Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Happens When Children Wait?

In a world where things are so fast paced, there is a place of peace and refuge in a Montessori classroom.  The classroom is not chaotic, not loud, not fast, not rushed....rather, our classroom is calm, peaceful, quiet (but, not silent) and respectful.  One of the many skills and lessons children learn in a Montessori classroom is self-control and how to wait.  There is one of each work in a Montessori classroom-there are many, many works, but only one of each work.  So, from the beginning children learn if a work is not available-another child is choosing it-then, they wait.  They don't go to the child and tell them they want it, they don't take it away from a child-they wait.  When we see children waiting, we see that many times, it's challenging.  They are typically not used to waiting.  But, wow-what a wonderful life skill!  Children also learn that they can do a work as long as they want-a teacher will not ask them to put a work away, a child can not dictate how long they work-they can work as long as they would like, as long as they are being purposeful and engaged.  They also learn to wait when a teacher is working with another child and is not immediately available to answer a question or help.  We ask children to place their hand on the teacher's shoulder so we know they are there and they wait.  Those moments of them holding back from getting what they need right away are moments of growth and moments of understanding that they are not the only one with needs.  They learn to respect others needs through this process.  One beautiful thing that is born from this is that children are helping one another and not reliant on the teacher.  This is another wonderful aspect of the Montessori classroom.  Children are also learning to wait during lessons.  During lessons teachers show works.  When a teacher shows a lesson-it is her work.  Our hope is that children are quiet and respectful while the work is shown.  We use words like 'this is my work', 'please let me concentrate while I show you this lesson', and 'please do not touch my work'.  The children learn this by watching and really love and appreciate when they have a work, it's their work. They can invite someone to do the work with them, but it's not ok for someone to interrupt or touch their work without being asked. 

Sometimes in our busy, rushed world, it's hard to teach children to wait.  But, know that is completely ok to have to wait.  In fact, many wonderful things happen when we are waiting.  Our message to children needs to be, we hear you, we care about your needs and what you are asking, but I'm asking you to be patient.  Not serving their needs immediately sends a message that what you are currently doing is also important-not more, not less, but also important.  It also can give a child an opportunity to problem solve.  For example, on line this week a child was standing in front of me explaining that someone took his spot on line.  I was greeting children on the line and was unavailable to help work out the conflict.  The child said the same thing to me three times and I looked at the child pointing to the child I was greeting indicating that I wasn't available.  Right then, a child on line near the conflict whispered to the child next to him to please move down and then asked the child who was talking to me to sit down and he did.  I wait, he waited and it worked itself out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Unit Studies in our Classroom

Each month in our classroom, we study a new unit.  The unit study is an opportunity to go into depth about particular topics or interests that are relevant to children.  In September, we studied fruits and vegetables. This month we're studying transportation, and next month we'll study the human body.  With all units, we have object to object matching, object to picture matching, picture to picture matching, puzzles, sorting, 'parts of' books', and 3 part cards.  We also try to bring our unit study into other areas of the classroom. For example, in the Everyday Living area, children may scoop or pour fruit.  In the math area for our transportation unit, we have several counting works out with cars, trucks, airplanes and boats.  The unit study also allows us to give information about a topic that children may not have heard before.  When we studied fruits and vegetables, we talked about how fruit grows on trees, bushes or vines and that vegetables are parts of the plant that we eat:  root (carrot), stem (celery), leaves (spinach/lettuce) and flower (broccoli).  Three part cards are a wonderful work used throughout the classroom as well.  It has a picture with the name of the picture on it, then the children match the picture and the word.  For example, we had apple three part cards.  There is a picture of an apple, then all the different parts of an apple-stem, core, flesh, seeds, and skin.  Each card highlighted each part with a picture and name-the work is great for building visual discrimination skills as well as building vocabulary.  The children love working with our unit works and love learning new information about very familiar subjects!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

General Layout of the Classroom

When families are first learning about Montessori, there is a lot to take in about the philosophy, classroom structure, materials and lessons.  Even as a teacher having taught nine years in a Montessori environment, I am still learning and seeing the many benefits of a Montessori environment.  Every work, every choice made in the space regarding furniture, folder boxes, rugs, materials, is a well thought out process that is discussed thoroughly with all the teachers.  We constantly go back to the philosophy and ask ourselves why we want to do things a certain way and how it sets children up for success.  We make decisions and then watch how the children interact with the decision made.  For example, we recently changed our folder box to a larger one.  We noticed the children were having trouble finding their folder because the folder box was smaller and the folders weren't able to move easily.  So, we purchased a larger one and it's much more successful or the children and they can be independent putting work in their folder, then taking their work from the folder to their backpack. We also recently moved two tables in the our Math room because we noticed how crowded it was with rug works when the tables were in the space they were.  We moved them earlier this week and the improvement has been wonderful!

Our classroom has several areas:  Everyday Living, Art, Manipulative, Sensorial, Math, Language, Geography, Science and Unit (this is an area that changes monthly-We study something new every month (Transportation, Mammals, etc)).  In every area, works are sequenced on the shelf from simple to complex and concrete to more abstract.  Through the lessons presented, we guide children through a series of skills and watch carefully before presenting something new.  We always want children tasting success as they progress.  The works on the shelves are placed left to right which lays a foundation for left to right reading.  Rug works are presented left to right as well.  The children are presented a process that best sets them up for success and helps them organize their materials in the space they choose.  Within each work on the tray, materials are also set up from left to right.  For example, when we present pouring or spooning, the teacher presents the work pouring from left to right and when they spoon, they spoon from the bowl on the left to the bowl on the right.  When counting works are presented, numbers are placed at the top of the rug from left to right.  Sound boxes and pre-language materials are presented from left to right.

Children learn almost immediately that they get one work out at a time.  It truly does amaze me how quickly the children learn that this is how they do things in the classroom.  The language we use for cleaning up is 'getting it ready for the next friend'.  Children are asked and presented when shown the work that they prepare the work for the next person who will choose it.  Certainly, as young children, they learning how to clean up.  But, building the awareness in them that how they return a work to the shelf affects their community is important.  Sometimes, a child will choose a work and it's messy.  They often know who had the work prior and will go to that friend and ask them to clean up the work.  Every time I have seen this happen, the child very willingly goes back to clean up the work.  It builds a strong sense of respect in the classroom as well as personal accountability.  It's a much more powerful accountability when it comes from another friend vs. the teacher. 

I hope this gives you a little insight into our classroom at Community Montessori.