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!
This week we look back at some photos from 1998.
Anita McKinney, our first executive director, was leaving MSGL to live closer to her family in Florida. Her MSGL family held a farewell reception in her honor just before the winter break. These are photos of some of the children wishing her well.
Anita started working at MSGL in July, 1991 when the parent-owned school decided it needed a full-time. Up to then, the office staff coordinated with the Board of Directors. This next photo is actually from about 1996. It shows Anita with Beth Nichols, who was then the office manager, in the teeny, tiny office at Morton Center.
Beth is still with us and now works as our accountant. Anita has been working with Florida's Duval County Extension office since 1998. She is currently teaching personal financial management in Jacksonville. She is retiring in January and will start another "job" taking care of her twin grandchildren Dominic and Danica. She is excited about this new chapter in her life and told me, "They will be three by then , so I will start my own little Montessori home-school with them. I am looking forward to this next step!"
Best wishes, Anita! And happy Wednesday to you, faithful readers.
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!
Today's Wayback Wednesday comes from March, 2000. The children in Room B were treated to a science presentation by a group of MSGL parents.
These parents must have been SO COOL! We are thankful for all of the Montessori parents and grandparents who have shared their interests and their time with our children over the past 41 years. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!
MSGL now has a Book Reviews page.
Click here to visit the Book Reviews Blog. We welcome reviews of recommended books from staff, parents, and children.
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to submit a book review to our site.
We're keeping things simple on Wayback Wednesday this week with a short and sweet little collection of photos from October, 2002. Teacher Judy West took the children of the Red Oak class on a nature hike to Purdue's Horticulture Park to enjoy the crisp morning, collect leaves, and hug some very deserving trees.
Do you have favorite photos you would like to share on Wayback Wednesday? Please contact me at email@example.com. Have an outstanding Wednesday!
Today is school picture day!
When Harriet and "the ducky" show up to take our pictures, you can bet that the children are well-dressed, the snack is no-mess, and the staff is slightly stressed - for two whole days. Sometimes there are tears and pouty faces, but never in front of the children :)
These teachers from 2004 look pretty happy. Enjoy this week's Wayback Wednesday photos from 2004.
Smile, silly ducky! And have a terrific Wednesday.
The MSGL photo archives are a bit disorganized and I usually have to sift through them to come up with a Wayback Wednesday post, but this week the work was already done. After leading the toddler families on this field trip to Lafayette's Columbian Park Zoo in the Spring of 1998, teacher Suman Harshvardhan put together this little photo album for the children.
These kiddos are college freshmen (or nearly) now. Thanks for reading and have a great Wednesday!
We're really reaching back here for Halloween gold - all the way back to 1989. Back in the day, the whole school had a costume parade in the Morton Center gymnasium. It was a big year for bunnies, clowns, and superheroes.
First, I will start with what I saw this week. This was my favorite moment.
Another photo. If you are familiar with Humans of New York, the book and website by Brandon Stanton, then I know you can relate. If not, I know you can relate.
Children dress so fabulously and so beautifully because they have not yet learned that other people are judging their choices. They wear what they like. I want to wear what I like but I feel childish. How old will I grow before I truly understand that being childish is the truest way to be?
And, one more photo.
And now, for what I heard.
1. I erroneously asked a child how she was enjoying her Kindergarten year at MSGL. She responded, "I'm not IN Kindergarten. That's why I'm HERE!"
2. "That's a small story."
3. A friend was reading me a note from his lunch box. "Look! Look it! It says I'm going to my grandma's house. And I think I'm gonna get a Spiderman hat when we go to the store."
4. "Yeah. Let's do our maps."
5. "Where's the damn lizard?"
Rest easy. That darned lizard was found.
Montessori School of Greater Lafayette Staff, 1992
Here are the year's class photos. If you recognize any of the children, all should be in their mid-twenties now, consider directing them here. We would love to hear from them and from the teachers.
Class A - Morning Preprimary, 1992
Class B - Morning Preprimary, 1992
Class D - Morning Preprimary, 1992
Class E - Afternoon Preprimary, 1992
Class C - 3-day and 5-day Toddlers, 1992
Class C - 2-day Toddlers, 1992
The s-word is in our forecast this week. I don't know anyone who is happy about the October SNOW except for my allergy-suffering friends. With the snow come cold temperatures and at MSGL we play outside year-round, so it's important for children to have warm and practical clothing to wear every day. For the past 12 years I greeted the children on the playground at 8:30 am, snow or shine. To help you prepare for this week and the next six months (it hurts me to say that), I have compiled for you:
Miss Heather's Top 10 List for Child Comfort and Parent Happiness: Winter Edition
1. Check the forecast. Every class - Toddler through Elementary - goes outside when the temperature is 20 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Check the weather forecast each day before leaving the house to make sure your child will have the appropriate cold-weather gear for that day.
2. Go with the low. Consider the time of day your child will be outside. The forecast may call for a high temp. of 63 degrees, but the temperature at 8:30 am might only be in the 40's. Some classes start outside, some go out at 10:15, some at 11:00. The afternoon and Elementary classes go out at varying times throughout the week. Provide clothing for the day's low temperature and your child should be well-prepared.
3. Layer, layer, layer. Imagine your child as a cute, rosy-cheeked onion and help her dress in layers. Being hot and sweaty outside in the cold is just as uncomfortable as shivering. If your child can take off a sweater or push back her hood and unzip her coat, she will be able to regulate her body temperature and still enjoy the time outside.
4. Listen to your child. Trust your child to make decisions about his comfort. The only way we can learn if we are too cold is if we are allowed to feel the cold. If your child doesn't want to wear his gloves, don't sweat it. Make sure he knows his gloves are in his locker and that he can go get them if he gets cold. The same goes for his snow pants and his bulky winter coat. An active child dressed in layers with warm shoes and a hat can generally enjoy himself outside without danger of getting too cold, even in winter. If your child is listening to his body instead of chafing under a "mitten mandate" he is more likely to develop a true sense of how to dress for the weather. My friend "Z" always told his dad he didn't want to wear his coat or his snow pants or his gloves, but 10 minutes after dad left, Z would ask to go get them.
5. Start a discussion. Talk with your child about the day's weather and how to dress. Remember that the ultimate goals are safety and independence. You might say something like, "It's 30 degrees Fahrenheit. You definitely need to wear something on your hands, but you can choose if you wear your Spiderman gloves or the mittens Grandma made for you." Or try, "It's going to be 45 degrees when you go outside today. What should you pack for school?" Young children can learn to speak three languages at once. They can also learn to make clothing choices based on the outdoor temperature.
6. Get a move-on. Remember that your child is most likely playing actively outside. We might feel very cold walking from the car to the school door in a suit or a skirt and heels, but a child riding a balance bike for 10 minutes heats up very quickly.
7. Consider cold pants. Snow pants or snow suits are essential when there is snow on the ground, but some children (and some preschool teachers) like to wear them as soon as they can see their breath outside. Think of them as "cold pants" and let your child keep them in his locker from October through April.
8. Label everything. Speaking of lockers, our lockers are small. When two children share a locker it's nearly impossible to fit snow pants, coats, book bags and lunch boxes inside. PLEASE make sure every article of clothing you send to school has your child's name or your family's last name written on it where it's easy to read. All black snow pants and all Spiderman gloves look the same when there are 24 children getting dressed in the hallway. If you forget, your child's teacher will be happy to loan you a Sharpie and some masking tape.
9. Embrace the terrific outdoors. Spending time outdoors is important for everyone's health and well-being. We do not have a gym and children may not stay inside by themselves. If your child is recovering from an illness and you don't want her to be outside, please make arrangements to drop her off late or pick her up early, depending on the class schedule.
10. Stock up. Have extra winter clothing on hand, if possible. The first Snow Day of the year is much less fun when your child has left her snow pants at school. And plan to lose at least one set of gloves. If you buy three identical sets of gloves, odds are you will have at least one matching set at the end of the year. Just in case, the Lost and Found box is in the office.
If you recently moved to West Lafayette from somewhere warm and lovely, I am so sorry! But seriously, you can stock up on all the clothing your family needs to get through your first Indiana winter at J.C. Penney, Sears, Target, KMart, or Walmart. You can purchase gently-used childrens' outerwear at Once Upon a Child in Lafayette.
Below are some examples of items your child will need.
Thanks for reading and bring on the snow!
1998 was a big year for MSGL because we announced our expansion so we received lots of media coverage. This week's Wayback Wednesday post features another story from the Lafayette Journal and Courier. On July 7th, a story about our summer camp cooking class filled the 4 Kidz Only page. (I love that the J&C embraced phonetic spelling!)
The photos are beautiful and the children's quotes, especially about date math, are really sweet.
Featured teacher, Revati Nemani is still with MSGL today in the Catalpa class. The children featured in this article are now in college. Are any of them studying to be chefs? We would love to know. If you know Alie Magnante, Daniel Plesniak, Asher Bogdanove, or Andrew Staiger, please pass this along. It would be great to hear from them.
And maybe you and your young ones will give one of these recipes a go? We would love to hear about that, too.
..and this was its steeple.
When we remodeled the former Calvary Baptist Church in 2000-2001 to become our Montessori school, we had to replace a few fixtures. The steeple was detached from the roof and lowered by crane to the parking lot below.
What do you do with a second-hand steeple? We gave it to a church down the road.
The demolition crew also removed the fiberglas baptistry by cutting it into pieces. All of the beautiful wood pews were sold. You can see one being used today in the school office. The colored windows were eventually replaced with clear glass.
This is what Building B looks like today.
Have a great Wednesday!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org today!
Date: Wednesday, Oct. 9th
Time: 6:30-8:00 pm
Classroom: To Be Decided
Childcare available - call,
sign up in office or email Lena at email@example.com.
We hope to see you there!
Two years ago, before their daughter was even old enough to enroll at MSGL, Zoe Neal and Desiree Chuang made an historic donation to our school. Owners of Virtuous Cycles in downtown Lafayette, Zoe and Desiree gave us a bright orange Strider balance bike to try out on the tricycle track. It soon became the most beloved of all the bikes because it is the only two-wheeler and it has no pedals. And most importantly, it goes FAST! Well, it goes as fast as the square bike track will allow and with all of the tricycle traffic? The bike track is sometimes more like the intersection of 52 and Salisbury when Purdue heads home for the day. Still, it feels really fast.
On the bikes of my youth and quite possibly yours, I learned to pedal with a set of training wheels attached to the hub of the back wheel to keep the bike, and me, upright. I learned to pedal the bike but never felt what it was like to be truly balanced on two wheels. When the training wheels came off I wasn't really ready at all. I had to learn to balance, and quickly! - and my parents had to watch. Spoiler alert: we all survived.
Balance bikes let a child master the balancing part - the most challenging part - of riding a bike, first. When you are coasting on a Strider bike with your feet not touching the ground it feels exactly like riding a bike. You ARE riding the bike, you're just not pedaling it. And since many children already learned to pedal on a tricycle the year before, the two skills of balancing and pedaling come together nicely after they have mastered the Strider. Several online reviews point out that if a child can walk she can ride a balance bike, so some children skip the tricycle stage altogether.
Maria Montessori observed the importance of a child developing his sense of balance. She created activities such as walking on the line to help fine-tune this sense. At MSGL the Strider is an extension of that balance exercise.
Last year, the Franklin family donated a new, dark blue Strider and now the children can have a turn to ride in half the time. That's important because learning to have a turn and to wait for a turn is one of the biggest works of preschool. The children at MSGL and their teachers have come up with an almost fool-proof system for taking turns on the Striders and all the bikes. It came to be called the "waiting bench."
The Waiting Bench
The waiting bench is right next to the bike shed which is sort of the starting line of the bike track. The first two children take the bikes out of the shed and ride them. When another friend wants a turn, he sits on the waiting bench. This signals the riders that someone is waiting for a turn so they need to consider how many more laps they will take before handing the bike off to the next friend. Sometimes the rider stops riding and negotiates with the waiter.
Waiter: How many more times are you going to go around?
Waiter: That's too many! How about 7?
Rider: How about 5? (When you're learning numbers and quantity, it's sometimes more important to pick a number you like than to negotiate for the most turns. Negotiation skills improve with experience :)
Once an agreement has been reached, the rider continues his laps while the waiter and his friends count down from 5 to 1. At the hand-off between rider and waiter, the cycle is repeated with new riders. Sometimes there are misunderstandings and an experienced child steps in to mediate. A teacher is always nearby to see what is happening and make herself available to help, if needed.
The idea of the waiting bench just sort of happened, like lots of great things happen in child-centered environments. It's possible that the teachers could have made an arbitrary rule about each child getting only 5 turns, but that would diminish the child's ability to make choices and consider the feelings of others. For example, 5-year-olds can recognize a child who is struggling with being patient and they will sometimes hand the bike over early to help this child. This leads to another cycle that I call the "Cycle of Benevolence." Benevolence is an inclination to perform kind, charitable acts. When a child sees a peer giving freely of herself to make someone else happy, it feels good. Soon, that child is looking for a way to help a friend. The cycle repeats and those kind acts and good feelings spill over into the community and, ultimately, the whole wide world.
Heike Larson, an administrator and blogger at Leport School in California, writes frequently of the importance of fostering benevolence in preschool communities. All of us at MSGL are inspired by her blog. She has also written about balance bikes on the Leport Schools blog here.
If you are considering buying a balance bike for your child, be sure to visit Virtuous Cycles to check out their selection of models and colors. Tell them MSGL sent you and be a part of the Cycle.
Families are drawn to Montessori schools for many different reasons. Sometimes parents are looking to continue in preschool the child-centered environment they have established at home. Others wish to see their children thrive in the our enriched classrooms. Still, other families choose Montessori preschools because they want their children to learn and socialize in a non-competitive environment. Whatever the reason parents choose Montessori, they often have many questions during their child's first year.
To help answer these questions, MSGL offers a 1 ½-hour Montessori Basics class each Fall and all new families are expected to attend. Preprimary teacher Kelly Sallee presented this year’s class on September 25th to a packed house of over 40 parents and grandparents. Kelly focused her presentation on the Prepared Environment, the Sensitive Periods of a child's development, and the Role of the Teacher. If you were unable to attend this year's Basics, follow this link to read more about Kelly's presentation. Below are a few tips for new parents.
Kelly's Tips for New Montessori Parents
Do your best to control the environment, not the child. Organize the child's belongings to help him be independent and successful.
Don't worry if your child is unable to sit still or to focus for long periods. "Even when we feel they're not listening, they are learning."
What's in your child's cubby does not necessarily reflect their work because many activities have no "paper" component. Look at classroom photos and videos on SmugMug to see what the children are working on in class. Your child's teacher will also have this information available for you at parent/teacher conferences.
Give your child the gift of time. Try not to rush her through tasks. When a child is allowed to dress herself in the morning it may take longer but she will develop the skills necessary for independence.
Allow your child to work without interruption, when possible. Periods of uninterrupted work strengthen a child's ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Allow your child to complete tasks without correction. "I don't know any adults who walk around with their shoes on the wrong feet. They will figure it out with time."
Give your child the opportunity to be a third-year student. Our mixed-age classrooms allow children to move from being the youngest who look up to role models to being the role models themselves. "Children who are the youngest in their families need the third year to be the leader that they don't get to be at home."