Saturday 20th June marks World Refugee Day. This is a good opportunity to remind ourselves about the role we play in helping children understand what it means to be a refugee.

An important part of Maria Montessori’s philosophy – which has been echoed more recently in the UN Sustainability Goals – is helping children experience dignity and appreciate the value of each individual has in our communities and society.

Montessori referred to this as part of our Cosmic Task. She believed it is essential to help children understand and to see the world as interconnected and interdependent. In this way, children learn to value the contributions of others, to see that all things play a role in bettering the world for future generations.

World Refugee Day at home

Telling refugees’ stories is a key part of this. Montessori believed that while all species play a role in the universe, humanity alone has the potential to act consciously. By helping children to express their empathy for others, and respect for all, we give them qualities that will help them become well-rounded citizens of the world. Key to this is educating them about understanding how and why we support each other, no matter our situation or where we are from.

It is always important that we speak to our children about challenges that people face both at home, in their communities and the world and share stories showing different perspectives of life. These lessons are particularly prudent today, considering the demonstrations against injustice and racism that we’re seeing across the world.

Through telling individuals’ stories, and engaging with our local community, we can show children how they can challenge injustice through their own attitudes towards others. I remember sharing such stories with my own children, by pointing out inequalities and hardship we witness in day to day lives. But also encouraging them to act upon injustice, speak up for others, respect their opinions.

Think Equal has some valuable resources that may help you have these conversations at home.

The Barbara Isaacs Bursary Fund for prospective Montessori Centre International students

World Refugee Day is particularly important to me. I came to the UK in 1968 as a refugee from the Czech Republic, though at the time, I saw myself merely as an individual looking for a better life for myself. But often, the way refugees are portrayed can be an extremely damaging narrative for young children to see and hear.

I think it’s important to understand and talk about the fact that most of the time, refugees are the opposite of how they are perceived. People who become refugees are often very brave. They leave everything they have and know behind, to find a better life for themselves and for their children. Many bring skills that the local population doesn’t have and have achieved a great deal in their own country but can’t find opportunities for themselves and are driven to take unimaginable steps to find a better life. They leave what they have known behind in search for a better future. By reading, drawing, and playing with our children using these themes, we can help them to empathise and learn about their role in making the world a better place.

I was lucky enough to find the Montessori community and train as a Montessori practitioner when I came to the UK. The Barbara Isaacs Bursary, which will be available from next year, will give an individual who has refugee status the chance to train at MCI. Please spread the word and help us find a deserving candidate.