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.