Some time ago the teachers and staff of Riverbend Montessori had an opportunity to attend training on Mindfulness in the Montessori Environment. During the daylong session, we were able to learn a number of mindfulness practices. What struck me as the day progressed were the inherent similarities between mindfulness practice and that of Montessori education.
Central to both mindfulness practice and Montessori is concentrated attention. Dr. Montessori believed that concentration led to what she called “normalization” which is when a psychologically healthy state is achieved. In the classroom, that state is observed when a child is being constructive and kind in their behavior. When a child is routinely engaged in focused work they will be in a normalized state.
In our classrooms, we have what we call uninterrupted work periods that support the development of deep and sustained concentration. Children have enough time during the work period to absorb fully the knowledge made available to them in various pieces of work. In a conventional school environment, you typically have shorter periods of work driven by the external stimulus of the teacher. (Lillard, 2011)
The sensory environment of a Montessori school is very much like the particular attention paid to sensory experience in mindfulness practice. Our toddlers and three-year-olds spend a great deal of time learning to differentiate between smells, colors, tastes, sounds, and textures. We even play a game called “The Silence Game”. When the teacher chimes her bell, the entire class will become silent with the aim of becoming fully aware of their surroundings. When the teacher again chimes her bell, the students will discuss what they experienced and heard. Another game called “Walking the Line” requires the child to turn their concentration inward and to become aware of their body in relation to the environment. (NAMC, 2012)
In our classroom, students are given lessons on how to interact with and move in their environment. Children are shown how to walk carefully and not run or skip in the classroom. They carefully bring a rug to the floor to work and are asked not to walk over another’s rug. Children learn how to set up their own work and when finished how and where to restore it. These are not simply good classroom management techniques but rather these are life skills of grace and courtesy. The children are learning how to be mindful of their actions.
Bringing attention to the tasks of everyday living is another important aspect of mindfulness practice. And so it is in the Montessori classroom. The work of practical life is found throughout the school. Toddlers learning to sweep up crumbs and clean their dishes. Primary children polishing brass and scrubbing tables and older children tending to their gardens throughout the year are but a few examples. In conventional school environments, there is precious little opportunity to turn away from abstract academic pursuits. In Montessori schools, we give many of these opportunities because we know that we are giving a child the possibility of completing a practical activity important to their daily lives. These practical activities involve goal setting, planning, execution, and the development of focus, all important life skills.
In addition, our use of stories can be seen as having direct links to mindfulness practice. In the elementary classroom, the use of stories abounds. The year starts with an explanation of the “5 Great Stories: The birth of the universe, the beginning of life on earth, the beginning of humankind, and the invention of symbols and math.” (Lillard, 2011) The underlying point of these stories is to demonstrate to students the interconnectedness of all things. An important concept in mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness in the Montessori environment not only helps to develop the executive functioning of a child but helps the child to learn life skills that will take them well beyond the classroom and into the adventure that is life.
- Lillard, Angeline S. “Mindfulness Practices in Education: Montessori’s Approach.” Mindfulness 2.2 (2011)
- NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog, Website, 05/18/2012