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Two art forms, separated by hundreds of years but united in a beautiful expression of  faith.

The first, paintings on the wall, caught my eye one afternoon. I’ve walked by that stone corner a hundred times and had never noticed the delicate murals. I discovered that they are from the 11th century. Can you imagine? It’s amazing!

The statue is of St. Anne and our Lady. She is a popular saint  and there is an image of here in almost every church in Bergamo. This one I thought was particularly sweet,  perhaps because it reminds me of my grandma (Who prays for me everyday. Thank you, Grandma!)

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There is a Story about these Massive Stone Walls. Its actually a very intresting story, complete with intrigues, blackmail, theft, pillaging and burnings and unrequited love. 

I’ll have to tell you sometime.  

 

 

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The gate was the main entrance into Citta Alta. The Lion motif showed that the city was actually under the control of Venice (St. Mark)

The old guardhouse is above the gate. Also full of intrigue.

 

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Pretty sights and clouds from looking down from the walls!

mother teresa

Two Quotes Mother Teresa’s National Prayer Breakfast Speech February 5, 1994

But I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself. And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.”

“And for this I appeal in India and I appeal everywhere — “Let us bring the child back.” The child is God’s gift to the family. Each child is created in the special image and likeness of God for greater things — to love and to be loved. In this year of the family we must bring the child back to the center of our care and concern. This is the only way that our world can survive because our children are the only hope for the future. As older people are called to God, only their children can take their places.”

We Montessorians do well to reflect on these words of profound wisdom!

What culture or civilization has ever put the child as a priority or first concern? Who would consider the nature child so important that He would choose to become a child? God took on our flesh that we might be glorified in Him but when He first walked this earth, He was a little child. When He grew up, He loved little children and even instructed us to “become as little children if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

No other gods of ancient times or religions of the world have considered nature of a child as essential to eternal happiness. Only Christ has commanded this of us.

If we Montessori teachers wish to bridge religions, cultures, and social differences through our efforts of education of the child we must recognize the principles in action that we observe in human development. And these laws of natural development are wondrous to behold! Without recognizing them as natural, and therefore of Divine origin, we are deluding ourselves as peace-makers.  We will fall into trap of becoming pantheistic do-gooders  consumed by an exhaustive search of a humanistic utopia or, even worse, we become Machiavellian manipulators who perceive a way to promote and force our own agenda. 

Granting power  to the human potential without the full benefit of moral formation will result in men and women who know only how to manipulate society or men and women filled with sentimental confusion of mind, and therefore of life. What could be a greater dis-service?

If we place the needs of the child at the center of our culture and of our society, then we educators are brought to our knees in realization of God’s presence within our care. But in so doing, we must be honest enough to  realize  that we are subject to a higher law, which is Love Itself.

Freedom and Responsibility

“I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”
― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

 

Freedom is a concept that is fundamental to the Montessori Method but what ‘freedom’ looks like, and how it is implemented in a Montessori classroom, is often misunderstood.

Let’s start with what freedom is not: it does not mean that a child can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants. Freedom is not the same thing as license.

Obviously, this applies to adults too. We are bound by decency, if nothing else, to at least give consideration for comfort and safety to others. Therefore, we can make the observation that ‘real freedom’ is the sort of thing that comes with a weight of responsibility. Unpacked a little further, we can say that responsibility requires the ability to make choices and the moral courage to follow those choices. Digging even deeper, we know that in order to make a choice ~ any choice, not just a moral choice ~ requires knowledge.

So let’s look again: the mind, which informs the will, must have knowledge. The will, in order to act, must have room to move, to execute action. A person, in making a choice, must have the courage of his convictions, and live by his choice and the consequences of it. Since no man is an island, an individual’s choice has effects on others. Knowledge of himself, knowledge of his society, realization of consequence ~ these are components of character that build a sense of responsibility in a person who is free to move and act.

So we can see at a glance that freedom and responsibility are two realities that are tightly interwoven with one another into a harmonious relation. Each relies on the other for full expression of itself. We could even go so far as to make the analogy that freedom is to discipline as life is to existence.

So what does that look like in a Montessori class? It is a direct aim to foster an outcome of do-ers and thinkers, people who have confidence in their informed choices. Then we can say that they are free. The are also responsible because they know and live by expectations, standards that are set by their society with an understanding of the role of the person within the world; a sort of vision of the whole ‘cosmos’, in addition to the very interesting part that a person, an individual, plays in it.

A Montessorian calls this vision Cosmic. It’s a realization on the part of the child that all of creation is intertwined, interrelated, important, and balanced for a survival and benefit of each participant. Further, we wish for the children to internalize this for themselves and to build a sort of moral strength and independence based on their own realizations and habits.

Here are some ways a Montessorian would implement this vision. First, we prepare a place for them in which to move and act according to the needs of their age; its going to be a little different between Infancy, Children’s House and Elementary because the needs are different (and their levels of understanding).

For Children’s House, we can see how awareness of others is a reality of community life in the class through Practical Life activities. Food preparation, cleaning, learning to care for oneself are all skills that require knowledge, choice, movement and have consequences ~ good consequences for the community.

Elementary also has Practical Life works, but the emphasis moves to the child in his society. So in addition to practical life, the children enjoy going out of the classroom, on field trips and other activities. “What is my place in the world? How does the rest of the world fit into my life?” These are the sorts of questions an Elementary child would ask and act upon. And it’s the teacher’s responsibility to guide this sort of searching. We want the children to develop into fully-functioning adults and reach confidence in their freedom.

So we can see at a glance that a Prepared Environment offers the possibilities for choices, for movements, for self-expression, for love of others.

A Closer Look at Discipline

A negative view of discipline might bring to the mind images of being made to do something you would really rather not do, something extremely distasteful. We have all heard the tales of old traditional sorts of school where the teacher beat children for not knowing their lessons or, perhaps, within our own experience, our mother making us clean our room, wash dishes, or take out the trash. Conflict is the word often thought of as synonymous with discipline.

In fact, discipline comes to us from the Latin word ‘disupulos’ meaning follower or student. The connotation is of a follower in search of knowledge, of purpose. In other words, not a blind stumbling around sort of follower, but a person in search of depth, purpose, and meaning. This is the concept of discipline we wish in our students!

Let’s take a look at nature. Nature works according to set laws and limits ~ and the creatures who live within (guided by instinct) their natural laws are free. Whales can swim all over the oceans and birds can fly through the heavens but if either one decided, let’s just suppose, to change places with each other they really couldn’t live. Fish could never, try as they might, walk out onto the lawn and have grass for lunch. Neither could we decided to breathe water for the rest of our lives and change places with the fish. This sort of natural law, or inner discipline, is fundamental to creation. We are part of this natural order in addition to our intellectual potential to seek out the meaning of our existence.

It is rightly credited to Dr. Montessori for discovering the remarkable fact that young children also have an internal discipline. So then, in the a ‘Montessori’ prepared in environment (and elsewhere with wise and caring adults) the young children are given a set of standards to live by, usually beginning with  something as simple as sitting down at the table when eating taking or taking our shoes off at the door. These standards aren’t complicated or unreachable ~ they are just how we live and act. The parents, and the teachers, are firm in this. It’s necessary. For the older child, there are other standards they learn such as courtesy for a telephone call or writing a thank-you note. In other words, certain expectations of human society exist and must be followed.

Here is a silly example. Suppose we are helping a child (your child) get dressed in the morning and they inform you that they don’t want to wear clothes that day. Well, wearing clothes is very much expected in our society; you would be a negligent parent of you followed your child’s wish and took them to school without clothes. So, while they must wear the clothes, the child can still have a choice in what to wear ~ “Which would you like: the blue sweater or the green sweater?” The expectation is given and followed but the will of the child is given a choice between which sweaters to put on. This seems very small, but this is the way in which the will is built through choice.  Maria Montessori calls this “freedom within limits.”

 With this ‘back-drop’ of social and familial expectations together with the ability to move about, make choices, question, find their own errors,  an internal sense of discipline on the part of the child becomes evident to us.

The Gate to Freedom and Responsibility

How can these two aspects meet as ‘two sides of a coin’? The answer lies in a Montessori prepared environment. With the goal in mind (a fully functioning adult) and the present needs of a child, we can hope to achieve a place where the child is free to develop while internalizing discipline. Children are within a larger group of children within their developmental stage, to include three or more years.

  • The materials are made for the child to use, to manipulate. The child receives the knowledge of how to use them from his teacher and then his will is free to act on the knowledge given. He can choose any activity from his store of knowledge ~ and this is every increasing through the years.
  • The ‘control of error’ is built into the material so the child can discover his mistakes and correct them under his own discovery
  • The child is free to choose where to work. Usually, it’s a table or a little floor mat, but he can decide.
  • The child is free to use the material for as long as he feels he needs to; even though there is only one piece of material for any set (for example, only one pouring) and others might be waiting, everyone respects his use of it (and by default, his choice).
  • The child can set his own pace.
  • The child(ren) are free to develop social interactions, to work with one another.
  • They are free to communicate
  • The child is free to ponder and reflect
  • The child is free to circulate, both physically and intellectually between his friends and classmates.
  • The child is free to decline work
  • These principles of a Montessori classroom are verbalized in the face of realizing a need of the child to internalize discipline and experience freedom. 
  • A natural result of all this freedom is a profound sense of self-knowledge and responsibility. Remember that this freedom was built on clear social expectations, ever-increasing knowledge, and work with self-correcting materials all within an environment of social interaction.

Social interaction with mixed-ages is both a limit and freedom because a person is both held accountable for his choices within his group, and relied upon for service to his peers. This is the experience of responsibility that a young child can know and even love.

Conclusion

All of these aspects come together in the Montessori classroom. It is inevitable the child, with ever-increasing self-awareness together with a deep appreciation for the world, builds within himself a profound sense of responsibility. He can know his own limitations and acknowledge his skills and mastery; he can have self-confidence in himself and his choices.

The child, being nourished within the expectations of his own culture, is given the freedom, the support, the vision to grow both physically and psychically. To reach out, to ask questions, to experience himself as an important part of something much, much bigger than himself.  With these tools for life, with confidence and mastery in himself, the child is equipped to grow into a fully functioning adult and active member of his society.

This is how freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin not just in a Montessori classroom, but throughout life.

Poppets,

Have you ever wished to enter a time-warp? You know, like Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy?  When they went to Narnia, time in England was ‘on hold’ while they adventured in other worlds and far distant lands. A part of me has always wanted their stories to come true in a literal way. I wanted to have tea with Tumnus and at least see the terrible White Witch and, most of all, feel the breath of Aslan. And then return to the real world in time to catch the next train.  But, as I might realize when I grow up, time doesn’t freeze. Books are wonderful, but time doesn’t stop. And this comes as a surprise to me every time I emerge from the mountains of papers and books around me. “What? The sun set? Did anyone see it rise?” “Today is Thursday? When did Wednesday happen?” “Time to go shopping AGAIN? We went yesterday…oh, no, that was last week.” I’m beginning to feel that the land of books and papers is the sum-total of my existence and the world out there is Narnia. 

Of course this is a dangerous way to live! But I prefer to look on the bright side: every time I emerge from studies, I’m on a new and unknown adventure ~ and its REAL with an ITALIAN  flavor!

Here are some notes from the past week:

Last Monday was our Second Album submission. Another milestone! No jumping picture this time because the book was to heavy for gymnastics. This mean only SIX more album submissions to go until completion!

For you Montesstorians out there, we are now onto Language. The wonderful and fascinating study that it is! I want more of it! I think we are quite lucky to know English as our mother-tongue. When it comes to language analysis, Italian is so much easier. In the course we are obliged to do English, but the presence of so many other nationals allows for great discussions on the development of linguistics and teaching language. (I’m so grateful that I studied Latin. Thanks, Mom! But why didn’t we do more Greek?)

 We are still doing Music, math (with fractions) and directed practicals.

A cultural adventure Last Friday: I dropped into the local church, S. Alessandro della Croce, and enjoyed a magnificent organ performance. Do you like the organ, I mean, do you enjoy it as an instrument? I’ve always been fascinated by it! First of all, they are huge. Then, there are two or more layers of keys and then pedals; in addition there are all kind of stops and pulls. How could anyone understand how it all works at once? And then the music seems to come from everywhere. The huge pipes, the cupola, the nave ~how does that work!

When I was a young girl, my dad and I stopped into the St. Louis Cathedral and happened upon the organist who was giving a tour of the organ to a high-school group. When he began to play Bach’s Fugue in D (minor)  I felt the tremors in the marble floors and the weight of the universe pressing on me. Never had I felt music in such a powerful way. It was all around me and shaking the very stones beneath my feet!

The music performed last Friday was from the Baroque period.  It couldn’t have been in more contrast to Bach’s Fugue; this music moved with life and joy and life. You could say it sparkled; where I felt the stones tremble in Bach’s music, Padre Davide’s music  ( the featured composer, German 1791 – 1863) was as though he was trying to breathe life into the cold marble and make it dance. To me, he very nearly succeeded.

Here is a link to Padre Davide’s Concertino per Flutta con Viola d’accompagnamento by the same musician who I heard  last week ~ Marco Ruggeri.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3dVodQA_NM

And a picture of the Church (at the end of the performance, just so I don’t scandalize the musicians who see this)

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A big street fair last week; I went down on Sunday to enjoy the sights and smells.

The city of Bergamo is competing with other cities around Europe to be voted “Most Cultural”. That means there are many opportunities to enjoy these sorts of fairs, street markets,  music concerts,  and science presentations throughout the city. On Sunday  there were venders from all over Europe with little booths and speciality foods.

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A few snaps of the walk:

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It seemed as though my pintrist page jumped out of the computer and into an Italian street fair. Or maybe its the other way around! There was porcelain from Italy, fine china from England, doilies from France, glassware from Holland….

Roasting chestnuts on an open fire, huge pans of steaming Spanish Paella, Wild Boar meat from Norcia (I ate the proffered slice and shamelessly tasted more!)…

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Lingered over fine hats from Germany…

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And laughed until my sides hurt over the Dancing Pinocchio…

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Bought a half kilo of bread to last me the week…

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Played with all the wooden guns from Austria; hit the target every time thanks to real practice back home….

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Loved everyone back home…

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Sampled English cupcakes…

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Paused for a sip of fresh mountain water on the way home!

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That’s what a friend asked the other day. Here is my response:

It’s called the ‘on’ button! Yes, here goes: Montessori Method is the studying human development from birth (and even before) through about the age of 24. It only ends there because Dr. Montessori didn’t really study beyond that age. Besides, she was more interested in the first stages of life (birth -6) where most development takes place.

The first part: So Montessori realized that there a definable periods of growth that a child goes through not just his body but the mind too. The stages are specific and each stage has characteristics that sort of define it. Here they are: birth to about age 6, absorbent mind stage. The person is sensitive (to an extreme, by comparison to how an adult mind works) to language, movement, order and his senses. And it’s obvious from a mother’s point of view, I think! We hear the phrase, “Don’t they grow up quickly!” because in fact, that exactly what the little guy is doing. Second Stage (what I’m studying now) from about 6 through age 12. These folks are sensitive to the moral order ( I think the Church is so wise to send her little ones to confession around this age and get 1st Communion), acquisition of culture, (make sure its good culture) and creative use of their imagination (keep trash like Harry Potter in the trash can and give them  good books!). Then we move on to the adolescent stage (12-18), which I know about because not very long ago I was one; but the child at this age is sort of coming into his own in the wider world and finding his place in it.  Finally, the last stage is 18-24 where we should have a fully functioning adult on the scene ready to take his place in society. This is the time when most children go off to College and begin that ‘merging’ into the adult world. So those are the four stages of human development in a nutshell.  We can see that growth of the mind (or even of the body) is not something linear, but comes in stages.

 Each stage is sort of hard-wired by God to help the person develop into a full-functioning adult. We can also understand these stages as a sort of efficiency on the part of nature to help the child acquire all the skills necessary to be a functioning adult. A Montessorian has to know these stages and teach the subjects (think of the classical disciplines: geometry, math, natural science, etc.) according to the abilities of each stage.

That is the Montessori Method. A poetical summary: “To assist life unfolding.”

And since that wasn’t two minutes, you get more:

The second part: The job of a Montessorian is two-fold: to understand these stages of development and to know the subjects she is teaching. She should master the subjects so well that she is able to give the information to the child in a way that the child can best receive it. She should have complete mastery of the classical disciplines.

Which why I am in school now!

The stages of human development are nothing new to the world. The cave-man’s child and a baby born today have the process of development. What differs is our (the adults) ability to understand and assist the child through life, especially in the realm of culture. If we want our children to know and love the best when they grow up, then give them the best when they are children!

Maria Montessori also understood about a child’s relationship to God. This is why we have the Mass materials and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. But this last point is so profound and beautiful, I will make another post about it.