A couple of summers ago I had the great fortune to be able to help a friend of mine a few hours a week with her Montessori pre-school. As the eldest of six kids growing up, loving children and not having my own, this experience was a welcome break from my usual high-tech reality. What so amazed me was that each of these 20 or so 3 and 4 year olds was a vast and extraordinary universe in and of him and herself. All of humanity’s emotions, joys, despairs, and conflicts were played out every day in our little classroom.
My favorite student (and as much as teachers try otherwise, we all have our favorites) was a 4 year-old girl named Zoe. She sparkled with intelligence and enthusiasm and displayed unusual grace and maturity for her age. Everyone loved Zoe. So I was surprised one day when, during lunch, she asked to sit next to another student, Matthew (not his real name), and he ignored her, not letting her in. He continued to ignore her that day, even when Zoe asked him point blank, “Matthew, my feelings are hurt that you won’t play with me. What did I do wrong? Why won’t you play with me?”