Montessori Talks in Peru

MONTESSORI TALKS IN PERU, November 2016

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Early in November I returned to Lima, Peru 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.


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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