• Creativity and Innovation in Montessori

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 4/22/2019 7:00:00 AM

    As we move into an unpredictable future, it is becoming more and more apparent that we need to foster creativity and innovation in children rather than expect them to conform to predetermined standards. Montessori education has been doing this for over a hundred years with great success.

    This five-minute video gives a nice summary about the benefits of a Montessori education:

    https://youtu.be/GcgN0lEh5IA 

    There are many influential people and creative Child at Chalkboard thinkers who credit an early Montessori education with contributing to their success. We would like to highlight some of these people as well as discuss what that looks like in our classrooms. Consider the following traits of a creative and innovative education: curiosity, imagination, internal motivation, leadership, and a lifelong love of learning.

     

    Curiosity

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate author of novels such as Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude, was a Montessori child. He once said, “I do not believe there is a method better than Montessori for making children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakening their curiosity regarding the secrets of life.” 

    Rather than feeding children information we deem important, we spark their curiosity with stories - real stories about the wonders of our world - and provide them with materials that lead to self-discovery. The Great Lessons at the elementary level are a perfect example. The first Great Lesson teaches children about the beginnings of our universe in a wholly captivating manner. The children look forward to receiving this lesson at the beginning of each year, yet their developmental readiness allows them to glean something different each time. The teacher, in turn, can choose to expand the learning in any number of directions (the solar system, states of matter, rocks and minerals, etc.).

     

    Imagination

    One common myth is that Montessori discourages imagination. This is simply untrue. Dr. Maria Montessori observed that young children prefer reality over fantasy, but imagination is something altogether different. In her book, To Educate the Human Potential, she said:

    “ Human consciousness comes into the world as a flaming ball of imagination. Everything invented by human beings, physical or mental, is the fruit of someone’s imagination. In the study of history and geography we are helpless without imagination, and when we propose to introduce the universe to the child, what but the imagination can be of use to us? I consider it a crime to present such subjects as may be noble and creative aids to the imagination faculty in such a manner as to deny its use, and on the other hand to require children to memorize that which they have not been able to visualize… The secret of good teaching is to regard the children’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim therefore is not merely to make children understand, and still else to force them to memorize, but so to touch their imagination as to enthuse them to their inmost core. We do not want complacent pupils but eager ones; we seek to sow life in children rather than theories, to help them in their growth, mental and emotional, as well as physical, and for that we must offer grand and lofty ideas to the human mind, which we find ever ready to receive them, demanding more and more.”

     

    Internal Motivation

    In Montessori classrooms we do not give external rewards - intentionally. The same goes for traditional grades and assessment methods. We want children to tap into their own drives and desires. We teach them to explore their world and trust their path. As Montessori teachers, we don’t consider ourselves teachers in the traditional sense, but more as guides who support children as they find their own way. One example is the concept of freedom within limits. Children are able to choose their work, the order of their work, who they work with, and their own movement and seating within the classroom. This empowers them to make decisions, and the feeling is internalized for decisions about their own learning.

    Larry Page, co-founder of Google, continues to speak highly of his own Montessori education. He said of his success, “I think it was part of that training of not following rules or orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world and doing things a little bit differently.” 

     

    Leadership

    Montessori classrooms are multi-age classrooms, and multi-age classrooms lend themselves to the natural development of leadership skills. While younger students are provided with mentors, older children are able to help their younger classmates, give lessons, and serve as role models. Leadership need not be loud or forceful, and Montessori allows all children to experience this role. 

    Helen Keller became a shining beacon not just because of her success in the face of adversity, but also because of her dedication as an activist. Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, one wrote, “Dr. Montessori learned, as I learned, and as every teacher must learn, that only through freedom can individuals develop self-control, self-dependence, will power, and initiative. There is no education except self-education. There is no effective discipline except self-discipline. All that parents and teachers can do for the child is to surround him with right conditions. He will do the rest; and the things he will do for himself are the only things that really count in his education.”

     

    Lifelong Love of Learning

    One of our greatest hopes is that we cultivate a passion for learning in our students. To be true innovators, we must never lose our love of learning. Case in point: Joshua Bell’s famous experiment alongside a Washington Post journalist.

    Four-year-old Bell was found by his parents creating a string instrument out of rubber bands and dresser drawers. He would slide the drawers in and out to change the pitch as he played songs on the bands. His parents quickly realized his creativity and enrolled him in a Montessori school.

    As an adult, Bell has become one of the most celebrated violinists in history. He regularly sells out venues across the globe. Interview Magazine once said that he “does nothing less than tell human beings why they bother to live.”

    One January day in 2007, Bell dressed in ordinary street clothes and set up in an enclosed space just outside a Washington, D.C. Metro station. For 45 minutes he played some of the most profound pieces of classical music known to humans while cameras recorded the behaviors of passerby. Shockingly, only one person recognized him, toward the end of his performances. She approached him and told him as much, tossing a $20 bill into his case. Over 1000 other people walked by and only seven stopped to listen to the music. Besides the $20, he made a whopping $32.17. His participation in this social experiment led to a fascinating article that won a Pulitzer and inspired a children’s book. Aside from the shock of how people in the subway station reacted, it’s inspiring to consider Bell’s motivation. What did he have to gain except to explore, test, and collect information on something interesting?

    To see a clip of that day in D.C., watch the video: https://youtu.be/hnOPu0_YWhw

    Want to see some of these ideals in action? Contact us today to observe in your child’s classroom or to schedule a tour to view our school!

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  • Chores: They're Good for Your Kids!

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 4/15/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Chores: the word has such a negative connotation. But does it need to be that way?

    Do you remember doing chores when you were growing up? For some of us, we remember them as a negative consequence. Child emptying dishwasher For others, we never had them and it took us a while to learn how to do them as adults. Still others remember helping out around the house but not thinking it was a big deal.

    It’s all in how we, as parents, frame it for children.

    How we present the concepts of chores makes all the difference. Having kids pitch in isn’t just helpful for us (because, let’s face it, it’s often more work for us on the front end), it’s really good for them, too!

     

    What are the benefits?

    There are so many important reasons to incorporate regular chores into your children’s routines at home. Here are just a few:

    Developing independence

    As Montessorians, we see great value in teaching children to do things for themselves. It feels incredibly empowering to master a task and be able to complete it by oneself. Young children are at the perfect age to begin this work, as they are constantly looking for ways to do things independently.

    Fostering a sense of belonging

    By giving children ways to contribute to maintaining the home environment, you are effectively letting them know they are a valued, important member of the family. Besides, working side by side to tidy up is bonus time spent together, and couldn’t we all use a little more of that?

    Learning practical life skills

    We all need to learn how to do our laundry, wash our dishes, and pick up after ourselves. Just like children need guidance when learning how to read or add, they need the same with basic life skills. When we get down to their level and show them how to do the job, we are setting them up for a future of success as adults.

    Options for all ages!

    Well, we can let the infants take a pass here. Even young toddlers, however, are perfectly capable of learning some basic chores. The following is a collection of suggestions. It would likely be far too much to implement all at once, or even for one child to be wholly responsible for an entire list. Think of it as potential inspiration, or guidelines to help you determine what your child is developmentally capable of doing.

     

    Toddlers (yes, toddlers!) 

    Even little ones have a lot to offer around the house. Start small and offer child-sized tools.

    • On the floor beside where your child eats, use painter’s tape to create a small square. Using a small dustpan and brush, show your child how to sweep the crumbs into the square, then into the dustpan. It can be fun to keep the dustpan available on a nearby hook, beside a small container of colorful pom poms or the like. Your toddler will love practicing!
    • Teach your child how to fold napkins. Keep a small basket with napkins in it available for them to practice.
    • Let them help set the table. Watch their tiny face light up at being given such an important task. Resist the urge to straighten things out when they’re done!
    • Teach them to put their own toys away and be consistent about having them clean up as soon as they are finished playing. They may need some help, but they are capable of putting toys back into a bin or on a shelf.

     

    Preschoolers

    This is a great age for children to learn chores. They are able to do more than we often think they can, and they are so excited to help!

    • Clear the table. They will probably need to make multiple trips to avoid breaking dishes, but they will delight in collecting plates and cutlery to bring to the kitchen.
    • Teach them to wash the table. First, show them how to carefully brush crumbs off into their hands (you can also buy a special crumb set here if it’s easier: https://www.forsmallhands.com/small-crumb-set ). Next, show them how to wash the table with whatever method you prefer. It can help to have a small bucket of soapy water with a sponge and dry cloth. They will need lots of modeling (remember to emphasize wringing out that sponge!).
    • All that sweeping practice they had when they are toddlers? It can continue now, and they can also learn to mop. Remember that child sized tools make it easier for them to get the job done.
    • Kids this age can feed pets, although they may need you nearby.
    • Give preschoolers the task of choosing and laying out their own clothing. In the beginning they will need guidance as to what is weather-appropriate. Be prepared for some outfits you will perceive as wacky but take that moment to appreciate their blossoming independence and sense of personal style.
    • Show them how to care for plants. Chances are, they’re already doing this in their classrooms at school to some extent. Teach them how to water and talk about how we know when plants need water.

     

    Young children

    As a child gets older they are capable of so much more. Children ages five through about eight are very competent, though they may be a bit less enthusiastic then they once were. Building chores into the family routine will make this easier for everyone.

    • Children at this age can fold and put away laundry. Start small: a full load of laundry to put away by themselves the first time will only set them up for frustration. Sit together and teach them how to fold various items. Sort through clothes and let them choose a category the first few times. For example, they may fold all the shirts while you work on the rest. Slowly increase their responsibilities as they gain the skills necessary to complete the task.
    • Kids who are eating lunch at school can help pack it themselves. Teach them how to make a sandwich, chop vegetables, and even how to select a balanced variety of foods. Remember that choice and independence are very empowering.
    • Let them empty the dishwasher. If they can’t reach a particular shelf, keep a step stool nearby.
    • Chores that are tedious for adults, like dusting or washing the baseboards, are great fun for kids. If it gives them the sense that you trust them with an ‘adult’ task, they will likely be thrilled to give new tasks a try.
    • Depending on their size, let them vacuum rugs.

     

    Older children

     Again, as certain children get older you may be met with initial resistance whenever introducing a new chore. Try to keep it light and fun, and present it as a positive: as we get older we may have more responsibilities, but we gain new freedom and privileges.

    • Weeding the garden is a great task for older children, but they’ll likely enjoy it more if you’re weeding alongside them.
    • They are now old enough to do the laundry. Start small and set the expectation that they do their own laundry. They will need reminders, but having a system (a basket of their own and perhaps a sticky note with how-to reminders) will help get the job done.
    • Again, depending upon the child’s size, they are likely able to take out the trash and recyclables.
    • You may consider increasing their responsibilities in regards to pet care. They may be able to walk the dog, clean dirty cages, and do some basic grooming.
    • If they haven’t already learned, now is a great time to teach them how to make their own bed. This includes learning how to change the sheets.
    • If your child has been attending a Montessori school, they’ve been learning how to prepare their own food since they were toddlers. Take advantage of that knowledge base and let them make lunch for the family once in a while. They may even want to try more cooking or baking on their own (but with supervision).

     

    Teenagers

    Teenagers are able to do most, if not all, of the chores we do as adults. Remember, we are not suggesting they do all of these chores all the time, but reinforcing the idea that they are capable of any of them will help set them up for success. Sitting down together and agreeing on a schedule or rotation might be a good starting point. Here are just a few ideas: 

    • Let them mow the lawn or rake the leaves.
    • Have them wash the dishes.
    • Give them a chance to watch younger siblings while you run errands or go to an appointment.
    • Teenagers can do some more thorough cleaning, like wiping down counters or washing the bathroom.
    • Let them cook dinner. Instead of viewing this as a chore, they may enjoy the opportunity to choose the recipe and help shop for the ingredients themselves.

    When giving a child of any age chores to do, the key is to find balance. Chores are so important for their development, but so are things like play, reading, time together as a family, and time with friends. Be aware that children can often do more than we think they can, but also be aware of the big picture that is their life.

    Looking for more ways to cultivate independence? Montessori may be the answer. Call us today to learn more.

     

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  • Montessori Motivation

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 4/8/2019 10:00:00 AM

    We are often amazed at the capabilities of Montessori children. They bounce home from school each day excited about their learning. As adults, they tend to be driven and innovative. How does one cultivate such an attitude toward the world? How might we guide our children to want to learn? To want to discover? To always pursue more without being told they must? The key lies in what type of motivation we utilize.

    Rewards and Punishments

    In most traditional education settings around the country teachers use systems of rewards and punishments to drive desired behaviors. Most of us grew up experiencing this type of system, and it can be easy as parents to occasionally rely on these tactics as well. Two students with bead chains These are extrinsic motivators, and they’re more common than you might think.

    Rewards are positive and external. For example, a teacher might give a child a gold star sticker or a special stamp on their paper if a child does well. They may let children have extra playtime for following directions or a pizza party in exchange for getting their homework done. Rewards can take many other forms, too, including verbal praise or good grades on a report card.

    Punishments include any negative external motivator. These include bad grades and removal of privileges, but sometimes include harsher examples.

    Believe it or not, there are even more ways to impart subtle, nuanced external motivators. Any time we make a statement or even use a facial expression that conveys our own pleasure or displeasure with a behavior or action, we are utilizing external motivation. While these tactics may sometimes work in the short term, research shows they do little for long-term motivation success.

    Intrinsic Motivation

    Some forms of motivation don’t come from an outside source at all, but from within the individual. The good news is, children are born wanting to learn. We are curious beings and have the innate ability to work for our own joy.

    Think of a time you accomplished something great. How did you feel afterward? Were you thinking about how others would perceive your accomplishment or were you satisfied with your work for its own sake? In Montessori schools, we often guide children to reflect on their own feelings after they complete a challenge. They may come to us, excitedly showing or retelling. We may be inclined to say, “Good job!”, but those types of statements are better off unsaid. If we reward a child with our approval, they will work to seek that approval in the future. If, instead, we ask a child how they feel about the work, or comment on something factual we notice, the drive will remain within them. We might say, “I noticed you kept trying even when that was challenging. How do you feel now that you completed it?” or “It seemed like you enjoyed that work. What will you do next?” These types of statements make it possible for us to acknowledge a child without placing our own judgements on their experiences.

    Research suggests that while external rewards may work occasionally, intrinsic motivation is much more effective. In one study, preschoolers who loved to draw were divided into three groups: one was told they would receive a reward for drawing, one was told they would not, and a third received an unexpected reward afterward. Not surprisingly, the group that expected a reward drew for much less time and created less aesthetically appealing drawings. There was little difference between the other two groups, although they far outperformed the first. [ https://www.spring.org.uk/2009/10/how-rewards-can-backfire-and-reduce-motivation.php ]

     

    Driving Forces in Academics

    So how do Montessori teachers guide children to want to do their work? As we mentioned before, that’s the easy part. The desire to work is innate in children. Our job is to nurture and honor it. Even the terminology we use is intentional. Our youngest students aren’t asked to play during the morning cycle, but to work. We let them know we recognize what they’re doing is important. It’s work, and we are there to support them in doing that work.

    As Montessorians we also believe that a beautiful environment full of enriching materials can serve to motivate children. We consider what the children before us need, and we carefully select and place appropriate materials on the shelves for them to discover.

     

    Montessori materials are typically autodidactic. This means that the learner is able to self-correct their work while they are in the process of completing it. For example, a child placing wooden cylinders into holes will know they need to adjust their work if the final cylinder doesn’t fit into the final hole. These built-in corrections allow the child to work and learn directly from the materials without teacher input, essentially furthering the child’s independence and internal motivation.

    Montessori guides are also adept at utilizing children’s interests to help them succeed in areas that challenge them. A child who is reluctant to read but loves dinosaurs may just need a basket of books about dinosaurs. A child who resists math but adores their friends may need to work cooperatively to find success. Knowing what sparks a child’s enthusiasm is the key to opening a whole world of academic content.

    There are other structures built into the Montessori day that support intrinsic motivation. The three hour uninterrupted work cycle is one, as is allowing for ample student choice. The strategies allow children to select work that is meaningful to them, and to spend time really getting deep into that work. We allow them to fully explore their interests, which is where real creativity and lasting learning takes place. Children feel empowered by their independence and this in itself drives them to explore deeper learning.

    When we teach children to follow their own instincts, even when it comes to learning, we are preparing them for a lifetime of success. School won’t just be a place they have to go and have information delivered to them; it becomes a place where they look forward to going so that they may discover the world for themselves.

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  • Montessori Basics: What is Grace and Courtesy?

    Posted by Jeanette Maguire on 4/1/2019 7:30:00 AM

    Guide and child shaking hands Whether you are new to Montessori, or you have been familiar with it for a while, you’ve probably heard the phrase grace and courtesy. You may be wondering what that means in a Montessori classroom, and why we go out of our way to identify it as something special.

    Simply put, grace and courtesy is all about helping children to understand polite social norms.

    As a Montessori school, we understand that even very young children are capable of much more than is traditionally expected of them. For example, you might picture a preschool classroom in which children are running around or shouting loudly if they are excited. After all, children of three or four years of age can’t be expected to have mastered such behaviors yet, right?

    If you were to observe children of the same age in a Montessori classroom, this would not be the case. Just as with any other skill, Montessori children are taught how to behave appropriately. This is not to say that they are never allowed to run around and be loud; outdoor playtime is a perfectly suitable environment for those behaviors. They have simply learned that the classroom is an environment dedicated to learning and concentration, and they do their part to make it so.

    Modeling

    Grace and courtesy starts with intentional modeling. Guides, as well as other adults in the building, are very careful about how they behave in front of the children. When interacting with one another, or when interacting with a child, they are always thinking about showing the children what they hope to see mirrored. 

    For example, when a guide sees a child arrive at school in the morning, the guide will crouch down to be at the child’s level, look the child in the eye, and say, “Good morning,” with a pleasant smile.

    If the guide expects the children not to shout across the classroom, she will not do so herself. When managing a classroom full of children this can be challenging at times, but we understand that the children are always watching us and learning from our behaviors.

    Adults in a Montessori school are always very careful not to interrupt a child’s work. They have a deep respect for the child’s autonomy, but they are also aware of the power of their modeling. When adults refuse to interrupt a child’s work, the children learn the importance of doing the same.

    Lessons

    Aside from modeling, Montessori guides give lessons to explicitly teach grace and courtesy. They will show the child step by step how a certain behavior or activity is done. Here are just a few of these types of lessons a child might receive:

    • How to greet one another
    • How to welcome a visitor
    • How to get a teacher’s attention without interrupting
    • How to participate in a group discussion without interrupting
    • How to listen in a conversation
    • How to walk carefully around the classroom
    • How to follow directions
    • How to resolve a social conflict
    • How to unobtrusively observe another’s work
    • How to hold a door for someone
    • How to use polite words such as please, thank you, excuse me, etc.

    Older children

    As children get older, they may have mastered many of the basics of polite behavior, but they still have plenty more to learn. There are two main differences as children move into the elementary years:

    1. Most (but certainly not all) of the grace and courtesy needs are related to friendships and social interactions.
    2. They have developed a sense of humor and tend to respond well when guides teach what not to do in a silly manner.

    For example, a guide may notice children entering the classroom for lunch in a manner that is less than ideal. One day during a class meeting, she will address the issue by wondering aloud how we might enter the class for lunch. She may then act out a variety of scenarios, asking the children if she is going about the task in the right way, including:

    • Running breathlessly through the door to grab the desired seat.
    • Flinging a lunch bag across the room to the desired table.
    • Weaving in and out of other children to get where she wants more quickly.

    This is sure to bring on the laughter, because the children likely already know these are not the correct behaviors. Before the conclusion of the lesson, the children will contribute their ideas and tips, and the teacher will then model the ideal behaviors. Ideally this exercise would be done just before lunch, giving the children a chance to practice right away.

    Throughout the course of the school year, a guide at any level may notice certain behaviors that the children seem not to have learned or mastered yet. Guides consider these teachable opportunities and take the time to give the children lessons. We find that children are eager to copy our behaviors and follow our lead, we need only to give them the opportunity.

    Curious to learn more? Want to see grace and courtesy in action? Call us today - 413.637.3662 - or schedule a tour online.

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