The View from Base Camp

by Lana Rigsby, a new Post Oak parent


My children, Jack and Annie Powell, 4-year-old twins, have been students at The Post Oak School for exactly one month now. And, bartering with Mr Lockett for one of those great coffee mugs with the oak tree on the side, I agreed to reflect on our experience thus far for The Weekly Post.

So. What have we learned in the last four weeks?

The first thing, and a hard lesson it's been, is that getting to school by 8:15 requires different skills than those needed for lounging in PJs all morning. And after those first (and few) conflicted drop-offs—"Don't leeeaaave, Mommy!"—I discovered that Episcopal High’s parking lot is a good place to shed a discreet motherly tear. Montessori skills at this point have a lot to do with polishing stuff, so my family's become expert on the physics of soap-glazed hardwood floors and Why We Don’t Run In The House.

Our family's Q-tip consumption has more than quadrupled (see #3 above).   

And that’s about it. As short as this little list is, I can’t think of much of anything else that has changed since the introduction of school, and Montessori, into our lives.

Or then again...maybe there is more. Maybe today's not a day for thinking about the past, but, if reflection can be forward-looking, on the future.  

By sending our children to school, John and I have enlarged—as parents eventually must—the circle of influence around them. The job of growing their minds, unearthing their passions, instilling ethical and moral sensibilities, offering them ways to build strong, healthy bodies...well, we now share this work with a community trained to a specific perspective.

And that perspective is Montessori.  

As many books as I have read on the subject (lots), I didn’t have a real feel for it all until I sat on the floor in Julie Parraguirre’s classroom. There, as part of Post Oak’s “Montessori Journey”, I experienced something of what it would be like to be four years old in that room—allowed to choose the work that most interests me, do it without interruption, move at a pace that suits me.

I imagined this being my daughter’s experience. Then I flashed forward to a vision of the woman that experience would help shape: someone deeply in touch with her own interests and motivations; someone relatively unencumbered by the opinions—good or bad—of others; a person who knows how to make her own choices and pursue them with focused intensity.

I was suddenly very interested. I sat on a teeny tiny wooden chair and thought about it some more. It was a silent journey, conducive to the time-lapse visions I was having as I pictured my kids in this place.

When, in complete silence, our group moved en masse to Maya Pinto’s classroom, I was rapt. Together she and Errol Pinto presented a version of Montessori’s First Great Lesson, which is introduced to children in first grade. In her beautifully accented English Maya spun a narrative about the birth of the universe. Errol unfurled a giant hand-drawn scroll illustrating the story. The story was real, scientfically factual, unexpectedly beautiful. The whole room seemed to sit transfixed.

I imagined these Great Lessons being part of my son’s education. I envisioned him understanding, early on, that all things are interrelated. I saw him becoming a man able to see and comprehend underlying patterns; someone with a inquisitive, reasoning mind; a person moved to make sense of his own place in the world.

On that day, our family’s school choice was made.

On that day, and again today, I think of the Zen directive to "begin with the end in mind". When John and I chose Montessori education for our children, we did it because of the people we thought it could help them become. We figured it might help them identify and understand the best in themselves; that it might awaken in them the knowledge that they hold the whole of their destinies—and the destiny of the world—in their own little hands.

In her weekly blog, Encarta columnist (and brilliant observer of all thing parental) Martha Brockenbrough sums up a month of coversations around our dinner table:

“Our society needs great healers, teachers, thinkers, builders, artists, scientists and more. It needs people who are prepared to operate at the very highest level to address the problems the world faces: disease, poverty, violence, environmental degradation, despair. Right now, these people are children. Children who will not automatically develop wisdom, passion, courage, or the capacity for deep compassion and unending work. And they cannot [develop these] in the factory setting that is our current school system. These are values that must be taught one-on-one, a single experience at a time.”

So, after our family’s first Montessori month, we're not looking back. We know we're just at base camp.

But we like the view from here.