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a brief story of

"il quaderno" 1984-2017



In 1964, my husband Emilio Honegger and I thought about opening a small Montessori school in Castellanza, where we were living, for our two children and three more from friends' families. In this small town, that back then was a center for the Italian cotton industry, there were only two nursery schools, run by Salesian nuns. (To this day [2017] there is no public nursery school in Castellanza).  We did not share the educational modes adopted by such institutes and therefore we decided to first set up a small school in our home: just five children. In 1965 we were able to rent a pleasant villa on the Via Garibaldi. This caused the anger of the local parish, but was supported by Mr Giulio Moroni, the mayor at the time, and by some local families. The school remained at the same location for about ten years, with the Children's Home on the ground floor and, from 1967-68, a primary school above, with the excellent teachers Ms Diana Cascio in primary, Mrs Nives Rizzotti in the nursery school and Mrs Carmela Lazzaroni for 'practical life.'  The number of children increased and with them the number of teachers. From 1974 the school moved into spaces previously used by the Cantoni cotton mill, that had been offered at no cost and transformed for their new destination. There was even space for a Stern painting atelier run by Mrs Lele Cancian and a woodworking workshop, run by Mr Bottalo, a grandfather.  We ended up having about 120 pupils between 3 and 12 years of age. Among them there were always children with difficulties. From 1976 we also started welcoming children between the ages of 15 and 24 months, with spaces adapted to their needs. Besides the care for the children we had an ongoing education activity destined to the teachers and exchange with the families. The school was open to many visitors, from Italy and abroad, always surprised by the activity and the calm that was present in the school.  At the end of the seventies the building was at full capacities and, unable to find a more spacious location, the School Board decided to split the school and the Children's Home moved to a new location, about one kilometer away. Despite this short distance, the atmosphere of the school changed.  “Small is beautiful” has written Ernst Schumacher regarding complex economic problems. This is also true for education situations: they cannot expand too much, or split up, without breaking up the fluidity of relationships and thus changing them. Therefore the split was not a positive change: the natural mingling of younger and older children, the exchange and understaning among teachers and parents was no more. Wherever the climate of a real community is broken, strange alliances, jealousies, petty rivalries, tacit omissions, power statements start creeping up. What was feared duly happened: the School was becoming something else, there were conflicts, to the point that, after many years of work, in 1988 I decided to leave it and I did not return there.




Destined to those who are interested in Montessori, to the members of the 32 sections of Opera Montessori that existed back then, Il Quaderno was spread among the parents in the schools and nursery schools what we knew. It was a proposal to whoever was looking for nonviolent education (at the time Montessori was almost unknown, almost mocked by some). Here is part of  one of our introduction leaflets:  Based on reporting of experience, each issue of Il Quaderno is developed around a theme, a topic for each season. It features several sections, such as better growing, well-being at the nursery, well-being at school, games and songs, trade secrets, let's build together, between saying and doing,, books for children and the many sides of the child-adult relationship (education and peace, parents how-to, chronicle of ordinary violence, nature page, topics of today, …)  Other sections focus on wider cultural themes (health, poetic fragments, a book or a magazine worth knowing, the feminine side, the duty of remembering, news from...) and others such as our mentors, in reference to remarkable people from the past, who are meaningful in term of education and foreign school, about experiences of welcoming and studying Italian for migrant people.  It is also importan the recurring proposal of a Document, mostly of historical meaning, to help deepen the knowledge about themes, people, experiences of far away school Montessori or not.  Over time many people have contribute – always for free – educators, scientists, writers, poets, artists, parents, many schools and their teachers, artisans, Nobel prize winners, midwives and doctors, children, even really young ones, feminine associations, historical archives, photographers, musicians...



The images, carefully chosen by Mrs Lia da Pra (an art history expert, at the time owner of an art gallery in Busto Arsizio and also the mother of one of the children at the school) were never commercial or trivial comments to the texts. Rather, they were an enrichment to our proposals, suggesting ideas, also thanks to the pictures taken in the excellent nurseries of Centro Nascita Montessori (CNM) in Rome or in other school known to us.  We have frequently used the beautiful pictures taken by Roman photographer Paolo Rita in 1974 at our school, originally for an exhibition at Castellanza Town Hall. Paolo spent several days among the children, in order to understand the atmosphere of intense activity and independence that they demonstrated. He was able to render in an extraordinary way the many moments that showed the value of a school without judgments, punishments or grades.  From issue n. 5 on, the arrival in the in the editorial staff brought a wealth of imagery. Given the difficulties of printing in color for cost reasons, Lia searched carefully for line drawings or in black and white, by great artists such as Klee, Nolde, Matisse, Escher, Picasso, Bruno Munari, Luigi Veronesi, Italo Castelli, Man Ray, Lele Luzzati, Emil Orlik, Armando Spadini, Rosai, Pelizza da Volpedo. There were also Chinese, Japanese, African, Australian and South American, as well as preistorical documents. She also chose drawings from Renaissance artists such as Raphael and Leonardo, engravings by Luca from Leiden, Dürer, Rembrandt. Besides enriching the Quaderno, she provided documents that elementary school children could use.


Lia's constant presnece has been fundamental for the style and the choices of the magazine.


There were also numerous drawings made by children, often on the covers and coming from various schools, such as the public one in via dei Cappuccini in Como, where Mrs Marina Bianco Ballabio taught, the pupils of Mr Mario Lodi, form the Italian-Swiss Village in Rimini, from the lineographies made by the 'Il Borgo di Dio', founded by Mr Danilo Dolci in Trappeto (Pa) and, lastly our own school in Castellanza and later in Varese (first in Cartabbia and later at Calcinate del Pesce). There were also many schemes and explanation drawings about craft objects, that could be useful in classes. Many of these were made by Mrss Fata and Marcora, Mrs Ilaria Biganzoli, Mrs Marina Bianco Ballabio, Mr Fulvio Honegger and Mrs Laura Simonetti.



From issue n. 17 on, under the direction of Lia, the Quaderno settled on a quarterly rhythm, with in principle 80 to 104 pages each. Subscription was first 20'000 lire, later increased to 30'000. Even if after the first 10 issues we had managed to have 300 subscriptions, surviving was a constant issue, although the only expenses were printing and shipping costs. We went on with courage, trying to make ourselves known. The network was expanded: we had contributions from abroad, ideas and suggestions from our friends at 'Percorsi per Crescere', a group of adult educators that was started at the end of the seventies and was financed by the local public administration in order to train the staff at the public nurseries in the area.  'Percorsi per Crescere' has always given a strong support to the Quaderno.


They always had different hues and they featured children's drawings, with a few exceptions: issues n. 92 and 93 featured previously unpublished photographs of Mrs Maria Montessori, to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of the first Children's Home; issue n. 100 shows a collage made by children in a class under the supervision of Mrs Vanda Mazzarelllo; issue n. 112 shows a tree drawn of the wall of a female weavers cooperative in India. This drawing was chosen as the logo for Asnada. Issue n. 129 shows the symbol for the universe, drawn by Japanese master Zen Sengay.



We had noticed, during training courses, how productive was for an educator to experiment creating objects. This helped developing their creative activities and allowed them to realize their ideas, making them think about their proposals to the children and their remarks. The Quaderno has hosted many of these experiences. In each issue there are concrete proposals in features such as 'let's build together' or 'easier said than done' (edited by Mrs Marina Bianco Ballabio). We have explained cakes recipes, that can be made with small children, various techniques to build using scrap material, shaping with clay or papier-mâché, folding paper (origami), build kites, small books,  card pairs games, wool and cotton weaving, braiding, simple embroidery on jute or cloth, finger puppets, balls and more.

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