Montessori: Education For Peace

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by Traci Gagnon

“We see the figure of the child who stands before us
with his arms held open, beckoning humanity to follow.” 

Dr. Maria Montessori, Education and Peace

When a child enters the Montessori environment they encounter a welcoming space full of beauty and order.  The environments are meticulously prepared with great thought to every possible nuance and detail.   A space that is made for them with low shelves that allow for exploration of the materials independently, tables and chairs that are just the right size and lessons that speak to the child’s developmental needs.  

Like the prepared environment, Montessori adults also prepare themselves to beautifully guide children in their most important task of constructing the adults they will become.  The Montessori Training not only fills the Guide with the academic lessons that will be presented to the child, but also with a rich curriculum that accomplishes a much bigger mission of addressing the needs of humanity.  

“An education capable of saving humanity is no small undertaking: it involves the spiritual
development of man, the enhancement of his value as an individual, and the
preparation of young people to understand the times in which they live.” 

Dr. Maria Montessori, Education and Peace

Citizenship, responsibility and independence are cornerstones of the Montessori philosophy.  Our aim is not only to meet the child’s physical and academic needs, but also to meet the needs of the spirit.  Children have a natural desire to learn.  They thirst for information like the body thirsts for water.  As Montessorians, we strive to quench that thirst by preparing an environment rich in meaningful lessons to meet the needs at every stage of development.  Extending these lessons to include the social needs of the child is a vital component of the curriculum.  

Everyday in a Montessori community there are interactions that are beautiful, challenging and magical all at the same time.  Children are kind to each other and sometimes they are not.  In one corner you will see an older child lovingly help a younger classmate tie her shoes and in another part of the room you may see a child telling another that she is not her friend.  Some of the most important opportunities for growth come from hard interactions with friends and hurt feelings that initiate difficult discussions. These encounters are normal explorations of how to interact with people in society.  We utilize these opportunities to guide the children in thoughtful discussions about feelings and how our words and actions can affect others, but it goes much deeper than this.  

Respect for the child is foremost in our minds and hearts as we begin to prepare the environment.  The size of the shelves, the tables and the chairs is just the start.  We hold every tray, every pitcher, every basin to be sure that it will serve the purpose intended and will give the child just enough challenge without adding an obstacle to the task at hand.  When the child enters the classroom respect is shown for his personal space, his right to work independently without interruption and respect for his feelings and his voice.  The development of a strong moral character is at work in these preparations.  We approach the child with respect and thus model behavior for him to carry  into his approach to others.  

As we examine the Montessori curriculum a little further we uncover the many layers of Dr. Montessori’s vision of education for peace.  The geography lessons that she designed at the primary level, for example, guide the child in learning about people from around the world  in such a beautiful way.  Exploring cultures and the beliefs that mold their customs gives the child an understanding of the differences, but also of the sameness of humanity.  We talk about the basic human needs and how different cultures meet those needs giving the child a deeper respect for others.  These lessons continue into the second plane where cultural studies are integrated into all aspects of the curriculum.  Studies of language, history, physical and cultural geography, economics, civics, peace and justice are all interconnected and play a role in the moral development of the child. 

Our world is hurting today.  We are facing so many difficult issues in 2020 from the global pandemic to racism and inequality.  These are painful times with many uncertainties.  It is important that we handle these issues with our children through thoughtful and developmentally appropriate conversations.  Too much information can be overwhelming for children.  They know that we are hurting, they know that our lives are different and they are craving comfort and security.    The conversations that we have with them are important, but just as important is the way that they see us handling these trying times.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” and this is a real guidepost for us today.  It is important for our children to see us modeling the behaviors of respect and responsibility that will guide them in their interactions with others.  

“If we are among the men of good will who yearn for peace, we must lay the foundation for peace
ourselves, by working for the social world of the child.” 

Dr. Maria Montessori, International Montessori Congress, 1937

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