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Tending the Light: Essays on Montessori Education Paperback – 2015
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In these 50 essays, John R. Snyder describes in powerful, deep, and inspiring language a wide variety of topics in the philosophy, theory, and practice of Montessori elementary education. A rich source of information, inspiration, and guidance not only to Montessori teachers, administrators, and parents, but also to all who care about the lives of children.
"It is a treasure of wisdom given in the voice of a poet and humanist." – Paula Polk Lillard, author of Montessori classics, including Montessori: A Modern Approach and Montessori in the Classroom
"Now I know what I going to give every elementary teacher I know. What a gift to have all these essays in one place, and what deep, illuminating insight is contained within these pages." – Jackie Cossentino, Ed. D., National Center for Montessori In the Public Sector
"It is 7am on a Sunday morning, and I can think of no better way to spend this time than reading your book. It is practical, intellectual and philosophical all at once. Just so useful!" – a Montessori teacher in the UK
"I just purchased Tending the Light for our entire staff to read and discuss in our pedagogical meetings - I know it will lead to rich and inspiring discussions!" – a Montessori school pedagogical director
"Your book Tending the Light has moved me, spoken to me and inspired me to the core. Your words have already made an impact on my class and I am not the only one that has noticed the change." – a Montessori teacher in Switzerland
"With each essay I feel an enormous expansion of consciousness and heart. I plan to give your book to each of my children who are now beginning their parenting journey." – a Montessori early childhood educator and parent coach
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Well one of the neural quirks that I live with as a result of being a relatively late reader (which meant I was read to for a very long time relative to most of my peers) is that I read slowly and I hear the voice of the author as I am reading inside my head. If it is an author I have heard, like John or Anne Lamott or E O Wilson or Kurt Vonnegut Jr., it is the author’s voice. So I got to hear this beautiful voice:
in my head as I gave myself exactly 4 hours to re-read some of essays in this wonderful book, before sitting in front of the computer to write something up. Which I would have worked on it for a longer period of time, but Anna did not know I was on-call this weekend, so I had to only have a little bit of time to revisit the book which I had originally read cover-to-cover all night long after I finally got my long-awaited copy.
Pretty much after anybody reads a book of essays in its entirety once, any subsequent readings will be of the pick-and-choose variety, according to need or in my case, post-call curiosity. And once John Snyder is speaking his written words inside my head in his beautiful voice, I realize, he wouldn’t be critical of this approach to his masterpiece at all, which lets me, how shall we say, lighten up about the whole thing, because one thing that shines through every revisited essay is that John’s dedication to Cosmic Education, including the support of the EAA community, always comes from love.
I skimmed through about 5 different essays before I remembered, hey there, you have to write something about this, silly! I finally found a highlighter (okay, I admit, a stub of leftover yellow Prismacolor from my training) so that I could back up my affective response to this book with John’s actual words. Here, in the essay “The Bridge of Trust: Working Successfully with Parents and Colleagues” (pp. 53-76), John presents a loving, respectful, spectacular way to communicate with parents, a way that inspires optimism rather than defensiveness:
“I am working with Delma to enlarge her awareness of the needs and feelings of others, and I am working with Delma’s classmates to help them see how Delma is growing in this way” is more effective than “I am working on it, but the other children often see Delma as harsh and selfish.” P63.
Later in the same essay, John explores two different relationships to time, based on categories in the Myers-Brigg model:
“These two relationships to time had names to the ancient Greeks (who thought of everything!). To a Type J, time means chronos – clock time. To a Type P, time means kairos – the organic unfolding of a process or event in its “right” or “appropriate” time.” (p69).
John then discusses how these different ways of appreciating time can manifest in a Guide, and how we can recognize these differences in ourselves, and in children and parents, to best serve the needs of everybody in our communities. Both of these excerpts from this chapter, to my mind, demonstrate the love put into practice for the children in our communities, and for each other, to help us avoid the folly of becoming too self-critical. John’s words and practice help us to remember that love is central to our practice and this vocation, and that it is love that guides us to be supportive of all types of children, all types of parents, and all types of ourselves.
For those readers looking for those stories that ignite interest and passion in the children in our communities, later essays include a beautiful introduction story to the first Great Story for the 9-12-year-old children, and three additional new stories that John wrote for the children in his community: The Story of Creativity, The Story of Human Love, and The Story about Peace in the Time of War. In the last of these, John shares with us the story he shared with his children after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, including this remarkable idea:
“There is one thing we are not confused about. We are going to do whatever we can to keep the children safe and healthy. And we are going to keep trying to create a world in which guns and bombs are not needed- a world where everyone has freedom, respect, safe houses, enough food, an education, a place to worship if they like, and friends to love them. When you children are adults, you will be stronger and know more about peace than we do. When your children are adults, they will be even stronger and more knowledgeable than you are.” (p 150)
And for those readers who like me are especially interested in stories about real children who were in John’s classroom, one cannot help but be moved by the stories about Lyle and Patrick and Vince, the children who worked very hard at defining friendship and inclusivity, and Hans, a child who felt too frustrated to even think clearly until John showed him how to use mindful walking, a story that John shared with a group of us at an EAA Summer Conference years ago, and a tool I have used more times than I can count with children in my clinic (and hearing John’s voice the entire time).
In conclusion, then, I absolutely love this book. Every single thing about it. I’ll be revisiting essays for years to come, and hopefully this review will inspire some new readers too. I’ve given away at least a dozen copies as gifts, including one very special copy that I mailed to my oldest daughter, who will begin her Elementary training in August, after John stamped an inscription in it for her. I love you, John, and am so thankful to have your voice stuck inside my head.
Through his surprising and vivid stories, Snyder gives us an inside view of the dynamic he created between teacher and student. He reveals the depth of thought and feeling he brought to the Montessori curriculum. He describes the quality of empathy he infused in his community building.
This is an American book but it is universal in its understanding of the authentic nature of the child and the true purpose of education. I have sent copies of this book as far as Mexico and Brazil. I've recommended it to friends in France and Spain. I have purchased a dozen copies to give away. As for my copy, I will keep it close at hand.
For any progressive educators interested in gleaning information about Montessori education this is a great place to find it. For Montessori parents, teachers, and school administrators who wish to deepen one's appreciation and grasp of the work, here you will find a deep well to draw from. There is practical, elevating, and sound information that can you can bring to bear, as I have, for professional development with your staff and for parent education workshops.
Montessori elementary teachers may be the most fortunate recipients of these essays. Just about any page in the book is ripe for meditation when the work gets overwhelming: "A Letter to Teachers at the Beginning of the School Year," "The Bridge of Trust".
Each essay provides real supportive guidance regarding difficult topics that arise in the classroom; here are a few of the wide-ranging topics: "Boys and Guns," "Talking to Children about Peace in a Time of War," "Lyle's Tale: A Story of Exclusion and Inclusion," "The Children's Play, The Children's Way," "Cartesian Activities for the Pegboard".
This book is thoughtfully divided into three sections - philosophical topics, theory into practice for the elementary level, and topics and supports for parents. This terrific title has a place on any Montessori private, public, or charter school professional bookshelf. It is quickly finding its way into the Montessori canon for very good reason - because it is accessible, stimulating, uplifting, perceptive and intelligent. This is a book for any person interested in collaborating with the child's nature and development. If you've read this far - that must be you!