Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Read All About It!

This post follows "The 'Write' Stuff". It describes beginning reading materials and their use.

Once a child is writing proficiently (usually around 4.5) he will begin to spontaneously read what he has written. At this point the child begins to work with the phonetic object box. This, as the name implies, is a box with five to seven objects in it that are spelled phonetically. The teacher writes the name of one object on a slip of paper, slowly, and the child says the sound of each letter out loud as she does so. Then he puts the sounds together and “guesses” which object was named. This repeats until all the objects are labeled. For repeat use, there is a set of papers already labeled with the names of the objects, or the teacher may continue to write.

The phonogram object box is introduced after the phonetic object box. It is almost identical, but one of the objects (the last one named) is not phonetic. Rather, it uses one phonogram such as “ch” or “oo”, and the rest of the word remains phonetic. The teacher helps the child remember phonograms by isolating them if necessary, either covering the rest of the word or using a phonogram as the beginning sound and pausing dramatically while the child determines the sound. The phonogram is treated as one letter, just as it was in the sandpaper letter work.

Puzzle words are also introduced after the phonetic object box. While similar to traditional education's “sight words”, these are not simply easy words to recognize on sight. Puzzle words are, instead, words that cannot be figured out using either phonetic sounds or phonograms. They are like a puzzle – you can't tell what the “picture” is until you put all the pieces together and see the whole thing. These words are typed or handwritten on cards and the child learns three at a time, in a three period lesson. This involves learning the word (first period), matching the spoken word to the written word (second period), and giving the spoken word in response to the written word (third period, i.e. reading).

All words in the English language can be deciphered using one of those three methods, so once the child is reasonable proficient with these activities he can begin to do work with more challenging words. The picture cards used for spoken language activities come into use again, but this time as three part cards. One part includes both an image and the written word (all lowercase, in an easy to read font like Century Gothic). Another part includes just an image, and the third includes just the word. All cards in a set are cut identically. To use these, the child lays out the control cards with space between them. He then places the matching picture card next to the control card, and turns the control cards over so they are no longer visible. He reads the words, and places them beneath the matching image. When he has completed all the sets, he turns the control cards back over to check his work. Each classroom has several three part card sets on the shelves at any given time, and even more in storage for rotation.

The three part cards branch out into “parts of...” and “kinds of...” cards, as well as developing more fully into definition booklets. For example, a “parts of the flower” set will highlight the different parts of the flower (pistil, stamen, corolla, etc) in color, while the rest of the image remains an outline. These will be three part cards, but there will also be a booklet that describes each part of the flower on a separate page. For example:
The calyx
is the green part
that holds the flower together.

This definition is repeated, split up in different ways, for the child to match the parts of the definition to each other and to the image. The booklet is for initially defining terms and to use as a control so the child can check his work.

This list is (by far) not all of the reading work in a Montessori environment, but the next post will describe spoken language activities (which really should have been the FIRST post) so that after that we can go into the parts of speech and more advanced language work.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The "Write" Stuff

Though contrary to traditional education methods, Montessori discovered that children can write before they can read. In the first classrooms, children given instruction in the sandpaper letters (2.5 - 3) spontaneously began to write around age 4, and then to read what they had written about six months later. This pattern was repeated by many children in classrooms all over the world.
This is partially because, in our classrooms, we have many activities that start a child on the path to developing proficiency with written language, well before we expect him to do so. These activities build coordination and hand strength, recognition of sounds, and give practice in how letters are formed. Practical life activities help a child practice logical sequencing, develop his pencil grip, and increase his concentration.
Spoken language activities help a child develop vocabulary and learn syntax, as well as helping to classify the world around him, and a sensorial activity called the touch boards helps him maintain finger sensitivity. This helps avoid cramps when writing with a pencil.
These activities are started immediately (practical life beginning in the toddler community and sensorial from the first day in primary), far before writing and reading.

The first activity a child does that officially leads into reading and writing is called “sound games”. This game is usually guided by an adult or older child, and several objects are gathered strategically. Each object has a different starting sound, avoiding sounds that are too similar (like b and p). Each person takes turns holding an object in their hands, and says, “I'm holding in my hand something that starts with the sound ___.” Then the other players “guess” what he is holding. When the children are good at this, they can begin to do it without picking up an item. They might say, “There's something on the tray that starts with the sound ___.” When the children become more proficient they can play this game with middle and ending sounds as well.
Sound games are appropriate for any child who is reasonably verbal, and are played in the toddler class as well as the primary. In the primary they often run parallel to the sandpaper letters.

Sandpaper letters are formed out of (gasp) sandpaper, and backed by a painted wooden rectangle (blue, pink, or green). The child can easily see the shape of each letter, and is shown how to trace it with two fingers. We don't name the letters, but rather call them by the sound they make. This reduces the number of steps a child goes through when sounding a word out later – instead of, “this is b, b says 'buh',” the child can just say “buh”. The sandpaper letters with the green backgrounds are phonograms such as “ch” or “ea”.

The movable alphabet is the first opportunity a child has to actually “write”. He knows the sounds of several letters (from his work with the sandpaper letters), and can make lists, write a sentence, or even tell a story with these easily held cursive letters. Spelling is not a priority with this material (though it is part of the curriculum later), as it is important to develop confidence with the writing process first.

The metal insets are a series of geometric shapes which are traced with colored pencils to make a design. There are several lessons which become more challenging as the student becomes more proficient with using a pencil. This material isolates the difficulty of using a pencil from the difficulty of creating words, and the two are merged after individual mastery.

A sand tray helps a child practice handwriting before using paper, so he can simply shake away mistakes. Chalkboards can also be used for this purpose, and writing on a vertical surface helps to develop shoulder strength. Strips of paper are next, and finally sheets of special lined paper (feel free to use this paper at home or give a binder-full as a gift) which often have a space for illustrations.

The next post will describe the materials used next, to help a child teach himself to read! Stay tuned... :)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Snowman "Anything Kit" Tutorial

Today I'm going to share with you a tutorial for a super easy, super adorable winter craft. It makes a good project to do with children, and the insides are an activity for another time. Alternately, it could be a party favor at a winter party - and since it's not associated with any particular holiday you can use it for any group at any time. The toddler class at Dynamite is making them (with some grown-up help) at our holiday party.
Before we start, here's a little disclaimer: according to Montessori principles, art should be open-ended, or a project that the child designs independently and then fulfills. This project, while fun and awesome, doesn't really follow Montessori curriculum guidelines.

Isn't he cute? He's a snowman "anything kit". For this tutorial I made him into a play dough kit using the easiest recipe I know: salt, flour, optional kool-aid for color/scent, and water.

Ready to get started? Here's what you need:
3 identical white or clear takeout sauce containers, with lids
black acrylic paint and paint brush
tacky glue
permanent marker (orange would be nice for a nose)
black construction paper
not pictured: scissors and tape

First, you'll want to paint the lid of ONE of the sauce containers black. I snapped it onto its cup to hold it off of my work surface, and painted carefully. Acrylic paint is water cleanup ONLY while it's still wet, so if you get any on your clothes take care of it right away.
Let the lid dry while you do the other steps. Depending on your climate, it might take longer to dry, so take that into account too.

Next, you'll need to fill the other two containers with items of your choice. I did flour and salt, but you could do glue and objects, beads and string, any kind of small trinkets or even candies. Eventually we'll have another container to fill up, too, so you'll need a third, complementary item later. Mine will be blue kool-aid, because the sauce cups aren't water tight and everyone has water at home
anyway. Kool-aid is slightly harder to come by :).

Once the items are loaded in the sauce cups, put their lids on and glue them together. The two bottom pieces will be glued lid to lid, so the bottom one will be right side up and the middle one will be upside down. Then glue the top one (the one with the black lid) in place, right side up, on top. DO NOT glue the lids onto their cups unless you never want to open it. Now is a good time to remove the top lid and add the third item, because you'll be working with the black lid next.

Cut your black construction paper into a long rectangle (mine was approximately 3" x 1"). The long side will be the circumference of the circle you will make to be the tall part of the top hat. The height of the top hat will be equal to the short side. I used the inner ring of the lid as my guide, and cut the paper so it made a nice loop inside the little crevice with a small overlap. Once you have it the way you like it, tape it shut and glue it in place with the
tacky glue. If your lids have a crevice like mine did, you can glue it there and it will be nice and sturdy.

The final step is to decorate him. I just used a black sharpie (remember, I'll be doing this with 2-year olds so even that is a big mess risk), but I think he would be even cuter with real sticks hot glued to his sides and real tiny buttons, plus maybe a little striped scarf and a tiny carrot nose. If you're doing it with older children or by yourself, get creative and do them however you like!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dynamite's Toileting Policy

Our policy is to follow the Association Montessori International guidelines as closely as possible; this includes beginning or continuing toilet training in the toddler program. Being toilet-trained contributes to a child's readiness to enter the primary class, which is a major goal of the toddler program.

Children in the toddler class wear cloth training underwear, in accordance with the potty training goal. This process involves each child being guided to the restroom approximately every 30 minutes depending on individual needs, and it does not involve disposable products such as diapers or pull ups. Requests to use the toilet will not interrupt the child's work, but rather be timed so that the child is in-between activities and therefore not disturbed.
Children will be encouraged to use the toilet but have the option to decline. We will NEVER force a child to use the toilet or make him feel ashamed for soiling his clothes. We simply remove the soiled clothes in the bathroom, clean the child, and put on fresh clothes. Then we cheerfully suggest that next time, maybe he or she will “make it to the bathroom in time”, or “choose to use the toilet”. When a child soils his or her clothing, a staff member will guide the child to the restroom for cleaning while another staff member cleans any parts of the classroom that may have become soiled. The classroom areas will be sanitized using an approved disinfectant, as per the Arizona Health Department regulations. The cleaning process will always happen immediately after the child's clothing has been soiled, and no child will ever be left to sit in soiled clothing.

Many children entering the toddler program aren't fully potty trained, and many begin in our class. To accommodate this, we have child-sized toilets in the bathrooms and the supply list includes thick cloth training underwear.

To make the process as simple as possible, we recommend elastic waist pants or shorts with NO buttons or snaps. Dresses and elastic waist skirts are also good, but we request that parents avoid overalls, belts, and any article of clothing that is too stiff or tight for the child to manipulate.

Potty training successes and attempts will be recorded daily, as will instances of soiled clothing. The head teacher will communicate daily or weekly with parents, depending on the child's progress. The amount of time it takes for complete success varies from child to child, however our experience is that for most children, potty training is successful more quickly if children have consistent potty training routines everywhere.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cooking with Kids

This is the last post about food for a while, I just had so much to say that I couldn't squeeze it all into one post for the Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Food preparation is full of great lessons for a child of any age. The opportunity to provide something so basic for oneself is a huge self esteem booster, and parents can use the shared time to discuss all kinds of things like healthy food choices, where the food comes from, tidbits about food science or how to measure ingredients. Older children can help read the recipe and practice fractions by reading the measuring cups or using (for example) two ¼ cups instead of a ½ cup.
Make sure to choose a recipe that doesn't have to be perfect, and that has something for your child to do at each step of the process. If you like, you can prepare a binder of simple and appropriate recipes for your child to choose from. (Check this post for instructions about how to make a child's cookbook.)
A food that is prepared on a tabletop and then baked or otherwise cooked works out best, unless your child is mature enough to help you at the stove top. Choose a recipe that won't strain your child's attention span too much – I've found that my toddlers tend to lose focus after forty-five minutes or an hour, and if the recipe takes longer than that I'm finishing it by myself. An older child would probably focus longer. Make sure you plan for it to take about twice as long as it would if you were doing it by yourself.
With a toddler, it's important to have all the ingredients and materials ready before you begin – if ingredients need to be room temperature take them out of the refrigerator ahead of time. Have the project ready to go and invite him to join you at a moment when he isn't busy. An older child can help pick the recipe and gather the materials, and still be engaged for the entire activity.
Once the materials are assembled, remind the child to wash his hands and put on an apron. Then give direction by showing what to do. If ingredients need to be cut, Use a cutting board to define the work space and protect your table. A wavy cutter or butter knife is safe for little hands and you can show what size to cut the pieces (but don't be too picky or he might get discouraged). A more proficient child can use a sharp knife with supervision.
If ingredients need to be measured, you can show how to use the back of a butter knife to scrape off the excess from the measuring cup or spoon – toddlers find this absolutely magical. Eggs can be cracked into a mug or bowl first, and checked for shell pieces before adding to the main bowl. The pieces will stick better to a large piece of shell than to a finger.
Have your child help you clean up while the food is cooking. He can put away ingredients, wash dishes in a pair of basins or help load the dishwasher, and wipe the table. An older child (or a younger child with some guidance) could sort trash from compost and recyclables. He can also set the table for the meal or snack; if you want to get really fancy, pick up a book about napkin folding and try a few folds out together.
Finally, I have one somewhat controversial piece of advice for you: consider letting your child use a toaster oven for baking. Get a pair of child sized oven mitts and show how to put food in with the oven mitts on. You can cut down an adult pair (leave the arms long) or make your own. After he develops consistent control, you can let him take the food out, too. I have seen three-year-olds use a toaster oven safely... the key is adult guidance. Never leave your child alone with a hot appliance and if you have any doubts about his ability to use it safely, don't offer it as an option. But don't underestimate him, either – a vast majority of children will instinctively understand that using real tools carries the responsibility of being careful. They take it very seriously.
The most important thing to do when cooking with a child is to have fun and to make it fun for him. It's a great opportunity for learning and bonding, but he won't want to do it at all if the experience is stressful, and neither will you. Honestly, it's a lot easier and more fun than you might think!

Montessori Moments is a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Make a Children's Cookbook

This cookbook is intended to make cooking as simple as possible, for a young child to do independently. Making it yourself ensures that all the recipes meet your family's nutritional goals and you can include only foods your child likes or add new foods to try. The list of ingredients can be in picture form for a child who doesn't read yet, and knowledge of fractions is not necessary to follow the recipes! It will quickly become your child's favorite resource.

What you'll need:
simple, healthy, recipes that don't require tools your child can't use independently (can opener, vegetable peeler, etc). You can start with only a few recipes and add to the cookbook as time passes.

Plain colored measuring cups and spoons – metal or clear/white plastic.
Colored dot stickers – at least 6 different colors
A three-ring binder and three hole punch
for a very young child: camera and all ingredients OR internet photo search skills

Step 1: Attach a different color of dot sticker to the handle of each measuring tool. Don't repeat colors! Secure each one with a small square of packing tape.

Step 2: Title the recipe and, optionally, put a picture of the finished food at the top.

Step 3: List the ingredients in a column using your word processor. Indent them ½ inch. Underneath, write the directions as simply as possible – for very young children use pictures instead of typing the words, and use recipes where all the ingredients are simply mixed together so no directions are needed.

Step 4: Format it in an easy to read font (like Century Gothic) and arrange the margins to your liking. Make the left margin bigger (I used 1.5 inch) so the words don't get chopped up when you hole punch it later.

Step 5: Print the recipes. Add colored dot stickers next to each ingredient to show which measuring cup to use – this is why you indented the ingredients list earlier. If you need two cups, put two dots that match the one on the measuring cup.

Step 6: Laminate the recipes! If you don't laminate your pages they will be floppy and get dirty fast! If you don't have a laminator, you can have it done at a copy shop or teaching store. They also sell cold press laminating sheets that don't go through a machine, but I haven't ever used those so I can't say as to their quality or ease of use.

Step 7: Hole punch the recipes and load them into the binder. Add more as you discover them, and as your child gets older you can begin to use recipes with more complex directions.

Some ideas to start with:
Fruit Salad - list fruits that you usually have at home.
Egg Salad - keep hard boiled eggs ready on a low shelf.
Yogurt Parfait – plain yogurt, chopped fruit, nuts/granola or dry cereal.
Tuna Spread – tuna from a pouch, mayo or mayo substitute, and celery.
Deviled Eggs – cut hard boiled eggs in half and mix yolks with mayo or mayo substitute, then scoop back in.

Montessori Moments is a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Independent Food Preparation: My Toddler Can Do That?

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

It seems to be a cultural norm that children under a certain age are simply served food, without having any chance to participate in making it or even choosing it. It's much easier than showing a child what to do and giving him time to do it... in the short term. In the long term, giving children some control over what they eat not only saves time, it also promotes independence and a positive attitude toward food.
There are a lot of ways that a toddler (and therefore also an older child) can prepare his own snacks, and they only require a minimum of preparation.
I like to have a fruit, a vegetable, a grain, and a protein available for children to snack on, and pack them up an hour or so before mealtimes. If your child is on a special diet, use your judgment. The idea is to offer a variety of healthy foods – three or four choices are ideal.
For most foods (like celery, cucumber, carrots, pears, or melon), you'll need to set up a cutting work. The tools you will need are a tray, a child sized apron, a small cutting board, and a crinkle cutter. I like to make them match, so that it is obvious that they go together and are used for a single activity. If your child is older and you feel comfortable with it, you could skip the wavy cutter and provide a knife instead – but keep it out of reach of younger siblings who aren't ready to use one safely yet.
Do a little pre-cutting, so that the foods are already in a single serving size and have a flat edge. For an English cucumber, for example, I would remove the ends, slice lengthwise, and then cut each half into three or four segments. In the classroom, I put a few on a plate with a glass dome over it next to the cutting work, but you could just as easily put it in a container in the refrigerator. Just make sure it's low enough for your child to reach independently – if you prepare more of a particular food than you want your child to eat in a day, store the rest up higher and move it within reach later. Also be sure to use a container that he can open himself.
Cheese can be cut with the cutting work, or you could get a cheese slicer. I find them at thrift stores fairly often for only a few dollars.
For foods like hard boiled eggs, mushrooms (as part of a larger cooking project) and strawberries with tops removed, use a heavy duty egg slicer. If you only plan to use it for eggs, you could buy a cheap one at the grocery store or dollar store. Strawberries and mushrooms are a bit firmer, and might break one that isn't so strong.
For apples, we use an apple cutter. First I slice the apple in half (so the top and bottom are separate, not the left and right). I try to get small ones, which are easier for children to cut. Show how to center the corer over the stem and push down hard – this one takes some strength and practice – in my experience most children are able to do it independently around age 3.
The grains we provide at Dynamite are usually some variation of cracker or pretzel, which the children serve themselves with a scoop or tongs. If you buy prepackaged bags of those items, teach your child how to open the bag with scissors.
The theme running through all of these ideas is guided independence. You, the adult, offer appropriate foods in appropriate amounts, and let the child decide what to eat. Since the options are all healthy, you can feel good about whatever decision he makes. Since he decides when he's hungry, what to eat, and how much he wants, he is practicing listening to the needs of his body. It's win-win! And if you ever had them, you can forget about mealtime struggles because you'll know he has healthy food options at other times of the day.

FYI – links are NOT affiliate links; I have provided them to clarify what I meant when I named certain tools. I have not used the actual brands I linked to, and while I have no reason to doubt them, I also can't vouch for their quality.

Montessori Moments is a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon November 8 with all the carnival links.)

  • Baking & letting go — Cooking with kids can be a mess. Nadia at Red White & GREEN Mom is learning to relax, be patient, and have fun with the process.
  • Family feeding in Child of Mine — Lauren at Hobo Mama reviews Ellyn Satter's suggestions for appropriate feeding and points out where her family has problems following through.
  • Children with Knives! (And other Kitchen Tools) — Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy teaches her children how to safely use knives.
  • "Mommy, Can I Help?" — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how she lets her kiddos help out with cooking, despite her {sometimes} lack of patience!
  • Solids the Second Time Around — Sheryl at Little Snowflakes recounts her experiences introducing solids to her second child.
  • The Adventure of Toddler TastebudsThe Accidental Natural Mama shares a few things that helped her daughter develop an adventurous palate.
  • A Tradition of Love — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy looks forward to sharing the kitchen traditions passed on from her mom and has already found several ways to involve baby in the kitchen.
  • The Very Best Classroom — Alicia C. at McCrenshaw's Newest Thoughts reveals how her kitchen is more than a place to make food - it's a classroom!
  • Raising Little Chefs — Chef Mike guest posts on Natural Parents Network about how he went from a guy who couldn't cook to a chef who wanted to teach his boys to know how the food we love is made.
  • In the Kitchen with my kids — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine shares a delicious soup recipe that her kids love.
  • Papa, the Pancake Artist — Papa's making an incredible breakfast over at Our Mindful Life.
  • Kids won't eat salad? Try this one! — Tat at Mum in Search is sharing her children's favourite salad recipe.
  • Recipe For a Great Relationship — Cooking with kids is about feeding hearts as well as bellies, writes Hannah at Wild Parenting.
  • The Ritual of Mealtimes — Syenna at Gently Parenting Twins writes about the significance of mealtimes in her family’s daily rhythm.
  • Kid, Meet Food. Food, Kid. — Alburnet at What's Next? panicks about passing on her food "issues" to her offspring.
  • Growing Up in the Kitchen — Cassie at There's a Pickle in My Life shares how her son is growing up in the kitchen.
  • Harvesting Corn and History — From Kenna at School Garden Year: The kids in the school garden harvest their corn and learn how much history grows in their food.
  • My Guiding Principles for Teaching my Child about Food — Tree at Mom Grooves uses these guiding principles to give her daughter a love of good food and an understanding of nutrition as well as to empower her to make the best choices for her body.
  • Kitchen Control — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro writes about her struggles to relinquish control in the kitchen to her children.
  • Food — Emma at Your Fonder Heart lets her seven month old teach her how to feed a baby.
  • Kitchen Fun? — Adrienne at Mommying My Way questions how much fun she can have in a non-functional kitchen, while trying to remain positive about the blessings of cooking for her family.
  • Kitchen Adventures — Erica at ChildOrganics shares fun ways to connect with your kids in the kitchen.
  • Kids in the Kitchen: Finding the Right Tools — Melissa at Vibrant Wanderings shares some of her favorite child-sized kitchen gadgets and where to find them.
  • The Kitchen Classroom — Laura at Authentic Parenting knows that everything your kids want to learn is at the end of the ladle.
  • Kids in the Kitchen — Luschka from Diary of a First Child talks about the role of the kitchen in family communication and shares fun kitchen activities for the under two.
  • Our Kitchen is an Unschooling Classroom. — Terri at Child of the Nature Isle explores the many ways her kitchen has become a rich environment for learning.
  • Montessori-Inspired Food Preparation for Preschoolers — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares lots of resources for using Montessori food preparation activities for young children in the kitchen.
  • My Little Healthy Eater — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry shares her research on what is the best first food for babies, and includes a healthy and yummy breakfast recipe.
  • Two Boys and Papa in the Kitchen: Recipe for Disaster?MudpieMama shares all about her fears, joys and discoveries when the boys and handsome hubby took over the kitchen.
  • Food choices, Food treats — Henrietta at Angel Wings and Herb Tea shares her family's relationship with food.
  • learning to eat — Catherine at learner mummy reflects on little M's first adventures with food.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What I have learned....

I have learned to be patient and consistent with children. Doing so isn't an easy task by any means! Children are all different and individual. What works for one child doesn't necessarily work for another.

Take, for instance, a child I had last year. Let's call him little Billy. Every time little Billy was confronted with a problem, whether it was with another child, a work, or the teacher, he would run into the bathroom, frustrated, and hide. Little Billy needed to find a way to express his frustrations with words.

I would "bump heads" with this child time and time again, until I figured it out that he's not like other children and I needed to approach him differently when he was feeling upset.

Little Billy didn't vocalize what the other person was doing that made him upset. When I would step in and give him a consequence on something when he was inappropriate, little Billy would bury himself in that bathroom corner crying. After mom or dad dropped him off in the morning he was clearly upset. Whenever I tried to console him he screamed and pushed me away. I figured out, after some time, that I couldn't approach this child when he was frustrated like this. At that moment, this child wouldn't listen to me and would only shut me out.

I have to be honest, I was beside myself and knew there must be a way to get into this child's head in order for him to listen to my words and know that I was there to help him. In other words, I felt his frustration with situations and I knew I needed to somehow "reach him."

I tried something, I gave him his "space" when he came into the classroom. It seemed that he needed to come into the room on his own terms when he felt ready to do so then he could be a part of the room. I told little Billy that when he was ready to put his lunch away and join us that I would be available for him... and believe it or not, that seemed to work. I would walk by from time to time when he was sitting by the door after the parent dropped him off and smile just to let him know, I meant what I said. After allowing him to have a little power of his own to control, he eased into the classroom in the mornings after mom or dad dropped him off, on his own time table.

As for the frustration with other children and his frustration with me at times, I asked him if he would please use his words. I constantly told him when he became upset that Ms. Tina and the other children didn't understand why he was upset and if we heard his words then we could do something about it. He tried at times and sometimes he went back to "old ways," but when he did go back to the "old ways," I reminded him about using his words and how he felt. It seemed to work, and today little Billy is a joy to be around. I know the feeling is mutual because I see him smile at me and hug me many times throughout the day. He even draws me little pictures and comes up to my ear at times and whispers in my ear how he feels. Today, after many tears later, he voices his opinion when he doesn't like something, when something bothers him. To me, he has turned around 180 degrees and has become a happy little boy whereas before it seemed he was trapped and didn't know how to let the angry, sad feelings out. He is my apple, and I look forward to seeing him every day!

Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Children Are Mirrors...

Children are mirrors. We hear it so often it's become a cliché... but today, I caught myself doing something I repeatedly ask the children in my class not to do, and I thought, “if I can't follow this rule myself, how can I expect a child to do it?”

Here's what happened:

Little A had chosen the raking work outside. She was supposed to be raking up the rubber chunks and scooping them into the climbing area, but instead she was dragging the rake along the sidewalk. I reminded her to rake in the dirt, so she moved off of the sidewalk and raked the dirt as I had asked her to do.

A few minutes later she was back on the sidewalk. I reminded her again, and again she complied for a few minutes. Then little A took the rake into the garden and started raking the plants.

She had been carrying the rake around for several minutes now, but had yet to make any effort to do the work properly. Now she was potentially damaging the garden that we had worked so hard to grow. I immediately took action; striding across the playground, I grabbed the rake and put it away.

Did you see my mistake? It's one that is repeated probably thousands of times a day across the country: I took something that someone else was using. I stole away her tool, without asking or even apologizing. I turned it into a power struggle that little A had no chance of winning.

It would be easy to rationalize the act; she was using it inappropriately. It would be easy to define the act as a simple enforcement of the rules, or a demand that she “listen” to me (when I would really mean obey). The problem with that logic is that from a child's perspective, what really happened is someone bigger and stronger came along and took what they wanted. There was nothing Little A could do about it, and the motive didn't matter, only the act.

When I sat down to think about what had happened, I realized how my actions damaged the ideal my students and I are working toward. I, the adult, had set the precedent that is is okay to take something from someone against her will.

Here's what I should have done instead:

I should have approached Little A again, and offered my hand (she would have taken it). I should have picked up a rubber chunk,and showed it to her with a reminder that they belong in the climbing area. Then I should have asked for a turn (she would have said yes), and shown her again how to rake the rubber chunks into a pile and scoop them into the climbing area. If she needed still more direction, I could have helped her find a place with a lot of rubber chunks to rake.

Nine times out of ten that approach would have worked, but even if it hadn't, (if she had continued to use it inappropriately,) I could have said, “Little A, you are not using the rake appropriately. It's time to put it away. Do you want to do it or do you want me to do it?” Making that choice herself would have maintained her feeling of control, while still making sure that the rake was not bring used improperly.

I wanted to share my reflections with you because I know I'm not the only adult who sometimes models bad behavior. I've learned, in the last few years, to look for the source of the behaviors I see. Often it comes from me, magnified in their little bodies and repeated throughout the class. When I am calm, steady, and playful, my students are too. I endeavor to be what I want them to learn... and I try to learn from my mistakes.

Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Montessori Philosophy - The Basics

Parents often ask why (from my perspective) Montessori is better than the alternatives; what this style of education gives that others don't, and how it works the way it does.
I think the most definitive statement about Montessori is that it truly is education for life. This is one of the commonly made assertions within the Montessori community, and I believe that is because its truth is evident to anyone who has observed a Montessori child.
There are a lot of advocates out there for starting school older and older, and I personally agree that that is appropriate – when you think about what they mean by school. Traditional schools tend to focus a lot on worksheets and group activities that require children to sit still and listen quietly. They even have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom. When you combine this with the fact that culturally, we expect young children to have very small attention spans, early childhood education as traditionally practiced here in the United States is ludicrous.
Montessori education, on the other hand, is built on the knowledge that young children need to manipulate things with their hands and involve their bodies in the learning process. Rather than teaching to a state-regulated curriculum, Montessori teachers show the children how to use materials that impart knowledge through discovery, and the children have a sense of control over what they learn, when they learn, and how they learn. It is much more active and personal.
The other key to Montessori is the indirect preparations. When a child does a practical life activity such as table scrubbing, the obvious skills he learns are outnumbered by the less obvious ones. Yes, he is learning how to clean a table, and most people can also see how he is learning to follow a logical sequence of action. But did you know that he is also preparing his hand and mind to read? Did you realize that he is learning how to contribute to his little society in a meaningful way? Did you imagine that his confidence is growing by leaps and bounds?
Neither does he.
Nevertheless all these things are happening. He sees that the table needs to be scrubbed; at three or four it's just really fun, and it appeals to his sense of order. At five or six he might consider the effects of a bumpy table on writing, and clean the table because he wants to spare his classmates or himself from that hazard. He is confident because he has practiced, and because an adult doesn't stand over his shoulder the whole time and critique his work – we don't need to, because we have shown him how to critique his own work.
Please don't be misled. The child is often working independently, but that is not to say that he is left to his own devices all day long. He is carefully observed, so that when the time comes for his next lesson his teacher knows what he picked up on and what she needs to emphasize. He is never allowed to abuse the materials, cause danger to himself or others, or distract his fellow classmates.
Remember when I mentioned that he is being prepared to read and write? We're going to come back to that for a minute.
Montessori teachers give the table scrubbing lesson, like all lessons, in such a way as to make use of every possible opportunity. We don't scrub the table in a haphazard manner; we scrub it from left to right, in rows from top to bottom. Sound familiar? We also use tiny circular motions within that pattern, which are great for getting off dried glue but are also strikingly like cursive writing. Oh, and did I mention the development of the pencil grip and the muscular coordination gained from pouring water out of a pitcher, squeezing a sponge, and using a brush? What about the physical awareness necessary for using small careful strokes near the edge of table and larger, faster ones in the center?
This comes from an example of one work. It's not even a material especially designed for the curriculum, like the pink tower or the number rods. What's different is that the child's teacher has analyzed her movements, studied them and practiced them until they were perfect, and presented them to the child with very clear goals outlined in her motions. What makes a Montessori teacher necessary is her ability to connect the child with the material. After that she watches to see what the child does and tailors her next lesson to the child based on that information.
Montessori herself claimed that this was not her method, but the method of the child. She observed, and in observing she learned that children have an innate love of learning. If we force them to “learn” things they don't care about yet, they will learn to hate school. But if we show them meaningful and interesting work, they can develop themselves as human beings and lifelong learners. I think that's what we all want for them, don't you?

Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Friday, September 30, 2011

The Work of the Child

     When Dr. Montessori talks about the child's duty, she is not referring to chores, or homework, but rather to the inner construction that a child completes in his first six years of life. She refers to the child's work of forming his own personality, developing his intelligence, and learning to use his body. Because the child is what forms the man, Dr Montessori saw the child's inner development as the most important work he has to do, and assisting it as the most important work adults have to do.
One of the things that Dr. Montessori repeatedly uses as an example is language. The child is born knowing only how to cry, and then, by the time he is three, he can speak clearly and reasonably grammatically. For an adult to learn a new language fluently in three years, it would be very hard work even if the adult enjoyed it. The child, on the other hand, absorbs language from his surroundings without ever having had a formal lesson. He listens as an infant, he practices the sounds, and then he builds up the structure within himself before he ever starts to use it. We know that any given language is not inherent within a child because an orphan can be raised in another country and grow up speaking its language rather than his biological mother tongue. Therefore it stands to reason that the child absorbs what is in his environment and incarnates it. The example of language carries through even further because one never speaks another language as well or as naturally as one's mother tongue.
So, in practical terms, what does this mean for parents and educators? It means that we need to perfect the child's environment so as to enable him to do his work. Parents and teachers not only prepare the environment for the child, but live and walk as part of it – so we need to strive toward being what the child needs as well.
Montessori consistently says to get out of the child's way. She tells us constantly that his inner teacher knows what it is doing and all we have to do is remove the obstacles. But what are the obstacles?
Many of them we take care of without thinking. For example, a sick child cannot learn as well as a healthy child, and parents certainly make sure that their children stay clean and try to prevent them from getting sick. Parents make sure that their children have proper nutrition, and adequate sleep. So the physical concerns are already being met. What remains, then, are the opportunities for broad knowledge, hands on activity, and repetition. What we need to offer is a wide range of experience, from real life; very concrete ideas. We need to present them in such a way that the child can access them whenever he wants and use them as long as he wants. Now, obviously, we can't provide a farm whenever a child wants to learn about animals, but we can schedule a single visit and move into slightly more abstract versions like figurines, picture cards, and books. Then, after we help the child connect to the material, we do as Dr. Montessori suggested and get out of the way.
Lack of a material is just as much of an obstacle, though, and remember that adults are part of the environment. We are needed to show how to use the materials, to give language, and to help the child connect with other human beings in a socially acceptable way. For ideas about how to do that, read here.

Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

Seven Practical Ways to Help a Child Grow

    1. Look at a variety of activities he is interested in and figure out what they have in common. Then provide more opportunities to reinforce the concept or practice the skill.
    2. Read and talk to your child about real life things like animals, plants, and social situations. Remember, he absorbs everything his senses give him, so offer him a lot of opportunities to absorb things that will help him in his quest to become an adult. Fairy tales are wonderfully fun, but what they offer is not of any use to the child in understanding the world as it is.
    3. If at all possible, don't interrupt when you see that he is concentrating on something, even to praise him or admire his work. Concentration is the means by which a child organizes his impressions in his mind.
    4. Help him learn how to participate in society by practicing being courteous and resolving conflicts. Act out scenarios in which he can practice what he learns with emotional safety; don't do this as a rebuke, but rather as a lesson for when the situation comes up in the future. Make it fun.
    5. Let him do the same thing over and over as long as it interests him. Then encourage him to do it some more, no matter how boring it is from an adult perspective. When a child repeats something, it's because he's trying to understand it or get it right. If we stop him, it sends the message that his standards are too high or his interests aren't good enough.
    6. Give him enough time to do things for himself. This one is often particularly challenging because life is so fast paced. Adults only have a limited amount of time in which to get everything done... but you will do yourself and your child a service if you let him do it for himself, because as he becomes proficient it will save you both time and give him the confidence he needs to tackle greater challenges.
    7. Think about the way you speak to your child, because that's how your child will speak to others. If you wouldn't say it to a friend, think hard before saying it to your child.

    Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    The child's life is one in which work – the doing of one's duty – begets joy and happiness.
    Dr. Maria Montessori (The Absorbent Mind, p 28)

    Wouldn't it be wonderful if that statement described the adult's life, too? It could. The difference between adults and children is that children refuse to do work that doesn't meet their needs. If adults followed that philosophy we would find work joyful, too. Human beings like to work.
    That statement might seem counter-intuitive, but it's true. “Work” is just the act of putting forth effort – and it's enjoyable when we do the work that meets our needs. Think of the hobbies people use to fill up their spare time: gardening, building a car, scrapbooking... they're all just kinds of work that meet the hobbyists' needs.
    A child's work (and play) is anything that helps him explore what his body and mind can do. If we offer work that is just right, he will never feel that work is boring or too hard. Just by following their inner drive, children go from helpless infants to functional, intelligent members of society in only a few years – and this is the work to which Dr. Montessori refers.
    She saw repeatedly that children who were given the means to do this and not obstructed were happy and joyful. She attributed it to the understanding that human beings like to work.
    From all the many years that Montessori has been in action, we have a starting point for meeting each individual child's needs, based on the progress of thousands of children that came before. We observe, and the children themselves tell us what work they need.
    We have a saying in Montessori education, a quote from Dr. Montessori. We say, “follow the child,” because we know that human beings are born to exercise their potential, and we trust the children to know it too.
    Lucky us.

    Welcome to Montessori Moments, a blog written for Dynamite Montessori School in Cave Creek, Arizona. If you'd like to check out our school, please visit Dynamite's website.