Thursday, March 16, 2017

School Choice

There is a lot of talk about school choice in the news right now.  I wanted to share my thoughts.  I have been for school choice for probably for over 20 years before it was a buzz phrase, before I owned my own school and before so many were arguing for and against it.  I graduated from the University of Cincinnati with an Elementary Education degree.  I taught in rural West Virginia when my husband and I first married.  I entered my classroom with such hope and enthusiasm, but was quickly disheartened by all that was broken.  I was naive and confused.  I loved my students, carried them in my heart each night when I went home and constantly tried to think of ways I could meet each child where they were with the challenges of their circumstances and the limits of the school.  I had amazing mentors-older, wise, loving women who taught in classrooms near me as well as a wonderful man who was my principal that supported and loved me as I learned.  A couple of memories come to mind that really shook me.  One was, on days I had lunch room duty, I watched as many of my students (over 70% on free breakfast/lunch) threw away entire trays of food each day.  I didn't really understand.  They then would purchase ice cream everyday as well.  After watching this go on for awhile, I talked with my students asking them why.  They shared and we talked about how important it is to feed our brain and bodies good food and that heading into the afternoon with only ice cream doesn't support their learning, alertness, focus, not to mention nutritional needs.  The waste of food bothered me, but mostly, it really wasn't good that my students weren't getting a good meal.  The other thing that happened was the school I worked did a big fundraiser to purchase new playground equipment (desperately needed).  In my mind, they manipulated the students by really pumping up the new things they would get to play on and encouraged them to ask family/friends for donations.  The kids were very excited, so I went along.  Then, at a staff meeting, there was a discussion about not using the money for playground equipment, but instead buying new desks and chairs, which were also needed.  I couldn't believe my ears.  I looked around to see if anyone else was looking uncomfortable.  I was a new teacher, young and taking in so much, I didn't say anything.  But, they decided to go ahead with the desk/chair purchase.  I felt like that was so wrong-to raise money for one thing, then take it and use it for another and the adults in the room seemed to have no problem with it.  To me, it was a violation of trust for the children.

Those types of systematic problems went on quite a bit.  It was like no one else was noticing that some things weren't working.  No one was questioning-it was just the status quo so it was habitual more than helpful.

Today, I hear from many parents struggling to get the needs of their child(ren) met.  I believe that parents should  have choice-whether that comes in the form of a tax credit or voucher I don't know.  Many families are trapped in schools that aren't meeting their child's needs b/c of cost-their own hard earned money is going to pay taxes for schools, but when their child has needs and concerns that can't be addressed b/c the school is so overwhelmed with trying to meet the needs of all students, it's not ok.  I don't see it as a de-funding of the public schools nor is this a political statement of any kind.  It's a pro child-pro family statement.  I see it as asking all schools to step up, think of children first, and be up front about what they can and can't do for a child.  We get to choose so many things in our lives and I believe school should be one of them.  If 2 restaurants are open near your home, one has food you prefer and enjoy more-if you choose that restaurant over the other that has food you don't like, it's not considered de-funding that other restaurant.

I know the challenges of education are big and complicated.  I am speaking from my heart and speaking for children.  We have to get serious and make tough decisions.  The powers at be have to stop acting like things are going well.  The first step to change is realizing what is broken.  There are many, many people out there doing beautifully creative things in education and it's working!  The inner cities have some beautiful examples of loving schools, empowering students and literally changing lives.  The adults in this arena have to stop being offended and start thinking outside the box as well as take into account child development and the science behind learning.  It's very clear what is good for children and what is not-we need to stop doing what is not good and start providing environments and schools that support the child-period.

The education of even a small child, therefore, does not aim at preparing him for school, but for life.  Maria Montessori

Free the child's potential, and you will transform him into the world.  Maria Montessori  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Grocery Store Experience

I get asked quite often by parents what they can do at home to better support their child(ren) and even how to support them using more of the Montessori philosophy. That's always an easy question to answer-follow your child and their interests, be patient with them as they learn new skills and give them a lot of time and space to be part of any and all life experiences.  

I was reminded last weekend of a wonderful experience that can provide such enjoyment and learning opportunities for young children.  I somehow was step in step with a pregnant mama and her little girl who looked to be about 2.5 years old. She was pushing her own little cart and was enjoying her outing greatly.  We were in the produce section together and the mother was talking with her and letting her know some of the fruit they needed at home. What the little girl could reach, she helped with and she knew exactly what she wanted in her cart.  Her mother was so patient and allowed her a lot of freedom with her cart, which the little girl did well with.

We were standing in the deli together and little girl talked to the worker behind the counter and asked her for her favorite cheese-the worker gave her a slice to eat right away!  The little girl asked a lot of questions and was fully engaged in what was happening.  

I ran into them a few other times in the store and I loved observing her doing the 'grocery shopping work'.  It inspired me so much that I decided to write about it.

In this age of getting things done quickly, let's not forget how important concrete experiences are for young children.  Children ages 0-3 are taking in so much of their world through their senses, so allowing them to be part of life is helpful to their development.  Children ages 3-6 are refining their senses, developing their language and communication skills at a rapid rate and LOVE being part of what the rest of the world is doing.  Simple tasks such as going to the grocery store can be such a fun experience for little ones-if you're not used to shopping with your child(ren) choose a time that isn't crowded so you can set you and your child up for success, allowing for some extra time for their processing.  Of course, there will be times when you can allow them to be more engaged than others, but keeping in mind opportunities when they can be more involved is a great way to expand their experiences and their connection with you as well. 

Happy Shopping!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Welcome Back!

We had a little girl start at Community Montessori School in September as a 2.9 year old.  She also spoke Thai as her first language.  She entered the classroom a bit timid, but it didn't take her long to become comfortable with all the processes and routines that are an important part of her day. Although she didn't speak much, it was clear she understood a lot and she was learning so much English just by being immersed with all the other children.  

This little girl left the beginning of December to visit Thailand with her mother. She didn't return until the beginning of February so she was out of the classroom for 2 full months.  Her first day back the children were so glad to see her!  She came into the classroom confidently, but took a lot in that day by observing.  The second day she was back, she fell right back into her beautiful work cycle-choosing work, completing work, returning work and moving onto to her next work choice.  It was clear she remembered so much for her classroom experience even being away from it for 2 months.

Watching her re-acclimate so seamlessly and joyfully, made me realize yet another reason why the Montessori classroom is so amazing.  She was able to re join the environment without missing a beat, without having to learn so many new things that she 'missed', without having to meet new students/teachers. Her brain and spirit which had gone through many beautiful processes and routines that are supporting her developmental, cognitive, and social growth were in process and ready to welcome her back for her to join as she wishes.  What a gift!  We have also seen a huge growth in her English speaking skills-she's now engaging more with children and understanding and answering questions which also shows that even though she spent time in Thailand speaking her native language, what she had learned prior and currently unfolded very soon after she returned.  

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!!