The Key

work by Tom Lantane

I have been reading a lot about schedules in the Montessori elementary environment. Children given work plans for the day or week, to ensure that all areas are covered, especially in literacy and mathematics.

Nowhere in Montessori’s words have I encountered this recommendation.

I understand the tremendous pressure exerted by society that we direct, teach and quantify, but we work for bigger and better things. Our hope is that our children find their ‘key’ which they can use for the rest of their lives.

The key is always within reach in our environments. It is acquired slowly, by living in a community and engaging in self-chosen work. To acquire the key, the child needs to be left free.

It makes me think of all the little glimpses of connections that I have seen the children make this week. Many-a-time unconsciously with the youngest elementary child.

A child who is in the ‘romance’ period for mathematics, is mesmerized by numbers – the larger, the better.

For months now, he has stayed away from culture. He has received the presentations with interest, but has done little or no follow up work with them.

Then, quite out of the blue, he got the dinosaur cards from the shelf. Related them to the Mesozoic era folders we have in the environment and started exploring their weights and sizes. True to the characteristics of the elementary child, he kept making comparisons with the numbers, “I am the same weight as the Velociraptor”. For three day he worked on this – He measured the dinosaurs out in string, he drew them, he classified them.

via the Great Cretaceous Walk

Upon finishing, I was curious to see how his transition would go. I observed him sitting near his locker for a while. I was called away and when I came back I saw him with the reptile characteristic cards (Chinese boxes), a material that helps with the basics of zoology classification. He worked with this for a day.

The next day, he came in and went straight to the library for books on snakes. Again, the next three days he worked on nothing but snakes.

19th Century Ink and Watercolour

One experience led to the seeking of another.

I wonder if this free flow would have been possible if he had been given a daily plan.

The thread weaving these experiences is very visible in the anecdote I have just shared.

The love of numbers saw the boy explore dinosaurs. While exploring them, reptiles in general called to him, for dinosaurs are after all, reptiles.

He went from a small detail to a bigger picture.

While working on reptiles, just one type, snakes, caught his attention. Some were l-o-n-g and it is their lengths that spurred him into work.

From the bigger picture of reptiles, he came back to a detail!

In other cases the thread might be hazy, making it difficult for us to ‘see’ what is being connected.

It makes me think of some of the children that I have worked with – Children who had not yet started self-directing when they came into the elementary environment. They have taken such different routes to acquiring the skills for self-direction.

Today, these same children express joy at work, choose ever increasing levels of challenge for themselves and are frequently called upon to help others.

Had we lost faith in the child and directed their day, I wonder if the children would have found their ‘key’.

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori

parallel play

After a lesson on making shades with paint, the child was engrossed for the next 2 days…painstakingly adding measured drops of black paint to carefully counted pools of the base colour…going from the lightest of greens to a dark, dark green, from the palest of blues to a prussian.

Colour Tablets via NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

In the afternoon, the child received a lesson on compound words. Two words come together and from them grows a ‘new’ word …’pin’ + ‘wheel’ = pinwheel

Pin Wheel via Runner Duck

The next day we sat together sharing stories, thoughts, observations. The child was pensive and said, “I learnt that you don’t need to work with words to make things ‘compound’, you can do that with paint’.

In wikipedia, lateral thinking is defined as “Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person would use lateral thinking when they want to move from one known idea to creating new ideas.”


After a story on the evolution of cells, the lower elementary children were enamoured with all things bacterial and cellular.

The coming together of bacteria to make a cell really touched their imaginations.

They enacted the evolution of the cell, they drew pictures, made models, wrote reports …

When 2 children found an amicable solution to a problem, requiring both of them to be accommodating, a third child who had observed this, commented as he passed by, “you have co-operated just like the bacteria who came together and made the cell”

That afternoon as we sat outdoors for lunch, one of the boy rested against a flower pot. He was asked to move by a few children who he ignored, until, one of his friends anxiously said, “V please move, you are hurting the plant cells!”

He shot up and changed his seat to a less intrusive spot.

Thyme-moss under a light microscope via fybiology

So, I present to you a teeny-tiny glimpse of cosmic education at work.

Living and working in a Montessori environment, our children have the light in their eyes and hearts, shining bright.

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe. . . for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori (To Educate the Human Potential)