Glass Classroom — By Bart Theriot

What would happen if you tried to run a Montessori classroom in the middle of a busy shopping mall? An equally valid question, \”Why would anyone do such a thing?\” Well, the Montessori Academy at Belmont Greene did it last weekend. In the process, we learned the answers to these questions and so much more.

Jill Theriot, Assistant Head of School and trained Montessori teacher actually came up with the idea last Summer. At that point, the plan resembled something similar to a Montessori flash mob (which, someone absolutely needs to do -maybe us!). Anyway, it evolved from there and then sometime in the Fall we found out that 2015 is the 100 year anniversary of Dr. Montessori\’s original glass classroom. It was clearly serendipity.

So we found a great location in the concourse of the Dulles Town Center Mall and we planned the whole thing out. On Saturday morning, we transported an entire Montessori classroom, piece-by-piece –shelves, tables, chairs, work materials, plants, lamps, rugs, dishes and even a pet fish. Then we set it all up exactly as it would appear in school. The sight of a well-equipped Montessori classroom is a beautiful thing, even for those of us who have seen it hundreds of times. But the juxtaposition of this unique children\’s environment and the bustling, cavernous shopping mall was nothing short of awe inspiring. Then came the children.

Now, if you\’re not familiar with how well Montessori really works, you might be expecting me to delve into a tale of disaster involving destruction, mayhem –essentially a re-enactment of Lord of the Flies. But let me tell you, that expectation could not be more off base. 16 of our students arrived at around 9:45a.m.. They took one look around and then each of them went straight to work. It was business as usual. I admit, I was even a bit concerned when I saw the choo-choo train making its way toward us. But it rolled by on one-side and back past us on the other -even blew the train whistle. The children barely noticed it. After seeing that, I was certain we could do this again anywhere, anytime with the same great result. The fact is that Montessori works because it is based entirely upon the fundamental, innate interests and developmental needs of children. The glass classroom is just more confirmation of the genius behind this program.

After about 12:30PM, most of our students went home and we opened the class up to new parents and children who happened to be shopping in the mall that evening. Even children who had never set foot in an environment like this before sat and worked with the materials as if they had been there for years. Children spontaneously chose work and, to their parents incredulity, returned the work to the shelves without being asked. It was immediately apparent to anyone there that day. The Montessori classroom is a great place for children -no matter where it is.

So why would we do this? Well, we love children and we love Montessori and it is our mission to advocate for both. One of the best ways we can do that is to share Montessori with as many people as we can. Why wait for parents to come to us when we can bring Montessori to them? Indeed, the comments from surprised parents at the mall confirmed just how misunderstood Montessori really is. Those comments also re-affirmed the need for demonstrations like this.

So there we were from 10:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. I personally met parents from all over Virginia and even states up and down the East Coast. With each new visitor, the value of this idea became more clear. With each child who spent time with the materials and each parent who chatted with our teachers, we were reminded why we do what we do. I said, in an interview last month that if one student enrolls in a Montessori school, the event would be a success. I also said that we planned to accomplish so much more than that, but even I didn\’t really understand just how much we would accomplish.

I would like to thank all of our parents and students who made this event possible. Thanks also to the many, many parents and children who visited our demonstration and took the time to learn more about Montessori. That\’s why we were there. If you missed us at the mall, we invite you to come and see the classroom in action here at the school. It\’s still the best way to learn about Montessori -and the best way to find the right school for your child.

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