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The Power of Observation, the Emergence of Story

Posted by on 07 June 2015

As a parent, one of the things I learned early on from my children’s Montessori school was the importance of observation in the Montessori method. On my first visit to a classroom I was instructed to quietly go to a chair in the corner of the room and simply sit and silently observe. I was not to interact with children, except to nod politely.  In an elementary classroom, I could respond graciously to an offer of tea. The children hardly noticed me, but as I became comfortable with my own stillness and quiet, I noticed them more fully. I saw things in that heightened state of attention that I might have missed if I had simply walked through on a tour.

Maria Montessori herself practiced observation to understand how children learn. Classroom guides practice this skill, taking notes along the way, so that they can adapt their lessons to each child’s development.

I am learning that making a documentary film is also a practice of observation. For all the research, planning, and fundraising that we do, when it comes down to it, actually making the film is about paying attention, watching, and listening. Of course, all of the pre-work makes it possible to be ready to pay attention, noticing the details of voice, expression, and movement that emerge as we simply observe. So the making of our film, like a Montessori classroom, requires a prepared environment.

A week in Dallas, following the people and immersing ourselves in the places connected to Lumin Education schools, reminded me of why we began our Building the Pink Tower project in the first place. Through listening, we heard the power that Montessori education has had in the lives of teachers, parents, and most importantly, children. By watching, we saw the beauty of materials used by children’s hands. We saw the interaction between children as they worked intently together. We saw and heard how Montessori education elevates the humanity of any community that experiences it.

We watched Lumin Wesley-Rankin School director Charo Alarcon demonstrate to parent educators how to present a simple lesson to toddlers in their homes, each movement careful and deliberate. The parent, she told us later, has everything a child needs right there at home. Nothing fancy necessary, just presence and intention.

We heard parent educator Ruthy Suni presenting banana cutting to a young toddler while also talking to the child’s mother in Spanish. To avoid overwhelming the family’s small living room, Jan and I listened to the audio feed as director of photography Adrian Danciu filmed inside. Neither of us speak Spanish, yet we heard the care and respect in every word.

We observed a child wearing an apron and carrying a tray move proudly through the classroom offering apple slices to his peers as they worked.

We heard a young man about to graduate from high school reflect on his Montessori education in his elementary years: “Now I want to be a Montessori teacher.”

People have asked us whether we have a planned script for the film. We do have a plan to open eyes to the power and beauty of Montessori education. We have ideas for key elements of Montessori to share and myths to unravel. We have a message about Montessori education changing how we approach schools and learning. But for now, I would not call it a script. Instead, we are observing as Montessori has taught us to do, watching the story emerge from behind a camera.

-- Vina Kay


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