Wednesday, March 30, 2011


Watching the children is truly one of my favorite things to do in the classroom.  There is so much to learn from them!  We talk about childrens' work cycles and the importance of having a start and finish to their work~they make a decision about a work to choose, choose the work, complete the work, and return the work to the shelf.  This gives what they are doing dignity.  They take this very seriously which is why Montessori classrooms are busy, but peaceful. The children are working.  They also respect one another for the work they are doing-they all know instinctively and intuitively that they are all their learning to perfect and manage themselves.

One little girl was gone all last week due to a cold.  She returned Monday ready to work!  She was working very diligently in the back room.  She got up from her table, put her work in her folder and returned the work to the shelf w/o pushing in her chair.  In that split second another child sat down and started working at that table.  Then, the little girl came over, looked at the child, then looked at me and said, 'I forgot to push in my chair'.  I said, 'would you like to speak to (the child) about it?".  She then leaned down to the child and said very sweetly, 'I forgot to push in my chair'.  The child quickly arose from the chair, said 'I'm sorry', allowed the child to then push the chair in.  This exchange speaks volumes for the children's need to complete their work cycle.  This opportunity to do this in our environment is building a foundation for finishing work cycles as they get older as well whether it's with writing a paper, completing a math equation, coming up with a solution to a problem, or even later with assignments and tasks they will have in college and their jobs.

Friday, March 25, 2011

What is normalization?

A Montessori education is not a child care or playgroup.  There are many goals of a Montessori classroom, but a benchmark is to help provide opportunities for children to become 'normalized'.  In Montessori education, the term 'normalization' has a specialized meaning.  Normal does not refer to what is considered to be typical, average, or usual.  Rather, Maria Montessori used this term, 'normalization', to describe a unique process she observed in child development.  She observed that when children are allowed freedom in an environment that is set up and created to meet their developmental, social, emotional, and academic needs, they thrive and blossom.  After some time of intense concentration (which we observe daily in our classroom), working with wonderful materials that fully engage their interest and attention, children appear to be refreshed, content, and satisfied.  Through a child's work of their own choice, children grow inner discipline, peace, and self-control.  She called this process 'normalization' and cited it as "the most important single result of our whole work" (The Absorbent Mind, 1949).

People who may not be familiar with Montessori may think children are doing what they want when they want and it can seem that way.  But, we believe that children know themselves and choose based on what their interests are as well as what their brains are ready to learn.  We see the choices the children make as purposeful and important.  Children who are given opportunity to work in this type of environment are free to develop the fruit of what comes with this 'normalization' process:  spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social maturity and sympathy and care for others.  Other benefits include love of order, love of work, concentration, attachment to reality, love of silence and working alone, power to act from real choices, obedience, independence and initiative, self-discipline and joy.  Montessori believed these characteristics are the true characteristics of childhood which emerge when children's developmental needs are met.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Preparation for Writing

"Writing is a key to a double gain. It enables the hand to master a vital skill like that of speaking and to create a second means of communication that reflects the spoken word in all its details. Writing is thus dependent upon mind and hand."  

Montessorians are very intentional about their environment and the opportunities it provides for children to develop their writing skills. The Everyday Living works provide opportunity for children to develop their hand/fine motor muscles.  When they are pouring, spooning, tonging, tweezing, scrubbing etc. they are learning to manage their hands and direct their hands in specific ways.  This skill is needed when controlling a crayon or pencil. Children are shown lessons from the Art area that also support their development.  When they use crayons/colored pencils/markers they are practicing control and manipulation of those writing tools.  As they use them and design pictures, they are allowing their hands and mind to develop important writing skills.  Montessori said, 'a child who designs will write'.  

The metal insets are one of the wonderful materials available to children to develop their writing skills.  Children are shown many lessons on this work throughout the year, each one drawing on the skills of the previous lesson.  There are many shapes and insets with this work including circle, triangle square, oval, quatrafoil etc.  Some of the things children will learn by using this material are:

Gripping and guiding a writing utensil
The child will experience the pressure of a pencil
The very great variety of movements involved in this work, helps the child with control of the writing movements but also with changing directions.
Keeping the point of the pencil on the edge of the frame or the inset, helps the child steady his strokes. 
The writing/drawing goes from left to right
The child can learn to make one continuous stroke. This is particularly helpful in cursive script, but some letters in modified print call for it.
Eye-hand coordination

One of the lessons shown with the Metal Insets is that a child traces a shape, then draws lines from left to right filling up the shape.  They go from left to right which is preparation for reading and they are controlling their pencil as they draw from one side of the shape to the other.  
Another preparation for reading and writing is the Sandpaper Letters.  The letters are made of sandpaper.  The child is shown this work by tracing the letter with their hand.  Tracing the letter builds muscle memory which helps later when they are writing the letter.  It's a multi-sensory experience-they see the letter, they touch the letter and they hear the sound of the letter (we teach sound, not the letter name in the Montessori classroom).  Sometimes these letters are used along with a sound box where a child matches the objects to the sound, or a few can be provided with cornmeal or sand so the child can trace the letter in the substance provided. 

Lastly, there are developmental stages children go through when learning to write.  These stages include: telling stories through pictures they have drawn, drawing wavy-like lines that have no breaks or letters that look like words (usually these are ongoing waves across the page), children will then start to draw forms that look like made up letters/numbers and are scattered on the page, as children begin to recognize letters, they will begin to write them-these are many times backwards or upside down and lack space between them, children will then begin to write letter strings with recognizable patters, then, children will begin writing recognizable letters/words and children begin making a strong connection between letters on the page and sounds in the words children are trying to write.  Misspellings and backwards letters are common.  This stage of writing can typically be read by others.  The developmental time line begins at birth with imitation of facial expressions and vocal imitation and goes through 5 or 6 years old.  Teachers and parents should respect where children are in their development with writing and provide opportunities for them to follow their interest and practice as they are ready.  

I have included a link to a metal inset presentation to give you an idea of how that work is used.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Children are Amazing

The children are becoming quite accustomed to visitors in the classroom.  We are generating a lot of interest in Community Montessori so parents are coming to observe the classroom.  Today, we had a Mom visit our classroom.  A couple children were curious about who she was and why she was there, but for the most part, children went on about the business of their day.  I'm working in the front room this week (Everyday Living, Sensorial, Art etc.).  I was able to talk with our visitor and answer her questions for about 35 minutes while the children were completely self sufficient.  It was an awesome sight!  I pointed out what specific children were working on:  A child was doing floor scrubbing and another was painting.  A little girl engaged in marble painting and yet another working on The Pink Tower extension~she was tracing each cube and gluing it on a piece of paper.  Three children were having snack and another child was shelf cleaning.  A couple different times, a child had a question, but before I could walk to the child and address him/her another child moved in and solved the issue.  I was able to explain that in a Montessori environment, cooperative learning and helping one another is highly encouraged.  It's one of the magical aspects of the classroom, that isn't necessarily explained, but children pick up on very quickly.  We invite older children to assist younger children and we believe they are fully capable of doing so.  Also, since children are given the freedom to develop their independence, they feel quite capable answering questions from one another or stepping in naturally to help a friend.  I also was able to observe another beautiful sight-A new student joined our classroom on Friday, so today was his third day in class.  One student saw that this little boy was interested in choosing snack, but he seemed unsure of what to do.  The little girl started explaining to him what he needed to do.  She did it so patiently and, what else I loved about it was that she would tell him a step, then allowed him to do it himself.  She then had snack with him and was able to tell him the clean up process as well-this to me is simply beautiful!  The new student accepted her help willingly and seemed genuinely appreciative of her assistance.  Oh what lessons the children can teach us!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Reading Development

When going through our reading process, children will do a lot of moveable alphabet.  We have the children do one vowel at a time, then, as they learn new vowel sounds, do those isolated as well. When we see they are solid with a vowel sound, then we can have them do two vowel sounds at a time etc.  The goal is to help support them as they become solid in discriminating vowel sounds-being able to tell the word pin from pen and knowing which has an /e/ and which has an /i/.  It's somewhere during this process that children begin (on their own) decoding-this is an exciting time!  They move from encoding (writing the words w/sounds they know) to actually reading the word.  In Montessori, the 'sounding out' part (so to speak) comes while children are writing, not while they are reading.  We want to build a solid foundation so they will look at words as total words, not sounds that need to be sounded out.  When a child is given their first book in a Montessori classroom, they are reading.  The goal is for children to read with understanding.  If they are sounding out every word, then it can be a painful, frustrating process.  When a teacher determines a child is decoding, we will introduce the work called "The First Reading Lesson".  This work is done like this:  There are several consonant/vowel/consonant objects that include all vowel sounds (hat, pin, jet, mop etc).  We lay them out and have the child name them.  Then, we say, "I'm going to write you a special message and I want you to put it next to the correct object".  The teacher then begins writing each word one at a time and the gives it to the child to 'read'.  If the child can 'read' all the messages (words), then they are ready to be moved into our reading materials.  As they move into the reading materials, the moveable alphabet continues to be used.  We use it to introduce digraphs, blends, long vowels, phrases, sentences etc.   They will go through the process of writing words as they are introduced to one of those new word groups.  For example, we may write all words starting in the sound /sh/-they will write ship, shop, shut etc. Or we may write phrases to introduce sight words-the big dog, a hot sun, the wet hen etc.  More later.....have a great day!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Our Back Room

This week I have been working in the back room of our classroom.  There has been so much great work going on~it's been so fun!!  Our back room includes Language and Cultural (Geography, Science) as well as our Unit Shelf-this month we are studying Birds.  I think if you are new to Montessori, one of the biggest areas of interest is how children learn to read and write in a Montessori classroom.  What I can first generally tell you is that every work, every material, every activity provided for children in our classroom has purpose and rationale that connects to the bigger picture of providing a learning rich environment. 

We have many preparation for writing works available to children.  The Everyday Living works provide opportunity for children to develop their fine motor skills through pouring, spooning, scooping.  Children can practice directing their hands to do different movements which will later help them when they need to manipulate a pencil to draw/write.  Maria Montessori said, we should never ask a child to do something with a pencil that they have not yet done with a broom-meaning that children should learn how to control/manipulate larger items before asking them to use something smaller like a pencil. The metal insets are a very popular work in our classroom-children are attracted to the colorful pencils they are invited to use as well as the fun shapes and insets they can use to trace.  This work provides lots of practice for pencil control. 

How do we determine when children are ready to start learning their sounds? We have a work in our classroom called 'I Spy'.  This work is used to determine if children are hearing the initial sound of a object.  We lay out a couple objects to begin with-for example zebra and bat.  We say, 'I spy with my little eye something that begins with the sound /z/'.  If they can choose zebra, then we know they are hearing the beginning sound.  This is a developmental skill.  When children are consistently hearing the initial sound using several objects, then they are ready to begin learning sound/symbol relationship, that is, that the letter s says /s/.  This is introduced through the sound boxes.  Sounds are divided between 5 or 6 boxes with most frequently used sounds introduced first. Children are given a lesson where they trace the sandpaper letter and hear the teacher say the sound-this is a multi-sensory experience-they are seeing, hearing, touching the /s/ sound.  Then, when the sounds in the first box are introduced, the children match objects that go with each sound.  Children practice a lot with the sound boxes, doing letter rubbings for reinforcement and fetching with the moveable alphabet (meaning they go to the moveable alphabet and get the letter representing the sound).  After children master the sounds in the sound box which includes the first vowel sound /a/, they can begin building words with the sounds they know-writing words with sounds before reading words is an important distinction of the Montessori reading program.  This process has proven over and over to be a solid foundation for great reading progress.  Children continue being introduced to sounds in each sound box as they master another.  We continue doing moveable alphabet one vowel at a time, then doing mixed vowels so children can learn to discriminate between the different vowel sounds.  Every step along the way is an important process for each child and children progress at their own individual rate.  Their interest, age, and readiness are all part of the variables that play into the journey for each child.  Learning to read is very exciting and children typically love this area of the classroom.  The beauty of a Montessori classroom is that even if a child isn't quite ready for certain aspects, they are seeing other children do these works which contributes to their success later, when they are ready.  

I will write more about the next phase of the reading process later.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sensorial Area

The Sensorial Area is the Montessori classroom can be easily recognized with the classic, colorful, and precise materials.  Montessorians believe that it is during the ages of 0-6, children take in everything from their environment through their senses-visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste).  In a Montessori classroom, the Sensorial Area is meant to 'educate' the senses, that is to help children organize all they have taken in during the 0-6 time frame.  The Sensorial Area allows children to organize and classify information.  Through his senses, the child studies his environment and during their time in a Montessori classroom with access to the materials in the Sensorial area, he then begins to understand his environment.

Sensorial materials shown through lessons and presentations, were designed by Maria Montessori to provide experiences that are perceived by the senses:  size, shape, composition, texture, loud/soft sounds, matching, weight, temperature etc.  Children learn how to discriminate differences between same and different objects.  For example, The Pink Tower is meant to teach 'large' and 'small' and children are shown how to grade this work.  As they use the material with their hands, they begin to have an understanding of 'large' and 'small' and eventually understand that the smallest pink cute is 1 cubic centimeter in volume and the largest pink cute is 1000 cubic centimeters in volume (10 cm in length on one side).  With the colored knobless cylinders, the children are introduced to a different size aspect with each box.  The red box varies in width only.  The yellow box varies in height and width, the green varies in height and width, and the blue box has the same height, but vary in width.  They can manipulate these materials and even compare them with each other to learn these different attributes.

All the Sensorial materials were designed with these ideas in mind:

1.  The materials isolate one quality at a time, allowing the child to focus on one quality at a time.
2.  All materials have a 'control of error', meaning the child can make corrections themselves.
3.  All the materials are esthetically pleasing.
4.  All the materials must be complete so the child who is working with them can finish through the entire process without being interrupted to find a missing piece.
5.  These materials could be called 'materialized abstractions' which means that through these Sensorial materials, abstract concepts are made.
6.  The Sensorial Area is seen as preparation for the Math area-concepts learned in this area help support and encourage growth in the Math area.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Everyday Living Area

This is a very fun area of our classroom!  This area is designed to develop a sense of order, encourage independence, develop concentration and coordination.  The children also learn how to care for themselves and their environment.  The Everyday Living area is typically full of colorful materials that entice children to work with their hands, which they naturally love doing!  Many different kinds of EDL materials ranging from hand/finger transfer, sorting, pouring, scooping, spooning, tweezing, buttoning, zipping, snapping, polishing, and scrubbing are all strategically displayed on our Montessori shelves.  With great delight, children choose their work, carry their trays to their work space, and work with the material.  From looking and deciding what to choose to carrying the tray carefully to their work space, children are developing their independence.  It takes balance and coordination to carry the trays, which can vary in size and weight. And, preparing the work for the next friend who chooses it instills in the child that they have an important role in the classroom.   The choices for Everyday Living are endless and the works on the shelves are changed frequently based on how much the children are using the material, what Unit Study is going on in the classroom or a holiday we are celebrating.  For example, during our Sea Life Unit, there were small sea life animals in some of the EDL works used for sorting and spooning. We also had a sensory tub filled will sand and sea animals that the children could explore.  During Valentine's Day, we used various objects relating to the holiday that were colorful and attractive to the children.

For the children, this work is great fun!  For the teacher/directress, he/she is indirectly preparing the children for more formal learning.  For example, working in the EDL area of the classroom is indirectly preparing children for reading.  The works are placed on the shelves from left to right and top to bottom so that children's eyes track in this way, preparing them for reading.  In fact, all of our shelves in all areas are set up in this way-the sequence going from left to right and top to bottom.  The items on the tray itself are also set up in this way-for example, a pouring work using colored water from a pitcher to a cup would have the pitcher with the water on the left and the cup on the right. The complete lesson is shown pouring the water into the cup, then pouring the water back into the pitcher.

Peer teaching and learning is an intricate part of the Montessori Method.  The veteran students are diligent to the cause of an organized and well respected classroom.  Older children gain great confidence as the leaders in the the classroom and younger children aspire to do the same.  This is one of the best kept secrets of a Montessori classroom.  As children work together in a Montessori environment, a community of respect, love, and great friendship is born.  The Montessori classroom is student centered.  The teacher guides and supports as well as assures the environment is setting children up for success.  All of this and more unfolds early in a child's Montessori journey beginning with the introduction of the Everyday Living Area.