By Dr. Wendy Agnew

“What did you do today darling?”

“Nothing” - That classic response of some children when asked about their day at school… Then sometimes for variety, “We had a good snack,” and more rarely, “We did a play about Joan of Arc.” But often it’s just, “nothing.” The top theory is that school is your child’s space to discover his or her independence – to become - and sometimes it’s a tacit secret – like playing personality poker. Do we tell our families what we do at work every day? Sometimes, but often we separate space and don different hats according to where we are.

Montessori’s inspiration was to create places for children to develop in a prepared environment that is more like an enriched home than a ‘school.’ Hence, when children waive goodbye in the morning, she or he will be immersed in a complex dance of social, emotional, cognitive, and physical growth and development. Sometimes it’s not easy to describe that, for example, they built the binomial cube – a materialized abstraction of the binomial theorem. They see a game of coloured blocks... or that they explored the parts of a turtle and learned the word ‘carapace’ or that they did carrot-peeling to aid fine muscle control for writing and logical sequencing as a prerequisite of the mathematical mind.

I wonder if, from a non-verbal level, a day in the life might translate into … “Well, I entered the room and made contact with my adult guide who looked me in the eye and shook my hand to ascertain how I was doing on this particular day. Then I roved around the room greeting some of my friends and acclimatizing myself to the prepared environment. I made my own choice and took out the brown stair which I built and then my friend added the pink tower and we marveled at the geometrical sequencing embedded in the materials, and now, in our muscular memories. Then we felt slightly jubilant for our success was physical, material, and cognitive and no one told us what to do. We had snack and then cruised about the room talking and laughing a bit. Then a strange phenomenon happened. We felt it was time to make a big challenge. I decided to work on my own and took out the cube chain of five. This, I lay out like a giant snake and then folded it into five beautiful squares. It was slithery! I was satisfying my developmental interests in small objects, big work, order, language, and beauty. A friend joined me and we discussed which numbers would come next. We skip counted by five all the way up to 125 and we got the cube of five (made of 125 glass beads) and put it at the end of our chain like a jewel! Then we reveled in our success again and rolled on the floor for a bit until our guide suggested we find something a little quieter. So we went to the bells cabinet and composed a little bit of music. Then we painted a picture all in blue like the chain of five. Then, to satisfy our love of nature and art, we went outside to feed the birds and check on our chalk drawings from yesterday.

B (four and a half), once told me, “Nothing means, ‘it’s secret.’ But someone said, ‘it’s rude to keep secrets,’ so I just say … nothing.

Sometimes it’s hard to imagine what goes on every day. Even for us, as guides, sitting for a few minutes with an observation journal on our lap, can retune us to the harmony of cycles within individuals and the environment. Montessori herself developed her theory of a freedom-based learning lab through observing the voracious hunger of children for real and meaningful work. As a student teacher said to me before our Montessori intensive in Iran, ‘I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes.”