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.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Maria Montessori said, "The child only develops by means of experience in his environment. We call such experience work.".  Maria Montessori wanted to give dignity to what children do.  When they are playing, working, and engaging in activity they are learning to master themselves-this is indeed very important work.   They are perfecting skills we take for granted and their brains are developing.  In a Montessori classroom, you will notice a peaceful contentment among the children as they work.  People who have never seen a Montessori classroom in action are amazed at how calm things seem.  There are children engaged in many different activities, moving about freely, and chatting with friends, but it is purposeful work.  One child may naturally sit with a child who is doing something they are interested in.  A spontaneous conversation will sometimes occur, or there will be silence as the one child works and the other child observes.  These types of happenings are not teacher directed, rather flow from the freedom the child is given within this prepared environment.  Today I saw a younger child (almost 3) struggling to zip her jacket to go outside.  An older child (4 1/2) put down her backpack, got out of the line to go outside and walked up to her and said, 'Can I help you?'.  The younger child continued attempting to zip her jacket as the older child watched.  Finally, when the younger child tired of trying, the older child moved in and zipped her coat.  While she was helping her young friend, the younger child became fascinated w/her hand made knit hat.  She said, 'I like your pretty hat'....the older child said, 'My Mom made it for me'.....the two got in line together and went outside.  It's precious moments like these that make teaching Montessori so rewarding.  The children are so naturally helpful, considerate, respectful and when given the freedom to be leaders and have independence in their classroom, they are able to continue to blossom into who they were meant to be.  Start noticing when your child is really engaged at home-what is he/she doing?  Can you see the focus and concentration?  Be respectful of their work.  Try to allow them ample time to finish or complete the work.  It's amazing how often you will see your child focus on things they are interested in.  The respect you show your child regarding their work will help them learn to give the same respect back to others.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Who was Maria Montessori?

Maria Montessori was born in Italy in 1870.  She showed signs at an early age of being a trailblazer and having big dreams.  She was the first woman to graduate medical school in Rome.  Her first assignment after graduating was to work with a group of 'defective' children in a psychiatric clinic.  She observed these children and devoted care to them and soon they began learning.  These children were tested and found to be of 'normal' standard.  This was an achievement described as the first 'Montessori Miracle'.  Montessori then questioned what her practices could do with 'normal' children.  Montessori spoke about her belief that learning is something that unfolds naturally within a child and that when provided a prepared environment and trained teachers, children thrive, learn, develop, mature, and find a peace within themselves because they are satisfying their need to learn.  

In 1907, Montessori opened her first school called 'Casa dei Bambini'.  Montessori wanted to teach children ways to develop their own skills at a pace they set.  The school was in a housing project and focused on children learning 'self-development'.  Teachers would present materials and lessons as children showed an interest and readiness to learn new skills.  The success of this school sparked the opening of many more Montessori schools.  Maria Montessori became well known world wide and was a well respected educator.  

With many years of observing and working with children, Maria Montessori found that children progress through different 'sensitive periods'.  These are times when the brain is most ready to learn something new so the child seeks out ways to perfect that new skill.  In the Montessori classroom, we may see children in a sensitive period for math and have a desire/need to count for days on end.  Or, they may be in a sensitive period for order and we will carefully observe children performing a lesson exactly how they were shown it, being careful and intentional with their movements.  Maria Montessori saw children as competent beings and believed they should be encouraged and allowed to make decisions.  In the Montessori classroom, children are given the freedom to make choices as well as the opportunity to understand the responsibility that goes along with that freedom. Children have the ability to choose work and respect the materials and environment.  Because they are given this freedom, they take ownership in their space and the community that resides there.  The children will give reminders to one another to clean up a work, or return a work to it's proper place, if they forget or make a mistake.  Children are trusted and encouraged and take on leadership roles in the classroom that leads to positive social interactions as well as accountability.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Beginnings

Wow...I have thought a very long time about starting a blog about Montessori and here I am doing it! My hope is that I can share insights from the classroom, talk about philosophy and children, ask questions, and learn more about how I can be a better directress in the classroom.  I am also excited to provide a space where parents and families from Community Montessori School can share their own experience with Montessori or anything parent related.  We can all come together on the common ground of our children.  There is no one way to parent or educate your child.  Hopefully, this can be a place to get some great ideas from one another!  I look forward to being able to share my heart and belief that children are amazing little creatures with individual personalities, needs, interests, motivations, and learning styles.  I am blessed to be able to experience their joy and excitement for learning in my classroom each day.