I'm Andrew Kutt. Let's engage in a conversation about education, the earth, peace, being human and how it all ties together.
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Category Archives: Montessori
April 8, 2018Posted by on
As uncle Bob led us across the snow-covered pasture, I looked up and saw Venus shining brightly just above the lavender and pink-streaked horizon. I took a deep breath, and as the cold night air surged into my lungs, I felt a sense of adventure. Down the hillside we slid to the edge of the pond. My brother Matt and my four cousins and I began strapping on our ice-skates as Bob began to gather a kindling for a fire. The full moon was rising behind the pines across the pond from us.
Soon I was gliding along in circles, as the moonlight glistened on the smooth black ice below me. Meanwhile, flames from the fire danced in the darkness. I skated in and out of light beams and silhouettes. I felt the winter air against my face. I was in a new world of luminescence, mysterious shadows, crystalline air, and primeval flames. I felt a visceral, organic connection between myself and the natural world. Strangely, as stark and raw and cold as it was, I felt a sense of security and well-being. I felt at home. I was existing inside a feeling of total freedom, which kept expanding and expanding.
Stopping to rest, we gathered around the fire. While we’d been skating, uncle Bob had wrapped potatoes in tin foil, punctured them with holes, and placed them in the hot embers. Now we carefully unwrapped the steaming potatoes, cut them in half and slathered them with butter. I got big morsel onto my fork, cooled it down enough, and put it into my mouth. The mélange of steaming potato, charcoal, melted butter and bits of dirt was transcendental. I felt as if I had never really tasted a potato before – so pure, so distinct, so rich was the experience. Meanwhile, I looked out across the moon-lit ice pond. I felt happy – alive.
To experience life directly, head on, without any buffer, is what skating on the ice pond provided for me. The feeling of gliding freely in the winter night, beneath the light of the moon, lives deep inside of me. I can still taste that fire-roasted potato from uncle Bob as if it is right in front of me. There is a beauty to the rawness of life experienced in the wilderness, and that beauty can stay with us forever. These experiences were common in my youth. Now it seems such experiences must be sought out with intention, especially amidst our world so influenced by technology, and where most of live removed from natural world.
In the modern world, with our dominating interest in machines and technology, we have harnessed the forces of nature and made them work for us. But it can be easy to forgot that we are not the source of those natural forces, the source of that power. The source of nature’s power and beauty is what sages from time immemorial have contemplated. It prompted ancient priests and priestesses to describe Earth as a goddess – as our Mother. It inspired poets like John Keats to say, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” It’s what drove Cezanne, Monet and Van Gogh to tirelessly fill their canvasses with the ever-changing mystical light of southern France.
The idea of allowing our children to experience the natural world sounds simple enough, but it carries with it a deeper significance. Nature is a reflection of our own spark, our spiritual essence. The natural world is like a mirror of all of the beauty that lies within us. And as such, the more we can bring our children into contact with nature, the more our children can experience a reflection of their own inner selves. Nature is a refuge where all of us find ourselves again. Its puts us all back in touch with the greater cosmic harmony in which we all participate.
Maria Montessori felt that the experience of awe and wonder is the primary goal of education – and by extension of childhood. And the natural world is where awe and wonder live. When our children look at a flower, hear a bird sing, touch a turtle’s shell, see a snake slither or spot a butterfly, these experiences become touchstones of their spirit. When our children roll in the grass, jump in the creek, play in the mud, skip stones at the lake, catch a fire fly or poke the embers of the campfire, they are embracing first-hand the essence of life. Those experiences fill them with a joy we hear in their exuberant squeals of laughter and we see reflected in the light of their eyes.
So as life seems to speed up, slow it back down. For a day, live organically not virtually. Become fascinated again by the little miracles of nature – whether it’s in the woods or on a farm, on the mountain or in the river, at the lake or at the sea, on the ski slope or on the ice pond. Be intentional about finding experiences of the natural world with your children. Grow a garden. Go for a hike. Or get on the bike. Pick some apples. Make a plan. Put it on the calendar. If you live in the city, get creative. Visit the arboretum. Find the local community garden. Go to the natural science museum. Nature is closer than you think. Be like the bees and seek out the flowers. For like the bees we are pollinating the next generation, so they too will seek the nectar of life. In so doing, our children’s lives – and ours – will be enriched.
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.“ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Activity: Go on a mini vision quest.
Take your child to a creek. Walk to a place along the creek where you cannot see the road or hear the cars – away from the trail and other people. Tell your child that you just want to sit quietly for ten minutes along the water without talking; that you just want to watch the water flow, hear the creek ripple over the rocks and the birds sing above, feel the sun and the breeze on your face, rest on the rocks or moss beneath you.
If you want, you can share the idea that native people would do this kind of thing to get in touch with the earth, to feel reconnected to nature and to even hear the messages from the animals and the plants – messages even from the water and the stones.
After the ten minutes is up, take a deep breath and stretch. Ask your child how they liked the experience? What did they hear or see? Was there something special that drew their attention? Like the native people, did they receive any messages while sitting by the creek? Was there an animal or plant or insect that spoke to them?
As a follow up, you can have notebooks or drawing pads with you – and spend some extra time either writing / sketching what’s in front of your or describing the experience you just had. This has the added advantage of creating a permanent memento of the experience.
The activity suggested above is for one parent and one child. Of course, you can do with more members of the family, but try it first with just two of you. Be sure you won’t get interrupted by the ring of your phone – or distracted by checking your messages. Try to be fully present.
If you like this experience together, why not make it a tradition? You can go to a different part of the creek each time – or go to a different nature place altogether. You can also expand the amount of time you sit in silence. These mini vision quests can become an important bonding opportunity – just you with your child and the natural setting you choose.
Uncle Bob was a shaman of sorts when it came to building fires, cooking potatoes in the embers, pointing out planets in the night sky, finding the best fishing holes, showing us hidden raspberry patches, spying the hawk on the branch of the oak tree, finding an owl feather on the trail, or telling tales of olden times. I will always be grateful to him for spending time with us during those formative years of childhood and putting us into such direct contact with the elements of life. Those experiences formed who I am and instilled in me a deep love for the natural world and an appreciation for the small things in life.
March 11, 2018Posted by on
I turned my gaze upward to behold a most clear star-lit sky. I felt as if he were looking out into the farthest reaches of the Milky Way. I saw planets, moons and stars up close – as if I could reach up and touch them. There were swirling nebula, shooting stars and comets, waves of light with colors unlike any on earth. Everything was filled with a deeply peaceful, dynamic energy. I felt all that I was seeing was part of a vast whole. I heard ethereal tones echoing, filling my entire being and more beautiful than any song I would ever hear.
I was filled with an immeasurable joy. I felt that I was of the same substance as the entire universe: that there was no real barrier between it and me. I realized that I was something very big and unlimited. Normal time and space did not exist. I outstretched my arms and realized I was in an open channel and could fly as high or as deep as I wished. I did not worry about falling or finding my way back.
The celestial sky looked familiar to me and I felt like I had come home. Everything was welcoming me and there was a conscious presence of the deepest love, sanctuary and joy. It was like the entire universe was alive, and that its breath and mine were one and the same. The realization dawned: This is where I’ve come from; this is who I am.
This childhood dream impacted the trajectory of my life. Perhaps deep inside each one of us there is a memory of a dream that was very special to us – that conveyed an important message to us and that carried with it feelings that would affect how we see the world. Those dreams in which we touch the core of life are like celestial emissaries – singing the song of our souls – which can become like beacons when we get lost in the trials and tribulations of the world. In my case this dream has always reminded me of what is important in my life – and what is important is often hidden from normal sight, yet not far away at all
Beyond all of our to do’s, our tasks, our goals and the plans, there is no more important thing that this very moment we are in. This moment we are in will never come again. And while this moment may be challenging or filled with pain, loss or frustration, it is a moment that belongs to us. To push it away or look past it to a “better time” might miss the message or gift that this moment brings. Trying to be present to the moment we are in is not just healthy for ourselves; it is ultimately the best way to nurture our children and to reap the greatest benefits of being parents and teachers.
The human mind is not very accustomed to being present to each moment, however. It is programmed to proceed in a linear fashion from one thought to the next, and in like fashion we move from one task to the next. Our culture is accomplishment driven, and we are measured by what we produce and get done. Our lives are geared toward getting results. And each result we get drives us on toward the next bottom line, the next goal. We know this string of activity is the nature of the world we live in, but we also know it is not the ultimate meaning of life.
In our ordinary workday consciousness, the spaces in between tasks, like the spaces in between thoughts, are not that valuable to us. They are the interludes between what we are doing now and what we need to do next. But in the realm of spiritual awareness and growth, it is those very spaces that take on significance. They become a refuge, a gateway to new levels of awareness about ourselves and about our lives. Inside those spaces is where we are reminded of who we really are where we hold what is most important to us. In order for us not to live out the movie “Groundhog Day”, where we are mindlessly repeating the same tasks day after day, week after week and year after year, we need to intentionally shift from our “normal operating system” to our “pause in awareness mode”.
To stay in touch with the core of who we are, we must try to be cognizant that we are moving from a space in which thoughts are important and necessary to a mode of being where thoughts are like the tips of waves. It is what lies in the depths beneath the waves that we want to reach when we are practicing awareness. For those brief periods of time when we are pausing in awareness, our normal thoughts are no longer that important to us. We shouldn’t try to push them away, but just recognize that there is a level of experience deeper than our thoughts – and that deeper level of experience is what we are aiming for.
To try and find our own inner child, we need time to ourselves. This is not being selfish. It is being wise and practical. Ultimately spending more time with our own “inner child” will only help us to be more patient, loving, and inspiring caregivers. If our intentions are aimed at the healthy and balanced growth and development of our children, then we must nurture ourselves first. Just like they say on the airplane – “put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then put on your child’s mask.”
From spiritual calm and centeredness come emotional calm and mental clarity. If we are giving ourselves the soul-nourishment we need whenever we have the opportunity, then everything else will work itself out. Raising healthy and happy children takes energy. The batteries of our personal energy are located within – especially in our quiet spaces of inner awareness.
Practice One: Creating time and space for yourself:
Consciously trying to create a time and a space for our own personal reflection can be an important step in expanding the possibilities for growth and empowerment in our lives. Create a special area in the house that is especially intended for your own personal reflection. In this special place, you can set up a shelf, a small table, a rug or a cushion. You can include items such as inspiring pictures, a candle, flowers or other items that will help foster a peaceful atmosphere. Regardless of how small the place, the most important thing is take a few minutes each day to tune out of our ordinary mind and tune into a higher and deeper level of awareness. After a short while of regular practice, we will feel the benefits: greater peace, poise, and patience, as well as greater contentment.
Practice Two: Reflecting on our dreams:
You may have had a dream in your childhood that was special to you. If you cannot remember any special childhood dreams, stay attuned when you first awake and see if you can remember a dream from the previous night. All dreams “bad” or “good” may have some meaning or value to us, but the dreams that that leave us with a positive, energizing and inspiring feeling can provide us with “soul nourishment” that we can bring with us into our daily lives. Take time to sit in your personal reflection space and write or draw the images, feelings or insights that come from the dream you had. Pause and close your eyes and sit with that awareness for a few moments. Take a deep breath or two. Are dreams not simply another realm of experience where we relate to a different, deeper part of ourselves?
Reflection Quote: “That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration. It is like the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom. Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life.” -Maria Montessori
Postscript: Later when I was about 12, I remember hearing my parents talking in hushed tones late one night about how little money they had. How would they afford rent? Groceries? School supplies? Listening to the concern and despair in their voices I was filled with worry and helplessness. I started to wonder what would happen if we had to move out of our house? What if we really didn’t have enough to eat and we would all go hungry? As I lay in bed and my mind was spinning anxiously in this way, out of nowhere a wave of calm came over me. A vivid memory of my dream came back to me. I heard a message from within me, saying – “Do not worry about anything. Remember the source you came from. It will always provide for you.”
March 4, 2018Posted by on
We sometimes conceptualize happiness as a place we will arrive – someday. A place we are headed like a point on a map on summer vacation. Yet we all know in our heart of hearts that life does not work that way.
When I think of what happiness is, I think of one my earliest memories – the kitchen in the old farmhouse where I lived until I was 5. I think of a special light, of a sweet fragrance and of my mom’s bright smile. I think of the gift my mother gave to me the morning she shared with me her love of lilacs. And I think about how that experience helped me begin to understand that happiness is about connecting with the flow of life – about entering into a world beyond our ordinary experience of time and space.
We left out the front door and headed into the woods along the road. In one hand mom carried a basket with some scissors inside. As we made our way toward the stream that flowed passed the moss-covered rocks and skunk cabbage, mom said, “There they are!” I could hear the excitement in her voice. The lilac bushes stood high above the stream on a little hill that rose up toward the road above. I was surprised at how tall the bushes were. We both looked up in awe at the large beautiful blooms high at the top – exuberant splashes of purple against the canvas of blue sky and treetops.
Back at home mom filled a glass vase with water placed the lilacs inside it on the old wooden kitchen table. She stood back, raised her hands and with a big smile, she said “Now that will brighten the kitchen for a while”! I was sitting near the old iron stove. From the far side of the kitchen the sun shone through the window. The rays illuminated the vase, the table and mother standing next to them. Everything in the kitchen was bathed in light and the sweetness of the lilacs filled the whole room. That moment in the kitchen, when I was not more than 5 years old, would forever imprinted upon my soul.
The story of my mother and the lilacs was what I call a “soul moment” in my life. Soul moments can be any experiences that are meaningful and memorable to us in a positive way. This moment with my mother left a lasting impression on me because it was an experience shared between just mom and me. It brought me in touch with nature in a direct and organic way. And it occurred on a stunningly beautiful May morning that somehow I can still see today even though I was only 5 when it happened. Perhaps most importantly, it became important to me because my mother shared with me something deeply meaningful to her.
Our fondest childhood memories are likely to be centered around special times we have spent with family. We remember those times because they have touched our soul in some way. Those are the feelings that form the fabric of who we are and that sustain us in the face of negative experiences later in life. Often, we can remember minute details of those occasions, such as the color of the sunset, the weather that day, the time of year, the precise location, the fragrance in the air, etc. These experiences make an indelible imprint upon us. It is these soul-nourishing experiences that we want our children to have too, because we know how important they were for us.
How might we improve the quality of time we spend with our children and allow more soul moments to happen for them? The answer to that question depends on choices that we as caregivers make. A certain amount of time spent with our children will inevitably be focused on necessary life tasks such as meals, homework, bedtime, chores etc. Another chunk of time goes to soccer, karate, piano lessons, ballet or whatever extra-curricular activities our children may participate in. That leaves precious little time in a busy week for finding quality “other” time. Yet with intentional focus, we can seek opportunities for soul moments with our children. And sometimes they can occur even in the midst of the most mundane everyday activities.
To create the “psychic space” for soul moments to occur, the first step is to be committed ourselves to the experience. The phrase “Just Do It!” comes to mind. Making a pledge to ourselves that this is important can be a huge step in the direction we want to go. The second step is to turn off – and tune out – the computer, cell phone and television, and leave behind the to do list and the homework. Our tools, toys and tasks often keep us occupied at a surface level; letting them go is needed to become more reflective and to allow deeper and more inward experiences to emerge.
There are myriad activities that lend themselves to deeper connection: Walking in the woods, sitting by a stream, building a model airplane, working in the garden, cooking a meal, listening to a great piece of music, having family reading time – all provide potential opportunities for our children to get connected not only with us but with their own inner world; the world of their thoughts, feelings and dreams. Seeking out and experiencing soul moments with our children is rewarding for all of us. It results in a feeling of connection with our children, which in turn gives them a sense of security and a feeling of centeredness.
Ultimately these inner experiences lay the foundation for our children’s sense of identity and character. They learn to value the intangible “little things” in life – the insights, thrills of discovery, and simple and organic delights which playing on the computer or buying some new stuff at the shopping mall likely will not provide. For soul moments are experiences that are not dependent on outside things. They take us out of our normal time and space. And they occur when we are fully present to the activity we are engaged in.
Happiness is the road we walk with our children. They are our fellow travelers. If we closely observe what makes them truly happy (as opposed to simply occupied ) and if we strive to give them what they need (as opposed to what they might say they want), we can learn valuable lessons about life and important clues about how to spend our precious time with them. For our children as for us, soul moments are experiences that foster connection – with ourselves, with each other and with the life itself. The more time we spend building sand castles with our children, the more their lives will have a sturdy emotional and spiritual footing.
Practice One – Making a Tradition
Choose something you love passionately and invite your child to join you in that activity. Make it a special occasion; something not scrunched between other activities or commitments. It could be anything – gardening, cross country skiing, fishing, birding, kayaking, dancing, writing, painting – anything that is meaningful to you that provided, and provides, soul moments in your life.
The goal is not necessarily to make your child love the activity as much as you do. Rather, it is for your child to experience your passion; to see and feel you engaged in something you really love and to share that experience with you. Perhaps doing this activity together will become a tradition – something you repeat over time and you will look forward to. Or maybe it won’t, but your child will have seen you in a new way, out of the day to day mode and engaged with life at a deeper level. And that in itself will be a life lesson.
Practice Two – Observing Your Child
Take a journal with you and observe your child doing one of his / her favorite activities. The activity does not matter. Your child could be building blocks in the living room, chasing butterflies in the back yard, playing in the sandbox, doing a music lesson or playing in a baseball game. Be still and quiet. Write down your thoughts – or sketch what you see. Be in the moment.
Maria Montessori based her entire methodology of teaching on the observation of children. She often described how her observations “revealed the hidden secrets of the child’s development.” Mindfully watching our children can help us gain new insights about them, and can often lead us to realizations about ourselves.
My mother opened a doorway for me into something she loved and the experience of the connection we felt would never fade. In this way, I learned that one moment in time, like a stone dropped in a still pool, can have ripples that extend through a lifetime. Ever since that time, whenever I pass lilacs I try to stop and get close to them. When I breathe their fragrance, I am filled with joy and I go back to that day when mom and I first picked them. Regardless of how busy or stressed I am, I pause and I am filled with a wonderful memory and a little burst of sweetness. It is a reminder to me that just below the surface of everyday life there are ripples still flowing from experiences in the past.
March 19, 2017Posted by on
Thomas Friedman’s fantastic new book is called Thank You for Being Late – An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations. I recommend it as essential reading for educators and parents alike – as we all try to come to grips with the incredible rate of change in our world and what it means for our children.
Friedman points out in poignant detail exactly what is changing and how: “The three largest forces on our planet – technology, globalization and climate change – are all accelerating at once.” And the rate of change is faster than anything we’ve had to adapt to before. Friedman says it is “surely one of the great transformative moments in history.”
The possible pathways forward for us to adapt as individuals and as a species center around our ability to be resilient and adapt in the face of this potentially staggering change. This ability will increase if we can become “radically inclusive” – each of us bringing into our work “as many relevant people, processes, disciplines, organizations and technologies as possible.” “Indeed as the world becomes more interdependent and complex, it becomes more vital than ever to widen your aperture and synthesize more perspectives.”
In reading this book, it struck me like a lightning bolt that Friedman is also laying out in stark detail the pathway forward for education. This pathway is both exhilarating and daunting. Exhilarating because there is a world of new opportunities for collaboration, of new technology platforms and of interdisciplinary explorations. Daunting because we ourselves need to adapt our thinking about education itself – and be courageous enough to let go of the old and explore the new.
If we are to help build new neural pathways for innovation and creativity, we must allow our students the space necessary to explore and develop curiosity. We must build into the schedule time for students to go deep with subject matter and discover connections between subject fields. We must allow the opportunity for students to get into the flow of the learning process by supporting what they are passionate about. And we must foster the opportunity to collaborate, share projects and add their own improvements to the innovations of others.
In these ways we can begin to begin to foster the kind of adaptive thinkers who can leverage the changes we face – and transform them into net positives for humanity . To accomplish this, we as educators and parents will need to learn – and to encourage – a new capacity called “dynamic stability”. Dynamic stability is like riding a bicycle: you cannot stand still, but once you are moving it is actually easier. Eric Teller, CEO of Google’s X Research and Development lab says, “It is not our natural state. But humanity has to learn to exist in this state.” As we move into this state of adaptive change, Friedman says, “We’re all going to have to learn that bicycle trick.”