Summer 2015 – End of term letter

14 August 2015

Dear friends,

You may have read Maisie’s article in the Elementary Newsletter entitled ‘Why we need plants’. Perhaps you also saw Pia’s haiku-like writing on flowers, insects and leaves. Unless you are a child in the Elementary (or Pete), you will not have heard, on the last day of term, Kyra’s presentation of her work with Ana explaining all the people involved in the making of bread – from the tractor driver to the shop assistant. If you have a child in the Children’s House you will almost certainly have heard about work they do for the Children’s House environment, or help they gave to others. In the Infant Community, too, you will see materials for polishing or washing up.

These are all manifestations of a central idea of Montessori education; the gradual revelation of our interdependence – the mutual dependence of people and the dependence of people on nature. We create environments where the children can see the harmony that exists in the world around them – the orderly shelves or the consistency of relationships and schedules. Then we offer them opportunities to contribute to that harmony, using newly acquired skills in the service of others for example scrubbing and ironing, or giving a presentation to others of letters they have learned.

In the second plane – from 6-12 years – the revelation and discussion of interdependence becomes explicit and multi-layered. We talk about the ‘job’ of each part of the plant or the organs of the body, and the need plants and animals have for land, for water and, fundamentally, for the sun. There is a strong theme also, covering both history and human geography, which explores again and again, our dependence on the work of other human beings. Who, for example, were all the people involved in making this table? Or we may observe how clever those early humans must have been to harness fire and invent tools for the first time. From around 6 years, there is an opportunity, with any object we touch, to wonder at all the people we can thank for its creation.

Leonard E. Read wrote a beautiful essay in 1958 entitled ‘I, Pencil’, which captures the eternal value this attitude has for ourselves and its importance to humanity:

“I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write. Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.

You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril.

For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, ‘We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders’.

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove…”

As adults each of us contributes to our society through our work, but mostly we miss to see the wonder of this miraculous complexity as we become caught up in the routine of daily life. Perhaps this is why the camping weekend we shared recently is such a high point in the year. Here the complexity of the global economy is simplified to 100 or so people in a field seeking food, shelter and conviviality. The necessary work of a society suddenly becomes visible to children and adults alike in a way that is harder to see in a city of 275,000 or a nation of 64 million.

Small teams arose spontaneously to help erect tents, communal fires were started and tended, tubs of rice were laid out, vats of dahl and stew were heated, serving areas were prepared, washing up rotas begun, hog roasts tended and Portaloos were cleaned for all. The children too joined in with this work, preparing and serving food for everyone. What struck me most about this was how quite a few children set aside their food to eat later, so that they could serve the community first. It was no hardship to them, in fact this personal sacrifice – giving of themselves in the service of others – seemed to energise and nourish them more than any plate of food.

If you allow me to indulge in a bit of wild utopianism, I would say that this aspect of the camping weekend – being part of a community at work and being able to clearly see individual work contributing to the common good – draws us all just as much as the schmoozing in the sun.

While the camping weekend is a one-off in The Montessori Place calendar, there have been so many moments over the last term where people have offered their work for the common good, contributions that make our community thrive, and make it such a pleasure to be a part of. As I write this, Matt Roberts is filling and painting the hallway at The Montessori Place, and Simon Kakauris is making some new furniture for the Elementary. Looking back over the summer, I found Muir Johnston in the garden on more than one occasion, keeping things looking lovely. Meanwhile Richard Burniston and Caspar Firth have continued with their remarkable documentation of life at The Montessori Place, while Naomi Ibbotson has created a place of inspiration at the sewing club week after week. These are just a few of the contributions – I could go on and on! Whether it is by organising the garden party, playing chaperone on Elementary “Going Out” trips, leading foraging walks, buying flowers, lending gazebos or just washing up in the Family Room – so many of you have helped in so many different ways, large and small, and through each of these contributions you have made the community richer for all of us.

The picnic at Annan Court could only have happened with the help of the team of meadow-mowers and bunters (people who put up bunting). Dave ‘Sussex’s Strongest Dad’ Hill came armed with a sledgehammer to whack in the fence posts, Christian Louca fulfilled his dream of using a sit-on lawnmower, while the rest of us including a gang of children toiled like mediaeval serfs to bundle up the cut grass. Steve Swingler meanwhile, was toiling in a more contemporary manner, designing the Land School banners that were displayed in the conservatory. The day itself was glorious in the experience if not weather as 150 or so people from the Hove and London Montessori communities explored the site, many for the first time.

Last week all of the staff team – including Laura freshly back from her ‘Assistants to Infancy’ training in the USA – were in for two days of paediatric first aid training, which we repeat every three years. It was lovely to welcome a familiar face to the team, as Cami Thorpe (Tullia’s mum) joined us in preparation for the formal start of her role as resident chef in September.

Laura will be returning to a new role in September, moving from the Children’s House to the Infant Community. She will be shadowing Paul over the coming year in preparation for co-leading the Infant Community with Magda from September 2016. Laura will also cover for Paul for the three weeks he will be training in Prague at the end of October. Lea will be filling Laura’s slippers in the Children’s House, as she did for the last half of the Summer Term. We are delighted that Effie has agreed to stay on permanently to continue assisting in the Children’s House.

There are two new children starting in the Children’s House this term; Viyahas and Ronnie (Matthew Kuriakose and Pushpa Sebastian) who are moving down from Little Acorns Montessori School in Hertfordshire. They will be filling the pegs of Sam and Eva who are graduating from the Children’s House at the end of the first plane of their development, and moving up to the Elementary Community. They will be joined in the Elementary by Eli and Innes (Josh and Juliette Tieku-Smith) and Lennon (Carmen Berzon) who has completed his Children’s House journey at the Maria Montessori School in Hampstead.

The youngest new members of the children’s communities will be Darcy and Coco who are joining the Infant Community. Darcy’s path is smoothed by having her big sister Molly already in the Children’s House, while Coco – whose sister Tullia is in the Elementary – seems to think of The Montessori Place as her second home.

Finally, we were joined last term by Ginger Rogers, a two-year-old guinea pig given to us by my twelve-year-old niece, Eve. Ginger is currently on holiday with Crackers, homed by a series of Elementary families. It is possible that a holiday romance may ensue if Crackers can be her Fred Astaire.

That’s it for now. I wish you a very pleasant summer, and look forward to seeing you again in September.

Yours sincerely,

Rob Gueterbock