Journey & Discovery – by Steve Swingler

Journey and Discovery remains one of our most valued ways of sharing Montessori with parents. We are indebted to Barbara Gordon for creating this powerful experience, and for sharing it with us.

Steve Swingler, father of Lily who is in the Children’s House, was at our most recent “Journey and Discovery”. Here are his beautiful reflections on his experience.


I am four years old, on holiday in Yellowstone National Park. Huge vistas, mind blowing earth science, right there in front of me. But all I can remember is standing in the shop, buying a cuddly black bear called Jack.

I am five. I am by a lake big enough to fit the UK in, wonder all around me. But all I can remember is a small arrow head I found in the carpark.

Minute objects, concentrated sensations, hundreds of memories. All flashing past my closed eyes in a meditation taking us back to our childhoods at the start of Journey & Discovery. I couldn’t single one out. I couldn’t hold onto and explore any of them. A flicker book of moments, tiny objects and insects. All small but all mine.

Without talking or making eye contact, we moved into the Infant Community and were asked, with the eyes of our much younger selves, to look, absorb but not to touch. Waves of calm, happiness and peace came over me. There is life in these inanimate objects, a smallness of life, a celebration and joy of the immediate, intimate environment. With the mind of a three year old, I could concentrate fully on each of the materials before me. I wanted nothing more than to sit down, apply myself absolutely to the polishing of a pig, the movement of a paint brush or cutting out tiny pink squares and putting them in the world’s smallest envelope. Each material called to me, calmed my frantic adult mind and encouraged me to indulge in the sensual, the tactile and the immediate smallness of a young child’s world. I loved this room, and felt the love it feels and shares every day.

A silent wonder down to the Children’s House, and I was greeted by numbers, words, puzzle maps of the world, a decanomial square, binomial and trinomial cubes, bead bars and more stimulation than I could initially cope with. The adult me withdrew. The journey from feeling like a three year old to thinking like a five year old was a shock to the system and I needed the four year old me’s help. Putting my adult fear of maths and literacy to one side and reflecting on the confidence, security and self determination I had found in the Infant Community, I looked at each material with a curiosity to learn.

Continuing our journey up to Elementary, I was truly overwhelmed. The adult me panicked, wanted to return to the warm security of the emotional three year old self. But the seven year old in me wanted to dive right in, be the scientist, explorer, mathematician, biologist, artist and linguist, desperate to understand this huge and ungainly world opening up before me. The materials, whilst more complicated, detailed and involved, built on those I had seen in the other two environments. So when I really came to look at them, I felt at home with them. I knew I could work with them, rise to their challenge. I knew I could apply what I knew about my inner world to understanding the challenges of the wider world.

The next morning, we threw ourselves in to working with the materials we had lusted after the night before. I journeyed through the three environments, feeling love, growth and challenge respectively. My love of small things flooded back to me. I lost myself in the sensorial and found myself in the cerebral. Nought to twelve in five and a half hours was quite an experience. Luckily, I didn’t make this journey alone. I received guidance, I worked with others in my community and I had the child in me by my side reminding me I could do anything and be anyone.

Back in the family room, we talked about our experience. Somebody quite reasonably asked what happens when children leave the ‘bubble’ of the Montessori community and face fear and bullying in school or work. I suggested that it is surely better to build a world on love. To furnish future generations with a love of self and community than to build a world on fear and competition. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that today’s national curriculum and workplace dynamics are based on fear, conformance and loss of self but if we want our children and their children to live in a world where love conquers fear, we have to invest in creating this world right now.

What I discovered on my journey was a revitalised compassion for the Montessori approach and, without wishing to sound too over the top, a renewed hope for the potential of mankind. And I was only there a few hours. Imagine what an entire childhood in this environment would feel like.