One of the best parts about having a blog is the way it has connected me to other people who I might not have met otherwise. I feel like I have pen pals all over the world now, and some, like Libby Jane from The Full Cup, who are actually close enough to know in real life if we had the chance. We both have an interest in making toys and recently she introduced me (not literally of course) to Sophia Cavaletti, saying she was a student of Maria Montessori and leader of a branch of montessori education (more on this here), who urges teachers and parents to make the materials themselves, maintaining that the care adults put into the materials we give our children is vitally important to the children. Here are some snippets of an email she sent me a few weeks ago, and I thought it was so interesting I asked her if I could share parts of it here (she said yes).
Sophia Cavaletti and many others put out a call to the community of catechists saying that it is the very poverty of the materials that calls to the children. In poverty she was speaking not of poor and ugly things. Rather, the simplicity of the materials, along with the care put into them by the parent or teacher who makes them, speaks to the children. She said that when we make too fancy materials they speak of the skill and imagination of the artist, but not so much to the soul of the child.
The point of the materials is not to teach a lesson, but to engage the child in the work or play that he or she needs to do. "The materials... are not meant to lead to the formulation of concepts, but to a vital encounter with a real Person," says Gobbi in Listenting to God with Children. I think this concept is so present in Waldorf too; the toys themselves don't actually matter. It is the childrens' play (or their work!) that takes them where they need to go.
I just love this, and isn't it interesting that these sentiments seem to cross over so many differing philosophies, almost like a higher conciousness. I've been doing more toy shopping than usual because of the Christmas season, and even though I try to stay very positive-minded, I'm disheartened by what I see for children in the stores. This email really lifted my spirits and I am so happy Libby Jane said I could post it here. Here's a few sentences more . . .
She also said that each teacher must make her own materials for her children because making the materials is part of the spiritual formation of the teacher! I have experienced that so much myself, and see it quite clearly in the work on your blog.
In writing this just now, I have a much needed reminder for myself. As an artist, I am often so ambitious! It is within my grasp to make such wondrous treasures, but actually it often prevents me from making anything at all. I have a vision of the nativity set, the advent calendar, I want to make for our family, and I never make it, because I don't have the time! But I remember the creche we had when I was little, my mom made it out of salt dough, and it was so simple. Really just colored balls stuck together; we were always gluing the heads back on, but how I loved it!
Isn't that so encouraging and just . . . freeing? Thanks Libby Jane :)