By Jason Phillips
A number of DVMS staff attended the Canadian Association of Montessori Teachers annual conference on November 1. I sat down with them to get some feedback on what stood out, what they learned, and what they are bringing back to DVMS and their own practice. The CAMT conference featured keynote speaker Paula Polk Lillard, of Forest Bluff School, in Lake Bluff, Illinois, and a number of workshops offered by a wide variety of experts in a number of areas.
Paula Polk Lillard is about as close as it gets to being a Montessori celebrity, how was her keynote?
Elizabeth Flenniken (Casa East Assistant): She is such an eloquent speaker, a beautiful speaker. The way she described Montessori is how we want our classrooms to be. She also described the ideal infant bedroom, just basic simplicity, she really pulled it back to that. She just spoke so beautifully.
Dylan Hudecki (Casa North Guide): The info she gave about toddler programs was very useful. She really showed how capable toddlers can be if we allow them.
Pat Stephens (Casa South Guide): She was very eloquent. I loved what she had to say about adolescence. She went through all the stages and what the changes are. She said that adolescents are like infants. They need the same amount of time and care as infants. You would think as they grow older they need less and less, but actually they need just as much as an infant.
The CAMT conference always has a wide variety of workshops. Which ones stood out for you?
Holly Schefold (Casa East Guide): Lynn Jessen’s workshop on toddlers was great. [“Montessori from the Start: Lynn will explore the development of concentration and independence during the earliest stages of a child’s life and how those qualities are the necessary foundation for later character traits such as confidence, persistence, and authentic trust in oneself.”] She talked about how concentration is the basis for all learning.
She even talked about how to setup and how to prep the bedroom environment, where the whole room becomes the crib. They’ll have to transfer out of a crib at some point, so do it before they know anything different. If they are free to roam in a safe environment it takes away frustration and brings freedom. She talked about how kids can just get up and play and explore in their room and someone in the audience raised her hand and said, “But my child sometimes just plays in her room for up to 2 hours.”
“It’s OK if a child is playing by themself for couple of hours,” Lynn reminded us. She also talked about setting up your house for kid access: get a low table instead of a high chair, for example, and get to their level.
She also talked about a book called The Big Disconnect, by Catherine Steiner-Adaire, that’s about kids and technology. “The only place for TV in the home is in the parents’ bedroom,” is the quote that stuck out. [see our previous article “Kids and Tech: A Leveled Article Review” for more on the discourse around children and the exposure the technology at different ages].
Laura Ward (Casa North Assistant): I liked “The Connected Classroom.” [Jennifer Kolari: Kolari has developed a technique called CALM which takes into account a therapy technique called ‘mirroring’, and guides teachers and administrators to empathic relating through a four step process].
It was about connecting with resistant kids. You need to mirror their emotions. They need to hear you, that you know how they feel. Doing that helps them connect to the classroom, to jobs. We should flip it from ‘the child is negative’ to mirror their frustration and help them overcome it.
Elizabeth Flenniken (Casa East Assistant): Stuart Shanker’s [“What Adults Can Do to Enhance the Development of the Neural Systems Subserving Self-Regulation: Recent advances in developmental neuroscience are dramatically altering our understanding of what adults can do to enhance the development of children’s brains. In particular, we now recognize that the better a child can self-regulate the better he or she can master complex skills and concepts. Dr Shanker will talk about the factors that impede and the experiences that promote the wiring of the neural systems subserving self-regulation and self-awareness.”] The whole time he was talking I was thinking of different children he could be referring to.
I would have like more advice about what to do. It was more about what’s happening in the brain. It made sense, but I’d like to know what to do practically.
He talked about how we have kids with symptoms that are wrongly diagnosed. Symptoms might be due to lack of sleep, poor nutrition, or a sedate lifestyle. The simple takeaway from it would be “Everything in moderation.”
Dylan Hudecki (Casa North Guide): The yoga workshop was fantastic [Antoniette Finelli: kid friendly yoga poses, reflection, co-operation, and stillness. Brain Gym, Mindfulness, and simple cooperative games will be introduced and explored].
It was about how to do yoga, but also that yoga is not always about the peaceful, calm stereotype; it is also useful in regards to movement. Animal poses, for example, can be about getting exercise, breathing, and other beneficial extensions and advantages.
Pat Stephens (Casa South Guide): There were two. I liked “The Sound of Silence: A Workshop in Mindful Listening ” [Ronit Jinich, Montessori Without Borders, Toronto; Lucas Tensen – Musician: this 1.5 hr workshop promises to awaken participants’ curiosity towards listening practices via sound, and its application into every day life, both at home and in school settings.]
I had seen Ronit before, the workshop was lovely. It was about yoga, peacefulness, and mindfulness. Some of the things we already do; we have a yoga activity in the class.
The other was Stuart Shanker. He knows a lot. He went off on a lot of interesting tangents, but the focus was on stress and how it always disrupts the body’s homeostatic systems. Kids under stress literally cannot hear you — their inner ear shuts down. I didn’t know that before. Telling a child in distress to calm down is talking to the wrong part of the brain. Kids under stress can’t pay attention, can’t regulate their emotions, see everything in a negative light, can be hyper-excited, and get into fights.
He said the number one stressor for kids is lack of sleep. There are two kinds of sleep: restorative and non-restorative. The REM sleep we need is from restorative sleep, and any exposure to LED lights — computers, ipads, and other technology — within an hour of bedtime results in high tension remaining in the body and they can’t get enough restorative sleep. The tension remains in the body and they feel like they are under threat.
Nutrition is also a factor. Sugar and sodium especially. Too much sodium leads to dehydration and tension, which causes a craving for junk food that has sugar and sodium. Kids can’t reason their way out of this cycle. You have to address the stressor that caused the craving in the first place.
He also talked about natural vs. unnatural light. Unnatural lighting emits a sound that influences the hypothalamus region of the brain and can make children feel like they are under threat. It all comes down to the hypothalamus. Stress affects the hypothalamus which causes the fight or flight response.
What ideas, innovations, or practices did you discover at CAMT that you are looking to bring back to your own practice and environment?
Dylan Hudecki (Casa North Guide): Learning how to teach kids to throw and catch. At the yoga workshop we learned to throw cloths, which are easy to catch. It was an eye-opening experience. I bought some cloths and made up a container for them and put it in place, now the kids are catching better.
Laura Ward (Casa North Assistant): I’ve really been trying to practice what I learned about connecting with the resistant kids, to see things from their point of view.
Pat Stephens (Casa South Guide): We try to turn the lights off as much as possible. We’re lucky where we are because the room gets so much natural light. I’m also trying to be more aware of their sleep patterns that might be causing stress, and to just be more mindful of what is a stressor for kids. I also learned to try and give them the tools they need to deal with their own stress, based on whatever the stressor might be.
From the Silence workshop just a few things to add to what we already do. Like a breathing exercise where you have the children slump like a wilting flower and ask them to breathe. Then you have them stand tall and try to breath, so they can feel the difference and think about their breath and breathing.
Getting together with a large group of Montessorians from schools all over Ontario is always an invigorating experience. What highlights stood out for you other than the talks and workshops?
Holly Schefold (Casa East Guide): The lunch was great. Just connecting with others and reconnecting with past co-workers.
Elizabeth Flenniken (Casa East Assistant): It makes you feel rejuvenated. It gives you feelings of “Good, I’m doing it right,” or of “Oh, that could change.”
Holly Schefold (Casa East Guide): It made me thankful I work where I do.
Laura Ward (Casa North Assistant): Sharing different behaviour management strategies was very valuable, as well as other ideas on how to manage a classroom.
Dylan Hudecki (Casa North Guide): People want to observe us, people have heard of DVMS; that’s exciting.
And the round table was great. Other teachers would tell stories about certain children — anecdotes or case studies, sort of — and the rest of us all gave strategies and tips.
Thank you to CAMT and all the presenters. If anyone else who attended would like to share their experiences at this year’s conference, please post a comment.