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

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

    Teacher and students with continents

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

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

    So why do we assess in the first place?

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

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

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

    Formative Assessment

    Formative assessment can be classified by the following characteristics:

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

    Summative Assessment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • 10 Amazing Podcasts

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

    Three Children

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

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

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

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

    Without further ado, the podcasts:

     

    Wow in the World

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

     

    Circle Round

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

     

     

    Story Pirates

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

     

    But Why?

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

     

    Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

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

     

    Smash Boom Best

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

     

    The Past and the Curious

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

     

    Brains On!

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

     

    This Podcast has Fleas

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

     

    Pickle

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

      

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

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  • Montessori Basics: A Brief History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

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

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  • Fall Family Fun

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

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

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

    Apple picking

    1. Get that yard work done.

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

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

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

     

     

    2. Head to the kitchen.

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

    Super simple acorn treats

    Healthy baked spaghetti squash

    Trail mix bites to take on that fall hike

    Baked apple cider donut holes 

    Tasty pumpkin bread 

    Basic applesauce recipe

     

    3. Be creative.

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

     

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

     

    4. Make a scarecrow.

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

     

    5. Enjoy local produce.

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

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

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

     

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

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  • 7 Ways to Encourage Independence

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

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

    Adolescents cooking

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

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

     

    2. Teach your child skills they show interest in.

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

     

    3. Let them care for a living thing.

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

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

     

    4. Include them in household chores.

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

     

    5. Give them opportunities in the kitchen.

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

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

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

     

    6. Encourage bodily autonomy.

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

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

     

    7. Offer desirable choices.

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

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

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

     

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

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  • A Book List for Budding Botanists

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

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

     

    The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

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

     

    My Garden by Kevin Henkes

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

     

    From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

    Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney

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

     

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

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

     

    A Weed is a Flower by Aliki

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

     

    Who Was Beatrix Potter? by Sarah Fabiny

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

     

    Treecology by Monica Russo, photographs by Kevin Byron

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

     

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

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  • How to Support the Work of Your Child’s Montessori School

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 9/2/2019

    A fresh new school year comes with lots of excitement, and often lots of questions from new and returning families alike. One frequent question we receive is: “How can we support Montessori education at home?”

    Family image

    First of all, we love this question! We know that even busy families want to do what they can to support the hard work of their children and their children’s teachers. We are here to tell you that your support means everything, and it honestly doesn’t take much to make a huge difference.

    First, it’s worthy thinking about what you definitely don’t need to do.

    • No need to purchase Montessori materials for use at home. In fact, we recommend strongly against doing so! Montessori materials were developed to be used in a very specific manner to support children’s development at just the right time. Our teachers go through intensive training for this. While there is certainly an allure to the beautiful wooden learning materials, we believe it’s best to allow trained and credentialed Montessori educators to guide children in using the materials in the way they were intended to be used.
    • No need to buy any fancy organization systems (or really, buy anything at all). Montessori at home need not cost a cent. Supporting the philosophy at home is more about a shift in approach and perspective and less about buying more to enrich the environment.
    • No need to push for academic achievement. We understand that with the right support and guidance, children make great strides in academic areas all on their own and in their own time. There’s no need to drill math facts or push for your child to be reading by a certain age. Learning is not linear and each individual requires the time and space to arrive at milestones on a personal timetable. Your child’s teacher will certainly let you know if there are academic skills that can be supported, but generally speaking, children work so hard at school it’s okay to let them take a break at home.

    Let’s think about what can be really helpful.

     

    1. Learn about Montessori philosophy. There are lots of ways to do this! We occasionally hold parent education sessions at the school.    These events can be great ways to connect with other families, spend time getting to know our staff, and also one of the best ways to learn more about what Montessori means and how it’s an excellent approach for teaching children.       

    We know not everyone has time to attend these sessions, but there are other great resources out there. One of the best books we recommend is Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.

    Articles from past American Montessori Society publications: https://amshq.org/Families/Reading-Material

    Resoures for parents from the Association Montessori Internationale/USA: https://amiusa.org/parent-resources/

    2. Volunteer at the school. There are opportunities for all talents and schedules! Some ideas:

    • Chaperone on field trips or small group ”going out” trips
    • Help with school fundraising efforts
    • Serve as a parent liaison for your child’s class
    • Ask your child’s teacher what support would be helpful to the classroom
    • Help out with special events
    • Give a presentation to a class about your job
    • Pitch in with school gardening projects

     

    3. "Follow the child." What the Montessori approach really boils down to is honoring the child as a whole human being who is deserving of the same respect as any adult. Learning to shed our preconceived notions of what parenting and teaching mean and considering new ways of doing things can be challenging at first, but the long-term benefits are substantial for everyone involved.

    We want to inspire you to encourage your child(ren) to be more independent. The more they can do for themselves (including making their own choices), the better. Nurturing a sense of independence is empowering for children and, believe it or not, less work for you! Allowing children independence and freedom does not, however, mean they get to make all the decisions; there has to be a balance! We will illustrate this concept further in an upcoming post.

     

    4. If you are happy with the education your child is receiving, spread the word! We believe that Montessori has the power to bring great change to the world, one child at a time. Our approach to education isn’t about memorizing facts and scoring well on tests. We aim to nurture kind, creative, and empowered members of society. The best way to expand our work is to reach more children.

    If you’ve been happy with your child’s Montessori education, reach out and let us know! There are plenty of ways to leave reviews for potential families to read. Spreading the word can also be as simple as talking openly with friends at your neighborhood birthday parties or weekend soccer games. There are plenty of families out there looking for the solutions that Montessori provides.

     

     

     

    We hope this post has been helpful, but if you have any questions or ideas, please let us know. As parents, you are your child’s first and most important teachers. Together, we can work to create a more beautiful world.

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  • Back-To-School Essentials

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 8/26/2019 7:00:00 AM

    And just like that, summer is drawing to a close. School is right around the corner, and we’re here to give you some tips and tricks to get the kids (and yourselves) ready!

     Toddlers and parents

    Soak up every last drop of summer

    Go stargazing. Take a long bike ride. Eat just one more s’more. Find as many ways as you can to enjoy every moment you have left of summer together. Is there anything you talked about doing that you hadn’t gotten around to yet? Do the kids have any fun requests that you can manage before the school year begins? Think day trips, lazy days together at home, projects you want to finish, or even some more leisurely trips to the library. Think about what makes everyone feel happy and content, then do some more of it.

     

    Gather Supplies

    Now is a great time to start gathering school supplies if you haven’t already started. Think beyond traditional classroom supplies. What will your children need? Do they have a lunchbox that is in good working order? Afterschool snack containers? A water bottle for school and one for to and from school? Indoor shoes that fit? Will your child be napping at school? What else might they need to start the year off right?

     

    Start to Adjust Bedtimes

    Between longer periods of sunlight and looser schedules, staying up late often becomes the norm during summer months. While this works out just fine for that particular part of the year, it doesn’t work well when it’s time to wake up and get to school on time. The first thing you may want to do is revisit how much sleep your child should be getting.

    To make sure your child is sleep-ready for school, consider what time they will need to go to bed on an ideal school night, then start slowly inching bedtime back each day from now until the start of school.

    Here are some more tips to get back on track with ease:

    1. Allow 2-3 weeks for the transition
    2. Keep things calm for an hour before bedtime
    3. Slowly shift bedtime earlier by 5-15 minutes each night
    4. Keep a consistent routine (example: pjs, brush teeth, story, lights out)
    5. Expect bumps along the road - it’s okay!

     

    Prepare for Lunch Prep

    Even young children can be part of the lunch making process. Involve your child in the planning process as much as possible and even work together to prepare containers with prepped food your child can select for lunches. When school does start, it can be helpful to make lunches the night before, and your children can help! Older children can begin making their own lunches each day.

     

    Inventory Clothing

    Kids have a funny habit of growing all the time. The transition between summer and autumn is the perfect opportunity to check and make sure they have enough of the right clothing. Has your child grown a size over the summer? Is the changing weather a factor?

    One great way to stay ahead of kids’ clothing needs is to share with others. Because children grow so fast they only wear items for a short period of time. It makes sense to pass outgrown clothing along to siblings or another family who could use it. Hopefully you can find a family who is willing to do the same for you. By sharing hand-me-downs, we can save time and money. As a bonus, sharing clothing is also a great environmental choice!

     

    Keep Reading

    Reading to our children every day is so important. Hopefully you’ve been able to enjoy lots of story time all summer long. Don’t let the rush of a new school year end the fun! Aim for at least 20-30 minutes each day. Bedtime tends to be a natural fit, but reading anytime is beneficial. Infants, preschoolers, new readers, and even older children enjoy read aloud time. Hearing you read sets an example for them regarding the importance of books and literacy, and your voice serves as a great model for oral fluency. Use dramatic expression, create silly voices for characters, and have fun!

     

    Set Goals

    Everyone in the family can get on board with this step. Parents: what are your goals? Do you want to find ways to not feel so rushed getting out the door in the morning? Do you want to try out some new meal prep ideas to make the week run more smoothly? Think about what you hope for and break it down into small, measurable, steps.

    Talk with your kids about the hopes and dreams for the upcoming school year. What are some things they hope to learn about or accomplish? This might include specific academic skills, but it might also include social goals or even play-based fun. Does your child want to learn how to write in cursive? Get the ball through the basketball hoop? Make some new friends? Learn more about frogs? It can be fun to draw a picture of any goals and write (or have you scribe) what your child hopes to do. Tuck the paper away in a drawer and take it out again at some point during the year. It can be fun for children to reflect on their own growth!

    Also remember that you can collaborate with your child about ways you can support each other with your goals. 

    Begin talking with your child about the upcoming school year and remember to get excited! Transitions can be hard for children, but it’s always easier when they’re enthusiastic about what’s to come. A new school year brings the promise of fun learning, friendships, and experiences. That’s something we can all look forward to.

    Lastly, if there is any information you need from us before the start of the school year, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. We are looking forward to seeing you and your children and starting off another great year!

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  • The Great Screen Time Debate

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 8/19/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Screen time for children remains a hot-button topic in our country. Ten years ago it was essentially a non-issue, yet today we find ourselves faced with a technological parenting dilemma. Our children are the first generation that have strong access to portable devices that are connected to the internet, thus providing them with potentially unlimited content. They can use so much of what’s available not just for entertainment, but for learning as well. Technology can provide us all with an enriching experience, but there is high potential to overuse or misuse it. This is an especially tricky time in our history. As technology is advancing at exponential rates, we are embarking through uncharted territory. What’s a parent to do? As with so many things, it’s all about balance. Consider the following and find the balance that is right for your family.

    Three children with iPad  

    Age matters

    Generally speaking, the younger the child, the less time they should spend in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 18 months avoid screens altogether with the exception of video-chatting. Children aged 18 months to five years should have very limited time exposed to screens, and any time spent should only involve high-quality programming alongside a parent who can help explain and interpret what’s happening. For ages six and beyond, the Academy stresses the importance of ensuring that media use does not impede or take the place of critical developmental and health needs such as quality sleep, physical activity, and other important areas.

    What about older kids? They still need guidance and boundaries. Thinking about our kids’ developmental and health needs might help guide our stance on screen time.

     

    Content considerations

    With an unlimited supply of information, it can be easy for children to stumble upon content that they’re not equipped to understand and which could potentially be harmful. Your first line of defense is to be actively engaged while your children are accessing screens. Filters are a good backup, but be wary of considering them fail-proof.

    The very best way to make sure your child is accessing appropriate content is to sit beside them during device use. Consider this a time to teach your kids how to use the internet and devices responsibly while making sure they don’t accidentally stumble into something they’re not ready for. Many families keep devices public: computers face outward into a room and handhelds and laptops are not allowed in bedrooms. This allows parents constant access to view the content their children are engaged in.

    Looking to utilize parental controls? There are many options out there. If you haven’t already seen, PCMag has a helpful chart detailing the features of what they consider the best options of the year. At just under $50, the highest recommended option is Qustodio which boasts such features as access scheduling, social media monitoring, and remote management. See the full list here.

     

    Setting limits

    Our children are constantly seeking out the edges of their boundaries. While we aim to give them as much choice as possible, it’s important to provide necessary structure to keep them safe and feeling secure. Setting limits on screen time is yet another area in which we need to do this.

    As mentioned, consider your child’s developmental needs. Is there time built into their day to play outside/engage in physical activity, read, interact with others socially, and pursue independent interests like art, building, and games? Is your child getting enough sleep and following a regular bedtime schedule? If all of those needs are met and there’s still some time leftover in the day, decide how much time you feel comfortable letting your child utilize devices.

    Another consideration: you may already know but many experts feel that we should all unplug at least an hour before bedtime, while some believe two hours is a safer bet. The reason? Blue light emitted from our devices confuses the body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. We can teach our children these scientific findings at an early age and instill good habits while they are young.

    Aside from setting time limits, we can all stand to talk to our children about device usage, the pros and cons, and particularly about content. Encourage an open dialogue with older children so they understand you are there to help them navigate tough situations in the digital world. Teenagers who are beginning to use social media will need frequent check-ins and encouragement to make safe choices.

     

    Examining our own use

    One element of kids’ screen time we don’t always consider is how our own use serves as a model. Our phones are so good at serving so many different functions it can be hard to put them down at times. While deciding what is best for your child is a very personal decision, the following questions may be helpful to consider:

    • How often do you find yourself idly swiping or scrolling in front of your child?
    • In what ways might your devices enrich your life?
    • In what ways might your devices get in the way of real interactions?
    • Does your phone make you feel more connected or disconnected?

    If you’re one of the many adults who suspect they might stand to decrease their own screen time, there are (believe it or not) fun apps to help you be more aware. One simple and free app called Checky keeps track of how many times per day you glance at your phone for updates. Using it for just a few days or a week can be eye opening! If you’re looking to make a change, there are many other great apps that aim to help adults curb phone obsession.

    We hope this post served as a helpful way to reflect on your screen time, your children’s, and how you can all make the best of these amazing resources we have today.

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  • Engaged or Bored? How to Tell What Your Child is Feeling

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 8/12/2019 7:00:00 AM

    A familiar scenario: your child comes home, and you, the interested parent, eagerly ask them how their day was and what they did. While some children will happily relay the day’s events, most shrug and say, “Good” without offering any details. Don’t worry - this is totally normal and related to their fatigue that time of day. Give it a few hours and ask at dinner time.

    Did you know that you can learn a lot about your child’s day without them saying a word?

    There are plenty of ways to tell how your child is feeling (and we will share them below). Ideally camp, school, or enrichment activities should spark wonder and curiosity, and not feel like a necessity that must be endured. Read on for clues as to how your child’s learning experience feels to them.Child with parent

     

    What engagement in children can look like

    • They will make connections to their learning in everyday life. As you prepare lunch one Saturday they may tell you all about the food preparation activities they have learned over the past month or so. Or they may surprise you with extensive background knowledge as you watch a nature show together. Making connections is a clear sign of real understanding.
    • They may blurt out seemingly random (but interesting) bits of their learning. “Did you know that if our intestines weren’t all squiggled up they would be the size of a baby blue whale?!” These moments let us know that children are thinking about what they’ve learned long after they first hear the information, and that it is fascinating to them.
    • They complain when they have to stay home sick. Of course, no one likes to be sick, but for children who really love going to camp or school it’s doubly awful. Not only do they feel bad physically, but they have to miss out on all the fun for a day.
    • They surprise you at drop-off. Maybe they hastily jump out of the car, ready to run for the entryway. Or maybe they even forget to say goodbye once in a while. Don’t take it too personally - this just means they feel really excited about where they get to spend their days.
    • They have meaningful friendships. This means different things at different ages, but if they have mostly positive interactions with their peers, it’s likely they are happy in the environment. Good camp and school programs encourage supportive relationships and acknowledge that our connections with others is part of who we are as whole people.
    • They display signs of independence and confidence. A positive environment lets children feel empowered not just in their learning, but in who they are as people. If your child wants to do things for themselves and take positive risks, they have probably been encouraged to do so in their learning environments.

     

    What disengagement in children can look like

    • They are reluctant to go to their camp, school, or activities. We all have days like this, but if you notice your child seems like they’d rather stay home every day, it’s worth noting.
    • They are displaying problematic behaviors. There can be many reasons for a child acting out, but one of them is a feeling of disconnect. This feeling of disconnection can lead to children make poor choices.
    • They complain that the work at school is too hard or too easy. These statements may be true (or not), but they are indicative of an internal unmet need.
    • The difficult-to-describe spark has faded. Children are naturally excited about life, so when you see the moments of curiosity and wonder becoming less and less present in your child’s days, it might be time to figure out what’s going on.
    • They tell you they feel bored. It can be easy to shrug these types of comments off, especially if we accept our own negative experiences as normal. If your child is able to articulate that they are not feeling positively about their camp, school, or enrichment experiences, it’s important that we listen to them.

     

    What can you do?

    Keep in mind that the signs we described can be viewed as guidelines; every child is different and there are many reasons a child may feel negatively about their experience. If you notice a pattern of avoidant, problematic, or apathetic behavior, it’s worth paying attention and taking a closer look. Some suggestions:

    • Learn about the educational philosophy of the program. Is learning individualized or standards-based? Are lessons exploratory or directive? Upon what does the program place value? Is it obvious that independence (including independent thinking) is valued? How are peer social conflicts handled?
    • Find out if your child’s program provides adequate opportunities for movement. Many conventional programs feel extreme pressure in regards to scheduling and content they must cover on a daily basis. Children need unstructured movement, playtime, and/or time outdoors to be able to focus when it is time for learning.
    • Involve your children in the conversation, to the extent that is appropriate for their age. Ask them how they feel and let them know they can be honest with you. Ask them what they wish was different about their experience. Based on their responses, support your children in problem-solving about how to make their experience better meet their needs.
    • Schedule a meeting with your child’s camp counselor, teacher, or instructor. Share your children’s perspective and explore ideas. This is a great time for information gathering and collaborative brainstorming. Whenever possible, see if your children can be involved with at least part of this process.

    We hope this post has been informative. We believe that Montessori is the answer for so many children. Curious to see what joyful, engaged learning looks like? Schedule a tour today. We would love to show you our classrooms in action.

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