Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What we're learning from Cami

We have a family who has been part of the CMS community for almost 4 years. They have a son who started when he was 3 years old. I loved this family from the start!  They came with lots of questions and thoughts and knew the decision of where to send their son for preschool was a big deal.

We have gotten to know the family over the years, enjoyed watching their son develop and learn and have always felt the support from them for what we do on a daily basis.

Last year at a field trip, Erin shared with me that Cami, her daughter who was going to be joining CMS, was suffering from dizziness.  I could tell when she shared it with me, she was very concerned.  Unfortunately, after many tests and doctor visits it's been determined that Cami has a brain tumor.  This news hits like a kick in the gut-your breath is taken away.  A treatment plan was put into place.

In the meantime, we were in contact with the parents, discussing Cami's transition into school and really processing all we needed to think about for Cami to be at school. A nurse from Children's came and talked to the staff and mom and I talked about what their hopes were for Cami in the Montessori environment.  There were things that Children's Hospital offered to help with the transition into school as well as many things we needed to consider while caring for Cami on a daily basis.

My hopes and prayers for Cami at school were that she could have her time at school be a place of respite and escape from all the things she had to go through while she battled her brain tumor.  My hopes and prayers were that she made friends and got to build her independence and make choices.  My hopes and prayers for Cami were very much the same for all the children who enter the classroom.

I am here to say that Cami is teaching us so much about courage, endurance, persistence,  joy, and positive attitude.  The Montessori environment is incredibly magical-it speaks to children, but it speaks to each child in a different way, based on each child's needs.  While Cami battles cancer, she has to endure many things no child should every have to-she has frequent doctor's visits, blood work, time at the hospital, daily unpleasant medication and times when she just doesn't feel well.  But, honestly, aside from losing some of her hair, you wouldn't know this little girl is sick!  Her energy when she comes into the classroom is contagious-she's so excited to be there and always knows what she wants to do and how she wants to spend her time.  She is large and charge in the classroom and cancer has no hold on her!

We love to observe Cami take her time thinking about her work choice, making her work choice, then engaging in a work with such concentration.  She loves to do rock and gourd scrubbing, Easel, drawing and banana cutting.  It's like in the classroom she is free from the worries of her medical world.  We know that her time in the classroom is imprinting on her little heart and she is learning to know herself and trust that she is capable.  She has an opportunity to practice important skills. She is talking and laughing with other children.  The classroom is meeting her right where she is as it does with each child.  The teachers in the classroom feel honored to be able to watch the unfolding of children-there is no stopping the potential of a child's work when the right environment is offered to them.

We thank you Cami for reminding us each day that we can take hold of joy and happiness offered to us! You have shown us the blessings of each day are never ending, even in the hard stuff. Cancer is a side note in your life-you have big things to teach us and the world-you go girl!!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Process, Process....Reaps Fruit

We've started our 5th year at Community Montessori School.  I so wish I had the time to blog everyday-everyday something happens in the classroom that I would love to reflect and write about.  Today something happened that really pushed me to take the time.  If you are new to Montessori or you have been a Montessori parent for some time, you have undoubtedly heard that we're more concerned with a child's process.  As adults, we are always thinking of the end game-the end product-the end task list. But, children are in the moment-taking their time and developing every step of the way.  Sometimes, it's difficult as parents and teachers to wait, be patient and allow children the time and space needed to work through things and discover themselves. Today's happening in the classroom illustrates a beautiful process and discovery made by one little boy.

If I notice a child hasn't grabbed their tote bag to bring inside school, I usually say something like 'Would you like to bring your tote bag today?'  This allows the child to respond and make a decision whether or not to bring it.  It's very different than 'grab your tote bag' or even just grabbing it for them and handing it to them.  Most of the time (99.9% of the time), children say 'yes' and grab it.  Today, a little boy turned and looked at his tote bag in his car, then turned around and said he didn't want to bring it in b/c it would get lost.  I then told him that I noticed he had some work on his clip that he could take home, if that information would change his mind-it didn't.  Well, during work time this little boy colored 5 airplane pictures (we're studying transportation).  He finished his work, put the work away and proceeded to carry around the pictures.  I was enjoying watching him to see what he would do.  He solicited a friend to help him try and put all his work on his small clip attached to his coat hook which is where we put work that needed to stay overnight to dry.  What a clever boy!  He saw work clipped there, so he thought he could put his work there he had just finished.  His friend couldn't get his work on the clip.  This friend happened to ride to school with him today so he knew he didn't want to bring his tote bag.  The friend said to the little boy a couple of times, 'This is why you need to bring your tote bag'.  The little boy then replied each time, 'But, it will get lost at the park'.  The little boy proceeded working and thinking very hard about what to do.  He was in the coat room organizing his papers and trying to get his work on the hook.  He then walked around the room for awhile and even chose a work with his hands full.  Then, he walked up to a teacher and said, 'My friend was right-I need to bring my tote bag!' and he said it with a chuckle and smile like he had just made a big discovery!  It was so cute and funny.  There were many times a teacher could have moved in, made a decision for this little guy or even just told him what he could do. But, allowing him to walk through his own thought process without being interrupted was a gift.  This little boy is 3 years old and made such a wonderful discovery.  The interesting part was too that his friend was telling him he needed to bring his tote bag, but he he kept saying, 'no, it will get lost at the park', but in the end, realizing he had nothing to do with his work, he realized, yes, I need to bring a tote bag.  My guess is that this little boy will always bring his tote bag to school!  But, more than bringing his tote bag, he sees purpose is having it at school.

Community Montessori School

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Grit of Life~Lessons Learned

I was driving the other day after just leaving the house hearing my boys (16 and 18) arguing about who put gas in the car last, who drives more than the other, and what they're going to do about it.  It was a bit heated and as the mom, hard to listen to because their relationship is an important one and always will be in their lives.  But, my thoughts turned to how important it is to allow our children to live through the gritty moments of life-the difficult times-the uncomfortable times-because they provide such opportunity for figuring things out, learning to show grace and build confidence because they are working hard to make a way for themselves.  When my 2nd son started driving we knew the boys would be sharing a car and believe me, I was a bit nervous as to how that would work out.  But, it's been better than I expected and they have had to figure out a lot through sharing a car. They're both busy-they have social lives, love to fish, play baseball, golf, jobs etc.  They have to take turns-they have to make decisions-they have to give in-they have to be on a schedule if one needs the car at a certain time etc.  This small situation in both of their lives is an ongoing opportunity to resolve conflict, build their relationship and mature through some of the tough stuff life has to offer.

What I'm finding a lot with some of our young families is that parents want to protect their children from being uncomfortable, sad, or going without something. This can very dangerous.  We know from being in the classroom everyday that kids are adaptable, can make decisions, can think critically about situations, ask great questions, can process through challenging processes, love one another, show grace, and can solve conflict and are ok if they are disappointed or sad for a brief time.  Bouncing back, living through difficult things, then realizing it's ok, is a huge life skill.  As our kids grow up, we can not keep them from the ick side of life. We can not keep them from having their feelings hurt, not having a turn, not being invited, being sick, etc.  What we can do is believe in them-always, no matter what-believe in them for who they are and believe they can!  Our messages we send subtly with how we interact with our kiddos can be very powerful.  Jumping in each time things get tough sends a message of 'You need my help to get through this'.  I'm here to tell you, they really don't.  Certainly, we, as parents, are guiding, supporting, loving along the way as well as taking opportunities to talk/share, but we have to give kids the space/time breathing room to act on their own in their own lives.  What does this look like for preschoolers?  Well, giving children freedom to be part of the process when choosing meals, clothing, activities for the day etc.  Don't second guess their decisions-don't ask them several times 'are you sure?', quietly allow them to choose, then observe.  You will be so amazed at what you see.  In the classroom, we get to see this play out everyday and it's astonishing to us what we see-amazing really!  For example, it's 45 degrees and your child chooses not to take a jacket into school . Allow that decision to play out.  They are learning what 45 degrees is-us telling them it's 'cold' or 'chilly' is too abstract. They need to experience the outcome of their decision-this would be considered a natural consequence. The outcome might be they will get cold.  Or, maybe they won't-kids are little hot boxes and don't feel temperature in the same way we do. Ultimately, we want kids to know how to read their own bodies not only when dressing themselves, but also eating.  We shouldn't be afraid!  They are wired to do this-Maria Montessori says children are constructing themselves-they are learning about themselves and they are pretty darn good at it, if we can step aside a bit and allow them some space.

Going to the bathroom is another example where parents can just listen for their child's clues.  Asking a child constantly if they have to go to the bathroom can be frustrating.  Again, the message we send is 'you need our reminding to listen to your body'.  There's nothing wrong with occasionally reminding-particularly in the beginning of potty training, but be careful about over doing it.  Too many words lead to no message being heard at all.  Please don't force your child to use the bathroom-if you ask, they say no, leave it at that.  It's ok if you aren't going to be near a bathroom or you're traveling a long distance. If they say no, they can probably wait.  And, if not, they may have an accident and that's ok too.  There's a lot of room for grace-understanding and patience when it comes to children learning.  They are IN process-they don't have it figured out (and, frankly neither to do we :)).

Be mindful of when you move in and disrupt an opportunity for your child to express themselves or make a decision.  Don't be afraid of what they may want to do.  Talk to them about what they're thinking-what their plan is etc.  They have some pretty creative thoughts and ideas-let them practice at home while they're under your care and they will amaze you!  Also, try not to overact when things don't go well, or when feelings are hurt.  Showing compassion and empathy is wonderful, but trying to make it go away or fix it quickly is not necessary.

Friday, March 21, 2014

To Do or Not To Do...Kindergarten planners/notebooks

There is a lot of discussion around Kindergarten expectations these days.  Unfortunately, with the main focus on performance, testing, and standards, many are completely ignoring the most important thing and that is what is developmentally appropriate, what does brain development say about children and learning and what exactly do children NEED to learn and who decides WHEN they learn it.  Competing with other countries and preparing for the job market are not two reasons that are any more important than the above mentioned. 

I honestly think about  my school, the students, Montessori philosophy and education soooo much.  My love for children and how they learn is so much a part of who I am.  I love to discuss it, chew on and challenge myself to think deeply about decisions we make at Community Montessori.

One item of interest for us has been the idea of Kindergarten notebooks/planners/contracts/work plans.  When I worked at another Montessori school, the Kindergartners had notebooks which held assignments in them put in primarily by the teacher. There can be many 'rules' around these types of things, but often times, the students 'have' to finish their notebook work before choosing other work, or teachers have to 'check' their work, or if they don't finish their notebooks, they have carry the work over the next day.  Since opening my school, we've experimented with some variations of the mentioned above, but each time, we struggled with logistics and management of it, mostly by the adults-we were deciding what works children were doing, they were unsure of what was in their notebooks, making it even more teacher dependent b/c we had to remind them what work they were to be doing, they weren't concentrating on much of it b/c they hadn't chosen it nor were they interested in it.   It was our chosen work for them. 

After making a few changes, observing, discussing and chewing, I had an a-ha moment.  The kindergartners, with the exception of maybe one or two students truly disliked their notebooks. They complained, grumbled, and asked to 'take a break' for their notebooks often.  I thought to myself, why are we doing this?  I believe in children, I believe in choice, I believe children direct their learning and know what they are ready for.  I believe in repetition of work, I believe in allowing children to be independent and in charge of their learning. The notebooks/planners worked against all of this.  So, after consulting a dear Montessori mentor, who suggested just sitting down with the Kindergartners and chatting, I did so.  I wish I had a video running during the conversation...first, Kindergartners are a blast to hang out with and chat with, but second, I told them that the teachers noticed that they didn't really enjoy their notebooks.  If you could have felt the room, many of them took a deep sigh and started saying things like this:  'I hate my notebook', "My notebook is so boring', 'My notebook makes me so tired', 'My notebook is too hard'......Wow-that was all I needed to hear.  So, we talked about not doing them and we also talked about the many areas of the classroom and the importance of choosing from different areas throughout their day.  They were so articulate about their desire and took seriously expressing their work and how they spend their days.  

So, the experiment me, the teachers were cringing a bit at the beginning (me included!)...we were wondering how much art we could tolerate if it wasn't balanced with some other areas...we wondered how much socializing we could stand while they adjusted to their new found freedom w/o their notebooks. We wondered, will they ever choose works we consistently wrote in their notebooks, works they were showing aversion to b/c we were clearly placing more importance on some works than others?? The truth was, we needed to allow time to pass to allow them to 'live' in this new system.  Kinks needed to be worked out and they needed to learn to TRUST that we were really trusting them.  And, the teachers needed to really walk out our trust for them. 

It's been several weeks now and I can say, I am thrilled and feel very comfortable with the K's and their work choices.  Certainly, they continue to work with teachers and are being shown new individualized lessons, but their work cycles have been so fascinating to watch.  We realize that this change will result in many things that will not even be apparent to us right away, but what I have noticed thus far is wonderful:  Most of the kids, most of the days, are making great work choices and flowing nicely through many areas of the classroom-the K's LOVE art and LOVE practical life and these works have so much to offer them-order, independence, concentration, coordination-they are following sequential processes and developing longer attention spans.  While they clean, they are caring for their environment, while tending to important details.  I have also noticed that even w/o direct work with certain math/language materials, those skills are developing-wow!  Montessorians know how interwoven the Montessori environment is-one work in this area helps support development in another-it's truly magical and unreal to observe.  Also, children get a lot out of being around certain work, not necessarily choosing it-we know that if a child is doing an art work or Geography work while listening to a lesson with the 'magic e', they are also getting that lesson on some level.

So thankful that the teachers at CMS had the courage to take this step and watch it unfold.  

Each day that passes, We feel more comfortable allowing the K's to live w/o their notebooks.  We are excited to continue to observe and see what other things we can learn from these incredibly gifted little people.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Parents Can Support Their Montessori Child

Parents often ask what they can do to support their child as they spend time in the Montessori environment.  They want to do know, what can we do at home to help what is happening in the classroom?

We love this question because there is a lot parents can do to help support their child's development:

1.  Follow their lead as much as you can.  Maria Montessori said, 'Never help a child with a task they can do themselves'.  This may mean adjusting your schedule to allow more time to let them get dressed by themselves, get some of their own meal, or clean up any messes they have made.  Think about this in very basic terms:  if your child is 3 and attending school, they probably are able to do much more independently than you realize.

2.  Set up areas in your home where your child can do things independently-shelves with things they use often (art supplies, books, games/works etc).  Place cups/bowls/pitchers in a place where children can access them to get their own snacks/drinks.  Place hooks in places in your house where you could like them to place things so they can have a routine of hanging their coat/backpack/tote bags etc in a place when they return home. Then, when they get ready to go, they will know where those things are.

3.  Pictures can be very helpful with routine.  Take pictures of your morning/evening routines-place pictures in a basket. When it's time to start the routine, your child can complete each picture (brushing teeth, eating breakfast etc), then place the picture in another basket when they have completed it-this is concrete way for them to know what needs to be done.  This can help eliminate all the reminders. Remember too that it can take awhile to get used to using the pics, but when they do, they should be able to be independent with their routines.

4.  Don't overplay their school experience, meaning, allow them to enjoy their time at school and talk about what they do there without too many questions. There's certainly nothing wrong with asking how their day was or asking about a work they did, but resist the urge to talk a lot about school or ask too many questions about how they are spending their time. Most likely, they will share with you on their own when given time/space to do so.  Also, please don't tell your children to do specific works when they are at school.  This can disrupt what their own choices are when they get to school.  We sometimes have kids come to school saying 'my mom/dad want me to choose this work....' or my mom/dad said I need to choose a language work today'.....their time in the classroom is theirs.  It's important that we (adults) don't emphasize some works as more important than others. Every work in the classroom is important, particularly if a child is choosing it.  Something from each work is calling a child to it-we will never know all that is happening in a child when they choose a work.  Teachers work hard to protect their choice while also giving lessons and even directing children to areas/works. But, this is done in the context of lots of observation of the children-seeing what their needs are as well as giving them support when needed.

5.  Conversation-talking/listening to you child is so critical to their communication development.  In the classroom, we ask the children to be next to our body when talking, we remind them to make eye contact and we do our best to talk to them in this way as well.  When we bring two children together during a conflict, we emphasize taking turns talking-each child will be listened to, but they need to talk one at a time.  We also help them figure out the words to describe how they're feeling or what they are asking.  Children have very advanced thoughts/emotions, but many times don't have the words to express appropriately.  Adults/teachers can help them develop the vocabulary to help them learn to express themselves.  This takes much repetition and patience, but the fruit we see as children develop their skills is wonderful.

Hope these tips help.  Would love to hear any feedback if you have tried or are trying any of these things.  It's helpful to other parents to hear from moms/dads who are using things that are successful in their home.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Building independence is such an important part of what parents can nurture in their children and what we, as Montessorians, highly value in the classroom.  In the prepared environment of the classroom, it's set up to allow children to be in charge of many, many decisions as they go through their day.  Taking initiative, thinking, then finally acting is an important process that children must practice. Practicing being independent is a critical life skill as children will be making very important decisions before we know it and they must be able to discern, think critically, take perspective and finally act after they have thought through options.  In our classroom the children make many decisions throughout their day, which leads to building confidence and building independence.  As teachers, our role is so important-we have to observe and get to know each child intimately so we can best support and guide them as they develop and become who they are meant to be.  Our decision to move in or not is tender and fragile and when not respected, can halt independence and send a message to a child that we don't believe in them.  The teachers have to demonstrate self control and patience as we watch children-often times, their choices lead to consequences that aren't desirable, but are important in the learning process such as a mess, or hurt feelings, or a conflict, but that's ok.  This is where learning happens.

Children arrive at school each day and they have learned what to do:  they organize their items they bring to school (backpacks, coats, snow gear, lunch etc).  They watch as other children organize, they get reminders from teachers and are shown how to do it, they work very hard making decisions as to how things can fit on their hook.  They check their folder to see if they have any work from the prior day, then wash their hands.  As they enter the classroom, they greet their friends, notice any changes in the classroom and get acclimated to start their day.  After they wash their hands, they can get started on their work. Some children know exactly what they want to choose, others walk around and think about where they would like to start.  Others, may need some support from a teacher to make a choice.  As they choose work, interact with friends and ask for or join lessons, their brain is hard at work-To allow children the space (freedom) and time (freedom) to engage their brain/heart/bodies into where they are spending time is such a gift.  We want to allow them the space and time to make choices, then experience what that choice brings.  There are many built in structures/boundaries in the classroom that children learn to navigate through.  I love thinking of the many questions children must ask themselves as they work in the classroom:  what work do I want to choose?  who do I want to socialize with?  is this a rug work or table work?  is this a work that requires being done on the tile (water/paint)?  how do I do this work?  do I need a lesson?  who can ask to give me a lesson?  how can I communicate with my teachers and friends? can I find a table? what materials do I need to do this work?  The list goes on and on.....

Parents can help foster independence at home.  When engaging with your child, ask questions rather than tell or direct.  Give them opportunity to engage.  Instead of just saying something like 'clean your room'.  Take them to their room and say something like this:  'I notice you have a lot of clothes on the floor and your puzzle is still out from yesterday and I see that the legos didn't get put back in the bin'.  "What do you think we can do about this?".....Children are so creative and helpful-when we engage them in this way, they feel respected and believed in.  Give them a choice as to when they can clean it up-'Would you like to clean your room before or after dinner?'.....young children will need assistance in a big task such as cleaning a room-help them organize items into bins or on trays.  Less is definitely more-if your home is cluttered with many toys, might be a good idea to scale down a bit.  So many things can be overwhelming for parents and children.  Engage children in helping out with preparing a meal.  Young children can help set a table, help with grocery shopping and preparing food.  There are many kitchen tools that are easy for children to use.  They will love helping and may even enjoy eating the meal more if they helped prepare it.  Children can also be given freedom in what they wear-fill their closet/drawers with acceptable items, then allow them to choose-this is an area they can be creative and be independent.  Listening is a great way to learn about your child's likes and dislikes.  Giving them freedom to express themselves is very healthy and leads to them having a positive sense of self.

Have fun with your kids-would love to hear how you help your child build independence!