The 80-year-old Paula Polk Lillard and her two daughters Dr Angeline Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen swear by Maria Montessori’s way of teaching. Paula is an internationally renowned authority on the Montessori theory and practice. She is the author of four books and many articles. She co-founded the Forest Bluff Montessori School in Chicago, Illinois in the United States.
It all started around 50 years ago in the early 1960s when the school Paula’s daughter Pamela went to in Cincinnati introduced Montessori’s method of teaching.
“I was quite apprehensive about it, so I volunteered to be the teacher’s assistant.” The teacher was a European woman who was trained by Montessori. “During that one year I learnt so much. I saw the kindness with which the students were treated and I was interested in learning more.” Paula was a teacher in a public school before she got married. “I knew I wanted to teach and since I liked the way students in Montessori schools learnt I enrolled myself at the Xavier University in Cincinnati for training.” There has been no looking back since then for Paula.
She has devoted a major portion of her time to guiding parents through this method of teaching, that they themselves have not experienced, with her writing. She became a certified AMI Montessori Primary Director and served on the Boards of Directors of both the American Montessori Society and Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) USA.
Her first book in 1972 — Montessori: A Modern Approach — came from her thesis during her masters.
It was in 1982 that she along with her daughter Lynn Lillard Jessen founded the Forest Bluff School. Paula says, “After we moved to Chicago I taught in a public school for seven years. But then I decided to start our own Montessori.” Asked about the difference between being a teacher in a conventional school and in a Montessori one, Paula says, “It came naturally to me. You are allowed to be so much more independent.” Paula says that the Montessori method is not only good for normal children but also for the disabled, “It is good for everyone. In a Montessori school it is easier for the child to adjust. There is no pressure or competition.
No one makes them feel small or incompetent.” “Everyone should go to a Montessori,” Paula says.
Paula’s daughter Angeline, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, who has done extensive research on this method says, “We were all inspired by our mother’s work in this field.” She says, “Montessori carefully thought everything through. It is important for teachers to understand that ideas can’t be taken out or put in. Teachers absolutely have to follow every step for the perfect outcome.” “It is very important for teachers to understand child psychology for them to understand children better and cater to their needs,” Angeline adds.
The mother-daughter trio were in Chennai for Maitri 2012, organised by Indian Montessori Centre in the city on Saturday.