Church of Our Savior on the Spilt Blood

of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood

The Montessori Program at DYNAMICS

Susan's E-mails Home
St. Petersburg, Russia, April, 2010

After a school consultation in Moscow I took the train to St. Petersburg. The main purpose was to see the beautiful architecture and the Hermitage Museum. But life is full of surprises. The visit to "Dynamics," a special school for children with severe physical disabilities, was a height of this trip. Let me tell you about it. . .

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the hermitage

The Hermitage museum

dancing class in memory

The entrance to upper floors is a ramp so children can be completely independent in getting around the school.

Every child is invited to participate in the dance classes, even if they can only move their eyes. The teacher is a professional dancer from Moscow's famous Bolshoi Ballet.

This is a picture and flowers to remember one of the students who drowned at home because he was not able to get himself out of the bathtub.

Montessori sandpaper letters in Russian

Cyrillic Sandpaper letters

Montessori room, in Russian

Sign "Montessori" on the door

Montessori room St Petersburg Russia

The Montessori classroom

Dynamics is a free school for children from 7-21 years of age with physical disabilities. Before it was created children stayed at home with no therapy, nothing to do. 19 years ago a group of parents decided to create a place where children with various special needs could at least meet with others, get out of the house, have friends.

The new building was built with the support of the mayor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matvienko, who is also working to make buildings and roads accessible to people with physical disabilities.

Many of the children have spina bifida which is often accompanied by mental retardation in various degrees. There is a shallow swimming pool that these children can enter in a wheelchair. It is as much for relaxation of muscles as for therapy.

We observed a dance cass where everyone is allowed to participate as some level. There were costumes for fashion shows. There are academic classes and the whole building is accessible by wheelchairs. The staff can only stay at Dynamics if they really love their work and it was clear that they do.

Three years ago an amazing woman, Dr. Natalia (Natasha Androuchtchenko) who has done many things for children, joined the staff. She had received AMI Montessori 3-6 training in Munich including an additional Montessori course for working with special needs children. Upon her return Dr Natalia spent 2 years training 6 women and a year ago they opened a room of Montessori materials where each of the 130 children in the school get to spend 35 minutes a week with 1:1 help on how to use the materials.

I asked if we would see a student working in the Montessori room . . .

Pavel entering the Montessori room

Pavel entering the Montessori room

Pavel at the table

The teacher removing and mixing up the cylinders

Montessori work accomplished

Click the picture or here to see: VIDEO CLIP

Pavel Petrov was born with spina bifida and has been unable to walk or use his hands or speak all his life. At age 8 he began coming to Dynamics, but aside from the warm pool he could enter in his new wheelchair, and the community of others and very kind adults, he did not develop mentally or physically. So of course no one knew anything about his intelligence or about what had been going on in his mind.

One year ago the Montessori room was ready. The first time Pavel was taken into this room in his wheelchair he was not able to communicate or move on his own. The beauty of the materials provided the first impetus for him to move his hands, just to touch them. Imagine a person who for 19 years had never been inspired to try to move his hands. And just how difficult it must be to begin this very difficult enterprise after a lifetime of not moving.

Since then Pavel, like all of the other students, has had 35 minutes each week to be with a teacher 1:1 in the Montessori room. Yet what he has accomplished is a miracle.

He was first attracted to the task of wiping/cleaning a table. A whole-hand, soft, repetitive action that was actually important to society. Just as the first children in the first casa dei bambini or children's house in Rome over 100 years ago he was attracted to the real work he had seen going on around him.

He grinned from ear to ear as he was wheeled into the room. Since it was at my request and not his regular time perhaps it was even a bit more exciting.

The task for today was to work with one of 4 Montessori cylinder blocks. The last time he worked with this the teacher removed each of the cylinders and placed them in front of the hole where they belong. This was a simpler movement for Pavel than today—because today she mixed them up and he had to grasp the knob, lift, move the cylinder to the correct hole and fit it into the hole.

It took a long time, but when Pavel had finished the glowing smile on his face was that of someone who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize or the lottery.

If you click on the picture above you can see a short video clip of Pavel managing to compete the cylinder block.

computer keyboard at Dynamics

Without this Montessori experience no one would even have known that Pavel is exceptionally intelligent. The beauty of the material provided the first impetus to move his hands, but since then he has learned to use many of the materials and to communicate his thoughts and to do research on the computer!

When we asked what would happen to Pavel now that he is too old to continue with the school faces dropped. There is as yet no place for him, and it is very sad. So we told him about Stephen Hawking and suggested that Pavel be introduced to the work of this man who had developed a disease that made him physically very much like Pavel, yet he continued his research and is now one of the most famous physicists in the world. They were so excited to share this story with Pavel.

teachers meeting

One of the learning computer keyboards in the school.

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Sometimes I think we Montessorians are so dependent on having the perfect situation, environment, students, materials, that we can lose sight of the fact that Montessori has something to offer children and adults in many situations.

My husband uses Montessori ideas regularly with his hospice patients (such as offering something real to do, and assuming intelligence even when a person can no longer communicate verbally) and many others are using these ideas with the elderly. How many other vital creative spirits are trapped in helpless bodies waiting for someone to give them the tools to emerge?

This experience at Dynamics has helped me widen my already pretty broad view of the value of Montessori even further, and I hope you find the story useful in your life.

From left to right:

The teacher who worked with Pavel today, another Dynamics teacher, Dr. Natalia, Marina Pawley (teacher at Karan Young's Montessori school in St. Petersburg), Karan Young (Montessori teacher and administrator and Susan's hostess in St. Petersburg), Susan Stephenson