Lessons of Kindness and Compassion in the Montessori Elementary Community
The school day starts with free play outside. We walk inside and I distractedly set down my things and prepare to guide the children through our daily mindfulness practice. A child comes over to me and I actively ignore him, trying to tend to the day’s little details before I recenter and connect with the children at the rug. He’s persistent, though, and finally gets my attention. “Ms. Clark, can I ask you something?” I’m pressed and short and say without looking at him, “Sure. Go for it.” He asks, “Can I sit separately from the community today during meditation? It’s just that a lot of people make me feel silly and I want to try to focus today.” I’m smiling on the inside, thinking, “he’s practicing mindfulness right now!” I turn to face him and try to stay pretty neutral. I reply, “Of course. Sounds like the right idea for today. Join us at the rug if you change your mind.”
Next on the docket, I accompany four children on a Going Out museum visit. They planned the trip themselves, as they’ve been prepared to do. I am the [mostly] quiet and supportive chaperone. One group, studying early humans, spends about 45 minutes taking notes while the youngest child in the group waits for her turn to visit the rocks and minerals exhibit upstairs. We break for lunch and I receive a message saying we have to get back to school earlier than expected. I share the disappointing news with the group, “we will have to plan another visit to see the rocks and minerals.” One of the boys who had the chance to finish taking his notes says with enthusiasm, “Next time we visit, we should let Sophia see the rocks and minerals first, since she didn’t get to take her notes.” Everyone takes the news in stride, accepting the disappointment while showing steely resolve to plan another trip next week.
Upon return to school, we meet up with the rest of the community on the playground for recess, and a spirited game of flag football is underway. One child yells, “PENALTY!” to another player who throws the ball too early (as far as my novice eyes can tell). Another child chimes in with a calm and friendly tone, “Come on, he’s just a learner. Let him take another try.” Everyone agrees. Game goes on.
Across the playground, a soccer game is underway and one child goes crashing down. Another player notices and yells to the others, “Guys! See if he’s hurt. If he’s hurt, you take a knee.” The group immediately falls to their knees. The fallen child takes a moment to himself and then stands up. Everyone else stands, saying nothing, and the game goes on.
Then, two children sprint over with fresh bunches of carrots from the garden, screaming with glee: “HARVEST TIME!” They plan to share the fresh food with our class guinea pig (and yes, this is a literal guinea pig, not the metaphorical kind of guinea pig that serves as a beta tester, as my sister thought when she first read this story, although we have those too!).
No community is perfect. Not every day feels this way. But today, from where I sit, the example of the children rises above the noisy internet full of persistently polarizing politics, and I remember why I wanted to do this work of peace education. These children, right now, have something we all need. How beautiful to observe the flowering of the qualities we take time to nurture in our community, how right it is to support the development of the whole child, not only tending to matters of the intellect, but also, the heart.
Julia Clark graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in English Language and Literature in 2008. She received her AMI Montessori Elementary diploma from Washington Montessori Institute and her M.Ed. from Loyola University. She currently guides a community of thirty-three six-to-twelve year olds at Full Circle Montessori School in Arlington, Virginia.