“…the Cosmic Plan can be presented to the child, as a thrilling tale of the earth we live in….”
— Maria Montessori
Part 1. An involuntary hiatus leads to a landmark Educational Innovation
In 1940, when Maria Montessori was already 70 years old, WW2 broke out while she and her son Mario were giving a training for Primary teachers in Mumbai. Because India was still under British rule, and Italy was allied with Germany, the Montessoris were held under house arrest, and barred from traveling back to Europe … as it turned out, until 1947.
They had no idea how long they would be detained, but it wasn’t long before Mario became worried that his mother’s life’s work would come to an involuntary end. The Montessoris’ Italian passports marked them as enemy aliens, but there was no animosity toward them from the communities they were permitted to live and work in. War was happening a world away. In rural India, they were welcome and respected.
To make the most of their stay, they decided to develop a plan for the materials and methods of the elementary classroom. Steeped for almost a decade in a rich, rural culture, and surrounded by diverse and (mostly) mutually tolerant eastern spiritualities and philosophies, it’s not surprising that they placed a holistic understanding of an unfolding and thoroughly integrated universe at the center of Montessori’s elementary curriculum. Far from being a “forced retirement,” their stay in India proved to be a formative period in Montessori’s thinking, allowing her to see the elementary years and develop the elementary curriculum from a more global and universal perspective.
Maria Montessori had a gift for telling stories. She didn’t gather children in large groups often, but over her many years in classrooms, she enjoyed telling short, dramatic, non-fiction stories, especially to elementary aged children, who always pressed for more details. Often she would illustrate parts of her stories on large chart paper as she told them. Sometimes she would use simple experiments to demonstrate the ideas she was describing. Her collaborators noticed that certain stories seemed to be her favorites.
In time, her stories actually became central to the curriculum she was developing for the second plane (6-12) child. In the next part… discover how stories became the secret sauce of the Montessori elementary curriculum.