Events Montessori Highlights Montessori Centenary Conference Geneva

China Conference Hangzhou

International Montessori Centenary Conference

Zhejiang Province, October 28-30 2007

Article and Photos by Elisabeth Houweling

The Hangzhou Conference was special because so many aspects came together: a rapidly growing interest in Montessori in China; and the introduction of AMI teacher training at the three levels: 0-3, 3-6 and 6-12. To beat the drum for the special cooperation between the Provincial Zhejiang Government and AMI a celebration and conference was organized to pay tribute to the Montessori past and express hopes and expectations for the future.

Elisabeth Houweling, an AMI member of long standing, and a ‘avid’ Montessori congress goer was fortunate to be free to travel to China and be part of this historic event. With her well-known love for taking extensive notes, she was the obvious person to ask for a personal report. The city of Hangzhou, the venue, she found delightful—an attractive city with a romantic West Lake, lovely Chinese gardens, temples, boats and teahouses, but also boasting immense skyscrapers, pleasant hotels, superb food and very helpful and friendly people. Just the right environment for the Montessori centenary conference “The Adult and Child grow together”.

In Hangzhou and Shanghai I saw a lot of young children and families—on trains, on the underground, in market places, parks, hotels, the streets, and temples and I was able to make a number of shots of delightful adults and children.

The conference venue was a beautiful and welcoming building of the Zhejiang Government. Most of the organizers of this conference had their displays and desks in the central entrance hall. There were Montessori materials from Gonzagareddi, Nienhuis and a Chinese manufacturer. You could buy large posters of Maria Montessori, and Chinese handicraft articles and get a congress photo with all the participants.

The AMI office desk was staffed by Amsterdam’s Barbara, Brenda and Lucie, who in turn were greatly supported by a team of Chinese volunteers. In this special year AMI has endeavoured to send one or two members of the secretariat to various centenary events around the world. In all, the secretariat managed to cover some ten events. They agree that 2007 has been a full year, with a lot of extra work, but very inspirational to see the theme of “champion the cause of al children” taken up so widely and enthusiastically. Brenda observes that it was thrilling to meet so many participants that are relatively new to the Montessori philosophy. The staff enjoy international contacts and dealing with people from many countries. The centenary is enabling many people working in the Montessori movement to come together and join.

Everywhere at the conference teams of Chinese volunteers were around to help and assist the participants, and the AMI ladies were delighted to see so many young people involved in the organization.

The event started off with a splendid Chinese dance show of children and teachers from the Montessori schools connected to the Chinese organizers. The conference moderators were Zhou Jing, a teacher from the Wulinmen School together with AMI Director of Training, Monte Kenison.

Many representatives from the AMI delegation gave either a speech, a PowerPoint presentation, showed a film or presented a combination of all these, and together provided a very rich programme. AMI speakers included Eduardo Cuevas, Silvia Dubovoy, Cheryl Ferreira, David Kahn, Amy Kirkham, Lynne Lawrence, Molly O’Shaughnessy, Mary Raudonis Loew and André Roberfroid. Chinese professors spoke about education and Montessori and often referred to and made connections with Confucius, a Chinese thinker, educator, and social philosopher whose principles have much in common with Montessori. The three AMI trainers who will soon work and train in Hangzhou gave lectures on their “specialist” age groups: Judi Orion spoke on assistants to infancy (0-3 years), Shannon Helfrich expounded on the primary level (3-6 years), and Jean Miller addressed aspects of elementary training (6-12).

When quizzed, the three trainers shared some of their experience and expectations for China: all three are optimistic and thrilled to be able to play their bit in these new developments.

Judi Orion Shannon Helfrich Jean Miller


How will working for Montessori in China be a challenge?

Judi: Living in an unknown (personally) culture – adapting Montessori to the culture in areas of the curriculum that are appropriate.

Shannon: It is a new challenge to create a new AMI training centre from the beginning. While I have done this before in other places, this is the first in a non-English speaking culture.

Jean: It will be a new adventure.


Will living in China cause a big change in your daily life?

Judi: I don’t see myself as settling down in China. I am coming in for blocks only.

Shannon: My daily life has revolved around training students for over 25 years and that will be no different. The peripheral details of living amidst a new culture will evoke some changes.

Jean: I am sure that it will.


Do you need to prepare a lot of special arrangements in order to teach here?

Judi: Yes – materials (as a model), personal training schedule.

Shannon: The core of my AMI course will remain the same. Certainly adaptations will be made to Chinese culture in present life. The biggest challenge will be to teach the Language area in Mandarin.

Jean: There is a great deal to prepare to make many of the hard-made material culturally relevant. Many materials will also need to be translated.


Did you ever before teach Chinese students?

Judi: Taiwanese students – many over the years – students who came to America.

Shannon: I have had a good number of Chinese speaking students in my courses, especially when I trained in Portland, Oregon.

Jean: No, this will be the first time.


Do you speak Chinese or do you work with translators?

Judi: No, I will work with a translator.

Shannon: I will be working with a Montessori trained translator. In the mean time I have begun to learn Mandarin.

Jean: I will be working with translators.


So far do you think that the Chinese culture will influence the application of the Montessori philosophy?

Judi: I have no basis yet to answer this question.

Shannon: Every culture influences the application of the Montessori philosophy; it will be no different here. However, the core of the Montessori philosophy will always be present as the foundation.

Jean: One always adjusts to the local culture as appropriate. For example we will look at the history of China first – the history of other countries later.


What is your most important impression of this centenary in Hangzhou?

Judi: It is well organized and there is great attention to the details.

Shannon: It is with great delight that I am here to share in the excitement of this first large Montessori conference. I see this as a seminal moment in time for China and the Montessori movement.

Jean: Change is happening rapidly. There is an eagerness to explore new ways, new ideas.

What do you think working in China will mean for you personally?

Judi: Perhaps – (who knows) – it will stretch my “flexibility”.

Shannon: It will allow me the opportunity to continue to learn and grow – it broadens my world view and helps me to define or maybe re-define what is important in my life and what is not.

Jean It will widen my horizon. I look forward to the experience.


Lynne Lawrence, AMI’s general secretary ad interim had the honour to read a message from Renilde Montessori, who could not be present herself.

China – vast and glorious country, most ancient civilization, rich in culture and philosophy, abounding in a plethora of aesthetic expressions … [a]country with an unsurpassed potential for cultivating happiness which, according to Maria Montessori, is the ultimate aim of education.

To quote one of her most important and least considered statements: ‘We ought to strive for the supreme result of producing men who will be happy; always keeping clearly before us the idea that the happy man is the one who may be spared the effort of thinking of himself, and dedicate all his energies to the unlimited progress of human society.’

André Roberfroid, AMI’s president opened the congress and again brought his message across emphatically. He has done a lot of travelling to be present and speak at many centenary events. This year’s theme was again clearly worded in his opening speech. ‘We are involved in educational development of children in different circumstances. Children of all social classes and social standards have to make a better life for all children and the children’s children. It is time to shout the secret of human development from the rooftops. We need to turn to the child, to all the children in the world: this is a challenge. This message is so powerful for the future of our children. Your participation in this significant partnership of the Montessori movement will make the difference. In spreading the Montessori message in China we will learn that this philosophy has a lot in common with the Chinese attitude “the child and adult grow together”. In Montessori the teacher and child grow together. Today is not a celebration, but it is the beginning of a challenge and a new success.’

We are very grateful to the organizers of this conference in the Zhejiang Province in China. It was a great experience, a flawless performance from dedicated and kind people who really believe in the Montessori philosophy. Altogether, in China, the development of the child and “the growth of the Adult and child together” have a great potential and after this conference we will not forget that children of all backgrounds, races and nationalities of the whole world deserve worthy education: Champion the cause of all children!

Afterward and Afterword:

Looking back on the Congress in Hangzhou, André Roberfroid observes that the centenary’s main message is that the Montessori movement is alive and well, and that within this global movement the role of AMI is respected as a model, particularly in training. For AMI this is a call to accept leadership of the movement and therefore to become more proactive André Roberfroid is impressed by the confidence that Montessori and AMI enjoys in China.” I also feel very strongly the new responsibility that the Hangzhou conference has created for us.” When asked if Chinese culture will influence the application of the Montessori philosophy, André cannot really make any judgements in that respect, he only knows that he firmly believes in mixing cultures. ‘It is always a source of improvement.’

Attending 14 centenary celebrations, he was impressed by the enthusiasm and the willingness to reach more children. There was also a strongly expressed expectation for AMI’s leadership. ‘Our message is very simple: during a full century we have proved that the Montessori Method is successful. Now we have the duty to truly spread it.’

This Centenary conference was different in view of the strong involvement of the government authorities and the potential impact for the development of Montessori in the public sector. This is unique. The challenge for the near future is unique.

Because of the centenary AMI has gone out into the world and met many Montessorians, from different backgrounds. Our guidance is sought, which is a fantastic challenge and we need to rise to it.

Reaching socially deprived groups

An expansion of the Educateurs Sans Frontières approach, supported by a strong fundraising campaign, could achieve some progress in this direction. However, the only way to reach and sustain large numbers will be to penetrate the public sectors. After all, this is Maria Montessori’s philosophy: she started in the poor neighbourhoods of Rome with her call for the education of children. This year all over the world Montessori more and more people are aware of our urgent message to reach the less wealthy children. At all the celebrations of the centenary this question was expressed spontaneously and sometimes very strongly. But awareness is only a first step. Action is now our challenge!