Material Making

Dear Friends,

Spring is here in Italy. In my attic room, I can hear the birds singing well-before the dawn. Their songs come through loud and clear, so I’m up with them in the early morning hours. There is still snow on the mountains, although the trees are flowering around these lowers hills. The world seems a beautiful and peaceful place.

This weekend I am finishing Botany Charts. This is the last set of required materials for the course. There are other materials and charts, of course, and these will fill out and complete the basics for an Elementary classroom. In fact, it seems that we could spend a life-time creating materials for the Elementary classroom because any subject area can be presented in a simple and clear way through images. It is left up to the teacher to create the things she will need for her class. We only make the essentials while on the course.

For some fun: the last few days we have begun looking at Montessori materials for the Pythagorean Theorem. Attached are images from the internet (Forgive me: my camera is on the fritz!). These are terribly exciting and wonderful materials and one of the signs, I think, that Montessori done correctly really is an education for life in a deeply intellectual way ~ while integrating the mind and body through sensorial exploration.

The Pythagorean Theorem states that given a right-angled triangle, the sum of the squares formed on the short legs equals the square formed on the hypotenuse. Simple and not too hard at all really! What makes it special, and doubly special for children, are the clear and reasoned steps to arrive at that conclusion.

Pythagoras Material

Montessori devised three materials that help children to explore the proof.  The first is sensorial exploration: the triangles are simply exchanged and viola! it’s obvious that the large square contains the smaller because the triangles fit. The second material is considered and arithmetical proof. The little squares (remember, area is measured by square) fit into the large square. This is also quite easy and rather fun.

Euclid’s proof requires a little more reasoning. We have to know that any triangle is equal to 1/2 the square that has the same base and height. This makes up the ‘middle term’ and hence an essential part of the proof.


Next week we will practice with this material a little more and I will show you some more steps. Remember, this work if for children around the age of 9 or 10, or even a little younger!

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!


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’!





OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATonight I’m working on finishing up some geography charts.  Music playing, hot tea close by and the world at my finger-tips. Does it get any better than this?

You can see that I favor the islands. In fact, I did them first thing this morning. They are so tiny and I had to be precise. Okay, I know Alaska isn’t an island. I just happen to like Alaska. Greenland was done early on too because its…. well, I guess there is still a lot we could know about Greenland. But I definitely wouldn’t want to be found unemployed there.

But I do like coloring islands over continuous and unending land mass!






One advantage of studying in an old Montessori Training Centre is the exposure to old Montessori materials. Really old materials. Materials that are so permeated with oral tradition that all that is necessary to understand the concept is to hold the material.  I jest but slightly.

These are some of the geometric solids (the sphere, the cone, and the cube). Nowadays, these shapes are base 10cm and painted a dark, almost navy, blue. In the ‘old days,’ they were base 5cm in light blue.

It might seem like a small thing, but l recall that Dr. Montessori developed these materials to a particular size according to the children’s response. When Ms. Grazzini took these ancient geometric solids from the shelf, I almost fainted with delight.

See how the light reflects off the them? We can see a delicate shading as the light falls on the faces of the solid; even the sphere seems round! These are solids that are easy to draw, color and copy!

As opposed to these:



Of course they are still beautiful. And they are useful for teaching.

But I prefer the ancient loveliness of the light blue solids.