My first experience with Montessori was not as an educator. Rather, it was as a child that I first tasted the freedom that Montessori brings to one’s education.
I was approximately three or four years old when I went to my first Montessori school in Phoenix, Arizona. I remember only snapshots, light bulb memories, sense-infused but fleeting. I remember smelling old spice bottles that retained the scents of cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and oregano, but I don’t remember what I did with them. I remember a triangular box filled with a variety of colorful triangles each with a solid black line along one edge, but I don’t remember why I was playing with them. I remember drinking orange juice that I juiced myself, I remember jars of paste, I remember tracing shapes, and I remember sneaking around the classroom with a friend just to see what I could get away with unnoticed. I remember so many things and yet for most of my life I would say I remembered very little from my early education. I couldn’t remember actually “learning” anything. I don’t remember learning to read or write. I don’t remember learning to add or subtract. Yet, somehow, I learned these things. It’s almost as if the process of learning was so effortless, that the process was simply left from my memory entirely and in its place was the desired result: an education.
As I grew up, I inevitably absolutely fell in love with school. As an adult, I made the choice many lovers of school do: I chose to become a teacher. I actually resisted it for many years, as I loved so many things that I wanted to be everything. I wanted to be, in turns, a primatologist, an Egyptologist, a meteorologist, a film maker, a poet or a playwright, the person who picks the music for TV shows, a rare books librarian, and a oceanographer, to name of few. However, something kept drawing me back to education. Something had been ingrained in my being from the very beginning: a deep sense of love for learning.
At the time, becoming a Montessori teacher was not readily available to me, but it stayed in the back of my mind as I studied for my Masters in Elementary Education. It stayed in the back of my mind as I planned my student-centered lessons as a traditional Elementary and Middle School English teacher. It stayed in the back of my mind for years. When I say it stayed in the back of my mind, I mean I talked about it endlessly. Everyone who knew me, knew my love for Montessori and my desire to emulate a “Montessori teacher” even when I had no idea what a Montessori teacher actually did. Much of the time, I was not a very good “Montessori teacher,” as I began to slip into the more teacher-centered mindsets of an educator in a traditional public school. But still, Montessori stayed in the back of my mind.
After several years, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to completely flip my life upside down. I jumped. I began my studies with the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies in the fall of 2017. I quickly realized two contrasting facts: 1) I learned so very much as a Montessori child, and 2) I learned very little about Montessori as a Montessori child. Over the course of the year of my studies with SIMS, I learned about Maria Montessori’s philosophies and scientific studies of child development. I was absolutely enamored with the science behind how children learn…how I learned. I also learned about the hundreds of lessons a Montessori guide gives in the three years she works with a child and the purposes for each lesson preparing the child in never-ending ways for future learning. I now know what I did with the smelling jars, box of triangles, orange juice, tracing shapes, and so much more. I now know what these things were teaching me. The Smelling Bottles were helping to develop my olfactory sense and bring order and awareness to the scents of the world. The box of triangles were helping prepare me for geometry by bringing awareness to the parts of a triangle and plane figures that can be constructed from triangles. The tracing shapes (known as Metal Insets) were preparing my hand and wrist for controlling a writing instrument as well as developing my own artistic and geometric sense. The process of juicing an orange was aiding my growing independence, motor coordination, and sequencing skills.
I knew none of this as a Montessori child. As a Montessori child, I simply learned. As a Montessori guide, I see the intricate, delicate, and yet effortless process of how I learned. Now, I have the precious opportunity to provide the same experience to future generations.
About the Author:
Lauren Williams was previously a public middle school teacher for five years, but she always dreamed of teaching Montessori. In 2017, she finally had the chance to earn her AMI certification through the Southwest Institute of Montessori Studies. Lauren was mostly Montessori educated as a child from preschool through 6th grade (save only 1st and 2nd grade). She holds a BA in English from Northern Arizona University, as well as a Masters in Elementary Education from Arizona State University. In 2018, Lauren moved to North Carolina from her hometown of Phoenix, Arizona to be a founding member of a brand new public charter school, Moore Montessori Community School. She currently lives in Aberdeen, NC with her three cats and millions of pine trees.