Saturday, December 29, 2012


For several years, I've felt a nagging feeling in my gut every time I served my children hot meals on melamine plates.  The FDA says it's "suitable for public safety", but I don't buy it.  I did a bit of research on the topic and found some research studies on melamine use in the US.  Here's a snapshot of what I found:
Melamine resin, a hard thermosetting polymer made from melamine and formaldehyde, is widely used in the US in the form of kitchenware, including plates, bowls, mugs and utensils. Reports in the literature indicate that some kitchenware based on melamine resin leach considerable amounts of melamine monomer. A migration of up to 2.5 mg melamine/ 100 cm2 was observed under conditions that simulate an exposure to hot acidic foods…
My husband and I take such care in providing our kids with the most wholesome foods we can afford, so I'm just not comfortable with melamine resin or formaldehyde leaching into their foods.  So...I cleaned out the cupboards and did some online searching.  I found a gorgeous children's enamelware set at Nova Natural.  You'll probably remember enamel bowls and plates if you went camping as a child.  Enamelware is very durable, but can chip if dropped. Santa was kind enough to get a set (plate, bowl, mug) for each of the kids this year!  Believe it or not, I think the children were most excited about their mugs than any other gift.  We enjoyed some hot cocoa in the mugs that very day.  I'd say they're the perfect size for children ages 3-10. 

Santa did not forget about our youngest (who is 18 months already!)...He brought her a few enamel mini-mugs from Montessori Services.  Keep in mind, they are very small.  Probably useful for children ages 12 months-3 years.  She's been using her mugs for her milk, cheerios, yogurt, anything you can think of.  Being a Montessori teacher, I've also set them up on a tray for her to use as a transferring work.  Thank you, Santa!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Graceful Parenting

I happened to stumble across a beautiful little book called Graceful Parenting by Eve Dreyfus. The author's 7-year-old son illustrated the book with simple, thoughtful works of art.  This little book makes a great gift for new parents, teachers, grandparents, or anyone who touches the life of your child.  The book shares 25 inspirational ideas meant to guide caregivers in a non-threatening way. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Simple Ornament Gift

One of my favorite, but most challenging aspects of the Montessori environment is the multi-age classroom.  This is where I truly believe Montessori was a genius.  How do you help older children become caring, confident leaders?  Encourage them to interact with younger children.  How do you help younger children become more engaged, self-motivated learners?  Expose them to kindergarten-age students.
The multi-age classroom becomes a challenge, however, when planning art activities and whole group exercises.  Activities must be simple enough for the youngest three-year old, yet challenging enough to capture the attention of a six-year old.  Every year we plan a craft for the children to make as a Christmas gift for their parents.   Thanks to pinterest, I've found the perfect ornament for both three and six-year olds!  The only assistance the children needed was with controlling the proper amount of paint to be dripped into the ornament. 

Simply choose three or four colors of acrylic paint, drip them into the clear glass ornament, and shake or roll to achieve the desired effect.  We let them dry upside down on egg cartons so the extra paint could drip out.  Very easy and such beautiful gifts.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bringing Nature Indoors

In our part of the world, December typically brings cold, blustery days and not enough time outdoors.  My daughters and I felt the need to get our hands in the dirt, so we planned a "succelent garden".  This project is simple enough to do at home or in a classroom.  Each child could make their own garden.  Even my 18 month old enjoyed scooping and pouring.
The plants are very inexpensive.  The most costly aspect of this project was probably the cactus soil. 

Besides the bowl, everything I needed was at our local greenhouse. The glass bowl is from Walmart.  You could really use just about anything to house your garden.  The point of interest for the children was adding the layers to the bowl. Gravel, soil, plants, sand, rocks. 


Friday, September 21, 2012

A "Normalized" Child

A few days ago, one of our kindergarteners was laughing with his friends near the peace shelf.  There is a framed picture of Dr. Montessori on the shelf.  He realized they were getting a little too loud so he said, "Ok guys, let's stop.  Maria Montessori is looking down on us."

I kid you not.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Buon Compleanno, Maria Montessori!

Happy 142nd Birthday, Dr. Montessori!  You've certainly changed my life and the lives of millions.  Thank you for your knowledge, your patience, and your perseverance.  We are doing our best to keep your Method as pure and authentic as possible.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A New Goal for a New Year

At the end of every summer, our teachers get together on our first work day for a group staff meeting.  We review last year's primary goal and discuss whether or not we met the goal.  Next, we take that response and create a new goal for this school year.
Last year's goal at our school was:  Get the Parents in the Door!
We wanted our parents to learn more about what we do and figure out why they send their children to a Montessori school.  Some parents remark that they can't believe their children "behave" for us in school because they are so "bad" at home.  I cringe because children are neither "good" nor "bad".  They just respond to their environment and the people interacting with them in that environment. It is up to us to help create a positive response to that environment.  We wanted to get the parents in the door, so they could learn some tools from us to use at home.  Simple remarks or gestures used with children go a long way.
So....the consensus was..... we were not as successful as hoped in getting them in the door.  We did have more guest readers and career talks than the previous year, but parent workshop attendance was at an all-time low.  I sent out an email asking parents what we could do to make a change and the responses were shocking.  Many parents said, "We're just so busy, if you want us to have to require it."  Yikes.  I'm a Montessori teacher, I'm not really into "forcing".  However, I'm also a busy mom of three and I know how it is after school.
So..........this year's goal became:  Educate our Parents.
We will continue to encourage parents to come into the classroom.  But, in addition, we will now require attendance at several workshops.  We will continue to offer transition meetings for kindergarten and toddler levels, but we will also present a Montessori 101 Parent Education Series.  The workshops are short and sweet, only about an hour each, and are meant to be informative and inspiring.  Many Montessori schools across the globe require these parent workshops, and it makes all the difference.  As a result, many parents feel a closer connection with their child and the school community.
We strive for our parents to:
  • understand why we call our activities "work" and not "play"
  • address and diminish some of those pesky Montessori myths
  • reflect on why we send our children to a Montessori school
  • be able to give some differences between traditional preschool and Montessori preschool
  • explore the materials in our Math, Language, Practical Life, Sensorial, and Cultural areas
  • identify ways in which they can bring Montessori into the home
I'm looking forward to working as a team with our children, parents, and teachers in order to create a respectful, joyful, peaceful community of multi-age learners.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Art Show Sneak Peak

We are so excited to present our school's first ever Art Show this spring!  The children have explored so many facets of the creative arts spectrum this year.  We studied a different artist each month (see this post) and we also pulled many ideas from the Go Get Your Smock Montessori Art Curriculum.  I would say the children are eager to show their work, but actually I think we're more excited about it.  The children most certainly enjoy the process over the end product.  Oftentimes, they don't even realize we've tucked away their art for the show.  Instead, they feel fulfilled in completing the work, and satisfied to have done it on their own.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Beautiful Moment

One of our teachers found a bird in our driveway that had been hit by a car.  The bird was perfectly intact, and after further examination was either a Starling or a Grackle.   I hemmed and hawed all day about whether or not to show the bird to the children.  After all, we've been studying Birds, Parts of a Bird, and Backyard Bird calls in the Primary classroom.  Finally, I put the decision in the children's hands.  I explained the situation and told the children it might be upsetting, but it really is part of nature.  I gave them the opportunity to meet the bird, or they could opt out.  All of the children chose to view the bird.

We gathered in a seated circle around him and had a moment of silence.  I pointed out the different parts of the bird and we looked in our field guide to name the bird.  We talked about life cycles and food chains.  Finally, one second year student raised his hand and said "I think it's time we share our thoughts on this."  I agreed, and one by one they told each other how they felt.  One astute first year student (3 years old!) announced, "Although I feel sad that the bird is no longer alive, at least we can enjoy its great beauty." 

I thank the parents of these afternoon children for understanding the Montessori philosophy enough to accept and gracefully encourage the important experience we had today.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Kindergarteners and their Extension Ideas

Because "the Asia puzzle map was too easy"...

Because "just doing the map wasn't hard enough, I wanted to make my own"...

Because "I mastered this so long ago, I think I'm ready to make it harder"...

Most Montessori training facilities offer several ideas for students to use work creatively, after mastery is achieved.  However, it's interesting to see how the children themselves come up with extension activities on their own.  It's true when they say a child has never truly completed a work, its uses are endless!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Artist of the Month

This year, we tried something new in order to introduce the children to famous artists.  We want the children to really KNOW these artists as people.  We want the children to understand why they drew or painted a certain way.  Lastly, we want the children to feel more comfortable expressing art in their own unique way.
Last summer, I stumbled across a Montessori blog (forgive me, I can't recall the source) describing "artist baskets".  I ordered the "Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists" series by Mike Venezia.  I poured through them and found small objects relating to each artist's life.  Those objects, the "Getting to Know" book, a framed photograph of the artist, and a sample of the art, are placed in the basket for exploration and manipulation.  I'm thrilled when I overhear children's conversations near the basket, and it sounds like they're talking about a mutual friend!  Enjoy some of our experiences below:

van Gogh basket
Matisse art project

Discussion painting over snack table

Matisse basket

Picasso basket
A big thank you to my Assistant Teacher whose artistic view of the world helps to expose these young children to some of the most amazing and creative art experiences.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Say What?

A parent once told me I should write a book with quotes from conversations I have with the children. 
A book?  No.  A blog post?  Sure!

Child (after starting the banana slicing work):  "What do I need to do next?  I forget."
Teacher:  "After serving your friends, you eat yourself."
Child:  "You skin?"

Teacher:  "Wow, that's a pretty bad cough you have there."
Child:  "No, it's ok, I'm not sick.  I just have a cough, sore throat, and a fever.  My mom told me to pretend I'm fine."

Teacher: "Why aren't you wearing your new hat? It's very cold outside today."
Child: "It's a hat that looks like a cat. I look absolutely ridiculous."

Monday, January 9, 2012

Woodworking in Action!

Here, is a primary student already using the sanding block at the woodbench. 

So, how do you know when you've give an incomplete lesson?  One of the kindergarteners notices and is upset.  After using the sanding block, C.H. came up to me and said, "I did the work. Now how can I clean up the sawdust?"  Why didn't I think of that?!?  After a brief brainstorming session, he and I concluded that one slightly moist paper towel would do the trick.  He didn't think it was wise to use the table crumber (yuck!).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Woodworking in the Montessori Classroom

Happy New Year!

I am very excited to announce that my school received a very special handmade treasure not long ago.  It was created by a current student and his dad over the past few months.  The picture hardly does it justice:

This woodworking bench and some real tools will provide the children with years of satisfying work.  A few traditional teachers and parents may be thinking..."Wait, you're going to allow twenty 3-6 year-olds to use REAL tools?!" My answer is "Why not?"  Work such as this can be used in a primary classroom if a) the tools are the right size b) the tools function properly and c) the child is given a proper lesson.  The use of real tools instills a sense of responsibility in the child.  He is proud to know that his teacher trusts him, which in turn forms a respectful relationship.

My training introduces the following woodworking lessons: 
  • Nuts and Bolts
  • Using a Wrench
  • Sanding
  • Hammering
  • Using a Screwdriver
  • Hex Bolts
  • Sawing
Yes, you read that correctly...sawing.  I've always put sawing on the shelf with such regret that I didn't have a proper place to put it.  Now the sawing work will be right at home on this bench.  I picked up my saw activity from Lord Equip. It's a great beginner activity, before the child is actually ready to saw wood, because the purpose is to simply saw strips of cardboard.

There's no reason why I have to stop with the list above, just because it's what my training states.  One of my former Montessori professors told us to take Montessori's philosophy and run with it in order to provide what the child needs.  That's why she included so many extensions to the original Montessori lessons.
I'm looking forward to using this bench to someday create a birdfeeder, a birdhouse and maybe even a bat house! 

I recently ordered a child-sized vise and a manual drill from Montessori Services.  If you'd like to try some woodworking activities or introductory activities at home, here are some materials you may need on hand.

  • child-sized safety goggles
  • vise
  • apron
  • hammer
  • screwdrivers
  • screws/nails
  • sanding block
  • saw
  • wood glue
  • level
  • measuring tape
Two very simple, beginner activities to get you started:
1) Set up a tree stump in your backyard.  Provide a small hammer, some nails (finishing nails seem to work best) and safety goggles.  Show your child how to properly hammer the nails in, and then remove them to start over.  Keep all materials in a toolbox or bin.
2) Clamp a piece of wood to a table or bench.  As a fine motor exercise, use a carpenter's pencil to write on the piece of wood.  Use a sanding block to sand away the pencil marks.  Wouldn't you rather practice using a pencil at a woodbench, instead of with writing drills?

Have fun and trust your child to be a responsible carpenter!