Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Imitation is the highest form of flattery

They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery. I guess I should start feeling flattered. We have an epidemic in my room: a bunch of Mini-Me's.

Last week I was trying to finish evaluations of where children are with their sounds and letter recognition. I sat at my floor table with the box of sandpaper letters and my notebook, making notes as I turned around each letter. About fifteen minutes after I had started, a kindergarten boy pulled out a rug and placed it about five feet away from me. He brought the digraph sandpaper letters to his rug. Soon after he included the capital sandpaper letters. He made a little card with his name on it to give to children. (Sometimes I place a card that says "Please come to a lesson with Miss Coventry" next to a child. When that child comes to a stopping point or finishes her work, she can come see me for that lesson.) He started inviting children over to his rug, one by one, showing them the letters and making notations in his notebook.

This started on Friday and we thought it was cute and would be short-lived. Instead, it started to grow. By Tuesday, four Extended Day children had set up rugs with sandpaper letters, sandpaper numerals, sight words cards, etc. They were inviting people over for lessons and making marks in their notebooks. Some of them are completely overshooting their academic skill level, but that is okay. Should the child who is struggling through sounds choose those digraphs, he may learn some of them if that other child knows them. It's a new way of learning and teaching each other.

The other amusing aspect is how seriously all of the children are taking this. They are very respectful when they get their lesson invite and sit with their hands in their lap. They wait until the lesson is finished before returning to other activities.

I have always maintained that the children learn better from each other than they learn from me with a lot of things. For example, my teachers always tried to teach me how to tie my shoes with the bow-tying frame. I couldn't do it. And then one of my special boy friends taught me how to tie my shoes in about two minutes. I have had this happen in the reverse numerous times. I do lesson after lesson and the kids don't get it. And then they sit with their friends and are tying shoes.

This is why we use our three-friend rule in the classroom. I think I mentioned this once last year when this blog was hosted on my regular website. Before you ask an adult for help, you must ask three friends first. Chances are you will find someone out of those three who can help you. This removes the adult from the equation. It makes the children have to do some problem solving. And if you can teach someone how to do something, you have to really know it yourself.

It will be interesting to see how many little mimickers there are this morning....

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Let go of your agenda

Even Montessori teachers have to adhere to some sort of agenda. We make plans about what we are going to teach our kids. We have certain requirements that we need to meet, especially when kids are moving on to public schools. And yes, we do need to answer to parents to an extent. That is the crappy part of the job. But the beauty of Montessori is sometimes you can just absolutely let it go.

My first major agenda change happened last week. I was all set to do my Extended Day sound of the week lesson. The kids had just came back from lunch, so they were still changing their shoes. Instead of us always tying the children's shoes, we encourage them to ask a friend. This is one of those skills that children always seem to learn better from each other than from an adult. I vividly remember the boy who taught me how to tie my shoes in Montessori kindergarten.

One of our boys learned how to tie his shoes at the end of last school year and has been very helpful with the other children. On that day, he was feeling a little frustrated with everyone asking him to help tie their shoes. He finally exclaimed, "Okay, everyone! You all need to learn how to tie your shoes!"

I quietly said, "You know, there are dressing frames over in practical life that will help you practice tying shoes."

The boy in question walks over to the bin and gets out the bow-tying frame. "Okay, everyone, watch me!" And he proceeds to give his own lesson on the tying frame. The kids were so excited that they wanted more dressing frames. I didn't yet have them all out, so I went to the storage closet and filled the bin. They gave each other lessons on the dressing frames for a solid 20 minutes. I did finally get around to my sounds lesson, but this somehow took priority.

Today there was a similar story. I did my sounds book and they brainstormed new words. They got out their notebooks to write some of them down. I noticed that the aforementioned boy and another one were doing more than just writing words in their notebooks. The second boy just recently started taking Chinese classes. He is madly in love with his new talent of writing Chinese characters and was teaching the first boy how to make some. He then started showing me some of them and I told him I could add some works to the shelf if he was interested. He got very excited.

I pulled out my laptop and showed him a couple of activities that I already knew. He helped to teach us how to correctly pronounce the Chinese numbers from 1-10. He commented that he wanted to know how to make more of the numbers, but hadn't yet gotten there at Chinese school. So, I hopped on YouTube and found a video about making numbers. I played it and asked him if that looked right. He said yes and got very excited to see how some larger numbers were made. One by one more children came around to watch. Some of them even grabbed their notebooks and were trying to make the characters. They also asked to watch a short video that taught them the color names in Chinese. We watched a few of them repeatedly. Have I maybe found a use for that damn SmartBoard? (Although my assistant and I agreed that we preferred the intimacy of using the laptop, instead.)

It was very exciting for me as well as the children. This is what I love about Montessori education. You follow the child and his interests. And you can learn from him just as much as he will learn from you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When the kids make you cry....

Okay, coming on the heels of my conversation about full moon craziness, I am sure you think they were awful today. On the contrary. The kids had such a good day that I never even had that first circle to draw them in. I was paranoid that we were going to have a fire drill, so I snuck out and asked in the office. Thank God they said no, because I was content to let my kids work.

It is the sweetness of the children that touched my heart today and made me cry.

One of my kindergarten boys was trying to tell me about some big cushion that you blow up and when you sit on it, it makes a loud obnoxious sound. He couldn't remember its name, so I told him it was known as a whoopie cushion. So he and another boy started discussing different sizes of whoopie cushions that they have seen over their years.

Whoopie cushions are something that always made my father laugh. As is my habit these days, I said in passing, "My father always loved those whoopie cushions."

The second boy, whom I have known since he was a baby and who met my parents a few years ago when they visited, turned to me with a serious look on his face. "Is your dad still alive? Or did he die?"

"He died a few months ago."

"Oh yeah. He was sick, right?"

"Yes, he was very sick. He was in the hospital for seven weeks. Do you remember how much school I missed at the end of last year?"


"Well, I was at the hospital taking care of him. I stayed with him until he died."

"Oh yeah." And then his eyes lit up and he said, "I am glad he isn't sick anymore. Now you can stay here with us!"

I smiled and nodded and quickly turned away with tears in my eyes.

I hated being gone so much from my kids last year. I missed a full week in September when my grandmother died. I had a couple of sick days and an awful lot of CSE and CPSE meetings off-campus. I missed the day before Spring Break and the full week after, as Dad was in the ICU and had his brain surgery. I came home for a week and then took a long weekend to make sure he was settled in his LTAC facility. I stayed in NY for another two weeks, did conferences, and then left for the rest of the school year, starting on the Friday before Memorial Day. The following Thursday, June 2nd, their last day of school, my father passed away. June 3rd was the Moving Up Ceremony.

You and your children inevitably become very attached to each other. I have always loved how my class operates like a tightly-knit family. The children are affected when even one of them is missing. It is much more significant when one of their adults is gone, especially the one who "runs the room." I knew they had missed me when I was gone. But until that precise moment, I didn't know quite how much. And this was coming from one of my kids whom I saw frequently throughout the summer months.

Yesterday I was cleaning out my car. I reached under one of the seats and found a crumpled up piece of construction paper. I opened it up. It was a heart-shape with hearts and stars drawn on it that said, "I love you, Mr. Coventry." One of my girls, who was an Extended Day 4 last year and is a kindergartner this year, had made it. When I called my kids on the last day of school to wish them a happy summer, I was on my way up to Hospice. I told them to send my father happy thoughts of clouds, rainbows, flowers and anything else they could think of. I remember getting choked up as they called out his name to lift it up. That little girl made this heart picture for my father after I hung up with them. I will cherish it forever.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Curse of the Full Moon

Do you suffer from the curse of the full moon? I do. I am suffering from it right now. The full moon peaks on October 12th (tomorrow) and the kids are intensely feeling it.

Some people think I am crazy. Others who pay attention will find that I am not crazy. I have paid attention to this phenomenon for several years now. And I can safely say that the crazy level of the classroom dramatically increases at this point every month. Try to document it sometime and tell me what you notice!

My class has been settling in quite well so far this year. That first full moon was right at the beginning of the year, so we didn't have a chance to experience its glory. Today, though, was a different story.

The energy level was higher. The general volume was higher. There was less focus and more messing around. I saw behaviors out of some of my children that I have never seen before. There were plenty of moments of saying (thinking) "Who are you??"

At the same time, I realized that I needed to take a step back and forget about my own expectations. I had to remove myself from situations and "trade kids" with my assistant. Remember what I posted the other day about the kids being happy? For the most part they were. When I took a moment to step back and look at the whole picture, again they were involved in activities that made them happy. Sometimes what seemed like inappropriate behavior was actually something worthwhile that needed to be tweaked. It's all about perspective.

It just requires more effort during that full moon.

Free Life of the Forest materials for teachers

As you are studying trees and leaves this fall season, consider supplementing your curriculum with the free materials from Life of the Forest. They are offering one free set of posters plus handouts to a teacher at a time. They are in full color and can supplement your natural observations of the outdoors.

For example, ask the children to look for leaves outside or to bring in some from home. Use the leaf poster to identify them. Do the same with the seeds poster. Older students can benefit from some of the other lessons from International Paper.

I saw the posters from about 7 or 8 years ago and they were fairly decent. Order a set and see what you can do with them. Let me know what you think!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Free Yoga Recess DVD

One of the favorite activities in my Montessori classroom is yoga. Last year I added two sets of yoga cards to the Peace Shelf. Throughout the year, I demonstrated a few different poses at a time for them to do as an individual activity on a Quiet Rug. The cards were almost always off of the shelf. One of my favorite memories from last year is one of my oldest boys teaching the three year-old girls how to do the different poses. It was an empowering moment for him and a great learning experience for them.

This year I simply placed the cards on the Peace Shelf at the beginning of the year. Almost immediately they were being used. Returning students took great pleasure in teaching new students how to use them. I also noticed that a couple of my students who had transferred from out-of-state Montessori schools were also familiar with using the yoga cards.

I am always on the lookout for new yoga materials to use in the classroom. It is even better if they are free. Doing some online research tonight I discovered a free DVD being offered to classroom teachers, only. It is from Yoga-Recess.

I have sent in my application to obtain one copy for children ages 3-5. I would love to get a copy for older students, but will have to rely on other teachers in the school to obtain one for me. I am sure my students will enjoy using it on occasion. Perhaps I have finally found a use for those SmartBoards?

They are also offering a grant to teachers who wish to implement yoga into their classrooms. I was contemplating it. The due date for submission is October 21st.

Has anyone tried this DVD yet? I will be curious to know what others think about it!

H is for Happiness

Maria Montessori said something along the lines of the true test of success in the classroom is the happiness of the children. I think that is something that we as adults often forget. We get so wrapped up in trying to meet standards and parent demands and squeezing in certain educational units that we often forget to take a step back and observe how the children are functioning. And yes, I will even dare to say that we sometimes focus more on our own happiness and sometimes overzealous ideals of how the Montessori classroom should function.

One challenge that I have to give myself on a regular basis is to truly step back and take a look at the children. This is especially important on those days that I am feeling overwhelmed and like I have lost control. Often it is a misinterpretation on my part. *I* do not feel content about what the children are doing. I feel like they should be working on other activities. I feel like I should be giving more lessons. Do you see the repeated use of the word "I"?

I miss the loft that was in my old classroom. When I felt like the classroom was becoming all about me and my feelings, I would climb up there for a birds' eye view. That perch gave me an excellent view of the classroom where I could make numerous observations. In the new building I can go outside to the hallway and peer in through the large windows. I can step back into the kitchen area and watch from there.

I often encourage my coworkers to do the same. Many times they will comment at lunch or after school that they felt like their day was hectic. But when I walk past on my way to the restroom, their children look happy and engaged. So I tell them this. Whether or not they believe me is a different story.

I remember my late father visiting my classroom on a few occasions. His comments were always the same. He said that there was always a lot of activity in my classroom and at times it was loud. But when you really looked at the kids, they were busy doing something. Even movements were purposeful. And they were all happy in whatever it was we were doing.

One of the keys to teacher happiness in the Montessori classroom is to let go of your own expectations. Remember the fundamentals of Montessori philosophy. It is all about the children and not about us. Gauge their happiness and then make adjustments as necessary. You will find that the tweaking will happen with less frequency as you do this.

Friday, October 7, 2011

SmartBoard Technology in the Montessori Classroom

Ok, I am being naughty and typing directly on my phone during a SmartBoard presentation at my school. I will be honest that I just do not see the benefits of having such technology in the 3-6 classroom.

I have been told that it is okay because the SmartBoard is manipulative. Yes, it is manipulative. You can move it. But Montessori is more than just manipulation. Maria Montessori emphasized th e tactile part of learning. The child needs to feel the contours of the edges of a shape to understand what differentiates a square from a circle. Just pulling one from a menu and describing what it looks like is not enough. Those details come later in math education. If the,hand is the direct link to the mind, how does this work? Isn't this skipping over a very important step?

It is no secret that I am not a fan, particularly in the 3-6 classroom. Many of my colleagues feel the same way. My school has chosen to be a leader in the technological developments. So,have some others. And yet our presenter has also commented that other Montessori schools were less than pleasant about the opportunity.

I realize that I do not have much of a choice but learn how to use it. I am hoping that someone can possibly convince me of the benefits, because I just haven't yet seen them.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

G is for Getting Ready

I haven't posted at all this summer. That last post about the Final Day of School was written the same day that my father died. I had called my classroom on my way up to meet him at Hospice. He died 11 hours later.

I did make it back to work long enough this summer to oversee the last two days of having my classroom packed. It felt good to then be able to take a break. I wrote a couple of Montessori articles this summer and started reading more of Discovery of the Child. I started the daily quotes up again on the Montessori Writer Facebook Page. That was a big part of my rejuvenation for the new school year.

The week before classes started we finally were able to start working on our classrooms in our brand new facility. I am not going to lie. This was the most frustrating set-up I have ever had to endure. Workers were still milling around, moving my furniture on a daily basis as they tweak one thing or another. The movers didn't quite sort out everything properly, so we spent a lot of time taking things to their proper classrooms. Two weeks into the school year there are still a lot of minor issues and a few workers.

I still don't know where some of my materials are hiding. Things went missing in the move. I don't know if they were discarded for me because I wasn't there, or if they went into that black hole of moving that resembles losing socks in a dryer. I also forgot to reorganize my personal materials that I tried to take home prior to the move, to avoid them getting lost.

This year we had a choice. We could either spend all of our time fretting over all of the new changes and new challenges being encountered in a brand new facility. We could worry about the missing materials and waste time looking for them. Or, we could deal with what we had in hand and go forward from there. We chose to do the latter.

Our classroom was rearranged several times as we got used to a new layout. New fire marshal guidelines meant we couldn't use the floorplan in the way we originally wanted. We also thought we were getting our loft from our previous classroom and had set up accordingly. When news came that the loft was not going to happen and that our understanding of the placement of our new SmartBoards was misinterpreted, we had to start from scratch on Thursday morning. Frustration took over and a new floor plan was immediately implemented so that we could get on our way.

People stopped by and often commented how far we looked from being finished. They commented that they would see us all Labor Day weekend long as we completed setting up. I have a different way of organizing and setting up. I have to have everything out and spread out so that I can see it all at once. Once we are doing setting up, everything is immediately put away and we are finished.

Thursday night I stayed until 9 p.m. By Friday night at 7 p.m. we were done. Everything was ready to go for the first day with the children. Sure, a lot of other things needed to be done. But there is always a ton to be done for the classroom. If you gave in to everything that could be done for the classroom, you would never leave.

I chose this year to take a step back and really look at the classroom from the point of view of the children. They had cubbies and name cards ready to go. There was enough work on the shelves to keep them challenged and engaged. All of that other little stuff can just wait and be done as we go on.

I don't mean to sound like I am doing the bare minimum to get by. That is not my intention. I think that too often we get wrapped up in our own expectations of the classroom and forget to look at what the children actually need. My assistant and I were the only class that didn't come in over the holiday weekend. Our children had exactly what they needed. They have settled into the new routine and are eager to help the new children get settled.

Friday, June 10, 2011

BFF - A New Blogging Group

Ahhhhh....I love to write and I love inspiration. I just came across a new blogging group tonight called BFF - Blogging for Fun. Stay tuned for more possible posts based on their topics each week, as well. :-D

Thursday, June 2, 2011

F is for Final Day of School

How does your class celebrate the last day of school? Our kindergartners do a "dress rehearsal" of their Moving Up Ceremony in the gym, in front of the entire school. Then we retire to our classrooms, spend some time together, start cleaning materials, and say goodbye to each other. The following day, only the Ks return, but they only do their ceremony and go home after the reception.

This year, I have had to miss the kids' final day at school. My last day was a week before theirs. My father is dying. As I am typing this, we are sitting in Hospice. I don't know how much longer he will be with us. He is resting and we are listening to the BBC Jane Eyre. It is one of our favorite movies.

Because I had to miss my kids' final day of school, I decided to surprise them. I arranged to call my assistant's cell phone toward the end of the morning. She put me on speaker phone and I was able to chat with my students. They told me they missed me and loved me and I echoed the same sentiments. I also asked them to please send my father happy thoughts of flowers and rainbows and butterflies, which they all did. Many of them also took turns chatting with me on the phone. It was beautiful. I needed that closure, and so did they.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

E is for Expectations

I have often been told that I have high expectations of my students. Yeah, I do. But what is wrong with that? My expectations are high, but I never ask them to do anything that they cannot do.

My expectations are that children will be respectful. Respectful of each other. Respectful of adults. Respectful of their environment. Because I demand that respect, I get it. I am embarrassed when my children do not demonstrate respect toward some of the other teachers and adults at our school. But then again, those people do not demand it of the children. They also do not respect the children as they should. They have their own agendas but do not understand the children for who they are. They do not embrace each child's independent nature and work with what they have in front of them. I expect my children to expect respect out of me, to hold me accountable to them. Maria Montessori said that we need to check undesirable behaviors in children as we also embrace who they are as individuals.

I especially expect them to respect each other. I have a zero tolerance policy for bullying in my classroom. I regularly use the Peace Table and make sure children learn how to use it appropriately. I do not allow children to be mean to each other. If they think that someone is wrong because they think differently, I explain that other child's point of view. As I often say, if I could teach two boys with Asperger's to appropriately use the Peace Table at the age of 5, then all children are capable of using it.

I expect my children to push themselves. I will nudge them along their way, showing them what they are capable of doing. Again, I will never ask them to do something they cannot do. And I tell them this on a regular basis. I will review a lesson with them time and time again and point out their successes if they haven't yet noticed them. I love their expressions when they realize they are capable of doing more than they had thought.

I am a Montessori kid. I learned how to push myself to my outer limits. If I could do it, and can still do it in adulthood, they can do it, too.

I expect my parents to be supportive. We will not always see eye-to-eye on everything, but I expect them to at least listen to what I have to say. If they can respect me, then I will be respectful and listen to their point-o-view. When we work together, we can do more beneficial things for the child.

I also expect my fellow staff members to behave accordingly. Adults require freedom within boundaries. They need to respect me so that I can respect them. They need to model their expectations to their students. Walk the walk, don't just talk the talk. Children, even as young as three, can pick up on fake behavior. And I don't do well with false beings.

So again, my expectations are high. But I am not going to ask anyone to do something they cannot do. And that is how I can make Montessori work.

Friday, May 27, 2011

GBE 2 Challenge

I let my Montessori blog go when my father got sick. It was hard enough to focus on school for those few weeks, let alone writing about the philosophy. For me, the school year is over so that I can focus on my father. But now I also feel more free to get back to work on the blog and posting of articles and quotes.

This blogging challenge is the GBE2.

The Group Blogging Experience 2 is the second version, via Facebook, of a challenge that had been started on MySpace. There is a weekly prompt on Sundays and you write on it by Saturday. It is not a requirement to post weekly. You don't have to post on all of your blogs, either. But I know that on occasion a topic will be appropriate.

I still plan to finish the April challenge, as well as the May challenge, even if it takes me until July. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z to A in May: Blogging Challenge with a Twist

What? Another challenge? But you never finished this one!

No, I didn't. My father had to have brain surgery and has been in the ICU for over 2 weeks now. My extra writing time has been sucked up by trips to the hospital, conversations with the doctors, and updating family and friends. I've also been dealing with things with my mother who has Alzheimer's.

April has been a long, difficult month. But I vow to finish the blog posts for the original challenge and THEN I will try to work on this one. I think I can do it.

Join us!

Monday, April 25, 2011

New blogging platform

I have decided to shift this blog over to Blogger. No worries - you can still access it from the Montessori Writer website! I am just more familiar with the Blogger templates and prefer their layout.

You can also still read old posts from the blog by following this link.