Going with the Flow Throughout the Day
Our school has had the honor of working with Dr. Kevin Rathunde and his colleagues from the University of Utah over the past year. Kevin is a celebrity in flow theory research and it has been a delight to be a part of his work. Flow is a state of joyous concentration in which the individual becomes lost in the work. He has presented his findings at our Middle School Parent Meeting and at our Utah Montessori Council teacher conference. He has included our students in his research, demonstrating that children are naturally in a state of flow most of the time. They emerge refreshed and satisfied in their accomplishments.
Since Kevin’s keynote address in January, teachers have been commenting about the flow going on in their classes. Our goal is to advocate for a 2- to 3-hour work period in each class every day to enable this to take place. Teachers notice that once the classroom door closes for the morning and the work period begins, they, too, are absorbed in the flow of the day. The role of the adult is to remain inwardly active but outwardly passive (Montessori, 1994). This means that once class begins personal troubles and the worries of the outside world must be left outside the door. Teachers are free to enjoy the beautiful environments they have worked hard to establish and the unfolding blossoms who are their students.
Like a garden, every classroom is a growing organism with stalks shooting up here and there, buds that must be carefully tended, occasional new species that must be considered – is this a weed or a wildflower? The teacher, as gardener, must be aware of each developing phase and be ready to support the tiny plants, providing appropriate nourishment, water and protection from the elements. And like an experienced gardener, the teacher settles into the role and toils in the hot sun and cold wind to keep her garden flourishing, finding a great sense of joy and satisfaction in the work.
Successful gardens take time, effort, love and patience. Teachers commonly come in early, stay late, swing by school on weekends and even during vacations to invest in their classroom gardens. Their love shows in the beauty and diversity of the garden. There are thousands of tiny details to which to attend. Children walk in each morning to a fresh, orderly and beautiful space full of possibilities for new growth. The teachers expertly weave the curriculum throughout the offerings, reinforcing lessons. When the class is studying Africa, there are African objects to count in the math area, African snacks to taste, African plants and animals in the science area, African books in the library corner, African music to dance to. Teachers take delight in developing new ideas to add and in sharing the ideas with their colleagues. They step into this sanctuary, let go of the worries of the day and begin the flow of their day.
After a few years as Montessori teachers we begin to notice that our Montessori practice flows into our personal lives. We are more mindful of every movement, every decision, every object that we include in our lives. As a team, teachers support one another through crises, personal struggles and meeting new goals. And they are better able to support family and friends as well. The beauty of our classroom gardens flows into the surrounding world.
Kevin’s research suggests that Montessori students are generally happier and more productive than students in traditional schools because they are allowed the choices and the time to relax into the flow of the work (Rathunde & Csikszentmihalyi, 2005). He points out that this should not be a luxury of children in Montessori schools, but it is something that can be part of anyone’s daily life. Taking the time and setting the intent to find your flow throughout your day results in a refreshed, energized approach to the details of the day.
Montessori observed, “The role of education is to interest the child profoundly in an external activity to which he will give all his potential (Montessori, 1994).” Our common practices of using soft voices in class, taking care not to interrupt the child’s concentration and allowing a significant segment of time in which to complete the work cycle are intended to support this flow. The flowers on the tables, art on the walls, plants, animals and background music are all crucial components in setting the stage for the flow of the day. As a church or a museum inspires great thought, so should a school – and a home. Visitors often remark that the school is so peaceful they don’t want to leave. And they don’t have to – anyone can go with the flow throughout the day.
Montessori, M. (1994). From childhood to adolescence. Oxford, England: ABC-Clio.
Rathunde, K. & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2005). Middle school students’ motivation and quality of experience: A comparison of Montessori and traditional school environments. American Journal of Education, 111 (3). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Duna Strachan, BS AMS MEd
Soaring Wings International Montessori School
Park City, Utah USA