• 10 Books That Are Out of This World!

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 12/9/2019 7:00:00 AM

    child crafted solar system image

    Each and every one of us has marveled at the great vastness of space at one point or another. How could we not? Children tend to be especially enamored with the stars, planets, and other wonders beyond our own atmosphere.

    This month we share ten books that will further inspire. Some are purely informational, while others take on a storytelling format. Some share fascinating facts, while some are peeks into the lives of people who have made a difference in our understanding of space. We hope you and your children will enjoy them!

     

    Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story by Jennifer Morgan, illustrated by Dana Lynne Andersen

    Gracing the shelves of Montessori elementary classrooms across the globe, this gorgeous book mirrors one of the most impressionistic lessons we give children. The beginnings of our universe can feel mysterious and full of wonder. Morgan brings the story to life in a way that gives children a sense of connection and understanding. One Montessori materials company was so inspired by this particular book that they created a series of classroom materials to accompany the book!

     

    A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet by Clayton Anderson, illustrated by Scott Brundage

    A beautifully illustrated collection of various space ideas, this book was written by a retired astronaut. Andersen applied to be an astronaut 15 times before he was accepted into the program, and he hopes the book will inspire children. In this video he talks about his path to becoming an astronaut and the making of the book.

     

    Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, illustrated by Laura Freeman

    Sometimes history has a tendency to highlight some people while minimizing the contributions of others. Fortunately, there are plenty of children’s book authors out there who are currently working hard to change that. In Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly gives voice to the stories of four black women (Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden) who supported the early work of space expeditions. Even during the time of segregation, when they were forced to work in a building separate from that of white mathematicians (or computers, as they were called then), these amazing women fought hard to follow their dreams and serve their nation.

     

    Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley

    The woman who is famous for writing code that made four separate space missions possible started out as a young girl who was full of curiosity and determination. Margaret studied hard in school, questioned the unequal treatment of girls and women, and found inspiration in math and the universe. She went on to make history and continues to serve as a model for children today.

     

    The Girl Who Named Pluto: The Story of Venetia Burney by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Elizabeth Haidle

    Did you know that controversial planet was named after an 11-year-old girl? Venetia Burney loved dreaming about the planets, and the discovery of a ninth planet when she was a child was a dream come true. Her idea to name the planet Pluto was supported by her grandfather, and eventually, by the scientists who had discovered it. Children will love reading about the difference a young person can make!

     

    I Am Neil Armstrong by Brad Meltzer, illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos

    Children really enjoy Meltzer’s I Am series, and this title about Neil Armstrong is no different. Long before his journey to the moon, Armstrong was a child who worked hard and learned about persistence. Having a peek into the early years of influential figures allows our children to relate to them on a much deeper level. The comic-style illustrations and factual information are appealing to elementary-aged children.

     

    The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield, illustrated by The Fan Brothers

    Hadfield, another former astronaut, wrote this book about some formative moments during his childhood. He recalls the night of the moon landing; he was just a boy and he and his family walked to a neighbor’s house to watch it on TV. He found the work of the astronauts so inspiring that he wanted to be one himself one day. In the meantime, he had to get over his fear of the dark!

     

    Chasing Space Young Readers’ Edition by Leland Melvin

    Books written by former astronauts are more plentiful than one might think! This one was written with older children in mind (think upper elementary and middle school-aged). Once a professional American football player, Melvin faced an injury and the end of his career, until he reinvented his life and went on to help build the International Space Station. Chasing Space Young Readers’ Edition is the 2019 winner of the Grand Canyon Reader Award for tween non-fiction. There is a version written for adults, too, if you’re interested!

     

    Welcome to Mars: Making a Home on the Red Planet by Buzz Aldrin and Marianne Dyson

    Famed Buzz Aldrin believes that humans could inhabit Mars, and he has big ideas on how that might work. He hopes to inspire children to want to learn about and explore space, and wrote this book with that aim in mind. Here, Aldrin talks a bit about his own ideas about space travel and the making of the book.

     

    Curiosity: The Story of a Mars Rover by Markus Motus

    This book is praised for its sweet illustrations. In it, Motus semi-personifies the Mars rover Curiosity, but the information shared is factual. Children will be amazed by the interesting facts about space as well as delighted by the mission of the rover.

     

    Have you and your children read any other great books about space? Let us know! We would love to hear what you would add to the list.

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  • Why Montessori?

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 12/2/2019 7:00:00 AM

    child with alphabet tiles How, as parents, do we prepare our children for an unpredictable future? Don’t we want to give them every possible advantage?

    How do we define success in our children’s lives? Is it about being able to provide for oneself or is it finding joy in the work we do? Is it about contributing to our communities or perhaps continuing to learn throughout our lives? Couldn’t it (shouldn’t it) be a little bit of all of those things?

     

    Goals

    We think Montessori is one beautiful way to work toward all of these goals, and we are prepared to make some bold statements:

    • Montessori gives children a strong understanding of basic math and language skills, starting earlier than most methods and using materials that support their development and methods that correlate with current research findings.
    • Building a sense of independence and confidence is a major component of what we do. We know that children of all ages are fully capable of doing more for themselves than they are often given credit for being able to do. We have learned to sit back, observe, and assist only when necessary. This allows children to grow in incredible ways, amazing their parents (and frankly, us, too!).
    • Respect for and connection to the earth is built directly into our curriculum, especially in the elementary grades. We know that around age six, children start to think about where they fit into the bigger picture. We teach them about the universe, our solar system, the beauty of our planet, and the variety of life on it, right at the time when they are seeking those answers.
    • Choice and freedom are important for all human beings. We give both to children because we believe they are capable of knowing what they need and want, and the more practice they have the better they will get at making decisions when we are not there to support them.
    • We value teaching responsibility and time management skills. This goes hand in hand with focus and attentiveness. The ability to make choices about one’s learning must be balanced with accountability. As the children in our classrooms get older, they know there are certain expectations. For example, they may be able to choose the order of their work, but they know that they have to work on grammar at some point, even if it’s not their favorite subject.
    • Rather than drilling arbitrary facts into children and forcing them to memorize information that may not serve them in the future, we take a different approach. All children are exposed to a wide variety of basic scientific, geographical, and historical information, and are given extensive opportunities to more deeply explore the topics they find fascinating.

    Graduates of Montessori schools go on to be successful in other settings, whether they go on to attend other private schools or their local public schools. They tend to view the world a little more creatively than the rest of us, and their contributions are often felt throughout society. There are many notable public figures that credit their early Montessori education to the successes they experienced later in life. To learn more about some of these people, take a look at this article.

     

    Research

    Montessori-specific research is a fairly new field, but the initial results are fascinating.

    One study conducted in Hartford, Connecticut, took a look at preschool students in a public Montessori magnet school. Federal magnet grants are awarded to public schools that commit to special, high-quality educational programming (in this case, Montessori) in an attempt to create a socioeconomically diverse school community within an urban setting. In the study, two groups of preschool-aged children were observed over time: 70 children in the Montessori setting and 71 who were in other settings. While the children tested similarly at the onset of the study, eventually the Montessori children outperformed the others academically, as well as in notable increases in their enjoyment of work, social understanding, mastery orientation, and executive function. Subgroups within the study showed some other interesting findings that suggest Montessori education might help close the gaps on certain factors that typically hinder children’s success (such as income and executive functioning).

    Another study in public Montessori schools in Milwaukee concluded that a Montessori education has long-lasting positive benefits for children. The study also determined that when Montessori-educated children eventually transitioned into more traditional educational settings they were successful and the transition was positive.

    While there are other great studies out there, we will touch on just one more here. This study took a look at the effects of a high-fidelity Montessori environment versus a low-fidelity Montessori or conventional classroom environment. Children who learned in a classic Montessori program in which the guides adhered to traditional methods made significantly higher gains during the school year than their counterparts in conventional classrooms or Montessori classrooms that were supplemented with other types of learning materials and methods.

     

    Community

    Montessori schools provide a community for more than just the children. Parents, educators, students, and local community members gather together in support of common goals. They work together, socialize together, and find ways to solve problems together. In our society today, many people have lost the sense of community that is so important to our well being. Montessori schools serve an important function of not just educating children, but giving like-minded adults a way to connect and form meaningful relationships.

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  • Booklist: Hygge Edition!

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 11/25/2019 7:00:00 AM

    From a slight chill in the morning air to frigid overnight temperatures, the changing of the seasons is upon us. Winter is just around the corner and the early dusk has us looking forward to cozy evenings curled up on the couch with our families. In recent years, the Danish concept of hygge have become rather trendy, and for good reason. Hygge is about shutting out the coldness of the world and making time to connect with the people we love. It’s about cultivating a feeling a coziness and hominess. To learn more about hygge, click here and here to read two great articles. 

    Reading is one of the main components of hygge, so it’s important to remember that any book will do the trick! We thought it might be fun, however, to curate a list of extra cozy books that you can enjoy while snuggled up next to your children. We hope you enjoy them!

     

    Who am I? Snowy Animals by Dorling Kindersley Publishers

    This board book introduces different animals through sweet interactive activities. Your child can peak through the holes in the page to guess the animal, then turn the page to see the animal in its habitat. The subsequent invitation to “pretend to be me” is perfect for days indoors when children need to move their bodies. They get to be a seal, a snow goose, a Siberian tiger, and more!

     

    Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendack

    This classic has a poem for each month of the year, and describes what the main character will be doing, along with how they will be enjoying chicken soup with rice along the way. Get a pot of soup on the stove and giggle along! The November page: 

    In November’s

    gusty gale

    I will flop

    my flippy tail

    and spout hot soup.

    I’ll be a whale!

    Spouting once

    spouting twice

    spouting chicken soup

    with rice.

     

    Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

    Spending one-on-one time with a parent is a special experience for a child, and Owl Moon captures that wonder and magic so well. A daughter and her father go owling one snowy night, and Jane Yolen shares the honor of this rite-of-passage experience in prose that may as well be poetry. This is a perfect read-aloud book to share on the couch, under a cozy blanket, with moonlight peaking through the window.

     

    Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall, illustrated by Barbara Cooney

    A family who live by and rely on the seasons takes us through a year in their life. The story begins with the father loading up an ox-cart with the goods the family has gathered and made throughout the previous year: wool from their sheep, potatoes and cabbages from their garden, knitted mittens, handmade brooms and shingles, and much more. He drives the cart to the market and sells it all, including the cart and the ox. After a quick stop to purchase a few items, he walks home, and the family enters another year together, working with the land.

     

    Stone Soup by John J. Muth

    We all know this classic tale, and celebrated author John J. Muth brings his own flair to its retelling. Three monks enter a village in which the people are cold and isolated. They close their doors to one another, and there is hardly a sense of community. One small child breaks the silence as the monks begin to prepare their stone soup, igniting a chain reaction of curious, and then generous, neighbors.

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  • On the Topic of Competition

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 11/18/2019 7:00:00 AM

    students playing

     

    You may have noticed that in Montessori we do not typically encourage competition between children. Our lack of traditional grading is one obvious marker of this approach, but you can also observe that the lack of peer competition threads itself throughout the entire program. This is quite intentional, and we work hard to give children a foundation built on competition with oneself, rather than with others.

    It is important to note, however, that a Montessori education does not leave children unprepared for “the real world”. We recognize that competition is a part of life for many, and we work hard to cultivate characteristics that will allow children to engage in healthy, fulfilling competitive experiences. 

    Curious to learn more about what we do? In this post we not only explain why we favor internal motivation, but what we do to help nurture well-rounded and adaptable children.

     

    Internal Versus External Motivation

    One of our core values as Montessorians is that we believe intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than external rewards. This has been the foundation of our educational model for over a century. In recent years, studies have backed the theory that we are most successful when we are driven by our own internal motivations, not perceived rewards (like prizes, grades, or money). Information on one such study can be found here.

     

    How We Prepare Children for Healthy, Real-World Competition

    Montessori schools can sometimes feel like a bit of a protective bubble. As educators, we need to recognize this and make sure we are preparing children for what comes next. Montessori students tend to be highly successful when they eventually move on to more traditional schools, regardless of when that might be. The following character traits are cultivated throughout a child’s time with us, and we believe this is part of what it takes to create successful and fulfilled people in the long run.

     

    Self-Confidence

    Believing in ourselves is important, and we guide our children toward feeling this self-confidence. From a very young age, Montessori children learn to do things for themselves. They are respected by the adults in their lives and their personal autonomy is honored. 

    When a toddler sweeps up her own crumbs, she feels it. When a four-year-old makes his own sandwich for the first time, he feels it. When two eight-year-olds solve a challenging long division problem, they feel it. When a group of adolescent students successfully problem-solve about the delivery of hot-lunch order, they feel it.

    We build routines and structures that allow children to accomplish big things, and to revel in the feelings of self-accomplishment. After many, many of these experiences, children develop a strong sense of self, and an “I can do it” attitude.

     

    Resiliency 

    In Montessori classrooms, we know what children are capable of achieving. We know that traditional settings often expect less than what is developmentally appropriate for young people. When our students feel driven to work hard on challenging tasks, failure becomes an early and welcome part of their experience.

    As adults, we often equate failure with negative outcomes. In reality, failure is nothing more than a learning experience, and we can use that experience to guide us toward mastery. When following an internal desire to learn about or accomplish something, children welcome these necessary building blocks. They see them for what they are: additional motivators to keep pushing forward.

     

    Independence

    If it’s not already obvious, our students are encouraged to be as independent as they are able to be, both according to their age and their individual needs. This means they do not need to rely on others to get started on or execute tasks; they have plenty of experience confronting challenges independently.

    Having a strong sense of independence allows us to take on leadership roles. It brings us to self-awareness and trusting our own abilities. Our independence can encourage us to block out unimportant details and distractions, leading us to focus clearly on the task at hand.

     

    Cooperation

    While independence is critical to our success, it is equally valuable to be able to work cooperatively with others. Many competitive situations involve teams of people working together toward a common goal, and this is something in which Montessori children get lots of practice.

    We recognize that one of the hallmarks of the elementary age (6-12) is that children are highly motivated by social interactions. To this end, we carefully craft the classroom environment to support this need. Children are given lessons in small groups, and even the furniture is arranged for a variety of seating options. If you were to observe in an elementary classroom, you would notice most of the children clustered in small groups working together, and this inevitably leads to many opportunities to practice important skills like compromise, flexibility, and advocacy.

     

    Self-Advocacy

    Montessori classrooms have a bit more flexibility in terms of daily scheduling than most settings. One critical element that must remain is the three-hour work cycle in the morning. Beyond that, our guides are able to schedule class meetings regularly, or any time conflict arises. We teach our students skills they need to navigate all sorts of interpersonal situations, including how to advocate for themselves. 

    Another interesting aspect of a Montessori classroom is that even young children have frequent opportunities to present their work and ideas to their classmates. Being able to stand up and speak in front of a group of people from the time one is six-years-old seems to have a profoundly powerful effect on how we are able to confidently convey our ideas and feelings.

    Did you know that there are a number of well-known figures who attribute their Montessori education at least partially to their success?

    In this short video, NBA MVP Stephen Curry shares how his own Montessori education gave him the confidence necessary to become the successful adult he is today. 

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  • 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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