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!