Monday, March 29, 2010


When enrolling their child in a Montessori school, many new parents ask the question, "How much homework will my child receive?"  Teachers sometimes find it difficult to explain the answer to new parents who are still somewhat unsure of the philosophy.  Tim Seldin provides an excellent summary answer for teachers and parents in his article You Can't Hurry Love: Homework the Montessori Way.

"School is only one part of a child's day. Children work hard in school, just as their parents do at the office. All of the usual arguments that parents and mainstream teachers use to justify homework miss the point. Homework does not teach children responsibility, time management skills, self-discipline, or more of what they should be learning during the day. What it teaches is how to put up with a job that they dislike. Many teachers seem to think that they can help their students become better educated by requiring them to do tasks that few would ever do voluntarily. Gifted teachers get the job done in a normal school day by inspiring a sense of interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm among their students."

Ok, so that doesn't directly answer the question, "Does my child receive homework in Montessori?"  The answer depends on the age of the child and the school's individual philosophy.  In my school, as soon as a child is blending three letter words fluently, he or she is invited to take a phonetic reader home to practice and enjoy with the family.  There is no assigned number of pages to be read, children can just read at their own pace.  When I taught Montessori in the 6-9 classroom, I assigned a hands-on project every Monday and the students would present their completed homework on Friday. 
Some examples of projects I assigned for the lower elementary students:
  • Write a play.  Ask a few friends to perform the play.
  • Write a letter to a friend.  Read it to the class on Friday, then mail it out.
  • Learn five words in another language and be prepared to teach the class on Friday.
  • Make notes about A Day in the Life of _____.  Ask your parent and teacher to take pictures of you to add to your notes.
  • Use the Montessori bells to compose a song.  Present the song to the class on Friday.
These assignments are intended to encourage "out of the box" thinking and to get families involved in their child's learning.  Some assignments called for these children to use materials from other classrooms, or to get involved with the care of younger students. 

Tim Seldin goes on to say, "After school, children should have time to follow their own interests and play with family and friends.  Homework can easily become a power struggle between children and adults. And the sad thing is that there is no need if schools instill a love of learning, rather than a sense of obligation and fear. Whenever children voluntarily decide to learn something, they tend to engage in their work with a passion and attention that few students will ever invest in tasks that have been assigned. Our goal is to inspire joyful thinking, not compliance."

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Labyrinth Continued

I'm in the process of ironing out the details of our new playground.  I had mentioned in an earlier post, here, that I wanted to include a labyrinth element.  These creative minds produced a full size labyrinth out of bulbs!

You can check out the details at:  The Bulb Project.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Research Findings

I certainly realize the positive effects of Montessori in children, but I was curious about research findings for children who stay the full three years in the Primary classroom (3-6).  I enjoy when parents keep in touch after their kindergarteners leave my school.  I can almost hear them beaming through the phone when they describe their children's success in school.  Just recently, a graduating family called to tell me that at conference time the teacher commented that she'd like to clone the Montessori students that joined their class in first grade.  She noted that the children think outside the box, show respect for others, and genuinely enjoy the learning process.  What an affirmation for these Montessori parents who, the year before, struggled to make that crucial decision about whether or not to stay for the third year.

The Montessori Foundation has performed a great deal of reserach on the topic.  In 2006, they concluded that at the end of the third year, Montessori kindergarteners "were significantly better prepared for elementary school, outscoring their peers in reading and math skills.  They also tested better on 'executive function' the ability to adapt to changing and more complex problems. This is an indicator of future school and life success."

Some additional research findings:
  • Montessori students scored 10 - 20 points higher on the California Achievement Test compared with students in traditional classrooms.
  • Minority students enrolled in a Montessori program scored higher on self-concept, mathematical and geometric concepts, vocabulary recognition, attention strategies, and general intelligence.
  • 75% of low SES children who attended a Montessori preschool in Cleveland, Ohio, scored above school norms on the California Achievement Test.
  • Increases in attention strategies, general intelligence, and academic achievement occurred over time by Montessori students from all socioeconomic levels.
Despite negative misconceptions about the social aspect of Montessori classrooms, findings show enhanced social development.  "Montessori children in their kindergarten year demonstrated greater social development in the areas of sense of reasoning, justice, and fairness. They were more likely to engage in emotionally positive play with peers, and less likely to engage in rough, aggressive forms of play. By the end of their elementary program, Montessori children offered more positive solutions to social challenges."

As they say, the proof is in the pudding. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010


One of the most amazing aspects of the Montessori curriculum, and what many public school strive to achieve, is the interwoven, or integrated approach.  We weave music, science, art appreciation, physical activity and cultural studies into the daily activities in the classroom.  Montessori teachers do this in an effort to support the three hour work cycle (more about that topic here).  In a nutshell, educators have found that children can work through a three hour cycle with high and low levels of focus, but the deepest levels of concentration are found in that last hour of work.  Montessori teachers notice an uncomfortable, almost hyperactive feeling in the classroom after about an hour and a half of work time, sometimes referred to as "false fatigue".  Inexperienced teachers ring the bell at this time and move the children outside or onto a group activity.  Unfortunately, cutting the children off at that pivotal moment robs them of that extra hour of intense, focused work.  Experienced teachers know that they need to ride the wave of false fatigue until the children settle back down and get to work.  I like to get out an activity that I haven't presented in a while and use it alone on a mat.  The children gradually walk over to me and observe my work, then eventually find an activity that interests them again.

Many parents look for preschools that advertise "specialty" classes like music, gym or art.  However, many Montessori schools embrace those arts and integrate them beautifully into the classroom, teaching on an individual or small group basis.  I've decided it's time to integrate Spanish into my curriculum this year.  I've started teaching myself Spanish (Spain) using the Rosetta Stone teaching tool.  By teaching myself Spanish, I can save the school the cost of hiring a specialist and also preserve that precious three hour work cycle.  The software is amazing and I highly recommend it as an effective language program.  Try it yourself on their website.

If our school eventually employs specialists to teach music, dance or art lessons, they will take place before or after the Montessori session in order to allow children to experience the uninterrupted three hour work cycle. 

A few months back, I deliberated about including computers in the classroom.  I've decided to integrate computer lessons into the classroom for the 2010-2011 academic year.  However, the computer(s) will be located in a separate room and will be available at all times for kindergarten research purposes.  Children who stay a full day will be given the opportunity to use the computer for a short time in the afternoon.  Computer technology is a skill that must be taught at this age in order to prepare children for later schooling.  It is also a tremendous resource for these inquisitive children.  However, we need to be sure that children are not exposed to more screen time than is absolutely necessary.  Instead, Dr. Montessori stated that it is essential for children be exposed to the natural world as much as possible.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Webbing Experiment

During our discussion of Life in the Pond today, we got on the topic of webbed feet.  We discussed the different animals with webbed feet and the children found it fascinating that my black lab also has webbed paws!  I could tell they really didn't comprehend why the little bits of skin would help animals to swim faster, so we set up a small tub of water.  I asked each of them to spread their fingers and swipe them through the water.  Then, we put a plastic bag on our hands, with our fingers spread, and tried again.  They could feel the drag caused by the bag (or webbing) and finally had a concrete understanding of the concept.  I left the tub out with the bag for children who wished to experiment further.  I checked the tub sporadically throughout the day and was so proud to find that not one drop was spilled on the carpet.  The children treated the activity with such respect and were careful not to bump into the tub while walking about the classroom. 

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Expansion Update

We're moving right along with our expansion plans, thanks to my dedicated family who has helped me tremendously.  On March 9th, our school sign was completed and installed at our new location.  It's a beauty and a dream come true. 

We're at the tail end of fulfilling our requirements for our Certificate of Occupancy.  This week our fire alarm system will be installed and we already have a working telephone number (well, two really).  We'll continue to use our current telephone number, the new one will be published next school year.  That Cert. of Occupancy should be in my hands next week! 

After that, it will be mailed--along with our application and a boatload of other papers--to the State for review.  We'll have an inspection and receive license number one!  Shortly after that, we'll stand before the Academic Board for another review by the State and that will give us license number two!

With spring in the air, I'm eager to get over to the new building to start landscaping.  We need another before and after shot!  I'll keep you posted with any new updates...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Felt Board Stories

For decades, preschool teachers have understood the importance of felt board stories, which is why they're still around today. Manipulation of felt board activities refines listening and speaking skills, as well as hand/eye coordination, imagination, and even problem-solving skills.  Last year, I created my own felt board by applying a felt background to a piece of cardboard.  Actually, one of my current moms created it for me at our annual Mom's Material-Making party.  However, after a year of wear and tear, I was ready to replace it.  I came up with a solution to the problem of flimsy felt boards.  The back of one of the math shelving units was exposed and irritating me last summer- I loved the way the classroom looked, but I would not start the year with a bare shelving unit back jutting out into the classroom like that (is it a Montessori thing?).  So, I brainstormed and applied nine adhesive-backed felt sheets from AC Moore to the back of the unit. 
I made a few felt story sets and gave it a try.  The pieces stick on to the felt perfectly and the children love it.  I have several homemade sets and one purchased set (The Three Little Pigs).  In college, they told us to scan and print the pages of a favorite children's book, cut out the characters, laminate, and add little velcro dots to the back.  Instead, I've always just found realistic-looking pictures online and printed them.  I've made the following sets:
  • fruits/vegetables sorting
  • frogs/toads sorting
  • Pumpkin life cycle
  • Butterfly life cycle
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear
Believe it or not, the homemade sets work much better than the store bought, so save your money if you plan to make some.  Below are some pictures of a child working with the store bought set.  He enjoyed the activity, but the pieces kept falling off the board.

Here are some links to help you get started:
Printable templates
Felt Board Stories to purchase