By Cecilia Fernandez, Primary Teacher
In her writings, Dr. Montessori emphasized the importance of the environment in the formation of “man.” As I sit in our classroom and observe the children at work, I confirm that our environment is a key component to the “magic” that I see. How else would the children have adapted so well to school, given the challenges we have faced during this pandemic?
The Impact of Environment
Modern research shows that early childhood education can have a lifetime impact. In our daily practice in the classroom, we as guides are very conscious of creating environments that support the development of each individual child. We ask the question, “are the practices, values, language, and behavior patterns in our environment worthy of being the foundation of a human life?”
It is the function of the parent, and in our case, the guide, to provide a child with the standards for building themselves.
Many lessons in the Montessori environment are intangible. The exercises in grace and courtesy are the foundation for our community. The children are valued as individual learners who develop at their own pace, but also as part of a community. The children help, encourage, and admire one another. Some of the concepts that support our grace and courtesy lessons include: the courtesy of using a soft voice inside so as to not disturb others, the courtesy of walking, sharing the materials and having to take turns, and learning to serve and comfort others. During the past two years, we have added: maintaining a safe distance while interacting, wearing a mask, and eating snacks and lunch individually.
Please take note of these priceless gifts as you observe your children at home. The lessons in grace and courtesy are the first steps in gaining self-control. Self-control is the first step in being able to focus, and focusing will lead to accomplishing success. Having good manners, putting others first and caring about each other are virtues that will not only allow for academic gains, but also lead to success in a future work environment.
The Home Environment
“What can we do at home?” is a question commonly asked by parents. While consistency between home and school environments is imperative, it is important to note that the environment of a child is much more than the physical location and objects. The psychological and spiritual environments that we create affect development as well.
Our responsibilities then go beyond teaching reading and mathematics. If we do not provide freedom, the opportunity to interact with their surroundings in many different aspects, we are not fulfilling our mandate. It is amazing to watch how effortlessly children adapt and absorb the environment that they are given. This is something to consider every day as our children watch TV, play games, or watch movies. Are the images that are being presented what we want our children to absorb and internalize?
By creating an environment where children can make choices, experiment with confidence, and internalize a sense of purpose, they will embody hope, resilience and strength. One of the fundamental tenets of Montessori education is that we meet each child where they are; our standard is designed for adaptation.
Once the children are provided with the guidelines and the opportunity to practice these foundational lessons, it is nothing less than “magical” to watch and appreciate how civilized and serene the community can be. Love, self-respect, and self-control are just some of the benefits of having lessons in grace and courtesy as part of our curriculum.