Thursday, June 11, 2020

What Babies Want

Joseph Chilton Pearce (January 14, 1926 - August 23, 2016)
Ancient Encoded Wisdom
What Babies Want
audio interview series - volume 1 (excerpt)

“I think one of the surprising things about the 21st century is coming into full awareness of what’s involved in the birth process. At one time we probably had that awareness, way back there, women just carried it in their genes, but it kind of just got lost in the shuffle, particularly in the Middle Ages and male domination and so forth. And so the rediscovery, the full dimensions of what birth means, I think has been one of the great scientific discoveries of the world, if you like. 

There really is no such thing as a natural childbirth, because we are nature. What we do with childbirth is what nature is doing with childbirth. And I think we have the chance now, through all of the research and study that has been done, to seriously bring about a revolution of the type and kind of human being we have on this planet. 

We have the chance to erase all forms of violence through the proper approach to pregnancy and birth and the first three years of life alone. 

And that is a big statement but I am convinced of it by the research that has been done and that is opening up now.

I think of the work the Swedish pediatrics group has done in Sweden and the way their government has picked up their research and brought about a real revolution there in the elimination of crime and violence, saving all the great human tragedy and  expense that kind of violence is. We could do the same thing here. 

Research now shows very clearly that the mother's emotional state during pregnancy determines the actual shape, nature and character of the brain structure that grows in the infant; this has been established without question. All mammals follow the same pattern.

If the mother is in a state of high anxiety, fear, worry, and so forth, she gives birth to an entirely different brain structure, one with much larger - what we call the old hindbrain - the survival brain, the sensory motor brain and a much reduced size of intellectual, creative brain. 

It is though, at every birth, nature is saying, well, ‘can we go for more intelligence or do we have to defend ourselves again?’

The fact that we know that now, we know that it makes a profound difference on the types of citizens we have in our country. 

Through that then, we can simply, by serious massive support of the mother from the moment of conception on, we can bring about tremendous change - just in that support of pregnancy.

And then the discovery of people like Allan Schore and others that show that within the first 18 months of life the shape of the brain is literally, again, transformed or deformed by the emotional state that the mother is in in her dealings with the child. 

Research and information like that, especially neuro-cardiology, the new discoveries about the brain, literally the neurostructures in the heart, and the unmediated neurostructures that connect the heart to the emotional brain and the affect this has if those connections are made, and those are the connections made at bonding or are lost, and if those connections are made you have a totally different operation in that child than if they are not made. 

James Prescott, 14 years as the head of all of child development at the National Institutes of Health turned out a study, he and his whole department, on the Roots of Violence. 

He said the roots of violence are right there in the delivery room and of course we know it is also in pre-natal as much but that was not known really at that time, and the first critical year or so after birth. 

So we know that the result of that constant betrayal of the child, feeling betrayed by the world, we know there is a great rage factor. We know the rage factor is caused by literally hormonal imbalance in the body. If you read Allen Schore’s studies of what happens to the betrayal of the toddler is they are caught between the conflict of maintaining a relationship with the mother and the same time to trying to explore their world. 

He points out that the average American mother issues a harsh prohibition against their, child’s behavior, once they get on their feet, not so long as they are in the crib, they are safe there, but once they get on their feet and start exploring the world, the average American mother issues a harsh, negative prohibition every 9 minutes that the child is in a waking state. That is they hear a constant ‘no’, ‘don’t’ from every direction, about their behavior. 

And the result of this is a collapse of the neurostructures in the brain that produce such things as dopamine and all of those hormones which keep us in a tranquil state. And a tremendous activation of those fight/flight hormones that put us on alert against a world we can’t trust, so that we are constantly on guard and defensive and quick, reflexive, retaliation for anything we interpret as an insult to us or a threat to us. 

And so you get the hindbrain, with its reflexive survival instincts accentuated and the forebrain with its reflective, intellectual, nurturing kind of intelligence suppressed by the treatment of the caretakers of that child during that critical period. 

And as Allen Schore shows in the huge work of his 2,300 research citations, by golly, that this affects the infant’s behavior for the rest of his life. And he traces all pathologies of the adolescent and the adult to that critical period between the 11th and 18th month. And he has got massive research behind him. 

Conflict between the child’s caretaker and the child’s need to build and structure and explore his world as a toddler, that conflict, profoundly affects the emotional brain itself which shows up as the rage factor and violence later in life. 

So it is a very specific and very easily spotted biological response to treatment of the child in the earliest period.

Bruce Lipton said we are just a glorified cell. When nature created a cell a billion years ago it was the most incredible creation in the universe and everything since then has just been an expansion of this cell, which is just its own brain and  everything else. And he said ‘When this new life, whether human or anything else, comes into this world it has only two choices, it can expand and embrace the universe or collapse and defend against it; it can’t do both.’ 

And our children, through betrayal in their world out there, collapse into a harsh, defensive reaction against a world that they can’t trust. 

So it all depends on whether or not they are met with love and unconditional love and support and nurturing by their caretakers in the first three years of life or if they feel abandoned you will have violence later on. It is a one-to-one correspondence between the two behaviors."      
JCP - "What Babies Want" interview back cover: Joseph Chilton Pearce is a well known author of many books, including Crack In the Cosmic Egg, Magical Child, Evolution's End and more recently, The Biology of Transcendence. He is an exceptional speaker on human intellignece, creativity, and learning.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

2019 Rome 0-2 International Montessori Course

0-2 Course participants with Paola Della Camera (CEMEA Lazio) 
and Newborn Assistant Letizia Varrone

Rome June 21- July 6, 2019
The course was a first attempt to recreate a learning atmosphere where the participants learned through direct experience and self discovery, rather than didactic lessons given as lectures. It was not an easy mission and we experienced many emotions about how things went. Paola Della Camera was our Italian grandmother, our Nonna, who had us put down our notebooks several times a week and led us in CEMEA activities that felt like going to Montessori summer camp. CEMEA was described in the article "Reflections on the activities of independent discovery in the first two years of life" in a previous blog found here

"The preparation of the social climate was important to create a safe non-judgmental space where every form of comparison and competition was eliminated, helping the participants confront and eliminate the primary obstacle in human relations: continuous judgement." GHF

The video created by one of our participants opens with Rosa Maria Muzzarelli talking about meeting Adele Costa Gnocchi. Minnie (Rosa Maria) and Letizia offered us a view into the original Scuola Assistenza all'Infanzia and what they learned from their teachers Anna Di Palermo and Rita Carusi. The newborn is the most difficult to understand since you have to learn to read behavioral communications, not just which cry you are hearing and what it means - but how autonomic movements and reflexes indicate stress and over stimulation. 

The opening audio of the video:
Miss Costa Gnocchi would call every new student into her office and tell her "sit there, now I'm going to ask you some questions" and she would ask: "What do you do? What don't you do? What have you studied? Are you interested in the Child?" And she would continuously say, "You must observe, that's what you have to do, observe."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Are 0-3 materials Montessori materials?

Question: what is the origin of the materials that are in Montessori 0-3 Training Albums?

Juneau Montessori toddler classroom shelf

On many occasions I have said "The Montessori materials for 0-3..." to the folks at Centro Nascita Montessori and they look confused, "but Montessori did not develop these materials. The Montessori materials are those that she developed for the Casa dei Bambini." To these pedagogues, Montessori's materials are in a different category. The 0-3 materials came after and were developed by Adele Costa Gnocchi's students (Adele Costa Gnocchi was one of Montessori's students from her 1909 course.) From 1947 to her death in 1952 she was in contact with Adele Costa Gnocchi but she was not living in Italy, and while the study was being done for the youngest children and the newborn, she was not directly involved.

That said, it is all just semantics, after all, which words we choose to use... 

But we are so very careful with the words we use because we know that words reflect culture and carry meaning in and of themselves, so we do want to be attentive with words and clear about why we have chosen them. 

For example, we are very careful in Montessori circles not to say "toilet training" because, though we train (conditioned experience, think Pavlov) puppies to use the newspaper and then later to go outside, we offer a learning experience to children. 

But isn't it interesting that we are so careful not to say it regarding babies who are learning to pee in the toilet but we use it almost 100% of the time for us adults in most every context. We go to trainings to learn. We have a training center where we get a diploma. We are trainers, those who teach others. Is it disrespectful to say "we are getting a Montessori training" because it has a different context than "we are learning about ourselves and how we can work with children in a respectful way"? Are we being 'trained' (conditioned) or are we 'learning something through our own direct experiences' like learning to use the toilet is for a young child?.

So I've been 'trained' here in Italy not to say "Montessori materials" for 0-3. They are simply not her personal inventions. 

But who did invent them?

My understanding from reading the testimonial by Gianna Gobbi and Rita Carusi on  page 116 of the book Radici nel Futura: La vita di Adele Costa Gnocchi (Roots for the future: the life of Adele Costa Gnocchi, by Grazia Honegger Fresco):

During the 10 years that the Montessori Assistants to Infancy School (la Scuola Assistente all'Infanzia Montessori, AIM) was Adele Costa Gnocchi's "Training Center" (before it became a government run program) they created, all of the students, a selection of materials that were designed and invented and then could be experimented with, under the direct supervision of Adele Costa Gnocchi. 
"Fin dagli inizi fu assai formativo per le allieve imparare a progettare e a costruire gli oggetti..." 
"From the beginning it was an important part of the formative experience as students to learn how to design (progettare) and build (costruire) materials based on what we were observing" and 
"andavano studiati..."
"they had to be studied" meaning the clothes, the furniture, the toys (all of the diverse aspects of the material environment) had to be understood based on the aim of the child's direct use of them rather than based on the practicality of the adults needs, as was the general custom at the time (and still today in the commercial offerings).
In the footnote to the sentence I summarized above goes into more detail about how they had invented many materials after 10 years of working on them (the students at the Scuola AIM), it seems that in particular, Laura  Bolasco, under Adele's direct supervision, designed various small pieces of furniture and diverse wooden materials based on "the creative efforts of all of the students" 
"piccoli mobili e numerosi oggetti, sopratutto in legno, particolarmente studiati per i primi tre anni di vita. Non tutelati da brevetto, vennero facilmente imitati e rivenduti ad alto prezzo negli stati uniti, sotto altra... paternita'!"
"small furniture e various objects, mostly made out of wood, and carefully designed for the first three years of life. Not being protected by a patent, they were easily imitated and sold at high prices in the United States, by another ... lineage!"

In the article "the Cosmic task of the youngest children" also by Grazia Honegger Fresco, recently published and available online through the link below, you can find this excerpt where she talks about inventing materials.

"Just after receiving my diploma from the School AIM, I began working at the Scuoletta at Palazzo Taverna in Rome, directed by Signorina Costa Gnocchi (as everyone called her). I was working with 10 children between the ages of 14 and 30 months. We soon realized that the children between one and two needed something more. At one point in 1949 or 1950, I don't remember precisely, I started to create materials that were made specifically to meet the need that I saw emerging intensely in the youngest ones. These materials were designed to respond to the passion for the in-and-out activities that the children, driven to find the many spaces into which they might insert different kinds of objects, and do it in all possible variations.
The first piece I built was a large dowel with rings. I made it by attaching the end of a broomstick to a wooden disk (six inches in diameter and three quarters of an inch thick). I put three wooden curtain rings on the dowel. It was very successful: the children would carry it around and from time to time they would stop to take off the rings and put them back on, repeating this action with great attention. 
This encouraged me to create other things such as simple wooden shapes cut out with a jigsaw and inspired by the Flat Wooden Insets, commonly referred to as the Geometric Cabinet, and historically called Geometric Insets in Wood, or Cabinet of Wooden Insets and Frames) just one or two circles with large knobs for easy grasping. Later on, some colleagues started designing and building educational toys as well. We built cardboard trays with compartments for the first simple experiences in gluing as well as trays for collections of pictures, so important as an aid to emerging language. We also made frames that had three large buttons, like the one I saw in a photo from a Montessori Nido in Sochi, Russia (Il Quaderno Montessori vol. 110, page 6, 2011).
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, one of Adele Costa Gnocchi’s students, Laura Benedettini Bolasco, designed and produced many new types of materials. Some of these were even bought by the Americans who had come to Rome to study the new methods for the youngest children (In 1963 Rita Brandimarte, an Italian woman, studied under Adele Costa Gnocchi and earned a 0-3 diploma. She then moved to the USA and is the first to introduce Montessori 0-3 to Americans, the first ones were Virginia Varga and Pam Wise. In 1966 the first toddler Montessori childcare is opened in Dayton, Ohio.)
It was common practice thereafter in our training courses for 0-3 educators for the students to develop their own handcrafting abilities in order to respond to the needs of these youngest children. Inventing and creating educational materials is an excellent opportunity for adults to reflect on children's motor development in this phase of life."

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Part 6: Reflections on the activity of independent discovery in the first two years of life

[This article is by Grazia Honegger Fresco, you can read the first five parts in previous blogs]
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5 


Il metodo della pedagogia scientifica applicato all’educazione infantile 
nelle case dei bambini. Città di Castello, S. Lafi, 1909.
  • In 1909 Maria Montessori wrote a book called The Method of the scientific pedagogy applied to the education of children in the Children's House. From the very beginning this book was spread around the world under the titleThe Montessori Method, thus leaving out the most important part, the scientific pedagogy.  “Scientific pedagogy” means an educational science based on observation and therefore, a scientific method. The change of the title and the misunderstanding that it is Montessori’s Method has slowly led to a rigid construction of an unchanging method that is not always congruent with the reality of who children are today.
  • Maria Montessori had an extremely keen scientific mind  and was very attentive to new developments in science. She demanded precision and rigor, but not as an end in itself, but as regards the needs of children and adolescents.
  • Maria Montessori said that we can never really teach anything to another person. She said this in many different ways, speaking about people who were studying to be future teachers, as well as referring to how children learn. Do we attempt to teach children how to live in the world? Or do we create the conditions in which they can express themselves and optimize their potential? How can we realize her most fundamental principle: Follow the child?
  • Maria Montessori said “Every unnecessary help is an obstacle to development." Is this just a figure of speech or is it the most basic educational clause that goes all the way back to Socrates?
  • Maria Montessori's positivist ideology* carried over into her work of observation of the child: first we must have practical and observable experiences and then we can apply a theory to our experiences. Nowadays, most everywhere, courses are organized under her name as conceptual learning experiences, mostly theoretical, in which students learn modalities and norms in an abstract sense, without the possibility to question or engage in discussion (see chapter III of the Advanced Method (1916) or The Montessori Elementary Material (1965).
  • Galileo risked being burned alive when he declared that the earth revolved around the sun. If astronomy had stopped there, we would still be dealing with the Inquisition of four centuries ago. 

For this reason I hereby declare that we are at risk of a gradual transformation to a closed minded dogma or orthodoxy that could eventually become the end of a great revolutionary thought.

Maria Montessori, as I was able to know her in her last years, and as I found many many times reflected in some of her best students, offers us intelligent true heartedness, openness to innovation, and a continuous search, given that humanity is constantly changing. Every new child brings unique and absolute innovation, to the extent which we are not even able to imagine.

Grazia Honegger Fresco, Castellanza, Italy  June 2018

* Positivism is a philosophical theory stating that certain ("positive") knowledge is based on natural phenomena and their properties and relations. Thus, information derived from sensory experience, interpreted through reason and logic, forms the exclusive source of all certain knowledge. Positivism holds that valid knowledge (certitude or truth) is found only in this a posteriori knowledge (wikipedia).

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Part 5 - Reflections on the Activities of Independent Discovery in the First Years of Life: What methodology?

[This article is by Grazia Honegger Fresco, you can read the first four parts in previous blogs]
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Part 5 (below)
The methodology commonly used in 0-3 Montessori trainings, both in Italy and abroad, is:
  1. To establish what a child "is able to know how to do" at a given age and then train the child to be able to do this, this does not respect each individual child's own initiatives,
  2. To continuously talk to the child, intervening and interrupting the child's activity, even when the child is very focused on what he or she is doing, which does not respect his or her concentration,
  3. To prepare the environment with all of the objects that are theoretically correct and then adapt the child to the environment, with the goal to "normalize" the child. This denies the child of his or her potential discoveries, or personal discoveries, and is therefore an attempt to condition the child and develop prescribed abilities.

The method used by Maria Montessori, Adele Costa Gnocchi and their collaborators begins with specific observations of each individual child in order to respond to particular interests and personal needs. 

It is not done with the aim of stimulating the child but is, in fact, responding to the child. It is not done by giving unnecessary help which might be pushing the child to reach developmental milestones before their time. This kind of 'help' inhibits the development of independence and concentration and undermines the foundation of the sense of personal liberty.

We do not need pedagogical theories. What we really need are observational skills, especially in light of the latest scientific knowledge in brain development that looks at the effects of interactions between humans and the environment [epigenetics] and studies on the genome, ecology and comparative ethology.

Recently, we have seen the discovery of mirror neurons by Rizzolatti and his team. This research is remarkable, and confirming, on the scientific level, of Montessori's intuitions, which unfortunately are very often ignored or misunderstood these days.

To learn more about this you can look at the research done at the University of Parma in Italy, Fogassi et al. Mirror neurons and the simulations theory of mind reading. See also the writings of the neurophysiologist Alberto Oliverio, Geografia della mente, R. Cortina 2008 (Geography of the Mind) and Il cervello che impara/ Neuropedagogia dall'infanzi, Giunti 2015 (The brain that learns, the neuro pedagogy of childhood)

It is not true that the sensitive period of order begins around 18 months. This is a very serious mis-interpretation and is completely unfounded. Certainly, at 18 months the child is able to protest strongly against unwanted changes, but sensitivity to order, namely orientation, the gradual process of coming to know the mother (and the environment around the two of them) is an intensely active process and present from birth onwards, as are the sensory abilities of the child. Orientation and sensory awareness are like two compasses, particularly active in the first three months, a time when a baby is passed around to too many different people, seemingly with indifference to the need for stability. People who visit a newborn baby will handle him as they like: one day he is exposed to the bright light, the next day he is left in a dark room (“he is so small that he does not understand”). The child has an extreme need for stability and order during the first days; he needs to find the same sensations without radical changes and in principle – as Elinor Goldschmied argued as well – he should primarily have contact with only one person, his mother, and maximum with two.

For those of us who studied with Maria Montessori and Adele Costa Gnocchi, the 0-3 training verified the specific nature of each newborn beginning at birth, and believed the establishment of the first mother/infant bond to be incredibly important based on the observable, innate, self-regulating skills that we share in common with the young of every mammal. An extraordinary genetic and cerebral patrimony leads the newborn to immediately establish a relationship with his mother and to manifest from day one the need for continuity in the relationship with her, and for the habits that gradually are established between them.

And as for the two events of giving birth and being born – two individuals are involved and two experiences are lived – it is important to remember the fundamental contribution of Frédérick Leboyer (1918 -2017) to our understanding of the suffering inflicted on newborns, with his first book Birth Without Violence (Bompiani 1974) and, in his wake, the Italian Lorenzo Braibanti. And then there is Michel Odent, the author of a vast number of books in many different languages, including Primal Health, (Clairbooks 2002, ISBN I902636 33 3) and founder of the Primal Health Research Centre in London.

Despite all of this attention about the beginning of life, about the sensitivity with which every newborn must to be greeted – beginning with Montessori until today (see The Child in the Family – though poorly translated into English – and The Secret of Childhood) – nothing has changed in the standard practices. The recent World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, on birth, the care of the newborn, and breastfeeding – that we could have written ourselves - are completely ignored in the majority of the world's maternity wards, even in Europe and America.

The problem is that all of this is not central to Montessori courses today for 0-3, neither those given by AMI nor the ones in Italy offered by the Opera Nazionale Montessori, and this is a very serious concern. [Grazia is saying there is no guided experiential part in these courses for working with newborns and it is only presented theoretically]. The newborn and the child in the first year are completely undervalued: the initial phase of life is completely overlooked.

The result is that everywhere a 0-3 course is carried out, the practical focus is on children between 18 months and 3 years, and the result is a watered down Casa dei Bambini. In P. & L. Lillard's  Montessori from the start (Schocken Books, N.Y. 2003) and Angeline Lillard Stone's Montessori: the science behind the Genius (Oxford Institute 2005) there is not the slightest hint to the work of Montessori and Adele Costa Gnocchi on the child from birth to three). 

Fundamental differences became clear at the Prague Congress in 2017, where Karin Slabaugh, representing the work of Percorsi per Crescere and Centro Nascita Montessori, presented several films in the breakout session 'the Cosmic Task of 0-3' showing the creative activity of small children and illustrating the necessity, above all else, to give them a stable, protective and attentive relationship with a caregiver. Contrary to what we had understood, our school films were not screened during the Congress, and we were not able to share the novelty of these observations of the littlest ones that these school films demonstrated.
Grazia Honegger Fresco
The final part of this article will present Grazia's conclusions...

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Our Cosmic Task and Saint Francis

As I'm writing this just before Easter, I often think about Saint Francis, who I have spent the last few months studying. Recently, I went to Assisi to explore the town where he was born in 1182, 701 years before Adele Costa Gnocchi, but only 20 miles away. 
He was a nature lover, living often under the open sky, and he was friends with all animals. He wrote a song-poem Laudato Si' shortly before he died where he expressed the universality of nature, the oneness that we are all a part of.

"Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness."

Laudato si' is also the name of the second encyclical of Pope Francis, the first pope to take his name. The encyclical has the subtitle "on the care for our common home". In it, the pope critiques consumerism and irresponsible development and laments environmental degradation, and calls all people of the world to take "swift and unified global action."

Maria Montessori sang a similar song: she said that it is our “cosmic task”, the protection of the biosphere. And Grazia Honegger Fresco says that this “cosmic task” has its origins in the very beginning of life through the expression of what she defines as “the alphabet of human work”, universal characteristics of development that are completely observable. Respecting each person's drive to explore in his or her own way from the earliest days of life creates a culture of respect that is incarnated.
From the Cosmic Task 0-3 Films shown in Prague:
Maria Montessori thought that humans, like all species, have a task to fulfill, she called it "cosmic" - in harmony with the cosmos - that leads us to the awareness of the responsibility for the biosphere and the protection of all living species.
The sensitivity to such a task is not acquired all of a sudden in the adult phase, rather it is constructed step by step by the child, beginning at birth. But only if we respect him and foster all of his potential.
It is our task, I believe, as early childhood educators, to protect to the greatest extent possible, the originality of each child in the first years of life, allowing him to experiment in his own way with the objects he is attracted to. This is the first step on the path of peace that Maria Montessori envisioned: an education as an aid to life, for all of humanity.” GHF

Thursday, April 4, 2019

80 days to go: The newborn observation countdown

We are counting down the days until the launch of a new Montessori International Course in Rome that is about the youngest children, from the fertilized egg to the second year of life: the Primal Period as Michel Odent calls it. 

I have been working in a hospital for the last two years as a Montessori trainer for the staff of public health midwives and have been able to observe newborns there. It is precious to be in contact with new life.

Recently we added a corner to the room where pregnant moms and dads come for the prenatal courses. I moved my movement mat to Italy with me, believe it or not.... the movement mat that I sewed together myself by gutting my organic futon and using some of the cotton batting to make a thinner mat, covering it with organic duck cotton, a smooth canvas like cotton weave.

We hung a kicking ball over head by an elastic, constructed some mobiles and last week began inviting two moms at a time to come in for observations. The goal is to develop observation skills and the only way to do this is to put in time observing. We decided to invite a mom and baby to the prenatal class last week and 8 pregnant women spent an hour in silence, watching and listening to the comments I offered every once in a while.

Today we had two 2-month old girls. Both of them were fascinated by the mobiles above their heads and we watched them watch the mobiles turn slowly in the air currents. After 15 minutes sitting beside her little one, interacting with her and tapping the mobile every once in a while to make it spin, I invited her to sit in the "relaxation chairs" that make up the seats in this prenatal environment, and watch from there. Her little girl spent another 15 minutes studying the mobile and we talked about how they learn to focus through direct experience, and how movement is complex to understand and how interesting it is to them to watch things that they are trying to figure out. Mom was surprised by how concentrated her baby was and it was obvious that she was studying this set of moving objects above her.

This seemed like an important moment for these moms, who for two months have been immersed in being with and caring for their babies, to realize that "she's all grown up" "she doesn't need me anymore" for 15 or 20 minutes at a time, a new sense of freedom.