Actually, this is the beginning of the Montessori story for me. I graduated in the school of Education from Michigan State University in 1965. In my courses,there was no mention made of an Italian woman who was pioneering great changes in the education of young children, and even educationally-challenged children.
My first classroom was a classroom of lively third grade children in a Catholic school in Kentucky. I loved my teaching experience and I especially liked that age group of children. Near the end of the school year, however, I was pregnant with our first daughter and after her birth became an at-home mom for the next several years.
Lexington was a new community to us when we moved there as newly-weds. One of the things we did to meet people and get acquainted to make new friends was join a study group. Christian Family Movement was popular with Catholic couples at that time.
We met every couple of weeks (I think it was more than monthly) to discuss topics from a pre-printed book of topics for the year. The couples in our group were from several of the parishes in town and that was a good mix.
The thing is: Catholics, who came up in the ’50s were not too rewarded for having a personal opinion on anything regarding to their faith. They accepted most things “on faith”. But this was 1969 turning into the ’70s, and the country was torn apart (wide-apart) by the Vietnam War.
There was one couple, Tom and Martha H., who were very progressive in their thinking about faith, about community and about our country and they always stirred the pot for lively discussion. Most topics pertained to living an active, quality life as a faithful Christian and enhancing family values.
There was always “homework” assignments at the end of the meeting to do before the next meeting. I don’t remember what the study topic was about on one particular night, but one of the homework assignments was to visit a Montessori Classroom and talk with a Montessori teacher about their method of education. I said I wanted to do that assignment.
St. Peter Claver was a Catholic parish and school in a poor district just outside downtown Lexington. The school had closed for elementary education, but two sisters of Notre Dame took Montessori training and opened a pre-school for 3-5 year olds. Sister Marcia and Sister Cletus introduced Montessori to the Lexington community.
The order of the classroom in general, both materials and children, the quiet focus of independent children at work on “their work”, and the respectful interaction between teacher and student immediately grabbed my attention upon observing the classroom.
The sensorial teaching materials, from sandpaper letters, to cylinders, to math beads, to world geographic maps stuck out to me in their vibrancy and appeal (I imagine two of the qualities that draws an inquisitive child to them to begin to learn from them).
I sensed also Sister Marcia was a person of trust. I would gladly put our own child under her direction and care. She explained some of the basic tenants of Montessori but the whole classroom environment spoke to me louder than she did, for she was a soft-spoken woman.
I wanted Laura in this classroom when she turned three. Now what was the cost? St. Peter Claver was commissioned to operate as a school open to the economically disadvantaged, so there were many inner-city children attending there on scholarship. The rest of us paid on a sliding scale according to family income.
Tom was gainfully employed with the top corporate employer of Lexington, IBM, right out of college, so for beginners we had a quality income for that time — we were an average middle income family. But I remember my mouth drop open when Sister Marcia said, “It will be $25 per month for the first child.” That seemed like about $500 in today’s dollars and I expressed uncertainty that we could arrange that.
Then this soft-spoken woman said words I can still hear today, “Well, I’ve found that people, in general, find a way to pay for what’s important to them.” Well, then ok, done. Put her on the list of incoming!
Laura was an awesome Montessori student and was followed two years later by her sister, Kathleen. At home, Tom built a beautiful set of shelves, patterned on the ones they have in Montessori school rooms everywhere. They formed the basis of the play-work room we designed for the girls in the basement; small round tables and chairs; an easel for painting and coloring; defined spaces for their toy and game returns; and rolling rugs for their defined work areas. The neighborhood children loved to come and play in this space.
Another independent Montessori school developed by interested parents formed in Lexington that included education from pre-school up to the sixth grade level. Laura continued through third grade level at Community Montessori School in Lexington.
I was fortunate to apply and be chosen to be a classroom aid for Joanie, one of the pre-school Montessori classes. I worked mostly with the three-year olds. I, just like the children, soaked up the Montessori Method and it favorably impacted my own parent skills at home.
Joanie had sacrificed a lot and went to Atlanta to train in Montessori while she and her husband together worked out the child-care of their own two brilliant pre-school children. I thought Joanie was like a miniature Maria Montessori herself — very engrained and believing in the essence of this education — and willing to work at any and all problem-solving tasks to see success in herself and her students. I am grateful for that time and my work there.
Community Montessori School is still a thriving enterprise and has opened through high school level education today. Janet, one of the members 0f the original founder families, still serves her valuable mission there today and possesses one of those genuine Southern smiles and greetings that will knock your socks off.
I have talked briefly with the recently retired founder of The Montessori School (Richland and Kalamazoo) but long enough to understand that the same vision and energy and persistence lie behind the success of this school. And it, too, was a product with a similar history as ours was in Kentucky — founders knew it to be of paramount importance that it did exist; and they made it happen and today many enjoy the fruits of that determination.
Sue, Gary, Judy all are people at the top of my gratitude and admiration pole and it makes me happy just to know that children are walking into their environments every day. My granddaughter, Amy, gives me little bursts of “Montessori” on any given day and conversation and I just love those building blocks in her.