“Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, where study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants- doing nothing but live and walk about- came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning; would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention oof a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child’s way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so he passes little by little from the unconscious to the conscious, treating always in the paths of joy and love.”
- The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 3, M. Montessori
Supposing there was a planet without schools or teachers, and yet the inhabitants came to know all things. Supposing there was a planet without schedules and timeframes and standards to which to adhere, and yet the inhabitants came to know all things. Supposing there was a planet in which all the things we believe we know about Education fell apart, in which there were no more boundaries between where we live and where we learn.
Not so fanciful anymore, is it?
What a relief.
Montessori offered us this image to describe how children learn naturally, to chide us gently and sometimes not so gently for the ways in which we interfere with that learning, knowing that it would take a great upheaval to overturn the formalized systems of education that prioritize adult agendas over the lives of children.
Look around. None of the systems are in place anymore. And yet the children are still learning. Despite the separation from their classrooms, despite the lack of daily schedules or routines, of enrichment classes and afterschool programs, the children are still learning.
It’s not a matter of whether. It’s a matter of what.
The children will learn because learning is their natural path. If we accept that, that seemingly simple foundation that children are always learning, whether or not they’re in school, whether or not they’re in specialty programs, we have a much bigger task than just sorting out what curriculum to choose. If we accept that children are always learning, we can’t continue to pretend that the only places that need to be prepared for children are their classrooms. We can’t continue to pretend that the only people who have to prioritize them are their teachers. We can’t continue to pretend that the only lessons that matter are the ones they receive between 9AM and 3PM.
Instead, we’ll focus on preparing ourselves, as teachers, parents and advocates, to support the children, wherever they are, whoever they are. We’ll attend to slowing down our pace instead of hurrying children along. We’ll observe them for what draws their interest and wonder instead of insisting they master particular content on a particular day. We’ll design our homes to be comfortable for all of the people who live there, to support each of our ability to contribute in meaningful ways, instead of relegating children to playrooms and bedrooms to pass their time without interrupting us too much. We’ll design our neighborhoods to be places in which children can explore, in which it is safe to walk on one’s own feet, at one’s own pace,
Instead, we’ll stop worrying about whether our children are falling behind, and focus instead on understanding the pace that is natural to them, the beat of each child’s own drummer, measured not by bureaucrats in distant cities, but by the inner choreographer of each child’s own dance, We will put aside our goals for who they’ll be and what they’ll love, and know that the most pure expression of our own love is to nurture them as they are, as each of them is, as each individual child is, a mystery and a gift,
Because if we accept that simple premise, we will have no choice but to attend not just to the lessons children learn in school, but to the lessons they learn all of the rest of the time as well. We will be as concerned with whether children understand their own worth as we are with whether they understand mathematics, whether they know the relationships on which they can rely as well as they know the rules of grammar. We will prepare lessons plans, yes, but we’ll make sure, first, we have prepared paths of joy and love, and we will, as Montessori guides us, follow the child.
* A response to Chapter 3, The Periods of Growth, The Absorbent Mind, M. Montessori