A Journey of Discovery – the silent kind!

The Montessori ‘Silent Journey of Discovery’ is an activity designed and implemented by Barbara Gordon – a legendary Montessori Head of School from Texas, USA. The idea behind the silent journey is to give Montessori parents an opportunity to experience their children’s learning environment from a new perspective – to look, observe, reflect, contemplate and then experience a working cycle themselves.

On Saturday, 5 May we hosted a Silent Journey at Capital Montessori. It was really wonderful to see a group of 20 parents arrive for the experience. As we settled into Kahikatea for our initial discussion, I saw some intrigued and excited faces looking back at me. Our teachers went to a lot of effort to make sure we made this opportunity super accessible for our families – we organised it on a weekend, provided childcare, and settled on a non-discouraging timeframe of just two hours – not the full 3-hour cycle. It was great to see that that effort was appreciated, and the opportunity taken up by so many of the parents.

After we silenced our mobiles and discussed the purpose of the activity, we took the group on a silent walk. Moving slowly and reflectively, we walked through the quad and into our Rata 0-3 class, where Phyllis (Rata Facilitator and 3-6 teacher) led a silent reflective walk through the classroom, giving everybody time to take the environment in, look at the shelves, and notice nuances.

Barbara Gordon suggested that for the purpose of this walk, all boxes on the shelves be open to show their contents. Was that a good idea! As Ashwini (Lead Teacher of Kowhai) led parents through the Kowhai 3-6 classroom, there was an atmosphere of wonder, surprise and amazement at seeing the beauty, colour and objects encased in those wooden boxes. Some materials were displayed on the tables with cards placed beside them, ready for parents to return to work with them. Other materials were marked with “ask for the lesson, please” cards. The baking table was set up and ready for the baking activity. All ready in anticipation of the work that would be done.

From Kowhai, we all went in silent procession through the outdoor environment in Koru, following Sharon (Lead teacher Koru) through the peaceful corners of her classroom garden, back to Kahikatea.

Parents looked surprised when we settled again in Kahikatea again to talk. It seemed just a simple walk, but with the added mystery of silent contemplation, it gained new meaning. I soon realised that they already had plans on what they wanted to do when they returned to the classroom to work. There was a real sense of anticipation and some commented on the feeling of ‘not being able to wait to get my hands on those materials’. We explained how this was the feeling children had when they walked into the classroom each morning.

Materials looked very tempting but also puzzling, as they seemed so different from anything else we usually experience in a preschool. One of the mums commented that it was now clear why the children need lessons to work with the materials. That was a good realisation, as we sometimes expect our children to just figure things out, when they really need guidance and a presentation to achieve the maximum benefit of any activity.

The working cycle started with our group slowly moving from Kahikatea into the classrooms. We allowed an hour for an undisturbed experience in the classroom and teachers treated that time as a usual classroom experience. The baking table was immediately popular and a group of three mums settled in to be shown how to make scones (they were yummy!).

The Roman Arch was the most popular choice among dads and it was as successful in stimulating creativity and concentration in them, as it usually is for the children. There was amazement at some of our Sensorial materials, when it transpired we teach children to discriminate minute differences in temperature using our Thermic Bottles and Thermic Tablets – brilliant materials that are not as well known as the iconic Pink Tower. Beads were a hit and a group of parents worked with Teresa (Teacher 3-6) to learn about how we teach addition with Golden Beads. There was a general buzz of work in the classrooms and an occasional squeak of happiness at the completion of an activity (just like the children make when they experience the joy of the work well done :))))

There were many happy faces at the completion of the afternoon and it looked like our parents had a really wonderful time. They said they had a new appreciation of how hard the children work in the class and how much composure the work needs. They definitely felt they had more to talk to their children about and share. One of the mums left holding a necklace in her hand saying, “My daughter usually makes one for me ­– today, I made one for her!”