Last week, Helma Trass — founder of Canada’s first Montessori school, who studied under Maria Montessori in the Netherlands — visited one of our local schools for a presentation to parents. She is now 87 years-old, and despite being one of Canada’s most influential Montessorians, she continues to be passionate about spreading the word about the Montessori method “before her time is finished.” Her excitement about the wonderful experiences children from all backgrounds can have in a Montessori environment was catching.
Helma shared quite a bit about her early experiences in her Canadian classroom. Many educators were fascinated by this first Montessori school, and she welcomed journalists, researchers and public school principals into her classroom. They were amazed at the results the children were showing — even those who had scored relatively low on IQ tests (an aside: IQ testing is out of vogue now, but it had me wondering what have we replaced these measures of expectation with? Early grading? Diagnosis of ADHD and autism?). Helma still feels today that if she could achieve this in her little classroom as a young woman, with a heavy Dutch accent, that it is the perfect example of the child as teacher.
I expect I’ll remember for a long time to come her deep, accented voice firmly saying “First, the child must be happy.”
Another experience I had this week, which perfectly book-ended Helma’s talk, was the opportunity to sit and observe a work period in a Casa class room. I was quite moved by what I took in there. The hush, the focus, the work, the care, the peace. That particular classroom is simple and filled with natural light, the guide is soft-spoken and smiling, and the children are happy.