In the USA of the rocking 60’s, despite the revolutionary twenty somethings, the acceptable career choices for a woman were three: secretary, teacher or nurse. Having turned down the first two options, Patricia landed in college to become a nurse. She was actually doing exceedingly well because she was taking good care of her patients and had a compassionate nature but she had a feeling this was not her life calling. So, after two years of studying hard, she decided to take a break and went on a life journey to Europe together with her friend Elizabeth. Having little money, they hitchhiked here and there and babysitted for wealthy families of the European bourgeois. In one of these European houses, Patricia had the opportunity to read a book about Dr Maria Montessori. A little later during her European wanderings luck brought her at the doorstep of a Montessori school in Holland. Pure coincidence? There is no such thing. The road was now open. Coming back to America she decided to leave nursing and started her training as a Montessori educator under the supervision of Renilde Montessori (Maria Montessori’s granddaughter) in Toronto, Canada.
I believe it is no accident that in the Montessori tradition, teachers are called guides and schools are referred to as communities. It is a great responsibility and a great honor to guide a child through life, show her the way to grasp joy and knowledge, enable her to bloom.
For the last 15 years Patricia Oriti has been acting as a mentor to the guides of a large number of Montessori communities. She offers them coaching, talks, and seminars that aim to refresh their minds on Dr Montessori’s vision of an education that embraces the body, mind, and soul of a child. I am a keen follower of Patricia for the last ten years and I listen to her each time she makes her annual visit to Greece. Her view that the path to become a better parent can be taken any time, whether your child is 6 months or 16 years old, has always been a source of inspiration and hope for me. There is always room for improvement of the parent-child relationship and opportunities for parents and children to become happier and more functional human beings. As long as we don’t stick to our mistakes, dwell into guilt and self loath, and not allow ourselves to get sick from worrying but focus on the strengths we have developed as parents we can use these strengths to make conscious choices, mindful decisions and set feasible goals.
But what is the basis of Montessori educational system? It is a child-centered pedagogical system that has respect for the child’s personality and feelings, employs its own educational means and encourages learning through the senses and through research. One of Montessori’s main principles is that it acknowledges 5 developmental needs for children:
- The need for belonging
- The need for independence
- The need for movement
- The need for expression and communication through language
- The need for order (external and internal order)
It is our duty as adults to fulfil these developmental needs of the child at all age levels. Interestingly enough, the Montessori approach divides childhood in four levels: 0-6 years old, 6-12 years old, 12-18 years old, and 18-24 years old. I feel intrigued by the Montessori idea that the traits of the first period (0-6) return in the third period (12-18), that is to say, during adolescence. And, being a mom of a 13 year old, I have observed this idea in practice. Do you feel puzzled that the Montessori people acknowledge a fourth level of childhood that starts after 18? Well, don’t. It is a time in life when the “mature teenager” makes decisions for his role and mission in life. For those of us who never had the intuition and courage to define our mission before the age of 24, we had a hard time in the years that followed!
Another aspect of the Montessori education that I am keen on, is the connection it makes with the activities of everyday life (such as producing and preparing the food we eat, cleaning the space we use, washing our clothes, etc) with an emphasis on contribution towards the community. This way the child is taught to cater for himself and then for his family, for his school, for his neighborhood, and for the broader community and gradually to find out what is his mission in the world.
I feel grateful as a parent in having met Patricia Oriti and for all the support, empowerment and inspiration I have drawn from her. In the last five years, there has been a flourishing of Montessori preschool establishments in Athens. Unfortunately, this flourishing doesn’t move onto the next levels of education due to the rigid Greek law system concerning establishment of school units. However, if you are lucky enough to encounter individuals like Patricia, who are dedicated to their cause, embrace children with love and respect and embrace parents with understanding and encouragement, grab the chance and you will not regret a might-have-been!
The Greek version of this post is here.