A Reflection for Parents on Montessori Education from our Directress Aileen Brown

In the Introduction to his book “Maria Montessori, her life & work,” John McDermott wrote:

“many educators now think that the number-one priority for a child in our society is the attainment of computer literacy.  Surely by now, in the penultimate decade of the twentieth century, we should realize that mere technological gimmicks do not address the needs of the inner life of the child.  Maria Montessori, for one, knew better. It was she more than any other person in our century who realized that the life of a child demanded an education that was ordered, creative and distinctly personal.”

Our whole education system is preoccupied with test scores, standards, reading levels, with the ranking, rating and comparing of our beautiful unique children, rather than addressing the inner life of the child.

Most people are interested in content.  Parents will ask “Is she learning her sounds?” or “What materials is she using to learn Maths?” Few understand what this program is really about.

Here at Maroondah Montessori Preschool, content has never been my main objective.  My main objective right from the beginning was to have happy children, to create and environment that addressed the inner needs of the child.

Imagine that our Pre-School is a swimming pool.  All the activities are the water that a child is splashing around in.  They are splashing around in activities such as Maths reading, writing, geography, practical life, sensorial, science, etc. But while they are splashing around in all these activities they are really learning to swim.

In other words, the activities -the content – are just a medium for them, so that they can learn the real lessons about life.

E.M. Standing wrote this about the Directress: that “She must learn how to appreciate and gather in all those tiny and delicate manifestations of the opening life in the child’s soul.”  This is what I have learned to appreciate. I see a closer up, timid, fearful child start to tentatively make friends, and then become one who is laughing, smiling, and interacting. I see a child who may at first be like E.M. Standing wrote: “a veritable thorn in the flesh to the Directress; a trouble to himself and a nuisance to his neighbors… If not watched he may disturb the others, even to the extent of tormenting them.”  I see this child start to become calm, peaceful, happy, and loved and accepted by others.

These are just a couple of little examples, but with every child I have learned to appreciate the “delicate manifestations of the opening life of the child’s soul.”

E.M. Standing says that “Given the right conditions, children change their character, almost their nature, revealing profound qualities in the the infant soul which had hitherto remained unknown.”

Maria Montessori wrote: “We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.  It is the teacher’s joy to welcome this manifestation of the spirit.”

I’ll share with you a clear example of this.  A 3 year old child prepared her snack and placed it all ready on the table when all of a sudden she knocked over her glass of water.  Did she ask for help? No. Did she tell anyone? No. Did she become distressed? No. She calmly went and got a drying cloth, cleaned up and poured herself another glass of water.  This little girl was empowered from within – empowered to think and act for herself. In this action she revealed that she had learned responsibility, self-motivation and respect. She had a problem and she solved it.  She is developing an “I can” attitude that will be reflected in her whole life. She acted with dignity and confidence.

Maria Montessori wrote “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must also take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.”  Yes, education should release human potentialities such as integrity, respect, honesty, sharing, co-operation and openness to one another.

The aim of education should really be the harmonious living of people.  Education needs to be much more than ranking, rating, comparing and judging; education should treat children as special and unique, giving them the dignity that is their right.  How much more important that the child’s natural desire to learn is nurtured rather than memorization of times tables? How much more important that a child loves life, loves communication with his friends and understands how to contribute to a community rather than being at a certain reading level?  One of the little boys in my class wrote in his diary “I love extended day because I get to spend more time with my friends.”

The natural desires in children to learn, to love and to give are often threatened by pressure from outside; pressure to learn all your numbers faster than anyone else, pressure to be able to write your name, to colour shapes in accurately, to draw things that look acceptable, to count to ten, to sit still and wait to be told what to do.  Where pressure from the inside is a good thing and makes us want to explore the world and learn more, pressure from the outside can be very dangerous. It can interfere with all our natural processes and make us fearful rather than the wonderful risk-takers that we naturally are. It can tell us that we are only valued by our results and it can make us see work as something that you only do if you have to, rather than something that excites us and makes us feel good.  So we ask Montessori parents to really trust their children, to try and ignore such outside pressures, and to celebrate the very individual talents and abilities that their children possess and enjoy.

What I told you about the little girl cleaning up her spill is only a snippet of what goes on in this classroom.  Everyday children are learning and practicing in the most amazing, beautiful and joyful ways You, the parents who send your children to this school, have all been attracted to this pre-school for a reason, maybe some of you sensed when you came for an observation that something wonderful was happening here.  Maybe you felt the joy that “pervades the little community like a perfume; and is as hard to describe as it is easy to perceive. This joy which shines in the children’s faces and indeed in their whole demeanor is something more than the pleasure or happiness of being entertained… it is in fact the joy that nature always grants as the accompaniment to the right use of our faculties.  It is the joy which comes with acting in obedience to the laws of our nature.” And from an observer: “What struck me most – it is not too much to say, what caused me a profound emotion was to see with my own eyes in this school, children not only working with perfect calm, but children who were in the grip of a mysterious happiness. A mysterious happiness – I repeat the words, for I would have them penetrate your sound like a melody.  What was it, this happiness? An ‘ensemble’ of favorable conditions had been realized in conformity with Maria Montessori’s ideas, which permitted these children to give themselves without reserve to the miraculous act which we call knowledge.”

It is for this reason that I urge you all to get involved, appreciate, and give your full support to the Pre-school, to the program, the staff, the Committee of Management, to all the families and children.  By doing this you will actually be giving so much to your own child.

© Aileen Brown

Maroondah Montessori Directress

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