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.