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Montessori Community

One of the core beliefs in Montessori education is that we are preparing the child to be a part of the larger community – of one’s school, neighborhood, city, state, country, and planet. The aspects of being part of a community particularly stressed by Montessori:

  • Empathize with others’ circumstances.
  • Take part in the action to solve problems that go beyond the scope of the child (giving back to the larger community).
  • The ability to work together even while doing different things.

Image result for kids community image

“Little by little a child accepts the idea of his group. He is proud of the world of this group. This is an expression of social sentiment. The child is happy when his group or class does well. This is a more complex kind of unity. It is a higher sentiment like the love we have for a nation or a city.”—Dr. Montessori

 

What a tremendous gift for children to understand, early in life, that they are part of a bigger picture. Children learn early in a community that it is important to help another when needed, to care for each other, and to respect each other.

The sense of community in a Montessori environment comes partly from the multi-aged aspect and partly from things that go on under the direction of the teacher.

How does one build community?  First, children get to know each other. This may initially be fairly superficial. At the 3 to 6 age range it may be getting to know each other’s names. As children work and play together they learn more about each other. The teacher promotes respect with the children. Lessons are given in manners of grace and courtesy. A child is shown how to appropriately interrupt or to watch someone work. Teachers promote community in classrooms by showing the children how to work together, how to handle conflict, and how to appropriately interact with visitors. As the children grow and mature they are given opportunities to learn how to work in a group. Children have the opportunity to play cooperative games that teach about themselves and others.

You can be part of the Montessori community. You can be involved in what is going on at the school. You can arrange play dates with other children from the school. Children learn community from parents, school, and the larger community.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

The Six Principles of the Prepared Environment

The first aim of the prepared environment is, as far as it is possible, to render the growing child independent of the adult.”
— Maria Montessori  The Secret of Childhood, 1966

Montessori’s idea of the prepared environment was that everything the child came in contact with would facilitate and maximize independent learning and exploration. This calm, well-ordered environment has a lot of movement and activity. Children are free to choose and work on activities at their own pace. Here, they experience a combination of freedom and self-discipline, as guided by the environment.

There are generally six aspects, or principles, to the Prepared Environment: Freedom; Structure and Order; Beauty; Nature and Reality; Social Environment; Intellectual Environment. Keep reading to learn more about each of these aspects, and why the prepared environment is so important to the success a child experiences with Montessori education!

The Six Principles of the Montessori Prepared Environment Explained

1. Freedomcartoon-characters-holding-hands

Montessori believed that a child must be free to explore and follow his/her own natural impulses, thus developing his/her potential and increasing his/her knowledge of the world around him/her. Within the prepared environment, the child must experience freedom of movement, freedom of exploration, freedom to interact socially, and freedom from interference from others. This freedom ultimately leads to a greater freedom: freedom of choice.

2. Structure and Order

While Structure and Order seem counter-intuitive to the aforementioned freedom, nothing could be further from the truth. Structure and Order in the Montessori classroom accurately reflect the sense of structure and order in the universe. By using the Montessori classroom environment as a microcosm of the universe, the child begins to internalize the order surrounding him/her, thus making sense of the world in which he/she lives.

Montessori stated that there is a sensitive period for order which occurs between the ages of one and three years of age. This is when the child begins to draw conclusions from the world around him/her. If there is not order to his/her environment, the child’s sense of reason may be off since he/she will not be able to validate his/her findings.

This is not to say that routines or classroom set-up or ways of doing things can’t change. However, it does mean that change should be carefully considered. Is this change for the good of the children? If so, it should be done carefully and its after-effects should be observed to ensure that it is of benefit to the children.

3. Beauty

Montessori environments should be appealing to the child’s eye. Whether the school is in an old Victorian mansion or in a strip-mall or in the living room of your home, the environment should suggest a simple harmony. Uncluttered and well-maintained, the environment should reflect peace and tranquility. The environment should invite the learner to come in and work. This atmosphere is easily seen by the attitude of those working there, both child and adult.

4. Nature and Reality

Montessori had a deep respect and reverence for nature. She believed that we should use nature to inspire children. She continually suggested that Montessori teachers take the children out into nature, rather than keeping them confined in the classroom. This is why natural materials are preferred in the prepared environment. Real wood, reeds, bamboo, metal, cotton, and glass are preferred to synthetics or plastics.

It is here where child-size real objects come into play. Furniture should be child-size so the child is not dependent on the adult for his movement. Rakes, hoes, pitchers, tongs, shovels should all fit children’s hands and height so that the work is made easier, thus ensuring proper use and completion of the work without frustration.

5. Social Environment

Where there is freedom to interact, children learn to encourage and develop a sense of compassion and empathy for others. As children develop, they become more socially aware, preparing to work and play in groups. This social interaction is supported throughout the environment and is encouraged with the nature of multi-age classroom settings.

6. Intellectual Environment

If the above aspects are not recognized, the intellectual environment will not reach its purpose. The purpose of the Montessori environment is to develop the whole personality of the child, not merely his/her intellect. By guiding the child through the five areas of the Montessori curriculum (Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Cultural subjects), the child has the structure which is at the forefront of the creative work in a Montessori classroom.

A lot of time and effort is involved in creating a prepared Montessori classroom that is designed to meet the individual needs of all children. Through developmentally appropriate, sensorial material that moves in order from simple to complex and concrete to abstract, children are given the freedom to fully develop their unique potential through a carefully prepared learning environment.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

Nurturing the Authentic Child

What is the meaning of Authentic? It is derived from the Greek root authentiko, which means “author”. The Authentic Child is a child who is allowed to develop or “author” himself. There are five essential attributes of the Authentic Child. These attributes are deeply connected to the child’s inherent sense of self-worth.

  • Vulnerability
  • Reason (the inborn ability to recognize truth)
  • Dependence
  • Appropriate immaturity (the ability to act one’s own age)
  • Exuberant energy.

Maria Montessori became aware of the Authentic Child over 100 years ago. By careful observation, she found the spiritual treasures that children own. As she designed her Montessori classrooms to meet the child’s developmental needs and interests, these spiritual treasures came to light, revealing to her the idea of the “Authentic Child”.  This in turn lead her to define the following traits of the Authentic Montessori Child:

  • Self-Confident
  • Independent
  • Cooperative
  • Thoughtful
  • Helpful
  • Joyful Learners
  • Internally Motivated
  • Peaceful
Children whose authenticity has been squelched by well-meaning but often hurried or stressed adults, display other traits such as being uncooperative, bossy, self-centered, insecure, disruptive, willful, withdrawn, externally motivated, and seeming to lack interest or concentration.
Maria Montessori said “It is only the power of Love that can enable the adult to come close enough to the child to understand him. Love and humility will unlock for us “the secret of childhood.” (The Secret of Childhood. Ballentine Books. 1982) Montessori believed that we must nurture the true spirit of the child in order to unveil their true potential, thus leading to a more peaceful and prosperous world.

Although parents and teachers must work together to protect the authenticity and innocence of the child, it is the influence of the parent that is most significant.  The Montessori parent

  • Recognizes the child’s authentic nature regardless of behavior.
  • Is patient and reflects the child’s light and spiritual treasures.
  • Is centered in love.
  • Models peace
  • Creates home and school environments which support authenticity.

How can this happen? What does this look like?  Using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, parents can encourage authenticity in their children.

maslow

Physiological Needs

  • Regular, healthy meals
  • Good sleeping habits
  • Comfortable home environment
  • Appropriate clothing
  • Good health

Safety Needs

  • Regular routines
  • Consistent patterns
  • Safe home environment
  • Supportive emotional climate
  • Sensible boundaries

Belonging Needs

  • Involvement & contribution
  • Empowerment
  • Justice & fairness
  • Withdrawal from conflict

Esteem Needs

  • Unconditional love
  • Mutual respect
  • Appreciation
  • Independence
  • Confidence in child’s abilities

Self-Actualization Needs

  • Love of learning
  • Enthusiastic role models
  • Opportunities to learn
  • Effective communication

Parents also nurture authenticity by teaching effective communication and problem-solving skills. They shy away from the “Reward and Punishment” model, acknowledging that it stifles the child’s development of self-discipline by taking away the opportunity for them to make their own decisions and learn by logical and natural consequences.

Children have are innately driven to manifest their own will and potential. The way they construct themselves is the “secret” of childhood. As adults, it is ever so important that we respect this inner construct and honor and preserve their authentic nature. .

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

Follow the Child

Follow the Child

To “Follow the Child”–it’s one of those Montessori phrases we throw around, but what does it really mean?   In the 0-6 age group, following the child typically means observing the child in the classroom and using their interests and level of ability as a guide.

This may influence what work is presented to the child and when. For instance, a teacher who notices when the child has mastered the cylinder blocks will then present the knobless cylinders. If a child needs to improve their fine motor skills, we will make several materials available that use fine motor skills.

Following the child is one place where Montessori differs considerably from traditional education. Rather than following a strict curriculum, where every child learns the same things every day, we use a more flexible approach. If there are 20 children in a classroom, there may be 20 different paths being followed in terms of order and repetition of presentations.

What accounts for this difference in philosophy? In Montessori, we believe that the child instinctively knows what he or she needs to do. In my experience, I have seen this proven over and over again. A child will try a job, struggle with it, then return to it (sometimes dozens of times) in order to master it. All this without the interference of a teacher.

“Follow the child” does not mean let the child do what he wants. It is simply an acknowledgment that the child has his or her own pattern – that we need to take into account where the child is at, rather than impose our idea of what the child should learn now.  This is an important point, and a primary reason why observation is so crucial in Montessori. Since each child has their own development timetable, we can’t know where they are at if we are not constantly observing them.

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Susan Curley Owner and Directress

The Absorbent Mind

“The greatness of the human personality

begins at the hour of birth.”  **

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Maria Montessori recognised that the mind of a young child was significantly different to that of an adult. From the moment of birth a child is subjected to a multitude of sensorial impressions from the environment.

She talks of him having an “intelligence of an unconscious type”** which begins with this knowledge of his surroundings.

There is in the child an “intense and specialized sensitiveness in consequence of which the things about him awaken so much interest and so much enthusiasm that they become incorporated in his very existence.

The child absorbs these impressions not with his mind but with his life itself.”**

A very young child does not have a bank of memories from which to categorise and build his experiences. He simply absorbs knowledge directly into the very fabric of his mind, an unconscious psychological development that takes place through which the child can then relate all his subsequent external experiences.

This is why this first period in human development is so important. It is the foundation on which all else rests. The development of a human child is not restricted to that of instinctive behaviour, but includes the absorption of the social world.

At first the growing child has no sense of itself being apart from the world around it, slowly, however, it expands its knowledge and learns to perceive itself as a separate and distinct entity. The child has an innate ability to adapt to the social world in which it finds itself.

It is this ability to absorb its particular world that allows each child to adapt to the characteristics of its individual culture. Montessori realised that it was the influences that shaped a child’s mind at these early stages that either released him to develop in his full glory, or impeded him not only in childhood, but on into adulthood

“At no other age has the child greater need for intelligent help, and any obstacle that impedes his creative work will lessen the chance he has of achieving perfection.” **

“Impressions pour into us and we store them in our minds; but we ourselves remain apart from them as a vase keeps separate from the water it contains. Instead, the child undergoes a transformation. Impressions do not merely enter the mind; they form it. They incarnate themselves in him… We have named this type of mentality The Absorbent Mind.”

** All quotes are from The Absorbent Mind, written by Maria Montessori and first published in 1952.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

Building a Foundation of Trust

“What do you think?”
“I’m sure you will do the right thing.”
“Do you have any ideas?”
“How might that work?”

3D jigsaw pieces with text. Part of a series.

Building statements like the above into our repertoire is one small way that parents and teachers build partnership with children. Whether it’s rearranging the garage, working through an argument with a sibling, or figuring out when the best time of day to practice piano, the habit of soliciting children’s thoughts and ideas communicates our respect for their perspective and our trust that they are able to find creative solutions.

It can require patience, suspension of judgment, and a spirit of exploration. Often we have to stop ourselves from jumping in and offering solutions or direction. However, the doors that open can be remarkable and rewarding. Our trust in one another means we both have a little more freedom to enjoy experiences.

This concept is not intended to leave the children adrift, the message comes through clearly: You have good ideas. You have the power to solve your problems. We trust you.  Trust, in this context, is the fundamental belief that we all desire to bring our best selves to each moment. This is not the same as the expectations of perfection which often lead to feelings of disappointment, mistrust and that great demoralizer, comparison. When trust is present, we see the great good in one another and all that is possible rather than looking for what is missing. The child’s idea of how to clean up spilled water may not be our idea of efficient, but they, invested in creating the solution, will likely give their best self to the effort and will likely be willing to offer help again. I’ve often seen children’s ideas about how to resolve social issues work better than the adult suggestions!

Trust allows the children to rise to their own potential and develop skills of self-management. Equipped with lessons and guidance, their confidence builds as they begin to believe in their own powers of judgment and autonomy. Creating space for collaboration and independence: this is the joyful challenge of parents and educators with the benefit that the result is that our work together is eased when all parties feel autonomous and respected, cutting out the need for willful opposition.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

The Importance of Reading to Your Child

There is an easy way to improve your child’s chances at school. It will entertain and delight him. It will strengthen the bonds between him and you. And it is virtually free.

Sound too good to be true? Actually, it isn’t. The magical method: taking time to read aloud to your child.

In an era of high-stakes testing and education reforms and revolutions, research has repeatedly proved that one simple parenting technique is among the most effective. Children who are read aloud to by parents get a head start in language and literacy skills and go to school better prepared.

In other words, reading that bedtime story may not only entertain and soothe, it may also develop vocabulary, improve ability to learn to read, and – perhaps most important – foster a lifelong love of books and reading.

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Developing that passion for reading is crucial.  Every time we read to a child, we’re sending a ‘pleasure’ message to the child’s brain.  You could even call it a commercial, conditioning the child to associate books and print with pleasure.

This reading “commercial” is critical when competition for a child’s attention is so fierce. Between television, movies, the Internet, video games and myriad after-school activities, the pleasures of sitting down with a book are often overlooked. In addition, negative experiences with reading – whether frustrations in learning to read or tedious “skill and drill” school assignments – can further turn children off from reading.

That can have long-term consequences. Students who read the most, read the best, achieve the most, and stay in school the longest.

Reading aloud is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading.

The good news for families is that this sage piece of parenting wisdom is easy to follow. Reading aloud to your child requires only a book – free, with a library card – and your willingness to spend a little quality time with your child. And while the sacrifices to read aloud are few, the benefits are many: Your child may learn to read better, think better, imagine more richly, and become a passionate and lifelong reader. More than these long-term benefits, however, are some more immediate: The pleasures of spending time with your child and sharing the enjoyment of a good book.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

Montessori Multi-aged Classroom

One of the differences between a Montessori environment and a traditional classroom is that of a multi-aged environment. These classrooms provide the following benefits:

  • Self-esteem boosting for children in the program for more than one year.multi age
  • Confidence builder – the child knows the teacher and class expectations.
  • Each child has access to many “teachers” to seek out help or guidance, not just the adults in the room but also the older children that know the material.
  • Easier transitions. Your child remains with the same teacher for two (or more) years so they have an easier time transitioning from year to year.
  • Maximizes curriculum options available to anyone child. If you have an advanced 4-year old, your child is able to move through the curriculum at his own pace.
  • Provides a family atmosphere where children develop sibling like relationships. Older children watch out for and nurture the younger children. The younger children learn from the older children and return the favor in the future years.

Children in a Montessori classroom rarely become bored. In a Montessori environment children use different materials at different times in different ways. For example, a child may sensorially explore the geometric solids. The child handles the solids and explores them, but may not be ready to learn their names. After a time, the child learns the name of each solid. The material stayed the same, but what the child was developmentally ready for changed. This happens with many materials in the Montessori environment. Montessori multi-aged classrooms offer opportunities for children to grow and learn over an extended period of time.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

Peaceful Classroom, Peaceful Playground

October, 2015

One thing we sometimes forget to plan for is Peace education.

Promoting Peace was a large part of Dr. Montessori’s career – one of her most famous quotes is “Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of education.” She thought it was extremely important in her day; today it may be more important than ever.

The staff at Brookside has been consistently delivering the message of “Peaceful Classroom, Peaceful Playground”.  Among others, 10 ways we are including peace in our curriculum this year:

1. We talk about the word “peace” with our students – We ask the children what they think it means; their answers are very enlightening. They are often surprised to realize that peace can be found many places. It doesn’t just refer to “world peace”. They can have a hand in creating a peaceful environment wherever they are.

Peace may look a little different to everyone. It’s learning how to deal with conflict in a way that doesn’t put the rights, wants, or needs of one person over the other. It’s learning conflict resolution skills that stress respect for the individual and the group.

peace pic2. We’ve declared our classroom and playground a “peace zone” – Brookside does not tolerate any kind of bullying. We have laid down ground rules since the beginning of the year.  We reinforce this message regularly and seek agreement from the children on the concept.

3. We teach conflict resolution skills – One way (that children enjoy very much) is through role-playing. We try to choose a time when everyone is together and there are no unresolved conflicts. We role-play different situations that are noticed amongst the children. We talk about peaceful ways to resolve the conflict. We define and discuss compromise, taking turns, and listening skills.

4. We are choosing “Peace” as the theme every so often – We challenge the children to find stories, poems, and songs about peace. We will, throughout the year, seek opportunities to draw or paint pictures of “peace” and what it means to them. Again, much insight can be gained by looking into their responses.

5. We vary Peace education by age – Our older children will be able to get into the history of peace and conflict through our study of different countries and cultures in the kindergarten classroom. They can participate at a higher level by researching and writing about peace and peace education.

6. Our children participate in the care of their environment – showing respect for the materials, pets, plants, and other children.

7. When studying geography, history, and other cultures, we emphasize respect for the diversity of traditions and customs found around the world.

8. We have banned any representation of weapons or violent characters or stories at the school.  Period.

9. We try to set a good example – And you can, too. Don’t argue with parents, spouses, or other teachers in front of the children. Speak respectfully about other people. Don’t gossip. Show kindness. It can be easy to forget that children are watching your every move, and learn more from what you do than what you say.

10. We have established special holidays and rituals for our school – These include joyful celebrations as well as sad occasions (like the loss of a pet). Everyone shares in the planning, decorating, and celebrating. Ask yourself, is this something that we can (or do already) implement at home?

We will continue to work on Peace in our classroom and on our playground throughout the year.  In this day and age it is one of the most important messages we can deliver to our children.  Any assistance you as parents can provide in modeling and reinforcing peaceful behavior is greatly appreciated.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

New to Montessori? What to expect.

September, 2015

backtoschool

Starting a new year in a Montessori environment is a very exciting time!  Here are some things you can expect at the start of the new school year.

  • The first few days (and weeks) of school can be nerve wracking. Talk to your child about how they feel about going to/going back to school and about how you felt on your first day of school.
  • Students are to be left just inside the front door, at the cubby area. Quick exits are actually best to help your child adjust to their classmates.
  • Upon returning to pick up your child, it is important to give them your undivided attention.  Remember, they haven’t seen you for several hours and after a full day at school are likely to have a lot to tell you.  If you would like to chat with other parents, please try to do this outside the school before coming in to greet your child.
  • For a child returning to the same environment, you might ask him or her to relate the things that are the same or different as compared to last year.
  • Expect at least a six-week adjustment period in their new environment (“normalization” period, please read my previous blog entry Summer 2015 – The Montessori Classroom for more on this topic).
  • Returning students become role models and leaders for new friends in the classroom
  • Expect to wait about six weeks before volunteering in the classroom.  This will allow us time to familiarize your children with Montessori materials and classroom rules, also known as the “normalization” period.
  • Likewise, expect to wait at least six weeks before any parent/teacher conferences will be scheduled.  See the “normalization” remarks in previous point.

As always, the entire staff at Brookside is looking forward to the start of a new year and to working with your children.

Susan Curley Owner and Directress

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