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, www.goodatdoingthings.com  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 precious...so 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.