“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”
Dr Maria Montessori
For Echoes Montessori, 2022 has been defined by connection. When we opened our doors in January, it finally connected the dots of a design and a dream several years in the making. With each day that we’ve welcomed children to our classrooms, we have also built connections with the other members of our ‘village’: the residents of Encore apartments for independent retirement living. Our intergenerational environment is no longer an idea; it is a reality and a path that we walk together.
In six short months, our children, their families, our educators and our elders have created a remarkable community. Authentic and meaningful intergenerational engagement is already embedded into the routines and rhythms of our days. We welcome our elders into the classroom to learn alongside us, we meet them in the common spaces of our village to work on shared projects like our edible garden, we visit their apartments to deliver freshly-baked treats, and we organise special events together, such as our afternoon tea for Global Intergenerational Week in April. Through these rich and varied experiences, our children have developed deep and mutually respectful connections with their older friends. Ideas have been exchanged, skills have been shared, jokes have been made, hands have been held, hearts have been touched.
Our Leadership Team – Karyn, Sarah and Tina – have become pedagogical pioneers. In addition to their roles as Montessori educators and professional mentors to their team of teachers, they have been instrumental in developing this entirely unique and ever-evolving intergenerational program. They help our families to understand the benefits of intergenerational engagement, they liaise with the support staff of Encore apartments, and they are the first point of contact for every Encore resident. The Leadership Team have guided our educators through the demanding but rewarding process of settling an entirely new group of children and families into our community, while simultaneously helping them appreciate the importance of embedding intergenerational engagement into our work. Those educators have risen to the challenge, passionately committing to their vital roles within our village. Our project is living proof that an ambitious vision is achievable when we connect with each other to form one whole unity!
Our intergenerational interactions are intertwined with our Montessori principles. When boxes of flat-pack furniture arrive, we take them down to the Workshop so that children and their elders can partner in some Practical Life work. Each time we refine the preparation of our environments, we seek ways to include and inspire our little learners as well as our ‘senior’ students. As our days go on, we follow the child but also the adult as we create personalised pathways towards our future together.
We also emulate the scientific spirit of Dr Maria Montessori by analysing and evaluating this unique living experiment. We have developed tools that allow us to not only plan lessons and experiences, but to evaluate them. We are also participating in a ‘micro-longitudinal’ study with the ECH research division. Monitoring our outcomes, and gathering measurable data where we can, demonstrates the facts that strengthen the positive feelings our project evokes. Most people instinctively recognise that intergenerational engagement is heart-warming, but we are adding to the growing body of research that proves there is substance beneath the smiles. As the Australian Institute for Intergenerational Practice [AIIP] puts it, we are trying to move from people thinking it is a ‘nice’ idea, to understanding that it is also a ‘wise’ choice because of its many benefits. We are proud members of the AIIP, and have been presenting details of our program to other interested practitioners in Australia and internationally. Our Echoes leaders have also undertaken the first International Certificate in Intergenerational Practice through Generations Working Together to ensure that we are enacting the best practice principles of intergenerational engagement and evaluation.
Our next steps for Echoes Montessori include the imminent launch of our Volunteer Support Modules to help our elders feel empowered in their interactions with children. These Modules introduce these lifelong learners to some of the core principles of Montessori, offer insights about the type of language they can use to communicate effectively and positively with children, and provide advice for protecting their own health and well-being as well as safeguarding the children they are working with. We are also approaching the official founding of our Intergenerational Social Committee, which will ensure that the children and their elders are plotting their own path forward.
We continue to look for ways to share our story; not to seek kudos, but in the hopes of inspiring others. The positive impact of our program is already evident within our own community, and we believe that all children and all older citizens deserve these opportunities for joy, lifelong learning and meaningful connections. Dr Maria Montessori told us that, “the greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth” and that greatness remains with us every day of our life, throughout our later years. We are never too old to learn, never too old to play, never too old to contribute. Our Encore residents are proof of how important and impactful our older citizens are. We are so proud that our Echoes Montessori children will grow up with a perspective of ageing not as a passive process, but as an active and ongoing journey of discovery and delight.
Jessica & Barbara Langford
Founders, Echoes Montessori
Echoes Montessori is located at 85 Smart Rd, Modbury in South Australia.
Visit www.samontessori.com.au/echoes/ to learn more.