Yesterday Pete and I fixed the guttering over the front door at The Montessori Place that had turned rainy day arrivals and departures into a dash through a waterfall. Naturally, we now want it to rain heavily just to further add to the satisfaction of a problem solved. Our wish seems likely to be granted. This year is the wettest on record in the UK; quite remarkable given that back in the Spring there was a hosepipe ban.
Montessori education is organised around the fact that all of life makes up a unified whole, with each species, and each individual, contributing to the underlying harmony or balance that exists in the Universe. This harmony is perhaps harder to see now than at any time since the earth’s fiery birth over 4 billion years ago. The increasingly erratic weather we face – a taster of climate change – suggests that all is not well with our own species’ relationship with the Earth. In fact, if Mother Earth could speak, she’d probably complain we were treating our home like a hotel, emptying the fridge, expecting others to clean up after us, and generally showing little consideration for the rest of our family.
Young children acquire a sensorial understanding of the harmony of life, through their daily experience of co-operating and collaborating with others. As they approach the age of six, their minds begin to explore this concept of harmony in a new way. Like the child who has just started to crawl and wants to crawl everywhere, the six year old wants to understand the relationships between everything. In the Elementary the children discover how the world came to be and the unique part human beings play, with their capacity to act with knowledge and love. This great story is told through a series of tales that start with the Big Bang and the beginning of Life on earth. The children are astonished to learn that for a billion (1,000,000,000) years, Life existed as nothing more than bacteria, each absurdly small, but in vast quantities. Tiny breath by tiny breath each of these little chaps made a contribution, gradually transforming the sea and sky, filling our world with precious oxygen, and paving the way for the rest of life to follow. Then something inspired some of these bacteria to give up a little freedom in order to be part of something bigger. In return for the comforts of life within a cell, these bacteria offered their services, their magical ability to change the sun’s energy into food. By doing so they made the first plants. The word symbiosis – from the Greek ‘together living’ – so beautifully describes this relationship between different forms of life. A way of living together, of collaborating with one another for a greater good, that has existed from the start, and is still with us today.
Oscar Wilde said ‘Nothing that is worth learning can be taught’. Learning how to live together – with each other and the rest of life on earth – can only be experienced. It cannot be taught. And this is why we use the word ‘community’ rather than ‘classroom’ to describe each of our prepared environments. Each of the children’s communities that make up The Montessori Place allows the children to have a direct experience of symbiotic cooperation, first between one another and then with the wider world.
As the children get older they become interested in the wider network of relationships that make up everyday life. They seek answers to questions, most of which they never ask aloud. Where does the bin lorry go? Who made this loaf of bread? Where does our electricity come from? Who looks after old Mrs Peterson? What is the wind? As the children find out the answers to these practical yet profound questions they learn about the harmony of life in a way no text-book can teach. Each aspect of their own experience, reflected upon in the light of knowledge and love, reveals bit by bit the interconnected nature of our Universe. And by finding answers here, each child is getting closer to answering the biggest question of all, that basic fundamental human question: Who am I, and what part shall I play in this beautiful world?
At The Montessori Place we have settled into some of those wider community relationships that the children will gradually discover, offering them a compass for their own decisions. We don’t have a rigid policy, but have sought out companies and people that convey a sense of symbiosis and harmony. Here are a few:
Dale Vince, the long-haired green-energy tycoon and founder of Ecotricity (www.ecotricity.co.uk), ensures that each electron we use is matched by the electricity his company puts into the grid from wind, wave and solar power. His is one of the few power companies that only invest in renewable energy. They have recently launched ‘green gas’ so we will be looking to switch our gas supply to them when our current contract is up.
Jo Lacey is our friend at Paper Round (www.paper-round.co.uk). She manages our waste contract that enables us to recycle everything that is recyclable. Jo has been helping Pete (Elementary Guide and in-house waste technician) to organise the dozen or so streams of waste materials from paper to food. Pebbles gets first go at the vegetable peelings, after which all the food waste is bagged, collected and processed (through anaerobic digestion) into methane and fertiliser.
Miles Denyer spent half a day in October showing us around his farm, Hankham Organics (www.hankhamorganics.co.uk). The farm near Eastbourne is not huge but since almost all the vegetables are grown in glass-houses Miles and his crew of 10 manage to produce enough to supply Infinity Foods and distribute 100 veggie boxes each week, two of which have been coming to us since we opened. Our food priorities can be summed up as vegetarian, seasonal, local, organic and scrumptious. We are 100% meat and nut-free and make various compromises on the others (and each child has their own view of scrumptiousness). About 90% of vegetables come from Hankham and are therefore local & organic. This is topped up with other fruit and veg, some of which is from further afield. Soft fruits are always organic. Similarly our tofu and soya products have always been organic, and from January all dairy, sugar, pulses and grains will also be organic. The passion, creativity and love that Freia uses to blend these ingredients into every meal is quite extraordinary. If you would like to see Freia in action let me know and we will fix up a time for you to spend the morning as a kitchen apprentice!
The use of scooters by the Elementary children to get about town fits with all of this and is a wonder to see. Rain or shine they scoot on, pausing at each driveway, letting pedestrians go first and turning heads along the way. They are like a London cabbie doing ‘The Knowledge’ mapping their neighbourhood, becoming more aware of the place where they live, and making it part of themselves in the process. Scooting around – to the library, park, museum and sports centre – gives them so much, but perhaps most of all it creates a space for spontaneous moments; a little extra time by a stormy beach or to experience the thoughtfulness of a workman guiding them across the street when the traffic lights are down.
Finally, on the subject of Life, you will all have seen Kristell’s bump, evidence of new life growing inside her. With their baby due in March, Kristell will be taking maternity leave from the February half-term, but will be back soon enough, with her baby, in the Parents as Guides group. Mizuho will be moving from the Infant Community to join Karen and I in the Children’s House. It will be a little reunion as Mizuho worked previously with Karen in Hampstead. This creates a space in the Infant Community that will be filled by Tricia Hipps, Owen and Walter’s mum. Owen and Walter are as delighted as we are to have Tricia working at The Montessori Place, bringing her gentle warmth to the Infant Community.
In January some children will also be moving communities. Caspar Waghorn (Corrina & Will) will be moving from the Infant Community to the Children’s House. Molly Roberts (Sarah & Matt), William Dale (Anna & Dave), Ace Sortain (Linzi & Tim) and Lula-Rose (Sarah & Jason) will also be starting in the Children’s House. Meanwhile, Oliver Turner (Lee & Juliet) is moving up to the Elementary Community. Lastly, Leonid Mylvaganam (Paul & Xenia) has said his goodbyes and is leaving with his family to live in Sri Lanka. We wish them every happiness as they fly off on January 1st.
Finishing with some practical information, enclosed with this letter is the latest family directory, diary dates for the coming Spring term, and fee information and term dates for 2013/14. We have also had to make a small change to the dates for the coming Summer term, starting a few days later (on Monday the 22nd April) and finishing a few days later (on Friday the 19th July). The revised calendar is enclosed. The eagle-eyed amongst you may spot that for 2013/14 we have a longer Easter holiday and slightly shorter and later summer holiday. This has the benefit of balancing the holidays a little more evenly through the year and it fits with the ongoing Montessori training that we always seem to be doing. This training is run by the Maria Montessori Institute in London, and tends to be scheduled into a longer Easter holiday and, come the summer holidays, runs into early September. In the process we will be moving from a 37 week academic year to a 36 week one. This is reflected in the fee structure for 2013/14, which we have held at this years rates.
I wish you a very happy 2013.