“But life was not interrupted...”
Montessori offers us, in this brief little chapter, a taste of the remarkable achievements of ancient civilizations and a reminder that we have always had great intellect, great art and great social achievements, even in seemingly less evolved societies. She names these predecessors and their achievements and, in doing so, nods to the ingenuity and resilience of humanity.
Thank you, Dr. Montessori. I needed that.
We are in challenging days. It feels like each time you watch the news or read a paper, you hear and see words like, “unprecedented,” “never before,” ‘record-breaking.” There is trauma, grief and fear, some days in such magnitude that tomorrow seems a little less likely than we used to believe. It’s all been thrown into disarray.
But life was not interrupted.
Responsibilities are interrupted. Unless your house has been visited by magical Productivity Fairies who help you make more hours in the day, when you’re accomplishing what you’re used to accomplishing, and what you’re accomplishing at all, has changed.
Social norms are interrupted. We’re standing farther away from each other, covering our faces and moving our bodies like magnets sharing a polarity, in these curious choreographies that keep us a safe distance away.
Our daily schedules are interrupted. We have to decide whether that errand is essential or not, whether we need what we used to believe we needed, whether we can delay leaving home for a few more hours or another day or two.
Our diets. Our faith communities. Our commerce. Our sleep. Interrupted.
But life is not interrupted.
Our children are still growing, eager and challenging and joyful and kind. They’re still asking questions. They’re still watching us to learn how to orient themselves in the world. They’re still absorbing every moment, every new word and new observation, every stress they see us manage, every small gesture from neighbor to neighbor to remind us all that we’re here, just inside the door.
Life is not interrupted.
Children learn, in early childhood, key lessons that will inform their paths far into the future. Is the world a safe place? On whom here can I rely? What can I control? Think about the newborn infant, who does not yet know the answer to any of these questions, or the two year old, who seems to be testing their early hypothesis every day, or the confident six year old, who is ready to begin naming the ways in which they plan to fix the world and who they’re going to enlist to do it with them. By the time a child grows to elementary age, they have come to understand, in far more complicated ways than we sometimes give them their due, the environments around them and their roles within those environments.
What are the lessons our children are learning these days? Is the world a safe place? On whom here can I rely? What can I control?
Life is not interrupted. The dangers of the world outside may be more evident to us these days, but, in truth, they have always been there. We can’t change the nature of the world, but we can assure children that they have people on whom they can rely in their place in it and that there remain things they can control. They are looking to us, to see how we respond to these unprecedented, never before, record breaking challenges, to see how they may fit here too.
Children’s agency matters all the time, but especially now, when there is so much that seems to be beyond our control. What are the things that they can influence? In what ways can they still be useful and helpful and part of their community? In whom can they rely? It’s a time to meet the grief with resilience, to model for children the whole range of complex, authentic human emotions, and to do so within an enacted confidence that we will be through this and that we will find strength and evolution on the other side. As Mr. Rogers reminds us, “Look for the helpers.” Look for gratitude, for community, for neighbors holding space and light and hope for each other. Look for the ways in which you can be a part of that as well, and make them evident for your children. Each day, we strengthen our minds, we strengthen our bodies and we strengthen our relationships with others.
Life is not interrupted, and children are still learning. Pay attention to the lessons.
* A response to To Educate the Human Potential Chapter 13: Early Great Civilizations, M. Montessori