Maria Montessori and Martha Stewart would have gotten along well, notwithstanding the latter’s time served in prison for insider trading. Both women share a fervent belief in the prepared environment. The prepared environment is beautiful, peaceful and inviting. It represents both care and intention with the purpose of creating space for good work to happen. Martha creates space for joyful gathering and celebration. Montessori creates spaces for joyful learning. As I follow Martha Stewart, I often find myself saying, “Wow, that’s beautiful, I’m going to try to do that myself.” In that moment, I am invited to the work of creating beauty that I and others will enjoy. When I walk into a Montessori classroom, I say to myself still, after more than two decades in education, “Wow, this is beautiful, this is the way learning should be.” I am invited to imagine the possibilities of all that can happen in that space. Montessori teachers design their classrooms as an invitation for learning, and the children are drawn in to participate, create and become part of that environment.
One of the ways that Montessori children create beauty in their learning is through the work of flower arranging. It is striking to walk into a Montessori classroom and see small vases of flowers amidst the lessons on the shelves. The children do that work! They enter a beautiful space prepared by their teachers, they maintain that beauty as they complete their work cycles, and they enhance it as they create works like flower arrangements. To mark the beginning of the work cycle, the child dons an apron and brings the tray with materials to a table. The child then pours water into a vase, trims and arranges the flowers, and cleans up by composting the waste and wiping up any spills. The work culminates in the beautiful display of the flower arrangement in the classroom. The more children participate in this process, they begin to internalize a high standard that crosses over into all the spaces they inhabit, at home, at school and in their hearts. It’s not always easy, but the process is satisfying because it reaches for the way things should be, beautiful, peaceful and inviting.
Martha Stewart is a standard-bearer for beautiful celebrations just as Montessori is for beautiful classrooms. So here’s to Martha, here’s to Maria, and here’s to all of us who accept the invitation to create beauty.