The guide…

 unnamed (1) Ever since I did my Montessori training, I was inspired by the term “guide” instead of teacher. Teacher is too heavy a word and in our day and age often carries with it connotations that are not too pleasing to the memory, for all the varied personalities and encounters we have had as children and adults in our different journeys as students….

Spending a month, at a sort of personal retreat, learninxg to create a basic yoga and meditation practice, under an experienced (to say the least) guide(yogacharya Venkatesh), I began to think and see as a student/learner, what it takes to be a guide that leaves in a student something learned, something concrete to take forward, something real to hold on to, something grand that helps us see ourselves and life in ways that bring greater clarity and peace, some way in which to understand our bodies and our minds. It surprised me to find so many parallels between my own work as a guide with children and the little of what I was able to perceive of the work of my teacher in this little time that we shared together.

As in Montessori, I saw myself as a human spirit – with body and mind. The practice was taught to me to help me with concentration and focus, reveal my dormant, natural human spirit. In a talk with my guide, he once said, “this, the work that you do on your mat, with your body and your mind, this is life…what you see outside is not life.” The idea that inside all of us lies a spirit, waiting for itself to be revealed through work reminded me of how we see the human child through the Montessori philosophy. Then, the work of the guide (from now on referring to my guide and the Montessori guide as the same) is to help reveal this spirit, through work. The work will be done by the student.

The guide merely creates the environment in which this learning will optimize. Little details reveal that the guide is always working on creating the optimal space. I would notice how through my practice, my guide would close and open the sliding window closest to me, sometimes just slightly to bring in just that little draught of air, just when I needed that, or bring my attention on my pursed lips so as to relax them and my face while experiencing pain in an asana. While this sort of creation of the optimal environment is external, there is also the space that is created internally that the guide works to nourish. This internal space is worked on by first observing the student.

Not every student will need the same kind of instruction or guidance. In moments when the guide observes that there has been some sort of understanding, he is immediately present to confirm the same to the student. This is the path, this is where you need to stay, and this is how you need to remain in this place. Breathe. This reconfirmation, at these very crucial moments, really is what creates in the student, an understanding of what it is that the guide is trying to reveal to him. The beauty of this revelation is actually something that makes one feel good. It is not something external, like attaining the best result. Instead it is a state in which one comes to realize that there is harmony!

While a child perhaps cannot elaborate this in words, he reveals this beauty in the way he moves and works, only gaining the energy necessary from his personally created level, displaying that he is ready to move forward with this energy. And again, this is where the guide presents himself, to take the student forward. It is a fragile, delicate dance but it always moves forward and it always provides for space – a space in which the student explores his own self entirely with work that calls out to his spirit – his mind and his body. And that is where I feel and believe that a method comes into play for the guide and the student.

While, I do believe that a method cannot be held onto entirely and there has to be room for understanding and flexibility with each student, what a method and more so the practice of it reveals to the guide are the possibilities that lie within the method. The minute the possibilities fail to reveal themselves and the method merely becomes a set of actions that we follow because somebody once said they did wonders, we fail to keep the method alive and let it stagnate. A method for a guide has to always be living.

In Yoga as in Montessori, a method has to be practiced. A method that isn’t practiced and studied by the guide begins to lose its meaning. However, a method gives the guide a means through which concrete tools can be used to achieve greatness, skill, harmony, success, peace, wisdom, compassion, balance. Are these not the things we want in our lives and in the lives of our children? I look at these tools, as gifts understood received and offered by the guide to the student. It is a love for something that one shares with another. A deep love for something sacred that carries within it the potential for real change, change that on some deeper level, perhaps brings about greater peace and harmony in the world.

A guide who has understood and experienced his work, keeping the method in mind and his faith works, day in and day out with – patience, and love and passion, and kindness, and compassion. A guide is firm where he has to be, he is always observant, always there when you need him, he never loses his trust in your ability to reveal your dormant spirit through work, he inspires, he shows you how to laugh at yourself, he doesn’t ever leave you alone but always shows you how everything you have learned you have achieved through his instruction but your own focus and concentration, he is gentle when you are harsh on yourself and firm when you are distracted, his work is to always keep you on the path, until one day you are on it alone, all by your own doing but as my guide told me – “you are never alone. A good teacher is always with you.”

A guide never makes you feel negative about yourself; he always works to increase your confidence, your will and your trust in your own ability to walk a path that will bring goodness into your life. A guide is always working when with you. He is always present, to you and to himself. A guide helps you lift yourself up and leaves you with an energy that you carry deep within you, a flame that is lighted that will not be easily put out, a light that you keep shining to light your way and the way of others in your world! To the best guide I could have found this month and to all the other guides that work to make the world a perfect place to experience life!

A Montessori Break and other such Montessori isms….

It has been eight whole months since my world consisted of working in a Montessori environment in a school…. So I’d like to call this a Montessori Break… Recently I have given to creating all kinds of “Montessori phrases” –

Montessaurus (one of my favorites – refers to a person who eats,breathes,sleeps Montessori morning,day and night) ; “non parent Montessori school”( a Montessori school that was not opened by a parent or group of parents), a “Montessori vacation” (working in a school where everything – your relationship with your co-teacher, the administration of the school, the environment, the understanding of what it means to see the method in action, the framework for interaction with the parents, the vision of the school, your daily growth – all receive a satisfactory appraisal from you, where working takes on a dreamlike quality of satisfaction! )

Undoubtedly, other Montessori phrases will be created with time as one comes to encounter varied “Montessori experiences,” such as taking a “Montessori break.”

This break has been sort of unintentional… and I hope to return soon to the comfort of a daily routine with a school and children…though here’s some sort of list of the things I encountered and experienced these past few months…

– I traveled a lot! Every where I traveled I collected a story, a photograph, starfish on a beach with a friend’s children, an image, a porcupine’s quill on a quiet Himalayan mountain trail, fresh vanilla sticks, postcards of beautifully painted bird varieties from the western ghats of India, a hand painted postcard of different Indian gods, slightly tattered treasures of children’s books found in second hand bookstores, two small dishes for lighting lamps made of clay.IMG_6681                IMG_66421492359_10154716556510538_8770946996563245339_oCollecting treasures and tidbits, stories and flavors, thoughts and observations seem to have become a part of me now and many a time I had to remind myself that I actually didn’t know where I would be using these material or fictional treasures but collecting them had become second nature to me.

– I opted to teach a one month course at a Spanish institute, not wanting to lose touch with a language I had recently acquired and I found myself preparing for my classes and making materials and also interacting with my “adult students” in a very “Montessori” like manner. I made them many object boxes, we played the question game and the preposition game, I encouraged them to talk in Spanish using many indirect ways. But most of all, I noticed how I was creating for them a safe environment where they were being positively reinforced. I saw in so many of them the fear that comes from being unaccepted in an unfamiliar situation… I think my work, of course besides delivering the course and making sure they were ready for the exam at the end, was to create a slight bond with each one of them so as to then create a link to learning through that bond of acceptance!

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– I was a carer for a close family member ~ encountering in my spirit a patient, soothing presence much sought after in this time of need. It amazed me to realize how this side of me had certainly been nurtured by the care that we put in as Montessori guides observing and taking on the responsibility for not just the education but the daily well being of children and their needs…

At each stage of the process – preparation, surgery, post operative care and finally a return to normalcy and independence, I found myself exploring my own limits of patience and support, firmness and care, observation and presence, and eventually experiencing as part of the entire process a letting go emotionally and physically, giving way for independence!

– Speaking of letting go, being so far away from Mexico where I last worked in a Montessori school, I have kind of lost touch with the children and their families. However, not very long ago, I received a series of voice notes that melted my heart. The messages were sent to me through the mother of a girl that was in the school, Maria Camila ~ she updated me on the latest happenings after telling me how much she missed me, she also shared her holiday plans with me and asked me what I was doing in India and how my life was here! I shared with her a written response and the conversation ended with a final voice note wishing me a goodnight sleep and dreams of angels! ( a common phrase used in Mexico while wishing someone a good night)

Here I’ve shared only a few instances of this time away from the formal structure of the school that in fact have made me realize how much closer I am in my being to what I’ve identified with as my profession as of now…perhaps this journey will take me in another direction like it has so many of my “Montessori friends”, perhaps it won’t; but this time away has only made me observe how close I am, how there is no such thing as a break when who you are is so intrinsically linked to what you do….

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Our environment is prepared but have we prepared ourselves?

IMG_0177The past four days, with the beginning of a new school year around the corner, have been full of preparation mostly of the environment and a beautiful planning of our calender to see how we’d like to see our year unfold. Preparing the environment always brings to focus the important, the beautiful, the necessary. It always asks of us to be precise, to exercise our aesthetic sense,  to hold always so perfectly that inner and outer beauty, to be mindful about the carefully chosen objects and materials we are placing in the environment.

This mindfulness in the preparing of the environment helps us envision not just how we want the space designed but also how the care and the placing of each object adds meaning to the way in which it will be used. And this preparation is precious and satisfying and makes us share with each other and the children our love for the space and the materials – a precious fossil here, a painting to look at while waiting to use the bathroom, a tiny brush to clean the corners of the Movable Alphabet box, a flower in a vase, and the list could go on.

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But in the preparing of this environment shelf by shelf and corner by corner, my mind keeps wandering back to the preparation of the adult. To quote Montessori from the Absorbent Mind –

” We have to watch ourselves most carefully. The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than a learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.”

And while the watching and studying myself, the working with my own spirit, is work that goes on unconsciously when I am with the children, this ongoing preparation so to speak connects me to different aspects of my life where I am invited to work on these aspects with thought and precision.

Preparing myself helps me be prepared for the children in a sense that my well being results in theirs. To be in one’s center calls for a certain care. Sometimes, I notice that this care could be physical – a good night’s sleep, a big breakfast; at times it could be emotional – being able to have successfully expressed a strong emotion; at times it could be spiritual – a ten minute silence practiced just before the children enter; at times it could be in the form of inspiration – having read an insightful article the previous day,

This helps me be prepared for my work for the day to be the interpreter of the child, to observe without judgement, to act to present needs, to be careful to discriminate my actions from my reactions, to set myself at the pace of the child, to be wholly present to the needs of each child while at the same time to the needs of the group,

Is it possible then I ask myself to always bring freshness to each day – like when the water in the pouring water jars get murky and we change the water, or when the books in the library have been enjoyed and revisited many a day and we change them, how instantly the attention freshens when a new soap is placed in the washing hands material. How do we as adults find that freshness to replenish our work day in and day out?

Well I think that part of the work lies in our preparation and part of it lies in the way the environment is structured. A Montessori environment gives everyone in it present, an opportunity to –

Build community by being respectful not to just our own needs but also to the needs of others.

To exercise kindness and show empathy. Empathy and building community are not abstract values in a Montessori environment. They are practiced every day as opportunities arise for both adults and children. Empathy is what enables the adult to see what it is the child really needs and helps foster strong firmness when required. The repetition in exercising these values for both children and the adults brings about over a period of time a way of being that is intrinsically thoughtful, enabling us to place the needs of the community before our own, kind, joyful, loving, present and mindful.

Mindfulness is interwoven also into so many aspects of the work in the environment. Always in our presentations we are asking ourselves and showing the child that our actions and our thoughts are united. When we invite the child to participate in a presentation, we have observed his/her readiness for it – we have prepared ourselves to offer it to the child. We make sure it is available and ready to use on the shelf. We walk with the child, guiding him to take in our careful movements. It is a brief unison of our time that we are grateful for. In the handling of the objects we are precise. In the very sharing of what we want to offer we exude thoughtfulness, passion, joy and love for the material and it’s purpose.

We are always modelling the behavior, the feelings, the calmness, the care, the patience, the precision, we expect of the child and in doing so we are not just preparing ourselves to be better equipped for our work but we are also cultivating an environment of peaceful harmony in our inner and outer lives.

The prepared environment.

Today as I watched the first few children stumble into school after a snow day yesterday and after a long Christmas break before that, I started to think about this thing we call the “prepared environment.” What makes it so that these little beings, some not even 3 years old yet, seem so in charge of themselves and their actions in an environment that hasn’t been a part of their lives for over almost a month?

Four year old Juan Manuel greets me by the door where I am sitting in my usual spot, waiting to greet the children every single school day. He recounts for me having a snowball fight with his father the previous day excitedly and I share with him how I walked up a mountain in the snow. After our little exchange he walks over to hang his coat and then gazes at the snow outside for a brief moment before something deep inside him steers him with confidence to walk over to the sound cylinders. Surprisingly, the sound cylinders had been presented to him a month ago just before school closed for the holidays.

His day continues in this manner, with him making independent choices that keep his day full of new discoveries and experiences. Besides all the materials he chooses to work with his day is interspersed with brief social encounters, observations of other children working, the smiles we exchange across the room from time to time, staring out the window and a brief presentation from me on a new technique of how to use the clay.

After a few weeks of being away from this environment I am amazed again by how the children own this space in so many ways and how all the things they have internalized about this environment have become integrated with how they move here, what choices they make, and their relation to each other, to me and to the objects they encounter in their time here!! This environment is prepared for them not just in terms of materials that stimulate them intellectually but also include an environment that has been prepared on a certain sense of security – that no matter what, here they will find the security of routine, the security of actions being carried out in certain ways, the security of adults that will always strive to be consistent, the security of objects that will always be in their place – the blue hangers by the coat rack, the white water pitcher, the brush to dust sand off their feet. And it seems to me that in the gaining of this trust in us as adults, in the materials around them that help them be independent in their needs and in the experiences they have with the materials that are prepared for them to work with, they begin to develop into what seems to me evolved versions of themselves and in so many ways their real personalities begin to emerge.

It is a fruit of my work to see this in them and I know it is a gift for them to have this space in their lives. Especially since some of the children we work with come from very troubled backgrounds.  There is no easy way to recount this but I work with a 5 year old girl who over the break witnessed the body of an uncle who had been staying with her family for a while. She walked home with her mother one day to find the body hanging from the ceiling. This was extremely disturbing for me to hear and when she came back to school today I expected to feel for her empathy and pain and I hoped that I would be able to provide for her a sense of compassion without bordering on pity. I expected her to be shaken and withdrawn. And then what I saw reconfirmed for me that sometimes a school can be a haven from the world outside or the reality of a child’s life. This girl went, with a sort of hunger from one work to another, she played in the snow when we went outside for a bit, exchanged funny faces with a friend and if I hadn’t known what had happened over the holidays I would have never thought that she had been exposed to something so tragic. I know that problems of a psychological nature could be so much deeper and I don’t doubt that what she went through will torment her later in her life but I do hope that this little space of security and peace, prepared with so much love for her, will help her find in herself some strength to cherish the beauty of life!

Tambor times

So a simple quick group activity with a tambor – 

This group was conducted with 14 children. 

The children sat in a large circle (large circles are usually loose as opposed to tight and cosy circles which work better for other activities; in a large circle there is fairly enough space between each child) 

The adult plays the tambor in 3 different ways and demonstrates 3 different ways to move to each. Also there is a single drum beat to signify a complete halt!

The first rhythm is for a walk, the second is for a march and the third is for a gallop. 

The children are invited in small groups of 3’s and 4’s to walk,march,gallop,halt to the tambor.

More children can be added to the group depending on the day 🙂

 

 

Back to School!!!

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Getting back to a Montessori classroom after being away for a month and a half is refreshing. It is so important to go away – to travel, to spend time with adults to enjoy the world and to return renewed in your spirit and enthusiasm to something you love.

I brought back, from India, objects that would comfortably find their place in our precious environemnt with ease and beauty – a beautifully painted brass bowl, a one in a million wooden tray with a glass centre, a wooden elephant, hand made paper etc.

Adriana brought back beautiful and also practical things from her travels to Oaxaca and the United States – little steel cups to use as water recipients for Art, a beautiful dustpan and brush, little plates (platitos in Spanish) to be used as recipients for fine collage work or glue or paint, a coffee grinder!

We got to sharing our holiday treasures with each other before we sat down as a team with our admin staff too for a meeting to make a list of our schedule for this week of preparation. Here’s what our list looked like

Prepare environment.

Prepare for first parent meeting.

Make a schedule for the day – with times, to give ourselves and the children a security of routine.

Decide how we wanted the picnic table to be built outside as we will be eating together with the children outside.

To revisit our evaluations from last year and relook our goals for this coming year.

To have our first interviews with the parents of the children that are joining us new this year.

We then got to work. I started by working on the Math shelf, organising, dusting, making a list of all the materials that needed to be repaired, checking all the material to make sure they were complete, replacing paper where it was needed and adding a few objects here and there to give it new life.

When beginning a new year it is important not to change too many things around as the children come in expecting to find the same things in the same places. However, I enjoyed making subtle essential and aesthetic changes; changing a basket a bowl or a tray here and there just to draw that renewed interest for that material. Very satisfied with myself by the end I decided that there is no better feeling than the sense of knowing and feeling an ownership toward the environment one carefully plans and prepares with love and care for the children.

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A manner of ‘making it my own.’ A part of me in the setting up of that shelf. While I do believe it is important not to make the preparing of the environment more important than the child, there is a certain intelligence and skill that goes into this work which I enjoy so much. The balance of inner and outer beauty always guiding.