My cell phone provider made a change in their system which affected my being able to access my phone messages. So I called the virtual customer service technician who then made the changes I needed to be able to retrieve my messages. While I had him on the phone I remembered to ask him if my cell phone would work in our vacation destination, Argentina. He told me that my particular cell phone would work in all of the states. I said something like, “Wait a minute, Argentina isn’t a state,” to which he replied that it sounded like a state to him. Now before you lose all faith in the American system of education let me tell you that I was talking to a fellow North American, a Canadian! But that doesn’t really get us off the hook because we know that all too many Americans couldn’t name all 50 states or even the countries of the continent to our south.
I just walked through the Elementary I classroom where the 6 to 9 year olds are studying geography with the beautiful Montessori puzzle maps, the ones that don’t have any names on the puzzle pieces. One by one, each child picks up a colored puzzle piece and calls out the name of the state or country until the entire map’s pieces are lying on the mat surrounding the puzzle frame. They’re showing us that geography is child’s play, at least in a Montessori setting. Whether it was because Maria Montessori was a European where it’s still important to know the neighboring countries that touch one’s borders like states touch ours or because a hundred years ago people took the study of geography more seriously, geography is a vital part of the cultural program in a Montessori school. Sometimes I think we don’t really appreciate the gift our children receive when they become so knowledgeable about the political geography of our planet. At first glance it’s impressive when a small child is able to say the names of the continents or the planets or name the countries of a continent. Traditional schools don’t usually teach political geography until middle school, so hearing smaller children know this stuff makes us think the children must really be smart. But it’s not that, really. Oh, of course your children are smart, but their knowledge of geography isn’t how we measure your children’s intelligence. Rather their knowledge of geography is a reflection of what their school values for them to learn and subsequently what they’re being taught.
Most of us parents think a lot about reading and mathematics, and well we should; both are important, but they are not the only subjects that define one’s education or the worth of one’s education. We must look deeper, as Montessori did, into the nature of the child at each stage of the child’s development to know what to teach, what to offer for the child, and what to expect from the child. Unless we begin looking at the children and learning about them our curriculum will never be well suited for the child but will only require that the child herself amend herself to what we’re teaching.
We Montessorians think that children deserve more than a blue-plate special, more than a standard curriculum dissected and sliced for incremental bites. They deserve a smorgasbord of lessons that are not only interesting, challenging, and inviting, but that are also related to the inner needs of the child and that change and adapt as the child inevitably changes and matures.
At a time in our history where knowing exactly where Iran or Nigeria or Argentina are may make the difference between having a world vision or being stuck in the mud, we need to realize the value of a school whose curriculum is bold, overt, and founded on understanding the needs and characteristics of the children it teaches. My mentor, Dr. Caleb Gattegno, originator of the “Words in Color” reading approach, used to say, “the truth walks slowly and has short legs” as a metaphor for reminding me to be patient and tolerant of others who took so long to see things I felt were obvious. Well, it’s been 100 years since the first Montessori Children’s House was created and I think the truth about children and their learning is still moving slowly through our senses. Someone needs to nudge us a bit, and I’m willing to do that for you, over and over again, because your child is worth it.
Director/Elementary 1 Teacher