Monday, December 28, 2009

Before and After

I was able to spend a few hours over at the new school building and got many things accomplished. I scrubbed the walls, added a few plants and some wall hangings. There were a few nails already in place, but I'll need to lower them so the children can enjoy the hangings too. Of course, there's really not much I can do in my classroom until June because I'll simply be moving my materials over at that time. I'm preparing the front office for the host of interviews we've got lined up for the month of January. I'm looking forward to meeting all of these new parents who are eager to learn more about Montessori. It will be so nice to welcome these families into the new school building, separate from my home. My husband knows that I work 24/7 1) because I love it, and 2) because it's here in my house. It will be refreshing to turn work off for a couple of hours every evening. Check back next year to see if I actually do take some time in the evening!

Front Office:



Main Entrance:



I also added a small leather bench in the foyer for children to sit. It's great because it also opens up for storage. Thanks to my husband for setting up the beautiful fish tank:

Sunday, December 27, 2009


You won't believe this. I was reading my favorite magazine Montessori Life (I know, I know...obsessed) and there was an article all about the concept of teaching gratitude to children. They did mention that unbridled materialism in adults causes depression, hypercompetitiveness, and anxiety, to name a few. Researchers are now finding the same ills in children. Companies are now spending $17 billion dollars in programming and advertising to influence the minds of young children. Check out the book Buy, Buy, Baby: How Consumer Culture Manipulates Parents and Harms Young Minds for more information.

One simple way to get started is to simply change your language to sound more grateful. For example:

Child: Mommy! Look at the new shoes Grandma bought me!
Mom (typical answer): Wow, aren't they lovely.

Our goal is to take the focus off of the material object and on to the kind act of giving. An opportunity to teach gratitude might look like this...

Child: Mommy! Look at the new shoes Grandma bought me!
Mom: That was very generous of her. How do you think we could thank her?
Child: I don't know, I guess I could say 'thank you'.
Mom: Sure, we could do that. We could also write her a thank you note or draw a picture to say we're thankful!

Another important skill is differentiating wants and needs. Cut out pictures of items from a magazine and glue them on index cards. First, discuss with your child the difference between the two, then help your child sort the pile of cards. Use a control of error, so the child can self-check, such as a red circle on the back of all of the want cards and a green sticker on the back of the needs. Some suggestions might be photos of: a TV, a banana, jewelry, medical care (a photo of a doctor or hospital), a toy, a home...

Feel free to comment if you have any ideas to share about teaching children how to be more grateful.

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity...It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." ~Melody Beattie

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I'm sitting amidst a pile of toys so big I could get lost in them. My head was spinning all day as I tried to get all of our Christmas gifts organized and put away. Both of my girls are in the process of switching to the next size up in clothes, so I put all of their old clothes in bins and put the new clothes neatly in the drawers. At least one thing is organized! That brings me to the toys. We have a large shelving unit from Home Depot set up in our storage area in the basement.

Every few months, I go through the playroom and donate some toys, throw away toys that are broken or otherwise non-functioning, or sort the rest on this shelving unit. On the bottom shelf, I've placed toys for children ages 0-18 months, the next shelf up is for 18 mo- 36 mos, next is 3-4, then 5-6. The top shelf is where I store blankets/pillows. From time to time I take some of the toys on the shelf and bring them back into the playroom. As every parent knows, the children treat those toys like they're brand new! We rotate in this way every few months, in an effort to make the best use of our space.

Now, I've known Montessori couples who have children and I find it fascinating how they organize their home. The playroom typically consists of an easel, a small table with two chairs, a very uncluttered bookcase, and a single shelving unit with a few beautiful, handcrafted toys displayed. I don't know, they must have an enormous storage area. Believe me, if it were only me, my entire house would probably be miniature, I'd have only a few toys out in the playroom that would be rotated weekly, and I'd be eating dinner in a tiny child's chair. However, my husband also lives here and has a say in how we furnish and decorate our home. I respect that he is not obsessed with the Montessori philosophy, like I am, but I do wish I could go back to basics with my children.

Don't you feel like our children today are so overwhelmed with *stuff* that their little heads are just spinning, like mine? My oldest daughter was just tearing through her gifts and at one point, I noticed she wasn't even registering what each one was. My youngest opened a gift and played with it for some time before moving on. Of course, she was still opening gifts at 8pm last night!

So, next year, I've decided to implement my Rule of Ten. Each child will receive ten presents and each parent will receive ten presents. There are families all over the world that would do anything for ten presents at Christmastime. My goal for this new year is to teach my girls about the gifts of simplicity and gratitude. In such a materialistic culture, how do you teach your children to be grateful?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


These gorgeous handmade seating solutions were created by Bienenstock Natural Playgrounds:

Do you know anyone who would be up to the challenge?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Natural Materials

Thanks to all of the people who offered to help with our playground project. I've compiled a few lists of materials needed to start this project. Some need to be purchased, but others can be made or found. Some of these objects seem a bit odd for a playground, so check the pictures in one of my previous posts for clarification. If you feel you could contribute by making or finding any of these materials, please contact me.

Materials to be Found or Made

  • Stumps for stepping

  • Boulders
  • Twine branches for entrance way
  • River rocks for "riverbed" and/or labyrinth
  • Fill (for body of slide)
  • birdhouses and birdfeeders
  • Garden benches (for the handyman/woman)

Materials to be Purchased

  • A-frame swing
  • hammock
  • Maple trees
  • 6 x 6 posts for sandbox
  • slide
  • bridge
  • children's picnic benches

I'm sure we'll think of many more items that we need, but that should get us going for now!

Monday, December 21, 2009


Even during our holiday party, these kids just want to keep working!

D.A. completing the Continent Map

J. P. adding tinsel to the class tree

G. G. creating a pointsettia picture

L. D.'s Australia map

Most Montessori schools handle holidays the same way. We teach the children the history of the holiday, we show the children traditional holiday dress, we listen to holiday music, and talk about how the holiday is celebrated today. We discuss Christmas, New Year, Hanukkah, Diwali, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year, Easter, and several other holidays. As a private school teacher, I'm able to fully discuss the history of each holiday, without imparting my beliefs, of course. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with all of the children knowing about the birth of Jesus Christ or knowing the Hindu story of Rama and Sita. Again, educating children about different cultures and religions takes away the mystery that creates fear and eventually prejudice.

These books are a fantastic way to introduce different holidays to children.

Enjoy spending time with your families and happy holidays!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Nature-Based Playground

I have been doing a lot of research on children and nature lately, mostly stemmed by my interest in the lack of children playing outside in my neighborhood. Even on a beautiful, sunny day, you can hear a pin drop. I've seen many books written on this subject: "Where have all the Children Gone?" , "Last Child in the Woods"...

The moment I realized this was a severe problem was when I brought a group of children outside to play on the first day of school. Two of the children came outside and just stood there. They had NO IDEA how to play outdoors. I used the Montessori approach to show them (one age 3, the other age 4) how to kick a ball, run up and down a hill, go down a slide...They had never played outside or gone for a walk outdoors. This new generation is desperately in need of more unstructured free time outside in order to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle. I read an article recently in a Montessori publication about this topic. The writer interviewed an 8-year-old boy and asked him, "Would you prefer to play indoors or outdoors?" He responded with this jaw-dropping response, "I'd rather play inside because that's where all the electrical outlets are." Oh my.

Cheryl Charles, President of Children & Nature Network, reports that "Children are smarter, cooperative, happier and healthier when they have frequent and varied opportunities for free and unstructured play in the outdoors."

After coming to these conclusions, I'm going to do my best to incorporate a Nature-Based Playground into our new location. I found a company who specializes in planning and implementing these types of play spaces, however, that type of expense is way out of our budget. I did find several pictures that depict my vision. I've recruited some family and friends to help us make this vision a reality. If any of our current or potential families feel they can offer time, materials or creative ideas, please contact me. It is so important for us to get our children back outside.

The company that created this beautiful children's retreat is called Natural Playgrounds. Couldn't you envision the children using their imagination more and enjoying their natural surroundings in an environment like this?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Control of Error

I cannot imagine how children feel when parents or teachers constantly point out their mistakes. It must be both frustrating and irritating to live in a state of fear over making mistakes. It is very important that children feel comfortable making mistakes, so that they can push the boundaries of their skills. Parents should try to take on the philosophy that a mistake is simply an opportunity for learning.

If your child accidentally spills or breaks something, remain calm and show the child how to clean up. Then, show your child how to carry or use an object correctly to avoid future spills. You'll find that next time something spills, your child will know what to do immediately.

Another way to encourage learning opportunities is to allow your child to point out his own mistakes. Whenever possible, try to incorporate a self-checking system into the games that he plays. Montessori teachers call this a "control of error". For instance, after a child is finished using the smelling bottles, he might peek under the bottles to find matching colored circles.

When "writing" words with the movable alphabet and picture cards, a teacher might print the correct spelling on the back of the card for control of error. When your child is old enough, you can teach her how to check her work using a reference book.

When a child learns to check herself, she feels more in control of herself, feels more independent, and feels ready to take on tasks even when they look difficult. Teaching a child to judge her own efforts is much more valuable than teaching her to become dependent on others for judgement.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Money Game

A few days ago, I pulled out a work that I haven't used in years. This is an activity you can easily set up at home, after a trip to the bank! It's called the Money Game- an extention activity used by many Montessori teachers to reinforce the concept of money value and equivalence. Many of my students this year have shown a lot of interest in our coin stamps. They're making coin vocaulary booklets, coin equivalence booklets, and even drawings with coins incorporated into the theme! I thought it was time to challenge some of the older children with this fun, engaging activity.

Start with a seven compartment tray- six compartments around the edge and one in the middle.

Fill one space with pennies, one with nickels, the next with dimes, then quarters, half-dollars, a dollar coin, and one die in the middle. The youngest child rolls the die first and picks up that many pennies. Children take turns rolling the die and picking up coins. I use an equivalence book, made from the coin stamps, to assist the children in exchanging coins. The little equivalence booklet is kept in the middle compartment with the die. After some time, when children roll a five or a six, they realize they can immediately pick up a nickel instead of five pennies. The children keep exchanging all the way up until they receive two half-dollars. At this point, that winning child can exchange for the dollar coin. After the game, I show the children how to shake hands and say "good game". Due to the caring nature of the Montessori classroom, children feel comfortable both winning and losing. They are then asked to wash their hands, after handling the coins.

With 2-3 children playing, this game can take up to 30 minutes. Younger children stop by from time to time to observe, but I think they realize it's a bit over the top for them. This game is ideal for children ages 5-9, although some four year olds have been known to master the game.

This activity is another excellent opportunity for community in the classroom. If I'm unavailable and the children have an equivalence question, they can go to an older child for help. The older child feels a sense of confidence and belonging when he/she is able to helpa younger friend in need. That's the beauty of the Montessori classroom.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Key Day!!

This evening, I received the keys to our new school building! The place looks great and I'm so excited to make it feel even more like "home". As promised, here are some pictures. Below are pictures of the foyer, part of the Primary classroom, and the main office. One of the best aspects of the building are the expandable walls. I can have one enormous classroom (practically the length of the entire building) or I can section off a room for nappers, kindergarten pull-out, yoga, or anything else I can imagine. The sky's the limit!

Here is G proud to be one of the first to sign the visitor log...