Where the child's interest inspires great work
Maitri Learning creates educational materials that are research-based, accurate, beautiful, durable, and usable. Maitri Learning was founded somewhat accidentally by a Montessori teacher who was trying to buy the perfect materials for her classroom and couldn't find them anywhere. Now, the materials she created (based specifically on the precise directions received in her AMI training) are used by Montessori teachers, parents, and teacher trainers around the world. We are named after the Buddhist word maitri which means 'having a compassionate, kind heart.' We keep the principle of maitri at the front of all of our business decisions.
Maitri is a green, eco-friendly, fair-wage, right-livelihood, woman-owned business. We pay all of our employees at least $15/hour, which should be our country's national minimum wage. Our prices reflect these fair labor costs along with the higher costs of environmentally-sound paper, toxin-free laminate, and inks made without ozone-depleting substances.
It seems like every third research paper I come across is about how dramatically a child's home life influences their academic life. It puts this great pressure on we educators to try and expand our teaching from the students to their families. But, we're generally unprepared to do this. Instead, we end up getting frustrated and depressed and feeling like what we really need to do is grab those parents by the neck, bang their heads against the wall, and yell, "Your child doesn't listen to you because he thinks you only talk to your cell phone! How can your child learn when he is so tired he fell asleep on the toilet!"
Okay, so while I've never actually done any of those things (only fantasized about them), I don't expect they would be terribly effective either with the parents or the school district. So, what is an ever-gracious and patient Montessorian to do?
I just got off the phone with Michelle Boyle (the really happy grown up in the picture), the founding Head Teacher at Libertas Public Montessori School of Memphis. Her school opens its doors for the first time this August. We were talking about ideas on engaging families and preparing staff... how to get things off to a good start. And what was the first topic that came up? The bathrooms. That's right, we were thinking about the onerous job of cleaning pee off of the floor (which we all inevitably do during those first few weeks of school). But the question is, what can you do about the bathrooms so that they don't end up requiring a police force to monitor them? The answer, of course, is in practical life.
In so many classrooms I see children using objects and pictures with the movable alphabet. I usually also see that the child is not terribly interested in using the movable alphabet. It is often something they are supposed to do and not really what they want to do. I also don't see any stories or phrases being written with the alphabet. They are stuck on single words.
If you observe in a classroom like this, you'll probably notice a few things that are missing, particularly from the spoken language presentations.
1. Learning that they have something to say
First, the children are not given lessons on how to turn their thoughts into verbal expressions. A key lesson for this is conversations at a picture. In this lesson, you go to one of the beautiful pieces of art your have framed in your room...and swap out every month or so... and say, "I love this picture. I see so many things in it. What do you see?" Of course, this extends beyond artwork to everything of interest in the room, plants, pets, looking out the window,