Today marks the 110th Anniversary of the opening of the first Montessori school in Rome, Italy, called the Children’s House, or Casa dei Bambini, as it was referred to in Italian.
Looking back, a lot has happened since that original moment.
In one of our favorite pieces from Maria Montessori, in a book entitled Education for a New World (1946), she herself writes from a certain vantage point – from experience, from passion, and from a perspective of hope.
You see, what makes this book especially important, at least for us, is that it was written at the end of the second World War. It was written at a moment of extreme vulnerability. There was a renewed sense of a chance for a new voice to emerge, a more harmonious and humanitarian one, one that took children and their interests into consideration.
Montessori believed, as we do, that this new system of learning would help lay the foundations for a new generation of students, and humans. She placed her faith in the promise of children.
Here’s Montessori, in the closing lines of this optimistic text,
“One of the facts that made our first schools remarkable was…the children could carry out freely their experiments on the environment, and these experiences were nourishment to the mind, which had been starved. Once some interest had been aroused, they repeated exercises around that interest, and passed from one concentration to another.”
Concentration, and the observation and discovery that children could work for long periods of time, uninterrupted and unforced, was one of Montessori’s initial revelations. Alongside that was taking children seriously by providing them an appropriate environment in which they could flourish, one that would allow them to follow their own interests.
As she continues,
“When the child has reached the stage of being able to concentrate and work around an interest, the defects (the “problems” with learning) disappear; the disorderly becomes orderly, the passive active and the disturber becomes a helper; so the defects are revealed as not real but acquired characteristics.”
Shedding considerable light on a new way of thinking about early childhood education, and education as a whole, Montessori offers a new perspective for us all. Here, she identifies the need to bring families into the equation, recognizing that schools alone cannot complete this movement, specifically addressing mothers in her passage.
“So our advice to mothers is to give the children work in some interesting occupation, and never interrupt them in any action they have started. Sweetness, severity, medicine do not help at all. We do not sentimentalize over the troublesome child, or call him stupid; that would do no good when he is needing mental food. Man is by nature an intellectual being, and needs mental food even more than physical. Unlike the animals, he must construct his own behavior from life and its experiences, and if set on this road of life, all will be well.”
Ending the book in a hopeful tone, one that is not so much conciliatory as forward-thinking, or forward-leaning, we find these reflective moments particularly poignant and hopeful.
Where do we go from here? Forward.
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