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

Montessori A to Z: N is for Nomenclature

Nomenclature is a fundamental part of language. It simply means to properly name things in the environment. The actual activities that go out on the shelf consist of three-part cards. For some, it is simply learning the names of things. For example, I may have a set of cards that teach the names of different types of fish. My other sets of nomenclature cards for fish name the different parts of the fish body. Each part is highlighted on a black and white drawing.

Three-part cards are two identical sets of cards with the picture on the top and the name on the bottom. One set, known as the control set, is left in tact. The other set has the picture and the word separated. For younger children who are learning how to read, they can match the the picture and word cards to the control card. For children who are able to read, they can label the pictures with the words and then check themselves with the control card. Each lesson has to be adapted to fit each child's needs and learning level.

My nomenclature cards have been the most popular this year. I downloaded many of the sets from the ABC Teach website. I have been using them for years and helped start ideas for the Montessori section of the website. There is a lot of good stuff there! In addition to the cards, there are printable outlines so that the children can create their own sets or cards or make their own booklets to go with the cards.

To learn how to make your own sets of cards, you can read my article here.

Montessori A to Z: M is for Maria

Maria Montessori has long been one of my heroes. If it weren't for her, I would not be who I am today. Because of her, my parents sent me to an amazing Montessori school that helped me to broaden my horizons and experience the world in a way that I never would have in traditional school. Because of her, I found my calling as an educator, using her methods. I do not work well in other educational environments, and I have tried them. Montessori just naturally speaks to me, as it does to many who give it a shot.

Maria was an inspirational woman in her life, beyond just developing this educational method. She was the first female engineer in Italy. She was the first female doctor in Italy. She was a pioneer of her times and believed that you could do anything you set your mind to. When I was in the third grade, we put on the play "You Can Be What You Want to Be." I desperately wanted to play Maria, but alas, I ended up with the role of her mother. In a way, I would still like to be Maria. I like to learn everything I can and read everything I can get my hands on. I strive to be the best teacher for each child's individual needs. If I can't do it myself, I ask for help. I want to teach the world about the philosophy and how to implement it into daily life. It is such a natural way of being. My parents were natural Montessorians, only they didn't realize it until I was taking my training and could identify it for them. To them, it was just mimicking how they were brought up.

As we are having discussions at school, we often ask ourselves, "What would Maria do?" We look to her for guidance as we make decisions about how to bring Montessori to the next level, 100 years later. How much of it stays the same and which pieces can be updated? We strive to preserve her teaching and ideas, while simultaneously adapting to today's society, much as she did during her career.

My father deeply believed in helping me stay in touch with my Montessori roots. There was one special Christmas soon after my training was complete and I was working in my own classroom. He had done a lot of research and purchased some antique Montessori books for me. A couple of them, including The Montessori Method, were first English editions. This, however, was my most prized gift:

It says "Maria Montessori - Roma, Italia" and then something about San Diego in 1918. In theory, this is an authentic Maria Montessori signature/autograph. I cried like a baby when I opened it. I had my parents store it for me when I was in the middle of moving. I didn't realize they had sent it to me in a box several years ago. When Mom moved into the nursing home and Dad died last year, we quickly had to empty out their house. Several boxes were left in storage and went to auction. I was convinced that this was in that storage unit and thus lost to me forever. On the anniversary of my father falling ill and going into a coma, I located this in that box in my attic. I again cried like a baby.

Somehow, I feel more spiritually connected to Maria when I handle this and my older books. The more in touch with her I feel, the better I am for my kids.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Montessori A to Z: L is for Language

Language is one of my favorite areas of the classroom. I learned how to read when I was 2, so that aspect of language has always been a big part of my life. I love to teach children how to learn their sounds and get just as excited as they do when they finally put the words together and read. I have books all over the classroom, in every area. I take my children to the school library about once a week, so that they can choose their own books to bring back to the classroom. I have developed a class of readers and I hope that love of books stays with them for their entire lives.

Language enters into other parts of teaching in Montessori, though, beyond reading. Language is important in how you speak to the children. Model proper usage of words and proper grammar. Use proper names for everything in the classroom. Children are in their sensitive period for language and will quickly pick up vocabulary and speaking patterns. I love when I hear my big words coming back out of children's mouths and being used appropriately. It is not necessary to talk down to children. Yes, you need to make sure they understand you, but you don't need to resort to baby talk.

My other favorite part of language is foreign language. When I was in Montessori preschool and kindergarten, we learned both French and Spanish. In first grade, you had to choose one, so I chose French. I studied it all the way through high school and into college. When I got to college, I also started taking Spanish again. I knew I would be using it more frequently in the real world than I would my French. After college, I started to study some Italian, German, Portuguese and a bit of Chinese on my own. (Remember that knowledge post?) I love how foreign words roll off of my tongue. Children love to use them, too. Laying the foundation at an early age helps them continue to learn new languages as they get older.

You can read my introduction to my Montessori language album here.

Montessori A to Z: K is for Knowledge

In Montessori, we arm the children with knowledge. We feed their sensitive periods to satisfy their cravings, yet keep them wanting more. We teach them how to find information for themselves, so that they can independently continue their quest for knowledge. It is something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

I know that Montessori is responsible for my continued self-directed learning, even as an adult. If there is a topic I want to better understand, I research it on my own. I exhaust all resources, both online and offline, until I feel satisfied with my newly acquired knowledge. I try it on for size in the real world, as practicing something helps it to become a part of you. I will never tire of teaching myself.

I think to be a good Montessori educator, you need to continually arm yourself with knowledge. Every school year, we get new students who present a new set of challenges. We have to continue to learn how to work with issues like sensory processing disorder or reading difficulties. We need to revisit the words of Maria Montessori to remind ourselves why we do what we do and how we should be doing it. We need to keep learning more about the topics we teach the children. Someone always has a question to be answered and we want to provide accurate information. Plus, demonstrating the hunt for knowledge to your students will often inspire them to maintain their quest, as well.

Montessori A to Z: J is for Justification

When I was taking my Montessori training, I had the honor of studying under Sister Anthonita Porta. I miss her a lot. All of these years later, I can still see her and hear her voice in my head. One of the lessons I remember most is justification.

When you are presenting a new activity that you have developed, can you justify its benefit? We live in a world where millions of lessons and activities are available at our fingertips on the Internet. That doesn't mean they are always appropriate. Make sure you have a good reason for using something that falls out of the traditional materials in the classroom.

The same is true for children when they are using materials. We teach process, not product. Sometimes, however, a child finds another way to use the material. Does that make it wrong? Not necessarily. This is when those observation skills come in handy. Watch how the child is interacting with the material. Is there some kind of learning going on? It will be obvious if the material is being handled in a destructive fashion. But sometimes, children can discover a new lesson within an older material that we have never thought of before. Perhaps it is being used in a way that makes sense to the child, to help her organize it in her own mind.

I wish I still had the picture of how one of my little girls was doing cards and counters one day. We teach the children to line up the numerals at the top of the rug. Counters are placed in a vertical line under each numeral. This child, though, did her work in a circle, almost as a spiral. She placed the 1 in the center of the rug, with one counter next to it. She placed the 2 on the other side of the counter and added two counters. This continued in a circle around the rug. Your first instinct is to show her how to lay it back out in the more linear style. After all, math is linear. As I thought about it more, though, this method of laying out the counters fit the child's thinking patterns, her personality, and how she operates in her daily life. She was still getting the concept of counting the quantities. She was just exploring a different way to look at them. She has also never repeated that layout again as she has worked with that material.

Montessori A to Z: I is for Independence

One of the most important goals in Montessori education is to teach the child to be independent. One of our most commonly uttered phrases is "Teach me to do it myself."

Children seem to have low confidence in their ability to do things on their own. I think it is because we seem to coddle children more and more. I still have parents who scoop up their four year-olds and carry them down the sidewalk. They fulfill every demand and desire, without giving the child a chance to attempt it on his own. It is definitely easier to just do it all for your child, but that is only true in the beginning. As a child is learning how to do something like put on her coat, it takes a long time. You're trying to rush out the door so that you are not late for work. But if you would just put in the effort to teach her how to do it herself, you will find that it saves you time in the long run.

Before I help a child do anything in my classroom, I insist that he try it by himself first and it has to be a valid effort. If there are struggles, I show him how to to break down the task into more manageable steps. It can be demanding of my time and energy, but it always pays off.

One of my favorite recent stories about independence in my classroom involves a five year-old boy and the drying rack. We were painting large murals of frogs hiding in some kind of habitat, following a lesson on camouflage. Each piece of paper was about the same size as each wire shelf. This boy is one who has a lot of anxiety and can get easily frustrated when he can't do something exactly right the first time. We have spent the past several weeks working on showing him what he is capable of doing.

He came over to the drying rack and tried to put the paper on the shelf. It didn't work. He tried again. It still didn't work. I just continued to wash dishes, while observing him and watching the other children paint. He finally pulled the tray out of the rack and placed his painting on it. He spent a total of 20 minutes trying to figure out how to put that paper on the wire tray and how to get it back on the drying rack. When he did, he had the biggest smile on his face, demonstrating a great sense of accomplishment. He then quickly volunteered to help the other children, for the rest of the afternoon and into the next day.

How many other people would have simply taken over and denied him the opportunity of figuring it out on his own? We have a tendency to step in too quickly to "help" children. There is a greater lesson when they have to try again through trial and error.

Montessori A to Z: H is for Helping

I love how Montessori children like to help each other. They also like to help the adults in the environment. In my classroom, we encourage them to help each other more and to depend on us less. To do this, we have what is known as the "Three Friend Rule." I had read about it once on a Montessori blog and thought it was a great idea. Three years later, it is still running strong in the room.

The Three Friend Rule means you have to ask at least three other friends for help before you can come ask an adult. And for my little stinkers, we emphasize it has to be three friends who are capable of helping. For example, you may not ask three 3 year-olds to tie your shoe and then ask an adult. You have to ask the children who actually know how to do it. (And yes, I have a bunch of darling stinkers who try such things! Lol)

The thing is, it actually works. The children learn to reach out to each other. They learn by teaching each other how to do each task. They also develop more independence as they have to problem solve.

The first time one of my new parents came in to observe the classroom last fall, she was horrified that I didn't help her daughter when she asked for help. Later, when I explained to her why I redirected her daughter to the other children, she understood. She also commented that she noticed how easily her daughter found someone to help and how the other children were happy to do it. She realized the value of what I was teaching her daughter.

A lot of our children crave being needed somehow. This is why they want to be helpers. Yes, many times it would be faster if we just did it ourselves, but what good is that? We are here to teach children how to function in life, not to do it all for them. You simply need to show them how they can help. Break down the tasks into manageable steps for the individual child. As she masters each one, allow her to do more and more. Before you know it, she will spontaneously do it by herself every time!

Another thing I do is encourage the children to help each other during a spill. The first and most important step when a child spills something is to ask if he is okay. The child may obviously not be physically injured, but he could feel bad about having made a mess. He may be afraid that he is going to get into trouble. Asking this question lets him know that it is okay that he made a mistake. Then you can help him fix it. Many times, the children already rush over to help clean up a spill. If they just stand there watching or laugh, I suggest that they either try to help or return to their activities. I almost never step in to assist the child. The only time I do is if there is shattered glass on the floor.

How do you encourage helping in the classroom?

Montessori A to Z: G is for Grace & Courtesy

Grace and courtesy is a part of the Montessori practical life curriculum that seems to amaze people more than others. Children learn how to be polite and caring, toward each other and toward their environment. They wait their turn before speaking. They spontaneously share without being forced into it. They take great care with tiny objects and breakable items that are usually hidden from their reach. They walk around each other's activities and don't bother each other.

How does this happen? It starts on day one with the ground rules of the classroom. It requires concentrated effort on the part of the teacher to demonstrate and discuss these rules on a regular basis. It requires consistency from all adults in the classroom. It requires stepping in when necessary to individual situations. It requires constant vigilance in being a good role model as an adult.

Some days, it feels like the kids have completely forgotten how to be kind to one another. That is when you have to take a step back and try to ascertain what is going on. What kind of energy is being brought into the room and by whom? What needs to change in the environment? Where is the moon in its cycle? How did the cranky child come into school that day? So many factors are truly in play with mood swings.

Most of the time, though, they are doing a good job being good citizens. Take time to observe your children when they are in other environments. How are they treating teachers for other classes, such as PE or computer? How are they treating people in the office? How do they respond on the playground? You will often find that Montessori children behave differently from other children. One of the greatest compliments I received was a few years ago after one of my students had a birthday party. He had invited some neighborhood children from his former [traditional] school, as well as friends from our class. His mother said she could tell which children were from my class because they willingly took turns and worked together; whereas the other children were pushing and bickering all of the time. That made me feel good. I hold onto that observation, even on the days when the children are having difficulty.

What are some of your favorite grace and courtesy lessons?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Not leaving A to Z!

I feel like I need to put a post on all of my blogs. Yes, I am WAY behind on the challenge. Life keeps getting in my way. I should have listened to that gut instinct of mine that said, "Write them early!" Lol

Anyway, I have a ton of writing time coming up again soon and will be cranking them out and I WILL finish this month! On all of them! Promise!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Montessori A to Z: F is for Fill the Chair

In an effort to bring Montessori to the masses, a few grassroots campaigns have been taking hold over the past several months. One of them is known as "Fill the Chair." It's request is simple. Invite people from your local community to come in and observe a Montessori classroom in action for thirty minutes. Go beyond prospective parents. Teach local doctors, lawyers, bankers and more about this exciting method of education. Let them see it in action for themselves. The word will spread and more people will show an interest.

The key is to have them actually sit inside the classroom. Some schools have some observation time on the other side of a window or from an observation room. That allows for a peek into what is going on. But when you actually fill a chair with a human being, that person is completely immersed into the Montessori environment. He can see and hear everything that is going on. He will feel a part of the classroom. And he will be even more amazed than he would be otherwise.

How do you entice them into your school? Simply ask. Start with current parents and ask them to invite their friends. Contact other schools in your area. Partner with local colleges and universities, med schools, etc. You will have plenty of opportunities to get people into your classrooms.

When they arrive, give them your "Rules of Observation." Invite them to take notes. Follow up immediately after their visit to answer their questions. It's that simple.

My school's new facility is located on a college campus. We already had contacts there, but are now even more accessible to the students. Our city has a medical school from which we draw med students. As we continue our capital campaign to fund our new facility and our future plans of expansion, we keep reaching out to the community.

How do you fill the chair at your school?

Get more information from the Fill the Chair page on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Huge Giveaway From Living Montessori Now & Montessori Print Shop

My friend Deb Chitwood has been running her blog Living Montessori Now for almost two years now. In fact, this Friday the 13th is her second blogiversary. To celebrate, she has teamed up with Montessori Print Shop for a remarkable and huge giveaway.

2 lucky winners will receive a grand prize of 1122 printable Montessori materials in a digital format. One second place winner will receive a $100 gift certificate for one-time use to Montessori Print Shop.

The winner will be chosen at random on Friday, April 13th. Entries into the giveaway will cease at 10:01 MST on Thursday, April 12th. To enter, visit the original blog post. Scroll down to the Rafflecopter to choose various techniques for entering. For example, you can leave a comment on the post. "Like" both Living Montessori Now and Montessori Print Shop on Facebook. Subscribe to both of their newsletters and follow them on Twitter, Pinterest and Google+. Write your own blog post. So many different ways to enter and possibly win!

Good luck to my fellow Montessorians! And Happy Blogiversary, Deb!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Win a Free Membership or Renewal to ABC Teach

ABC Teach is one of my favorite websites. I came across it about 12 years ago when I was searching for some free printables to create new activities for my classroom. I worked at a small school that didn't have a lot of materials. I had to supplement a lot of activities. Making my own was a great way to do so.

Since then, the site has grown to include both freebies and members-only materials. I gladly pay the annual membership fee, because I believe in the quality of the materials. They have even started a Montessori section. I have contributed ideas to this part of the site, as have many of my colleagues around the world. And yes, I do occasionally submit to their blog.

From now until Friday, April 13th, educators can enter to win one of 5 memberships/renewals. All you have to do is become a fan of their Facebook page. Already a fan of ABC Teach? No worries - you are already entered!

So, go over to the page today and check things out. You won't be disappointed.

Montessori A to Z: E is for Environment

The child's classroom learning environment is essential in the child's education. The job of the guide is to arrange the environment in such a way as to facilitate the child's independent learning. Sometimes the task can seem a daunting one, as the building you are able to use does not seem conducive to Montessori learning. Other times you are lucky enough to be able to design a building to fit Montessori ideals. Whatever kind of building you have to start, remember that Maria started in the slums of Rome. If she can make that work, surely you can make yours work, as well.

Child-friendly environment

To make your classroom a child-friendly environment, you need child-sized furniture. Children need to be comfortable to learn, so provide tables and chairs at their level. When setting up activities on a shelf, make sure the highest shelf is still accessible to your smallest student. A child needs the confidence to be able to independently reach the materials, without risk of dropping from it being too high. Anything that the children are to be able to access should be within their reach. Having to ask a teacher to reach something eliminates that factor of independence.

Provide comfortable floor areas. If carpet is not an option, use a large area rug. Comfortable pillows or cushioned chairs in the reading corner encourage children to nestle with a book. Work rugs help to define the child's workspace on the floor, allowing for organization of materials as well as reassurance of ownership over that work at that time.

If sinks and toilets are too tall for a child to comfortably reach, provide a small stool or steps to enable the child to safely reach them.

Use the furniture in the classroom to provide natural walkways. Check the flow of the classroom. Do you have an elongated "runway"? Children who cannot yet control their bodies will feel invited to take off in flight. Put a plant or a small shelf or table in the path to curb those fast movements. Observe the flow of the children and tweak as necessary. You are trying to encourage careful movements.

Appropriate materials

Children should have access to the entire spectrum of the Montessori curriculum. How you allow children to explore it is going to depend on your own interpretation of the philosophy and training. Some believe that a child can take out any activity and the teacher needs to scale the lesson back appropriately. Others do not allow children to touch a work until he or she has had a lesson on it.

Montessori materials should make up the bulk of your works. Some areas, such as language, require a lot of teacher-created materials. Be sure that your creations fall into Montessori guidelines and that you can justify their presence in the room.

Aim for as much wood and natural items as you can find. Do not fear glass. Children need to learn to be careful with materials. Plastic simply bounces and does not break. No lesson is learned when that drops. But a fragile piece of glass can shatter. The child will use more care in the future. Wood is much more attractive than brightly colored plastic. Children will be more likely to be drawn to it.

Decorating the classroom

Use a soft palette when painting the classroom walls. Avoid hanging lots of brightly items. If you choose to decorate the walls, use artwork that is hung at the children's level. If you display the children's artwork, make sure it is matted on a background and rotate it. I sometimes like to add an educational poster, depending on our topics of study. For example, while doing the human body, I put up a poster of a child with the basic parts labeled. It hung on the classroom door, at the children's eye level. When they went into the hallway to do their full body tracings, they could label their body according to the poster.

Use plants for decoration. They also serve a practical purpose of teaching children how to care for them and for providing oxygen and purifying the air. They are absolutely beautiful and make for cozy surroundings.

Avoid cluttered areas. I am extremely guilty of allowing my own things to clutter and to start to take over other areas of the classroom. I make a concentrated effort to reduce that on a regular basis. If children have clutter in their area, they will not take care of their things.

Remember that less is more.

Outdoor environment

The ideal outdoor environment has plenty of space for children to run free and to safely exercise those gross motor skills. They should also have areas where they can care for plants and animals. Allow them to explore, to find natural items such as seeds. Take walks. Embrace the outdoors and bring it inside as much as possible. Conversely, do not fear taking materials outside, as well. Think back to those original photographs of Maria working in her Children's House. Many children are stretched out in the garden with a rug and work.

Remember that the classroom is not about you. It is about them. Give them ownership of the classroom. Teach them to maintain it by helping you clean and straighten. You are guiding them in how to care for it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Montessori A to Z: D is for Demonstrations

When I was in training, lessons were known as "demonstrations." The school I work at now often refers to them as "presentations." Whatever you want to call them, they are how you give your lessons to children. And certain rules need to be followed. These are five of my favorite tips for giving a demonstration.

1. Practice before you present.

Always practice a lesson before you present it to a child. Especially if you have given it 100 times, you want to go back through it with a fine-toothed comb to be sure you are not accidentally leaving something out.

Check the work before you invite the child for the lesson. A material that you presented earlier in the morning could now be mixed up. The other day, I got out the Rectangle Box, only to find that somehow one of the shapes was completely missing. An exploring child had gotten confused and put it away in his friend's Large Hexagon Box, thinking it belonged there instead. Beads sometimes inadvertently roll under a shelf as a child is cleaning up the 45 Layout. You will detract from the lesson if you have to go searching for parts of the work.

2. Speak little.

Words are not highly necessary when giving a lesson. Yes, you need to name the activity and give proper vocabulary. But do not waste your breath talking all the way through. Let the child engage in observation of your demonstration. Using your voice will call attention to only the important details. Let the child figure out her own explanations of what is going on.

3. Slow your movements.

Even when you think you are moving slowly while giving a demonstration, slow yourself down more. Each movement must be precise. Slow movements emphasize the care of the materials and give the child a chance to internalize what you are doing.

Avoid wearing too much jewelry or flashy nail polish, as that can detract from the lesson at hand.

4. Know when the lesson is over.

If a child is paying more attention to the classroom behind him than to your lesson, it's time to put it away. If the child takes a turn and makes too many mistakes, present the lesson again on another day. If the child makes it through the lesson, remember to show her how to make the work ready for the next person and where it belongs on the shelf. Completion of task ends when the work is placed on the shelf in working order.

Avoid interruptions during the lesson, as well. Both children and adults must wait until your work is complete before engaging you in conversation.

5. Demonstrate active interest in the materials.

Showing an interest in the work does not mean gushing with excitement over every little nuance of the lesson. But a child can tell if you are bored with your work. Be engaged with the activity. Concentrate on what you are doing. A little smile never hurt anyone, either. If your mind goes elsewhere as your body goes through the motions, you are not showing interest. You are making it seem more like work. The child will pick up on this and have the same attitude.

What other tips do you have for giving a demonstration?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Montessori A to Z: C is for Concentration

One thing that always amazes people when they walk into a Montessori classroom is how focused most of the children seem to be on their given activities. In my classroom, there is often also a buzz of activity that flows around all of that focus. I still remember my father coming to visit. At first he thought that it was just a bunch of kids aimlessly moving about. The longer he watched, the more he noticed what was really going on. "Wow. They are all moving so purposefully. And then they are so focused on what they are doing!" He just couldn't get over it.

Concentration is an essential skill in Montessori. And it naturally comes about in Montessori. Children have an amazing ability to concentrate, especially when they are attracted to something. We use the Practical Life area to hone those skills. Have you ever seen a child pour a pitcher of beans back and forth for ten minutes straight? As she watches them pour and listens to them fall, she is deepening her concentration. How is this possible? I ask you to get two cups or glasses and to fill one with rice or beans. Pour one into the other and then repeat. Continue for a few minutes as you ignore the world around you. (Yes, it feels embarrassing to do as an adult if someone else walks in on you who doesn't know what you are doing. But just go with me here.) Your mind starts to calm. Your body starts to calm. You are developing an ability to concentrate. And when you are calm and can concentrate, you open your mind to all kinds of possibilities.

Other activities have the same effect. Have you ever noticed that some people say they like to scrub something to blow off steam? Again, they are calming their bodies and opening up their minds for concentration. Think of some other "mindless" activities that you do. I like to cut out laminated works or to sharpen pencils by hand. That repetition of cutting strips of paper, or stapling together booklets can transport me just as well as meditation. Montessori children also have a lot of repetition in their activities, again leading to concentration.

Those concentration skills then manifest themselves all across the classroom. Even my most active children have times when they are deep into their activities. That boy who has difficulty walking at a slower pace than a full-on run can actually sit and do a jigsaw puzzle for 20 minutes. Another one with no sense of body awareness who trips over everything in his path will sit and use the bead bars for a half hour. Both of these boys have spent a lot of time transferring beads with spoons and scrubbing tables, among other things.

Concentration allows a child to have the patience to spell out 15 words with the moveable alphabet. Concentration helps a child to pinprick a map of the United States within a few hours. Concentration helps a child do the Hundred Board multiple times in the morning. Concentration helps him learn to calm his body, to be aware of himself, and to mature as a person.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Montessori A to Z: B is for Believe

For the Montessori Method to be successful, you must be a believer. You have to have belief in the philosophy and that great things can happen when it is implemented. You must believe in yourself and your ability to deliver the method and to mentor children. And you must believe in the children. For when you believe in them, they can start to believe in themselves.

Too many times I hear my kids saying that they can't do something. Somehow they have been taught that they can't do for themselves. They give up when the going gets tough. But it is not from being in my classroom. At least I hope not! I always tell them that I believe in them and I never ask them to do something they can't do. They are ecstatic when they realize that they can do a certain task. I think society has turned to the point where people do too much for kids. They are not made to clean up after themselves, so they expect us to be their maids. They are not held accountable for their actions. "Oh, you hit someone today? Well, don't do that. Now let's go get a treat." They are pushed to excel in everything and indirectly belittled when they make a mistake. I hear a lot more of "I told you so" and less of "What can we do next time?" They are held up to standards that they cannot possibly attain, therefore always feeling a failure.

Believing in a child means you are validating his feelings about something. You listen to how he feels about the situation and acknowledge them. You create a two-way conversation and involve him in decisions, while still adhering to your boundaries. You become a mentor and a guide, showing him how to attain each necessary step along the way. You do not do FOR the child. One of my favorite Montessori quotes is "Teach me how to do it myself." When you show a child how to do for himself, you are showing that you believe in him. And that is the greatest lesson of all.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A is for Art

Art is one of my favorite areas in the Montessori curriculum. I grew up in a home environment that was rich in art. I also attended Montessori school from preschool through the sixth grade, where art was a key part of so much of what we did. I love to share it with my kids.

How do you implement art into the Montessori classroom? Start with calendars and posters displayed around the classroom environment. Hang them at the children's eye level, so that they can more easily view them. Rotate them throughout the year instead of hanging them all at once. Be sure to include a variety of artists and styles in your collection. Let children experience them on their own.

Cut apart calendars. Mount and laminate the smaller pictures from the back of the calendar. Do the same for the larger calendar pages. Divide the cards up into groups of 5 or 6 so that it is manageable. Now you have a big-to-little matching activity.

Use the Child-Size Masterpieces series by Aline D. Wolf. Her matching and sorting sets teach children to recognize different works of art, as well as their genres and the artists. You can also use bingo games or make your own dominoes out of stickers.

Put out books for the children to independently look at. One of my favorite series for the children to use is the  Mini Masters series of board books. Each one features real paintings by famous artists, all accompanied by a fun rhyme.

The Touch the Art series of board books also includes famous works of art covering all genres. They add something to make the book more interactive. For example, in the picture of Van Gogh's bedroom, the child can "make" the bed by pulling over a piece of cloth. The Mona Lisa has actual hair that the child can comb. They learn to recognize the famous works as they read these again and again.

With the older children in Extended Day, I also like to read to them the Getting to Know the Artist series. Sometimes these are a little long, so I may have to pick and choose which information I share. Again, these include real pictures of the paintings. The children can also learn more about each artist.

And finally, you need a well-stocked shelf of art supplies. Remember, the whole point is process and not product. Children need to learn how to properly use the different material to make their own creations. Avoid doing crafts. These are product-driven, where everyone is expected to make the same thing. Even if you are trying to copy what someone else has done, you still need to be able to properly use the materials!

Let the kids get messy while also teaching them how to keep their materials contained. Cleaning up the mess falls into practical life. They need to help with the clean-up, so don't do it for them. It will be tempting!

Find ways to implement art into other areas of the classroom. Do a sketch of the growth of the seeds you planted. Draw your own maps of the school and classroom. Recreate the sensorial materials. The possiblities are endless.

For more information on how to set up an art area in a Montessori classroom, please read my article Essential Materials for the Montessori Art Area.