“Now we can understand the words of [St. Paul], that all is nothing unless there be love. Love is more than the electricity which lightens our darkness, more than the etheric waves that transmit our voices across space, more than any of the energies that man has discovered and learned to use. Of all things love is the most potent. All that men can do with their discoveries depends on the conscience of him who uses them. But this energy of love is given us so that each shall have it in himself. Although the amount given to man is limited and diffused, it is the greatest of all the forces at his disposal. The part of it which we possess consciously is renewed every time a baby is born and even if circumstances at a later stage cause it to become dormant, we still feel for it a fervent desire. Therefore, we must study it and use it, more than any of the other forces that surround us, because it is not lent to the environment, as these are, but it is lent to us. The study of love and its utilization will lead us to the source from which it springs: The Child. This is the path that man must follow in his anguish and his cares if, as his aspirations direct, he wishes to reach salvation and the union of mankind.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, 295-297.

One of the most attractive aspects of the Montessori philosophy to me is the emphasis on the development of the senses. When the senses are actively engaged from such an early age, the human mind has a greater opportunity for perception. Aristotle said, “There is nothing in the intellect that was not first developed in the senses.”

The senses are the way that we experience the world around us. It is through the refinement of touch, smell, sound, taste, and sight that the human condition is made known. Without them, we would lack meaningful contact with people, food, nature, work, and rest.

Montessori writes, “Each of the Sensorial Materials – when properly used – opens up new vistas of experience, revealing new wonders in the world around, wonders which have always been present but have hitherto remained unnoticed.”

The materials are scientifically designed to isolate aspects of each sense, such as the color, size, texture, etc. As the child repeatedly manipulates the materials, he comes to form clear ideas about abstractions. What can not be explained by words, the child absorbs through a sensorial experience. The ingenuity of the material lies in its objectivity, simplicity, and ability to be self-correcting for the child. It also acts as a foundation for everything else that the child will experience in the learning environment concerning language and mathematics.

An example: Pictured above are the color tablets. Before the child is given the language of these common colors, he is invited to match corresponding tablets, exercising the ability to discern the difference. Once the child has mastered this visual sense, he is equipped with the language needed to communicate about the colors. In this way, the colors become concrete parts of who he is, before they are given the arbitrary identifying names. In many traditional settings the child first learns, “This is blue.” This limits the child’s understanding of the color as a meaningless term given to a pigment. Allowing him to visually engage the color first, matching like shades, engrains the truth of the color in his experience. The hope is then that this child has a greater understanding of color, which will manifest itself throughout life.

When the child is invited to marry his hands and his mind, he is given the opportunity to unlock the world through his senses in a concrete way. The physiological develpoment of senses makes way for the development of psychological senses. It is worth wondering – if a child is given the tools to be perceptive with his senses at such an early age, will he also be that much more able to be perceptive about greater things as an adult – relationships, politics, religion, the world, etc.? We may never know. But it is reason enough to propel children towards meaningful sensory learning.

story through image.

October 13, 2011

In order for all of my classmates to come to know one another better, my professor requested that we each make a collage answering the questions “Who am I? Who do I want to be?” Because storytelling is how we make sense of life, and how we come to know each other, we each took a turn one Friday, sharing our images. We took the five hours of class time to listen, to piece together, to laugh. Because there is such a great diversity among the 32 of us, the stories had great depth, hurt, beauty, and humor. I came to know of people’s odd hobbies, travels, family traditions, and spiritual journeys. Everyone’s collage looked so different – some were hand-drawn, some just words, some on canvas, some on poster-board, some were digital, literal, abstract – all reflecting the intricacy of the human condition.

A friend and I gathered wine, cheese, music, and lots of magazines, paint, and glue – spreading out on the floor as the pacific rain came pouring down. We shared our own stories, quotes, and paths, as we pieced together our collages. Mine is pictured above, and I would like to share.

On the background of the piece is a map of San Diego. It is not only where I have physically come to, but the place where so much of my life has led me to – this place, with these experiences is both a place of arrival, and a place of departure.  There are a few literal representations of important aspects of my life – art, biking, baking, working with children.

I chose the ampersand to signify my journey to understand that life is much more about the “both/and” than the “either/or.” (I recall Waterdeep’s song And.) There is much more grey in life than black/white – most specifically when it comes to people. There is complexity and complication which create layers to every story. Giving people of the benefit of the doubt is a great gift. Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle. (Attributed to Philo of Alexandria.)

The human heart in the center reminds me of my own mortality. I am mind, body, and spirit – and the continued beating heart, pumping blood, breathing, thinking, feeling is a gift.

The hand holding the seeds says Food as Sacrament. A passion I have been given, and a talent I am cultivating, is the art of food. It is a way to be sustained, to love one another, share goodness, and connect with the earth. It is a daily, tangible experience of gratitude and abundance. I hope to serve thousands more beautiful meals.

The car load full of people speaks quietly to my hope for travel and a family of my own.

The plant life is taken from various California botanical sources. Nature is wise. Its growth is dependent on many sources, and it takes care to regenerate with the seasons.

The Annie Dillard quote says:

I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I’ve come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them.

Drawing:: Olivia Jeffries Sublime

 
Three weeks ago I began my training as a Montessori teacher at the Montessori Institute of San Diego. I could not have anticipated the change that would begin to occur in my mind, body, and spirit. I have been engaged in an intense routine of lectures, presentations, reading, writing and practice. I am grateful for my wise professors, and for my fellow classmates, along for the journey. 

A sure cornerstone of the Montessori method is the well prepared adult. The preparation not only includes a deep knowledge of the child’s development, but also a paradigm shift of the role of the adult, requiring humility and an open heart. It involves both a practical preparation as well as a spiritual preparation.

Montessori writes, “The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.” (The Absorbent Mind)

I am being challenged to identify my own failings and misgivings. Prejudices and judgements have no room in the classroom. In order to view each child with dignity, I must leave negativity at the door, not projecting any of my own expectations. When I enter the environment with open eyes, eager to observe what is true, I can evolve with the needs of the child, serving his developing spirit. True teaching requires copious amounts of daily observation – being plugged into the changes occurring within the child. Love requires knowledge, and knowledge comes through observation.

As I practice this paradigm shift in the environment of the classroom, I am challenged as I return to the world. How do I treat those around me? Do I bring unrealistic expecations to relationships, or project constant judgement on those I meet? Do I truly observe the world around me, taking note of details, emotions, and experiences? As I quiet my heart in this process, I continue to unearth a spirit of pride and judgement that is difficult to confront. This level of self-realization requires a work of the soul.

And I ask, did I sign up for a teacher training course, or a radical process of self-develpoment?

I am eager to continue in this work of preparation, with the hope that I will be an educator who is humble and a willing servant. And also that I would be a citizen of the world, who is eager to love and honor those around me.