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Our thoughts on Montessori and education

The needs of the fourth plane of development, and their implications for secondary education

By Jonathan Wolff and Marc Seldin

What do colleges need from their new students? Are Montessori secondary programs meeting those needs?

Over the past three years, we have visited and met with professors and admissions officers at over 20 and colleges and universities. In these conversations, the picture which has emerged is that generally students who arrive on the threshold of their university career – learners who have entered into the fourth plane of development – are lacking in three abilities:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Adaptability and resilience
  3. Coping with ambiguity

At the time of her death Dr. Montessori had not completed her life’s work. It is well known that her explication of adolescent education was less developed, compared to the breadth and depth of her programs for the first and second plane of development. She established the architecture for a residential high school model she called erdkinder however, the actual curriculum is drawn with sketch marks. It is true that the needs of the third plane are well established however, the different visions of how best to meet those needs vary from erdkinder-inspired farm schools to IB programs.

If direction for the third plane is a bit less specific than we might like, information about the fourth plane is even sparser. In every work of Dr. Montessori’s, she put forth her manifesto of improving the world through teaching children. She talked about the needs of humanity many times. However, when it comes to university[1], she said very little.

In her short essay The Functions of the University, she wrote of universities that, “perhaps it would be better to say that higher schools must be interested in determining the way in which human energies are prepared in the lower ones.”[2] This leaves us with two critical questions:

  1. What would a university look like that truly meets the needs of early[3] adults as they enter the fourth plane?
  2. If we can identify what these institutions of higher learning look like, what does this mean for the Secondary programs and the preparation of students in them? In other words, what should a Montessori high school look like in order to prepare children to step up to the needs of the fourth plane of development?

Over the past several years, a number of Montessori educators have begun exploring these topics. To say that we have not exhaustively solved these problems is, perhaps, an understatement. In future articles we will offer a summary of our experiences visiting 20 innovative private colleges, and the learning and instructional practices they employed. In the meantime, it may be valuable to share a few things we’ve learned so far.

We began our inquiry by poring over what Dr. Montessori has written about early adulthood. Many of these points will resonate with trained professionals as insights that apply to one, or even all of the planes of development.

The purpose of post-secondary education

Here is the purpose of education at this age, as she saw it:

  • Fundamentally, Dr. Montessori believed that these adult students should be preparing themselves for their “mission in this world”.
  • One purpose of the university is to provide an environment that will render the learner “capable of making his home in society”.
  • Another purpose of universities is to teach individuals how to study, learn on their own, and “being set upon the path to scientific research.” We interpret this as an imperative toward life-long learning and learning scientific (or “critical”) thinking.
  • An essential outcome of university study is that the student becomes “keenly aware of the needs of one’s own time.” In The Absorbent Mind, she criticized university education today for not fostering “intelligence capable of visualising the epoch and the problems of the times in which they live.”
  • Attaining independence is a function of the University. This includes, but is not limited to, the financial independence of establishing a professional vocation. In The Absorbent Mind, she complains that “the people who come from school or university are not prepared for life.”
  • Universities should “intensify [culture] and to make it penetrate into the conscience as a weapon for the defense of humanity and of civilization.
  • Finally, Dr. Montessori said that the job of the University was to help “the leaders of the new humanity emerge.”


The proper university environment

From that thesis, she described the proper University environment:

  • To really understand at this level, the students must actively discuss a topic.
  • “Communication in education enhances not only learning, but enthusiasm. Therefore, there must be opportunities for spontaneous collaboration.
  • Montessori felt it would be best if students began while in university to develop their own economic independence.
  • She was not concerned about whether students attained their degree in a set period such as four years; she advocated students see themselves as life-long learners and saw no reason for students to rush their studies.
  • While Dr. Montessori never explicitly calls for grades in university to be abolished, she makes it clear that she doesn’t think these students should be worried about or focused on grades.
  • Education at this age must “offer a wider environment and to multiply the possibilities of association and of activity.” She taught that the “four walls” of the University are not sufficient for education at this stage.
  • The experience of dealing with “different ages and different social classes” will help a leader “become worthy of becoming the leader of anything”. Today, we might summarize this more generally: Dr. Montessori recognized the value of diversity in education.
  • In The Absorbent Mind, she says of new graduates that “all these years of study, all these years of listening, do not form ‘man’ ; only practical work and practice do that.” It may be implied that she thought that higher education should have a practical component, just as do the earlier stages of her methodology.


Dr. Montessori was a scientist, first and foremost. She stayed current with the science of her time, and in many instances, anticipated discoveries that would be proven long after her. One discovery she may not have anticipated, however, is what we have recently learned about post-adolescent brain development. Dr. Montessori said “He who arrives at the university has left behind him childhood and adolescence: he is a formed person.” Indeed, in the Absorbent Mind, she says “After 18 man is considered completely developed and there is no longer any considerable transformation. Man merely becomes older. “

We now know this not to be entirely true. For instance, in the past decade it has been shown that the prefrontal cortex continues to develop until age 25. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3621648/) Anecdotally, many of us look back at our early university behavior and beliefs with some chagrin.

We decided that using Dr. Montessori’s insights as a launching place, we would attempt to cautiously expand on her work.


Understanding the fourth plane of development

There is no reason to doubt that, had Dr. Montessori lived, she would not only have further detailed Secondary education, she would have doubtless contributed much more guidance to university aged early adults. If so, she would have begun by asking “What are the human needs of such people?” and “What are the needs of the culture they are participating in and contributing to?”

In the third plane of development, it is thought that questions of identity are paramount. “Who am I?” They ask. “How do I fit into this world? What group am I part of?” One begins to look for areas where they can contribute, to begin to be both independent and to find meaningful ways to take part in the world. They begin to take an interest in economic activity, so it is common for Montessori programs to offer service-learning entrepreneurial opportunities. Emotionally, this is a time of great insecurity, although we see at Montessori high schools that a supportive environment can greatly ameliorate the risks and excesses of this stage.

In contrast, we know that at the fourth plane these early adults are much more confident. They have more than an inkling of who they are, and many begin university with some idea of how they intend to contribute to the world. We would say that, at this age, the questions they are asking are “What is my cosmic task?” and “How may I begin this great work?”

The merging of the early adult into their culture is the primary activity of the university years, and so actual integration into that culture must be part of that task. It is not enough for the student to, as Dr. Montessori put it, reside within the “four walls” for their university years. They should be actively involved in the larger world in some manner that is meaningful for their personal pursuits. In traditional universities this is accomplished through optional internships. We believe Dr. Montessori would find this insufficient to the needs of the early adult.

As Dr. Montessori insisted that discussion and collaboration are essential to this plane of development, we would suggest that an ideal university would need to develop a curriculum that integrates seminar style discussions and group projects. As always, she felt grades to be a distraction to real education, so in this university they would be downplayed, or indeed might be absent altogether. At the stage, the ability to self-assess – one’s worth and one’s work – are vital to achieving a successful transition into the world-at-large.

Independence is also a trait that she felt must be nurtured, but not in a sense of isolated empowerment. Her notion of independence might be closer to what we sometimes call “interdependence”, in that she felt an independent individual was not a lone wolf but an active and productive member of society-at-large. We believe this implies that opportunities for such participation should be principal components of higher education; if not available in the community, then such opportunities must be offered within the university environment. Her passages about leadership suggest that cultivating world changing leaders is an important role of the university.

These points may seem similar to the many experimental colleges established along the lines of John Dewey’s vision of progessive education[4]. Both authors of this paper each attended one such college[5], and applaud its ideals.

However, Dr. Montessori’s emphasis on fostering connections with the real culture-at-large sets her vision quite far from the academic ivory towers of many progressive schools. It is apparent that most universities train early adults in the fields to which they hope to eventually join, but neither prepare them for the actual work, nor do they give them much (if any) practical and applied experience in these professions. In contrast, Dr. Montessori’s vision would have these students begin in this period the actual practice of their cosmic task in the context of real life experience.

Following but separate from this is Dr. Montessori’s requirement for these schools to incubate their students’ economic independence. Where Secondary programs often hold class businesses, the needs of the fourth plane require early adults to begin actual participation in economic activity. We have an opportunity to combine this requirement for economic participation with her

  1. emphasis on leadership,
  2. emphasis that these students be prepared to become life-long learners,
  3. emphasis on teaching scientific or what we might call critical analysis

When we integrate all these factors, we come to a startling conclusion. A Montessori inspired university would need to teach entrepreneurial thinking. This is not to say that every early adult at such a university would, or should, become an entrepreneur. But it does seem today that even students of the arts need to know how to understand the needs of their consumers and colleagues and how to clearly communicate their services to them. Political leaders and activists need to understand how to organize and inspire, as well as to raise funds. Learning to recognize a need and lead change is an essential skill of entrepreneurial thinking that can be applied to practically all fields.


Implications for high schools

It must be the goal of the secondary program to prepare students for the university environment. If two of the highest purposes of the university are to teach entrepreneurial thinking and to help launch early adults upon their cosmic task, secondary programs must prepare them for this work.

There are many excellent Secondary programs following different models, and at this time we see no evidence that one model surpasses others in all aspects of learning and development.  We can suggest, from our study, that many programs may benefit from close incorporation of a few factors into their curricula.

  1. Secondary programs should expand on their efforts to teach entrepreneurial thinking and behavior. Working farm schools could offer teens seed money to create their own businesses from the products of the farm. IB schools could integrate more entrepreneurial concepts and projects, and teach their students using methods of collaborative inquiry. Any model of the Montessori secondary program could incorporate some of these methods. Group analysis of case studies of entrepreneurial solutions can be fodder for this work, though care should be taken to include not-for-profit examples as well.
  2. As much as possible, Secondary programs should afford teens an opportunity to meet local community leaders and to learn about the ways activists and entrepreneurs have transformed and contributed to their communities. Projects should be developed around attainable and self-chosen goals that would provide leadership.
  3. Montessori Secondary programs are not lonely affairs. In fact, the primary inclination of an adolescent is to be social. To meet the oncoming needs of the fourth plane, where a greater gravitation toward independence is often exhibited, we should balance independent activities with collaboration for our secondary adolescents.
  4. As much as possible, the individual needs and interests of students should be not just accommodated, but directly incorporated into activities both within and outside of the classroom. Those that generate the most enthusiasm should be directed toward the real world implications of such interests.
  5. The erdkinder model was designed to support teenagers becoming independent both psychologically and economically[6]. We believe this is a correct goal that leads directly into the needs of the fourth plane. Yet, in a modern world of global markets and social media, the isolation of a rural farm model will not be available to all students. We would suggest that secondary programs concretely plan around the psychological challenges of the modern environment; rather than treating these ills[7] as grave concerns to caution against, we instead recommend schools treat them as the reality and opportunities of this era and promote healthy mechanisms to deal with challenges as they arise. Similarly, in this age of instant information and services, there may be opportunities to introduce principles of economic independence in a way that aligns closely with the modern world, using the same principles of business education suggested above.


We will continue to explore this topic and others that arise out of the needs of the early adult learner. We hope that this may have positive, if small, implications across all levels of the Montessori curriculum. One area of particular interest to this group is an under-addressed service that all Montessori leaders are familiar with: professional training. Montessori training is largely conducted in the same manner that Dr. Montessori herself introduced in the early 1900s, which is to say in a largely traditional manner. We are hopeful that our visits to experimental colleges and our philosophical cogitations will help us to find areas amenable to improvement



[1] Dr. Montessori principally used the term that translates to “University”, but for our purpose we will use the term to mean formal education which proceeds directly after adolescence, whether it be a college or university. This will be in contrast to trades, which though they be important forms of education, are not the subject of this article.

[2] From this point on, all unattributed quotes will be from Dr. Montessori’s short essay The Functions of the University which appears in the book from Childhood to Adolescence.

[3] The term “young adult” is often employed to mean teenagers. Here we use the term “early adult” to distinguish persons roughly from the age of 18 to 21.

[4] https://www.jstor.org/stable/42922419?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[5] Goddard College, located in Plainfield, Vermont

[6] The Montessori Way, P. 150

[7] Online harassment, sexting, cyber bullying, scams, etc.

Video Series: Montessori Materials Monday

IMC member school Rock Prairie Montessori School in Janesville, Wisconsin has a marketing feature called Montessori Materials Mondays that they share on social media and on their website. RPMS is fortunate to have faculty who are Instructional guides and graduates of the CGMS teacher training programs. The video snippets are short, 30 seconds or so and representing all levels of the school toddler, primary, lower elementary and upper elementary. For the upper elementary we are having the students narrate the video.  If you wish to see more, visit RockPrairieMontessori.com and find it under Parent Resources.

Check out the video to understand how square roots are found for large numbers by simplifying to perfect squares and making exchanges on the square root board. https://youtu.be/wy4Al2B-7P0


IMC, 2019 conference

Early in November, the CGMS Leadership team gathered before the IMC conference in Sarasota for strategic planning, team building and support.  Many CGMS faculty, adult learners and graduates from across the US and from several countries attended the annual conference.  The conference provided a wonderful opportunity for professional development, renewal and connections!


(above) CGMS Leadership Team in attendance in Sarasota: Marc Seldin, Tim Seldin, Stephanie Pullman, Ann Winkler, Lori Karmazin, Ellyn Lastinger, Anita Blalock, Martha Carver, Terri Sherrill, Elaine Glier, Kathy Leitch and Kitty Bravo


Ann Winkler, Elementary Level Director and Kathy Leitch, Infant & Toddler and School Leadership Director connecting at the Leadership team meeting,


Ellyn Lastinger and Heather Fuller – Admissions and Adult Learner Services,  with Anita Blalock, Financial Assistant and Project Manager for the School Leadership Program


Anita Blalock, and Martha Carver working on the School Leadership program


Kitty Bravo began the Leadership Team meeting  with a presentation on Positivity and Human Flourishing


Terri Sherrill and  Elaine Glier discussing the Infant & Toddler program


Ellyn Lastinger and Heather Fuller, keeping everyone on track with their great administrative support


The CGMS information table at the IMC Conference, with Anita Blalock and Heather Fuller


Rosario Toward, Rachel Kincaid, Kitty Bravo, Eugenia Acuña and Marc Seldin meeting to discuss the development of the Early Childhood Spanish program


Heather Fuller with Jocelyn Swanson, Secondary program Level Director


Martha Carver and Ellyn Lastinger


Instructional Guide, Field Consultant and Practicum Advisor Jacqueline Grundberg at her exhibitor table, Backpack Sciences


Claudia Mann, CGMS Secondary Instructor, Field Consultant, and Practicum Advisor at her exhibitor table for Fossilicious


Anya Bartlett, CGMS Instructor, Field Consultant, and Practicum Advisor, decked out in her Grammar Symbol blouse and jewelry.


Lori Karmazin, CGMS EC Level Director at her exhibitor table for Great Extensions


Jackie Grundberg and Claudia Mann, above


Stephanie Pullman, Elementary Associate Director and Anita Blalock


Tim Seldin, Rosario Toward, and Kathy Leitch


Tanya Ryskind, Kitty Bravo  and Stephanie Pullman 


Rosario Toward with two of her Fundamentos Montessori professional development students


Kitty Bravo, Director of Education and Marc Seldin, Director of Business Operations, taking a few minutes to envision what’s next for CGMS!

What about students with special needs?

Dear Ask a Montessori Guide, I am considering taking Montessori training, but there some things that worry me. Some people have said that the Montessori method is for everyone, including those with special needs, while others say that Montessori is only for children with “normal” development. I am a traditional teacher, and I love working with children with special needs. My concern is, will I have the opportunity to work with children with special needs in my future Montessori classroom? 

This is a very interesting question.  In order to answer it, we should travel back in time and recall the beginnings of Maria Montessori’s work. She was a very influential woman in many different aspects of education, with Special Education being one of them. At the beginning of her career, she dedicated herself to the study of children with mental deficiencies that, at that time, were called “deficient.”  Through the study of Seguin’s and Itard’s work, she concluded that the deficient children were not the result of a medical problem, but rather a pedagogical one. It was from this point of view that she developed the Montessori method, with the intention to teach children academic skills, life skills and social skills using hands on material and practicing real life activities.  By learning at their own pace, children would be independent and encouraged to develop a love for learning. Lopata, Wallace, and Finn (2005) stated that “in this approach, children learn at their own pace through manipulation of objects.  As such, personal independence, self-discipline, and initiative are essential for learning and motivation” (p. 6).  

By now understanding where the philosophy was born, we can understand that the Montessori method is really designed for everyone. The guide, as the teacher calls herself, through observation, will determine the child’s needs; as María Montessori said “Follow the child,” this means recognizing the correct plane of development of each child; “The child has its own laws of development, and if we want to help its growth, it is a matter of following those laws, not imposing ourselves on the child,” The Absorbent Mind (p. 162).

With my background and years of experience in Special Education and Montessori, I can tell you with confidence that today in our schools and environments, diversity and inclusion are common. 

If you were to visit Montessori classrooms around the world, you will find that there is an increase in the number of children with special needs in classrooms.  Neurodiversity is part of today’s classroom, and the beauty of the Montessori method is that it accepts the child’s differences regardless of their stage of development.  “Montessori education has worked around the world, with all kinds of children (rich, poor, gifted, normal, with learning problems, blind, etc.) and all kinds of environment (from refugees and slums, to fine schools and elegant private homes). What determines the success of the Montessori Method is not wealth, but the teacher’s preparation” (The International Montessori Index, 2017).

The Montessori method exhibits a fundamental soundness for the inclusion of special needs students. By leveraging Auto-education, the fundamental core of the Montessori Method, Montessori teachers can offer a multitude of different teaching strategies to better address children with exceptionalities.  Auto-education encompasses proven teaching methods for exceptional students, such as explicit or direct instruction teaching, the materials approach or the mastery learning approach (Vettiveloo, 2008). This inherent flexibility within the Montessori Method enables a teacher, with proper education, to leverage a diverse set of tools and techniques to engage and incorporate all the students in the classroom, including those with exceptionalities.

The Montessori method serves each child in their own unique way, inspiring them to be their own motivators, their own advocates, and their own teachers in the classroom.  The Montessori method does not attempt to categorize children or place them in a “box,” but rather to create an environment to “follow the child.” Through observation and recognizing the needs and requirements of the exceptional child, teachers can quickly develop a customized educational plan adapted to the individual needs of that child, which enables him or her to achieve the same goals as those students in the classroom without exceptionalities. As Andrews (2017) explained, “Montessori education is a powerful tool for supporting children who face challenges and obstacles to their development” (p.  169).

Working with children with learning differences requires that as Montessorians we need to prepare more and sometimes think outside the box. The first thing that we need to do as teachers is to build relationship with our students.  Relationships are going to be the foundations to help our students with varying exceptionalities or those that sometimes challenge us the most.  Building relationships go beyond shaking hands– relationships mean knowing our students personally (such as their interests, likes, dislikes, foods, about their friends and family, etc), and making sure that this relationship continues to develop over time as our students grow and change. The second thing that I can recommend is to shift away from the paradigm of perceiving most challenging children as a “problem,” but rather to ask ourselves how we can help them to better develop and grow.  

Once we know our students well and have shifted our point of view, we can now work on our environment. The environment is going to an important piece of helping our students.  We need to enrich and connect the child to the environment, and through our personal knowledge of who they are, we can open the door to the environment by creating new lessons to connect the child to the materials that perhaps they were trying to avoid.  Sometimes our shelves may be too crowded or there are so many options that they can’t chose for themselves. Let’s make this simpler for them, and then progressively make it more complex. 

After we have optimized the environment, there will still be a small percentage of our class who are going to need something a little different.  This is what I call Interventions or giving our students what they need based on their individual needs. If you have a child who has a short attention span (5 minutes), then let’s use that time productively by breaking the work into small steps so that the child can accomplish tasks and in turn build a sense of achievement.  Second, with patience we can make this process more complex; only after the child builds that sense of accomplishment can we increase our expectations. 

Following the child is based on the unique individual needs of our students.  Let‘s work to create a culture that embraces these differences, so that when you intervene or develop a modification for a students, this process will be considered just part of the “norm” for the environment. 


Maria Eva Chaffin is originally from Venezuela. She is married with three boys and two dogs. She is in the process of completing her Doctoral in Organizational Leadership. She holds a Master of Science in Exceptional Student Education, a Master’s Degree in Business Education, a Bachelor’s in Special Education, as well as a Montessori Teacher Certification in early childhood. Maria Eva is the founder of Challenging Children and Montessori, a consultant for the Montessori Foundation, and a Faculty member of Sarasota University, where she is a professor in the Montessori Masters Program. She has over 20 years of teaching experience and has been in the Montessori field for 10 years. It is her great passion to work with children with special needs and loves being a Montessori Teacher! Since completing her Montessori training she has fallen in love with the method and, with her background in special needs, she is convinced that the Montessori method is the best way for children to learn.

Interview with Daniel Scruggs

The Montessori Post interviewed Daniel Scruggs, international music educator based in South Carolina.



It’s noted that you’ve given presentations at a program for individuals with dementia; at a juvenile detention center; to young children with special needs; at a bereavement camp for youth and several school locations.  What have you noticed about participants’ responses to the program in these various settings?

Some of the really notable experiences are in places very far away where I could only speak a few words of the native language.  It was here that I experienced the truth that music is the universal language, and we can say so much without words when our intention is to connect with others.  In my experience, people of all cultures are generally welcoming when a visitor comes to their community with humbleness and respect. 

Folks that I drum with in retirement communities break a little piece of my heart when sometimes, after almost having to pry the drum out of their hands at the end of a session, they quip that they should have been doing this fifty years ago!  They usually then share a familiar story of how someone, when they were very young, told them that they were no good at music or that they had a terrible singing voice, or that they weren’t born in the right culture to express themselves in a certain way.  This shut their heart off from ever considering playing an instrument again. It’s bittersweet, because I get to share these golden moments with them and wish we had fifty more years to play in that joyful state together.  

It brings me joy when sharing lessons with young men and women serving time in juvenile detention, seeing them come alive with a glow from within as they recall the music they love that makes them think of better times and offers hope of starting a new life of freedom.  I’m humbled recalling times playing drums with incarcerated adult men and women and seeing the childlike wonder and ease come into their faces and bodies after we’ve played a drum session together. And I remember thinking that I’ll never look at anything the same after sharing music and instruments with refugees in Cairo that had fled their native lands for asylum in Egypt.  Before our time together, their food, clothing and shelter needs overshadowed their ability to seek out opportunities to recall their love for the rich music and rhythms of their native culture. 

What types of instruments do you share during a presentation?

I usually share around twenty different instruments during a one hour presentation.  My collection numbers around 140 unique instruments from six continents as well as many relics and artifacts collected from around the world.  Much of my collection could be considered organic, traditional or indigenous and made out of natural materials, some very old and some contemporary.  I also have many cutting edge pieces of digital music making equipment and instruments that I use to share lessons about the evolution of different styles of music making and the wonders of technology.  


Tell us about your background and what has drawn you to this work.

As long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with different cultures, nature, community, instruments, music and geography.   I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, and often rode my bike by the sites where Native Americans first encountered Europeans, and where the first enslaved Africans arrived onto the shores of America at Jamestown in 1619.  

Upon encountering the Montessori method as an adult, it occurred to me that I had always loved learning, but loathed most of the time spent each day at my school.  My mom says she still remembers seeing the glow drained from my face between second and third grade when school stopped engaging me. She also recalls how not soon after, I declared adamantly that I was dropping out of school.  I had terrible anxiety during this time and dreaded waking up to spend the day at the school, a place that just a couple years ago I dearly loved. In seventh grade I was diagnosed with a learning disability that led to me being relegated to special classes where often our daily tasks were coloring printed pictures or watching TV while the teacher caught up on paperwork.  

I recall barely getting through high school, and finally graduating due to much encouragement from my mom and constant coping through music and an insatiable curiosity.  College was nine years of chasing a degree in Sociology by way of sporadically focused studies in music, percussion, anthropology and Arabic language.  

I started collecting musical instruments in my early-teens and during college years would regularly share them through group and individual lessons with the children in the government housing projects behind our dorm and other places around town where people congregate.  Over time this evolved into partnerships with organizations that work with at risk children such as Boys and Girls Club, Americorps, and WINGS for Kids.  

From the moment I was introduced to Montessori education, I was hooked.  I was welcomed to share weekly classes at Sundrops Montessori Schools in Charleston, South Carolina and after a few years became full time, first as an Assistant in an elementary classroom, then as the music and culture educator for the three campuses.  I reckon that Montessori education resonates with me so much because it is intuitive, practical and effective in fostering self-empowerment and purpose in students. At the same time, the Montessori method fosters a lifelong love of learning, peace, recognition and appreciation of the “cosmic connections” between everything.  

I’ve often spoken with Montessori educators and students and shared that I can’t imagine who I’d be and what I’d be doing if I’d had a formative Montessori education that encouraged and supported my full potential as a curious person and challenged learner.  I see now that my disdain for traditional education was a product of long periods of confinement to desks, an absence of creativity and respect for each person’s unique worth, and utter lack of value placed on wonder and the interconnectedness of all things. It’s taken me two decades to put together the pieces that allowed me to realize that I had all the while been seeking out my own path of learning.  This path of self-guided learning seems to have converged with my introduction to Montessori education at the exact right time. Now my intention is to always reveal my highest potential as a person and show up as the teacher that I always wished I had in those dreary days of school.  


What do you hope people take away from a session with you?

My hope ultimately is for people to fall in love with learning and be inspired to share what they are passionate about with others.  I do my best to relate things that have helped me to connect more effectively with different people. Things like: meet folks where they’re at.  Be prepared enough to be in the moment and share the lesson and subject material with compassion and authenticity. That comes by doing it again and again and again. One of the essential requisites of a teacher is to connect with and inspire their students.  Everyone is a student and a teacher and we must continue to learn. I emphasize this to children as well as adults because we grow up sometimes creating beliefs about what we are and what we are not and these limit us from exploring our deep curiosities and inevitably limit our potential.  

Also, it’s important to me to emphasize, through actions and lessons, rather than words, the truth that everyone and every culture has inherent dignity and is an integral piece of the whole.  Each person and group are worthy of being treated as someone of intrinsic value and incalculable potential. We can choose to lift each other up through our words, actions and beliefs or pull them down with them.  

Two classic quotes that really resonate with me in regards to this question: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children” and “be the change you wish to see in the world.”  

You are a founding member of the World Music Festival in Ghana.  Can you tell us more about this annual event?

The Nkabom World Music and Culture Festival was a vision that became reality through the work of an extraordinary organization called Project OKURASE.  This organization, along with Sundrops Montessori School in Charleston, also founded the first Montessori school in Okurase, Ghana, a few years ago. Travelers, educators, school groups, scholars and medical professionals visit the village of Okurase throughout the year and each summer for cultural enrichment, history, wildlife and nature, as well as the annual Village Health Outreach.  This annual event brings together dozens of healthcare professionals from around Africa, the US and Europe to offer free healthcare to over a thousand local people over the course of a week.  

Okurase is a drum making village and I learned about it when a boy named Francis Yevuga was brought from there to Charleston to have his eyes examined and diagnosed because of progressive vision loss.  A team of doctors, led by Dr. Cynthia Swenson (Co-founder of Project OKURASE) facilitated Francis’ care and well-being over the course of a year visit. Francis was removed from school around age four because of his failing sight and taken under the wing of a Master Drummer and instrument builder named Samuel Yeboah, whose nickname is Powerful (Co-founder of Project OKURASE).  When I met Francis he was around twelve years old, and by all accounts performed West African rhythm at the skill level of a Master drummer. He was enrolled in my class and upon his arrival at Sundrops Montessori we became generally inseparable because I had a music and culture room filled from ceiling to floor with instruments and cultural relics that he could escape to and regenerate. Francis often had overwhelming culture shock.  Though he rapidly learned the nuances of being an American kid, he initially spoke no English, had never experienced running water, hot water or a flushing toilet, and also could only see a small window of vision out of the periphery of his right eye. Francis seemed to inspire everyone he encountered through his positive spirit and lighthearted personality.  

After that year together, Francis’ visa expired and he had to return to Ghana.  I decided to make the trek back with him in hopes of easing his transition back home.  This trip marked a different chapter in my life, much healing, much connection, much realization.  I was welcomed by the village in spectacular fashion, and my spirit will be eternally grateful for the love that I was shown by the community that embraced me and taught me so much.  

The next year Sundrops Montessori did a fundraiser and instrument drive so that Francis could have a music room of his own in the village.  Building the music resource center would be a way to keep Francis engaged in learning and create further skills to support himself as he got older.  

The Nkabom Festival is an extension of that vision of music, community development and education.  I realized being in Okurase that I had taken for granted growing up in a place that offered access to countless arts and music performances almost every day of the week. It became a priority to collaborate with my Project OKURASE family in Ghana and Charleston and through social media to raise funds that would allow for the infrastructure to have a large scale event that could both expose the talent of the artists in and around Okurase, and also offer the community an opportunity to experience a medium where they could come together to celebrate music and arts from their culture and others from throughout the world.  We also hold a sister festival in Charleston as a fundraiser and bridge of consciousness to Ghana and our African connections in the Lowcountry. 

The festival has brought many people together and given a range of performers an opportunity to showcase their talents and passion.  It’s brought many opportunities for experiential learning in things as various as communication, logistics, infrastructure, organization, budgeting, sound, stage and light design, waste management and recycling, media, food service, security and more.  We are always looking for more people to support the efforts to make the festival happen, as well as folks to come and attend the festival in Okurase! Project OKURASE has been offering tours, cultural immersion and service learning experiences in Ghana for over ten years.  

You have given training at several Montessori institutes and conferences.  What do you hope Montessori teachers take away from your presentations? 

In my teacher enrichment workshops that feature group drumming as a team building component, I explain to educators that part of the purpose of group music making, and specifically drumming together, is for them to remember the anxiety that they experienced as a child when learning something new in a group setting.  We have to be careful of what we tell ourselves regarding what we can and can’t do. Everyone, with a little exploration, research, and dedication can teach others something about music and culture. I know this to be true and the same applies to any subject. When a person is ready, they can begin sharing what they know with others and then their next teacher will show up when the time is right.  Inevitably, we become somewhat of a specialist in conveying knowledge as we continue pursuing a specific learning path. 

At most teacher training and presentation opportunities, I tell people that one of my main objectives is for them to be inspired to want to learn more about something that they love and then share it with others.  I use the medium of music and cultural education to model the nearly infinite depth of knowledge that can be learned about something of interest, and perhaps more importantly how fun and exciting it can be to share something that you’re interested in and passionate about with others.  We all have a series of choices to make throughout our lives, and each choice leads us to another: choose your own adventure, learn everything you can! The more we know about ourselves and others, the more choices we have and the freer we are.  


Learn more about Daniel Scruggs at  RhythmMovesLive.Com