Archive for October 2010

Lucky to be here

October 25, 2010

“This is the first duty of an educator; stir up life, but leave it free to develop.” –Maria Montessori

One of the ongoing junior high projects. This kind of work will be a part of their micro economy.

The quick conversation in the car on the way home today caused me to think a bit on what we are doing here. My daughter is in the eighth grade, and the junior high began their “immersion week” today, where they spend the entire week at the farm rather than in the classroom. They will do chores (my daughter told me she wanted to wear her rubber boots tomorrow because she’s on duck pond duty), they will construct a solar-powered water trough, work on their micro-economy (which is woodworking, and now there is a twist–painting quotes like you see above), and clean out the barn, among other things. They will do this Monday through Thursday, and on Friday they will participate in the St. Marcellus Day celebration together with South Bend’s Center for Peace and Nonviolence (St. Marcellus is a model for non-violence). Then they’ll be back in the classroom on Monday to begin another cycle of learning.

The comment I made to Clare in the car on the way home from the farm was, “You are lucky to be here. Lucky to have such a junior high.” Her response was, “I know.”

As I thought about that, I realized just how wonderful it is to have a thirteen-year-old recognize that she is LUCKY to be at school, without a second’s hesitation. She knows. She didn’t need to put on the stereotypical adolescent angst and roll her eyes about school. She doesn’t think school is something she has to tolerate. She loves it. And she is learning and growing in leaps and bounds.

Maria Montessori knew that the child needs to move in order to learn, and that the adolescent needs to relate in order to learn. The adolescent needs to engage in meaningful work with peers. The adolescent needs freedom with responsibility, independence, and our trust. Our junior high students jump on the city bus to go study at the public library, or they walk to the farmers’ market to buy the food they will cook for each other, or they arrange to meet downtown or at a local park or at the river to continue their ongoing research into local history. They review literature in a seminar format, learning how to think and discuss and argue their points. Their Math is advanced and practical at the same time, as they study Algebra and Geometry and also build their own lockers from bookshelves removed from another part of the building. They work as a team, they guide each other, they learn from each other, they work hard, and they love learning.

Clare is not the only one lucky to be here at this junior high. I am lucky to be able to take in even a fraction of what she does, simply by being present.

Tradition and the story we share

October 6, 2010

So here we are again. Apple pie baking time. In October 2002, about one month after we opened our doors for the first time, I baked pies with our founding 16 children. I did that because I enjoy baking pies, the children had done a large unit on apples, and they had visited a local orchard. That night we had our first Back to School Night for parents, and we served the pies.

Somehow that became unchangeable tradition. I bake pies with the children every year now, and we serve them at our Back to School Night. I spend two mornings doing it, one morning with one lower elementary class, the other morning with the second lower elementary class. I enjoy spending the time with them, and they enjoy the work.

This year,  more so than in the past, I noticed a regular comment/conversation. It wasn’t about the flour, or the rolling pin, or the cinnamon. The comment I heard from the majority of the students was about the contraption we used to peel, core, and slice the apples.

Over and over children wondered aloud who would have invented such a thing. They touched it, and moved whatever part would move so they could get a better sense of how it worked.

Inventions. New Ideas. Contributions. That is what the child wants to focus on. Who invented it? How did they figure it out? What caused them to want to invent it?

History is a story of new ideas, new thinking, creative inventions, of contributions to culture. The Montessori classroom is founded on the story of culture; the environment is designed to consider how we are in community with each other. We participate in the conversation begun with the creation of the universe, a conversation that has continued throughout all history, a conversation that was handed to us to continue. We are grateful for the person who invented the lightbulb, the one who invented the plow, the one who figured out how to weave , and even the anonymous person who first domesticated the dog. Each of these “inventions” contributed to culture, contributed to the story, to the conversation in which we are engaged.

A conversation that happens even in a food preparation area of a kitchen in a Montessori school in South Bend, Indiana. Who invented that machine? It sure makes our work easier, it is really cool to watch it work, and it is a lot of fun. Everyone wants a turn.

So we continue baking apple pies with the head of school, because it is now in the realm of Unchanging Tradition. We talk about lots of things when we bake; some children do this work for the very first time, others are seasoned professionals. We spend time in community to create something wonderful for parents, something we can all be happy about. The pies are in no way perfect, but we even talk about that. And this year, we talk about the awesome invention you see below. And we are grateful to that person, whoever he or she is, who invented it and contributed to our story.