What New Friends Teach Us

A really cool thing happened this week.  One of our early childhood classes (3-6 year-olds) had three new students on Monday.  The teacher had discussed them with the class the previous week. In circle the students learned the new friends’ names and discussed what their needs might be.  They talked about what they would need to know, like where the bathroom was and how to serve themselves snack.  They also talked about how the students would feel – nervous and excited.  They thought about things they could do to help them learn about the classroom and be successful.  That was Friday.

On Monday they welcomed the new students into class in morning circle.  And then, when the students were dismissed to work, without a word from the teacher, three of the older students each approached a new friend and took them under their wing.  The teacher told me about how they showed them around the classroom, shared the rules, and even gave them their first lessons on how to work with the classroom materials.  One pair, she said, worked together on a material that the older student had mastered years before for the good part of an hour.

Montessori teachers will read this and say, “Of course.  This is not remarkable, this is what they are capable of and what they learn to do.” But to me this is more than remarkable.  It is beautiful. To build in our students the awareness of others, the concern and empathy and consideration, is a great responsibility. To have an environment where this happens naturally, with little formal structure, with students of such a young age is a great privilege.

This didn’t happen by accident. The teacher has worked hard over the last few years to develop this culture in her classroom. The lessons of grace and courtesy that are at the core of every good Montessori environment have been practiced here again and again.  And the impact is enormous. Think of all the learning that happened. The new student not only learned the basics of what they need to know about the classroom, but they learned that they will be treated with respect and care not only by the adults in their new school, but by the students.  The first interaction taught them how being thoughtful and caring for others is at the core of what being a student here means. The older students looked at their classroom with new eyes, identifying the things that are so familiar to them that they take it for granted.  And they were able to see how much they had learned by going back to their earliest lessons and giving it to another.  The teacher was able to see how the new students interact with peers (something they don’t get a chance to see in the admissions interview) and how the older students are developing new social abilities and awareness.  All this happened in the first hour of the week.

So, what do you think?