Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Practical Life in Practice

One favorite activity in our Casa is window cleaning.  We have been using the cake cleanser from www.montessoriservices.com and the children enjoy using it.  It leaves a residue that takes a bit of elbow grease to remove, so we use paper towels to polish the windows, and it works well.  We often need to direct the children back to the work, with a comment such as, "I think you missed a small area, here, let me help you," or some such thing to help them really remove all the polish the first few times they do the activity.  I have also included a photo of our cookie baking.  We are making tortillas from scratch right now for a baking activity but we also added cookie baking.  We have the children make a huge batch of gluten-free cookie dough (we have celiac disease in our Casa), and then they separate it into small amounts to be used for individual baking, wrapping them in cling wrap and storing them in the refrigerator.  The children roll out the sugar cookies and then use cookie cutters.  I love seeing them in the bakers hat, apron, and oven mitts that my assistant makes.  You can find them at www.threadcreationsbywendy.com.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sponges for Practical Life

This a sample of the sponges we've been making.  On the premise that you never know what is going to excite a child's interest, we cut the sponges to fit the containers and relate to the activity.  I purchased these flat sponge sheets through http://www.ellisoneducation.com/catalog?w=sponge&submit.x=0&submit.y=0&per_page=24.  Although they were a bit expensive (I believe $15 a package), I bought a package of assorted colors that I suspect will last two to three years.  Our school is on break right now, and we are having a fabulously snowy winter, so it is back to material making for me!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Peace on Earth

I couldn't resist taking this photo today while these girls were completing the third color box with the globe as the center.  As another year ends, I look forward to a new year, and the chance for peace on earth.  I believe that within the hearts and minds of all our Montessori children lies the best chance for a peaceful world. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Animal Class

This presentation took an unexpected turn.  I gathered a group to review the classes of the vertebrates.  This led to the children wanting to do research:  drawing a picture of an animal and writing a sentence or two about the animal.  This particular child decided to write about the horse and took a different direction than the rest.  You never know what will lead to inspiration!  The translation of the text is:  "I love you Rock Pony."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Going Back to Move Forward

It is interesting to see the older children go back to material they used when they were younger and manipulate it in a different way.  Here, one of the children decided she wanted to know which tower of cylinders was the tallest.  She persevered in stacking the blue cylinders, which is difficult because they all have the same diameter.  She has since went back to this work several times, and added measuring items around the room and writing the measurements down.  The other photo shows one of the children going back to the puzzle that illustrates the parts of the horse.  He spent a long time looking at the bones under the puzzle pieces before replacing this puzzle and going through the other vertebrate puzzles.  I asked him what he was doing (when he was in transition) and he said "just looking at the puzzle."  I wonder what connections he made.  I'm glad we have the time to "just look."

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Praise Junkies

At our third Parent Partnership meeting we discussed Chapters 2 and 3 of Alfie Kohn's, Unconditional Parenting.  One difficult aspect of this book is all the "bad" stuff (mistakes parents make), is put before all of the "good" stuff (practical advice on better parenting).
One idea that stood out for us was that the words "good job" can be powerful.  Do these simple words give the impression to our children that we love them more when they are doing what we deem as "good" and love them less when they are doing what we see as "bad?"  It is hard to know, but we do run the risk of turning our children into "praise junkies," or people that perform only for some sort of reward.  The intriguing part of this is that by continually praising our children, they can become afraid to take risks.  They do not want to fail and lose the praise, so instead they do what comes easily to them so that they can win approval, or grades, or whatever the reward is. It is easy to see what a death knell that could be for innovation and creativity. We also talked a bit about food.  Most research agrees, children eat what they need over a period of days, as long as what is in front of them is healthy.  Adults often feel the need to control a child's intake, but the result can be a pattern of struggles over food, leading to eating disorders.  When young children are not given the opportunity to self-regulate, they often lose their innate ability to do so, and  become obese.  That young children have an innate ability to self-regulate is another marvelous example of how nature has provided for the development of humans.  We decided to work through Chapters 4,5,6, and 7 for next time so that we can get to the good stuff!  We are looking forward to some positivity!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanks For Patience

We had a great Thanksgiving Feast this year.  The children prepared baked macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, baked potatoes, turkey loaf, cranberry sauce, corn, and had ice cream for dessert.  We made new tablecloths (although we didn't finish the napkins), little pilgrim hat place cards, candles and arranged mums in vases and pumpkins.  I had planned for us to sing our Thanksgiving song before our meal but one of the older children said, "Let's hold hands and each say what we are thankful for."  The list included the usual things:  family, friends, food, love, etc.  However, one child added that she was thankful for patience for her mom.  Rather a sophisticated idea for a four year old!  Patience is indeed a blessing. 

Monday, November 22, 2010


I had to share this quick video with you.  On Saturday, we had an International Family Fun Fest that featured six countries (one from each continent), and Switzerland was one of the countries.  We were lucky enough to find Swiss Alphorn players to demonstrate their instruments. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two Cool Things

Isn't this the coolest use of the pentagon?  One of my artist friends told me it is extremely difficult to envision an existing object in a totally new way.  The soul of an artist.  The second cool thing was the answer one of my children gave to a visitor.  The visitor wanted to do a difficult activity, and my student told her it was probably a bit too hard.  When the visitor said, "But I'm five!" my student said, "It doesn't matter how old you are, it matters what you know how to do."  Enough said.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Channeling Beethoven

I had to pass on this video I found on Yahoo.  As a parent, musician, and Montessori guide I find this child to be amazing.  The full embodiment of emotion, physicality, and interpretation here is astonishing.  This child embodies Beethoven, and perhaps is even channeling him!  I've had musical children in my environments but this child is exceptional.  I hope he is composing music--he needs our Montessori music materials and we may need to add conducting to our repertoire of presentations!  I love how he is moving and exercising so intensely, yet remains firmly planted on his little conducting stand.  Enjoy!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nature Rules

The children at our school have a wonderful manufactured playground, yet often choose to play in the woods and on the stumps of trees.  I think it is one more case of that which is authentic and real always trumps manufactured and simulated.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Humans Love Each Other

This is a sample of writing from a developing author.  I love using pictures to inspire the children's writing.  The top one reads, "Humans are mammals.  Humans love each other (did you translate that)?  There is a maturity in the insight that although humans are mammals, love elevates us.  The other reads, "Cats love milk," (again, I'm sure milk sometimes sounds like "melc").  I'm excited to read this child's writing as her small motor skills develop, and her ability to compose continues.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Helping Children Flourish

We had our second parent education meeting and book club on Thursday.  We are discussing Alfie Kohn's book Unconditional Parenting.  As one parent noted, his approach is very different from what we've been taught about parenting in the past, which tends to be very behavior-oriented. In other words, many parenting directives are intended to get children to comply with our expectations, as opposed to focusing on what the child needs or is feeling. We discussed our long-term objectives for our children, and examined how our contributions can help lead to those outcomes.  We asked ourselves, "How do we help a child develop traits like independence, happiness, patience, responsibility and confidence?"  Certainly not by getting the child to always do only what we want.  If we place a premium on obedience, we may be helping produce a child who is blindly obedient not only to us, but to others.  We may also produce a child who believes they are loved only when they act the way we demand, or when they perform well in school or at sports.  We discussed the importance of unconditional love, or loving a child for who they are, and as they are.  This sort of love is not tied to what they do.  This love allows a child to flourish, because they are freer to accept themselves and others as fundamentally "good" people.  However, unconditional parenting is not about letting children do whatever they want.  Kohn says, "It's very important (once the storm has passed) to teach, to reflect together . . . Whatever lesson we [hope] to impart [is] far more likely to be learned if the child [knows] that our love for her [is] undimmed by how she had acted."  We are covering Chapters 2 and 3 next month, which focus on giving and withholding love, and too much control.   

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Line

 We love to walk on the line.  Dr. Montessori noted how children loved to perfect their balance and carriage by balancing and walking on the natural lines in nature.  As we Montessorians know, she incorporated this phenomena in the environment with a walking line, painted or laid down with tape.  The children develop control of their body, balancing with grace.  Eventually, other challenges are added, such as holding a full glass of water without spilling, or balancing a bean bag on the head while walking on the line.  My own children love to walk to music where they walk, march, run on their tip-toes, process and skip.  Hopefully, we will progress to the aforementioned challenges as the year goes on.  I notice that the children are refreshed and focused after walking on the line.  Maybe it is time for all work places to have a walking line!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


We've been working really hard on coming up with a better lunch procedure.  My school planned a visit to Chicago to visit Countryside Montessori, and I remembered I had viewed a video of their All Year Montessori lunch procedure. I re-watched it and liked it, and decided to have my children watch it.  They liked the ideas they saw, and we are now implementing this procedure.  It is not without its difficulties, but it is working better that what we were doing, which was having each child clean their own plate, cup and flatware, and then sweep and crumb their own area.  I love the communal spirit of the new procedure.  Our children bring their own lunch to school, so that aspect is different.  We also do not have any napping children this year.  We do empty the food from the lunch boxes onto the plates, and throw any trash away before we start lunch.  We also use tablecloths, cloth napkins, a full set of flatware, and glass plates and cups.  Before we eat we say together:  "We wish for peace, food, happiness, and love for all the children of the world."  I added the Countryside video to my video bar, and also have it here for your viewing pleasure.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Little Mysterious

These photos are from a day we spent at a farm.  We went on a hayride, picked pumpkins and other gourds, found out why certain vegetables and/or fruits sink or float, and walked in a corn maze.  It is always a beautiful thing to get outside and connect with nature.  This place is a small organic farm that is filled with love.  Definitely a happy place.  When I look at the photo of the child in the corn maze I wonder if that is how the whole world seems to a small child-- giant and a little mysterious.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Work the Natural Way

I love the old photos of Montessori children working outside.  We often bring our work outside and the beautiful fall has prolonged our use of the outdoor garden.  In winter we do get the chance to use the area but in a different way.  Notice our corn in the background.  We were able to use the corn for activities in the room.  We have yet to dig up our sweet potatoes but Thanksgiving is around the corner!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Who Needs Flour?

This young man and another young lady were baking today.  They were pretty much on their own, as my fabulous assistant was gone.  When the baking trays were removed from the oven, the scones were pretty much a lump of raisins with butter bubbling all around them.  "Hmmm,"  I said,  "What do you think happened?"  After some discussion, they realized they had not added the flour.  "Do you want to try again?"  I asked.  "YES!"  they beamed.  The second time around the scones were perfect! I'm so glad they had the opportunity to experience a mistake.  I'm also glad they had the time to work on their skills.  We are often in such a hurry, or so overly solicitous that our children never experience failure.  This was a happy failure on all sides.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Turning the Key

We had our first "Parent Partnership"  meeting last Thursday.  We are focusing on Alfie Kohn's book, Unconditional Parenting, but also leaving time for guest speakers and Montessori education.  We will meet once a month.  We devoted the first third of the meeting to finding out what parents are looking for and to an overview of the book.  The last two-thirds of the meeting was an overview of the environment, with lots of pictures.  I sense that the Alfie Kohn material will provoke a lot of good discussion, as parents who were already reading the book had some emotional responses to the material.  Of course, the parents love seeing photos of their children doing the work in the environment and learning why it is important.  We showed many photos of children concentrating.  Concentration is so amazingly important to the child.  Once the child begins to concentrate, the real work of developing the intelligence can begin.  We guides have the responsibility to find the work that helps the child turn the key and open the door to concentration.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where Did All the Acorns Go?

We went on a lovely walk today to look for acorns for a project.  It was a beautiful day, with a light breeze and sunny skies--but no acorns!  Usually, we are inundated with acorns but not this fall.  Any theories?  Too many squirrels?  Global warming?  Oak tree pests?  Let me know.  I love acorns.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Twice is Nice

This photo makes me laugh.  One of the children decided to do cloth washing, which is a big job.  She wasn't doing just little cloths and doilies, but all our laundry, including hand towels and tablecloths.  In another area of the room, I was folding laundry with a different child.  As we put our folded towels into piles he kept saying, "Now I'll bring these to the library," which I assumed was the drawer and the shelves where the cloths belong.  However, he was bringing them to the cloth washer, who then proceeded to wash all the clean laundry!  Note my assistant's reaction.  All in a day's work!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Learning To Move Again

Our school and an assisted-living community have a long-standing relationship.  At our orientation, the wonderful activities director talks about the elders and the changes they may be going through.  The children try a walker, a wheelchair, and some funny glasses to approximate what an elder may be experiencing.  They learn to be quite respectful and empathetic to their new friends.  Here is a really short video:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Waiting for Montessori

This trailer for Waiting for Superman made me cry.  Another good movie on reforming education.  Another opportunity for Montessori education to take the lead.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Beautiful Mind

The children are always drawn to beauty.  Maria Montessori observed this years ago but it still feels like a revelation each time I see it in practice.  Sometimes I've wondered if I'm too concerned with each little detail but when I see the children notice a lovely button, a carefully painted leaf, or a graceful pattern on an apron, I'm glad I took the time to beautify the environment.  The children also show loving care to a healthy green plant, or a flower.  My wonderful assistant provided the flowers that one girl is arranging and the other is "pounding."  Using a small floral craft hammer she imprints the flower onto a piece of muslin.  It is then suitable for framing, or making a small pillow or pincushion.  Montessori writes, "The human hand allows the mind to reveal itself."  In these children what I see revealed is diligence, cooperation, artistry, and so much more.  How beautiful is the mind of the child!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Mature Enough

Current Issue

There is new brain research using magnetic resonance imaging that can predict a person's maturity.  The possible uses?  Well, if you could identify an immature portion of the brain, you could use techniques that help that part of the brain mature.  Ultimately, the research could provide imaging useful to treating autism and other brain disorders at a young age.  So far, the research begins at age seven but is continuing.  You can read the whole article in the current issue of Science magazine, however, it is a bit dense:  

Group functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) studies have documented reliable changes in human functional brain maturity over development. Here we show that support vector machine-based multivariate pattern analysis extracts sufficient information from fcMRI data to make accurate predictions about individuals’ brain maturity across development. The use of only 5 minutes of resting-state fcMRI data from 238 scans of typically developing volunteers (ages 7 to 30 years) allowed prediction of individual brain maturity as a functional connectivity maturation index. The resultant functional maturation curve accounted for 55% of the sample variance and followed a nonlinear asymptotic growth curve shape. The greatest relative contribution to predicting individual brain maturity was made by the weakening of short-range functional connections between the adult brain’s major functional networks (September 10, 2010).  Yikes (that is my comment). 

This link provides the Businessweek analysis of the information (a little more my speed):  http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/642966.html.  The down side?  Do you really want to know the maturity level of your partner?  Yourself?  I find the neuroscience that is emerging amazing.  But, as Maria Montessori's approach  has proven, an astute observer is worth over one hundred years of brain imaging.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Race to Nowhere?

I don't know a lot about the movie "Race to Nowhere" but it has piqued my attention.  Someone in the trailer asserts, "We need to redefine what success means for our kids."  I've long thought that the educational system in the USA needs a complete overhaul, and I don't mean more testing.  Of course, I believe Montessori is the best alternative route for us to follow.  If we need creative,collaborative, resilient, motivated problem-solvers to ensure our economic future, look no further than Montessori graduates.  We can't raise a generation of children afraid to make a mistake.  Mistakes take us to the next level, which is sometimes a level we couldn't earlier even envision.  Albert Einstein famously said, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."  Take a look at this trailer and see what you think.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

In Celebration of Music

A Blessing of Music

I am a music lover.  I study voice, play the piano and play the guitar (at school only for the guitar part!).  I have spent years doing musical theater and I have also dabbled in strings.  Now, I found the perfect book to explain the beauty of music to the children.  The Blessing of Music by Welleran Poltarnees has absolutely stunning reproductions of art that capture the feeling of music.  One line reads, "It [music] is a language for feelings that have no other expression. . . "  Another line reads, "[Music] brings us into closer harmony with the universe, and with our deepest selves."  The artists range from Klimt to Larsson to Degas, among others.  The art ranges from the late 19th century to the early 20th.  Not only does the book capture the blessing of music in words, it does so in illustration as well. I am so excited to find this book that I had to share it with you!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Farm

I did a bit of work on the farm this fall.  A colleague offered up the short barn-board table.  I made a sitting pillow, a label holder for the nouns, and one for the descriptive phrases.  You can't see it well in the photo but the larger holder has a rick-rack embellishment--the first time I ever made that work!  I used a large covered button to enhance the small holder, centering the farm.  The pieces (animals, trees, farmers, etc.) reside in a coordinating fabric-covered box.  While my barn is well-worn, (on its tenth year!) I'm fond of it. I hope these embellishments add to an already favorite activity.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Time to Prepare

We have just spent a week preparing the environment, and are now moving on to the phase-in week.  The AMI website has this to say about the prepared environment:

Montessori classrooms provide a prepared environment where children are free to respond to their natural tendency to work.

The prepared environment offers the essential elements for optimal development. The key components comprise the children, teacher and physical surroundings including the specifically designed Montessori educational material.

Characteristics of the prepared environment include:

Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.
Children must be given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group.
Children should be provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.
Mixed age groups (eg. three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve) encourage all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.

I have given lots of attention to the beauty and order of the physical environment this year, as I do every year.  I painted materials, replaced worn materials, made new aprons and oilcloths, purchased beautiful items, made new materials, cleaned and the list goes on.  But,  in addition, there remains the spiritual preparation of the teacher.  What keeps us refreshed and in the moment, ready to respond to the child as that important link between the materials and the children?  I did a lot of reading this summer in preparation for parent education but I did not take out my albums once.  I will be dedicating next week to spending time with my albums.  In addition, we all need to remember to exercise, eat well, and sleep well.  Personally, I need to allow myself enough preparation time in the morning to feel fully present by the time the children arrive.  In addition, our conferences and refresher courses are excellent ways to keep challenging our intellect.  In all, this process of preparation leads us to the reason we do what we do:  the children.