The Role of Grandparents in Montessori Education

Montessori Quote

Currently, Peggy and I are in Westport CT visiting our grandchildren. The occasion is “Grandparents’ Day” in their Montessori School a week from Friday (May 27th). Maggie (our daughter) has asked me to say a few words as part of the morning’s program. Here’s what I plan to share:

The Role of Grandparents in Montessori Education

Isn’t Grandparents’ Day great?  I’m so happy to be here – as I’m sure we all are – to celebrate our grandchildren. Today I’m here to glory in four of my own:  Eva, Oscar, Orlando, and Markandeya. They’re following in the footsteps of their mother (my daughter) Maggie, who attended Montessori school in Boulder Colorado so many years ago.

This school is such a gift! Recently, I heard our 7 year old granddaughter, Eva, discussing her Montessori experience with one of her friends who attends a normal public school.  Her friend was saying how she’s so bored and just doesn’t like it. Eva said, “O, I love school. Everything we do there is a game. It’s fun.”

We grandparents admired that spirit and reality as we sat in on our grandchildren’s classes today – didn’t we?  We were edified as we observed those we love so much:

  • Practicing democracy in the workplace. (They call all of their activities “work.”)
  • Determining their own learning processes. (They move from one work site to another as they’re led by interest.)
  • Thinking for themselves.
  • Settling conflicts without violence.
  • Taking care of their environment.

The irony is that on the one hand, we applaud all of that as self-evidently admirable. We implicitly agree that it’s the ideal way the world should work. Isn’t that true?

And yet on the other hand, during our long lives, we’ve settled for a world:

  • Where our work lives have often been determined by (shall we say) less than enlightened bosses.
  • Who would rather we thought like them – for eight hours a day or more.
  • Where our work itself is drudgery rather than interesting.
  • Where international conflicts are addressed by bombings and war.
  • And where we are systematically destroying our habitat.

Where did we go wrong?

The question brings me back to this gathering. We are a Council of Elders. If this were a Native American gathering (or if we were in a culture that truly respected its seniors) our assembly would be considered especially holy.

Though we don’t live in a culture like that, our gathering today represents an occasion for facing ourselves, calling on our accumulated wisdom and asking: How will we prevent our grandchildren from contradicting everything they’re learning in this school and ending up like us – often unhappy in our work and inheriting a planet that Pope Francis (an 80 year old senior himself) said is becoming a huge “garbage dump?”

Our tools for accomplishing that pedagogical task are our own example, our wise counsel, our wallets and the organizations we support, the ballot box, and (for some of us) direct action in the streets. I’m sure you can think of others.

I suppose my ironic conclusion is that today our grandchildren are somehow teaching us. They’re reminding us of the way the world should be.

My suggestion here is that we use those tools I mentioned to prevent them from forgetting what they’re teaching today – from making the same mistakes our generation has made. Using especially our wise counsel and what we’ve learned from our long lives, we can save our grandchildren from lives of drudgery. We can help them save the planet.

Maria Montessori was right about education and following our instincts. We all have a “rage to know,” a rage to learn, a desire to live in harmony with nature. After all:

  • Birds fly.
  • Fishes swim.
  • Children learn.

Yes, all of that is true. But it’s also true that GRANDPARENTS TEACH. To paraphrase Crosby, Stills and Nash: It’s up to us to “Teach Our Grandchildren Well.” Whatever our age may be, we’re not done yet.  Our task is incomplete. We still have contributions to make.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

4 thoughts on “The Role of Grandparents in Montessori Education”

  1. And I would add to the Montessori method the encouragement of wondering – why are things the way they are? Why is the sky blue? Why do we have to breathe oxygen to live? What happened to the air when the volcanoes erupted? Why does the air smell bad when we burn garbage in incinerators? Why does the air smell worse in Bridgeport than in Westport?
    To find out the answers to the wondering questions. And to imagine a way to enhance the good and correct the bad.


  2. Congratulations Mike! You are so fortunate. I have few regrets in my life, but one is that I did not discover Montessori Method until all of my children were already in middle school, after an internet discussion with another parent and teacher. I complained that there ought to be an individualized education plan for every child, and she informed me that there already is — Montessori. I discovered that while the name of Montessori is well-known, the particulars are not discussed openly, even in most teaching classes. Recently I came across a Pearson textbook which provided actual disinformation on Montessori Method. How did the distortions happen?

    For one thing, Montessori was scandalous. She was acknowledged as a genius, but for her time she was scandalous; Montessori smoked cigarettes (a habit she had picked up during medical studies, when she had to dissect cadavers and needed to overcome the nauseating odor of formaldehyde). Even more scandalous, naive young Montessori bore a son out of wedlock (and had to give him up for others to raise, as was the custom of the time).

    On top of those two major social handicaps, Montessori was opposed by one of the most influential teaching professors of her time: William Heard Kilpatrick, of Teacher’s College/Columbia University. Kilpatrick was famous for his lecturing style, while Montessori’s method asked the teacher to be a direct quietly, off to the side, allowing children to take the initiative.

    You are so fortunate that your children and grandchildren were able to access this advantage. My personal observation is that a good Montessori preschool education (about age 2-1/2 to 5) puts a child ahead by five years of elementary school, and enhances their confidence tremendously.

    Again, congratulations!


    1. Very interesting, Mary. You’re right about being privileged to access Montessori education. And Maria herself is inspiring — in some measure because of the “scandal” of her life. I also like the distinction between teacher as “guide at the side,” rather than “sage on the stage.” I’m sure that Montessori education does give its early beneficiaries a real “head start.”


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