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!”

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