Emily Rock

Montessori 1L: Stop and Smell the Finger Paint

There are many unique aspects of studying at Yale Law—small classes, no letter grades, students get to pick their own courses after first semester—but even expecting an unconventional legal education, I was surprised at my 1L orientation to hear a professor call Yale “Montessori Law School.” We all laughed, but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking, “Really? What does that mean?”   Montessori education emphasizes independence and freedom of choice, and describes learning as “purposeful activity.” As I reflect on my time so far as a 1L, I’m starting to see what the professor might have meant. This column will explore the experiences of being a 1L at Yale, including examining whether Montessori Law School is in fact an apt description.

Montessori 1L: Stop and Smell the Finger Paint

            T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, and for law students, that might be true.  Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, and we’re stuck in the library working on papers, prepping for finals, and generally feeling frustrated.

            In the last couple weeks, I realized I was relying on my Google Calendar to a degree I never had before: scheduling in set amounts of time to work on projects I’d been putting off, and looking ahead each day to a packed list of classes and meetings. This kind of busyness stresses me out, and it can’t be terribly healthy. 

            My new solution is to schedule in time for breaks.  Sometimes this is informal and unplanned, like the day I came home from school and decided to make a birthday card for my grandma before catching up on reading.  That small act felt majorly refreshing: a reminder that I have interests outside the law, and that those interests sometimes include markers and construction paper. 

            I’m also looking forward to next week’s finger-painting party: a group of students getting together with two professors in the dining hall, to express ourselves through the art form most commonly used in kindergarten classrooms.  If we’re lucky, some of our paintings might go up on the professors’ fridges.  Some things you can’t make up, and sometimes the Montessori Law School lives up to its name more literally than I’d had expected.

            As the weather became even more gorgeous last week, I yearned to go outside: making excuses to walk through the courtyard, or walk to a coffee shop, just to give myself those literal breaths of fresh air.  Mid-week, I asked a friend if she’d want to go hiking on Sunday. This made me accountable: when Sunday rolled around, I could have blown off my individual plan to enjoy the season, but I had a buddy for the excursion. 

            Even really short breaks, like reading a poem, can help to shift my focus and broaden my perspective.  The finals will still be looming five minutes later, and there will still be textbooks lying in wait on my desk, but I feel prepared to handle those things, less likely to get overwhelmed.

            With that in mind, here’s a springtime poem for you, in honor of National Poetry Month:


by Angela Ball

My feelings just took a turn for the better,
While thinking of white flowers turning into strawberries,
Of clover turning into bees, of crowds of wisteria
Swelling and swelling.

People often think I have a friendly dog but it is just me:
My wide arm-span for folding tablecloths, my feet that seem worn
Not just by me, but many.

I had this feeling once before, when I was walking through rain
And wet leaves in shoes that were red and navy.
Much of me hadn’t been tried out, and I liked that.

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