I am a Montessori Assistant to Infancy who loves to make mobiles!

About Me -

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

Dr Montessori says, “ the training of the senses is … of the utmost importance” because “the higher development of the senses actually precedes that of the higher intellectual faculties.”

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

There are several mobiles from which to choose.
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

The Human Tendencies are what motivate us as human beings throughout our lifetimes. These include Exploration, Work, Group Orientation, Mathematical Thinking, Spirituality.
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

Within the human tendency of Work we find manipulation, repetition, exactness and self-perfection.

Anyone who has spent time with young children has seen and experienced their love of manipulation and repetition. It is amazing to watch .. and sometimes very tiring for adults to experience.

Work comes directly from the knowledge gained through exploration. It is the body and the mind involved together towards some purpose that fulfills the individual.
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.

It is through repetition of a movement, or exercise, that a level of exactness is reached; this is the refinement of a skill until the correct way to execute a task is internalized (ie using a spoon etc). It is this repetition of a task, and the reaching of an internalized understanding that defines the tendency to strive for self perfection (ie spooning food into the mouth with no spills!).

Self-perfection is life-long learning; we are "a work in progress" - always reaching for the next higher level of skill.

Perhaps if I rededicate myself to learning Italian I'll finally conquer those conjugations!

The Thousand Days that Count - The Spiritual Embryo

Dr Montessori called the years from 0-3 the years of the "spiritual embryo." This is the time of the construction of the "self" before moving into the years of 3-6, the years of the "conscious worker." It is in these latter years that the child works on what has been created in the first 3. Having done the work of self construction, now comes the time of working to master his environment.

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!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some thoughts on Observation

“We cannot create observers by saying "observe," but by giving them the power and the means for this observation and these means are procured through education of the senses”
Dr Maria Montessori


A close friend used to joke sometimes about “seeing what we’re looking at” but that is exactly what Dr Montessori did.  With scientific training to support her, she “looked to the child” to learn about who he really is and how he really learns. It was through her careful observations of children that she developed materials to meet their real needs.   She wrote, “The teacher must derive not only the capacity, but the desire, to observe natural phenomena. The teacher must understand and feel her position of observer: the activity must lie in the phenomenon.”

 It is because her work is based on what she observed, what actually happens, that so many people comment about her work “making sense”.

Infants love to observe themselves in the low mirror. They love to observe (and imitate) the adult mouth as it moves and speaks. From their supine position they observe the goings-on all around them and then, with movement capability, they join in!  With the "hundred billion neurons" at work to make sense of their new surroundings from the moment of birth, infants are absorbing everything.  What they observe (see) is "absorbed" into their being.  Do they see trees swaying in the breeze, or do they see television?  Are they connecting to reality or to a virtual world? 

In the 3-6 classroom, one can often see younger children observing the older ones before they find themselves feeling confident and engaging directly with materials.  Once they do they’re off making their own observations about the nature of things through their hands-on experiences with the "sensorial" materials and involvement in practical life activities.

The older children have the satisfaction of being of assistance to their younger classmates, and also have a view of how far they themselves have come.  We observe others, we are inspired by what we see and we learn about ourselves!

Observation is also a large part of the work of the adults in the classroom.  We observe without judgment and intervene only when really necessary.  When a Montessori teacher (guide) observes a child having difficulty with a material she doesn’t step in to correct or give the answer; she waits, and maybe offers a lesson that will address the challenge perhaps the next day. 

It’s not always easy, but when we observe, truly observe without judgment, we are in a good position to do what I call “narrating the moment.”  To articulate what one really sees without the addition of judgment helps young children build awareness, build vocabulary, and build trust.  It engages the brain beyond the ‘survival’ response to higher level thinking.

A quick search on the term “observation” brought me to these two statements that I found particularly apropos:

·      Observation is an activity of a living being consisting of receiving knowledge of the outside world through the senses.

·      Observation, in philosophical terms, is the process of filtering sensory information through the thought process. Input is received via hearing, sight, smell, taste, or touch and then analyzed through either rational or irrational thought.

It is the work of attentive adults in the classroom to make scientific observations of the child's development. These observations are made on the level of concentration of each child, the introduction to and mastery of each piece of material, the social development, physical health, etc.

It is through thoughtful interactions with children and involvement with "sensorial" materials and practical life activities in a supportive, prepared environment that children come to understand that they (and their true needs) are seen (and tended to) and that they, too, have the freedom to “see what they are looking at!”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Grace and Courtesy - Why it matters

"The things he sees are not just remembered; they form a 
part of his soul."
Dr.  Maria Montessori

Dr Montessori designed hands-on materials that "give the world to the child."  What does this mean?

In any Montessori classroom you'll find materials that isolate the qualities of the world. These include color, shape, dimension, smell, taste, touch and sound.  You'll find these in the color tablets, the metal insets, the geometric solids, etc.  The children explore those materials using their absorbent minds, their senses, and their movements.  Having absorbed these qualities through their explorations they understand the quality and can recognize it without the aid of the materials.  

Life is full of much more than sensorial materials and their qualities however; it is society - communities that come into being when individuals come to understand that life is more easily lived through cooperation.  The ways we deal with each other - commonly accepted rules of etiquette - are presented in the Montessori Children's House (3-6) as the exercises of grace and courtesy; these are the basis for civil life.

In the Montessori classroom the lessons of grace and courtesy go far beyond the simple repetition of a desired action like walking around work rugs.  The lesson is given with the intention of showing how to do something, without the expectation that it will be done.  We must be patient and watch the child as he takes in that information, makes it his own and uses it with awareness and consideration of the 'other.'  The lesson is given to the intelligence of a child and then we wait as the (developing) will of the child chooses to use that information when an occasion arises to do so.

The children in the 0-3 classes live in an environment in which they observe and absorb (into their unconscious absorbent minds) the grace and courtesy that we adults show each other and show them.  Here, as in the home, it is the work of the adults to move gracefully (ie, not slamming doors) and to be courteous to one another (ie, not interrupting, saying please and thank you, etc) so that even the youngest child is surrounded by these expressions of kindness because, just as in artistic expression, first there must be impressions from which to draw.

When they reach the 3-6 phase of the first plane of development, children have many chances to consciously develop what they unconsciously absorbed in 0-3.  Now he uses his will to make choices.  During this time the adult can challenge him to carry out certain activities or movements more perfectly.  With the knowledge of how, having been given to his intellect, he can now be asked to  challenge his will (ie carrying a chair and setting it down without making a sound). This, said Margaret Stephenson, a respected Montessorian, is a victory for the will and the beginning of the realization of human responsibility.

The lessons of Practical Life include Care of Self, Care of the Indoor Environment, Care of the Outdoor Environment and Grace & Courtesy as these are all necessary skills to make living together in community - whether it be the family, the classroom, the city, the state or the world - pleasant for everyone.

As the world gets more connected, our community is clearly global.  Imagine if every adult behaved in kind and courteous ways in their homes, and all young children absorbed that into themselves and then took it out into all their relationships....  It is a tremendous vision and one we work towards every day in our homes and classrooms and in our own hearts and behaviors as we look on the 'other' remembering the oldest rule in the book - "do unto others as you would have others do unto you."  

It is no wonder Dr Montessori called education "an aid to life" and worked so hard to help us all understand "education for peace."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Art ... and everything else, too!

“Art Attempts to Bring to Human Consciousness Hidden Orders of Creation.”   
Peter Russell
The Global Brain

During the year of my Montessori training in Rome, our class of 6 had the privilege of having a visit from and lecture by Signora Tilde Cocchini.  Her topic was art.  Not a “how-to” lecture about setting up art projects with toddlers but truly about art.  Art and evolution. 

The child from 0-3, as we know, functions with the “unconscious absorbent mind” taking in everything as impressions. But, the day will come when he will express what he has absorbed.  When this expression takes a verbal form we hear words and when it takes a graphic form we see a progression that parallels our personal and our universal evolution.
The first period of graphic expression is scribbling and it is a very important first expression. First movements and first sounds are made unconsciously and gradually, as an awareness develops, consciousness comes to the expressive effort. 
The young child sees the cause of his first ‘trace” as the movement of his hand.  He experiences great pleasure and is drawn, so to speak, to repetition of the movement and the trace it produces
Just as “la, la, la” eventually becomes an intelligible word, these first ‘traces,’( that form the basis for graphic expression ), become conscious graphic expressions.

At first the pleasure at making these scribbles is a motor pleasure – feeling the resistance of the implement on the surface. It is an active movement with its motivation based deep within the child.

The “body is the first mediator of knowledge.” 

There is visual pleasure and this also motivates repetition.
Why is repetition important? 
When the child becomes conscious that he has made a ‘trace’ the brain activates eye/hand/brain connections.  The motor and visual centers of the brain are coordinated in effort.  Dr Montessori says, “ … the two bodily movements most connected to man’s intelligence are those of the tongue, which he uses for speaking, and those of his hands, which he employs for work.” 
 After many repetitions, a day comes when the child recognizes an analogy between his “trace” and the known things of his environment; then he will identify what has been produced with external objects.  As an adult observer we must be careful with our comments  because representation is not  the preoccupation of the young child until the adult imposes that notion.
Children may verbalize their productions and certainly must be allowed to do so without adult intervention.  Often an adult intervention results in defining the drawing as things or people and the child gets the message that the adult wants meaning (definition).  If the child asks, we can, in a tranquil and neutral tone, say something like, “ Nice colors.” or “Interesting shapes.” or even “ohhh, looks like you enjoy doing this.”
These sample comments are ones that show interest without establishing meaning or value. 

But what does this have to do with evolution?  There are different, oft repeated progressions that show a movement from say points (the big bang) to spiral circles (the galaxy) to a closed circle (the sun) to the human form (made of lines and a circle).   It’s not unlike the parallel of the development of the child himself.  He is at first a being of the water in pregnancy, then a being that slithers on the ground before coming to all fours as a crawler, and then, finally, coming to his feet for locomotion his hands are free for work.  All children in the world do the same thing; it is an expression of the human consciousness. 

"There is in the soul of a child an impenetrable secret that is gradually revealed as it develops."  The 3 necessary aids we can offer to this 'revelation' are:

* Silence
If not disturbed, the child will repeat an activity for a long time. An adult who interrupts disallows the interior construction and can create a dependency on the external.  The importance of repetition  is tied to evolution and is never negative.  Indeed, it is the path towards perfection and satisfaction.  Only the individual child can know when it is time to move on.  To be of real value he must be motivated from within.
*An attitude of service to the child
To aid development is a great service.
*An environment with what is needed.
Not so much as to be a distraction, but only those tools that are required to give respect to the expression.  

Here are some examples of these progressions that were given to us by Signora Cocchini. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Following the Child Through the First Plane of Development

“Follow the child” is a phrase often heard both in and out of the Montessori realm.  To follow the child we must first know something about development. 
 Dr Montessori identified what she called the four planes of development.  
From Birth to Six is the period of the absorbent mind and is divided into two sub phases. 
The first of these is the period from 0-3.  The importance of this phase is the building of the foundation on which everything to come must stand. Just as the physical embryo develops hidden within the mother during pregnancy, the “psychic embryo” develops all the human characteristics of strength, intelligence, language, and independent human movement (walking) in the first three years.  Through the acquisition of these characteristics the child adapts to his environment. 
This “psychic embryonic period,” the thousand days that count, is the period of the “unconscious creator”.  Paralleling the physical embryonic period, the child forms what will later be developed. Dr Montessori said, “It may be said that we acquire knowledge by using our minds, but the child absorbs  knowledge directly into his psychic life.”  The child actualizes coordinated movement and acquires language skills. 
As adults we follow and support the development of the child by offering him good food, a safe space for movement, appropriate objects to touch and feel, undisturbed activity, and the freedom to explore the environment that has been so carefully prepared for him. 
The second sub phase is from 3-6 years.  This is the time of the “conscious worker.”   While the child from 0-3 has absorbed his environment, the child from 3-6 wants to make sense of it.  Before 3 the functions are being created; after 3 they develop.  What he wants to do is master his environment. Dr Montessori said, “It is as if the child, having absorbed the world by an unconscious kind of intelligence, now ‘lays his hands’ to it.”   Now it is the hand as a ‘prehensile organ of the mind,’ not just the senses, which move the child through a period of constructive ‘perfectionment’ – refining the acquisitions already made. 
As adults we follow and support this phase by providing an environment that ensures freedom of choice, care of self and the environment.  We act as positive models offering physical and emotional consistency as well as concrete materials and clear language. 

From an article on the Four Planes by the late Margaret Stephenson, I include this:
The responsibility of the adults (parents, caregivers and teachers or guides) includes many factors:
·      the preparation of the environment of the home for the activity of the “unconscious absorbent mind”
·      the preparation of the classroom for the activities of the “conscious absorbent mind”
·      to understand the difference between liberty and license and to recognize that liberty is a point of arrival not of departure which depends on the development of will, the power to choose.
·      to learn how to observe to better serve the child’s development
·      to recognize the child’s need to develop inner discipline in order to control his own acts and behavior.
·      to rid oneself of pride and anger
·      to cultivate humility and to become one who serves a process; that of the construction of Man.

She concludes by saying that “our responsibility in the first plane of development (0-6) is to ensure that the child builds the foundation for … that greater thinking individual of the Second Plane, where our responsibility will be to furnish the child the means to continue developing that (uniquely human) power. 

We offer the children from the Nido through Children’s House environments in which they have freedom of movement (low beds, bars to pull up on, mats and mirrors, low tables, child sized toilets and sinks etc. 
There are mobiles for the visual sense and manipulatives for the developing hand that support the development of finer and finer control. 
There are available child sized tools for children to use in the care of their environment, themselves and each other. Everything, from the Montessori designed materials for sensorial exploration through to the materials for math, language, geography and science to the carefully chosen books on the shelf; the principles of the First Plane of Development are evident. 
Children feel supported and respected when the capabilities they are developing are acknowledged and invited to become active.   Each unique child will follow a unique path.. We follow them down the path responding to their development, and then they use their developed capabilities to follow us to become a strong, contributing member of their families, schools, and our society. 
Follow the leader and lead the follower! and, Happy New Year!