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
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 best kind of snow day is when you can actually play in the snow.
Last week provided a miserable welcome to the new semester. Snow, high winds, and bitter cold meant that the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette was in session for only 20 out of a possible 40 hours over four days. Our staff did its best to maintain communication with the families and those families were very understanding. There were, however, a few questions about how we respond to Indiana’s volatile winter weather at MSGL.
The question of the week was “If the weather continues like this, can we expect to continue having so many delays and closures?” The short answer is, "yes." But how are decisions about school delays made? That's a longer answer.
I would have thought this to be a very elementary understanding. Doesn't everyone know when it's too dangerous to take the kids to school? But when I found myself working as MSGL's "Weather Delay Intern" last week, I discovered that many factors contribute to a closing or delay, and they are not always obvious to everyone.
First, there are no hard and fast rules for determining if conditions are too dangerous for school. Everything depends on timing. Temperatures below -12F are a general cut-off if people are going to be outside for more than a few minutes. However, if the roads are clear and the temperatures are on the rise at 8 a.m., then -12F might be acceptable at arrival. High winds could change that, of course. Roads that are clear now may not be clear when morning classes dismiss. Or they might be passable in town, but dangerous out in the country. And all of this has to be considered over the course of our 10-hour day.
MSGL can't follow the determinations of local school districts because they have special considerations - such as bus transportation and a large number of students who walk to school. Generally, MSGL can be in session more frequently than the public schools.
The weather is just one component of a weather-related school delay. Preparation of facilities and the safety of our staff are two others. And our families themselves are an important consideration.
Facilities: The parking lot and sidewalks must be clear of snow and ice before staff and families arrive. Our school is a small, not-for-profit, parent-owned school. A small core of people manage the day-to-day operations of the school and the needs of over 500 people. This is why we rely on a private company to clear the parking lot, sidewalks, and steps of snow and ice. That company serves several other businesses each day AND it needs two hours to clear MSGL after a snow or ice event. As an example, if the snow stops falling at 6 a.m. on a school day and we are third on the list for snow removal, school cannot open at 7:30. The ability of our snow removal contractor to clear our lot and paths before we arrive is a major determinant of our start time.
Cultural Considerations: Another little-known factor is our region's cultural relationship with winter weather. As one parent said, "I grew up in Vermont. We don't cancel school there." Indiana's threshold for tolerating winter weather might be a bit lower than other cold places because we don't see as many snowy days and our street departments are not equipped for a large quantity of snow on a regular basis. And because the majority of the West Lafayette community is made up of faculty or students from Purdue University, we also have a lot of families who come from places with absolutely no snow, ice, or cold temperatures. It can take these families a few snowy days to get the hang of dressing for the weather and driving in it. We are more comfortable with snow than Los Angeles, but less comfortable than Montpelier - and that makes a difference in how we respond to it.
Staff: Teachers and staff need to be able to travel safely and arrive at school before the children. Our staff are dedicated to their jobs and they want to be at school. While it’s easy to imagine teachers being excited to have a snow day, the reality is that the majority of our teachers have school-aged children of their own. Just like MSGL families, the teachers have to scramble to get their children safely to school in case of a delay or to arrange other care if public schools cancel and MSGL is in session.
Many of our staff live outside of city limits and travel county roads to get to work, so their ability to arrive safely is always a top priority. Delaying the start of school allows them to get out of their driveways and travel potentially hazardous roads in daylight so they can be here when the families arrive. We could call on substitute teachers to work for staff who cannot make it to school, but our substitute teachers are also home with their children on these days. Operating without adequate staff is not an option so we need to be sure all of our teachers can get to school.
Forecasted weather: Conditions throughout the day, and not just at arrival, need to be considered to determine closures and delays. The weather may be clear at morning arrival, but if incoming snow and/or ice and wind threaten later in the day, staff and children could become stranded at school or out on the roads. The administration must take into account the anticipated timing of dangerous weather and sometimes cancel classes in advance of this weather (even if that bad weather never fully materializes.)
Our early arrival and after school programs are the first to be cancelled because MSGL is a school and not a daycare facility. We do offer before and after-care programs that can function as full-day care for families, but our primary function is that of a school. This means being open during class time from 8:30 - 3:00 takes priority over being open before and after class.
We understand that it is frustrating to wake up to a school delay or cancellation. Our Montessori parents have jobs, commitments, and plans and not being able to leave their children in our care causes real problems for them. That being said, MSGL is a parent-owned school. We were started by parents over 40 years ago and all current MSGL families are the current owners of the school. If you are reading this and you have children enrolled at our school, you are one of the owners of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. With that ownership, come some responsibilities.
What can MSGL families do to help?
1. Stay informed - before school and during the day. We announce delays, cancellations, and early dismissals through many different sources. Here is a listing.
2. Offer help, if you can. If you have some time after bringing your child to school on a wintry day, you might:
If possible, we would prefer to be able to control the climate and prepare the outdoor environment as carefully as we prepare our students’ learning environments. But the realities of winter weather require our staff and families to be vigilant, flexible, and patient with weather events - and the timing of those events - over which we have no control.
And if you, like me, are curious how the large, public school districts determine delays, this video from Louisville, KY is interesting.
Thanks for reading, ~Heather
What are "Indoor" Shoes?
MSGL students get to play outside every day that the weather allows. This means their shoes can get wet and muddy. To avoid tracking that dirt onto the carpet, we ask that you provide your child with one pair of shoes to wear outside and one pair to wear inside.
Your child will probably change outdoor shoes with the seasons - from sandals to sneakers to snow boots - but indoor shoes can stay the same all year. Walking around in the classroom with bare feet is not allowed, so a comfy pair of shoes that the child enjoys wearing is a must.
Below are some good examples of indoor shoes that work well for the children. These styles of shoes keep a child's foot dry from spills, are non-slip, stay attached to the foot, and they allow the child to get them on and off by themselves.
Below are some examples of indoor shoes that DO NOT work well for the children. Slippers are not water-resistant and they can be difficult to walk in. If a child has not yet learned to tie, shoes with laces can be impossible for a child to get on and off by himself. Please save these types of shoes to wear at home.
Because so many children choose the same types of shoes, please be sure to write your child's name on each shoe so we know whose shoes are whose. If you want to be fancy, you can order personalized labels for shoes and clothing online.
Your thoughtfulness when shopping for indoor shoes will help put your child on the path to independence. Thank you!
Somdatta and Felicia of the Canoe Birch Class and Cathy and Mary of the All-Day Program invited the children to tell who and what they are thankful for and then wrote their answers on leaves. Each class has a paper tree by the door displaying the children's gratitude. As this Thanksgiving Day draws to a close I thought it would be nice to share the gratitude of these 3, 4, and 5-year-olds with all of you.
Enjoy your holiday weekend!
- 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.
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.
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