A Pedagogy of Love

Barbara Isaacs, 12 September 2021

Love features regularly in Montessori’s own writing. I have often wondered what she herself meant by this. Did she mean the unconditional love of a parent (prime carer), which all children need to thrive, and which she, herself, was not able to share with her own son when he was young? Did she also consider the generous, spontaneous love children show the adults, that nurtures their relationship with parents as well as educators?  This love can very quickly convert to expression of anger or even momentary hate, as young children learn to understand their own emotions and those of others.  Did she refer to love as the adults’ reverence and respect for children which we would expect from all educators?  Despite all these questions and there must be many more, most of us are inspired by Montessori’s own words and we interpret them in line with our own lived experiences. 

When I reflect on my professional Montessori journey, I recall being questioned by a colleague about students’ references to love of children in their essays.  I also remember that in the late 1980’s the training for nursery nurses advocated a detached attitude to children in their care, warning against the dangers of close loving relationships. 

How times have changed!  I am grateful for the more recent inclusion of the attachment theory in all the early childhood training and education.  Attachment studies (Bowlby, Ainsworth and others) highlight the importance of unconditional, consistent, predictable relationships, particularly in early childhood. They are a model of what later relationships might be like and demonstrate the importance of loving relationships with parents, family members, prime carers, friends and educators, in children’s lives.  We have all missed these loving connections during the lockdown when we were not able to touch and hug our friends and family.  Human contact and touch are important aspects of our demonstrations of love and are particularly important in the first years of life. It is not surprising that in recent years we have started to hear and read more and more about the “Pedagogy of Love” and have come to explore what this means in practical terms.

Sue Gerhardt’s book “Why Love Matters” is a powerful reminder of what it means to experiences love, as it explores the impact of close human relationships on brain development, particularly in babies.  Hough in his review “What’s love got to do with it” of John Miller’s book Love and Compassion: Exploring Their Role in Education, highlights the strong links between love and compassion and explains, in his article recommended in our newsletter. 

“Compassion allows us to see our students as individuals who are struggling and sometimes suffering. Compassion allows us to see ourselves in the student, even the student who we find is hard to relate to.”

In this quotation we have such a powerful link with Montessori’s own writing where she constantly prompts us to see children for who they are, and to Kahlil Gibran’s passage from the Prophet in which he reminds us that our children are not our children and that we may give them our love, but not our thoughts (1923: 20)

It also reminds me of how hard it is to give ourselves the time, particularly at the start of the academic year, to get to know the children in our class for who they are, rather than as we would like them to be.  To be able to find the time and space in our hectic early weeks of September for this acceptance of each unique child, we also need to find space to love ourselves.  Aline Wolf’s book Nurturing the Spirit explores this need to know and love ourselves for who we are, not perfect beings, but always striving to do our best for the children and colleagues with whom we work. 

In this context it seems fitting to begin this academic year with a presentation by Tamsin Grimmer, a mother, childminder, lecturer at Bath Spa University and also the author of Pedagogy of Love as she explores the nature of professional love and gives practical examples of how this can be expressed in our work.  She also advocates for care for each other as we try to navigate the complexities of daily work with young children.

You can find several of Tamsin’s articles for Parenta  and her conversations with Kathy Brodie on Early Years TV on her website. We hope you will join us this Tuesday 14 September at 19.00 (BST) to explore a Pedagogy of Love further. The session will not be recorded so we encourage you to join us live. You can register now.

References

Gibran, K. (1923) The Prophet. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

Hough, L. (2018) “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”, Harvard Ed. Magazine, available online (accessed 10/9/21)

Wolf A.D. (1996) Nurturing the Spirit in non-sectarian classrooms. Hollidaysburg, PA: Parent Child Press

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