Valentine’s Day in the Montessori Environment: Lessons in Grace and Courtesy

February 10, 2016
NAMC Montessori valentine's day grace and courtesy two girls hugging
Of all things love is the most potent.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 269.

Love… it’s a complicated emotion. We can love our child, our partner, or our pet. We can love pizza, the smell of rain, or cheering for our favorite football team. We can love a good book, a walk along the beach, or sleeping in on Saturday mornings. How then, do we teach a child to love?

The Greeks thought love to be so multifaceted they actually had six terms for it:

  • eros — passionate, romantic love
  • philia — the love between friends, or between parent and child
  • ludus — the affectionate, playful love often seen in children or those in a new relationship
  • agape — love for humankind
  • pragma — longstanding love, like that of long-married couples
  • pilautia — love of self

When we look at those six types of love, we see that agape comes closest to Montessori’s vision of cosmic education. Theologians have described agape in various ways. C.S. Lewis called it “the gift” and the highest form of Christian love. In Pali (Buddhism), agape translates to mettā or “universal loving kindness.” (Krznaric, 2013)

Agape and Valentine’s Day: Lessons in Grace and Courtesy

NAMC Montessori valentine's day grace and courtesy black and white girls
I have already said that prophets and poets speak often of love as if it were an ideal; but it is not just an ideal, it is, has always been, and will ever be, a reality.
—Maria Montessori
The Absorbent Mind, p. 264.

Agape is a selfless love wherby we give of ourselves to others, seeking nothing in return. We can see this type of love when tiny hands bring us a bouquet of crushed dandelions or when toddlers kiss and pat a crying infant. They give freely of themselves to nurture and care for others, to bring other’s closer to their own inner joy.

Valentine’s Day is wonderful time to focus on agape and what it means to serve others. Making and sharing Valentine’s cards is one tradition that children enjoy. It’s fun to give and receive “mail”! And young children will spend a lot of time on choosing the exact card for each person.

Even at a young age, they understand the importance of making a personal connection.

We can broaden our sense of a loving community by sharing a meal or snack. Sitting down and sharing a meal is a powerful expression of inclusion and friendship in all cultures. Sharing food, serving others before we are served, ensuring there is enough to go around, and making a special food that all will enjoy are selfless acts that put the needs of others before our own.

NAMC Montessori valentine's day grace and courtesy children sharing sandwiches

We can prepare for a special Valentine’s Day celebration by presenting lessons on serving food, pouring tea, arranging flowers, and even greeting guests. All of these lessons help children develop compassion and empathy for others

Older children can expand on this idea by preparing a special Valentine’s treat for others. For example, they could bake cookies or cupcakes to share with people in assisted living facilities. The could also prepare skits, songs, or poetry readings as a way of sharing their time and talents with others.

In a world that so often focuses on the self, or pilautia, we should cultivate opportunities for children to develop agape so they can live and fulfill Montessori’s cosmic plan, “in which all, consciously or unconsciously, serve the Great Purpose of life.” (Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential)

NAMC Montessori valentine's day grace and courtesy group of smiling children
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.
Works Cited
Krznaric, Roman. “The ancient Greeks' 6 words for love (And why knowing them can change your life).” Yes! Magazine, December 27, 2013.
Montessori, Maria. To Educate the Human Potential. Oxford: Clio Press, 1948/2003.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.

— NAMC Staff
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