieces of the continent, the country, etc.) My inquisitive boy is still sitting in front of me, and I can tell he has zero interest in Mr. Jones or the song. He is pondering my weathered and rapidly decaying body. He starts to talk, and I hold up one finger. He knows this means, “Wait,” and he contains himself while we sing. Soon it is time to go outside and children are called to dress for the playground. But my boy is glued to the rug right in front of me. And then as if we were still in mid-conversation, he said, “But teacher, (He often forgets my name,) my mommy does not have any cracks and I do not have any cracks.” “Well,” I said, “Your mommy is quite young and has beautiful smooth skin, and you have only been in the world for four years, so your face has no wrinkles. But guess what?” “What?,” he said, trouble clouding his face. “You have some lines already.” He looked surprised but doubtful. “Turn your hands over dear and I will show you.” He turned his hands over and examined his palms, his face erupted into a beautiful smile, and then he jumped up and ran for his coat, hollering, “I have CRACKS, I have CRACKS!” I have noticed over the last few weeks, my friend makes his way to the low children’s mirror in the classroom and scrutinizes his own face very carefully. And last word about this bright, inquisitive boy…One morning I came into school wearing my long hair down. (I usually wear an up-do.) He hurried over and blurted, “Ohhhhh teacher - you, you look…so very…O L D!” I do think he meant to compliment me, and that in his excitement, he could not retrieve the word “young.” Let’s just think that…
MY YOUNG FRIEND WHO WORRIES ABOUT MY AGE
This interaction took place at the beginning of this year’s term, and it’s not the first time I’ve been shown that the children think I am ancient. A real wake up call was the time I was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and felt someone feeling my elbow skin. I looked down to see a young boy “twiddling” the loose skin of my elbow. He had a far-away look in his eyes, and I’ll never be sure if he was just self-soothing or if he was thinking, “Gosh, this old woman has one foot in the grave.” Knowing this particular boy very well, I think I’m correct in thinking the latter. I AM older now, and do not know how much longer I will physically be able to work with young children. And the sad part is, I am WISER and better in the classroom than I was at age thirty. Isn’t that the way it goes?
METAMORPHOSIS MONTESSORI SCHOOL…A little red schoolhouse
We garden year round at our school.
“The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.” - Dr. Maria Montessori
The Montessori method of education is scientific and complex. It is also exquisitely beautiful and simple in a number of ways as well, once you understand it. Learning the intricacies of this visionary woman’s miraculous technique is not easy. When I took my exams for certification, there were women with law degrees and other impressive credentials with their heads on the table. They were weeping. They did not think they could pass the examinations. And I was right there with them, in fact, I called my mentor, and she had to talk me down because I was going to bail. She gave me an extremely stern pep talk and told me to march my fanny in there and “knock ‘em dead.” And I did it. Later she shared that her mentor had given her the exact pep talk when she was too frightened to take her exams. I once heard an instructor, Jeff Kaiser, share this anecdote at a workshop. He said that a friend of his said to him, “What’s the big deal? It’s just preschool. It’s not rocket science.” Jeff responded, “No it’s not rocket science. It’s a lot more complicated than that.” Indeed it is. Dr. Montessori did not just discover, through her emperical observations and experiments, a comprehensive method of education. She discovered the child.
Now I can hardly believe that I have been learning, practicing, and marveling at this educational system for three decades. For the last few years, I have felt compelled to write about my Montessori life, what I have learned about the woman, the method, and the child. At the same time, I was reticent, perhaps afraid to begin. It means so much to me - almost too much. Am I capable and competent enough to do justice to the woman who made it possible for me to have such a special life? A Montessori Life? I think I’m old enough! I’m marching in.