• Montessori Basics: How We Teach Handwriting

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 11/11/2019 7:00:00 AM

    child with knobbed cylinders Was handwriting an important part of your early education? These days, pressured by time and content constraints, many schools are abandoning explicit handwriting instruction. The result may be a generation of children who do not know how to write in cursive, and who sometimes even struggle to form legible printed letters. 

    A number of scientific studies point to the importance of handwriting, including this one which concluded that handwriting (as opposed to typing or tracing) guides preliterate children toward developing reading skills.

    Interested in learning more about the scientific evidence that supports the importance of teaching handwriting as a skill? Check out this New York Times article that explores what is lost when handwriting instruction fades.

    Not only does learning handwriting early help children develop skills needed for reading, evidence suggests it makes children better writers, spellers, and leads them towards future success in academics. Higher brain density and gray matter volume have been connected to high-quality handwriting, suggesting that frequent practice may aid in neural processing. Studies also conclude that it is critical for teachers to model the correct way to form letters, but also to utilize direct instruction. 

    In Montessori schools, handwriting is a critical component of children’s learning. As with so many other skills, our curriculum takes a spiraling approach, indirectly preparing children prior to direct instruction. Very young children develop the muscles necessary for hand and wrist movement, as well as a pincer grasp, while they manipulate materials such as moving an object along a horizontal dowel in the Toddler Community or grasping a knobbed cylinder in the Children’s House.

    There are two other important materials in the Children’s House environment that facilitate handwriting readiness: the metal insets and the sandpaper letters.

    The metal insets are wooden trays that hold a series of stencil-like shapes. Removable shapes are blue with a pink background. Some shapes have straight-lined sides while others are curved. Children trace the shapes with a pencil, giving their hands a chance to practice creating a variety of lines. Increasingly challenging activities encourage children to create different patterns with colored pencils while staying inside the original traced lines. At first glance, this may appear to be a fun art activity (which it certainly is!) but its main intention is to prepare children for their upcoming work in handwriting.

    Montessori sandpaper letters take the work a step further. Twenty-six wooden tiles are adorned with gritty, sand-textured letters of the alphabet. Children are given lessons on how to trace these letters with their fingers and say the sound. (As a side note, Montessori children are taught the sound of each letter in conjunction with its name, which makes much more sense for reading preparation.) Perhaps you have observed this in a Montessori classroom. If you have not, we highly suggest coming in to watch the magic of this work in person!

    Interestingly, children who attend Montessori schools are typically able to write even before they have begun to read. Once they do begin reading, these previously developed skills allow them to seamlessly and simultaneously work on the various components of literacy development. 

    Once children enter the elementary years in a Montessori school, they write throughout the day. Typically, children work throughout the three-hour work period in the morning on a largely independent basis, unless they are receiving a direct, small-group lesson from the guide. During this independent work they record parts of what they do in their learning journals. For example, if a child uses a card material to learn about the internal body functions of a fish (how they perform the tasks of respiration, circulation, movement, and so on), they will record at least part of this work in their notebook. For example: “Circulation. Fish have two chambers in their hearts.” This writing continues throughout the day and is directly connected to other content children are learning. Direct handwriting practice continues in the elementary years and extends into beautifying work through precise cursive or even calligraphy.

    One final and very important reason to teach handwriting: when children learn how to form beautiful letters early on, they are better able to focus on a myriad of other things. For example, when writing a story, they can actually think about their story ideas instead of belaboring over how to write a ‘q’.

    Interested in learning more? As mentioned earlier, we encourage you to come visit the school and observe in one of our classrooms. Doing so is common practice in Montessori schools, is unobtrusive to the children, and can provide excellent insight for those who are looking to learn more about this unique educational approach.

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  • Holiday Giving Guide 2019

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 11/4/2019 7:00:00 AM

    child with fruit lesson

    Believe it or not, the holiday season is rapidly approaching! We thought it might be fun to share some of our favorite Montessori-friendly gift ideas.

     

    Montessori Infant Mobiles

    Montessori infant environments offer mobiles for newborns. There are different types, but their purpose remains the same: they aid babies in the development of their visual tracking, while also bringing the babies a sense of joy. Etsy is a great source for finding beautiful handmade versions. To learn more about Montessori mobiles, take a look at this article.

     

    Baby Boo Silk Scarves

    Silk scarves are an excellent option for open-ended play. Children use their imaginations and creativity as they think of ways to incorporate the scarves into play. The scarves are often used for hiding, covering, waving, dancing, and as a dress-up option. We have even seen them worn by patient and willing family pets. This particular scarf is a bit smaller and colored with nontoxic dyes, making it perfect for babies and toddlers.

     

    Crayon Rocks

    Art supplies are a must for any child. Keep it simple! Children are happy to use paper from the recycling bin and whatever else you have around. If you’re looking for something a little more special, check out these crayon rocks. Comfortable for tiny hands to grasp, they are made with soy wax and colored with mineral powders. They lay down gorgeous color and are appreciated by children of all ages.

     

    Child-Sized Snow Shovel

    Young children love to do whatever the beloved adults in their lives are doing. The tasks we often view as monotonous or even tedious are exciting for little ones. Giving children real tools that are sized down for them makes this important work possible. This snow shovel will allow you to get your driveway cleared while your child learns alongside you. In addition, you both can enjoy fresh air, exercise, and important bonding time.

     

    Young Carpenter’s Set

    Much like the snow shovel listed above, this toolbelt, hammer, and safety glasses set will allow aspiring young carpenters to work alongside the adults they admire. Montessori Services offers many different child-sized tools, depending on your child’s level of interest and what types of projects you have envisioned!

     

    Leaf and Flower Press

    Children are collectors. Especially when they spend time outdoors, their natural fascination with the world spurs them to gather tiny objects. We are all familiar with pockets full of rocks and crushed dandelions found in the back seat of the car. As children get a little older, this leaf and flower press can allow them to preserve their botanical finds. Once leaves and flowers are dried and pressed, they can be used in many different ways!

     

    Marble Run

    If your child loves to build, marble runs are a great way to encourage independent development of a wide range of skills. Children experience trial and error, general engineering concepts, creativity, and more. There are endless possibilities for configurations, and the toy can be used independently or with a friend or adult.

     

    Jigsaw Puzzles

    Puzzles are a classic way to pass the time together. We really appreciate this particular brand because they are well-made and have many great designs for children. The beauty of puzzles is that they don’t need to be completed in one setting. Designate a tabletop and have one out for the family to work on together a little bit each day. Rather than linking to one particular puzzle, we decided to just share the page for children’s puzzles so you can find one that would be appealing to your child.

     

    Child-Sized Mug

    There’s nothing quite like cozying up with a warm drink on a chilly winter day. These 4-ounce ceramic mugs were created with children in mind. They are adorned with pictures of wild animals, and a portion of each sale is donated to conservation efforts.

     

    Kites

    Kites are a classic children’s toy. They encourage our children to run around outside and to pay attention to keeping the kite afloat. Teaching your child how to fly one can be a fun and rewarding experience, and there are so many different places to fly a kite! Some families like to keep a kite in the trunk of their car…just in case!

     

    We hope this list has provided you with some helpful inspiration. Do you have other ideas to share? Let us know!

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  • Montessori Basics: Reality vs. Fantasy

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 10/28/2019 7:00:00 AM

    student patting hedgehog

    Our Montessori Basics posts are created in order to teach parents about Montessori philosophy and curriculum. Today’s post helps illuminate how one element of the philosophy drives the curriculum. We all know Montessori classrooms differ vastly from their more conventional, traditional counterparts, and views on how children developmentally react to fantasy and reality are one of the key components of those differences.

     

    You may or may not already know, but Montessori schools discourage the introduction of fantasy to young children (children under the ages of 5 or 6). This means we do not use play kitchens, have a dress-up area in the classroom, or rely on books with things like dragons or fairies. This often evokes a visceral reaction from those new to the approach, but after learning the scientific reasoning it makes much more sense.

     

    Some people hold a misconception about Montessori and assume that the method stifles imagination and creativity. The is unequivocally false. We wonder if this misconception stems from tangled definitions of fantasy and imagination, which are two very separate concepts. Fantasy is the stories and ideas drawn from a world which does not exist (those fairies, dragons, talking horses, etc.). Imagination is the ability to conjure images or scenarios in one’s own mind, separate from present sensorial input.

     

    So, what is the difference, really?

     

    Fantasy is giving wooden fruit to play with instead of a real banana to slice. Fantasy is reading a book about a talking dog rather than reading a book about the different breeds of dogs around the world.

     

    Imagination is a child on the playground pretending they are an eagle because they saw a live one for the first time that weekend. Imagination is children playing ‘family’ because they are driven to practice the roles that are modeled for them in their own homes.

     

    Imagination is inherent in the human mind. It’s where our creativity comes from, and it’s one of the ways we process learning about the amazing world around us. As Montessorians, we revel in the magic of imagination (and, as children get a bit older, we use it to our advantage, but more on that later). 

    As Montessorians, we recognize that young children have a difficult time distinguishing the differences between reality and fantasy, and that blending the two within their experience can be confusing. We also know, from Dr. Montessori’s own observations, that young children typically prefer reality to fantasy. For example, in her first classroom, she had a dollhouse and read folktales. Children were far more interested in leaving those activities behind to observe an earthworm or serve tea to visitors.

    Our perspective asserts that in a young child’s life, everything they encounter is awe-inspiring and fills them with wonder. We need not tell them tales of unicorns, in part because they often have a hard time distinguishing between whether they are real or not, but also because an actual horse is just as fantastic to them. When the whole world is still relatively brand-new, animals, plants, the environment, and real people provide more than enough inspiration for their young minds.

    We all know that even very young children utilize their imaginations (as we mentioned several examples above). This is a normal and natural part of development which we value and honor. We would just rather give our students real, authentic opportunities as opposed to presenting them with fake ones. We know that a three-year-old is fully capable of learning basic food preparation skills, so we guide them and leave them with a sense of empowerment. A toddler is old enough to begin learning how to sweep up a mess on the floor. Rather than supplying a toy cleaning set, we make available real cleaning tools that are appropriately sized, and we guide young children as they learn to use them effectively.

    Once children enter the second plane of development, around age six, our approach shifts. We know children are more able to differentiate between reality and fantasy, so we don’t discourage fantasy books (although we do provide plenty of nonfiction). We also know that children at this age, through about age 12, are highly motivated to learn through the use of their imaginations.

    While we still do not rely on fantasy to drive our teaching, we do lean heavily on imagination for older children. Several of our most important, foundational lessons about the universe, life on earth, and humanity itself are delivered with the use of storytelling. The stories we tell are true, but we allow children to mentally picture themselves in historically critical moments. Elementary-aged children are seeking to find their own place in the universe, and their developed sense of imagination helps take them there.

    Are you interested in learning more about this topic? We would love to start a conversation, and we also welcome you to come observe in our classrooms. Often traditional schools do not allow prospective parents to come and sit in a classroom, but we believe it is the very best way to discover Montessori for yourself.

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  • How to Guide Your Child Through Their Emotions

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 10/21/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Student confronting emotion Human emotion. We are so very lucky to each experience such a wide-ranging set of feelings, but that experience can be quite the roller coaster!

    As adults, our own emotions can sometimes get the best of us. With this in mind, how might we help our children find healthy ways to navigate through their own?

    Choosing a title for this post was tricky. Do we want to teach our children how to control their emotions? Is manage the right word? Should we encourage some emotions and discourage others?

    Let us begin by stating that infants and young toddlers naturally rely on trusted adults to help them with their emotions. They will look to you for physical comfort and solutions to their problems. As they get a bit older, however, we can gradually guide them to begin tackling their emotions on a more independent level.

    Our emotional experience is such a nuanced journey. There’s no wrong way to feel, and suppression of emotion is never a long-term solution. When it comes to emotion, we like to start with a three-step approach.

    1. Accept
    2. Observe
    3. React

    Accepting our emotions can often be the hardest part! Especially hard for adults, we often deny the presence of certain emotions because we have been taught that some are better than others. We can make sure our children don’t feel the same pressure by reminding them - often - that there is no wrong way to feel. Our emotions are simply emotions. They don’t define who we are and are simply normal responses to events that happen in our lives. They serve many purposes and can teach us plenty about ourselves, other people, and even the world around us.

    Let your child know that it’s okay to feel frustrated. Let them know that sadness and anger are normal. The same goes for intense joy and love.

    One way to accept an emotion is to name it. Keep it simple; one word is plenty. If your child is feeling too deeply or hasn’t had enough experience to name the emotion themselves, supply the word you think they might be searching for. “You seem angry.” State it as a fact, without judgement or solution. Sometimes, especially if the feeling isn’t clear, it works best to just observe that your child is feeling a lot of big emotion.

    Once we have accepted the emotions we are feeling, it’s time to observe them. To guide your child through this step, it’s best to talk about the process when emotions are not high. Have a conversation over dinner or during a relaxing cuddle session.

    How do we observe our emotions? We step back and look at the emotion as if it is something separate from ourselves. This concept is hard enough for most of us to attempt in the heat of the moment. How can we guide children to do this?

    Ask them where in their body they feel the emotion the strongest. Some of us feel queasiness in our stomachs, pounding in our hearts, lightness in our heads, tightness in our shoulders, or a myriad of other possibilities. Ask your child to think about where they physically feel the emotion in their body, then encourage them to focus on that feeling. Does a pounding heart feel pleasant? Of course not! At least not in the presence of uncomfortable emotions.

    How might we react to what we have noticed? Leaning into those feelings and allowing our emotions to run their course is truly the healthiest approach, and it’s more likely to help negative feelings pass more quickly than if we were to resist them. Tell your child that it is normal to feel how they are feeling, and to let their body feel the way it needs to. Ask if you can help (sometimes children like to be held, have their back rubbed, etc.), but also be prepared to accept if your child doesn’t want help.

    Leaning into our feelings is one way to react, but there are other equally helpful and supportive methods that vary from person to person. Again, during a time of calm, talk with your child about specific emotions. Ask them what might help them while they are in the midst of an experience. If a child is inclined to scream, how might they find a healthy way to fulfill or counteract that impulse? Could they sing instead? Could they learn to identify clues that come before a strong emotion and react to those instead? 

    Consider what healthy reaction options would work for your family and talk about them together. Establishing what is okay (asking for a moment alone) and what is not (hitting a sibling) helps to set your child up for success.

     

    Looking for more information on this topic?

    Here’s a great article. We really loved the part about how we, as adults, can use our own mistakes as teaching points for our kids. 

    This piece includes lots of activities for practice, and even suggests using picture books as models for identifying emotions and reactions:

     

    We would love to hear if you have any success with these steps, or if you have any further questions/ideas!

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  • 2 Types of Assessment: Which One Do Montessori Schools Favor?

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 10/14/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Teacher and students with continents

    Assessment is a topic often discussed in the many realms of the education world. Whether a child is enrolled in a local public school, an independent school, or is homeschooled, assessment will most likely play a role in that experience. However, to what extent it plays varies greatly, as does the prevalence of the different styles of assessment.

    Parents often have strong feelings about assessment, although our perspectives can also vary greatly. Many of us are frustrated by the now-common high-stakes testing, the amount of time testing can take, and the young age at which formal assessments are now taking place. Others or us, with our child’s future firmly in the forefront of our mind, want to be sure there are assessments in place that will clearly identify a child’s strengths and weaknesses.

    So why do we assess in the first place?

    One important reason is to measure learning. Another is to (theoretically) encourage success.

    We pose the following questions: How do we define success? What exactly is it that we value and want to encourage in our children? What kinds of time restraints should (or should not) be placed on children as they progress through the learning of various skills? Should learning be measured in a standardized and linear fashion?

    The following types of assessment are regularly used in educational settings. We describe each one and take a look at how Montessori does (or does not) implement them. 

    Formative Assessment

    Formative assessment can be classified by the following characteristics:

    • It is generally done while the student is learning.
    • It is either unobtrusive or minimally intrusive to student work.
    • It is almost never graded.
    • It allows teachers to shift their approach mid-lesson.

    Summative Assessment

    Summative assessment is quite different. It can be classified by these characteristics:

    • It is done periodically to determine whether a student has mastered a skill or skills.
    • Learning and instruction must stop and time must be set aside to administer assessment.
    • Grades/scores are typically assigned.
    • It serves to categorize students and define success/failure.

    Just by reading through the characteristics you will likely draw your own conclusions as to which style is more helpful to both students and teachers.

    Keep in mind that in Montessori schools, we believe the following basic principles:

    1. Learning is not linear.   There are general developmental phases that children pass through, but we recognize that there is great variation among individuals. This variation is honored and even celebrated. One of the greatest benefits of our multi-year cycles is that teachers have that much time to work with children and guide them toward various goals. Most teachers understand that a child may progress in reading for 6 months while their math skills plateau, but that could easily switch in time. Not feeling the pressure of having a child for one year only allows us to support natural learning and growth, and to let children learn according to more normal timelines.
    2. We believe that children do not need to compete with one another, but rather draw on internal motivation to better themselves. Grades lead to such competition. All people have areas of strength and areas of challenge. When children begin comparing themselves to one another, many will be left with completely unnecessary feelings of inadequacy or fear that someone will be better than. Such dips in self-confidence can take a serious toll on children in the long term.  
    3. We do not utilize external rewards. We find them ineffective and would rather guide children toward trusting their own process. There is significant scientific research that backs this approach. More on that here.
    4. We provide learning materials that allow children to assess themselves. Most Montessori materials are autodidactic, that is the children learn the skill just from using the materials. If there is a series of different sized pegs with corresponding holes to place them in, there is only one way to complete the activity correctly. When a child is working independently with such a material and the last peg does not fit into the last remaining hole, they know a mistake has been made along the way and they can work toward correcting it. Older children have the answers available so they can check their work and learn from their mistakes.
    5. Scientific observation is the most effective method for teachers to learn about students’ level of understanding. Dr. Montessori based her entire set of teaching methods on what she had observed about children’s learning over a span of 40+ years. Her constant observations allowed her to make changes in the environment and her approach. We believe this form of assessment to be the most effective tool we have. Montessori guides observe the children to determine what changes need to be made in their instruction in order to meet academic goals, but we also observe how the environment serves the children so that it can act as another tool to support learning.

    What it boils down to is that we hope to teach children how to learn, not how to get a good grade. We want them to be enamored with the world and find a deep and authentic desire to learn as much as they can about it. We do not wish to interrupt their learning with tests that do not actually serve them in the long run; rather we believe that the formative assessment approach of highly trained and skilled educators is the best way to support growth.

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  • 10 Amazing Podcasts

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 10/7/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Three Children

    This month we are taking a break from our book recommendations and sharing something a little bit different. 

    Are you into podcasts? Are your children? If you’re not already, know that there is a whole world full of entertaining and educational screen-free media out there just waiting to be discovered.

    Podcasts are great to listen to while driving in the car, sitting in a waiting room, or just relaxing together. Basically, any time you (or your child) are in the mood to relax but would rather not stare at a television, tablet, or phone, podcasts can provide an excellent alternative. 

    The ten we share below are kid-tested and parent-approved. Please note that while we do our best to summarize them thoroughly, it’s always best to listen with your child (at least for the first episode or two) to make sure it is a good fit.

    Without further ado, the podcasts:

     

    Wow in the World

    Our all-time favorite seems like a great place to start! Wow in the World is narrated by characters Mindy and Guy Raz (yes, that Guy Raz, formerly of NPR’s All Things Considered). Mindy’s completely wacky personality contrasts fantastically with Guy’s hesitant and often nervous one as they ‘test out’ the validity of actual recent scientific studies. Their adventures often include a nosy neighbor, a pigeon named Reggie that gives them rides, and a whole lot of scientific terminology that is explained without talking down to listeners. Even primary-aged children will delight in Wow in the World’s (educational) antics.

     

    Circle Round

    What child doesn’t love to listen to stories? Circle Round is created for children ages 4-10, but we think even older kids wouldn't complain when it’s on. The podcast shares folktales from around the globe. Told in an engaging way with encouragement to think about the lessons learned by characters in the tales, the podcast focuses on positive character traits.

     

     

    Story Pirates

    The premise for this podcast is a unique one: kids send in their own stories - fictional, creative tales that only children could dream up. The actors on the show then voice their way through the story, bringing it to life. As you can imagine, the utter absurdity is pretty appealing to young listeners! There are regular cast members, but there are also some big names featured from time to time (Aubrey Plaza, Conan O’Brien, Jon Stewart, and more).

     

    But Why?

    What kid isn’t curious about the world around them? On But Why? kids call in with questions and the creators of the podcast confer with various experts to find answers. So many children call in with questions that are grouped into themes. Recent episodes have answered questions about earthquakes, bugs, electricity, trains, gender, and the ocean. Experts provide answers that will engage and fascinate everyone - from very young children to adults.

     

    Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

    Based on the best-selling book, each episode highlights the life of a different influential and inspiring woman. Recent episodes celebrate the lives of volcanologist Katia Krafft, flamenco dancer Carmen Amaya, political activists the Mirabal sisters, and wheelchair fencer Bebe Vio. Girls and boys alike will appreciate these riveting and real stories.

     

    Smash Boom Best

    Smash Boom Best is a debate podcast. Listeners contribute ideas, then a judge listens to two people argue the merits of their ‘side’. Some recent episodes include Piranhas vs. Venus Fly Traps, Unicorns vs. Dragons, and Rice vs. Noodles. The topics certainly appeal to kids! It can be fun to choose a side before starting an episode, then see whether or not the arguments presented sway your own opinion. Kids are taught to defend their positions with intelligence and integrity.

     

    The Past and the Curious

    The creator’s mission statement is: “History is amazing. The stories from our collective past have the power to transform people today.” Get ready to take a deep dive into some of human history’s most compelling topics. Interested in museums? Learn about America’s first museum, and the art that went missing in another. Curious about early exploration in our nation? Find out how prairie dogs played an interesting role. We especially liked hearing the history of native people not only being honored, but told in an honest, yet child-appropriate way. This podcast might be a good fit for upper elementary and middle school-aged children, or for some lower elementary children who are particularly fond of history.

     

    Brains On!

    Winner of a 2018 Webby award, this amazing podcast presents science and history topics to children and families. In 2017 the show was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation in hopes of studying “the impact of children’s podcasts on science learning and discovery.” (More on that here.) Each week one lucky kid gets to co-host the show and explore a wide variety of incredible topics.

     

    This Podcast has Fleas

    This Podcast has Fleas isn’t actually an educational podcast, but it is quite entertaining. The podcast is told from the perspective of a dog named Waffles (Emily Lynne) who has started her own podcast, Dog Talk, and Jones the cat (Jay Pharoah) who lives in the same house and also has a podcast, Live From the Litterbox. Start with episode 1 and work your way through the hilarious antics of these two critters, along with other household residents including Mr. Glub, the wise goldfish, voiced by Alec Baldwin.

     

    Pickle

    Pickle aims to present children with ethical dilemmas and let them imagine what they would do in response. For example, if your brother was responsible for the graffiti in the new boys’ bathroom at your school, would you tell on him? All angles are presented, and no clear answer is actually given. Kids get to think, examine rules and consequences, and ponder how they would handle various situations. This podcast would be best for children mid-elementary (perhaps age nine) and up.

      

    We hope you enjoy discovering some new podcasts, or even trying them out for the first time! We would love to hear what you think of these, or if you have any other favorites you think we should share with families!

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  • Montessori Basics: A Brief History

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 9/30/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Maria Montessori with children Have you ever wondered how Montessori got its start? You likely know the educational model is named after its founder, but the beginnings of this approach are fascinating.

    Maria Montessori was born on August 31, 1870. She lived with her family in Chiaravalle, Italy, until they moved to Rome. An excellent student, Montessori decided to apply to the University of Rome to study medicine. Just as in her younger years, Montessori was an outstanding student in medical school, even though she faced plenty of discrimination as a woman. Her chosen career was nearly unheard of for women at the time, yet she continued undeterred.

    Dr. Maria Montessori is often credited with being the first female physician in Italy. There were actually other women that came before her (for example, Maria Dalle Donne was the first woman to receive a doctorate in medicine), but Montessori’s achievement in this area was astounding nonetheless. After graduating she began her work in pediatric psychiatry, which is where the first seeds of Montessori education were sown.

    The children in her charge were cognitively impaired; no one expected them to engage in any sort of meaningful education. During this time she became an advocate for children with disabilities, and began to develop many of the materials that would later become what we now know as Montessori materials. 

    In 1907, Dr. Montessori was invited to open a child care center in a poor neighborhood in Rome. She called it Casa dei Bambini (Children’s House) and the first Montessori school was established. The intention was for her to create a place to educate the children of poor, working parents. She began to apply what she had previously learned in the pediatric psychiatry setting, and began expanding upon the materials she had developed there. 

    A highlight of Dr. Montessori’s work was her use of scientific observation. A scientist first and educator later, she looked at child development through a different lens. As a result, she noticed several surprising things:

    • The children were able to focus deeply on independent work that interested them.
    • The children were interested in practical life activities, such as preparing food and caring for their classroom environment.
    • The children learned (seeming to effortlessly absorb information) according to what was available in the environment.
    • The children responded positively to learning materials they could complete by themselves.

    Casa dei Bambini was regarded as a huge success, and people began to take notice of Dr. Montessori’s ideas. The approach began to spread, with several other schools opening in Italy, as well as a training center led by Dr. Montessori herself. After she published several papers, the international community began to take notice early in the twentieth century. 

    Schools began to open around the world, including in the United States. Over time, her original focus on early childhood shifted to elementary and adolescence, leading her to develop her famous Planes of Development.

    Montessori’s popularity in the United States waned after a period, but found a resurgence in the 1950s. Today there are two main organizations that support Montessori education in the United States. AMI (Association Montessori International) was created by Dr. Montessori and her son Mario in order to standardize and preserve her methods, and AMS (American Montessori Society) was created by Nancy McCormick Rambusch who is often credited with sparking the revival of Montessori in the United States. Both organizations are similar in many ways, with AMI adhering more closely to Dr. Montessori’s original ideas and AMS incorporating some changes based on the nation’s culture. Other smaller Montessori organizations and training centers exist, too.

     

    Montessori education has become increasingly popular over the decades, with variations of its materials and implementation of its ideals found in even more conventional classrooms.

     

    Still have questions? Send them our way! We love to teach others about the history of this powerful method of supporting the growth of our young people!

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  • Fall Family Fun

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 9/23/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Today marks the fall equinox, one of two days during the year in which both the northern and southern hemispheres of our planet receive the same amount of sunlight (the other day is the vernal, or spring equinox.) The rest of the year the tilt of Earth’s axis makes for an uneven distribution of the sun’s rays, giving us the seasons of summer and winter. Just a note: our seasons do not actually come from Earth being closer or farther away from the sun, which is a common misconception.

    What does this have to do with our children? We believe fall is a great time to tune into the changing seasons and enjoy time together. Here are five ideas to get you started:

    Apple picking

    1. Get that yard work done.

    Children - especially young children - love to help their parents. They want to be like their parents, so they take every possible opportunity to copy what you do. Take advantage of this developmental characteristic and teach them how to do basic yard work! 

    Will your four-year-old be able to efficiently assist you in raking the leaves? Perhaps not efficiently, but your little one can stay occupied, get some fresh air and exercise, and have a blast while you’re busy taking care of a necessary job. Children certainly won’t mind helping you jump in a raked pile, either! Any last-minute weeding or harvesting that needs to be done in the garden? Invite your child along to learn and try on these skills.

    A note regarding tools: it is preferable to provide children with real, child-sized tools for all sorts of tasks, including yard work. Yard and garden tools are available from a Montessori materials company, but it is also possible to find similar items at local garden stores.

     

     

    2. Head to the kitchen.

    There are so many great flavors to savor throughout the fall. Why not cook and bake together to try them all? Here are a few fun recipes:

    Super simple acorn treats

    Healthy baked spaghetti squash

    Trail mix bites to take on that fall hike

    Baked apple cider donut holes 

    Tasty pumpkin bread 

    Basic applesauce recipe

     

    3. Be creative.

    Art is a great idea any time of the year. Try these fun activities to enjoy being creative, fall-style.

     

    • Lanterns - Collect several glass jars, some fall-colored tissue paper, wire, and either white glue or liquid starch. Cut the paper into small pieces. The pieces can be irregular shapes, but they should be roughly between 1” and 2” square. Water down the white glue or use the liquid starch as is. Paint a layer on the glass, sticking small pieces of paper to it as you go. Another layer of glue on top is a good idea. Once dry, use the wire to wrap around the lip of the jar and create a candle. Either a small tea light or battery-powered light can go inside for a fun evening walk.
    • Nature art - Using found objects, create environmental art outside. Before you begin, discuss with you child that the nature of environmental art is not permanent so that they don’t feel disappointed if it blows or washes away. Consider arranging items like sticks, fallen leaves, dead flower petals, seeds, rocks, and whatever else you come across!
    • Whip up a batch of this pumpkin pie playdough.

     

    4. Make a scarecrow.

    Whether you choose to display your scarecrow in the garden or use it as a seasonal decoration, your children will surely have a blast helping create it! Gather some old clothes, a bit of hay, and check out this video for ideas to get started.

     

    5. Enjoy local produce.

    Finding ways to purchase and eat local produce is a positive experience for you and your children in so many ways. A few of the perks:

    • Produce grown closer to home is fresher and contains more nutrients.
    • You help support small businesses in your community.
    • Pick-your-own options are a fun activity to do on a nice day.
    • Physically going to the farms gives children a concrete sense of where their food comes from.
    • You’re likely to run into other families you know and/or meet other families with children.

    Perhaps you already have a CSA share that you pick up weekly. Maybe you love to go apple picking. Local farm stands are likely to have plenty of fresh greens available this time of year, and a variety of squash are either already abundant or will be soon. Options are plentiful!

     

    We hope this list has given you some ideas to get started, although we would love to hear any more you might have. Enjoy your week!

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  • 7 Ways to Encourage Independence

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 9/16/2019 9:00:00 AM

    You probably know that encouraging independence is a hallmark of Montessori education and parenting. The best way to teach our children to do things for themselves is to create supportive structures in which they can gradually depend on us less and less. You may be wondering exactly how to do this, and we are here to help! Try these handy tips to get started:

    Adolescents cooking

    1. Allow your child(ren) to dress themselves.

    As soon as they are ready, young children can physically dress themselves, even if it means allowing extra time for them to do so. Even toddlers can begin making choices in regards to their clothing. Start simple with your littlest ones. For example, you might ask if they would rather wear the yellow shirt or the orange shirt. Another option might be setting out five outfits for the school week and letting them pick which one they will wear each day. As children get older, it’s okay to give them general guidelines before stepping back and admiring their unique form of self-expression. You may let them know that pants are a must on a cold day, but be sure to respect their desire to pair zebra-print leggings with a plaid shirt. Enjoy those adorable moments while allowing them to feel empowered by their own decision-making.

     

    2. Teach your child skills they show interest in.

    Does your child like to watch as you fix the fence and build shelves? Figure out a simple woodworking project you could do together, and let them learn how to measure, saw, and hammer nails. The same idea goes for crafts like knitting and sewing, outdoor activities like hiking and geocaching, electronics repair and computer programming, sports, and just about any other activity you can imagine. Their first interests will likely be based on what they observe at home, but eventually they will branch out and want to try learning more skills. As adults all we need to do is shed our preconceived notions of young children’s capabilities. We are often surprised when they achieve much more than we expected!

     

    3. Let them care for a living thing.

    The simplest way to do this is to purchase a small, low-maintenance plant. Keep it on a sunny windowsill and teach your child how to water it. Some Montessori teachers use a clothespin method: whenever the plant needs watering, the adult places a clothespin on the rim of the pot as a signal for children that the plant can be watered. As kids get older, we can teach them to feel the soil itself for dryness.

    Already have a pet at home? Find age-appropriate ways for your child to help out. They might assist with brushing, feeding, watering, or walking, depending on their age and the particular pet.

     

    4. Include them in household chores.

    All children, even toddlers, should help out around the house. This may actually make our jobs a little more challenging in the beginning, but the payoff will be well worth it. Start with something simple, like teaching your two-year-old to fold washcloths. Before you know it, your eight-year-old will be loading the dishwasher and your twelve-year-old will be mowing the lawn. Participating in family chores gives children a sense of purpose in their (home) community. If they start young, they don’t develop the concept of chores as boring or tedious. Rather, children appreciate meaningful ways to contribute “like a grownup”.

     

    5. Give them opportunities in the kitchen.

    Making dinner? Baking for a holiday? Packing lunches for tomorrow? Get your kids involved. If they have already been attending Montessori, they may surprise you with their spreading, cutting, and mixing skills, as these are taught and practiced regularly starting in the Toddler Community and on into subsequent classrooms.

    The act of preparing food for our families is an act of love. Teaching children how to do this not only gives them skills they will need to be self-sufficient one day, but allows them to help give back to their family members. The benefits are endless:

    • Children who cook learn a variety of math skills.
    • Children are more likely to try new foods if they have helped prepare them.
    • Cooking something challenging will impart a sense of pride and self-confidence.
    • Cooking together is quality time spent together.
    • Regular time in the kitchen can create happy memories.

     

    6. Encourage bodily autonomy.

    One critical and powerful mantra to repeat to your child early and often: “You are in charge of your body.” This means we don’t force them to hug their grandparents or accept kisses from a pushy aunt. This even means if they don’t feel like cuddling with us, their parents, they don’t have to.

    Having power of decision over one’s own body is an important lesson to teach, and extends to others as well. We teach our children that while they get to make their own bodily choices, everyone else does as well. A good time to bring this up is when they are perhaps playing too rough and you need a break. You can say, “I don’t want you to wrestle me right now, and it’s my body so I get to choose.”

     

    7. Offer desirable choices.

    This is where the all-important concept of freedom within limits comes into play. Montessori, and giving children choice, doesn’t mean that children get to make all the decisions. It just means that we provide our children with a range of desirable options from which they get to pick. Some examples: 

    • You need to get dressed and brush your teeth. Which would you like to do first?
    • Would you like strawberry or grape jelly on your sandwich?
    • Your room needs to be cleaned today. What time will you start?
    • Do you want to walk or skip to the car?

    By giving choices within parameters, you can increase the chances of success for both you and your child(ren). This gives kids safe boundaries within which they can practice doing things for themselves. 

     

    We hope this post has been helpful! If you have any questions or would like to observe how independence is encouraged in our classrooms, please give us a call today.

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  • A Book List for Budding Botanists

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 9/9/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Where would we be without plants? Botany is a major area of study in the Montessori curriculum, and children everywhere are fascinated by the magic of seeds, flowers, and growing plant life. Interested in finding some books to support this learning? Check out these ten titles and let us know what you think!

     

    The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

    Against all odds, a tiny seed travels and grows to become a gorgeous flower. This delightful children’s classic covers factual topics within a storytelling format. Though many seeds may set out on their journey, few grow to complete their life cycle.

     

    My Garden by Kevin Henkes

    A little girl daydreams as she helps her mother in the garden. She imagines that in her garden, she wouldn’t have to worry about rabbits eating the lettuce because the rabbits would be chocolate and she could eat them. The tomatoes would be as big as beach balls and the carrots would be invisible (because she doesn’t like carrots).

     

    From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

    This fantastic nonfiction text helps children understand the basics of seeds and flowers. Its bright illustrations, clear diagrams, and informative text covers topics like the parts of a flower, pollination, how seeds travel, and the stages of growth.

     

    How a Seed Grows by Helene J. Jordan, illustrated by Loretta Kropinski

    This sweet book shows two children as they plant a dozen bean seeds and observe them throughout their growth. While the book gives clear directions on how to repeat the experiment, children can learn a lot just from reading. If you would like to follow along with the steps, gather some bean seeds, a bit of soil, and a dozen egg shells.

     

    The Magic School Bus Plants Seeds by Joanna Cole, illustrated by Bruce Degen and John Speirs

    Fans of the Frizz won’t be disappointed with this title! The class has grown their own garden and goes on an adventure, with the bus first turning into a ladybug to get an up-close look at a flower. They then shrink down to the size of a grain of pollen, hitching a ride on the leg of a bee and traveling down a pollen tube to learn how seeds are made.

     

    Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

    A book that may inspire both you and your child, Miss Rumphius is a classic that everyone should read. Little Alice grows up, travels the world, comes home to live by the sea, and sets out to do the most difficult thing of all: do something to make the world more beautiful. Almost by accident she discovers that planting lupine seeds around her town is just the act of beauty she had been searching for.  

     

    Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas by Cheryl Bardoe, illustrated by Jos. A. Smith

    For children in upper elementary, middle school, and perhaps even beyond, this picture book tells the story of how humble friar Gregor Mendel founded our scientific understanding of genetics. Using pea plants, Mendel discovered how traits play an important part in biology. While the importance of his work was not recognized until after his death, it played a major part in our understanding of the world.

     

    A Weed is a Flower by Aliki

    This book begins by describing the unfortunate beginnings of Carver’s life, including being born into slavery and taken by night raiders. Following abolition, Carver lived with his former owners for a number of years, and it was during this time that he cultivated a love for plants. His curiosity and desire to further his education led him to work hard throughout his life, eventually becoming a professor at the Tuskegee Institute. It was here that Dr. Carver learned much about plants and attempted to impart his findings on the farmers of Alabama. He advocated for crop rotation as a means of long-term soil care, and studied crops such as sweet potatoes and peanuts to find ways to make them more useful and appealing to farmers and consumers.

     

    Who Was Beatrix Potter? by Sarah Fabiny

    Did you know that Potter not only wrote charming children’s books, but she was also a conservationist? During a time when women’s studies in science were not taken seriously, Potter worked to find ways to make her findings heard. She adored animals and plants, and strove to find ways to preserve nature for generations to come.

     

    Treecology by Monica Russo, photographs by Kevin Byron

    Detailed, informative, and engaging, this book delivers a combination of facts as well as activities to learn about trees. It received an honorable mention for the National Outdoor Book Awards and was named a 2017 Outstanding Science Trade Book for Students K-12. While all children will enjoy this book to some extent, those who are nine and up would likely get the most out of it.

     

    As always, we would love to hear your feedback after reading some of these books. We would also love to hear about any others you think should be on the list! Happy reading!

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Children running outside image