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The Montessori Work Mat By Eric Van Winkle

Eric Van Winkle is a senior at Bellarmine Prep and will be attending Harvard University this fall. Below is an excerpt from his college application essay, in which he focused on his experience as a Montessori student. In regard to Harbor Montessori, Eric says: “Throughout my educational years since attending HMS, Montessori training remains my best teacher, cheerleader, and partner. I attribute the Montessori environment to fostering my passions, and upholding my drive to be a life-long learner.”

My mat was the first item I looked to every day as I walked into my elementary school classroom. A small three-by-four-foot mat served as my space of solace and exploration. A different one graced me every day as I choose from the assortment of blues, greens, and burgundies rolled into a wicker basket in the corner of the classroom. I unrolled the mat, cast it across the floor, and began my addition tables atop my land of exploration. It wore me perfectly, with just enough room to fit my supplies and my legs sitting crisscross-applesauce. The mat focused me, shutting out distractions and bringing me to a determined meditation on the task at hand. As time progressed, addition became subtraction, subtraction became multiplication, multiplication became division, and division gave way to all-elusive algebra. My mind glided, stumbled, and flipped over new knowledge and material as my scholarship evolved. But there remained one constant: the mat. The mat may not have been able to fly, but it was magic. It encouraged me to explore, ask questions, and bring others into my world of learning. I welcomed visitors seeking answers, and those wanting to share their knowledge with me. Harry Potter and Star Wars met in cordial relation as we compared the merits of the two. First graders met with third graders to recruit help on problems, but horseplay and potty mouths were reserved for places other than the mat, because around it hung an aura of sophisticated, mellow inquiry. When I moved from the Montessori curriculum to a new, more conventional school, the mats were no longer awaiting me in the corner, though they accompanied me nevertheless. I sat at my new desk and imagined the mat draped over the top, calling me once again to its captivating world. Now, the mat took many forms: my desk, the dojo, the piano, and eventually the basketball court. Each place energized me to explore a different world. As my questions grow loftier and more complex, my conversations now explore works to the likes of Shakespeare and Homer, but I never forget the days of wands and light sabers at the place it all began. These science fiction and fantasy debates now convene on pressing global issues at Model United Nations. The days of partner projects now manifest themselves at the ASB conference table. And the moments of mentorship for the first graders in my class continue through academic service to students of the same age. What was once a physical token came to transcend my world, permeating every corner of my life. When faced with challenges of family, finances, or merely everyday battles each and every one of us face, the mat is a reminder of the philosophy I created to overcome them, and an inspiration for those that lie ahead. The mat does not so much incite my learning as it does entice it; a dynamo for personal expression and assurance that invisibility cloaks and hyperdrives lie only one revolutionary thinker away. Today, I never need to unroll my mat, because I remain atop it—searching, questioning, exploring.

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