Erica: Did Montessori ever analyse the child's path in becoming a transformed and regenerated adult?
Delfina: I cannot remember her mentioning it in so many words during our course. It is, however, crystal clear that her books give the greatest emphasis to this message. I can remember her talking about the idea of applying her method to retirement homes, so in a roundabout way she did refer to the impact of her approach on adults, and on the elderly.
Alice: Indeed, the Montessori approach is being applied in quite a few retirement homes around the world realising encouraging results with elderly that live with dementia.
Delfina: Yes, it gave me great joy when I heard about this. While I still live independently at ninety, some of my students already live in retirement homes. I am particularly close to one of them who, during the COVID lockdown, called me frequently telling me that she was extremely bored since her caretakers were not allowed to visit. I advised her to get a notebook and write down how she felt when she was bored, and she wrote down her whole life story! I cannot wait to visit her and read what she has written. When she called, she said: "I did not know I could still write. It was the first time in years I took up a pen." She coped with boredom by welcoming introspection, by writing down how she felt. Now she is seventy and writes a journal; I can't wait to read it. I am happy to know the method is also used in retirement homes.
Alice: During the 1950 course did Montessori mention the importance of teaching students coming from diverse backgrounds, especially from disadvantaged areas?
Delfina: Montessori started her pedagogical experiments with developmentally challenged children who progressed at a faster pace than so-called "normal" children. From that experience, her pedagogical approach started. I have had the opportunity to work in a school where many of the children came from disadvantaged backgrounds, many were abandoned or orphans. There was this Casa dei Bambini in Forci, in the county of Ascoli Piceno, where I worked thanks to Antonietta Paolini (a close and early collaborator of Maria Montessori, eds). It was quite a challenging time but overall, I also had life-changing experiences. In Forci, I worked with a boy who did not speak because when he was four years old, he witnessed the murder of his mother by his father. When the neighbours found the mother, he and his baby sister of nine months were barricaded in their room. Upon my arrival, I had a group of twelve children between the ages of three and six. Among them, here was this child who did not say a single word, he would only emit sounds. At the school, I was creating new Montessori materials, because Montessori was not at all rigid when it came to creating new didactic materials, as long as we would follow what she taught us. I am good at drawing, so I spent countless hours drawing with Alberto little things that might remind him of the environment where he grew up: the animals, the farmer's tools, the trees, the birds [...] anything that could get through to his memories, to a happy memory. I was drawing some pets while repeating the name of the animal and their sound and the little boy mimicked the sound of the sheep. That was the first word Alberto ever pronounced since the tragic day when his dad killed his mom and ran away. I still get very emotional thinking about that moment.