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.

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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

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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.

 

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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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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 . . .

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. . . 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

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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.


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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”

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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)


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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


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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.


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