The Montessori philosophy is, at heart, a perspective on childhood. It is a view that the child is in important ways different from the adult, that even as she works to grow up, even as she takes each step toward independence, she does so in a highly distinctive way. Young children learn and grow differently than adults—they learn less consciously, more by doing, and much more by example. And older children, who do learn more consciously, still do so driven by a different set of incentives and contexts than adolescents and adults.
At Guidepost, we share in the ongoing work of living that perspective. It takes work to understand it and work to apply it. And the work itself takes work: we have to manage our own energy, motivation, and mindset, in effect being caretakers to ourselves as well as to our children.
The Montessori philosophy has, for over a century, been taught in special trainings and seminars, to both teachers and parents, as a distinctive approach that requires ongoing study to internalize and master. We are proud participants in this tradition, and pride ourselves on supporting each other in that internal work. Our teacher training, leadership development, and our parent education and support flow from the same philosophy: to be aware of the ways that we can accidentally hinder a child’s growing independence, and to master the counterintuitive ways that we can nurture it.
Part of that work is learning particular practices and tactics—materials, activities, lessons, ways of looking at and listening to children. But the bulk of it is in seeing that these practices flow from an underlying mindset.
This involves both a deep understanding of childhood as such, and a loving attentiveness and humility toward the particular children in one’s care. A great caretaker’s skill is “revealed in her tranquility, patience, charity, and humility. Not words, but virtues, are her main qualifications” (DC p. 151).
So, there are particular ideas and skills to learn—an underlying ethic—and, finally, there’s the accompanying work of self-management. To learn the Montessori approach requires putting oneself in the position of a learner, of someone who is growing and practicing and making mistakes, of someone who might be in need of guidance or perspective. And, ultimately, there’s no better help we can offer to children than our own example as humans who stumble, pick ourselves up, and grow.