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.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What Works in Education

There is an interesting article in Newsweek regarding preschool and the achievement gap.  It states that the number one indicator for success in life is family circumstances.  The number two indicator is early childhood education.  "High-quality preschooling does more for a child’s chances in school and life than any other educational intervention. One study, which began in the 1960s, tracked two groups of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Some were given the opportunity to attend a high-quality preschool; others were not. Thirty-five years later, the kids who went to preschool were earning more, had better jobs, and were less likely to have been in prison or divorced" (Mona Mourshed, Fenton Whelan. August 16, 2010. How to Close the Achievement Gap. Newsweek).  If preschool is the number one educational intervention, it needs to be available to all children, regardless of income level or "family circumstances."  The trick will be keeping the educational experience "high-quality" if there is government funding and intervention involved.  We need a few Montessorians in high-level governmental positions to ensure program excellence and guard against testing mania.  Anyone out there?  The article can be found at:

Monday, August 16, 2010

Letting Go With Love

As time flows toward another school year we reflect on letting go.  For parents of young children, this may be the first time they trust the outside world with their child.  Every year there is separation anxiety, tears (from the parents too!), and conflicting emotions.  We know it is best for our children to explore their individuality to grow in spirit, mind and body.  We know we must let go to allow the child to soar; that they cannot fly with an anchor.  They must separate to become their own person but whether that separation is at age 3 or at age 18, it is difficult for the parents.  My own middle son is heading to college this fall, and even though I have been through the process with my oldest, I am still apprehensive.  Will he make appropriate choices?  Will he study?  Will he get up for class?  Will he ever wash his sheets?  This list goes on.  I know that what is best for me is not necessarily best for my child.  This is a difficult message to impart to parents of the young child.  We can help by being empathetic yet firm.  We can help parents realize that the Montessori environment is a safe place for their child to grow, and an excellent place to try new activities.  We can explain freedom within limits.  The following article is from the AMI website, and may be useful to new parents.  It is a bit long, but makes some important points, namely, that for children to grow, they need space, away from their parents.  They need to know that we trust that they can do it for themselves.  Maria Montessori called this the "secret of childhood."  The link to the article is:

Saturday, August 14, 2010


This week in our summer session we focused on camping.  Not the kind of camping where you drive into a campsite with your car but the backpacking with your canoe into the Boundary Waters-type of camping.  We put up our tent, hung our food pack in a tree (10 feet up and 10 feet over), went on hikes with our bear whistle, read and created maps, and made food that could be carried in our packs (camp fire dough--made with powdered milk).  We also talked about recycling, and caring for the earth by taking care of our campsite so that our footprint is invisible.  On our last day, we built a campfire, safely of course, and made smores and banana boats.  The children also brought sleeping bags and we read stories in our tent.  I applaud the children and staff for enthusiastically participating, because this past week has been like living in a tropical rain forest!  If the heat and humidity don't bother you, the mosquitoes will!  The children are ready for the wilderness.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


This is a peaceful place in Casa II that receives many visitors throughout the day.  There is a low table with a funky leather poof to sit on (for some reason it is adorned with Ancient Egyptian pictures in gold--a yard sale find).  There is a personal size labyrinth from Montessori Services with an elegant chopstick resting in an olive dish for tracing the path on the labyrinth.  The tiny lamp has an elephant base, and there is a tray with seven small marble elephants in descending size to manipulate.  I enjoy seeing the elephants in unique configurations when I arrive each morning.  This area is bordered by a larger area of shelves so that it almost feels like a small, open room.  The children, particularly the ones that stay an extended day, enjoy having a quiet place of respite in their day.  Inner peace is a priceless commodity.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Business of Montessori

It occurs to me that being a good manager in a business setting is much like being a good Montessori teacher.  You need to get to know your employees, and find out what interests them.  You need to access their strengths and weaknesses, finding ways to help them use their strengths, and finding ways to help them improve their areas of weakness.  You need to help them bring their talents to the forefront, and find opportunities for them to help others with their skills  In all of this observational and informational work, the teacher or manager helps the student or employee find projects that are enticing.  Eventually, the student or employee is so assured of his skills that he uses them without needing a prompt. He also, through working with others, sees the unique skills and talents of others, and the special contributions they bring to collective work.  Eventually, the group works together in a fulfilling manner, each contributing in a way that is meaningful and productive.  In other words, normalization.