MSGL Summer Camp is open to Preschoolers through 1st Graders who are currently enrolled or recent alumni and while it is a really great time for all of those kids who have been here before, it is especially helpful for children new to MSGL and for the toddlers who are graduating to preschool. For these children, Summer Camp is the perfect way to ease into the routines of preschool and to set the stage for a successful start in August.
The absolute best part of being a Montessori directress - or ANY teacher, anywhere, I imagine - is watching the children develop and grow. We spend time with your children each day, observing and guiding them, and we get to see them just as they are in that moment. And what they are, as Grace Harvey says, is "totes amazeballs" (totally amazing). They grow in strength, wisdom, and courage right before our very eyes.
Today I will just speak to their courage because courage is the thing that gets your child through his or her day without you. In more stuffy circles it might be called confidence, but when you are only 28 inches tall and mom or dad just drove out of the parking lot, you’ve got to be brave to pull yourself together, to turn to face that great big green space filled with people you don't know and sally forth through the rest of your morning.
Maya Angelou said, "Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistenly without courage." During last week's Summer Camp, there were many examples of children developing their courage and I will share a few.
During Friday's Bike Day, a 4-year-old friend who enthusiastically embraces everything at school stopped his bike right at my toes, looked out at the cars going by on Sagamore Parkway, and said, “I miss my dad and my mom. And my little brother. And our dog. And they are missing me, too.” I listened and commiserated and soon he took off speeding around the course. His courage waned for only a moment then he got back on his bike.
The 5-year-olds are totally courageous (one might even say fearless) out on the bike course and they consider their turn during Bike Day to be a race even though there is no starting line and no trophies. As they put on their helmets, their talk is all about who will win. When D missed his turn to ride with his fellow 4-year-olds, he got to ride with the 5's (a truly courageous decision) alonside his big brother. After the race, D was a little upset that he didn't "win." His big brother reassured him, "No, you DID win, D! Did you see all those people going by you? That’s because you won!” (Just a note: We have a lot of siblings at camp this year and even though we know sibling rivalry is a real thing, you couldn't tell by watching these brothers and sisters interact at school. Whether it's inviting a little sister to play or feeding a little brother apples during snack, your children take good care of each other when they are away from mom and dad.)
The exploding paint activity required all different types of bravery, especially from the teachers. For this activity, the children put a scoop of baking soda and some colored vinegar in a plastic baggie, sealed it and shook it up before throwing it on the ground to watch it explode. If there was no explosion the child could take a pin-puncher and pop the bag. Loud noises, spraying liquids - it's not an experiment for the timid.
Courage hung thick in the air under the willow tree on Friday as children experimented with the log seesaw. Little ones who started out holding our hands as they walked the length of the log until it dropped to the ground were able to do it by themselves after seven or eight attempts. One group of brave 5 and 6-year-old girls inspired their younger sisters and friends to walk the seesaw and soon there there were eight girls waiting in line for a turn. These are some of the same girls who regularly show others how to draw pictures of princesses and fairies in the classroom. For me, this experience was a reminder that when we worry that a child is "only drawing" or "only playing" it's time to take a break and get a cup of coffee while the children follow their interests.
Maria Montessori observed that by using their senses and their big, beautiful brains, children can naturally learn everything they need to about their world. All they need is a caring community of adults to prepare an environment where that learning can occur. She described it this way, "The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.”
MSGL provides such an environment in our classrooms and on our beautiful campus that has been created by you and other parents like you. When you bring your child to Summer Camp next week or to Preschool this fall, you are allowing her to bravely conduct her own experiences apart from you. And that requires real courage from both of you.
See you soon!
The weather forecast calls for all of this snow to be melting in about a week. In case you think you just can't wait that long, here are some photos of MSGL summers past to see you through.
1994 - Digging in the tiny sandbox at Morton Center.
2000 - Hula hooping at Morton Center.
2001 - Hi Cathy!
2002 - The Parent/Infant class posing by the sandbox.
2003 - Waiting for a wagon ride.
2009 - Sack racing at the family picnic at Happy Hollow Park.
2010 - Releasing a newly-emerged Monarch butterfly.
2011 - Summer camp besties.
2012 - Shoveling in the shady sandbox.
2013 - Gardening at summer camp.
It will only be a few more days until warmer, friendlier weather arrives. Until then, take heart! Spring never fails to arrive.
Have a terrific Wednesday.
Grace's first day of Montessori preschool, 1997.
Last summer, my 19-year-old daughter was getting ready to move into her first apartment. I was excited for her to have the chance to live on her own and had been setting aside household items that I thought she could use. One day, after admiring the “steal” of a chair I had found at Goodwill, she asked me, “Aren’t you sad that I won’t live here anymore?”
“Well, honey,” I said, “I always imagined that you would grow up and move out of the house. That was our goal all along for you to be an independent, self-sufficient person.”
“I know,” she said. “But I’m kind of sad that I won’t be sleeping here anymore.”
I reminded her that she had hardly slept at home at all since she started college last year. She lived in the dorm, four hours away from home and we often didn’t hear from her for days.
“Yeah, but this is different. I just can’t believe this won’t be my home address anymore. Are you going to change the garage door code?”
A-ha! Then I figured it out. She was worried about cutting the cord from the house where she grew up. I had been concerning myself with making sure she was comfortable “out there” and she was worried she would no longer be welcome back at home.
It occurred to me that not much has changed between that day and the day sixteen years ago when we were preparing to send her to preschool here at the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. Back then we were so excited to help our “baby” pick out a new lunch box and indoor shoes but we had little idea what to do to help prepare her (or ourselves) emotionally for this new chapter. She sailed through preschool and is now working through nursing school just fine, but we have learned a lot since then. Today I am sharing some tips and advice gathered from teachers and parents here at MSGL to help you and your child prepare for the first days of preschool.
Talk about school - mindfully.
Talk with your child about preschool when he is in the mood. Maybe he will bring it up or you can start the conversation, just don’t push too hard. If your child seems “done” with the conversation or is becoming anxious, let the topic drop until later. And be honest about your feelings when you do talk about school. Some children worry that their parents will be sad or lonely when they are gone. When you say, “I am going to miss being with you in the morning, but it makes me happy to know you will be enjoying yourself at school,” it lets him know that you will miss him but you are confident that school is a good place for him to be.
Check out the new environment.
MSGL’s Parent Work Day is Saturday, August 16th. This is a great time to get familiar with the school and classroom environments and to be part of the school community. Children are encouraged to help clean lockers, pull weeds, and load and unload wheelbarrows full of mulch right alongside their parents and new classmates. And, each family member's time counts towards your volunteer hours requirement.
You will have another opportunity to get familiar with the school when your child attends her New Student Orientation visit on Monday, August 18th. This is her first opportunity to see her teachers and classmates in her new classroom. She can put her indoor shoes in her locker, locate her cubby and extra clothes box, and see where the bathroom is. The whole family can attend the Parent Orientation later that evening and maybe your child can give a tour of her new classroom.
Make new friends.
You will receive a class list via email in August. Consider contacting a few families on the list to set up a playdate before school starts. Even if you can’t get together with any other families, you and your child can look over the names on the list together. You may discover that one of his classmates lives on your street or maybe someone has the same name as a sibling or a friend.
Help her dress for success.
Our Montessori classrooms are prepared to encourage your child’s independence and you can help by providing your child with shoes and clothing that she can put on and take off by herself. Belts, suspenders, and jumpsuits look smart but they can be difficult for your child to use successfully. Provide your child a choice of clothing that allows her complete independence in her self-care routines. And please remember that preschool is a time to jump in and explore. Paint, snack, sand, and dirt from the garden can stain your child’s clothing, so please send her to school in clothes that can stand to get dirty.
Plan a morning routine.
Now is a good time to do a mental run-through of your morning routine. Consider how much time your child needs to wake up, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Allow time for packing lunches, finding coats and shoes, and getting on the bike or in the car. Then add a few extra minutes. Parents and children who are not in a rush tend to have much better experiences at drop-off. Some families even do a few “practice runs” in the summer to see if they can get to school and work on time.
Create a goodbye routine.
Discuss with your child how you each want to say goodbye at drop-off. Some families say, “After you put on your inside shoes and put away your lunch box, we will walk to the classroom and I will give you three hugs and two kisses before I go to work.” Some children like to wave to dad out the window and some parents leave their children with specific plans for what they will do after school. “Sonia is picking you up today” or “we are going to the Farmer’s Market on our bikes after school today.” Children have so little control over their daily lives that they appreciate at least knowing what is happening and when.
And while we’re talking about goodbyes, let’s take just a moment to consider the specter of separation anxiety.
What if my child cries when I walk away?
Separating from your child that first time can be heart-breaking, but remember - it’s only for a few moments. The majority of children who are sad when they separate from their parents are able to calm themselves and choose an activity within a few minutes. If you have gone through the goodbye routine and are finding it hard to turn around and walk away, ask your teacher for help. Sometimes parents say, “Please help me. I need to leave.” That is the teacher’s sign that she needs to hold your child’s hand or pick her up so that you can walk away. Teachers don’t want to step in before you are ready to go but they are happy to help when you ask them.
The best thing you can do for your child at drop-off is to be consistent and walk away when you say you will. Lingering tends to just prolong the heartache for the parent and the child. The first few times you drop your child off may be difficult, but trust that with consistent repetition you and your child will develop a peaceful good-bye routine.
Talk with the teachers.
Talk with your child’s teachers about how the adjustment period is going. The teachers help dozens of children adjust to school every year but this may be your first time. They expect you will have questions and concerns. Email is a great way to communicate with your child’s teachers and all of the contact information is available on the classroom web page at Msgl.org.
Help your child talk about his day.
If this is the first time your child has been away from home you will no doubt be very eager to know what he did all day. Unfortunately, preschoolers often say they “did nothing” or “just played.” A lot of things happened between the time you dropped him off that morning and when you picked him up several hours later, but he might not yet be able to give a sequential list of his activities. Here are some ideas to help your child tell you about his day.
Take care of yourself!
The best thing you can do during these last few weeks of summer is to give you and your child the gift of a regular bedtime that allows enough sleep to wake up refreshed and ready for the big days ahead. Fill up with a good breakfast each morning and be extra patient with your child and especially with yourself. Parenting preschoolers, like college students, is hard work and there is no right way to do it. Follow your heart and follow your child, and in sixteen years, or so, you will be very proud of the people you have both become.
I had the great pleasure of working in my former classroom today and it reminded me of why the three-year cycle in Montessori classrooms is so beneficial, not least of all, to the teachers.
Our Montessori preschool classrooms are composed of a mixed-age group of children who remain, ideally, in one classroom for three years. A child starts at age three and stays through her Kindergarten year. This is called the three year cycle. Each of those years brings new and unique learning opportunities for the child. As a three-year-old, the child observes her older peers and benefits from their experience. As a four-year-old, she starts to see herself as one of the “big kids” and expands her social circle. In her Kindergarten year she is recognized as a leader and takes pride in helping others.
When I took a sabbatical at the end of the school year in May, I left behind children who had been in my classroom for one or two years. I was able to catch up with many of those students today when I visited the classroom. I observed that two of “my” third-year students, I’ll call them S and K, were part of what Montessorian John Chattin-McNichols calls a “roving pack of 5-year-olds.” They were wandering around with some other boys and mixing it up a little. I knew these two boys when they were just barely three years old. I knew them before they could consciously control their bodies at group time and even before they could dress themselves successfully. Now, here they were - big, bold 5-year-olds and I was curious to see who they had become eight months after we last worked together.
Angie, my dear friend and the lead teacher of my former class, shared with me that S and K had been working on the squaring and cubing chains in the math area, so I asked them about those activities. They were eager to show me what they had already done and tell me what came next. Within a few minutes, they broke off from the pack and were ready to master the 10 cubing chain.
The 10 cubing chain - or 1000 chain - is a concrete representation of 10 cubed. It’s made up of one thousand pea-sized beads organized into bars of ten. The bars of ten are attached at the ends to make a chain. Children are ready for this work after they have mastered the 1 - 10 squaring chains and the 1 - 9 cubing chains. This video from the DuPage Montessori School in Naperville, Illinois provides a good overview of how the squaring and cubing chains are presented in the Montessori classroom.
The 10 cubing chain is nearly 30 feet long so it must be laid out in the hallway outside the classroom. So, off to the hallway we went.
S and K divided up the tasks between themselves. One carried the rolled-up mat and the other carried the chain. We established the space we would use in the hallway and K unrolled the mat while S went back into the classroom for the number tabs. We discussed how they would sort the tabs on the tray and move it down the mat as they worked.
S found the 1000 tab. He knew it went at the very end of the chain but he left it on the tray. There was a pause before they started and I asked what number they would start with. S said, “We have to count them all.”
That is certainly one way to do it. But when a child is ready for the 1000 chain, he is generally ready to complete it without counting every number because he can now count by tens and hundreds. Once you trust that 10 is ten, you don’t have to count it again.
I asked if they thought they could first put tabs on the hundreds. Yes! They were sure they could. Together, we counted the bars as 10, 20, 30 and so on until we got to 100. S got the 100 tab and marked that spot. K quickly grasped the system and immediately went to work sorting out all of the hundreds tabs in a separate group so that S could place them. This was my cue to find something else to do. I went back inside the classroom to assist Miss Angie while the boys marked off every 100th bead on the chain with the appropriate tab.
They repeated the process, stopping after each bar of ten. K was the sorter, S was the placer. “150! I need 150,” S said. K had it ready. There was never any disagreement, that I heard, over who would do which task. They just got started and they each found their niche as they went. And they were really digging their work.
They started the cubing chain work at 9:45 and I checked in with them every few minutes. They finished at 11:00. One of them stopped to use the bathroom then went straight back to his work. Other children would step into the hall to see what was happening and then go back inside to their work.
Sometimes I checked on S and K without speaking and other times I acknowledged their progress. Once, I said I would be back to check on them in a bit unless they needed some help. “We need some help,” S said. They could not find the tab for 590. I suggested they leave a space for that number and they could put it there when they found it. They never found it, but they were able to move on without hesitation.
As they got to the very end, S picked up the 1000 tab and started to place it under the 1000th bead. K said, “Hey! We decided we would put that one on together!” And so they did. That’s when this photo was snapped.
If you had asked me three years ago if these children were developing normally and if they were going to learn to read and write and grow up to be compassionate humans I would have responded, “Of course they will!” But in the back of my head there would have been a tiny voice saying, “What if they aren’t? What if they are never able to sit in a chair for more than 8 seconds? What if they never learn to put their shoes on by themselves? What if they show no interest in reading? What if they always write six as 9?”
That doubtful voice is a familiar one to parents because most of us only get to experience the development of one or two children. We fear we will do something wrong and our children will not achieve their potential. Preschool teachers should know better because we get to observe hundreds of children over the course of our careers, right? But sometimes, even with years of experience, we forget that our job is simply to prepare a nourishing environment. It is the child who must do the work of building the man.
In 1949, Maria Montessori offered us some guidance in our quest to relax and trust that each child will reveal himself as a competent and confident being in his own time. In The Absorbent Mind she wrote, “...for while, in the traditional schools, the teacher sees the immediate behavior of her pupils, knowing that she must look after them and what she has to teach, the Montessori teacher is constantly looking for a child who is not yet there.”
Dr. Montessori also implemented the three-year cycle in our classrooms to give us enough time to look for that child and see him before he moves on to primary school.
I am not at all surprised that S and K can count to 1000 by tens and hundreds. I am not surprised that they can recognize 3-digit numerals or that they can prepare, complete, and put away their work. I am not even surprised that two 5-year-old boys willingly work together on a math material for 1 hour and and 15 minutes with only a bathroom break and very limited guidance. I’ve seen it before.
I am surprised at the sense of joyous relief I feel each time children reveal themselves in this way. It's an experience that never gets old. I suppose that’s the ultimate reward of being a teacher.
1998 was a big year for MSGL because we announced our expansion so we received lots of media coverage. This week's Wayback Wednesday post features another story from the Lafayette Journal and Courier. On July 7th, a story about our summer camp cooking class filled the 4 Kidz Only page. (I love that the J&C embraced phonetic spelling!)
The photos are beautiful and the children's quotes, especially about date math, are really sweet.
Featured teacher, Revati Nemani is still with MSGL today in the Catalpa class. The children featured in this article are now in college. Are any of them studying to be chefs? We would love to know. If you know Alie Magnante, Daniel Plesniak, Asher Bogdanove, or Andrew Staiger, please pass this along. It would be great to hear from them.
And maybe you and your young ones will give one of these recipes a go? We would love to hear about that, too.
If there truly is a flashback movie that plays in our heads just before we die, the remodeling of the MSGL buildings will certainly be a part of mine. And the sweaty people covered in dust will be in it too, smiling (mostly) like they were in these photos from the first week of demolition.
The following pictures represent some of my favorite memories of the building project because we were all so young and optimistic. We didn't truly grasp what working for six months through the winter with no electricity and no toilets and no babysitters would be like. So many parents, teachers, spouses, and extended family members gave their days off and their nights and weekends to prepare this space to be our new and improved Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. They did it for free and, most importantly, they did it with a sense of humor.
Dragging the folding partitions out of the basement.
The above photo brings to mind a particularly disheartening day. The church basement was divided up into classrooms by these heavy, orange, folding partitions. Before we could start cutting into the concrete floors and tearing out the ceilng, we had to remove all of these partitions. Did I mention that they were extremely heavy? So heavy, in fact, that we couldn't move them once we got them detached and rolled up on the floor. I recall seeing Craig Lamb, Beth Nichols, and Tony Harvey pushing on them with all of their might and they just weren't budging. The wise, manly men in our group decided to drag them out of the basement using the Bobcat. Don Harvey did just that. As Tony, project manager, recalled, "That part of the demolition was really brutal. You would go in and see what was going to beat the heck out of you that day."
Just like in a Montessori classroom, every volunteer found a niche. Some of the parents didn't want to see anything go to waste, so they took out the light fixtures and the doors and anything that might be of value and marked it for a remodeling sale we had a few weeks later.
Ellie's mom is organizing the salvaged items in the future toddler room.
One of the reasons we had such a dedicated group of volunteers is that demolition work is really fun! After a long day we could put on our grubby clothes and work gloves, grab a Wonder Bar and tear into the drywall and studs.
Ron and Cathy Stier.
Beth working in the future River Birch room.
Beth and Cathy take out nails so we could re-use the studs.
Tools like the Sawzall made the job a lot more fun. This volunteer is standing in what is now the Willow room.
Tony unloads another wheelbarrow of debris.
Water girls, Gaia and Grace.
The author was concerned about lawn maintenance.
I was really worried that the lawn would grow too long and we would look like bad neighbors. This was the first and last time I mowed the entire campus with a push mower.
That week was lots of fun, but I'm glad it's done. Have a great Wednesday!
I should mention that there ARE other ducks in the toolbox. They are small ducks that fit in Harriet’s pocket when she carries her camera and tripod to the classrooms to take group photos. But The Duck only works the main room. There is also a rubber frog that sometimes gets called up on the rare occasion that The Duck can’t get a child to laugh. Harriet’s experience tells her which toy to try.
She also encourages parents to let their children wear something comfortable on picture day. “Don't overdress them because children don't act the same way if they are overdressed,” Harriet suggests.
It was great to spend picture day with Harriet and get answers to all of my (and your) questions about The Duck. But I had to confess that up until a few years ago, I didn’t even know she had a first name. I had always known her, as we all do, as “The Ducky Lady.” That seems to be how she likes it. But she was willing to share just a few personal details.
Although The Duck doesn’t spend much time in the water outside of his daily bath, Harriet enjoys being outdoors when she’s not behind a camera.
“I go kayaking and hiking. I belong to a kayaking group. That's what I do when I don't photograph," she says.
A few years ago, our school director Suman invited Harriet and some friends from school on a trip to India. For Harriet, that was a dream come true. One favorite memory is of riding on an elephant with her friend Beth.
“That was nice," she says, smiling. "India was my dream country. That's where I always wanted to go. I wanted to go there before they lose their saris and all the colors and become jeans people."
At the end of picture day as Harriet packed up The Duck to leave MSGL, Lena and Anita made sure she got one of our tie-dyed school t-shirts. The shirt made Harriet really happy and I asked her why.
“It’s yellow and orange,” she exclaimed. “My favorite colors!”