Montessori Ideas for Summer (or any school break)

Some years ago AMIUSA (The Association Montessori Internationale in the United States) published a parenting newsletter issue “Summer Ideas for All Ages.” Because I was the author of the 0-3 section of this article, I can share it with you.
CLICK: summerideas0-3

The complete issue can be purchased at the AMIUSA bookstore website:

It was the last day of school. A public-school teacher I had met during the year had been trying to find a day to visit our Montessori primary class in Northern Michigan. Finally, she arrived. The atmosphere was sadness. The children knew that school would be closed for the summer. Our visitor was confused. The day before this had been the last day for her own class where everyone was looking forward to vacation. What was different here? Instead of looking forward to the end of work, these children knew they would miss the work. This young woman became a Montessori teacher.

This is one of many examples that support one of the first discoveries of Dr. Montessori herself. As the first casa dei bambini (house of children) was being created in the slums of Rome, Montessori’s wealthy friends donated dolls and other toys, and the children were surely thrilled to play with them. But as the children asked if they could participate in the real work that they saw adults carrying out, as they learned to be responsible for cooking and setting tables and serving food and cleaning up, being responsible for their personal hygiene and caring for each other and the environment—these toys were left behind, ignored. This occurs worldwide today as authentic Montessori is made available for children. Children want to work, to be valuable collaborators, and to take care of each other.

Adele Diamond is a professor of is a neuroscientist at the University of British Colombia, Canada, and a pioneer in the field of educational neuroscience, especially executive functions, which have been shown to more predictive for life fulfillment (including academics) than IQ. And she tells us that the development of these skills can be supported at home and school.

Being entertained has its place, but it is usually passive. She explains that focusing on planning and executing a task, thinking logically, remembering details, adapting to results, time-management, self-control, basically accomplishing goals through one’s own decision-making and efforts, are completely supported by the Montessori practical life real work.

She gives practical examples: adults including children in the family life, telling stories without pictures so the child can create the images in his brain, inviting a child to help in solving practical problems, singing a round where there are two or more musical parts to pay attention to, and, in school, being sure that practical life work is connected to all academic learning, so the child is creating, not just reading, watching videos, or listening to someone talk. The honing of executive function skills is not supported by a day filled with lessons and classes and entertainment, in being passive rather than active.

If you want to dig deeper, here is the link to the last blog post about the AMI Global Meeting in Holland this spring. It introduces a book that provides a valuable explanation of just how a child learns. Cathy Rogers (who spoke at the AGM) and her colleague Michael S. C. Thomas reveal how neuroscientific evidence is forcing us to question our assumptions about how our brains learn and what this means for education.

Years ago, I was working in Bhutan and observed a lunch period where 150+ children from preschool through high school were together on the school playground. There was not one piece of play equipment, just blacktop and grass and weeds around the edges of the blacktop. For one hour I watched children singing, making up dances, making up games, closely exploring the plants on the edges of the blacktop, and taking care of each other; I did not see one example of a child being isolated or sad or bored. The subtle message was, “We trust you to create and take care of each other.”

Another time I spent time working at a boarding school for poor village children in Katmandu, Nepal. This school is supported by donations so the older students feel very important in being able to do a lot of the work that adults would otherwise carry out. And at lunch time? This time 300+ children, same age range, same lack of equipment, only black-top, no grass. Kindness, creativity, happiness were evident.

The next time I visited the school some well-meaning visitors had raised money to place metal-supported backboards with basketball hoops at each end of the play area, and a painted basketball court. The feeling was completely different. Children were bumping into each other, getting hurt, and fighting, those who were not playing basketball were crowded onto the sides with no room for dancing and making up games. The subtle message was, “Play basketball or stay out of the way.”
For more information on the school in Nepal:

I am not suggesting getting rid of play equipment, but that we spend some time thinking about what message—at playgrounds, camps, parks—the environment gives. Are the activities predetermined by the equipment or the adults? Does the equipment subtly direct the children for what they should be doing? Slide? Swing? Shoot baskets? Is there room for executive function skill development and being creative? Are the children kind and happy in this environment? We can think about how to support practical life, executive functions, happiness, and compassion.

We should not be afraid of boredom as it can engender creativity. Here is a link to a very practical article on the benefits of boredom published by the Child Mind Institute, an organization at the forefront of research and support for mental health in children:

I attended a traditional public school and even with very good teachers, for the most part I looked forward to the end of each school day—sometimes watching the clock more than the teacher—and to summer vacation. During the academic year, when school and piano practice were over, I was free to spend time alone or with friends until it was time for dinner or it got dark. Together with my friends, of all ages, we created scenarios, acted out the books we had read, made group rules, argued and made up, and solved problems. In summer there was swimming and a few weeks of camp, and two weeks of family vacation. But the rest of the time was creative.

Some of my happiest memories, after school and in summer, are of spending time wandering alone through the cornfields and woods and riverbanks, climbing trees, reading, and drawing. All that time spent thinking and planning my own projects, choosing my own books to read, being with others or alone, was the preparation for my life today which is not that much different—thinking, reading, painting, playing piano, studying, creating problems and solving them, and helping others learn to solve their own—especially in the international Montessori world.

What about us? Since childhood I have been aware of some adults spending all year looking forward to vacation, or counting the months and years till they can retire and no longer have to work. I have watched adults retire, travel for a while, dance for a while, read the books they have not had time to read, and so on, and then get bored because they no longer have meaningful work.

Maybe the secret is not to try to get away from the work, but to learn to enjoy each moment, even while we are working.

As I was preparing to give the presentation on Montessori and mindfulness, on which this book is based, in Prague in July, 2017, a young woman came to me ahead of time and said, “I am from India, a Hindu, and I should be meditating every day but I don’t’ seem to be able to find the time because I have so much to do cleaning the house and washing the dishes and so on.”

I replied, “What are you thinking about when you are washing the dishes.”

She looked at me with some surprise but before I could even explain I could see that she knew where I was going with this conversation. I said, “When I am reminding myself to wash dishes mindfully I think about each step of the dish washing. It brings me back to the present and I enjoy the work.”

She replied with a big smile, “Yes I understand. I will do that!”

Montessori and Mindfulness, page 92

One of the great gifts or being a Montessori parent or teacher is how much we learn about ourselves from learning about the needs of children and young adults.

When I discovered Montessori 50+ years ago one of the main attractions was that it is a system of education that gives children and young adults freedom to follow interests and passions; to choose their own work and subject of study; to have daily opportunity to go to each other for help, and to teach and help each other; periods of deep concentration are not interrupted even if is just sitting and thinking; there is time, and respect for, the kind of creativity and responsibility referred to in this blog post.

Over the years all the books I have written have been found useful to support the best of human development, during the school year or vacation, in school or at home, and hopefully to realize and support our own adult needs. You can see which of these books might be helpful to you this summer or at any time.

NOTE: I took the pictures above in Amsterdam, Iași (Romania), Pijnacker (Netherlands), at home in Trinidad, California (USA), Maui Hawaiian Island (USA), and the last shows Montessori teachers-in-training learning how to enjoy botany classification and art during the first AMI primary course in Casablanca (Morocco)

Happy Holidays to All,


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