Monthly Archives: April 2013

2013 Congress to Publish 1913 Diary and Lectures


The International Montessori Congress is the most significant event and gathering in the Montessori world.  Founded in 1929 by Maria Montessori and marking the birth of AMI, and held every four years or so since that time, the Congress is an international gathering of Montessorians of from all backgrounds and trainings.  The four day event in Portland, Oregon (July 30 through August 3) features keynotes from Brian SwimmeJudith SnowPaul Hawken, and Vandana Shiva, three days of breakouts, a Gala celebration, museum exhibits, school tours, nature outings, and more.

2013 is the centenary of Montessori’s 1913 1st International Training Course in Rome, and the Congress will feature a museum exhibit of artifacts from the course.  In addition, the Congress website has announced the publication of two exciting documents, available at the event:

This last is particularly exciting.  In 1913, Montessori was know worldwide for her method, which had been adopted all over Europe and was spreading to Asia and North America.  Her first book, The Montessori Method had been translated into English and was popular in the U.S.  But the book, while including sections which describe the materials and their use, is a mixture of theory and practical direction that adds up to a tantalizing glimpse of Montessori’s classroom practice at that time.  These lectures, including 13 theory lectures and 9 practical lessons offer a rare look into the development of the method.

Congress registration is still available here.  It’s $545 plus travel and lodging, but it’s not something that’s going to come around again next year.  If you can make it, I urge you to go.  I’ll post more about the speakers and events in the next few weeks.

100 years of Montessori in Pasadena

From my Montessori Google news feed (which I wrote about here), an article from the Pasadena Star-News about the 100th birthday of the Aria Montessori School, founded in 1913, visited by Maria Montessori in 1915, and alma mater to prominent Montessori graduate Julia Child.

This has got to be the oldest continuously operating Montessori school in the country, although (per the article) neither AMI nor AMS could confirm the claim.  The school website does not mention an affiliation with any Montessori organization, and doesn’t say much about the background of the administration or teachers.

Still, a pretty remarkable milestone.

Montessori Model United Nations Part II

Follow-up to my post about Montessori Model United Nations from last week:

Susan Stephenson’s take on the Conference here; video of her Keynote address here.  As seen here, Susan has a book out: The Child in the World.

Also a notice from outside the Montessori world.  Best Delegate is, per their website, “an education company that helps students and teachers worldwide succeed at Model United Nations and beyond,” founded by a pair of MUN veterans from Yale and UCLA.  The post, from a longtime MUN participant with no Montessori experience, gets right to what’s special about Montessori students:

  • they learn how to cooperate and compromise
  • they develop a connected support network
  • they learn from a self-directed environmnent
  • they learn about other cultures and themselves
  • they are young leads with a can-do mentality

Sounds like he’s got us about right, and telling the whole round world.  Go on, read the whole post.  Pretty good press for Montessori ‘seen from the outside.’ (Montessori Model United Nations picked this up on their site as well.)

Finally, from the same site, a post from two years ago by Seton Hall student and Montessori alumnus Camille Moro about her experience.



Montessori Video at Baan Dek

Baan Dek Montessori in Sioux Falls, South Dakota is an AMI school offering a toddler program and Primary, founded in 2007 by June and Bobby George. June is from Thailand, and Baan Dek is Thai for “Children’s House.”

Besides an original and visually stunning school website, Baan Dek has some short clips on their Vimeo channel that really capture first plane concentration and attention, as well as charm.  There’s an amazing amount of material there.  I’ve picked out a few favorites:

Really, though.  Page after page of children using materials with concentration and focus.  This is a trove of data for anyone wanting to document Montessori practice.

Montessori and Day Care

The New Republic has a grim piece up: The Hell of American Day Care, by Jonathon Cohn. The article centers on the story of Kendyll Mire, a toddler killed in a fire at an in-home day care in Houston in 2011, and you should know before you decide to click that it is pretty gut-wrenching.

But Cohn does a good job of filling in the social and historical context of how pre-kindergarten child care is provided and regulated in this country—in contrast to many other countries where child care is seen as a national priority.  From the article:

  • About 8.2 million children under five are in some kind of care.
  • In 2011, the median  salary for a child care worker was $19,430.
    (For comparison, full-time work at $12/hour is about $24,000.)
  • Full-time licensed child care can cost as much as $15,000 a year.(National averages are $11,666 for infants and $8,800 for preschool)
  • Very poor families can get a tax credit worth up to $1,050 a year per child.

(There’s a wealth of detail at Child Care America’s National Report.)

Kendyll’s story is harrowing, but Cohn’s bleak picture of the U.S. chid care market is a reality we  Montessorians need to face if we are to bring our work to children and families who need it most. Many of us work in a different world, and we don’t really understand the scale of what’s  happening outside our (frankly) boutique niche. Here’s what the article makes clear:

  • Many households, often headed by single mothers, need child care so they can work.
  • Many child care choices are poorly regulated, don’t respond to child development, and can’t pay practitioners well or attract educated skilled workers.
  • Yet these programs are barely in reach of the families who need it most.

And here are some facts about Montessori

  • Although elementary and adolescent work is thriving and expanding, most Montessori is taking place at the child care level, especially worldwide.
  • Montessori has a fantastic but little-known child-development based model of infant-toddler and preschool level care.
  • Our programs are not necessarily that expensive. You can look up your state here (pdf), on page 36. You may find your program  $1000 or so of the state average.

So? If schools can find a way to reach these families, and to bridge the affordability gap, with financial aid, tax credits, and  state subsidies that may exist, we could serve a lot of children who really need it, and be a bigger part of the child development and child care conversation in society.  This is our growth opportunity.

Finally, some observations about child care programs in public life:

Kendyll’s world is the world our regulators see. It’s the reason for ratio and inspection rules we sometimes chafe against. As we join the ongoing conversations in many states about standards and practices—and we need to be there—this has to inform our message:  We understand where you’re coming from, what you see.  Montessori is different.  Come see for yourselves.  We might even have something to offer.  Come see for yourselves.

High profile articles like Cohn’s don’t happen in a vacuum.  Obama’s State of trhe Union put preschool and child care on the national agenda for the next few years.  The conversation is going to be about Quality of Care, High-Quality Preschool, and it’s happening already, in Oregon, in California, in Florida, and likely in your state as well.  And it’s not about better private preschools for families who can well afford it.  It’s about serving children and families who can’t. If we’re going to reach more children, we’re going to have to start reaching where the children who need us actually are.

Montessori Model United Nations



You’ve probably heard of the Model United Nations.  But if you’re like me, you’re probably a little hazy on the details.  Here’s a quick explainer, and a look at how Montessori fits into the picture.

The Model United Nations, it turns out, isn’t just one thing.  In fact, it’s a generic term for a wide range of activities taken on by a wide range of organizations.  Per WIkipedia

Model United Nations (also Model UN or MUN) is an academic simulation of the United Nations that aims to educate participants about current events, topics in international relations, diplomacy and the United Nations agenda.

The programs began in the 1920s as simulations of the League of Nations, transforming into MUNs in the 1950s. Originally college level activities, they have expanded to include elementary through post-doctoral participants, involving more than 90,000 students. Schools, colleges, and universities organize their own MUN clubs or classes, which can choose to participate one of more than 70 MUN Conferences in the U.S. and around the world.  Conferences typically feature research, debates, public speaking, analysis, and much more.  Many conferences give awards as part of the event.

The Montessori Model United Nations is different.  Founded in 2006 by Oak Farm Montessori School Head Judith Cunningham and the UN Ambassador from Dominican Republic Francis Lorenzo, MMUN is one of a very few MUN Conferences open to elementary and middle school students. In contrast to most other Conferences, MMUN focuses on peace, cooperation, and compromise, rather than competition, and does not give awards.

MMUN has held 6 conferences in New York and has expanded to a Midwest Regional conference and a conference in Geneva, Switzerland.  This year’s participants included Oak Farm Montessori from Avilla, Indiana, Santa Barbara Montessori School from California, and Treasure Village Montessori, a charter school from the Florida Keys.  Several schools made their local news:

Treasure Village students prep for mock U.N

Santa Barbara Montessori Students Return to United Nations in NYC

Talk to Your Baby: Now With Science

Once again, from the New York Times: Providence, Rhode Island has won a $5 million prizefor a large-scale implementation of the well-established finding that talking to your baby and toddler is critically important to language development.

A little background:  We know that, by 12 months poor children have fallen behind middle-class children in ability to talk, listen and, learn, and this gets worse every year.  There’s no consensus, but no shortage of theories, on why poverty is a leading indicator of poor learning ability.  Recently, attention has focused on exposure to spoken language for children from birth to 3.  The research, by Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, has been around since at least 1995.  From the article:

the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental. (emphasis added)

But language exposure has been difficult to quantify.  Now, using new digital tools (they have their place in child development, just not in the hands of toddlers!), Providence, R.I. will use that $5 million to  reach two thousand families each year  in a project to improve talking and conversation and to gather lots of data.

Now, if only there were an early childhood education model that emphasized spoken language, building narrative through question and answer dialog, and development of vocabulary…Rhode Island Montessori schools, are you listening?

Child of the World

ImageChild of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, is a new book by Susan Macylin Stephenson, an internationally recognized figure in the Montessori world, known for her work in India, Russia, Tibet, Thailand, and the Middle East, as well as for her passionate and evocative writing about Montessori.

Stephenson and her husband Jim Stephenson are the directors of the Michael Olaf Montessori Company, a highly regarded source for developmentally appropriate toys, classroom furniture and materials, and publications. (the store) also operates, a respected source of Montessori information, overviews, links and resources, and Stephenson publishes The International Montessori Index, an excellent collection of Montessori information and links.

For years, Stephenson’s articles and insights about Montessori and child development have been highlights of the Michael Olaf catalogs and website.  Now her writing about Montessori and the child from 3 to 12 years have been collected in her new book, available at Michael Olaf, NAMTA, and Amazon.  Glowing reviews and sales are piling up.  It looks to be a great resource for schools and families. Video Has Live Turtle

At the 2013 AMI Refresher Course, AMI-USA previewed a video for a project called Montessori Guide—a professional development tool using “real footage of real classrooms and original articles to support best practices inside Montessori environments for trainees, teachers and administrators.”  

The project is still in the works, and it’s not clear exactly what it will be.  The video itself is outstanding.  A screenshot shows a website with articles on subjects such as Socialization and Cosmic Education, and the AMI-USA page mentions video and articles and the guidance of AMI teacher trainers.  We’ll have to wait and see the site when it launches later this year.

But the video is up now, and it stands on its own.  The bouncy, whistling soundtrack with acoustic guitar and handclaps sets just the right casual, optimistic tone.   There are some titles. “A Fresh Take on Montessori” is a little odd—do we need a fresh take?—but the video certainly feels fresh.  “Diverse Children—Diverse Teachers—Diverse Settings” is also a little oblique—is diversity our hallmark?—and “Standardized Practice” doesn’t quite have the Montessori magic, but these are quibbles. (And “Delving Deeper Into Our Practice” is spot on.)  

But he magic tis in the classroom footage.  It’s all there—beautiful, light, open classrooms full of purposeful, determined, adorable focused children, great moments of peer learning, individual work, big work, joy, cleaning up a spill, and carrying a turtle.  Everything you think of as Montessori, in other words.

As an administrator, I would use it at every parent night and recruitment event I could get away with.  Just press play, sit back, and watch the jaws drop and the smiles spread.  Then have questions and a “share something you liked” session.  Then play it again, starting and stopping.  Concentration. Repetition.  Independence.  Liberty.  Social learning.  It’s all there.

 I’m really looking forward to seeing the whole site.


Montessori’s Got SOLE

Yesterday, I wrote about Dr. Sugata Mitra and self-directed learning.

Dr. Mitra won the one million dollar  2013 TED prize to build “The School in the Cloud,” a virtual school based on his work.

His lesson structure is called a Self-Organized Learning Environment, or SOLE, and there’s a contest to implement one and write it up in 500-1000 words.  Up to three winners will get tickets (for two!) to TED Youth 2013* in November. Instructions and Guidelines and here.

Montessori elementary teachers should submit entries to this contest.  Here’s why.  You already run ten of these a day, concurrently.  Here are the elements of the SOLE, from the guidelines:

  • the adult poses a motivating question
  • students choose their own groups of four
  • a student is designated as “helper”—a sort of facilitator
  • movement permitted
  • collaboration and borrowing from other groups is permitted
  • changing groups is permitted
  • groups develop substantial responses to the questions and share them with the whole class
  • Dr. Mitra’s work often involves groups sharing a PC and using the internet heavily, but this is not specified in the guidelines
  • 40 minutes are allowed for investigations, and 10 to 20 for review

So like the Montessori elementary! Except, in Montessori:

  • the motivating questions are embedded in a holistic structure and supported with brilliant charts and materials
  • multiple questions are being explored by different children at any time
  • groups are not limited to four 
  • computers and internet use are often minimized
  • group roles typically emerge spontanesously
  • movement and collaboration are of course permitted 
  • hand-on experiences, books, and student-directed visits to outside resources, (“Going Out”), are emphasized as sources
  • time limits are much broader than 40 minutes, and projects may extend over several days

Dr. Mitra needs to know what we do. I know it’s an extra hour or two of work to really write it up well, but why not get credit for what we’re already doing? 

The deadline is next Friday, the 12th. 

Those links again:

Instructions • Guidelines (pdf)

* From their website: “TEDYouth is a day-long event for high school students — with live speakers, hands-on activities and great conversations.”