Spotlight: Carolyn Kambich Wins Award
I had the pleasure of interviewing Carolyn Kambich, recipient of the Northern Illinois University's Alumni Association's 2021 F.R. Geigle Service Award. Kambich’s energy and love of service work as a Montessori educator and administrator shine through all her life projects. As founder of the North Shore Montessori Schools in Illinois, Kambich shared her knowledge and spirit when asked to teach Montessori's tenets to educators in Uganda. In 2016 she received the American Montessori Society's Living Legacy Award.
Kambich began her Montessori journey in the 1960s after listening to a representative from the Midwest Montessori Training Center in Chicago. At the time, Kambich had taken a leave from public school teaching to stay at home with her three young children. The presentation stirred an intense curiosity about Maria Montessori’s child-centered methodology.
She tells how she found the state of Montessori education. “At that time, it was the mid-1960s and Montessori schools were just re-emerging. I became really interested in the philosophy behind Montessori schools and wondered what we could do with it for our own families and in our own community,” Kambich said (NIU Press Release, 10/1/2021).
She and a friend began to contact residents in their area asking if they would be interested in having a local Montessori school. Many were. Soon they gathered enough children for morning and afternoon sessions, and the Deerfield Montessori School opened in 1966 with 50 children.
“It was a good thing I was naïve, because I believed we could do it," Kambich recalls. “We had no money. We had an ideal. We wanted this Montessori ideal for our children and the community.”
As the school became more established in the 1970s, parents began to inquire about full-day programs for their preschoolers. From there the school continued to grow. Today, North Shore Montessori has three sites with programs spanning all age groups from Infant & Toddler through Elementary.
During the late 1990s, a trip with her husband’s Winnetka’s Rotary Club led Kambich to meet Ugandan educators who, once they heard of Montessori education for peace, wanted to start schools in their country. This led to over a decade of visits to Uganda for the couple to assist with Montessori teacher training, development of facilities, and establish the Victoria Montessori Teacher Training Center in Uganda. They also worked with the Kampala Montessori School, also in Uganda.
The Kambichs continue to support post-high school scholarships for Ugandan children through the Child Restoration Outreach Support Organization (CROSO). Kambich remains active on the Peace and Social Justice Committee of the American Montessori Society, as well as the White Antiracist Discussion Group. In addition, Kambich gives time to Northern Illinois University in fundraising events. She and husband Tony established an endowment fund there, Education for Peace, in the College of Education.
V. Kulikow: What is the greatest reward working in education?
Carolyn Kambich: The sparkle in the children’s eyes. You see the curiosity, optimism, and the spirit in the children’s eyes. Particularly when you’re working with those birth to six-year-olds; it’s like being dipped in pure love. They love life; they love you; they love everything. They’re good, and they’re good natured—unless they’re coming down with something, then they might get a little cranky, once in a while. It’s a pleasure to be in their company. In our schools we have the opportunity to live in little peace laboratories or peace pods, where we create harmonious “mini societies.” Occasionally somebody may get a little out of sorts and need more support, however, the general tone, whether inside or out in nature, is peace. There is a happy hum of activity freely chosen. I marvel at the capacity of these young children who demonstrate daily that peace is possible in the world. This gives me hope. Who are these beautiful beings?
V. Kulikow: What do you see as the most pressing issue in Montessori education today?
Carolyn: National recognition of Montessori teaching credentials by the U.S. Department of Education. Recognition of Montessori teacher training credentials on a state and national level by the Department of Education as equivalent to public education credentials, rather than lesser, would make it easier for Montessori education to grow and really benefit more children.
While we have made some progress in a few states, I would like to see our Montessori organization(s) make this a national priority which in turn would give Montessori a stronger voice in advocating for the rights of children in the field of education and beyond. Montessori has much to offer society in addition to rigorous academics. I see our work as “guardians of the spiritual nature of the child” so that each one can flower and continue to shine forth and contribute to the world. I’m excited to see Montessorians becoming more comfortable speaking up publicly about the spiritual nature of the child, and equal access to education for all children. I think the word “spiritual” goes with Montessori, and sometimes people are afraid to use that word, because they mix it up with religion, and it’s not. It’s simply about spiritual nature, the very essence of the child. Dr. Montessori wrote about “the new education for the new man” and the study of this spiritual being. I continue to be inspired by Montessori’s in-depth vision of the potential of man and peace in the world and would like to see this extended into the field of general education.
V. Kulikow: If you could give one piece of advice to new teachers, what would it be?
Carolyn: Read Montessori’s own words each day and keep your own daily balance. Reading daily and extensively Dr. Montessori’s own words to understand the larger context of peace and social justice keeps our inspiration ignited. I had the good fortune of having ten years of being the administrative part of our school before I took my Montessori teacher training. And so, I had the chance to read most of Maria Montessori’s books. Reading her own words was very inspiring. I think now with the teacher training you get only some of her own words. I don’t know how much time there is for teachers in training to read all those books. Continuing to read her books on your own helps to gain a deeper appreciation of the spiritual nature of the child and our own “cosmic task.”
Also, I find keeping my daily balance by having a regular reflective practice such as inspirational reading, mindfulness, yoga, or whatever brings one peacefulness is very important in keeping in touch with our own spirit. When I am in balance all is right with the world. If I’m out of balance, nothing is right, and I blame it on everybody else! Our very being is part of the “prepared environment” for the children. We are a living lesson, a blessing or a burden, wherever we are. What do we choose to offer to our self and others?
V. Kulikow: What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Carolyn: Anti-bias, Antiracist (ABAR) training and Montessori Elder Care. Currently, I am working with the AMS Peace and Social Justice Committee and Maati Wafford, AMS director of equity & engagement, on ABAR training which calls on our power of observation and reflection to awaken and study our own “interior geography” and continue to transform ourselves to be the peace and social justice we want to see in the world. We appreciate her expertise, creativity, and sense of fun.
Also, my husband and I attended a conference in Prague, Czech Republic, on Montessori and elder care. And that is very fascinating work. In a senior setting, where the director or activity director can be Montessori trained, the principle of “prepared environment” can be re-created to establish community for the elders, rather than a hospital/patient model. Depending on the level of health and mobility of the seniors, individuals can choose to take part in purposeful activities such as helping with food preparation and clean up, delivering the mail, gardening and outdoor work to feel a sense of purpose as a member of the community. Respecting and building upon the strengths of each individual helps to build community and a feeling of inclusion. We recently visited a friend in a senior living facility who just turned ninety years old, and I was able to talk with the activity director there and share a little bit about Montessori. I’m always interested in new frontiers. I see this area of working with our elders as a new frontier for Montessori.
V. Kulikow: Do you have any final thoughts?
Carolyn: I am grateful to have a husband of 60 years who was also a teacher and administrator, and past AMS board member, who shares my sense of service. It has been a grand journey as we have participated in public and special education, as well as Montessori education. Montessori conferences, as well as Tony’s Rotary International conferences and service work, have opened the world to us.
We have been blessed with 3 children and 4 grandchildren who have joined in this great adventure too, and now are making their contributions to the world. It feels energizing and expansive to be able to live life in the spirit.
About the Author
V. Kulikow is a former Montessori teacher and youth services librarian. She currently works as a UX designer and enjoys content creation both with words and images.