Conversation on Montessori

It's often hard to get to where conversations naturally lead, but we thought we would give it a try, with our first podcast at Baan Dek. Bobby George and Charlotte Wood sat down to chat about the role Montessori plays in education. The starting point was a quote from Jean-Marie Guyau: "Through seeing others smile, the child smiles." As with all things Montessori, there are so many layers, that sometimes the best way to carefully try to unfold them is rather spontaneously. If you enjoy the conversation, and would like to hear more podcasts, please don't hesitate to let us know. We'd love to hear your thoughts, and if you have specific topics that you would like to address, we'd love to hear those too. hello@baandek.org

Go Beyond Yourself

In the past few weeks, after we posted an Instagram photo of a team meeting, we’ve had a number of individuals, teachers and administrators reach out to see if we would be willing to share insights into how we conduct our team workshops. We thought it might be helpful if we share a few thoughts, and a few details, on how, more exactly, we structure these events. Of course, we would love to hear from you as well, as we’re always looking for new ideas and ways to enrich Baan Dek.

Needless to say, we are constantly working on ways in which our team can improve, to get stronger, stay motivated and communicate more directly, positively and effectively. As many of you have already heard us say, we believe that a school should be a machine in the way it is run, not in the way it teaches, and we concentrate extensively on how to optimize these conditions.

We look for points of conversation everywhere.

As a frame of reference, and to get us started, we thought it might be helpful if we outline, not only how we structure our meetings, but also the frequency in which they are conducted, who is involved in the discussions, and the content that is presented - paying particular attention to how we converse about the topics.

Essentially, we have three categories, or types of meetings:

1) individual meetings, which are scheduled impromptu, whether by the admin or the team member, when a topic of conversation arises that we think we can work through together ad hoc.

2) weekly individual meetings with each classroom, to discuss insights from spontaneous classroom observations, which allows us an opportunity to observe, discuss, and improve.

3) and, lastly, a weekly meeting with the entire team, to take a look at upcoming events, chat about our favorite moments of the week, and sometimes just to be in each others presence.

We look for inspiration everywhere.

Which is to say, we’re constantly looking for helpful resources on communication, team-building, and improvisation. Basically, shared life philosophies. And maybe life is the key word here. We find that the greatest moments of collaboration happen, not always at a predestined “collaboration meeting”, but instead when we are tidying up the classroom, sharing a coffee, or discussing the latest news.

When we are sharing our lives with each other, amazing things naturally seem to happen.

We recently discovered this lovely quote from Miles Davis, which was the subject of our last conversation. If you think of the Montessori classroom in terms of music, an improvisation between varyingly degrees of personalities, each with individual contributions and expressions, you can really find the joy in what Davis relays. 

Describing the work of Dizzy Gillepsie and Charlie Parker, Davis wrote in his autobiography: “Their concept of music was more rather than less. I personally wanted to cut the notes down, because I’ve always felt that most musicians play way too much for too long. I wanted the music this new group would play to be freer, more modal…I wanted them to go beyond themselves.”

To go beyond themselves...

Miles Davis continues: “See, if you put a musician in a place where he has to do something different from what he does all the time, then he can do that - but he’s got to think differently in order to do it. He has to use his imagination, be more creative, more innovative; he’s got to take more risks. He’s got to play above what he knows - far above it - and what that might lead to might take him above the place where he’s been playing all along, to the new place where he finds himself right now - and to the next place he’s going and even above that! So then he’ll be freer, will expect things differently, will anticipate and know something different is coming down. I’ve always told the musicians in my band to play what they know and then place above that.”

This is a really wonderful way of describing the excitement that happens in Montessori classrooms on a daily basis. Some days, the music is more, when you know it should be less. Other days, you know that you've found it, whatever it is - you just want to live there, in that moment. When we know each other, when we can push each other, and pull each other in, it's easier to find that perfect place, where the music just makes sense.

That's what Montessori allows. The harmony to carry us, the inspiration to follow us, and the environment to help us go beyond ourselves....

Go team! Feel free to listen to a little Miles Davis: http://www.pandora.com/miles-davis

Meet Alexandra Dooyema

Alexandra joined us last year as an “administrative assistant”. However, she’s better known as a jack-of-all-trades. She essentially helped us invent an entirely new position, one which is now nearly impossible to replace. Which is to say, we hope she never leaves. Alexandra instantly made our lives at Baan Dek easier with the myriad tasks she performs on a daily basis. She’s constantly asking the question, “How can I help? How can we make things better?” - which, invariably, leads us, as a community, to making things that much smoother. She’s just that type of person: loyal, trustworthy, and, without exception, helping everyone spontaneously push things further.  We sat down with Alexandra and had a little conversation that we would love to share with you.

Q: Can you describe yourself - you know, in a nutshell?

A: My full name is Alexandra, but some people call me Alex. I have lived in Sioux Falls for four years. I have been working at Baan Dek for almost a year, and I’m loving it more and more every day. Is that normal? While I didn’t know a lot about early childhood learning when I started at Baan Dek, and know that’s not what you were looking for when I joined the team, it’s now become a major interest. It’s pretty awesome.

Q: What was it about Montessori that fascinated you?

A: Well, like I mentioned, I really didn’t know too much about it. I just knew it was completely different from the way I learned. It seemed so cool. So different. Kids were actually allowed to follow their interests. I think I might have stolen that line from the website. Anyways, I remember, when I was in school, we were forced to work on projects, and none of us felt very inspired. Here, these children are so happy and engaged and...well, I wish I would have had that.

Q: What is your favorite color?

A: Purple. It’s always been between blue and purple, I love all the different shades of blue and purple. When I draw, I tend towards blues and purples as well. I don’t like using light colors. I always incorporate blue and purple aspects, and sometimes pink.

Q: Can you tell us about your drawings? What do you like to draw?

A: I’ve been into drawing since I was very young. My older brother is an amazing artist, and when I was a little girl, I would watch him draw all the time. He and I are a lot alike, and he’s really into anime and sci-fi stuff, any fantasy characters really. Personally, I love drawing fairies! They are so fun and colorful.

I try painting every now and then, but I’m more familiar with pencils, colored pencils and markers. I’ve submitted some of my work in online forums, but mostly I like searching for ideas online. The hardest part about drawing is deciding what to draw! I find a lot of inspiration when looking at other work.  In high school, I remember working really hard on a project, I even laminated it so it wouldn’t get ruined. Getting a good grade was my main goal, but now it is one of my favorites! Insert picture here:

Q: If you could travel anywhere, where would that be?

A: One of my dreams includes becoming a professional world traveler- I want to travel EVERYWHERE. The first country I would visit would be Australia. Everything that I’ve seen about it looks so beautiful, especially the clear water. I would love to try scuba diving! I also love the Australian accent :).

Q: What is your favorite Starbucks drink?

A: Smoothies. Orange Mango is my new favorite! I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but every now and then I’ll drink a cappuccino. We should switch Starbucks Friday’s to Juice Stop Friday’s! Juice Stop should be the new Starbucks, because all the combinations are so wonderful! I love going there because I can try something new every time.

Q: Do you have a favorite childhood book or movie?

A: Alice In Wonderland! I read the book and saw the movie. I was really young when I saw the original movie, then read the book when I was 8-9. It’s so out there, you never know what’s going to happen. The cheshire cat is one of my favorite characters. My favorite scene is when he’s talking to Alice and they’re having a conversation about the right direction to go. Alice says she doesn’t want to talk to a mad person, and he says “We’re all mad here”.

Q: Do you like the new movie?

A: Oh, you mean the one with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton? I think they did a really great job. I liked how it was a sequel, and not the original story. The graphics were absolutely amazing! Also, Johnny Depp is a pretty amazing actor :).

Q: What treats do you always say yes to?

A: Cupcakes. Oh My Cupcakes are good, but homemade are the best. My dad always made cupcakes growing up, and that’s probably why I’m so addicted to them! We made them together. My favorite flavor was marble, chocolate and vanilla, with cream cheese frostings. If I had to pick an ultimate cupcake (listen to me talking about cupcakes!), I would probably pick: Chocolate cupcake with Reese’s pieces, and French Vanilla frosting, cream cheese and fudge!

Spotlight: Touch Internationale Montessori School

We would like to introduce you to Indrakshi, of Touch Internationale Montessori School in Bangalore, India. We’re so inspired by her story. It’s a story of legacy, dedication and a willingness to see things through. Not just through, but she is actively working to expand and grow and make things just that much better for her community. On top of that, her mother started the school, and now Indrakshi is trying to take it to the next level, which we know she will. Hope you enjoy!

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your background, your interests, your dreams?

A: I was not always an educator like my mother. However, as a child I grew up watching her. Her commitment, enthusiasm and passion for teaching always showed in the way students and parents would come up to her in the middle of a neighbourhood or shopping mall to talk and compliment her. My dad was an officer in the Indian Army, so we kept moving on transfers around the country and I went to many different schools, mostly convents. As years went by and I grew independent, I chose to be a hotelier. I graduated from a 4 year hotel school programme and started working in some of the well-known hotel chains. Somehow my work as a hotelier led my manager to offer me a job in training the employees. That was the beginning of moving into something of an educator’s role although it was andragogy that I was dealing with. I enjoyed work but at the end of the day it wasn’t my passion. In 2002, I took some time off from work and that’s when I had the opportunity to observe what goes on in a Montessori environment(our school). Until then, I had no idea what it was all about. But one year watching and assisting in the environment was enough for me to know that I needed to do this every day of my life for all my life! It was an awakening. I had found how my work could become my passion.

My interests include baking, music, movies, reading, photography, writing and traveling.

I dream of taking the school to the next level. I want to ensure that by following the Montessori method and philosophy every day and watching it change the lives of so many children, I can become a better person and parent to my own children.

Q: Now that the hardest question is out of the way: What's your favorite color?

A: Maroon

Q: Do you have a favorite book? How about a film?

A: I love the classics. Of the many favourites the one that stands the test of time for me is Jules Verne’s ‘Around the World in 80 Days’.

The family is full of movie buffs watching all genres of cinema but on the top of the list is Shawshank Redemption

 

Q: When you close your eyes late at night, and imagine waking up and starting a new adventure: what is that adventure?

A: I have a 15 month old daughter who takes up most of my night’s sleep so there is very little imagination that works at that time but in the past it had always been about travelling to new places and experiencing different cultures. Of late since I have got involved in the school, a real life adventure would be for my husband and I to get involved in the school together and travel around the world meeting and talking to people from the Montessori community and be enriched by their experiences, ideas and practices. I would love to visit the Neinhuis Museum someday!

Mrs. Sipra Narayanan.jpg

Q: We know your mother, who is AMI certified, started the school in 1992. What was it like for her to start a Montessori school?

A: As I mentioned, my father was in the Army. As a result of transfers every 2-3 years we had to keep moving base. My mother had the privilege of doing the AMI course under the direct guidance and training of Mr Joosten and Mr Swamy who as you would know were taught by Dr Montessori herself. Mother always wanted to open a Montessori House of Children after that course but she had to wait for 12 more years until my father retired and we settled in the city of Bangalore. During those 12 years, she taught in traditional schools having acquired a Masters in Education. Those years in traditional schools only served to strengthen her determination to start a Montessori House as she observed how hard it was for children to enjoy school and the learning process. When she started in 1992 after my father’s retirement, she started in a small house cum residence with all of 4 children. In those days, Montessori was even more ambiguous than it is now and it was by God’s grace and her sheer hard work that children began coming in. She took a small loan to buy the basic Montessori materials for Primary. She had a carpenter break all the solid wooden Army storage boxes we had acquired during transfers  and had them made into tables and shelves for the environment. Those were the humble beginnings of Touch Internationale 23 years back…

Q: Now that you’ve become more involved in the day-to-day operations of the school, what  advice do you have for new Montessori schools?

A: I think those who begin now need to be very patient. In a more informed and growing world, the challenges are plenty and larger in scale. The competition is stiff, the market sometimes may seem saturated with the new age methods and integrated schools. The ones who have plenty of money may seem to be growing like algae over all the others but the key to it all is patience. I have seen some getting bogged down by it all and starting to integrate other methods. Montessori has lasted more for than a 100 years and doesn’t need to be integrated with anything else. If you are convinced about Montessori and its benefits and you are confident about your own skills, then it is only a matter of time before someone sits up and begins listening to what you are saying…Yes keep speaking about it and propagating the method.

Q: With that in mind, we suppose the same question can be applied to established Montessori schools.

A: Those who are established need to continue the work they are doing with the same fervour to reach the child as they did when they first began but with the confidence they have now that they are established. That is the same strategy to reach the people and community at large.

Q: Did you have a "Montessori Moment?"

A: We have over the last 7 years had children with special needs approach us through their doctors and psychologists for a Montessori intervention in their learning. And it has been found beneficial with marked improvements. Mrs Narayanan (my mom) always felt that keeping aside the Montessori method, a teacher has very little credit to herself when the child who succeeds is an intelligent one, but the credit truly goes to her if she can make a difference in the life of a slow learner or someone with special needs. With the help of the method, we have had great success with children who come in the early stages as border line cases for autism, slow learning, delayed speech, etc. We work along with their doctors and speech therapists.

One such 2.5 yr old autistic child joined us a month ago with very distraught parents saying that she is very withdrawn and does not communicate with anyone and instead seems to be in her own world. We included her in the regular environment and last week the special educator signalled me to observe what she was doing. She was sitting with the world map and pronouncing to the best of her ability the names of the continents!!! All because she had seen other children in the environment working with the same material. That was the hidden intellect and grasping power of a child who may not have had that chance if it wasn’t for Montessori. Her parents who observed this later had tears in their eyes. It was a very emotional “Montessori Moment.”

Q: What's your favorite Montessori quote?

A: There are 2 actually…

“It is true that we cannot make a genius. We can only give to each child the chance to fulfill his potential possibilities.”

“It is the child who makes the man, and no man exists who was not made by the child he once was.”

Q: What do you think is the best introduction to Montessori?

A: Observing the children. We have an observation week where the parents come into the environment and sit and observe the children at work. The children are prepared earlier to expect them, so the presence of a parent doesn’t bother them. When the parents leave, they seem pretty convinced about WHY this is the best option for their child. Montessori has to be seen to believe!

Q: What continues to inspire you about Montessori?

A: I have been through a traditional school learning everything the conventional way.

Montessori exploded something in my mind which was a desire to go back to childhood unlearning and relearning everything the Montessori way. I am inspired each time I see how something is presented in the environment and the reaction of a child. There are ‘n’ number of reactions and a new learning/insight each time and those inspired moments fuel the passion towards the method.

Q: In what ways do you envision the future of education?

A: Education is certainly going through a sea change all over the world but especially in India. People are becoming more aware of the pros and cons of conventional education system. Children need to be stimulated more in order for learning to a be a lifelong activity and I think many adults are realising and trying to provide that atmosphere. However, a study and detailed research is necessary into the various methods people and schools are selling now. Digitalising everything for little ones is not always favourable as we have seen among our special children the ill effects of being exposed to too much of that at an early age. But yes, people are certainly asking more and trying to educate themselves more in order to find the best option for their children. And most of them who do that keep an open mind.

Q: In our correspondence, we often discuss what it's like to build a community. Not just maintaining one, but actively growing one. Can you share any insights for other schools?!

A: There are several ways to reach out to people in the community. Some of the things we do are:

At the beginning of the academic year, we have an orientation programme for parents (both old and new) where we call a noted psychologist and counsellor to talk about basic child psychology and behaviours parents usually find difficult dealing with. There is a Q and A session and later a chat over tea for parents to get to know each other as well as interact personally with the child psychologist.

During the year, we go as a team to 2-3 apartment complexes and hold a weekend activity for children which includes pottery making, pot painting, cup cake decoration, jewellery making, etc along with a slide show to showcase the Montessori method. We also try engaging some children with the help of  Montessori materials like addition strip board  where one child is asked to add a problem the conventional way whereas another does it with the help of the material. Children and parents get to see a glimpse of Montessori with the help of the slideshow and working with the materials.

At the end of the year, during Christmas time, the children bring from their homes food stuff and clothes and we visit a nearby old age home or orphanage. Parents too are welcome to come with us. We spend an hour or two with the people in the home, singing carols and distributing the items the children carry for them.

Once in two years, we also have a poor feeding day where we cook food on campus along with the help of children who help cut vegetables or arrange the environment. We  have children from an orphanage come to the school and the children serve them the food made on campus. Several parents also lend a hand.

These are some of the ways we try and engage ourselves with our community. Out of every 5 people who come enquiring about the school, 3 come because of word of mouth publicity.

Q: Are there any questions that we should've asked and you'd like to answer?!

A: I think you have covered a lot more than I could imagine. It was great answering these as they helped me to introspect and focus on certain aspects and questions that we forget to ask ourselves in our day to day schedule.Q: THANK YOU!

 

Independence is a Gift

One of Maria Montessori’s greatest insights was that children were born with a natural desire to learn. They didn't need to be forced to learn, or even - and, this will be a topic for another time - instructed. They were, to use a phrase, born with the capacity for independence, for exploration, discovery and self-directed learning. They simply needed an environment in which they were allowed to follow their interests, one that provided just the right amount of nurture, support and guidance. 

At the end of the day, however, we don’t live in a world made for children. We live in a world that’s created for adults, by adults. As a child, it can be extremely overwhelming to try to navigate that world, a world at least five times their size. Picture that for moment. Imagine sitting in a room, perhaps the one you are in now, seated in thrones made for kings and queens.

You would feel out of place: awkward, frustrated, uncomfortable, tentative. In a very real way, you would feel unsure of your movements, let alone your thoughts. Well, at least most of us would. (Wink, wink.) Mainly, we would feel out of sync, because our expectations of what things should be like are suddenly misaligned with how things are, i.e.: some of us were not born to adorn royal thrones.

Now, keeping that thought in mind, try for a moment to put yourself in your child’s shoes. Try to imagine how they experience the world, from their eye-level, with their muscular strength, with their fine motor skills, etc. If, as adults, we find the task difficult, imagine how arduous it will be for them.

Independence, then, is the bridge to empower children to become who they wish to become: with confidence, determination, and a sense of hope. Our task, then, is to provide the environment in which children are afforded the opportunity to become independent, whether this is as simple as making sure everything is just their size, and tensile strength, or taking things further, and instilling them with the confidence that anything is possible.

As Montessori never tired of showcasing, how we help children, as adults, is not by overtly helping them, i.e.: stepping in and doing things for them. Rather, it's by creating moments of independence. These beautiful bursts of self-demonstration, of self-learning, where children open the gift of independence...