February 14th is inching closer and I personally enjoy Valentine’s Day. Growing up, my mom always gave us a few small gifts and some sweets on Valentine’s Day. We had a special meal and were allowed to eat more chocolate and candy than on an average day. I remember feeling so special seeing the tokens of her love when I woke on those mornings and enjoying the sheer happiness it gave her to give us those things. My mom is a gift giver and that’s how she shows her feelings for someone.
When I found Montessori, I initially didn’t think about the details of how my traditions growing up would fit with this new type of parenting and learning I had grown so passionate about. As each holiday or important event came around, I had to re-evaluate which parts of my experiences I wanted to continue in my family, with my kids, and which didn’t fit anymore. I wanted the feelings and memories to be there for my children, but some of the specifics didn’t work for me anymore. In making these decisions, I looked to Montessori to guide my choices even in the moments when I chose something that wouldn’t be aligned with its pedagogy.
So what is the Montessori view on Valentine’s Day? It is unclear what Maria Montessori herself said or thought about this holiday as she doesn’t include it specifically in any of her writings as far as I can tell. Many children’s houses and elementary schools choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day and others don’t. As I read more, researched more, and became more informed, I found places in Montessori’s writings and in the current practice of her pedagogy that lent themselves to a different kind of Valentine’s day celebration. Here are some Montessori-aligned approaches to Valentine’s Day:
Grace and Courtesy: The concept of grace and courtesy is highly valued in Montessori pedagogy. It is the idea that children learn social norms both via modeling and via specific lessons and role-playing activities and that these social norms are vital for future relationships. They learn first by modeling, that is an adult (in a classroom this would be a guide or assistant, at home this would be a parent or other caregiver) acts with grace and courtesy by saying please and thank you regularly and clearly, not shouting across the room and showing deep respect for a child’s work by not interrupting them, among other things. As children get older, they have explicit lessons in how to greet someone, how to politely interrupt an adult (perhaps by touching their arm and waiting), how to listen in a conversation and how to resolve social conflict, among many other things.
As children get older still, these lessons and modeling start to change how they deal with friendships. Valentine’s Day as a celebration of grace and courtesy, of treating others with respect, of being polite, is definitely aligned with the core of Montessori pedagogy.
Agape: The ancient Greeks had 6 different words for love. They found love to be so multifaceted, rightfully so, that one word didn’t suffice to describe all of it. They used
eros to mean passionate, romantic love,
philia to mean the love between friends or a parent and child
ludus to mean the playful, affectionate love you see between young children or in a new couple
agape to mean love for humankind
pragma to mean a long-lasting love, like that of a long time married couple and
pilatuia to mean love of self.
In our homes and classrooms, the type of love described by agape seems to fit the Montessori pedagogy best. Of course, other types of love exist. But in celebrating Valentine’s day with a focus on agape versus philia or eros, we bring children closer to that which is the core of Montessori. Agape is a selfless love, one where you give of yourself with no expectations in return. When a young child comforts a crying baby or presents you with a treasure they found while walking outside, you see this type of love. Children even very young ones, know the importance of connection. This love shines when one helps other’s find their inner joy. That can’t be any more Montessori aligned if you tried!
Some examples of how you might incorporate agape, as well as grace and courtesy, into your Valentine’s Day celebrations are:
– taking care of nature by cleaning up a local area or starting seeds in your home to plant outside
– making handmade cards for your family and friends
– carrying out random acts of kindness for people in your life
– helping each other around the house in ways you might not normally do
– offering specific lessons on grace and courtesy
– practicing compromise and brainstorming by choosing as a family what you might do for the day
– dedicating time for each person to do what gives that person joy.
For our family, we choose to focus on each other instead of gifts and candy. Sure, we might have a special dessert and a bit more chocolate. But we want the core feeling and memories of Valentine’s Day to be not about the stuff, but people and experiences. I don’t remember the specific candy I ate or gifts I got as a child. But I definitely remember the love I felt in my family.
Montessori herself spoke on love in her book, The Absorbent Mind, and said:
Whenever we touch the child, we touch love. It is a difficult love to define; we all feel it, but no one can describe its roots or evaluate the immense consequences which flow from it, or gather up its potency for union between men. Despite our differences of race, or religion, and of social position, we have felt, during our discussions of the child a fraternal union growing up between us. … Love, like that which we feel for the child, must exist potentially between man and man, because human unity does exist and there is no unity without love.
– Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 263-264