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Montessori School of Greater Lafayette Blog


Insights and inspiration from our Montessori classrooms.rss


 


A child explores the knobbed cylinders.

"Gradually the children begin to concentrate. One day one child, another day two or three children. After they have concentrated the children are different. They become detached and work for themselves. The disorderly children begin to love order. They all become so orderly that disorder is an extraordinary thing." - Maria Montessori, The Child, Society, and the World

     "Normalized" is the word Maria Montessori coined to describe children in their natural state. She believed that a "normal" child is one who is able to focus on activities that interest him and, through these experiences, he constructs his personality. A normalized classroom is one in which the children interact peacefully while exploring activities that introduce them to the world. Montessori described a normalized classroom this way,

"A room in which all the children move about usefully, intelligently, and voluntarily, without commiting any rough or rude act, would seem to be a classroom very well disciplined indeed." - The Montessori Method.

     At the beginning of the year, Montessori Toddler and Preprimary classrooms are far from normalized. Some children shout, wander the room, and maybe even throw objects or dump materials on the floor. There is crying and spilling. Messes are made and not cleaned up. Disagreements arise. Those first few weeks can be wild, indeed! In traditional educational methods, teachers might respond to these behaviors with reprimands and punishments. In Montessori classrooms, the teachers respond with redirection to purposeful work. 

     For example, when a new three-year-old is wandering the room and disturbing the work of others, a teacher will take him by the hand and present a new material to him. If he has shown an interest in counting then we might present the Hanging Bead Stair. When this work is completed, we assist him in finding another activity that calls to him. 


While polishing the sailboat, a child tunes out everythiing else around him.

         Whatever the activity the child is redirected to, the aim is always the same: to develop concentration. Concentration is the key to a child's natural development and all learning takes place in a state of concentration. We can think of ourselves in our adult lives to get a better understanding. When you need to study for your GRE exam, what do you do? Do you head to a busy shopping mall to work on your laptop in the food court with your friends, or do you choose a quiet place? If you need to paint a room in your home, do you do it in the afternoon when the children are busy around your feet or do you save it for those glorious, quiet mornings when they are at school? Adults relish those moments when they can concentrate and really focus on their work without interruption. Children also relish those moments, but they must first know what concentration feels like.

     This is what a Montessori classroom does: it provides an environment where children are free to concentrate - without interruption - on work that is essential to their development. A child who is excited and distracted by all the activity around him will transform into a peaceful, thoughtful individual when he is able to concentrate on a work he enjoys. Because concentrating and being in control of his body feels better than thrashing around wildly and causing mayhem, he continues to seek out other activities that allow him to feel this way. 

      Since concentration is the ultimate goal of every activity in our classroom, we are reverent of it when it appears and we do not interrupt it for any reason. If all learning occurs during a state of concentration, it would be illogical to interrupt a child's concentration in an attempt to "teach" her something. Corrections, points of interest, fixing a lock of hair that has fallen over her eye, picking up the pencil that rolled off the table, reminding her to wash her forgotten snack plate - we must do none of these things. In fact, when a child begins to concentrate on an activity, our job is to quietly step away and behave as though we are not in the room.

"The great principle which brings success to the teacher is this: as soon as concentration has begun, act as if the child does not exist. Naturally, one can see what he is doing with a quick glance, but without his being aware of it." - Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind


Dressing the baby doll and fastening its clothes requires great concentration. Some children choose this activity nearly every day.     

     Eventually, in a few weeks or even months, the classroom has been transformed from a noisy, chaotic scene into a peaceful, happy place to learn and play. We have seen this transformation begin in our classrooms. The children are beginning to put their belongings in their lockers and walk quietly into their classrooms. They greet their friends warmly, but not loudly. They choose work, complete the work, and put it away when they are finished. They choose to work with a friend or by themselves. They tap us on the shoulder when they have a question. They pour their own water for snack and wash their dishes when finished. They use the toilet without assistance (although assistance is always available.) They are also preparing to read, write, and count to 1000 - but when you are a young child, those accomplishments are of secondary importance compared to the ability to control one's body and interact peacefully with friends.

    Your children always benefit from opportunities to concentrate on an activity. You can provide these opportunities at home by providing space and, most importantly, time for them to focus on just one thing. Maybe painting with watercolors, washing the breakfast dishes, watering the plants outside, looking at the spider web by the front door - let her look and explore for as long as she wishes. Be available to answer questions, but don't obey your urge to jump in and explain everything you've ever heard about spiders or tell her all about color theory. Let her concentrate and formulate her own ideas and questions. When her curiosity is satisfied and she is ready to turn her attention elsewhere, you may notice that she looks refreshed and relaxed. This is a sign that she is learning and making new connections in her brain! Dr. Montessori observed that, "The child who concentrates is immensely happy." 

     Do you have a story about concentration from your life or your child's life you would like to share in the comments below? We would love to hear about it.

     May you find yourself concentrating and immensely happy in the week ahead. Thanks for reading.

~ Heather

 


 

 


Following Friends to Physics


Free play and building with logs and boards is a realistic way to explore physics concepts. MSGL has an outdoor space that allows for more than just "recess." Outside time is not a chance to get away from the classroom, it's an opportunity for children to use their whole bodies to learn and, most importantly, have fun with friends.

     On Thursday, a quartet of boys was getting very silly in the back corner of our Montessori classroom. They were speaking with outside voices and using all available paper to make pretend swords so they could have a pretend swordfight. When I tried to redirect them, they asked to make paper airplanes and see whose would fly the farthest. Although Montessori teachers are known for their flexibility and laid-back grooviness, I could not condone sword-fighting and airplane-flying during class on this, only the second full week of preschool. What would people say?

     I empathized with these friends because they wanted to play together and needed to actively move their bodies, but it was still 30 minutes before we (read: I) could even think about going outside where this type of gross-motor play was appropriate. They took a half-hearted interest in another activity and I sat at a table nearby to observe. When they realized I was there to stay, they started putting away their work and chanting with dead eyes and sad voices, "No more fun. No more fun. No more fun." It would seem I had officially become "the man." They went to the other side of the room to build a tower with the brown stair and the pink cubes and within minutes, they were using the smallest brown stair as a lever to launch the smallest pink cube across the rug. Clearly, they were trying to tell me something.

     What these boys wanted was action. They are perfectly willing to come in each morning and work on their maps or practice writing their names, but after a time they really want to make things move. And it's not just the boys, of course. Girls thrive on kinesthetic learning activities and they are usually the first to line up to walk across the log seesaw.


 

     In fact, all young children are kinesthetic learners. Most mature into adolescents who can learn successfully through watching and listening, but not all. As long ago as 1979, researchers studying how humans learn understood this:

"Restak (1979) and others have indicated that many students do not become strongly visual before third grade, that auditory acuity first develops in many students after the sixth grade, and that boys often are neither strongly visual nor auditory even during high school. Therefore, since most young children are tactual and kinesthetic learners, such resources should be developed and used, particularly for those who are experiencing difficulty learning through lectures, direct verbal instructions, "chalk talks," and textbook assignments."- See the full article at Education.com

     No one is suggesting that preschoolers should be taught through lectures, but sometimes society (or maybe our high school principal's voice in the back of our head) worries us into thinking that if we don't make our children sit down, concentrate, and learn - how will they ever be successful in school or the Real World that supposedly comes after?

     Parents sometimes ask, "When will you teach him to sit still and listen to the teacher?" The answer is that he will sit still and listen when what I am saying is of interest to him. It's my job to find the topic that is so fascinating to the child that he can't help but hold his body still so as to not miss a single word. A teacher's job is to be fascinating; but only until the child is so interested in the subject that he sets off to explore it on his own. At that point, the teacher observes and prepares for the child's next question then guides him to find the answers on his own. (Please note: Matters of health, safety, and courtesy are always addressed immediately. No one in the classroom has the freedom to hurt themselves or to hurt or disrupt others.)

He has found the exact point to stand where his weight balances the log.
 

     Maria Montessori observed that not only do young children learn kinesthetically, they absolutely MUST learn this way for proper brain development. 

"Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas." - The Secret of Childhood

     So, as a good teacher who believes in a research-based approach to education, I am obligated to consider the kinesthetic learning style of my preschool students. I am also obligated to follow a child's interests because a child who is studying something she is interested in, as opposed to an externally-imposed curriculum, is much more likely to retain that information and build connections in her brain. So why were we still inside the classroom and NOT outside studying the physics of flight and simple machines? Because I didn't know they were interested until Thursday. But now I do.

     As a result, my assistant and I will be following our 3, 4, and 5-year-olds into the action-packed world of physics this week starting with the simple lever. We will spend a little extra time outside on the log seesaw for some major gross motor exploration, then we will scale down the kinesthetic experience to make smaller levers inside the classroom using blocks, rulers, pennies, rocks, and pompoms. We will introduce the appropriate words such as "load", "effort", and "fulcrum" and we will figure out how many pennies it takes the raise the rock load. I will do my best to be fascinating. There may be squeals of joy and pompoms flying through the air, but no more "No more fun."

Thanks for reading,

~Heather 


 
 

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!

Heather

 

 


 


Seen outside Globe Willow class: "I wish this was a boring school and it was longer so I can finish my work."

 


 


 


 


 

 

     What did your child do at preschool today? You can try asking, but often they will say they did nothing or they “played.” The most common question I receive from parents is, “How can I know he is doing anything at school? He never tells me anything and his cubby has been empty for days.”

     Please believe me, your child is doing something. A lot of stuff, actually. But he may not remember "doing" anything at all that day. And his accomplishments often cannot be held in the hand or seen with the eye at pick-up time. If he could tell you, it might sound like this:

 

I concentrated today!

When someone asked to play with me, I said yes.

I looked at the caterpillars in the jar - for a very long time. Then my teacher read me a book about butterflies. Twice. Because I asked.

I sat next to a friend who was labeling the lifecycle of the frog. I handed her the labels and helped her match them. I got her a paper towel when her fingers were gluey.

When everyone was talking about bees I told them, “Bumblebees don’t sting. Only honey bees sting. Bumblebees just bumble.” Everyone agreed with me.

I looked at a real chicken egg and a real duck egg. I said the duck egg was bigger.

I used the very heavy tortilla press to make playdough tortillas. My friends helped and we laughed. None of us pinched our fingers.

I compromised about sitting in the comfy chair.

I served myself a snack, ate it politely alongside my friends, and cleaned up after myself.

I felt sad - just for a little bit - because I missed my mom.

I noticed that the lizard’s food bowl was empty and cut some lettuce for him.

I waited for a turn on the orange bike.

I heard that a friend is going to Korea for the summer and I gave him a hug to say goodbye.

     A preschooler's greatest and most important work often doesn't have any external product to show for it. Having and being a friend, acting out of kindness, demonstrating patience and self-control, taking care of oneself, feeling satisfied with a job well done - these things are all internalized. The children in our classrooms build their character and their understanding of the world every day, but they can’t always verbalize it. They are doing so much challenging work! But they do not yet see their actions and successes as separate from themselves.

     After a sunflower seed sprouts in the garden we might notice as the stem grows taller, but we cannot see the acts of photosynthesis and respiration and transpiration that take place every single day. The sunflower plant continues to do its work converting sunlight to sugars and sugars to fuel - the internal work of living - whether we take notice or not. Then, one day it blooms and we look at it and say, “Finally!”

     Maria Montessori believed that the child reveals himself through his work, not through his outwardly visible successes and accomplishments. Every experience he has is internalized and becomes a part of his very being. She put it this way, “The things he sees are not just remembered; they form a part of his soul.”

     Stories from their day and recorded work, like the blooms of a sunflower, are parts of the child we can see and they might be pleasing to us, but they are only the product of a monumental amount of internal work. So please don’t worry when your child says she did nothing all day. Nothing to grown-ups can be everything in the life of a child.

     Lots of peace, lots of love ~ Heather

 

 


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.


 

 

    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.

      It’s easy to see how the three-year-cycle benefits children, but it is also a tremendous opportunity for personal and professional growth for early childhood teachers. Few other settings offer the experience of observing and interacting with a child for half of that child’s life!

   
  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.


 
You're Invited: Bringing Montessori Home

 

Bringing Montessori Home

You are your child’s first teacher! 


     It is important to say that you are your child's most important and influential teacher. You set the tone for your child's love of learning from the very start and it is you who bridges the gap between school and home. Sometimes this can feel overwhelming. 

     So please join us for "Bringing Montessori Home," a Parent Development Opportunity on Wednesday, October 9th from 6:30-8:00 pm. Kelly Sallee will be presenting ideas you can use and materials you can make to prepare a home environment that will nurture your child's independence. We hope you might also share how you use the Montessori philosophy to help your child be successful in your home. Register in the office or call or email info@msgl.org today!







Date: Wednesday, Oct. 9th

Time: 6:30-8:00 pm

Location: MSGL

Classroom: To Be Decided

Childcare available - call, 
sign up in office or email Lena at info@msgl.org.

We hope to see you there!


 


 

This post was originally published on September 24, 2013.

    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.


Old School    

     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. 

The author with her first set of wheels.

New School     

     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

Miss Angie and friends on the waiting bench on a cold, cold day.

     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?

Rider: 10

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.


 

     This post was originally published on September 27, 2013.

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."


     
    Speak to children at home in your native language. They will learn English at school.

  •       
  • 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."