We discovered Montessori the way most people discover Montessori: entirely by accident. It was out of sheer coincidence that we happened upon the Maria Montessori Institute in London. Bobby was actually visiting the University of London, where he later enrolled to pursue a PhD in philosophy. June, on the other hand, had always heard about this seemingly mysterious pedagogy and wanted to find out more.
Located near Belsize Park, the training center is so very close to where Marx is buried, and Freud lived during World War II. There's a great sense of history there. You feel like you are a part of something, just by strolling down the streets. You're surrounded by greatness, as it were. And, hope.
That's basically how we felt about Montessori. Without knowing exactly what it was, something about it just clicked. You see, we were intrigued by this concept, "Montessori". We had heard it before, but we didn't know exactly what it was. Was it a person? Was it a school of thought? Was it a city? We were eager to find out more.
For those that are unfamiliar, here's a little bit about Montessori.
Maria Montessori, often considered the first female physician in Italy, innovated the Montessori approach to education. In short, the Montessori method concentrates on the specific developmental needs of the child. Montessori believed that everyone learns differently, and at their own pace. As a result, she created a new type of classroom, a prepared environment, to accommodate and stimulate the individual interests of her students. The Montessori method has successfully been in existence for over a century. In many respects, Montessori was an outsider, a rebel. Steve Jobs might have even called her a troublemaker, or confidante.
Montessori inspires us to take education into our own hands. To never cease to approach old problems by inventing new questions.
For us, personally, Montessori is intuitive to the way we think & feel and experience the world. It's an approach to education that makes learning fun and joyful and playful again. Truly playful, in fact. Actually, for many, Montessori is more than a pedagogy. It's a way of life. It takes the passive verb "to be" out of education, and electrifies it with the active verb, "to become". It's about seeing the world through the eyes of children and never forgetting the lessons of our ancestors: relishing the taste and touch and smell of wonder and curiosity and the beautiful. We're just starting to fully understand how many senses we really have!
When we first opened Baan Dek, the first and only accredited Association Montessori Internationale in the state of South Dakota, we quickly discovered that our greatest challenge was not educating the children. After all, that's something that happens spontaneously, and that comes naturally. Rather, the obstacle that confronted us was trying to "educate" the community. Which is to say, to merely introduce a new idea.
Our greatest ambition, then, was to "educate the community", not only on the importance of Montessori, but also, on the importance of early childhood education. As Montessori said, "The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period birth to age six."
If you think about it, this is a pretty radical concept, as our society is geared entirely towards the age of university studies. Yet, developmentally, we learn more in this short window, from pre-birth to six years old, than any other time in our life. What a powerful, almost disorienting thought.
With that in mind, we set out to introduce new families to this innovative and tried method of education. One of the ways in which we felt we could jumpstart the conversation was, not by saying Montessori is better than other forms of education, but instead, trying to create the conditions in which parents could discover Montessori for themselves. That's exactly how we discovered it, entirely by accident.
We wanted to celebrate Montessori. To showcase what makes her so relevant, for so many. We wanted to give back. Even if it's just a small insight that you can glean from Montessori, it's enough to store it in your back pocket, to use the concept or idea for another project, on another day.
To this end, we authored Letter Work, Number Work, Shape Work and Map Work. If we impart anything to our parents, students and readers, we hope it's that they are inspired to develop the courage that thought demands. We hope that they learn to think for themselves, and to care for others. Imagine a world committed to education. What would that look like?