The two-year old approaches … hand outstretched. We shake. “Good morning,” I say. He moves on—silent. An older toddler and another confident handshake. To my “Good morning” he shouts, “I’m four! I can have gumballs!” A shy youngster emerges from the crosswalk … glides past my outstretched hand. I turn to watch her ascend to Children’s House. She looks back and blows a kiss.
I am standing across from the parking lot on the Lead Mine Campus, greeting children and parents on their way to classrooms. It is an independent day school ritual but at MSR it is about much more—a lesson in Montessori’s “practical life” curriculum, which, even before 8:30 a.m., I am helping to teach by saying “Good morning,” making eye contact, and inviting a child to engage in a chat. This is how we begin our work with children, Montessori writes, “by preparing the child for the forms of social life ….”
When I ask her name, she replies, “I’m named for a flower.” “I carried that flower in my wedding bouquet,” I say. She walks on. I see a young boy out of the corner of my eye. No greeting, just an exuberant “It’s a firetruck!” and his small finger pointing to the design on his shirt. “I like that color of red,” I respond.
The “practical life” curriculum is, in part, about helping the child adapt and orient to society, and teaching grace, courtesy, and respect for others, values rooted in Montessori philosophy, is a central focus. Parents who choose a Montessori environment embrace those values, and together, parents and teachers, partner in ensuring that children are “socialized,” i.e., that they know how to exchange greetings, respond appropriately, listen, share, take turns, i.e., how to adapt and work well with others.
I had the chance to learn first hand how well Lower Elementary (LEII) students are progressing in their socialization skills when I received an invitation to tea during the first week of school. Two confident LEII girls arrived at the reception area close to my office and asked to speak with me. When I appeared, they greeted me warmly, presented me with a handwritten invitation, and asked me to join their class for tea at 12:45 p.m. that same day. I expressed concern about not knowing how to find the LEII classroom. Without skipping a beat, one student looked at the other and said, “Do you think we should come back and get her?” The other replied, “I think we could do that right before we begin.” Imagine having the maturity at the age of 9 or 10 to engage, analyze, and problem solve without any assistance from an adult.
Arriving at the appointed time for the party, I saw again the social maturity of these youngsters. They had prepared questions for me, and we embarked on a serious discussion about leadership. For the better part of an hour, the students were quick to pick up on social cues, facile in the give and take of group dialogue, and clever in telling jokes, which added some silliness to our conversation. I left our little gathering impressed with the social IQ of children so young.
“I’d like to talk more, but I need to get to class—I have things to do.” Hurried words from an older elementary student as she rushes off. On the Brier Creek Campus, I see a self-assured middle school student coming my way. “You must be Ms. Norris … We’re glad you’re here. Good to meet you!” A few minutes later a high school student engages easily in conversation and agrees to talk later about an IB course she is taking.
Not only do schools help socialize children but, of course, parents do as well. Well known child psychologist Mary Pipher writes in The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families that beyond caring for the young, parents have two other major responsibilities: to protect and to socialize, i.e., to help children connect to “a larger world of meaning.”  She adds that these roles, however, “are often at odds with each other.” We want our children to integrate successfully when they step into college and adult life. And, we want to protect them when we note the collision between values we hold high and those saturating the messages that surround children and young people in today’s media-driven culture.
She turns away at my “Hello.” “So sorry,” says the parent of a toddler, “she’s not very talkative today.” “No problem,” I respond, “Some day she will have a lot to say.”
In fact, we can’t continue to protect our children as they become young adults and move out into that larger world. What we can do, and what MSR parents know well, is provide an environment when they are young that offers freedom within structure, aspiration and challenge, a values-heavy culture, and respect for each child’s unique path to accomplishment and independence. That is, a Montessori setting. In this rich soil, a child develops roots of resilience, self-worth, a lifelong love of learning, and values that have stood the test of time. With those strong roots, the child is free to grow wings and soar.
We will continue to socialize students because we know opportunity awaits those who have both the confidence to be independent and the skills to work with others. A recent study conducted at Harvard’s School of Education and Kennedy School confirms the value of a high social IQ by noting that the job market “favors those who have the skills to be good team players.”* According to the lead researcher in the article, “Technological change is disrupting the nature of existing jobs … ,” and industry is moving more toward “team-based, project-based approaches.”
“Good morning.” High-five instead of a handshake. “Have a good day!” “You, too!”
With roots and wings Montessori graduates are prepared fully to step out, adapt, connect in meaningful ways with others, and greet every new setting with a confident, “Hello, world.” High Five!!
*Source: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/10/social-skills-increasingly-valuable-to-employers-harvard-economist-finds/: accessed on 9/16/18