Saturday, October 17, 2015

The children never stop amazing us everyday!

Sometimes, I think our issue as adults can be that our expectations for what our kids can really do isn't high enough.  We allow fear, worry and comparison to others to get in the way of believing the beauty and capabilities of children.  I know it's true for me.

This week we had an incident on the playground with 3 Lower Elementary (1st-3rd) students.  It happened as we were dismissing and as I was talking with the children, I realized emotions were very high and there were questions that didn't have answers at the moment.  I asked the children if they would be ok if we re-visited what happened in the morning-there simply wasn't enough time for me to give it the attention and energy it needed. I asked them to go home, think about what happened and then we'll chat in the morning.  I honestly wasn't sure what would happen-this isn't something I have done before (wait until the next day), but the circumstances just presented in a way that this seemed most appropriate.

I then emailed all 3 families letting them know we were aware of what happened (I knew for certain the kids would report this to their parents and I also knew my wonderful families would speak into the situation in a very healthy way).  I told them we would all be talking in the morning.

Without going into the nitty, gritty details I'll tell you that there was some physical lashing out that happened along with hurt feelings and misinterpretation of the situation.  We had 1 1st grader, 1 2nd grader and 1 3rd grader who were involved.

I can't necessarily prepare myself for these types of conflict resolution opportunities-what is brought to the conflict varies depending on many things, so I simply prayed and welcomed all that could be resolved and more importantly, what could help support their friendships moving forward.  What I don't think adults/the world understands or appreciates is that children are working through hard things each day just as adults.  Their emotions are no different b/c they are younger.  So, what they encounter on a daily basis with their friends or problems is a big deal.  At CMS, we pay attention and as much as we can, allow for time and space needed for processing.

We sat together for about 10 minutes and honestly, I mostly listened.  It was beautiful.  The grace they showed one another was something to marvel at-their ability to forgive and go right back to loving was amazing.  They all 3 shared their emotions in the midst of things and were able to explain what they thought and why they did what they did.  I was humbled to be part of such a wonderful exchange among friends.  They held each other accountable, addressed what needed to be addressed and wiped the slate clean.  We adults have so much to learn from kids.  Challenge yourself to step back, listen, observe and take in the greatness of your child today.  Allow yourself to be uncomfortable in something you may typically take control of or have a judgment about.  Don't be afraid of what your child may do or say-it's likely to soften our heart.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Independent Work-Protecting Concentration

The teachers have been discussing quite a bit lately how many children desire to work with a friend in the classroom, but are rarely successful.  For weeks now, we feel like we have been putting out fires with no clear message or rationale for doing so.  Two children will choose a work together and it turns into playing with the materials, sitting at the rug and chatting or even rough play.  For many children, it's difficult for them to be successful with a work while doing it with a friend.  Occasionally, there will be two children who will work well together, but more times than not (our experience lately anyway) has been it's not been successful.  We've even noticed for some children that the thought of maybe working with a friend at any time consumes them to the point of not being able to choose a work, or hovering around the friend who isn't available, waiting for them to be finished so they can invite them to work.

So,  today, in the pre-primary classroom, we decided to take a stand to protect children's work cycle and ability to focus and concentrate.  We talked with the children and told them that the teachers have noticed lately that many children are having a hard time concentrating/focusing because of so many works with friends happening that aren't successful-we're seeing a lot of rough play with the materials and just silly behavior that is interrupting those working in the classroom.  We told them that for the next several days, everyone will be practicing working independently.  Today was the first day and it was lovely.  Many children have been missing the opportunity to work alone and build their attention and focus because all they can think about is working with a friend. Now that the option has been taken off the table, it seemed, for many, to be helpful.

One of my Montessori mentors asks the question (knowing there isn't a right or wrong answer) "can 4 and 5 year olds work successfully with one another?"  I have seen some that can certainly work well together and I believe they can develop the skills to be successful working with others, but before that can happen, children need to learn to work alone.  Maria Montessori spoke about it like this:  Think of an orchestra-people can't show up one day and play an instrument and expect it to sound beautiful.  Each musician needs to practice, perfect and learn their instrument well before being ready to join the orchestra.  It's the same thing with children-they need to learn how to work independently, concentrate and focus before they're ready to work well with a friend.

Working independently doesn't take away from social opportunities.  In our classroom, social skills are developed and practiced all day long.  Children are interacting and talking with one another often-as they walk through the classroom, they may stop and chat with a friend.  They may need to give a child a message or reminder that can happen at any time.  As they navigate themselves through the classroom, there are opportunities for interactions as well-asking a friend to move their rug or body, reminding a friend to put a work away, or greeting and singing on line.  In our classroom, children are developing their social skills in a prepared/safe environment within the context of work where we provide intentional coaching and support as they learn language and grace and courtesy skills to interact with one another now and in the future.

Ask your child about the message they received today about independent work-it would be a good follow up and opportunity for a great conversation.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Keep Trying

Children's learning is a journey.  In this quick paced world with many expectations it can seem like children go through life checking  off tasks/skills-crawling-check, walking-check, talking-check, potty trained-check, reading-check etc.....but, in reality children are developing, learning, progressing constantly and often times the fruit of their development isn't obvious to the human eye.  So much is happening in a child's brain-what they do today is preparing them for tomorrow. Maria Montessori said they are 'constructing themselves'. They need a lot of practice/repetition and opportunity to master skills and perfect new things they're learning.

Sometimes, as adults, we take away opportunity for growth.  This world is full of pressure to be tidy, and to do things quickly and to have things perfected.  So, we sometimes make the mistake of rushing children and putting inappropriate expectations on what they can do or not expecting them to do things they are capable of doing.

In the classroom, we have a lot of language we use to help coach and support children.  One area we've been working intentionally on is paying attention when children give up easily or don't think they can do something.  Those moments are precious and great opportunity to allow children to push through, give it a try and practice doing something new.

An area of developing independence for children in the pre-primary classroom is putting on snow clothes.  When winter began, children would bring teachers their mittens/gloves and hand them to us vs trying to put them on.  We usually say, 'why don't you give it a try?" or 'let me see you try first'......while they're struggling, they're figuring it out.  Yes, it may take a little longer and they may say things like 'I can't' or 'this is too hard'.....but, the opportunity to practice-with the struggling-is golden.  I can't tell you how many children have mastered putting on their mittens/gloves independently.  On the other side of that as well, sometimes adults can get frustrated when children don't know how to some things independently; yet, they've not been given ample time to develop the ability to do it.  It's great to observe and wait for a child to ask for help, then you can move in with some support along with more opportunity to help them succeed independently-not have an adult do it for them.  If they ask for help, we usually say, 'what would you like me to do?"...again, allowing them to think and verbalize exactly what they are thinking and inviting you into helping.  If a child is really struggling, maybe even crying or seeming overwhelmed, we'll say, 'let me know if you need help'....this serves as a bridge to allow them to ask or indicate they need help.  Adults can sometimes move in too quickly and even take over a situation which sends a message of, you can't do this, so I will rescue things and do it for you.

These great opportunities happen all day long in many areas of the classroom and social arena-children thinking they can't do something, but when given some support and time, they can!  It's ok if it's's ok if it takes some work-that time it takes while it's hard is a time of great growth.

The ultimate goal for teachers and parents is for us to provide environments (whether its home/school/out in the community) that support children as they develop life skills to be independent, resolve conflict, learn about themselves, engage socially in appropriate ways and enjoy life!  When a child feels capable and believed in, the sky's the limit!!

Challenge yourself today to do more observing than moving in.  We can learn a lot about children by just watching and listening.  See where you can help provide an opportunity for a child to push through or keep trying something's so fun to see a child's perseverance!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What we're learning from Cami

We have a family who has been part of the CMS community for almost 4 years. They have a son who started when he was 3 years old. I loved this family from the start!  They came with lots of questions and thoughts and knew the decision of where to send their son for preschool was a big deal.

We have gotten to know the family over the years, enjoyed watching their son develop and learn and have always felt the support from them for what we do on a daily basis.

Last year at a field trip, Erin shared with me that Cami, her daughter who was going to be joining CMS, was suffering from dizziness.  I could tell when she shared it with me, she was very concerned.  Unfortunately, after many tests and doctor visits it's been determined that Cami has a brain tumor.  This news hits like a kick in the gut-your breath is taken away.  A treatment plan was put into place.

In the meantime, we were in contact with the parents, discussing Cami's transition into school and really processing all we needed to think about for Cami to be at school. A nurse from Children's came and talked to the staff and mom and I talked about what their hopes were for Cami in the Montessori environment.  There were things that Children's Hospital offered to help with the transition into school as well as many things we needed to consider while caring for Cami on a daily basis.

My hopes and prayers for Cami at school were that she could have her time at school be a place of respite and escape from all the things she had to go through while she battled her brain tumor.  My hopes and prayers were that she made friends and got to build her independence and make choices.  My hopes and prayers for Cami were very much the same for all the children who enter the classroom.

I am here to say that Cami is teaching us so much about courage, endurance, persistence,  joy, and positive attitude.  The Montessori environment is incredibly magical-it speaks to children, but it speaks to each child in a different way, based on each child's needs.  While Cami battles cancer, she has to endure many things no child should every have to-she has frequent doctor's visits, blood work, time at the hospital, daily unpleasant medication and times when she just doesn't feel well.  But, honestly, aside from losing some of her hair, you wouldn't know this little girl is sick!  Her energy when she comes into the classroom is contagious-she's so excited to be there and always knows what she wants to do and how she wants to spend her time.  She is large and charge in the classroom and cancer has no hold on her!

We love to observe Cami take her time thinking about her work choice, making her work choice, then engaging in a work with such concentration.  She loves to do rock and gourd scrubbing, Easel, drawing and banana cutting.  It's like in the classroom she is free from the worries of her medical world.  We know that her time in the classroom is imprinting on her little heart and she is learning to know herself and trust that she is capable.  She has an opportunity to practice important skills. She is talking and laughing with other children.  The classroom is meeting her right where she is as it does with each child.  The teachers in the classroom feel honored to be able to watch the unfolding of children-there is no stopping the potential of a child's work when the right environment is offered to them.

We thank you Cami for reminding us each day that we can take hold of joy and happiness offered to us! You have shown us the blessings of each day are never ending, even in the hard stuff. Cancer is a side note in your life-you have big things to teach us and the world-you go girl!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Process, Process....Reaps Fruit

We've started our 5th year at Community Montessori School.  I so wish I had the time to blog everyday-everyday something happens in the classroom that I would love to reflect and write about.  Today something happened that really pushed me to take the time.  If you are new to Montessori or you have been a Montessori parent for some time, you have undoubtedly heard that we're more concerned with a child's process.  As adults, we are always thinking of the end game-the end product-the end task list. But, children are in the moment-taking their time and developing every step of the way.  Sometimes, it's difficult as parents and teachers to wait, be patient and allow children the time and space needed to work through things and discover themselves. Today's happening in the classroom illustrates a beautiful process and discovery made by one little boy.

If I notice a child hasn't grabbed their tote bag to bring inside school, I usually say something like 'Would you like to bring your tote bag today?'  This allows the child to respond and make a decision whether or not to bring it.  It's very different than 'grab your tote bag' or even just grabbing it for them and handing it to them.  Most of the time (99.9% of the time), children say 'yes' and grab it.  Today, a little boy turned and looked at his tote bag in his car, then turned around and said he didn't want to bring it in b/c it would get lost.  I then told him that I noticed he had some work on his clip that he could take home, if that information would change his mind-it didn't.  Well, during work time this little boy colored 5 airplane pictures (we're studying transportation).  He finished his work, put the work away and proceeded to carry around the pictures.  I was enjoying watching him to see what he would do.  He solicited a friend to help him try and put all his work on his small clip attached to his coat hook which is where we put work that needed to stay overnight to dry.  What a clever boy!  He saw work clipped there, so he thought he could put his work there he had just finished.  His friend couldn't get his work on the clip.  This friend happened to ride to school with him today so he knew he didn't want to bring his tote bag.  The friend said to the little boy a couple of times, 'This is why you need to bring your tote bag'.  The little boy then replied each time, 'But, it will get lost at the park'.  The little boy proceeded working and thinking very hard about what to do.  He was in the coat room organizing his papers and trying to get his work on the hook.  He then walked around the room for awhile and even chose a work with his hands full.  Then, he walked up to a teacher and said, 'My friend was right-I need to bring my tote bag!' and he said it with a chuckle and smile like he had just made a big discovery!  It was so cute and funny.  There were many times a teacher could have moved in, made a decision for this little guy or even just told him what he could do. But, allowing him to walk through his own thought process without being interrupted was a gift.  This little boy is 3 years old and made such a wonderful discovery.  The interesting part was too that his friend was telling him he needed to bring his tote bag, but he he kept saying, 'no, it will get lost at the park', but in the end, realizing he had nothing to do with his work, he realized, yes, I need to bring a tote bag.  My guess is that this little boy will always bring his tote bag to school!  But, more than bringing his tote bag, he sees purpose is having it at school.

Community Montessori School

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Grit of Life~Lessons Learned

I was driving the other day after just leaving the house hearing my boys (16 and 18) arguing about who put gas in the car last, who drives more than the other, and what they're going to do about it.  It was a bit heated and as the mom, hard to listen to because their relationship is an important one and always will be in their lives.  But, my thoughts turned to how important it is to allow our children to live through the gritty moments of life-the difficult times-the uncomfortable times-because they provide such opportunity for figuring things out, learning to show grace and build confidence because they are working hard to make a way for themselves.  When my 2nd son started driving we knew the boys would be sharing a car and believe me, I was a bit nervous as to how that would work out.  But, it's been better than I expected and they have had to figure out a lot through sharing a car. They're both busy-they have social lives, love to fish, play baseball, golf, jobs etc.  They have to take turns-they have to make decisions-they have to give in-they have to be on a schedule if one needs the car at a certain time etc.  This small situation in both of their lives is an ongoing opportunity to resolve conflict, build their relationship and mature through some of the tough stuff life has to offer.

What I'm finding a lot with some of our young families is that parents want to protect their children from being uncomfortable, sad, or going without something. This can very dangerous.  We know from being in the classroom everyday that kids are adaptable, can make decisions, can think critically about situations, ask great questions, can process through challenging processes, love one another, show grace, and can solve conflict and are ok if they are disappointed or sad for a brief time.  Bouncing back, living through difficult things, then realizing it's ok, is a huge life skill.  As our kids grow up, we can not keep them from the ick side of life. We can not keep them from having their feelings hurt, not having a turn, not being invited, being sick, etc.  What we can do is believe in them-always, no matter what-believe in them for who they are and believe they can!  Our messages we send subtly with how we interact with our kiddos can be very powerful.  Jumping in each time things get tough sends a message of 'You need my help to get through this'.  I'm here to tell you, they really don't.  Certainly, we, as parents, are guiding, supporting, loving along the way as well as taking opportunities to talk/share, but we have to give kids the space/time breathing room to act on their own in their own lives.  What does this look like for preschoolers?  Well, giving children freedom to be part of the process when choosing meals, clothing, activities for the day etc.  Don't second guess their decisions-don't ask them several times 'are you sure?', quietly allow them to choose, then observe.  You will be so amazed at what you see.  In the classroom, we get to see this play out everyday and it's astonishing to us what we see-amazing really!  For example, it's 45 degrees and your child chooses not to take a jacket into school . Allow that decision to play out.  They are learning what 45 degrees is-us telling them it's 'cold' or 'chilly' is too abstract. They need to experience the outcome of their decision-this would be considered a natural consequence. The outcome might be they will get cold.  Or, maybe they won't-kids are little hot boxes and don't feel temperature in the same way we do. Ultimately, we want kids to know how to read their own bodies not only when dressing themselves, but also eating.  We shouldn't be afraid!  They are wired to do this-Maria Montessori says children are constructing themselves-they are learning about themselves and they are pretty darn good at it, if we can step aside a bit and allow them some space.

Going to the bathroom is another example where parents can just listen for their child's clues.  Asking a child constantly if they have to go to the bathroom can be frustrating.  Again, the message we send is 'you need our reminding to listen to your body'.  There's nothing wrong with occasionally reminding-particularly in the beginning of potty training, but be careful about over doing it.  Too many words lead to no message being heard at all.  Please don't force your child to use the bathroom-if you ask, they say no, leave it at that.  It's ok if you aren't going to be near a bathroom or you're traveling a long distance. If they say no, they can probably wait.  And, if not, they may have an accident and that's ok too.  There's a lot of room for grace-understanding and patience when it comes to children learning.  They are IN process-they don't have it figured out (and, frankly neither to do we :)).

Be mindful of when you move in and disrupt an opportunity for your child to express themselves or make a decision.  Don't be afraid of what they may want to do.  Talk to them about what they're thinking-what their plan is etc.  They have some pretty creative thoughts and ideas-let them practice at home while they're under your care and they will amaze you!  Also, try not to overact when things don't go well, or when feelings are hurt.  Showing compassion and empathy is wonderful, but trying to make it go away or fix it quickly is not necessary.

Friday, March 21, 2014

To Do or Not To Do...Kindergarten planners/notebooks

There is a lot of discussion around Kindergarten expectations these days.  Unfortunately, with the main focus on performance, testing, and standards, many are completely ignoring the most important thing and that is what is developmentally appropriate, what does brain development say about children and learning and what exactly do children NEED to learn and who decides WHEN they learn it.  Competing with other countries and preparing for the job market are not two reasons that are any more important than the above mentioned. 

I honestly think about  my school, the students, Montessori philosophy and education soooo much.  My love for children and how they learn is so much a part of who I am.  I love to discuss it, chew on and challenge myself to think deeply about decisions we make at Community Montessori.

One item of interest for us has been the idea of Kindergarten notebooks/planners/contracts/work plans.  When I worked at another Montessori school, the Kindergartners had notebooks which held assignments in them put in primarily by the teacher. There can be many 'rules' around these types of things, but often times, the students 'have' to finish their notebook work before choosing other work, or teachers have to 'check' their work, or if they don't finish their notebooks, they have carry the work over the next day.  Since opening my school, we've experimented with some variations of the mentioned above, but each time, we struggled with logistics and management of it, mostly by the adults-we were deciding what works children were doing, they were unsure of what was in their notebooks, making it even more teacher dependent b/c we had to remind them what work they were to be doing, they weren't concentrating on much of it b/c they hadn't chosen it nor were they interested in it.   It was our chosen work for them. 

After making a few changes, observing, discussing and chewing, I had an a-ha moment.  The kindergartners, with the exception of maybe one or two students truly disliked their notebooks. They complained, grumbled, and asked to 'take a break' for their notebooks often.  I thought to myself, why are we doing this?  I believe in children, I believe in choice, I believe children direct their learning and know what they are ready for.  I believe in repetition of work, I believe in allowing children to be independent and in charge of their learning. The notebooks/planners worked against all of this.  So, after consulting a dear Montessori mentor, who suggested just sitting down with the Kindergartners and chatting, I did so.  I wish I had a video running during the conversation...first, Kindergartners are a blast to hang out with and chat with, but second, I told them that the teachers noticed that they didn't really enjoy their notebooks.  If you could have felt the room, many of them took a deep sigh and started saying things like this:  'I hate my notebook', "My notebook is so boring', 'My notebook makes me so tired', 'My notebook is too hard'......Wow-that was all I needed to hear.  So, we talked about not doing them and we also talked about the many areas of the classroom and the importance of choosing from different areas throughout their day.  They were so articulate about their desire and took seriously expressing their work and how they spend their days.  

So, the experiment me, the teachers were cringing a bit at the beginning (me included!)...we were wondering how much art we could tolerate if it wasn't balanced with some other areas...we wondered how much socializing we could stand while they adjusted to their new found freedom w/o their notebooks. We wondered, will they ever choose works we consistently wrote in their notebooks, works they were showing aversion to b/c we were clearly placing more importance on some works than others?? The truth was, we needed to allow time to pass to allow them to 'live' in this new system.  Kinks needed to be worked out and they needed to learn to TRUST that we were really trusting them.  And, the teachers needed to really walk out our trust for them. 

It's been several weeks now and I can say, I am thrilled and feel very comfortable with the K's and their work choices.  Certainly, they continue to work with teachers and are being shown new individualized lessons, but their work cycles have been so fascinating to watch.  We realize that this change will result in many things that will not even be apparent to us right away, but what I have noticed thus far is wonderful:  Most of the kids, most of the days, are making great work choices and flowing nicely through many areas of the classroom-the K's LOVE art and LOVE practical life and these works have so much to offer them-order, independence, concentration, coordination-they are following sequential processes and developing longer attention spans.  While they clean, they are caring for their environment, while tending to important details.  I have also noticed that even w/o direct work with certain math/language materials, those skills are developing-wow!  Montessorians know how interwoven the Montessori environment is-one work in this area helps support development in another-it's truly magical and unreal to observe.  Also, children get a lot out of being around certain work, not necessarily choosing it-we know that if a child is doing an art work or Geography work while listening to a lesson with the 'magic e', they are also getting that lesson on some level.

So thankful that the teachers at CMS had the courage to take this step and watch it unfold.  

Each day that passes, We feel more comfortable allowing the K's to live w/o their notebooks.  We are excited to continue to observe and see what other things we can learn from these incredibly gifted little people.