Events Montessori Highlights Montessori Centenary Conference Geneva

Montessori Centenary Conference Geneva 23, 24 March 2007

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Centenaire Montessori Centenary

Colloque : « De l’enfant d’aujourd’hui à l’homme de demain »

Genève, les 23 et 24 mars 2007

Article and Photos by Elisabeth Houweling

On this Friday of March 23, there was snow all over in Switzerland. Odette Cutullic, director of a Swiss Montessori school, opened the congress and announced that not all participants had arrived yet because of the weather circumstances. The program for these two days of Montessori centenary celebration in Geneva was abundant.

André Roberfroid, AMI’s president communicated to the congress participants that we had very good reasons to be in Geneva today, since we were especially present to look ahead and to act. André stated that “We have to look at the child’s world in another manner in order to spread the Montessori message: we have to improve our personalities and to become more human. So celebrate is looking at the future and now we need to put this into practice. Montessori’s ideas work all over the world, there is a great impact of the philosophy on present society. There are many Montessori classrooms for wealthy children in the world; this was however not meant to be so by Maria Montessori so we will need to change this drastically. We have to keep up our excellent training standards and do research work. A challenge is waiting for us in the centenary declaration, which represents engagement, and an extraordinary ambition. Happy birthday to all of you and for today I propose that we all try to set to work”.

Philip O’Brien, General Director from UNICEF spoke about “Education, a lifeline for development”. He explained that Unicef’s message is important, especially in the field of education all over the world. “Two hundred millions of children do not develop to their full potential and there is no second chance for child development. Poverty is a significant factor for the direction of the children’s future. There are still poor children in the streets of Rome. I am afraid our work has not been done yet, we have to better invest in the children in the next few years”.

Lynne Lawrence from AMI London spoke about the obstacles we need to remove during child development. “Since children need to learn to think and act for themselves, we must act in defence of the child. We should not become the obstacle that the child has to overcome. We need to start with ourselves and attentively watch the child, a watchfulness that is referred to love. When we observe we have to be aware of observing the inner-life of the child. Adults must change their behaviour and have faith in the construction of powers of childhood. The child is the principal actor. We need to give the children the freedom to make choices and to act for themselves. This requires action and reflection”.

Professor Jean-Philippe Assal has talked about “Maria Montessori d’origine médicale: regard clinique d’un médecin”. In his psychiatric work professor Assal wanted to create « ateliers » for his patients in order to observe and not to judge them. In establishing this professor Assal had met resistance from the nursing staff, but he had discovered that the patient’s problems were more pedagogical than medical. He implemented Maria Montessori’s principles in his work in Geneva and with this model the relationship doctor–patient improved. Assal: “Teaching the patients is to help them to construct and to help avoiding regression; we should observe”.

During the “Colloque” periods of questioning the speakers were offered to the participants, directed by an appreciated Swiss journalist Jean-Philippe Rapp.

In the afternoon Dr Silvana Montanaro from Rome spoke about “The extraordinary development of the human being from conception to 3 years of age”. She stated that all children are different and each one requires attention. At any age Montessori education follows the children and encourages them “to do things by themselves”. A pediatrician could give good psychological help to support the life of the human being. Montessori talked about “the light in the children’s mind”. Children can develop themselves without intervention. Montessori wrote that “it was a real miracle transforming the children of the Casa dei Bambini and to make them happy. Montanaro: “Our education is help to life; human beings are born children and not born grown-ups. Children need all our wise help, all our love, all our care and respect, in order to proceed through the successive stages of development in their life”

At the end of the first day Luciano Mazzetti spoke about today’s topic of Maria Montessori, based on science. He voyaged from Plato to Pestalozzi, Rousseau, Anna Freud and Erikson. Montessori’s emphasis on education was that she helped in life skills. The children’s message is: “Help me to do it by myself”. According to Luciano this phrase has been transformed in Kindergarten into “Help me to think by myself” and then “think with you”, this is the social aspect which is important. Montessori spoke well about peace. Children can be involved in many activities that allow them to move forward, but they could have conflicts as well.

After this there was a questioning period and the centenary film was shown, made by NAMTA, which evaluates Maria Montessori’s life and work all over the world. I had seen this movie in Sydney and Rome and I am still impressed by the professionel quality of Maria Montessori’s Life Story.

On the second day Patricia Spinelli from Paris talked about the Creativity in Montessori pedagogy: impression and expression. She introduced a book Cheminements Cohésion about this work in Paris and showed us very interesting slides of pictures, paintings and drawings which were expressed by the children aged three till six. The children express themselves by means of drawing and music. This is part of “education for life”. It develops the aesthetical side and the intelligence of the child. It is the expression of the child towards the future and it develops child’s creation in general. Isabelle Séchaud assisted Patricia and explained some works of the children and said that the base of the work is “La table Lumineuse”. The child sees a picture on an illuminated screen and tries to copy it; this could be done with different materials. Isabelle: “In Paris we propose all drawing techniques to the children. On the slide the child could find light beams and trace the outlines of the picture”. The hand helps the thinking process.

Roger Durand spoke about Henry Dunant, who defended the family- and children’s rights. He said that Henry Dunant himself came from a bourgeois family and understood very well the reality of society. He was fighting for “the rights of the child” within the Red Cross. Likewise within the Green Cross Henry Dunant defended the protection of women and their families. He considered women as the centre for family and society and when the family needs to function well, women need to be educated. By that time in 1896, women needed the authorisation from their husband in order to obtain an education.

Another dialogue for questions from participants was created and then there was a presentation: “Danse Habile” et “Anbumalar”. Educational projects realised by associations with remarkable actions. “Danse Habile” is about talented and handicapped people to create a Montessori space. In 2008 a dance festival will be organised. We saw a film of Madras in which mentally retarded children were educated. They all love dancing and singing. Isabelle Châtel, responsible for this project has presented this film in private schools in Geneva. The association now needs financial support in order to teach 77 handicapped children in Madras.

The end of the morning we witnessed the “Chorale des enfants” of the Swiss Montessori school of Vevey. This was a very lively and interesting performance of children from the children’s house as well as the elementary section of the school. Thank you, it was great!

During the last part of the congress Silvana Montanaro spoke again. She had to replace a speaker and spoke about “L’enfant est il l’avenir de l’homme? La place de la culture dans l’éducation nouvelle”. According to Silvana the first two years of life create the base for the child’s future. “The mother is the soil that accepts and nurtures the child, but the father is the sun that makes it bloom. The father must be aware of his place in the family constellation and should participate in the educational enterprise”. Montessori states in “The absorbent mind” that children are in love with their world. The newborn needs to be very near the mother and needs her contact the first days of life. The mother gives the child “vibrations”. These vibrations help him in his new life. Pediatricians should look at the child as a whole. According to Silvana “Montessori was a real genius, she said extraordinary things”.

Béatrice Missant closed down the row of speakers. She informed us about her Montessori work in France: “Une experience d’ateliers Montessori en école publique”. It is about experience of Montessori education during the public school time in Kindergarten as well as on elementary level. Montessori’s principles are applied in public school and accepted by l’éducation nationale de Versailles. While still implementing the Montessori philosophy, the objectives of the national educational program are obtained. On this event Béatrice has presented the book “Des ateliers Montessori à l’école”.

After the last questioning period at 15.30 H, André Roberfroid braught the “Colloque” to an end and expressed that he had experienced “deux jours passionnants”. The items that were discussed differed very much, but they all dealt with Maria Montessori’s idea about “life”. André had well retained the intervention of Philip O’Brien, Unicef, that education is worldwide and universal and that it calls for the striving of an engagement of everybody.

Finally Odette thanked the speakers, the participants and the sponsors like Gonzagareddi and Nienhuis and others. Likewise she was grateful to all the voluntary people who had helped her to realise this centenary congress in Geneva. Altogether there were a great deal of interesting talks and debates about Montessori and the future. We owe Odette and André and all the performers of this congress a warm acknowledgement. Indeed we would need to take the next urgent step now: to apply into our daily life, all this knowledge about the child, which originally sprouts from Maria Montessori herself.                                                                                                                   

Elisabeth HOUWELING