Montessori, Sociable Teachings


My post today will be a bit more personal and runs the risk of being a tad “misty,” so I hope you’ll indulge me. My middle child, Ben, turned 17 years old yesterday, and we spent part of our evening pouring over his baby photo album—Ben newly born, Ben with is first toothless smiles, Ben with his roly poly knees and lack of a neck, Ben learning to walk; and as we looked at photos, there were many exclamations of “Oh, remember that sweater?   Remember that little bulldozer you used to carry around?” There’s nothing like a baby book to send one into endless reveries about, what else, the relentless and unbelievable passage of time.


After Ben’s birthday dinner, we moved from looking at baby photos to opening presents; no more miniature bulldozers or teddy bears, this time. No, this year it was all about t-shirts that would show off his muscles (of which he is extremely proud), body spray and the like, and endless discussion about the present he really wants for his birthday—a large tattoo for his mighty bicep. Yes, how things change, right?


I have always liked to step back from my kids and to observe them, sometimes, as though I were objective.  It’s an exercise that requires discipline and focus, and but I think it’s an important one; I have kept a journal for each of them—observations and stories—that I hope will mean something to them when they’re older and maybe even help them along in some vague way; I gave my eldest, Gideon, his journal when he graduated from high school, and I was touched by how delighted he seemed to be and how carefully he has stored it.  The journals are full of maternal sentimentalism, of course, but I do try to offer them tidbits of wisdom and observations that are as honest and unbiased as I can make them.


One of those observations over the years has been about how they were influenced and partially formed by an extended Montessori education, an education for which I am extremely grateful.   We were fortunate to have an outstanding little Montessori school nearby—The Montessori School in Dresher, PA—and all three of my children attended this school from Preschool through 6th grade. It gave them many gifts, one of the most important one being their ability to communicate and socialize very naturally across age groups and even generations.   Growing up, they never excluded another child from play because he was too young or too old, and now they are equally comfortable talking with a 50 or 70-year-old as they are a 20-year-old.


I would like to take credit for their social “fluidity,” but I believe that their gem of a Montessori school deserves its due; as many of you may know, one of the hallmarks of a true Montessori school is a mixed-age classroom, something that unnerves many parents when they are first considering a Montessori education for their children. A Montessori “Children’s House” classroom will typically have children ages 3-6 together; its Lower Elementary will include children ages 6-9, and Upper Elementary comprises ages 9-12, i.e. grades 4-6.


I have worked professionally with several families who might have considered a Montessori education for their children but for its mixed age classroom component, which just seemed a bit too uncomfortable for them; how could a 3-year-old and a 6-year-old progress in the same classroom, they wondered (very understandably)?   As an avowed Montessori flag-waver, I can say that those mixed-age classrooms are a magical world where a talented Montessori guide enables children to see themselves as part of a little community where each child is partially responsible for the others and where working together—cooperatively and caringly—is an integral part of daily life.  The pride they take in being helped along by an older student and then becoming the older student who will now extend a hand to the younger ones is something to behold.


It took Ben forever to learn to tie his shoes, and I learned to recognize the lace-tying techniques of the other children in his classroom who helped him daily prepare for departure from school. A little girl named Emma was particularly assiduous on his behalf and would triple-tie his laces for him, just to be sure; when we got home, I would sit on the living room floor, working the knots loose with the end of the scissors, while suggesting to Ben that he thank Emma for the outstanding care she took of him. I always felt sweetly touched by her efforts and would give her a quiet nod while I worked to free his securely imprisoned feet.


Now, as I watch Ben heave his aged grandmother up off of the sofa every evening and say cheerfully, “Come on Mema, Big Ben’s gonna take you home now,” I’m touched and grateful—for Ben’s natural kindness, but also for that little leg up that Montessori gave him, a gift he’ll enjoy for a lifetime.

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