Purpose of This Blog

Devoted to Guiding Educators Towards a Centered and Intentional Montessori Practice.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Deepening Our Connections

As we gaze into the candles and fires that form the centerpieces of many of our winter traditions, we can explore the relationships humans have to the physical world. 

- Could it be that it is not only cultural nostalgia that draws us to these iconic practices?   

- Could it be a tickling of our ancestral past - memories of family celebrations, taken deeper, blending into feelings of protection from the unknown wild? 

- Is it a distant perception of our ancestors sitting around a fire for warmth and security? 

What lies deeper still? 

- Could it be that at some profound level we have an awareness of our intimate relationship with the universe? 

- Can we can draw connections between our celebrations of light and the fact that we all come from light – light of the great improbable flaring forth, that tremendous burst of energy that erupted from nothing into all that we now know, and more? 

How incredible to help children make the leap between the bundles of energy dancing in our eyes at the holidays, and the photons present at the very beginning of everything. We are all children of this light.

(This piece was originally posted here on December 9, 2011).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Mindfully Celebrating the Holidays

In Montessori classrooms we go to great lengths to make connections between cultures and countries across the globe and throughout time. Rather than isolating people through their differences, we celebrate the commonalities we all share.

One way that this is accomplished is by using the Fundamental Needs of People to compare how such diverse cultures meet their basic needs: nutrition, shelter, clothing, belonging, defense, transportation, communication, self-expression, the healing arts, and spirituality.

On this last need, our class discussions become especially rich. We ask questions that provide opportunities for deep reflection: Why is it that so many cultures from so vastly different regions of our planet have celebrations this time of year that involve light? Our conversations reflect an understanding of the need for sunlight for warmth, as well as energy for growing crops for sustaining a community. We discuss the literary image of light as being one of hope and possibility, and of darkness one of wasting and despair. 

What children take away from these conversations is that humans develop practices that are grounded in their most basic needs. If we look first to these needs as we approach understanding our various ceremonies, we may find that we’re not that different after all.

(A similar piece to this one was originally posted on December 9, 2011).

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Winter Solstice

In a Montessori classroom, the opportunities for curricular cross-pollination are many: a teacher’s presentation may lead to deeper questions that enrich and extend; a student-led study may pull from all areas of the curriculum before it feels complete. Each content area is able to influence the others, depending upon the medium required of the educational journey. Working together, the teacher and child use the resources before them to create meaning from their academic investigations.

There is, of course, another plane to this interweaving of curricula - one that lies in the space between the pages of our albums. At times, the studies we embark upon create far more questions than provide answers. While we may be able to label, define, describe, and share some parts of the universe and its rhythms there is still great mystery that leaves us all in awe.

In The Winter Solstice, written by Ellen Jackson and illustrated by Jan Davey Ellis, the search to make sense of one such mystery is beautifully illuminated.
Chronicling ancient people from Europe and North and South America, Jackson and Davey create a feeling for how some of our forebears approached the coming darkness and prepared for it’s hopeful return.

This time of year, as the days get shorter and the air temperatures fall, we all can feel something of a kinship for our ancestors. Can you imagine how the ancients must have approached the changing of the seasons? What practices and beliefs were created to explain the change, and provide for a return to what was hoped for?

Jackson’s writing reads like a whispered story over a fire, while Ellis’ painting places us beside people from many cultures as they share with us their way of knowing. Older students can both grasp the scientific basis for the changing of the seasons, and can marvel at how the ancients grappled with what must have been a very tenuous and scary time each year.

Share this set of vignettes with your students and staff. Allow them to explore that sense of wonder that comes from trying to understand people from the past. Like we do when discussing the Fundamental Needs, each new perspective on the human condition brings the possibility of new depths to our learning.

Enjoy the reading, and Happy Solstice!

The Winter Solstice
Story by Ellen Jackson, illustrations by Jan Davey Ellis
ISBN: 1-56294-722-2

Discover other Winter Solstice related activities bellow:

(This review was originally posted on December 3, 2012).

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Caring for the Dream

How does one nurture the spirit of an institution?

How does one care for the employees and physical spaces that make the dream real, but also the dream itself?

How does one nourish the abundant creative energy needed so that the separation between actors and stage is seamless, and that each person spiritually inhabits the very mission and vision of the institution?

As local leaders in education we must be able to articulate and stand by the people, pedagogy, practices and policies of the schools we create. We need to be able to speak to each like they are parts of our family, parts of our bodies - each piece necessarily influencing and informing the whole. These are the interwoven fundamentals that, when realized authentically and kept healthy, speak to the very essence of our schools’ existence.

Too often do we stumble in the shadow of great intention, put our heads down, and simply move through our days. To work in such spaces without dynamic interplay between these fundamentals is to inhabit a spiritually empty husk: a mission without truth, a vision without possibility.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can deliver on our promise to foster unique environments that speak to the needs of all those involved: children, their families; school staff, faculty, board members; and members of the wider school community.

Start with what you know.

People Who We Are
Our employees are tireless, creative, dynamic, radical, unabashed, open, curious, eager – seekers every one. Through an ever-expanding understanding of human development, social relations and scientific inquiry we create our core ethos. We believe in the power of positive relationships and vibrant learning opportunities to transform children’s lives.

Pedagogy What We Do
Maria Montessori’s view of children, and her holistic approach to learning, provides an exceptional framework for reforming and reinvigorating our schools. In approaching education as a process to be explored, as an ever-unfolding journey of experimentation – rather than the static binary relationship of prescription and recitation – Montessori shows us the way forward.

PracticeHow We Do
We start with the child. A curriculum does not drive our work with children; rather, it serves as a map for the journey. The children, then, help to create what is studied; they are partners in the creation of the universe that unfolds before them. What they desire, what they need, how they present from moment to moment constantly reshapes the forward progression of learning, and the attainment of new knowledge.

PoliciesWhy We Do
The policies that we create and then enact reflect the philosophical underpinnings of who we are and what we do. They are manifestations of these broader fundamentals; they codify the spiritual ground of our community, our pedagogy, and our practice.

Once articulated, our conception of the people, pedagogy, practices and polices of our schools informs every aspect of our work – from the classroom to the boardroom. If any of these four fundamentals becomes fragmented or diluted we must stop, reassess and reconsider the way ahead. We cannot continue to move forward until we can do so with authenticity and truth. Belief is a powerful thing, but only as powerful as the quality of its manifestation.

How we imagine our schools can be, is how we imagine our families can be; our communities, our neighborhoods; our towns, cities, states and nation. Our schools are the crucibles in which a more fully awakened collective consciousness can be catalyzed.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Peaceful Children, Peaceful World: The Challenge of Maria Montessori

The beginning of the school year provides great opportunities for reflection and renewal. Within the first weeks of being together, staff communities settle back into familiar routines in preparation for the students’ return.

These are critical times to set the spiritual and emotional climate for the months to come. A staff needs to know the reason and rationale for their work, the great and powerful “why” they serve the children and their families in the capacities that they do.

Throughout her writings, Maria Montessori infused a sense of the greater aim of our endeavors; namely, to cultivate in children a new consciousness, from which peace can flourish. It is essential that now, and throughout the school year, we return to this central vision.

The words that follow are excerpts from “Peaceful Children, Peaceful World: The Challenge of Maria Montessori” by Aline D. Wolf, with illustrations by Joe Servello (1989). For this book, Wolf selected significant sections from Maria Montessori’s 1932 speech at the International Office of Education in Geneva, Switzerland – published first in Italian as “Educazione e Pace”, then later in English as “Education and Peace”(1943) by the Theosophical Society in India. Wolf edited sections from the Indian edition for this book.

“Only a sane spiritual rebuilding of the human race can bring about peace. To set about this task, we must go back to the child.

In the child we can find the natural human characteristics before they are spoiled by the harmful influences of society.

The life of the embryo in the mother’s womb has the sole purpose of maturing into the newborn child. But the gestation of the whole human being is not confined to that short period.

Another period of gestation follows, whose sole purpose is to incarnate and make conscious the child’s spirit. Delicate nurture is needed to protect this often unrecognized process which can only be carried out by the child, obeying a natural rhythm of activity which has little in common with that of the commanding adult.

Truly, upon the spiritual growth of the child depend the health or sickness of the soul, the strength or weakness of the character, the clearness or obscurity of the intellect.

The nurturing of the spiritual life finds its expression both within the family and at school in what is still called education.

If education recognizes the intrinsic value of the child’s personality and provides an environment suited to spiritual growth, we have the revelation of an entirely new child, whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world.

I believe that the new adults who emerge from a more tranquil childhood will use their intellects and achievements to find a means to end the fury of war.

Monumental changes are needed to establish peace in the world: first, the maturing of adults to a higher level of development and, then, the providing of an environment that will no longer deprive any human being of the basic needs of life.

Through new education, we must enable children to grow up with a healthy spirit, a strong character and clear intellect, so that as adults they will not tolerate contradictory moral principles but will gather human energies for constructive purposes.
                                                                                                   - Maria Montessori

- In what ways can we explore Montessori’s profound vision with the broader school community?
- How might students, teachers, administrators, and parents reach a new understanding of what we are here to do?
 - What are the collaborative structures and systems needed such that Montessori’s vision can be realized?
 - In what ways can the whole school community share in the keeping of this flame?
It is easy to become distracted. Like any meditation, however, we have to purposely bring our minds and hearts back to ground, back to the breath. It is this practice of mindfulness that will not only assist us in clarifying our mission, but will be palpable to the children and families with whom we share this adventure: priorities clear, distractions at bay, hearts open, ears attuned – minds and bodies ready to be present for the great unfolding.


“Peaceful Children, Peaceful World: The Challenge of Maria Montessori” by Aline D. Wolf, with illustrations by Joe Servello (1989)
ISBN-10: 093919502X
ISBN-13: 978-0939195022


"Education and Peace" by Maria Montessori (1992 edition)
ISBN-13: 978-1851091683

Related Links from This Blog

Why Montessori Matters:

Children Centered Learning – Learning Centered Children:

Teaching With Spirit: Maria Montessori’s Cosmic Vision:

Weaving the Cosmos:

Looking for Grace in the Work We Do:

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How We Say, What We Say - Part III

In November of 2011, shortly after starting this blog, I created a “wordle” of all of the text of the posts to date in an effort to explore how I was saying what I was saying. It was certainly an interesting reflection of my priorities and sensibilities; at least, in how I expressed them at the time:

In June of 2012, I created another wordle upon which to reflect:

Now, a year and ten months and thirteen posts later, here is a third glimpse into the weight of the words I choose.

Try it out with your own work: www.wordle.net

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Alphabet Tree

In Montessori schools steeped in rich practice, elementary-aged children learn to see the world’s cultures and their histories through the filter of the Fundamental Needs of People: Food, Shelter, Clothing, Defense, Transportation, Communication, The Healing Arts, Self-Expression, Spirituality, and Belonging. Examining how humans across time and the global landscape meet the same needs allows for new understandings based upon the similarities of our experiences, not the differences.

Of these needs it is often the last, Belonging that stands out for children: at its most basic, the need for being cherished and cared for by others.

As children mature, they learn that Belonging is not only the desire to be loved and supported. We see it palpably as children move from a naturally selfish stage (as toddlers), to one where deep caring resides (in the elementary years), to where justice is paramount (as adolescents).

Indeed, in each of us there exists a tremendous yearning to be a part of something that matters. At some critical point in our lives the predominant function of personal survival transforms so to allow extending ourselves to work for the greater good. One’s definition of Belonging swells as one grows to include the pull to contribute to something greater than ourselves, to help create something that will, in turn, benefit the whole.

*                    *                    *

I have been thinking a lot lately about bravery and courage: when, faced with seemingly insurmountable odds, one embraces the uncertainty and fear of the unknown and move steadily forward towards Truth. 

What does one do in the face of injustice?
What does one say when conventional wisdom encourages silence?
What does one feel when one’s actions fall short of being true to one’s soul?

Oftentimes it can be the simplest explanation that carries the greatest weight.

First published in 1968, Leo Lionni’s classic The Alphabet Tree creates a story that is both a children’s tale and timeless parable.

In it, letters of the alphabet that once enjoyed a sunny existence - each on its favorite leaf – are blown asunder by a sudden and fierce wind. As the gale ceases, the letters lay huddled and frightened unsure of what to do. Aided by a wise friend, the letters slowly join together – making words; combined, perhaps they will be able to withstand the next storm that blows in. When the wind does return, the letters - now united in unique ways - are no longer fearful and resist being blown away.

But that is not the end. Lionni seems to ask us: Is it enough to just survive?

In the story, another friendly presence next greets the words and exclaims, “Why don’t you get together and make sentences – and mean something?”

And that’s just it, isn’t it? It would be easy to look back on one’s successes and relax, letting others now take up the fight. After all, the wind can be cold and strong; it has great volume and its reach is vast. And yet, can we not find the strength within ourselves to boldly step into its path?

Will we have the resolve to do the right thing?

As our story comes to its ambiguous conclusion the sentences are coached to further action, to not rest in the comfort of their most recent achievement. Indeed, it is not enough just to be good, the friend states; better to “say something important”.

*                   *                    *

Stories such as these serve as powerful as allegories to our lives and our work with and for children. Through them we gain a profound way of understanding that comes from the use of metaphor. Educators and school leaders can consciously use these fables to elicit the deep thinking so necessary for new and dynamic growth.

In the book, letters become words, which form sentences, which create statements – paralleling the arc of living and working in community. We, too, develop along a similar path: moving from existing solely as individuals, to collaborating with others, to expressing the community’s voice, and lastly shining out a unified vision in action.

When is the time to take the next step?
When you feel your conscience unsettled.

As one’s sense of Belonging is strong enough to loose the attachment to what is comfortable, real and profound learning can take place. Transformative change comes from taking risks and extending oneself beyond the ease of the familiar. To venture over that edge, into unknown territory where security is not guaranteed - that is the mark of one’s commitment to living fully.

The Alphabet Tree by Leo Lionni

ISBN 0-679-80835-3