This is an image of geometric solids in a blog post on holistic educztion in When Spirit Meets Science by Haripriya Suraj
holistic education, when spirit meets science

Montessori: Education for Body, Mind & Soul

As a child, playing ‘teacher’ was my favourite pastime. I could spend hours pretending to be a teacher and teaching an imaginary class full of children.

Little did I know at the time that this was my soul’s calling playing out.

I explored different career options in science as well as business management but soon realised that none of them resonated with me.

My passion lay in work that was creative and nurturing.

Working with children felt right. A year later Reiki healing and writing also came into the picture.

I felt drawn to work with young children under six years of age. In 2006, I enrolled in an Early Childhood Educator Training Program and was placed in a reputed kindergarten school after completing the training.

Interacting with little children every day felt fulfilling and I began to thoroughly enjoy my work!

Along the way, I realised that Early Childhood Education offered some non-conventional models of learning too, such as Montessori and Waldorf. The Montessori approach to education appealed to me in particular.

Here in India, ‘Montessori’ is often confused with ‘day care.’ Until my training, I was under the same impression too! But once I stepped into the school environment, a whole new world opened up before my eyes.

I understood that ‘Montessori’ was not ‘day care’ but a whole system of education. It is based on the groundbreaking work done by Dr. Maria Montessori, the first female physician of Italy.

Montessori is education, not just for the mind, but for the body and spirit too.

It is a way of life for children.

One of the key characteristics of the Montessori approach is that children are not ‘taught’ in a conventional sense but are allowed to learn.

Each child is allowed to grow and develop in their own time. This is based on the premise that nature has programmed children to achieve specific milestones at specific ages and our job as adults is to facilitate the process of learning and development appropriate to each stage.

This is in stark contrast to how many of us were educated as children, where concepts were almost pushed down our throats irrespective of whether we had the capacity to absorb them or not. All we had to do was digest the content placed before us and thereafter reproduce it on paper. This is not to say that approach was wrong. It was the best known at that time and I am grateful for the opportunity to be literate. However, today, we have more holistic approaches to education where the overall development of the child is the focus and learning is not just a checklist of lessons to be ticked off as done.

As compared to traditional classrooms, where children are mostly confined to their desks, a Montessori workspace allows children some ‘Freedom Of Movement’ as they learn. It is not natural or realistic for children (especially younger ones) to sit still on a chair for hours. Almost the entire world knows this to be true! Yet we suppress their natural need for movement and push them hard to sit still.

Contrary to what one may expect, a Montessori environment is a peaceful space where children work in silence, despite enjoying freedom of movement. I was astonished the first time I witnessed this silence! It felt like a miracle – two to six years olds working like busy bees in absolute silence. It was refreshing, to say the least. The fact that they are inspired to learn rather than forced to is the secret behind this silence!

I feel the Montessori approach to education is very healing, not just to children but to the teachers (adults) working with them too. There are several well-established institutes offering rigorous Montessori training to teachers and I respect each of them. However, my personal opinion is that this system deserves to have more joyful training programs in place. Trainee teachers must experience firsthand the joy of teaching the Montessori way. Unfortunately, almost all Montessori training programs I have come across make the training process harder than it needs to be. Their opinion is that high standards of perfection and rigour are necessary to prepare one to be a Montessori teacher. I personally do not feel this is the case. The flipside to overly rigorous training is that the joyful essence of the methodology is lost in the process. One cannot train in pain and then expect to create a joyful classroom for children. The happier the teacher is, the more likely she or he is to pass on that joy to the little ones. Several talented teachers feel discouraged by the challenges posed by Montessori training and give up on their dream of working in a Montessori environment.

It is my intention that a peaceful and joyful system of Montessori teacher training takes birth so more people who feel inspired to work with children heed their soul’s calling and make a difference in the lives of future generations.