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.
Photo courtesy of Lena Atkinson
What is Montessori?
Rather than explaining what Montessori is, I am offering an excerpt from an article that does a beautiful job of describing what Montessorians do. Maria Montessori's Decalogue is a set of 10 rules for adults working in a Montessori classroom. It is relevant to parents, grandparents, and caregivers of all types who strive to relate to children peacefully and respectfully in any environment.
I hope you will enjoy this expanded version of the Montessori Decalogue as written by The Mammolina Children's Home Montessori Kindergarten in Beijing, China.
The Montessori Decalogue
1. Never touch the child unless invited by him (in some way or another).
Unless there is a very strong reason to (like avoiding an accident, for example), one should never touch a child unless a child requests it. Picking up a child without the child’s consent, even if in a playful manner, or grabbing her hand, pushing her, etc., should always be avoided. If children are engaged, looking at a book, working, playing, resting, the same principle applies. Children invite contact in many ways, and parents and adults in general, who work with children, know how to interpret the signs they send. It is important also to respect a child when she is angry and does not want to be touched or picked up.
2. Never speak ill of the child in his presence or absence.
Speaking ill of a child, or making negative comments about a child, either in the child’s presence or absence, denotes lack of respect for the child. It also sets a frame of mind and denotes an attitude that is negative and conducive to confrontation—and not always open! Preconceived ideas often linger as negative thoughts and breed reactive behavior. If an adult falls into this trap, it is very easy for a lack of patience and negative attitudes to creep in and damage the relationship with the child.
3. Concentrate on strengthening and helping the development of what is good in the child, so that its presence may leave less and less space for what is negative.
If adults focus on negative behavior, children will feel inadequate. This will result in low self-esteem, and a self-fulfilling prophecy like behavioral patterns will take over. Negativity will become second nature. Instead, by focusing on what is positive, the child will feel safe and confident. Children are learning what is and is not acceptable behavior can and cannot be done, etc. They do not need punishments or rewards. Simply to be shown what is and is not acceptable, by adults that model appropriate behavior.
4. Be proactive in preparing the environment, take meticulous and constant care of it. Help the child establish constructive relations with it. Show the proper place where the means of development are kept and demonstrate their proper use.
If the child is presented with a prepared environment, there is little need for much more. Again, modeling appropriate behavior is essential. A child that is shown an orderly environment will likewise feel encouraged to keep it orderly. If a child has available manipulatives she can handle, play and work with, rather than things she cannot touch, she will feel at ease to explore the world around her. If objects are at reach, that the child may break or hurt herself with, she should be shown how to handle them, rather than told “don’t touch!” A kitchen is a world full of wonder for a child! Cutting, cooking, stirring, pouring, etc., are all activities the child will want—and need!—to master in order to become independent. Include the child in as many activities as possible at home, from cleaning to cooking; there is enough to keep any child busy and engaged all day long.
5. Be ever ready to answer the call of the child who stands in need of you, and always listen and respond to the child who appeals to you.
There is nothing worse for a child than to feel insecure and ignored. Abandonment is a feeling no child should have to live with. “If a child asks for attention, then that child needs attention,” stressed Montessorian Margaret Homfray. When people brush a child aside and say, “she just wants attention,” that person is missing the point: a child only wants attention when she needs attention. Children who feel cared for and do not have to worry about being abandoned, even if for a short time, are far more likely to care for others and show concern for and trust others, than those who experience this sort of “cold shoulder” treatment. Also, “timeout” and “go to your room and stay there” approaches are also expressions of abandonment.
6. Respect the child who makes a mistake and can then or later correct it herself, but stop firmly and immediately any misuse of the environment and any action which endangers the child, its own development or that of others.
Avoid rushing to correct mistakes a child has committed. Children are learning to cope and function. They will persist and practice to their heart’s content whatever skill they need to acquire, until they master it. If a child starts throwing things around and disrespecting the environment, by all means, stop her. Yet, explain why you had to stop her. Reason and listen to what the child may have to say. Maria Montessori said that “a child’s first tantrums are the first ills of her soul.” There is always a reason for everything. Try to bring the reason to light. Punishing, isolating the child, etc., will only feed her pain, and burry deep those reasons—she will learn to hide rather than communicate.
7. Respect the child who takes a rest or watches others working or ponders over what she herself has done or will do. Neither call her nor force her to other forms of activity.
A child that is idle is often not idle at all… Children need to be given space to find what it is they are interested in and want to do. Once they do, they pursue their interests with unrestrained passion and perseverance! A child that is observing other children or adults is also learning. If the child is resting, she is not being lazy and doing nothing just lying there—she is most probably processing information, observing, reflecting on something she did, or saw, or is planning on doing.
8. Help those who are in search of activity and cannot find it.
Be sensitive to the needs of the child including differentiating when apparent inactivity is inner activity, or in contrast, a child is simply lost. A child in search of activity and unable to find it is usually restless. If sitting or lying down, it can be noticed that she is not “engaged;” she is not resting, but simply lost and prostrated. There is a thin line that separates these two worlds. It is the adult’s responsibility to observe carefully and find out the signs—often very different from child to child—that can reveal what the child is experiencing. Abandonment differs from rest and contemplation.
9. Be untiring in repeating presentations to the child who refused them earlier, in helping the child to acquire what is not yet her own and to overcome imperfections. Do this by animating the environment, with care, with purposive restraint and silence, with mild words and loving presence. Make your ready presence felt to the child who searches and hide from the child who has found.
A child may need to be shown the right way to do something, say a word, express her feelings or acquire any sort of new skill, many, many times. One should never grow tired of repeating it, such as reading the same bedtime story or singing the same jingle. Children seek perfection in all they do until they reach a level which meets their needs (not what the adult may think “perfect” is, or means.) To be always available but not intrusive is an art. When a child needs help, she will ask for it. When a skill has been acquired and the child no longer needs assistance, adults should respect the child’s new acquired or reached level of independence.
10. Always treat the child with the best of good manners and offer her the best you have in yourself and at your disposal.
Children who are respected will learn to respect others. Giving the child the best one has to give helps the child learn that you are someone she can count on, and teaches her to also give others the best she has to give. It is important the way Montessori puts it, “the best you have in yourself,” as if to say, always reach higher, but do not feel dismayed if you fall short, and “the best” that you can give is not the best you think or know you should give. If your best manners are not always what they should be—a common feeling parents harbor when children seem to be pushing their patience beyond the limits, do not lose heart. The way Dr. Montessori put it, is basically this: have realistic expectations towards the child, and yourself too. Give the best you have to give, but don’t feel guilty if you fall short. Simply keep striving to improve and always do your best. If you commit a mistake, giving the child your best may well be recognizing it and apologizing. “Amy, Mommy got upset and shouted. That was not nice of me. I am sorry.” Children also need to recognize mistakes, learn to apologize, and that parents are not always perfect.
These are basic principles. What Montessori strives for is to protect the child from all sorts of negative influences that can create deviations in the child’s spirit and psyche. To preserve the natural curiosity of the child, help her find her interests, protect her passion for learning, foster it and let it grow in a healthy way. In this way, the child can contribute her best to society. This is conducive to world peace, as Dr. Montessori envisioned it, and Montessorians believe is possible. It takes passion, it takes commitment, and it takes working together.
- Excerpted from Montessori: Committed People with a Passion for Children by the Mammolina Children's Home Montessori Kindergarten in Beijing, China.
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.
The s-word is in our forecast this week. I don't know anyone who is happy about the October SNOW except for my allergy-suffering friends. With the snow come cold temperatures and at MSGL we play outside year-round, so it's important for children to have warm and practical clothing to wear every day. For the past 12 years I greeted the children on the playground at 8:30 am, snow or shine. To help you prepare for this week and the next six months (it hurts me to say that), I have compiled for you:
Miss Heather's Top 10 List for Child Comfort and Parent Happiness: Winter Edition
1. Check the forecast. Every class - Toddler through Elementary - goes outside when the temperature is 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Check the weather forecast each day before leaving the house to make sure your child will have the appropriate cold-weather gear for that day.
2. Go with the low. Consider the time of day your child will be outside. The forecast may call for a high temp. of 63 degrees, but the temperature at 8:30 am might only be in the 40's. Some classes start outside, some go out at 10:15, some at 11:00. The afternoon and Elementary classes go out at varying times throughout the week. Provide clothing for the day's low temperature and your child should be well-prepared.
3. Layer, layer, layer. Imagine your child as a cute, rosy-cheeked onion and help her dress in layers. Being hot and sweaty outside in the cold is just as uncomfortable as shivering. If your child can take off a sweater or push back her hood and unzip her coat, she will be able to regulate her body temperature and still enjoy the time outside.
4. Listen to your child. Trust your child to make decisions about his comfort. The only way we can learn if we are too cold is if we are allowed to feel the cold. If your child doesn't want to wear his gloves, don't sweat it. Make sure he knows his gloves are in his locker and that he can go get them if he gets cold. The same goes for his snow pants and his bulky winter coat. An active child dressed in layers with warm shoes and a hat can generally enjoy himself outside without danger of getting too cold, even in winter. If your child is listening to his body instead of chafing under a "mitten mandate" he is more likely to develop a true sense of how to dress for the weather. My friend "Z" always told his dad he didn't want to wear his coat or his snow pants or his gloves, but 10 minutes after dad left, Z would ask to go get them.
5. Start a discussion. Talk with your child about the day's weather and how to dress. Remember that the ultimate goals are safety and independence. You might say something like, "It's 30 degrees Fahrenheit. You definitely need to wear something on your hands, but you can choose if you wear your Spiderman gloves or the mittens Grandma made for you." Or try, "It's going to be 45 degrees when you go outside today. What should you pack for school?" Young children can learn to speak three languages at once. They can also learn to make clothing choices based on the outdoor temperature.
6. Get a move-on. Remember that your child is most likely playing actively outside. We might feel very cold walking from the car to the school door in a suit or a skirt and heels, but a child riding a balance bike for 10 minutes heats up very quickly.
7. Consider cold pants. Snow pants or snow suits are essential when there is snow on the ground, but some children (and some preschool teachers) like to wear them as soon as they can see their breath outside. Think of them as "cold pants" and let your child keep them in his locker from October through April.
8. Label everything. Speaking of lockers, our lockers are small. When two children share a locker it's nearly impossible to fit snow pants, coats, book bags and lunch boxes inside. PLEASE make sure every article of clothing you send to school has your child's name or your family's last name written on it where it's easy to read. All black snow pants and all Spiderman gloves look the same when there are 24 children getting dressed in the hallway. If you forget, your child's teacher will be happy to loan you a Sharpie and some masking tape.
9. Embrace the terrific outdoors. Spending time outdoors is important for everyone's health and well-being. We do not have a gym and children may not stay inside by themselves. If your child is recovering from an illness and you don't want her to be outside, please make arrangements to drop her off late or pick her up early, depending on the class schedule.
10. Stock up. Have extra winter clothing on hand, if possible. The first Snow Day of the year is much less fun when your child has left her snow pants at school. And plan to lose at least one set of gloves. If you buy three identical sets of gloves, odds are you will have at least one matching set at the end of the year. Just in case, the Lost and Found box is in the office.
If you recently moved to West Lafayette from somewhere warm and lovely, I am so sorry! But seriously, you can stock up on all the clothing your family needs to get through your first Indiana winter at J.C. Penney, Sears, Target, KMart, or Walmart. You can purchase gently-used childrens' outerwear at Once Upon a Child in Lafayette.
Below are some examples of items your child will need.
Thanks for reading and bring on the snow!
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!”
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!
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."
What a wonderful piece!! Thank you Heather and Angie for being the fantastic teachers you are. :-)
Thank-you Heather, as always, for your time, attention and insight. S and K are on their way and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to be a part of their journey.
Beautiful, Heather. A wonderful view into the life and work of the five year old child and how important they are to our classrooms. The three and four year old on-lookers gain inspiration from the work of our leaders. It truly is a beautiful place to grow.
Thank you, Anita!