We know that children learn best when they are interested and engaged. Using children’s interests as the basis for our curriculum decision making helps to ensure that learning is not only interesting but also meaningful and relevant to children.
However, focusing on children’s interests should not lead to the assumption that children are best placed to make all the decisions about what we do, or to see ourselves as passive observers of children’s learning. When we say that Montessori is a child-led program, it involves more than simply allowing children to do as they wish. In fact they usually involve as much planning and forethought as any other form of program.
Using interests, not just following them
When considering the balance between adult and child direction, we think about using children’s interests rather just following them; the interest as the starting point, rather than as the end point. It then becomes our role, in partnership with children, to convert the interest into an effective learning experience, rather than assuming an experience will be worthwhile simply because it is child-chosen or child-directed.
There are many topics that we know children will be interested in once they are introduced to them—cooking or gardening for example. If we wait for children to show interest before introducing topics, we may miss the opportunity to introduce them at all.
Observe closely of what your children are doing and ask yourself some key questions; Is the interest just a passing one? Is it something that the children are happy to continue doing on their own? Or is it something more recurring and meaningful; an interest that could grow into something more? An interest doesn’t have to be grand or life changing— something very simple can spark the most amazing ideas.
Sometimes the best response to an interest is to simply acknowledge it with a comment, a question, or to provide some resources and materials to extend on what is happening. Stay involved in the process. Don’t be afraid to be part of an interest. With the right interest and with the time and resources to explore it properly, children will amaze you. But don’t forget that it is often an educator/parent’s careful support that makes the difference and allows the children to take an interest from the ordinary to the extraordinary.
‘Interest-based Learning’ published in www.earlychildhoodaustralia.org.au
Jones, E., & Nimmo, J. (1994). Emergent curriculum. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
As the year draws to a close, I am reflecting on the progress we've made throughout an exciting school year. I think reflective practice is the heart of every Montessorian, Montessori Child, and Montessori Family. Without reflection, we stagnate; so I encourage you to take some time with yourself, family, and child to reflect on what this educational journey has meant to you.
As you begin this practice consider these leading questions..
I was stretched by…
I am excited about...
I'm beginning to realize…
As an educator I learned to trust more. When students write every day about meaningful topics of their choosing, they grow the most. This is something that I always knew in my heart, but I became supremely conscious of this year. I’ve learned to trust myself more, to act on my beliefs and understandings, to allow myself to try ideas based on my philosophies.
I saw how the EC community was stretched by making the invisible visible. We worked hard to document learning and practices that are sometimes unseen and we've considered ways to make the messy work of growing up, beautiful.
As Program Director, I am excited about the data from teachers I worked with this year, that serves as continued proof that Montessori teaching is so powerful. I am always excited to respond: “Did you expect something else?” when parents come to me with great big smiles because their kids grew more in curriculum than they ever have before.
I’m beginning to realize this job is filled with even more joy and purpose than I'd thought I'd had. In the midst of a fast paced school, I often feel it from teachers who are on the front lines, and from fellow administrators who are absorbing the dreams of a growing community. I am so proud that I work alongside children who are in great need believing joy is an essential part of my work. This is the most important thing I can do — be joyful and keep my focus on a defined purpose.
How about you? I invite you to reflect on your answers to these questions and look forward to a bright and exciting future of new and exciting answers each and every year.
As the warmer temperatures approach, I know that we will be thinking about all the things we can do during our time away from school and work…which I have been doing, but I have also been planning for what I hope will be an exciting adventure for you! If you like to relax with a book in hand (or know someone who does), I have compiled the following list of my favorite reads for parents and educators of young children.
The Montessori Children's House: An Introduction This book is a lovely introduction to a Montessori Children’s House environment. It also helps parents of young children become more familiar with basic Montessori concepts and answer the question “is Montessori education right for my child?”
What's Going on in There? Written by Neuroscientist Lise Eliot, this book explores the brain's development from conception through the first five years. It offers parents ideas on what they can do to help their children grow better brains.
Andy and His Daddy: A Book for Children and their Parents A delightful story of how a young father invites his two-year old son to share his everyday activities
Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education A book about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of Montessori education. It explores the current direction of mainstream schooling and argues why the entire system must be turned on its head.
Montessori Insights for Parents of Young Children In her clear and straightforward style, Wolf describes Montessori's insights about child development. The book offers photos and practical examples to help guide parents throughout the early years of their children's lives.
The World of the Child This storybook for adults reminds grown-ups to examine everyday items and activities through the eyes of our pint-sized children and gain a fresh understanding of the challenges they face (and overcome) daily.
All of these fantastic titles are currently available through Amazon, enjoy and happy reading J!
Bullying seems to be the hot topic among parents of toddler and preschool-aged children these days, but what exactly constitutes bullying? With the cultural bias toward bullying, have we swung too far in the opposite direction and declared too many things as “bullying” behaviors?
As the EC Program Director I can tell you that there is a fine line between playing around and being bullied. It is getting so hard to define as it is not as obvious as it used to be. While some parents prefer a zero-tolerance approach, still others want to just “let kids be kids”. The definition of bullying may be changing, just not in the way you might think!
So What constitutes bullying?
When does good-natured teasing turn the corner and become bullying? In the simplest definition, bullying behavior consists of an imbalance of power (either physical or social) and happens consistently over a period of time. This is different from a one-time-only type of interaction because the bully continues to inflict the hurtful behavior time and time again. This is where some people are confused, and wind up calling any unpleasant interaction a bullying situation.
Bullying at school is something that comes up on a daily basis, and even the EC program is not immune. I am continuously working on ways to provide effective discipline and put an end to acts of bullying — or perceived bullying — in the school setting. Typically the perception of “bullying” is when a parent observes a group of children having a questionable physical interaction and having judgment. Having a background of over 20 years in education, I can assure you that not every negative or inappropriate interaction is bullying. You need to take each incident separately and find out what actually happened. You need to know the prior relationship among the students involved and determine if there was an imbalance of power.
While disciplining the bully with suspension or time spent in the principal’s office may seem like the best solution, the whole school needs to be educated on bullying behavior to truly make a change. When a child is being bullied, there are usually bystanders who are in a position to do something, who often just stand and watch. I approach bullying prevention as an educational issue, where all kids — including bystanders — needed to learn better ways of interacting and being responsible to each other. Just assigning blame and punishing the student who might have bullied does not solve the problem in the long run. The difficulties in dealing with these situations is often compounded by the fact that the parents of the victim are often quite upset and want immediate discipline, in some cases punishment or reassignment for the child.
When is it just Age Appropriate but undesirable behavior?
Aside from true bullying behavior, there is just plain roughhousing that kids are always doing. Some usage of “bad” words and goofing around that happens between friends on the playground is a bit of give-and-take. Most often it is a way of figuring out social skills and learning to get along. Risk play must never, but often is, be mistaken for bullying. When this error is made by adults, kids learn to use the word [bullying] as a trigger — because kids want to be on the strong side of the power equation.
When I see two 5-year-old boys rolling around on the playground engaging in roughhousing, I don’t see bullying, but normal behavior which is necessary for boys to learn social skills. Yes, one or the other may get a scrape or tear the knees in his pants, but this is normal. Research suggests that young children, especially boys, need the chance to learn what the limitations are for physical engagement and they only learn that by crossing the lines. They don’t intend to hurt each other, they just need the physical engagement.
Here at MCH we encourage the students to be respectful of each other, and kind to one another at all times. When disagreements occur and tempers flare, we work with the students to discuss the issue and resolve it in a mutually agreeable way. When a student suspects another of bullying, we monitor and assess each situation independently and take the appropriate measures. Our first priority is teaching the children respectful conflict resolution, and our absolute last resort is dismissal from the program.
We encourage all parents and students to maintain an open and judgement-free dialogue about each child's day at school and understand that children often speak to our sensitivities and what might not gain attention as just risk play, often gets attention when the word "bullying" is used. Maintaining an open dialogue allows us as parents and educators to notice consistent patterns of behavior versus incidental moments of risk play.
In the spirit of the Montessori Celebration week here at Montessori Children's House, I wanted to share my personal reflection on the life and legacy of Montessori. She is always near and dear to my passion for the education and spiritual nourishment of children; the very reason I decided to pursue a career in Montessori education over 20 years ago…
Dr. Montessori believed that it was our function to spiritualize matter and to evolve the nature of people through love, rather than squandering our energy in greed, competition, isolation, fear and war. She believed that it was through the child that this evolution could take place. Therefore, the child’s early experiences were of paramount importance in facilitating the process.
Montessori called on educators to teach peace to our children in every way and at every opportunity. She made it clear that the Montessori method of education is not just about teaching children to read and write, but to build a global community by raising children in the ways of peacemaking. In her vision, schools would be designed to liberate the human spirit and teach tomorrow’s leaders how to create, sustain, and enjoy a culture of respect and peace. Learning how to work and play together in a peaceful and caring community is perhaps the most critical life skill one can teach your child. Everyday kindness and courtesy are vital practical life skills taught through Montessori. Through this practice our students come to understand and accept that we all have responsibilities, as human beings, to one another. Children educated in the Montessori method develop a clear sense of values and social conscience.
This week marks the annual celebration of Dr. Maria Montessori and the pedagogy behind her work that is the foundation of what has driven my philosophy towards education for more than two decades. So on this day I wear a purple scarf to honor the spirit of the child, as Dr. Montessori did, and I honor her life and legacy by awaking each day to honor the child. I applaud parents for embracing the Montessori method and I invite you to share with your friends and family, the very spirit that drives Montessori Children's House, myself, and our amazing group of educators and students alike. Through Dr. Maria Montessori's legacy of peace, empowerment, and education, we honor the birthright of all children, their innate ability to be conscientious, intelligent and uniting members of society.
As your child approaches the end of their second year in the Children's House (EC), I know that you are carefully considering as to whether or not to continue with Montessori. As you many of you might know our Montessori program at MCH includes the full scope of a Montessori Kindergarten curriculum in our program and if you enroll, your children will have the opportunity to learn amazing things!
As many of you have experienced at the children’s house, Montessori helps children to be flexible, self-disciplined, independent learners and self-actualized adults. The third year of the Montessori classroom will continue to give children the opportunity to progress at their own pace in an environment that nurtures a love of learning.
Third Year Montessori students explore a realm of mathematics, science, technology, great literature, history, world geography, and the basic organization of human societies. You will find these are the fundamentals of S.T.E.M. programs that these young learners will encounter as the journey through their elementary school years and beyond.
Here are a few more reasons to keep your child in Montessori for the Kindergarten year complimentary of The Montessori Children’s Foundation:
1. Kindergarten is not the start of schooling. By five, most Montessori children will begin to read, and many will be introduced to multiplication and division.
2. The third (or Kindergarten) year is the time when many of the earlier lessons come together and become permanent part of the young child’s understanding. An excellent example is the early introduction to addition with large numbers through the bank game. When children leave Montessori at age five, many of their still-forming concepts evaporate, just as a child living overseas will learn to speak two languages, but many quickly lose the second language if his family moves back home.
3. As a five-year-old, your child has many opportunities to teach the younger children lessons that he learned when he was their age. Research proves that this experience has powerful benefits for mentor and mentored.
4. Your child already knows most of her classmates. She has grown up in a safe, supportive classroom setting. And having spent two years together, your child’s teachers know her very, very well.
6. Montessori children learn how to learn – and they learn to love learning
7. In Montessori, your child can continue to progress at her own pace. In traditional Kindergarten, she will have to wait while the other children begin to catch up.
8. If your child has been treated with a deep respect as a unique individual. The school has been equally concerned for his intellectual, social, and emotional development.
9. If your child goes on to another school, he will spend the first half of the year just getting used to the new educational approach.
10. Montessori schools are warm and supportive communities if students, teachers, and parents. Children can’t easily slip through the cracks!
11. Montessori teaches children to be kind and peaceful
12. Montessori is consciously designed to recognize and address different learning styles, helping students learn to study most effectively.
13. Montessori math is based on the European tradition of unified mathematics. Basic geometry is introduced at a young age.
14. Even in Kindergarten, Montessori children are studying cultural geography and beginning to grow into global citizens.
15. Our goal is to develop students who really understand their schoolwork. Learning is not focused on tote drill and memorization. Students learn through hands-on experience, investigation, and research. They become actively engaged in their studies, rather than passively waiting to be spoon-fed.
16. We challenge and set high expectations for all our students, not only a special few. Students develop self-discipline and an internal sense of purpose and motivation.
17. The Montessori curriculum is carefully structured and integrated to demonstrate the connections among the different subject areas. Every class teaches critical thinking, composition, and research. History lessons link architecture, the arts, and science.
18. Students learn to care about others through community service.
19. Students in Montessori schools are not afraid of making mistakes because they have learned how to self-correct; they see them as natural steps in the learning process.
20. Students learn to collaborate and work together in learning and on major projects. They strive for their personal best, rather than compete against another for the highest grade in their class
As you can see a Montessori Children’s House third year student learns many specific skills but more importantly, they acquire the general, underlying conviction that they live in an orderly universe and that they can understand and succeed if they try. They learn the value of being observant and exerting effort, the skills of interacting well with other people, the importance of carefully identifying and naming the objects they encounter, the joy of writing and reading, and the fascinating nature and practicality of math. Upon completion of your child’s third year they will take the first crucial steps on the road to becoming an independent, self-sustaining, life-loving adult.
Crystal C. Doyle
Early Childhood Program Director
Montessori Children's House
In recent years, an increasing number of Montessori programs, teachers, children, and parents are discovering the benefits of educating young children with special needs or “atypical “characteristics together with their “typically” or non-special needs developing peers. In the past, children with “special needs” were pulled out of regular classrooms and grouped together as if all their needs were alike. Relatively few children with disabilities were served in community-based early childhood programs like MCH.
Children with disabilities are, first and foremost, children, and then children who may need support or adaptations for learning. The term "special needs" or “atypical” refers to a wide range of developmental disabilities such as challenges with sensory processing, executive function or impulsivity. At the Early Childhood level, these difficulties may occur in different areas, to varying degrees and may be difficult to identify. Since most of these characteristics fall under what could be just delayed development, we are often able to make appropriate accommodations with in our classroom environments.
But how do we really make it work? Since learning is so important in the early years, Montessori recognized this is the best time for children to begin to respect all people's differences and the contributions everyone makes. The Montessori philosophy has a fundamental methodology to support children as they navigate through their learning differences. It allows for the children to have the freedom of movement, individualized work plans, and hands on concrete sensory experiences. It requires educating ourselves and others about how to ensure every student in the classroom has the chance to reach his or her fullest potential! Studies have shown that with an equal partnership benefits such as:
* Increased social initiations, relationships, and networks.
* Peer role models for academic, social and behavior skills
These benefits can not only be demonstrated in the classroom but outside the classroom in the community in which we live for many years to come!
Becoming a Montessori parent took place when you enrolled your child in a Montessori program. That in itself is a challenge. Most of us weren't raised in a Montessori school. The whole concept is foreign and takes a bit of courage to step out of the norm and our comfort zone. We may have chosen the program because it wasn't like our school experience (which is why we chose it.) Or we chose it because we saw something unique in a Montessori child we knew. Or we were just plain lucky and stumbled on to a Montessori school and were fascinated by what we saw. Even then we had to deal with the question, "If this is so great, why isn't the whole world lined up outside the door to enroll?" (Which is the same question Montessorians keep wondering too!) But you made a complex and challenging decision to become a Montessori parent. And here you are.
So how do you get the best out of your decision? According to Edward Fellow, you begin to understand the core philosophy of what Montessori is all about. Fortunately, you don't have to become a Montessori teacher to be a good Montessori parent. (You don't have to know how to manipulate all of those materials and you don't have to keep twenty plus children from running around the room.)
The most significant Montessori concept is to respect the child. I can almost hear the wheels turning "Of course I respect my child, I love them very much that's why I have them in Montessori, I want the best for them." Of course you love them - but respect is different. Respecting the child is first, to respect the nature of children. Children are not mini adults waiting to be molded. They are like tadpoles and caterpillars that have their own form and function of life waiting to become what they are intended to be. We are often impatient for them to become because we don't realize that childhood - with its curiosity, playfulness, messiness and all - is part of the process of them transforming themselves into the adults they will become. We have to respect that process - which doesn't mean they always get to do what they want. One of the operative words in Dr. Montessori's writing is the word "train". We do need to train our children but we need to train ourselves "not to destroy that which is good" in the nature of our children. The second part of respect is to respect the personality of your child. Your child is not a blank slate. They are already imbued with the unique characteristics of who they are.
So becoming a Montessori parent is a thing. It is something that most of us don’t think about labeling but we should. It’s not always as intuitive as one would think but requires us to be conscious. It means to be their champion, model grace and courtesy, humility and independence. Most importantly, give them a gift of time, to make transitions and accomplish their goals to discover themselves as they navigate through their endless educational journey we call life.
Montessori offers many benefits — it can be a great place for children to interact with peers and learn valuable life lessons such as how to identify and regulate their social emotional selves; how to develop their own interest and how to become a citizen of the world. It also can prepare them for kindergarten and beyond.
But transitioning into a Montessori 3-6 year old environment does come with its fair share of emotions, for both the parent and the child. For a new student, entering a new environment filled with unfamiliar teachers and children can cause both anxiety and anticipation. Parents might have mixed emotions about whether their child is ready for this new Montessori (preschool) environment.
The more comfortable you are about your decision and the more familiar the setting can be made for your child, the fewer problems you and your little one will encounter. Here are some tips that might help ease the transition:
• Spend time talking with your child about their classroom even before or after it starts.
• Keep in contact with your child’s teacher. While you will no longer get daily reports (toddler parents), you still will receive updated and important information about how your child is moving through the classroom. Bloomz, MCH’s Website (teacher Blogs) and personal emails are just a few of the ways that the teachers will reach out to you!
• Be an advocate for your child, if you feel that there is information that you would like to know, communicate these needs to your child’s teacher.
• Become familiar with new systems/routine and schedules such as napping, toiling etc. This will help you have an informed conversation with your child and your child’s teacher about the school day.
• Come to parent education nights when possible. This is a great opportunity to become more familiar with Montessori Education and get to know the entire Early Childhood (EC) Lead teaching team.
While acknowledging this important step your child is taking and providing support, too much emphasis on the change could make any anxiety worse. Young children can pick up on their parents' nonverbal cues. When parents feel guilty or worried about leaving their child at school, the children will probably sense that. The calmer and assured you are about your choice to send your child to school, the more confident your child will be.