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Birthday or Bird day

August 31

Bird Day on Maria’s 150th Birthday

Dr. Montessori lived through World War II and had to flee Nationalist dictators in Europe to take refuge in Pakistan and India. She experienced first-hand the result of oppression and unnecessary human suffering. She dedicated her life to Peace Education and revealed to us the unique power within “the child” to bring this about through “education from birth”! This is the “great work” we have dedicated ourselves to. Today we celebrate with fellow Montessorians throughout the world Dr. Montessori’s 150th birthday and her great legacy.

This morning as I walked, I heard the familiar shuffling sound of the rafter of turkeys I watch roam through our property each day. It dawns on me this morning, as I begin my walking meditation, that they are joining me in my walk. They slowly and mindfully take each step, frequently pausing, looking deeply out around them and down into the leaf duff.

A little later in the morning, I took a trip to a friend’s home to pick up some dishes she had saved for me. As I headed down the first hill, a barn owl swooped across the road and majestically soared into the forest. I do a double-take in disbelief!

After leaving my friend’s home, on my return trip, I noticed two pure white pigeons nestled into the cleft of the incline on the side of our infrequently traveled country road. The quick flash of white on the rocky cliff caught my eye, and I pulled over and get out to see them more closely. Phone camera in hand, I started clicking. They remained still, appearing to pose for me! They were so peaceful as they sat staring at me.

Later in the evening, as I was eating dinner near our bay window, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a Coopers hawk land on the deck railing. It didn’t stay for long, only to make momentary eye contact before it reversed direction and flew away.

I was left pondering the abundance of bird visits during this special birthday and the message perhaps they had to share with me. I thought of the attributes of Dr. Montessori that were revealed in my avian visitors: The deep, quiet observation and attention to detail of the turkeys, the wisdom of the barn owl, the peacefulness of the pigeons, and the keen alertness and resoluteness of the hawk. These have been characteristics that I have sought in my work with children. As our nation continues to struggle with acceptance of diversity of humans, I cannot help but notice, like the turkeys on my daily walks, that diversity is a constant in nature.

Under my feet on the path I find a diversity of leaf shapes that have fallen from the branches above. This gift of diversity is what makes my walk so interesting. No leaf, even from the same tree, is identical to another; every leaf I pick up to examine is unique. They share some common qualities with each other, but each is an individual.

We share this diversity of leaves with the children in a Montessori classroom through our botany cabinet of cut out leaf shapes. The children learn the scientific names and look for plants that have that particular leaf shape. Together, we look deeper and find the commonality of the leaves by learning about their parts: blade, stipules, margin, and veins and some have petioles and others are directly attached to the stem. The seed is planted within the child that diversity is a gift that causes us to wonder and seek what new forms we will discover next.

Above me on my walks there is often a diverse collection of birds and bird songs. They call out to each other announcing my arrival. I look up, like the Coopers hawk, to see if I can find the well camouflaged birds to attempt to identify them. They are so clever as they dart about from a black oak tree to a fir, or from the heather to the holly bush to evade revealing their identity. Once my arrival has been announced, the birds settle back into whatever they were doing before I arrived. I again hear a diversity of songs as their call and responses to each other surround me. Occasionally, even in the avian world, I will hear the squawks of a territorial dispute between species like an acorn woodpecker chasing off a Steller’s jay. Part of our work in the classroom is to help children settle these daily disputes by using their words. At home with our own children, these property lines are even harder to negotiate.

Again, in the Montessori primary classroom, we share and celebrate this gift of diversity with the children through 3-part language picture cards that allow us to teach the children the name associated with each bird species. We go outside to try to locate and observe the birds living in our yard. We listen for their unique call and song as we distinguish it from another. We use another set of 3-part language picture cards to take a deeper look at what birds have in common, their body parts. We marvel at the diversity of their beaks, claws, tails, feather colors and patterns, etc. all designed to help them thrive and survive in their environment and to carve out their unique place in the world.

Through work with the Montessori natural science material, children naturally learn that diversity is a constant in nature, is what makes life interesting, and inspires their research projects. They develop a sense of wonder and awe and grow to have a deep respect for all life forms and an open acceptance of differences.

The Montessori classroom is composed of mixed ages of children, 3 to 6-year-olds and 6 to 12-year-olds, which also creates a vast mixture of abilities. Children grow in understanding of and compassion for the diverse abilities of others. They often reach out and quietly offer their service or support like the white pigeons, enriching their own development in the process. They grow to see that a diversity of life forms and abilities is woven throughout the fabric of life.

Dr. Montessori recognized that “the child” is our greatest hope for peace and acceptance of others. She called our attention to the fact that “the adult” is already formed but “the child” is in the process of construction. Due to being under construction, the child’s will is still flexible and able to adapt to whatever environment they are born. On the contrary, the adult’s will is often determined and is unlikely to change. Thank you, Dr. Montessori for your insight, wisdom, compassion, and resolve. May we, in our own work, mirror these great qualities. Happy 150 Maria Montessori!

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