The Story of a Gift

Most children start Montessori at an early age. They quickly grow accustomed to the beautiful materials. They grow accustomed to being treated with respect.

What happens when a child who has never been in Montessori sees Montessori materials for the first time? What happens when a child who has never been in Montessori is treated with respect?

Recently I talked with a customer who is a teacher in the public school system. She is Montessori trained but her public school is not a Montessori school.

As often as possible, she tries to bring Montessori methods and materials into her classroom. Some may claim that this could do more harm than good, but I don’t think so.

Listen to her story:

“When I took the job teaching Social Studies to 6th graders in the public school, I told the principal that I was going to do things differently than she had ever seen before. She was okay with that, so I started teaching.

Every day I found ways to bring Montessori into the classroom – the children worked mostly independently, rather than me monitoring them closely. When I gave them assignments, I made them open-ended so the children could choose how and when to complete them. I tested as infrequently as possible and used the tests as a way to see where I had failed to make sure they understood the material.

The state curriculum told us that we should study South America. I bought the South America Continent Kit from you, Lori, and printed and laminated it. I cut the cards apart and put them in labeled envelopes. On the outside of each envelope, I wrote the number of pieces that belonged in it (pictures, labels, etc.)

In my Montessori training, one of my trainers had sat down at the rug with all of us in a circle. She was presenting something amazing – like the Geometric Solids – and she began by holding one of the solids in her cupped hands, stretching her hands towards us, and saying “I have a gift for you.” It made the work precious to us and even more interesting.

gift1So I decided to do this with my class when I was introducing the South America materials. I stood at the front of the class and held the envelopes containing the nomenclature cards in my cupped hands. Stretching out my hands towards the students, I said, “I have a gift for you. I have made this for you.”

I showed them each envelope and told them what to do with the materials. I placed the envelopes around the room and let them choose which one to work on and for how long. I simply asked that when they were finished, they count the cards to make sure none were missing.

I watched as the children reverently, gently, opened the envelopes and worked with the materials. Some of them came to me with tears in their eyes, saying, “Miss Stacey, did you really make this for us?” One little boy said solemnly, “No one has ever made anything like this for me before.”

As they were working, if a piece was missing, every child fell to the floor to search for it until it was found. No pieces were ever bent or damaged even though the entire class worked with each set of cards several times. We also studied Asia the same way.

At the end of that year, the students came to me and told me how much they loved the projects we did, how much they appreciated having the freedom to make their own choices. For some children, it was the first time a teacher gave them a gift – not so much the gift of the materials themselves, but the gift of respect.”

What an amazing story! It makes me think of an email I once received – from a Montessori school director – who was asking me for tips on how to make the materials sturdier. The school used heavy laminate on the materials, but the children were so rough with them that they were always ruined by the end of the year. I’m not saying it’s like that at every Montessori school, but it may be more common than we realize.

How often do any of us take the time to really instill a reverence in the children for the materials and how they treat them? I think it’s something we could emphasize more. No child can resist being told “I have a gift for you.” The Montessori materials are a gift to children, just as the Montessori philosophy has been a gift for all of us.