Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stamp Out Stasis in Education

                             Public Elementary Classroom

              Montessori Environment

We are hearing a lot about educational reform lately and we in Montessori education need to lend our voice.  I am always surprised that a nation of entrepreneurs and risk-takers has led education to such a state of conformity.  We have brain-research that supports very different methodology and pedagogy than is  used in most public schools, yet we keep trying to breath new life into an outdated system.  We have had the same basic educational structure in the United States for the past one hundred or so years, yet the approach has changed very little.  I realize I am preaching to the choir, however, pass along the information Dr. Steven  Hughes has to share.  He will be speaking at our school on March 4, and I believe he will have a book out soon.  His website,, provides information on his brain-based, common sense approach to education.  When we ask educators what they think is important to impart to children, and then key in on what they actually spend their time on, the disparity is amazing.  We need to be like Montessori and rid ourselves of preconceived ideas and simply observe, ask questions, and be led to the answers by the unadorned truth. Dr. Hughes material is an excellent starting point.  I've included one of his presentations.  The video is simply the Power Point slides with his voiceover, which obviously does not have the same impact as Dr. Hughes in person, but it gives you a chance to hear the talk.

"Good at Doing Things" from Steve Hughes on Vimeo.
Dr. Steven Hughes

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Funny Bunny

Well, I caved in to the pressure.  The children wanted a new pet so badly after Robby (old as the hills guinea pig--see earlier entries) died prior to Thanksgiving.  I wasn't quite ready, especially for another guinea pig.  My children wanted the dog named Chip that had visited the room a few times (see earlier posts) but a school dog didn't seem a particularly good idea (that comment is my dry humor at work).  So, I started investigating rabbits.  There are several societies dedicated exclusively to the "house bunny" and I was able to find loads of information.  My family and I started by touring the local Humane Societies and "test driving" the bunnies.  After several weeks, we found Marley.  He is a Mini-Rex and all of 3 pounds, although the vet says he is overweight (evidently, carrots are like bunny candy--who knew)?  Marley is litter-box trained and loves to hop around our room.  He hates tile, so we have a natural invisible fence in the environment.  He loves to be pet, and goes into a submissive petting position when he is lonely.  He nibbled at my assistant, so he may need to be neutered, although he is three and a half.  I think he wanted to make her clothing his bed.  Other than that, he is the best bunny and soft as down.  There is a lot of bunny love going around Casa II!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Respect for Self

We started a dressing table activity this year.  Each child's bag has his or her name on a label inside and includes items like brushes, combs, toothpaste, toothbrush, hair accessories and so on.  The bags are in a basket on the bottom shelf of our scavenged table, along with a stool my Grandma gave to me, and a mirror from Target.  We also keep a small spray bottle of water on the table.  The children love to take care of their "crazy hat hair" in the morning, and brush their teeth after lunch.  They also love to brush one another's hair, as the photo above shows.  My fabulous assistant made all the dressing bags from leftover quilting scraps (note to all guides--hire someone who sews).  I expected this activity to be a mess when we first started but the children take extreme care with their items.  As Montessori noted when she started the Casa dei Bambini, the children wanted to take care of themselves, but needed to be shown how to in a respectful manner. I'm glad I overcame my initial hesitation.  As they usually do, the children exceeded my expectations.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Beware of Logical Consequences

We had a great book club last Thursday.  We were fairly low-key, but even low-key is pretty good for January!  We discussed Chapters Five and Six, "Beware of Logical Consequences" and "Focusing on Solutions."  I think we've gotten so caught up in "what is the logical consequence" for this situation that we often punish under the auspice of a consequence.  Punishment works for awhile, but doesn't help children in the long run.  It doesn't make them want to do better next time but only increases feelings of rebellion or worthlessness.  Punishment also robs the child of the chance to grow in problem-solving skills, and robs us of the chance to strengthen our relationship with our children.  Natural consequences are great, as long as we keep our comments to ourselves.  In other words, when the glass of milk is too close to the edge of the table after we've told the child many times to move it to the center and it spills, we don't need to add, "See, I told you it would spill if you didn't move it."  What we need to focus on now is the solution:  "What do we do when we spill?"  Exploring solutions means asking a lot of questions.  "What were you trying to accomplish," and "what ideas do you have for a solution?" are good questions to ask when there is misbehavior, after an appropriate cooling-off period.  The idea is for discipline to create the opportunity for growth in problem-solving, a chance to develop respect for all, and a way to foster feelings of capability.  The goal is to end power struggles and focus on solutions that are empowering for all involved.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Three More Years!

It is nothing less than marvelous that our students spend three (or four) years with us.  I have one student who enjoyed school, yet had a difficult time with adults and other children whom she did not know well.  My first year was spent getting her to trust me.  She never felt comfortable greeting me for the entire year, and only socialized with a few children.  In our second year she reluctantly accepted presentations, but said "no" more often than not and perfected the "rapid walk away" when she saw me coming.  She still didn't accept my morning greeting and still had difficulty socializing with more than a handful of children.  This year, she not only says "good morning" to me but also shakes my hand! Yesterday, this reluctant, recalcitrant child brought a book to school and said she wanted to read it to the group during our collective.  She sat in my chair, opened the book and sang the whole book to the group.  The book is a spoof on "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  She showed the group every page, and held their rapt attention for the entire song.  Amazing.  She is blossoming before my eyes.  I have another student who did not leave my side the first year--literally.  The second year she branched out a bit, but was extremely quiet.  This year she emerged as a leader in the room and a great friend to many.  At our school's monthly trip to an assisted-living facility, she sat and chatted with the elders as we painted and colored.  She also read books to our elderly friends.  Think of all we would miss if Montessori had not observed the importance of continuity to the stages of development.  The photos are not of these specific children but rather of some nice moments in the environment and with the elders.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy in Work

"Work is necessary; it can be nothing less than a passion; a person is happy in accomplishment."

                                                     Maria Montessori

The children came back after the break ready to work!  Putting the child in contact with the activity they most want and need is immensely rewarding.  There is nothing that makes me so happy as to sit and observe a child who is doing exactly what she is meant to be doing.

The following quote is from a man I have heard speak at several Montessori conferences.  Montessori and he both describe the feeling of contentment people have after deeply satisfying work.  Montessori describes the work as occuring during a deep and undisturbable time of concentration.  Csikszentmihalyi calls this time of concentration "flow."

"It does not seem to be true that work necessarily needs to be unpleasant. It may always have to be hard, or at least harder than doing nothing at all. But there is ample evidence that work can be enjoyable, and that indeed, it is often the most enjoyable part of life."

Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, 1990