At the moment I am surrounded by stacks of books as I work on the creation of a 'Montessori at Home' powerpoint presentation for the parents at my preschool. Many of the tips and ideas I am researching and collating for the presentation will also be included in a series of future blog posts, to make sure that this information and inspiration can be shared with as many families as possible!
I am truly excited by my project and it is giving me a chance to review many of my Montessori books (already worn and weathered from many reads and re-reads!). These books, currently surrounding me at my desk like a landscape of Montessori mountains, hold so much wisdom and insight. They also hold countless little post-it notes, in many different colours, each new hue representing a different period in my life or a different project that sent me back to those original texts! Each little coloured flag leads me to a page where I have circled or highlighted a phrase or passage that so elegantly explains a principle that is at once incredibly deep and complex yet seems devastatingly simple and natural.
There is only one little sliver of anxiety penetrating my otherwise eager approach to this project; the fear of causing guilt rather than inspiration, of implying judgement rather than offering assistance. There is a risk in showcasing aspirational ideas or ideal environments that parents may come away feeling inadequate or overwhelmed. This is certainly not what I intend to achieve but it is challenging to create the right balance.
The reality is that the "Montessori method" does include core principles that are fundamental and definitive. To ignore these, and pretend that absolutely anything goes and there is no point in striving or refining, would mean that I wasn't really offering any information about "Montessori at Home". So I must include these principles, and make mention of the absolutely stunning and breathtaking 'ideal' environments that can (under the right conditions) be created. Yet I don't want it to seem that this is an 'all or nothing' approach, where a parent must either create a perfect Montessori home or not bother trying at all. It is simply not that black and white. In fact, it's not even shades of grey - it's shades of a whole rainbow (or 'Montessori Shades Box'!). There are many ways that Montessori principles can manifest at home, many expressions of these ideas and many physical representations of aspects of this very deep philosophy. I want to express that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' way to create a home environment that supports a child's development and harmonises with the Montessori method. I want to support parents, not overwhelm them, and applaud their efforts, not measure or compare them. I sincerely hope that when my project is complete this ethos will be evident!
I also wish to remind families that the concept of "Montessori at Home" is an abstract, hypothetical one. There was once a truly literal "Montessori classroom" - in the sense that Maria Montessori herself was the Directress and with her own hands prepared the environment and interacted with the children. Yet this literal concept of a "Montessori environment" did not exist in the context of a home for a child. Maria had a biological son but, for reasons too numerous and emotive to go into here, he was not with her during his childhood. Therefore Maria Montessori never had the great privilege - simultaneously indescribably wonderful and infinitely challenging - of creating a home environment for her own child. She never lived with the constant emotional, physical and practical responsibilities of creating a safe, supportive environment every moment of every day and night. She had plenty of wisdom, insight and experience and offered much information about what she viewed as the ideal conditions for the home according to her observations and understanding of children and of childhood itself. Yet she did not have the opportunity to 'walk the walk' in this regard. This does not devalue her ideas. One does not necessarily have to have first-hand experience with something in order to have knowledge and expertise about it. I simply offer this information as a way of reminding parents that they should not be trying to measure themselves against some sort of perfect "Montessori" deity. The individual who created this methodology was a human, beautifully flawed like the rest of us, and as wise as she was and as lucky as we are for her insight she was not a "perfect Montessori mother". So if Maria Montessori herself can't have this title bestowed upon her, why should anyone else expect to? That is an unrealistic yardstick (and an undesirable one too - any child would surely crumble under the pressure of being raised in the shadow of a "perfect parent" if such a thing existed!). Maria did the best that she could within the context of her real life. This is what I hope parents strive for and this is what I hope my blogs and presentation will offer - ideas for aiming for the best that we can do within the context of our real lives.