MONTESSORI IN PERU, TIBET, BHUTAN
MONTESSORI TALKS IN PERU, November 2016
In the 1970’s I was a teacher at Colegio San Silvestre in Lima, Peru. In August, 2016 I returned. Finally visiting Machu Picchu, a school in Cusco, and giving a Montessori presentation to about 30 or 40 people in a lovely hotel in Lima. Three months later I was invited back to give presentations on AMI Montessori at three universities. On the first day I 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! As in much of the world, professors, teachers, and university students want to know the difference between “authentic” Montessori and the kinds of Montessori practices that are not aligned with Dr. Montessori’s plans, or her books.
People stood in line around the block in the hot sun for two 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”). Also some of the attendees from the first talk who asked if they could stay and hear the presentation a second time. I think Peru is ready for AMI Montessori! My final talk was given the next day at the famous Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, founded in 1551. Much of the rest of this blog post contains glimpses of these talks.
The Universal Child, Guided by Nature was the basis for all of these talks:
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 executive functions, how basing Montessori support of natural human needs and tendencies, such as movement, 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.
Another blog post shares our meeting in Vancouver with neuroscientist Adele Diamond, famous for her work with executive functions, as presented by experts from around the world CLICK: ADELE DIAMOND
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.
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.
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.
The Value of Montessori Beyond 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 Information on some of the rest of this blog post is now part of a book that shares stories of much of my work around the world, Aid to Life, Montessori Beyond the Classroom: CLICK: AID TO LIFE, MONTESSORI BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
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.
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 Leads to Tibet
Respecting the Local Culture – Peru
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.
Respecting the Local Culture – Bhutan
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, as much as possible reflecting the art and daily work of Bhutan. 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. There are several pages on the internet of our Montessori work in Bhutan. CLICK: Bhutan
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.
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.
CLICK: SUSAN’S WEBSITE