A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity of attending the American Montessori Society’s Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas. I took in several workshops and listened to a few guest speakers. I learned more about the Montessori philosophy, management strategies, organizational skills, and other valuable information. It would be difficult to pick the “best” thing I experienced. Instead I will list quotations and ideas that spoke to me and that I strongly concur with:
* In his Living Legacy address, John Chattin-McNichols, described the dangerous triangle of inactivity, poor nutrition, and being constantly plugged leading to obesity. There need to be solutions for this triad. He also argued for national and international discussions of Dr. Montessori’s ideas on the spiritual aspect of human development.
* Temple Grandin, an autistic activist, was a very powerful and vociferous speaker. She adamantly declared that children need to be provided with opportunities to be engaged. “Involve socially-awkward students in their passions; take their fixation and expand on it.” Her passion was aviation and woodworking and this is how she was able to survive high school as an autistic student. Grandin announced that work teaches children discipline and responsibility and that youth should be engaged in work at age 12 to develop such skills. Finally, she asked that we “do not allow youth to become recluses”. Do not permit teenagers to play hours of video games cooped up inside. “Challenge them to stretch just outside their comfort zone.”
* Author Andrew Solomon discussed how families brave raising exceptional, challenging, and special needs children. How do two “normal” parents support children who are so unlike themselves having no experience of what it is like being deaf, disabled, transgendered, or autistic? This is the topic approached in his book Far From the Tree. Solomon also stated that the love of a parent for their children could only be fully understood and appreciated when you become a parent.
* The Executive Director of Nature’s Classroom Institute, Geoffrey Bishop, lead a workshop on re-connecting children with nature. Bishop had a number of insights regarding the outdoors and children. He stated that “the outdoor environment is just as important as your indoor environment” and challenged attendees to look for the potential of their outdoor environment. Bishop went on to advocate the importance of nature in children’s development: “Green space improves mental health, reduces violence and bullying, promotes empathy, and builds family bonding; ultimately restoring peace.” He argued that children be encouraged to interact with trees, knives, holes, fire, water, mud, and throwing objects. Through these experiences children with develop a “caution meter”; their physical limitations (i.e. climbing a tree too high).
* John Hunter, creator of the World Peace Game, delivered a great speech on the potential of children. He affirmed that “we cannot afford to lose one child for the greatness they could be.” After speaking with a former student, his daughter and grand-daughter, Hunter reflected “I’m not just teaching the child in front of me, I’m teaching generations.” Finally, Hunter expanded upon Dr. Montessori’s idea of sensitive periods. He argued that “there are sensitive periods everywhere” and teachers need to seize learning opportunities around such periods.