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AMI EAA Summer Conference

Something amazing is happening in the Montessori movement! More and more teachers are coming to recognise the importance of handwork and are going that extra mile to make sure it is available to their students. Of course, many teachers have been doing this for years, and those who do are sharing their knowledge with those who would like to, beginning, dare I say it, a Handwork Revolution!

Last week I presented my first workshop as part of the AMI EAA Summer Conference in Boulder, Colorado. The entire five day conference was based on the theme of Handwork and I was invited to present 'The Work of Wool' for the first day and a half. As if this wasn't exciting enough, the number of attendees reached a record high over 90!

Whilst 90 participants is very exciting, it is also logistically (and psychologically) challenging to a first-time presenter. I steeled myself for the quest with the thought that if each teacher took their learning back to 20 students, I would have brought a little more handwork into the lives of 1800 students in one fell swoop - yippee!

I received such a warm welcome at the conference, finally getting to meet some of the many people I have been chatting to online for several years now.

I was lucky to have an awesome team of helpers - several of my friends from my Montessori training came along to support me - they prepared materials, set up the work spaces and generally cajoled me through the event. I also had an amazing assistant, my friend Bobby who handed out materials adjusted electronics, held the camera, fetched hot water and solved any and every problem that arose - often before I even knew about it. With all this help, the workshop went swimmingly!

We began with a look at the complete process wool goes through from fleece to fabric and then had a go at some of the steps in the process ourselves:

Here's Bobby working his technical wizardry:

Look how excited I am that my rock spindle worked first time!

Just as the early humans who first invented spinning would have used the materials they had around them to make spindles, we used the materials we had around us to make our own spindles.

...and then used them to learn to spin our own yarn. Look at all that concentration!

In the afternoon we carved knitting needles and crochet hooks out of sticks, dowels or coloured pencils:

People helped each other learn to use them whilst I told the stories of their history.

It was lovely to see the collaborative approach that we encourage in children, genuinely manifesting in the adults who teach it. Those who could already knit or crochet joined with those who could not, to share their skills.

It was particularly exciting for me to see people referring to my Album for help:

On the second day we made felt. This was the part I was most looking forward too - the magic of taking loose fluff, getting it all wet and soapy and turning it into a solid piece of fabric or 3D shape. No matter how old or young you are, you can't fail to find it exciting!

First we made felt balls, adding layers of colour whilst I told the Story of the History of Felt, then we made felt pictures. This took a lot more elbow grease than many people expected, but produced some incredibly thoughtful and detailed felt pictures.

Here we are choosing our colourful wool roving:

Fluffing and rolling our balls:

A finished ball, cut open to reveal it's secret:

Laying out the wool for felt pictures:

Wetting and rubbing:

Rolling, rolling, rolling:

Beautiful finished pieces by beautiful people:

Did I mention the participants were Montessorians?!

The response to the workshop was fantastic. It seems everyone loved the hands on experience and having time to learn each skill so that they can take it back to their students.

The over-riding feedback was that people wanted more time, to do more. We would have liked to have processed the wool all the way from the fleece to fabric and had time to explore needle felting. We could easily have spent a whole day on weaving and and we barely got a chance to touch on the theoretical aspects of including Handwork in a Montessori environment. But all of this just goes to show that we need to make more time for Handwork!

Once I was done with my part of the Conference, I got to sit back and enjoy the gifts others had to share.

Melinda shared with us the research her students have been doing on cotton and silk, before suggesting ways we could weave this work throughout our curriculum. I got carried away spinning cotton thread from cotton balls and forgot to take pictures of that bit!

Amanda introduced us to the joys of calligraphy, giving us materials, sample sheets and activities to bring back to our classes. Again, I was too distracted by pen and ink to think about photos but I have already shared some of the techniques with my children, which lead them to bring out the inks they made last terms and begin writing with them again.

All in all, an incredible experience, both for the teaching and learning and for the connections I made with other wonderful, like minded people.

Thank you so much EAA, I sincerely hope to join you again sometime.

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