Today was a big day for Chiara. Even though her birthday is not until July 21, she celebrated her “birthday walk” at her Montessori preschool this morning. The “birthday walk” is a Blossoms tradition that each of my children have experienced, and it’s something they remember long after the ice cream is served.
Every child gets his or her own day, none of that “summer birthdays” stuff where a whole bunch of kids have to have one big birthday celebration. It’s all about making every child feel special for one day. So today we brought in our big poster filled with pictures representing all the different stages of Chiara’s life (see photo above) and set it on a shelf for all the kids to see. Lots of oohs and aahs over baby photos and Halloween costumes and shots of Chiara jumping in the waves of North Wildwood. Then Chiara sat in a special chair with Dennis and me seated on either side of her. She picked the welcome song, “Hola,” and everyone sang to her. Then they sang the traditional birthday song. Finally came the highlight of the day, the actual “birthday walk.”
Her teacher lit a candle, which represents the sun. Chiara held a little globe. With our hands on her shoulders, we walked with her around the candle one time for every year of her life as we told a story from that year. I talked about her Italian name and that it means “light” and is “Clare” in Italian. Dennis talked about her first trip to the ocean and how she loved the sand and water. I talked about Five Rivers and how she adores the owl who lives at the nature center there and loves to hike and have picnic lunches. Dennis talked about how sad she was when our dog died and how thrilled she is now to have two new cats.
After the walk, we sat down again and each child in the class came up to give Chiara a birthday hug while everyone sang, “Love is something if you give it away.” When all of that was finished, each child called out an individual birthday wish, and Chiara blew out the candle and called on a few students to put away the globe and mat and other birthday props. Then she tapped each remaining child on the shoulder and sent them back to “work.” At the end of the day, she took home the birthday “scroll” the children and teachers made for her. (That’s it below.) When she unrolled it at home, both Noah and Olivia immediately started talking about their own scrolls, which are tucked away for safe keeping in their rooms.
The birthday walk is a beautiful tradition, one that really highlights the respectful and holistic elements of Maria Montessori’s learning-teaching theory. It’s those kinds of touches that made us choose a Montessori program in the first place. If you could walk into Chiara’s classroom, which is really a series of open rooms in an old house, you would be amazed to see 3- to 6-year-olds working independently, quietly, neatly and cooperatively. It’s really something to behold. We are so blessed to have this little school just a mile or so from home, run by a loving Catholic couple who started the school 25 years ago when their own children reached preschool age. The school teaches basics, but thrown in are lessons in kindness, peace, generosity and love. I wish I could bottle what they do there because what they do is a lost art, in many ways. It is wholesome and simple, devoid of commercialism and high-tech gadgets, intellectually stimulating and emotionally uplifting. And I can see the results in Chiara’s smile every time she walks through the school door.