Mary Lou Cobb has spent 50 years as a Montessori educator, but switched to caring for seniors and applying a lot of the same types of lessons to elders.
Cobb founded the Cobb School, Montessori in Simsbury (it was named for her years later, as a tribute) where she was head of school for 45 years. Soon after retiring, Cobb launched Cobb Education Consulting, LLC, which guides educators, caregivers, and professionals of any industry to improve their programs and build communities that work, and will soon be co-teaching an online course about how Montessori principles can be applied to the care for the elderly.
In college, Cobb became very interested in human development and early child education, which led her to different approaches to education, including the Montessori approach. She looked at developing whole, competent children who would contribute to society. She went to a Montessori training class in her native Washington D.C., and began working in schools there.
Upon moving to Connecticut in the early 1970s, Cobb discovered that Montessori schools had not caught on here as they had there. Wanting to start a school, she helped start a Simsbury branch of the West Hartford Montessori School, but soon took over the school in true in 1974, calling it the Montessori Children’s House.
“I did not name it the Cobb School,” she said. “That came about later as an honor to me.”
Primarily working with children, she also worked with adolescents and teens. She also studied the works of Dr. Erik Erikson, who studied the development of human beings, from childhood throughout one’s lifetime.
“Dr. Erikson continued that work to say, ‘We don’t stop growing because we become adults,‘” Cobb said. “We actually continue to go through stages of growth.”
Wanting to provide more opportunities for the elderly, approximately 35 years ago, she approached the McClean Retirement Community in Simsbury, originally wanting to put a branch of the school on that site. While that plan didn’t pan out, more recently she’s been able to implement inter-generational programming there.
“Not only is Montessori applicable to young children, but it’s applicable to all,” she said. “It’s about how people are interacting with each other. Is it in a respectful way, a collaborative way, or about the betterment of humanity?”
Cobb said what has always fascinated her about the Montessori approach with educating children is that it is specialized for each student, and sees what their potential is, then watches them blossom in the individualized environment, while giving them the dynamic of being in a group.
“In each child that walks across the threshold of that school, there is something great happening, and we don’t know what that is,” she said. “Our job is to spark whatever it is that is in them.”
Leaving the school in 2019, Cobb said, was very difficult because it was her life’s work. However, applying the same lessons to older people has been a new challenge and a welcome one. Providing an individualized plan is something that works both with young students and with elders, she said.
“Our job is to get to know who they are, and how to bring out the most in them,” she said, adding that many seniors at McClean that she has worked with are losing their cognitive skills, and each one needs their own plan to retain them as best as possible.
As people lose sight, hearing, balance, stamina, etc., instructors can still find ways to help.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to help them to still be purposeful in their homes,” Cobb said, “and not just do everything for them.”
Cobb is partnering with Maureen Scudder, who Cobb hired as communications director for the school 15 years ago, after educating Scudder’s children there. Scudder said she and Cobb remained good friends, and launched Cobb’s second career just days after she “retired” from the school.
“She’s so special, because she’s unstoppable,” Scudder said of Cobb. “She’s so inspiring and so driven. She never stops thinking, she never stops looking and never stops helping.”
This fall, Cobb and Scudder will co-teach the eight-hour, online Montessori Home Engagement course. Students in the course will learn how to prepare themselves for the critical work of caring for elders, how to prepare the home environment for their clients, and how to prepare purposeful, enriching activities to help their clients continue to grow and engage with the world.
The online course will be held on Sept 10, 17, and 24, and Oct. 1, 8, 15, 22, and 29. To learn more about the course, visit NCCAPAcademy.org. To register, visit nccapacademy.org/maryloucobb or nccapacademy.org/maureenscudder.
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