First, I will start with what I saw this week. This was my favorite moment.
Another photo. If you are familiar with Humans of New York, the book and website by Brandon Stanton, then I know you can relate. If not, I know you can relate.
Children dress so fabulously and so beautifully because they have not yet learned that other people are judging their choices. They wear what they like. I want to wear what I like but I feel childish. How old will I grow before I truly understand that being childish is the truest way to be?
And, one more photo.
And now, for what I heard.
1. I erroneously asked a child how she was enjoying her Kindergarten year at MSGL. She responded, "I'm not IN Kindergarten. That's why I'm HERE!"
2. "That's a small story."
3. A friend was reading me a note from his lunch box. "Look! Look it! It says I'm going to my grandma's house. And I think I'm gonna get a Spiderman hat when we go to the store."
4. "Yeah. Let's do our maps."
5. "Where's the damn lizard?"
Two years ago, before their daughter was even old enough to enroll at MSGL, Zoe Neal and Desiree Chuang made an historic donation to our school. Owners of Virtuous Cycles in downtown Lafayette, Zoe and Desiree gave us a bright orange Strider balance bike to try out on the tricycle track. It soon became the most beloved of all the bikes because it is the only two-wheeler and it has no pedals. And most importantly, it goes FAST! Well, it goes as fast as the square bike track will allow and with all of the tricycle traffic? The bike track is sometimes more like the intersection of 52 and Salisbury when Purdue heads home for the day. Still, it feels really fast.
On the bikes of my youth and quite possibly yours, I learned to pedal with a set of training wheels attached to the hub of the back wheel to keep the bike, and me, upright. I learned to pedal the bike but never felt what it was like to be truly balanced on two wheels. When the training wheels came off I wasn't really ready at all. I had to learn to balance, and quickly! - and my parents had to watch. Spoiler alert: we all survived.
Balance bikes let a child master the balancing part - the most challenging part - of riding a bike, first. When you are coasting on a Strider bike with your feet not touching the ground it feels exactly like riding a bike. You ARE riding the bike, you're just not pedaling it. And since many children already learned to pedal on a tricycle the year before, the two skills of balancing and pedaling come together nicely after they have mastered the Strider. Several online reviews point out that if a child can walk she can ride a balance bike, so some children skip the tricycle stage altogether.
Maria Montessori observed the importance of a child developing his sense of balance. She created activities such as walking on the line to help fine-tune this sense. At MSGL the Strider is an extension of that balance exercise.
Last year, the Franklin family donated a new, dark blue Strider and now the children can have a turn to ride in half the time. That's important because learning to have a turn and to wait for a turn is one of the biggest works of preschool. The children at MSGL and their teachers have come up with an almost fool-proof system for taking turns on the Striders and all the bikes. It came to be called the "waiting bench."
The Waiting Bench
The waiting bench is right next to the bike shed which is sort of the starting line of the bike track. The first two children take the bikes out of the shed and ride them. When another friend wants a turn, he sits on the waiting bench. This signals the riders that someone is waiting for a turn so they need to consider how many more laps they will take before handing the bike off to the next friend. Sometimes the rider stops riding and negotiates with the waiter.
Waiter: How many more times are you going to go around?
Waiter: That's too many! How about 7?
Rider: How about 5? (When you're learning numbers and quantity, it's sometimes more important to pick a number you like than to negotiate for the most turns. Negotiation skills improve with experience :)
Once an agreement has been reached, the rider continues his laps while the waiter and his friends count down from 5 to 1. At the hand-off between rider and waiter, the cycle is repeated with new riders. Sometimes there are misunderstandings and an experienced child steps in to mediate. A teacher is always nearby to see what is happening and make herself available to help, if needed.
The idea of the waiting bench just sort of happened, like lots of great things happen in child-centered environments. It's possible that the teachers could have made an arbitrary rule about each child getting only 5 turns, but that would diminish the child's ability to make choices and consider the feelings of others. For example, 5-year-olds can recognize a child who is struggling with being patient and they will sometimes hand the bike over early to help this child. This leads to another cycle that I call the "Cycle of Benevolence." Benevolence is an inclination to perform kind, charitable acts. When a child sees a peer giving freely of herself to make someone else happy, it feels good. Soon, that child is looking for a way to help a friend. The cycle repeats and those kind acts and good feelings spill over into the community and, ultimately, the whole wide world.
Heike Larson, an administrator and blogger at Leport School in California, writes frequently of the importance of fostering benevolence in preschool communities. All of us at MSGL are inspired by her blog. She has also written about balance bikes on the Leport Schools blog here.
If you are considering buying a balance bike for your child, be sure to visit Virtuous Cycles to check out their selection of models and colors. Tell them MSGL sent you and be a part of the Cycle.
Families are drawn to Montessori schools for many different reasons. Sometimes parents are looking to continue in preschool the child-centered environment they have established at home. Others wish to see their children thrive in the our enriched classrooms. Still, other families choose Montessori preschools because they want their children to learn and socialize in a non-competitive environment. Whatever the reason parents choose Montessori, they often have many questions during their child's first year.
To help answer these questions, MSGL offers a 1 ½-hour Montessori Basics class each Fall and all new families are expected to attend. Preprimary teacher Kelly Sallee presented this year’s class on September 25th to a packed house of over 40 parents and grandparents. Kelly focused her presentation on the Prepared Environment, the Sensitive Periods of a child's development, and the Role of the Teacher. If you were unable to attend this year's Basics, follow this link to read more about Kelly's presentation. Below are a few tips for new parents.
Kelly's Tips for New Montessori Parents
Do your best to control the environment, not the child. Organize the child's belongings to help him be independent and successful.
Don't worry if your child is unable to sit still or to focus for long periods. "Even when we feel they're not listening, they are learning."
What's in your child's cubby does not necessarily reflect their work because many activities have no "paper" component. Look at classroom photos and videos on SmugMug to see what the children are working on in class. Your child's teacher will also have this information available for you at parent/teacher conferences.
Give your child the gift of time. Try not to rush her through tasks. When a child is allowed to dress herself in the morning it may take longer but she will develop the skills necessary for independence.
Allow your child to work without interruption, when possible. Periods of uninterrupted work strengthen a child's ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Allow your child to complete tasks without correction. "I don't know any adults who walk around with their shoes on the wrong feet. They will figure it out with time."
Give your child the opportunity to be a third-year student. Our mixed-age classrooms allow children to move from being the youngest who look up to role models to being the role models themselves. "Children who are the youngest in their families need the third year to be the leader that they don't get to be at home."