• Montessori: Not Just for Children

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/15/2019 7:30:00 AM

    Montessori is a method of education that was created with children’s development in mind. Educators honor each individual child and make every attempt to create an environment in which children may learn and grow with as much independence as possible. In recent decades, many people are recognizing that basic Montessori ideals might support all people and shouldn’t be reserved for children alone. Dr. Montessori herself described a fourth plane of development which stretched into young adulthood.

    seniors and children


    Did you know that there has been an interest among researchers who study the effects Montessori methods have on elder care patients? In the past six years there have been at least eleven separate studies focused on just that. It makes sense if you think about it; as we age we often require support, but caregivers typically want to find ways for aging adults to remain as independent as possible.

    In this post we summarize just a few of these experts’ findings. To be taken to an article's full text, click the title.


    Caring for people with dementia in residential aged care: successes with a composite person-centered care model featuring Montessori-based activities

    Roberts G, Morley C, Walters W, Malta S, Doyle C

    In perhaps the first widely-recognized study of its kind, researchers focused on the ABLE model of person-centered dementia care as it was first implemented in Australia. The model “incorporates Montessori principles and activities. These aspects were designed to build on the capacity and inherent abilities of residents through a number of system changes at an organizational level”. The system changes included changes in the physical environment, as well as training and introduction to new philosophies for all caretakers involved (who in this case are taking on the role as Montessori guides).

    Additionally, the model requires gathering knowledge of patient backgrounds in order to better understand their individual interests and needs. The results of the study included dramatic decreases in both antipsychotic and sedative medications, as well as significantly reduced aggressive and agitated behaviors. Family members of residents provided enthusiastic and positive feedback to the changes, and researchers visiting the facility were able to observe the residents engaged in meaningful daily activities. Staff expressed positive feelings toward the changes that were made, and measures indicated that they had a better understanding of dementia and patient care.


    Join the revolution: how Montessori for aging and dementia can change long-term care culture

    Bourgeois M, Brush J, Elliot G, Kelly A

    This article introduces a new approach called DementiAbility Methods: The Montessori Way, an approach that “focuses on the abilities, needs, interests, and strengths of the person and creating worthwhile and meaningful roles, routines, and activities for the person within a supportive physical environment.” The research sought a way to actualize goals of allowing autonomy and choice within elder care facilities; they were hoping to measure shifts toward “person-centeredness” of care provided. DementiAbility Methods expands on the abovementioned ABLE approach.   One such addition includes the use of large-print name tags for staff, residents, and visitors. Staff also connect with families to create memory books for each resident. Lastly, there is a focus on routine and contribution to the community that has allowed residents to feel more engaged and have a sense of purpose. 



    Best practices for engaging patients with dementia

    Volland J, Fisher A

    Volland and Fisher highlight the increasing needs of dementia care in the United States, as well as providing specific, easy-to-implement ideas for caregivers. They summarize the work of Dr. Cameron Camp of the Myers Research Institute, who developed Montessori-Based Dementia Programming (MBDP). MBPD creates a bridge between traditional Montessori education for children and adults with dementia by applying the philosophy and methods to older people in need of memory care. Some of the suggestions they present include:

    • Focus on the process of an activity rather than the product. They suggest that it doesn’t matter if the person completes a puzzle, but rather the level of engagement with the activity.
    • Include Montessori activities in waiting rooms. They note that it is important to provide a variety of activities in order to meet a wide range of needs. They also suggest that a clipboard with a one-page idea sheet can be given to caregivers upon arrival.
    • Incorporate music into acute care facilities. The music can be calm and peaceful, or it might be music that will be meaningful to the residents.
    • Create hospital welcome kits that include Montessori-style activities.
    • Create an activities cart that can be wheeled from room to room, providing patients with activity options. 

    The authors also emphasize the importance of fully understanding the Montessori method when employing MBDP. They highlight principles such as “observing the individual to determine needs and interests...allowing freedom to explore within a safe environment in a positive manner...emphasizing practical life activities that promote sensory stimulation, control of movement, concentration, and coordination...providing choices in the selection of activities with the ability to repeat the action as often as needed.” Sound familiar? 




    What do you make of the connections between traditional Montessori education for children, and its use in dementia care? Are there specific materials or activities that you can see that would be particularly helpful for older adults, especially those in memory care?

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  • Books to Love the Earth

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/8/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Our planet is a beautiful, magical place. As our children move through their young lives at a different pace and with different eyes than we have as adults, they often remind us to notice all the small and special things. Whether it be a ladybug on their bedroom wall or the way leaves make shadows on the lawn, we get to appreciate earth in a new way.

    garden boxes with Jen

    This book list is meant to open their world even further. Our planet is facing challenges for sure, but we believe that encouraging our children to love all that it is, as well as teaching them how to care for it, is perhaps the greatest step we can take to take care of the biosphere. 

    Click the book's linked title to view the book on Amazon or visit your local library. These titles are sure to be a hit.


    The Earth Book

    by Todd Parr

    Parr’s work may seem familiar because his simple text and bold illustrations are loved by young children everywhere. The Earth Book is no exception and provides children with ideas about how small changes can add up to make a big impact in caring for our planet.


    Wiggling Worms at Work

    by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

    The sweet book is great for toddlers, primary-aged children, and even younger elementary-aged children. It gives a view underground and teaches how worms contribute to creating healthy soil, which, in turn, nourishes plants. The text includes terminology that children will be interested to learn, and the paper cut out illustrations are perfect for this particular book!


    The Great Kapok Tree

    by Lynne Cherry

    A man enters the rainforest with the intention of cutting down a large Kapok tree. Exhausted, he rests against its trunk and falls asleep. While he sleeps, he is visited by a range of rainforest inhabitants who whisper into his ear and give him a different view of this sacred place. He awakens a changed man and walks carefully out of the forest.


    One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia

    by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon

    As a girl, Isatou noticed a plastic bag floating past her while she walked. It’s novelty was beautiful to her, but as time went on and the discarded bags began to pile up around her village, it was clear that their beauty was overshadowed by their wasteful ugliness. When local goats began ingesting the bags and dying, Isatou took action. She and other local women found a way to turn the bags into something beautiful, giving the plastic a new purpose.


    Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya

    by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

    Wangari Maathai is an environmentalist we can all look up to. Her work with the women of Kenya led to the reforestation and revitalization of a country and community. Proof that one person really can affect measurable change, this story of Maathai’s life is perfect for young children. The gorgeous illustrations add to the story’s appeal as well.


    The Table Where Rich People Sit

    by Byrd Baylor

    Sometimes it’s hard for children to understand why their parents do the things they do. In The Table Where Rich People Sit, one child simply cannot understand why her parents aren’t willing to work a little harder to earn money that will pull them out of poverty. Throughout the course of the story, the child realizes that perhaps there are different definitions of wealth, and that her family may be wealthy in the best possible way.


    The Tree Lady 

    by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry

    Kate Sessions grew up much like many children: fascinated by the world around her. Her love of trees carried on through adulthood, and when she found herself living in treeless San Diego, she decided to do something about it. Through careful research, hard work, and the support of her community, Kate managed to turn a desert town into a lush oasis.

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  • Blog title: Montessori Basics: Respecting the Child as an Autonomous Person

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/1/2019 7:10:00 AM

    Child digging The title of this post may seem a little unnecessary. You may be thinking, “Of course the child is an autonomous person, and of course we respect that!” If you are here reading this, chances are you care deeply about your child’s education, and more importantly, you care about your child as a person. When it comes to parenting, however, our inclinations are often to protect and guide. There is nothing inherently wrong with this (in fact, we can all agree that those are critical tasks), but our good intentions can sometimes get in the way of our child’s individual path.


    You’ve probably heard Montessori guides talk about how we “follow the child”. What this means is that we suspend our own assumptions about how things ought to be done and instead observe the child to see what is actually needed and/or what the child wants. Sometimes we forget that children are capable of doing more than we realize, or that they have interests that are vastly different than our own.

    We want to show our children that we trust them. We trust them to learn, to do things for themselves and for others, and we trust that they know what they need.


    What does this look like in the classroom?

    As a teacher, especially if one is trained in traditional methods prior to discovering Montessori, there is a sense that we are obligated to engage with the child at all times. Our society leads us to believe that stepping back and allowing the child to work without us must mean that we are not doing our jobs.

    Dr. Montessori, however, had other ideas. She said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”

    We want to guide the children in such a way that they are eventually able to direct their own learning. Our job is to present new material in a way that drives curiosity rather than conveying ready-made answers. We want to create a classroom environment that supports children in every stage of development to do as much for themselves as they are capable of doing.

    When a child doesn’t need us, we consider that a win. Of course, as they grow they will need help in other ways, but the long-term goal is to gently help them reach their potential as they work toward adulthood. We want them to trust themselves and their abilities, so we show them that we trust them.

    Some examples of honoring a child’s independence in a Montessori classroom:

    • Open shelves at an appropriate height for the children using them.
    • Real (not toy), child-sized cleaning supplies like dustpans, brushes, sponges, buckets, and mops.
    • Clearly defined spaces to store personal belongings on hooks and shelves that the child can easily access.
    • Freedom to use the restroom whenever the need arises, without having to ask permission.
    • Snacks and water available to serve oneself whenever the child feels hungry.
    • Freedom to choose work that feels important and meaningful.
    • Freedom of movement; children may sit wherever and with whomever they like.
    • Work occurring at an individual pace. Children are not expected to all learn the same thing at the same time, but rather progress through skills at a pace that is right for them as individuals.
    • Children using materials that are not typically seen in other settings: glass cups and containers, knives for cutting, and so forth.


    What might this look like for families?

    Some moments to consider: 

    • Let your child (even your toddler) choose his or her own clothing. Perhaps you wouldn’t pick the cow-print pants and the polka-dotted dress, but does that make the choice any less valid? Relish in their delightfully unique sense of style! It’s okay to set some parameters; for example, requiring pants instead of shorts on a cold winter day is perfectly reasonable.
    • Show your child how to do something rather than just demanding it be done. Remember, even if you have shown something once (or even five times), learning requires repetition. For example, instead of telling your six-year-old to make his bed, give him a short lesson on how to do so.
    • Consider your child’s physical autonomy. Don’t force her to hug and kiss relatives if she is uncomfortable. Talk to your child about how we are all in charge of our own bodies, and that she has the right to say no (even to you!) if she does not want physical affection.
    • Make sure your child has access to toys and supplies around the house. This might mean having a low shelf in the kitchen stocked with his own bowls, cups, utensils, and even snacks. A designated area in the refrigerator could hold a small pitcher of water, milk, or juice for the child to pour independently. A small dustpan and a basket of rags should be accessible to allow him the ability to clean up his own messes. You will be surprised at how often your child will be motivated to take care of himself rather than asking you to get or do things for him.
    • Create routines. If your child knows that in the morning she is to use the toilet, wash her hands, brush her teeth and hair, and get dressed, then she knows what to expect every single day. Support her with reminders as long as she needs them. Some families find a visual reminder helpful - a small note can have a list with words or pictures to keep your child on track.
    • When the urge to intervene strikes, remind yourself to pause and observe. When we see our children struggle, it’s natural to want to help, but jumping in and fixing their problems all the time does little to convey that we trust they can do it for themselves. If you see their frustration building, try saying, “I’ll be over here if you need anything.” They will ask if they really need you.

    Questions? Interested in seeing one of our classrooms in person? Contact us today. We would be happy to help!

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  • 5 Reasons Your Child Should Journal This Summer (and how you can get them started)

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 6/24/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Whether you have a major family vacation this summer or you plan to take a more low-key and local approach, your child is sure to have some fun experiences and adventures. Capturing these experiences can be done a variety of ways, and one way is to write them down! Journaling has many benefits for children (and adults, if you would like to join in on the fun). Even very young children who are not yet writing can journal!

    Child writing

    First things first: it’s important to make sure you get the right journal for your child. If your child is a writer, go to your local bookstore or office supply store and have your child select a journal or notebook. This small act of choice will make your child more likely to use the journal than if you pick it. Keep in mind the size of the lines on the pages should be a consideration; early writers often need slightly larger lines to make handwriting a bit more comfortable. 

    For children as young as three-years-old who have not yet started writing, a drawing journal is the best bet. We love this one, as its large, spiral-bound pages hold together well and provide plenty of space! 

    In addition to the journal, you can just use whatever pencils, markers, or other writing utensils you have on hand.

    Journaling can be done daily, whenever the child has experienced something special, or just as the mood strikes. Remember to encourage your child to date each entry, or date it yourself if your child is on the younger side. 

    On to the benefits…


    1. Journaling is an excellent creative outlet.

    Whether the journaling consists of drawing, writing, or a combination of the two, having a designated place to record our thoughts is a perfect way to encourage creative thinking. This is a space that is truly children’s own, and they get to write their own perspective in a way that is pleasing to them. They are likely to explore rich language, dialogue, or testing out phrases they have heard others use. Use of color can help convey different meaning and feeling, and they will experiment with this!

    Exploring our creativity allows us to come up with new ideas, explore ways to solve problems, and take risks in ways that feel safe and supported.


    2. The practice can help children observe the natural world.

    Maria Montessori was a scientist who believed strongly in the power of observation, and as educators who follow her methods, we hold this practice in high regard. Taking the time to notice what is going on around us, using our senses, and recording these observations helps us make sense of our experiences.

    Did you and your child move worms from the sidewalk after a rainstorm? Did your child discover pieces of a crab shell on the rocks by the beach? Did you spot an interesting mushroom while walking in the woods? If it sparked something, encourage your child to write about it as soon as you get home. Important learning likely happened in that moment, and writing about it will solidify the learning, and perhaps lead to even more.


    3. Journaling is a great way to explore emotions.

    Children experience the same range of emotions we do, but they have not yet developed all the skills for making sense of or regulating these emotions. Having a place to write down feelings is a healthy habit to build, and a positive way to work through difficult situations. 

    There is something to be said for getting our thoughts and feelings down on a piece of paper. Even if no one else ever reads it (and your child may prefer it that way), finding words that express our emotions can feel validating. 

    The next time your child is feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or even joyfully elated about something, suggest the journal as a great way to feel these feelings and figure out what to do with them.


    4. Using a journal helps children record important memories.

    What would you give to have a childhood journal detailing your summer vacation adventures? Perhaps you do, and it’s a treasure you will hang on to and share with your own children. Starting a journal while we are young is a gift that keeps giving. In the moments that children write in it, they reap so many positive benefits. Months or even years later when they return to their writing, they will be able to relive the memories. 

    So many of the small moments we experience are fleeting. If we don’t take the time to acknowledge them, they are gone forever. A written record helps us enjoy those moments forever.


    5. They will become better writers (even if they’re not writing yet).

    Just the act of retelling what happened - in words or pictures - is great practice for writers. Features such as logical sequencing, main events, and supporting details will become naturally woven into the pages of your child’s journal. Like anything in life, the more we practice, the more proficient we become.

    For those who are beginning to write words, they will have unlimited opportunities to experiment with vocabulary, punctuation, and sentence structure. Without the pressure and confines of standardized conventions (like a teacher correcting spelling), they will feel free to stretch and take risks as writers. While conventions are important in formal writing, the development of unique and authentic writer’s voice is just as difficult and perhaps even more important. Having a journal all their own creates the perfect space to learn what their own voice sounds like. 

    We hope your child enjoys trying out journaling this summer. If you find the idea inspiring, give it a try yourself and journal right alongside yo. Happy adventures!

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  • How to Handle Challenging Behaviors

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 6/17/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Toddler sweeping image

    This post goes out to the frustrated parents. (So, likely all of us at some point.)

    Challenging behavior is a part of growing up and parenting. We know that it’s normal, we know our children need to experience it to grow and learn, but that does not make it any easier in the moment. If you are anything like us, you might pause from time to time and ask yourself, “What would Montessori do?”

    There are no perfect answers, and Dr. Montessori would have recognized that what works for one child will not necessarily work for the next. We can, however, rely on our knowledge of human development and typical child behavior to help guide us. We hope this post will provide you with some helpful tips!

    As Montessorians, we tend to follow a hierarchy when we address issues with children. We look at:

    1. The environment
    2. Ourselves
    3. The child


    The Environment

    Environment affects us all, and as adults we can carefully craft an environment that suits the needs of our children. This is why Montessori teachers (or guides) meticulously create classrooms with a specific order and flow to them, and why the teachers are constantly observing and analyzing what should remain the same and what should change. 

    We feel confident in saying that most of the time, a change in the environment can change the behavior. Some examples:

    • Does your toddler enjoy dumping the contents of whatever they can find? While this is a very normal stage for them to go through, it can cause a lot of extra work for us as adults. Limit their options! Keep dumpable baskets and boxes up higher where children cannot reach them and rotate reachable items on a regular basis to keep interest alive.
    • Have you noticed your three-year-old spilling snack and frequently leaving crumbs behind? Leave a small dustpan and brush in a space where the child can access it. You will likely need to show how to use it many times, but your child will get it! When this happens, the joy your child will feel from sweeping will be adorable.
    • Are mornings with your seven-year-old rushed and chaotic? Make a list and post it in a highly visable area (perhaps the bathroom mirror). What do you expect the child to do independently in the morning? The list may contain items like: brush teeth, get dressed, brush hair, eat breakfast, and so on. Make sure everything needed to get ready is in one centralized space. Have your child prepare as much as possible the night before to ease the pressure in the morning. Children can pack their own lunches and lay out their own clothes.
    • Is your teenager having a hard time focusing on homework or household responsiblities? Create a distraction-free zone. Have a clutter-free desk in a quiet area of the house. Make sure devices like cell phones are left to charge in a completely different area of the house.



    This is perhaps the hardest part for many of us, but sometimes children’s undesirable behavior is tangled up in our own actions and/or perceptions. Some questions you may want to ask yourself and reflect on when you feel frustrated include: 

    • Is this behavior truly a problem?
    • Are my expectations appropriate for the child’s age and developmental stage?
    • How might my reactions be contributing to the behavior?
    • Am I well rested/fed/de-stressed/fully able to work with my child without letting my own problems be a factor?
    • Are my reactions based on my own experiences as a child?

    We realize that these can be some pretty deep questions. Our jobs as parents are hard enough and there is no need to be judgmental, especially of ourselves, but reflection can be helpful. We also know that it’s not always possible to deal with a child’s behavior while being completely stress-free, well-rested, etc., but it can be helpful to recognize when we might be playing a role in what is going on.


    The Child

    Sometimes there really is something going on within the child that needs to be addressed, and it can be a simpler explanation than we might expect! Some possibilities to consider: 

    • Is the child getting enough sleep?
    • Is the child hungry?
    • Is the child getting sick (coming down with a cold or the like)?
    • Is the child entering a growth spurt or new developmental phase?
    • Has there been a recent change in the child’s routine?
    • Are there changes occurring in the family?

    Sometimes a child might be upset about one area of life and behaviors manifest in a completely different way. For example, an eight-year-old may be facing friendship challenges at school. Instead of talking about the problem, she may unintentionally take her frustration out on the parents. This is a common occurrence when children do not fully understand why they are upset, are unable to articulate the issue, and yet feel safe to be themselves fully at home. Of course we must set expectations that our children are to be kind, but having this insight may help get to the root of many issues.

    Regularly talking to our children, especially as they get older, can be very helpful in helping them navigate through the common (yet sometimes painful) experiences of growing up. Many families find that bedtime tends to be when their children speak freely about what’s bothering them. Even as your child gets older, set aside time in the evening to be together. This can be time together reading, cuddling, or talking about the day.


    Final thoughts

    Two last bits of advice that are perhaps the most important: do not expect perfection and find a supportive group of parents.

    We know our children will not always be perfect, and neither will we. Children will push boundaries and make mistakes - lots of them - and as parents we won’t always know the best way to handle things. We will learn together.

    Having a group of parents that you can vent to and celebrate with is so helpful. Whether you meet up for coffee, chat on the phone, trade tips through social media, or sit on the sidelines together at soccer games, remember to reach out to others. We are all in this together.



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  • 10 Titles for Summer Vacation

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 6/10/2019 9:00:00 AM

    Looking for some summer-themed titles? Whether you’re heading to the beach, to the in-laws, on a road trip, or just to the shade in your own backyard, here are ten fabulous books to enjoy with your child.

    Child reading

    Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

    Little Sal and her mother head to the local wild blueberry patch. Sal’s mother wants to pick enough blueberries to can for winter, while Sal wants to gobble up as many as she can. On the other side of the hill, Mama Bear and her cub are filling up on blueberries in preparation for winter, too. The little ones wander off, as little ones tend to do, and you might imagine the mix-up on Blueberry Hill.


    One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey

    In this McCloskey book, Sal is a bit older. She is excited about spending the day with her father when she suddenly loses a tooth! ...and then literally loses it. She spends the morning lamenting her lost opportunity to make a wish while simultaneously experiencing all the types of things children do on a typical coastal, summer day.


    The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

    For anyone who carves out time to reconnect with relatives over the summer, this is the book for you. The relatives in this story travel a long distance by car and Rylant does a beautiful job illustrating the welcome invasion of family. Crowded, loud, busy, and full of love, you will treasure the way this story is so perfectly relatable.


    Watermelon Day by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Dale Gottlieb

    Jesse cannot wait for that one watermelon to just ripen already. Pappy insists they wait until just the right time to pick and eat it. When that day comes, the cool, juicy flesh of this one gorgeous melon does not disappoint. This is another great story about family getting together to make memories and have fun.


    S is for S’mores: A Camping Alphabet by Helen Foster James, illustrated by Lita Judge

    This enchanting book will appeal to younger and older children alike (plus their outdoorsy parents!). Each gorgeously illustrated page contains a few brief lines of text with more in-depth information in the margins. Children will learn about the equipment we take camping, the recreational possibilities, and the conservationists and organizations that make it all possible.


    The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle

    Children are often enchanted by fireflies during warm summer evenings. In this classic story by Eric Carle, one solitary firefly tries to find other fireflies. It follows the light of a flashlight, candle, the reflections in a dog’s eyes, among other things, until it finally finds its way to its family.


    Zoo in the Sky: A Book of Animal Constellations by Jacqueline Mitton, illustrated by Christina Balit

    Whether you head to your backyard, an open field, a beach, or a nearby park, stargazing is an activity that captivates us all. Warmer summer nights certainly make it a memorable experience! This fun book appeals to children’s love of animals and gives factual information about stars and the solar system while teaching them about various constellations.


    Fishing Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Shane W. Evans

    Heading to the local fishing hole on a hot summer day is a pastime many of us treasure. Pinkney is well known for her rich storytelling that touches on issues of social justice, and Fishing Day is no exception. Set in the Jim Crow South, it illustrates a small moment when two children reach across society’s restrictive and oppressive lines. The main character Reenie and her mother are black, love to fish, and are great at it. A white boy and his father are also fishing one day, but the two families keep their distance. When the white family struggles to catch anything, Reenie takes a chance and helps the other child out.


    Hello, Ocean by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Mark Astrella

    “Amber seaweed, speckled sand, bubbly waves that kiss the land.” Appealing to the senses, this book will transport you and your child to the seashore, whether or not you actually live close to one. The lyrical text and charming illustrations highlight the sorts of explorations children experience at the beach, from playing with seaweed, diving into the waves, digging deep holes, and playing with seashells.


    Homemade Popsicle Recipes: 50 Treats for Kids (Cooking with Kids Series) by Debbie Madson

    What child doesn’t love popsicles? If you are a parent who either wants to incorporate healthier alternatives or loves to have fun in the kitchen with your children, this is a great book for your family. Please note that it has no pictures but is strictly a book of creative popsicle recipes. Older children will be able to follow the recipes without help, while younger children may need a little assistance in the beginning.


    We hope you enjoy some of these books and would love to hear if you have any others you would add to the list!


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  • Hidden Links Between Food and Learning

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 6/3/2019 10:30:00 AM

    student with radishes The Study

    We all know that eating healthy can contribute to better energy, concentration, and just overall feeling great. But did you know there are specific foods that scientists are beginning to realize have a direct impact on brain function?

    A recent study shows that two (of about 600) carotenoids have a surprisingly big impact on our brain’s ability to function well. Even better news? These two carotenoids (lutein and zeaxanthin) are found in many different colorful foods, are easy to find, and can be relatively inexpensive.

    Lisa Renzi-Hammond and Billy Hammond conducted their research on a group of older adults and college-aged people. They had assumed that the college-aged people were at a point in their lives when they were experiencing peak brain function, and would likely have less dramatic results, therefore serving as a sort of unofficial control group. They were surprised to note that while the older adults showed expected results, the younger adults showed a significant improvement as well. Both groups had taken carotenoid supplements for a year, with another standard control group taking a placebo. The placebo group showed no improvement.

    Lutein and zeaxanthin (which are also great for eye health) are not abundant in today’s typical Western diets. The researchers state that most people are likely getting 1-2 milligrams per day, while humans long ago probably had many times that amount. You can boost your family’s intake to reap antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, as well as to increase brain function.


    Where to find them

    The greatest source of lutein and zeaxanthin is from dark green vegetables. The antioxidants are actually much brighter (as in the other sources listed below), but the amount of chlorophyll in these plants hides their color. Some include broccoli, spinach, peas, and parsley, with kale containing the highest concentrations.

    Brightly colored foods containing the antioxidants include kiwis, squash, honeydew, grapes, red peppers, orange juice, corn, and durum wheat. Egg yolks, while not plant-based, are another great source. 

    To increase absorption rates, eat these foods with some accompanying healthy fats. Consider using olive oil, coconut oil, or other fats to sauté, use in dressings, or use with other foods in the same meal.



    Looking for simple ways to incorporate these ingredients into your family’s meals? Try these tasty recipes!

    Greens and Beans Pasta


    1 lb. pasta (spaghetti works well)

    1 lb. fresh spinach

    1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    ½ small yellow or white onion, sliced thin

    Olive oil

    Parmesan cheese (optional) 

    Heat a large pot of water and begin cooking pasta when it’s at a boil. While the pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large sauté pan or skillet. Cook onions until they begin to soften, then add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the fresh spinach and stir occasionally until it wilts the desired amount. Drain pasta and mix with the beans and ingredients in the sauté pan. Sprinkle with cheese if desired.

    Roasted Lemon Garlic Broccoli

    Fajita in a Bowl

    Fruit & Mozzarella Skewers with Honey Lime Drizzle 

    We hope this post leaves you looking forward to a tasty, healthy, brain-boosting summer ahead! Have any other recipes you think we should add to the list? Let us know!







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  • A Montessori Mini Dictionary

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 5/27/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Dr. Maria Montessori created her methodology over a century ago, and those of us who study her work and practice her ideas know it really works for children, even all these years later. Like any specialized approach or body of work, Montessori education incorporates unique terminology. Curious to learn more about what we mean when we say normalized, concrete and abstract, or false fatigue? Read on to learn more (and bookmark this post for future reference)!

    AE students with garden boxes   

    Casa dei Bambini

    This was the name of the first school Dr. Montessori opened in Rome, Italy. It translates to Children’s House, and references a Montessori class for three- to- six-year-olds. Other names for classes for this age group include casa, primary, children’s house, or early childhood. Casa classes are a combination of preschool and kindergarten.


    concrete & abstract

    Dr. Montessori believed that “the hand is the instrument of the mind.” She understood that children learn best by doing first and internalizing later. In Montessori classrooms, we give children specialized learning materials that they manipulate with their hands to begin grasping various concepts. Over time, they use materials that are less concrete, and require more abstract thinking, until they are eventually able to master a skill without the use of concrete materials.


    control of error

    One hallmark of a Montessori education is supporting children to become independent learners. Most of the materials children use in our classrooms incorporate a control of error, as there is only one way to correctly use the material. If a child uses a material incorrectly, they will not be able to complete the activity, and will understand they have made a mistake somewhere along the way. As children get older, the materials incorporate some form of an answer key so the children can learn from their mistakes. An opportunity is provided naturally: instead of a teacher correcting a child and telling them what to do differently, the child is able to self-assess and determine what changes they need to make on their own.


    cosmic education

    During the elementary years, children begin seeking out answers about the universe and their place in it. It is our job to provide children with lessons and experiences at this age that aim to satisfy their curiosity, and to give them a deeper understand of the interconnectedness of all things. We call this broad study cosmic education. Elementary classrooms use special impressionistic lessons to inspire children as they explore concepts such as the creation of our universe, the evolution of life on earth, the evolution of humans, and the origins of math and language.



    This was the name Dr. Montessori gave to her ideas about education for adolescents. The German word for Earth-Children, she felt we should focus less on testing and college preparation and more on self-sufficiency. Erdkinder programs are traditionally run as farms that serve as micro-economies, with the students running and managing all aspects of operations. Today, some Erdkinder programs interpret the ideas differently, with students running a variety of small businesses themselves. Traditional learning is also an element of the program, and real-life experiences are often closely connected to any classroom experiences.


    false fatigue

    In Montessori classrooms we set aside a large chunk of time (three hours for children three years of age and older) each day in which they receive lessons and work independently. (Learn more about this in the definition of work cycle below.) At a certain point during the course of this time, an adult observing will begin to notice the volume in the classroom beginning to rise, social activity beginning to increase, and an apparent decrease in productivity. Our task is to pause, wait, and watch for the flow of the room to return naturally to its previous state. We all need a break once in a while, and it is normal to expect that children will, at some point, need to step away from the work they have been deeply engrossed in. In the long run, this false fatigue break actually allows them to be more productive and focus better once they return to work.


    grace & courtesy

    This phrase is applied to the approach Montessori schools have when teaching children how to interact with others. Manners play a part in this work; we explicitly teach children how to say please, thank you, excuse me, and you’re welcome, but it’s so much more. We teach children how to navigate friendships, how to resolve conflict, how to express gratitude, and how to share their own feelings.



    While the term teacher is sometimes used, many Montessori schools opt for the term guide. Our educators do not stand in the front of the classroom and impart their knowledge upon students in conventional ways. We don’t feel that our task is to give information, but rather to lead children toward it so they may discover and learn themselves. The term guide is much more fitting. Another traditional term that is sometimes used in our schools is directress.



    Nest in Italian, this is the term Montessori uses for the infant program. Nido classrooms are nurturing and secure, giving babies a safe and comfortable place to begin their exploration of the world.



    When Dr. Montessori began using this word to describe children a century ago, it was used with a very positive connotation. When children are normalized, it means they have embraced to ability to learn independently within the Montessori classroom; they are able to enter the environment confidently, select work that interests them, and complete it with concentration and perseverance. That is not to say they never feel struggle or frustration, they have simply internalized the expectations of the environment and are joyful learners in the community.


    planes of development

    As a scientist, Dr. Montessori carefully studied patterns in children’s learning. Her observations led her to notice specific planes, or stages, of development. Each plane is marked by very specific differences in the way children view the world and learn from it. Having this information assists educators in creating environments and utilizing approaches that support children according to how they are developmentally prepared to learn. The first plane includes children ages 0-6, the second plane 6-12, the third 12-18, and the fourth 18-24.


    practical life

    We make it a point to teach children a range of skills they will need to be successful. While math, language, and science certainly make the cut, there’s a lot more to life than traditional academic subjects. Practical life exercises teach children how to clean up after themselves, how to feed themselves, or how to do any number of tasks that are required of us as we grow to become independent humans. We do not give children pretend food to cook with or play tools; we give them beautiful, sturdy, child-sized versions of the real thing. This allows them to take this practice seriously, and to know that we take them seriously, too.


    prepared environment

    This is typically what we use to refer to our classrooms, but the term could actually be applied to just about anywhere. When a Montessori adult takes special care in creating a space that serves the children in their developmental stage and allows children to explore and learn independently, we have prepared the environment.


    sensitive period

    During her years of observation, Dr. Montessori noticed that children went through typical periods in which they seemed primed and ready to learn specific things. While there is of course some variability, Montessori guides know when to expect children to be ready to learn early math skills, beginning language work, gross motor skills, and so much more. If we introduce a skill too early a child is likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated, if we miss the window, or sensitive period, the child is likely to have lost interest to an extent.



    Montessori toddler and primary classrooms provide children with a series of lessons and materials that allow them to refine their various senses. These are referred to as sensorial materials, and help children learn differences in weight, size, color, shape, scent, sound, and more.


    three-period lesson

    The three-period lesson is one way Montessori guides present information and assess comprehension. The first time information is presented to the child, the guide names it. For example, “This is the gill of a fish.” The second time (perhaps the same day, perhaps not), the guide will point to a picture and ask the child, “Where is the gill?” The third, and final period consists of the guide asking, “What is this?” when they point to the gill. This strategy may be used for presenting and assessing a wide range of skills.



    Any time a child is focused on a learning activity we refer to this as work. This does not mean the child must be writing something down on a piece of paper, in fact more often they are not. We recognize that work looks different at different ages, and we honor its importance and value regardless.


    work period/cycle

    Montessori schools utilize a three-hour period of time each morning in which children are able to dive deeply into their work. We recognize that it can take some time to settle into the flow of the day, and giving children this gift of time allows them to fall into stronger patterns of learning and independence. Older children often have a second work period/cycle during the afternoon.

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  • Preventing Math Anxiety

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 5/20/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Guide and Child with abacus Researchers from the University of Cambridge recently released a report following their study of math anxiety in primary and secondary students. Their findings illustrate interesting characteristics of children who experience math anxiety, and suggest a potential connection to interactions with teachers and parents. The interview-based study included 2,700 children in primary and secondary school in the United Kingdom and Italy.


    What researchers discovered 

    Four general themes emerged from the research:

    1. Girls were more likely than boys to experience math anxiety at both the primary and secondary levels.
    2. An overall perception that math is more difficult than other subjects contributed to developing anxiety. Children spoke about comparing themselves to others and receiving poor grades in classes and on tests. This led to a decline in confidence and seemed to contribute to the development of math anxiety.
    3. Interactions with adults is a factor. Children in the primary grades spoke about feeling confused by the variety of methods used to teach certain skills. Older children felt that negative interpersonal interactions with teachers and parents contributed to their anxiety.
    4. Children in secondary school felt overwhelmed by the transition from primary school. They indicated increased pressure in regards to the difficulty of math content along with more testing and homework.


    What might this mean for Montessori classrooms? 

    The approach and structure of Montessori classrooms is already so different from that of conventional settings; this may serve as a benefit to students learning about math. As educators it is critical, however, to be open to new research and dedicated to creating an environment that will nurture our students and their learning in the best ways possible. 

    Why are girls experiencing greater levels of math anxiety? It could be beneficial to pay close attention to the girls in our classes and be ready to intervene when markers of anxiety appear.

    The children in the study expressed frustration as a result of comparisons with peers. Montessori strives to create an educational environment that downplays competition and focuses instead on intrinsic motivation. Not asking students to take tests, not giving grades, and not having a sticker chart on the wall that displays who has memorized their multiplication facts can all help with this.

    In Montessori schools we recognize that learning is not a steady, linear progression, nor is it the same for different children. Students work through a series of materials at their own pace; teachers teach small groups or individuals and reteach as necessary, for as long as necessary, without any pressure to move along a predetermined pace.

    It can be challenging at times to compete among schools that take on more traditional methods. Montessori schools can feel obligated to offer standardized testing and homework. It may behoove us to recall the success Montessori has had for over a century without tests or homework. Most importantly, even while finding a balance, we need to keep our children’s development in the forefront of our decision-making. One question to ask while implementing something new might be, “Is this new structure affecting our students’ attitudes toward math?”


    Of course, as children get older we have a responsibility to prepare them for whatever setting they will transition into. How might we do this without compromising our ideals? How can we present homework and testing to Montessori adolescents in such a way that they understand what will be expected of them, while continuing to support them in a supportive and non-competitive learning environment?


    What might parents do to help prevent math anxiety?

    More research needs to be done to determine how parents can help stave off negative feelings about mathematics. We have a few ideas to share:

    1. Make a conscious effort to not emphasize your own math anxiety. It’s certainly fine to share your experiences with children; this allows them to see that we can be successful in the face of adversity and challenge. The key is to not dwell or allow any residual math anxiety to affect their own perception. Make sure to avoid saying things like, “I’m bad at math.” If you hear your child saying something along those lines, you might encourage them by reminding them that they’re not bad at it, it’s just an area that might feel a little more challenging right now.
    2. By all means, engage in math activities with your child! Just remember to keep them light and fun. We may have grown up with math drills and rewards for achievement, but a growing body of research is showing us that external rewards are not usually effective. Math at home should be a fun way for children to see how we use numbers in our everyday lives.
    3. Trust the Montessori process. This one can be hard. If you are the type of parent who is actively engaged in your child’s education, you are likely to want to teach them whatever you can. This is great! Unfortunately, it can be hard to know exactly when a child is developmentally primed to learn a particular skill. One common example is parents wanting to teach their child how to add larger numbers. We believe they could grasp the concept of carrying and doing it all on pencil and paper. While the child may be able to, Montessori curriculum utilizes materials that allow the child to arrive at such a discovery without the assistance of an adult (and often much earlier than they would typically be taught in a conventional school). By learning first with the hand and figuring it out authentically, a child is able to understand the whys of number manipulation while simultaneously feeling a sense of empowerment and confidence. Showing children how to use these specialized materials requires extensive training that all Montessori teachers must complete to become credentialed.


    It will be interesting to see what future research learns about math anxiety in children and how we, as adults, might support them further.


    Have you ever dealt with math anxiety? What do you think might have made your experience different?


    As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions, ideas, or to schedule a tour.

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  • The Keys to Handwriting Success

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 5/13/2019 7:00:00 AM

    This is not a news flash:

    Handwriting instruction is disappearing in schools across the United States.

    You’ve probably already heard this sad revelation, and while it’s certainly not true for all schools, more and more are eschewing handwriting instruction to make more time for other, standards-based skills. The result is a generation of children who are not gaining a sense of how important it is to be able to write beautifully and they are simply not learning cursive – period.

    If this makes you cringe, here’s the good news: people are noticing and speaking up, and some schools are finding ways to fit handwriting back into the schedule. Even better news? Montessori schools never dropped it in the first place. Read on to learn more about how this 100+ year-old educational approach guides children in the art of writing beautifully.

    Child with cursive book  

    Indirect Preparation

    If you walk into a Montessori toddler or primary classroom, you will see very young children working with materials that develop fine motor skills. While fine motor proficiency can serve children in a wide variety of ways, Montessori intentionally created materials that strengthen the hand as indirect preparation for handwriting.

    Each time a three-year-old lifts a knobbed cylinder, that child is developing proper pincer grip. This same action is repeated in many other materials. The child may be working to joyfully refine a sensorial skill, but at the very same time tiny fingers are slowly working their way toward being able to hold a pencil correctly.

    Many Montessori materials are designed to be used working from left to right in order to prepare the child to move in that direction while writing. Even the materials themselves are organized in a left to right fashion on the shelves.


    Manipulating a Pencil

    Long before they are ready to write a story (or even a word!), Montessori children begin learning how to carefully manipulate a pencil. The metal insets are a beautiful material that were designed specifically to prepare the hand for writing. While the shapes in the material are reminiscent of a geometry lesson, that is not the primary intention. What’s meant to be the focus is the teaching of a variety of handwriting skills, including pencil grip, applying appropriate pressure, moving the pencil left to right, and further strengthening the muscles of the hand to build stamina.


    Early Letter Formation

    Montessori primary classrooms are equipped with a special material that helps children learn how to form letters. The sandpaper letters are wooden tiles with letters made out of a sand-textured surface. The children use their fingers to trace the shape of each letter, and later use the tiles as a reference while learning to write for the first time.

    Another option for children to practice letter formation is to use their finger and ‘draw’ the letters in a small tray of sand. Both sand writing and using the sandpaper letters appeals to the sensorial nature of the primary child, making these activities fun.


    Cursive or Print?

    By the time a Montessori student is four or five years old, they begin writing joyfully because they are well prepared. Montessori schools typically focus on teaching children to write in cursive, even in the primary classroom. We have found that there are many benefits to emphasizing this style over manuscript/print writing. 

    Learning to write in cursive has many advantages:

    • It’s much harder to reverse letters in cursive.
    • Cursive writers can read print, but the reverse is not always true.
    • The ligatures in cursive may help early readers see groups of letters (oa, ing, th, and so on).
    • The flow of cursive words allows the writer to focus on the ideas of the writing rather than the formation of individual letters in isolation.


    A Continuation

    When children enter a Montessori elementary program, their teacher will emphasize the mastery of cursive writing and take the time to review any letters or skill gaps they may have. From here on, children practice constantly. They have notebooks for recording their daily work, and that work is expected to be written beautifully and neatly. Not only that, but the children themselves take great pride in the beauty of their own writing.

    As time goes on, students do eventually learn skills such as keyboarding. Fortunately, they have been given a foundation that emphasizes the power of neat handwriting. In our fast-paced, shortcut-filled world, it’s nice to think that our children will grow up to enjoy sitting down to craft a thoughtful letter, using a pen, some paper, and their own hand.

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