“What is social life if not the solving of social problems, behaving properly and pursuing aims acceptable to all? [It is not] sitting side by side and hearing someone else talk…”
– Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
One of the things that mattered most to my mother was welcoming others to her home. She set the stage for people to enter, relax and enjoy their time there, whether the visit was for a few minutes, hours or days. Hospitality was the order of the day. The same could be said of Maria Montessori. The cornerstones of her method are a prepared and inviting environment with grace and courtesy extended to all who enter.
I have had many occasions throughout my life to consider hospitality or preparing a welcoming environment and treating others with grace and courtesy. Sounds simple, and it can be if it is taught and expected. Most people can rise to expectations if they are clearly established and followed by all. It is a tall order, to be sure, but one that we each need to give and want to receive.
We have all hurt someone. As adults, we grow to understand how to minimize those occasions and how to apologize or make amends, whether or not the hurt we created was intentional. Children need to be taught how to care for others in these ways. They may not understand unintended consequences of their behavior. If they accidentally hurt someone, they may not feel they have any responsibility in that action. If they told a classmate their shoes were ugly yesterday, they may not realize that those words can stay with that child for a long time.
When looking for a school for my own children, one of the things that mattered most was the social and emotional care exhibited by the school. If children do not feel welcome, safe and cared for as individuals, learning is harder. If problems are not addressed with respect and kindness as they arise, it is more difficult for children to feel welcome and safe. We all know what it feels like to be included and respected. And we know what it is like to be excluded. In a Montessori environment, the prepared environment and the grace and courtesy established to create a welcoming classroom community extend beyond classroom walls. Children learn to look others in the eye, to firmly shake their hands, to put things back where they belong, and to care for their materials and for each other. Yes, there will always be bumps along the way, but one things is certain, they are valued and treated with kindness and respect. Problems arise and are addressed. Everyone has a seat at the table. All are welcome.