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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Dear Friends, 

Glory to God in the highest and peace to men of goodwill! What greater news of joy than to know that God took on our human nature and dwells among us? For Montessorians, it is an occasion for profound reflection. We work with young children and know that our time with them is limited but the effects can be far-reaching in their little lives. God, Who was once a little child also, loves these children. Maria Montessori constantly reminds us of the respect we must have for the child and the realization that God was willing to be a little child; she believed that if the world is to be a place of peace, we must put the child and his needs at the center of our concern. Mother Teresa echos these thoughts in our modern times. While we know through faith that we can only achieve perfect happiness in union with God in heaven, it is a profound realization that it is often the child who calls us back to God. In fact, we ‘…must become as little children if we are to enter the Kingdom of heaven.’  

It is also a time of thanksgiving for me! Thank you to all those who have supported me on this journey. There are six more months left to the course and I know that means many more late nights and early mornings typing, printing, practice sessions, material making; there are two more observation weeks here in Europe and finals in June. There is so much to look forward to in the coming months!

During this break I enjoy the welcome and hospitality of old friends here in Ireland. This is also connected to my Montessori journey: I lived here in Dublin with a wonderful and generous family while I completed the first level of  Montessori  training in 2007. We stayed in touch and they welcome for Christmas during the second level course! 

And so with good cheer I raise a glass to toast the generosity of those who have made this journey possible! Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you! 

Love, 

Rene 

Dear Friends, 

It is with a heart filled with joy and gratitude that I write to you from Ireland! 

Yes, I returned to Italy after teaching practice/school observation in France. The course work entered and new phase of intensity for me as I worked away at the notes, lectures, and required illustrations. This is because we are came to the end of Children’s House review and practice and entered ‘real’ Elementary Level lectures. We learned that the Elementary level begins with giving the children a vision or story of the world as a whole unit, interconnected and interdependent, in which life and all created things work together in harmonious balance according to their God-give natures. This sort of beginning to the school year forms the basis of studies that follow: history, chemistry, biology, geology, language and mathematics. In this way, the child can understand that all branches of knowledge are inter-related and as such, inter-dependent. 

In order to illustrate this truth to children, Maria Montessori made six great stories, sometimes known as the ‘Great Fables’. Maria knew that a child of six loves stories of great and magnificent things and so she wrote them in order to illustrate a truth but in a way that captures the imagination.  The first Great Story is named the ‘God Who Has No Hands’. Here is a partial excerpt from the beginning of the story: 

In the beginning there was only God. Since He was completely perfect and completely happy, there was nothing He needed. Yet out of His goodness He choose to create and all He willed came into being; the heavens and the earth, and all that is visible and invisible. One after another He made the light, the stars, the sky, and the earth with its plants and animals. Last of all, He made man. Man, like the animals, was made out of particles of the earth; but God made him different from the animals and like Himself, for into his body which would die, He breathed a soul which would never die. 

Many people thought this was just a tale. How could someone with no hands and no eyes make things? If God is a spirit who cannot be seen or touched or heard, how could he have made the stars that sparkle overhead, the sea which is always astir, the tress, the flowers, and the scent they shed around them? Perhaps He could make invisible things, but how could He make the visible world? It is all very well, they thought, to say that God is everywhere, but who has set eyes on Him? How can we be sure He is everywhere? They tell us is is the Master whom everybody and everything obeys but why on earth should we believe that?’

The story begins with this reflection and continues to recount the great a beautiful order with nature and how every creature, living and inanimate, obeys God by its very existence; these creatures are not aware of their obedience, but we can see that they do act in accord with His will. The story goes on, and as we recount the creation of world, Maria Montessori devised a number of experiments that are meant to illustrate various aspects of world. These include volcanoes, attraction of particles, states of matter and density of matter, etc. In conclusion we can say that each of these things that we find in the world, say to God, ‘Lord, Thy will be done; we obey!’

This is a wonderful way to begin a school year! When the course resumes on January 7, we will begin to delve into the next set of Great Stories. Each of these opens a specific discipline for the children. We learned that the Great Stories are repeated at the beginning of each school year in the classroom. In this way the children can hear again the stories that help them understand the reality of the world around them.  

With Love, 

Rene 

 

 

Emma welcomed me  in her home for the entire week. She and her boys were so welcoming! Although she spoke English, her sons did not and manged to teach me a little French. Sometimes it was so humbling but I strongly recommend this method above any program that you can purchase or course you can take. Seriously!

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In case you think that the French Riviera is a quiet, peaceful and civilized place, think again. I heard the wolves at night and saw  wild pigs at dusk. In addition, you must take into account French roads and French drivers on those same French roads. It’s never dull!

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On the last day, my hostess told me she had a surprise for me: she pulled up at a Community of the Beatitudes! It was so neat! I had no idea that the same Community that I know in Denver had a house a few miles from where I was staying. It was so thoughtful of my hostess too, since she is not in the least bit religious.

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Some more landscapes, just for fun:

Sunrise over Grasse.

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Moon rise over Tanneron

Wonderful as it was, we did not spend every waking moment in the classroom! French schools are off every Wednesday, so that meant adventure and exploring for me and Valle. We met up in Cannes, a city right on the coast and straight away headed to the harbor. I think we both had an internal homing device that sent us straight to the sea. As it so happened, the ferry was waiting for us at the dock and we hopped aboard and headed out into the endless blue of sea and sky.

The Lerins Islands sit a few miles offshore of the French Riviera. They are massive rocks, jutting out from the water, impenetrable to constant push of water and wind or the changing monarchies who have fought over them for centuries. We disembarked onto St. Marguerite and let ourselves wander through the verdant garden that the Island is today. There are many ruins of monasteries, castles, and forts, though I suspect the fishing village is the one set of structures hasn’t changed an iota since the stone-age.

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Goodbye, Cannes!

The French Alps are impressive: they tumble down from snow peaked ridges and throw themselves into the Mediterranean.

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Approaching the Island dock:

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The sky was clear, the water blue and the sun was warm. I curled up on a hot rock a fell fast asleep until a troop of hikers came by and woke me up with their ha-loo-ing and shouting. I could see wind-surfers and sail-boats out on the water too, and they made their fair share of fun!

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The largest set of ruins isn’t so bad; in fact, it’s still used as a hostel and vacation house for families. The piles of stone of served their time as a monastery, a fortress, a prison, a yacht club, robbers den (what’s the difference?), and now a vacation hostel.

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The Man in the Iron Mask was the most famous prisoner held in the fort. Can you imagine? I shuddered to think of never leaving…..

Man_in_the_Iron_Masque_crop 

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Dear Friends,

The trip to France was wonderful. I was actually there only a week and returned to Bergamo (Italy) November 9th, only to find the internet down at the apartment! That meant all I could do was work; so I’ve been working on papers and charts ever since. Please forgive the seeming neglect. Thanks to all who wrote letters!

France: 

A fellow student and I observed at a small school that was opened only two years ago by a former student and his wife.  The lead teacher, Laurent,  took the training course here in Bergamo only three years ago but his presence is still felt in the Centre. He was known as the ‘fire man’ during the training because he would call out, ‘More fire!” when he heard something exciting or enlightening in lectures. 

He has a rather unusual story: he was crippled in a skiing accident at the age of 19. When he awoke in the hospital, paralyzed from the waist down, he was so happy to be alive that he cheered up all the doctors and hospital staff. He went on to start various businesses’ and such ventures but dreamed of starting a school. When he enrolled his children in a Montessori school, he was enthralled by the method. He recognized something that he loved.  The only problem was, his children didn’t stop growing and in a matter of a few short years he was faced with yet another decision of where to send them to school. The French school system is abysmal (by all local accounts) and, not in habit of taking anything less than exactly want was needed, decided to take the Montessori Elementary training himself and begin the school he knew he wanted for his children.  

The building itself is humble enough: it is a converted garage. The yard is limited to black-top and a few olive trees. There is space for a small garden behind the little play area and it was still growing an admirable number of cabbages, lettuces, and parsnips. The children even gathered the olives for pressing. Inside the classroom were long windows, letting in plenty of natural light and the room was filled with many familiar materials, all neatly arranged. Laurent either made the materials himself or had them made by a carpenter. Laurent drew and painted most of the maps, pictures, and paper materials for geometry, botany and science. This level of  handiwork in a classroom is almost unprecedented at the elementary level. The materials are often very expensive and must be specially ordered for the school. Laurent seemed to find the energy around such insurmountable obstacles, often making materials himself. It was easy to see why he was known for his ‘fire’!

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