This year it was my honor to be one of the two examiners at the AMI (Montessori Association Internationale) 0-3 course at “Instituto Internacional Montessori” in Mexico City. I have been to Mexico several times but I was never able to spend so much time in the capital. I was ready to explore the Montessori world, the art, and the food in one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in the world



Juan Manual Micher MD, “Juancho”, medical lecturer for the Montessori course (and old friend from our work in Denver) was kind enough to accompany me to the interesting parts of the city where he grew up, and his appreciation of both the traditional and the modern art and architecture was obvious. Above is just one of the many churches and the very large drawings for the murals of Diego Rivera in his final art studio.



Every where in the city there are the street food sellers of traditional Mexican foods and people line up for it at meal times. But even in the most elegant restaurants one can find the favorites, like this taco filled with roasted grasshoppers (chapulín), fresh cheese (queso fresco), guacamole, and mole, a sauce made with chocolate and many spices.



The Soumaya museum is one of the most amazing buildings I have ever seen and the life drawing class was using statues of Rodin as their models. Brilliant. I was able to study the brushwork of some of my favorite artists and discovered that Kahlil Gibran, the author of the famous “The Prophet” was also an artist and played the violin. Here is the website in English if you would like to know more about this museum.



Coral Ruiz, AMI 3-6 trainer returned to her home in Puebla the same week that I arrived in Mexico and she invited me to visit her. We had been in touch for a long time about Montessori in Latin American but had never met in person. She sent a car to bring me the 2-3 hours (depending on traffic in Mexico City) to the beautiful old city of Puebla and back to Mexico City, past an erupting volcano, Popocatépetl!

First we visited her training center, Instituto Paolini de Peubla, and then walked around the lovely old city. Then she surprised me with a special lunch dish that is only available in August and that originated in Puebla. It is now famous all over the country.


This is the famous Chiles en nogada. The name comes from the Spanish word for the walnut tree, noga. It consists of poblano chilies – which are only large enough for this recipe during August – filled with picadillo, a mixture usually containing shredded meat, herbs, fruits, and spices. It is topped with a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds, giving it the three colors of the Mexican flag: green chili, white nut sauce, and red seeds. It takes at least 24 hours to make this dish and so Coral ordered my special vegetarian version ahead of time. As you can see, each dish is lovingly made and comes with a certificate of authenticity. Mine was number #4929. The restaurant was full and on every plate was Chile en nogada!

For more information on the AMI 3-6 course in Puebla, Mexico, contact:



One of the reasons that AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) teacher training courses continue to maintain a very high quality of training is that the examiners come from other training courses, and often from other countries. So it is not just the students, but also the entire course content, the environment, and the teacher trainers themselves who are being assessed. The written and oral exam questions come from the AMI headquarters in Amsterdam and everyone is working together to keep the international standards as high as possible.

Here is a picture of the first environment of the child, and my translator Maria. “Nido” is the Italian word for “nest” and it is the name of the environment for the child from birth until he or she is walking. The Montessori students learn how we can support the way an infant sleeps, eats, is dressed and bathed, and moves his body and hands, and how all of this care lays the groundwork for the way the child will feel about the world and himself. We support the physical, mental, psychological, and spiritual aspect of development through our actions and the by what we provide in the environment in the first year. After many years in the field, I believe that the Montessori training in caring during the first year of life is the most powerful way to help support balanced and happy human beings.


The IC or Montessori Infant Community is the environment for the child who is walking until age 2.5 or 3. It contains lovingly made and beautiful materials that support and developmentally appropriate “work” (which means “important”) that includes movement of the whole body, development of the hand, language, cooking, cleaning, polishing, music, art, dance, how to care for the environment, oneself, and each other, and so on. In this picture you can see the environment set up for exams (table in the corner) and notice that one of my own art prints graces the wall next to the dressing table where a child learns to care for his or her hair.


Although there are many beautiful gardens throughout the city, space is limited and so this school and training center have created a special stairway where there are appropriate risers and handrails for adults and children both to walk up and down to the roof top garden.


Here the children can climb and ride vehicles and they grow the vegetables that they prepare in the infant community and the flowers they use to make small flower arrangements to decorate the environment. They can climb and enjoy special meals. Also on the roof there is a place for the student who are taking the Montessori course to prepare and eat their meals out in the fresh air. One of the most valuable things about this training center is that there is a functioning Nido, and functioning Infant Community for children from the neighborhood in the same building, so the Montessori trainees can see how this “works” as they study.



The speeches by the student at the graduation were so moving that I was often brought to tears. The range of ages and professions was notable. For example there was one student who was just beginning her college career, and another who was an MD who is now teaching in an Infant Community during the week and practicing medicine on the weekends. They all told how the wisdom of this training had transformed them as human beings. I am so lucky to have ended up working in this field and it is a joy to see it spreading all over the world.



One of the last evenings, Chacha (Maria Teresa Vidales, head of training), Juancho, their daughter Teanny, and the other examiner Virginia Buckley toured the historic center of Mexico City and had dinner at Café de Tacuba, where the beautiful architecture, the traditional paintings on the walls, and the strolling musicians made me stand still in awe as I entered the restaurant and then walked around in a daze, listening to the musicians serenade, forgetting where I was, just soaking up the Mexican celebration of culture. This would certainly be an amazing place to take 0-3 training.


Here is more information on this special place to enjoy the art, music, food, and culture of Mexico.

In June 2017, for the first time, there will be an international course give in English with Spanish translations. Students will come from all over the world. For more information you can look on facebook or contact: Instituto Internacional Montessori,



The blue house of Frida Kahlo, known as “casa azul”, so inspired this lover of the color cobalt blue, then upon returning, knowing that it was time to repaint some of the doors of our home, guess what color we chose.



I have not started a painting from Mexico yet, but here is one from Lima, Peru where I was working just before arriving in Mexico City on this trip. I never have time to paint when working abroad, but I often make notes and take photographs. Above is a photograph of the fishing boats on the harbor of Lima, Peru. I was struck by the calm water, the variety of colors of the boats, and the pelicans quietly waiting for the opportunity to grab a fish.

Why do I paint?

Recently I have realized that no matter what problems of life may crowd into my brain and bring grief and sadness, when I am in my studio painting I can ignore them; there I control my world; I can turn anything into calm beauty.

Often when traveling, I have an inexplicable feeling of joy or amazement that I want to remember, or I just see a combination of colors that I want to reproduce — and the subject of the future painting is second in importance. So back at home I imagined what it would look like as the sun rose over the city of the city of Lima which sits on the cliffs above the beach, as it lit up the water and the boats. Above you can see the transformation of what I saw to what I felt.

I return to more work in Peru this fall, so stand by for more learning and sharing. I do hope you enjoy it.


Susan Mayclin Stephenson
Trinidad, California

Montessori, Education for the Future – One Example


On August 2, 2016, I presented a Montessori PowerPoint in a beautiful hotel in Lima, Peru. But before telling you about that I want to share a video clip of two Montessori students who gave all of us a charming demonstration of the Marinara dance, which I was so lucky to have studied when I lived in Lima many years ago. Still today children all over the country learn this dance as part of their studies.

The title of the talk was “Montessori, Education for the Future”

It is clear today that our traditional idea of a curriculum is outdated because the world is changing too quickly to predict even what professions will be valued in 10 years, so certainly then we cannot predict with certainty what subjects need to be studied to prepare for these professions! But there are many skills that are, and will be, vital. The 10 that I selected to talk about are all fostered and supported in Montessori environment.

These are: (1) exploration, (2) work and putting forth maximum effort with no external rewards, (3) repeating an activity until it is mastered, (4) focusing or concentrating on age-appropriate healthy activities, (5) self-control, (6) developing a mathematical mind, (7) communicating, (8) working with others with respect and kindness, (9) caring for the environment, and, (10) solving real problems.

Many of these skills are evident in the early days of life. I am going to give examples of just one of these natural human tendencies or skills, Visual Exploration


So often we hear people say, “babies only eat and sleep.” But there is a lot more going on that that. In the video above it is clear that this infant is entranced with the gentle movement of the mobile, that he is focused and concentration on this visual exploration and something important is happening in his brain. This does not happen with just any mobile, but it does with one so light that it moves gently in the air currants of the room. As far as the selection of appropriate mobiles we have learned that 5 elements is the maximum to keep from over-stimulating the child, and it is best to present either abstract shapes or images that he will store in his brain really moving this way, such as birds, butterflies, and fish – NOT elephants, clowns, apples, etc.

1 matteo ath eye contact 1


The dear friends I was staying with in Lima have a new baby, Matteo, just celebrating his 8th week of life. At the request of the family I gave the same PowerPoint to the mother and father, the grandmother, two university-age siblings and the boyfriend of Matteo’s sister. And all week we shared Matteo’s experience and discussed Montessori ideas. I will share just a bit of the visual exploration of our rich experience together, observing and meeting the needs of this infant.

1 a book

As a gift I had brought the Montessori 0-3 book, The Joyful Child: Montessori, Global Wisdom for Birth to Three, and the parents began to read a chapter every night.

(Available here: Montessori 0-3 books and materials)

Right away the family realized that Matteo was trying to sustain eye-contact with them, and they grasped the importance of not looking away from him until he signaled that he was finished looking into our eyes. After the bath, instead of rushing to dress him, being sure that he was warm, the father looked into his eyes until Matteo looked away.

2 eye contact with mama

Breast-feeding is a golden opportunity for the baby to look into the eyes of the mother, and at any other time the mother was sure to stop whatever she was doing to engage eye contact.


Before I came the family had noticed that Matteo seems happier when resting on the bed in his sister’s room than the parents’ room, so I suggested we lie down on both beds and see what he was seeing. What we discovered was that the light above the parent’s bed was much larger and gave off more light, too much light. Above the sister’s bed was a much smaller light and it was easier to look around the room. Returning to the parents bedroom we could see that even though there was a mobile on above Matteo’s bed it was large and it didn’t move, not interesting for long. And the ceiling and walls were bare white. While in the sister’s bed there was a lovely image of a tree on one of the walls, and a large wall-TV on the opposite wall. When we placed Matteo on her he moved his back and forth several times, studying both walls, looking at the tree and the TV which provided a high contrast of black against the white wall. What was he thinking about? Whatever it was we did not interrupt him. And of course I explained why it is better to have any TV’s turned off when he was near them.

3 matteo in car 1


On my last night in Lima the parents, grandmother, and I wrapped up Matteo and headed for the beautiful downtown area of Lima. For 45 minutes Matteo looked at the ceiling of the car just above him. We were astounded. What was he looking at? He craned his neck at times to look at different areas of the ceiling – even though as far as we could see there was nothing but a dark fabric. It makes one wonder if it is true, as some people think, that the very young can see things that we have forgotten to be able to see.

2a downtown

After these 45 minutes of uninterrupted concentration he was hungry and the mother fed him for 15 minutes.

4 matteo in car 2

Then he returned to his visual exploration “work” and for another 35 minutes he looked intently out of the window at the buildings, the trees, the streetlights, as we slowly made our way through conveniently, for Matteo, heavy traffic back home. We were all careful not to get between Matteo and what he was looking at, and not to move him is such a way that his concentration was interrupted. Again he craned his neck to see clearly and his eyes were wide open.

It was not only Matteo’s eyes that were open, but ours as well.

Here is a quote  by Alheli, Matteo’s mother:

I am very grateful to you as I have learned that I must have not just my eyes but my soul opened to understand Matteo (and also my other “two babies”) and help them to have a positive, productive and most importantly, happy life. Parents are only intermediaries for that, and that’s our privilege.

5 matteo sleeping


Now I am working in Mexico City and just received the following message, and the above picture, from Matteo’s parents:

 Matteo is doing great with his concentration exercises. On Sunday after you left, César (ed. Matteo’s papa) and I took him out to do the shopping and went also to a restaurant and we stayed out from 12:30 until 5:30 pm. That is a complete achievement for us! Before that we used to go out only for very short periods of time, but we are not afraid anymore. We have understood that when Matteo gets upset, it’s not just because he’s hungry, but because he’s bored and needs to get interested in something. When shopping, he just wanted to see everything with his eyes wide opened. He’s become such great company. Then he was so tired that when we went to a restaurant, after nursing him, he fell asleep.

I do hope that this little peek into the value of reaching parents with Montessori information in the early days of life has been interesting to you, and any prospective or new parents or grandparents you might know.

The Joyful Child is available at:

Amazon USA

Also from:

Michael Olaf



It contains much more information that can help children, even in the first three years of life, prepare for a balanced and happy life.

Here is the link to all of the AMI “Assistants to Infancy” 0-3 training courses:

0-3 training courses in the world.

It is easy to imagine how much more is there to be learned since this teacher training was begun in Italy in 1947 when Dr. Montessori realized that it is important to meet the needs of humans in the very beginning of life.







It was an honor for me to be part of this publication on creativity. This article is shared with permission of AMI, The Association Montessori Internationale and NAMTA, The North American Montessori Teachers Organization.
It was published in  AMI Journal 2014-2015 Theme Issue: The Montessori Foundations for the Creative Personality.

This 237-page publication on creativity, imagination, self-expression, language, music, the Montessori creative view of childhood, art, and contemporary Montessori research and creativity,  can be ordered from NAMTA: AMI JOURNAL

1 grandpa on guitar

The natural urge to sing, dance, to make and listen to music wells up from the depths of each person, from birth to death. It can be stamped out at an early age or it can be fostered to enrich all of life. In this article you will find ways that music is important to us at every stage of life.  What is music? What words can accurately describe it? We might as easily try to capture all the most poignant sights, sounds, and smells of childhood holiday celebrations into a single black and white collection of letters on a piece of paper! We may not know how to fully describe music but we do know that we don’t want our children to miss out on it.

I have heard fascinating presentations by Adele Diamond, neuroscientist, both at the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Amsterdam and at the AMI Educateurs sans Frontières (EsF) Assembly in Thailand in 2015.  Dr. Diamond contributes a lot to the Montessori movement of nurturing children because she studies how executive functions—including the abilities to think outside the box, mentally relate ideas and facts, control impulses, focus and concentrate—are affected by biological and environmental factors. Recently she has turned her attention to the possible roles of music and dance in improving not only executive functions, but also academic outcomes, and mental health. In dozens of recent talks she points out that there is a reason dance, play, storytelling, art, and music have been part of human life for tens of thousands of years and are found ubiquitously in every culture; that perhaps we have discarded the wisdoms of past generations too readily.

We need to look back…There was wisdom in previous generations that we’re ignoring…We think we’re going to be ‘modern,’ and that we can do better than our parents and grandparents. There are things that have been part of the human condition for thousands of years—that have been part of the human condition for good reason; otherwise they would have been weeded out.
—Adele Diamond, PhD

Music is made of vibrations felt by the ears and by the whole body. The lower notes, the longest and slowest vibrations, are felt by the human body as touch. Beethoven in his last and very productive years as a composer was completely deaf. So he had the legs removed from several grand pianos and composed by sitting on the floor, feeling the vibrations from the piano strings and the piano wood enter his body through the floor. Today technology has been developed that can do the same thing for deaf musicians. The effects of different pitches, intervals, and timbres evoke different responses in us. Part of this phenomenon is cultural, but it is also psychological and physical. Experiments with plants show us that the music of Mozart and the Indian Ragas support growth and health while loud rock music can cause plants to die.

Wisdom from the past says that there exists a music of the spheres, as electrons spinning around the nucleus of the cell and as the planets spinning around the sun. Laurens van der Post discovered some of this wisdom as he got to know the Bushmen or San of the Kalahari:

As long as the Bushman heard this sound of the sun and stars and could include it in the reckoning of his spirit, all was well in his world. The howl . . . reached me and seemed to change into a minor scale the major key of the music of the stars which resounded over the vast full-leafed garden beyond.

—Laurens van der Post, Witness to a Last Will of Man

—Laurens van der Post, Witness to a Last Will of Man

2 topponcino



From the first cell, the human infant begins life in touch with the rhythms of the mother’s body. As he grows up, his experience becomes more focused, more refined, sensitive, and educated. Montessori teachers are devoted to keeping the development of humans as close to the divine plans as possible in all areas from birth on, and to do this we must do all we can to keep the child in touch with music. He is the human link with the universe, the past, the future, all of nature, and with other humans.

It is a combination of many different sound vibrations that the child hears in the womb. The rhythm, the pitch, all of the subtleties of sound are taken in by the developing human, in ways we do not yet understand. The child is constantly exposed to, and responding to, the internal sounds of the mother’s body and the external sounds of the larger environment. Many cultures of the past understood this enough to have the best musicians play for the unborn child and for the mother to sing a special song to each yet unborn child. Scientists today can trace the specific muscles which are stimulated by specific sounds. Language tapes played before birth may stimulate the “music” of a second language and improve the child’s ability to learn both before and after birth.  Many mothers know that children keep time to external music by kicks and other movements and that a piece of music sung or played often enough before birth will be recognized by the child after birth and can have a calming effect on him.

Just as the child moved in response to sound in the womb, he does this after birth.  Notice a joyful baby kicking his feet wildly because someone is talking to him.  It may be that this movement begins to lessen in response to spoken language, but it definitely continues in response to the elements of music.


The newborn child responds to sounds and other experiences, such as a loud crash or a familiar face with his whole body – clenched fist, thrown-back head, great smile accompanied by wildly, joyfully kicking legs, or sometimes the motionless stillness of focused attention and study.  It may be that the lack of music in our culture at this stage accounts for the fact that this movement expression tapers off as our children grow, because it certainly continues in children from cultures where music and dance are a daily part of life.  Percussion instruments provide more variety in the natural inclination to move and clap rhythms.

Dr. Montessori spoke of this period of life as the time of the “unconscious absorbent mind.”  During these years the child develops in response to what he finds in his environment.  Today some scientists believe that if the cells that are designed to be stimulated by sound are not so stimulated by eight months of age, they will begin to die off. We already know that certain sounds are detrimental to health and others are supportive. So we have a great responsibility to examine carefully the sounds in the child’s environment.

In the first few months of life the child will begin to make music with his voice. I have often had the joyful experience of beginning a singing dialogue with a child at this age. When the child makes a cooing sound, we can repeat the pitch, the time, the length of the sound. Very rapidly, the child will catch on and begin to make a variety of more and more sounds intentionally. If we carefully imitate these attempts, longer and longer joyful duets of music will result. This is a very important experience in the development of the child’s self-image, his attitude toward communication, a preparation for singing and talking.

In the early days and months a child is attracted to faces and carefully watches the faces of the person who’s talking and singing. When we change or bathe the child it can be disturbing if we distract the child with toys, or to rush the task, to get it over with. It is better to relax, smile, and explain what we are doing while looking at the child’s face. Slowing down and involving the child gives a feeling of respect, of belonging, of communicating, and it provides a wealth of vocabulary about the child’s world.  If we sometimes sing this communication, we give a wider range of pitch and the vocabulary of music.  This is interesting to the child and he will focus and listen. These moments of dressing, changing, and bathing then provide important quality time of communication between adult and child.

The year I was taking the AMI Assistants to Infancy course in Denver, Colorado there was a piano in one of the course rooms that I played when we were on break. I remember Dr. Montanaro, my trainer along with Judi Orion, coming into the room with a slightly distressed look on her face. At first I thought maybe the music was disturbing to others but then she said, “We must find a way to let the children in the Infant Community in this building watch and listen to you.” This brought home a very important point she had made during one of the neuropsychology lectures — that from an early age children should be shown music being created by the hand and the movement of the human body.

3 touching guitar strings

ince then, having been brought up in a family where everyone played an instrument, I have been very surprised to discover that many children have never seen this. When music always comes out of a car radio, a CD player, how can children be inspired to make music? Wherever I go now in international work I look for ways to share this experience, either by percussion sounds or a piano when I can find one. Even the youngest child, as in the picture above, delights in being shown how to touch, to pull on a guitar string gently so that the sound is the same as when the adult does it. The development of the hand and movement of all kinds is something that children at this age are very interested in.

As adults we have the ability to close off unpleasant sounds, but the child does not—he hears everything. One day I was in the bedroom reading to my young grandchild. Suddenly he looked at me and said, “Bird!” I put the book down and listened and could hear some crows far up in a tree outside our window. I would never have heard them if my grandson had not shared his experience with me. In the home and the Montessori community, we should pay special attention not only to what can be seen, touched, tasted, and smelled, but also what the children are going to hear. If the child is in an environment where the sounds from a TV, a passing car, a wind-up toy, music from the radio, the running of a dishwasher, etc. can be heard, this is the “music” the child will become accustomed to and will want to recreate in his life.  If the child grows up with this cacophony, he will continuously try to recreate it in his life, no matter how detrimental it may be to his body, mind, and spirit.  If he is in an environment of peace and quiet, soft beautiful voices and lovely music, he will recreate this in later life and be nurtured physically and emotionally.

In the Montessori Infant Community the children have a strong sense of order, not only of place or environment but also of schedule.  So the morning can often end, after a snack or lunch, with singing. But the teacher is also very likely to sit down at any time of the day to give a language lesson to one child or to sing a song with one or two children.  Because children are not required to come to these lessons and because they love the language and music, many, if not all of the children, will participate, being free to go back to other work at any time. Concentration on independent work is always considered more valuable than group experiences.

The period of these first three years is the most intense in all of life for storing up sensorial experiences. We do not talk baby talk to these children because we know that this is the time when they are absorbing the music, grammar, and vocabulary of the language he is exposed to daily. For the same reason, we do not limit their musical experience to baby music. As long as we carefully observe the children and their response to the music we offer, there is no limit to the music we can provide.


During these years the child learns to sort, classify, and arrange the sensorial experiences that began in the first three years, to organize the brain and to make the information available for creative expression. If supported by the environment, children at this age can easily and effortlessly learn to write and read music and to play instruments. It is thought that rhythm instruments were the first used by early man, and this is a good place to begin with children. In their hunger for spoken language it is the easiest time to learn the names of pieces of music and composers, not for this information on its own, but so that they can ask for and talk about the music of their choice.  As we give children the elements of culture it is quite natural that we give them the music of all cultures.

What you see above is from the first three pages of the 10-page article.
For the rest, go to this link:

Michael Olaf Montessori Newsletter #22

12 earphones


Week with Grandchildren

2 sm first night pictures

Montessori Practical Life & Culture, A Week with the Grandchildren

Three of our four grandchildren and one daughter left this morning to return to Portland, Oregon. It was such a rich and enjoyable week that I am sharing it with you. In my international work I have seen over and over again that when homes have very few distractions from the real, daily life of the family, such as toys and screen time, they quite naturally join in and spend valuable time with the rest of the family. As a result children learn about cultures in a natural way, and, as they carry out valuable activities that they see being done by adults, they feel useful. Spending this time with us they learn our values, they imitate everything we do, and they develop skills that will be valuable for the rest of their lives and we have fun together.


As family were arriving late at night after a 9+hour drive we welcomed them with candle light, Indian music (the sound track from the movie Lagaan) and warm turmeric milk haldi doodh (in Hindi) to prepare for a good night’s sleep. A peaceful end to a long day for all.

1 2 prepar greens


Our meals are very simple. It is the work connected with the meals that are the most inviting. We explained that in most parts of the world there is little variety in meals so breakfast was always the same and dinner mostly soup, nuts, veggies, and fruit. This simplicity meets a child’s need for a sense of order and we could focus on the shared work connected with meals.

Picking greens from the deck containers (and nibbling them at the same time), and preparing small bowls of nuts.

2 images toast

Making toast with butter and vegan Parmesan cheese, and fruit salad with walnuts, almonds, and toasted sesame seeds.

1 2 napkins candle


Each person in the family selected his or her own napkin ring for the whole visit. This way each person could take care of his napkin and decide when it needed to be washed (by hand of course and hung out to dry). Learning how to light a match, and then the candle for the meal, is very attractive. The match-lighting “rule” is that lighting a match must always be for a useful purpose and in the presence of an adult.

2 ready to eat

Our rotating “lazy Susan” in the middle made it possible for each person to serve his or her self. VERY small amounts are taken, and everything is at least tasted. Then each person can continue to take small amounts throughout the meal, paying attention to his or her hunger, and nothing is left on the plate and wasted at the end of the meal. I learned this during my AMI 0-3 training from Dr. Silvana Montanaro and I must mention that the table and chair and the Lazy Susan were left to me by my dear friend and Montessorian Karin Salzmann who some people reading this knew and loved. Thank you Karin.


Before the first breakfast we explained the various ways people around the world give thanks before beginning to eat, and the children chose the Japanese tradition of saying “itadakimasu”, pronounced “ee-tah-dah-kee-mah-su.” This is a way of giving thanks for those involved in the preparation of the food. (Farmers, cook, table setter, etc.) And toward the meal itself, the plant or animal life that was given to make such a feast.

Everyone was called to the meal and when everyone was served . . . and only when everyone was served, in unison, we said . . . ITADAKIMASU!

1 clearing and candle


In many countries politeness dictates that no one leaves a meal until the last person is finished eating. This really helps to inspire conversation and create longer periods of enjoyable time spent together. Then everyone automatically worked together to clean the table, put out the candle, and sweep the floor, until everything was in order.

Here it is important to say something about the Montessori theory topic of “planes of development”. During the first plane, from birth to 6 years, a child is challenged to learn a lot of practical life, but only until each one is mastered, not out of duty or responsibility. Sometimes a parent will say, “He learned to clear the table, make his bed, hang up his coat, etc., but then stopped doing it! Why?” My response has always, “If this child tried to do, every single day, everything he is learning, there would not possibly be the time.” So at this stage the adult should keep modeling this practical life in a careful and joyful way, inviting the child with careful lessons, and the child will imitate and keep learning as he grows up.

2 sweeping washing

At the second “plane” or age 6-12 a child is very interested in fairness and making logical rules (notice I did not say “following rules” but “making rules”). For our older grandchild the book “The Little Red Hen” satisfied his need for moral behavior, sharing the work, etc., and we often heard him say to us adults and to himself, “Remember the Little Red Hen, only people who help with the work should get to eat the food! He understood that he and the adults needed to share the real work while his young sister did the work that she was interested in at the moment, and sometimes she just watched others.

1 toys


Yes there was time for playing with Lego, my own personal “secret stash” of Star Wars figures, toys, going to the beach, climbing trees, working on the fort behind the house, making a bed of straw in the garden, and learning bow and arrows with Baba (grandpa). But as was discovered in the first Montessori class, the casa dei bambini in the slums of Rome, children preferred real work even to the lovely dolls and toys that had been donated by Dr. Montessori’s friends. So then, as now eventually they are replaced by good quality, child-size, tools so children can successfully manage real and satisfying work of caring for themselves, each other, the environment, and being courteous.

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Always we go to the library when grandchildren visit and winding down in the evening by reading is expected and loved by all

1 unpacking and leaves.

But no one felt like they were missing anything we most of the day was spent on practical life, real work that adults do.

On these visits the first practical life activity is always unpacking and deciding where everything goes. This time the younger grandchild was tucked in the corner of my office and the older behind a curtain at the top of the stairs. Everything was folded and put away. They even decided to fold their clothes at the end of the day (as we had read a book about Japanese children doing this) and pajamas in the mornings.

Then off to see if there is some other work to be done, such as dusting the houseplants (a memory from their earliest Montessori experience).

2 deck and fire

On warm days there was plenty to do sweeping the deck and watering plants, and on cold days bringing in wood, building the fire, and lighting it – all on one’s own with a little help from Baba.

1 suzuki


Finally Monday morning, the first day of the one-week Suzuki begins! At the end of the day the younger grandchild brought home a borrowed violin and showed us what she has learned, as she did every day of the week.

The almost-7-year-old not only showed us his Suzuki piece, but also played a duet with Uncle Michael of a song he had heard someone play at Montessori school in Portland and had figured out by ear.

The music inspired our very dramatic youngest grandchild to create her own dances to the variety of music being performed during the first evening of Suzuki camp.

1 composer cards

And I was finally able to share some of the music vocabulary materials I made for my Montessori classes so very long ago, the names of Western classical composers.


One of our family practices we have shared with grandchildren for 15 years now, is gratitude and prayer. Upon waking and before going to sleep we think of a few things to be grateful for.

1 altar

And at our Buddhist altar, as each of the 7 water bowls is filled with water, even the children love to pause after filling each bowl and think of something to be grateful for or someone to pray for.

1 grackys card


The whole family easily shared art during this trip. It is my mother’s 93rd birthday next week and each family member spent time and energy to create a personalized birthday card for her that was then placed in a beautifully decorated envelope and mailed.

invitation as of june 28 small

And we all enjoyed the paintings and prints being prepared for my own show next week.

1 journal


Journals are also a part of our grandchildren’s visit tradition. Just as in my own 6-12 classrooms as a Montessori teacher I would NEVER REQUIRE daily writing in a journal. But when something special happens I suggest, “Is that something you would like to draw or write, to record and keep until you are an adult to share with children someday?”

Since the elder grandchild has been telling us quite a lot about their family’s 3-day river rafting trip on the John Day river he was very pleased to have a record of that.

2 slug

And when the little one found a tiny “baby banana slug” to show the whole family this was a perfect opportunity. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to draw something “so difficult” but when I pointed out the two little feelers on the head and the gentle curve of the back she drew one banana slug, and then another, and then decided that was the mother and father and followed this with a whole passel (is that the collective noun?) of youngster banana slugs.


During the week there were normal periods of hunger and tiredness, impatience, frustration. But we used the age old Montessori axiom of “Teach by teaching, not by correcting” in exploring behavior and preparing for better responses or reactions to situations, just as is done in the classroom.

For example, instead of embarrassing a child by saying, “Say think you.” in front of a Suzuki teacher, we would say ahead of time in the car, “Who do you think it would be nice to thank you your last day of Suzuki camp.” Or instead of “stop fighting!” we could say at a neutral moment, “What would be a good thing to do when you get so frustrated that you want to hit someone?” We create little dramas for practice, often ending in laughter because of the creative variations. The unexpected response to this last question, from the 5-year-old, was “meditate!”

trees end of visit

I hope you have enjoyed this sharing of the best of our week together. In this last picture the oldest and the youngest of 4 grandchildren share one of the most beautiful spots at our home, the cathedral grove, before leaving for the long drive back to Portland, Oregon.

We are blessed.

The child who has felt a strong love for his surroundings and for all living creatures, who has discovered joy and enthusiasm in work, gives us reason to hope that humanity can develop in a new direction. —Maria Montessori

“No Checkmate” Montessori Chess Book

Book Reviews and Quotes from the Book

This new Montessori book helps parents see the possibility of sharing their lives with their children in a way previously thought not possible and it seems to be taking the Montessori world by storm. Here are two review of “No Checkmate, Montessori chess lessons for Age 3-0-+”:

Chess without a headache! Susan covers every detail of making this game meaningful and fun for even the very young.

— Rita Zener, AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) teacher trainer

If you are looking for a book that will help you to introduce the game of chess to your child in a non-competitive, gradual, and fun way – you have found it!

Deep respect and understanding of human development in its formative stages is a common denominator of all Ms. Stephenson’s books. In NO CHECKMATE you will find a conceptual framework of developmental characteristics along with a practical guidance in form of preliminary games and activities, gradual introduction to the key rules of the game, and more… This book opened a new field of exploration and joy for me and my two daughters!

Dmitry Ostrovsky, AMI Montessori teacher and dad

1 grace and courtesy

(From page 21)
Graceful movement and balance of the whole body

At around 1.5 years of age a child, so glad to be in an upright position with hands free, wants to put forth as much effort as possible and delights in carrying heavy things. This practice solidifies the balance of walking, carrying something, and watching where one is going. One of the first things you might offer a child in the learning of chess might be the opportunity to carry the chess set to the table, placing it quietly on the table, and putting it away when the game, between two other people, is finished.

2 shaking hands

(From page 23-24)
The courtesy of shaking hands

When a child enters a Montessori class, at least in Western Cultures, the first thing he usually does is shake hands with the teacher who is sitting on a chair just inside the classroom so her face is at the child’s level. This marks the beginning of the child’s day at school; it sets the energy of mutual respect and focus on being in the moment. Similarly you can teach this in chess. Either person can offer to shake hands at the beginning of a game or lesson.

But the main reason for this is because the manners of chess require that at the end of a game the two people shake hands and say something along the lines of, “Thank you for playing chess with me,” or, “I enjoyed playing chess with you.” This may not seem like a very important step in the beginning of learning to play chess, but it is extremely helpful when, at the 3rd level of chess, both people are trying to win, and someone loses. Knowing that one is going to end the game in such a polite manner can prevent the frustration, anger, and ill manners that are sometimes displayed when a person (even adults) lose a game.

3 dusting chess pieces

(From page 41-42)
Dusting or polishing chess pieces

This brings up a point that is sometimes misunderstood in a Montessori class. When a child asks if he can work with materials that he is not prepared for, for example wanting to get his hands on the beautiful glass beads that teach squaring and cubing before he has begun the basic math work the reply should never be, “No, you are not ready for that.”  The child doesn’t understand that in time he will have the skills to work with more advanced materials, that someday he will be ready. He only hears the word, “NO!”  Instead the teacher says, “Yes, you will be able to work with those materials, as soon as you can do this, and this, and this” perhaps pointing to the beginning shelves of math materials. “This one comes first. Would you like a lesson on that now?”

Sometimes, if a child is not even ready to begin the first math lesson and still wants to “work with” the beautiful bead materials, the teacher can say, “Yes, do you see that these beads and the shelves are really dusty? Would you like a lesson on dusting them?”  Sometimes children have been able to practice their skill of wood polishing on materials in the Montessori classroom that they will not be using in the prescribed way until much later. This is all satisfying, important, real work.

6 mongolia

(From page 94-95)

In 2015, I was in Mongolia to give the first AMI Montessori public lectures and to consult with two schools. I was staying with a family who had a 5-year-old boy whose grandfather had taught him the chess moves. One evening that the boy and his father were playing chess in the living room, Ermuun suddenly exploded into anger, stomping and yelling and his father looked toward me with a puzzled look on his face. I asked what happened and the father said, rather sadly, “He doesn’t like to lose.” My reply was that winning and losing was not appropriate at this age, but the emphasis is better placed on spending fun time with one’s father, and learning more and more about chess. And, with his interest aroused I went on to explain the “Three Levels of Chess” that our family has developed over the years. Later I received news from Mongolia that the boy enjoys chess now much more than before.

7 oden game

(From page 115-117)
Creativity – Oden’s game

Chess has changed many times since its birth in India and it is still changing. The rules have changed and why cannot children continue to change them? Recently I was playing chess with my sister’s grandchildren. One the youngsters, already identified as a unique and creative thinker, decided to make up his own game. I had given them a combination chess and checkers set and he wanted to created a way to use all of the pieces of both sets in one game.

I explained that all games were the result of agreement between people about how the game is played. An example is the rules of Scrabble in our family. Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by placing tiles, each bearing a single letter, onto a game board  which is divided into a 15×15 grid of squares. The tiles must form words which, in crossword fashion, flow left to right in rows or downwards in columns. The words must be defined in a standard dictionary . The game is played without access to a dictionary unless a word is being challenged.

But a year ago I suggested that this way of playing limits the players to words they already know, so our family began to play with the dictionary as our constant companion, accessible at any time. This was a cooperative way of playing, and it was so exciting for all of us to learn so many new words in one game that winning became secondary. It was still fun to find words that could score a lot of points and have a high score at the end of the game, but there was much more learning and enjoyment of Scrabble from then on.

So why not a game with chess pieces and checkers together? All I remember, as I heard him explain his new game to his brother and cousin, was “And the Queen has more power when she is standing on a checker!”

(From the back cover)
Benefits of chess

I once came across a list of 10 ways learning chess can benefit the brain. Here is the list:
– It increases creativity
– It improves memory
– It increases problem-solving skills
– It can raise an IQ
– It grows dendrites
– It can help prevent Alzheimer’s
– It exercises both sides of the brain
– It improves reading skills
– It improves concentration
– It teaches planning and foresight

These are all important results of learning chess. But in learning chess the Montessori way we can add to this list:
– It helps one learn patience
– It teaches body awareness and grace
– It teaches good manners
– It teaches cooperative problem solving
– It teaches how to help another
– It teaches one how to treat another person the way one would like to be treated
And maybe you can think of even more.

There are a few more quotes on the most recent Michael Olaf Montessori Newsletter, May, 2016:

chess book front large

NO CHECKMATE, Montessori Chess Lessons for Age 3 to 90+
ISBN 1-879264-18-8
123 pages, black and white illustrations
Copyright © 2016 Susan Mayclin Stephenson

To order:
Michael Olaf Montessori company No Checkmate book
NAMTA (North America Montessori Teachers’ Association) No Checkmate book
Amazon USA No Checkmate book


Montessori – Morocco, Amsterdam, Argentina, Belarus, Portland

Montessori in Morocco, Amsterdam, Argentina, Belarus, and Portland

This has been a very interesting and rewarding Montessori month. First of all I returned to Ecole Montessori Casablanca, the Morocco school. (

1 pirmary and elemenary

primary class “the Roman arch”, elementary class botany research

A year ago I worked here as a consultant for the classes for children from age 1-12. This year I returned to see the progress and to document a “Montessori First Year Project” we started then. The school is doing very well except for the face that they, as many others, desperately need teachers with the AMI Montessori Assistants to Infancy, A to I, diploma! They have diploma teachers at the 3-6 level, and are very fortunate to have an AMI teacher trainer from Canada, Kyla Morenz, as the main 6-12 teacher.

2 three of us and chouan

Aicha Sajid, me, Kyla Morenz on the Mediterranean – Chefchaouen

I visited the orphanage and the village school (two school outreach projects) and then spent the week, as together we explored the country ( , thinking about what the next step might be for both.

3 neyla at breakfast and blue

Just one of the blue buildings in Chaouen – typical Rif Mountain breakfast

Morocco First Year Orphanage Project

I posted pictures from the orphanage earlier but here is an update.

1 last year and setting up

“before” and “after” for ages 8-18 months

Over the year the school and several other people helped to create a Montessori environment for children from age 9 months to 18 months.

2 new room and miracle

Just one of many miracles

Since this change in the environment everyone present with the children has remarked on the level of independence exhibited that no one previously thought possible. The pediatrician told us that one child had been given up on, thought unable to move in any way except to lie on his back and rock back and forth. But he surprised everyone. After observing others and how they could move, he made his way across the room to climb up on the Montessori “stair”. It was considered a miracle.

3 visit

We spend a morning in the new environment

After a morning observing children in this environment and talking to all of the staff we asked to see if we could help the 0-9 month-olds who, although they are given loving care by the entire overworked staff, pretty much spend their days in cribs with slanted mattresses.

4 cribs

Days spent in cribs for ages 0-9 months

After a week of thinking what to do, I put together a PowerPoint showing the movement and language potential of children in the first year of life – most of it from this page:

5 talk and floor room

A Montessori “first year” Powerpoint, in French – future “movement” room

The results were mixed. There was a hesitancy to make such drastic changes mixed with an enthusiasm to “do it all”! So we identified a room that is being used as storage and suggested they just give these very young children daily opportunity to spend time on the floor rather than in a crib, and see what happens, to follow Dr. Montessori’s advice to all of us to “follow the child.”

I predict that they will be even more impressed with the human potential at this age as they were with the older ones. And this will have a lasting effect on the children.

“Foundation Zakoura” Montessori School Outreach Village School Project

Rita El Kadiri is the CEO of the Foundation Zakoura, whose aim is to create schools for the poor village children of Morocco. You can read about her here:

She is also a parent as Ecole Montessori Casablanca and ever since her daughter entered the Montessori school she had been wanting to figure out how to share some of the Montessori ideas in these village schools all over Morocco.

visiting school

The Foundation Zakoura school in El Jadida, Morocco

We met over lunch at the beginning of my time in Morocco, and then she accompanied us to spend the day at one of the project schools.

planning meeting

Our final planning-for-the-future Zakoura meeting

At the end of the week we met again and I presented a paper of ideas. Some of these  were from my experience of teaching a class of children the same age in Lima, Peru with no Montessori materials. If you want to know more about this look for “MONTESSORI PRACTICE IN A TRADITIONAL CLASSROOM” on this page:

We had a very long and fruitful discussion, Rita and her head teachers for the project meeting with Aicha and Leila from the school. We came up with several ideas that would incorporate the cultural values of Morocco, and gradually move toward giving the children more general knowledge and independence. I look forward to hearing about the progress of this very important work.

AMI Affiliate Societies (

Every year there is am annual general meeting in Amsterdam of AMI (Association Montessori Internationale) people from all over the year, the AGM. One day is spent in meetings of AMI affiliated societies from around the world. Becoming an AMI affiliated society is a really big deal as it brings attention to, and provides international support for such as school consultations and plans for teacher training in the country. There can only be one AMI affiliated society in each country of the world.

Finally at this AGM I enjoyed the culmination of a year of work in assisting both Morocco and Argentina in the formation of AMI affiliated societies. I didn’t do much more than encouraging application nd helping them through the process by putting them in touch with the correct person in the AMI office. But I was richly rewarded in being able to be present at the official signing of the affiliate agreement between AMI and my friends in Argentina and Morocco.

argentina sm

Connie and Marisa from Argenta signing the AMI agreement


morocco signing

Nabil and Aicha signing the AMI agreement


Susan’s Retirement?

Thinking that my Montessori work was done for one lifetime I was ready to return home and act like a normal 72-year-old, but oh no!

On the last day of the AGM I was approached by the representatives from Belarus who want to translate my books into Belarusian! And since one of my favorite artists, Marc Chagall, is from there I just may have to go!

sm kyril belarus and alexandra

Mr. and Mrs. Kiryl Zhibul from Belarus – grandchild #4 in primary class

And then, in Portland Oregon on the way home I visited the wonderful Montessori school in Portland, Childpeace, where three of our grandchildren study. (The oldest attended from age 2 through middle school, graduated from Montessori, and is now in high school)

sm tai and fischer

Grandchldren #2 and #3 in Montessori elementary and middle school

When I see how valuable Montessori has been for our own children and grandchildren and could be for children and adults in all kinds of situations, I cannot help but  continue to study and learn, and to reach out and help spread this wisdom.

Shared with love,

For more information here are names of the FaceBook pages I manage or co-manage:

Susan Mayclin Stephenson
The Art of Susan Mayclin Stephenson
The Michael Olaf Montessori Company
The Joyful Child Montessori Company
Montessori Help for Zika Babies
Montessori for Ageing and Dementia
Trinidad Art Gallery

Art San Francisco

Art in San Francisco, Spring 2016

1 pierre bonnard

An inspiring special exhibit of Pierre Bonnard at the Legion of Honor till May 15:

2 chess cover

Gave me the courage to try new media for the cover of my latest book, on teaching chess to age 3-90+ (see next blog post for details)


Most exciting of all were the murals on Balmy Alley in San Francisco. Balmy Alley is a one-block-long alley that is home to the most concentrated collection of murals in the city of San Francisco. It is located in the Mission District of the City. Since 1973, every building on the street has been decorated with a mural and many children in San Francisco have visited it in school groups as part of their studies of the history and art of this great city. The rest of this blog post is picture I took there, and here is the website so you can visit it yourself:









What a garage door, eh?

Thank you for watching.
Susan Mayclin Stephenson