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10 years celebrating Peace in Otoch Paal

Pretentious word … peace … Longing …

We all implore it and yet we all deny it, and at some point in our lives, not only ignore it but humble our essence to the selfishness of our whims. Are these words rude?  Maybe. But reading them make us have a moment of reflection to make a pause if we feel the absence of the subtle presence of peace in our lives.

Mankind always acclaims who, in one way or another, expressed the desire of peace, transforming it into actions that transcend. Maria Montessori lived difficult times and one of her deepest desires was that children could grow up in an environment that would allow them to develop their lives free from egoism, whims, or arrogance created by those seeking to excel through the power.

For 10 years Otoch Paal has  opened its doors with the firm intention of seeking spaces that promote a harmonious environment in which the essence of each one of the children can manifest.  When we get in the classrooms, the gentle caress of the harmonious murmur with which children express their creativity is perceived immediately. During times of recreation, children exploit the generous sharing energy that drives them to do. It is a constant self-construction of human beings in peaceful environments.

The “Table of Peace” is, in every classroom, a space high frequently visited by children. The experiences that arise from it are tracing deep furrows that mark the personality of the child making them reflective, good listeners, respectful children, who are able to express their own point of view and who can reach agreements, tolerating the differences and proposing solutions.

Celebrating 10 years of Education for Peace in Otoch Paal, is to celebrate life, it means shearing the essence of Montessori’s thought the roots. Let’s open our hearts and let’s live peaceful moments in our daily lives.  Let Montessori be more than the name of school for children, let’s make it a philosophy of life in our community.

The greatest love: separation and letting go


 Beginning a new school year is a complex event for Montessori families.  Taking on a rhythm of daily routines, adjusting to a collection of new concepts, new relationships, schedules and expectations can be a dramatic turn for the entire household. But far and away at the top of the list is what perhaps the most complex challenge of them all, and that is the task of separation.  During “Orientation Week” for new parents, I usually introduce Montessori’s concept of the secret of childhood. It certainly serves as a potential backdrop for the fact that we might as well admit it from the beginning: the child at work in the task of self-construction is a process that requires a certain privacy and conscious distance from the overview of their parents.

In her writings on the secret of childhood, Montessori transforms the popularly held sense of the word secret from something which may be sneaky or covert into a valuable component of human development. In that we have chosen the Montessori approach to education, we understand the importance of the child’s independence and autonomy.

letras de lijaIt is simple as this: a child cannot become autonomous unless we support that “secret” process. That is, that which occurs apart from us. And that requires letting go.

It happens at our school every day. The farewells at the classroom door take form in hundreds of ways. Sometimes there is much grace and ease, and sometimes less. Either way, there is poignancy and drama. I would venture to guess that once we have said goodbye, if given the chance to return unnoticed through the back door and watch our children in the classroom, most of us would jump at the chance. Because we like to see. We love knowing how they’re doing, what they choose, who they know, how they are. And this feeling doesn’t go away.


I had my comeuppance at a football game last fall. There in the stands, band new 400 millimeter camera lens in hand, I found myself following agile moves of our high school senior on the field. Through the mighty magnifying device I barely missed a move.

And then it came to me: echoes of the same speeches I give to parent all through orientation week at school. They will eave you. They must. And I started to laugh. For a simple as is the urge to take one more peek at the classroom door, observing our children as they grow becomes increasingly complex. The metaphor is perfect: What do you do as they grow further away? You get a bigger lens.

Or maybe not! And therein lies the art of parenting. To know when to pick up the lens and when to let the moment pass. When to ask direct, coddle or intervene and when to remain silent, or simply to make way. To allow our children that grace of their best and most authentic development, we must allow them room to grow; apart from us.

Recently I heard a most disturbing story of adolescent gang violence on the radio.

“What could they have been thinking?” asked one adult in response. Or were they thinking? Our news is filled with the perils of our times: adolescents facing increasing exposure to violence and a sea of worldly temptations with short-lived rewards. We pray for wisdom to guide them and are well-aware of our limitations.

It comes down to this: it’s up to them. Just as in a Montessori environment, ultimate safety and responsibility is achieved not by offering non breakable dishware and dulled utensils for the preparation of food. Children are safer and more competent when they learn the truth about carrying a pitcher with care because it can be a thing of danger. How very receptive our children are rising to the occasion. And how very important is the role of the adult. It is a fine-tuned dance, Montessori’s call to “follow the child”. As our children respond to their own inner directives, we respond to our children by keeping our promise to meet them on the high road. “Indefatigably”, as E.M. standing says, irresistibly joyfully, the child is working to create the adult.”

A story is told about a young child and her dad. In later stages of toilet training, the father had very simply ritualized a gesture of privacy in the bathroom. After the child settled into the task, the father would leave the room for a minute or two and wait outside the door. Once, after gently closing the door, he unwittingly flipped down the light switch in the hallway, leaving the bathroom in complete darkness. Waiting outside, he realized what he had done when he heard the gentle voice of this child from the inside: “Where did I go?” she said.

Not “Hey! Who turned out the lights?” but in the child’s inimitable honesty, she looked first to herself, to see if she was still there.

We might shift the story only slightly, imagine it as symbolic, and remember the call to core Montessori theory. Dr. Montessori teaches us that the greatest task in the first six years of life is the construction of the self; self-construction. Not you, as I need you to be, but you at your best. This is why the lessons, presentations, and work in the early Montessori school years are geared to individual children, one-to-one. Montessori teaches us to honor the sacred task of each single child’s developing character and self-awareness.

One afternoon, two of the elementary students invited me to come quickly to the classroom to witness a discovery they had made. Their enthusiastic reverie began before we crossed the threshold of the classroom door: “First we were working with the cubing material, and we noticed how the cube of the three reminded us of the pink tower we used to use in primary. We decided to go borrow a pink tower from one of the primary classes and bring it back here. We stacked the pink tower next to the cubing material and found it was identical… all except for the ten cubes which raised it too high. We removed the ten cubes and then realized that they are identical without it. Then we realized that it’s because you can’t cube double digits. So of course that’s why the ten cube didn’t fit!”

This story is an everyday example of Montessori education at work. The symbolic process and the practical process are interdependent aspects of education for life. Having a concept in your head is one thing. To imagine it, then enact it, test and declare it, allows even greater authority once something is learned. What is learned this way becomes personal property in a most personal way. The Montessori environment exists for no higher purpose than such discovery. As these students made their discovery, they came full circle. Reaching the end of their Montessori material, they found themselves returning to the beginning to validate the whole of their finding.
Our days are not lived in isolation. Not only in education, but in relationship, in family and in the lives we intend to share together. As long as we are true to the goals of our highest purpose, we will continually discover how one piece fits with another, and how the beginning and then end have everything to do with each other.

Recently when we sent our son back to college by train, I had the idea of putting a penny on the track. After those reluctant farewells and that last sweet hug, we waved until he was out of sight. Once the train had passed, the penny had flown off the track and laid there in the darkness only a few feet away. It had flattened into a shining paper-thin slip of copper. As I rubbed my thumb over the surface, I discovered only one remnant of its original penny-state. Most of the word Liberty still remained intact across  one edge of the coin.

Sometimes the messages we receive are subtle. Sometimes they are inescapable. And this one I needed to hear again: Saying good-by is saying good-bye, and that means letting go and meaning it. Physical and psychic Liberty.

Montessori calls us to this most difficult task as parents when she mandates us to “Follow the Child”. Follow does not mean to hover over, but rather something much more difficult to realize. When we truly honor our children’s growth, we also honor the incremental stages of releasing them as separate and honorable –and eventually, wholly apart from us. It’s a lifetime process, and it begins with the mystery of life itself. Just as the in uterus process occurs where we cannot wee it, the psychic growth of human life occasionally has its comparable autonomy. When we refrain from inquiring after our child’s every thought, and give them space to find their way, check-in with themselves, a chance to report the news of the day without having known it first ourselves, we take the early steps. As our urges would have us ask and ask, our slip back around the corner to peek into the classroom and try to catch them unaware, we are reminded, as I was when I nearly tried to lick up his tracks, that liberty truly gained does not have strings. To follow the child includes their incremental release and the courage to allow our children to try this world out, inch by inch, apart from us.

Montessori Children

Montessori observed the phenomena of “normalization,” that condition during which children showed their true nature, peacefulness, calm, and an industriousness that has come to be surprising in young children. We seek normalization in our classrooms. We discuss children as not yet normalized. We admire the normalized child who was such a handful before.

diseño en papelBy focusing, though, on the goal of the normalized child, we distance ourselves from the children at hand. Each child in our classrooms comes to us perfect, and it is our obligation to treat the child with the same love and reverence when his or her behavior is challenging as we do this idealized normalized child. Consider the normalized child who suddenly suffers a child more grace, because we have seen this child as normalized, than we do the child who has yet to overcome the simpler, hidden stressed of children’s lives. We are more forgiving. We are more compassionate. We have loved the normalized child entirely, and because we have loved her, we hurt with her and for her.

Each child deserves that same forgiveness, that same compassion; for the work each child accomplishes on the path to adulthood is exactly the work that child is to do. Montessori warned us that we could not do the work of becoming on the child’s behalf. We see children who, it seems, have everything, and it is difficult not to hold their life’s status against them when their behavior challenges us. We become angry with their parents for spoiling them or for not doing just as we have directed. We are frustrated that they don’t respond as quickly, that they are not served by the materials we have chosen for them. And in our judgment, we separate ourselves even further. It is only through empathy that we can understand the child’s life. It is only through compassion that we can serve her. We must look at the child who is standing in front of us (or lying on the ground screaming in front of us!) and see the child who is yet to come. We revere the child for her potential. We respect her for her promise. While continue to do this work, and gives foundation to our accomplishment as teachers, sometimes the most important work we do is for the child we never see change.

If we have neither sufficient experience nor love to enable us to distinguish the fine and delicate expressions of the child’s life, if we do not know how to respect them, then we perceive them only when they are manifested violently.  Maria Montessori


The pic shows a work  done by a 5 years old child during his English lesson.

Children are not complicated…

globos de pazSeptember 21st we celebeated the International Day of Peace. It was very joyfull to listen to the kids voices when they read theis messages of peace and then sent them to the blue sky.  Children are always looking for happiness, that is their natural way of living in harmony and peace. It is us, the adults who complicate the situations.

In this post we want to share a text written by Catherine McTamaney.  A beautiful reflexion to see that everytime is a good time to take good opportunities.

How complicated are the children. Really? We can track their development, predict emerging skills, judge their growth spurts, and chart their progress. Doesn’t it all look pretty much the same in the end? Children come to us, they learn with us, they move on. Three-year-olds become four-year-olds. Four-year-olds become five-year-olds. And so on.  And on.  And on.

mundo de pazOver time, over children, we grow more comfortable in what to expect, and so can better understand the child whose development is surprising. But in that comfort, we can sometimes project on to children what we expect of their development, when we should be responding to it because we have seen it concretely in each child. Don’t the children all become wild in the spring? Isn’t December always a difficult month? Doesn’t the best work of the year happen in January and February? Perhaps, Maybe not.

celebranzo la pazRemember the secret of childhood? What is the secret? That inner drive that push that we cannot perceive, that we can no longer understand because we are no longer children. In our loss of words, we seek other ways to demystify children. We track and predict and judge and chart. We put children’s development onto clearly defined, carefully laid-out spread-sheets for their parents to understand. We justify. Checklists are easier for teacher to complete. They are easier for parents to understand. But what about the details that don’t fit into the boxes? We overlook the unique wonderment of each child by focusing instead on the predictors that we have chosen. We come up with our list of the individual traits that we value, and we check off when the child has shown them, and so abdicate our duty to continue to try to perceive the uncountable galaxies within each child.

deseos de paz al vientoIf we are unable to easily give details, if It is too difficult or time consuming to describe the unique wonderment of each child, we are not paying close enough attention. Montessori is based on the attention to each individual. Children come before our manuals. We should know, at any moment, the endless ways in which two children are different, or we are not watching carefully enough. Using a checklist for its simplicity has its merits. But don’t pretend that children are simple. Leave space for the unexpected, and know that every child is unexpected.

The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seed may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Maria Montessori.

Grace and courtesy: education for peace

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The art of conveying the grace and courtesy is a real education for peace. It is a lifestyle, a way of being, it comes in a natural way when practiced daily as part of life itself .

In Montessori, children are in contact with a world of calm, receiving example of good manners and making

activities that transmit their love for life and respect for the environment around them.  It is an Education for Life, children grow generating positive energy that is regenerated when they get in touch with other children.

Grace and courtesy are seeds that germinate in school fed by the environment in which they grow. Grace and courtesy are, without a doubt, seeds sown at home that will give fruit if they are maintained with love.


A Mayan Tradition: Hanal Pixan at Otoch Paal

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Hanal_Pixan_ 2014-009Mayan people remember their dead in a unique and original way. Each year, thousands of homes fill up with the scent of the “Cempasuchil” flower (Mexican Hanal_Pixan_ 2014-008marigold), which they use to adorn the altars they lay out for their loved ones who have passed away. Mexicans think of death in a distinct way. They fear it and respect it, but they’re also able to laugh at it.

This view of death has prevailed for over 500 years; it started long before the Spanish brought Christianity to Mesoamerica. Both the Aztecs and the Mayans would have many rituals to help their dead on their journey to the underworld, the mythical world of the dead. Death was viewed only as a transitional stage in their universe.

Although the Spanish tried to convert the natives to Catholicism and institutionalized observance of the Day of the Faithful Departed, the natives found a way to continue their ancient traditions in disguise, and they transformed this Catholic tradition into what is known today as the celebration of the Day of the Dead. Meanwhile in the Yucatan Peninsula, the Mayans also honored their dead in slightly different celebration they called Hanal Pixan.

Hanal_Pixan_ 2014-007Hanal Pixan translates as “food for the souls”, and it does not only take place on one day, but it’s a celebration that lasts over a week. Most homes are adorned with an altar covered in offerings to welcome the souls of their dead relatives who come to see the living. It is believed that the dead come back to their home to be with their loved ones, to eat their favorite foods and to rest from the long journey, and eventually go back to their mythical resting place again.

Every year,  schools hold contests for the best altars. Students often learn about this important tradition by making their own altars at school to participate in the contest. It’s a good way to keep the tradition alive and teach the younger generations about it.

In the countryside, altars are set up the front porch or patio of many homes, or just about anywhere they can fit a table. They often add two more levels to form a three-story altar, covering it with a white table cloth, many times made especially for this occasion. The altar includes crosses, flowers, fruits, palm leaves, gourds with hard liquor, photos and memorabilia from the departed, among other elements.

Hanal_Pixan_ 2014-004During the week of Hanal Pixan, there’s a day dedicated to honor the souls of children. Their altars include traditional candy, toys and colorful flowers that are believed to catch the children’s attention.

The offerings for adult souls are more serious, and they include different traditional dishes, such as pib or mucbilpollo (a large tamal cooked in a pit), chachac wajes (a tamal in red sauce), chacbinal (boiled corn), salbutes, atole (a hot, thick cornmeal drink), and other drinks that the departed used to like.

On the last day of this eight-day celebration, called Biix in Mayan language, they hold a mass in honor of the dead to wish them a safe trip back to their mythological resting place. They also light a path with candles on the front porch or patio to guide them on their way.

It’s impressive that these ancient traditions have managed to prevail to this day, in spite of world globalization and influences from foreign customs and celebrations, such as Halloween. Let’s not forget that the importance of Hanal Pixan and the Day of the Dead is to remember those who have passed away.

If you happen to come to the Yucatan during October or the first week of November, remember to ask people where you can see one of these altars so you can experience this special tradition first hand.

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The beginning of a new cycle

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clase de ingles

Each school year is the beginning of new challenges that are based on  trust and pride, that is how we feel when we see what has been achieved in all these years of enjoying the work  done at the Otoch Paal Community Center.

Despite the difficulties encountered, the passion to move forward has given us the strength to face the situation and find ways to solve problems.

letras de lija2  When we look at the kids, and enjoy their smiles, then a question comes to our mind:  How could we stop doing our work? How could  it be possible to stop feeling happy when observing the concentration and  dedication of those children?

letras de lija

Definitely, to see the children who arrive unable to control their impulses, without knowing how to manage their time, unable to concentrate on a task, and then, to see them working as you can observe in these pictures, make each one  of the Guides and Teachers working in the Otoch Paal Community Center, find meaning to the everyday effort,  and feel motivated to give the best of them to each one of the children in the Community.

lavar-vida practicaWith these images, we want to share a little of what it means  “working” for the children of this community center: concentration, dedication, happiness, serenity, accuracy, want to know more, admiration, curiosity to discover all this and more in the work done with each one of the Montessori material.verter agua

travasar granosWe feel grateful to begin  a cycle in the great cycle of life Montessori.

Sólo a través de los niños

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Why did you choose Montessori education for your children?

If you are like most parents, you wanted something different for them than you had –happier, more exciting school experiences? Most likely, you perceived that Montessori would support your own family values. Whatever your initial reasons, I suspect that after discovering Montessori and learning more about it, you realized it offered something much larger and grander than you ever suspected at the beginning.

Parenting is such transformational experience for most of us. Did your world-view shift significantly when you became a parent? Mine did. Many of us try to be “differently behaving” than our own parents in order to break harmful family patterns. We do not want to repeat them with our children. While we do not lack in honest desires to do the very best we can, we often fall short in those areas where we have blind spots or a lack of information. Often, in times of stress, we say and do the very things we promised ourselves we would never say and do. Why does this happen?

A very wise person once said “None of us see the world as it is, but as we are… our experience –induced perceptions greatly influence our feelings, beliefs, and behavior.” This is particularly true when it comes to our children. Our parenting – lenses are clouded by our experience-induced perceptions which greatly influence how we see our children and how we behave toward them.

As we discover more about Montessori, we intuitively know that it holds some “grains of truth” to help us with the challenges of parenting. Montessori catches hold of us and pulls chords deep inside that stretch us beyond our ordinary reference points. As we observe our children in their Montessori classrooms and attend parent meetings at their schools, our awareness continues to deepen. The process tabletas de coloresof becoming more conscious parents accelerates when we realize how important our home environments are to the development of our children and their progress at school.

So our tasks are to study and understand to see ever more clearly what we must change within ourselves, what we must change in our values, what we must change in our practices. As we start a process of gradual change, our perceptions about our children change. We begin to re-prioritize our time and reorient ourselves to the realities of their growth.

When we realize that our children are agents of change, we begin to learn a lot about ourselves from them. New qualities emerge as we deepen our relationships with them. We grow and the children grow –each in our own unique ways. We still get stuck in different places for different reasons, depending on who we are. We do not all grow at the same rate, nor do we all grow evenly as parents. Old belief systems and habits that find us overstating or over generalizing about the children, help us to stay stuck in ineffective parenting techniques. When this happens, it is our responsibility to seek help to change what is not working.

In The Secret of Childhood, Dr. Maria Montessori writes about the unconscious errors of parents:

“We are all pained by conscious error but attracted and fascinated by unknown error, for it is this type of error that holds the secret to progress beyond a known and desired goal and which can, as a consequence, raise us to a higher level. All spiritual development is a conquest of consciousness which assumes to itself something that was formerly outside. It is by going along this road of discovery that civilization advances. Adults must find a different point of departure and find within themselves, the still unknown error that prevents them from seeing children as they are”.

Dr. Montessori urges us to see the children as they really are. When we fail to do this, she warns, we unconsciously suppress the full development of their personalities. For the sake of our children, let us keep our fascination for unknown error. It holds the secret to our progress and the progress of civilization.

Responsibilities that release

“The little child is the creator of the adult mind. This creation should be studied in the sequence of its phenomena. We must know child psychology if we help life. We must study its deep and mysterious psychology, observe the line of development and find what assistance we give at the right time.

Now we know that we must use these hidden energies and to do that we must first know them. We must make a development plan to guide the child gives us through the powers he is revealed to us as we observe it. We must proceed with our own ideas or our prejudices, not by preconceived method, but observing the child. The personality of the child is half haughtily to the great problem of education. He is the only existing master plan. This child presented to us with his wonderful occult powers, is who should direct our efforts. When we say that the child is our master we mean that his revelations are what we consider as our guide. If you do not understand this, does not make sense. Our starting point must be the revelation of these features of the human individual. I say we should take the child as our teacher. You probably will object saying we should educate the child, we should give this or that information, he must learn this and that. But I tell you do not have these biases, because when your energies are released, the child is capable of learning than before. So, I say that this is the Method of the Child, not the Montessori Method. ”

Reading these words of Maria Montessori taken from one of her lectures delivered in 1946, can make you  feel a great release, while a large responsability.

The responsability we have as adults is based primarily on preparing an environment that is conducive to the child in order to develop every skill. Education based on freedom of choice that the child exercises by doing what  is asked by his inner needs, necessarily requires us to show him a world where he will be able to find the  answer of every question  generated through the simple experiences of everyday life.

Preparing a positive environment  definitely liberates us, because the child will learn to be responsible of his actions and will be able to accept the consequences of the mistakes, as wonderful learning opportunities.

Conversely, in an environment that  does not full fill the needs of the child, we adults are creating  tyrants who keep us painfully enslaved to their whims.