Wednesday, December 5, 2012

'And Winter Came' by Enya on YouTube

If you're looking to change up the music a bit for the month of December, you should check out this holiday collection from Enya. It's called 'And Winter Came' and it is amazingly beautiful. As you already know, I am a big fan of Enya. This holiday collection consists of original and classic holiday music, done in only the way that Enya can do it. As usual, the entire "video" simply consists of the album cover.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Enya's 'Amarantine' on YouTube

When searching for Enya on YouTube, I came across a more recent album that is not in my current CD collection. 'Amarnatine' is one of her most calming and beautiful musical collections to date. I feel like I could listen to this one on a loop for hours on end. It runs about 45 minutes in total length. Again, the only visual is her album cover. The titles of each track do appear at the bottom, but nothing else changes that would distract the children. It's just beautiful. Give it a try.

What do you think of this one?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

'The Best of Enya: Paint the Stars' on YouTube

Whenever I listen to Enya, I am transported to a place of sheer calm and tranquility. I remember listening to her often during my Montessori internship year. I have collected her CDs and used her during work time ever since.

Here is another YouTube collection. This one is from her earlier greatest hits CD, called Paint the Stars. The entire soundtrack makes for the perfect background noise while walking on the line or focusing on works. The only video that you see is a stationary picture of the album cover.

The last half of the CD is the most relaxing, I think. Which ones do you like best?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Baking Banana Cookies!

I spent a small fortune this summer collecting items for the classroom that would boost our food preparation area. I also wanted to take more control over doing birthdays, because we have so many food allergies and I want everyone to be able to participate. We hadn't yet tried to bake anything and were just starting to collect baking ingredients. All we had on hand was a bag of flour, a bag of sugar, and vegetable oil for the box of brownie mix that the October birthdays had decided they wanted to bake for next week's monthly celebration.

I noticed that there were still a couple of bananas left on the food prep shelf, that were already rather ripe when they arrived in the snack basket on Monday. They needed to be immediately used or pitched. I quickly went online and started searching out a recipe for something with bananas that didn't use eggs (egg allergy). It took me about ten minutes, but I finally came across a banana cookie recipe that I could adapt to our few ingredients. These are the ingredients that we ended up using:

2 1/3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 very ripe bananas, sliced (ours were about medium-sized)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Children who were interested in helping had to wash their hands and put on an apron.

First, I showed them how to properly measure flour by leveling it at the top of the cup with a knife. They took turns measuring flour into the bowl. Next, they added the sugar and took turns stirring it all together as I added the salt. Meanwhile, another child was slicing our two bananas. Once the bananas were sliced, they took turns mashing the banana with a fork.

I added the oil and the vanilla and they kept taking turns mashing it all together with the banana.

Next, it was time to put it all together in the big bowl and stir until well blended. (At about this point in the process, one boy who was not participating looked at my assistant and said, "This isn't going to end well," as there were some minor difficulties and a little bickering while stirring.)

I love how they helped each other by holding the bowl, because that was tough to stir!

Once it was fully blended, they used the cookie scoop I had found at Savers last year (with four kid-sized spreaders!) to put the cookies onto the baking sheets.

Each batch was baked in the toaster over at 350 degrees for about 13-16 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies. We left plenty of space between them, but found that they do not expand while baking.

We gathered together at the end of the morning to share our tasty treat. We practiced grace and courtesy at the same time. I went around with the napkins in one hand and the plate of cookies in the other hand. I asked each child if they would like a cookie. They were to respond "Yes, please," or "No, thank you." I also said to each of them, "You take the one you touch," to avoid that lovely habit of young ones to touch a bunch of them until they find a huge one. They were to place the cookie on their open napkin and then wait until everyone was served prior to eating.

As we sat there eating, the kids spontaneously burst into, "Thank you, Miss Coventry!" My assistant and I both said "Thank you" back to them for making the cookies for us. One of the kids also said, "Okay, on the count of three, we need to say Hip Hip Hooray for Miss Coventry, because she is the best teacher ever for letting us bake cookies!" 

After lunch, I chose two volunteers to visit the other classrooms and the office to share the cookies. One girl carried the napkins and the other one carried the plate of cookies on a tray. I was told that they were very polite as they approached each classroom. They also very matter-of-factly told each adult that they had to "take the one you touch." 

I can't wait to make something else and to back off even more from the process!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

'Those Relaxing Ocean Sounds' on YouTube

The ocean is definitely one of my happy places. Unfortunately, it is a minimum of six hours for me to access it. I live in Upstate New York, which provides me with an endless supply of lakes. Sure, you get waves on those, especially up on the Great Lakes, but it just isn't quite the same. Fight the winter blues and relax to ocean waves with this spectacular video I found on YouTube.

It is about an hour long and shows a variety of ocean beaches. The water is clean blue and turquoise, just begging for you to come dive in. Use the sounds for relaxation or watch parts of it as a part of a lesson on oceans. See if you can identify some of the wildlife that also makes its presence known through sound. For example, around the 24:00 mark, you hear birds. Around 43:00 you can hear a dog barking. You could play it during a listening activity at circle.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Loft Proposal Meeting and Plans

Today was the big day for my little group who wants a loft back in the classroom! Today was the day they got to meet with the boss to make their case. I wish I could show you their pictures. One boy dressed with a tie and had a messenger bag as his "work bag," complete with special folder for his notes. He also brought two purple flowers to give to my boss. The other two children were also carrying themselves as important people. The youngest of the crew admitted to being nervous about meeting with her, but felt ready.

They couldn't wait for 9 o'clock to arrive. I finally had to set the timer on my phone and hand it to them to keep them occupied for the final 15 minutes. I printed each one of them their own copy of their proposal. At 9 o'clock on the nose, we went upstairs to her office. 

She was meeting with another staff member at that point, so we patiently waited in the entrance area. When she was ready a few minutes later, she gathered them in the board room. They had formal introductions with handshakes, and the meeting commenced. Each one was taking their own notes (mostly scribbles, of course) and had a chance to speak.

I had to return to my classroom, as there were 17 other children present today. A half hour later, my threesome returned, with a drawn plan from which they were to create their own model.

They sought out materials in the classroom that could help them. Yesterday, they were trying to "build" it out of the golden beads and bead bars. I think the gold color reminded them of the color of the original loft. You can see the red counters next to the picture. They were using the dots to outline the shape on the table, so that they could draw it.

I think it is time to dig out some of the other art materials, so that they can create a true three-dimensional representation of the loft they wish to build.

Part of the meeting also consisted of lessons in taking turns while speaking, allowing others to share their opinions, and brainstorming in a group. All of these are amazing lessons. Remember, these children are only 4 and 5 years old.

I'm very proud of my kids and can't wait to see where this whole project goes!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Loft Proposal

I have so many stories from my classroom that I want to share and I am so far behind! But this one had to take precedence, as it was one of the greatest experiences, yet.

At our old facility, from which we moved in the summer of 2011, I had inherited the room that had the loft. I was so excited when I saw that classroom on my interview tour. I remember telling my parents that I would love to have that room, but wouldn't hold my breath. I was ecstatic. I loved using it. I would get a birds' eye view as I observed the children moving around the classroom. Children used it when they didn't feel well, or just wanted to get away for a bit. We were devastated when we couldn't bring it to the new facility with us. 

Here is a picture of it after we had moved everything else out of the building:

Many of my students last year had been in that old building, and of course would ask for it. They were sad, but gradually accepted that it was gone. One of them was actually proud because his father had taken it to be reused elsewhere. This year, I am down to just a handful of kids who were in that building. Today, out of the blue, one of those boys asked me why we didn't have the loft.

"Well," I replied, "When we had to move here, [the boss] said we couldn't have it anymore for many reasons. Besides, where would we put it?"

He looked at me with a deadpan expression and said, "So, get rid of the SmartBoard!"

I swear I didn't put him up to this, as I know many of my readers know how I feel about the SmartBoard. And ironically enough, had the loft actually come with us, that's precisely where it was designated to go had the giant SB not arrived. Oh yeah, here is the monster-sized thing:

This is actually a picture from BEFORE the giant arm came out from the top, that is used as the projector. But, I digress...

Anyway, so I told him if he was really concerned about it, he could go ahead and talk to The Boss about it. He recruited one of his younger friends to go with them. The office staff later told me that they came in very serious and demanded to see The Boss (only using her proper name). With hands on his hips, he told her that we needed our loft back and wanted to know what to do. She asked them to draw a picture and to leave it for her later. They returned to the room to let me know.

I happened to have this picture on my computer still, so I opened up the file so that they could see it to draw it. He then used it as a talking point as he gathered other students around him. He told them how every part of it worked, all of the shelves and tables and what-not that had been around it, and how wonderful it had been. He also started listing reasons why we should get it backed and called it his "Business Meeting."

So, I offered to transcribe their reasons and tried to play Devil's Advocate as I came up with more questions for them to solve. When we were done, I typed it up. We printed it out. The little group signed it and then delivered it to The Boss for her to peruse. She told them that she would look it over and then meet with them later. They are determined to meet with her at 9 am, so I hope she does!

Here is what they had to say:

  1. It was very quiet up there.
  2. We have tables and knee tables, but we need more room to work with more people.
  3. You can put knee tables under the loft.
  4. If it is too sunny and you forgot your sunglasses, you can work in the shade under the loft.
  5. When it is so hot, you can get cooler under there.
  6. It was so quiet up there, that you didn't need to come down to turn off the lights to tell people to be quiet.
  7. It was so nice up there. You could see everything in the room and see all the people. You could pick your work without having to walk around. You could look, see what the work was, and then pick it out to take back to the loft. You didn't have to walk and walk and walk and make your legs tired.
  8. The bench was up there. You could take a book and just turn the pages. No one interrupted you like down here.
  9. I think it would be nice and quiet and not disturbing like down here.
  10. The loft was so relaxing.
"How big is the box?"
[The custodian.]
  • Doing jobs, like cleaning works. 
  • Collect all of the money at my home.
  • Chiropractic job
  • Go to all the classrooms to clean all of the works. ("You guys realize that we're going to have to be at school for a long time to get all of that cleaning done, right? We may have to sleep here!")
~~Take down the SmartBoard.  It doesn't work, anyway, so we don't need it.
~~We can move the language shelves, put up the loft, and then put the shelves back under the loft.
~~We cannot block the bathroom, the exit door and the door you come in.

So, there you have it. I'm particularly fond of the sunglasses reason, myself.

Trying to get a loft into the classroom is going to be a difficult task. There are so many factors that must be taken into consideration, such as space, cost, and insurance with liability. We may be able to come up with some kind of a compromise. And honestly, my classroom isn't really loud this year. I think they just are in love with being able to turn off the lights to ask everyone to use quieter voices. ;-)

I love these guys.

I will keep you posted! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

'Rain Relaxation Sound' on YouTube

Are you looking for something different from music to have as a relaxing sound in the background? I found a clip that lasts for almost two hours. It is simply the sound of rain falling. It is accompanied by a photograph of rain falling. It may be more appropriate to pipe in to a quiet corner, as opposed to the entire classroom. I haven't noticed any thunder, so young ones won't have to be startled by that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reflections on the first month of school - Meet & Greet and phasing in

I had hoped to write this post at the official end of September, but life got in the way.

We have had four weeks of school. The children come back in stages, starting after Labor Day. The first Tuesday is a sort of "Meet & Greet," where the new children come in for a half hour with a parent. They get to find their cubby, bring in their supplies, and start to explore the classroom with my assistant. I answer the parent's questions, and ask a few of my own. My three big questions? 1-Is your child potty-trained? 2-Does your child go to After School Care or Parent Pick-Up? 3- Does your child have any food allergies? The rest I can usually figure out for myself.

Parents are often so overwhelmed with their child starting at a new school, that they often are stumped for questions. I talk about the general flow of the school day and some of the materials in the classroom. I start to talk about a lot of Montessori philosophy, that explains why we do the things that we do. I know that a lot of it is foreign to the generalized idea of what preschool is all about. I observe how the child is interacting with the environment upon his first experience in it. I also pay close attention to how the child interacts with his parents. A lot of information can be gleaned in this initial half hour, even if I am talking to the parent.

On Wednesday, just the K's come in. This year I have six. Two girls and four boys. One is already 6. Three more will be 6 very shortly. The other two turned 5 over the summer. This is a bigger range in age and ability than I have had in a while in my K's, but that is okay. This year, they got to pick out their journal notebook and folder and go to the school library to choose books for our classroom shelves.

Our Wednesdays are always half days in the classroom. Everyone goes home at lunchtime. Those who stay at school either go to After School Care, or to an enrichment class, which is for an extra fee. We have offered classes such as yoga, karate, Drama Kids, violin, sports camp, and more. These start up in mid-September, and about a third of the children participate.

Thursday is the day the the Extended Day 4's join the class. It is also our first full day of school. I have 14 Extended Day children this year, so 8 4's. They also had the opportunity to pick out their journals and folders.

Friday is the day that the half-day 4's join us. Many of them were in the classroom the previous year, so they already have a good idea what is going on. You always have a few new ones, as well. These 4's are the ones who still nap in the afternoon or who are brand new to Montessori. They have the option of moving up to full day later in the year. I only have one who is a half day 4 year-old, and he still hasn't yet turned 4.

Monday is when "returning" 3's join the class. These are the children who attended our toddler program. That means they are at least familiar with the classroom environment and have seen our faces while walking through the hallway.

Tuesday is the first day that all of the children are present for an entire day. This is also the big day of the crying. You may get a few tears on that Monday, but most of them are already used to leaving their parents. That Tuesday is always a hard one. But, the children get over it and engage in the classroom activities. Over time, the crying ceases completely. It just takes some time. I will post more on that later.

Within the following week, almost all of our specials have started for the school year. By October 1st, they are all in place. Everyone knows where everyone is going. Routines are established. The magic is well under way.

Other schools handle their first few days differently. I know my previous two schools did it differently. One had children come for a shortened day in small groups for two days. I believe there were four groups in all. For the next two days, the class was split in half, again for shorter days. And then they all came for their normal schedules. Another school had all of the children start their regular schedule on the very first day of school.

What does your school do? What have you seen work and not work?

'The Very Best of Enya' on YouTube

I had always been a fan of Enya. When I was doing my Montessori training "at the turn of the century," her music was a staple in our classroom. My mentor teacher didn't often play music during work time, but we used it for group time while walking on the line or delicately carrying objects.

In my own classroom, I often like to have music playing in the background. I start it as we dismiss from circle (if we have one first thing in the morning), or simply put it on at the request of my students.

If you don't have a CD on hand, you can play this Enya compilation from YouTube. It consists of her "greatest hits" and only shows the album cover for the video. It makes for excellent background music.

My favorite song is definitely "Only Time." It often moves me to tears. "Carribean Blue," "Book of Days" are other favorites. Which track is your favorite?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

'The Best of Mozart' on YouTube

This video that I found consists of two straight hours of Mozart. Again, his portrait is used for the background video. It's so calm, peaceful and relaxing...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

'1 Hour Forest Relaxation Sounds' on YouTube

You can easily supplement your studies of the forest while simultaneously creating relaxing sounds in the classroom environment. I came across this video that consists of one hour of sounds in the forest. The birds are chirping. Insects are buzzing. It elicits the feeling of walking through the woods on a clear summer day. The video is a static photo of a path in the woods, with wildflowers abounding. That means there is less distraction from a changing video. I think this is one of my favorites, as walking in the woods is one of my favorite things to do.

I can see myself playing this in the background while reading books about the forest and trees to the kids. I would put this one up on the SmartBoard. It would also be an asset to a quiet area. Play games to see if you can identify the sounds you hear.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on YouTube

I think "Moonlight Sonata" is my favorite Beethoven piece. It is for many of us, I am sure. This one isn't as long as others I have been posting for background music. It's only 15 minutes, but it is still beautiful. It would be even more appropriate for a short lesson on Beethoven or whatever. This one also includes a portrait of Beethoven while the song plays.

Another thought: Ask the kids why they think this song is called "Moonlight Sonata."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Beethoven's 'Symphony No. 9 in D Minor' on YouTube

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is arguably his finest work. As legend has it, despite the thunderous applause following his "Ode to Joy," he couldn't hear it. They had to turn him around so that he could see the standing ovation.

What amazes me most is that this was written when he was deaf. Yes, he could hear it in his head, but that is never the same as hearing it performed live.

This YouTube video lasts about an hour. It has a portrait of Beethoven in the background. This again makes it a great learning tool to put up on a laptop or even that dreaded SmartBoard.

I need to try to play the "Ode to Joy" on my bells this year, I think. I learned how to play it on the piano when I was a kid...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Impossible promises

Yesterday, I was talking about how parents easily misunderstand what we are hoping to accomplish in Montessori education. What children have been able to achieve in the past does not guarantee that your child will have an identical experience. Sometimes, I feel like I need to post a disclaimer, similar to what those lawyer firms do. "Past settlements do not guarantee a similar outcome in your case." That means, just because they were able to achieve millions for one person after an accident, you cannot count on receiving the same. The same can be said for the kids. Just because your friend's child started doing elementary work at a young age doesn't mean that your child will go as far.

I was forced to reflect on this today, after a friend mentioned a parent encounter to me. She said that when she sat down with the new family, they asked if she could promise that their child would be reading by the age of 4. After all, the child's previous Montessori school had made that promise. Isn't it the same at all of them?

I think of some of my own experiences with parents. Yes, I have been fortunate enough to have had children who are fluent readers at the age of 4. That doesn't mean that all of my students are going to do the same. Inevitably, siblings of these children are expected to achieve the same lofty goals. Friends of the family expect a similar outcome with their own children.

**Each child is different.**

All we promise to do in Montessori school is to help your child achieve his or her own potential. When it comes to reading, each child has his own special point in time where everything comes together and clicks so that he is reading. There are no magic formulas that make this happen on an adult's time. It all depends on the child and what works best for him. The most that we can do is to guide the child along the path of reading, introducing each concept as he is ready.

Most children will at least be familiar with the sounds of the alphabet by the time they are four, or in their second year of Montessori. Some of those children will be putting together those sounds to create words. When they are five and in their third year, most of them will be putting together sounds and starting to recognize some sight words. Some children aren't going to be able to do this until first grade. If a child is unable to read words by the age of 7, then you know you have a problem. A good instructor will recognize signs of struggle much sooner and will do whatever she can to help the child. She may make recommendations for some outside help that is more specialized. Services available are going to vary from school to school, and even district to district. 

The key is to communicate with your child's teacher.  Ask how your child is progressing. Compare your child's progression to himself, not his siblings or best friends. Make sure there is progress and not regression or an overly extended period of no progress. Remember that progress isn't always going to be memorizing sounds and words. Progress may be as simple as actually choosing to work in the language area multiple times throughout the day. Ask how your child's teacher feels about how he is doing and see if there are any recommendations.

Be wary of programs that claim they can turn your child into a reader as a toddler or promise reading by the age of 4. Find a program that sets more realistic goals and works with you to nurture your child in a way that is correct for him and not someone else.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Montessori misconceptions on reading from celebrities

Maria Montessori's 142nd birthday was just this past August 31st. I love that everyone is talking about it. Montessori is being pushed out into the mainstream media, creating more awareness. However, I also fear that even more miseducation could result from some of this.

I am speaking specifically about an article that I saw via Tim Seldin. It was posted on the Christian Science Monitor website: 'Maria Montessori and 10 famous graduates from her schools.' Talking about the famous people who have done well thinking outside of the box can do great things for Montessori education. It demonstrates how the goal of Montessori is to make children think for themselves, to expand their horizons, and to feel comfortable as they do so. Brilliant minds are nurtured within this type of environment. Educating the child for life has long-lasting effects that reach way into adulthood. This is all true. I see it in myself as a grown-up Montessori child.

One effect I see of constantly bringing up these famous Montessori kids is that many parents start to expect you to magically turn their kid into some kind of a superstar. They think that by enrolling their kids into a prestigious Montessori school, we will create these amazing creatures. We don't. These children come to us already as amazing creatures. We just help to lay a stronger foundation in their lives to help them blossom and grow and to realize their potential. The child is the one doing the work, not us.

The one page that haunted me the most was the one featuring Dakota Fanning. In it, she says that she learned how to read at the age of two and that Montessori teaches kids how to read at a really, really young age.

So did I. In fact, that was the reason that my parents sought some kind of appropriate education for me. They chose Montessori, not because children read early, but because it was the kind of environment that would stimulate my mind and educate me at my level. Even though I was reading at such a young age, I still needed to study phonics from the beginning. I distinctly remember tracing sandpaper letters and practicing their sounds. My early reading was all through sight word recognition that I had picked up on my own. I didn't have a grasp of phonics.

I find that parents often expect us to teach their children to read at the age of 3. Some of my toddler teacher friends have encountered parents who expect their children to read even at their level. You cannot force reading on a child. All you can do is give him as much exposure as possible. Feed into those sensitive periods for language with phonics exposure. Enrich the child's language environment. The child will learn how to read when he is ready. Sometimes that doesn't happen until the child is about seven years old, regardless of the child's educational background. Some of them will read at a younger age. Those who read at a younger age often have the skills ready to go at the surface. They just need someone to show them the way to let out those skills. THAT is what we can provide to the child, not teaching them at such a young age. It is not a guarantee.

I am glad that I encountered this story at the beginning of the school year. It just serves to remind me (and should all of us) how important parent education is. In some ways, we have to educate the parents even more than the children, so that they understand what we are really doing.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mozart's 'Requiem in D minor' on YouTube

The last piece that Mozart wrote, and the one that essentially killed him. Sure, it is a very dark piece, as you would expect a requiem to be. But it is so hauntingly beautiful at the same time.

Some may find the operatic singing to be more distracting in the classroom. However, some children may not be fazed by it at all. It can be background music or a teaching tool, however you see fit.

This video opens with a quote from Mozart and then focuses on his portrait for the rest of the piece. It is a live recording, so you will hear some applause. The heavy applause hits at the 52:00 mark and continues for quite some time.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Baskets, baskets, baskets

Today I have to haul all of those baskets to school. I didn't realize how many I had actually purchased this summer, until I put them all together. I had them at the top of my supply request list, but I never get them. So, I decided to find them on my own. I got pretty lucky, I think. These are my latest acquisitions...

A lady at the Public Market showed up for Saturdays through October. She sells larger baskets for about $1 apiece, and has a whole ginormous box of baskets of all sizes for 50 cents apiece.

My problem is that I don't like the baskets with handles. They do not neatly fit on my shelves. In fact, most of what I have left has handles, because they do not get used as frequently. I dug through this ginormous box and found several smaller ones with no handles. I am also in dire need of smaller baskets. Mine have actually held up pretty well over the years; I just want some more to better fit on the shelves and to be more visually appealing. I ended up with this box full for a mere $7. I want to go back some more.

And no, those wine bottles will not be going with me. Actually, I took this picture two weeks ago. They are already gone.

Earlier this summer, I was shopping at Savers. It is a similar concept to Goodwill in that you donate gently used items. They resell them and donate to a charity. I forget what they actually support. It has quickly become one of my favorite stores. ($7 Lands End slip-on shoes, but I digress.) On that trip, I got lucky with the baskets.

And then there was a trip to the local Goodwill...

And finally, I stopped in at Ben Franklin back home in Ohio. That store is deadly for Montessori teachers. They had all kinds of random baskets and trays and what-not from which to choose. I had to behave...

All of this for about $20. Not bad. This should give me a good head start when I go back. I could dream and hope that I have a whole slew of new baskets also waiting for me. I won't hold my breath....

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The last day of summer vacation

I have to admit that I am a little sad today. It's the last day of summer vacation. Yes, tomorrow I have to get up at the crack of dawn to go into school. Okay, so somewhere between 6 and 6:30. I am *NOT* a morning person. I have just spent the past 2 1/2 months blissfully sleeping in until 9ish and not having to hurry to get anywhere. I shall miss it. A lot.

Don't get me wrong. I am excited to see the kids. I know that this year's group is going to keep me on my toes. One of my Ks learned how to do the Division Board last year, by observing one lesson I did with an older child. He hadn't even yet done the Hundred Board. He will also probably be reading chapter books. I love these kinds of challenges, because I am forced to get creative with the materials and learning opportunities.

Then there are the younger kids. One of them isn't quite yet 3 and doesn't speak. I know him and his family quite well. It will be fun to try to coax the words out of him. I know they're in there.

As I have mentioned off and on through the summer, and more via the Facebook page than anything else, I have found a lot of fun things this summer. I need to remember to post more of those over the next few days. I will also try to share with you the setting up of the classroom this week.

So, how did I spend my last day of freedom? I woke up with a sinus migraine, thanks to allergies. Medication and a fabulous Greek breakfast with lots of coffee helped to make some of that go away. Then, I went to the grocery store. I am determined to be better this year about bringing my own lunch and making healthier choices. Yes, I say this every single year. I mean it this time. Honest. :-P

I was happy to see that Gladware was on sale. I stocked up on a wide variety of sizes and purchased a bunch of food for the week. The plan was to wash all of the dishes and start packing up some yummies within them. I have gotten some of that done. I just have to wait for them to finish drying.

Oh yeah, I also found some nifty baking supplies. This cake pop/donut hole maker and mini cupcake maker were both on clearance. I think they will be fun to use with the kids.

After that, I pretty much just worked on getting blogs ready and making sure some laundry is done. I have also been putting together the things I need to take in tomorrow. I don't know how I am going to maintain my book reviewing during the school year, but I am going to try!

I should have sat outside today. I just didn't have it in me with the high pollen counts and already irritated eyes from allergies. Maybe I will go for a walk tomorrow after working in the classroom. We shall see what the weather is like and how I am feeling after getting up at such an ungodly hour.

What do you do before school starts?

Worry Stones

Have you ever used worry stones in your peace corner? I have seen them in a variety of shapes and sizes, with various messages on them. I keep picking them up. Yes, part of that is my OCD kicking in, wanting to have every variation of something that I can find. At the same time, how am I supposed to know which worry stones will speak to which child? Everyone is different. That's why so many different kinds exist.

When my other half and I went hiking in Watkins Glen, NY a few weeks ago, we stopped in at an ice cream shop after dinner. The woman also had a variety of pottery for sale in an adjoining room. He is the one who found the worry stones first, and thought I may be interested in them.

They are quite simple - just little balls of clay flattened and etched with a bit of glaze. We could probably easily make them in the classroom. Oooh - project idea!

These are small enough that they can easily fit into a pocket. That is the point of them. Put them in your pocket and rub them when you are feeling the need for more of whatever message is inscribed upon them. I chose "peace" and "love" in two different colors, because I am sharing them with my friend. They will probably go into someone's pocket at some point this year. For a dollar apiece, though, I'm not too worried about it. Now, I just need to figure out a basket or something to put them in for the peace shelf.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mozart's 'Symphony No. 40' on YouTube

Mozart is probably my favorite classical composer. We listened to him a lot when I was a child. My parents went on a rare date to see Amadeus in the theatres when we were kids. They had it on videotape because it was so good. We watched it over and over again. Even as adults, my sister and I still love to watch the movie on DVD.

While perusing YouTube for some longer length pieces, I came across "Symphony No. 40." It lasts about a half hour and would be another god addition to play in the background while kids are working. Or, you could set it up in a smaller station in the corner of a room.

What I like about this video is that it features a portrait of Mozart, which is a good teaching tool for the kids. What I do not like is the number of ads that you have to x-out in order to see his face. Most of them are links to other pieces, but nevertheless annoying. Still, it takes less than a minute to carefully remove all of them and then Mozart is visible.

What is your favorite Mozart to play in the classroom?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Vivaldi's 'Four Seasons' on YouTube

I was in a classical music mood today. Instead of relying on my mp3 player, which only has snippets of longer pieces, I decided to venture into the scary world of YouTube. I found some real gems and enjoyed listening to them.

One in particular was Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." I have always loved listening to this piece. What I like about this particular clip on YouTube, is that all four of the seasons are represented. All 42 minutes of music are present. The poster has included the times where each movement begins, should you want to focus on a particular season. Pictures from each season are in the background as its part is performed. You could easily leave this playing in the background. I am considering it on my laptop for the kids to listen to and view. Or, it could even go on that evil SmartBoard that is in my room. I would be okay with using it for that.

You could use this as a springboard for classroom discussions about the seasons, focusing on one at a time or all four. Have the kids listen to each part and draw pictures. Get creative.

Check out the video here:

How would you use it in your clasroom?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Lose the Training Wheels Day 1

Today was my first day at Lose the Training Wheels. This program is being sponsored locally by Upstate New York Families for Effective Autism Treatment (UNYFEAT). It is a method that teaches children with autism and developmental delays how to independently ride a bike. Instead of a back wheel, there is a roller that provides more balance. As they master riding with that roller, they are called in for a "pit stop" to take a break and get a drink of water. The roller is then moved to the next one, which is more tapered on the ends. There is also a handle that is waist-high for volunteers to use to help keep the child on balance should they really start to tip. It also serves as a brake for those who can't slow down on their own. There are no brakes on these bikes.

80% of children who participate in this program are on their own two-wheeler by the end of the week. It is an amazing program. I went one day last year for "Family Day," to help my friend. She has two boys on opposite ends of the spectrum and they were both participating. You might know her from the blog "From the Mom Cave." I was absolutely amazed at what I saw and was bursting with pride that both of my buddies lost their training wheels. They were also ecstatic, as was their mother. I wondered if it would be possible to help some other kids at some point.

This past spring, I saw a post in my news feed from UNYFEAT, asking for volunteers for this year's program. I eagerly printed off the form and faxed it in. I checked off every possibility for helping: assisting kids, helping admin, you name it. I also checked off every possible session, because I would make sure I had nothing else going on this week.


The day the confirmation emails came in, I got five of them, confirming that I was helping in all five sessions. I got nervous. I have a hamstring injury from April that never quite healed properly. I knew it would be a lot of movement. Five sessions also means a really long day, longer than I am even in my classroom, making a really long week. I whittled it down by eliminating the first session, because they had enough volunteers.

To prepare for my first day, I made sure I took a few long walks during the past week, to exercise my legs. I packed a lunch with as many allergen-free foods as I could find, because I didn't want someone to get sick from something I ate. I also made sure I had plenty of protein, nutrient-packed energy foods, and bananas for sore muscles. When I showered, I used the shampoo and soap with the least amount of odor, as these kids tend to be sensitive to smells.

I arrived and was paired up with another Andrea to assist our new friend whom I will dub "Jacob." Jacob is 8 years old and loves Batman. He is very verbal, but tends to script from his favorite shows. He likes to have a schedule and may possibly need a reward system to keep him going. He grabbed my hand as soon as we were called over to the middle for a quick meeting and held onto it for a while. He also stood close to me while we were waiting our turn to get our bike. I felt an immediate connection and sense of trust between us, which was awesome.

He was nervous about riding the bike, but did quite well. He kept us at a nice, steady walking pace. Someone told me that four laps in the given space was the equivalent of a mile, so that kid actually rode close to six miles in his 75-minute session. He often took breaks after about four laps, which was fine. Breaks are supposed to be limited to about two minutes. He had no problem getting back on his bike when it was time. Our biggest issue was he is very sensitive to touch and I had a hard time unhooking his helmet at one point. I accidentally pinched him a little bit, but apparently that happens a lot. He also liked to take his hands off of the handlebars, to be like the big kids in his neighborhood. We would simply stop him with the handle in back if he didn't put them back on with prompting. He did an awesome job.

For the second session, I was paired up with a kid named Kevin. (Okay, kid is a relative term. He may have been in college or may have been in high school. I can't tell anymore.) We were with a girl whom I will call "Elizabeth." She is almost 13 years old and immediately informed us that she was being forced to do this and was not happy about it. I distracted her by asking her a lot of questions and quickly found out that she loves to ride horses. Even though you are supposed to have the kids focus on their riding, we found that she was more at ease when she was talking about animals. She quickly went through three roller changes and was riding pretty confidently by the end. I got a kick out of her tween attitude. We were fast friends.

For that second session, I started alternating with Kevin every other lap. Part of it was I was starting to get tired. The other part was Elizabeth was insisting that she could do it all by herself. That is not permitted, so one person at a time was a great compromise for her.

One of my favorite kids to watch was a boy I will call "Matthew." He had Down's Syndrome and got the biggest kick over running over every single one of the little cones around which they were supposed to ride. His laughter and glee was infectious. He wasn't quite following the rules, but he was actually riding. 

We had an hour off for lunch. I ate and tried to read. I stretched a little bit and massaged my sore feet and legs. I don't own running shoes, so I am doing this in my most comfortable hiking boots.

I was really hoping that I would get another slow kid after lunch. By this point, I was closing in on 8 miles around that track. I got a little girl I will call "Jenny." My partner was one of the dads, named Doug. She tried to tell us that she was scared to ride the bike and couldn't do it. She took off like a bat out of you-know-where and was content to keep on riding without a break, while Doug and I sweat like crazy trying to walk with her. Unfortunately, everyone working knows Jenny, so they kept encouraging her to make us run! She would speed up near the spectators and then slow back down. She also quickly went through roller changes. By the end, I could no longer keep up with her fast bursts. First, I do not run. Second, my hamstring was starting to pop and tighten up. I wasn't stretching enough. I am in big trouble later this week!

They were kind enough to let me leave after that, instead of trying to do a fourth session. I knew there was no way to do it. I have been nursing myself all evening, in anticipation of having to do it again tomorrow and for the next few days.

Despite being exhausted and sore, though, I am content. I helped three kids today change their "I can't" attitude into "I can." The week is just beginning. A new chapter in their lives is opening up. I get to be a part of that. It gives me a warm and fuzzy like nothing else. I can't wait to find out what else I get to learn this week.

Check out Amy's posts from last year's Lose the Training Wheels:

Lose the Training Wheels!!!

Riding into Day Two of Lose the Training Wheels

Riding past Day Three of Lose the Training Wheels

Soaring high above Day Four of Lose the Training Wheels

Celebrating Losing the Training Wheels


A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Thanks

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Clothespins on a tuna can

It's the end of July and I am already starting to get excited about next school year. It is a problem that I have - always being prepared for something at least four-six weeks in the future. I have been out shopping and picking up little things here and there for the classroom as I see them. I have posted some of those finds on my Facebook page, but should also incorporate those into a blog post here.

Anyway, I was scrolling through my feed today when I came across an awesome and simple project shared by a couple of my friends. The photograph is not mine and I have not yet tried to make it. So, I am just going to share a link to it here.

All you have to do is clean out a can of tuna. Take wooden clothespins that you pinch, and line them around the edges. Many of us already do something similar on our practical life shelf, anyway. And voila! You have a simple, yet awesome craft that even your youngest kids can do.

In the picture, they have it as either a small pot for plants or even a candle holder. (Put a small pot inside the can or use a glass candle holder.) It is beautiful and would work well in just about any decor. They are also very easily decorated.

I've already sent it to some of my coworkers and look forward to using it this school year!

Have you come across any other fun craft/gift ideas? Please share them with us!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Reflecting on Montessori From A to Z

April is a busy time of year in the Montessori world. Once Spring Break is over, the rapid evaluations must take place so that you can write all of those lovely conference reports for May. I tried to be a good girl and start them a little earlier this year. I got distracted, though, having to post for the A to Z Challenge this year. I was determined to actually complete it, as last year I was unable to.

I enjoyed doing it again this year. I set up most of my titles well in advance. It gave me a chance to reflect on who I am and why I do what I do. I also felt it could be a learning tool for parents and others interested in the Montessori philosophy. One of the parents in my room, who is also a coworker of mine, told me that she came across the challenge and read the whole thing. She really enjoyed it. If even one person learns something new....

I have a feeling I will try to do this one again next year. There is just so much to say about Montessori and the philosophy. It's a great way to share my passion for it. The challenge also helped to revive my passion this year.

Here are the links to this year's posts. The few that I did last year will follow after this. Happy reading and thanks for stopping by!

A is for Art
B is for Believe
C is for Concentration
D is for Demonstrations
E is for Envrionment
F is for Fill the Chair
G is for Grace & Courtesy
H is for Helping
I is for Independence
J is for Justification
K is for Knowledge
L is for Language
M is for Maria
N is for Nomenclature
O is for Observation
P is for Peace
Q is for Questions
R is for Respect
S is for Self-Awareness
T is for Three-Period Lesson
U is for Understanding
V is for Victory
W is for Whole Child
X is for Xyloid
Y is for You Can Be What You Want to Be
Z is for Zoetic

And last year's posts....

A is for Autism and Asperger's
B is for Beauty
C is for Concentration, Coordination and Control
D is for Daddy
E is for Expectations
F is for Final Day of School
G is for Getting Ready
H is for Happiness

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

True Confessions: I used the Kindle Fire in class yesterday

My beloved refurbished Kindle Fire arrived at my house Friday evening. I was ridiculously excited and played with it all evening. I brought it with me to school yesterday. And then, yes, I used it in the classroom.


Honestly, I used it for the same thing I have used my Droid on occasion. A few months ago, one of my kids asked me how a tree is made into paper. I knew we didn't have any books on the topic, so I found a YouTube video for kids, a la PBS-like, that shows how trees are made into paper. He sat to the side and watched the video a couple of times and then started to explain the process to other kids. Every once in a while after that, he would ask to watch it again.

Interjection: I prefer allowing him to watch an educational video on my small Droid than to have broadcast it on that ginormous monstrosity known as the SmartBoard. That way, the other children were able to continue on with their work without being disturbed.

A few weeks ago, I managed to actually locate a children's book about how trees are made into paper. I handed it to the boy, who immediately looked through it, and then he put it in the book area. The other children have been reading it for the past several days.

Yesterday, one of the girls asked me if she could watch the video, also. Voila - a chance to pull out the Kindle Fire. The screen is larger, so it was easier to see what was going on. I pulled up the video and she sat with the Fire in the rocking chair, watching it two times. The first boy asked if he could use the Droid to do the same. A small group formed to watch the video and then to discuss what they had just seen. And then they returned the technology and went back to their works.

Actually, some of them started to create their own science experiments, but that is another story.

I know I can also use the Fire for showing some sight word books to mix it up for the kids. I have already been doing that on the laptop here and there. I will never replace real books in my classroom; but, I think I can implement a little technology and be okay.

Monday, May 7, 2012

11 of 14 done

With a lot of swearing and yelling at a computer that wanted to be uncooperative for a couple of hours yesterday (and then the gremlins disappeared), and numerous other distractions throughout the day, I did finally submit 11 of 14 parent-teacher conference reports to my boss. Those final two "public school pages," as I call them, still need to be done for the K's but those do not take long. There are just a few more things I need to "test," if you will, for them.

This means I am already well ahead of the game. Usually, I am still working on these through the rest of the week. My final ones are usually submitted as Panera is closing on Wednesday night. I used to be even worse and submitted a few on Thursday. This time around, I should have them all submitted by tonight. And then I have a breather of almost two weeks before the next batch is due.

I also usually work on them at Panera. I have a never-ending supply of food and drink that I don't need to prepare myself. I have music and enough background noise to help me focus on what I am doing. (Silence is more distracting to me than noise - Montessori upbringing?) I have no furry kids walking all over my stuff. Yet, this time around, I have done all of it either at school or at home.

What kinds of rituals or routines do you have for writing your reports?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's Parent-Teacher Conference Report Time!

This time of year always gives me fits. It's parent-teacher conference report time. That means endless hours of paging through a year's worth of notes, digging through those mental files of what I know about the children, and typing, typing, typing, typing. I always have intentions of starting early, sometimes I do, but the majority are always held off for the last minute. I am a procrastinator by personality. Somehow, I work better under pressure. I am always reminded of college finals week.

This coming Friday, I will sit for about 8 straight hours of conferences for the first round. I meet with the parents for 25-minute intervals (5 minutes in between to cushion and to allow for a quick bathroom break). I have the parents come in about 5-10 minutes early so that they have time to peruse the reports. That way, they can have their questions ready before they come in. It is difficult when they don't come in early and you waste the first half of the time watching them read. It's also a little uncomfortable to watch their expressions while they go through it, especially if the child is having some kind of difficulty.

Our reports are all narrative. Sections are divided up by subject area and child development. How much detail you go into tends to vary from teacher to teacher. I am as concise as I can be, but include a ton of information. I have been burned in the past by not including every single little detail that is on my mind. These reports will often follow the child to the next school or next classroom and I want future teachers to know everything there is to know about this child. We also have a special section for our K's who are leaving us. It is somewhat redundant, but follows more of a checklist format, organized in such a way that it is more easily interpreted by public schools. Yes, we wish that our students stayed with us forever, but are realistic and know that only 1/3-1/2 will stay for first grade. Again, we want to make sure that the next school knows everything we know about the child.

The advantage that I have in doing them is that I am a writer. I can type and organize my thoughts pretty quickly. I have also developed a system that works. We have our form that we use. I go through and fill out the generic sections first, such as a summary of everything we have done in social studies, science, art, etc. When I go back through, I can add specific points about that child in each area. Not having to type all of that over and over is a huge time-saver.

I am sure there is always something that could be tweaked in how our reports are presented. We comment on them annually during our meetings. We wish there was some way to streamline the process, while still presenting all of the necessary information. Nothing better has yet come up.

What do your reports look like? How often do you write them?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Montessori A to Z: Z is for Zoetic

I found another great word on YourDictionary, this time for Z. It's the word "zoetic." It means "of or pertaining to life." Isn't this what Montessori education is all about?

We teach the children how to be themselves and how to function in life. Practical life teaches them concentration needed in performing tasks and in learning, independence to do them alone, control and coordination of manipulating things in life, and order which is necessary to balance the chaos of life.

We teach about life in our own neighborhoods and around the world.

We teach about plant life and animal life and the circle of life.

We teach how to enjoy life, using all nine of those senses, and refine them in the sensorial area.

We teach language skills to aid communication in life.

I feel like I have a new phrase as a mantra: Montessori is zoetic. It just sounds really cool.

Montessori A to Z: Y is for You Can Be What You Want to Be

When I was in the third grade, my Montessori elementary class put on the play "You Can Be What You Want to Be" about the life of Maria Montessori. I had high hopes of actually portraying Maria, but settled for playing her mom and I think one of her students.

The musical was a fun way for us to get to know a little bit about the woman who created the kind of school that we attended. It was actually written by an upper elementary class at least thirty years ago. The main message, in addition to the Montessori story, is that you can do anything you set your mind to. That is what we try to teach our students on a daily basis.

This is a video of a graduation ceremony of a group of kindergartners. It took me forever to find a YouTube video that has this song in it. Fast forward to the 15 minute mark to hear the song.

Order your own copy of the play using the information found here.

Montessori A to Z: X is for Xyloid

When I was looking for words that begin with "x" so that I could do this post, I came across "xyloid" on It is an adjective that means "resembling wood; woody." I found it to be appropriate for an aspect of the Montessori environment that can easily elude us at times.

We like to make our environments as natural as possible. Plastic is bright and ugly, yet often cheaper and more durable. I will admit that I still have some plastic in my classroom. I primarily use it in the art area because it doesn't get ruined as easily as a traditional wooden basket or bowl. You will find some in the practical life area, but mostly in the form of larger bowls and bins for soap and cleaning works. Some of my bins are older plastic ones that have been in the room for years. I am slowly replacing everything, but have a limited budget. I have managed on occasion, though, to find some xyloid bowls and baskets. They are sturdier, yet affordable and look quite natural in the environment.

I keep my eyes peeled everywhere that I go for good deals and new materials to add to the classroom. I have had the most luck with the Dollar Store, garage sales, and our local public market. Where do you find affordable wooden or xyloid materials for your classroom?

Montessori A to Z: W is for Whole Child

One thing that makes Montessori education stand out from the crowd is that it aims to teach the whole child. Life is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic. Children need to learn how to function in society and in the home. People have a spiritual being inside of them. That psychic life is what we seek to nurture and grow as we teach our children to become curious, to seek knowledge and answers. They need to learn self-control and appreciation for the world around them.

We teach our children to be good citizens who are kind to each other and kind to animals. They learn to work with the Earth and to protect her resources. They learn a strong sense of self-worth and independence. They learn to think outside of the box.

Sometimes I like to think of teaching children in Montessori as being similar to being an osteopath doctor. They are not just MDs who look at the single complaint that you have. They acknowledge how different parts of the body affect the entire body. Sometimes you have to treat a problem in your foot to alleviate back and head pain. With kids, you have to take into account their physical, emotional and mental development all at the same time. One area can easily affect the others, even if on the surface it seems unrelated.

Montessori A to Z: V is for Victory

What are the victories in the Montessori classroom? They can be small or large, depending on the child and the situation. Here are some of my favorite victories over the years.

Once I had a child who was later diagnosed with ADHD and was considered for Asperger's. There was just no way that you could get him to practice anything remotely resembling math or language activities. All he wanted to do was to simply play with sensorial, but that usually ended up in crashing and inappropriate behaviors. One day, I realized that he liked to cut paper. So, every day for a couple of weeks, I made him envelopes with a teen numeral written on them. His job was to cut that many pieces of paper and place them in each envelope. It was the only way that he finally learned his teens. Soon after that, he was placed on medication and suddenly started reading Bob books. I went into the staff room and cried.

About 10 years ago, I had a boy who just couldn't seem to learn his sounds. It was very frustrating for me as a teacher, and for his mother, who was also a teacher. I only had him for two afternoons a week, that didn't help, either. He had a fascination with dinosaurs. They ruled his world. Finally, we pulled out the dinosaur alphabet book. Every time he traced a sandpaper letter, we associated it with a dinosaur name. Within a couple of weeks, he had it.

I had a little boy who was so eager to learn and to live his life that he was lacking in impulse control. If he wanted to get something, he would go from 0 to 200 in a heartbeat. Nothing else was more important than getting to that person or object. Eventually diagnosed with some sensory and social delays, he started to receive help once a week from a school psychologist who was working on the impulse control. Just before she started, we had gotten him to the point where you could say his name and he would go back and walk without being prompted.

I had a little boy who was starting to read, but just couldn't master the difference between "b" and "d." I tried the bed hands at the beginning of December, but he still couldn't get it. When he returned from Christmas vacation, he suddenly had it and didn't need to use his hands anymore!

I had a boy who would easily become angry and yell at me or the other children. He didn't like to follow rules nor accept consequences. I started making him use the peace table. He was even allowed to bring me over there if he was unhappy with me. After two years of concentrated effort, he was successfully using the peace table both with adults and other children. After he left me, he was eventually diagnosed with Asperger's.

I had a little three year-old girl who would get mad and yell any time someone said hi to her upon her arrival. She didn't want anyone to speak to her and would glare at everyone. I insisted that she take a break every time she threw a fit when someone talked to her. I told her she didn't have to say hi, but could at least lift up her hand a few inches and wave to someone. Eventually she started to greet everyone with a big smile on her face and was one of the most social kids in the classroom.

I could go on and on about stories like this. Yes, a lot of them are academically-based. I have dozens more. There are also those smaller victories like the days when the class actually goes silent because everyone is working so hard. Most of my children are always working, but there is always a buzz in the classroom. A small victory can be that child who cannot pour herself a glass of water without spilling the entire pitcher everywhere and one day finally manages to do it repeatedly for herself and all of her friends. There are the days when a child finally learns how to tie his shoes and volunteers to do it for everyone. There is that peaceful afternoon where all of the children are sprawled out, reading books both at and beyond their level, simply for the love of books. All of these moments, big and small, are what makes this profession worthwhile.

Montessori A to Z: U is for Understanding

To be effective as a guide for these young children, you have to have an understanding of them. A lot of this is going to be an innate ability to "speak the language" of young children. Some people simply do not have this ability. You also have to know a lot about them. Read as much as you can get your hands on about child development and the variety of special needs that tend to pop up in your classroom. Educate yourself so that you can understand what is potentially happening with the children.

Do not be afraid to ask questions. I know a lot, but I will never know it all. I rely on the various therapists who come in for my children to offer me insights into children's behavior and issues. I speak to other professionals online and compare notes with other teachers. I ask my colleagues to observe a child because perhaps they can see something that I cannot. Also communicate with the parents. Sometimes there are situations at home that can offer insight into a child. Perhaps a behavior you see at school does not happen at home and vice versa. Work together to create a full picture of the child.

Observation is another key part of understanding the children. You have to watch what they are doing, how they are interacting with each other and their environment. Remember your ABC - Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence. When a child exhibits a particular behavior, what was going on right before it? What was the actual behavior? What were the consequences of that behavior? Use that information to help you understand the behavior and to change it in the future.

Always try to put yourself into the child's shoes. How would you feel in that situation? We always feel the need to hug and love on kids, for example. Do you like it when people randomly grab you and hug you? Would you want someone lifting you up to look out the window? Probably not. How do you feel when someone comes over and starts to play with your work? Understanding children also includes respecting them and their personal space. The more you respect children and understand them, the better your relationship with them will be. And the more you will be able to help them to grow and develop.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Montessori A to Z: T is for Three-Period Lesson

The Montessori presentation of lessons revolves around the three-period lesson.

1. Show me.

In the first presentation of material, the teacher demonstrates to the child the proper process of using a material. Her vocabulary is limited to naming the associated words with the material. For example, when teaching the geometric solids, she may put out cube, rectangular prism, and cylinder. The process involves getting out the rug, bringing the basket to the work area, and carefully handling each solid with two careful hands. She names each solid as it is presented and will often repeat the names as she points to each one on the rug.

2. Ask me.

In the second period, the child is asked to point to each item as the teacher names it. She will say, "Show me the cylinder. Show me the rectangular prism. Show me the cube." If the child makes a mistake, the lesson is over and can be resumed on another day.

3. Tell me.

In the third period, the child has to provide the given vocabulary. The teacher will point to each solid and ask, "What is this?" The child will answer accordingly. Again, should he make a mistake, the lesson is over and is resumed on another day.

Children often stay in the second period for quite some time. They practice the materials and vocabulary again and again. When they are able to correctly name all of the items, mastery is complete and the child is ready to move on to the next lesson in the sequence.

Montessori A to Z: S is for Self-Awareness

Are you aware of your self? Do you understand how you feel each day and how you are presenting yourself to your children? It is amazing how much our own personal feelings and stress in life impacts the children in our classroom. If you wake up late and run around feeling frazzled, the children can pick up on your frenetic energy in the classroom. If you are feeling stressed about something else, they can sense it and become uncomfortable. Many times, without realizing it, you are bringing a tremendous amount of energy into the room.

I try really hard to leave my baggage at the door when I arrive at school. I try to focus on the children and nothing else while I am in my classroom. The hardest test for me was last school year. I already had the most demanding group of children that I had ever hard in all of my years in the classroom. During the third week of school, my grandmother passed away and I missed a week. A few months later, my mother ran away from home, due to her Alzheimer's, and I had to try to help my father get her situated from 400 miles away. A couple of months after that, he went into a coma due to a brain bleed. He died on the last day of school. Talk about a lot of stress and negative energy!

I will never know how much my class was affected by my energy last year. The difficulties that we experienced with some of our students and their unanswered special needs added a great amount of stress and energy as it was. I had to be absent for several weeks, spanning each of these family crises. When I was there, my mind was sometimes elsewhere, no matter how hard I tried to let go.

But it doesn't take a major crisis in your life to throw off your game and your energy. In fact, you may not even be able to identify what exactly it is that is throwing everything off. The first thing you must do is to acknowledge when it is happening.

The best way I have found to do this is to remove yourself from the classroom for a few moments. In my school, the best way to do this is to go to the office to refill the coffee cup or simply to use the bathroom. Those 2-5 minutes in which you are gone can be quite telling. If I leave during a crazy moment and have a calm classroom when I return, then I know it is me, especially if the level starts to immediately increase again. It is the same for my assistant. I often ask for a truthful answer as to whether or not I am causing the energy or if it is some other factor at play. And then I try to adjust accordingly.

It is also important to realize your own limitations. When I have exhausted every possible resource that I have at my fingertips, or have simply passed my patience threshold for the day or the moment, I ask someone else to take over. I take a walk. I switch rooms for a few minutes. Some days are just more demanding than others. We want to be the masters of our own little universe, but cannot possibly handle every single situation. We need to learn to lean on the people around us.

Take the time every day to meditate on yourself and how you are doing. You will find yourself becoming a better teacher as you do so.

Montessori A to Z: R is for Respect

Respect seems to be getting harder to come by these days. It makes me sad when teachers are disrespectful to each other in school, when they are supposed to be modeling it for the children. Children are not respectful to their parents, and feel that they don't need to be respectful to us. Parents are also disrespectful to the schools and teachers. Children pick up on all of this and we are fighting what sometimes feels like a losing battle.

We only have the children for a few hours of every day. The skills with which we empower them in that short time are often negated by the real world around them. Yet we persist in our efforts. Eventually, we can power through those negative influences and be victorious on the other side.

To gain respect from others, you must first give respect. Respect the child. Acknowledge and validate his feelings. Treat him kindly. Be firm, yet fair in your expectations. Empower him with independence. Honor his personal space. These young ones don't know how to ask for it, but this is what they really want out of the adults in their lives. The more consistently you demonstrate respect for the child, the more likely you are to get it back from him.

Be respectful to other teachers and administration. We all get cranky with each other, especially following a bad day. We don't like it when other people criticize how we do things. We may have a bit of the green-eyed monster when someone else can pull off an activity that is failing in our own rooms. It is hard to share space with other adults. But those young eyes are watching us, so we need to treat each other the way that we expect those young ones to treat us and each other.

The hardest part at times is to be respectful to parents who are disrespectful to you. Parents are out to protect their children and can often misdirect anger and frustration at you. It can be hard to take, but you have to try to take a step back and look at where the parent is coming from. And then it is usually best to try to take a break and let everyone calm down before delving too deeply into the issue.

My biggest pet peeve is when people are really late to school. We barely have a three-hour work period in our schedule as it is. When people are late, it disrupts the children and makes the tardy child out of sync. Plus, being on time is an important life skill to learn. I am not the most timely person, myself, but I try to keep it within a ten-minute time frame. Again, children are modeling what we are doing and saying.

Take some time to reflect on ways that you may be inadvertently disrespectful to people in your life. Think of a time that someone disrespected you. Have you done that to someone else? What are some ways that you can demonstrate respect to your peers and children?

Montessori A to Z: Q is for Questions

How do you answer questions about Montessori? Do you have a canned response that you give when people ask what it is that you do? I admit to having a standard explanation that I give to people when they ask me what Montessori is. I say something along the lines of, "In a nutshell, it is an alternative philosophy of education that focuses on the child as a whole, and teaches each child at his or her own pace. We also teach everything in a hands-on fashion to help the children learn concepts concretely before getting into the abstract." Some people simply nod and move on. More often, though, people start to ask more questions and I have to provide more information and examples. They are especially fascinated about peace education and the fact that I have kindergartners who are doing division in the thousands.

My passion for Montessori means that I can go on and on for hours if provoked and asked enough questions. I remember even back in college, I would have a small group of people around me asking me all kinds of questions, while we worked on depleting the keg.

I feel like parents don't ask us enough questions. Or at least they do not seem to ask the kids of questions that I would prefer to answer. I know to them, they want the fundamentals about how snack works and when we go play on the playground. I want them to ask me why it is important for a five year-old to scrub a table with a brush or to not teach letter names until the phonic sounds are mastered. So, I find myself trying to create those questions in the parents by providing them a snippet of information about something their child has done. Then I can go on from there, guiding their questions and hoping for more conversation.

What are some of the most interesting or strangest questions you have ever been asked?

Montessori A to Z: P is for Peace

Peace education is something that is unique to Montessori schools. In addition to teaching our children how to become academically smart, we work on teaching them to become socially smart. If we want to have a peaceful society, we have to start with its youngest members.

Peace education in the Montessori classroom isn't some kind of funky hippie idea, as many people mistakenly believe. We teach children how to be respectful to each other and to both the indoor and outdoor environments. This is a key part of functioning in daily life. They use the peace table to practice communication skills. They are responsible for caring for their environment as a way of learning how they are connected to it and how they can impact it.

Peace education includes learning about different cultures around the world. To have a better understanding of your fellow man, you need to understand from where he comes. Education arms you with knowledge. With knowledge you get understanding. With understanding comes peace.

Peace education also includes learning how to control your self. Children learn how to relax and to be confident in who they are. They learn to be independent. Those who lash out at others are rarely at peace with themselves, so they take it out on everyone else. Children learn how to recognize their own emotions and how to properly deal with them. When they can handle their own emotions, they can empathize and sympathize with others. Again, they can understand others and with understanding comes peace.

To some people, this sounds ridiculous at such a young age. The sooner you start teaching the concept, though, the sooner the child starts to internalize it and to instinctively use it in his every day life.

Here are some related articles I have written in the past:

Teaching Conflict Resolution

Calming Movement Activities for Children

Peaceful Education Activities for Home

Peaceful Education At Home: Activities for Families in Nature

How to Use a Peace Table at Home

Montessori A to Z: O is for Observation

Observation is a topic that can never be discussed enough. It is so beneficial for everyone involved. The child observes demonstrations by the teacher as well as the work of the other students, to learn how to properly use the materials. I cannot tell you how many times I have had a child who appears to be doing nothing but watching other children for several months. Then all of a sudden, he is replicating the lessons on his own. I still love to tell the story of one little boy who was barely four years old. He never seemed to want to do anything but build with the sensorial materials. One day, I was teaching a child how to put together phonetic sounds to make a word. The child was having some difficulty figuring out what the word said. From out of nowhere, the little boy yells the answer from across the room! He was also able to pull out the letters and do it on his own after that. And here I thought he wasn't paying attention to anything!

That also means that adults need to be on their guard at all times and to be conscious of their every word and movement. You think that you are not being watched. But there are eyes and ears on you at all times! They will mimic you when you least expect it!

Observation is also key for the teachers in the classroom. You have to observe the children to figure out what is working and what isn't working. You have to observe a child who seems out of sorts, to figure out what is going on so that you can help him. You have to observe the individual work of a child to determine if she is ready to move on to the next level. Simply "testing" a child is not enough.

We never take enough time out of our day to observe our children. I miss my loft in our old building. I could go sit up there and observe my children with an eagle eye view. I could observe the traffic patterns and see more interactions. I could closely watch a child without him realizing I was doing it. I was unable to bring the loft to our new location and it has been hard to readjust to a different way of observing my children.

I do have a tendency to observe a lot while doing something else. I am a multi-tasker. However, I also like to make it less obvious that I am watching what you are doing. It may look like I am doing the dishes, but really I am listening to how the children are speaking to each other. I have done summer gardening work at some families' homes. Sure, I may be focused on pulling those weeds, but I am also listening to the interactions in the family, which gives great insight into a child's personality and reasoning. If everyone knew I was actively observing, they wouldn't necessarily behave in a normal fashion. I know that I tend to alter my movements and actions when I know I am being watched. It is an uncomfortable feeling. That is why I try to mask it somewhat for the children.

Observation skills are somewhat innate to each individual person. You can, however, develop your skills with more practice. Write down exactly what you see. Don't worry about making judgments based on those notes while you are in the middle of observing. Review your notes and ponder those ideas later. The more you do this, you will find that it starts to happen simultaneously and you pick up on things much faster.

Here are some links to other articles I have written about observation:

10 Tips for Choosing a Montessori School

The Montessori Child as Observer

The Montessori Teacher's Role as Observer