At two very different times and in two very different forums, Maria Montessori and Jack Nicholson (in "As Good as It Gets") both expressed similar sentiments: that it is often our relationships with others that make us strive to be better people. For Jack Nicholson, it was Helen Hunt. For Maria Montessori, it was children. Whether we are parents, relatives, teachers or friends of a child, we all know the many ways that the presence of a child in our lives makes us better people.
An observation that we, the teachers and staff at Aidan Montessori School, have shared is as follows: we work with the children in the classroom, helping them to manipulate Montessori materials, use their words, serve themselves, help each other and work toward independence. Then, we run into these children in a public place, and we are struck by how small they are. Sure enough, we eventually run into these capable individuals at the mall or grocery store, and we are reminded that these masters of classroom materials and social challenges are, in some cases, just two or three years old.
In the morning at drop off, it sometimes seems they grow bigger as they walk toward the building, like some optical illusion having more to do with ability than size. With lunch boxes in hand and hunching backpacks, they enter the building, unload into their cubby, and become the commanders of their own learning. I have wondered if the view from the car is one of a child getting smaller as s/he walks away. Because our children inhabit several universes, it is often tricky to imagine them in their other worlds.
Our children learn in so many environments, not just a Montessori one. Whether they are crawling, reaching, touching, arguing, falling, hurting, needing, speaking, watching... they learn. While we do so very much to optimize their learning, the truth is that it would take Herculean (and quite probably unmentionable) acts to prevent their learning. Our children learn regardless.
Whichever of their worlds they may be in, we, the adults who follow them, are in perpetual awe. The reason we are in awe is that we know that as much as we are learning from observing our children, we also know they are learning exponentially more. And, we know that they better us.