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One of the last places one might expect to find an article about Alice Waters, the owner and chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., is in an issue of Architectural Digest. She may be best known for urging us to eat local and healthy foods, but she is also dedicated to education, helping children learn where their food comes from and how to prepare it. She is a Montessori teacher.

Alice WatersI was awakened around design when I went to France when I was 19. I was living in a culture that really cared about food in a big way. They valued how it was served in all aspects, in terms of what was on the plate, what that plate looked like, and what that napkin looked like, and what things were in the room that reinforced what was on the plate. I just absorbed that sense of beauty connected to food and the aliveness of food. I also see this as a Montessori teacher. Dr. Montessori really believed that the senses need to be educated, that they are the pathways into our minds, and so the idea of something looking right and being able to touch, to be able to smell, to be able to taste, to hear, to listen, these are all ways that we can reach people and we can awaken them. I had that real experience when I was in France, and then I thought about the restaurant in that way, using that subtlety of reaching people through aroma and through their actually touching the food, engaging them and sort of winning them over.

Wow! What a great description of the sensory experiences provided to children in a toddler and primary Montessori programs. What a wonderful description of the way the environment influences all experiences: restaurants, homes, schools and more. What a fully integrated approach to the human connection to our food.

We come alive through our senses. Many of our memories come back to us through a sound, image or smell. Dr. Montessori knew this. She understood that our environment matters and that we need multiple ways to experience it. We need to nurture those things that wake us up and make us pay attention. The environment does that. A classroom that is carefully created, visually appealing, nurturing and warm creates a safe space for learning. A school that says “welcome” by the way the entry is designed or the furniture is arranged helps to create a community. The environment we establish is the introduction to who we are and that we matter. How have your senses been awakened today?