He was two years old. His shirt and pants were inside out and backward, and his shoes were on the wrong feet. His mother told me that dressing himself was part of his education. He was the first Montessori student I met, and I didn’t know then that I would become enchanted with Montessori students and the method. Today, I am a Montessori guide.
I arrived in Puerto Rico over a decade ago. Two of the first people I met were guides. I did not know that I was two weeks pregnant and would soon need to make important decisions about my son, like putting him on a waiting list for the school where my new acquaintances worked.
For several months before my son could enter the school, we enrolled him in a popular daycare center. I observed the first day how the children were herded from one activity to the next and expected to sit or stand as instructed. My son cried every day. Finally, when he was about eighteen months old, we got the call that there was a space for him in the Montessori school. Everything changed for our family.
I would ask my son what he did at school. The answer was invariably, “I worked.” He was doing work that was meaningful, and he still sees it as important, necessary work that fulfills him. He goes to work just like Papá and me. He shares more about his days with me now that he is in sixth grade. His creative, collaborative efforts are freely conceived and executed with his peers.
About six years ago, the director of my son’s school invited me to guide the seventh graders in a series of projects on human evolution. I am a biologist by training and have taught evolution classes to university students. I was hesitant at first, but I found that these young adults were inquisitive, intelligent, funny, creative individuals yearning to explore the world and express themselves.
I started working fulltime the next year and years after that. I took the NAMTA/AMI Montessori Orientation to Adolescent Studies, and learned how to ensure that our projects were student-centric, multidisciplinary collaborations.
My role is to guide young adults on their own paths of discovery and creation, building a strong, invisible scaffold that leads them toward meaningful work and becoming an integral member of society. If that occasionally means gently informing a guide that she has worn shoes that don’t match, so be it.
Kristin Peterson holds a PhD in Biology from Harvard University and a certificate from the NAMTA/AMI Montessori Orientation to Adolescent Studies.