(photo found via google image search)
In order to keep my mind focused and fresh, I try to get in the practice of reading from Dr. Maria Montessori’s books at regular intervals (albeit more infrequent than I wish). A while ago, I debated keeping The Absorbent Mind at my job like a reference book; and reading it during nap time on the days when I especially felt #thestruggle at work. But I was too afraid to come across at work as some sort of self-righteous, “holier than thou”, Montessorian ultra-expert; because I’m the only one employed at my job with AMI training plus a master’s degree in Education. I was once labeled by this consultant guy as a “fervent Montessorian” because I’m so passionate about Montessori education; and I hope to get as close to the mark as I can in my classrooms. While I believe there’s definitely something to be said about humility, I regret not going for the “keeping a book at work” idea back when I originally had it years ago. Because I could have covered so much more ground in her literary works.
Anyone trained knows that it’s literally impossible to read all of Dr. Montessori’s published books in the timeframe of your AMI Montessori training (unless you have taken a course in speed reading, perhaps). Making one’s way through as much of her works as you can is pretty much a career-long effort. I once heard from an AMI trainer that you can read all of Dr. Montessori’s books once each, and still need to re-read them over and over in order to truly understand her, and extract all the wisdom from her books.
But let’s just jump to the take-home of this post: if you understand what Dr. Maria Montessori is communicating in her books, reading her books continues to train even those who have already paid for and spent intense time pursuing the best Montessori guide training on earth. Everyone who takes an interest in the Montessori method, or considers themselves a Montessori enthusiast at any level (from the curious parent who heard about it but knows nothing, to the new teacher, to the trainer) ought to be reading Dr. Montessori’s books in order to “get it”. If more parents read her books, I think they would either become full-blown Montessori devotees, or they wouldn’t pursue Montessori education for their children. She says things in her books that would basically piss parents off, but yet she is 110% right, to this day. Which is kinda scary.
The thing is, social media photos isn’t the Montessori method. The method itself is actually this invisible, internal transformation of the adult’s mind (and course of behavior) that then allows you to manifest things in reality which help children develop the most optimal, “progressed”, evolved, character and skills they can in order to become an exceptional adult one day. It’s not just putting wooden rainbow toys on trays, which are then placed on instagram-worthy shelves. This whole method is about the inner transformation of the human being starting from birth, and including us, the adults, in said transformation. That’s what the Montessori method is at its core, in addition to some brilliantly designed materials that one must know how to introduce to the right child in the right way at the right time. It’s challenging work to understand the mind of the child, and guide them in a Montessori way, which is no small undertaking.
To do this the way Dr. Montessori conceptualized, it requires extreme ongoing effort from the adults to continually strive to get it right. It’s a daily practice and a constant rehearsing and reminding of what we’re supposed to be doing. I’m pretty much over here realizing school year by school year all the mistakes I’m still making whenever I delve back into her books. Her books are like my control of error.
There is a chapter for every possible situation that could unfold in the classroom, which allows me to try again to get back on course as an educator/ guide; and to sharpen my awareness, my observational skills, to remember exactly what it is I’m supposed to be observing for, to keep me on track making the best choices, and for my ability to try to offer the right things in the right ways for the situations that unfold before me every day with these babies.
So if anyone cares even the smallest amount about the Montessori method, you ought to read one of Dr. Montessori’s books. Not the books about the Montessori method written by other people– read one of her books for yourself, straight from her mind and hand. Get the information from the mother herself of the Montessori method, Dr. Maria Montessori. If anyone tries to blog about Montessori on a regular basis (right here 🙋🏽), you better be reading her books on just as regular of a basis, too.
Not reading Dr. Montessori’s books is like calling yourself a Christian and yet never reading the bible. It’s like calling yourself a gym rat and never researching new strength training circuits to try. It’s like calling yourself a vegetarian but never actually eating vegetables. If you care about Montessori, you pretty much have to be reading these books on a consistent basis to remember what this is all about. Because it is so easy to get sucked into the rest of the considerations, and to forget completely what it is you are there to do. The books help me to stay rooted when my classroom or a child is basically driving me insane. To stay rooted when it feels like reality is completely falling apart in my classroom, and I feel like I am so far away from successfully unfolding this method. To stay connected to the method when no one else is around to help me, except pretty much God in the form of silent prayers in my head that I (no joke) say all day.
Especially for us trained A to I people, we are literally scattered about the earth, haha. And we’re in different time zones, not spending all day stalking Facebook to see if someone from the training cohort we were in finally answered the question we posed to the cohort facebook group. Unless you live in Portland, Oregon, there aren’t many of us nearby each other to meet up with once we all go our separate ways after training. Refresher courses ain’t cheap either.
Well Dr. Montessori talks about all kinds of situations that people raising or working with children might encounter. She pretty much spoke my entire life for the past couple of years in a few paragraphs of The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 26. I’m sad that I only just recently reconnected with this critical wisdom when my experience with this group is about to come to an end in June. But at least now I know, moving forward. She talks about everything you could ever wonder about that relates to the child, raising a child, setting up the environment to help a child, the classroom, being a (new) teacher, and about being a human being. We just have to keep reading her books, or else we lose touch.
If you have time to scroll through and comb through social media for Montessori ideas, you have time to read a real paper book now and then. Many of the chapters in many of her books are actually quite short. And you don’t need to read them cover to cover. You can skip around like a “choose your own adventure” book depending upon the area you need more insight with. The index is helpful; and all of her books contain a table of contents.
With that, let’s dive into some gems (takeaways) that I have pulled from my reading tonight, The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 24, “Mistakes and Corrections”.
~ organization of the classroom is critical, because it is through experiences in the classroom that the child perfects him/herself. I realized late into this year that I should have re-thought out my entire classroom layout upon taking over the class a couple years ago. I made the rookie mistake of “not wanting to disrupt” what the children and families were used to, and being deterred by things like cubbies bolted to the wall and mirrors screwed into the wall. I even ignored my own instincts because my boss said that certain precedents were the ideas of the head of school who went before her; and they wanted to keep the changes that woman who since quit had made. Moral of the story: if you, as a trained guide think you have some ideas that would greatly improve the order of your classroom, just do them rather than letting unnecessary chaos reign supreme for possibly years to come.
~ The goal is to help the child improve himself and to develop and manifest new skills that weren’t there before. This requires repeated voluntary practice over lots and lots of time. Scolding, interrupting, being harsh can’t do that for anyone. They must do it for themselves, period. And this fact stands, no matter how stressed out you feel as a teacher by less-than-ideal behaviors. You can’t command for a baby to walk that hasn’t developed the skill to walk yet. Nor can you command for a child to magically control themselves and get it together– they have to develop self-control through practice and experience doing it, using the activities you provide in class/ at home.
~ When setting up activities, remember “control of error” and how helpful that is for the self-construction of the child and improvement of themselves; and for the eventual elimination of less than ideal behaviors. For A to I, let’s just be real that the adults are the control of error a lot; and the children need us to be gentle, consistent control of error when the materials in and of themselves may not always possess control of error.
For example, after trying to practice a lunch routine for no joke, years, with my current group of children, to this very day they still cannot come to the lunch table and hold it together. They all just immediately start going crazy the moment we reach the lunch table, yelling, fighting over which chairs to sit in, clinking and clanging their place settings, dropping their cups– it’s crazy town. In every other previous group I have guided, up to 18 children in one of the past programs, this problem of pre-lunch crazy never existed. All the rest of the children I have guided had the self-control to just come to the table, choose their own seats, and immediately hold hands (or keep their hands off of the table) in order for us to sing a short thank you song and quickly eat. But not this group. This is the group that needed their own individual lunch time place settings placed in individual baskets they receive after we say the quickest thank you rhyme known to humankind; they might need assigned seats with pictures, and they would likely benefit from laying out their individualized lunch settings to keep their grabby, anxious hands and minds focused on a purposeful task.
~ Every single one of us makes mistakes and is imperfect. It makes us human; imperfection unites us as humans, whereas the air of perfection drives people apart. So long as we have some reliable guidance to help us know when we are making mistakes, and the ability to recognize our own mistakes, we have the power to progress by correcting ourselves to get back on track. So too is true of the children. Materials + guidance + control of error with the acceptance that there WILL be error. “If this principle be realized, both in school and in daily life, then it does not matter whether teachers and mothers are perfect or not” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind).
~ viaticum= a supply of provisions or an official allowance of money for a journey. (Maria Montessori was crazy smart, obviously; and used words we don’t even know exist in her writing)
~ The child (and us adults) all possess the inherent tendency to do better, we want exactitude, we want to get things right, and we want figure things out successfully. So making the errors perceptible helps the child to be able to experience progress by fixing said errors when perceived. For example, we can all watch the otherwise healthy baby go from immobile to walking better and better until he walks like an adult. Walking has a natural control of error: falling down. None of us want to fall down and stay down. When we know we can each correct our own mistakes and avoid them in the future, it builds self-confidence and character, and trust in ourselves not to need to be anxious, and dependent upon other people to achieve success all the time. Can you imagine what kind of person that would turn a child into, if they always were shown that truth?
~ Lastly, permission granted for adults to admit when we’ve made a mistake, and then try to correct ourselves in front of the children. We don’t need to act like we are this perfect, God-like being who has it all flawless all the time. How refreshing to read this from Dr. Montessori herself, in the current age of “shelfies” on instagram, perfect-looking families on social media, in the current age of social-media-driven over-achievement quotes and slogans, and despite workplace politics and workplace favoritism.