Last Saturday morning, rain poured down heavy and thick, with dire weekend predictions threatening area harvest festivals. But inside the Children’s House classroom, soft lamp-light glowed and the quiet buzz of adults talking ebbed and flowed.
This was the Montessori Discovery weekend. We were doing our work.
Parents sat on rugs, splayed out on the floor, or folded their long legs to fit into tiny chairs. Some worked alone, shaking tubes to compare and contrast sounds, or practiced pouring water from a glass pitcher to a bowl. Others worked in a small group to put together a puzzle map on the floor.
I kneeled on a square rug, counting tiny beads.
“These are in sets of 10,” the guide explained to me. “This block makes up 100. So the children learn that 10 of the 10-bead-strings make 100.” She showed me how the chains of beads collapsed and expanded and explained how the kids would learn later to link the bead counts to the abstract idea of number symbols.
I nodded. Conceptually, I knew this is how 100 worked—10 sets of 10. But to hold the little beads in my hands, to fold and unfold them—10 lines of 10—awakened in me something soft and tender.
I swallowed hard. My face flushed. I was 41 years old. I’d sat at frosted-glass boardroom tables, explored my share of twisted cobbled lanes and snow-capped mountains, and mastered middle-of-the-night diaper changes. But never before had I held in my hands something as simple and elegant as a set of beads, 10 by 10, that equaled 100. I could immediately see how the concrete beads became the abstract numbers.
Who would I have become, I thought, if I’d learned this way?
I sat back on my knees. I smiled at the guide, pretending like I was still paying attention—she was still gently showing me how the beads work. But inside I mourned for the eager little girl of my childhood who would have loved to spend hours truly understanding these beads.
This is what I remember of my early education:
- Classrooms filled with desks in long rows
- Heavy textbooks— lots of them
- My sick-to-the-stomach panic if I didn’t know “the right answer” and terror if I didn’t get an “A”
Montessori is none of this. This is why we chose Stepping Stones—I knew this intellectually.
But the Montessori Discovery made my intellectual understanding of these ideals something far more real. Now, every morning when I drop my girls off at school, hand them their lunch bags, and say, “Have a good day!”—they sometimes look back and wave and sometimes run on ahead—I think of how I sat on the rug that rainy Saturday morning, fighting back tears over a handful of beads. I know now in my body that today my girls will go to their classroom and do work that is strong and beautiful and true, the ultimate gift that nurtures a lifetime love of learning.