Saturday, December 1, 2012

Valuing Families

When I opened my school three years ago, I not only had a passion for children and the Montessori Method, but also for families.  I so appreciate the hard work of parents and the deep love they feel for their children.  I feel as a parent myself and see in our world/culture, the pressures families feel hearing so much advice on everything from potty training, education, discipline, religion, etc.  One of the values we hold near and dear to our hearts at Community Montessori, is inviting and encouraging families to figure out what they care about.  Knowing what is best for your family and your children is the first defense to falling into the trap of trying to 'do it all' when it comes to raising children.  The challenging part to this is that often times, we have formed our thoughts and beliefs prior to even having children. We have so many ideas and dreams and  times when we think, " I will definitely do this, this way" and  "I will never do this, that way"...then...welcome our precious little cherub (s).  They have needs, they have opinions, they have thoughts.  They don't always line up with ours-what is a parent to do??  I have said many times during parent workshops and conversations with families, choose the relationship with your child over everything else.  Respect who they are and what they need-children are so intuitive and they understand far more than we give them credit for.  They understand the dilemma we're in as parents.  They appreciate us KNOWING them and respecting where they are in their development.  I know that parents are bombarded with messages from the world that says  there is one way to do things, or one path to walk down, or one school to go to, or one way to discipline, but I disagree.  Each of our paths with our own families and our children is unique/individual and will look different than anyone elses.  We are on a journey with our children-we don't get to decide too many things along the way without taking into account the here and now.  Looking too far ahead can make us miss the obvious in the moment.  Thinking/worrying about next month, or next year, can cause us to be disconnected to the moment we're in.  Enjoy your children-get to know them and base your decisions on what they are showing you they need now.  Taking care of today will no doubt help take care of tomorrow.  But, skipping today and tomorrow to move into next month or next year, will possibly result in a decision that disregards a need for now.  Wives and Husbands-have these conversations....what do you really want for your children?  Who do you want influencing their lives?  What values do you hold as a family?  How are those values best supported outside of your home?  Do not fear who your children are-their gifts, their strengths will take them far in life.  If we can walk along side our children, support and love them where they are and for who they are, they will be successful in life.  There is freedom in waiting and watching...the age group we serve at Community Montessori (2 1/2-7) is a magical time full of such growth and learning.  These little babies are amazing, capable, gifted, parents and teachers, we are blessed to have an opportunity to watch these kiddos unfold. I encourage you to not worry about the 'what ifs' when it comes to our children, but maybe ask instead, 'wow, what is next?'......enjoy this walk with goes by so quickly...that is so cliche, but true.  Each day with our children (as parents and in the classroom as teachers) is a gift to us.  I want to be patient, enjoy, and anticipate what else they have to show us and teach us.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Raising Good Decision Makers

At last weekend's Parent Workshop, we discussed rewards/punishments and allowing our children to experience natural consequences of their decisions.  Good decision making is acquired from making poor decisions and figuring it out, on our own, how to turn it around.  Think about the lessons you have learned in your life-did they come from someone telling you?  Did they come from reading it?  Probably not~lessons you have learned probably came from experiences you had and figuring out when something went wrong or a way you didn't want it to.  Helping children learn how to make good decisions is done by allowing them to make a decision and allowing that decision to play out.  By allowing our children to get clear and accurate information-which may be learned the hard way that the stove is hot-we start them on the path to learning to decide independently how they will act. 

Keeping our children from experiencing natural consequences of their actions/decisions can be detrimental to future growth. Some would argue that young children are having a harder a time potty training because of Pull-Ups.  Pull-Ups on children who are learning to use the bathroom independently can actually cause a set back because the Pull-Ups keep children from experiencing when they have gone to the bathroom in their pants.  Pull-Ups can be convenient, but they can also keep children from experiencing what they need to learn about their body and using the restroom.  Sippy cups can pose a similar issue.  Children need to practice drinking from a regular cup so they learn not to spill.  Yes, there will be spills while they are learning, but practicing drinking from a cup will make them more successful.  Start at a young age (right around 1), pour a very small amount of water in a cup and allow your child to practice drinking.  You will be amazed how successful they can be!  Drinking from a sippy cup doesn't help children learn how to drink from a regular cup.  Again, they are convenient and almost always guaranteed not to be messy, but what is your child learning drinking from a sippy cup? A diet of finger foods can keep children from learning how to use utensils.  It's a good idea to think about the skills we want our children to learn rather than what is convenient in the moment.

Allowing our children the freedom to make age appropriate decisions can be painful.  Watching them live out what they have decided can be challenging.  However, resist the temptation to rescue your children from decisions they have made.  In the end, it will be fruitful and your child will be learning so much about life and themselves.  Here is a recent Facebook post from a Mom who I respect greatly.  You can hear the pain of allowing her son to live out his decision, but you can also hear her love and support of her son as he is walking out a decision he made:

I just let my new middle schooler walk out the door with no breakfast, no lunch and his hair not brushed because he was so frazzled trying to pull all his homework together for class today. I asked yesterday for him to get everything together and he said he would later. It broke my heart to watch. I gave him a big hug, told him I loved him. We both are growing up a bit today.

Be brave and allow your children to make some decisions in their lives.  They are genius's!  They will figure it out, even if it's learning things a difficult way.  And, they will greatly appreciate your belief in them!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Lessons From The Snack Work

The students at Community Montessori were shown snack this week.  Snack is an independent work in our classroom.  Each day a child is scheduled to bring in a snack to share with the class.  That snack is placed at the snack work and students can choose freely during work time.  There are three spots at snack and when there is a spot available, a child can choose it.  The snack work has many steps and the steps need to be done in a sequential order to get the desired outcome, so students are learning a lot going through the process of snack.  Here are the steps:

Decide to choose snack
Look/Observe-is there an available spot? If so, proceed in choosing snack.  If not, choose another work until spot is available, or wait.
Find name on the side of the shelf where all names are listed
Place name at an available spot
Wash hands
Get napkin, open it up to a big square
Go to snack shelf and see what is offered and get snack (there is a number indicating how much snack a child can get.  For example, 1 banana, 6 grapes, 4 carrots etc).
Use utensil to get snack (tongs, spoon, scoop etc)
Place snack in bowl to transfer to eating space
Return bowl so another student can use it
Get a cup, pour water from pitcher into cup
Sit down, enjoy snack, enjoy friends at snack table
When finished, push in chair, throw away any garbage-napkin, peel from banana etc
Pour unfinished water into sink
Place dirty cup in dirty cup basket
Clean snack area-use a sponge to wipe place mat or use a small broom/dustpan to sweep any crumbs
Place name in basket on table to indicate you have had snack for the day

These steps are impressive when you think about it.  Children love order and structure and this work provides that as well as an opportunity to sit with friends and socialize.  It's fun to watch some kids make a plan to have snack together, meaning they have to wait for 2 or 3 spots to be available.  It's also fun to see new friendships blossom while eating at the snack table.  The older children give reminders to younger children if they forget a step.  It's also very fun to see a child try a new food they may not be willing to eat at home.  One little boy clearly didn't like one of the snacks this week; however, he so wanted to do snack so badly  he kept saying, "I love carrots Jamie" and the look on his face was priceless!  He didn't end up finishing his snack, but went through all the steps nonetheless!  This work represents what so many works represent in our classroom-a child's ability to practice important life skills in a child safe environment where it's ok to make mistakes and be in the process of learning.  They are also building their confidence as they try new things and are successful. . Their coordination is being built through managing their bodies/utensils/space.  They also become organized little beings when they are offered an orderly environment.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beginning of the Year Practical Life

The beginning of the year is an exciting time for families~new environments, new teachers, new friends!  In the Montessori classroom, the beginning of the year is a time for meeting the students, being sensitive to their transition and presenting lessons that will help them function in the classroom/be successful and begin to build their independence.  The first few days of school are spent showing children how to use the bathroom, how to roll a rug, how to push in their chair, how to choose a work, how to follow important safety rules and how to talk and communicate with one another.  In a Montessori classroom, we don't typically go over all the rules in a lecture type fashion.  Instead, we show small group lessons demonstrating how to do things as well as model the correct way to do things.  The children will watch, practice and learn.  We emphasize being respectful to our friends, walking in the classroom so we can control our bodies, using the materials carefully, putting work away when finished, and talking directly to a friend/teacher using eye contact.  In our classroom, the returning students from the previous year as well as the Kindergartners/First Graders begin the first week. This week allows the returning students to settle in, be reminded of their classroom and all that's there for them and prepare to greet the new students.  The next week, the new students arrive and the returning students are ready to be role models and help the new children get acquainted.  It's a wonderful, intentional way to have the environment prepared so that the students can enjoy their school and be successful!

Another important part of the beginning of the year is the Grace and Courtesy aspect of Practical Life.  Maria Montessori saw that along with children's need for order in their physical surroundings, she saw that children also needed order in their social surroundings.  Grace and Courtesy lessons give children the vocabulary, steps and actions needed to build their awareness and build their ability to be responsive to people around them.  At the beginning of the year children are introduced to how to greet a friend, how to shake someone's hand, how to invite a friend to work with them or have snack with them.  These lessons are sometimes given intentionally in small groups or even within a situation that may need some guidance and it is also modeled by the teachers and older children in the classroom.  In addition, children learn how to wait quietly rather than interrupt, and how to walk around a rug rather than walk over it.  These Grace and Courtesy skills grow into skills such as cooperation, team work, problem solving, compassion, empathy and care-taking.  It's wonderful to watch children develop and mature using these skills to function in the world. 

For all of you starting school this week~Enjoy and take in every moment!  Your children are on a wonderful learning journey and we all get to watch it unfold.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Self Awareness

Another wonderful benefit of the Montessori classroom is that children learn to develop self awareness.  Being able to have freedom in the classroom allows children to unfold and develop naturally which helps children learn about themselves.  Each child is unique, individual, and has many facets to them-personality, temperament, likes, dislikes, family values etc.  For each child to be gifted the time to learn who they are and how they can contribute to this big world, is wonderful and assists in the development of their self esteem.  Focusing on certain behaviors or certain gifts keeps the focus on a child so narrow that it doesn't allow them to figure out what they are good at.  If someone really values being a good piano player and everything is judged against the expectation that everyone should be a good piano player, what is a child to do if they don't like playing the piano or they are not good at playing the piano?  Having narrow expectations or standards put on a child truly limits their beauty and potential.  Allowing children to  learn about themselves brings about a healthy understanding of themselves as well.  They may know that they are really good at 'this' and know they aren't so good at 'that', but knowing that and understanding that doesn't effect their self esteem-it's a healthy perspective of themselves that shows the world they have a lot to offer and they also have the confidence to improve on something they may not know how to do.  It's amazing that in the classroom, the children figure out who to go to when they need help with certain things. They have such intuition to know who is good at something or who is helpful or who can tie shoes or is really good at puzzles.  Since the environment is set up in such a way and the teachers view children in such a way that children are seen as unique individuals and that they all contribute to the classroom community, then the children see one another as individuals.  This perspective in a classroom also cuts down on competition and placing certain behaviors or skills above others.  In traditional environments, much emphasis is placed on grades, being a top athlete, or being popular.  So, if you are someone who is an average student, doesn't like sports, or isn't in the 'in' crowd, there is a real danger that those kiddos don't feel valued, since the culture of the classroom/school is such that only certain things are valued and if you aren't demonstrating those things, you may not fit in.  I find this quite tragic.  Every child is a gift and has things to offer the world.  Helping children feel successful in who they are and helping them become the best them they can be, is what Montessori classrooms are all about.  And, because we believe it-the kids show us their uniqueness and beauty everyday!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Control of Error

During all of her time with children, Maria Montessori discovered that children would much rather correct themselves, or discover something new themselves, rather than have an adult move in.  Because of this, she developed many of her materials with a built in 'control of error'.  This means that children can self correct and notice an imperfection themselves while working.  This control of error is built into the physically prepared environment and allows children to use their reasoning and problem solving skills.  It also gives them quick feedback on their work, rather than having to wait for an adult to evaluate what they have done. Some examples of this are:

*Furniture in the classroom is light weight enough to be moved without adult help and will also be knocked over if a child is not carefully controlling their body. 

*Objects in the classroom are breakable which teaches them to handle things carefully to avoid damage or breakage.

*Sometimes in many of the matching or sorting works, a small dot will be placed on the back of the picture/word card so children can check their work.  So, if a child is sorting land/air/water pictures, they may complete the work, then turn over all the cards and see that all the land cards have a brown dot, all the water cards have a blue dot and all the air cards have a white dot.  This indicates to them that they have sorted correctly. 

*Knobbed Cylinders-there is one space for each cylinder and they all fit perfectly-if a child is working with this material, they will notice that if a piece doesn't fit exactly, there is not space for all cylinders.  We have observed on many occasions children focusing and working until getting it right. We have also seen this material be returned to the shelf with some cylinders out of place which just indicates that a child is practicing with this material and has not yet developed the visual discrimination skills to see the imperfections.

*Many of the Sensorial materials have a built in control of error-the Red Rods, the Pink Tower, and the Brown Stair show an imperfection in how a child sees them.  With the Red Rods, they are grading the rods from longest to shortest. When the rods are graded on the rug, the child may notice they have graded incorrectly if the rods are out of order.

*Sorting works will have the same number of objects so if the child sorts, but doesn't have the same number of objects for each row, they will know to go back and check for a mistake.  For example, if a child is sorting items according to how they feel (rough vs. smooth) and they end up with 6 items under rough and 4 items under smooth, they will need to go back and check the work to see where they made a mistake.

Making sure that all materials in the classroom are prepared and ready for a child to work with them is another important part of how teachers prepare the classroom.  Each day teachers tend to the materials and works-refill, straighten, count, clean and prepare so that children are drawn in and attracted to the works.  Part of why a Montessori classroom functions so beautifully is because there are so many wonderful things for children to engage in.  They love being at school, they love their friends, and they love how the environment makes them feel~respected, cared for, capable and empowered!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Summer Ideas

Summer can be a time of great family and outdoor time, but it can also be a time of anxiety for some parents who wonder what to do with their children all summer.  I hope this blog post brings your mind at ease and lets you know that it doesn't have to be too complicated.  Here is a list of some things to do over the summer:

*  Ask your child(ren) to make a 'summer bucket list' of things they would like to do and keep it handy so that you can have a quick reference when you're planning.
*  Visit a Farmer's Market-if you can, drive into the country a bit and check out an area you have never been and make a day of it.
*  Do some outdoor scrubbing-the car, the patio furniture, bikes, or even rocks/shells.  Children love water and love to clean and doing it outdoors means less mess inside!
*  Choose a fun recipe and find a way to engage even the youngest of children in the process-make something to give to the Fire Department, a local nursing home, or even a neighbor.
*  Go for a creek walk-Sharon Woods or Keehner Park are both great places to do this.  Take along a container to collect cool rocks, fossils, or plant life.
*  Go on a family bike ride-Loveland Bike Trail is beautiful and shady for hot days!  They have a couple really yummy restaurants nearby as well.
*  Check out your local Metro Parks for programs for kids of all ages.
*  Visit the Art Museum, Children's Museum, or Eden Park.
*  Have a art day at home-gather all kinds of scraps of wrapping paper, ribbon, magazine pictures and allow your children to create things from those items. 
*  Chalk art on the driveway!
*  Visit the Boonshoft Museum in Dayton-fun and hands on!
*  Play in the sprinkler
*  Use a storage bin to make a water table for outside-add plastic items/cups/utensils
*  Write a letter to a far away friend or relative-for younger children they can dictate to you what they would like you to write-add a picture and take your child to the post office to mail it. 
*  Visit the library and get books on whatever your child is interested in.
*  Do some planting/gardening-involve children in the preparation and care taking process
*  Play dress up and take silly pictures

Hope this list is helpful....don't feel like you have to go and do all the time.......having a pj day at home is fun too!

Most of all, enjoy your children, step back, watch and let them show you what they'd like to do.  :)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Perspective Taking

There are many, many skills we all hope our children learn as they grow, develop, and mature.  Some of the these skills we don't even realize are important until we realize our child doesn't have it.  One of the many skills that is an important life skill is perspective taking.  Montessorians know that this is another skill that needs to be taught and modeled intentionally.  In the Montessori environment, there is an understanding of respect:  for each other, for the materials, for the space, for the rules.  With that understanding brings many, many opportunities for learning different perspectives.  As adults know, there are many perspectives to a situation/story/conflict.  Helping children understand other children's perspectives helps them mature in amazing ways.  This is evident as we watch the older students in our environment-they move into conflicts confidently and bring a breath of fresh air by way of sharing something they saw that maybe the children in the conflict did not, or even offering a grace filled reason/justification for why someone was acting in a certain way.  For example, today two boys were arguing over a space in the line at the monkey bars.  One boy said another boy cut, the other boy said no he didn't.  I moved in slowly and just started repeating what each boy was saying, offering some breaths into a situation that seemed to be getting a bit heated.  After going back a forth a few times saying the same thing to each boy about the other one cutting, an older student turned and said, " I saw what happened, do you want me to tell you what I saw" brilliant!  First, I don't have to use my big adultness to make a decision about the situation, therefore, inserting what I think happened.  Second, this older student is going to basically take over the conflict and provide beautiful and respectful perspective.  She said, "well, this boy was in line, but he actually was leaning over here so it looked like he wasn't in line, so I can see why child A thought he cut, but really he didn't"....that being said, the conflict was over-nothing more needed to be said.  Keep in mind one child was 3 and the other was 4-the older student is 7.   They were able to understand the older student's account and go on playing without incident.  Seeing another's perspective and opening our minds to others thoughts is a way we connect with one another and build relationship.  This doesn't mean we have to agree, but it's important to pause and think about how others are thinking/feeling.  It's simply amazing to see children develop these skills.  Along with the ability to take different perspectives, comes the development of communication skills.  The older child who moved into the situation today was able to articulate the conflict in a way that the two younger children could understand.  This happened in a very respectful way-allowing each child to be validated in what they saw and how they felt.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Another Montessori Truth

Students are more likely to succeed in a place where they feel known and cared about.  I received my 'Tomorrow's Child' Montessori magazine this weekend-I read it cover to cover.  It has such rich articles about Montessori and I love reading what others are saying about this wonderful philosophy. 

There is an article talking about 10 Truths that teachers/parents should not be ignoring.  One of them is the statement above. 

Children/Adults want to be known.  They want to be cared for.  They want to feel understood and believed in.  In Montessori environments, because children have the freedom to work and unfold at their own pace and interest level, the teachers are able to get to know each child.  And, because the learning is individualized, we get to learn about each child's strengths and areas they need extra work/practice on.  This is a gift for the children and the teachers.  We get to see the uniqueness of each child. 

This was taken from one of the articles in 'Tomorrow's Child' which was taken from the book Feel Bad Education by Alfie Kohn"If we took seriously the need for kids to feel known and cared about, our discussions about the distinguishing features of a 'good school' would sound very different.  Likewise, our view of discipline and classroom management would be turned inside-out, seeing as how the primary goals of most such strategies are obedience and order, often with the result that kids feel less cared about-or even bullied-by adults."

Even mainstream education groups have embraced the idea of teaching the 'whole' child, including the physical, social, emotional, artistic, and academic.  However, very few conversations occur about the aspects of the child that aren't academic.  Why is that?  In addition, more and more homework is being assigned so children have even less time to pursue other interests when not in school. 

My experience in the Montessori classroom is that paying attention to the emotional and social aspects of children brings endless fruit:  confidence, leadership, conflict resolution skills, community building, standing up for what's right and a belief in themselves in their learning.  Learning to interact and work together with others (children and adults) is one of the most important life skills-no matter where we all go in life, we will have to deal with people.  Children need to practice these skills and given the opportunity to care about others so they can work together.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Meeting with Parents

One of the passions that goes along with owning a Montessori school, is connecting with parents and hearing from them the concerns/hopes/dreams they have for their children. Saturday we hosted a parent gathering to discuss encouraging your child's independence while setting boundaries as well as how to bring the Montessori values and principles into the home.  We had a very nice turnout!  The conversation with rich with parents sharing their struggles at home and their desire to do things differently to not only be effective, but to build loving/supportive relationships with their children.  In the classroom, the idea of independence and the encouragement of independence is in many ways easier than at home because our entire space is set up for the children and they have the privilege of functioning where counters, sinks, bathrooms, shelves etc are at their level.  At home, it can be a bit more challenging because things aren't necessarily accessible to them or made for their size and there are other things happening at home that aren't happening at school that can make it challenging for children to be independent.  However, there are many things you can do to provide space/items so children can be independent.  Here are some ideas:
**Provide your child with smaller size dishes those can be placed where they are able to get them by themselves
**Have a small pitcher in the refrigerator at their level so they can pour their own water/juice/milk
**Don't have too many clothes in their bedroom/closet so that they can choose their clothing daily-don't battle over appropriate clothing during particular weather-allow their choice to play out.  If they are cold, they will put on a jacket and if they are too hot, they will figure that out as well.  It's important that they have a choice over their clothing/jackets etc.  After all, how does one determine for another what is 'too hot' and 'too cold'?
**Provide small/inexpensive shelves for the bedroom/playroom so the things they work/play with are displayed so they can see them.  Begin to ask them to pull out one 'work' at a time.  When they are finished with that 'work', they return it before getting out another. This is something they are used to in the classroom.  Display items in baskets, small plastic containers or trays.  If you have younger siblings, place things with small pieces higher on the shelf and get your child a step stool so they can reach what they need.  If you are concerned about smaller pieces because of siblings, ask your child to use certain 'works' on a table where it is safe for the brother/sister.
**For outside play, provide child sized rakes, shovels etc so they can be part of yard work and gardening.  The movement outdoors with Mom and/or Dad is great!
**If you need your child to do something or you need to go somewhere soon, ask the child 'Can you let me know when you are ready?' will be pleasantly surprised how easily they transition when they feel they have some control and are being respected about what it is they are engaged in. 
**Try to say 'yes' more!  This may seem silly to mention, but many times, 'no' is our first response.  Take a moment to think before you respond or even tell your child you need some time to think before answering. 

Most of all, enjoy your children!  They are so amazing~creative, smart, resourceful, fun, loving, compassionate, and are full of life!  Allow your child to teach you about him/her...they are unfolding and becoming their own little person.  We can love and support them as they learn how to engage with life and learn to be independent and contribute what they have to offer to the world!

Community Montessori

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wonderful Cincinnati Montessori Society Conference!

Saturday, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Steven Hughes (pediatric neuro-psychologist) speak about brain development and how schools need to change and adapt to the many needs of children.
He talked about how 'School 1.0' (traditional schooling) is a broken system that is not working very well.  He made clear that he is not criticizing teachers, but he is being critical of the system itself.  Over the last 10 years school has become about testing.  Focusing on testing, 'extracts all developmental power and potential from the educational process'.  This focus on testing also, 'narrows the scope of what is considered legitimate activity to that which is related to standardized testing'.  Below are some of my favorite things he said:

-To bring about real change that will benefit children, schools need to maximize developmental opportunities and cognitive capabilities-meaning, learning and opportunities for learning need to line up with a child's brain development-not arbitrary curriculum content or standardized tests.
-We know so much about the brain; yet, schools continue to ignore what we know.  why is that?
-In the current system, teaching is telling-pouring information into the brains of children by way of rewards and punishments.
-Children experience developmental jumps and pauses in their learning as they go through life-schools need to provide space/time/materials that appreciate those developmental needs of children, not work against them.
-Schools should be enriching, nurturing environments that also appreciate children's social/emotional needs and development.
-Movement is intimately connected to cognitive development-children should have ample opportunity to move while they learn-sitting in desks/tables for a large portion of their day does not support cognitive development-this can be especially true for children with special needs (Sensory Integration issues, ADHD, etc).
-In a study, students were asked what they want from school.  some of their answers were this:  to leave confident and be able to handle change, learn to be independent, help developing their character, learn about career opportunities based on what they're good at or what they enjoy doing, be able to problem solve, communication skills, have opportunities for discussion/debate, encouraged to have opinions of their own, and how to have a successful marriage-do any of these things have to do with standardized testing?
-One of the wonderful things I walked away with yesterday was validation of Maria Montessori and her discovery of children.  She was brilliant!  what she learned about children was right on target and is now supported by brain research.  Dr. Steven Hughes is a Montessori advocate and has said "Maria Montessori essentially got everything right"...coming from someone outside of the Montessori community, this is quite validating.

I encourage you to read more about Dr. Steven Hughes.  On his website,  he has videos of his many talks-some on parenting, some on schooling, some on brain development.  He's fascinating to listen to.  Thank you CMS for bringing him to Cincinnati so that we could all learn from him!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

All Kids have Special Needs

One of the things I get frustrated with is that the world seems to want to put people/children in boxes where they think they seem to fit.  I like to look at people/children as unique individuals creatively made with many gifts, strengths and of course, weaknesses.  Therefore, I believe everyone has special needs.  Children do not all have the same needs.  One child may need more structure, another more freedom.  One child may love drawing, another shy away.  One child may be fascinated by fish, or snakes and yet another child love trains or dolls.  Just as there are different likes/dislikes/strengths/weaknesses, there are different learning styles. Children develop at different paces as well and respecting the pace at which a child learns is critical to them fully developing and learning.  One of the things I love about the Montessori environment is that children can enter in with all their unique needs/personalities and be respected and accepted.  This includes children with certain learning challenges such as ADHD, Sensory Integration issues, Dyslexia etc.  The environment itself envelops children, draws them in and allows them to unfold and develop in their way and in their own time.  We currently have a child with some complicated learning challenges.  His mother called me in December 2010 asking if I would consider allowing him to be at my school.  I met with her, talked a few times, met her son and decided if she was able to come with him to assist him, we would love to have him.  Honestly, I had my reservations.  This little boy is precious and loves being at our school, but he also has several different challenges including Apraxia.  He is non-verbal which means he occasionally makes noises which is a way he communicates and expresses emotion.  This little boy has brought much joy to our school and has taught the teachers and the children to have an even deeper understanding of acceptance.  In the beginning of the year, There were about three children who were unsure of this little boy's noises and sometimes erratic movements.  Now that he has been in our classroom since September he has become just like any other child in the class, despite his special needs.  The children love this little boy and assist him in many wonderful ways.  They include him, they encourage him, they do work with him and they hold him accountable if they don't think he's doing what they believe he's capable of.  This little boy's mom and I have been in tears on more than one occasion watching the precious interactions of her son and the children.  One day a little girl stood with him as he was doing a spooning work-she helped support his arm (he has some muscle tone issues so sometimes it's difficult for him to hold his arms up for long periods of time).  She gently supported his arm and helped him spoon stones into a bowl.  Another day, a child played the fabric matching work with him and the child was meeting this little boy right where he was-inviting him to do what he was able to, encouraging him to do a bit more and assisting him when needed.  Just last week, this little boy's mom was reviewing sounds with sandpaper letters with her son.  He was on the floor and she was saying the sounds.  A 3 year old went over and snuggled up next to her and repeated the sounds after she said them, then said 'Good job (child's name)'!  It was beyond caring, so authentic and so supportive.  I love learning at my school everyday along with the children.  Stepping back and allowing the children to do what they do is magical.  Take in the beauty of children!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Great Video on Montessori Education

Great video that talks about how education should be the education of the development of a person, not just knowing things/facts and performing well on tests.  

Watch and be challenged!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Routines, Schedules, Predicability

"One of the first essentials for any adult who wishes to help small children is to learn to respect the different rhythm of their lives instead of trying to speed it up, in the vain hope of making it synchronize with ours."
—E. M. Standing, Maria Montessori, Her Life and Work

Children have a developmental need for order that is present through age 2.5, but can stretch out to age 5 depending on the child.  Having routines in place can help a child feel secure and know what to expect.  Having a set bedtime routine is a great way to end the day-bath, brush teeth, story, then bed can be a great connecting time for you and your child as well as a time for a child to settle down and know you are preparing for sleep time by going through the predicable steps.  Your family may have routines on the weekends like pancakes on Saturday, or church on Sunday.  These rituals serve as routines and structure as well.  Children understand and know that these things are important to the family and important to set in place to bring a balanced rhythm to their lives vs. chaos and unpredictability. 

In the Montessori classroom, our prepared environment brings much needed routine, consistency, and security to a child.  They feel confident and can build their confidence walking through the steps and routines of their day knowing what happens regularly.  The materials themselves satisfy children's need for order-materials are beautifully place onto trays or baskets with everything needed to complete the work.  There are the correct number of items for each work so that are not too few or too many, again satisfying a child's need for order and structure.   When children know what to expect or know the plan, then they are free to concentrate and focus on their work.  This leads to what Montessori called 'normalization'.  Montessori believed that the state of concentration and the ability to focus and work is the true 'normal' state of children and the is free to develop in the prepared environment of a Montessori classroom.  We also have established rules in place that children understand are for their safety and to support respect for the materials and all children in the environment.  These set of rules help the children feel safe and know that they are respected and cared for at their school.  

If your child is struggling with temper tantrums or other behavior that may indicate they are feeling disorganized or unsure of themselves, think about a routine or two you can put in place.  If your child is old enough, you can even talk with them about it.  Regarding bedtime the conversation might sound like this~'I've noticed that you've been having a hard time going to bed and settling down at night.  What two things would you like to do together before you go to bed that might help you get ready?'.....this could be share a snack, read a story, take a walk, watch a favorite show.  Once two things are chosen, walk through those things with your child prior to bedtime and see if that helps them settle down at all.  

Routines and predictable steps can be supportive for children's emotional and developmental growth and health.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Montessori Classroom and the Unfolding of Children

Montessori is not a philosophy that can be explained in a nutshell.  This is both intriguing and frustrating at times.  When I meet with parents for the first time or speak with them over the phone, I am never quite sure where to start when explaining our environment. There are the basic tenants of the philosophy, but sometimes the day to day happenings are the most difficult to explain.  Our classroom is set up with many, many purposeful works and activities.  I tell parents that every work that is out has a specific skill or concept in mind that we hope the children will develop when working.  Our classroom is inviting, peaceful, structured, honored, clean, and beautiful.  We watch everyday how the materials call to the children and invite their focus and concentration. The teachers watch with anticipation as children come into the classroom and make their work choices.  Each child is so unique and we love watching each one engage with the environment.  Each child enters with their own set of skills they have developed and still need to develop, their own personality, temperaments, moods, and ideas.  Our hope is the environment calls to them as they progress, mature and develop. Different aspects of the classroom will call to each one of the children differently at different times. It's difficult for parents to see how things work in our classroom when we're not being so directive and dictating what children do each day.  It's hard to imagine that children can have freedom in their learning.  It's hard to imagine, but also just as difficult to deny. The children in our classroom are learning patience, they are learning to count, they are learning sounds, phonemic awareness and building words, they are understanding similarities and differences in shapes and sizes, they are learning loads of vocabulary that is helpful for developing abstract thoughts as well as social development.  They are learning important steps in how things work together, sequence of steps that bring about a desired outcome. They are learning to get their needs met and to express their emotions. They are learning to be respectful of others which is very challenging in a world that gives the message of thinking of yourself first. They are learning to manage themselves and care for their environment. They are learning to greet visitors.  In our Montessori classroom, we trust the children to follow their hearts and minds to choose the work that stimulates them and helps them become who they are meant to be.  The gift the teachers receive everyday is watching the unfolding of children and how they become secure and happy in who they are and their potential of what they will contribute to the world at large.  If you have never observed in a Montessori classroom, please do so.  It will stir up hope in your heart and you will be amazed watching children work.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Preparation for Life

We may not be able to prepare the future for our youth, but we can prepare our youth for the future. 
Franklin D. Roosevelt

There is a question I get more than any other question when families are considering Montessori for their child. That question is 'How will my child do when they eventually transition into a more traditional environment?'.....I love this question because it gives me the opportunity to share so many wonderful aspects of the Montessori environment.   Maria Montessori's vision was not that children in her classroom were being prepared for another Montessori environment.  Maria Montessori believed that the Montessori classroom is a place where children learn skills to help them manage themselves and manage life.  The skills children learn while spending time in a Montessori classroom prepare them to step into the world and move onto whatever new situation they go into-be it another private school option or a more traditional environment.  Some of the skills children learn in a Montessori classroom include:
**Independence-children learn independence by having the freedom to choose work
**Concentration-being able to concentrate on work builds focus and attention for longer process works
**Coordination-children learn coordination of movements by carrying works and manipulating materials which helps them learn to coordinate their thoughts and body
**Order-children have a need for order in their lives.  The Montessori classroom is orderly, organized, beautiful and attractive, serving children's need for order. They are shown lessons that have a sequence of steps as well as all materials needed to complete the work successfully
**Communication Skills-children learn important communication skills in the Montessori classroom-teachers serve as role models speaking in clear, complete sentences and supporting children as they learn to give/receive messages/directions from others as well as ask questions to get their needs met.
**Respect-the Montessori environment is a very respectful environment-children learn very early on that they are respected so they in turn respect one another.  We respect one another, the materials, the environment, and work cycle.
**Process-children understand that they are valued for who they are, what their interests are, and what skills they are learning rather than being in a environment that values a certain standard or product.  This fosters a respect for the learning happening not the benchmark they are trying to reach.  Respecting the learning and where each child is actually encourages more learning because they can be engaged right where they are rather than always striving to be where they are not and comparing themselves to another student or higher standard.
**Confidence-meeting each child where they with skills allows for a child to solidly learn something new.  The Montessori teachers assess and follow children and give lessons on things children are ready to be learning.  Individualized learning allows for solid understanding and also allows for a child to go back and review skills learned.  Having a solid understanding of skills gives children a strong sense of confidence and helps them go into new situations with a feeling of 'I can do this!'.  
**Responsibility-Children in the Montessori classroom build a sense of responsibility by caring for their environment through works such as dusting, plant watering, cleaning up messes they make, and returning their work to the shelf so it's ready for the next friend to choose.  Older children have jobs in the classroom such as:  feeding the fish, rolling rugs, straightening shelves, cleaning the easel and being lunch helper. 
**Leadership Skills:  Children in the Montessori classroom build their leadership skills by practicing communication skills, interacting with other children and teachers as well as having opportunity to teach other children in the classroom.  Often times, children are given the opportunity to help one another with things like:  giving a lesson to a child, helping a child with their coat or boots, showing a new child how to choose a work, or helping children work through a conflict. 

As you can see looking at this list, these are skills all children need to learn to function in the world or in a future classroom.  The Montessori environment is an intentionally prepared environment which allows children to develop important life skills.