Monday, February 28, 2011

Mirror Neurons and Empathy

I love the idea of Homo Empathicus from this video. In my A to I training the most fundamental idea that struck me was that humans are hard wired to WANT to socialise, we are social animals, we learn not just by doing but by socializing and observing each other. A major emphasis on our work must be not just on the transfer of the ideas and knowledge/information, but on the RELATIONSHIPS among the children, among the families, the staff. The parts about mirror neurons are a great reminder of our role as primary models of behavior in the classroom.

Since watching this, I have tried to be much more self aware of my expression while I'm at school. What my face is communicating when, for example, I come into a conflict situation between two children or a hurt child can already affect the situation considerably.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Less is more.

I had been experimenting with dramatic reductions in the amount of materials available to the children for the last month. Then, at the AMI refresher course this weekend, the presenter, Annette Haines, said something that really struck me:

"Repetition comes naturally IF the environment is limited enough."

We have a large group of new children this year, all very young three year olds and although it's February, I had been leaning on a lot of transitional materials that I still felt these new children needed to sustain a 3 hour work period. Of course, as it happens with transitional materials (Legos, puzzles, etc.) the older children also end up working with them instead of with other materials. A few weeks ago I decided to just "see what happens" and took away all of the transitional materials, including some of the art works that are ALWAYS out. Not necessarily because I have anything against these materials (ie. clay, crayons, blocks) I still feel that they do have a place in the classroom and are educational, but what would happen without these staples?

I saw someone choose the red rods for the first time in AGES. That was one thing that happened. Explorations with the pink tower and brown stair deepened as children began to work with them more freely (the kind of exploration they had been doing with blocks.) A return to practical life happened when there were none of the automatic "go to" materials on the art shelf. And yes, aside from all these very positive occurrences, there was a slight fluctuation in amount of works out during the day (it took some children time to wander to rediscover the materials on other shelves that they had forgotten were there.)

I had thought that the refresher course was going to end up being a reminder of how all the Montessori materials are woven together into a perfect web of indirect preparations and interconnectivity. I guess what I wanted was the lecture that my trainer at MINW gave us in our last session of training, which inspired me to trust in the value of each material as part of an inter related whole that is the Montessori classroom, without needing to rely on additives.

Yesterday I returned to my classroom feeling strongly about the outcome of the past week's experiments. Feeling more emboldened in the pruning of the shelves, instead of the ever adding-on. Reaching out and not feeling a limit to the depth that the materials presented to me so many years ago have to offer. I am welcoming the mystery of all I have yet to learn about what is right in front of me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


"Stay without ambition, without the least desire, exposed, vulnerable,
unprotected, uncertain and alone, completely open to and welcoming life as it happens, without the selfish conviction that all must yield you pleasure or profit, material or so-called spiritual."