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Observing Children

“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.

Posted on October 17, 2014 and filed under Articles, Resources.

Montessori is Early Intervention

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.

Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under Articles, From our Trainers.

MNW Trainers Published in Latest NAMTA Journal

We are delighted to note that both Sarah Werner Andrews & Ginni Sackett, both of MNW’s Co-Directors of Primary Training, are featured in the most recent NAMTA journal.

The North American Montessori Teacher's Association (NAMTA) links Montessorians with their legacy and their future. Its services include print publications, audio visuals, conferences, and research. 

One of NAMTA's  endeavors is the publication of a quarterly journal. This publication includes articles by Dr Montessori as well as scholarly papers on Montessori and related topics. 

The most recent NAMTA Journal - Vol. 39 #2, Spring 2014 - is dedicated to "Breaking the Poverty Cycle: Social Retooling of the Montessori First Plane".

The NAMTA Journal is typically only available to NAMTA members, but we’ve received permission to make available these great articles for you to enjoy and share!

Ginni Sackett's Article:  "The Lines That Make the Clouds" The Essence of the Mathematical Mind in the First Six Years of Life (download)

Sarah Werner Andrews' Article:  Joyful Engagement: Montessori's Common Core Standard (download)

If you’re interested in obtaining the full journal for yourself, it can be purchased here.  

Summertime and the Montessori Child

Here's a great article from our friends at MariaMontessori.com

For children who are at home during the summer break, parents will wish to work diligently with slowing the pace of life.  Children will savor the leisurely passage of time in which they can relish individual choices, uninterrupted play, ample rest and sleep, unhurried meals and unplugged screens.  Here are just a few ideas of how a child can fill her long lovely summer days and return to school refreshed, nourished and eager:

  • Read beautiful, appropriate books (remember, the school has book lists to offer).  For the older Children’s House child, begin a chapter book that will develop into a repetitive ritual that she will look forward to and remember with warmth and happiness.  Have long leisurely conversations about the characters, the places visited, the sights and smells.  Provide large blank sheets of paper and crayons or watercolors and invite the child to illustrate parts of the story she remembers. Collect these into a handmade book of illustrations.
  • Resist the need to provide a playmate or to be a playmate for your child on a regular basis, but instead, honor her ability to find her own entertainment and source of activity.  Play-dates are fine for an occasional get-together, but children really do enjoy their own company when given the opportunity to figure it out and enact upon their own ingenuity.  The child’s play will reflect what is going on in her world, for this is the source of her imaginings.
  • Do not be afraid of boredom, for this is the passage to imaginative, interesting activity of the child’s own choosing.
  • Provide long extended periods of outside play with freedom to construct, dig, shovel and explore to heart’s content.  Resist staging and choosing for the child and instead, encourage the blossoming of his own imaginative play efforts.

Read the remainder of this article, and many others, at MariaMontessori.com

Posted on June 19, 2014 and filed under A-to-I, Articles, Elementary, Primary, Resources.

17th Century Learning

It's always fascinating to see the context of our work. Below is an excerpt from a great article regarding what many consider to be the first picture book dedicated to the education of young children, Orbis Sensualium Pictus – or The World of Things Obvious to the Senses drawn in Pictures, as it was rendered in English in 1705.

The researcher Charles McNamara explores how the book can be seen to be as much about the invisible world as the visible--a theme that probably resonates with a lot of Montessorians.

John Comenius’ Orbis Sensualium Pictus (or The World of Things Obvious to the Senses drawn in Pictures) is, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, “the first children’s picture book.” Originally published in 1658 in Latin and German, the Orbis — with its 150 pictures showing everyday activities like brewing beer, tending gardens, and slaughtering animals — is immediately familiar as an ancestor of today’s children’s literature. This approach centered on the visual was a breakthrough in education for the young, as was the decision to teach the vernacular in addition to Latin. Unlike treatises on education and grammatical handbooks, it is aimed directly at the young and attempts to engage on their level.

The Orbis was hugely popular. At one point it was the most used textbook in Europe for elementary education, and according to one account it was translated into “most European and some of the Oriental languages.” Its author John Comenius, a Czech by birth, was also well-known throughout Europe and worked in several countries as a school reformer. His portrait was painted by Rembrandt, and according to an 1887 edition of the Orbis, Comenius was even “once solicited to become President of Harvard College.” Even if he is less celebrated today by name, his innovative ideas about education are still influential. In his Didactica Magna, for example, he advocates for equal educational opportunities for all: boys and girls, rich and poor, urban and rural.

Illustration for the sounds, from the 1705 English edition of Orbis Sensualium Pictus

Despite his progressive aims and lasting educational influence, Comenius does not come off as a thoroughly modern schoolmaster. When we turn to the first page of the Orbis, we find an opening sentence that would seem peculiar in today’s children’s books: “Come, boy, learn to be wise.” We see above the text a teacher and student in dialogue, the former holding up his finger and sporting a cane and large hat, the latter listening in an emotional state somewhere between awe and anxiety. The student asks, “What doth this mean, to be wise?” His teacher answers, “To understand rightly, to do rightly, and to speak out rightly all that are necessary.”

The first chapter of the Orbis looks to the third of these goals in what reads like an early version of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” Children learn how “to speak out rightly” by imitating animal noises. These two pages are a trove of Latin onomatopoetic verbs and peculiar renderings of animal sounds: cats cry out “nau nau” instead of “meow meow,” and we learn that “the Duck quacketh," “the Hare squeaketh," and “the Crow crieth.” This introduction to animal noises is familiar territory for modern educational toys. The teacher explains that first the student must learn “the plain sounds…which living creatures know how to make, and thy tongue knoweth how to imitate.” After mastering these noises, the student and teacher “will go into the World, and we will view all things.”

After thirty-five chapters on theology, elements, plants, and animals, Comenius finally introduces man. He again opts for the Biblical account and addresses Adam and Eve before more immediate topics like “The Outward Parts of a Man,” where we learn that women have “two Dugs” and that below the stomach we find “the Groyn and the privities.” The anatomical terminology is vast, including words for each finger and for a number of bones in the body. But amid instruction on the corporeal and familiar, Comenius again injects the abstract and invisible into his picture book with Chapter 43, a discussion of “The Soul of Man.” A dotted outline of a human, opening his arms as if to welcome the students’ gaze, stands at the top of the page. Despite this illustration, Comenius’ discussion of the soul is not dumbed down for children. He lays out the categories of souls for his young students: the “Vegetative” soul of plants, the “Sensitive” soul of animals, and the “Rational” soul of man.

Illustration for “The Soul”

Opening illustration of Master and Child

Opening illustration of Master and Child

The final page, mirroring the first, again shows the teacher speaking and the young student listening attentively. But in his second appearance, the student says nothing: we might say Comenius’ lesson was not a matter of dialogue and discussion but of assiduous memorization. The teacher, too, seems to have changed his approach. He tells the student, “thou hast seen in short, all things that can be shewed,” but he recommends that the student also “read other good Books diligently” so that he may become “learned, wise, and godly.”

Read the original full article here.

Gandhi Speaks at Montessori Training College

Speech At Montessori Training College 
Mohandas K. Gandhi

London , [ October 28, 1931 ]

(Note: Dr. Maria Montessori met Mahatma Gandhi in the beginning of October, 1931 in London. And on October 28, 1931 Gandhi spoke at the Montessori Training College in London where Dr. Montessori was also in attendance. What follows is the text of Gandhi’s Speech, which was published in the weekly newspaper, Young India, on November 19, 1931. For further information and/or discussions on this topic, please contact Shall Sinha at shall@ssinha.com )

Madame, you have overwhelmed me with your words. It is perfectly true, I must admit it in all humility, that however indifferently it may be, I endeavor to represent love in every fiber of my being. I am impatient to realize the presence of my Maker, Who to me embodies Truth, and in the early part of my career I discovered that if I was to realize Truth I must obey, even at the cost of my life, the law of love. And having been blessed with children, I discovered that the law of Love could be best understood and learned through little children.

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Were it not for us, their ignorant poor parents, our children would be perfectly innocent. I believe implicitly that the child is not born mischievous in the bad sense of the term. If parents would behave themselves whilst the child is growing, before it is born and after, it is a well-known fact that the child would instinctively obey the law of Truth and the law of Love.

And when I understood this lesson in the early part of my life, I began a gradual but distinct change in life. I do not propose to describe to you the several phases through which this stormy life of mine has passed, but I can only, in truth and in perfect humility, bear witness to the fact that to the extent that I have represented Love in my life, in thought, word and deed I have realized the “peace that passeth understanding”. I have baffled many of my friends when they have noticed in me peace that they have envied, and they have asked me for the cause of that priceless possession. I have not been able to explain the cause by saying that, if my friends found that peace in me, it was due to my attempt to obey this, the greatest law of our being.

It was in 1915 when I reached India , that I first became acquainted with your activities. It was in a place called Amreli that I found that there was a little school being conducted after the Montessori system. Your name had preceded that first acquaintance. I found no difficulty in finding out at once that this school was not carrying out the spirit of your teaching; the letter was there, but whilst there was an honest - more or less honest - effort being made, I saw too that there was a great deal of tinsel about it. I came in touch, then, with more such schools, and the more I came in touch, the more I began to understand that the foundation was good and splendid, if the children could be taught through the laws of nature - nature, consistent with human dignity, not nature that governs the beast. I felt instinctively from the way in which the children were being taught that, whilst they were being indifferently taught, the original teaching was conceived in obedience to this fundamental law. Since then, I have had the pleasure of coming across several of your pupils, one of whom had even made a pilgrimage to Italy and had received your personal blessings. I was looking forward to meeting the children here and you all and it was a great pleasure to me to see these children.

I had taken care to learn something about these little children. I had a foretaste of what I saw here, in Birmingham , where there is a school between which and this there is a difference. But I also saw that there also human nature was struggling to express itself. I see the same thing here and it was a matter of inexpressible joy to me that from their childhood the children were brought to understand the virtue of silence, and how, in response to the whisper from their teacher, the children came forward one after another in that pin-drop silence. It gave great joy to see all those beautiful rhythmic movements and, as I was watching those movements of the children, my whole heart went out to the millions of the children of the semi-starved villages of India, and I asked myself as my heart went out to those children, “Is it possible for me to give them those lessons and the training that are being given under your system, to those children”?

We are conducting an experiment amongst the poorest of the children in India . I do not know how far the experiment will go. We have the problem of giving real vital education to these children of India 's hovels, and we have no material means. We have to fall back upon the voluntary assistance of teachers, but when I look for teachers, they are very few, especially, teachers of the type wanted, in order to draw the best from the children through understanding, through studying their individuality and then putting the child on its own resources, as it were, on its own honor. And believe me from my experience of hundreds, I was going to say thousands, of children I know that they have perhaps a finer sense of honor than you and I have.

The greatest lessons in life if we would but stoop and humble ourselves, we would learn not from grown-up learned men, but from the so-called ignorant children. Jesus never uttered a loftier or a grander truth than when he said that wisdom cometh out of the mouths of babes. I believe it; I have noticed it in my own experience that, if we would approach babes in humility and in innocence, we would learn wisdom from them.

I must not take up your time. I have simply given you what is, at the present moment, agitating me, namely, the delicate problem, considered in human terms, of drawing out the best from these millions of children of whom I have told you. But I have learned this one lesson - that what is impossible with man is child's play with God and, if we have faith in that Divinity which presides over the destiny of the meanest of His creation, I have no doubt that all things are possible and in that final hope I live and pass my time and endeavor to obey His will. Therefore, I repeat that even as you, out of your love for children, are endeavoring to teach those children, through your numerous institutions, the best that can be brought out of them, even so I hope that it will be possible not only for the children of the wealthy and the well-to-do, but for the children of paupers to receive training of this nature. You have very truly remarked that if we are to reach real peace in this world and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children and if they will grow up in their natural innocence, we won't have the struggle, we won't have to pass fruitless idle resolutions, but we shall go from love to love and peace to peace, until at last all the corners of the world are covered with that peace and love for which, consciously or unconsciously, the whole world is hungering.

Reposted from the Canadian Centres for Teaching Peace website

Posted on June 10, 2014 and filed under A-to-I, Articles, Elementary, Primary, Resources.

Press Release: Heavily Decorated Classrooms Disrupt Attention and Learning In Young Children, According To New Carnegie Mellon Research

PITTSBURGH—Maps, number lines, shapes, artwork and other materials tend to cover elementary classroom walls. However, new research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that too much of a good thing may end up disrupting attention and learning in young children.

Published in Psychological Science, Carnegie Mellon's Anna V. FisherKarrie E. Godwin and Howard Seltman looked at whether classroom displays affected children's ability to maintain focus during instruction and to learn the lesson content. They found that children in highly decorated classrooms were more distracted, spent more time off-task and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed.

"Young children spend a lot of time — usually the whole day — in the same classroom, and we have shown that a classroom's visual environment can affect how much children learn," said Fisher, lead author and associate professor of psychology in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Should teachers take down their visual displays based on the findings of this study?

"We do not suggest by any means that this is the answer to all educational problems. Furthermore, additional research is needed to know what effect the classroom visual environment has on children's attention and learning in real classrooms," Fisher said "Therefore, I would suggest that instead of removing all decorations, teachers should consider whether some of their visual displays may be distracting to young children."

For the study, 24 kindergarten students were placed in laboratory classrooms for six introductory science lessons on topics they were unfamiliar with. Three lessons were taught in a heavily decorated classroom, and three lessons were given in a sparse classroom.

The results showed that while children learned in both classroom types, they learned more when the room was not heavily decorated. Specifically, children's accuracy on the test questions was higher in the sparse classroom (55 percent correct) than in the decorated classroom (42 percent correct).

"We were also interested in finding out if the visual displays were removed, whether the children's attention would shift to another distraction, such as talking to their peers, and if the total amount of time they were distracted would remain the same," said Godwin, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology and fellow of the Program in Interdisciplinary Education Research (PIER).

However, when the researchers tallied all of the time children spent off-task in both types of classrooms, the rate of off-task behavior was higher in the decorated classroom (38.6 percent time spent off-task) than in the sparse classroom (28.4 percent time spent off-task).

The researchers hope these findings lead to further studies into developing guidelines to help teachers optimally design classrooms.

The Institute of Education Sciences, part of the U.S. Department of Education, funded this research.

Last fall, CMU launched the Simon Initiative to accelerate the use of learning science and technology to improve student learning. Named to honor the work of the late Nobel Laureate and CMU Professor Herbert Simon, the initiative will harness CMU's decades of learning data and research to improve educational outcomes for students everywhere.

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Published in Psychological Science, CMU researchers looked at whether classroom displays affected children’s ability to maintain focused attention during instruction and to learn the lesson content. They found that children in highly decorated classrooms (bottom image) were more distracted, spent more time off-task and demonstrated smaller learning gains than when the decorations were removed (top image).

This article originally published on http://www.cmu.edu

Posted on June 6, 2014 and filed under A-to-I, Elementary, Articles, Primary, Resources.

New Play Area to Open at Silver Falls, Oregon

Originally published in the Statesman Journal.

Officials at Silver Falls State Park are taking aim at the growing problem of "nature deficit disorder" in today's children with the creation of a new natural play area at Oregon's largest state park.

Described as a quarter-mile loop with adventure pods where children can safely climb a tree, hide in a cougar den, growl like a bear or weave a bird's nest, the natural play area is having its grand opening May 31.

"Connecting kids to the outdoors is a critically important thing to do, for a whole host of reasons," said Oregon Parks and Recreation director Lisa Van Laanen. "When you camp, picnic and play outdoors a lot as a child, it creates a lifelong love of the outdoors. And that's good for everybody."

The grand opening is 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, May 31, 2014, at the North Falls Group Camp area. There will be guided tours, refreshments and a short ceremony with a tree planting. Parking fees at the North Falls Group Camp parking lot will be waived for the duration of the event.

The play area has been more than five years in the making. Planners conducted design workshops in 2008 and 2009. Trail construction began in 2010.

The development unveiled May 31 represents phase one of development, with the possibility of another pod within the next year.

Additional information Silver Falls State Park can be found here.

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Frozen

It is inherent in the nature of children to love their time and place, and boy do they love the movie Frozen.

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In the spirit of exploring ways to channel children’s interest in support of each child’s development (see our Primary trainers’ blog post on popular culture and holidays found here), we were struck by how thrilling it would be for a child to discover that they can compose a song from Frozen on the Bells!

The famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

The famous ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

Also, look at the amazing potential below for true stories about how beautiful structures can indeed be made completely of ice.  How else have you and the children channeled and enjoyed Frozen in Montessori environments?

Posted on May 21, 2014 and filed under Articles, Elementary, From MNW Staff, Primary, Resources.

Educateurs san Frontières

Montessori Education for Social Change, Empowering Communities, Enabling Children

Educateurs sans Frontières ® (EsF) is a division of the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) dedicated to assisting children through the Montessori approach to education. EsF is Montessori without Borders © and is committed to working with individuals, families, communities, organisations, and governments to champion the rights, education and welfare of children worldwide. More information on EsF can be found here.

What is EsF?

EsF is an AMI programme in which participants revisit the principles and practices from the perspective of society at large; as individuals the participants will contribute to the aims of AMI.

Functioning as a social movement that will strive to obtain recognition for the rights of the child throughout the world, irrespective of race, religion, political and social beliefs; cooperating with other bodies and organisations which further the development of education, human rights, and peace.


The Fourth Assembly of EsF happens this year!

6 - 20 July, 2014
Inpawa Hotel Ban Phai, Khon Kaen, Thailand


The Association Montessori Internationale organizes EsF assemblies, gatherings and orientations to bring the benefits of Montessori education to more children.

Major assemblies are held every three years and serve as milestones in the development of AMI's Educateurs sans Frontières work.

Learn more about the 2014 EsF Assembly in Thailand by downloading this flyer.

Learn more about the 2014 EsF Assembly in Thailand by downloading this flyer.