Happy New Year!
January 3, 2023
Happy New Year to our students, our graduates, our friends, and all of you who are thinking about studying with us. Our entire faculty and staff wish you the warmest greetings and regards for this coming year. Whether it's been cold weather or fighting illness or whatever the challenges may have been, I think for most of us, it's good to be turning the page on 2022. In addition to multiple challenges, we had the wonderful transition from our first dozen years of Age of Montessori into AIM, the Authentic Institute of Montessori, and we are thrilled with the reception we have been getting from the Montessori community, and from all of you. We are continuing our work with teacher education for infants and toddlers, early childhood, elementary I and II and coming soon, stand-alone elementary II.
Many of us ponder what we will commit to doing in the following year, and what our New Year’s resolutions might be. As I've been thinking about this personally and for our organization, I have been taking the time to review what we've accomplished in the past as well as where we are going this coming year. As I was looking for a particular photograph on my phone, I started looking at the amazing photographs that I have collected from schools around the country and around the world. I have had the opportunity and the honor to visit literally hundreds of Montessori schools, both early childhood and elementary in more than 30 states here in the United States from East Coast to West Coast and all through the middle, Mexico, South America, Australia, 10 countries in Europe and several countries in Asia.
So, what have I seen? And perhaps, more importantly, what is the significance of what I saw?
I've seen a gamut of schools from those just starting to gather their materials to schools who've been established and functioning at high levels for decades. When I'm in a well-functioning school, I see first and foremost peace. I see children at work happy, focused, non-combative, and inwardly at peace. Several schools that I've seen in the past months as they've travelled along the West Coast and the East Coast and schools in Tennessee, Montana, and Florida, my heart has been deeply moved. In several schools, I literally felt as though I had stepped into heaven. The quality of kindness of love that permeated the rooms was palatable. Each of these schools was like an oasis, set aside from the busyness of the world outside the doors of the schoolroom. There was an entirely different quality of relationships between adults and children and between the children themselves, of work, of freedom, of helpfulness than what we might see in many other schools.
As I was a guest in the classrooms, strictly to observe I was not giving lessons, I was not doing assessments, but I could see that the range of materials being used indicated tremendous development. It is hard for me to put into words exactly what I saw, but I will describe one specific incident that was very powerful.
One of our interns invited a child to a lesson. He was sitting next to her and a little girl who was not technically part of the lesson was sitting at the same table across from them. The lesson was to present two of the cylinder blocks at one time. In this work we lay them out as the two parts of an equilateral triangle. The children take the cylinders out and then put them back into the correct hole in the correct cylinder.
This teacher had observed the way I presented it and had internalized a level of “peaceful sameness” in the words of Maria Montessori. She quietly grasped each knob and lifted the cylinder out and put it in the center. She went to the next one; she was systematic, she was slow, she was precise. She never veered away from that rhythm that she had established that was almost like the beating of her heart as she took a cylinder and put it down, took another cylinder and put it down. It was so amazing to watch because not only the child who was receiving the lesson but the little girl across from them, were spellbound. They literally did not take their eyes off what she was doing. It was the kind of lesson that I dream of, but I don't see as often as I would like. When she was finished with the lesson, she invited the child to have a turn; he did it perfectly several times and then put the work away.
During the course of this lesson, as I sat very near just watching and taking a few pictures unobtrusively, there were seventeen other children in the classroom busy doing their work. There were no disturbances, there was no need for this teacher to break her concentration, or to have to speak to any other child. This experience embodied what I learned from Dr. Elizabeth Caspari, when she spoke of the currents of mental energy. Those currents of mental energy, and I would also say heart energy, were powerfully at work completely engaging the being of the child, the being of the teacher and the energy of the onlooker. It was so interesting because when I spoke to the teacher afterwards and complimented her on what I had seen she didn't even realize that it was something special. This was the way things went for her, and she didn't fully recognize or realize the power of what was going on in that classroom through her presence.
I also saw her give a lesson to the group and this was 18 children from ages three, four, and five, about impressionistic art. They had studied several artists in the weeks before, and I was privileged to watch her introduce the artist, Mary Cassatt. First the children had to say goodbye to the artist, Monet, whom they had studied in the weeks before. The intern had laminated pictures of many of Cassatt's paintings which are of children and are of special interest to children. The paintings she chose may have reminded them of home, of their mothers, and how loved they were, as well as giving them a knowledge and appreciation of the culture of the world. They then tried their hand at making Impressionist paintings themselves. By posting the children’s work of various kinds in the hallway, parents could see what their children were working on.
She would hold one up and ask the children what they saw what they thought. At one point a little boy raised his hand and said, “Oh I saw that picture at the National Gallery last Saturday. My mommy took me to see the paintings we've been studying about.” It was such a lovely example of the synergy that can happen when the parents understand what's going on in the classroom and nurture their child's interest to correspond with what the child is learning at school. This was another part of my dream come true, of the way a Montessori school should be in relationship not only to the child, but to his family, and to what can be learned from the outside world that is of beauty and importance.
I wish you all the best this coming year, and all the best for the children you love! Happy New Year!
Mary Ellen Maunz, AIM Founder and Program Director