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Montessori workshops for kids: the expert speaks


Activities for kids organized by the cooperative Tantintenti with support from Fondazione Zegna are characterized by an approach based on the Maria Montessori method, which by stimulating enthusiasm in kids manages to engage entire families. To explain Montessori’s educational approach, Ruggero Poi, the head of the Tantintenti cooperative, starts with their most recent experience, a workshop entitled “Tanti infestanti modi”, in which the use of a natural material like bamboo was a big success with both kids and their parents.

“We started out by using a simple material, bamboo,” explains Ruggero Poi, “and with it we enabled the kids to have at last two kinds of experience: the first, that of learning about the characteristics of the natural material, understanding its limits and qualities, and the second was that of binding, i.e. tying pieces of bamboo together with string to transform a natural material into parts of a construction. These are characteristics of many materials we are hardly aware of. The kids make sculptures, model boats, pyramids, in both two and three dimensions. All we do is show them how to use the materials and join them together. The idea is to enable them to approach the process of designing and building their models autonomously and use their imagination to construct what they want, thus developing their creative capability. This method was also dear to Bruno Munari, who based his work on such themes”.

But what, in a few words, makes Montessori-inspired workshops so different from all the rest?

“The first concept to keep in mind is that of reversibility. What has been used to build with, once the experience is over, returns to its original state. The experience is there, in the process of construction and use. To put it very simply, we could say that Montessori workshops are based on three principles. In addition to reversibility, there’s the so-called “cosmic education”, in which all environmental aspects are indissolubly interlinked. Then there’s autonomy: participants are given the elements they need in order to be autonomous and capable of repeating the experience on their own. Over and above these three principles, another important concept in Montessori workshops is error, which is seen in a positive light as a necessary step in the learning process.”

The next Montessori workshop is on Saturday 11 May at Casa Zegna, from 2 pm to 5 pm, “Habitus and living… children-friendly”. Alongside this workshop, organized with Community School, there will be a meeting for families entitled “Education in the open: cultivating kids’ intelligence and talents”, with Danilo Casertano. Also at Casa Zegna, on Sunday 26 May at 3.30 pm, we have a workshop – “Let’s have a snack!” – and a meeting for families entitled “Cooking with kids: the educational potential of shared cooking”, with Federica Buglioni. On Sunday 15 September, at 11 am, “Agreeing in the family” and at 3.30 pm “Habitus and living … children-friendly” again. On Sunday 13 October, at 3.30 pm, “Let’s build the city!”, with a meeting for families entitled “Montessori spaces and activities for autonomy at home, everyday”, with Annalisa Perino.

Federica Buglioni has written books for adults and kids and is the founder of Bambini in cucina, an association. Through books, courses and recreational-educational workshops she promotes the affective and educational value of cooking with kids, together with an approach to food and environment education based on the pleasure of doing. An impassioned explorer of nature, cooking, pedagogy and didactics, she drew up a “Manifesto of children’s food rights” and is a member of C’è speranza se accade, an educational cooperation network.

Danilo Casertano, of Associazione Manes, on the other hand, likes to define himself a “street master”. Casertano is an educator and together with other teachers has launched a project based on “talent pedagogy” at the Renato Guttuso middle school in Ostia Antica, where drop-out rates and the number of kids growing up in “difficult” families are far higher than elsewhere. He has always been interested in kids with learning and behavioral difficulties and those who in any case drop out of school.

Ruggero Poi, founder and executive vice-president of Fondazione Montessori Italia, is a Montessori educator and a director of Montessori method training courses. He is in charge of the Youth area of the Tantintenti cooperative. He has designed and directed courses for museum educators in collaboration with major museum education departments in Italy and coordinated the first university Master’s course in “Educational Management for Contemporary Art”, in collaboration with Università del Piemonte Orientale and the Education Department of Castello di Rivoli. He has held workshops at many festivals in Italy and abroad, including Festivaletteratura, Festival della Mente, Festival della Filosofia, Festival dei Saperi,  Festival dei Bambini, Manifesta 7, Evento 2011 Bordeaux, Ecomondo, Zonarte Torino, Artissima 8, Domenica del Fiorentino, Exposcuola and Remida Day (Milan and Turin). He gives lectures and conferences on art, education and neurosciences, and writes books for infants: the last series from Carthusia is entitled “Piccole Avventure Montessori” (Little Montessorian Adventues).

Explaining the activities on Saturday 11 May, Danilo Casertano says, “school is too often a place that fails to get pupils to discover their talents, and above all those who for various reasons don’t get the chance to do activities outside of school. Talent pedagogy therefore aims to  uncover and cultivate all the talents of kids of various ages. In short, we have three steps: discovering, cultivating, giving”.

For the “Habitus and living… children-friendly” workshop curated by Il Filo da Tessere, another partner of Community School, inspiration will come from Michelangelo Pistoletto, on whom an exhibition – Padre and Figlio.- is now running. The workshop will be based on the “Art sign”, a recurrent figure in the works of this Biella artist: it consists of two triangles that intersect to form an hour glass shape, an ideal outline of a human body with arms raised and legs apart. This “Art sign” will be the basis on which the kids will have to think, design and build “paper modules”, models of kid-sized inhabitable dens.

The Tantintenti cooperative’s activities (mostly for kids from 2 to 12) often involve the use of storytelling techniques: an experience is introduced by the narration of a story so that certain key concepts are impressed in the kids’ memories. The materials used are nearly always easy to come by. Only in certain cases, as when the cooperative engaged the director of Milan’s planetarium, Fabio Peri (in a workshop entitled “Do ants exists on Mars?”), can technological objects serve a purpose. Newspapers, tins, string… even Zegna necktie boxes have been used in a Tantintenti workshop. The cooperative, which started out in 2016 with Casa Zegna, is currently organizing “How is it made?”, a workshop centering on collaboration with businesses to illustrate how real products are made. “The idea,” concludes Ruggero Poi, “is to put the child at the center of a constructive experience that involves not only him or her but the whole family. The workshop must be a family experience in fact”.

For a full calendar of the workshops click here.

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