Seen outside Globe Willow class: "I wish this was a boring school and it was longer so I can finish my work."
Happy birthday! Two of the four Wyandotte chicks have hatched in the Birch room. Stop by before or after class to meet them.
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
“The only language men ever speak perfectly is the one they learn in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!" - Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
Perhaps you like listening to and collecting phrases like I do. Our Montessori classrooms are great theaters for listening. Three, four, and five-year-olds are intensely thoughtful and they tell us so much about themselves just by talking with their friends.
This week I had the pleasure of working in the Willow, River Birch, and Canoe Birch classes and I collected as many fabulous phrases from the children as I could. The words are theirs, the spelling is mine.
On being the first to arrive... "The only time I'm not first is when Mommy brings me. Daddy is faster than Mommy."
"Frogs lay eggs, right? Butterflies lay eggs, right?"
"I had my birthday before my brother's."
"Our grandpa makes a Donald Duck sound."
While drawing dinosaurs with friends... "It's a Spinosaurus. It's the biggest carnivore on land and it's name means lizard. It reaches in the water just a little bit and snatches a fish with it's crocodile long snout."
"A drobeosaurus has toe claws and it goes 25 miles an hour."
A different dinosaur friend... "It runs 100 and 90 hours. He has a bunch of blood in his body. It's called Spinadoctora Hundreds."
"At my house I have five lipsticks. No, six."
A child was looking for a bike to ride on the playground. I asked, "I see that blue bike is available. Would you like to ride that one?" "No! he said. "I just fell off that one."
"I'm trying to sing Let it Go, in German, but it's too hard." (The children in one class burst into singing "Let it Go" from the movie Frozen at least six times in one morning:)
"Being in the sun is so much fun."
"Will you do something interesting?"
I like to listen to teachers, as well. I overheard a few of them talking about the possibility of having a couple of chickens at school and which type might be best suited to be Montessori chickens.
"They're good egg layers, the Wyandotte's. "And they're peaceful."
"I am concerned about them getting upset and flying up into the pine tree."
"There is a 100% chance of them getting upset."
May all your chickens be peaceful as you enjoy some fun in the sun this holiday weekend.
Thanks to the timeless quality of Montessori materials, it seems that only the faces have changed in these photos from MSGL classrooms in 2000.
It's a genuine Polaroid photo and the genuine Mr. Jeff presenting abstract computations with the Stamp Game.
We still use the same dishwashing stands in the classroom today.
Miss Chloe has been preparing the environment at MSGL for a long time.
The Unifix Cubes are not a Montessori material but they allow for counting, sorting, color recognition, and provide a clear control of error.
It just feels good to put the colored pencils in their matching holders.
Taking the spindles out of the boxes reinforces the counting activity used to put them in - and it builds concentration.
Two friends can work together on the Teen Boards. They are matching the quantity with the symbol and witing the numerals.
Using scissors is classified as a language activity because it builds hand-eye coordination and strengthens the hand muscles required for writing.
A comfy chair is better when it's big enough for two.
And finally, what is Steve building?
I hope that was as fun for you as it was for me! Have a warm and wonderful Wednesday. ~Heather
Let's recap our Building MSGL series on Wayback Wednesday. Montessori Parents, Inc. purchased the Calvary Baptist Church on Soldiers Home Road in 1999. Demolition of the interior began in September, 2000. Now it's December, 2000 and the stud walls are in place so that wiring, plumbing, and drywall work can begin.
Looking toward the Oak Room in Building B.
Standing in Catalpa looking through the wall into the Oak Room.
Looking out the door of the Maple Room into the office hallway.
Here's the view walking in the office door.
Here's that same view just a couple of months later.
This is the Maple Room looking toward the stairs.
This is the Willow Room looking toward the kitchen area.
And here is the Spruce Room filled with drywall supplies.
The Harvey & Son Construction crew. Steve, Don, Nolan, and Tony working over Thanksgiving Break.
That's all for this week. Have a terrific Wednesday!
It's been a long week for everyone at MSGL and it's only Wednesday. The roots of our beloved river birch tree, which shaded the sandbox for more than 10 years, finally overtook the sewage pipe coming from Building A. The tree was cut down, the sandbox was dug up, and the lovely pergola that Ron Stier designed and built to shade the children has been dismantled. This is the sight today as workers remove roots and begin to repair the pipe. As luck would have it, we received 3 inches of snow this morning so classes were cancelled.
It's not a pretty sight right now on the playground. (Photo by Tony Harvey)
Yesterday, we said goodbye to the river birch tree.
The river birch comes down, one limb at a time. (Photo by Lena Atkinson)
But this is Wayback Wednesday and we have to go way back. So let's take a look back at how we got here. This is the sandbox under construction in 2001. The river birch was planted later that year. It probably seemed like a really good idea at the time.
2001 - Sandbox under construction.
Two years later the children are enjoying the new sandbox. The birch tree is wrapped in black at top left.
Miss Sherry and friends enjoy the shade of the river birch and the pergola during summer camp in 2010.
And here is a nice photo of the whole area from Summer, 2011.
Certainly one of the most popular areas in our outdoor classroom, the sandbox is going to be sorely missed until it can be reconstructed. But even as we lament this loss, it's good to remember that things could be worse. Back in September, 2007, this was the view outside of Building A.
2007 - Old toilets being removed during demolition of Building A.
Take heart, friends. The water will soon be flowing in Building A and children will once again play in a shady sandbox. And Spring is only eight days away. Have the best possible Wednesday!
This week's installment of Building MSGL focuses on the work of the jackhammer, a tool that was put to much use during the first few months of the construction project. Lots of concrete had to be broken up and hauled away so we could remodel the buildings and install new steps and sidewalks.
Tony Harvey breaks up concrete in Building B to make space for new plumbing for sinks and bathrooms. This was one of his least favorite days of the entire 6-month project.
Looking at Building A as the concrete demolition gets underway.
Later that day, it looked like this. Watch that first step - it's a doozy.
Don Harvey and Craig Lamb prepare to take out the upstairs landing.
As the demolition continued, it became apparent that the light-duty jackhammer they had been using was not going to cut through some of the steps. One parent volunteer took a look at the slow progress they were making and set off to find a better solution. Half and hour later he pulled in with a trailer-mounted mobile air compressor and a much more powerful jackhammer. Tony Harvey said that was a real game-changer for this phase of the project.
"We had a little jackhammer that you could plug into an outlet in an airplane bathroom," he joked. "This parent came back with a rig that looked like Iron Man built it. When we flipped the switch on the big one you could see lights flicker in the apartments across the street," he said, once again, joking. "We had been working all day on those steps and in just 20 minutes with the big hammer, they were dust."
The old steps are broken up to make way for the new stairs/ramp that will lead into the upstairs hallway in Building A.
Just for fun, I am including before, during, and after photos from Building A so we can admire the progress from an old church basment entry to a modern, ADA-compliant school entrance.
Here it is with the concrete walls freshly poured.
Here, the railings are being installed.
And here it is that first summer, looking quite lovely.
Thanks for joining me in the wayback. Have a super Wednesday!
"No matter what we touch, an atom, or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe."
- Maria Montessori, 1948, To Educate the Human Potential
The Elementary students present their space projects in these photos from 2000 - 2001.
Stay warm out there and have a terrific Wednesday!
- Thanks to Jennifer Tyrrell for this guest post. Jennifer is a Montessori teacher who worked in the Spruce Toddler class at MSGL from 2003 - 2005.
One of the arguments I hear most often when I'm describing Montessori is that the open workspace—in particular the freedom to move around, to work where you do best for a specific task, and the ability to make a snack when you like—is not properly preparing children for the realities of life or the workforce: at some point they will have to learn to stay at their desk and do their work like everyone else. I think my husband's workplace shows the opposite to be true.
My husband Jeremiah took the family to visit his "office" in Cummins’s COM building. Cummins is a well-known, large, international, Fortune 500 company that makes diesel engines, and they’ve recently built this COM building in their Columbus, Indiana, headquarters with a “collaborative workspace” design. They have converted several spaces in other buildings to this open style, as well. With this collaborative workspace, departments are located on the same floor, as much as possible. Though employees can work wherever they like on any floor, they are encouraged to work amongst their department's floor.
He showed us his locker (hook and cubby) with a couple drawers for his personal items and work laptop (each employee is given one as their primary work tool), and a thin cabinet for his coat and outerwear. Then we walked around a huge floor with areas that have a variety of tables, some standing height, some for chairs; other areas with couches and coffee tables; other more intimate areas with armchairs and footstools (Jeremy's favorite). A couple of kitchenettes with long counters and stools (snack tables) are located centrally with no walls enclosing them. There are cabinets (shelves) that divide some places and contain files and materials for everyone to access.
There are even treadmills with laptop spaces and hookups for those who need movement as they work (they are calibrated for walking, not running . . . we walk in the workplace :) There are walls to divide the elevators and small conference rooms (which can be used and reserved by any employee), but other than those areas, there are no rooms, no “offices”, no cubicles, it is all shared space: managers working amongst underlings. It looks like, well . . . a grown-up Montessori classroom :)
They are doing this to encourage collaborative problem solving and to make the workday more pleasant so that Cummins continues to retain younger employees. Please share with anyone who questions the appropriateness of Montessori's open workspace. :)
You can read a news article about more of the company's redesigned workspaces see additional photos, here.
If there truly is a flashback movie that plays in our heads just before we die, the remodeling of the MSGL buildings will certainly be a part of mine. And the sweaty people covered in dust will be in it too, smiling (mostly) like they were in these photos from the first week of demolition.
The following pictures represent some of my favorite memories of the building project because we were all so young and optimistic. We didn't truly grasp what working for six months through the winter with no electricity and no toilets and no babysitters would be like. So many parents, teachers, spouses, and extended family members gave their days off and their nights and weekends to prepare this space to be our new and improved Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. They did it for free and, most importantly, they did it with a sense of humor.
Dragging the folding partitions out of the basement.
The above photo brings to mind a particularly disheartening day. The church basement was divided up into classrooms by these heavy, orange, folding partitions. Before we could start cutting into the concrete floors and tearing out the ceilng, we had to remove all of these partitions. Did I mention that they were extremely heavy? So heavy, in fact, that we couldn't move them once we got them detached and rolled up on the floor. I recall seeing Craig Lamb, Beth Nichols, and Tony Harvey pushing on them with all of their might and they just weren't budging. The wise, manly men in our group decided to drag them out of the basement using the Bobcat. Don Harvey did just that. As Tony, project manager, recalled, "That part of the demolition was really brutal. You would go in and see what was going to beat the heck out of you that day."
Just like in a Montessori classroom, every volunteer found a niche. Some of the parents didn't want to see anything go to waste, so they took out the light fixtures and the doors and anything that might be of value and marked it for a remodeling sale we had a few weeks later.
Ellie's mom is organizing the salvaged items in the future toddler room.
One of the reasons we had such a dedicated group of volunteers is that demolition work is really fun! After a long day we could put on our grubby clothes and work gloves, grab a Wonder Bar and tear into the drywall and studs.
Ron and Cathy Stier.
Beth working in the future River Birch room.
Beth and Cathy take out nails so we could re-use the studs.
Tools like the Sawzall made the job a lot more fun. This volunteer is standing in what is now the Willow room.
Tony unloads another wheelbarrow of debris.
Water girls, Gaia and Grace.
The author was concerned about lawn maintenance.
I was really worried that the lawn would grow too long and we would look like bad neighbors. This was the first and last time I mowed the entire campus with a push mower.
That week was lots of fun, but I'm glad it's done. Have a great Wednesday!
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.
The weather forecast calls for all of this snow to be melting in about a week. In case you think you just can't wait that long, here are some photos of MSGL summers past to see you through.
1994 - Digging in the tiny sandbox at Morton Center.
2000 - Hula hooping at Morton Center.
2001 - Hi Cathy!
2002 - The Parent/Infant class posing by the sandbox.
2003 - Waiting for a wagon ride.
2009 - Sack racing at the family picnic at Happy Hollow Park.
2010 - Releasing a newly-emerged Monarch butterfly.
2011 - Summer camp besties.
2012 - Shoveling in the shady sandbox.
2013 - Gardening at summer camp.
It will only be a few more days until warmer, friendlier weather arrives. Until then, take heart! Spring never fails to arrive.
Have a terrific Wednesday.
1996 - Atlanta hosted the Summer Olympics this year and Prince Charles and Princess Diana were divorced. Dolly the sheep became the first mammal to be cloned. The first version of the Java programming language was released, HotMail started providing free email service, and just over 10 million people were using the internet.
Do you know someone who attended MSGL in 1996? You just might find them here.
Preprimary Class A
Preprimary Class B
Preprimary Class D
Preprimary Class E
Extended Day Kindergarten
Thanks for reading. I hope you have been able to go sledding in all this snow. Have a terrific Wednesday!
One full year before MSGL acquired the property that is now our campus, the Calvary Baptist Church invited us to hold an open house for our families. These photos, from September 24, 1999, show lots of familiar faces and a campus without ramps, fences, or the 10 inches of snow that is on the ground today.
I can't bear to throw away a good opportunity for a photo comparison, but we don't have a current photo taken from the same perspective. Here are two beautiful photos that offer an idea of what this view looks like today.
I hope you were able to enjoy seeing some green grass and leaves on the trees. And I promise that Spring will come exactly when it's supposed to. Until then, thanks for reading and have your best possible Wednesday!
On September 21, 2000, Montessori Parents, Inc. officially closed on the purchase of the property at 2552 Soldiers Home Road that would become the new campus of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. To celebrate and prepare for the next step, the board of directors and some staff and parents met that evening in the sanctuary of what was the former Calvary Baptist Church. Board president Craig Lamb offered a toast with champagne served in paper cups.
The next morning, demolition of the buildings began. MSGL parent Tony Harvey coordinated the building project. His father, Donald Harvey, was the general contractor.
These are photos of the front of the sanctuary that is now the northwest corner of the Catalpa Room. When asked about these photos, Tony said that the gold walls on the left were part of the room that lead to the baptistry. "If you came to Calvary Baptist Church and you wanted to be saved," he explained, "you had to go through that room."
This was just the beginning of 5 months of hard and dirty work by many dedicated staff and parent volunteers. Three generations of families came together for one common goal. True friendships were forged. A lot of those people are still involved with MSGL today. I look forward to sharing the few photos and many stories of that time here on Wayback Wednesdays. If you were part of this amazing project and wish to share your stories, please add them as comments to the bottom of these posts or emaill me and I will be so happy to include them in an upcoming post. Of course, any photos you share will be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for reading! Have a terrific Wednesday.
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.
January of 2000 saw the beginning of the beginning for our current location on Soldiers Home Road. The architects at Schwarz Associates in Lafayette began designing our new space. This is the architect's rendering of the exterior of both buildings.
The photos below were taken over a year later in October, 2001.
Here is the current head-on view from 2013.
Thanks to non-acrophobic parent and board member Mary Mckay for taking those aerial photos in 2001. Parenting is not for the faint of heart.
Happy Wednesday! Thanks for reading.
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!”
Winter is upon us and the staff of the Wayback Wednesday department is preparing to head south for the season. (The staff certainly wishes this was true.) Okay, we're not really going anywhere but we have discovered a treasure trove of awesome photos. We will be scanning them and organizing them over winter break. When everyone returns in January you can look forward to the beginning of "Building MSGL." It's the story of how our families built the MSGL campus that we know and love today.
To whet your appetites I am posting one photo from that winter of 2000. Look at this photo and see if you can figure out where in the school it is. The first commenter to get it correct wins a free Wayback Wednesday t-shirt. (The staff certainly wishes this was true.) Okay, no t-shirt but you can still be first. Have fun guessing!
Have a terrific Wednesday and an awesome winter break!