The holidays are approaching – ushering in a frequently scary season for Montessori teachers. We often have conflicted feelings around holidays and events that occur in the larger culture – afraid that these distract children from their work, disrupt the calm and productive atmosphere in the environment, and are just plain bothersome to us. I’d like to propose changing those feelings and finding ways to see these popular culture events as positive elements in the environment and exploring ways to channel them in support of each child’s development.
Adele Diamond, Ph.D., neuroscientist, psychologist and educational innovator, is one of the world's leading researchers in developmental science--and a great advocate for Montessori. She studies how executive functions can be modified by the environment, modulated by genetics and neurochemistry, become derailed in certain disorders, and can be improved by effective programs and interventions.
Marilena Henny-Montessori fondly recalls making gnocchi with her grandmother, Maria Montessori.
“When [the teacher] feels herself, aflame with interest, seeing the spiritual phenomena of the child, and experiences a serene joy and irresistible eagerness in observing him, then she will know that she is initiated. Then she will begin to become a teacher.” - Maria Montessori, Spontaneous Activity in Education
Observation is a way of looking at something in careful detail. It is the identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical exploration of a natural phenomena. For Dr. Montessori, observation itself was an art that had to be exercised and practiced continually. She was constantly collecting and reflecting on her observations of children, which allowed her to consolidate and refine her method. Montessori expressed observation’s task as being based on an interest and commitment to each individual child and his development.
Observation is the cornerstone of the Montessori method. Dr. Montessori’s observations enabled her to provide for the needs of the child. She never stopped observing the child, and neither should we. The better we can understand the art of observation, the more we will regard it as vital to our practice.
As MNW students leave the training center for their first round of observations, we’re reminded of what Dr. Montessori had to say to a teacher training course in 1921 as they were about to go out on their first observations. Click here to read what she said them.
MNW Primary Trainer Ginni Sackett strongly recommends this New York Times article ‘The Way to Beat Poverty’, written by the highly respected team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuBunn. These renowned advocates for worldwide human rights turn their gaze a little closer to home here, making a persuasive case that if we want to fight inequality, we’ve got to give help early – even before birth.
“One reason the United States has not made more progress against poverty is that our interventions come too late. If there’s one overarching lesson from the past few decades of research about how to break the cycles of poverty in the United States, it’s the power of parenting — and of intervening early, ideally in the first year or two of life or even before a child is born.”
The article provides great talking points for Montessorians and references some quotable science, including the intriguing connection between ‘toxic stress’ early in life and cycles of poverty over generations.
“…the constant bath of cortisol in a high-stress infancy prepares the child for a high-risk environment. The cortisol affects brain structures so that those individuals are on a fight-or-flight hair trigger throughout life, an adaptation that might have been useful in prehistory. But in today’s world, the result is schoolchildren who are so alert to danger that they cannot concentrate. They are also so suspicious of others that they are prone to pre-emptive aggression.”
Kristof and WuBunn are not the first to take on this topic; but they provide an excellent rationale why donors should be endowing nursery schools and not just big-name universities.
Click here to read the entire article, 'The Way to Beat Poverty', by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which appears in the September 12, 2014 edition of the New York Times.