In April the first in-person AGM was held in Delft, Netherlands. Here are just a few of the highlights of the focus on “Sowing Seeds” projects around the world seen by 250 people from 50 different countries.
The first day was sunny and beautiful, people seated outside the cafes and restaurants. Above you can see Catalina Ivan(the picture taken by her husband) from Romania, and Joanne Kaya, a Welsh Montessori teacher I met in Moscow years ago, and with whom I am staying this week in a village nearby.
We were surprised and pleased to be entertained by a group of Morris dancers from the UK!
One of the highlights for me was the presentation by Cathy Rogers on how learning takes place. So much of what she said helps explain why our Montessori practices work. I had been reading her book Educational Neuroscience, the Basics and was able to ask her about music. I was educated in classical piano beginning at a young age. When I would make a mistake I just played it over and over hoping to get it right eventually.
But later, as a Suzuki music student and then teacher, I learned how to analyze and isolate the steps of a musical passage, teach them one at a time, and make it possible to play the music well from the very beginning. This is very much like how a skill—setting a table, building a “pink” tower, or solving an algebraic equation—is taught in Montessori. In essence, it is “teaching by teaching, not by correcting.”
My question to Cathy was, “What happens in the brain after these errors have been corrected (after we learn to play a piano passage correctly)? Do the wrong notes, their traces in the brain, get pruned away from disuse? Are they completely replaced by the correct notes?” Her reply was: “Sadly, errors remain in the brain forever. And it is frustrating how persistent these errors can be.” She is also a pianist and knows that during any stress the mistakes can surface.
It made me think a lot about the reason I learned in my Montessori 6-12 training to never ask a student who is entering the 6-12 class with “bad” handwriting to write! Instead, introduce a new font and start from scratch in learning to make beautiful writing. For example if a child had learned to print before age six, introduce cursive or italics. You can see in the picture above the writing of a new six year old in one of my classes. She had been learning cursive in the primary class, but perhaps frustrated by the speed at which she could write cursive, she reverted to print the lower and upper class letters she had learned first, possibly at home.
Since she knew some print and cursive, I introduced her to writing in italics with colored inks. On the right you can see her writing after a few months. Had I required her to write daily she never would have made such progress.
She was so pleased with her new skill that she wrote this little story about Montessori, based on a story I had told the students, complete with colored inks, colored papers, and decorated margins. It was a Thank You gift for me that I still treasure. The secret to maintain this ability to write beautifully is to never require writing at this stage, but to allow the student to choose what and when to write—at a speed that allows beautiful writing one can be proud of.
Anne Kelly from Tasmania, Australia has been my friend for years. We first met at the EsF (Educateurs sans Frontières) meeting in Thailand where we both spoke. She is now the head of the AMI program “Montessori for Dementia, Disabilities, and Aging” and she was a great help to me as my mother aged. Anne’s book Forgetfulness, Feelings and Farnarkling (which means talking a lot but not doing anything) examines where aged care has come from, where we are now and where we need to be. It can be ordered from Australia. Contact: email@example.com
Jennifer Brush, on the right, spoke of her organization and book, Montessori for Elder and Dementia Care, which is based on several Montessori eldercare programs.
CoRE, or Community Rooted Education in South Africa, was explained by Uma Ramani and Andre Shearer. It was designed in collaboration with AMI to apply Montessori principles and practices to the care and education of children aged 0-6 in underserved and under-resourced communities in South Africa. Soon my book Montessori Cosmic Education, the Child’s Discovery of a Global Vision and a Cosmic Task, will be translated into Zulu and other local languages to help with the Montessori practitioners training. For more:
I always enjoy talks by my good friend Eder Cuevas from Chihuahua, Mexico. He shared with us several of the Montessori outreach programs in his country, from work with the children and parents in prisons, to the relatively new program Montessori Sports, a course that prepares one to integrate sports into Montessori environments at any age. You can read more about Eder’s work at the blog post “Montessori in Mexico, Spring 2020.
One of the most wonderful elements of this meeting is seeing old friends. Here are pictures of Heidi Philappart, Montessori teacher trainer from Amsterdam; Mirka Vlckova, head of the AMI Montessori Institute in Prague, Czech Republic; Yuliia Timoshevska, head of the AMI training center in Odessa, Ukraine.
Anuradha Shankar, on the far right is one of the three new AMI board members, along with Eder Cuevas above and Jacqueline Jin Xuan from China. This group is a powerful and passionate addition to AMI. I hope to see Anuradha and her mother (a fellow 8-year-old writer, as Anu describes us) in India next spring when visiting the AMI training center in Chennai.
On the right is a painting I have begun of Montessori in a Sari. I thought it was important because her thinking must have expanded dramatically during the seven years that she and her son Mario were interned there as enemy aliens during World War II.
During dinner at the AGM, Jennifer Shields, from WMI (The Washington Montessori Institute in D.C.) showed me a picture of the graduating class of the first AMI 6-12 class in 1976-1977. Together I was able to help identify a few of us: Margaret Stephenson, from the UK, who was our main teacher trainer, Fahmida Malik, Kay Baker, Helen Wills Brown, Phyllis Pottish Lewis, John and Kay Berno, Michael Berno, and yours truly standing just behind Mario Montessori and his wife Ada. If anyone looking at this picture can identify others you might contact Jennifer at WMI.
The final speaker was a young Dutch man, Tuen Toebes, a twenty-one-year-old nursing student who (both broke and curious) decided to move into a nursing home and experience the daily life of elderly residents, not as a nurse or a carer—but as a housemate. The experience was to change his life, as well as the lives of his new friends. His book will be out soon and I have already pre-ordered it on Amazon.
There were many other subjects covered, and many other speakers, including projects in Norway, Argentina, the U.S., news of the coming AMI congress in Thailand, tour of the training center in Delft, talks about climate action and Montessori research, a growing group of national AMI affiliated societies, multilingualism in Montessori programs, and school design. Everything was seamlessly and joyfully pulled together by many people behind the scenes, and by AMI Executive Director Lynne Lawrence and AMI President Alain Tschudin.
There were many old and new friends (sometimes from Facebook!) from the US, Japan, Morocco, the UK, Ukraine, Argentina, Hong Kong, and other countries, just to share a few precious moments with. And a special moment when Lynne Lawrence showed a slide with covers of six new Montessori books and recommended that my own, Montessori Cosmic Education, was as an excellent introduction to Montessori especially for parents. You can see more here:
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Finally, I may have gone to the AGM with the idea that this would be my last time to attend—perhaps because of beingg a bit overwhelmed by the daily news of the world and doubt of there being much help. But I have come away with hope and inspiration!
Before leaving the Netherlands I was able to spend some time with my hostess Joanne and her family. During our visit, just like last time, I had a chess game with her son who learned to play chess with his mother from my very own book No Checkmate, Montessori Chess Lessons for Age 3-90+. The first time I could answer his question (it was about checkmate) but this time I could not and we had to check Mr. Google. And guess what – the young lad won the game! That is a Montessori sign of success, when the student surpasses the teacher.
My flight home took me through Istanbul, at the crossroads of Europe and Asia (last time I stood on the crossroads was at Yekaterinburg, Russia, with one foot in each next to a pillar marking the spot). The airport is worth a visit, especially the baklava.
Since there were eight hours to spare after arriving in San Francisco and flying home to Northern California, my friend Helen Wills Brown (in the picture of the Montessori class above) and I went to visit Studio Montessori School. A few years ago we visited Zoe’s school a few months after it had opened when it was a small 0-3 class and the teacher’s residence. Today it is a beautiful Nido (age 0-1), infant community (age 1-2.5) and primary class (age 2.5-6).
The theme of the 2023 AGM was “Sowing Seeds”. Zoe told me that meeting me in Portland in 2008 (she came to my talk on Montessori for all ages) was what led her to taking the 0-3 training at the AMI training center in San Diego, and now having a school and becoming an AMI trainer!
Everyone reading this blog post is Sowing Seeds of some kind. It is my wish that you also are able at times to witness the results.
Take care, Susan
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