I had an amazing morning once again visiting the Montessori Classroom at the Center for the Homeless--a local shelter. While this is part of my job, every time I go visit I think, "This is part of my job!". This classroom is the only such classroom in the country--true Montessori for children in need of a place to feel safe, to be loved, to be respected, and to belong. I think Maria would be excited at this venture, after all what children did she work with when it all began? "The least of these my brothers" comes to mind when I think of this classroom. Unfortunately, over the past decade it seems that Montessori has evolved in a type of education for the elite--not the outcasts.
Upon entering the classroom this morning, I was greeted by 4 of the 5 children in attendance (4 children we absent due to extenuating circumstances). The only reason I was not greeted by the fifth was that she was completely engrossed in her work. I was greeted with handshakes and "Good Morning Ms. Julie", and "Welcome to our classroom, may I show you around?". Once the 5 year old, third year student got me a chair to sit in, she arranged a low table next to me and offered me a drink. The next thing I witnessed put a huge grin on my face and made me so happy that I was where I was at that moment--I would not have traded it for anything. She arranged for a friend to walk carefully, while ringing a bell. The third year child walked slowly, carrying a tray with a tea pot of hot water, a mug, a sugar bowl, spoon, and container with teas and hot chocolate for me to choose from. *the child ringing the bell was to alert other children that hot water was being carried and to stand back. Have you ever been served something like this by a five year old child? Would you expect this from a child that has spent part of her young life living in a homeless shelter? I encourage others to go and visit the classroom, the other children are eager to offer you a warm beverage on a cold snowy morning (I could only drink so much).
Montessori offers children a Prepared Environment, completely set up for them by the adult. The children learn to respect the classroom environment, their peers, the materials that they get to work with and the world. Children work with the materials in the classroom--they are exposed to beautiful items, breakable things, cooking opportunities, methods of grace and courtesy, learning how to take care of the environment (from putting their chosen work away, to cleaning up after spills, to recycling), and academics!
One more story from my visit this morning. A six year boy that has been a member of the class since last week, was playing a xylophone. He asked the teacher to sit near him and help. Her first response was, well I will gladly sit by you, but this is not really something you need help with (but he had a plan). After playing a bit he wanted her to sing along with his music. She politely explained that she did not know the song. He instructed her to get a pencil and paper and that she could write down all the notes to help her. He then continued on for quite some time and was thrilled for some one-on-one time and to "record" his music. Once again, this is a child that lives with his mother at a homeless shelter--
These children deserve "The Best of the Best"--I am so happy that they can be offered it when other things in their young lives don't always seem to make sense.