It is notable and somewhat humbling to acknowledge our place inside the great, wide scheme of things. The way one moment, one life, one deed for good or ill affects another, another and another can both terrify and inspire. As parents, we quake at this, above all things. We see the subtleties of our moods, our not-so-subtle actions or tempers and kindnesses taking hold in the formation
of our children’s character in everyday ways. We see ourselves in them and there is no denying, they are the “stuff of our stuff” …
the blessing and challenge to our souls.
Happy new year, friends.
As 2013 began, many of us enjoyed remembrances of those from years past, with invocations for a world made affected and made better by the example and actions of others.
One of the great icons we remembered was Neil Armstrong who boarded Apollo 11 and headed for the moon in 1969. “I am walking on light” is what he said from way out there. He later added, “I think as people, we’ve set our expectations way too low”.
What if our expectations were recalibrated with a more consistent reach for the stars for our children and the world we share?
I recently re-discovered something I’d saved by my writing mentor, Anna Quindlen. As her three children neared adulthood, she was reflecting on parenthood: “Every part of raising children is humbling. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language (mine, not theirs). The times the baby fell off the bed, the times I arrived late for pre-school pick up, the horrible summer camp. Then there was the day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test and I responded, “What did you get wrong?” But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing other things. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night.
I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little bit less.”
Have you ever felt like this?
Now that the new year’s begun, and whether you’ve actually put pen to paper with a list of resolutions, the arrival of January inevitably invokes desires for wiser, more satisfying practices in our daily lives. Why not take a chance on increasing your guaranteed rewards this year? Like the ones that come with investing more in the simplest things, the ones whose cost is time, not money. The wealth of memory is one of the most satisfying assets we and our children can possess. Like my friend at the gym who exclaimed after our good workout one day, “Good job, your body owns it now – no one can take that from you!”
Following last night's winter concert seems an apt moment for sharing the most recent contribution to our Peer to Peer series. Whether or not you were able to attend the Elementary and Middle School performance, Songs of Universal Peace & Love, I'm sure you've been feeling the music in the air.
Jeffrey Busch offers thoughtful reflection on similarly pervasive qualities that first drew his family to The Montessori School and have sustained and inspired their commitment and faith since then. With appreciation for "...passionate, thoughtful kids growing up in households with passionate, thoughtful parents", you may find some version of your own values and connection in Jeffrey's words.
With thanks, MaryZ
Not Just a School
I have always been a big believer in public education. And, as I was the PTA president of our son’s public elementary school, it was particularly hard for me to explain to anyone how we came to the decision to take our son out of public school and enroll him at the Montessori School. “Was the PTA too much drama?” people asked. “Is there something going on in the schools that we should know about?” Sure, there were issues, but we weren’t so much moving our son “from,” as we were moving him “to.”
And what was it about the Montessori School that drew us in? Was it the pedagogy? Frankly, no. While Dana and Mary’s explanation of the educational theory behind the teaching all sounded persuasive, sentence-by-sentence, at the time that my husband and I paid that first check, we were still chuckling about the strangeness of what we had privately dubbed “Montessori-speak.” Although we very much hoped that our child would absorb some of the community and intellectual values that a Montessori education promotes, we worried that it really might not be a good fit for him. The children we saw at the school were diligent and passionate about their work. Based on our experience in public school, it sometimes seemed to us that our son’s true passion was figuring out how to get out of work, not into it.
Was it the teachers, then? Friends whose children were at the Montessori School talked with unabashed awe about the extraordinary and talented teachers at the school. In our visits observing the classes, we saw firsthand how masterfully the teachers ran the classrooms with a perfect mix of nurture and challenge. While that was an undeniable part of what drew us to the school, we really had not been dissatisfied with the quality of teachers that our son had had in public school.
So then, what was it that truly impressed us, and what finally moved us to come to The Montessori School? It was the other parents. When we first visited the school, we happened to be there at the end of the day during pickup, and the front lawn was filled with kids playing – and with parents talking with each other, listening to each other. I overheard a conversation about composting and part of a conversation about political prisoners. Kids were laughing and running from tree to tree. Parents weren’t monitoring their kids too closely – which seemed somehow respectful of the children’s space and play. I thought of the families I knew who had kids at the school. The parents all seemed like people we’d want to be around: smart, thoughtful, committed, and sensitive.
I know that’s not the most noble reason to join a school, but here was our reasoning: kids are greatly affected by their peers – and we imagined our son being with passionate, thoughtful kids who are growing up in households with passionate, thoughtful parents – parents who are raising families consciously, parents who recognize that education is a lifelong family commitment that can’t easily be compartmentalized.
And we were wrong about our son not fitting in. OK, he was delighted when he learned that there wouldn’t be report cards, and I think he did enter the school with a passion to see what he could get away with. But watching him grow in the Montessori environment has been like watching a person who was afraid to get wet walking in the mist and, step by step, getting soaked. We’re gradually seeing his classroom activities turn into after-school enthusiasms. Learning the names of the elements (via Tom Lehrer’s Elements Song!), helping with home composting, and memorizing states and capitals using a geography app are starting to displace wizards and Wii. He reads more than ever. He pushes us to get him to school early and then thanks us for driving him there. He recently told me that he was hesitant to do anything that would make him miss “valuable class time.” And when he shows us how he does complex multiplication, all I can say is that we now see the very real fruits of that “Montessori-speak” pedagogy.
But still, when I reflect on why we love this school, and why are grateful to take our son here every day, it is really the same reason that brought us here in the first place. I love morning drop off, popping into the parent room, and pick up. It’s a chance to check in and chat for a bit with other families – families whom I greatly respect and have come to care deeply about. Being engaged with these families is inspiring. It makes me want to be a better person.
I don’t think I have rose-colored glasses on. I know there have been passionate disagreements about the direction the school should take. When I first heard the news about the recent resignation of five of our board members, I got a pit in my stomach. I saw that the resignations were by talented people whom I greatly respect and trust. And then I looked at the list of the remaining members who are still committed to serving on the board – more people whom I greatly respect and trust. The news has deeply affected the entire community. Hearts have been broken.
But isn’t that how it should be? Because at the root of it all, we are so much more than just a school. Our work, our values, our social connectedness have woven us together into a complex, extraordinary, thoughtful, caring, vibrant community - one that by its very nature will continue to evolve and grow.
- Jeffrey Busch
by Cindy Dineen
on Wednesday December 12, 2012 at 09:48AM
We return after Thanksgiving holiday with our senses buoyed and slightly altered. The essential tastes of sweet, sour, pungent and salty have been matched by the subtleties and sensations of memory, story and time. It was a wonderful few days outside routine with those we love. And yet, we face the weeks ahead with certain trepidation. Wishing to greet the pace and expectations of the holidays and December without dismissing or missing the best of ourselves, we sincerely wonder if such a thing is possible.
Sitting next to my toddler grandson at Thanksgiving dinner, I caught a hopeful glimpse. So stirred by what a day like this could be, he'd entered the dining room hardly able to contain himself. He ran, he twirled, he performed the perfect somersault in his perfect Thanksgiving garb. (I identified with that move, myself. When overwhelmed with hopes or expectations, haven't I created some version of ".. somersaulting and twirling.." too? )
It was the dinner roll that decisively shifted things. "Max," someone said .. "Would you like to sit beside me and butter your bread? And would you like to cut it first?".
Not many at the table expected to witness the perfection of a child who is not yet two, taking up a little knife with enough precision to cut and divide his small loaf and apply slivers of sweet butter, bit by bit. Yet each of us halted our verbal, social somersaulting long enough to behold the simple reward of focus and good purpose. Bread and butter, butter and bread.
When it comes right down to it, most of our twirling and anxiety can be addressed in the most uncomplicated ways. And often make way for our greatest, truest joys.
by Cindy Dineen
on Monday November 26, 2012 at 11:02AM
On this snowy day while Google is celebrating the birthday of Bram Stoker and his Gothic horror vampire tale, it’s no stretch to admit there have always been scary forces in the world. Stoker’s Dracula is only one of countless which make their way into human imagination.
Over two decades ago, when we developed the mission statement for our school, we got the attention of colleague institutions by using the words passionate and compassionate to describe the character of our students here. Those were edgy words for a mission statement in the 1980’s and they are still where we cast our lot. We understand that “the scary stuff” in life diminishes in power with the development of confidence, character and a compassionate point of view.
Returning to school on Monday after a week of hurricane and loss, our students gathered for two significant events. On Monday we heard from Simeon who is visiting from Kenya, East Africa. Simeon spoke about how the Luau people of Kabera took him in after his father carried him nearly 40 miles for help. For over a year, Simeon received medical treatment in Nairobi and convalesced after a serious injury to his leg. Kabera is a slum in Nairobi where people have very little (or no) access to the everyday “luxuries” of running water, sustainable housing or a predictable meal. Simeon spoke to our children about the wealth of human kindness that has nothing to do with money or possessions and described how nearly 30 years later, he is running a school he founded in Kabera to serve the community that saved his life.
Then on Wednesday, the full community gathered for our Harvest celebration. Traditionally, this is an annual event with a harvest fire, music, stories and a celebration of muffins and soup outside. Given the weather, we met indoors. Middle School students led us with drumming, story and song as we gathered in a large circle around the donations of canned goods, rice and pasta formed to shape a labyrinth. Illuminated by candlelight and your children’s bright, amazing faces, this year’s harvest was an extension of Simeon’s message of human kindness and care for others beyond ourselves. Photographs of the event can be accessed by clicking here.
While Google makes note of Bram Stoker’s 165th birthday, may we give thanks for nearly half a century of small seeds of character, passion and compassion being sown in our hopeful, peaceful school each day.
by Cindy Dineen
on Sunday November 11, 2012 at 09:12PM
Coming through the front doors of Whipple Road this week, it’s hard to miss the student-made sign inviting one and all to a fundraiser for “our beloved chameleon”. Next Friday near the Labyrinth, there will be apple cider and pound cake for sale by Lower El students. I write to you, not to pitch the event (the students are doing a great job of that, themselves) but to give honor to these members of Lower El who took initiative to engineer the purchase of what they fully expect will become their new “beloved” reptile for the classroom, since their dear chameleon passed away last summer.
Is this a story about a science project, economics, nature, or human responsibility? It’s all four.
Rather than a curriculum that arrives in separate parts like most of us were taught, Montessori’s integrated, holistic approach inspires our students to draw connections, build narratives and embrace their precious and viable roles and contributions every day.
Today, September 21st is World Peace Day. This day was first celebrated at the United Nations in 1982 and today our students came together to offer intentions for a peaceful world by “making and keeping silence” Montessori-style, a simple meditation and the ringing of our own peace bell. Meanwhile, our Upper El campers let us know they’d be crafting a peace sign near the beach to conclude their amazing days away and Middle School students and Lois Street toddlers merrily produced a piece of art.
Is this a story about Civitas, about social awareness, about interdependence or our contributing roles upon this planet? It’s all four.
We are grateful for a curriculum and a way of life that can bear a standard of hope and vision both explicitly and through nuance in what we say and do. From academics to human relations, our school’s consistency of message is a firm and formative ballast for our children and for us.
Learning, growing and giving come naturally in a place like this.
Come receive and celebrate at our picnic, Sunday afternoon !
by Cindy Dineen
on Friday September 21, 2012 at 04:18PM
Over the years, Montessori parents and professionals have relished in credit directed toward Montessori by well-known characters whose education began in Montessori Schools. Today is Maria Montessori’s birthday and former Montessori school boys Sergey Brin and Larry Page, co-founders of Google are celebrating by “spelling Google” with Montessori classroom materials on Google’s homepage.
To extend the celebration, we can “pass the birthday cake around” by noting a collection of people throughout history who have gone to Montessori schools, sent their children to Montessori schools, or supported the Montessori approach to education in one way or another. These include: Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com, Julia Child, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Helen Keller, Alexander Graham Bell, Henry Ford, Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud, Alice Waters, Friedrich Hundertwasser, Thomas Edison, Buckminster Fuller, Leo Tolstoy, Burtrand Russel, Jean Peaget, Erik Erikson, John Holt, Ann Frank, the Dalai Lama, Jacqueline Kennedy, Prince William and Prince Harry, Cher Bono, Yul Brynner, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Yo Yo Ma and you!
When asked by Barbara Walters on ABC-TV Special, “The Ten Most Fascinating People of 2004”, Larry Page and Sergey Brin credited their years as Montessori students as a major factor behind their success. When Barbara Walters asked if the fact that their parents were college professors could have been a slightly more significant factor for them, their reply was no. They gave the credit to Montessori where they learned to think for themselves and become self-directed, thanks to the freedom to become inspired and to pursue their own interests and inventive ideas.
What good company we keep. Looking forward to seeing you very soon. Happy Birthday, Montessori!
"It's amazing how we teach our children what we ourselves need to learn. We yearn for them to understand what we never did, to be the perfect, balanced people we always wanted to be. Yet our feelings are often contradictory. We want them to have it all, but not be greedy. We want them to be giving, but not to give it all away.
We want them to have everything they want but to always share...."
- Rabbi Irwin Kula
Dear Montessori Parents,
When evening came, the hallways of our sweet school became still last night and the holidays began. "Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.." was written on a card many years ago, from friends. "Well, maybe not in your house" it said on the inside with a close-up photo of their three children rocking out one evening over gingerbread and drums.
It's a noisy time of year. There are bells ringing outside on street corners, there's more honking and less than occasional impatience when you go out to shop. Not only that, there's an inescapable internal noise. It's the clatter that shows up inside our heads, in making extra lists and measuring expectations of ourselves and those we love. There's the noise of worry whether we're doing or being enough which is accompanied by the cacophony of reminders that we're simply not in control of everything, like we wish we were.
If there is a salient ballast, a still, small voice more powerful than all that noise, what do we do to hear it?
When Dr Montessori offered her invocation to "follow the child" we know she didn't mean indulge them; and we expect she meant something closer to what it is to know them. I think of the oracles' voices in the ancient Greek aphorism, "know thyself" and wonder if we're on the right track, to begin with ourselves.
What would it be to to pause from time to time and ask what it is we really want from this one, sweet life for our children and for us? While it's easy to feel like the fast track is winning, that we or our children will simply miss out if we don't play along, we are given comeuppance by the still, small voice. Our friend, the rabbi, speaks to this with a story about a 5-year-old's birthday party.
"..The extended family had gathered to celebrate, bearing an astounding number of gifts. The birthday boy's face was full of light and joy as he opened the first gift. It was an action figure he'd been wanting "for ever" (as he put it). He carried it around for every guest to see and then began to play with it. After a couple of minutes, a relative handed him her gift, which, much to everyone's surprise, he put aside. With some urging he opened it, and then the next and the next and the next, ripping open the paper, putting each present down, sometimes throwing it and reaching for another. At the end of what was nothing short of a gift orgy, he cried for more and then completely melted down and was given a time out. I heard one guest remark to another about how spoiled and ungrateful he was. What had really happened, of course, was that this joyful child wasn't allowed to savor his beloved toy, to enjoy it fully and express his gratitude. He was learning to be a good little consumer, to always want more."
What if the anthropologic, psycho-spiritual credence of Dr Montessori's vision had light-heartedly found its way into this party? The outcome would have been different, the message to the child would have been different, and truth is .. they'd have all had a lot more fun. But for some reason, the parents made another choice.
As for us, this is our one sweet life and the best, most enduring, essential gift your children will ever receive is the very best of you.
With respect and joy,
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday January 19, 2012 at 01:47PM
There is fairly simple pleasure in pre-Thanksgiving conversations. Thinking about favorite foods and getting together with people we love feels pretty good. In the same spirit, we are delighted to have received this Peer-to-Peer piece from Montessori Dad, David Pritchard, reflecting on his family’s experience at our school. Taking time to reflect on the culture and promise of life within our community can expand and spice the feast.
Gratefully, Mary Zeman
My Two Sense
I like things that make sense to me. This may seem a ridiculously simple thought; one we can all agree upon or find a personal connection with like a well-written horoscope or fortune cookie, but I really mean it. I also know the most brilliant concepts often lie in simple ideas.
Yet increasingly, to the detriment of my wife (a truly sympathetic character in this regard) and others around me, I’m finding it difficult to make sense of so many things these days. For fear of touching on issues political, religious or potentially otherwise divisive – and for purposes of brevity, as I could go on for days - I’ll refrain from listing any here. But I’m confident those of you who are reading this, who remember when we were young and, by dint of age and a relative lack of responsibility, saw the world simply, and who then became adults and saw complexities begin to emerge and who now, as parents, can’t help but be concerned about the complex and rapidly evolving dynamics of the world we are expected to navigate and our children are expected to thrive in, know exactly what I am talking about.
So back to simple ideas.
Our children, Ethan (5th year) and Olivia (7th year), went to a Montessori pre-school in Fairfield. At the time, several aspects of the decision to send them there made sense. First, they needed to go to pre-school SOMEWHERE, right? (Talk about sensible!). Second, my wife had grown up a Montessori kid (Whitby School in Greenwich) and I had some familiarity with the philosophy, having studied education in college, and it – get this – made a great deal of sense to us. To be candid, however, what Montessori represented to me then was more an incrementally compelling alternative to a variety of good programs in the area than the profoundly differentiated, highly sensible and, yes, brilliant alternative I consider it today.
So they graduated, first my daughter, then two years later my son, and moved on to public school. My daughter thrived, but principally because of the social awakening she was beginning to experience and her natural curiosity, not because the academic bar was kept high, but attainable and appealed to her interests. My son’s experience was less constructive. He entered first grade knowing what 9 and 29 and 129 were because he had seen these numbers and held them in his hands. He and Olivia liked to add 3 digit numbers in their heads on long car trips not because they were brilliant (though with parents like… well), but because they had learned in pre-school that numbers are arranged in columns and big ones are no scarier than small ones. Yet he would be asked to spend all of first grade working with numbers 1 through 10 in all their varied forms (i.e., added to and subtracted from one another).
So we started looking around and visited Whipple Road. We toured the school, sat in on classes and got the full Mary Z and Ramani treatment. I walked out the front door, turned to my wife and said, “How much sense does this make?” (It was a rhetorical question… answer – lots.) “Now that we know about this place and this approach, how do we NOT send the kids here?” (Another rhetorical question… my apologies. No need to provide the answer this time.)
So let me bring this wandering commentary home. I believe the Montessori method works because it is based on ideas and concepts that fundamentally make sense. I believe the genius of Maria Montessori flows not from some abstract plane of intellect, but from a deeply intuitive sense of what children want and need at various stages of their social and intellectual development. The idea of presenting them with experiences and challenges expressly tailored to their capabilities at these stages is, frankly, the essence of simplicity itself. She achieved enormous success with limited resources not as a result of complex innovation, but rather because in bringing education to children at the time and in a manner in which they are interested and eager to receive it and enlisting them as responsible parties in their own development she was, in fact, taking the path of least resistance toward her objective.
That makes sense to me. And I’m seeing my children develop into interested, curious and reasoned/reasonable (well, most of the time) young people. They are acquiring an understanding that other people may experience and see things differently and that it’s okay to question these differences, but equally important to be respectful of them. And they are developing a confidence in what they know and, more importantly, in their ability to learn about that which they don’t that should prove a valuable tool in this increasingly chaotic world.
I’d ask if all this makes sense to you as well, but if you’re among the small group of people receiving this distribution I already know the answer…
Happy Thanksgiving to All David Pritchard
by Cindy Dineen
on Monday November 21, 2011 at 04:21PM
"The elements of discovery are all around you. You don't need a computer. Here -- why does that fall? You know why? Nobody in the entire world knows why that falls. We can describe it pretty accurately but no one knows why. I don't need a computer to get a kid interested in that, to spend a week playing with gravity and trying to understand that and come up with reasons why."
- Steve Jobs
Dear Montessori Parents,
It is not uncommon from time to time, to find a clipping on my desk with a note attached saying something like, "Sound familiar?". It's usually an article touting some 'new educational discovery' such as peer education, mixed-age groups, diversity, student goal-setting or the commitment to prolonged independent work periods. Montessori parents have long understood that such examples masquerading as something new, are century-old, bedrock pedagogy in any superior Montessori school.
Harvard psychologist, Richard Weissbourd recently wrote a book entitled, The Parents We Mean to Be, reminding us that even with the many things we have "long understood", we are besotted by large measures of anxiety and second-guessing ourselves. What suffers is significant. The tag line of Weissbourd's book is: "How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children's Moral and Emotional Development".
In addition to an abundance of recent media citations that directly credit Montessori education as character building and leading edge, we are in need of continued dialogue on the topic of splendidly raising and educating our children. I use the term "splendidly" not to place this conversation outside our reach, but to bring it in close. How shall we define splendid within the culture of our school and the practice of our families?
Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “Parents Outsourcing the Basics”. It is now possible to register your child for after school classes in shaking hands, making eye contact, carrying on a conversation, thinking of others and managing play dates. What?!
Who, what, when and where?" Weren't those the questions formatted into our reasoning minds when we were in school? In Montessori, the counter-questions to the original four W's might be: "Why? How? and What If?". The difference itself is splendid because answers to questions like these take another kind of thought, inspire higher expectations and become a qualitative practice. We love telling the story of our school’s basketball team winning the Fairchester League championship a few years ago, even though we don't have a regulation court at school. We're proud to remember our Middle School's two successive years' triumph at the MIT Rube Goldberg competition, we expect our students to be insightful in Philosophy class, generous in philanthropy and thoughtful problem solvers in a group. There's a big difference when the qualities of taking initiative, working as a team (collaboration, communication, critical thinking) and being productive with others (empathy, inspiration, creativity and intuition) are not points in a curriculum, but practices in all subjects. The way we live, both individually and together becomes fundamentally transformed.
That's why we offer and protect peaceful, extended work periods day after day in our Montessori classes, that's why we build long term relationships of mutual respect. We can't outsource parenting any more than we can settle for a pied piper, ego-driven, teacher-centric approach to education.
As you prepare for parent observations and conferences coming up, we ask you to reflect on your hopes, questions and commitment to Montessori. When our partnership is a cohesive, ongoing dialogue, our roots grow firmly and we will more deeply claim and manifest ourselves as the parents and educators we intend to be.
Last week was punctuated with closing events, summer good byes, the art of gratitude with hand written thank you notes and earnest hugs. Returning to my desk on Wednesday I found a note of thanks by a second year Primary student. He possesses one of the most eloquent hearts I know and although he can't yet write, the authorship was utterly articulate. It was an oversized card covered in tiny aluminum stars of many colors. Each one had been carefully glued to the page and not only a treasure in itself, I imagined the kitchen table where it must have been made, the abundance of flying stars, the sticky circumstance of time and patience invested, to simply say thank you.
Gratitude - a great practice, good food for the soul in all of life.
So to you, on behalf of our school's highest purpose and widest mission, I return thanks for a profound, amazing year.
Your faith, our dialogue and the hope and commitment we share all form and inspire the heartbeat of our precious little school, its future and its past.
So we give the last word to you through the voice of one more peer-to-peer, parent to parent note. In the true habit of generosity among you, another parent stepped forward to offer unsolicited thanks for the opportunity to give. Thank you, Julio, thank you Amy, thank you Montessori moms and dads.
with love. Mary Zeman
End of the Year Thank You
Another school year is about to end and as I look back I feel there is a need to give thanks to The Montessori School administration and faculty for their consistent commitment and dedication to the growth of our children. The care and love in which they teach the children, subsequently shines from within them. I witness this every day.
There is another group of people whom I want to thank profusely for their hard work and dedication in completing such a wholesome educational experience. They help The Montessori School be the warm, loving, engaging and energetic place it is both for the children, faculty and all the parents. I am talking about all of the very committed parents who volunteer and contribute in many ways. We should all be very proud to have such an engaged parent community at our school. From the coordination of meet-and-greet sessions to welcome new families, to the creation of numerous extra-curricular activities and help with the school’s many events, parents support the children, teachers and staff of our school. Indeed, this involvement is an essential component of our Montessori School. For the last two years my wife Amy has acted as the school’s Parent Association Co-Chair. I can attest to Amy’s thorough enjoyment of her role which she took on with particular passion for her Montessori School. (Amy is also an alumna!). I must admit, I was somewhat skeptical about her taking the position at first, but quickly realized that this was an incredible win/win opportunity (and it was). Through her work in this capacity she deepened her relationship with many of her fellow Montessori parents, worked closely with the teachers and the administration, and I believe that she would say that she received as much as she gave. Amy I am so proud of you!
I encourage all of us -- both Moms and Dad -- to continue this great spirit of volunteerism. Giving back to this amazing community and the opportunity it offers us to model for our children while deepening our connection to this school is one of the true gifts of being a Montessori school parent.
Have a great summer! Julio A. Serrano, father of “The Serrano Boys”
As we prepare school closing celebrations and stand (unbelievably) on the brink of summer, we'll enact rituals of completion and celebration to refine and bless new steps ahead.
Whether your child is moving from one level to the next, graduating from the Middle School, returning for a new, amazing year in the classroom where they are, or if your family's moving on, all will participate. We will offer thanks for our school and the treasured company of one another through another year.
I will be away this coming week, accompanying our Middle School graduates on the annual international outreach trip. As grand and distant as it is, the tradition of such an adventure lies at the heart of cosmic, global education which begins in Montessori from the very start.
At The Montessori School, your children are gaining a sense of place and purpose in our world, and the natural inclination to give and grow in awareness and responsibility takes on greater acumen through the years.
Leading our students in a Swahili lesson last week, we spoke of wealth. They are prepared to encounter new definitions of wealth in tribal village life because they have spent years learning the language of grace and humility at The Montessori School.
Through the coming weeks, we will be giving thanks for the many ways you share and enrich the particular wealth and language of Civitas and joy within the community we share.
"...Is there something going on here? Is there something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from? After all, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison were famous life-long tinkerers who discovered new ways of doing things by constantly improvising, experimenting, failing, and retesting. Above all they were voraciously inquisitive learners.
Perhaps it's just a coincidence that Montessori alumni lead two of the worlds most innovative companies..."
Dear Montessori Parents,
I call your attention to the Peter Sims article,The Montessori Mafia, published this week by The Wall Street Journal. Please see the link below. While the timing for such reflection is ever apt, with Parent Conferences ahead this is a good moment to broaden the context of our preparation.
Cheers, Mary Zeman
The WSJ article is available on our Resources & Perspectives page of A Montessori Education section of the website by clicking here.
With a whiff of spring in the air, dormant buds begin to swell, the northern hemisphere makes its lean toward the sun and we lean and swell with hope for our gardens and longer days of sunshine and light. I remember one spring after a particularly difficult winter when all the fresh, exposed earth felt slightly daunting to me. Oddly, I longed for one more snowfall to come bestow her fresh, white blanket over all the scruffy surfaces and broken branches that had triumphed through the sweeps of pristine winter white.
While I have no such inkling now (come on, spring ... come on), I think of Dickens’ description of hot sunshine days of March where the wind blows cold and “…it is summer in the light and winter in the shade”. Nature’s compressed conflict is upon us and soon everything will be blooming recklessly. “If there were voices instead of colors,” said Rilke, “there would be an unbelievable shrieking”.
Before the blooming, before the shrieking, within this one, sweet pause, it’s good to prepare, lest the delirium of spring knock us sillier than we wish to be. We thank you once more for your partnership through the long months of winter as we anticipate the busy months of April, May and June. Our calendar is full and our curriculum and student lessons will take on the depth of a well seasoned main course as the spring months will inspire hungry thoughts and culminations of strong endeavors, large and small.
As you review the busy calendar at The Montessori School, please also consider the inter-connectedness of events and invitations you’ll receive. We serve our school’s mission not by having simply arrived at a particular destination or goal, but by having traveled thoughtfully and purposefully along the way.
As unbalancing as busy days can be, may we keep even pace in purpose and Civitas. Then, while nature blooms recklessly, we will close our year with great intention and in one strong and grateful voice.
Often we receive comments or notes from parents reflecting on the value and role of Montessori in their family's life. I hope you will take time to read the enclosed. Below is a letter from Montessori dad Jim Kimball. Jim and Sherry have been active members of our Montessori community since 1998.
Also, by clicking here, you won't miss the verbatim Q & A of the student alum panel which was recently hosted at our school. Both are valuable affirmations of Dr Montessori's mandate for Education for Life and the quality and impact of our amazing and incredible community.
We are often asked why we send our kids to The Montessori School instead of Wilton public. Why do we pay for school when there is a perfectly fine school that we are already paying for with our taxes? This question ranks up there with politics and sports as a way to start a passionate discussion.
The answer to the question is personal and we can only provide the answer for us and our family. It starts with core values. The values of The Montessori School fit with our personal values as well as the values that I try to cultivate in the workplace - responsibility, respect, communication, teamwork. I have seen more people fail at work even though they are technically capable because they do not know how to be a strong team player or how to be responsible in their work. While we do our best to establish these values at home, our children are at school more than they are with us, so we want a school that reinforces them as well.
We also appreciate all the things that "are" Montessori - multiple years in the same classroom, self-directed learning, outdoor expeditions. As the years have gone by, it is clear that the teachers and administrators know us and our children. This gives me confidence that as issues come up (as they always do) that we have the right structure in place to address them.
Finally, the sense of family that you feel as soon as you walk in the door in both Whipple Road and the Middle School is real. While I will admit that it can be challenging to take an early day from work to attend the many events offered, the community built by the faculty and staff at The Montessori School through these events creates an event better understanding of an environment where I am proud to say we are a member.
Jim Kimball CTO, HedgeServ Corporation Parent of: Drew Kimball, 2010 Middle School Graduate and current freshman at Greens Farms Academy Michael Kimball, current 6th Year Upper Elementary
by Cindy Dineen
on Sunday February 6, 2011 at 11:17AM
Although just this past Monday I wrote to acknowledge our weather challenges in light of Montessori's theory on "uninterrupted work periods", it's been two more storms since then! Today, I write to thank you for your continued patience and partnership. We applaud and acknowledge your important voice and example in modeling resilience and coping strategies.
Yesterday, our full teaching staff met to discuss the extra importance of the link between home and school when the weather interrupts our daily rhythms. Our commitment is a year of superior education that balances academics with the continued development of independence, character, self-discipline and Civitas. In this, we depend on your partnership.
We have made certain decisions which will address our ability to further extend time at school and the goals we share. In addition, we unanimously believe that even with its practical challenges, the epic qualities of this winter must not be lost.
To that end, I invite you to click on the link below to review the decisions have been affirmed by our teachers. We settled on the amended winter solutions only after considering and rejecting other options that included the cancellation of a portion of March vacation, extending the school year or further lengthening the school day. While each of those options may have appeal, we feel the likely ill-will caused by further jostling our calendar would outweigh possible benefits.
So that brings us back to our vital partnership with you. Our school mission statement refers to the "..development of passionate and compassionate citizens" as a core value in our Montessori education. This includes the thoughtful development of kind-hearted and responsible living. We all know this becomes most authentic and long lasting if consistently practiced both at school and home. Next week you will receive an article entitled "Seven Ways to Love Your Child: A Valentine for Parents" which will underscore some of the values you already embrace by your participation at The Montessori School.
Meanwhile, we invite you to further reflect on ways your child's success and well being at school can be further supported at home. This includes practiced awareness in keeping commitments to school and one another, discipline and commitment put toward order, schedules and time together, a generosity of spirit beyond care of self. These are simple practices we know. And we believe they are the mighty root of successful, luminescent lives.
In this we stand beside you with our highest purposes in mind.
Dr Montessori's vision for education included the "uninterrupted work period". As you know, she believed that meaningful blocks of time uninterrupted by over-imposed adult scheduling would allow students to gain sincere confidence in making good and productive choices. Along with an apt and well equipped classroom, the wise, watchful teacher and a fluency of excellent lessons, plenty of work time would inspire the development of focus, concentration and intellectual exploration.
With recent weeks of snow and repeated days of delays, early dismissal and school cancellations, it's tempting to snicker at the term: Uninterrupted. We live in a place where weather has re-arranged time and in spite of the beauty, the humbling and the occasional exaltation these heaps and walls of snow can bring, we are extremely ... interrupted.
In the winter of 1995, there were eighteen school days affected by winter storms. It was natural for parents to ask if we planned to "make up the days" as they began to count time away from school. That year, after much staff discussion and reflection, we decided to add thirty minutes to all days remaining in the year. Instead of dismissing at 3:00, our school days would end at 3:30. We acknowledged the concept of "making up a day" as an existential impossibility. A day in June can never replicate much less make up for a winter day of school.
What we decided to do was to add depth to the days we had. Over time, it felt so right, the calendar was forever changed. Some schools might call this a plan for "building in snow days". We just called it a good idea; because not only had we found the equivalent of a week or two of additional school time, we were getting more out of the days before us.
We believe the most gratifying reward in the Montessori practice of uninterrupted work time is the development of students who learn to value and engage in interesting, disciplined and rewarding choices not only in school, but in their lives outside of school. Adding depth to our days, not only with minutes on the clock but with point of view and purpose, helps us more deeply utilize what we have. When this happens in childhood, it can become imprinted for life and shows up as work ethic and character, uninterrupted.
To this point, many parents have recently commented on inspired and productive endeavors at home with the addition and skew of snow-day time. There have been a fair number of enterprising students who have offered their shoveling services to friends and neighbors either for pay or as kind-hearted volunteers. New recipes have been tried, family meal times have been extended, chapter books are being read, mittens have been knit. Last week, one of our families agreed with their son to embrace the qualities of “school time” even though school itself was cancelled. He set about planning his day. To begin, he chose a math endeavor for an hour or so, before they all went out to shovel. Just before lunch he came inside and said, "So that was art!" One of his parents suggested that clearing the driveway might be better called community service and in reply he said, "..but we built that little snow fort too. And I call that art!"
In earnest partnership between you and The Montessori School, our children will become more naturally facile and articulate in their artful use and appreciation of time.
by Cindy Dineen
on Monday January 31, 2011 at 02:34PM
A small piece of unsolicited advice was repeatedly extended to me as a young mother, to us as parents. And what a confirmation of life it is.
In our helplessness to arrest the passing of time, we wish one another greater joy.
Yet I realized long ago that even at its highest and deepest, joy has no power over the rapid pace of this amazing life. The safe arrival of a new baby in our family reminds me again. On the day of his birth, while a fresh, sacred dimension opened wide, it was not to be contained or kept and life would go on just as quickly and decisively as ever before.
Even so, thirty three years collapse into nothing the instant I see something of his father, my own baby boy, in him. Then immediately, that instant becomes this moment, this day, the miraculous substance of here and now.
The power of the ticking of the clock, the Greeks called chronos, from which we get our word chronology. This is the linear way of measuring time and time's impossible flight. But joy's little secret may actually reside not in linear time, but in something called kairos, which is the fullness of time.
Perhaps this is where life is truly lived and memory is inspired. Could this be what makes relationships worth working for, stories worth telling and time worth spending well?
Perhaps. And on the chance it is, I wish your family peace, intention and rich, rewarding kairos as the new year begins.
by Cindy Dineen
on Wednesday January 5, 2011 at 11:57AM
On Saturday I had lunch with a long time friend. She is a mother of four, grandmother of seven. Over the years, over the kitchen table, baseball games and ballet, with summer camp, first jobs, first loves, graduations, births, baptisms and life, we have advocated for one another and each others' children.
Admittedly I was slightly beside myself while talking about my daughter-in-law and son, two days past their due date. Maybe I'd used words like, "...most stunning or most beautiful" in describing the grace of this pregnancy and my early peek into my own children as parents. She leaned close across the table and said, "I just want you to know that whenever you want to speak of this experience or your new grandchild as most amazing, most miraculous, most incredible, best or most fantastic, I want you to know I want to hear it."
No doubt I could trust her because while we'd raised our own children, the concepts of best and most had taken on a certain generosity toward all children and much of life. That's why her observation of me was both earnest and tongue-in-cheek.
As parents, we find ourselves in awe and wonder in a moment that could otherwise be considered ordinary. And each of us wants to say, "This is the best!" Has there ever been a moment or a child like this before? The answer, of course, is no. The soul of life is filled with numinous encounters that stand apart from everything else.
I invoke a comparison in Montessori. A master teacher told me years ago, "If the day should ever arrive when I feel any less thrill in observing a child with the Pink Tower than I did the very first time, that will be the day to step away from this vocation".
The nature of the true Montessorian is to be inspired by this Pink Tower, this quadratic equation, this essay, this conversation, the tying of this shoe, the organization of this long chain of seven by this very child. Right here and now, this moment could otherwise be considered ordinary, and is not. Our humble attention as parents and teachers produces a certain version of holy ground that happens inside our willingness to be present and therefore deepened ourselves because we will not draw away.
by Cindy Dineen
on Friday December 10, 2010 at 12:09PM
Earlier this week I wrote a few words about the Deliciousness Factor, a taste so good, so compelling and infusive, it cannot be contained. It’s Umami, the quality of delicious that goes on at The Montessori School every day. Today at Gathering, a group of children presented a “thankfulness turkey” they’d cut from paper with an abundance of paper feathers containing handwritten words. “The words are things we’re feeling thankful for, like mothers and birthdays and warm houses and sticks and pajamas and jokes and friends”. “And my grandpa,” someone else said.
It was a brief and earnest chorus of Thanksgiving, spontaneously amended by other students; so many words we had to stop. And every word was a delicious reflection of the things that matter most in life. Moving into the holidays, the pace will step up, expectations will escalate but our children’s truest, simplest desires will not change a bit. What we mark, they will be marked by. What we bless is what blesses them.
May Umami be present around your tables this week, in your choices and your celebrations. May it enrich reunions and compel the stories told and heard. May it appear in your favorite recipe or come along when you take a walk. May it enliven a family game or embolden conversation. May it be present in your laughter, in your listening and the time you take for little things. May it sparkle at the heart of giving thanks, inspire and reassure you. It is the enduring factor of delicious, right here, right now.
With love, Mary Zeman
p.s. A childhood friend passed the following along to me. A meditation on aprons you may enjoy, whether it inspires you to tie an old favorite around your waist or not.
“I don't think our kids know what an apron used to be. I wonder if I could describe to them how the principal use of Grandma's apron was to protect the dress underneath because she only had a few. It was also because it was easier to wash aprons than dresses and aprons used less material. But along with that, it served as a potholder for removing hot pans from the oven. It was wonderful and handy for drying children's tears. From the chicken coop, the apron was used for carrying eggs, fussy chicks, and sometimes half-hatched eggs to be finished in the warming oven.
When company came, those aprons were ideal hiding places for shy kids. And when the weather was cold grandma wrapped it around her arms. Those big old aprons wiped many a perspiring brow, bent over the hot wood stove. Chips and kindling wood were brought into the kitchen in that apron. From the garden, it carried all sorts of vegetables. After the peas had been shelled, it carried out the hulls.
In the fall, the apron was used to bring in apples that had fallen from the trees. When unexpected company drove up the road, it was surprising how much furniture that old apron could dust in a matter of seconds. When dinner was ready, Grandma walked out onto the porch, waved her apron, and the men folks knew it was time to come in from the fields to dinner. It will be a long time before someone invents something that will replace that 'old-time apron' that served so many purposes. Grandma used to set her hot baked apple pies on the window sill to cool. Her granddaughters set theirs on the window sill to thaw. And they might go crazy now trying to figure out how many germs were on that apron. I don't think I ever caught anything from an apron, but love.” xo
by Cindy Dineen
on Wednesday November 24, 2010 at 10:43AM
A number of Thanksgivings ago a new concept presented itself at our table. It was the concept of Umami. Taking its name from within the culture of Japan, Umami was first identified in 1908, as a basic taste beyond sweet, beyond sour, salt and bitter. It was named as a taste ubiquitous enough to mystify.
Umami had been named the Deliciousness Factor, a momentum of goodness, impossible to contain. Sound familiar? Every minute it happens at our school. It is the child who offers to teach or help a friend, it is an original story read out loud, a discovery in the science lab, the peel of generous laughter. It is a song memorized in harmony, the triumph of the ten chain, a completed student essay, a philosophical discussion, that fresh baked loaf of bread and a row of outdoor shoes lined up along the wall. It is the names of every country in South America identified by heart and the perfectly balanced Pint, a painting at the easel, a handshake to say hello. It is outreach Towerin many languages. It is Civitas and morning meeting and taking time the way we do.
This week of Thanksgiving, if we’re alert for Umami, perhaps it will multiply or gain a broader reach. Below is an example of just that, as Montessori Dad Matt Chamberlin took time to reflect on the place of our school in his family’s life.
With gratitude, Mary Zeman
From Matt Chamberlin, taking stock:
“In the third grade my oldest son was doing ok in school. He faced all the usual challenges one would expect in a reasonably well regarded suburban elementary school, maybe even dismiss, but his performance didn’t seem to match his ability. Quite honestly, after years of parental struggle of trying to get the right education formula of a little more of this and little less of that, he just didn’t seem to be getting there. And ‘there’ was not some measure imposed by the parental ego needing to be satisfied by the straight A student, ‘there’ would be the place where learning was nurtured, the tools to understand the world around us were provided and the bright spirit of that boy could bloom.
We found ‘there’ here at this particular school with this special mix of teachers, students and families. And for this we are grateful. It is my Thanks Giving to say out loud that if it were not for this place, the world might have lost another bright light to the limitations ignorance would likely have imposed.
Here I give all due credit to my wife, as we have been fortunate to have found the right solution for the specific and very different needs of all three of our children. These three young people each benefit in a different way, based on different skill sets and personalities. The system does more to nurture the child than merely to teach to them.
We have taken less a premeditated path to having these three children come here but more based on what is appropriate to them. Maria Montessori gave a gift to the world in her commitment to develop this method of education. The world is readily becoming more aware of the bounty she has shared.
We are but one of many (most) Montessori families that give thanks to Maria (if I can call her by her first name), to the teachers and administration and the generosity of the families that have come before us. For the brilliance that shines from the minds of these young people, that are given greater sight, deeper vision and a brighter future as a result of the generosity that is this community - we are grateful. Thanksgiving in an appropriate tribute."
by Cindy Dineen
on Wednesday November 24, 2010 at 10:38AM
Last month with the fresh opening of school, you were compelled to connect most directly with your child’s classroom and teachers. Now that the year’s underway, you are receiving invitations to join wider aspects of our school community and the pedagogy that links our program and events. In the last weeks you have responded to early invitations by attending Parent Education events in great number and by considering your participation in the greater community of our school. We encourage you to find your place and we welcome you in dialogue if questions should arise. Our partnership with you is the heartbeat of our school
In this light, you will continue to receive excerpts from my monthly report to the Board of Trustees. Hopefully these updates will work in meaningful concert with your relationship and growing appreciation our purpose, our mission and our daily joys.
I write to offer gratitude for your participation and partnership during these early weeks of school. It is most natural to offer focus and attention to the specific programs where your children are enrolled and over time that view will become deepened and enriched. By exposing yourself to even wider aspects of our school community and the pedagogical links that bind and link our program, your experience will continue to grow. This will occur by attending Parent Education events, spending time at school and in conversation with your child.
Additionally, the Executive Committee of our Board of Trustees has suggested that I offer excerpts of my monthly report to the Board in an e-mail to all Montessori parents. This will give you an overview of recent events and a regular orientation to the greater context of our school. Your feed-back to this process will be of great value as we move forward in partnership together.
The privilege of marking time in academic years is nearly as compelling as the annual arrival of January first. A fresh new start, invocative not only of resolutions but of pure potential and incredible possibility.
We begin the year with vision re-inspired and welcome your family to The Montessori School. To describe the particulars of our school’s culture and mission goes only so far with words. The vitality of our story, and yours, unfolds as we make contact and connect. There are many opportunities for the adult members of our community to participate in the life of our school and as your children learn and grow, your own world and sensibilities will do the same.
Last spring a number of us began to study the work of Wade Davis whose most recent book is called Light at the Edge of the World. Inspired by travels from the high Arctic to the Amazon, to Africa, Tibet, Haiti and Peru, intricate patterns of thought, belief, myth and tradition appear within a body of knowing Dr Davis names the Ethnosphere.
The Ethnosphere is about those peoples of the earth whose essential humanity has been defined by the landscapes in which they are nurtured. Within the diversity of knowledge and practice, although the meaning of life may be interpreted by ten thousand voices, the long-accumulated wisdom shares a potent, common root.
At The Montessori School that root is our daily practice which extends directly from our mission’s highest voice. We are proud of our diverse and ourinternational community where family cultures, habits and practice greatly vary and we inspired by the pedagogical specifics of “our Ethnosphere” that compel and affirm a viable and affirming common culture.
Please make special note of our Parent Education offerings this year and of the many opportunities and invitations to participate in the landscape and life of our school. You will see for yourself that meaningful dialogue, heart-felt support, nourishment and true friendship await you here.
On behalf of our staff and the leadership of our school,
by Cindy Dineen
on Monday September 6, 2010 at 07:30PM
A great expanse of months ahead with nothing to do.
“Ha!” you may say. Whether it’s the long anticipated drive to camp, that string of Little League games ahead, the garden to tend, airplanes to catch or camping gear to assemble, in the category of having been moving too fast all winter and spring, the months of June, July and August tempt us to imagine making things right .
We yearn to believe Gershwin’s invocation that “the livin’ is easy” could begin today. What could be better than imagining…
“One of these mornings.. You're going to rise up singing. Then you'll spread your wings And you'll take to the sky”
So what’s the catch? What’s it take to spread our wings and invite our children to fly along? Porgy and Bess have infiltrated sensibilities since the mid 1930’s and I wonder if there’s one portion of the song that got a little bit eclipsed by the promise of easy livin’.
”But until that morning There's a'nothing can harm you With your daddy and mammy standing by.”
Dearest Montessori Daddies and Mammies … I am daunted by a recent piece published in the New York Times entitled, The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In. I invite us all to click on the link below and consider how the ability to be "standin' by" with stretches of uncompromised time might contribute toward our families’ chances to “…rise up singing” in the months ahead. Something to consider.
If you’ve been to Whipple Road this week you’ve seen the wooden steps leading from the front garden to the roof. Arriving at school Monday morning, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven came immediately to mind. Heaven, the “….land of promise”. Not a thing in the future, but here, right now. The song’s not far off. Our temporary staircase has been built so our students can view the installation of the solar panels and observe this scientific phenomenon of great promise. “My work is loving the world..” said the poet Mary Oliver and so it is for our children from the youngest to the oldest whose respect and love are honed in the practice of amazement.
That’s why the steps were built, to allow for a particular version of astonishment that begins by bearing witness. Over the long term these solar panels will reduce our school’s carbon footprint and our CO2 emissions by 15,422 pounds in the course of twenty five years. By student calculations, this will contribute to our environment as constructively as planting 4,228 trees (“…and isn’t that about 172 trees each year?!” Indeed it is.)
Just as the Zeppelin tune goes, “And a new day will dawn , for those who stand long, and the forests will echo with laughter”... may it be so.
Those early days at the beach are amazing for so many reasons. Oddly shaped stones and a great variety of shells not seen later in the season are dotted between crusty mounds of seaweed. Colors are less muted than we remember them last August and the expanse of summertime feels close at hand.
Yesterday, two young girls sat close to the water considering their options. “Let’s make a whole world with these stones,” said one. It must have seemed like an utterly reasonable idea to her friend who quickly said, “ok!” They set to work, shovel by shovel.
Other children moseyed toward the shore more gingerly and dipped in a toe but those were mostly the ones cautioned or carried by their parents who were obviously non-plussed at the idea of getting wet themselves. Then there were the brave ones who dared a friend into the water and others just held hands and ran in, one, two … threeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee !
There was a young boy and his grandfather with a little green boat. For awhile a game was going on, the boat being tossed out and the waves bringing it back until the wind shifted slightly. “Woa, woa … don’t throw it so far,” said the grandfather rolling up his pant legs. “The wind is changing and we can’t go out so far to get it”. The game went on until the combination of the last toss and a stronger breeze swept the boat even further than before. “There she goes,” said the grandfather, “it’s going too far now, we can’t get it”.
What was amazing was what happened next. No scolding, no tantrum, no tears. “Grandpa, do you think the boat might drift over to those rocks down there?” Grandpa was giving no false hopes. “No, I doubt it,” he said. “Just look at the way the wind is going, I think it’s headed straight for Long Island”.
For quite awhile they stood there side by side watching, then waving, until the grandfather said he thought they should head back to the picnic table to check on everyone else. “Can we tell them about the boat?”
The grandfather asked what he’d like to tell and quickly came the reply, “We’ll tell them our boat just left for a long, long trip”.
Near by, the little girls had continued to build a small structure with the stones and I realized they were right.
You can make a whole world inside a moment with very little more than the rudiments of an ordinary day, a little imagination and some time to spend together.
If you were able to view our Art Fair this week, you may be compelled to agree with Oscar Wilde’s posit that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. You couldn’t help leaving with a song in your heart and an added spring in your step. Wilde’s theory is called antimimesis, which says art sets the aesthetic principles by which people perceive life. (He referenced the fogs of London as an example, arguing that although “there may have been fogs for centuries", people have only ‘seen’ the "wonderful brown fogs that come creeping down our streets, blurring the gas lamps and turning houses into shadows because poets and painters have taught us the loveliness of such effects". "They did not exist", asserts Wilde, "until Art had invented them.")
With masks, collage, sculpture, various violins, heroes, she-roes, landscapes and self-portraits, our gym-turned gallery vibrated with evidence of invention. A well-known adult artist in our midst wrote in the guest book, “I truly wish I could paint flowers like these children did. My inspiration!”
We are proud of the arts in our school and for the way they both reflect life and inform it. We are committed to their natural connection to all aspects of Montessori curriculum and practice. Likewise we are humbled by the buoyancy that’s inspired by voices in harmony and daily triumphs of composition and design.
Earth Day was celebrated at both campuses yesterday, in ceremony and celebration. Songs were sung in honor of the elements and of our Mother Earth. We turned the soil (some kissed it) while we turned our thoughts toward stewardship with rakes and hoes and hands from the youngest to the oldest. Your children and their teachers were Art Alive in their delicate placement of choices to contribute and participate on this day. With Oscar Wilde’s belief that the wonderful brown fog finally becomes real thanks to poets and painters, it’s the same on a day like this when the intention of our hearts and the mission of our school are manifest, without question, for what’s sustaining and what’s good.
What better time to assess our wealth? The commodity of livelihood and our life savings.
While all of nature reflects the urgency to bloom and propagate, when the dizzying velocity of bursting buds makes us dim with wonder, what are we going to do?
It's possible to imagine we can compete with a thousand daffodils, face the sun and reflect the cold, dark winter waking up. We give thanks, we remark to friends and family about how the light is fresh and new and the air is so replete with assurances and hope.
And then it gets personal.
It's us standing here in the light of spring. It's our families, it's another thousand dreams. That's what spring's about. Hopes and dreams in seeds that will produce food or flowers, in softball teams and soccer games, in walking off the weight of winter and embracing a list of summer hopes that rivals any new year's resolution.
The time is ripe.
For so many of our grandparents, this would be when they'd just be finishing the root vegetables and the last of the apples kept through the winter in judicious anticipation of a juicy bite into something fresh and new. The garden would be prepared and spring peas would be in the ground. But we who have been blessed with the chance to buy strawberries and mangos all winter long have another thing coming.
And that's our challenge.
How to acknowledge our privilege under the egis of gratitude . . . for we are safe, and we're alive.
What better time to assess our wealth.
We're not talking bank accounts but that which is becoming embedded in the values our children inherit in our every thought. How do we want them to remember us right now and what lessons do we wish were becoming part of who they will become??
There's no better time than now to till the soil again, to allow the assurance of this new season to antidote anything less than a hopeful, conscious, lively step ahead.
Late this winter, the sixth years and I had a meeting in the woods. We'd been discussing nobility and character in our philosophy class and decided to extend and ritualize our thoughts in some significant way. It was decided we'd build an outdoor fire and call out our highest selves. One by one, words of great significance began to fill the air. The fire cracked and popped to punctuate the invocations. "I bring respect to these woods," said one. "And I bring independence," said another. We lit small torches and words warmed the air in abundance: Kindness. Compassion. Service. Civitas. Wisdom, Insight, Friends. When time was over it was hard to turn away, but as we slid back to school down the snowy hill, we knew what we carried away was as invisible as what we'd left behind. And no less everlasting.
The intentional and everyday practice of marking our words goes deep even without the formalities of campfire and philosophy class. Our Toddlers are asked to "use their words" and through the years in Montessori, words formed in the mouths of our children grow in depth and self-awareness.
We are proud to announce that each of our 8th grade Middle School students has been accepted into their first choice high school and we are likewise proud of all members of our Montessori community who protect the mission of our school that upholds the development of character above all else. Admissions directors often call and ask us how we're producing students with such altruistic and wholesome views, and we always turn to you.
It is the character and the passion of our staff and parent community that ennobles our success and empowers our mission year after year, each and every day. Thank you. MaryZ
Once in awhile something happens to make us more conscious of the rare and precious gift of life. Often it's instantaneous, seemingly out of nowhere. We are taken off guard by the clean smell of a winter morning, the even breathing of a sleeping child, a slice of warm bread, or the sacrament of gratitude inside an ordinary day. We are buoyed by the healing of a friend, and likewise lifted to discover we mean a lot to someone else.
Last week the 37-year-old niece of a childhood friend of mine passed away amidst the innocence of an evening swim in the Pacific. These words were part of the memorial service offered by a colleague of hers:
".....One week later, with a little perspective after the shock and horror of what happened has subsided ever so slightly, those feelings have been replaced by a deep sense of gratitude. Each moment we breathe in the beauty of this world and are gifted with the privilege of just getting to be involved -- in all the chaos, all the mundane details, in all the untranslatable, epiphanic immediacy of the physical, emotional, and spiritual connections that give shape to our experience of this life and lend us meaning--each moment is a rare and precious treasure, not to be guarded, but rather to be shared. Because it is this very involvement which is our being itself. And if our being might be understood as this state of connectivity, then every moment becomes an invitation to act with compassion, as a prayerful response to the wider field of life in which we find ourselves inextricably embedded and from which we draw sustenance. Now, more than ever I am reminded not to waste my time, to keep my heart directed to what is most meaningful and use this life to do something that truly matters. It is my sincere wish that we all might take that lesson and keep this presence in our heart as a reminder of our commitment to what matters, as a continuous invitation to compassion..."
We can feel we're missing out on life because we're overwhelmed by all there is to do. Busy as we are, we can miss the "....untranslatable, epiphanic immediacy" of this one single moment, the blessing of this one specific day if we don't take time to pause and take it in. When we speak of the intuitive genius of our children, we remember that it's the way we are, not what we do, that's being embedded in their growing souls.
The mundane details can inspire our children to the wider field of meaning, life's greatest joys, or not. It all depends on the subtlety with which we hold and live them.
by Cindy Dineen
on Sunday February 28, 2010 at 12:34AM
Some years ago, a Google group for AMI Montessori Heads of School was established. This is a cyberspace forum for sharing news, inspirations and concerns. Most recently an in-group challenge was offered on how to describe the Montessori experience in 100 words or less.
To date, eleven entries have been submitted (including ours). Click here to view the responses. The responses have been recently inspired to extend the challenge to parents, teachers and students across the country. One hundred words or less . . . how would you describe our Montessori school? When the first 1,000 submissions are received, those 100,000 words will be posted and who knows, will 1,000,000 words be realized by Montessorians uniting to describe our schools and define our ways? Then what?
Good exercise for a cold winter's day. MaryZ
by Cindy Dineen
on Saturday February 20, 2010 at 02:52PM
We all know the young chap armed with bow and arrows named Cupid, the most famous of Valentine symbols. The arrows signify desires and sweet aspiration and since the dawn of Greek mythology Cupid has aimed them at gods and humans and played a role in celebrations of love.
It's that time of year again and no one can be uncheered by a little bit of chocolate or red craft paper cut into the shape of a heart. It's the week when paper doilies are iconic.
It's also an occasion to consider the simplest acts of love in our own doing, being and having. As in all the rest of life, it's not so much what we say but what we do. If the sonnet isn't coming easy, consider taking on the habit of St Francis, " . . .to preach (live) the good and loving news at all times and to use words ...if necessary".
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:53AM
A number of years ago, David Anderegg wrote a book called, Worried All the Time. He attempted to give us a chance to take the edge off with an effort to define the difference between parental vigilance and worry. Vigilance, he describes, dates back to the days of our earliest ancestors when predators roamed and parents were probably on duty pretty much all the time. For us, vigilance serves its certain, valid purpose when our children are in our care but the truth is, often they're not with us. We send them out into the world to experience and grow and we entrust them to the care of others. What of vigilance then? While no longer rational, it is nearly impossible to turn vigilance on and off so the energy of vigilance can subtly transform into worry. Will they be ok? Do they have enough?
Dr Anderegg opens his chapter on the management of worrying by referring to Reinhold Niebuhr's penning of the Serenity Prayer in 1932. He names the prayer not only a call for help, but a simple rule for the management of worrying …grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. The genius of this prayer is that it acknowledges life’s difficulties and it also captures the fundamental impossibility of actually managing them. Knowing the difference between what we can and cannot change is the ability that most of us, especially chronic worriers, lack. We're tempted to imagine that's just the way it is.
Yet once in awhile as if out of no where, our patterns of worry get interrupted by an irrational feeling of well being. Tension is released for no apparent reason except for the mysterious visitation of interior peace – and temporarily it changes almost everything. The way we speak, the way we think and what we are able to see.
What would it mean to our families and to us to make a practice of envisioning that "irrational feeling of well being" more often than we do. We are blessed by a community of great collected wisdom and life experience. Support, love and perspective are available each and every day. While growing in trust and admitting our need for one another, depth can be added to the details we attend and ironically, things become lighter. Ah, light-hearted vigilance?
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:52AM
The recent holidays afforded me a chance to indulge in a review of family archives. When my children were young, technology fell somewhere between those light-lit whirring movie cameras of the fifties and the earliest days of video cameras, heavy and unwieldy. As a result, we have an approximate total of an hour, maybe two, of recorded childhood.
We reviewed this precious footage with microscopic interest. Thinking of my children, the generous, thoughtful adults they have become and the sweet, luminescent souls they were so long ago, I couldn’t help thinking how life seemed so much different then. My children were pioneers at The Montessori School, being one of a few in each of their grades as we built the still unproved Elementary program and vision for the Middle School was still years to come. Yet it never crossed my mind that we should be spending a number of afternoons each week at lessons and enrichment activities after school. We used to come home and play outside. Sometimes we’d read aloud even before it got dark, we home baked bread to share with neighbors and spent weeks making Valentines by hand. And it’s more difficult now. The pressures, the velocity and therefore the anxiety that makes parents wonder whether or not they are giving the best they can or what they should.
But even though times have changed, what is important has not. Did you see the moon last night?? The first full moon of 2010 and it was the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. According to Spaceweather.com it was about 14 per cent wider and 30 percent brighter than any of the lesser full moons soon to come. Natural phenomena continue to rise, shine and startle us back into balance for a moment or two if we allow it. And that is a practice and habit our children take on right here and now.
Twenty years or so from now, you’ll want to be able to push the stop action button on your DVD and see that their faces on this day held the truth, the peace and light that will carry them into adulthood as self-assured and generous human beings. What will it take??
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:50AM
One of my favorite, most recent gifts was a collection of music loaded onto my iPod. From the Goldberg Variations to Andre Previn, from Carly Simon to the Beatles, I am lifted and inspired, sometimes transported, always delighted to discover something else in my new collection. What is it about music that can both soothe and excite, can lull us and touch us so deep inside?
I recently heard someone muse that our olfactory systems play more significantly in human memory than anything else. If memory reflects the way we store, organize and recover information, my vote would be for music. Do you ever surprise yourself by remembering almost every word to a song you haven't thought of in a decade or two? Do you find yourself singing the same tune to your children that someone once sang to you??
It is a wealthy repertoire to carry musical appreciation and understanding and even richer to compose or sing or play and share it. We're proud of the music we learn and produce at The Montessori School beginning with earliest encounters in our Toddler Class to the bells and tone bars from Primary to Elementary, to the wide range of ethnic and cultural music we share, the rigor and delight of our Elementary and Middle School chorus, our student band and growing number of individual musicians. Soon we will hold our Second Annual Instrument Day and we will celebrate together.
Meanwhile, Montessori Parents and friends are invited to a "night out" this coming Thursday when famous Jen Durkin and beloved Betsy Benham will offer us a stunning performance with January Jazz and Funk. There's still time to buy tickets and there's always time for fun.
To the music and to you.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:49AM
Last Thursday after Upper El Class Night, students and parents gathered for our Alum Panel. In anticipation, one Upper El student had referred to the alums as “illumes” which prompted the thought of light and of course . . . illumination.
Our alums spoke of their successes with direct thanks to the practices of mutual respect and high standards in our school. As grounded, insightful and generous souls, they spoke with confidence of their ease with others when moving into new schools and of collected academic triumphs and joys. Montessori pedagogy, multi-aged classes and multi-dimensional experiences were cited as the context for life-long skills in building relationships and civic-minded sensibilities.
In truth, the Latin term alumnus is derived from the verb alere or . . . to nourish. “How clear that Latin root was evident in our well-nourished Montessori alumni last night!” wrote a parent to me, the very next day.
As another morning dawned at The Montessori School, the mission and practice we share had been confirmed again.
It was further reflected in a letter to the United Haitian American Society from our Upper Elementary students that afternoon:
“Dear United Haitian American Society:
We are writing to inform you of our donation to the victims of the recent earthquake in Haiti. Over the past school year we made lunch for the school once a month (our school does not have a cafeteria) and we have profited greatly with our work. We also held an eco-friendly sale and have decided this is a most timely cause
We are donating $1,500.00 to your society through our local bank.
We hope that it will help many and save lives.
The Upper Elementary Students of The Montessori School “
While a new week begins, I hope that this “day off” has found you and your family actually ...’on’ with conscious regard for the opportunities and the privileges we possess right beside our good “illumes”. May we and our children continue to embrace the everyday and extraordinary inclination to turn light toward others and discover what’s finest within ourselves.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:47AM
One spring as my daughter was completing a rigorous year of study abroad, we planned a destination rendezvous and met on the island of Santorini. It was springtime and in addition to the stunning sights we knew we’d find, we also expected sunshine and heat. On the first night, we were surprised by hurricane quality winds and pelting rains on the most southern tip of Greece. Over dinner we dreamed of taking the two hour flight and heading for Cairo to escape the cold and rain.
By the time morning arrived, our little hotel had been soaked by the storm and deluged with deep puddles of mud. Our proprietor looked up from his broom with a grin, “This is the Sahara,” he said. “The great winds mixed up with rain and whipped the desert right across the sea.”
The irony was not lost on us. We’d considered flying across the Aegean to seek another land when in the flash of storm and wind, an honest portion of Africa had settled below our very feet. As we moved more gratefully into the chilly day ahead, residual bits of red earth from the storm kept showing up along terraces and window panes. We came to understand no matter where it is we want to go, the most reliable navigational tool depends on looking first at what might already lie beneath our feet.
In this day where cyberspace and jet lag are everyday and common, while we can seemingly be someplace we’re not, or physically get someplace hours before our spirits have had time to catch our bodies, true orientation is a mightier challenge all the time. Long gone are the days when a compass was enough. It is a time of great velocities and jarring values, perhaps more insidious than in the past. So we hone new navigational skills and soothe our impatience by catching our balance exactly where we are.
And that’s a daily practice. Like Dorothy learned on her way back from Oz, it’s right here within us and like my grandmother’s hand stitched sampler reads, “Home is where the heart is”.
Here’s to the guiding clarity of your good heart, the most exacting compass there could be.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:44AM
I recently re-discovered a treasured piece I’d saved by Anna Quindlen. She was reflecting on parenting as her three children neared adulthood. “Every part of raising children is humbling. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language (mine, not theirs). The times the baby fell off the bed, the times I arrived late for pre-school pick up, the horrible summer camp. Then there was the day when the youngest came barreling out of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test and I responded, “What did you get wrong?” But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing other things. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4, and 1. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night.
I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little bit less.”
Is there something in such a notion for us? The new year begins and whether we’ve actually put pen to paper and crafted a list of resolutions, the arrival of January inevitably evokes desire for better, wiser ways. So why not take on a chance for some additional, guaranteed joy this year?
It comes with giving more to the simplest things in life. It comes with worrying less and laughing more. It is kneaded into yeasty moments that can raise us up and sustain us by simply taking a bit more time for things that matter most.
It doesn’t cost a penny and its dividends produce an everlasting wealth.
This corner of the map is in our hands.
Happy New Year.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:40AM
One of my ordinary, great delights is a moment like this. Primary students are passing by my office (today) and break their merry stride to stop by, “Hello, MaryZeman!”
“Hi Girls…Where are you going?”
They went on to tell me they were on their way to collect their tea cup and tray from down the hall. And just as they were about to walk away, one stepped back into the doorway and said, “By the way, Mary Zeman, can we have a book sale for charity?”
Knowing there’s a small sea of details to navigate which had nothing to do with the immediate reply I said, “Of course you can!”
“Good” she said. And off they went.
Never mind the opportunity to don a handmade apron and walk out of the classroom to participate in the gentility of serving tea, how many of us went to schools where 5-year-olds have community service on their minds?
And what kind of a world might it be if we and adults all over the globe could all say “I did”.
The culture of Civitas cannot be underestimated. Nor can its use by our children as verb and adjective, a way of speaking, thinking and behaving in this world. It is the bedrock of our core values and the North Star along our children’s road.
Whenever you can afford yourself the chance to glimpse our school in other ways and places than the classroom of your child, you will see just this in extensions of our mission and its consistency from the earliest days through middle school.
This past Monday our Upper El students participated in the National Geography Bee. While we are proud of our finalists and the winners, we are equally proud of all Upper El students whose education on geography, rivers, oceans, and national borders has been deepening since age three. (Not to mention the fact that most of us might be somewhat dazzled by what they know.)
Likewise, this coming Friday is the Middle School Science Fair and you are invited to come witness the grace and complexity of student reports on topics ranging from mosquitoes to carbon footprint, from ecology to human temptation. You will hear eloquent reflections on allergies, dogs and human emotion, dreams, productive coffee grounds and the Brazilian Elodea.
And then there is our Winter Choral Concert on Tuesday, December 15th. Whether or not your child is an Elementary or Middle School singer, you are invited to come witness another triumph of teamwork, rigor and joy in the choral performance of Civitas in Song.
These formally planned Montessori events reside in the good company of everything else. It’s the regular, every day life in our school where pedagogy and grace are consistent, insistent and making their mark on our children and us each day.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:36AM
I was recently invited into a friend’s newest joy, the discovery of a fabulous cookbook. In addition to its recipes, the book is filled with legend and family lore, journal entries and secrets about best origins for spices, mustard pots, wild mushrooms and tradition. We both wish we’d written this book. The jacket cover reads, “Falling cloudberries, gravlax and strawberry tops, my grandfather’s special fries, cinnamon and orange blossom water, rice pudding, spare ribs and stroganoff, rose petals and jasmine in the summer night heat... these are some of the memories I carry with me from a life in many countries and a family who has loved many kitchens. These are the recipes that have stayed with me, been carried from home to home, and been given generously by many friends. These are the recipes I love.”
Pouring through pages of this book (Falling Cloudberries) we remember that the origin of incredible meals is much wider than ingredients or cook ware, the pre-heated oven and the baking dish. In whatever iteration of family and friends or whatever the nature of your Thanksgiving celebrations, may your preparations and gatherings be peppered with good natured conversation and treasured family stories. May there be time outdoors under the sweet wide sky, may your laughter have good punch lines and your leisure bring you joy.
These are the good old days.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:35AM
It was a luminous day on our school’s labyrinth today. Beacons of fire burned gently from their posts and encircled the walkers from morning to night. All classes, students, staff and many of you embraced today’s official launch day for the Charter for Compassion (the link is below). The Charter was created by thousands of people around the world and the hope is to inspire a new global dialogue. As stated in the Charter, “…We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous, dynamic force in our polarized world.”
This is a good match to a letter to the editor from Sarah van Gelder in the most recent issue of Yes! Magazine in speaking for global concern. “The problems we’re facing,” she writes, “are at a scale we have never faced before, and they won’t be solved with old-school thinking. We need people who are awake, engaged, lifelong learners – people who are culturally and ecologically literate, who can build healthy, loving relationships, and who can ask tough questions and critically evaluate the responses. How can we learn these capacities and teach them to generations to come?”
Montessori in both culture and pedagogy has a profound and viable answer to this question.
We can be both proud to be a school whose long-standing mission and daily practice include the commitment to inspire our students to live both passionately and compassionately in a global community. We must likewise be ever motivated to take new and deeper steps toward this vision for the sake of our children and the wide, amazing globe on which we all reside.
"The most high minded mission statement I have read," is the comment made to Board and Staff by Connecticut Independent School's Executive Director, Doug Lyons. As he discussed the content and focus of our school's mission, he cited our use of the words passion and compassion to describe Montessori students as future global citizens.
Inspired by an international initiative by Karen Armstrong (2009 TED Award recipient) our staff has begun to take a deeper look at this aspect of our mission statement. This coming Thursday, the Charter for Compassion (www.charterforcompassion.org) will be launched and our school will initiate participation by inviting members of our parent, staff and student body to walk our labyrinth on Whipple Road. Our goal is that someone, student or adult, one at a time or many together, will be on the labyrinth at all times during school hours this day. We have joined a number of schools and institutions around the world in partnership with the Charter for Compassion and look forward to new ways this aspect of our school's mission may become manifest. "High minded" as it may be, the development of our own consciousness and the manifestation of Civitas at The Montssori School must be born of practice and ongoing intention.
You can expect to hear more on this and there will be invitations to participate in related conversation and events through the weeks and months ahead. Meanwhile if you are interested in walking the labyrinth as a part of Thursday's event, you are most welcome. If you would like to do so with particular mindfulness toward one specific cause or concern, there will be a journal near the labyrinth for making notes to add your own thoughts toward this day.
Whether or not we see you on the labyrinth, I invite to to re-visit our school's mission statement and re-consider the heart and intention within the pedagogy and practice of the Montessori community we share.
With respect and joy,
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:31AM
Standing beneath the indigo sky as our entire school celebrated the Harvest Festival today, a feeling of great well-being dappled down through the autumn-kissed light onto your children’s faces. Broccoli, carrots, onions and zucchini prepared and chopped by each and every class bubbled over the outdoor fire in an immense and sturdy pot. We celebrated with story, song and pumpkin muffins.
After the Primary classes offered “The Bean Song” and all voices joined in Cheryl Wheeler’s WhenFall Comes to New England, as we have for twenty one years, there was no mistaking the value of this autumn ritual and its mark upon our hearts.
Anthropologists have never found a human culture without rituals and I imagine that Montessori students would expect no less. Here’s why: Although sacrament and ritual are not directly named in Dr Montessori’s conclusions on Fundamental Human Needs, they are embedded in each one of them and therefore they are daily practices at our school. As rituals and customs can impart a sense of belonging and being known, they are an essential link between the history and the present, the practical and the sacred. Sustaining ritual can encourage memory, provide comfort and inspire connectedness between people and what is precious among us.
This coming week-end, thanks to Daylight Savings Time, we are blessed with an “extra hour” of time. Years ago, my youngest brother and his wife made a commitment with their family to spend that hour each October just dancing. Some of us may choose to spend it otherwise... languishing in another hour of sleep, a good long hike or a blueberry pancake breakfast in the morning. Whatever it may be, there is value in taking a look at the way we spend our time and the way we give voice to our values and our lives.
Our children take their cues from the deepest parts of us. And that’s no surprise since that’s where they came from in the first place.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:29AM
It was great to see so many of you at Thursday night’s Parent Education event. The content of the evening extended into the next day as nearly 300 Montessorians gathered to work with Dr. Marc Brackett on the topic of Emotional Intelligence. As we parents and staff continue to consider the width and essential components of a superior education, we know that Aristotle was right when he said, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”
To further this dialogue, we invite you to attend this coming Wednesday evening’s Middle School Open House. (Click here for your invitation.) Whether your child is of Elementary age or a Toddler or Primary student, this evening will speak to the Montessori continuum and how a pedagogy that parallels human development embellishes aptitude and protects student inspiration year by year. You will gain further perspective on student outcomes which include not only the outstanding track records of Montessori graduates but the beguiling and engaging extension of Montessori philosophy in the Third Plane of Development.
As we further consider emotional intelligence and its place within Montessori, you might want to take a look at David Brooks’ Monday article on character development in response to the Spike Jonze adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are. (Click this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/20/opinion/20brooks.html) Taking a look at a disparity of views from psychology and philosophy, he concludes that true harmony occurs best through complete attention to a task, through conscious routines and self-forgetting effort. The scholar Mihaly Csikszentmihaly would call this positive, sometimes transcendent integration: Flow. Montessori names it as an educational imperative, normalizing, generative and joyous. Each and every day, this is our school’s habit and pedagogical practice from Toddler through Middle School.
We hope to see you Wednesday night!
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:27AM
Sometimes you can just tell it’s going to be a good day. Waking up with a light heart for no particular reason or some random whiff of joy can re-align awareness and set things right. Internal good fortune can visit us out of the blue and put its mark upon us.
The morning’s barely begun and that feeling is pervading our school today. There’s a hum in the classrooms and a hum in the halls.
Wherever you are as you read these words, let the momentum of another extraordinary day at The Montessori School extend its reach to you, then come celebrate with us tonight.
Meanwhile, I invite you to click and enjoy a piece of original art presented to me by one of our students a few minutes ago. Shooting stars in a whooshing light of Civitas. Heaven and nature sing!
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:23AM
If you’ve read recent work by Sir Ken Robinson, The Tipping Point by Daniel Pink or considered the concept of Flow by Csikszentmihalyi, you’ve invited yourself into good company. From three divergent views, each of these scholars concludes similarly on the conditions for optimal human development and the constructive, creative life. And if you have considered the scholarly and scientific work of Dr Maria Montessori on the Planes of Development and optimal conditions for education, you will recognize how our school’s mission and practice are rooted in a timely and triumphant pedagogy that is echoed by some of our greatest thinkers of today.
To add to this thought, a recent article in the Harvard Business Review discussed innovative entrepreneurs vs average executives surmising that “...the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged”. “We were stuck,” the article concludes, “by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration. Sometimes these people were relatives, but sometimes they were neighbors, teachers or other influential adults. A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity.” (To read the complete article, click here: http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/hbr/hbreditors/2009/09/how_do_innovators_think.html )
We were delighted to host so many Montessori parents at Primary and Elementary Lessons night this week. We encourage you to consider and participate in the wide range of opportunities for lively dialogue and Parent Education throughout the year. As we invest our resources and entrust our children to the Montessori community, there are exponential returns when we participate in the every day life of our school. We hope to see you this coming Wednesday morning at our Annual Meeting and then again on Friday for the compelling and sumptuous event of our Cocktail Party.
We well understand that the “conditions for optimal human development and the constructive, creative life” at The Montessori School are not limited to the classrooms or our children. You are invited and valued in this incredible partnership and we welcome you.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:22AM
Tuesday was a magnificent day for being outdoors and a great day for a celebration at school. It was the day to offer thanks to Montessori alum, aspiring Eagle Scout Sebastian Van Eck who had chosen our school for community service last summer. Having crafted a master plan, Sebastian’s initiative included the design of wooded hiking trails, tree identification and re-furbishing our outdoor Gathering Space where we sometimes meet for campfires and lunch.
It was a perfect autumn morning and the little fire surrounded by stones from our woods was gently burning as the children made a cozy circle all around. We began in silence closing our eyes to hear a “concert of the woods”: the whoosh of breezes through the treetops. After several minutes the silence was broken by the sound of violins as two Lower Elementary students played for us and another student offered words of thanks composed and illustrated for Sebastian.
Some may think it remarkable that well over a hundred children could come together in a new circumstance so easily, so receptively, with such order and such grace. But for us these moments are simply an extension of the everyday practices we share. That’s why they occur with authenticity and ease. From the earliest years in Montessori, it is common practice to gather with friends, make space for one another, offer respect for a lesson, a moment, a story or event with little more than an invitation or a gesture by the adults at hand. No yelling, no shaming, no crowd control is ever necessary when the commitment, therefore the consistent and every day life lesson, is respect.
In preparation for our celebration, a number of students had researched the qualities of a Scout. There wasn’t one that didn’t remind them of simple Montessori virtues as they perused the list: Courteous, Serving, Helpful, Honorable, Trustworthy, Loyal and Kind. They got a giggle when they discovered the word Clean, “Yes we are also clean!” one of them said and when they found the words Prepared, and Morally Excellent . . . everyone agreed we were also talking Civitas.
Our aspiring Eagle Scout who spent the summer giving back to a school that had helped to bless and guide him years ago might have been a bit of a hero to some of the students that morning and certainly in our own merry woods he confirmed the best of Montessori.
P.S. We were happy to welcome a reporter from the Wilton Villager and Norwalk Hour on Tuesday. The piece in the Norwalk Hour will be published this week-end. To see the article in the Villager click this ink: http://www.wiltonvillager.com/story/475833
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:19AM
Recently I was in conversation about the measurement of success in Montessori. While Montessori lessons can be given with a single purpose, there are extensions and positive reverberations that widen the original purpose and lead naturally to further work and greater exploration. There is no lesson or piece of work that lacks in this kind of depth. The reason is, no matter how rigorous or academic a challenge or presentation, the social and psychological component factors in with equal importance. From Toddlers through Middle School this is true as our children work and learn at all times within the greater practice of positive and respectful community life.
Earlier this week three Elementary students knocked on my door to present me with the gift of their most recent work. It was a carefully crafted booklet containing a number of pages and tied at the top with a ribbon. The boarder on the front was filled with numbers and above their signatures, the cover read: "To Mary Zeman. We measured the whole school's hall using a tape measure."
So while we can use statistics to measure the incredible "outcomes" of our Montessori children in later years (even knowing the lasting depth of this approach to education cannot ever be completely quantified) our children are measuring too. Literally!
The pages of their work contained drawings and noted points of interest from our front doors to the back and the calculations were included on a page entitled: "The Whole Hall! Start to Stop". By student calculation, the large hallways and some portions of our gym cover six thousand, seven hundred and seventy seven inches of space. Who knew?! The rigor applied to this work was obvious in these three boys and what accompanied it were some of the greatest qualities of Executive Functioning Skills i.e. Education for Life.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:01AM
Since time began, humans have been inspired by necessity or vision to build communities. Townships and villages, neighborhoods and missions have been born of intention and grit. Life creates the conditions that are conducive to life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years or so. "No one would sleep that night, of course ... they world would create new religions overnight. We would be rapturous, ecstatic...". Instead of rushing through the darkness, preoccupied or self-absorbed, we'd look up. Who knows where our amazement might lead.
Simple and practical as our early weeks at The Montessori School may seem, our community takes its place among generations of aspiring humans who have understood that the talents and dreams of one are buoyed and widened in the company of others. Orientation meetings, parent nights, our luscious Sunday picnic and the intentional process of phasing our children into full days of school have called our attention to the values that connect us and the commitments we will keep. This we will do for our children and one another.
Attached to this Week in Preview is a copy of a speech by David Brooks which Elementary Parents shared earlier this week under an aegis of the question, "Why do you choose Montessori education for your child?" I offer a re-print of Stressed for Success so we may keep the conversation going. (click here)
Meanwhile, this day, luminescent and miraculous as any single starry night, contains every opportunity and every single promise.
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 10:00AM
It is a new beginning, blessed and built upon where we've been and where we intend to go.
It is my honor to announce that our school will extend last year's theme of Civitas into the coming year. Since September 2008 we noticed how quickly a word which defined the privileges of citizenship in ancient Rome took on apt and everyday use by our children and us. It became a verb, an adjective ("how very civitas of you.."), an invocative moniker, a high-minded beacon. Our Middle School students crafted a Civitas pledge and spoke it aloud at the end of morning meeting each day: "In our Montessori community, we embrace the word civitas as a reminder of the customs, habits and beliefs we share. In this Year of Civitas, then, let us hold firm to all the ways in which we are responsible to one another, to ourselves, our community and our world."
It is possible that the word Civitas became so easily manifested because it simply named something that already existed in a school which prizes civility and common good. Our staff is delighted to see how the extension of Civitas as our theme may inspire our students and the full school community. We have enthusiastically endorsed this as the Year of Civitas ... too.
With a new year before us and clear, wide horizons, we embrace our highest hopes with the vast privileges and rigors ahead. From the youngest child to our growing elders, this new beginning is ours to share.
" This moment" wrote the poet Pablo Neruda,
as a board,
as an untouched glass"
"... Hold it up
like a star."
May it be so. Civitas too,
by Cindy Dineen
on Thursday February 18, 2010 at 09:58AM