I don’t know any Montessori teachers lacking THAT moment: the one when their heart was captured by some aspect of the method, the children, Cosmic stories, or the possibility of building a peaceful world. Some aspect resonated so deeply that you jumped into your Montessori journey. Listening to Martha McDermott, with her gentle Scottish brogue, envisioning the “possibility” of our work was awe-inspiring for me.
As it turns out, there’s a good reason for that: Awe experiences are motivating! Dacher Keltner, UC-Berkely professor of psychology and director of the Greater Good Science Center, has studied the effects of awe on our mental health and he says that awe and wonder have many benefits for us. When we experience awe and wonder, we are filled with a sense of amazement and fascination. Through these emotions, we can develop a more profound sense of connection to the world and to other people.
When we experience awe and wonder, we are filled with a sense of amazement and fascination.
“Awe reveals that we are not separate from others, but interdependent. One early study found that by simply standing near an awe-inspiring replica of a T-rex skeleton, students’ sense of self shifted from independent view, defined by differentiating traits and preferences, to an interdependent sense of self focused on features of identity shared with others.” 
Did you catch it? He’s speaking our language: interdependent!
Montessori impressionistic lessons take on greater meaning with all this neuropsychology in mind. Think about how we introduce a fragrant strawberry in an infant class. We silently offer it to sniff and grasp, standing back to let the child take it all in. Their face tells its own story of awe, and their instinct to shove that strawberry into their mouth to get the full experience is really something to behold. In primary Montessori classes, we grow butterflies, releasing them to do their pollination work in the world. Once elementary rolls around, children are offered the Great Lessons, timelines, and charts, each designed to inspire a moment of awe: dark rooms, bursting balloons, exploding volcanoes, long-long-long black lines, giant charts, all intended to impress and fill the child with wonder.
Mental Health Benefits of Awe
According to Dr. Keltner, awe and wonder are also associated with a range of psychological benefits.
“…subsequent studies have turned to examine how experiences of distinct positive emotions, such as amusement or gratitude, benefit health and well-being”
Focusing on the science of awe since the mid 1990’s, Dr. Keltner and others have shown that people who experience these emotions are more likely to have a sense of purpose in life, exhibit more generosity and compassion, and feel more satisfied overall. People who feel these emotions may be more resilient in the face of adversity, better able to cope with stress, and more likely to experience positive emotions such as joy and gratitude.
How lucky we are to be teaching using a method designed to instill awe into our lessons? I know teaching can be tough, but let’s lighten the load a little each day with an infusion of awe, not just now and then…but as a daily dose of joy!