Thursday, January 28, 2010


There is an amazing adolescent Montessori program taking place in Huntsburg, Ohio called the Hershey Farm School.  Montessori envisioned a program for children ages 12-15 that encompassed living on and working a real farm, called Erdkinder.  The children truly become "Children of the Earth".  The Farm School is the only existing Montessori adolescent project with an “Erdkinder prepared environment,” including a youth “hostel” (dorm), a bed-and-breakfast, an operating farm, and a functioning micro-economy with a community farm market (shop).  There are no words that I can use that truly describe this program.  A few years ago, there was talk in the Montessori community of a farm school opening in New Jersey, but unfortunately, that idea never came to fruition.  I embedded a video from Hershey Montessori School, which describes their entire program.  If you would like to watch the section about the farm school, it starts about five minutes in- just slide the small button to the right until you reach the 5:00 mark.

I recently spoke with a woman who is passionate about Montessori and is on her way to becoming a middle school teacher.  I mentioned the aspect of the farm school and she seemed intrigued.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that maybe she or another brave soul will take on a project like this in our area.  Maybe that will be my retirement project down the road!

Sunday, January 24, 2010


This week we'll be exploring the world of dinosaurs.  It is easily one of the favorite topics we discuss all year.  Last week, I prepared the children by reading the book, From Lava to Life

It's a long book and it focuses on evolution, so I skim most of it just touching on the illustrations.  I do not teach the children evolution or creation, but we do discuss the timeline of Earth's history.  Children rarely ask how the Earth was actually created, but if they do, I open the topic up for discussion without actually giving my own personal opinions.  The children find it fascinating that humans have only been walking the Earth for a very short time compared to the relative history of the Earth.  We also discuss the extinction of dinosaurs and I am always intrigued by their theories.  As I was concluding this conversation on Friday, A.I. said, "Well, it is sad, but I guess it's a good thing the dinosaurs are extinct.  We wouldn't want them walking around by our houses."  The children firmly agreed with her statement and felt that what happened to the dinosaurs worked out well for humankind.

This week, the children will compare their footprints to that of T. Rex (approximately 3ft x 3ft), we'll measure the length of some of the tallest dinosaurs with string, and we will create a timeline of dinosaur history.  I usually plan a week for dinosaur research and discovery, but I have a feeling this year the studies will extend to two or three weeks.  Yet another Montessori perk, we can continue our studies based on the interest of the child!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bailey!

Bailey, our school mascot, turns six today!  Bailey has taught our children about dog safety per AKC regulations.  We appreciate her patience and loyalty to the children.  Over the years, Bailey has helped many young children overcome severe dog phobias.  Here's to many more years of Bailey's loving service to our school family!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Montessori and Kindergarten

This time of year, there are thousands of Montessori parents all over the globe trying to make that difficult decision- Do I invest one more year into my child's Montessori education, or save the money and send him to public school? 
There's no easy way to answer that question for parents.  Deep down, I think many of them know what's best.  However, saving an entire year of tuition sounds so enticing. 
I've heard back from many of the parents who chose public school this year, instead of our program.  Here's what I heard:
  • "She had so much more enthusiasm for learning in Montessori."
  • "His teacher just doesn't seem to have the time to see what he's capable of."
  • "Do you have any available spaces left so we can switch her back??"
  • "I wish I had thought it through completely, I would've loved to hold on to one more year of innocence for my child."
Certainly, there is a lot to be said for the public schools in our area.  The teachers do the best they can with the resources they have.  Mostly, it just comes down to completion of the three year cycle.  Everything the child does in his first two years of Montessori comes to fruition in that third year.  An example is the early introduction of addition with large numbers through the bank game.  When children leave Montessori at five, many of the still-forming concepts evaporate.  When children complete that third year, they are now the oldest in the room, capable of so much more.  The feeling is amazing when they are now the leaders- big kids that the younger students look up to.  I've got a million reasons why Montessori kindergarten is so special, but I thought I'd summarize into a top ten list:

Top Ten Reasons to Keep Your Child in Montessori Through Kindergarten
  1. Does your Montessori child love school and can't wait to go?  Don't take the chance... be sure your child loves to learn at least for one more year.
  2. In Montessori, your child has been treated with a deep respect as a unique individual.  The school has been equally concerned for his intellectual, social, and emotional development.
  3. Having spent two years together, your child's teacher knows her very, very well.  She knows her strengths and areas that are presenting challenges.
  4. Your child already knows most of her classmates.  She has grown up in a safe, supportive classroom setting.
  5. Montessori math is based on the European tradition of unified mathematics.  Montessori introduces young children to basic geometry and other sophisticated concepts as early as kindergarten.
  6. In many Montessori schools, five year olds are beginning to read; kindergarteners in other schools may be learning to recognize letters and numbers.
  7. In Montessori, your child can continue to progress at her own pace. In traditional kindergarten, she will have to wait while the other children begin to catch up.
  8. Montessori children are studying cultural geography and beginning to grow into global citizens.
  9. Montessori consciously teaches children to be kind and peaceful.
  10. Montessori students learn through hands-on experiences, investigation, and research.  They become actively engaged in their studies.
These are just a few of the benefits of that third year.  If you are still unable to decide, make an appointment to observe in your child's current classroom and the one you're considering.  Watch closely and make mental notes.  Use this experience to help you make that important decision.  Good luck!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Turntable Art

Here's a fun art activity that you can try at home...if you're a packrat like me.  Fortunately, I held on to this old record player from my childhood.  This is based on the "spin art" idea.  Here's what you need:
  • Record player
  • Small paper plates
  • Markers
  • Tape
  • Hole puncher (optional)
  • String (optional)
This work set up on a table, not on a shelf.  It is too heavy for some of the younger children to carry.

The child places a plate upside down on the turntable.

He then attaches two pieces of tape to the plate.

Next, he creates designs and spirals with the marker, experimenting with the two different speeds.

Use a variety of markers for more interesting designs.

Some of the children wanted to display their art, so I added a hole puncher and some string.  They were able to punch the holes, but many of them needed help tying the string.  This activiy is so much fun, be sure to have enough paper plates!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Land and Water Forms

Another one of my favorite materials in the Montessori classroom is the Land and Water Form activity.  We purchased ours from Priority Montessori and they are- by far- the best quality that I've ever worked with. They're made with clay that does not dry out or get ruined when wet.  The children are shown how to be very careful with their nails, so that the clay is not picked or punctured. 

The children pour water into the clay bins, as the teacher describes each form.  This lesson directly teaches the land and water forms, indirectly refines hand/eye coordination and prepares the student for future study of physical geography.

You can see in the above photo, I've extended the lesson with a coloring sheet.  Each pair of forms (island/lake, peninsula/gulf...) is on the shelf next to a basket of these sheets.  The children can draw and color in the forms if they choose.  Another extension is to locate these forms on the puzzle maps.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is MLK, Jr's actual birthday, so we discussed his life and sang Happy Birthday to him.  When we played outside in the morning class, the children piled up the snow and said, "We're going to climb the snow and up into the clouds so we can say to Martin, 'Happy Birthday and thanks for helping us all go to the same school'!" 

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Petco Treasure

Our family is often found milling about Petco because it's a great way to socialize your pets (and kids!) during these freezing winter months.  During our last visit, I was showing little "g" the turtle aquarium when I saw this:

It's meant as a cozy little getaway for reptiles and rodents.  I felt the rough surface and longed for springtime because I enjoy taking the kids out for an activity called bark rubbing.  The children love pressing their paper against the rough surface and making designs and patterns with crayons.  Then it hit me- this is a great activity for wintertime!  Of course I purchased the half-log and set it up on a tray with peeled crayons and some quarter sheets of white paper.  The children love feeling the bark and having a little piece of nature as part of their work. 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snowman Sequencing

Over the winter break, I had a fantastic time playing outside with my kids.  Of course, a teacher's mind is always thinking of new works for the classroom.  One day, the girls and I were building a snowman and I realized that was the first time G ever built a snowman.  She really didn't understand the steps needed in order to build it.  It hit me that this is like a sequencing activity.  So......I pulled out the camera and snapped a shot of each step we took to complete the snowman (actually she became a snowgirl).  I laminated the pictures and incorporated them into the classroom as a sequencing activity. 

Sequencing is an essential pre-reading skill for preschoolers.  Sequencing is the ability to put the events of a story in the order in which they occurred. Teaching sequencing to young children is important because logical order of thinking is fundamental to reading and everyday life.  There are many ways you can incorporate sequencing into your daily activities at home.  After reading a story, discuss what happened in the beginning, middle and end.  You can draw pictures of some of the events that happened in a story.  Mix them up and see if your child can put them back in order.  Take pictures of your child getting ready for school.  Print them, laminate, and use them as sequencing cards.  I always put numbers on the back of my sequencing cards as a self-checking device.  Typically, anywhere from 4-8 steps are sufficient for a preschooler. 

Monday, January 4, 2010

I Love January!

In my humble opinion, January is the best month of the school year.  The children are excited to be back, they now have a host of lessons from which to choose, and they are capable of calm, purposeful work.  We had an AMAZING day today.  Most, if not all, non-Montessori supplemental activities are now off the shelf (like puzzles and various activities), so the children can only choose from the original Montessori materials.  I saw more children choosing the land and water forms, the number rods, geometric solids, and many chose to work with sandpaper letters today.  I enjoyed seeing second and third year students exploring the work in new ways and first year students observing them with wide, curious eyes.

Many teachers choose to leave non-Montessori activities out all year and then wonder why the children don't touch the pink tower or the golden beads.  I typically put out several non-Mont. materials during phase-in and gradually remove them throughout the fall.  I like to see all of them gone by January, when the children are ready for their best work. 

When Maria Montessori was teaching, she experimented by putting out common toys with her educational materials.  The children looked at them, manipulated them for a moment or two, and then went back to their work.  She noticed the children preferred to work with the materials that she created rather than the store-bought toys.  I wonder what would have happened if she put out modern toys from today with all the lights, bells and whistles?  I think the children would be confused with that type of distraction in the classroom.  I don't feel they would respect the materials quite as much, either.  In my personal experience, I notice my daughter G uses the materials in school almost reverently, then tends to toss her toys around at home.  The children do seem to sense the importance of the Montessori materials and treat them with respect. 

So I look forward to the rest of the mysterious month of January when children are peaceful, actively engaged, and enthusiastic about learning!

Back to School

Today is Back to School day for most of the kids here in the States.  Hopefully, teachers all over the country are feeling refreshed from the winter break and children are feeling excited to back in school.  My oldest daughter, G, woke up early this morning and said "Do I finally have school today??"  It was music to my ears hearing her excitement for school.
Here's to a challenging and inspiring New Year!