This Montessori Life

Ten years ago, I knew nothing about Maria Montessori. In ten years, however, a lot can change! Venturing into the messages of Montessori has been a life-changing whirlwind for me, but my story is only one of many. Whether you are waiting to be introduced to Montessori, want to learn more, or are reflecting on your vast time spent enveloped in Montessori’s teachings, I hope you can find a bit of your story in mine. Welcome to the journey of this Montessori life.

Montessori to the rescue!

Parents today want lots of good things for their children now and in the future, and rightly so! Positive buzzwords like, “curious,” “independent,” and “respectful,” echo through the media while adults strive to meet the needs of the children they care about.

Summarizing and accomplishing all of the good things we want for children is a lot of work, but it’s work that has already been started for you! Dr. Maria Montessori developed a child-centered educational approach based on scientific observations of children from birth to adulthood over 100 years ago, and it has been successful in diverse cultures throughout the world ever since. The Montessori Method is a way of educating children not just for school, but for life!

“I observed little children; I sensed their needs; I tried to fulfill them: they call that the Montessori Method.” - Maria Montessori

Montessori, who?

Children have always been a passion of mine. Third grade brings to mind for me vivid memories of an art project asking us to portray ourselves as professional adults. I wanted to be a mom. My own mother was

a stay-at-home mom and educator and was convinced I would grow up to become a teacher. I was lucky to have lots of amazing teachers throughout my education. I liked school and did well. Rote memorization was easy and rule-following is ingrained deep inside of me. However, there was a piece in education that I felt was missing. I just couldn’t pinpoint it yet.

In college, a friend of mine introduced me to Montessori by showing me a recording of a winter performance from a Montessori preschool. Three- to six-year-old children sang about love, friendship, and peace…true universal celebrations. They used language to sing and talk about their world in ways that far surpassed any experiences I had with children of those ages before. This was something different. Something special. I knew then that I wanted rich experiences for my children like those I witnessed in that short video.

“Peace is the world smiling, Peace is a gentle dove, Peace is sharing, Peace is caring, Peace is filling our world with love.” - Karen Stokes

I considered education as a career, but ended up graduating with a degree in English Literature and soon had the privilege of becoming a stay-at-home mom. As my oldest son came close to turning three, my husband and I looked into the same Montessori preschool that had provided such a different perspective on winter celebrations. I felt torn, though; why would I send my child away during the days when I could have that time with him? What I understood about Montessori's emphasis on peace and respect defined for me ways of learning that I sought for my child, but had been unable to put into words, so we went to observe.

Into the Montessori classroom

As soon as we stepped through the doors, a sense of peace surrounded me. And that was before we even saw the children! They worked quietly and contentedly, each child allowed, even encouraged, to work at their own pace. I realized immediately that I wanted my son to have the experiences we were witnessing.

After my son was enrolled, I volunteered in his classroom. Inside the carefully prepared environment, children as young as three chose their lessons off a shelf, carried them to a table or rug, organized them, focused deeply while working on them, and, when they decided they were finished, they cleaned up after themselves and put it all away! Three- to six-year-old children read letter sounds, short vowel words, and even books aloud to me. They practiced using hot griddles to prepare their own snacks, prepared tea to serve to their friends, and sliced vegetables with real serrated knives! It would have never even occurred to me to teach a four-year-old how to use a knife properly, even with careful supervision! The capabilities of these young children were obviously astounding.

How does Montessori work?

At the start of my son’s third year in a Montessori classroom, his little brother and I joined the school as an additional student and assistant teacher. After our first week in the classroom, there were things going on that I couldn’t fully comprehend. That January, I enrolled with Age of Montessori in their teacher training program in an effort to learn more.

Within the course, we learned about Maria Montessori’s life and studied the profound influence of the child’s early years on the rest of their lives. At Age of Montessori, students from across America, and some from around the world, spend nine months online learning Montessori theory and communicating with one another through forums and video conferencing.

Getting hands-on with Montessori

The author practicing at the Residency

The online course was followed by a two-and-a-half-week residency for hands-on time with Montessori materials and direct in-person instruction. The residency allowed me to see Maria Montessori’s work in action.  Studying online readied me to fully integrate written information with the prepared environment in practice. Watching master teachers present lessons excited me to share with others this beautiful way of learning. The materials themselves rekindled in me a love of learning that had been lost somewhere along the way.

Concepts like multiplication and division suddenly had completely new meaning to me.  For example, multiplication was defined as adding numbers multiple times, and division as sharing numbers equally.  When explained simply and succinctly, these concepts came alive!

“The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself.” – Maria Montessori

The depth behind Maria Montessori’s methods and the preparation of the teacher in the course allowed me to realize what had been missing for me previously. Traditional schooling places the teacher at the front of the classroom to teach and direct learning. In a Montessori classroom, one-on-one individual lessons make each teacher-student relationship essential.

Children learn through lessons that speak to their interests, and knowledge is absorbed because it’s presented during sensitive periods for learning. The ability to follow the child’s interests is crucial. Teachers act as academic guides and observers extraordinaire, using a measured framework of sequential lessons to provide the students with skills that build on one another.  In a Montessori classroom, it’s typical to see four-year-olds adding four-digit numbers because they have been given the tools to succeed, and because it interests them!

Montessori through the eyes of the children

After the summer residency in Bozeman, Montana (or other locations), the next step of becoming a Montessori Certified teacher is an internship year in a school close to your own home. Under the continued guidance from the professionals at Age of Montessori and the lead teachers at the school where I had begun my Montessori immersion, the undefined magic in classrooms was becoming less mystical and more a part of my daily life in and out of the classroom.

In the classroom, I experienced the joy in children’s faces when they discovered how to use a screwdriver to undo a bolt.  Oceans, continents, countries and states became more familiar than ever before, and often the children taught me and then we researched alongside one another to learn more. I learned that an egg white has a scientific name - albumen! Presenting lessons to wiggly children was very different from practicing them with adults who sat pleasantly still , but the children's reactions to discovering something new was SO rewarding.

Outside the classroom, my patience increased.  Learning alongside my children was imperfect and beautiful.  Rediscovering the wonder of the world we live in and the intricacies that I had taken for granted for so long renewed me.

Owning Montessori?

Being in the classroom was invigorating and inspiring; my life felt meaningful, and the daily interactions with children and families filled me.  Life was starting to feel settled.  And then it all changed again.

In January of my internship school year, the owner of the school where I was interning said she would like me to take over the school or she would need to close the doors. So, by March of my internship year, my family and I owned a private Montessori school!

Owning a Montessori school was an adventure (and another blog topic!) in itself.  The growth experienced in owning and administrating a school while also teaching in the classrooms was more than I could have imagined.  The combined challenges and fulfillment my family experienced in that time forever changed us all.

We went on to expand that school from an Early Childhood (3-6-year-olds) program to include Infant/Toddler (0-3-year-olds) and Lower Elementary (6-9-year-olds) classrooms. In the meantime, I also became an online instructor for Age of Montessori, and assisted with the summer residencies in Bozeman. Now, my role had expanded from parent to assistant to student to teacher to owner and administrator and teacher of teachers!

This current Montessori life

Spending time as a classroom teacher, administrator, mom, and wife was rewarding, time-consuming and unlike anything I’d done before or since.  Somewhere along the way, immersed and educated in Montessori, I fell in love with the experience. Ten years of daily interactions with Montessori methods keep many of the reasons behind my choices ingrained in my being.

With a teenager and preteens under my roof now, I still strive to make choices for my children and myself that are purposeful. The children, too, play a large part in the preparation and decision-making in their daily lives. In the moments that are hurried or unplanned, our Montessori foundation helps to carry us through with peace, patience, and compassion.

Montessori has impacted many lives in many ways, and it is what has brought me to this place today.  I am so excited to be blogging for Age of Montessori, and I have lots of ideas and stories to share. Please let me know what you would like to read about, and I look forward to hearing about your journey too! Together, let's strive to learn from every day and to experience the awe that can be found in every moment of this Montessori life.

The author's teen and pre-teens

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