Friday, July 31, 2009

Hundred Board

After reading my post about the typical Montessori day, one reader emailed me asking if the students truly find interest in these academic activities at such a young age. In a future post, I plan to write a bit about Sensitive Periods. To give you a synopsis, Montessori believed that children go through periods of extreme interest in certain topics. For instance, a three-year-old might experience a sensitive period for order, a four-year-old for language, and a five-year-old for social connectedness. Currently, G is in the heart of her sensitive period for language and g is in a senstivie period for opening and closing- typically to lids on washed containers. She'll spend 20 minutes working with one container and repeat the process again and again.

I explained to the reader that some children show extreme interest in Mathematics and will choose lessons like the Hundred Board daily. I perused my school pictures and found a child enjoying the Hundred Board. Placing the small tiles on the board is called the "Point of Interest" in the lesson. Each Montessori "work" has a Point of Interest that captures the child's attention, whether it's a clinging sound, a shiny bowl, or a tiny object. This particular three-year-old truly enjoys small objects and sequences of numbers, therefore the Hundred Board is just right for him. I'm looking forward to giving him the extension lessons on this work- placing the odd or even tiles and placing the tiles in a spiral.

Maybe he's also experiencing a Sensitive Period for hoods? :)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Frightening Discovery

Every day I thank God for the gift of my life's work. I am one of the lucky few who figured out what I wanted to do "when I grew up" immediately out of college. Thomas Moore writes about this gift in his book, A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do. This is a great book to read if you are at a crossroads and trying to figure out what you want to do next.

My family knows that I live and breathe Montessori education, on the brink of obsessiveness, simply because I believe the philosphy could change our world. No, I do not claim to hold the power of world peace. I do, however, believe that God has given me this knowledge and this passion for knowledge to give to the children. Most people realize the obvious benefits of a Montessori education in terms of academic preparedness. But what many people don't see is the formation of character, the moral development, and the inner sense of peace and calm that is passed on to the children. I've seen many high quality preschool programs, but I've never seen one that actually has a peace curriculum. Maria Montessori spent many years in India where she created her early childhood peace curriculum. In 1932, Montessori addressed the International Bureau of Education in Geneva with a piece entitled A Remedy for War: Peace and Education. I was able to get my hands on a copy of it, translated into English, which I will add to the school's lending library for parents. The American Montessori Society has published a video about her thoughts on peace and education. When time allows, please take a few minutes to watch this short video about the fundamentals of her peace curriculum:

In today's busy households, many of us are neglecting to give our children proper exposure to character development. I made a frightening discovery at the beach this week. My oldest daughter made a new friend each day that we were there. Innocently enough, they built sandcastles, turned themselves into mermaids, and jumped over the little waves in the ocean. I enjoyed watching them and listening to their four-year-old conversations. Soon after, I started to cringe while watching and listening to the interactions.

One little girl was making conversation with G near the shore. She soon started to pick up on the fact that G has a relatively high level of anxiety. This little girl started to list things in the ocean that could potentially hurt her. I watched G's reaction to these statements and noticed that she simply started to walk away and play closer to our blanket. The girl followed her and started talking about how her friend's mother passed away and how sad that would be if it happened to G. She continued to change subjects ranging from loud thunderstorms to scary rides at the boardwalk. I eventually did intervene and I asked the child if there was anything positive she would like to talk about. She immediately realized that I had picked up on her game and lost interest. Fortunately, G started playing with her sister and by the end had ignored her completely.

On day two, G was playing with a ladybug that continued to land on her finger all morning. She named the ladybug "Pretty" and was overjoyed when the bug landed on g's little nose. After a while, she started to play with a little girl who was sitting next to us. G told this little girl all about Pretty. Shortly after, Pretty landed on G's towel. They had fun watching the insect crawl up and down G's arm. Seemingly out of the blue, the little girl proceeded to snatch the bug away from G and run to the ocean. My daughter started screaming for her to "please let it go back to it's family" as she chased the girl down the beach. The little girl laughed as she plunged the ladybug into the sea. Tears started streaming down my daughter's face, as she walked back to the blanket. The little girl pranced back to G, asking if she wanted to play something else now. This time, she simply uttered the words "no thanks".

Unfortunately, instances like this occurred in four out of the five "friendships" she made while at the beach. Each time, the other child's parents were watching and none of them took the opportunity to instill moral or ethical values into their children. I'm astonished and deeply concerned about the state of the world when these children are running it. Let's continue to look for meaninful connections with our children, and let's give them meaningful connections with society. We have the power to raise caring citizens of this world. Here is an exerpt from Montessori's Peace and Education:

"If a person were to grow up with a healthy soul, enjoying the full development of a strong character and a clear intellect, they could not endure to uphold two kinds of justice- the one protecting life and the other destroying it. Nor would they consent to cultivate in their heart both love and hate. Neither could they tolerate two disciplines- the one aimed at building, and the other at tearing down what has been built. Better humans than we are would use their intellects and their attainments of civilization to end the fury of war. War would not be a problem for them at all. They would simply see it as a barbarous state, opposed to civilization- an absurd and incomprehensible phenomenon, as expendable and defeatable as the plague."

A Beach Lesson Learned

We just returned from our annual trip to the shore. We had a fantastic time mostly thanks to my sister-in-law. Before our trip she told us to pack some baby powder, she said it helps to remove sand from baby's skin. Ok, sure, we thought. We'll pack it, but we know we probably won't use it.

You know when the baby is crying, hot, and miserable? She wants a nap but is just too uncomfortable with little grains of sand chafing every chubby fold. We gave it a shot and would you believe it, the sand is instantly removed from the baby's skin. Baby powder saved our vacation and provided us with a two-hour respite every afternoon. Seriously, try it.

Beach lesson learned: Buy stock in baby powder.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Labyrinths in School

Montessori teachers incorporate labyrinths into the curriculum for many reasons. Children can walk the labyrinth to calm themselves down, to resolve conflicts, or even to grieve the loss of a pet or loved one. Adults who walk a labyrinth say it is possible to lose the sense of space and time and be fully present in the moment. Ancient labyrinths have been found dating back to 18,000 BC in Egypt, Peru, India, Scandinavia and the British Isles.

I incorporate this philosophy into the classroom by using this hand held Cretan labyrinth from Montessori Services. I've recommended this activity to parents to put in a quiet part of the house. When the child starts acting up or needs some redirection, some quiet time with the labyrinth usually does the trick.

Many of you know that I'm looking to expand the school within the next couple of years. Wouldn't this outdoor labyrinth be an amazing addition to the new environment? I envision a small stool for children to take their shoes off and maybe a brush to wipe their feet after they've completed the walk. I love the child in the back raking the sand, almost like a Japanese Rock Garden. This teacher did a fantastic job creating this work of art herself with found materials.

You can incorporate a labyrinth into your home environment by using rocks as shown above, or with chalk in a driveway. Making labyrinths in the snow is fun or try it at night with candles!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


In one of my Child Development classes, we discussed personality traits and temperaments in children. This topic is fascinating to me now that I have a second child who is the polar opposite of my first. I remember reading about some children who are "slow to warm up" and others who are more "spirited". I happen to have one of each. So, in other words, I have a shy kid and a wild kid. :)

When it comes to downtime around the house, my shy child requires every ounce of my attention. Whereas, my wild one wants nothing to do with me. She only comes to me in order to fill a basic need like eating or sleeping. I literally have to remind myself to go sit with her or read to her. On the other hand, I feel like I give my shy child way too much one-on-one attention.

I did some research about how much time is appropriate for parent playtime. Don't get me wrong, I love spending time with my kids. But how much time should one mom spend trying on crowns or "cooking" for the animals at the circus? The consensus seems to be that approximately three 20 minute sessions a day is adequate. This doesn't seem like much to me, but the research said that the MAJORITY of families spend only minutes with their children each day on a one-to-one basis. Yikes! On the other hand, researchers stated that children who spent too much time playing with adults were severely dependent and had trouble playing with children their own age.

How much time do you spend on the floor playing with your kids? What do you think about the 3 20-minute sessions idea? Do you feel we should gauge the length of active parent playtime to the child's personality type? I'd love to hear your feedback...

This is a great article about parenting kids who are "slow to warm up".

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Student

I wrote this article years ago in response to the question, "What does my child do in school all day?". Emma, a fictional second-year student, gives a description of a typical morning in a Montessori school.

I start off my school day in the car with Mommy. She tells me she loves me and helps me out of my car. I walk into school and put down my things. I unzip my coat and hang it up. I like to check my backpack to see if I have any mail for my teacher. Next, I'm ready to greet my teacher. I walk into the classroom where my teacher gives me a big smile. I give her a handshake and then I think about my work. I decide to work in the Math area (my favorite area). I know that I need a mat for my work. On my way to the mats, I stop to say hello to my friends Andrew and Sarah. I tell them about my weekend and then I decide it's time to get work out. I unroll my mat carefully on the floor, making sure it's not on anyone else's mat. Choosing work is easy in the Math area because I have had so many lessons. The work that interests me the most is the Bank Game. I see that someone else is using it right now to create the Decimal Layout, so I will have to wait until it is available.

After scanning the shelves, I decide on the Hundred Board. I realize that this work is quite a commitment, because it will take most of the morning. Fortunately, I can put my nametag on the work if it is not completed today. I carefully roll my mat and put it away, because I like to use the Hundred Board at a table. I choose the table with the little lamp because I think it is beautiful. I lay out the work on the table and open the box labeled "1-20". I take out the small, white tiles and place them on the table. I find the time with a number "1". I place this tile in the upper left hand corner. If I ever need help placing the tiles in the proper order, I can just use the control chart. Much time passes and I realize that I am very hungry. I stand up, push in my chair, and place my nametag on my work. This way, the teacher and the other children know I am going to return to it soon.

At the snack table, I notice two of my friends enjoying carrots. One more seat is available, so I start assembling my snack. First, I get a plate and then look at the snack number for the day. The number is "3" today, so I take three carrots with the tongs. I carry my plate and a napkin to my place and return for a drink. Carefully, I pour the water into my cup. I learned how to use tongs and pour in the practical life area last year! I join my firends at the snack table and we chat quietly.

On my way back to the Math area, I notice there are beautiful maple leaves on a tray. I approach the teacher in the practical area and explain to her that I would like a chance to try that work after my Hundred Board. She smiles and gives me a brief lesson on the leaf rubbing. I write my name on a piece of paper and try the work. When I finish, my rubbing looks just like the maple leaf! I clean up the tray and return it to the shelf. Proudly, I carry my leaf rubbing to my cubby. I can't wait to show it to Mommy and Daddy later!

I sit back down to work for several minutes. Soon, I hear a soft bell. I know this sound means it is time to clean up and join my friends on the line. This is such a long work, so I leave my nametag there for tomorrow. I join my friends while we sing some songs. After singing, the teacher explains that she has a new lesson for the group. She shows us how to walk on the line "heel to toe". If we want to try, we raise our hands and we get a chance. I feel brave today, so I raise my hand. I realize it's not as easy as it looks! The teacher says that another day we can try this lesson holding a flag.

Now it's time to go outside. The teacher whispers my name to get my coat. After putting on my coat, I notice that one of the younger children is having trouble zipping his coat. I walk over to him and ask if he needs help. It makes me feel good when I can help other kids. We walk outside in a line...what a beautiful day! I decide to go to the slide with my friends. After many turns, I'm ready for a break. I decide to sit on a bench and listen to the birds. Soon, I see my friends lining up.

Once my name is called, I know it means Mommy is here! I gather my things, making sure my leaf rubbing is safe in my backpack. I say goodbye to my teacher and shake her hand. I know I'll see her again tomorrow. Mommy is smiling at me as she asks, "Did you have a fun day?". She has no idea how hard I worked today! But I guess I did have fun too, didn't I?

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Lesson Learned...

(...or "learnt" for those of you speaking British English)

I had just finished putting g down for her morning nap, when G asked if we could do some activities downstairs. I immediately agreed, quickly formulating a mental list of lessons that I've been waiting to present to her. Once we got to the classroom, I asked her if there was anything in particular that she wanted to work with. She got out a magnetic fish puzzle that I put out for the younger children at the beginning of the year. After working with it for a while, she asked me how to write the word "crab". I got out the moveable alphabet and showed her how to make the blend "cr" and then asked her what letters would complete the word. She completed the word, and then asked for help spelling some more. We worked like this together for a while, but deep in my Montessori brain I was thinking, "I should've asked her to clean up the fish puzzle first, it looks like a mess over there, it might be distracting to her, blah blah blah."

Well, don't you know it, she looked over at the fish puzzle and started fishing again. This time, however, she fished for the crab and placed it on the mat next to the word "crab" that we had previously spelled. She started spelling "fish" and then asked me for help with the "sh" sound. She picked up the fishing pole again and started picking up all of the fish from the puzzle and placing them under the word "fish". This continued through the words "seahorse", "octopus" and "jellyfish".

What a beautiful lesson she created out of her own interests. Her lesson included language, sorting, and zoology! Imagine if I had interrupted her thought process (as many well-intentioned parents and teachers do) to ask her to pick up the puzzle. Of course, instilling a sense of order is one of the foundations of the Montessori philosophy. However, this has been ingrained in her head since birth- she knew to pick up all of the work after her attention wained. Why didn't I trust my parenting skills? Why didn't I trust my child?
My lesson learned: FOLLOW THE CHILD.

Friday, July 17, 2009


It's the beginning of the school year. New children are nervous. Teachers are nervous. Returning children are bursting at the seams with excitement. Some parents are spent and in a need of a few hours of silence! It's a transition time for all of us. Phase-in is a gradual start to the school year, intended to give the children (specifically the 3's) a positive introduction to the school year. Some of these little ones have never left their primary caregiver, and they're not sure what this whole "school" thing is about.

Here's how phase-in works at our school:
  • First Day- 1 1/2 hour session. Focus: "our peaceful classroom". Some presentations include: sitting on the line, unrolling and rolling a mat, walking around the mats, walking on the line, obtaining snack.
  • Second Day- 2 hour session. Focus: "my name is my sacred sound". Some presentations include: finding my nametag, raising my hand, finding my cubby, carrying a tray, pouring.
  • Third Day- 2 1/2 hour session. Focus: "the peace table". Some presentations include: using the peace table, using the phrase "please do not touch my work", discovering peaceful playground rules, getting the teacher's attention (a single, gentle tap on the shoulder).

This critical period is designed with the child's best interests in mind. The gradual exposure to a new school environment ensures that each child feels safe and secure when leaving their loved one. I thank parents for understanding the importance of this transition time, and I do understand the hassle involved with the short class sessions. I simply remind them that this is just a small step toward their child's positive and healthy, three-year Montessori cycle.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Wikisori. "At Wikisori, our goal is to faciliate collaboration among Montessorians to allow the creation of the collective sum of all Montessori knowledge in one convenient location, available to the global Montessori community for free."

Isn't that amazing?! These teachers, parents and administrators have come together for the sake of our children to compile this massive resource for all of us.

If, at any time, I mention a material in the classroom and you think "A trinomial what?!", now you can just look it up on Wikisori and get a brief description of the material and the teacher presentation. Yet another giant leap in the evolution of Montessori!

The Trinomial Cube

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Coin Cleaning

Here's a fun way to keep your child actively engaged while you're making dinner (folding laundry, feeding baby #2...).

This is what you need: placemat, paper towels, bowl, dirty pennies, old toothbrush, vinegar & salt (or warm water and soap for younger ones)

Preface this activity with an explanation about how coins are very dirty because they are constantly passed from person to person. The copper (the outside of the penny) becomes tarnished (the dull, greenish color is formed from copper oxide). The acid from the vinegar dissolves the copper oxide and leaves behind shiny pennies. We had fun dunking the penny halfway into the solution. Experiment with your little scientist! Try lemon juice too- it smells better!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What Will I Do with All of my Time?

Record-keeping. The average Montessori teacher spends 1-3 hours per school day record-keeping. This is why traditional schools teach to the average of the group, instead of to each child individually. IT'S JUST TOO HARD TO KEEP TRACK OF IT ALL!!!

Each M. teacher has his/her own way of keeping track of progress. Here's my system- although it works, it's quite tedious...
  1. Observe, give lessons, observe, give lessons...

  2. Jot down notes of each child's progress on class observation sheet

  3. At the end of each day, transfer notes onto 12 page master file for each child

  4. At conference time, use master file to compile progress report (takes approx. 1 hour per child)

I've been looking for a more professional and time effecient way to handle this task. Poof! A simple google search finds Montessori Records Express. I spend at least an hour staring at the computer screen in disbelief that this service has been out there and I haven't known about it! I spend another hour on a webinar with the founder of the service so I can learn every feature. It's hard to give up my old time-tested routine, but I'm sold.

With a few mouse clicks, every child's progress is recorded and monitored. I can see how many lessons Jimmy recieved in the month of May with one click! I can compare Timmy's abilities to that of the state standards to find out if he's on track with his peers in the public sect! I can make sure I'm giving equal lessons in Math, Language, Culture, Pracitical Life, and Sensorial! I should be this guy's spokesperson! This guy sent his kids to Montessori and was dumbfounded by the amount of time the teachers spent writing things down. So, he and his wife designed this computer program that keeps track of it all and it's made specifically for the Montessori curriculum. Jackpot!

I'll spend the month of August getting to know the system (by the pool?) so I'm ready for September. I'm so excited to implement this program into the classroom! Now I just have to keep those little fingers from pecking on the laptop! :)

Try it for yourself, here!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Praise Junkies

I've got to admit, this is one of my biggest pet peeves and I see and hear it everywhere. Excessive praise. It's in every park, grocery store and mall around this country. I'm sure it happens all over the globe, but supposedly the old US of A tops the cake with this behavior. You've heard it before..."Great work, Billy! You're really swinging high now! Good job pumping your legs! You're the best swinger in the entire world!!!!" And on and on it goes.

Anyone who knows me, knows that this irritates me to no end and because of it, I probably do not praise my children ENOUGH! Why doesn't parenting come with a handbook? This book by Chick Moorman is probably the closest you'll find to a parenting handbook. I've read it several times and I try to use my "parent talk" to the best of my ability each day. Some days are better than others.

Amazingly, Dr. Deak---author of Girls will be Girls---mentions this little pet peeve of mine in her book, stating:

The point is that if every little behavior or action of a child
is praised or reinforced, it not only loses its impact, but it gradually leads a
child to believe that anything she does is great or that everything she does is
equally good, from scribbling on a piece of paper to writing War and
Excessive praise can lead to the development of:
  • A very selfish child who wants reinforcement from everyone for
  • A very needy child who can't function well without constant
    adult feedback
  • A very complacent child because everything is responded to in
    the same way
  • A very angry child because she/he will inevitably interact with
    people who are not effusive about her/his every behavior or will set the bar
    higher for obtaining praise
  • A very confused child because her/his outside world is not the
    same as her/his home world
  • A very lazy child because the littlest effort is
How does this relate to Montessori, you ask? In the classroom, Montessori teachers use something called objective praise. We know that reinforcement and praise are very important tools to help shape behavior with better side effects than punishment. However, we do not want to get sucked into the abyss of meaningless praise that creates children who I like to call "praise junkies". Every few minutes I hear "Look at me! See what I'm doing! Look, I pushed in my chair! See!! See!?!?!" I call them "praise junkies" because they quite literally need their contant fix of praise in order to feel self-worth. Objective praise is reinforcing a child using obvious statements of fact. "Billy, I see you used a lot of red in your picture." For a child who has trouble focusing..."Sally, you spent a half an hour working on those Metal Insets." Using objective praise is like an art form, but trust takes time to master. When in doubt, give a genuine smile.

So next time you go to the park, try not to bite your tongue off when you here the mommy next to you screaming praises at her child for playing in the sandbox or for sitting on a bench!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Christmas in July

Every summer, I review the school budget and plan any major purchases accordingly. As most of the school families know, I've been eagerly anticipating the day when we could purchase the entire Montessori bells set. Well, that time has come! Our classroom is now equipped with the complete collection of bells, the bell cabinet and all of the beautiful accessories that compliment it---with free shipping! My husband would've thought I'd won the lottery when he got home from work that night!

I'm sorry to all of my previous students who weren't able to make use of them-- they can come back and visit any time! Extensive work with the bells develops a child's auditory memory, stimulates the child's interest in music, refines the child's sense of pitch, and prepares the child for reading music at a later stage.

These are just a few of the introductory lessons with the bells. As you can see from the Nienhuis webpage, the children also work with the staff boards and eventually start to compose their own music!

Do you want to try the digital version of the bells at home? Try this!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Computers in the Montessori Classroom

Hmmm...this one's tricky. Our school received a computer donation this past year and I've been contemplating its use in the classroom. I've spent some time researching whether or not it's appropriate to have computers in the Montessori primary classroom and I've found mixed results:

Here are the pros:
  • Computers are critical tools of success
  • Individualized instruction with constant feedback
  • Open-ended education
  • Endless research possibilities
Here are the cons:
  • The purity of the philosophy will be compromised by introducing technology
  • Oftentimes, children prefer kinesthetic materials to use and feel
  • Can be used as an escape for children lacking in social or language skills
  • Children can use it for entertainment, or for wasteful activity
  • Can be a distraction to others
Here are some things to consider about software:
  • Should provide an optimal level of stimulation that engages the child
  • Should exhibit a discernable sequence or order so that it makes sense to the child
  • Should be esthetically pleasing, wholesome, pleasing and non-violent
  • Should be process-focuses, rather than product-focused
  • Must contain good control of error
  • Should have multiple levels of difficulty build in
  • Should emphasize internal motivation, rather than depending on external motivation (overplaying positive and negative feedback with loud whistles, bells and grand prizes)
  • Should enhance or complement the teaching taking place in the classroom
Here are some recommended programs for Montessori:
  1. ClarisWorks has a program similar to the Geography puzzle maps.
  2. Bailey's Book House introduces children to initial sounds and other language activities correlating with the Montessori language curriculum.
  3. Talking Number Maze teaches children how to solve problems with equations. Unfortunately, this game is no longer available.
All in all, I think a computer would be an excellent resource for these children who are always seeking answers. However, I continue to feel in my gut that once computer "games" are introduced into the classroom, the traditional materials will begin to collect dust. I can also see a small crowd gathered around the computer watching as Sally makes it to the "next level". And aren't our children inundated with screens and technology every minute of their day? This lack of human interaction does such damage on their brains during this integral part of their lives. I think you can see which way I'm leaning right now, but I certainly do see the importance of young children learning about and using forms of technology.

What would Maria think about technology in the classroom? She was such a visionary, maybe she would use computers to cultivate the child's own natural desire to learn. Any thoughts or ideas?!?

Thanks to Arlene Love and Pat Sikorski for also researching this topic and sharing your finds.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Messy Fun

Here's an art activity that I saw on another blog recently, but I can't remember which one. This activity was so much fun, I might try it out in the classroom this year. G mentioned that she'd like to make some more for her grandparents' birthdays, but she'd like to keep these and frame them for her room. They're so beautiful, I just might do that!

This is what you need: cookie sheet, shaving cream, food coloring, fork, cardstock, straight edge

Step One: Cover cookie sheet with shaving cream and squeeze several drops of food coloring in your color choice.

Step Two: Use a fork to swirl, not mix, colors. Plastic forks work very well.

Step Three: Lay the piece of cardstock down onto the shaving cream and press, making sure the entire paper is covered.

Step Four: Peel the paper off of the shaving cream and place on your surface.

Step Five: Use a straight edge to wipe off the excess shaving cream.

Viola! You're left with a swirly masterpiece. We re-used the same shaving cream several times and just kept adding different colors. The really neat part was seeing the colors mix and form new colors.

Try it at home! It's really not as messy as it looks. :)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Fantasy vs. Reality

One of the most commonly disputed aspects of the Montessori philosophy is her viewpoint on fantasy and young children.

Montessori found that children up to the age of six are oftentimes incapable of distinguishing between reality and fantasy. After reading stories with talking bears or dogs driving cars, children might come to believe that these events could actually take place. She observed that if left alone, children will fantasize about realistic events, such as a trip to the grocery store or to the dentist. Adults are the ones who think up terrible monsters and aliens, then thrust them into the child's fantasy play.

Montessori suggested that we surround the child with reality, therefore, giving them a strong grasp on what is real. Once the child has reached the age of six and has entered the second plane of development, he is intellectually capable of distinguishing between reality and fantasy. This is when fantasy play and imagination truly soar.

Now, there are only so many non-fiction books you can read to young children. Yes, Montessori teachers have their fair share of National Geographic field guides tucked away in corners of the classroom. But we also read some fictional stories- my training suggests using something called realistic fiction. Realistic fiction, although untrue, could actually happen. Going Home is an example of realistic fiction. Also, in order to encourage imagination, we provide ample opportunities through art and music. Objects found in nature are always integrated into the classroom and are often used during fantasy play.

I have a story that relates to this post about a family I worked with years ago. They were a sweet, friendly family and I so enjoyed working with their child. This child, who had turned six mid-way through the year, had a fascination and almost obsession with the character Clifford. Anyone who doesn't know Clifford, he is a very large, red dog originally in children's books and now on t.v. Clifford talks and helps out his friends with daily tasks, humorously making more of a problem because of his enormous size. Anyway, one day this child was drawing a picture with her friend. She was having trouble drawing something and she said to her friend, "If Clifford were here, he could certainly help me." Her friend said "Yeah, too bad Clifford's not real." This child's face turned ghostly white as she looked up at her (now former) best friend. "How could you say that? I'm going to ask the teacher." She pranced over to me just knowing I would support her enthusiasm with the helpful Clifford and her friend would be proven wrong. I had to formulate a She looked up at me and asked flat out "Is Clifford real?" I said what I thought was best, "Clifford can be real in your imagination! What fun it would be to have a big dog help us with our drawings!". Well, that's not what she wanted to hear and she went back to her drawing in tears. Of course, later that day I received a call from mom requesting an urgent meeting. We met later and mom was not happy. She asked me how I could possibly tell her Clifford is not real. They've been spending the last six years dressing up like Clifford at every birthday and fantasizing about Clifford in daily play. After six years of this charade, the poor child actually believed that Clifford was real and came to visit her once a year on her birthday. I just thank my lucky stars this child found out in a peaceful, loving environment with a teacher and friends who care about her. Thank goodness she didn't find out in first grade with new children who may not have been as tactful. In the end, Mom did some research and realized that this is all part of the Montessori philosophy and it was said in her child's best interest.

Now that brings me to the issue of Santa Claus...I know, don't go there. I couldn't agree more with Montessori Mom in her post about Montessori and Santa. Santa is a part of our culture and introduces the spirit of giving to young children.

If interested in reading more information about this post topic, visit Montessori Mom's website here, here, here and here.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I've Struck Gold!

For a Montessori teacher, striking it rich means having two parents who travel the globe extensively. Better yet, I have two parents who firmly support the Montessori philosophy, and therefore purchase beautiful ethnic treasures for the classroom! Most recently, they traveled to Alaska during the summer solstice. I have issues with sleep as it is, so I don't know if I'd be brave enough to travel to a place that only has a few hours of (somewhat lit) nighttime. Although, after seeing some pictures, I think I'd be willing to suffer from a bout of insomnia in order to view some of the incredible, natural beauty of Alaska.

Let me preface these photos by saying I collect dolls from other countries to display in class while we focus on a particular continent. Actually, "I" don't really collect too many of them, my parents, previous and current families of the school buy them and donate them to the class. It was like Christmas morning when I opened the packages...

This doll portrays the Royal Canadian Mounted police...I've got to say, I love that she's a girl. After all of these years, my kids still say "policeman". I want the girls to see that they could work for the police force as well.

This is easily my favorite souvenir. I've always found totem poles to be fascinating. Totems celebrated legends, events, or simply the wealth and crest of the family for whom it was created. The poles were neither worshipped nor had any religious significance. They were records of the past in a culture that had no written language.

This little cutie will surely be a class favorite. She is dressed in a very soft, traditional Alaskan Eskimo style parka.

The next gift was this book, with some of the most beautiful illustrations I've seen.

As an added bonus, the cruise ship had just sailed back from Panama and don't you know it, they had some extra dolls handcrafted by natives of the Panama Canal Rain forest.

My parents also brought back a little tube of gold flecks, which G has since confiscated. Hopefully, she'll be willing to part with them long enough for her classmates to see them!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A Lesson in Exploration

I've been spending some of my summer down-time reviewing my Montessori albums, as many Mont. teacher do (don't worry, I do relax and have fun too!). There are 165 lessons in Sensorial alone, so reviewing lessons at least every year is a must.

I wanted to practice a few lessons, so I called on my guinea pig- G. She's a trooper and put up with Mommy giving her lessons in the summer (of course I picked a rainy day). By the end though, she was asking for more! See, learning is fun!

Her favorite lesson was Color Box #2, Game #4. After the child has mastered the second color box, she can take part in the extension activities and games. This game encourages the child to explore the classroom with one color tablet in hand in order to match the shade to an object. I was very impressed with her creativity. I love how she matched the yellow water tank from the farm. And, in her eyes, the metal scissors match the gray tablet...

This lesson is an excellent way to expand the possibilities of this work, and to get the child to look at the classroom from a completely different perspective. You can try this at home using paint swatches from Home Depot. Check these links for the appropriate colors: Color Box #1, Color Box #2 and Color Box #3.