Activities a child engages in, his responses to situations, his likes and dislikes … the Maitri Conference helped reinforce the Montessori principles of education as a way to prepare children for the future

Start your kids — on the day they enter home — on Montessori education; the equipment and the elaborately-planned approach will enhance their concentration, independence and confidence, said the mother-and-two-daughter team of Montessori practitioners from the U.S. in their workshops for teachers, teachers in training and parents in the city. Remember our own Montessori connection? Dr. Maria Montessori visited the Theosophical Society, Madras, in 1939, conducted several training courses and laid a strong base for the Montessori movement in India. The Indian Montessori Centre had invited the team to India to address its second Maitri Conference, held at Ethiraj College. And yes, the workshops helped to reinforce the Montessori principles of education as a way to prepare children for the 21st Century.

Paula Lillard, the mother is an authority on Montessori theory and practice and has been on the Boards of the American Montessori Society and the Association of Montessori Internationale (AMI), U.S. AMI-trained daughter Lynn Lillard helped Paula found the Forest Bluff School run on Montessori principles, taught a Young Children's Community classroom for kids aged 18 months to three years and co-authored, with her Montessori From the Start, a guide on Montessori teaching “from birth on.” The other daughter Angeline Lillard, is Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and has research projects that prove the soundness of Montessori's principles. Her Montessori: the Science Behind the Genius is a best-seller.

“The seed had been planted in me,” said Lynn explaining her migration to the Montessori way after studying Studio Art. “Conversation at home was always about this.” The atmosphere at her kid sister's school rang a bell — if they started infants on this method they could change the world. Prof. Angeline simply didn't like what was happening in her kids' school. “I had to look deeper into the system,” she said, “my ideas were supported by research.” Paula is happy that Montessori is now recognised as a form of education that encourages innovation in learning and responsibility in behaviour. “There are misconceptions about it,” she agreed, but her school, lectures and well-written books should dispel doubts about the need for Dr. Montessori's methods. “It's getting into middle and high schools,” she said.

Lynn's presentation at Nurture School drove home the message with photographs of her grandson from the day he was born to the 18-months that he is today. The visuals of the activities he engages in, his playthings, responses to situations and his parent's interaction formed practical lessons. Pictures of her school allowed a glimpse of an ideal learning environment for kids.

“We help kids explore life around them, facilitate an environment of learning,” said Paula at the end of the workshop. Added Angeline, “Kids love to learn and we deliver it in the way they want it.” Said Lynn, “Parents look for help, we work with them.”

“What would you like them to learn from?,” Paula asked pointedly. Mickey Mouse, Ninja turtles, plastic phones and keyboards? Do they need non-stop entertainment? Do you let them eat anything, sleep anytime, or give them a good diet and organised sleeptime?”

“Giving them tools early on to recognise language sounds is to empower them. When they touch and learn, they don't just memorise, they get the idea, they imagine. Kids who have gone through this system have an internal sense of direction and good relationships with people around,” said Angeline.

Predictably, the trio is against giving digital gadgets to kids. “Kids need to handle stones, look at real (not angry) birds, the sky outside,” they said. The world of TV/iPad is not multi-sensory, they point out. “You can't stick your hand in it, it is artificial. Thinking skills are stunted when answers are found quickly by punching keys.”

Angeline agrees a laptop can replace a backload of books. But why do kids have to “learn” everything from books? Why not from primary sources such as museums, forests and rivers? “Computers are addictive,” warned Paula. “The dopamine rush will change the brain. Give it to them at 12.”

The workshop touched a chord. “Observing kids is the crucial part of the method,” said Rupa Krishnaswamy, teacher at Nurture School. “Teaching is about what kids need so we change the materials according to the stages of development. What is paramount is to promote calmness in the atmosphere and in the child.” That makes a lot of sense in our noisy world.

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