A recent decorating experience of trying to paint the join between a coloured wall and a white ceiling got me thinking in a practical way about straight lines. The trickiness involved in holding the paintbrush at exactly the right angle, loaded with exactly the right amount of paint while balancing the paint pot and myself at the top of a ladder standing on uneven floorboards required a degree of concentration and skill.
This is the same level of concentration and skill that a small child brings to the practical life activities in the Montessori classroom, and the same satisfaction when it is mastered, in my case, when my line joining ceiling to wall looked professionally straight.
But are we in danger, with our children, of marking out straight lines that we’d like them to follow as they develop and grow? Those fanatical fathers bawling support and advice at their child who, never keen in the first place, actively comes to hate football. Or the maestro mums, and at the time I was one, insisting on piano lessons and practice at all costs.
And particularly in school, where the curriculum is all mapped out, regardless of what the child might, at any point, be passionately focused on. At least in a Montessori school this should not be so, because the curriculum is individualised for each child according to his or her interests, but so often what is offered to the children is mediated by the wishes of the parents, or the compromises the Montessori school has to make to exist at all within the rigidity of the state education system.
One of Montessori ‘s biggest discoveries was that children teach themselves.1 We need to keep firmly in mind that as long as there are no obstacles, all the children will get there in the end. But where is ‘there’? Well, we don’t know, and at the time, neither do they. But one thing is certain: there are no straight lines.
Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, 1988, p.5.