Maria Montessori lived and developed her theories in the time of the Cold War. Witnessing the violence and hatred existing in mankind as it unfolded on the world stage, while at the same time observing the natural tendencies of children toward kindness, understanding, compassion and love, Dr. Montessori sensed that the solution to saving humanity was innately evident in children. Embedded in the Montessori pedagogy is a peace curriculum and an appreciation of world cultures; two subtle and intentional ways of addressing character development that are unique to the philosophy.
One way that the Montessori curriculum fosters these concepts of peace and understanding is through the Grace and Courtesy lessons that begin in the 0-3 classroom. The children are taught to carefully pull out or push in a chair, almost without a sound, rather than carelessly dragging the furniture. They learn how to walk slowly and carefully, how to hold objects made of ceramic and glass, and how to offer a friend a piece of apple. These “ways of being” are unconsciously absorbed by watching the adults, through learning from older students, and from lessons that are given by the teachers and repeated and practiced again and again.
Another way the children learn respect for others and to honor diversity happens later, in the Lower Primary curriculum, through study of The Needs of People. Montessori noted that every human being, no matter where they live in the world, has the same basic human needs for food, clothing, transportation, shelter, and beauty (aesthetic). We meet these needs differently, depending on where we live. Based on available materials, a house in Africa may be crafted from earth and straw, while in the Arctic, from ice and snow, but still, we all have a need to be protected from the elements.
These similarities are what unite us. When students study various world cultures, by examining these categories, they learn to appreciate the clothing, the traditions, the religions and spirituality and beliefs, the modes of transportation and housing. And all through the lens of what unites us as people, and also what makes us special and unique.
Montessori also offers work on boundary setting and conflict resolution, We demonstrate for younger children how to find the language to assert clear boundaries. A 2.5-3-year-old may be taught how to say “No! Walk away. This is my work!” …in the kindest possible way, without anger or blame, but still to make a point and establish a limit for another child.
And when conflicts do arise, as they always do, we help children find the words to talk a situation through, as first, with an adult helping, but eventually independently. We employ techniques of active listening, “I” messages and non-judgment to soften the experience for the participants so that it becomes safe to express feelings, (“I didn’t like it when you stepped on my rug…”) children can feel seen and heard, and hopefully, desired outcomes that create a win-win can be achieved. Some Montessori classrooms use a peace rose, or a talking stick to encourage turn-taking when speaking, and to make sure one participant is acknowledged before the other has their turn.
Montessori educators also work to assist in the creation of a strong moral compass whereby we seek to instill an “internal locus of control” – helping the children learn to choose to make good choices. It’s the idea of choosing to do the right thing even when no one is looking.
Another way that we help to instill an appreciation of others and for diversity is in the way that Montessori teachers welcome every student “where they are”. It’s a classroom community of inclusion – at whatever age they fall into in the three-year cycle, at whatever math or reading ability, whatever ability as an English speaker, from whatever country, each student’s unique strengths and weaknesses as they come to the classroom, and then moving each one ahead as an individual. It’s the antithesis of being a “number” in a homogenous group… it’s a celebration of the unique expression of each child.
Every time I reflect on the work of Dr. Maria Montessori I am struck by the timelessness of an educational philosophy that speaks to the soul of humanity and I am reminded that the work we are immersed in as educators, and the work you are fully invested in as parents, is truly an investment in the betterment of our planet.
Here’s to making the world a better place in which to live. Cheers!