Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Scientific Absolutes

Second-year student, EK, has enjoyed many lessons in science over the years. One day, during our daily class discussion on weather, he asked me, "Why does it rain?". I explained to him that the clouds fill up with water droplets. The droplets get too heavy and fall from the clouds. I reminded him of a science experiment we did last year. We used an eyedropper to add drops of water to a cotton ball (cloud). The children watched it fill up until the cloud started to "rain". EK thought for a moment and said, "So I guess the rain always falls, like the Earth always spins". Absolutely.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fantastic MM Quote

The secret of good teaching is to regard the child's intellegence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination.

Maria Montessori

Friday, September 25, 2009

False Fatigue

False fatigue is a Montessori phenomenon that takes place in every Montessori school around the globe. Montessori observed that, when left in freedom, children worked in a distinct cycle that was so predictable, it could even be graphed. This cycle, with two peaks and one valley, lasted approximately three hours. False fatigue typically occurs mid-morning, between 10:00-10:30am. The children seem to lose interest in work, behavior becomes disorderly, and the noise level rises. It may appear that the children are tired. At this time, many inexperienced Montessori teachers will ring a bell or flick the lights to call the children to whole group for songs or for outside time. Experienced teachers realize that this phenomenon is "false fatigue". They realize that the children will return to work on their own, and their work will be at an even higher level than before. The highest levels of focus and concentration take place during this second peak in the work cycle.

Although many Montessori teachers like to scurry observers out the door before false fatigue sets in, it would be beneficial for parents to observe this phenomenon. Parents might start to feel uneasy about the change in energy and noise level, but the children's true work begins during this peak after false fatigue.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Montessori Time-Out"

We really don't give "time-outs" in Montessori, but we do encourage children to take some time alone throughout the day to enjoy silence. This activity is great for alone time- it's called the Individual Silence Game. The children are first introduced to the word "Silence". I will walk around the room with the "Silence sign" from time to time so the children can pause for a silent moment. After I put the sign away, they quietly return to their work. This is not used as a classroom management technique, it's merely an opportunity for the children to listen to silence as a group. Once the children are familiar with the concept of silence, I introduce the Individual Silence Game.

The child rolls out a yoga mat and sets up a sand time and the Silence sign. The child then lays down on the mat in a comfortable position and places a lavender pillow over his eyes. It is the child's goal to lay still in silence until all of the sand falls to the bottom of the timer. Some children can only last a few seconds, while others relax for several minutes. In our busy, hectic lives our children rarely get a chance to enjoy stillness. The Silence sign reminds others that this is not a work that can be observed or disturbed.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To Experiment or Not Experiment

That is the question among many Montessori teachers. Do we allow the children to use the materials in a way that does not reflect the direct purpose of the activity? Some Montessori groups insist that children can only use the materials for their intended purpose. Others, like mine, encourage the children to use the materials properly until the activity is mastered. Then, the child can feel free to experiment creatively with the work under two conditions:

  1. The child's exploration is not disruptive to the class.
  2. The child is not being destructive to the materials.

Gauge what your reaction would be to the following situations. Would you allow the exploration to continue, or would you ask the child to put the work away?

1. A child is using one of the red rods as a sword.

2. Two children are mixing up the pieces to the frog puzzle and the bird puzzle to make the exercise more difficult for themselves.

3. A child is making quiet animal noises while using the farm.

4. A child has set up the brown stair, and is now standing on them and using them as steps.

5. Two children roll the sphere from the geometric solids as fast as it will go across the entire classroom.

Well? What do you think? Of course, every situation is different and oftentimes I gauge my response by the reaction from the other children. Typically, here is how I would respond:

1. I would ask the child with the "swords" to please put them away, that game might be fun for a playdate after school.

2. I would certainly allow this exercise to continue. What a great extension to the work.

3. As long as the animal noises are not disruptive to the class, I would enjoy observing the child with the farm.

4. I would ask the child to come down from the brown stair because that is destructive to the work. I would further his interests by comparing and contrasting the brown stair to the stairs in our classroom.

5. Rolling the sphere is lots of fun and a great excercise in teaching the principals of that solid. However, I would be sure the children use it on the mat only. Their choice would have been both destructive to the sphere and disruptive to the class.

I observed one of these activity experiments today with GG and the farm. He had received a lesson on male/female/offspring with the farm and was told he could now creatively work with the farm on his own. I became mildly concerned when I noticed the grammar symbols being placed on the farm, simply because this child has not yet been introduced to that lesson. The children are aware that they are not to get out work without a lesson because they could potentially hurt the work or hurt themselves (we do use glass and other breakable objects). I was about to put a halt to the use of grammar symbols when I heard him speaking quietly to himself, "Look, horses, you have now entered Egypt! Look at those beautiful pyramids!" Now how could I put a stop to that!?!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Community Life

One of my favorite aspects of the Montessori classroom is the multi-age grouping. Traditionally, Montessori classrooms are grouped according to age:

  • Primary- 3-6 year olds
  • Lower Elementary- 6-9
  • Upper Elementary- 9-12
  • Middle School (Erdkinder), or the traditional Montessori Farm School- 12-15
  • High School- 15-18
Montessori's goal of implementing a multi-age classroom was to aid in the development of community life. Typically, Montessori teachers try to regulate enrollment so that the class is made up of 1/3 3-year-olds, 1/3 4-year-olds and 1/3 5-year-olds. At the end of the year, the 5-year-olds are to move up to the 6-9 class or move on to another school. A new group of three-year-olds are then ushered in to fill the vacant spots. Therefore, the average Montessori student will spend three years in one classroom with the same teacher(s).

Our goal is for the older children to help the younger ones and to learn patience and sympathy along the way. The younger children naturally look up to these leaders and gain respect for their knowledge and maturity. This is why many Montessori schools are hesitant to enroll five-year-olds who are new to Montessori. These older children set the bar for all of the younger kids, and enrolling just one rambunctious five-year-old can throw off the tone for the entire year. I made a gutsy decision to enroll a "new to Montessori" five-year-old this year, and it paid off. My decision was made when I found out he came from a large family, where he has already learned the patience and care needed for younger siblings.

Montessori believed that older children can be more responsive to the needs of the younger child:

There is a communication and harmony between the two that one seldom finds between the adult and the small child...It is hard to believe how deep this atmosphere of protection and admiration becomes in practice. They do not help each other as we do...They respect one another's efforts, and give help only when necessary. This is very illuminating because it means they respect intuitively the essential need of childhood which is not to be helped unnecessarily.

In the past, some parents have expressed concern about their kindergarten child spending much of their time giving lessons to the little ones of the class. Montessori must have experienced the same parent apprehension when she stated:

People sometimes fear that if a child of five gives lessons, this will hold him back in his own progress. But, in the first place, he does not teach all the time and his freedom is respected. Secondly, teaching helps him to understand what he knows even better than before. He has to analyze and rearrange his little store of knowledge before he can pass it on. So his sacrifice does not go unrewarded.

I've witnessed some beautiful lessons given by older children, presented in a most magical way, which I could only attempt to replicate.

Third-Year Student Presenting Hand Washing Work

Third-Year Student Teaching the Parts of the Butterfly

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our Listening Walk

Today, we spoke about nature and the place in our classroom where we collect nature. The children were encouraged to find nature at home and bring it into the school to share. The nature is then placed in our large "nature bowl" for observation.

To expand on the concept of nature and enjoying nature, we read the book The Listening Walk.

I just adore this book, probably more than the children! This little girl goes for a walk with her father in the city and in a park. Her daddy's shoes go "clip, clop, clip, clop" and her sneakers are silent! The author goes through and describes all of the sounds that they here. The children love to hear me imitating a pigeon in the city and a duck at the park!

After we read the story, we went out into the community for a "listening walk". The children walked silently as they listened to the world. Afterwards, we sat outside and wrote down a list of the sounds we heard. Here are a few noises that were noticed:

  • the wind in a tree
  • GC's rain jacket
  • a UPS truck
  • a cricket
  • my flip flops
  • a hawk
  • a garage door

I know the activity made an impact on some of the children because they made comments throughout the day about the fish tank noise or the sound of someone sweeping up after snack. It's important for children to become aware of their surroundings and to refine their senses. That is, after all, one of the goals of primary Montessori education!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Working Together for Peace

We read this book today and performed the hand gestures as an introduction to the peace curriculum. I read this little book to the children several times a month in hopes that the contents will eventually move them all in one way or another. Some of the children respond immediately to the words, while others take a few months before they truly understand the meaning. Some of the children choose to memorize the poem, while others choose to create their own peace book. The poem was originally written by one of Gandhi's nephews. You might choose to share these words with your children at home.

I offer you peace;

I offer you love;

I offer you friendship;

I hear your cry;

I see your beauty;

I feel your pain;

This caring flows from my spirit within;

I salute that spirit in you.

Let us work together for peace.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Here's an interesting dialogue about praise from Fox News:

For my take on the subject, you can read this post. I'm really pleased to say that I don't have ANY praise junkies this year. Current moms and dads, you should pat yourselves on the back (...or is that too much praise?) for using process-based instead of product-based praise at home. For example, "You spent a lot of time on that painting." Instead of, "I think that painting is the most beautiful painting in the whole world!".

What are your thoughts on this topic?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Spontaneous Activities

Montessori classrooms are amazing environments for observation. Children are active learners, choosing their activities based purely on intrinsic motivation and a desire to learn. Montessori wrote an advanced level book on this topic and it is now available to read online here: "Spontaneous Activity in Education". It's 300+ pages, so I'd be more than impressed if anyone from our school community chooses to read it, but it is definitely worth a skim.

I was lucky enough to observe ample amounts of spontaneous, purposeful work today. One activity, however, simply floored me. Please keep in mind, this child (JP) is a very young child. When I say very young, I mean she is just turning three. This was her second day of school in a Montessori classroom. I watched her roam about searching for her work. She seemed intent on finding an activity revolving around numbers. She reached out to the sandpaper numerals and gently touched the surface of a numeral. JP then walked over to the mats (after several mat presentations last time), chose one and unrolled it on the floor. She then returned to the math shelf gazing at the cards and counters. At this point, many Montessori teachers would walk over to her and say "I'm sorry, but you haven't had a lesson on this material. May I show you another lesson?". As a rule, the children in a Montessori classroom are only to work with materials with which they have received a lesson. Otherwise, materials could be misused and broken or damaged, not to mention injury to the child or others. HOWEVER, Montessori teachers must be flexible and must observe constantly. I decided to observe JP to see what spontaneous activity she had in mind. She gently picked up the cards and counters and placed the numerals on her mat. She laid them all out neatly so that each one could be seen. JP then walked back to the math shelf and chose the sandpaper numerals. She placed the box on the mat and removed one numeral. She looked at it carefully and matched it to the corresponding card. She continued this way until she reached "nine".

Apparently, the numerals were created with two different fonts. One is considered an American-style 9, while the other is a European 9- they looked very different. JP flipped the card around, upside down and contemplated this problem for several minutes. She wanted to match the final numeral, but they didn't look the same! Finally, she broke her concentration and looked up at me. I walked over to her mat and traced the sandpaper numeral saying "nine". I then traced the 9 card and said "nine". A huge smile spread across her face as she realized they were indeed the same, and she could complete her work. She stood up and appreciated her masterpiece.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Our First Day

There aren't words to describe how it feels to end the first day, knowing it was a success. This first day sets the tone for the entire school year. Yes, children grow and become "normalized", but the attitudes expressed on the first day sometimes remain with us the entire year. Here are some comments I heard from the children throughout the day. Initials will be used so that parents can identify their children and to respect their privacy.
  • LD- "School is awesome."
  • NC- "I don't know why my brother says he doesn't like school, I LOVE it!"
  • UP- "Thank you for that lesson."
  • EK- "Why is it time to go home already?"
  • HM-"I had fun today."
  • GG- "I can't wait to come back the day after tomorrow!"

I guess the proof is in the pudding! Every year, it amazes me how different each session can be. This year, it seems the morning group is more serene and reflective. The afternoon group was energized and creative with the materials. The classes will change their dynamics throughout the year, I'm sure, but I'm baffled by the difference in these two groups. Send me a comment over the next few months and remind me to post about the differences in the two classes. We'll be able to reflect on those differences and try to figure out why the changes occurred.

I want to tell all of my children this year that I'm so proud to be your teacher, and I look forward to a peaceful, joyous school year.

"Rolling a Mat"

"Red Rods Maze" (Sensorial Extension Exercise)
"Prepositions 3-Part Cards "

Sunday, September 6, 2009

I Did Nothing Today

"I Did Nothing Today"
When children come home at the end of the day
The question they're asked as they run out to play
Is "Tell me, what did you do today?"
And the answer they give makes you sigh with dismay
"Nothing, I did nothing today!"
Perhaps "Nothing" means that I read a book,
Or....with a directress I learned how to cook.
Maybe I painted a picture of blue,
Or heard a story about a mouse that flew.
Maybe I wrote in my journal myself,
Or found a great book on the library shelf.
Maybe I helped a friend today,
Or went to my favorite area alone.
Maybe today was the very first time,
That my scissors followed a very straight line.
Maybe I sang a song to the end,
Or worked with a special, brand new friend.
When you're three, four, or five your heart has wings
And "Nothing" can mean so many things!
~Author Unknown

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Top 10 Ways to be a Good Montessori Parent

10. Show genuine interest in what your child is doing in school.

9. Get involved by volunteering your time, observing the class, attending workshops and coming to parent/teacher conferences.

8. Follow your child's interests by taking him/her to local museums, libraries and parks.

7. Give your child uninterrupted quality time with the television, radio and computer shut off.

6. Laugh with your child--it's a great way to relieve stress and ease tension.

5. Allow plenty of time for your child to play creatively- try not to interrupt this experience. Oftentimes, children are learning a great deal through play.

4. TRUST your child with freedom (within limits). Try not to hover like a helicopter parent.

3. Set guidelines for your child and follow through- each and every time.

2. Get your child involved in daily household chores in a positive way, without bribery or rewards. Steer clear of sticker bribes, our goal is for our children to be intrinsically motivated.

1. Do not force academics at home unless your child is seriously in need of academic support. Instead, spend quality family time together.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Budding Artists

Most Montessori teachers work hard to introduce students to Classical and Impressionistic works of art. First, we simply hang up the art in the room. Then, when a child expresses interest, we discuss the work and the child shares his thoughts. Next, we introduce the names of famous artists and the children sort artwork by artist. Personally, my students' favorites are Renoir, Seurat, Degas and Kandinsky.

However, I must admit that we generally neglect contemporary works of art. I found this great website called "Feed Your Soul- The Free Art Project" designed to introduce new works of art to a large audience. These pieces are available to download and print for free. Simply click on "downloads" to view the entire list of art. I think this one is my favorite, those owls are just so sweet:

I plan to print and frame a few to scatter around the classroom. I'm eager to discuss them with the children and even more excited to hear their conversations and critiques. I could write a book about some of the 3-year-old's conversations I've overheard. Enjoy!