Children are the Heart of Montessori

August 31st was Maria Montessori’s birthday. As I paused on that day to think about her remarkable life, I realized that I sometimes lose sight of the person behind the method. I say and write the word “Montessori” so much…Montessori..Montessori..Montessori. This word encapsulates the method of learning that I love so much, but it means so much more than that. Every once in awhile this thought comes to me: “Montessori was first and foremost a person, not a method.”

Could Maria Montessori have ever envisioned the way the Montessori method has grown and spread? Well, she did have a chance to visit and even live in other countries where her method was adopted. She watched as people around the world traveled great distances to hear her speak and observe her classrooms.

Still, I think she’d be pretty amazed that someone in China, or, South Africa, or Honduras could sit down at a computer and purchase some nomenclature cards and receive them through email in the blink of an eye. It amazes me sometimes, and I grew up in the age of technology.

I’ve been writing recently about the Montessori method and how it is (or isn’t) applicable in specific situations. Without planning it this way, I’ve written one article about Montessori & special needs and two blog posts about Montessori & giftedness within a few weeks of each other. In both cases, it seems as if Montessori can be the answer to some pretty tricky educational dilemmas.

It’s nothing short of amazing, the way this method crosses all boundaries – cultural, racial, and developmental. Each month I receive orders from countries I’ve never even heard of (Kingdom of Tonga, anyone?) Clearly, now more than ever people are finding Montessori to be the answer to their educational queries.

The heart of it all, though, isn’t even Maria Montessori herself. It’s the child that is the center of the Montessori method. When I read Dr. Montessori’s writings, I often marvel at the reverence she had for the spirit of the child. I know I often have trouble focusing on that aspect of my own children when the chores and cares of the everyday world seem to press in closely.

I will never forget one job interview I had at a Montessori school. I sat in the director’s office, nervous, talking about myself and my experience. I had the feeling that she liked me and was impressed with my knowledge. Still, nothing could have prepared me for the moment when she stood, drew herself up to her full height, and said emphatically, “There is one thing you must know about me. I will not, under any circumstances, tolerate injustice towards any child.”

At this point, I was quaking. As far as I knew, I had never committed injustice towards a child! Since I had sensed that she liked me, I took her words to be more of a declaration than a rebuke. I did get the job. But those words stayed with me, and to this day I can picture myself in her office listening to her pronouncement.

What did she mean? Our minds may quickly go to the gross injustices committed against innocent children around the world every day. Anything we can do to help children in this situation is worthwhile. Recently, I’ve been contributing materials to an organization that is opening two Montessori schools in a poverty-stricken part of Colombia, South America. I’ll be sharing more about that soon, and I’m encouraged by this project and others like it.

However, injustice towards children can take place a lot closer to home. It happens right here in our homes, our neighborhoods, our schools, and even our churches. It happens every time a child is bullied or taunted by other children. It happens when a child is reprimanded too harshly by an adult. It happens when a child isn’t given the same attention and love that other children in the family receive. It happens when physical, psychological, and emotional abuse is committed against a child.

Are we paying attention? Are we there to speak up, and say as parents and teachers, “I will not tolerate injustice towards any child.”? I hope we are. I hope we carry Dr. Montessori’s respect for the spirit of the child every place we go. That, to me, would be the best way to honor her on her birthday and every other day. I hope we never forget that children are at the heart of the Montessori method, and that they hold all of our hopes and dreams for the future in their hands.