Montessori Alliance

August 2011

August/September 2011 PDF Version

August/September 2011

So here we are at the start of another academic year. Was it only me, or did the summer seem incredibly short this year?

This month we’ve been fortunate to have a contribution from Catherine Finnegan about her recent stint as a volunteer in South Africa. She and her cousin Lisa spent five weeks working in Little Eden. Her story is inspiring and we’re sure you’ll enjoy the pictures too.

Did you ever feel the need for a second opinion? Working in the same environment & with the same children can mean you become accustomed to interpreting situations in the same way regardless of the

unique challenges each situation presents. In this issue we decided to tell you a little bit about one of the support services we offer which is specifically tailored to your needs.

It’s that time of year again, time to don your wellies and rescue your gardening equipment from the spiders in the shed! Planting Spring bulbs is either something you love or hate, so we’ve included a helpful step by step guide on what, when and how to ensure you have a beautiful display of Spring flowers next year.

For the past week or so on our Facebook site we’ve been compiling a ‘Links’ section for our website of practitioners, tutors, students and would love you to send us your name, address & email so we can include you. Send it via the website or to & we’ll post it up as soon as we can.

Regards, Lyn

Over to You


Hi, my name is Catherine Finnegan and I am a Montessori teacher from Monaghan. I trained with the Montessori Education Centre in Dublin and have been teaching for the past six years. I had always thought about volunteering as a teacher and giving something back. My cousin Lisa (a fellow Montessori teacher) and I are members of the Oblate Youth Service (OYS), a volunteer group in Ireland, and when the opportunity  came up  to help in a school in Africa, we jumped on it.

At the end of June 2011 we boarded a flight for Johannesburg via Abu Dhabi, full of excitement but not knowing what to expect. We had chosen to volunteer at Little Eden; a special needs school/home, for children and adults with a variety of special needs, from mild to severe. It was set up by a very special Italian lady named Domitilla Hyams, initially as a charity home for orphaned children with special needs. Domitilla was a remarkable woman, not only did she start an institution, but at the time she disobeyed the horrific regime of the apartheid in South Africa, by taking in and caring for ALL orphaned children, regardless of skin colour.

On our arrival at Little Eden, we soon discovered it is just as the name describes; a little paradise. We were to spend time in a very special community, set out in the countryside about ¾ of an hour outside Johannesburg with the most tranquil serene setting of rust coloured soils and exotic birds and trees. On our first day we were given a tour of the ‘farm’ as residents described it. We got to see the classrooms, residents living quarters , the farm’s pet horse whom many of the residents got to feed/ride; the pecan nut farm which provided ‘jobs’ in the afternoon for some of the more able-bodied residents, and finance to assist in the day to day running of Little Eden.

We also got to visit the ‘wetlands,’ a beautiful area on the edge of the farm with exotic shrubbery, a labyrinth garden for meditation, and an eco-friendly water purification system for the farm. Little Eden we discovered was very up to the minute ecologically, and in tune with its environment. All residents were given the opportunity to feel part of this community, with many of the more physically able having their own jobs, of which they were very proud.

In total we spend five happy peaceful weeks with the residents of Little Eden.  We were housed in a cosy little log cabin, specially constructed for volunteers by the ‘music for the children foundation’.

We started our days quite early at 6am, since it was winter down there, and everything seemed to start a lot earlier, to take advantage of the sunlight.  The children/residents were in class by 7 am, having breakfast. Our job here was to assist residents, since many had a variety of physical disabilities (as well as mental) and found mealtimes hard. After breakfast, class began. I was delighted to see everyone arranged in a seated circle, ‘just like Montessori circle-time at home I thought.’ My first class was called ‘butterflies’, and although the ages ranged from 8 years to the late 20’s, many of them had a ‘mental learning age’ of 3-4 years old. They possessed such a love for learning, had fantastic concentration and were eager to discover anything new. I started my class just explaining who I was, and where I came from, showing them on the map and talking a little about Ireland. Thankfully they seemed to love it. Many other classes included basic topics, such as the alphabet, numbers, colours, seasons, song-time etc. I felt that both of us being trained Montessori teachers suited the situation perfectly, and although initially being afraid that we would be unable to contribute much, we soon discovered the opposite was true. Sunny evenings consisted of picking nuts on the pecan nut farm with some of the residents, helping at dance class with Sr. Tessa, a young missionary sister/teacher from India, or experiencing a music therapy lesson with some of my class.

On our last day we found ourselves having to say a hundred goodbyes with twice as many hugs. However they were not sad goodbyes because these people are so special in everyway. Their enthusiasm for life is infectious, and of course although they & we were sad to part, we were all delighted we had made new friends & been part of each others life for a short time.

Being involved by volunteering overseas has been a breath of fresh air. The children at Little Eden are not held back by their disabilities. They live life to the fullest, with much enthusiasm, smiles and laughter. It has been a great life affirming experience, and I would recommend to all teachers to give a little of their time. Give it a go and you will gain so much more than you ever expected. The beauty of Volunteering is that whatever you have to offer or give of yourself, even if it is just your time and some kind words, you can make a difference. There is no need to worry if you will be useful or ‘good enough’ as just being there IS enough. I learnt loads too especially about disabilities and special needs.  By living & learning with these people I feel I have learned so much more than I could have by just a book. I have brought back to my practice so may new ideas and new teaching methods from the South African teachers. I hope I will be able to apply these confidently in my own work. In addition I have many beautiful memories of teaching abroad, smiling pupils, the wonderful people I met, and of course the wonderful African sunset. All I can say is…try it!

Newsletter Spotlight

Newsletter Spotlight

Have you every felt overwhelmed by a child’s behaviour? Have you wondered how you’re going to reach a particular child and encourage him/her to participate in class? If you have then read on…

One of the services we provide is to act as a sounding board for challenging situations you may face in your setting.  A recent assignment we had took us to an Early Years setting in Dublin where the teacher was having difficulties getting a child to interact with materials & his classmates. Initially the child had bounded into school, took materials off the shelf & chatted with his school mates but 6 months into the school year & for no apparent reason this changed. When he was dropped at the school, he stood by the door with his coat still on and bag trailing by his side while his peers rushed & pushed past him. The teacher was understandably concerned about this change in behaviour and had tried different approaches; from helping him take his coat off to choosing material for him to use. She even tried ignoring him but was worried when he kept standing in the same position mumbling to himself. His peers had begun to comment on anything he did & at one point another boy excitedly told the teacher that Johnny had put his lunch in the fridge!  The teacher realised the situation was getting out of control, she needed help and she contacted us via our website.

One of our practitioners visited the school and spoke to the teacher, listened to her concerns, formulated a plan & then joined her in the classroom. As the pupils are used to visiting students completing observations in the class, they accepted our practitioner’s presence & quickly returned to their work. Johnny arrived and true to form he stood by the door. The ‘plan’ consisted of both teacher & our practitioner allowing Johnny to just ‘be’ without interacting with him unless he led the engagement.  This of course did not stretch to being rude, so after exchanging morning greetings Johnny was left to get himself organised.  The teacher had previously tried this tactic but had found it too difficult to continue for a full day & had reverted to cajoling & assisting Johnny before the first hour was over.  Watching Johnny without Johnny knowing he was being watched was difficult. Our practitioner sat on a child sized chair which she moved regularly in order to gain access to different parts of the setting & to conceal her observations from Johnny.

At times Johnny stood mumbling, yawning, looking out the window & watching the teacher. As the day continued he dropped his bag, moved closer to the table where two boys were chatting as they worked. He watched another child working with knobless cylinders and two others working on the floor with the cylinder blocks. When the children noticed him watching he turned away & mumbled to himself. He turned his attention to his bag, picked it up, looked at it & put it down.  During the morning he stole glances at the teacher watching her demonstrating exercises to others. When lunch time arrived he sat at the table but didn’t open his lunch box. At the end of lunch he became vocal, shouting ‘clean up, clean up’ & asking everyone to tidy up.  Circle time followed, everyone except Johnny was quiet, the teacher ignored Johnny’s outbursts and they fizzled out.

During the music & movement session Johnny stood apart from the rest of the children, gazing into the fish tank & talking to himself. His whole body was directed away from the group. He steadfastly tried to ignore the music but every so often his finger would tap out the rhythm. As the music got louder he got louder & seemed to be giving out to himself. His body started to turn to the music but he turned away and distanced himself from the whole group.  As our practitioner had been briefed on Johnny’s personal history she concluded that Johnny was using his whole body to protest about not being in control & not being the boss as he had been at home.  He tried very hard to detach from the setting but occasionally he’d get entranced by the music & actions and let his guard down. It seemed he wanted to be part of what was going on around him but he wasn’t letting himself & he didn’t know how to break the cycle he had created. In consultation with the teacher our practitioner formulated & executed a plan of intervention over the next week which involved giving Johnny choices & aiding his attempts at actioning those choices. At the end of the week Johnny was participating fully & happily in all activities. And at a recent meeting with the teacher we were told that Johnny is continuing to make progress & is a happy, secure child.


Topics discussed on our Facebook Page

As always our Facebook Page was really busy this month with everyone trying to get the most out of their free time and relax.  But like anyone who works with children you never truly relax, as your mind is constantly busy planning new exercises, buying materials & preparing your setting for the new academic year.

With children heading back to school we posted a link to an online version of the stay safe programme that includes plenty of lesson plans and worksheets to help children talk about and think about their feelings & situations.

We put a number of posts of Art & Craft ideas including how to make rose petal perfume, an ebook from Red Ted containing paper roll crafts for key calendar dates such as Chinese New Year and Halloween. If you’re looking for inspiration have a look at the Elmer’s glue website which has lots of photos of easy projects to do in class. Sometimes you just need to see a photo to realise ‘yeah I can do that…why didn’t I think of it!’ Getting sticky and gooey at least once a day is inevitable so why not get your children to make some slime.

Discussion about favourite pieces of practical life and sensorial materials elicited many responses with the knobless cylinders favoured by Montessori Print Shop, as she ‘loves the light bulb moment when the children realize they are the same size as the cylinders in the Cylinder Blocks’. Miriam Rice preferred the Red Rods with the Locks & Keys her favourite in Practical Life. An interesting version of an exercise came from Abraham Ramona who likes hiding objects in rice and asking children to find them using their hands. Our favourite piece of equipment is the cylinder blocks as they engage many of the senses.

We asked for feedback about summer camps children had participated in.  Ulla who is based in Sandymount, Dublin 4, ran a camp for 3-6 year olds all through July and for the last 2 weeks of August. Activities included art and crafts, baking and group games. It was Ulla’s first time doing it and the camp was well received by parents and loved by the children who attended.  As it was so successful Ulla plans to run the camp again next year.

Ida’s daughter aged 6 went to the Learn it Lego camp & she had a ball. “She was one of only 3 girls in a group of about 20 children who aged from 6yrs to 12yrs. She built working lifts, flexible “grabbers”, a motorised -battery run-vehicle which was raced against others built that day. They also built working catapults. They used special Lego Educational Kits and the instructors helped/guided them when needed. She loved it!!…and wanted to go back again this week….we will endeavour to attend weekend workshops over the coming year as “special treats”. The items she built were very simple versions of what the older children were building but that didn’t matter it was the sense of achievement and wonder of making her own moving working models ,she was so proud and excited about her work each day…as -I may add-was I. Well worth it if you have children with an interest in building and discovering the how and why.’

Another topic that garnered a good response was the use of television in an Early Years Setting. Opinion was divided with some practitioners saying that as there is lots to do and learn in a Montessori classroom, they feel there is no need for a television.  Some practitioners felt that parents have a hard enough job limiting television at home, never mind worrying about the amount they watch at school. On the flip side a number of practitioners stated they would use it on party days or for an educational purpose such as a DVD on recycling. Lilliput Montessori also uses it to show animated versions of stories such as the Gruffalo or Hungry Caterpillar. As Lilliput’s has a large number of non english speaking children who can get bored with stories that are being read as they have difficulty following & understanding them, they find these children will watch them in animated form. Lilliput’s Montessori doesn’t use television every day or even every week but feel it is another tool that is useful when used correctly. A similar opinion was offered by Virtual Montessori who says they use television sparingly & think it’s a good idea if used to extend and support lessons in class. Ida advocates the use of television but very, very sparingly. Ida’s setting plays DVDs in relation to themes they are following e.g. Day in Life of a: Vet, Fire-fighters, Police, Doctor, Dentist and also Eric Carl stories. She also uses tv to replay videos that the children have made (using the vtech video recorder) of themselves at work and play that day, this is something they enjoy doing and has pretty instant results for them. Whatever side of the fence you sit on it’s important to have a policy on television usage in your setting & that it’s adhered to. If you want to take it a step further take a look at this link from the University of Michigan.  TV & DVDs are welcome tools in a teacher’s toolkit especially when teaching children in the 6-9yr age bracket. On line media such as the BBC schools website, YouTube & national geographic website help bring the world to the child & is another way for them to experience something.

These are just a small selection of the topics we discussed during the month, why don’t you come and join us?



It’s time to get your hands dirty and start planting some bulbs for Spring next year.  We tend to assume everyone loves gardening & instinctively knows what, where & when to plant. Like most things in life there are things you do because you have to do them & there are things you do because you like doing them.  Gardening falls somewhere in the middle for many people, but when you’re showing children the wonders of creation you have to bite the bullet and increase your knowledge of gardening whether you want to or not.  And who knows, you may get to enjoy it!

First things first, what sort of bulbs should you plant?  Let’s keep it simple and plant some snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils & tulips.  Each of these rears their head in different months so you should have a nice spread of colour throughout Spring.  Snowdrops are first and appear in January.  They are low growing plants and the bulbs are quite small and fiddly to handle. Plant them before the end of November in holes 75-100mm (3-4ins) deep

Crocuses come in many different colours and even have websites dedicated to them. They flower throughout the year so the type of crocus you buy determines when it will flower. In common with snowdrops these are low growing plants and are mostly seen in Ireland in February.  Plant them in small clusters in holes of 75-100mm deep.

Daffodil bulbs are bigger than either snowdrop or crocus bulbs. Most varieties should be planted before the end of November in holes 15 cm deep. Plant the bulbs in small groups and mix different varieties which flower at the same time to add interest. Depending on the depth you plant them and of course the weather; daffodils can come into flower from February to late April. They are a statuesque flower with beautiful nodding heads and can be not only colourful but fragrant.

Tulips are taller than daffodils and provide a stunning sea of bright colours which seem to signal better weather.  The selection of colours, shapes and leaf pattern is mind blowing. A couple of years ago we planted tulips which were deep purple when they flowered. The next year when they appeared again they were red and yellow with the odd small purple one here and there! Different varieties flower at different times with some flowering in April and others in June. Most tulips are planted to a depth of 15cm and will grow to between10 – 70cm in height!

The attached link will show you how to plant bulbs using the ‘lasagne method’ which involves planting layers of bulbs which flower at different times in a container. This type of planting is perfect if you’re stuck for space or if the weather isn’t co-operating as you can complete the project indoors. While researching this article I came across a very useful site with wonderful pictures and detailed information about wildflowers which grow in Ireland. Planning ahead, as we tend to do, you could make matching cards of native Irish wildflowers & help the children spot them in the garden. in Ireland

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