Maria Montessori, Italian educator and originator of the educational system that bears her name, was quoted as saying: “It is surprising to notice that even from the earliest age, man finds the greatest satisfaction in feeling independent.
Maria Montessori, Italian educator and originator of the educational system that bears her name, was quoted as saying: “It is surprising to notice that even from the earliest age, man finds the greatest satisfaction in feeling independent. The exalting feeling of being sufficient to oneself comes as a revelation.”
I find this to be largely at odds with the way children are brought up in the modern world. The advent of ‘helicopter parenting’ and the heightened perception of danger in the unlikeliest of places has vastly reduced the scope for today’s children to experience and manage risk. With one glaring exception: the ski slopes.
Skiing at school
When we first moved to the Saanenland, we were faced with many new ways of life: traditions, food, social customs – and school sports.
My experience of sport at school was very humdrum and ordinary: netball in the summer and hockey in the winter, while the boys faced football in the winter and cricket in the summer.
It therefore came as a revelation that our boys’ sporting lessons in the Saanenland would largely consist of hiking in the summer (with some athletics on the side) and skiing in the winter (or skating in the case of poor weather).
This was superb on so many levels. I was glad our children wouldn’t suffer endless hours waiting around for a ball of some shape or description to come flying towards them. And I thought hiking and skiing had a better chance of becoming life-long pursuits than something which had to be endured in a double lesson every Wednesday afternoon.
So far, so good.
Until we learned the boys would in fact go skiing every afternoon during the winter term. Every afternoon.
I will admit I voiced my concern at this being a little over the top. Yes, sport is important, I argued, but couldn’t we swap some of the skiing for extra French lessons? After all, wasn’t it excessive for them to spend fifteen-plus hours on the slopes each week?
No, came the vigorous reply. Because skiing is about so much more than just exercise or fun, we were told. It offers children valuable opportunities for life lessons in risk assessment, independence, and looking out for others.
Organisation & independence
I didn’t have to wait long to see this in action. Towards the end of our first winter season some friends came for a visit and naturally wanted to hit the slopes.
I freely admit I’m not a fan of downhill skiing. It’s altogether too much faff for my liking: hat (or, these days, helmet), gloves, goggles, ski pass, poles, not to mention skis and, the ultimate torture, ski boots. Plus snow boots for the drive home.
How, I used to wonder, did ski teachers cope with a class of six and seven-year-olds and all this stuff? Because young children, as many a parent will attest, are not the most organised of creatures. Until, it seems, when it comes to the ski slopes. I recall two vivid memories from our friends’ visit that first year.
The first was seeing our eldest son (at the grand old age of nine), concern and concentration etched on his face, spontaneously shadow the least experienced skier in our group as she carefully navigated her way down the slope.
Second, the priceless image of our seven-year-old middle son hurrying after our six-foot tall friend with the remark: “Here’s your glove, Mr. Rhodes – you dropped it in the snow when you forgot your poles.”
I have no idea if Maria Montessori was a fan of skiing, but I’m sure she would have approved