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Nurturing the Spirit of our Children

MacKenzie Henry | Brevard, NC

“If education recognizes the intrinsic value of the child’s personality and provides an environment suited to spiritual growth, we have the revelation of an entirely new child, whose astonishing characteristics can eventually contribute to the betterment of the world.” Dr. Maria Montessori

Montessori education is often characterized by what is readily visible to us. This may be happy children using beautiful didactic materials such as the pink tower of cubes or the golden beads used in math curriculum. Or perhaps it’s the aesthetically pleasing child-sized classrooms housing mixed age groups working busily. It’s only upon exploring Dr. Montessori’s philosophy more fully that we can comprehend her commitment to world peace through what is not always visible, but is certainly present.

When our son was three he started attending Mountain Sun Community School in the Owl Class. He came home and talked to us about their discussion at circle one day. His teacher Tina Leonard talked about fundamental needs and he proceeded to name these: “water, shelter, food, sleep, spiritual needs….” My husband and I paused and had him repeat that last item. Yes, we had heard his little voice correctly: spiritual needs. Our children were learning that spiritual care, no matter how different it may look to others, is fundamental to humans thriving. This acknowledgment, coupled with the daily examples of spiritual care we observed in our son’s classroom that year, were our first introduction to this aspect of Dr. Montessori’s philosophy and would inspire my own teaching and certification in the Montessori method several years later.

Unless you read Dr. Montessori’s work (or commentary on her work), or experience a Montessori classroom in some way, it’s not clear how integral “caring for the spirit” really was to Dr. Montessori’s method or to her noted work in peace. But, as Aline Wolf writes in her book, “Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms,” “Maria Montessori felt this was the essential task of her life.” At her family’s grave in Rome she is remembered for ‘dedicating her entire life to the spiritual renewal and to the progress of humanity through the child.’”

And while Dr. Montessori developed very clear guidelines for curriculum development accompanied by precise and manipulative didactic materials, her guidelines for developing the spirit of the child were much more elusive. “Far less known are her theories about cultivating the spiritual nature of the child. These theories have no concrete form; they cannot be handled,” wrote Wolf.

Since Dr. Montessori didn’t lay out her guidance for nurturing the spirit of the child as directly as she laid out other areas, it’s important for teachers, parents, and administrators to contemplate and plan how to bring this important element into the classrooms and lives of young children. Below are a few areas of emphasis and activities to support our work with children:

It cannot be denied that today’s frenetic pace certainly has an impact on the spirit of a child. Practicing stillness and silence is an excellent spiritual activity and one that will serve the child well for years to come. Learning to quiet one’s mind, find stillness among the discord, and create inner peace is a necessary skill in today’s society. Activities like the silence game (often called ‘Making Silence’), finding stillness in a garden or forest, and observation time in nature are all ways of fostering stillness.

Another important spiritual element which adults can certainly create plentiful opportunities for is wonder. Time near water, surrounding the children in nature, observing clouds, working in a garden, watching bugs, listening to birds, are all examples of a wonder-filled curriculum to grow the child’s spirit. In her book Aline Wolf shares several examples of ways to find wonder inside a classroom with the study of light, class pets, and care and study of plants. She points out the importance of sharing more than just facts with children. A parent or teacher may share how they feel around a certain bird, or while sitting in the middle of a grove of trees. This could be an opportunity to talk about the wonder of nature’s cycles- the moon, plants, seasons, weather, etc.

With the foundation of stillness, wonder, and respect for living things there are many other areas and activities which will foster spiritual growth within a child. Peace education/conflict resolution, self-love, inner peace, cosmic education, the arts (music, poetry, painting, dancing joyfully), and community celebrations are all outlets to nurture the spirit of children in the Montessori classroom and beyond.

“Nurturing the spirit… will include experience of silence and reflection, a reverence for nature, an appreciation of the interconnectedness of all things, and the cultivation of peacefulness, compassion, generosity, and love,” Wolf wrote.

I strongly believe the strength in Montessori education lies in the spiritual education which happens inside our classrooms and within our school communities every day. I believe this component of education is needed now more than ever and knowing there are children finding spiritual education within their school experience fills my own spirit with hope for our world.


Recommended Reading (referenced in this post):

Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms, Aline D. Wolf
Peace and Education, Maria Montessori