Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holiday Survival Tips For Children

This time of year can be so exciting and fun-a time to share with family and enjoy building wonderful memories.  For children, their schedule and consistency is important so the holidays can be a stressful time of year if there are too many activities happening.  Keep in mind your child's tolerance level for handling a disruption in their routine.  The pressure to do more and have more is a cultural pressure that you have to measure as a family.  More is often times not better when it comes to kids.  First, if your child typically takes a nap or has a rest time at a certain time of day, try to schedule your activities to allow for the rest time to still take place.  Second, if you know your child's meals will be full of a lot of extra sugar and food they don't normally eat, make sure they have a healthy breakfast and bring along healthy snacks to help balance all the yummy goodies at this time of year.  Also, be respectful of your child's needs in terms of opening gifts.  Many times we can feel obligated for our children to be excited about a gift that someone is giving.  But, sometimes kids open one thing and really want to just play with that toy and aren't interested in anything else.  You can maybe just set the additional gifts aside and wait for your child to be ready.  Another good tip for surviving the holidays is spending at least a little bit of time outdoors.  Bundling up and taking a quick hike or driving to a park and playing is a great way to get fresh air and get away from all the celebrating.  Many children like to know what is happening when their schedule is different then normal.  Sitting down with your child and letting them know the schedule of their day can help them be prepared for things that are different than normal.  Another way to balance out activities is having people to your house where your child is most comfortable and can be in their space while all the celebrating is happening.  This is such a wonderful time of year full of beauty, family time and fun!  Help your child enjoy the season while keeping in mind their needs as well.  Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


Everyday at Community Montessori our day begins with breaking into smaller groups and presenting two to three lessons.  These lessons last between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on the lesson and the age of the children.  Our classroom consists of three groups for lessons-youngest group, middle group, and oldest group.  Throughout the week we try to show lessons from all areas of the classroom:  Everyday Living, Sensorial, Art, Math, Language, Unit, Science, Geography and Writing.  Small group lessons are given daily as well as individual lessons during work time.  Maria Montessori actually instructed that lessons only be given individually.  But, one advantage she had with the children she worked with was she had them all day long (early morning to early evening) so there was more opportunity to give individual lessons based on a child's interest and readiness.  I can certainly see the wisdom in individual lessons.  Typically lessons are given silently or with little discussion, depending on the work.  For example, when showing an Everyday Living or Sensorial work, we do not talk at all, only slowly and precisely present the lesson.  Early on the children learn that when we are showing lessons, the work is ours; therefore, we should not be interrupted and our material should not be touched.  Unit works, for example, have more discussion.  We are currently studying the human body, so we may review characteristics of the human body prior or during a work we show. 
During work time, the children understand that if they have not had a lesson on a material, they need a lesson.  The children in our classroom know now that they can ask a teacher or another student to give them a lesson.  Sometimes, children want to see a lesson even if they have already had a lesson. It's reasonable to think that even though we give lessons, the material/work we are showing may not be interesting to all children at the same time; therefore, they may need a refresher lesson when they finally show an interest.  Showing lessons, even if a child does not choose the work immediately, have a lot of value. First, they get to see the materials used properly from start to finish.  It also exposes them to more and more choices in the classroom.  The lesson itself is teaching, showing, presenting new concepts or information even if they don't choose the work itself.  If everyone knew how many wonderful materials and options there are for children in the classroom, they would understand the need to be in the classroom for five days a week.Of course, any time in the classroom is wonderful, but with so many purposeful, engaging materials, being their all week certainly helps support children's development.  The children need time to get their hands on all the opportunities available to them.  So, if you are able to come visit the classroom, come in time to observe your child's lessons.  They are an important part of your child's day at Community Montessori.  When my boys were younger, we began implementing lessons at home:  If there was something new they wanted to learn how to do, we would give them a lesson first, then let them try.  You can do this with anything:  vacuuming, baking muffins, making a bed, brushing teeth, cleaning up a spill, writing a grocery can be adapted to any and all ages. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thanksgiving Blog Post

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am overwhelmed with all of my blessings and gifts in my life.  I am so thankful mostly for the people in my life~my family, my church community, the CMS community, my neighbors etc.  I am also reminded that this life is not easy.  Somewhere along the line of growing up, there seems to be a belief that if you do A, B, and C, life will be 'easy'.  Not is hard-relationships are not always as we want them to be, people we love are hurting or sick, or maybe we are hurting or sick.  There are tough financial situations that bring daily stress to one's life as well as aging parents, special needs children, job loss....the list is endless regarding challenges in this life.  But, as a dear friend has recently reminded me, there is always hope.  Hope is a funny's in all of our hearts-the hope that things will turn around, that we'll get to spend time with or mend a relationship with someone dear to us, the hope that someone will come home or get better....hope is very powerful.  In our classroom, we see tangible hope in the children.  Maria Montessori believed world peace begins with children and I completely agree with her (no surprise there eh? :)).  We see hope in the children as they display compassion, empathy, love, friendship and loyalty.  We see that in their young little hearts, they have the power and capacity to do and say things that some adults struggle with.  We had an incident in the back room last week that was so powerful, it moved me to tears.  Alfie Kohn was the guest speaker at the Cincinnati Montessori Society conference in the Spring.  He has challenged the teachers at CMS to allow children to work through their conflicts rather than trying to 'fix' them for them.  It's been hard, but we have seen the fruit when we have been able to walk out what Alfie Kohn suggests.  The back room was full (9 children and myself).  Two little girls were having a conflict over a choosing the same table to work.  One girl was sitting in the chair and the other little girl had her leg wrapped around the leg of the chair.  I hear 'I was here first, no I was here first, no I was here first'......I walk over knowing that this would be a great time to really help them work through it together vs. me resolving the problem.  I go over and begin reflecting what each girl is saying to the other (simply repeating their words).  Girl A was saying 'I was here first', I say, 'It sounds like A thinks she was here first'....Girl B says 'But, I was here first', I say, 'It sounds like B thinks she was here first'....this went on literally for about 8 go arounds with them saying the same thing and me repeating it.  As this was happening, the room became silent and all children were watching/listening.  In the midst of repeating what the girls were saying, I was also saying, 'it seems like we have a problem-how can we solve the problem'.......after going back and forth several times, another little girl came up and very sweetly said, 'I actually saw what happened (good thing in the hindsight that I didn't see what happened-it may have swayed me one way)', I said, 'Oh, would you mind sharing what you saw?', she proceeds to tell what happened, speaking to the girls directly and the girls were listening intently.  It was clear that the little girl who was sitting was indeed there first.  As the little girl finished telling what had happened, the little girl standing welled up with tears b/c she knew what the little girl was saying was true.  At that moment a little boy walked to the kleenex box, and brought the little girl a tissue.  She then said, 'But, I want this table'.......The little boy who brought the tissue then pointed out to the little girl another table that was available.  She then went over to that table and the children got back to work.  I was blown away at the power of this exchange.  All the children were empathetic to the situation-they were bothered that two of their friends were in conflict.  This was not about who was 'right' or 'wrong', rather, it was about the children building the skills/confidence to work out a conflict which they did beautifully.  This process took about 10 minutes which is a lot of time for this type of issue; however, so worth it!  All the children in the room witnessed and learned an important lesson and got to see first hand a healthy way to work out a difficult issue.  I learned later that the little boy who gave the kleenex to the little girl had ran to another room to report to a teacher that 'we have a problem in the back room'.....this is their very serious work of learning to manage themselves and get along with one another in a respectful way.  So, on this Thanksgiving Day I am incredibly thankful for the children in my classroom who teach me powerful, important life lessons each and everyday. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Happens When Children Wait?

In a world where things are so fast paced, there is a place of peace and refuge in a Montessori classroom.  The classroom is not chaotic, not loud, not fast, not rushed....rather, our classroom is calm, peaceful, quiet (but, not silent) and respectful.  One of the many skills and lessons children learn in a Montessori classroom is self-control and how to wait.  There is one of each work in a Montessori classroom-there are many, many works, but only one of each work.  So, from the beginning children learn if a work is not available-another child is choosing it-then, they wait.  They don't go to the child and tell them they want it, they don't take it away from a child-they wait.  When we see children waiting, we see that many times, it's challenging.  They are typically not used to waiting.  But, wow-what a wonderful life skill!  Children also learn that they can do a work as long as they want-a teacher will not ask them to put a work away, a child can not dictate how long they work-they can work as long as they would like, as long as they are being purposeful and engaged.  They also learn to wait when a teacher is working with another child and is not immediately available to answer a question or help.  We ask children to place their hand on the teacher's shoulder so we know they are there and they wait.  Those moments of them holding back from getting what they need right away are moments of growth and moments of understanding that they are not the only one with needs.  They learn to respect others needs through this process.  One beautiful thing that is born from this is that children are helping one another and not reliant on the teacher.  This is another wonderful aspect of the Montessori classroom.  Children are also learning to wait during lessons.  During lessons teachers show works.  When a teacher shows a lesson-it is her work.  Our hope is that children are quiet and respectful while the work is shown.  We use words like 'this is my work', 'please let me concentrate while I show you this lesson', and 'please do not touch my work'.  The children learn this by watching and really love and appreciate when they have a work, it's their work. They can invite someone to do the work with them, but it's not ok for someone to interrupt or touch their work without being asked. 

Sometimes in our busy, rushed world, it's hard to teach children to wait.  But, know that is completely ok to have to wait.  In fact, many wonderful things happen when we are waiting.  Our message to children needs to be, we hear you, we care about your needs and what you are asking, but I'm asking you to be patient.  Not serving their needs immediately sends a message that what you are currently doing is also important-not more, not less, but also important.  It also can give a child an opportunity to problem solve.  For example, on line this week a child was standing in front of me explaining that someone took his spot on line.  I was greeting children on the line and was unavailable to help work out the conflict.  The child said the same thing to me three times and I looked at the child pointing to the child I was greeting indicating that I wasn't available.  Right then, a child on line near the conflict whispered to the child next to him to please move down and then asked the child who was talking to me to sit down and he did.  I wait, he waited and it worked itself out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unit Studies in our Classroom

Each month in our classroom, we study a new unit.  The unit study is an opportunity to go into depth about particular topics or interests that are relevant to children.  In September, we studied fruits and vegetables. This month we're studying transportation, and next month we'll study the human body.  With all units, we have object to object matching, object to picture matching, picture to picture matching, puzzles, sorting, 'parts of' books', and 3 part cards.  We also try to bring our unit study into other areas of the classroom. For example, in the Everyday Living area, children may scoop or pour fruit.  In the math area for our transportation unit, we have several counting works out with cars, trucks, airplanes and boats.  The unit study also allows us to give information about a topic that children may not have heard before.  When we studied fruits and vegetables, we talked about how fruit grows on trees, bushes or vines and that vegetables are parts of the plant that we eat:  root (carrot), stem (celery), leaves (spinach/lettuce) and flower (broccoli).  Three part cards are a wonderful work used throughout the classroom as well.  It has a picture with the name of the picture on it, then the children match the picture and the word.  For example, we had apple three part cards.  There is a picture of an apple, then all the different parts of an apple-stem, core, flesh, seeds, and skin.  Each card highlighted each part with a picture and name-the work is great for building visual discrimination skills as well as building vocabulary.  The children love working with our unit works and love learning new information about very familiar subjects!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

General Layout of the Classroom

When families are first learning about Montessori, there is a lot to take in about the philosophy, classroom structure, materials and lessons.  Even as a teacher having taught nine years in a Montessori environment, I am still learning and seeing the many benefits of a Montessori environment.  Every work, every choice made in the space regarding furniture, folder boxes, rugs, materials, is a well thought out process that is discussed thoroughly with all the teachers.  We constantly go back to the philosophy and ask ourselves why we want to do things a certain way and how it sets children up for success.  We make decisions and then watch how the children interact with the decision made.  For example, we recently changed our folder box to a larger one.  We noticed the children were having trouble finding their folder because the folder box was smaller and the folders weren't able to move easily.  So, we purchased a larger one and it's much more successful or the children and they can be independent putting work in their folder, then taking their work from the folder to their backpack. We also recently moved two tables in the our Math room because we noticed how crowded it was with rug works when the tables were in the space they were.  We moved them earlier this week and the improvement has been wonderful!

Our classroom has several areas:  Everyday Living, Art, Manipulative, Sensorial, Math, Language, Geography, Science and Unit (this is an area that changes monthly-We study something new every month (Transportation, Mammals, etc)).  In every area, works are sequenced on the shelf from simple to complex and concrete to more abstract.  Through the lessons presented, we guide children through a series of skills and watch carefully before presenting something new.  We always want children tasting success as they progress.  The works on the shelves are placed left to right which lays a foundation for left to right reading.  Rug works are presented left to right as well.  The children are presented a process that best sets them up for success and helps them organize their materials in the space they choose.  Within each work on the tray, materials are also set up from left to right.  For example, when we present pouring or spooning, the teacher presents the work pouring from left to right and when they spoon, they spoon from the bowl on the left to the bowl on the right.  When counting works are presented, numbers are placed at the top of the rug from left to right.  Sound boxes and pre-language materials are presented from left to right.

Children learn almost immediately that they get one work out at a time.  It truly does amaze me how quickly the children learn that this is how they do things in the classroom.  The language we use for cleaning up is 'getting it ready for the next friend'.  Children are asked and presented when shown the work that they prepare the work for the next person who will choose it.  Certainly, as young children, they learning how to clean up.  But, building the awareness in them that how they return a work to the shelf affects their community is important.  Sometimes, a child will choose a work and it's messy.  They often know who had the work prior and will go to that friend and ask them to clean up the work.  Every time I have seen this happen, the child very willingly goes back to clean up the work.  It builds a strong sense of respect in the classroom as well as personal accountability.  It's a much more powerful accountability when it comes from another friend vs. the teacher. 

I hope this gives you a little insight into our classroom at Community Montessori.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Social Skills in the Montessori Classroom

One of the many things I love about Montessori is that Montessori teachers see the 'whole' child-developmentally, academically, socially, emotionally, and physically.  There is a myth out there that says simply placing children in the same room and having them do activities helps them develop social skills.  I disagree.  Developing social skills needs to be a value in the classroom as well as modeled by the teachers/adults who are around the children.  Using manners, demonstrating what Montessori called 'Grace and Courtesy' and always being respectful of the child are key ingredients to helping a child develop social skills.  When new 3 year olds enter our classroom, often times, it's their first experience at engaging with people other than their immediate family or close babysitter.  So, they are learning how to greet or talk to a friend, ask a teacher a question, tell someone they have to use the restroom, and express their many needs they may have throughout the day.  In the Montessori classroom, we intentionally talk about these situations-how to say hello to a friend, how to introduce themselves, how to ask a friend to have snack with them or how use their words to express an emotion.  We will also role play these situations so the children can actually see and hear how these social situations are played out.  When teachers speak to one another, they do so respectfully, and in complete and clear sentences.  Over the last three weeks of school I have witness some precious moments as we have been acclimating children into the environment.  I watched a little girl (second year in our classroom-3 year old) walk another child through the steps of snack using gentle, sweet words as she reminded this little boy what to do next when choosing snack.  They both walked through the many steps of snack (choosing name, washing hands, laying out napkin etc).  When they both sat down to enjoy their banana and water, the little girl said, 'So (child's name)-what did you do today?'....she was practicing with her new friend some conversation skills.  They sat together for about five minutes talking back and forth with one another.  They were practicing a very important life skill-communication.  I also watched as one of our first graders observed a new 3 year old looking at and touching the Pink Tower.  The first grader came over to me asking if she could please give (child's name) a lesson on the Pink Tower because she said that he looked interested in it.  I, of course, said yes and proceeded to watch this little girl give a complete and thorough lesson on the Pink Tower as this 3 year old sat in awe and watched her.  She engaged him and allowed him to touch her work and help her grade the cubes.  They worked together for close to 15 minutes and she was modeling to him some wonderful social skills!  There are so many layers to the Montessori classroom.  So much is going on in every area~sit back and let the children show you! 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why 5 days in a Montessori Program?

Most Montessori schools offer a five day program only.  Since Community Montessori offers a three, four, and five day program, I am often asked what I recommend.  My reply is the same-I recommend the 5 day program for all children ages 3-6.  The school I taught at prior to opening my own school only offered five day program so in many ways I am used to that.  However, there are some strong arguments and rationale for having your child attend five days in a Montessori program.  Children love exploring, discovering, experiencing their environment.  Doing this takes time.  We live in a such a fast paced world-we want results and mastery immediately in the time frame we want.  Children don't operate like that.  Children need time to develop-time spent to unfold and become who they are meant to be.  The Montessori environment offers quality, purposeful work for children to engage in.  Each day they are presented lessons that are age appropriate and will hopefully stir something inside of them to choose that activity.  We see children spend pockets of time in certain areas, repeating works and activities that they are enjoying.  Being in the classroom for five days, allows that process to continue more consistently as well as gives them the opportunity to choose many interesting works.  Being in a Montessori environment for five days allows the natural pace of a child's learning to happen. Additionally, the more time children spend in the Montessori environment, the more time there is to build strong focus and attention skills as well as longer work cycles.  This development is critical to children's success as they continue on with their schooling.   Think about when you are engaged in a project you are enjoying and what it feels like to have it disrupted.  We are thrilled to offer the three/four day option because we want to offer families the Montessori experience even if they are not interested in having their child attend five days.  We do ask that our three day students come three days in a row to allow consistency for that child as well.  At Community Montessori we enjoy serving the needs of our community and families, but, my heart will always be with the five day program.  My guess is that many of you with children who are attending less than five days, are hearing from your children that they want to go to school on the days they are not attending.  :)  How wonderful that they are learning to love their school, their friends, and their work! 

Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment.” Maria Montessori

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Transition into School

This week at Community Montessori School, we will be welcoming our children for the 2nd year!  The teachers have been working hard planning, preparing the environment, and anticipating the wonderful year ahead.  Our goal for the beginning of the year is to begin to build relationships with the children and help them develop a 'work cycle'.  The work cycle involves choosing a work, doing the work, returning the work, and moving on to the next work.  The development of a child's work cycle is critical to their development of concentration and focus.  As we present lessons and provide opportunity for exploration of the beautiful materials, children will become engaged in their work.  The teacher will work as a guide and supporter during this process.  Sometimes children develop their work cycles quickly and other times, it can take an entire school year for this to work itself out.  There are many things that may effect the development of a work cycle (for example age, experience in the classroom, interest, distraction level etc) and as the teachers get to know the children, we will learn how to best support their development.  Our hope is that the children develop a love of work, concentration, self-discipline and sociability.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tips for Preparing for the First Day of School

What an exciting time of year!  Summer is coming to an end and families are gearing up for the start of school.  As a teacher in a Pre-Primary classroom, we get to experience a family's first time sending their child to school as a 3 year old. As exciting as it is, it can also cause some anxiety-the unknown, change, and concern of a child's emotions can cause parents to be a bit apprehensive as their child starts a new chapter in their life.  As teachers prepare the classroom and lessons, there are also some great tips for parents to follow as we approach the first day of school.  
*Begin by talking to your child about school in a very positive way. Tell them the reasons you chose the school for your child:  wonderful materials, great playground, caring teachers etc. Children are adaptable to change, especially when they know what to expect.  If the school is new for your child, try and schedule a time they can visit the school prior to the first day.  It's helpful for children to see the space and meet the teachers. 
*Set up a plan for drop off~ask the school/teachers what their procedure is and what they suggest for the drop off.  Many schools have car lines and recommend starting the Carline routine the first day.   However, if you feel more comfortable walking your child in the first day, that shouldn't be a problem.  Practice how drop off will go with your child at home-role play and explain that you are dropping him/her off at at safe place where they will have fun and meet new friends.  Be prepared for the fact that separating may not go smoothly at first, but be confident that the teachers have a lot of experience on how to handle these types of situations.  
*Know that most children will become calm and interested in the classroom soon after you depart.  The teacher can give you an update of how things went when you pick up your child at the end of the day.  Most children learn to separate pretty quickly.  If there is a pattern of a difficult separation, talk with your child's teacher to come up with a plan that can help support your child.  
*Remember that teachers and parents are working together to instill self-confidence and independence for every child.  The goal is to help your child enter the classroom confidently, hang up their backpack, wash their hands and choose work.  Every child will reach this stage of independence and teachers and parents should be respectful of that process for each child. 

Ultimately, your child will learn to love their school and look forward to coming each day!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Reflection on a Class taken this week

I attended a class this week presented by Xavier and GCCME (Greater Cincinnati Center for Montessori Education).  The name of the class was 'Montessori and Special Education-Returning to Our Roots'.  The week was so rich with knowledgeable and passionate presenters as well as time set aside to share and learn from other Montessori teachers from here locally as well as out of town.  As I reflect and remember, many things are stirring in my heart and mind.
Dr. Thomas Knestrict from Xavier University shared his research on the resiliency of families who are raising a child with special needs.  He spoke about the importance of Rules/Routines/Rituals.  These are important for all children, but particularly children with learning challenges or special needs.  Here is why it's important to establish rules/routines/rituals in your family.
**Rules are important because it establishes order and predictability.  Even though children won't always agree with the rule we are asking them to follow, the fact that there are rules that are followed consistently sends a message of security and love.   
**Routines are also a way to create structure and predictability.  This helps a child organize themselves within a safe framework of people who care about them.   From small tasks (setting a table, throwing dirty laundry in the hamper, helping prepare a meal) to larger tasks (mowing the lawn, washing the car, cleaning the house) routines are a way for children to find a rhythm to their lives which again, helps them to feel safe and secure.  When everyone knows and understands a routine, it can provide stability for the entire family.
**Rituals are routines with meaning. Rituals bring about connectedness among family members.  Rituals help family members attach to each other in healthy, loving ways. They also helps establish a value system in the family.  Caring about nightly meals together, or going to church together teaches children what is important and shows that the family is going to stay committed to doing these  consistent activities because of what it brings the family. 

How can you establish these things with younger children?

~Bedtime routines can be a special time with young babies through school aged children. Establishing a routine that is followed each night is a good idea-bath, story, lights out each night give children an opportunity to relax and prepare for sleep.
~Pick a day each week to go to the library or visit a favorite park.   
~Serve something special one particular night a week (Monday is pasta night or Tuesday is taco night). 
~Do a monthly give away of toys/books/clothes to a local charity-involve children in this process and routine of giving away.

Decide what is important to your family and help bring order and stability by implementing rules/routines or rituals.  I'm quite certain everyone will enjoy the time together!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Visit from a Mentor

Today a very important person came to my school.  For several summers, I have been able to spend time with Marian who was one of my teachers when I received my Montessori training.  She has become a friend, a mentor and someone I greatly respect and turn to for advice, guidance and support.  She is in her 70's and so very passionate about Montessori.  In fact, she was trained by women who were trained by Maria herself.  She owned a school for many, many years and provided a wonderful, respectful, loving environment for many children living in the Forest Park area.  I believe it's critical for Montessorians to stay in touch with those who have (and continue to go) gone before us. It's important to hear their stories and allow them to share their wisdom and knowledge with us. It's important to constantly be reminded why we do what we do-what we value and why we believe so strongly in the ability and beauty of children.  Children have a lot to teach us if we allow ourselves to be humbled in their presence and learn by observing, rather than moving in, directing, controlling, fixing.  Instead, we build relationships with children and understand and respect where they are developmentally, socially, academically etc.  We believe that their hearts, minds, and spirit guide their choices and providing them with a prepared environment with beautiful materials and allowing them to build their independence, magic happens in the hearts of children and adults alike who are blessed to be a part of the unfolding of a child.  Thank you Marian for sharing your time and passion with us today.  I am forever grateful that I met you and thank you for the impact you have had on me personally and Community Montessori School.

Great Giveaway From Montessori Print Shop

This is one of my favorite spots to purchase materials for the classroom~great ideas and wonderful support to teachers and homeschooling Moms!

Check it out!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Creating Emotionally Safe Environments

Part of my passion for Montessori environments is how respectful of children these environments are.  Not just where children are developmentally or academically, but also emotionally.  As a former traditional teacher,  my training for classroom management and/or discipline was very teacher directed and controlled.  In Montessori classrooms, we help support children as they go through challenging times with their emotions.  Helping children understand what they are feeling and helping them use their words in the midst of frustration, anger, or sadness, is a real life skill.   Children's emotions are respected-frustration, sadness, anger, joy, compassion.  Children, just as they are learning new skills everyday, are also learning how to experience, express and deal with their many emotions.  As they encounter new things in their world, they will experience new emotions as well.  As directresses and guides in the classroom, Montessorians take very seriously the tenderness of a child's heart and mind as they learn to navigate through social situations. Daniel Goleman discusses the importance of promoting, what he calls, emotional literacy in classrooms.  He says it's important for teachers to use opportunities of strife among children to teach children skills of conflict resolution, perspective taking and negotiation.  Goleman's review of research tells us that educating the emotions has a wider mission than preventing violence.  It teaches children to think differently about disagreements (Children Who Aren't Yet Peaceful by Donna Bryant Goertz).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful by Donna Bryant Goertz

I am being blown away and challenged by a book a friend recommended.  It's a collection of stories written by a woman who started a Montessori school in 1975 with 17 students and now has a functioning Montessori school housing 285 students from pre-primary to Middle School.  Her belief is that Montessori classrooms can serve as healing agents for all children, in particular children who (what she calls) 'eccentric', meaning children who may have some emotional, behavioral, or learning concerns.  My heart is relating deeply to what she says.  And, I am especially moved because we will be welcoming a child with special needs this Fall.  It gives me such hope to think of the power our classroom can have on all the children including this new student who has been written off by many.  We believe in children at Community Montessori.  The power of believing, hope, encouragement, patience, and safety can not be measured-it can't be tested on a scan tron and it can't necessarily be 'counted' in the traditional sense.  But, those of us who know the power of children and believe in their capabilities and gifts know this is BIG!  Here are a couple of quotes that I am soaking in from this author:

'Inclusion of more eccentric children (we all have one of these children or know one personally!) in our classes affirms the human worth of all children.  It provides an opportunity to learn emotional skills as well as academic subjects.  It is an unhealthy burden for a child to be seen as 'good' or 'bad'.  We must relieve every child of that burden and allow all of them to be works of art in progress.'

'A great challenge of any teacher is to distinguish between behavior that can and must be stopped immediately, behavior that requires a sure response that takes the child the first step toward outgrowing it, and behavior that is best ignored until later.  Not every behavior can be dealt with at once.  Our children need strong, flexible, authoritative, and patient teachers-neither permissive nor authoritarian-for sure progress in their learning and behavior'.

'We (teachers) must be true observers of human development.  We must see beneath the veneer of false acculturation and defensive addictions with which the child armors himself against the over stimulation of pop culture and the oppression of deadening academic programs.  We must be observers whose high intellect, sturdy sensitivities, and keen perceptions allow us to penetrate to the inherent and essential drives of a vital, healthy, and human child.  Once we have designed an environment as such, we must leave it flexible enough to fit the exceptional children.  We must stretch our imaginations and our creativity to the maximum, knowing that we will learn as we go, becoming more pliant, more creative, through the exercise of our highest human attributes.  We will become worth of the children we serve.'

She has left me pondering things in a wonderful way...I look forward to finishing her book and taking in her words of wisdom.

Monday, June 27, 2011


Taken from Montessori Print Shop
In order to learn, a child must first be able to concentrate.....but, you cannot force concentration upon him.

He develops concentration by fixing his attention on some task he is performing with his hands.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Observing your Child

Stop and notice how often you engage with your child.  Engaging is obviously important, but observation is also important.  I think in our fast pace world, we (adults) can engage too much-intervene too quickly-and 'fix' situations for our children when there may be an important lesson for them if we allow them the time and space.  It's important to sit back and observe your child.  I challenged myself to do this with my niece today at the park.  We try and spend one day together a week~she is so much fun to be with!  I could honestly just eat her up and engage/interact/talk to her constantly.  But, I sense and hear her say sometimes that she doesn't want me in her space. She doesn't want me to intervene.  She doesn't want me to figure it out for her.  We went to the park and I challenged myself to only respond if she prompted me to.  It was amazing to watch her run and play at the park quietly.  She would sing or hum to herself at times and go from the monkey bars to the swing to the merry go round without a thought or care.  In our classroom at Community Montessori, the teachers realize how important observing is and we learn so much about the children by just watching them work and interact with the environment.  But, to take that philsophy out into the 'real' world is more of a challenge.  I so enjoyed watching my niece today~there is something about allowing a child to really get to know themselves without so much conversation and intervening and asking questions.  There was one point she fell slightly off the monkey bars (they are small ones-made for younger children so she didn't fall far).  I so wanted to go to her and say, 'are you ok?', 'oh, you're ok' and whatever else I am so tempted to say.  But, she got up said, 'Oh, gosh', brushed her hands off and ran off to the climber.  She didn't NEED me to say or do anthing, nor did she ask me to.  There is something about allowing a child to tend to their own needs as well.  Lately, I have been saying to children at camp and my niece, 'let me know if you need help'.  That gives them the power/freedom to ask for help as well as respects their need to try and work it out on their own.  They may be attemtping to do something we know they can't do, but the trying and practicing is fruitful, and many times they will surprise us and be successful!  Keep in mind the important process happening inside the little ones body and brain at these tender ages. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Oral Language in the Montessori Classroom

An observation that someone may have upon entering a Montessori classroom is that the children and adults are communicating in a respectful manner.  Oral language is important to the development of other language (writing/reading) for children as well as learning the social graces of the community.  Children do not come equipped knowing these things-it must be modeled to them and they must be allowed to freely practice and learn how to communicate with others.  At Community Montessori, we have a car line.  The children arrive and are picked up in a car line each day.  The teacher begins the day by greeting the child and the person who is bringing them to school.  It's important for teachers to acknowledge the child, ask them how they are, and then say please/thank you/goodbye to the person dropping off.  It's also important to make eye contact with the child.  There may be times that a teacher will ask the child to look at them when speaking so that they can be better understood.  Throughout the day, teachers and children interact with one another showing respect and a willingness to understand the child.  Since our classroom has 3-6 year olds, children are very often learning how to speak to one another.  Some children may be more shy, some may be in the early stages of speech development, and some may just need gentle guidance on what words to use when giving a message to a friend or teacher.  There was an incident yesterday where a child came up to me saying that a friend was touching her.  I brought the two children together, did some reflecting with them, and helped the child use her words to express what was bothering her to the other child.  The other child cheerfully responded with a smile, 'I'm sorry' and they ran off to play.  Many times conflicts that children are having are more with communication rather than the incident.  Helping children successfully speak, give messages, express emotions, and hear what others are saying, is a big step in their development and maturity.  Being patient and remembering they are learning can help parents have more successful conversations with children as well. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

First Week of Camp~Success

Just finished our first week of summer camp at Community Montessori.  We have 4 weeks scheduled this summer.  It's important for us to provide a fun camp experience, while still adhering to the Montessori principles.  Our theme was 'Farm Animals'.  There are two teachers who run camp each day.  Each day, we begin with showing two lessons to the children.  For the children who have not been in a Montessori classroom, this is a new experience.  It's amazing how after just one week, many of the new children are picking up the processes the procedures of things like rolling a rug, choosing and returning a work to it's proper place, pushing in their chair etc.  This week we talked about farm animals and had many works out with that theme-puzzles, stamping, punching, matching etc.  We spent an hour in the classroom, then had snack and headed outside.  Each day, we had something different going on.  We are enjoying community visitors including Lynn White from Butler County Water/Soil who showed the kids many different kids of soil, then invited them to paint with the mud!  We also had bubbles available for the children as well as paint to paint the big tree in our backyard-that was certainly a hit!  Even though summer camp is different from a regular classroom experience, I am amazed once again how quickly children get used to a routine with the freedom to make choices and be successful.  Looking forward to next week's camp-Reptiles!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Summer Activities

Summer can be a great time to continue learning with your child and extend their classroom experiences into the 'real' world.  Even though there is less structure during the summer, you can provide your own activites to make learning fun when school is out.  Here are some ideas:

*  In Cincinnati, we have so many wonderful places for children~the Cincinnati Zoo, the Cincinnati Museum Center, Kings Island,  parks such as Keehner Park, Ft. Liberty Park, Sharon Woods, and Winton Woods.
*  Check out your local library for different activites going on, or just visit the library and help your child check out a few books of their choice.
*  Children can write letters to grandparents, family members, or friends who live out of town.  Have your child write the sounds they hear in words they want to write and draw a picture to go along with the letter.
*  Visit local farmers markets to purchase fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables and involve the children in cooking.
*  Do some outdoor art activites~paint the trees or driveway with brushes using water, hang up big pieces of paper on the fence and allow your children to paint outside, make a nature collage using leaves, flowers, sticks etc., paint rocks, give your child a big bucket and help them make a lot of bubbles-give them things to scrub and allow to dry outside
*  Take a picnic lunch and visit Mom or Dad at work one day and eat outside.
*  Take your child fishing early in the morning to avoid mid day heat.
*  Make homemade ice cream
*  Go to a Reds game
 These are just a few ideas.  Please feel free to share on this blog if you have ideas of your own you think other parents would enjoy!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

How to Spot a Quality Montessori School?

The quality of Montessori schools varies widely.  There is no Montessori trademark, which means any school can hold itself out as being 'Montessori'.  When searching for a quality Montessori school, one should be prepared with questions so that you can find a school that is best suited for your child and/or family. 

One of the best ways to find out what a preschool/Kindergarten program is like is to ask if you can observe.  At Community Montessori, we encourage parents to schedule an observation so they can see the classroom in action.  The children in our classroom are very accustomed to visitors.  Some children will spontaneously introduce themselves, others will go about their work.  We invite the visitors in, give them a schedule of our day, and allow the visitor to observe and move about the classroom.  We give them a clipboard so they can jot down questions or observations they would like to inquire about.  Seeing the children and teachers in the environment can be a very good indication of how the classroom functions on a daily basis. 

The following list are things that you should look for in a Montessori classroom:

*The physical environment of the classroom should be beautiful, inviting, tidy, organized, and clean.
*Furniture should be child sized (chairs/tables), including a low sink, snack area, bathrooms, and drinking fountain.
*The environment should feel peaceful and calm.  This doesn't mean that children won't be talking or interacting, but there should be a sense of contentment and joy.
*Children should be working on a variety of works (name given to activities done in a Montessori classroom).
*The children should demonstrate a sense of purpose in what they are doing. 
*The children should be kind and courteous.  If you observe an interaction that is otherwise, observe how it is handled by the teacher. The teacher should be supportive and act as a guide to assist the children to work out their conflict as well as be respectful to all parties involved.  
*The children should be concentrating on their work.
*The teacher (s) should have an awareness of the whole room, intervening only when children seem aimless, non-purposeful, or bothering others.  Observe how these types of situations are handled and ask questions if you are not sure. 
*Teachers should be Montessori trained. 
*The classroom should demonstrate a strong sense of community-children greeting one another, talking with one another, and caring for one another. 

The following books will be helpful in learning more about Dr. Montessori and the Montessori Method:

*The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori
*The Montessori Method by Maria Montessori
*Discovery of the Child by Maria Montessori
*Montessori-The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard

If you have any specific questions regarding Montessori, I would love to answer them!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Relationships in the Montessori Classroom

Along with the wonderful Montessori teaching philosophy and my own children's ability to learn at their own pace, I can honestly say that another aspect of their Montessori schooling experience that my husband and I value has been the opportunity to learn how to build/maintain and respect relationships among their peers and friends as well as their teachers.  It is very important for children to learn how to get along, work out conflict, respect others and see others strengths as they move through life and function in classrooms, on teams, and eventually jobs. 

One of the aspects of owning my own school that is a huge part of my passion is building community within in the classroom and students.  Because Maria Montessori saw each child as a unique, special child with their own interests, strengths, and personalities, it allowed her to get to know each child as an individual.  Not only does the Montessori philosophy allow children to learn at their pace and develop in accordance to their Sensitive Periods, but it also allows the teachers to see the children as individuals.  When schools attempt to teach the same thing to a large group of children there can often times be many missed opportunities.  In our classroom, we observe everyday children following an inside need to choose certain works that help them learn new skills and perfect themselves.  It is rare that we see children wandering around looking for a work~they truly know what they want to do and stay very busy doing it.  As the children work, teachers are able to observe and see how they interact with the materials and how they interact and socialize with friends.  This allows us to really get to know each child and they all are truly very different!  It also helps us know how to maybe connect two children with similar interests or skill levels-if a child is struggling with a work or skill, we're able to invite a child who may be a bit more proficient to help that child which is great for building community as well as encouraging the children to work together.

Learning to get along with one another, respecting differences and seeing one another as individuals is another wonderful aspect of the Montessori classroom.  Ultimately, this is a huge life skill that children will need to have as they grow up and function in the world.  If they learn and see others as individuals, then they will learn that everyone has something to offer, even if they are very different than themselves.  In our classroom, it's a very respectful environment.  If there is conflict or frustration, we help the children express with their words and we take the time to help them work through their struggle.  These relational skills are something they will carry with them throughout their lives.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Questions Welcomed and Curiosity Encouraged

If you are not familiar with Montessori, you may be surprised to hear that the classroom is very much child centered and a place where children are encouraged to ask questions and follow their curiosity.  In fact, questions matter more than answers.  Newsweek ran an article last summer about America's 'creativity crisis' talking about how creativity in children has declined steadily over the last 20 years (  Why is this happening?  It may be because schools have become increasingly focused on test scores, product outcomes, and conformity.  In Montessori classrooms, we believe that children are born learners and have an intrinsic desire to learn about their world and the people in it.  Allowing them the freedom to lead their own learning and follow their curiosity allows them to be creative thinkers, problem solvers, and builds perseverance because when they are freely given the time they need to work through something or learn more about a certain topic, they learn it more thoroughly and believe that they can continue learning.  Daniel C. Petter-Lipstein is a father of three children who attend a Montessori school-he says, "The culture of inquiry that is the hallmark of a good Montessori school is also a critical foundation for the creativity and innovation that America will need to compete in the 21st century".  In December 2009, the Harvard Business Review published an article called, "The Innovator's DNA" based on a six year study of 3000 creative executives including visionaries like Apple's Steve Jobs, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and P&G's A.G. Lafley.  One of the professors that conducted the study noted "We also believe that the most innovative entrepreneurs were very lucky to have been raised in an atmosphere where inquisitiveness was encouraged.  We were struck by the stories they told about being sustained by people who cared about experimentation and exploration.  Sometimes these people were relatives, but sometimes they were neighbors, teachers, or other influential adults.  A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools , where they learned to follow their curiosity.

What does this mean practically for parents right now, in the thick of parenting younger and older children?

1.  Try to answer a question with a question back to the child.  Let them know you appreciate them thinking through things and just not giving them a quick answer.

2.  Try not to move in too quickly when your child has encountered a problem.  If you notice your child struggling, you could say, 'let me know if you need help' rather than rushing in and taking over the situation.  It's not a bad thing to struggle or even fail and try again.  Focus on process vs. product.

3.  When they ask questions, ask them what they think-let them know you trust their thoughts.  Many times when we allow our children freedom, they end up teaching us something.  :)

Have fun with your children!  Encourage their curiosity and creativity.  Allowing them the freedom for these things to develop will help them long term in their lives with confidence and leadership skills as well as thinking outside the box which many times leads to solutions that we never knew existed!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Grandparent's Day Take 2

We had our second day of grandparent's visiting day today.  Couple of our kiddos had grandparents yesterday and today which was great!  We definitely see another side of the kids when they are interacting with their grandmas and grandpas-we love watching them!  Some of the great works that were being used today were:  Easel, flower sponge painting, Knobless cylinders extensions, addition with stones, continent coloring, calendar writing, and many more.  Typically, in Montessori classrooms, there is a big emphasis on relationships and social skills.  We understand and respect that children are learning to 'relate' to others.  The ages of 3-6 is a precious time of opportunity for caring parents, adults, and teachers to help and guide children in their relationships.  We want to honor the relationships that children are involved in.  One way we can do that is by inviting their parents and grandparents into the classroom and allowing that time to share their school experience with their loved ones.  Thank you again for all who came to visit Community Montessori yesterday and today.  We hope you enjoyed your visit!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Grandparent's Day Take 1

Parent and Grandparent visiting days are some of my most favorite days in the classroom!  The teachers get to experience the joy, growth, independence, maturity, and creativity of the children each and everyday, so when parents/grandparents can join us for a glimpse into the daily lives of their children/grandchildren when they are at school, it's so much fun!  It was such a joy to see the love and admiration the grandparents have for their grandchildren today.  Many of the grandparents who visited today are new to Montessori so many of them asked great questions!  Many comments were made regarding how peaceful the environment is and how the children respected one as well as the materials (demonstrated by them choosing the work, doing the work, returning the work and moving on to the next work). They watched in amazement as their grandchildren moved about the classroom with such authority and independence.  I heard grandparents asking their grandchildren questions about what they were doing and why and the children explained beautifully.  Some of the great works that were done today were:  shaving cream, maze with the Red Rods, Easel, Addition Strip Board, Teen Board, teen bingo, Sound Boxes, absorbent/non-absorbent science experiment, mystery bag, flower sponge painting,  flower still life drawing, Knobless Cylinders, and many more.  I felt like I learned something more about the children today~to see their relationships with their grandparents in action was a gift.  Thanks to all the grandparents who visited today and we look forward to the ones visiting tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sensorial Frenzy

This week some newly found interest has blossomed in the Sensorial area.  The Sensorial area of the classroom is where children refine their senses.  We have some extensions out with some of the classic Montessori materials that are stirring up the children.  Our Brown Stair and Pink Tower can be chosen together with a friend (or two!) to make designs or copy pictures that we have taken.  Some of the pictures the children are copying with their materials are challenging and it's so fun to watch them problem solve and work together to build it to their liking.  The Pink Tower can also be chosen along with pink paper where the children can trace each cube, then glue it to a piece of paper to build the tower on paper and take it home.  Today an extension was shown with the Triangle Box where the children can trace the triangles, then glue them on a piece of paper.  The extensions are presented in the hope that the children will be intrigued and choose to get their hands on the materials they may have chosen many times before, but are interested in doing the work in a little bit different manner. 

Another work that was out today was the Geometric Solids-cube, cylinder, sphere, cone, ovoid, ellipsoid, square based pyramid and triangle based pyramid.  It's another work that is fun to do with a friend. Today, one friend wore the blindfold, and the other friend  handed the child a Geometric Solid.  The child wearing the blindfold had to guess which one it was based on how it felt. It's a great way for the children to rely solely on their tactile sense as well as practice the vocabulary.  This concrete experience with this work is imprinting on their brain and will benefit them later in life when they encounter these shapes/solids.  They will have a real sense, understanding and memory of what these Geometric Solids are. 

I also got to see observe a little girl giving another little girl a lesson.  The one little girl just started at CMS on Monday.  She saw a work she was interested in so I invited another child to give her a lesson.  She did it beautifully!  The new little girl came up and asked me if she could have a chair while she watched her lesson.  I gave her one and she sat and watched patiently for 15 minutes while the child gave her a lesson.  They chatted and she asked questions.  The child giving the lesson had the new child follow her back and forth as she cleaned as well so she understood every step of the lesson.  The child then put the work away, the new child chose it and completed it with no problems.  Love it~I could see a little friendship blossoming as they worked together.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Watching the children is truly one of my favorite things to do in the classroom.  There is so much to learn from them!  We talk about childrens' work cycles and the importance of having a start and finish to their work~they make a decision about a work to choose, choose the work, complete the work, and return the work to the shelf.  This gives what they are doing dignity.  They take this very seriously which is why Montessori classrooms are busy, but peaceful. The children are working.  They also respect one another for the work they are doing-they all know instinctively and intuitively that they are all their learning to perfect and manage themselves.

One little girl was gone all last week due to a cold.  She returned Monday ready to work!  She was working very diligently in the back room.  She got up from her table, put her work in her folder and returned the work to the shelf w/o pushing in her chair.  In that split second another child sat down and started working at that table.  Then, the little girl came over, looked at the child, then looked at me and said, 'I forgot to push in my chair'.  I said, 'would you like to speak to (the child) about it?".  She then leaned down to the child and said very sweetly, 'I forgot to push in my chair'.  The child quickly arose from the chair, said 'I'm sorry', allowed the child to then push the chair in.  This exchange speaks volumes for the children's need to complete their work cycle.  This opportunity to do this in our environment is building a foundation for finishing work cycles as they get older as well whether it's with writing a paper, completing a math equation, coming up with a solution to a problem, or even later with assignments and tasks they will have in college and their jobs.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What is normalization?

A Montessori education is not a child care or playgroup.  There are many goals of a Montessori classroom, but a benchmark is to help provide opportunities for children to become 'normalized'.  In Montessori education, the term 'normalization' has a specialized meaning.  Normal does not refer to what is considered to be typical, average, or usual.  Rather, Maria Montessori used this term, 'normalization', to describe a unique process she observed in child development.  She observed that when children are allowed freedom in an environment that is set up and created to meet their developmental, social, emotional, and academic needs, they thrive and blossom.  After some time of intense concentration (which we observe daily in our classroom), working with wonderful materials that fully engage their interest and attention, children appear to be refreshed, content, and satisfied.  Through a child's work of their own choice, children grow inner discipline, peace, and self-control.  She called this process 'normalization' and cited it as "the most important single result of our whole work" (The Absorbent Mind, 1949).

People who may not be familiar with Montessori may think children are doing what they want when they want and it can seem that way.  But, we believe that children know themselves and choose based on what their interests are as well as what their brains are ready to learn.  We see the choices the children make as purposeful and important.  Children who are given opportunity to work in this type of environment are free to develop the fruit of what comes with this 'normalization' process:  spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social maturity and sympathy and care for others.  Other benefits include love of order, love of work, concentration, attachment to reality, love of silence and working alone, power to act from real choices, obedience, independence and initiative, self-discipline and joy.  Montessori believed these characteristics are the true characteristics of childhood which emerge when children's developmental needs are met.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Preparation for Writing

"Writing is a key to a double gain. It enables the hand to master a vital skill like that of speaking and to create a second means of communication that reflects the spoken word in all its details. Writing is thus dependent upon mind and hand."  

Montessorians are very intentional about their environment and the opportunities it provides for children to develop their writing skills. The Everyday Living works provide opportunity for children to develop their hand/fine motor muscles.  When they are pouring, spooning, tonging, tweezing, scrubbing etc. they are learning to manage their hands and direct their hands in specific ways.  This skill is needed when controlling a crayon or pencil. Children are shown lessons from the Art area that also support their development.  When they use crayons/colored pencils/markers they are practicing control and manipulation of those writing tools.  As they use them and design pictures, they are allowing their hands and mind to develop important writing skills.  Montessori said, 'a child who designs will write'.  

The metal insets are one of the wonderful materials available to children to develop their writing skills.  Children are shown many lessons on this work throughout the year, each one drawing on the skills of the previous lesson.  There are many shapes and insets with this work including circle, triangle square, oval, quatrafoil etc.  Some of the things children will learn by using this material are:

Gripping and guiding a writing utensil
The child will experience the pressure of a pencil
The very great variety of movements involved in this work, helps the child with control of the writing movements but also with changing directions.
Keeping the point of the pencil on the edge of the frame or the inset, helps the child steady his strokes. 
The writing/drawing goes from left to right
The child can learn to make one continuous stroke. This is particularly helpful in cursive script, but some letters in modified print call for it.
Eye-hand coordination

One of the lessons shown with the Metal Insets is that a child traces a shape, then draws lines from left to right filling up the shape.  They go from left to right which is preparation for reading and they are controlling their pencil as they draw from one side of the shape to the other.  
Another preparation for reading and writing is the Sandpaper Letters.  The letters are made of sandpaper.  The child is shown this work by tracing the letter with their hand.  Tracing the letter builds muscle memory which helps later when they are writing the letter.  It's a multi-sensory experience-they see the letter, they touch the letter and they hear the sound of the letter (we teach sound, not the letter name in the Montessori classroom).  Sometimes these letters are used along with a sound box where a child matches the objects to the sound, or a few can be provided with cornmeal or sand so the child can trace the letter in the substance provided. 

Lastly, there are developmental stages children go through when learning to write.  These stages include: telling stories through pictures they have drawn, drawing wavy-like lines that have no breaks or letters that look like words (usually these are ongoing waves across the page), children will then start to draw forms that look like made up letters/numbers and are scattered on the page, as children begin to recognize letters, they will begin to write them-these are many times backwards or upside down and lack space between them, children will then begin to write letter strings with recognizable patters, then, children will begin writing recognizable letters/words and children begin making a strong connection between letters on the page and sounds in the words children are trying to write.  Misspellings and backwards letters are common.  This stage of writing can typically be read by others.  The developmental time line begins at birth with imitation of facial expressions and vocal imitation and goes through 5 or 6 years old.  Teachers and parents should respect where children are in their development with writing and provide opportunities for them to follow their interest and practice as they are ready.  

I have included a link to a metal inset presentation to give you an idea of how that work is used.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Children are Amazing

The children are becoming quite accustomed to visitors in the classroom.  We are generating a lot of interest in Community Montessori so parents are coming to observe the classroom.  Today, we had a Mom visit our classroom.  A couple children were curious about who she was and why she was there, but for the most part, children went on about the business of their day.  I'm working in the front room this week (Everyday Living, Sensorial, Art etc.).  I was able to talk with our visitor and answer her questions for about 35 minutes while the children were completely self sufficient.  It was an awesome sight!  I pointed out what specific children were working on:  A child was doing floor scrubbing and another was painting.  A little girl engaged in marble painting and yet another working on The Pink Tower extension~she was tracing each cube and gluing it on a piece of paper.  Three children were having snack and another child was shelf cleaning.  A couple different times, a child had a question, but before I could walk to the child and address him/her another child moved in and solved the issue.  I was able to explain that in a Montessori environment, cooperative learning and helping one another is highly encouraged.  It's one of the magical aspects of the classroom, that isn't necessarily explained, but children pick up on very quickly.  We invite older children to assist younger children and we believe they are fully capable of doing so.  Also, since children are given the freedom to develop their independence, they feel quite capable answering questions from one another or stepping in naturally to help a friend.  I also was able to observe another beautiful sight-A new student joined our classroom on Friday, so today was his third day in class.  One student saw that this little boy was interested in choosing snack, but he seemed unsure of what to do.  The little girl started explaining to him what he needed to do.  She did it so patiently and, what else I loved about it was that she would tell him a step, then allowed him to do it himself.  She then had snack with him and was able to tell him the clean up process as well-this to me is simply beautiful!  The new student accepted her help willingly and seemed genuinely appreciative of her assistance.  Oh what lessons the children can teach us!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Reading Development

When going through our reading process, children will do a lot of moveable alphabet.  We have the children do one vowel at a time, then, as they learn new vowel sounds, do those isolated as well. When we see they are solid with a vowel sound, then we can have them do two vowel sounds at a time etc.  The goal is to help support them as they become solid in discriminating vowel sounds-being able to tell the word pin from pen and knowing which has an /e/ and which has an /i/.  It's somewhere during this process that children begin (on their own) decoding-this is an exciting time!  They move from encoding (writing the words w/sounds they know) to actually reading the word.  In Montessori, the 'sounding out' part (so to speak) comes while children are writing, not while they are reading.  We want to build a solid foundation so they will look at words as total words, not sounds that need to be sounded out.  When a child is given their first book in a Montessori classroom, they are reading.  The goal is for children to read with understanding.  If they are sounding out every word, then it can be a painful, frustrating process.  When a teacher determines a child is decoding, we will introduce the work called "The First Reading Lesson".  This work is done like this:  There are several consonant/vowel/consonant objects that include all vowel sounds (hat, pin, jet, mop etc).  We lay them out and have the child name them.  Then, we say, "I'm going to write you a special message and I want you to put it next to the correct object".  The teacher then begins writing each word one at a time and the gives it to the child to 'read'.  If the child can 'read' all the messages (words), then they are ready to be moved into our reading materials.  As they move into the reading materials, the moveable alphabet continues to be used.  We use it to introduce digraphs, blends, long vowels, phrases, sentences etc.   They will go through the process of writing words as they are introduced to one of those new word groups.  For example, we may write all words starting in the sound /sh/-they will write ship, shop, shut etc. Or we may write phrases to introduce sight words-the big dog, a hot sun, the wet hen etc.  More later.....have a great day!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Our Back Room

This week I have been working in the back room of our classroom.  There has been so much great work going on~it's been so fun!!  Our back room includes Language and Cultural (Geography, Science) as well as our Unit Shelf-this month we are studying Birds.  I think if you are new to Montessori, one of the biggest areas of interest is how children learn to read and write in a Montessori classroom.  What I can first generally tell you is that every work, every material, every activity provided for children in our classroom has purpose and rationale that connects to the bigger picture of providing a learning rich environment. 

We have many preparation for writing works available to children.  The Everyday Living works provide opportunity for children to develop their fine motor skills through pouring, spooning, scooping.  Children can practice directing their hands to do different movements which will later help them when they need to manipulate a pencil to draw/write.  Maria Montessori said, we should never ask a child to do something with a pencil that they have not yet done with a broom-meaning that children should learn how to control/manipulate larger items before asking them to use something smaller like a pencil. The metal insets are a very popular work in our classroom-children are attracted to the colorful pencils they are invited to use as well as the fun shapes and insets they can use to trace.  This work provides lots of practice for pencil control. 

How do we determine when children are ready to start learning their sounds? We have a work in our classroom called 'I Spy'.  This work is used to determine if children are hearing the initial sound of a object.  We lay out a couple objects to begin with-for example zebra and bat.  We say, 'I spy with my little eye something that begins with the sound /z/'.  If they can choose zebra, then we know they are hearing the beginning sound.  This is a developmental skill.  When children are consistently hearing the initial sound using several objects, then they are ready to begin learning sound/symbol relationship, that is, that the letter s says /s/.  This is introduced through the sound boxes.  Sounds are divided between 5 or 6 boxes with most frequently used sounds introduced first. Children are given a lesson where they trace the sandpaper letter and hear the teacher say the sound-this is a multi-sensory experience-they are seeing, hearing, touching the /s/ sound.  Then, when the sounds in the first box are introduced, the children match objects that go with each sound.  Children practice a lot with the sound boxes, doing letter rubbings for reinforcement and fetching with the moveable alphabet (meaning they go to the moveable alphabet and get the letter representing the sound).  After children master the sounds in the sound box which includes the first vowel sound /a/, they can begin building words with the sounds they know-writing words with sounds before reading words is an important distinction of the Montessori reading program.  This process has proven over and over to be a solid foundation for great reading progress.  Children continue being introduced to sounds in each sound box as they master another.  We continue doing moveable alphabet one vowel at a time, then doing mixed vowels so children can learn to discriminate between the different vowel sounds.  Every step along the way is an important process for each child and children progress at their own individual rate.  Their interest, age, and readiness are all part of the variables that play into the journey for each child.  Learning to read is very exciting and children typically love this area of the classroom.  The beauty of a Montessori classroom is that even if a child isn't quite ready for certain aspects, they are seeing other children do these works which contributes to their success later, when they are ready.  

I will write more about the next phase of the reading process later.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sensorial Area

The Sensorial Area is the Montessori classroom can be easily recognized with the classic, colorful, and precise materials.  Montessorians believe that it is during the ages of 0-6, children take in everything from their environment through their senses-visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste).  In a Montessori classroom, the Sensorial Area is meant to 'educate' the senses, that is to help children organize all they have taken in during the 0-6 time frame.  The Sensorial Area allows children to organize and classify information.  Through his senses, the child studies his environment and during their time in a Montessori classroom with access to the materials in the Sensorial area, he then begins to understand his environment.

Sensorial materials shown through lessons and presentations, were designed by Maria Montessori to provide experiences that are perceived by the senses:  size, shape, composition, texture, loud/soft sounds, matching, weight, temperature etc.  Children learn how to discriminate differences between same and different objects.  For example, The Pink Tower is meant to teach 'large' and 'small' and children are shown how to grade this work.  As they use the material with their hands, they begin to have an understanding of 'large' and 'small' and eventually understand that the smallest pink cute is 1 cubic centimeter in volume and the largest pink cute is 1000 cubic centimeters in volume (10 cm in length on one side).  With the colored knobless cylinders, the children are introduced to a different size aspect with each box.  The red box varies in width only.  The yellow box varies in height and width, the green varies in height and width, and the blue box has the same height, but vary in width.  They can manipulate these materials and even compare them with each other to learn these different attributes.

All the Sensorial materials were designed with these ideas in mind:

1.  The materials isolate one quality at a time, allowing the child to focus on one quality at a time.
2.  All materials have a 'control of error', meaning the child can make corrections themselves.
3.  All the materials are esthetically pleasing.
4.  All the materials must be complete so the child who is working with them can finish through the entire process without being interrupted to find a missing piece.
5.  These materials could be called 'materialized abstractions' which means that through these Sensorial materials, abstract concepts are made.
6.  The Sensorial Area is seen as preparation for the Math area-concepts learned in this area help support and encourage growth in the Math area.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Everyday Living Area

This is a very fun area of our classroom!  This area is designed to develop a sense of order, encourage independence, develop concentration and coordination.  The children also learn how to care for themselves and their environment.  The Everyday Living area is typically full of colorful materials that entice children to work with their hands, which they naturally love doing!  Many different kinds of EDL materials ranging from hand/finger transfer, sorting, pouring, scooping, spooning, tweezing, buttoning, zipping, snapping, polishing, and scrubbing are all strategically displayed on our Montessori shelves.  With great delight, children choose their work, carry their trays to their work space, and work with the material.  From looking and deciding what to choose to carrying the tray carefully to their work space, children are developing their independence.  It takes balance and coordination to carry the trays, which can vary in size and weight. And, preparing the work for the next friend who chooses it instills in the child that they have an important role in the classroom.   The choices for Everyday Living are endless and the works on the shelves are changed frequently based on how much the children are using the material, what Unit Study is going on in the classroom or a holiday we are celebrating.  For example, during our Sea Life Unit, there were small sea life animals in some of the EDL works used for sorting and spooning. We also had a sensory tub filled will sand and sea animals that the children could explore.  During Valentine's Day, we used various objects relating to the holiday that were colorful and attractive to the children.

For the children, this work is great fun!  For the teacher/directress, he/she is indirectly preparing the children for more formal learning.  For example, working in the EDL area of the classroom is indirectly preparing children for reading.  The works are placed on the shelves from left to right and top to bottom so that children's eyes track in this way, preparing them for reading.  In fact, all of our shelves in all areas are set up in this way-the sequence going from left to right and top to bottom.  The items on the tray itself are also set up in this way-for example, a pouring work using colored water from a pitcher to a cup would have the pitcher with the water on the left and the cup on the right. The complete lesson is shown pouring the water into the cup, then pouring the water back into the pitcher.

Peer teaching and learning is an intricate part of the Montessori Method.  The veteran students are diligent to the cause of an organized and well respected classroom.  Older children gain great confidence as the leaders in the the classroom and younger children aspire to do the same.  This is one of the best kept secrets of a Montessori classroom.  As children work together in a Montessori environment, a community of respect, love, and great friendship is born.  The Montessori classroom is student centered.  The teacher guides and supports as well as assures the environment is setting children up for success.  All of this and more unfolds early in a child's Montessori journey beginning with the introduction of the Everyday Living Area.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Why a Multi-Age Classroom?

One aspect of a Montessori classroom is that there is a 3 year age span among the children.  In Pre-Primary, it's 3-6 years old.  In Lower Elementary, it's 6-9 years old, and in Upper Elementary it's 9-12 years old.  Maria Montessori found this to be most beneficial for children and now, educational research supports this practice, although it's typically only found in Montessori schools. 

There are many wonderful benefits to the multi-age classroom:
*  Children learn from one another-they learn by observing and interacting
*  Young children learn higher level cognitive and social skills not only through mental development, but also by observing others as models.
*  Collaborative learning is encouraged-I am amazed everyday in my classroom how children of different ages are interacting and learning from one another. The older children in our classroom are encouraged to give lessons to younger children and it's amazing to watch the older child solidify what they know by teaching it to the younger child and it's just as amazing to see a young child's eyes focus intently on the older child as they give a lesson-this is more powerful than an adult giving a lesson.  They connect more deeply with other children.
*  Multi-age grouping helps children develop a sense of community and supports social development.  As I watched my students work this week, I was thinking how wonderful it is that they all have different interests and choose different work at different times. Children in this environment learn to respect others as individuals.  We don't all have to be 'the same' or it doesn't have to be 'fair and equal' when all children are being respected for who they are.
*  Children work at their own levels, which may vary in different curriculum areas.  Groups are flexible and often differ depending on interest, subject matter, and/or ability.
*  Curriculum and materials are multidimensional and concrete.  Children re-explore the same materials at different levels.  For example, the geometric solids can first be sensorially explored by a younger child. An older child may want to name them, match them to cards, or even trace and cut them out.  When these materials are used often and at different levels, the opportunities for learning are endless.
*  Multi-age groupings lends itself well to the inclusion of children with special needs into classrooms with typically developing peers.  The benefits of inclusion for all children have been demonstrated and they range across all developmental and educational domains.
*Children who are given the freedom to interact with children of different ages build a sense of themselves and a sense of confidence that provides a foundation for them which will help them move through life with the belief that they can try new things, and not be afraid of stepping out of their comfort zone.  

Montessori philosophy supports multi-age grouping and Montessori teachers have implemented it for over 100 years.  This concept has recently moved into the mainstream due to the work of many educational theorists and researchers.  Some states are now recommending their preschools and elementary classrooms implement multi-age grouping.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Work Cycles

Montessori teachers will talk about 'work cycles' quite a bit.  When a child enters the classroom as a new student, the teachers will support him/her to develop a work cycle.  This is defined as choosing a work, completing the work, returning the work, then moving on to another work.  It is during this time the child is building concentration, independence, order, and coordination.  I'm working in the front room (Everyday Living, Sensorial, Art, Manipulative) this week and I LOVE watching the children deep in concentration.  It's amazing to see them really focused on a work, and developing that little brain of theirs!  Yesterday, I watched an early 3 year old choose table scrubbing.  As I observed her, I could see her brain at work as she went through the many steps involved, making important decisions to make her work successful.  She is learning the steps and some decisions lead her to places she knew she didn't want to be.  For example, before laying out her towels, soap dish, scrub brush, sponge etc, she got her water. When she returned to her work with the water, there was no where to go with it.  But, she worked it out. She put down her water and set up her workspace.  The freedom to make these decisions is critical to a child building confidence in themselves and  learning that they can make a mistake or make a decision that doesn't get them to where they want, but then giving them the ability to make it right.  This may seem very basic, but what I can tell you in my experience working in a Montessori classroom,  it's through these opportunities the children develop wonderful life skills that will help them their whole life.  They are truly learning how to manage themselves in a world that is full of choices that have consequences-good and bad.  I also got to observe a wonderful friendship blossom between two children.  They somehow caught one another's eye and one invited the other to do the Pink Tower/Brown Stair extension work.  They took pictures of designs that were built with those two materials and had a great time working through the process of making their work look like the picture.  While they worked, they talked about a play date they hoped they would have, talked about what their houses looked like and what they would have for snack.  This was a great example of children being able to move/talk, build social skills and learn all at the same time.  A beautiful sight!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Classroom Set Up

The Montessori school I taught at for 7 years had one large classroom which I loved. When the opportunity presented itself for me to buy a building that was formerly a preschool, I was concerned about the set up of the classroom.  Community Montessori has 3 rooms-a front room, a middle room and a back room.  I consulted a very important Montessori mentor in my life and asked what I could do so assure that the children had freedom to move about the classroom, but still be aware of ratios.  She had a brilliant idea-we have a chart in each room.  After lessons, the children take their name off a board and choose the room they want to work in.  They put their name on the chart (with velcro).  Then, when they switch rooms, they take their name with them.  It has worked beautifully and I find myself loving how the classroom is set up. Another bonus is that there is a teacher in each room for a week at a time. So, for a week each teacher can be in one room, work with children who come in that room and really focus on those areas.  Our front room is our Everyday Living, Art, Sensorial, Snack, and manipulative (parquetry, lacing, necklace making, etc) areas.  The middle room is our Math area.  The back room is our Language/Cultural area.  It's great fun to work with all the kids vs. only the children in my group.  I was in the back room this week and it was a sound box and moveable alphabet party!  I love being immersed in an area for a week.  The room is small enough that I can be there to guide or support children if they need me, but yet allows for very independent work as well.  Each week the teachers discuss the prior week, who they worked with and the progress each child is making.  We note social, developmental, academic, and emotional progress or challenges as well.