Sunday, December 27, 2009

Throwing Boys a Buoy

I am reading Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax.  It is an alternately thought-provoking and scary look at boys in today's society.  Dr. Sax finds five factors that are resulting in unmotivated, underachieving boys and men.  Teaching methods are one area Dr. Sax says (and he is research supported) is tilted in favor of most girls.  He cites the facts that most boys need to move, need a connection with the outdoors, and need outside the classroom learning (that knowing as in "knowledge", and knowing as in "experiencing" are equally important). Typical classrooms do not address these needs.  Sax also states that the newer, more rigorous Kindergarten curriculums favor girls because at the age of five the language area of the brain that governs reading and writing is 1 1/2 years ahead developmentally in girls.  The boys "catch up" around age 14.  Montessori education does a good job of mitigating these issues.  We allow movement, choice, outdoor time and outdoor experiential education.  My own school has an outdoor garden available to children all day (shown in the above photo).  We Montessorians treat children as individuals, offering materials at the time (hopefully) when the child is ready to receive the information, as opposed to teaching concepts to a group when outside forces have decided the time is right.  We are not without our issues in Montessori. I think sometimes we measure our success too much by how quiet the room is, or by how slowly and carefully the children are moving.  However, we do a terrific job of meeting the child wherever he or she is in the individual path of academic and social enlightenment. All educators and parents need to take a look at this book and consider the implications;  for society, for all boys, and for our own sons.,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU15_.jpg

Children Must Move

No deep and profound thoughts at this time--just a fun video of the children dancing at our pre-break party.  This is quite a departure from the normal state of the environment.  We laid a few mutually agreed-upon ground rules and had a great morning playing games, dancing to music and eating cookies! Oh, we also came to school in our pajamas.  Enjoy.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Saving Kindergarten

In these difficult economic times Kindergarten, or the Montessori third year, is facing competition from non-Montessori public kindergartens.  My heart just breaks every time we lose a child for his or her last year.  The beautiful foundational work the children have been doing is left unfinished without the outlet and materials for the child to flourish and move forward in his work.  The children don't get to experience being the oldest, where they feel so competent and responsible because they can teach and help, thus reinforcing their own skills.  They go from a child-centric situation to a teacher-centric situation, and lose the opportunity to self-govern.  Their natural curiosity and creativity is contained by the need to teach to all, instead of each child progressing at his or her own pace.  The give and take of their Montessori community, where they solve issues, negotiate problems, and choose activities is replaced by an environment where decisions are already made, and the natural movement of the children is restrained.  The five to six year old is developing into a social learner and in a public kindergarten is negotiating this complex developmental change in an environment where he or she is the youngest, has a new set of friends, and a new teacher, instead of one year later, when it is developmentally appropriate to move on.  I believe sometimes parents think we just want their children to stay because of the  money.  The money is not the point, the well-being of the child is the point.  If money was the goal, we could run schools much differently. taking children at any time and for any amount of time, thus sacrificing the integrity of their community ties.  We could make less of a commitment to our staff and reduce hours based on numbers of children who are sick or on vacation.  There are plenty of ways to make more money.  There is no way to regain the lost year of Kindergarten.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Breaking the Code
We spent much of our time at book club listening to real life behavior issues from our parents and brainstorming possible ways to help.  Most of our scenarios fit into the table in Chapter 4 of Positive Discipline.  Dreikurs found that children kept ending up in four categories when they were discouraged:  looking for undue attention, using misguided power, seeking revenge, and/or assuming inadequacy.  Nelson states that misbehaving children are speaking to us in code, saying, "I just want to belong."  It is up to us to break the code and help the child resolve the behavior in ways that result in positive life skills, and a feeling of belonging and significance. Punishment may stop the behavior, but it will not solve the problem.  Nelson acknowledges that it is difficult to encourage a child when:  we do not feel positive about the misbehavior, we do not understand our own contribution to the misbehavior, and because, even when we remain positive, the child may not be receptive because he needs a time to "cool-off."  Nelson states that once children get to age 11 or 12, it becomes more difficult to use some of her techniques, because teens are so much more governed by peer pressure.So, it is even more important to use encouragement over excessively-controlling methods with our young children, because it becomes almost impossible to control a teen.  Everyone, adults, teens, and children, want mutual respect and a standard of equality when it comes to problem solving.  The table developed by Dreikurs is an invaluable tool found in Chapter 4.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day Gifts
While enjoying the beauty of a "snow day" I know many of us are contemplating our shopping list.  Try this link for some lovely Montessori-inspired gifts for your child:  Also, try for some wonderful hand-made toys.  Happy e-shopping!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Slowing Down

As I contemplate the weekend ahead I feel blessed but frantic.  An event every evening, and a few during the day too!  This season brings out the best and the worst in us all.  Please remember, if you're tired and frazzled,  your children probably are too.  We want to be super parents, and do every event, and open every door for our children, but give yourself permission to slow down.  Whenever I get overly tired, my own children always say what I used to say to them when I sensed they were overloaded: "Let's put on our jammies, make some cookies, and watch a movie."  And honestly, those are always the best of times.  I've included some fun photos of work from November.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Giving Thanks

Every year we have a Harvest Feast where the children prepare the food, the table decor, and everyone stays for lunch.  We have the opportunity to give thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives.  Following are some photos from the event.

Monday, November 23, 2009

"You're Sad When Your Pet Dies"

Our beloved Robby died last week.  He was 9 years old, which, as my husband says, is about 1,000 in human years (just kidding).   I could say much more, but I will only say he became dear to me and to the children.  Here is a song one of the children in my Casa wrote to honor Robby.

If you're sad when your pet dies,
You can still take care of your pet.
Be calm and take a deep breath
Because you're sad when your pet dies.

Remember, once it was born a baby. . . 


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Writing and Art

Do any of you Montessorians out there use this technique to inspire writing?  I love to see what images in the pictures inspire the child.  In this particular example, the child not only wrote a thoughtful sentence ("I like the design") but extended the picture with her own drawing, putting herself in the composition.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Wasp Nests and the Universe

Can you believe this wasp nest?  My assistant found it in her backyard in her crabapple tree and brought it to school, where the children examined it in-depth (all the wasps were gone, of course).  All summer long the lush leaves covered the amazing handiwork of the wasps and the nest was only finally revealed in the winds of fall.  The intricacy of what nature produces makes me realize that the universe has  revealed to us only a tiny bit of what is possible.  If wasps can get together and create something so practical yet beautiful, what are we capable of if we use our collective intellect?  My son has been talking about an "elevator" tethered from earth to a distant space outpost that would serve as a launching pad to deep space.  One of the books I'm reading posits 11 dimensions.  There is so much to learn!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Children Need to Feel Needed
We had the second meeting of our "Positive Discipline" book club and the turnout was great!  We covered Chapters 2 and 3.  Some of the ideas we discussed:  The mistaken belief that children won't learn unless they suffer for their mistake, that we can't give children self-esteem, children need to feel needed and to make  positive contributions, and that asking instead of telling is one of the most positive actions we can take with our children.  One way children gain self-esteem is through self-reliance.  When self-reliance is gained children are able to contribute positively and feel capable.
One concept that stood out for me is the way to win a child's cooperation.  This involves four steps:  express understanding, show empathy, share your feelings, and invite the child to focus on a solution.  We all agreed that when the child has a stake in the solution because he was part of the idea, it is more likely to work.  We also talked a bit about birth order, and more in-depth about perfectionism, which seems to affect a fair number of children.  Last thought; "all people (including children) have equal claims to dignity and respect."  Please add your thoughts in the comment section.  Until next time!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Children Teaching Children

Maria Montessori wrote, "The greatest sign of success for a teacher. . . is to be able to say, 'The children are now working as if I did not exist.'"  In this video that one of my parents shot through the one-way window, we see one child presenting coffee grinding to a younger child.  She mimics my presentation almost perfectly.  They really are watching and listening!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Puppy Potential

This past week we had the gift of welcoming a 7 week old puppy into our Casa.  Now, you might expect chaos and complete anarchy in the face of an energetic puppy partnered with 3, 4, 5, and 6 year olds, but the opposite was true.  The puppy, probably exhausted in the face of this new adventure, promptly fell asleep.  The children were quieter than I dreamed was possible.  They had such respect for the puppy (Cleo) and her need for sleep, that they did not even whisper.  They silently found work, and moved as if on a balance beam.  Cleo whimpered in her sleep, and the children were immediately at her side, ready to attend to any need she might display.  The great respect and consideration the children displayed is inspiring.  There is such a huge capacity for love in every one of these children.  Whenever I think about the huge task of bringing peace to even a small part of the world, I am comforted by the potential for love and caring that a puppy brought to our lives.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Fund Early Childhood Education

Researchers consistently call out the first six years of a child's life as the most important in terms of brain function and personality development.  Yet, early childhood education lacks federal, state and local funding of the kind elementary and secondary education receive.  If we truly want to make a difference in the life of a child, the place to start is at least age three and ideally, from infancy on.  There is funding for the most disadvantaged, and of course, the high income families can afford to pay for quality education.  But what of those in between?  Three day a week preschools do not offer the quality care and education that children, families and communities need to thrive.  If we hope to change our world; less crime, less poverty, peaceful co-existence, we need to start where and when we have the most chance of success:  the child prior to age six.  FDR said, "The school is the last expenditure upon which America should be willing to economize."  It is time to examine our methods.  We fund schools that are based on an agricultural calendar and an outmoded factory model.  The times have changed and so have families.  Let's fund for the future.  Let's fund where we find the greatest payback, for the child and for all of our lives.  Contact Senator Al Franken at, Senator Amy Klobuchar at and Governor Tim Pawlenty at   (just in case).  Just a few words will do.  Ghandi said, "You must be the change you wish to see in the world."  Maria Montessori said, "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education;  all politics can do is keep us out of war."  We can all make a difference, one person at a time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Power of Concentration

I've added a very short video of a 3-year-old child working on wood polishing.  She shows great concentration in the video, which is edited down from the 30 minutes of actual polishing to a view time of less than 2 minutes.  The unedited video shows the same activity, as she continues to work at polishing the same piece.  The intensity of her concentration throughout everything happening around her is amazing.  My assistant is guiding children with baking and filling the dishwasher.  I am giving various presentations.  The child is obviously fully absorbed by what she is doing,  fulfilling her need to work and to perfect her movements. Once the child's body can obey her mind and the two can work in concert, the child can achieve what she sets out to do.  I can tell you this child was immensely satisfied by her ability to execute the polishing, and to clean it up and put it away so that it was ready for the next person.  She didn't need to tell me that--I could see it in her face.  I simply propped my camera on the shelf in front of her in video mode and we went about our work for the next 30 minutes.  Stay with it for the first 30 seconds as she becomes more in the center of the camera view after that.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Children Connecting with Elders


We have a partnership with an assisted-living facility where our children interact with the elders about three times a month.  We do crafts, sing, play bingo and just generally hang out.  The elders love to see the children and are often inspired to remember their own children and their own childhood.  The children develop an appreciation for the elders and their own ability to help.   The above photo is of the beautiful aviary the elders enjoy.

The children attend an orientation each year where they gain a familiarity with wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen-assistance, vision impairment and the like.  We feel lucky to have this wonderful interaction with the elders!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kind and Firm

We had our first book club meeting Thursday evening.  The discussion involved about 20 parents and teachers discussing the first chapter of Jane Nelsen's Positive Parenting.  It seemed that many issues with our children revolve around control, or lack thereof.  How do we inspire our children to be the best they can be and still be sane through our daily routines?  Jane Nelsen says we need to use kindness and respect at the same time.  She writes "Kindness is important in order to show respect to the child.  Firmness is important in order to show respect for ourselves and for the needs of the situation.  Authoritarian methods usually lack kindness.  Permissive methods lack firmness."  While punishment doled out in an authoritarian method usually yields short-term results for us, it does not result in the long-term outcomes we are hoping to develop in our children, like self-discipline, respect for self and others, and openmindedness, to name a few.  We discussed the importance of a united front with our significant other so that children experience consistency.  We saw the value of involving the child in the decision-making process of the family so that they have a vested interest in the outcomes.  We also acknowledged the importance of taking time before reacting so that our "reptilian" brains (fight or flight reactions) can calm down and we can access a more rational response.  We will be reading and discussing Chapters 2 and 3 for our next meeting, which will be on the first Thursday of November.       

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Our guinea pig, Robby (officially Robin) is eight and a half years old.  My son told me the oldest guinea pig in captivity died at age 14 (he loves the Guiness Book of World Records).  I'm guessing for guinea pigs in the wild the life span is about 2 minutes, given their poor eyesight, slow gait and inability to perceive height. Anyway, Robby is a much-loved part of our environment and we will miss him dearly when he is gone.
The children take care of him with very little direction from me.  The older children teach the younger children how to hold Robby, how to pet him, how to give him food and water, and how to clean his cage (with gloves of course).  They know they are needed and they rise to the occasion.  Meaningful contribution is a necessary component of our perceived self-worth.  The children realize their competence and it shows, not only in how they take care of Robby but in their approach to all the work they do.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Adjective

Here are some of my fabulous older children working on the adjective with the farm.  They have worked with the material several times and were using the prepared labels to do the work themselves.  They put the symbols below the words instead of on top, but otherwise completed their work beautifully and had fun!  Fun, working with grammar!  What a concept.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sensorial Simplicity

This little guy is marching around his brown or broad stair creation.  Every morning he comes in, and makes some new creation with the brown stair or the pink tower and then moves on to other things.  We all have our routines.  He knows geography better than most adults, can read and do basic equations yet is drawn to the sensorial materials.  I am amazed at how basic these materials are, yet they have such intricacy just below the surface.  I'm sure that is why so many children are drawn to them, to some unconscious complexity in the world that finds order in these materials.  I know that the materials make geometry easier when it is later introduced in the more conventional way.  My own son asked me, "Have I taken geometry before, because it seems like I understand it before it is explained?"  The simplicity of the genius of Dr. Montessori.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Simple Things

This week I was reminded of appreciating the simple things in life.  We had so many lovely moments in the environment, from baking to reading to writing and simply enjoying each others company.  I was happy watching one child break four eggs, finally able to do it without crushing the shell in his hand.  I was happy watching an older child perfect her manuscript, and happy watching another make a terrific backward "J."  I was happy when I found the perfect pencil cup.  There is much in life that is complicated, and difficult,  but when we work together, young and old, there is beauty.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Testing the Brazilian Cheese Bread Recipe

We decided to do a test run on our Brazilian Bread recipe. The bread will be for snack and is typically an activity for an older child and younger child (reader and non-reader). As soon as the bread is getting low, or just because, the children can replenish the supply. We worked on this in the afternoon in week two of our school year. The activity was generally a success, although a few more weeks of grace and courtesy would make the activity less chaotic. You see my assistant guiding the children and hear me behind the camera.
click for the video!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sandpaper letters

I wanted to show you how the language area looks this year. The sandpaper letters are showing increased use with the new display. Children often walk up and trace them as they are standing there, just as Maria Montessori said they would. I also wanted to show you the completed word study linen pockets. I'm giving them a C.