Maria Tecla Artemesia Montessori turned modern education on its head when, at the dawn of the 20th century, she realised that by engaging with kids physically, creatively, and out of doors it did more for their learning processes, growth, focus and retention than those endless hours sitting at a school desk.
When kids were free to express themselves, or were emotionally connected with the teachings, they were more open to learning and their brains fully engaged. Despite Montessori’s impact abroad, when Shannon Kenny founded Arte al Sole, there were actually few truly engaging experiences for kids in and around Italy.
Shannon, a medieval historian and single mother of two girls, became determined that she would devise a fun-filled curriculum to allow her kids to get the most out of their Italian experience.
She employed an inquiry-based system, that when taught by professionals, helps kids arrive at their own conclusions, and make connections to their own lives – whether they’re 6 or 16. And off she went to see how much of Italy’s rich history – the people, places, piazzas, palaces and yes, pasta! could kids take in (along with plenty of gelato! even learning to make it at times).
Shannon was convinced that through wonderful learning experiences abroad, kids could become model global citizens, rather than tiny tired travellers – as their parents check off this museum and that, walking them through crowded city streets in 90 degree heat. And off they went!
Families would come on vacation and while parents enjoyed the things they wanted to do, from a wine tour or museum experience, or walking those teeming city streets, their children would be learning about the place by connecting in myriad ways to its rich culture.
In Lucca, Arte al Sole campers would learn about medieval life and times, discovering the stone animals and learn why ferocious beasts guard many beautiful places. And they would use the power of observation to draw what they’ve seen.
In Florence, the Renaissance greats are the main event. I encountered a 7 year old, who, while working on his fantastical solar system asked me, “Did you know that Galileo was imprisoned for his ideas?” And went on to tell me just what those ideas were. On Day 4, kids get to cook some local specialties with professional chefs (or a wonderfully talented Italian nonna – grandmother!) and learn how important cuisine is to a specific culture.
In Umbria, it’s all about the Etruscans – ancient civilisations and country life. Between soccer lessons (with a professional coach) and beekeeping, families come together each evening at I Casali di Colle San Paolo for BBQ parties around the pool, a town festival, or to chase after a wacky Prince’s dogs in search of truffles. The kids also make up their own show – so on Parent’s Day, they can show off what they’ve learned all week long.
In Rome, it was all about Aqua — so we had a host of river gods and nymphs, some who were legend, and some fantastical ones created by the kids themselves.
By sparking emotional connections — to each other, to the terrain, and through your own artwork – your brain is on fire, you’re joyfully participating…and you can recall those emotional want to come back to Italy or try out new countries…time and again.
After learning about Cosimo de Medici and his motto: Make Haste Slowly, one girl tells parents that her motto is…Always treat others kindly – that way, you’re an example for others and you can change the world.
Maria Montessori would be proud…
Arte al Sole day camps – for kids 6-13
Family tours & art workshops year round
Lisa R Tucci is Arte al Sole’s Program Director
She learned about engaging people emotionally with art when bringing audio guides to Italy’s museums.
Her Company, TestaAlta, also runs SuperCamp Italy for kids 12-18 | A life skills and lifelong learning program based on accelerated learning through emotional intelligence, and unique interactive learning (and lots of s’mores!)
TestaAlta.org • SuperCampItaly.com • ArtealSole.com