150 Years: The Power of the Story, part 1

This article is part of a series that we will share throughout the 2020-2021 school year to celebrate the 150th birthday of Dr. Maria Montessori. Check back often for more posts that reflect on the past, present, and future of Montessori education.


Every Montessori journey is a bit different. For some, it starts during childhood as a student. For others, we begin as adults, either in the role of a parent or educator. Sometimes the journey may seem brief, yet what we learn becomes woven into who we are. Other times, Montessori philosophy drives our life’s work.


Over the next several months we will be sharing interviews to highlight a few of these journeys, each from a different perspective. Today we will share that of Shawnaly Tabor, M.Ed.. Shawnaly currently teaches lower elementary at Damariscotta Montessori School in Nobleboro, Maine. She attended Kalispell Montessori School in Montana (now called Woodland Montessori School) as a child and later found herself returning to the method as an educator. We think you’ll find her story fascinating and inspiring.


You were a Montessori student as a child. What was that experience like for you? What were some of the lessons, experiences, or feelings you can recall from your time in that type of learning environment?

One of the strongest, most clear memories I have from being a young Montessori student was in a primary classroom. I had been given a lesson about the golden beads and I clearly remember holding the thousand cube after the lesson and there was sun coming in the window and it was one of those early thousand cubes - they were all the ceramic glass - and so I remember it being a little bit shiny and glittery in the sunlight, and I remember holding it and thinking, “Wow. This is a thousand.” It was so special and I can clearly remember it, and I remember the weight of it, and then looking at it because it was made of all of the individual beads. I remember kind of peering into it to see if I could if I could see beads in between the bead gaps.


Then when I was a little bit older in upper elementary, I remember the Timeline of Life. It showed from simple life-forms through dinosaurs and eventually to humans with pictures, and I remember I was amazed by the beauty of it and the complexity of it and then also how small the human section was at the end.


Are there ways in which your years as a Montessori child colored your experience in other types of educational environments?

When I got into public school math classes I really enjoyed math and I felt like I understood it well. When the teacher was talking about different concepts, I would get pictures in my head that would help me understand it. At the time I didn’t really realize what was going on until I went to my Montessori training and I was reacquainted with the materials. I realized that through middle school, high school, and even college that I had been picturing a version of what I remembered of the Montessori materials. Working with them really formed a picture in my head that helped me understand math better.


Socially it was a tricky transition, but I realized that it was a tricky transition for everybody. In the valley that I’d lived in there were many small elementary schools and in the seventh grade everybody transitioned to this great big school. Everybody was having the same experience as I was, moving from a small environment to a big environment. I feel like the years I spent working in a Montessori school on independence, self-confidence, and academic skills helped support me through what could have been a really scary experience. Because the academics seemed a bit easier, I was able to make friends, and it helped my transition be easier. And I started to find the excitement within the transition, and I really enjoyed learning.


What led you to your Montessori training? What was training like for you? You mentioned that you had your former teachers as some of your training instructors.

Yes, I was able to come back and be an adult with my Montessori teachers. It was a very interesting experience. One of them had saved something I had written from when I was a child and brought it out during one of the lessons as an example. It was very special, and a little bit silly, and a little embarrassing, but it was wonderful to see them again and to have them as mentors in a new way.


After I received my public school certification and completed my student teaching there, I became aware that I did not want to stay in