What is that about? Could it be that Montessori really is for everybody, big people too? Yes, my experiences of the last 35 years have convinced me that it is. I’ll talk more about using the Montessori approach with adult learners in another section, but for now, many of the principles are equally valid for helping anyone learn joyfully and effectively. Here, I’d like to explain my approach of inviting everyone to the table.
This inclusive attitude is why this place is called, Montessori for Everybody. Unfortunately, this is a view that a lot of people don’t hold. Especially if you want to be the adult facilitating the learning of children, your own or in a school classroom, many people believe you need to complete a particular training program and receive a certification. One of the greatest frustrations I’ve experienced in the last few years is discovering that many of the same old rifts still exist among Montessori educators with training from different places and different certifying bodies. Rereading Montessori’s biography by Rita Kramer reminded me that this is a problem our community has had from the beginning. When I heard a well-known conference presenter say that he had worked with schools that had to spell out Grace and Courtesy guidelines for interactions between teachers, I knew things had only become worse over time. That said, the 2013 International Montessori Congress in Portland, Oregon, USA was a huge step in the right direction. It was an honor to exhibit there and I have hopes that more collaboration will come from it.
Some Montessorians I respect deeply are working very hard to create certain standards and parameters that must exist for a Montessori program to be ‘authentic’. I agree with them completely on one hand, but worry that such a set of rules will only turn off more people seeking what Montessori has to offer. I am what I consider an inclusive Montessorian unwilling to compromise on my most important educational values. That means I welcome everyone who wants to use any of Montessori’s insights while I will continue to insist that all of her key components be included in programs that represent themselves as mature Montessori classrooms.
I feel like my approach to this is a little like the approach of one of our favorite restaurants in our town. It serves Indian food, and only Indian food, but it is very friendly to beginners. They offer all their dishes spiced mild, medium, or hot, but they go one better. They will make all the food mild but bring a spicy chutney on the side. The food is served family style so a whole party can share and try everything. The spicy sauce on the side lets me start in my comfort zone but is always sitting there, inviting me to try something new. The servers also offer very specific guidance on dishes to help all their diners have the best experience. They even caution you about their Mango Chicken being different than what you might expect. They are informed enough to know that one of our other favorite restaurants, Chinese, also offers a seasonal mango chicken dish – that is nothing like theirs. This hands on guidance through their menu of new possibilities makes it safe and attractive to try more and more new dishes.
That’s what we hope to do here. Sold on phonics and tactile letters but not sure about the rest of this Montessori stuff? Great! Can we help you understand how the tactile sensorial materials prepare the child to use the Sandpaper letters and make sure you know how much better they work if you start when a child is very young? How about a little insight into other items you can put into the environment for your learners? Like the idea of mixed ages in the classroom but think that parents won’t like it? Great! Can we help you learn how to explain the benefits in a way they’ll understand?
While you’ll find that we advocate for all the components Montessori taught, you’ll also find we’re really willing to meet you where you are. We also believe that the certification model is being replaced with a recommendation model. That’s a large topic for another time. For now, know that we are committed to promoting authentic Montessori education but we believe the best way to do that has shifted radically in the last 10 years. We hope you will help us to bring that authentic Montessori to as many people as possible. We know we’ll need your ideas and feedback to make this happen.
(Original post 2010, updated February 2015)