Archive for August 2010

Grand and lofty ideas

August 29, 2010

“We seek to sow life in the child rather than theories,to help him in his growth, mental and emotional, as well as physical. And for that we must offer grand and lofty ideas to the human mind.” –Maria Montessori

“Grand and lofty ideas.” That keeps my attention with Montessori. Nothing is small. When the goal is a world at peace, it is hard to think small.

The Montessori elementary years connect all learning by way of the Great Lessons–impressionistic and exciting stories about the coming of the universe, the coming of life to earth, the coming of humans, the creation of language, and the creation of numbers. The stories give context for learning, so that when a child is working on the parts of a flower, she is doing so in light of the creation of the stars. Everything in the universe is intimately and irreversibly connected.

Fundamental human needs offer the foundation for culture, as children continually wonder about what it means to be human, what is necessary in human existence, and what is not. Cultural studies guide the curriculum and bring context to learning, connecting humans across time and space. Math and language become all the more alive when investigated in context of culture. When the child chooses among a variety of curricular areas and focuses on what intrigues her most, a spark of imagination is ignited that propels the child deeper into the fire of grand and lofty ideas.  All done in context of cultural studies, forged initially through the great lessons.

In this manner, by way of the great lessons and cultural studies, grand and lofty ideas launch the learning process, which in effect then leads to grand and lofty ideas. New ways of thinking are celebrated, both historically and in the present time; we immerse the child in grand and lofty ideas and observe the exciting formation of new thinking, the birth of creativity.

Grand and lofty ideas inspire greatness.

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Abundance thinking

August 21, 2010

“It is not enough for the teacher to love the child. She must first love and understand the universe. She must prepare herself, and truly work at it.”  –Maria Montessori

a walk in the park

It can seem that scarcity is found at every turn. There’s just not enough. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough help, not enough inspiration.

However, we have too much work to do, too much to accomplish, so we need all the resources we can find; we cannot afford to focus on scarcity. A focus on scarcity limits possibilities. It divides rather than unites great people who think great things and do great work. Scarcity ignites fear; fear limits creativity.

Our focus instead is abundance, creativity, energy, and delight. Our message is invitation, not rejection; relationship, not isolation. Love over fear. Love for the universe, love for the community, love for the child. Love’s nature is abundance.

We can exist in a state of crisis or we can seek new and creative solutions together. We can lament the lack of (name your lack: money, resources, time, ideas, people, help, etc.) or we can extend ourselves and build together.

Abundance is everywhere, from the peony bush in my front yard that produces more flowers and aroma than it could possibly need for mere survival, to the wrens who nest in the box in my backyard and bring sweet-songed offspring to our neighborhood year after year after year, to the child whose curiosity and capacity for learning is limitless.

Am I challenged by running a school in these difficult economic times? Yes. Do I worry that the next grant proposal I write will amount to nothing, or the next visit with a benefactor will lead to rejection? Yes. Do I believe that this worry will get me anywhere? No. A focus on scarcity will not lead to abundance. A focus on abundance will generate abundance.

I have been accused of being too optimistic, too idealistic, but I cannot imagine that the alternative will lead to greatness. I d0 not see culture as an account of pessimistic, fear-based thinking. Culture is the story of new ideas, new inventions, new insights, new challenges, new risks.

Our children deserve to be surrounded by people who first love and (at least somewhat!) understand the universe, so full attention can be brought to loving and understanding the child. This, I believe, happens with abundance.

The Montessori environment

August 16, 2010

“The teacher’s first duty is to watch over the environment, and this takes precedence over all the rest. Its influence is indirect, but unless it is well done there will be no effective and permanent results of any kind, physical, intellectual or spiritual.” –Maria Montessori

we are doing a little construction this summer

It is hard to believe that the empty, beat up classroom you see above will soon be a rich, beautiful, thriving environment for children. This summer we have done some work on our building, first removing asbestos from the 1970 construction, then replacing ceilings and lighting. We wanted to do a lot more but time and money didn’t allow it, so much of the renovation will wait until next summer.

The environment is critical to the work of the Montessori classroom. I remember early in my Montessori experience, a beloved trainer pointed out something so simple but something we often forget to consider; the environment affects the child’s behavior. If a child is misbehaving, we look to the environment first to address the behavior. The example she gave was that if a child is running in the classroom, the adult has some choices; you can tell him over and over and over again to stop running, you can raise the level of punishment involved with running, you can call his parents about the running, you can send him out of the room because of the running…or, you can put a shelf in the middle of the room that would make the running stop. The environment shapes the experience.

So much of a teacher’s training is about preparing the environment. So much of his or her work in the classroom is attending to the environment. The environment calls the child to a deeper level of concentration and love for learning, the environment presents choices to the child that elicit curiosity and intrigue.

This summer I have known first hand the loss of an ordered environment, having been moving among borrowed offices off campus while the construction work went on in our building. I am eager to return to the environment I left in June, to work with the people I trust and respect, as we prepare for a new year with the children who will shape our world.