Gio Bellonci is an AMI Assistant to Infancy. She trained in Rome with Dr Silvana Montanaro in 1998/9. Before training she worked for many years as a Montessori classroom assistant with 3-6 year olds and, for 4 years, with 6-9 year olds.
She was also a Licensed Massage Therapist who worked with pregnant women. Also trained in infant massage she had daily opportunity to engage in it with 2 infants that were in her care (1997 and 2000) during their first year. She has also worked as a doula attending both home and hospital births.
Why Hang a Mobile
Mobiles are an aid to the visual sense. Babies of 2-3 days have been observed in concentration of 20-25 minutes watching the black and white images of the Munari mobile. The mobile moves by itself in response to movement of the air, slowly and gently around a central axis.
Mobiles are important for the education of the visual sense, and newborns get great pleasure from them! The aspects of balance and geometry imprint on the baby.
Characteristics of the mobiles we offer are: essentiality of form, simplicity, objectivity, and correct information about the world.
The aim of mobiles in the infant’s environment is to:
encourage focus and concentration
offer a visual experience
give kinetic information
educate the aesthetic sense
More About Our Mobile Making Gatherings
The Gobbi, named after the Late Gianna Gobbi, a Montessorian, is made with embroidery thread wrapped wooden beads.
The Dancers (a favorite!), the octahedron and the Leaf mobiles are all made using holographic paper to catch the light.
I follow patterns that are used in the Assistants to Infancy training course offered through AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) as well as others of my own design.
Each mobile is made to meet the aims previously mentioned AND in response to what Dr Montessori termed "the human tendencies." One, the "mathematical mind," is addressed by the precise measurements of the pieces of each mobile and the relationship between them.
They are simple in appearance and speak to a deep understanding of the newborn's capacity to absorb and concentrate.
The Human Tendencies - Exploration
Within the category of Exploration come orientation, order and communication.
Exploration is achieved through the senses. It is essential first to survival and then to development.
It is through our exploration that we become oriented and then, by recognizing various points of reference, we start to map out the territory and become confident in our position.
The tendencies of exploration and orientation lead, over time, to the internal sphere of the abstract as well as the external sphere of the tangible.
Exploration and orientation work together with order as the groundwork for development.
External order supports orderly thought processing (internal order), and that leads to better and more successful communication. Information is communicated first for survival (ie the location of the grocery store) and then come ideas communicated through touch, movement, dance, art, music and laughter, all for the attainment of the higher goals of spirituality.
As adult students of Montessori education in Rome, we experienced all this even as we discussed it in our course work. We explored the city, orienting ourselves to points of reference (landmarks), and when we successfully navigated ourselves through Rome, (usually to some fantastic meal somewhere) oh, how the spirit soared!
I could reminisce and write about it at length if I let myself, but will stop myself for now.
Next up, the tendency to work!
The Human Tendencies - Work
It is through work that the child constructs himself, and through continued work that he influences his environment. Work with the hands is crucial to self-development and sensorial input.
Perhaps if I rededicate myself to learning Italian I'll finally conquer those conjugations!
The Thousand Days that Count - The Spiritual Embryo
But what of those years of the spiritual embryo? What does that even mean?
A required project during our training involved excerpting quotations on specific topics from Dr Montessori's writings into a list. During my work as a doula, when, after a birth, I would write the birth story, I would choose one that spoke perfectly to the specific family and use that as my starting point. Here are some examples from the Secret of Childhood that speak to this topic:
"The child's psychic life is independent of, precedes, and vitalizes every exterior activity."
"...the image of a child as a spiritual being becoming incarnate not only stirs us but imposes upon us new responsibilities"
"A child's incarnation is effected through hidden toil, and there is a drama about his creative efforts that has yet to be written."
"A delicate and uncertain life that is barely conscious makes contact with its environment through its senses and reaches out to it through its muscles in an unending attempt at self realization."
She goes on to say, "A child's psychic personality is far different from our own, and it is different in kind and not simply degree."
During the first three years there are, beside the human tendencies, sensitive periods, that assist in building the foundations of intelligence. These periods are temporary and short lived. They are "insights and impulses that lay the foundation for consciousness."
They last for a certain period in order to establish a certain function. These periods, she says, are like "a light that shines on some objects and not on others, making of them his whole world."
I think back to spending daily time with infants and can easily remember the intensity of the "sensitive period for small things" ... going for a walk with a new toddler and having to stop for every little stone or leaf - each one looking the same to me, but each holding some special attraction for the child. I also love the sensitive period for language and the intensity with which a child looks at the moving mouth and mimics it.
It is all so fascinating and fun! Knowing about the sensitive periods and the human tendencies really helps us as adults to appreciate what is going on for our little "spiritual embryos" ... If we think of the physical embryo developing and then as a fetus growing further, we can easily have a parallel image of the spirit developing in these "1000 days that count" and then watch in wonder as it grows in the years of the "conscious worker" from 3-6.
Sensitive Periods: Language
The years of the “psychic embryo,” from 0-3, when psychological development is being assisted by “sensitive periods,” is an extraordinary time. About the sensitive period for language Dr Montessori says, “Every child, at a particular period of his life, bursts out with a number of words all perfectly pronounced. Within a space of three months, the child who was almost dumb, learns to use easily all the varied forms of the noun, suffixes, prefixes and verbs and, in every child, all this occurs at the end of the second year of his life.” The Absorbent Mind chap 10
While the sensitive period for language begins in pre-natal life and continues throughout the time of the “psychic embryo” language skills, usage and enrichment continue on for a lifetime.
In the Montessori environments for children from 0-6 we support the sensitive period for language in multiple ways.
While most muscle control comes over the course of the first year, infants are born with control of the muscles of the throat and mouth in order to be able to suck, swallow and cry – three essential capabilities for survival. Even shortly after birth a newborn is able to imitate an adult who, slowly, opens her mouth wide. It is a first “conversation” and it just keeps getting better from there. The baby whose mouth is unencumbered by pacifiers will imitate an adult’s mouth movements and “practice” making sounds. Language is spoken slowly and clearly while making eye contact during the routines of diaper changing, eating together, infant massage, and one-on-one playtime. In this way, the baby sees mouth movement and hears correctly spoken language while picking up the rhythms of everyday conversation.
Using the same terms in our daily routines helps our young listeners feel the consistency and order of the day. New words can easily be introduced in these routine moments. For instance, with a young child who is close by during laundry we can fist name each article of clothing; shirt, dress, pants etc. Adjectives can be added later; blue shirt, striped dress, brown pants. Then the possessives! Your striped dress, John’s blue shirt, my brown pants.
The continued use of real words spoken clearly assists children to develop a vocabulary that will serve him as he organizes his world. I’ve had the lovely experience of sitting with young children watching birds at a bird feeder where, rather than calling them “birdies,” each visitor to the feeder was accurately identified as cardinal, tit mouse, chickadee, etc; words that are as easily learned by a young child as the nondescript “birdie” and that offer greater accuracy and richness.
Receptive language - the understanding of the spoken word before being able to actually say it is what we have to respect as we speak to our youngest children. I can remember a pre-independent-walking, non-verbal child who, when asked if he’d like his massage, took my finger and dragged me off my chair and to the massage table! Question asked and answered!
For the older children, Dr Montessori developed amazing hands-on materials that allow them to “write” even before they have the ability to write with a pencil. The moveable alphabet, used by children in the Children’s House classroom (3-6), gives young children who have learned the letter sounds (using the sandpaper letters) the power to make at first simple, phonetic words and then with mastery of that, to express more complex stories.
Stories, rhymes, poems, and word games like I Spy all engage the child eager to learn the words of his language or languages. Clearly spoken language helps children organize the world so that they can successfully work in it.
During the time that early talkers ask for names of things with their unique versions of what’s that? can be challenging. It’s not always as easy as one might think to answer this simple question. For instance, there is a large abstract painting hanging in our home and when asked by a young child what it was I was momentarily stumped, unable to identify anything in the painting. Finally I said, “ Peter’s painting” and that's how it was identified for a time. I could ask, "where's Peter's painting? and the little one would point to it. Spoken language heard and understood! Art is another area where early impressions become later unique expressions. Impressions of light, color, shadow etc will, with developed capabilities, one day be expressed as artwork, just as the impressions of sound and rhythm experienced in infancy will one day be expressed as language.
It’s like magic –these hidden powers at work that one day reveal their fruits – and we find ourselves in conversation!
Monday, November 23, 2009
"My day started when I woke up. I woke up when my radio came on. I swung my feet off the bed and touched them to the floor; brrr, it was cold! After I went to the bathroom, I drank a cup of coffee and then got dressed. I made my bed and brushed my teeth and took my keys from their hook. I said goodbye to Peter and went out. Then I took the car key and put it into the keyhole on the car door, opened the door and got in. I used the same key to start the engine and then I drove here to school and here we are, having lunch together."
Honestly, I put in as many details as I could to paint a really full picture. By the time I was done, lunch had been eaten; all was calm.
Making beds and teeth-brushing were commented on. Using the bathroom upon waking was familiar to all the children, but making beds and (surprisingly) teeth-brushing were not.
After a few days of telling the "true story" (which sometimes included details of my morning swim where I might see a turtle or fish, or an interesting bird) one of the children told me quite proudly that she had brushed her teeth that morning. She followed up by saying, "..but I still didn't make my bed!" Then another child said, repeating my easy one syllable name 3 times as he always did, "Gio, Gio, Gio ..." "Yes, PW, I'm listening." "Now tell the story of my day!"
This is what I said, "hmmm, your day started when you woke up. Did your mom wake you or do you have radio too?" And off we went with his true story. Reality! It's fascinating, it's personal and, in the telling, it offers a chance to know one another.
This story is over a decade old. It came back to the surface the other day in yoga class when our teacher was talking us through our relaxation pose. She talked of the "compassionate witness" state - the state in which we are present without judgment, and that took me to our work with children where we must be fully present, observant and non-judgmental. We show the children our full attention when we can be "witness" to their "true stories." We gain knowledge from them and then we can offer them something new - some enhancement, to add to their stories.
It's not always easy, but it is SO worth it. This story delights me to this day.... and PW has to be in his late teens or early 20's by now!
Bringing the focus to what's real; what's happening now, is very helpful in moving past difficult moments.
Not too many weeks ago I stepped into a situation where a 4.5 year old was very upset. While he sat on the floor and cried, he was running his fingers up and down the edge of where 2 walls met. I sat close by and listened to him cry while I watched (compassionately witnessed) his hands move up and down the edge. I then said to him, "You're moving your hands up, and down." He stopped crying and broke a little smile. Slowly we moved into more conversation starting with his observation that there was a texture ("bumpy") to the wall. It was a lovely moment .. the crying stopped and the child moved forward with what needed to be done. It's what I call 'narrating the moment' but it's just one more way of telling the 'true story' - of the moment this time, rather than the whole day.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Maybe it's okay to have both ... I'll ponder that.
Meanwhile, Janice and I head to Georgetown's Community Montessori School (www.community-montessori.org) for more mobile-making with some expectant families.
I'm also playing around with some seasonal shapes (tree, star, moon, gingerbread man, snowman) -- made from my cookie cutters - for yet another holographic paper mobile. If it turns out, I'll post pictures!