Saturday, February 20, 2010

the tao of montessori

Back in the day (and closet), I had a couple of girlfriends in high school - and this past year, I've been in touch with both of them for the first time in a long time. One of them (with whom I had my first kiss, as a matter of fact), I've been emailing and texting quite a lot. Actually, I feel closer to her now (despite my incorporeal role in things) than I did back then. It's been great, and I feel fortunate to know her in this different way - and dare I say, better, way.

Anyway, through this friend, I've begun to learn about the Montessori method of education. She's a teacher with a Montessori school and has been for several years now. I'd always heard of Montessori, but just brushed it out of my mind, with the vague notion that it was some kind of religious schooling that had nothing to do with me. But as I've chatted more with my friend, the more curious I became about her work, and so I've recently been trying to find out more. And from what I know, through my friend's explanations and the things she's shared with me about her teaching experience, as well as the books she's recommended, I am very impressed.

My knowledge is of course limited and superficial, but I believe it is safe to say that the main principle that underlies all of the Montessori method is: the complete trust in, and respect for, the children and their capable nature. That is what it's all about. Serving the child and allowing their potential to bloom unencumbered, with as little hindrance as possible.

Maria Montessori saw that children have an inherent, spiritual genius that naturally seeks to express itself when given the opportunity. I just think that is brilliant! I heard Abraham-Hicks once say that newborns and little ones are vortices of pure, positive energy that enter this world fully equipped with a divine knowing, infinitely wiser than we give them credit for - and just being with them for a short time, one can sense that this is true. I've always experienced a marked sense of inner calm in the presence of children and babies. And I think that's common. How can we not? They are so pure and so unblemished by the physical. There is an obvious Intelligence to all of Life - and the way I understand it, Montessori is about letting that Intelligence reveal each child's unique gifts and traits, in the appropriate time and appropriate way. There's no forcing; there's no reward or punishment. It is being open and easy.

The teachers are sometimes known as guides - and I love that title. It implies that they don't necessarily have all the answers, that they are there to help guide the children on their own path of development - and not to dictate it as a controlling, all-knowing authority figure. They are there to prepare a clean, safe, non-judgmental environment, to offer lessons on the use of the self-correcting materials available in the classroom, and then to allow the children to decide which ones they're drawn to. One of their greatest roles is that of observer. They are to observe the children, to offer guidance when needed, and to redirect instances of misbehavior in a positive way.

I don't ultimately believe in "better" or "worse" - but the Montessori method just strikes me as a more enlightened way. And the capacity for spiritual growth would be, I imagine, immense. It would require remaining in the present, allowing the children to teach YOU what is required in each interaction. It would mean checking your ego at the door and letting the children do as they know how to do, and letting them figure things out for themselves, letting them be as they investigate - without rushing, judging, fearing, or taking things over in an attempt to "make things easier" or to get them "done quicker." It would call for a great amount of patience. I imagine it would be like facing a classroom full of little gurus every single day - each of them pointing out what YOU still need to work on, as they guide YOU back in to a state of balance. It is no small feat; it's not a simple task. I really respect people who work with children - and I mean all kinds of teachers. They're a special lot.

One of the books my friend recommended was "The Tao of Montessori: Reflections on Compassionate Teaching" by Catherine McTamaney. In it, she takes us through the 81 verses of the Tao Te Ching, writes a passage on Montessori and how it relates to that particular verse, and then ends with a quote by Montessori, herself. It's a great book!

Here are a few of my favorite quotes that were included in the book:
To keep alive that enthusiasm is the secret of real guidance, and it will not provide a difficult task, provided that the attitude towards the child's acts be that of respect, calm, and waiting, and provided that he be left free in his movements and experiments.
The child should love everything he learns. Whatever is presented to him must be made beautiful and clear. Once this love has been kindled, all problems confronting the educationalist will disappear. 
There is a part of the child's soul that has always been unknown but which must be known. With a spirit of sacrifice and enthusiasm we must go in search, like those who travel to foreign lands and tear up mountains in their search for hidden gold.
I think the reason that I enjoyed the books I read, and am so impressed with the Montessori method overall, is because this way of approaching life - and children - is a matter of consciously choosing to align one's self with the Tao. It's a surrendering to the flow of Life as it unfolds. And as far as teaching goes, it's being able to witness that Life expressing Itself through the children's growth - and tending to them with a reverence. It's amazing - and I think, very special.

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