Showing posts with label Children. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Children. Show all posts

14 April 2019

Gianni Rodari - children’s author

Writer whose books reflect the struggles of the lower classes in society

Gianni Rodari originally trained to be a schoolteacher
Gianni Rodari originally trained to
be a schoolteacher 
Writer and journalist Gianni Rodari, who became famous for creating Cipollino, a children’s book character, died on this day in 1980 in Rome.

Regarded as the best modern writer for children in Italian, Rodari had been awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for children’s literature in 1970, which gained him an international reputation.

Cipollino, which means Little Onion, fought the unjust treatment of his fellow vegetable characters by the fruit royalty, such as Prince Lemon and the overly proud Tomato, in the garden kingdom.

The main themes of the stories are the struggle of the underclass against the powerful, good versus evil and the importance of friendship in the face of difficulties.

Rodari was born in 1920 in Omegna, a small town on Lake Orta in the province of Novara in northern Italy.

His father died when he was ten years old and Rodari and his two brothers were brought up by their mother in her native village of Gavirate near Varese.

Rodari trained to be a teacher and received his diploma when he was 17. He began to teach elementary classes in rural schools around Varese.

Rodari's character Cippolino, with  Prince Lemon and Tomato
Rodari's character Cippolino, with
Prince Lemon and Tomato
During the Second World War his poor health prevented him from serving in the army but he was forced to join the National Fascist Party to get work.

The shock of losing his two best friends and discovering that his favourite brother, Cesare, had been sent to a German concentration camp led Rodari to join the Italian Communist Party and join the resistance movement.

He had become interested in the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky when he was a young man and after the war he worked for the Communist newspaper, L’UnitĂ , as a journalist.

The Communist Party later made him editor of a new, weekly children’s magazine, Il Pionere.

Rodari published his first books, Il Libro delle Filastrocche and Il Romanzo di Cipollino, in 1951.

He married Maria Teresa Feretti in 1953 and four years later they had a daughter, Paola.

He began making regular trips to the Soviet Union and continued to write for children until the 1970s. Rodari became ill after returning from the Soviet Union in 1979 and died the following year after undergoing an operation in Rome.

Omegna is on the shores of Lake Orta in northeast  Piedmont, about 100km (62 miles) from Turin
Omegna is on the shores of Lake Orta in northeast
Piedmont, about 100km (62 miles) from Turin
Travel tip:

Omegna, where Rodari was born, is a town in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola in Piedmont. At 100km (62 miles) northeast of Turin, it is situated at the northernmost point of Lake Orta, which is reputed to be one of Italy’s prettiest small lakes. During the Second World War, Omegna was a centre of partisan resistance against the German-Fascist occupation. For many years the main centre for production of pots and small home appliances in Italy.

Gavirate, 55km (34 miles) north of Milan, is situated on the shore of Lake Varese
Gavirate, 55km (34 miles) north of Milan, is situated
on the shore of Lake Varese
Travel tip:

Rodari and his brothers were brought up in Gavirate, a village near Varese, which is a city in north western Lombardy, situated 55 km (34 miles) north of Milan. Overlooking Lake Varese, the city is home to the Sacro Monte di Varese, the sacred mountain of Varese, a place of pilgrimage and worship and one of the Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

More reading:

How a painful childhood inspired the verse of Giovanni Pascoli

The first Montessori school opens in Rome

Giulio Einaudi, the publisher who defied the Fascists

Also on this day:

1488: The assassination of papal military leader Girolamo Riario

1609: The death of violin maker Gasparo da Salò

1920: The birth of Olympic bobsleigh champion Lamberto della Costa


6 January 2017

First Montessori school opens in Rome

Educationalist Maria Montessori launches Casa dei Bambini

Maria Montessori in Rome in 1913
Maria Montessori in Rome in 1913
The first of what would become recognised across the world as Montessori schools opened its doors in Rome on this day in 1907.

The Casa dei Bambini, in the working class neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, was launched by the physician and educationalist Maria Montessori.

Montessori - the first woman in Italy to qualify as a physician - had enjoyed success with her teaching methods while working with children as a volunteer at Rome University's psychiatric clinic.

She was convinced that the techniques she had used to help children with learning difficulties and more serious mental health issues could be adapted for the benefit of all children.

The Casa dei Bambini came into being after Montessori had been invited to work on a housing project in San Lorenzo, where her responsibility was to oversee the care and education of the project's children while their parents were at work.

Situated in Via dei Marsi, it catered for between 50 and 60 children aged between two and seven.  The methods Montessori employed, which included many practical activities as well as more conventional lessons and revolved around allowing children to follow the direction in which their own interests led them, were essentially the same as those that would become the hallmarks of her philosophy.

Maria Montessori's image featured on Italy's  1000 lire banknotes prior to the switch to the Euro
Maria Montessori's image featured on Italy's
1000 lire banknotes prior to the switch to the Euro
Children developed self-discipline and self-motivation in the environment she created for them, while their intellectual attainments outstripped those of children in conventional education. Word of the method's success quickly spread.  A second Casa dei Bambini was opened later the same year, followed by three more in 1908.  By 1915, schools in every major European country were using the Montessori method, which was being taken up with enthusiasm in parts of Australia, Asia, South America and the Middle East.

It became popular in the United States from about 1911 onwards and by 1913 there were about 100 Montessori schools.  Maria Montessori embarked on a number of lecture tours, although the popularity of her methods went into decline from about 1925, largely because of opposition from the educational establishment.  It did not gain momentum again until the 1950s.

Nonetheless, at their peak, Montessori schools in the United States numbered around 4,000 out of approximately 7,000 across the world.

Maria Montessori was born in 1870 in the town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona in Le Marche. Her parents were well educated middle-class people but were traditional and conservative in their outlook, especially when it came to the role of women in society.

They moved to Florence and then Rome because of her father's work with the Ministry of Finance.  This afforded her better educational opportunities, yet she was not encouraged to aim higher than teaching as a career.  It was somewhat in defiance of what she perceived as restrictions on her ambition that she first set out to study engineering and then switched to medicine, enrolling at the University of Rome.

It was unheard of for a woman to study medicine at the time and she met with hostility from both professors and fellow students.  She had to perform her dissection of cadavers alone in her own time because it was deemed inappropriate for her to attend classes with men in the presence of a naked body, even one preserved in formaldehyde.

Maria Montessori's name still adorns the wall of the Casa dei Bambini in Rome, which is no longer a Montessori school
Maria Montessori's name still adorns the wall of the Casa
dei Bambini in Rome, which is no longer a Montessori school 
Yet she persevered and became a trailblazer for women in medicine when she obtained her degree in 1896.

Afterwards, she remained at Rome University to research into so-called 'phrenasthenic' children - those deemed to be mentally retarded.  It was her observation of the behaviour of these children that led her to discover ways of teasing out the intrinsic intelligence she believed existed in all children.

During that time, she had a son, Mario, as a result of an affair with a fellow doctor.  Convention at the time dictated that were she to have married the father she would have been expected to abandon her career.  She refused to contemplate such a sacrifice and Mario was placed in foster care, although they would be reunited in his teenage years and he would go on to continue his mother's work after her death.

The growth of the Montessori method suffered a setback during the 1930s when Benito Mussolini, the leader of the Italian Fascist government, who had initially embraced Maria Montessori's ideas, began closing Montessori schools if their teachers did not swear loyalty to the state.  In Germany, Hitler's Nazi party took a similarly hard line, banning the Montessori method and even burning copies of her books.

Maria fled with her son to India, where she knew her methods were growing in popularity, but once Italy signed a formal alliance with Germany they were both arrested as aliens.  Although Maria was spared any restriction on her movement, Mario was incarcerated in a prison camp.

At the end of the war they returned to Europe and Maria based herself in Amsterdam.  Nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, she died in the Netherlands in 1952 at the age of 81.

Piazza Mazzini in Chiaravalle, where Maria  Montessori was born in 1870
Piazza Mazzini in Chiaravalle, where Maria
Montessori was born in 1870
Travel tip:

Maria Montessori's birthplace in Chiaravalle in Piazza Mazzini is open to the public.  It houses a museum containing a collection of the educational materials developed by Montessori and used in the original Casa dei Bambini.  It is also the head office of the Montessori Foundation.

Travel tip:

The San Lorenzo district adjoins the campus of Rome's Sapienza University and sits just to the north of the main Roma Termini station.  Dominated by Via Tiburtina, it is a gritty, somewhat down at heel neighbourhood that has suffered through the decline of industry in the city yet is home to a vibrant youth culture thanks to a large student population.

More reading:

The 17th century philosophy student thought to be the first woman in the world to receive an academic degree

How 18th century scientist Laura Bassi broke new ground for female academics

Tullio Levi-Civita - the mathematician Einstein admired

Also on this day:

Befana - the post-Christmas gift bonus for Italy's children

(Picture credits: Banknotes by Flanker via Wikimedia Commons)