Blog: Why the UN’s Rights of the Child are at the heart of Montessori

Our Acting Deputy Head of School, Karen Gelson writes:

This month in our school we will be celebrating Universal Children’s Day which honours the day on which the United Nation’s Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959. The Rights of the Child according to the United Nations are the right to life, health, education and play, as well as the right to family life, to be protected from violence, to express themselves, to not be discriminated against, and to have their views heard. (Read UNICEF’s child-friendly version.) Recognising both the vulnerability of children and the opinions and potential of every individual to contribute to the world is something that sits at the heart of the Montessori approach.

Maria Montessori championed the rights of the child throughout her life and on a global scale. She understood that childhood and education would influence the leaders and citizens of the future. In 1947 she wrote to all governments saying: “childhood has shown me that all humanity is one” and “the child is the forgotten citizen, and yet, if statesmen and educationalists once came to realise the terrific force that is in childhood . . . I feel they would give it priority above everything else. All problems of humanity depend on man himself; if man is disregarded in his construction, the problems will never be solved.” In her book Education and Peace Montessori wrote that “the child, that forgotten citizen, must be appreciated in accordance with his true value. His rights as a human being who shapes all of mankind must become sacred.”

It is easy to take for granted the rights that most of us and most children in our society enjoy. But this is not the case in all communities or circumstances in the UK and certainly millions of children around the world are facing poverty, war, hunger and violence. In our school respecting and supporting the rights of our children is at the heart of our Montessori approach. We respect the rights and needs of individual children in simple ways such as allowing our children to drink water or take a break from their work whenever they want, or to choose what book they want to read, who they want to sit with or how long they want to spend on an activity.

Today, the positive impact of Maria Montessori on the rights of the child, can be seen in challenging situations around the world including refugee camps, remote communities and prisons. Our Corner of Hope initiative in Kenya is bringing effective and inspirational education to children in displaced persons camps, while our Born Inside project in HMP Bronzefield is supporting the parent-child bond of those in the prison’s mother and baby unit.

So please join us on the 20th November in our heartfelt celebration of the rights of the child, a cause so very dear and personal in our Maria Montessori School.

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