• 10 Titles for Summer Vacation

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

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

    Child reading

    Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey

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

     

    One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey

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

     

    The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant

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

     

    Watermelon Day by Kathi Appelt, illustrated by Dale Gottlieb

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

     

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

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

     

    The Very Lonely Firefly by Eric Carle

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

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

     

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

     

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  • Hidden Links Between Food and Learning

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

    student with radishes The Study

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

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

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

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

     

    Where to find them

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

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

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

     

    Recipes

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

    Greens and Beans Pasta

    Ingredients

    1 lb. pasta (spaghetti works well)

    1 lb. fresh spinach

    1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

    2 cloves garlic, minced

    ½ small yellow or white onion, sliced thin

    Olive oil

    Parmesan cheese (optional) 

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

    Roasted Lemon Garlic Broccoli

    Fajita in a Bowl

    Fruit & Mozzarella Skewers with Honey Lime Drizzle 

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

    Sources:

    https://www.wabe.org/uga-researchers-study-plant-pigments-common-colorful-and-really-good-for-your-brain/

     

    https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/lutein-and-zeaxanthin#bottom-line

     

     

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  • A Montessori Mini Dictionary

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

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

    AE students with garden boxes   

    Casa dei Bambini

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

     

    concrete & abstract

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

     

    control of error

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

     

    cosmic education

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

     

    Erdkinder

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

     

    false fatigue

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

     

    grace & courtesy

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

     

    guide

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

     

    Nido

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

     

    normalized

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

     

    planes of development

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

     

    practical life

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

     

    prepared environment

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

     

    sensitive period

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

     

    sensorial

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

     

    three-period lesson

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

     

    work

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

     

    work period/cycle

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

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  • Preventing Math Anxiety

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

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

     

    What researchers discovered 

    Four general themes emerged from the research:

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

     

    What might this mean for Montessori classrooms? 

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

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

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

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

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

     

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

     

    What might parents do to help prevent math anxiety?

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

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

     

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

     

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

     

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

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  • The Keys to Handwriting Success

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

    This is not a news flash:

    Handwriting instruction is disappearing in schools across the United States.

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

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

    Child with cursive book  

    Indirect Preparation

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

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

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

     

    Manipulating a Pencil

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

     

    Early Letter Formation

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

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

     

    Cursive or Print?

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

    Learning to write in cursive has many advantages:

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

     

    A Continuation

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

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

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  • Montessori and Nature

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 5/6/2019 7:00:00 AM

    When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” – Maria Montessori

    We all know spending time outdoors is good for our kids, but what did Maria Montessori have to say about it? What can we do as parents to support our children’s development in the natural world, and what responsibilities do our schools have in regards to this critical work?

    Children's House students and mud  

    Traditional Methods that Fall Short

    What do we think of when we imagine educating our children about nature? Perhaps a small collection of shells on a windowsill, planting flowers in the spring, or pushing a toddler in a stroller through a park come to mind. While all of these activities have a place and can be enriching in their own way, they fall short of giving children authentic natural experiences. As adults, we have developed habits that keep our interactions with the natural world at a distance. We don’t appreciate being stuck out in the rain, or perhaps even the sun for that matter. We find ways to carefully shelter ourselves away from the elements so that we may be safe and comfortable. We likely developed this perspective while we were still children ourselves, at the urging of adults who didn’t want us to jump in puddles or ruin our best clothes. Might we step back and reevaluate our own relationship with the natural world?

    A collection of shells is lovely, but a child will have internal context if they have actually visited the seashore and collected the shells themselves. As adults, we love flowers, but children react more strongly to plants they can interact with: think a vegetable garden or even just a tomato plant in a pot. Taking our children for a stroll in the park is important but let’s give them a bit of freedom so they may move at their own pace and on their own feet. Let them explore and stop to notice the things we so quickly pass by.

    Have you ever had a moment - it might have been somewhere on a lake or at the ocean, in the mountains or in the middle of a desert - when an intense, almost indescribable, feeling settled over you? You noticed that something deep within yourself felt connected to the earth and everything on it. You probably felt alive and at peace at the same time. Some of us are lucky enough to have had many of these moments, others, only a few times. Children have the ability to feel this so much more than we do. The world is still so fresh and new to them, and natural experiences can have a lasting impact.

    As Dr. Montessori so eloquently stated, “Only poets and little children can feel the fascination of a tiny rivulet of water flowing over pebbles.” Even when we make efforts to take our children on a walk in the woods, it’s easy for us as adults to focus on the walk or the destination. Children are fortunate in that they live in the moment. They see a caterpillar and it calls to their desire to observe. A small fragment of a fallen leaf is a tiny window into a world they are still discovering. Children’s wonder and curiosity have much to teach us, if only we can remember to slow down and follow their lead.

     

    A Burgeoning Movement

    While many people have always valued a strong connection to nature, it’s likely fair to say that most of us have experienced at least some level of disconnect. In recent years, however, more and more people seem to be looking for ways to rebuild those connections. We participate in community supported agriculture, hobby farms, and keep chickens in our backyards. We vacation in national parks, participate in hiking challenges, and take up paddleboarding.

    We know that something is missing, and while we don’t always articulate it, we are searching for our way back to nature.

    Could it be that our children have the ability to both inspire and teach us the way? If we let them slow down and notice the little things - the insects, the toads, the way the sunlight reflects off a shiny rock - maybe we can learn to slow down and notice, too. If we start by considering how we would like our children to eat as healthy as possible, maybe it might lead us to visiting farms or growing our own food (with our kids, of course!).

     

    Practical Ideas

    Montessori suggests that it is not the act of going out into a garden that leaves an impression upon a child, but the whole approach of ‘living naturally’. From Japanese ‘forest bathing’ to Norwegian ‘friluftsliv’, cultures around the world have, for centuries, known the importance of our connection to nature. Scientists echo these ideas, reaffirming the notion that spending time outdoors, surrounded by elements of the natural world, is good for us. 

    So what can we do to apply this knowledge?

    Montessori classrooms work to apply natural living on a daily basis. Nature is frequently brought into the classroom in the form of live plants and animals that the children help tend. Even the materials themselves are made of natural materials; plastic is avoided when something made of natural materials can be used. Ideally, a classroom has access to the outdoors so that children may come and go as the space calls to them (and as is appropriate). 

    As parents, the easiest way to let our children live more natural lives is to lead by example. We can find ways to enjoy the outdoors on a regular basis, in all seasons. Explore the parks, trails, nature preserves, and bodies of water near your home. It can be fun to take up new hobbies together as a family, or to find other like-minded families that you can team up with. Whether you like adventure, taking it easy, or something in between, there are outdoor activities that will put you back in touch with the world around you.

     

    Already love the outdoors? Find ways to make what you love accessible to your kids. Ready to head out for the first time (or the first time in a long time)? Here’s one great resource to get you started: https://www.alltrails.com

     

    Enjoy, and let us know about your adventures!

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  • Math on the Go!

    Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 4/29/2019 7:00:00 AM

    You already know that reading aloud to your child daily can have a huge impact on literacy development. Did you know that doing math together at home is also important? By integrating math into your daily lives at home, you as parents are teaching your child not only that math really is applicable to our daily lives, but that you value it as an area of study. Finding a variety of ways to work through problems together prevents children from Children with Abacus developing the self-narrative of “I’m not good at math” before it ever starts. 

    Looking for tips to get started?

     

    In the Kitchen

    While there are likely nights you need to whip up a quick dinner, get everyone fed and off to bed, it can sometimes be nice to find ways to invite your children to cook with you. Doing so has a host of benefits, including the development of practical life skills, confidence building, and family bonding, but there are also plenty of opportunities to learn about and practice math skills.

    Consider what it takes to make a meal. From reading a recipe, to combining ingredients, thinking about cooking temperatures, and even how long to cook a meal, there are a wide variety of skills your child can experience first-hand:

    • Reading written fractions in recipes
    • Comparing differences in volume while adding measured ingredients
    • Adding fractions or utilizing fraction equivalencies
    • Using multiplication or division when halving or doubling a recipe
    • Calculating elapsed time while waiting for a treat to bake
    • Understanding units of measurement concerning temperature 

     

    At the Store

    Shopping is one of those frequent life necessities, and we often have our children in tow. Turn this family chore into a fun learning experience by incorporating math. Here are some ideas for a variety of ages:

    • Counting specific items
    • Identifying numbers on signs
    • Estimating costs of items
    • Rounding costs of items to the nearest dollar and adding mentally
    • Identifying coins and their values
    • Comparing price and quantity to determine product value
    • Weighing produce on the scale
    • Using addition or multiplication to determine cost when buying multiples on an item
    • Determining how much change will be received from the cashier 

     

    In the Car

     Whether you’re making the quick drive to school in the morning or settling in for a lengthy family road trip, it’s possible to incorporate math skills along the journey. The key is to make it fun and not work!

    • Notice numbers on signs. Talk about place value.
    • Similar to the alphabet game, play the number game. Look for numbers outside and call them out in order. “I see a 1 on that sign!” “I spotted a 2 on that license plate!”
    • Play a shape-finding game.
    • Clue kids into mileage information. Have them figure out how far you’ve traveled or how much further you have to go.
    • Keep track of time. Solve problems similar to the mileage ones.
    • Make your real-life word problems multi-step: ask your child how their answers might change if you need to drive a certain number of miles or minutes out of the way to make a stop.
    • Estimate fuel costs, both before you arrive at the pump, and guessing how much the tank will need to fill.
    • Skip count together in silly voices. Count by 2s, 5s, 10s, and more!

     

    The Backyard

    Believe it or not, your own backyard is likely full of real-life math opportunities. Whether you’re gardening, making repairs, or building something together, keep an eye out for things like:

    • Size comparisons: Which tree is taller? Wider?
    • Notice the temperature. If you’re really motivated, keep track over a week and make a graph.
    • Measure everything! Younger children can stick to non-standard units. “How many ‘mommy feet’ long do you think this piece of wood is? Now let’s try your feet!”
    • Kids love to use adult tools, so show them the correct way to use a measuring tape. Start with length. Explore perimeter and area with older children.
    • Kids always seem to be collecting small objects. Use these rocks, acorns, or sticks to count, add, or subtract.
    • With older children, use seeds for math before planting. Show them an array and how it relates to multiplication and division.
    • Estimation opportunities are everywhere. How many leaves are on that branch? How many insects might we find under this log? How many dandelions are blooming right now?

    No matter where you are or what you’re doing, your children love just spending time with you. Finding simple ways to incorporate mathematical thinking can be a fun way to squeeze a little bit of learning out of an already enjoyable experience. 

    Remember to ask your child lots of questions, but don’t feel like you need to give them the answers right away. When we discover something for ourselves, the information is so much more powerful. Of course, if they seem confused or ask for help, it’s okay to model and teach!

    Let us know what you learn together!

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  • Creativity and Innovation in Montessori

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

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

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

    https://youtu.be/GcgN0lEh5IA 

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

     

    Curiosity

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

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

     

    Imagination

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

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

     

    Internal Motivation

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

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

     

    Leadership

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

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

     

    Lifelong Love of Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • Chores: They're Good for Your Kids!

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

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

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

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

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

     

    What are the benefits?

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

    Developing independence

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

    Fostering a sense of belonging

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

    Learning practical life skills

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

    Options for all ages!

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

     

    Toddlers (yes, toddlers!) 

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

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

     

    Preschoolers

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

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

     

    Young children

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

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

     

    Older children

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

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

     

    Teenagers

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

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

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

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

     

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  • Montessori Motivation

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

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

    Rewards and Punishments

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

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

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

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

    Intrinsic Motivation

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

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

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

     

    Driving Forces in Academics

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

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

     

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

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

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

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

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