Greetings from Vienna, Montessori and Peace Education

 

I have never been the best at keeping up to speed with writing regular blog posts. Strange seeing as I am certainly a talker when I get going. However, I suppose that given the fact that my topics of conversation often revolve around repetitions such as health and money matters and similar everyday stuff – it is probably just as well that I don’t write a blog post every day!

I would though like to write with warm greetings from Vienna. I have been here since the beginning of March and I am here until the end of July – possibly longer. I lived in Vienna previously – for five and a bit years. I first came over with the European Voluntary Service to work in a Caritas refugee home. That was back in 2003 so before the current refugee crisis. I then got a job working in an International Montessori Kindergarten near the United Nations in Vienna. I was invited to start work and to train to be a Montessori teacher at the same time. It was my first time working with children in an official capacity (I had done baby-sitting, GCSE Child Development and had worked with children in the refugee home). However, my employer said that the Montessori philosophy seemed to be quite similar in ways to the philosophy that I had worked with previously in L’Arche.

I say it to almost everyone that I meet – that Montessori philosophy has really influenced all of the work that I have done subsequently. I used it when working with adults with learning disabilities, when woking as an learning support assistant in a primary school, when doing private tutoring, when working at the Natural History Museum and in the other heritage work that I do. Following that first time in Vienna, I spent ten years in London and have now just returned! With it becoming increasingly more difficult to make my CV fit into any decent size, it’s a relief that at least now returning to my previous employer, I just need to do some alterations with the dates and do not add a completely new workplace!

Something that I really wanted to share in my blog is how inspirational I found the Austrian Montessori Symposium that just took place not too far from Vienna. I hadn’t known what to expect from the symposium but was very pleasantly surprised. Something that has been on my mind for a little while and in particular when retuning to the Montessori Kindergarten was the topic of peace education and basically the cliched quest of how to make this world a better place. I was so thrilled to be able to listen to speakers and take part in seminars that enabled me to contemplate and learn a bit more about Montessori peace education. Peace education underlies all of the Montessori education from birth – but it really gets to greater depths when working with children from school age onwards.

Montessori philosophy as I have understood it from the Kindergarten age, is that peace education begins with enabling the child to understand their place in the world. This is developed through offering the child ways of interacting with the world around them, which includes learning about the world through the different senses and through specially devised materials and activities. An activity that has always felt special to me is the land, water, air activity that we did/do in the Kindergarten. Through collecting these elements one by one and through talking about them – beginning with our observations – we realise how lucky we are on this planet – to have all these things that we need and it encourages us to look after this planet.

The first lecture of the Symposium was by Judith Cunningham and she talked about peace education in Montessori. She talked about how this is achieved through Montessori’s cosmic education. Some of the other key words I jotted down during the talk are: the great lessons (and great questions), grace and courtesy, the interdependency chart, the fundamental needs of people chart, one nation, my part in the world, the great river chart – need collaboration – as a metaphor for human collaboration.

I was blown away by the project that she set up which is the Montessori Model United Nations. Young people aged 9-15 get to be United Nations ambassadors and take place in a construction of the United Nations processes. It sounds absolutely amazing and works by giving the children the chance to meet children from around the world and to discuss the real issues of this age. The young people must represent a country other than their own and so they get to feel what it is like in another countries shoes as such. It makes the most of the knowledge that Montessori had that young adolescents are agents for change – that they have a huge sense of justice, human rights and civic responsibility. The aim is that young people feel empowered as opposed to the hopeless feeling that is so common in this day and age. The young people work in the way the UN do to come to a consensus on the issues they discuss and create resolutions and vote on them! Anyway watch the video – it says so much more than I can here. I also apologise if I have misquoted anything. They have also set up the Youth Impact Forum as a way of sustaining the goals the set out at the MMUN events.  Anyway I could say more about the conference (there was lots more) and I could probably say more better. However, I guess I now want to be responsible for working out what I can do to contribute more to a peaceful world. I am enjoying working with children again and using the Montessori Method and I also want to find out more about Montessori Peace Education.