Dr. Maria Montessori developed her groundbreaking educational system, in part, because of her belief in education’s extraordinary efficacy in overcoming prejudice and conflict. This works to promote a sense of global community and create international peace.
In Dr. Montessori’s own words, “Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education. […] Education is the best weapon for peace.” (1937 lecture, Copenhagen)
But how does Montessori education combat racism? And how can we bring those principles into our homes?
Using Montessori Education to Support Antiracism
Racism is all about prejudice, discrimination, and applying perceived differences and superiorities. Racism focuses on “othering” a person or group of people: drawing a judgment between us versus them.
The way to create antiracist children is not merely to focus on specific acts of racism (although that’s incredibly important), but to develop characteristics that are antithetical to racism in order to combat it at its source. The Montessori method does this by encouraging empathy, global community-oriented education, self-regulation and self-analysis, and healthy conflict awareness and resolution skills.
Caring for plants and animals is an integral part of the Montessori classroom. It’s a way we can learn to love and respect living things that are different from us. In Montessori classrooms, children are responsible for watering indoor plants, tending to gardens, feeding classroom pets, and learning respect and care for wild animals by filling bird feeders and observing insects. If a bug is found in the classroom, it is captured and released unharmed. Bring this into the home by having your child make a bird feeder or care for a pet in your home, and exemplify fascination, curiosity, and respect for nature and living things.
Interpersonal conflicts also provide a great opportunity to develop empathy. If a child grabs a toy from a friend, they are asked: “Look at their face. How do you think they feel? Sad? What might you do to help them feel better?” This is easily relatable to sibling and playdate conflicts that might arise in your home!
Montessori classrooms dedicate an entire curriculum section to geography and global education to expand perspectives. There’s an emphasis on reading books about children, in particular, from different countries to help create a sense of community. This gives children the realization that they are a part of a larger community of children across the world.
Bring this into your home by learning and talking about other cultures, languages, disabilities, identities, etc. Learn about different holidays, buy a globe and maps, and read literature that represents a variety of cultures and identities. These conversations will help you and your child better understand people of different backgrounds.
Self-Regulation and Analysis
Developing an understanding of our bodies and how they affect our feelings is integral to every Montessori classroom. There is always a quiet corner, where a child can engage with the restful activities there if they become overstimulated, frustrated, or tired. Restful activities such as an hourglass or snowglobe, music, and books can be enjoyed to relax.
When a child is misbehaving, educators guide the child toward an understanding of what their body needs: are they tired? Hungry? Thirsty? Need alone time? Need to move? Classrooms include education around quiet listening and walking, deep breathing, and yoga. These are all great ways to use our bodies to positively influence and support our emotions. Use these same conversations with your children to provide the same support in helping them learn how to self-regulate and self-soothe.
The quiet corner is also a place where children resolve conflicts. Skills used here include children holding an object (such as a stuffed toy or flower) while sharing their feelings and then passing it to their friend to do the same. These classrooms also use “I” focused language: “I feel sad that you grabbed my toy,” rather than, “You are mean!” Educators talk about a myriad of emotions to foster language skills around complex feelings. This helps children learn what these feelings are and how to communicate them.
Educators encourage critical thinking around empathy by asking a child to observe the effects of their actions on a friend and guiding the child toward discovering what they can do to take accountability for the situation they’ve created. If the child decides they could make their friend feel better with a hug, the educator reminds them to ask their friend if a hug would make them feel better, or if the friend needs space.
Parents can foster this by modeling healthy conflict resolution skills between each other and between themselves and their child (or children). Parents can help work on guiding their children to create conflict resolution skills with each other or with playmates.
If we can foster these traits in our children, racist mindsets will have a difficult time taking root. We will have raised globally-minded, empathetic individuals who are capable of having tough conversations. They’ll be able to combat their own internal prejudices and develop genuine care for others.