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One giant leap for Montessori Handwork

International Montessori Congress Banner, Prague.

What now seems like a lifetime ago, but was actually only a few months, I was sitting in the school staffroom wandering just what I was going to do with my Handwork Album once it was completed. I had just sent some chapters to the Montessori association of New Zealand (MANZ) and received wonderful feedback, which ended with the phrase “Carol, you need to take this further”.

Further how? Further where? I had no idea what to do with it – how to get it to the people who could use it. I didn’t even know how Montessori structures worked or how to find the right people to talk to.

Then I had a lightbulb moment as I realised the people with all the answers were going to be in one place at once in a few months. Unfortunately, that place was pretty much the furthest point on Earth from my current location (really it is, try this cool site to check the furthest point from you). It also happened to be in the wrong hemisphere in terms of school holidays. Oh, and getting there would require hefty travel costs and registration fees when I didn’t have two beans rub together.

Nevertheless, I decided I had to get to the International Montessori Congress in Prague.

The next few weeks were a flurry of filling out grant applications, trawling the net for cheap flights and accommodation, registering, and persuading administrators to give me time off work, until I found myself, in the blink of an eye, on the first of three flights that would take me to Prague! I actually find it hard to believe, even now, that it all worked out and I made it.

It took me nearly two full days to get there, and two to get home, so I spent a total of four days travelling, to attend a four day Conference, and I have to say, it was worth every single minute - just look at the auditorium:

.............and the Congress Fair:


As I hadn’t actually arranged to meet with any particular individuals once I got to Congress, I just had to rely on pouncing on people when I spotted them. And I do mean pouncing: Lynne Lawrence, the Executive Director of AMI made the mistake of complementing my dress whilst coming out of a toilet cubicle and found herself looking through my Album as she washed her hands and did her hair!

As Congress progressed, I found there were plenty of opportunities to meet people though and I actually found talking about my Album was a good ice-breaker as often the conversation would stall after the initial ‘what’s your name and where do you come from?' part.

Apart from the many teachers and a few trainers who had lovely things to say about my Album and its place in Montessori in general, I also met with representatives of several Montessori organisations. At the AMI Elementary Alumni Association stand, I had a long and lively chat with the lovely Wendy Tye, who was very enthusiastic about my work and we even discussed the possibility of doing some Handwork workshops at some stage in the future. She pointed me in the direction of NAMTA who were also enthusiastic and excited about my work and we discussed ways they could support it.

The next stand along the line was AMS who, again, were very helpful. They suggested I get my Album published and then bring it to the AMS Congress to introduce to teachers there. The list of interesting and interested people I met goes on, but I think you get the idea – it was great.

People really do want to integrate more handwork into their curriculum and they would like an Album that helps them do that. The long and short of it is – I need to get it finished, make some decisions about publishing and then get it out to the people who want and need it.

Inspirational People

On the Saturday morning I attended the Newcomers Breakfast, this was a pretty special event as there were only fifty tickets available to delegates and the rest of the attendees were Montessori VIPs, with whom we were encouraged to network. I met Phillip O'Brian, President of AMI, in the metro station on the way in and felt very important walking in at his side. (At the time, I thought he was enjoying our conversation, though the picture does kind of look like I'm stalking him.)

Here are a couple of pictures taken at the breakfast where I look a little less manic - the beautiful lady in the mermaid skirt is the Congress organiser: Miroslava Vlckova. She not only maintained a grace and calmness throughout Congress but she was fun to talk to and showed genuine interest in the concerns of each individual.

The side benefit of travelling all that way to an International Montessori Congress to meet people was that, well, it was an International Montessori Congress. It was pretty mind-blowing! There were 1800 delegates from 70 countries! Check out the statistics from the Congress booklet:

It was amazing to simply be amongst so many people from all over the world who are deeply passionate about the same goal – education for peace. Some came to Congress with their own purpose – selling a product or gathering support/guidance for a project - but most came because they wanted to Montessori harder.

Picking my favourite/most inspiring speaker is nigh on impossible. I was fascinated to hear Angeline Lillard talk about her research findings – basically using scientific methods and large sample groups to test Dr. Montessori’s assertions and, of course, finding her to be correct. No surprise to those of us who already follow the philosophy but, nonetheless, interesting, affirming and useful for parent education.

No-one could fail to be moved by Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Scilla Elworthy and her stories of the amazing people who are working, often at great personal risk, to bring just a little more peace to their part of the world. If you would like to feel some of her inspirational shivers, have a look at her TED Talk about fighting with non-violence.

Michael Dorer’s Breakout Session on Storytelling was so popular the seats were all taken 40 minutes before the start time and people just kept coming in. We were packed so tightly that those of us pressed against the side wall (you can see me half way down) actually took turns standing up and sitting on the ground to fit into the space and still be able to breathe!

After his session, I made a beeline for the Nienhuis stall to buy Michael’s book, ‘The Deep Well of Time’ and was fortunate enough to get the last one. I highly recommend it for all elementary educators - you can order a copy through Montessori Services.

I bumped into Michael and his wife the next day they were generous enough to spend a full half hour talking to me about the ins and outs of publishing within the Montessori world. He began by warning me that I would not be the next JKK Rolling and if I thought I was going to make my fortune publishing my Album, I should seriously re-evaluate. I asked him if I was likely to make back my costs and he smiled grimly and said he hoped so. Oh well, lucky I have a day job in a supportive school!

IMC Thailand 2021

Congress closed with the very exciting announcement that the next one, in four years time will take place in Thailand, so please, put it in your diaries now, let's meet up and discuss Handwork in the Montessori environment!

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