Mexico City 2018 – Art, Food, Music, & Montessori

1 graduation

Graduation

Please join me for a return to experience AMI Montessori in Mexico City. The main purpose of my visit was again to serve as an oral examiner for the AMI Montessori A to I (Assistants to Infancy), birth to three, course. But as always in this Montessori world a guest is greeted with grace and courtesy and a desire to joyfully share culture, which includes food, as Mexico City is famous internationally for this element.

Above is a picture of the graduating class seated with us two examiners, the teacher trainers, their course assistants, and my translator. I was pleased to see that the medical doctor who graduated from this course in 2016 is now the guide/teacher in the infant community for children from one year to 2.5 or 3 years of age, returning to Puebla on weekends to take care of her medical patients.

2 santana and carrington

Santana and Carrington

This year I had an overnight flight from San Francisco so in order to stay awake we went to the Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park), one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring 1,695 acres. Large pictures of Santana and other important Mexican historical figures grace the black iron fences that surround the garden, and museum signs heighten our excitement as we approach the Museo de Arte Modern (Modern Art Museum) to see the special exhibit of the works of British/Mexican artist Leonora Carrington.

More on Santana here: here: Santana

More on Leonora Carrington here: Carrington

My hostess was surprised that I had never heard of this artist so I explained that since I love the Impressionists and Post-impressionists has crowded out a lot of art history and I need to be educated about surrealism. And my eyes were opened; what an interesting person.

3 carrington kitchen best

Saint Teresa in the Kitchen

This was one of my favorites of her painting. Carrington urged women, in both her writing and her graphic arts, to own their power. Saint Teresa, in the black and white tunic of the Carmelites, is seen as the patron saint of gastronomy. She was famous for her ecstasies and here she hovers over a boiling caldron in the center of the kitchen frying an egg in miraculous rapture. For Carrington the kitchen was an exclusive place for coming together and for experiments; the analogies between cooking, magic, and painting turned it into an alchemical laboratory.

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Frida Kahlo

Frida, Surrealist or Realist? Last time I was here the lines to get into the Casa Azul, or the “blue house”, the home of this famous Mexican artist, were around the block and there was no time to wait so it was a treat to relax and spend my second day exploring her home and art. If you do not know this artist the best introduction is the 2002 movie “Frida” staring Salma Hayek.

More on  Frida Kahlo here: Frida

5 staff and nogado

Chiles en Nogada

Again it is a treat to be here during the season of this famous dish. This year the AMI 3-6 trainer, who was in Mexico City for a month, brought each of us our on special blue and white plate from Puebla, and a Chile. We enjoyed them over lunch in the institute staff room.

Here is a little of the history of Chiles en Nogada. Agustin de Iturbide, Emperor of Mexico from 1822 to 1823, signed the Treaty of Cordoba which granted Mexico its independence from Spain in 1821. The event took place in Veracruz and on his way back to Mexico City he stopped in Puebla. The townspeople of Puebla decided to honor the Emperor—and independence—by creating a special dish using local ingredients. The Augustinian nuns of Santa Monica convent came up with Chiles en Nogada, which means chile in walnut sauce. It is made of poblano chilies stuffed with a mixture of meat and dried fruit (a special vegetarian version for me) and decorated in the colors of the Mexican flag: pomegranate seeds (red), parsley (green), and a sauce made of fresh, carefully peeled walnuts (white). To this day the nuns earn money by the painstaking task of peeling the walnuts for local restaurants. It is considered very patriotic to order or serve this dish.

6 grasshoppers and fire ants

Grasshoppers, Fire Ant Eggs, and Tequila

We work very, very hard at Montessori exams. The trainers are not the ones who test the students so no one can be “prepared for the tests.” The exam questions are sent from the Association Montessori Internationale in Amsterdam, and the oral examiners are selected from around the world. This is one of the reasons why AMI Montessori teachers are so well prepared for their work. The pressure is on. But several times a week we manage to have our discussions over delicious meals.

A vegetarian eating insects you say? Well, I just tasted, considering it practice for the probably main source of protein in the future as Earth’s population grows and grows and grows; and no one argues with eliminating a few million of the eggs of the dreaded fire ants!

More on fire ants here: Fire Ants

And now for the tequila. I had tasted this drink before, but on this occasion it was served in the traditional manner. First one takes a bit of salt in one’s hand and licks it up. Then a little taste of fresh lime juice followed by a sip of tequila. Finally a sip of the famous sangrita. The combination was delicious.

The word sangrita means little blood and was probably invented in the 1920’s as a way to cleanse the palate between sips of tequila and it was thought to be made up of the leftover juices of fruit salad. So it could contain pomegranate, tangerine, orange, mango, papaya, and so forth. Again this way of serving represents the colors of the Mexican flag: lime juice (green) tequila (white), and sangrita (red). I felt very patriotic.

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Squash Blossom Soup and Mole

After this delicious traditional Meal meal I came home looking for squash blossoms to make soup, and since it is late in the season could only find enough to decorate the top of soup, but next season I shall plant zucchini and do it properly.

Mole contains chocolate and many spices; it comes in several colors, and is famous in Mexican cooking, and again it is the nuns of Puebla who might have invented it. Our version, Enchiladas de Mole Negro with cheese at the restaurant Azul Condesa, was a special treat. And it was followed by even more chocolate for desert.

More Mole information here: mole

8 hot chocolate

Champurrado

This is a delicious Mexican version of hot chocolate made with chocolate, flour, cinnamon and flavored sometimes with anise, vanilla, ground nuts, orange zest, and more, to make a variety of interesting drinks. The chocolate is packed into little individual tablets for storage that are melted, mixed with or milk, and then blended or whipped with a wooden whisk called a molinillo. The whisk is rolled between the palms of the hands, and then moved back and forth in the mixture until it is aerated and frothy. Then it is poured into a bowl made of cocoanut shell and drunk. There are many recipes on the internet ¡Buen provecho!

9 tea made by children

Two-Year-Olds Make Their Own Herb Tea

Things have changed in the Montessori 3-6 classes with the introduction of the Infant Communities for children from age 1, or walking, to age 2.5 or three. Pouring rice, lentils, or water, from small pitchers is common for other children who have not had much experience using their hands with challenging tasks. But in the Montessori A to I world children begin pouring their own water before they are a year old, yes, before they can walk. They water plants, fill basins with water to wash their hands, and want this work to be real, collaboration with the group, not mindless, repetitive activities.

I asked the Infant Community guide to show me how the tea-making was carried out by a 2-year old in her class. There are many steps, beginning with measuring and adding loose leaf tea to the pot, adding (previously prepared) hot water, waiting till the water reaches the correct color, setting the table with a place mat, napkin, cup and saucer and spoon, carrying the pot to the table, sitting down and enjoying the tea, putting the used tea leaves in the compost, the placemat and napkin in the laundry (to be washed and ironed by another child), and the tea-pot, spoon, and cup and saucer with the dirty dishes (to be washed by another child), all the time concentrating deeply and not being interrupted; and then going on to choose the next physically and mentally challenging and satisfying “work”. I have just described a series of skills included in the list of “executive functions” which are a more reliable predictor of academic success in later life than IQ, and the basis for real Montessori practice at any age “meaningful work and uninterrupted concentration” that produces happy people who then reach out naturally to care for others and the environment. Thank you Margarita.

10 church and market

Coyoacán (the “place of the cayotes”) 

The last afternoon after graduation I was hosted by the brother of the head of the AMI affiliate organization in Colombia, South America who lives in Mexico City. We went to Coyoacán to see the cathedral, the crafts market, and to enjoy Middle Eastern food. We were joined by the head of the AMI affiliate society for Peru. Both of these women were students in this course.

I was pleased to see a statue of San Martin de Porres who, along with Santa Rosa of Lima, is patron saints of my old home (for a short time) Peru. Coyoacán is the second most visited site in Mexico city, but the real pleasure was in enjoying it with friends after the intense week of exams and the graduation.

More on Coyoacán here: Coyoacán

11 algajores and friends

Peruvian and Colombian Montessorians

Here I am with these two women who will be first to take AMI Montessori Birth to Three information back to Peru and Colombia. They are passionate and inspired and I look forward to see what they, and all of the other students, do with this precious information. Yes, the picture on the left is more food, alfajores, my favorite cookie from Peru.

More on AMI Affiliated Societies here: AMI

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Back Home in California

Now I am back home, catching up on writing a 6th book Montessori book, and preparing for work in Europe in the fall. I don’t usually enjoy shopping, but this beautiful hand-made blouse and amber earrings are gifts and memories of that fascinating local crafts market on the last lovely day in Mexico City.

Stay tuned . . .

Hugs,
Susan

More here: Susan’s Home Page

Montessori Dream in Morocco

For my third trip to Morocco I was honored to have a part in the first AMI Primary course to be given in this part of the world. This is something that I have dreamed about for years, to be part of Montessori teacher training for children from age 2.5 to 6 where I could share what I learned in my very first course at The Maria Montessori Institute (MMI: See more here Montessori ) in London, England almost 50 years ago. I wanted to do this in a place where I can be 100% behind the efforts of the people who are bringing AMI Montessori to their country. Morocco is this place. A dream come true.

1 atlas trip

On the first day the students, the director of Training Lhamo Pemba, and I were hosted at the home of the parents of Aicha Sajid for a delicious traditional French-Moroccan breakfast and then we headed south for 4 days to experience some of this ancient civilization before we settled down to work. This trip was a generous gift of our hosts and none of us will forget it—the wild argon trees with goats climbing to reach the leaves, the walls of ancient cities, the art, the food, the beauty, and the music. It was a unique and valuable beginning of a course as we were able to spend precious time getting to know each other and hearing the variety of stories about what brought each of us together in this place and time, sharing the belief that it is through gentle support of the potential of the very youngest that there is a chance to reveal the very best in humans, for the sake of these individuals and with hope for the future of the world.

2 trip students

The students came from several countries, Australia, China, Mongolia, Congo, Martinique, Morocco, and the United States, all to receive this Montessori teacher training.

3 my room and garden

Because it is almost time for Ramadan, the 40-day fast that is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, my hosts parents invited me to stay in a room in their beautiful garden so I could join the family each night for Iftar or the breaking of the fast. Here is a picture of the garden and my room.

4 ramadan

During the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims fast every day from dawn to sunset. It is meant to be a time of spiritual discipline — of deep contemplation of one’s relationship with God. I joined in the fast; but for me not eating anything between sunrise and sunset was just a small reminder of how it must feel for so many people in the world today who actually experience hunger every day of their lives. And I was one of the fortunate, having a delicious meal to look forward to each day after sunset. The experience was confusing, thought-provoking, and valuable. I am still processing it.

For more about Ramadan click here: Ramadan

Each night some of the members of the extended family and I gathered at around 7:30 PM (the time changing a few minutes each night) to await the evening call to prayer heard from several directions of the city, only then beginning to eat.

The meal began the same every night. One soft-boiled egg sprinkled with salt and cumin, dates and nuts (both delicious in Morocco), and special honey and sesame seed sweets served only at this time of the year. A soup accompanied these, usually the traditional “Harira” made of lentils and chickpeas, spices, and vegetables and meat. The family very graciously always provided vegetarian versions of the soup and everything else just for me.

The second course is “salad” which is a broad term to cover a variety of delicious vegetable dishes, little meat or vegetable pastries, and sometimes fish.

The third course is the famous “tagine” which refers to both the mean/vegetable dish and the special pot it is slowly cooked in over hot coals. Click: Tagine

5 beautiful homes

Sometimes the meal was served in the home of a relative so because of Ramadan, and being invited to tea, I was able to see some of the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen in my life. Here you can see the mural on the wall of a woman who loves India, and the hand-painted ceiling of the grand dame of the family.

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I was little worried about leaving my considerable work at home to be in Morocco for almost three months so I took along a very tiny watercolor set and two small watercolor blocks. Stealing moments from the 24/7 work on the course I finally was able to do a “study” of a piece of art a friend had shared with me that I had stored on my computer. She had photographed the original, a little known work created by the Japanese artist Tsuguhara Foujita, in Paris. It has been a long time since I worked in watercolor and ink and it was challenging and enjoyable.

Neyla is the daughter of my friend Aicha Sajid, who pulled all of this together, and I have gotten to know her and her brother Nacer very well since we traveled together on my first trip to Morocco. They and their friends often visited me after school to play music, read, sometimes work on math, or just talk about life. One day I asked Neyla to recite some of the prayers of the Koran she was learning. Here is a video of just a few of her words.

8 art neyla drawing

I think you can see why the experience inspired me to do a watercolor and ink drawing of her. I also painted one of her brother Nacer and gave them both to their grandparents as a thank you gift for hosting me. I think they are both on my facebook page “The Art of Susan Mayclin Stephenson”

9 physics

One of the subjects I lectured on during the course was physics. This has been a great love of mine, perhaps because of my physicist father who was interested in how everything works and, even many years ago, in non-coal based energy, including solar! I was thrilled to find that physics was part of the curriculum on my first Montessori training course in London in 1970. Because I loved this subject, so have all of my students over the years. And I hope also the students in the course in Morocco will learn to love it. It seems so in the picture above.

In this picture you see the first slide of a PowerPoint I prepared showing how the experience of physics begins early in life. The students in the picture come from a variety of backgrounds—a “Montessori Mama” separating sand and iron filings; Aicha (who studied computer science at Brown University the same years as our son Michael) and Leila, an artist, are completing the electric circuit; the student experimenting with a candle with limited air was a child advocate lawyer who realized that one must begin earlier in life to truly help children.
They all seem to be enjoying physics.

10 botany

Botany was another subjects of my lectures and the exploration of leaf shapes and attachments to a stem was rich indeed as I was able to deliver that lecture, followed by a long period of research by the students, in the lovely Sajid garden. The second picture here shows the excitement of two of the students when a few days later I discovered and took into class an example of “whorled” leaf attachment to the stem.

11 art day

Of course I was thrilled to be able to deliver the lecture on art, and to provide what was supposed to be a short art workshop but turned out to be a whole day. When lunch was announced none of the students even looked up from their work. And again at the end of the day no one was especially eager to stop creating and discovering. I had wanted them to see what it feels like to be deeply engrossed and concentrating on a project requiring the mind and the hands working together, moving in new ways with paper and scissors and glue and colored pencils and paint, combining them in an open-ended variety. The only requirement was that they use all of the materials (drawing, painting, print-making, cutting, gluing) and that they draw or paint at least one bird, and at least 5 flags.

This last requirement was to show the students that they can indeed draw and paint. Part of their “general knowledge” work back at home between the 2018 and 2019 blocks of the course will be filling in their knowledge gaps that we all have in preparation for working with children.

12 art framed for classroom

We all worked, under the direction of Lhamo, to create a beautiful primary class environment for the students to be able to carry out the many hours of practice on the materials in preparation for oral and written exams next year. An important part of a Montessori environment is art on the walls hung at the level of the child’s eyes. We had 10 frames and I was more than happy to fill some of them of images of my own art.

13 susan with desert

Twice we were treated by Aicha and her co-worked Leila Ouarrak Sfez, to a meal at an elegant French restaurant, “Le Relais de Paris”. When I ordered “profiteroles” the first time I was expecting one small one on a plate as the course of all meals are much smaller outside the USA. Imagine the shock when I was served a pile of profiteroles served with ice cream and chocolate sauce. I was not the only one. And, yes, we had the same desert the second time, but ordered less food for the meal to save room.

14 hanane and hamza

As I think back on this experience I realize how fortunate I have been to be able to work with Lhamo, and to get to know a very special group of talented, hardworking and passionate women who are taking the Montessori course, the two women who are translating the course into French and Chinese, and the teachers and staff at Ecole Montessori Casablanca who helped us so much.

But I also now have other very dear friends in this part of the world, all from the home where I lived for two months.

Every year during Ramadan the king of Morocco invites scholars of Islam from around the world to deliver inspiring lectures on Islam. My host, Mohamed Sajid, as minister of culture for Morocco, is invited to attend. At each of these ten lectures the guests are presented with a beautiful piece of Arabic script in gold lettering to memorialize each of the talks. Mohamed kindly presented me with several of these documents. An American-Moroccan scholar from the University of Chicago delivered the lecture commemorated here.

I often shared meals with Mohamed’s wife, my dear friend Hanane, a Medical doctor who works as a volunteer for whomever needs her, and her son the artist Hamza. They taught me much about their country and their lives. And I now know more about soccer and the World Cup than I ever though possible.

Never will I forget this family and all of the others who contributed to my wonderful stay in Casablanca, Omar, Latifa, and especially Medeni and Hakima who never gave up trying to teach me Arabic and Berber!

15 culture book cover art

When I realized that the work load for the course (as I was writing and delivering lectures along with all of the regular course assistant work) left me no time for my regular work as a Montessori consultant, writer, and a multitude of other tasks I work on when at home, so I was forced to finish my lectures in a little over two months and return to California.

But this experience convinced me of the value of the Montessori primary culture work that were the basis of my lectures—physics, botany, zoology, geography, history, music, and art. Over the last 50 years I have shared this information in many countries, speaking and writing. And often I have been asked to write a book on the subject. So now it is official.

Hopefully in the next year there will be a book with the picture above on the cover. This painting of my youngest grandchild examining a flower with a magnifying glass is not yet finished, but I think it captures the essence of the projected book. Stay tuned . . .

16 art page image

Finally some of my prints and paintings are now available to purchase via the Internet. I updated this page before leaving for Morocco but only recently posted it. You can see more at this link: Susan’s art

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Just as I was gathering photos (I wish I could have posted 100!) for this blog post, news arrived that the translation of The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three will soon be available in the Romanian language so I might be back in that hemisphere of the planet earth sooner than I thought for a book signing.

Take care,
Susan

Mongolia, Sweden, Morocco, Spring 2018

Events are happening quickly now so this will be a brief blog post, but with lots of pictures as usual.

0 michael olaf news image

In May I will on the staff at the first AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) 3-6-diploma course to be given in Morocco. It will be wonderful to return to this country where I have learned and taught twice before. Here is a link to the Michael Olaf news from this month with more information on both the course and the international translations of books. CLICK HERE: http://michaelolaf.net/newsapril2018.html

3 spring work 2018 best

In February and March I traveled around the globe for the second time. The first was on the ship University of the Seven Seas (now Semester at Sea), a trip of 4+ months. This time is was less than one month:

In Mongolia it was very exciting (and very cold!) to be able to attend an Eagle Hunter competition not so far from Ulaanbaatar, the capital. If you have not heard of this ancient sport I highly recommend the movie “The Eagle Huntress” which tells the story, through a true documentary, of a young girl who became the first female to ever enter this male dominated sport, and she won! (Oops, hope I didn’t ruin the movie for you. No I do not think so for I have seen this movie 3 times and am sure you will enjoy it.) Hunting with eagles has been the way of getting food in this part of the world for many years and during a competition the horse and rider and eagle must work together to obey commands, just as though they were hunting for food. It was a beautiful sunny day but so cold that I had to turn my face to the sun to convince my brain that I was not freezing.

Above is a short video clip, taken by my friend Lhamo Pemba, of one of the riders. The eagles are trained as babies and after 7 years returned to the wild with gratitude of the hunter.

 

5 eagle hunter statue best

And here is one of the statues of the revered Eagle Hunters found at the amazing monument, The Genghis Khan Equestrian statue, the largest equestrian statue in the world. CLICK HERE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r83X_4DEDUw

6 book and susan

Then on to the Montessori work! My good friend and AMI trainer, Lhamo Pemba, gave the 10-day AMI Assistants course, an introduction to Montessori for ages 3-6, and allowed me to contribute. Also I gave a 1-day workshop based on the book The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to three, and we held a book signing with the participants because it is now available in the Mongolian language, translated by the president of the AMI affiliate society in Mongolia, and soon to be graduate of the AMI 0-3 diploma course in Denver, Co, Tsolmon Namkhainyam. The cover art is of an oil painting of a baby whose herder family, living in a ger (yurt in Russian) out on the steppe, we interviewed the last time I was in Mongolia.

8 names in mongolian best

Here is a picture of two members of the AMI affiliate board as they presented both Lhamo and me (both in Mongolian dress) with beautiful scrolls of our names written in the ancient Mongolian script.

9 mindfulness cover

Now on to Sweden! In both Mongolia and Sweden I gave a talk based on the book, “Montessori and Mindfulness”. The book was inspired by the talk I gave at the AMI congress in Prague last summer. It was something I had been thinking about for a long time.

As adults in today’s world we are always rushing from one thing to the next, our attention usually on the past and the future. But in Montessori, uninterrupted concentration on age appropriate activities that involve the body and the mind working together, are the most important and most valuable gift we have for children. This is the most natural experience of true mindfulness.

Also, in Montessori education, instead of the teacher delivering lessons to a group of children, he or she is trained to observe each child individually, as well as the group, all day long, to adjust individual lessons to the stage of development and the interest of each child. There is no way for this teacher to be thinking about the past or the future; she is drawn into each moment of the teaching day, completely being in the moment. Thus Montessori is a method of mindfulness for both the child and the teachers. Here is the link to this book on Amazon. CLICK HERE: http://a.co/53awIWf

And from the publisher. CLICK HERE: http://michaelolaf.com/store/page79.html

10 sweden speakers best

It was wonderful to be back in the lovely home of my friends Barbra Waller and her husband Tom. Jim and I have visited with them before in Sweden and Finland and they have visited us in California. Old friends Patricia Wallner and Louise Livingston, both AMI teacher trainers, were the other two speakers. Here is a picture of us with Barbra and members of the AMI affiliate organization for Sweden.

11 museum

After the inspiring Montessori workshop in Stockholm I visited Barbra’s 0-3 class, amazed as always with her natural instincts and abilities with children of this age. Then we spent a day exploring in the Nordic Museum pictured here. I wish I had time a space to share much more of this visit but . . .

12 susan on the beach

. . . Now it is time for me to return to our beach, where I do my best thinking, and enjoy precious with my husband and family, as preparations are in full swing for traveling to Casablanca in exactly one month.

Love to all,

Susan

Dublin, Amsterdam, and Marseille – Spring 2017

1 culture in dublin

Art, Music, and Literature in Dublin, Ireland

In Dublin I was taken immediately to the tower, now the James Joyce Museum, where the beginning of the book “Ulysses” takes place. That experience has inspired me to give the book just one more chance and I am now on page 20 and enjoying it. Also in Dublin I saw the Book of Kells which has been on my “to do” list for many years, the National Museum, the Chester Beatty Library Collection, and had two shows of my own art.

You do not have to be a member of Facebook to see pictures of this trip here:

Click here: Culture in Dublin

One evening after a delicious dinner with the family of an old friend we were entertained with guitar music of her son. He had been studying classical piano and had become interested in guitar. In my Montessori classes I have always taught piano and guitar to any interested student and I was delighted when, after showing him the 12-bar-blues pattern, we figured out how to play a duet. Then we gave a little concert for the family. It reminded me of how wonderful it feels as a Montessori teacher to be always observing children, watching carefully for that little spark of interest or curiosity, and they stepping in only to provide what it is necessary to feed the flame of that interest – and then get out of the way, creating space for the child to concentrate on progress.


3 boredom

Feeding the Flame of Interest vs. Schedules and Requirements

For something I wrote on this subject in 2015, see this MONTESSORI NEWSLETTER:

Click here: Concentration Newsletter, “Where the Magic Happens”

4 agm

During this trip attended the AMI AGM (Annual General Meeting of the Association Montessori Internationale) in Amsterdam. In line with what I wrote above, I would like to share a slide from two presentations from this international gathering. In it you see students from two AMI Montessori middle schools, in Sweden and the USA, who were there to answer questions from the audience about the Montessori middle schools they attend. They spoke of the freedom and responsibility we have heard so much of in Dr. Montessori’s writings. They spoke of their love of work and how their education truly is child-centered rather than curriculum-centered. And how their own curiosity is respected. It reminded me so much of the situations I find when I consult with school where, at all levels from age 2-high school, the most valuable parts of Montessori are eliminated in favor of schedules and assignments!!!!

My own Montessori students at the 6-12 level had lists of work they hoped to accomplish during 1 or two-week time period (which I helped them decide upon every 1 or 2 weeks), but other than the 5 Great Lessons given at the beginning of the year, there were very rarely times when I told them when and what to do, and certainly there were no required, regularly scheduled group or collective lessons. I constantly reminded myself, “The teacher is in charge of the minimum, the child the maximum.”

Teachers are doing their best but there so much social pressure to focus on academics that in even the best schools I find situations where daily, sometimes hourly, assignments completely eliminate the possibility of large, long, involved, child-initiated projects.

Rob Gueterbock who was speaking as the students answered questions shared the slide above during the presentation. He told us how important these quotes, recently reread, are in reminding him of the real work. Another of the speakers, John “Mac” McNamara, gave many examples of how, in many years of teaching, the exploration and concentration came before the required curriculum. One example he sighted was three students who found a large fish tank and wanted to set up in the school. They managed all the research and work to do this because it is all they did for 3 days.

Here is a quote by Dr. Montessori to help make this point.

A presentation is given, not to a group of children, but individually, to help the child to grow mentally. We prepare this special environment to help his growth, to offer him freedom so that he can proceed with his work in a normal way. The collective lessons are given only to the child who has not yet been normalized. After normalization, each child grows individually, in his own way.    If we give a lesson we do not command all the children to stop what they are doing in order to listen. Many children may have absolutely no interest in the lesson and we may bore them.

­–Maria Montessori, Creative Development in the Child
page 40 – Kalakshetra 1998, page 207)


5 amsterdam dublin 1

Montessori Work in Amsterdam and Dublin

In Dublin I gave a public lecture, “Montessori, Education for the Future” at University College Dublin, and a full day workshop on Montessori from Birth to Three. In between these two events I flew to Amsterdam to host the president of the new AMI Montessori teachers organization in Peru, and to witness the signing of the affiliate agreement with AMI. This has been in progress since the AGM in April 2016, when, for the first time, Peruvian teachers came to ask for support of AMI. It was a wonderful thing to see.

Click here: Montessori Work in Dublin and Amsterdam


6 france

Marseille, France – Spring 2017

In Marseille, Sandrine Mallet, the founder of the Montessori project, “KidsRFuture” hosted me for several days. Sandrine and I met in 2015 at the 2-week Educateurs sans Frontières (EsF) meeting in Thailand where we gave a joint presentation on our work with children around the world.

Here is her website:

Click here: KidsRFuture

But now Sandrine is the mother of an 8-month-old son, Pierre, and so we arranged for me to visit a school in Marseille and to give a talk on Montessori Birth to Three to the school staff and other parents and teachers. And of course we spent a lot of time observing and learning from Pierre.

Click here: Marseille

I hope you have enjoyed this news, and the pictures, and maybe I will see you on Facebook or Instagram.

Take care,
Susan

PS Since I am an Artist, I enjoy sharing experiences through pictures more than words so lately I have been posting on Facebook and Instagram rather then this blog (Susan Mayclin Stephenson on Facebook, SusanMayclinStephenson on Instagram).

Fischer and Matteo, Musical Babies

Fischer and Matteo, Musical Babies

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Children from Birth to Three have an “absorbent mind”. They take in everything that is going on around them.

A child in his earliest years, when he is only two or a little more, is capable of tremendous achievements simply through his unconscious power of absorption, though he is himself still immobile. After the age of three he is able to acquire a great number of concepts through his own efforts in exploring his surroundings. In this period he lays hold of things through his own activity and assimilates them into his mind. — The Discovery of the Child, Maria Montessori


The role of the AMI Montessori Assistant to Infancy has always been first and foremost to support the parents, the child’s first teacher, in the home. This was done initially in Rome, Italy in 1947 when the program was first designed, to help prepare for as peaceful and successful birth as possible, to help the family prepare the home in such a way that the needs of the infant and the family would be met, and to be there for several days after the birth to help however possible. But over the years it has grown to be even more thanks to research by neuroscientists. We realize the importance of keeping even the very youngest child in the middle of the daily life of the family, of learning to observe the infant to see what he is trying to see and do, to share our interests and daily work with him. In this blog post I am using music as just one example of how to do this.

The Joyful Child 0-3 Montessori

Much of the information on this page, and more, can be found in the above book, available:

From Amazon in many countries: USA Joyful Child

Wholesale from the publishers: Michael Olaf


RHYTHMS – FISCHER

When our grandchild Fischer was born, his musician uncle Michael made a CD for him. Many of the rhythms of traditional music of various cultures were on it. To help him experience these rhythms Michael would hold and move Fischer, dancing in a way, following the same speed as the music on the CD.


 SECOND PIANO LESSON – MATTEO

For a week after giving talks and consulting in Lima, Peru in August, 2016 I stayed with friends from years ago when I was teaching in Colegio San Silvestre. There was a piano in the home but no one had played it for years. I said if they could have it tuned by the time I returned in November I would play for baby Matteo. The following video clips are from “Matteo’s piano lessons” in November.

Second Piano Lesson? What was the first? It was sitting on his mother’s lap watching me play the piano. He watched carefully, not looking away. From the beginning of life a child is carefully observing what is going on around him in the family. Gradually, according to the level of physical development, he is able to follow his strongest desire, which is to join in.

So, after watching me play the piano, for his second piano lesson he sat on my lap. I was careful to hold him firmly around the tummy but to give him enough wiggle space to reach the piano keys with his hands if he wanted to, and to be sure that his legs were comfortable and not pressed up against the edge of the piano.

To get him used to this position I kept my left arm around him and only played with my right. Even though it would have been easy for him to reach the keys with both hands he kept his right hand in his lap and touched the keys only with his left. Maybe he was imitating me in playing with only one hand, but is family (parents, two older siblings and their friends, and his grandmother) have noticed that he seems to use his left hand more than his right. He carefully watched my hand as I played.


THIRD PIANO LESSON – MATTEO

For the third lesson he sat still and peacefully in my lap so I played with both hands. Then, with no help from me he placed both of his hands on top of mine and could feel, as well as see, what it is like to play piano. It was clear to me that he also loves Chopin.


FOURTH PIANO LESSON – MATTEO

We started noticing than when Matteo was being carried as one of the adults walked through the living room, he often leaned toward the piano as he passed it. In the forth lesson he seemed to have mastered it! He was very excited as we sat at the piano, played with both hands with great confidence, and when I was finished playing he carried on with a solo! Soon he was also playing piano in the lap of other members of the family.


BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP – FISCHER

When a child learns language, he first watches and listens, and then he gradually imitates. First some nouns, family labels like mama and papa, gradually filling in all of the elements of grammar with no tension or stress. By age 6 he masters a language in a way that would take so much effort by an older child or an adult. It is the same with music. In this little video clip, Fischer has no idea that he is not playing and singing exactly like the adults he has seen play and sing this song. And with a little help he could learn to do it perfectly when he is ready.


FUR ELISE – FISCHER AND UNCLE MICHAEL

In this video clip Fischer is showing his Uncle Michael a song that he really enjoys hearing and is figuring out how to play on his own. Michael is improvising a duet with him.


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FISCHER AND FAMILY

Art is not in some far-off place. A work of art is the expression of a man’s whole personality, sensibility and ability. When love is deep, much can be accomplished. — Shinichi Suzuki

Fischer (next to his Papa) is now taking Suzuki piano lessons.


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MATTEO AND FAMILY

During these piano lessons with Matteo and his family in November 2016, I was able to be a true AMI Assistant to Infancy. Beginning in August the family have been reading my book, The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three. I had also shared with the whole family (almost everyone in the picture above) the PowerPoint presentation  given in a hotel in Lima. Matteo’s two siblings are university students. They and their friends all love and want to provide the very best for Matteo, this tiny gift to the family, and they are all learning about Montessori. I feel so honored to have this opportunity to bring AMI Montessori to Peru in the very best way, starting with one family.

But music is not all the family is learning. This is just one way to think about including Matteo in the life of his family.

I asked Alheli, Matteo’s mother, to tell me some of the things they had learned, both from the book, and from my visits in these 3 months. This is what she told me:

— We have learned to respect Matteo’s concentration and not to interrupt him when he is looking at something or trying to do something.

— We do not look away when there is eye contact and Matteo is staring at us.

— We all have learned to speak his language by repeating his sounds, exactly as they sound. Now we have long “conversations” with him.

— We talk to him gently and ask for his permission and understanding.

— We value moments like changing his diapers and nursing as moments to develop attachment. We do not rush through them but we understand that every interaction is important.

— We can see the importance of a mirror for Matteo to see himself, to watching himself and others move.

— Rather than providing a lot of baby toys we now know that simple objects we have at home are the best toys. We realize that he wants to handle and explore the things he sees other people using

— We know that his mouth since the beginning has been the most important part of his body to learn about the world.

— We try to understand his sounds and physical signs in order to be empathetic to him.

— We understand he gets upset or cries not only when he is hungry but also more often when he is bored.

— We know the importance of tummy time. And have created a place at home (middle of the house) for him to practice moving and to watch the family.

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— We have learned to dress Matteo in clothing that allow him to move and explore with his whole body and his hands. No more socks.

— Playing is also working and he gets tired (happily tired).

— The most concentrated playing time he has the more time there is between nursing, because food was the only “fun” thing for him before we learned about his other needs.

— Exposure to music that shown us that he is a musical boy!!!

What Mama Alhelí enjoys the most: Music time

What Papa César enjoys the most: Concentration time


I hope this musical post makes you laugh and smile and think, and that it is as valuable to you as the experience has been for me.

All of my best wishes for a musical and joyful holiday season.

Love,

Susan

www.susanart.net

AMI Assistants to Infancy courses

The book: The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three

Montessori Talks in Peru

MONTESSORI TALKS IN PERU, November 2016

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In the 1970’s I was a teacher at Colegio San Silvestre in Lima, Peru. In August, 2016 I was thrilled to be able to return. Finally I was able to visit Cusco, visit a beautiful Montessori school and talk to teachers there, visit Machu Picchu, and give a Montessori presentation to about 30 or 40 people in a lovely hotel in Lima.

See Machu Picchu here here: MP

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Three months later I was invited back to give presentations on AMI Montessori at three universities, with Susana Chavez, AMI teacher from Lima as my translator. On the first day we spoke at Universidad Femenina Sagrado Corazon for 250 people with a wonderful response. In the afternoon the talk was given at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia. 80 invitations had been sent out and 1000+ people showed up! They stood in line around the block in the hot sun for 2 hours before the talk; we needed two additional rooms and video conferencing to accommodate the overflow; and since there was not room for the 150 people still waiting outside, I repeated the talk (how could I say “No”) and some of the attendees from the first talk who asked if they could repeat. I think Peru is ready for AMI Montessori! My last talk was given the next day at the esteemed Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, founded in 1551.

Click: SAN MARCOS


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The universities wanted to make these talks available in real time as video conferencing, but I am always afraid that I won’t be natural and relaxed, and I don’t want to discourage questions from the audience. So since I have been asked by many people to share the information from the presentations, here is a brief overview and that basis of the talk, which was presented in Portland, Oregon in 2013 was published and is available on Amazon or from Michael Olaf.

Click: THE UNIVERSAL CHILD


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I always love to talk about how neuroscientists are more and more able to explain scientifically the valuable elements of Montessori practice that we have observed over the years. One example is the need for repetition. We now understand what neurons are firing when a child is repeating a puzzle for example, and why this changes in the brain when the puzzle is “learned.” This reinforces the importance of allowing the child to repeat until he or she decided to stop.

Also we can now understand, as we learn about multiple intelligences and executive functions (see this explanation from Harvard University.

Click:  HARVARD

And how basing Montessori practice on natural human needs and tendencies, such as exploration, real work, communication, concentration, etc., is far more valuable in preparing for the years to come, than basing education on a static academic curriculum.


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Exploration begins at birth and the Montessori 0-3, Assistants to Infancy program helps parents support this need in the home. In my work around the world I find that in some countries children, like the child in this picture in Bhutan, automatically explore and participate in the work of the family which has great benefits in may ways.


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In places where this is not supported (giving children toys and other ways of being entertained instead of sharing the daily life and work) Montessori environments provide real work, called “practical life” in the Montessori environments, from very young ages and through high school. Here we see children preparing food and serving themselves in Montessori Infant Communities (age 1-2.5+) in the Torres Straits north of Australia, and in Japan.

Click: TORRES STRAIT


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The need to study and support the development of communication is ongoing in Montessori environments at any age. Here we see a mother explaining everything she is doing as she dresses the infant, and the child’s face reflects the joy of this experience. In the second picture students in 6-12 environments in Hawaii are explaining, during parents’ night how mathematical cubing is learned first with hands-on materials and then in the abstract. It was fascinating to watch the communication between the students and the parents in these groups.


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The Value of Montessori outside of the Classroom

One of the points I always stress is that Montessori is not limited to a method of education in classrooms. It has proven valuable for over 100 years in many situations and for many kinds of adults and children

Two years ago, while consulting with a Montessori school in Morocco, North Africa, I was taken to visit an orphanage because no matter what country I visit I am always interested in the lives of children in the first years of life. The babies were kept for most of the day isolated in cribs because the ratio of babies to adults makes it difficult to o anything else.

The Montessori school to help this situation so I suggested setting up a Montessori First Year orphanage project because a lot of very important changes can be made at this age with very little training and materials. One year later I gave a talk at the orphanage and found people so excited about the potential of these children, their language, movement, and general excitement with life. Above you can see the “before” and “after” pictures of this project.


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In 2003 as I was preparing to leave for my second trip to learn about Montessori with Tibetan refugees, this time to travel to Tibet, my husband gave me a New York Times story about a blind school in Lhasa. When I visited I was pleased to see Montessori materials, such as the dressing frames, being used.

I did not go into detail about this during my talks in Lima, but I would like to share a bit more of the story. While studying Chinese and Asian civilizations in university in her home in Germany, Sabriye Tenberken, who lost her sight at age 12, was stunned to learn that in Tibet blind children were living in appalling conditions—shunned by society, abandoned, and left to their own devices. The decision was instant: she would go to Tibet to help these children. She single-handedly devised a Tibetan Braille alphabet and opened the first school for the blind in Tibet, with only a handful of students. From its modest beginnings, that school has grown into a full-fledged institution for visually impaired people of all ages and in other countries.

I met one young woman who had spent the first 18 years of her life doing nothing in her home until her grandmother brought her to this school. After three years, at the time of my visit, this girl could read and write in Chinese, Tibetan, and English; she had received training as a masseuse and was preparing to move into an apartment with a fellow student where they would live independently thanks to the Practical Life skills they had been taught.

As she was giving me a tour of the school I commented on the beautiful colors painted on the walls of the school garden. She remarked, “Yes it is amazing how many visitors are unaware of the fact that we can “see” colors through our fingers. This sent me back to what I had been learning earlier (in the book “Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain.

Click: BRAIN

Here is the inspiring story of how Sabriye shone an unlikely light in a dark place. The book “My Path Leads to Tibet.”

Click: MY PATH


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Montessori With Aging and Dementia and with Refugees

Montessori Ageing Support Services, a division of the Montessori Australia Foundation, is the national organization for supporting quality of life for older Australians through the Montessori approach. This work has spread to many countries as a result of being presented at the AMI, Annual General Meeting of the Association Montessori Internationale in Amsterdam a few years ago.

Click: MONTESSORI FOR AGING

Soon after Tibet was taken over by China in 1959, as hundreds of children began to arrive in Nepal and India, the Dalai Lama said that even though food and shelter were priorities, education must begin immediately, and the educational system chosen was Montessori because of Dr. Montessori’s years of work in India. Above is a class in Dharamsala I visited and consulted with the teachers in 2002.

Today there is work being done in the AMI Montessori movement to help refugees all over the world, including those leaving Syria.

Click: AMI


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Respecting the Local Culture

Bringing Montessori to a new place, to a new country, is not an imposition of “Western” educational ideas, but a melding of what is important in the local culture. Research is done on the practical life of the culture, the language, and the arts. Above you can see pictures of the value placed on music in Tibet and Russia.

While visiting a Montessori school in Lima this month I was honored with a production given by the children. They study the history of their country through the costumes, music, dance, and stories of, in this case, the Inca civilization. In the video above you hear the wife of the Inca imploring people to follow his guidance.


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Montessori Bhutan class

Although the teacher of this class in Bhutan had earned an AMI diploma in Thailand, the observation and student teaching of the course had been waived because there were no AMI classes for this element of the training. As a result she did not what a real AMI 3-6 class looked like or how it functioned. My daughter Narda (also AMI 0-3, 3-6, and 6-12) and I took donations from schools in the USA and had furniture and materials made. Then I spent three days mentoring the teacher. The parents were so amazed that their children could actually choose materials, take them to a floor mat or table, work on them, put them back, and help each other, that they huddled around the classroom windows to watch.


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The Work of Nature

The Montessori way of meeting the needs of children is not a mental construct imposed on an empty slate. It is a discovery of what nature intended, of the potential of the child, the human, when the emphasis is on observation and discovery of this person, of creating an environment that supports life, and in learning (through good Montessori training) how to put the person in touch with the environment so he or she can make intelligent choices, concentrate, evolve. This is the true work of Nature.

As we allow children to experience nature and to learn to care for plants and animals, he experiences first hand the meeting of the same needs he has. Above you see a child who cannot yet walk alone exploring a field of flowers as he walks with what we call the GOOD walker so he can stop, sit down, pull up, move forward, and touch and smell as he desires.

Click: THE GOOD WALKER

The last two pictures are from a classroom in Moscow where children have brought the colored leaves to study, and then go on to explore leaves further through the Montessori “leaf cabinet”, and vocabulary, and art.

This has been a very brief sharing of my talks in Lima, but I hope it has been enough to give you a taste of the potential of Montessori in many ways to support the very best physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth and happiness of children and adults. It is my hope that with the best of this natural education we will someday have more adults who are less violent, greedy, and prejudiced, and who can strike a healthy balance in their own lives, and take pleasure in caring for others and the environment.

Blessings,
Susan

Click: SUSAN’S WEBSITE


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Although my presentations in Peru were modified depending on the audience, much of the talk was based on the one I gave in Portland, Oregon in 2013 and many of the pictures and the text for that version can be found in this book: The Universal Child, Guided by Nature: Adaptation of the 2013 International Congress Presentation

Click:  THE UNIVERSAL CHILD

Hawaii Montessori & the Chicago Cubs

Hawaii Montessori & the Chicago Cubs

For five days at the beginning of this month I consulted in a lovely Montessori school in Hawaii that began 40 years ago in a little Quonset hut with many of the problems of the tropics that I will not go into (like rats). Today it is one of the loveliest campuses I have ever seen and serves 171 children from Infant Community through middle school.

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Middle School

Since I must resist the impulse to interact with, to bond with (and then leave), the younger children when consulting, it was a pleasure to get to spend some time with the 12-15-year-olds, sharing what I have learned about this age in many countries, and to witness their excitement as they plan their trip to our nation’s capital, their volunteer work, their plans for the garden, and so much more.


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Peace Garden

One of the most beautiful areas of the school is high on a hill in the middle of the campus where a peace garden has been created; this is a place to think and be at peace, with log benches as they gather in groups to share their dreams, plan their work, and discuss creating a peaceful world. Look carefully and you can see the basketball court and the Pacific Ocean in the distance.


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All by myself

I don’t drive much as the members of our family can attest as I easily get distracted and lost (yep, a bit ADHD) so imagine my surprise when I found that I was staying in a lovely hotel 35 minutes from the school and I was going to have to follow the GPS on my iPhone and drive a strange rental car to get back and forth from school every day! I did it and feel so grown up! It is about time since I turned 73 during this trip. I even got myself to a beach and managed a selfie.


The Chicago Cubs!

When I was a cheerleader in high school I always immediately felt sorry for the loser at the end of any game, which rather dimmed the excitement of winning. So I have not since been a follower of sports.

However, one of the teachers in this school who is from Chicago is an avid admirer of the Chicago Cubs and her excitement spilled over into her class with joy and excitement as they stayed in the world series so I got caught up in the flow.

During a class meeting, run by three students in the elementary class of this teacher, there was a mention of controlling excitement over the cubs with the cheer of “go cubs go”. I raised my hand and asked if someone could explain what “go cubs go” was and this little video clip shows what they did in response to my question.


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Watching TV to follow the Cubs last game

 This is what I learned about baseball: there are 9 innings in a baseball game. “Top of the inning” means the beginning of the inning. “Bottom of the inning” means the end of the inning is coming. Each team gets to play (that means trying to hit the ball with a bat and then run around) in each inning. If there is a tie at the end of the 9 innings there is no “overtime” (I had heard that somewhere as a cheerleader) but there can be extra innings.

I learned all this because I watched the end of the last game of the World Series game, between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, out at the hotel pool bar so people could explain to me what was happening.

When the game was tied and almost over I couldn’t stand it anymore so I went back to my hotel room to lie in the bathtub and recover. Then I decided to turn on my iPhone and see who had won and THE GAME WAS STILL GOING ON. I turned on the TV and watched the Cubs win! But now I have had enough sports for the rest of my life.


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A Little Politics

Because it was almost Halloween there was a pumpkin-carving contest at the hotel. Guess which one I voted for (hope I don’t get kicked out of the country).


The Montessori Work

Every night after a day of observing at the school I drove back to the hotel over the lovely countryside of the island and spent many quiet hours in my room going over the day’s notes, of course sometimes with a break to enjoy the sunset and to look for the giant turtles cavorting near the rocks on the beach.

I saw one large carapace (the back of the turtle) and one flipper and have several pictures of “where the turtle just was” just like my pictures from home of “where the humpback whale just was” which means lots of pictures of water.

By the end of the week I had a plan of what to share with the 12 teachers.

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There is so much work in meeting the needs of children in Montessori classes at every age and we are all striving for the best. But sometimes we forget the importance of being exact in our teaching. Two of these areas that I often find in even the best 3-6 classes are “the correct use of the metal insets and the sensorial materials. The metal inset picture above is correct, but the children in the second picture are using the color tablets and knobless cylinders incorrectly and so will not benefit from these wonderful materials.

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And OF COURSE I almost always talk about the importance of the uninterrupted (by group snack, scheduled group lessons, etc.) 3-hour work period. If you want to know more about this extremely important part of Montessori see the book “The Advanced Montessori Method, Vol 1″, the chapter, ‘My Contribution to Experimental Science.’

Once more I could share one of my favorite quotes by Dr. Montessori:

 When the children had completed an absorbing bit of work, they appeared rested and deeply pleased. It almost seemed as if a road had opened up within their souls that led to all of their latent powers, revealing the better part of themselves. They exhibited a great affability to everyone, put themselves out to help others and seemed full of good will.

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The Center and the Periphery

During my training there was one concept that made the essence of Montessori work especially clear to me and the memory of this suddenly popped into my head as I sought a focus that would reach all of the teachers. I didn’t have a picture of the illustration above on my computer so I reached out by email to friends around the world and received it from my good friend Seiko Ohara in Japan. This is the illustration (adapted above) of the “Center and the Periphery.” It guides us in just how far we have the right to affect the child.

In our work we only invite, offer, or inspire particular lessons or work, affecting the child at the periphery of his being. The most important work comes from deep inside the child where the wisdom abides.

This is rather like trusting a plant. In building compost (as they are doing at this school) one tries to provide all of the nutrients a plant needs to thrive. Warmth, light, water, and these nutrients are all provided, but it is the wisdom of the plant that accepts. The plant might grow toward the sun (phototropism) or a flower might close up when the sun goes down or when the temperature grows to cool. Exactly the correct amount of water will be taken in (unless we drastically overwater and overwhelm), and the exact amount of each nutrient in the soil will be taken in. This is the plant’s wisdom, its “center.” Cannot we do the same for the child?

This was a concept that applied to all of the classes at the school, from age 1 to 15 and we kept going back to it during the workshop to guide our discussions.

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What more can I say?

Perhaps it would be wise for all of us to become more aware of our own centers and how the influences at the periphery of our lives affect us. To realize that so much of what guides us during each day, each moment, might just be unnecessary distraction from what is really important.

With this in mind I will try to reach deep to my center during prayer and meditation, allowing myself periods of silence as I walk or sit and think, and wait for messages and inspiration  from the place where we are all connected.


rainbow

I hear babies cry and I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more than we’ll know
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world world

From a beautiful song heard all over the islands “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
Hear a bit here: Israel Kamakawiwoʻole

Aloha Hawaii,
Susan

http://www.susanart.net