Sunday, May 31, 2015

Baking Bisquits

Last week, I had the pleasant task of stepping winning binary options strategy into one of our primary classrooms to sub for one of our teachers.  It is especially pleasant at this time of year because the classrooms virtually run themselves.  Rather, I should say, the children are working as though we aren't there.  ;)

For the most part, I sat on a chair and observed which gave me the opportunity to watch one of the Master year children make baking powder biscuits.  The teacher has cleverly set up a tray with all the ingredient needed and equipped the classroom with a small toaster oven so an older child may make biscuits with very little assistance.  The activity is for an older child who has had lots of practise transferring, spooning, measuring, pouring, carrying, and washing dishes.

The activity starts by putting on an apron and lifting the tray down from the shelf.  The child then finds the teacher or assistant and asks the to turn on the toaster oven so that it is warm by the time the biscuits need to be baked.

Everything needed has been assembled onto one tray.   The child measures out the right amounts by reading the recipe and using the correct measuring spoons to mix everything in a bowl.  The photo below shows that the recipe is written out in cursive.  This is another great way for the children to practise reading cursive.

Once all the ingredients are mixed, it is transferred by spoon to a silicon muffin tray.  I particularly like this touch because the silicon removes the chance of fingers getting burned and the individual depressions help to keep the biscuits a uniform size.

Next, our baker dons oven mitts (purchased from Montessori Services) and places the tray into the toaster oven.   Then a timer is set to a alert him when the muffins need to come out of the oven.  

Finally, the hot oven signs are placed in front of the oven to remind the other children that the oven is hot.

While the biscuits are baking, the child washes up the dishes and places them back on the tray for the next person.  

When the biscuits are finally ready, they are taken out of the oven and placed somewhere to cool.  The child may eat one of them in the classroom, share one or two with friends, and take the remaining three biscuits home to share with the family.  (Unfortunately, the photo I took of the final product, didn't turn out.  I'll post a better picture next time a child makes biscuits.)

This is one of the advanced Practical Life activities that shows how effective and important are the preliminary and applied practical life lessons.  Without the skills of spooning, pouring, measuring,  tying, washing, sweeping, etc.,  the making of six biscuits would seem almost impossible to a young child.    This activity also underlines the importance of the third year in a Montessori primary classroom because this is the time when those early lessons combine to become a permanent part of the child's understanding.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Snack Table

Recently, on the school's Instagram account, I posted a picture of children having snack in one of our Primary (preschool) classrooms.  I've been asked several questions about snack time since then so I thought it might be helpful to write a post about how snacks are handled in our school.

Each week, a different family brings in enough snack food for the week.  They know what to bring because the teachers supply them with a list of favourite foods ( allergies taken into consideration).  We encourage the parents to take their children with them to buy the snack, whenever possible so that the child feels she is  a part of the process.  As I've told many parents, I've heard children pointing out the food at the snack table saying something like "Look!  Strawberries.  You like strawberries, don't you?  I picked them for you!"  Once the food is brought into the classroom, the students help to clean and prepare it.

Snack time is always by choice in a Montessori classroom.  The children quickly learn to watch for a space to come free at the snack table before preparing a plate.   In our Parksville school, the children find their name tag in a basket and place it on the table while they go to wash their hands.  This tells other children that the place, although empty,  is actually being used.  

Once her hands are washed, the child takes a plate from the shelf and helps herself to snack.

Numeral cards are placed in front of each bowl to help the children remember how many pieces of each type of food may be taken.  This ensures there is enough food for all the children and that a child doesn't spend the entire morning at the snack table.

Then the child takes her plate to the snack table to eat.

The little yellow circle on the floor by the snack table helps the youngest children make a pile of crumbs when they sweep up after their snack.

When snack is finished, the children clean up their spot.  They then rinse off their plates and place them in the drying rack.  The table is wiped free of crumbs and any bits on the floor are swept up. At the end of the morning, all the dishes are put in the dishwasher to be cleaned.  Finally, their name is put into the basket on the snack table.

In our Nanaimo classrooms, there is only one spot at the snack tables.  There is a 'waiting' chair nearby.  The teachers have found that this works very well and has saved them from having to remind a lingering child that others are waiting to have snack.  Other than that, snack is handled the same way as in the Parksville classrooms.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Every year about this time, I am asked for  suggestions of “montessori-style’ gifts to give to children.  Usually, I suggest an atlas or a globe geared for children, child sized cooking utensils, books, etc.  All very good gifts but .........

This year, I decided to strap on the old thinking cap and put together a new list.  Everything here has been child tested and declared 'cool' by my own children and others.  Hopefully you will find this helpful.

1. A child-size stethoscope and a book about the heart or body. (There is one of each in the Smallhands catalogue.)

2.  A building toy.  Now lego is great but take a look at some others, as well.  A couple of sets I’ve seen (and wished I’d found when my boys were younger) are ‘Structures by Mindset, and KEVA colour planks.

3.  Make a felt story to go with one of your child’s favourite books.  Felt stories are a great alternative to the bedtime story, are great for waiting in terminals and on planes, and can be played with by the child even when a parent is busy. Here is an excellent guide to making felt stories.

4.  For the older child - professional quality art materials.  These can be paired with how-to book for beginners.  (Watercolor: For the Artistically Undiscovered by Klutz is one suggestion.)  A few lessons with an artist would make a nice accompanying present from a close relative.  Better yet, if there is an adult artist in the family a few formal lessons with that person could be a great gift.

5.  A REAL musical instrument (don’t cheap-out and get a toy) and a few months of music lessons.

6.  A set of their very own rhythm instruments.  Again, try to get as little plastic as possible. Wooden rhythm instruments feel and sound a lot better than plastic counterparts.

7.  A complete sewing kit. With real scissors and needles.  If there is a younger sibling in the house, there will have to be some rules about where and when the sewing kit is used. 

8.  Any game by Ravensburger.  (Why Ravensburger?  Over the years, I have found their standards to be in line with the Montessori principles of non-violence, family values, and purposeful occupation. )   Better yet, give several game with the promise of a weekly Family game night (if you haven’t already).

9.  A microscope and lots of slides. I still remember the one we had as children.  Yes, I broke many slides by twisting the lens too close but I soon learned to be more careful.

10.   The ultimate dress-up box.  Princesses and knights are okay but to make a truly spectacular dress-up experience, consider child-size national costumes.  Some examples are a child’s kimono, sari, dishdasha,, salwar kameez, a kilt and sporin… the list is endless.  Complete the box with some good books full of pictures of people,  from around the world, dressed in their traditional clothes. (i.e. People around the world from Macmillan Publishing).  You might also consider throwing in a few adult size costumes so the whole family can join in the fun!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Process over Product

 In the Parksville school today, I had the pleasure of watching a 4 year old quietly painting at the easel.  It was her relaxed posture that drew my attention at first but then I noticed the large, blue triangle she had painted in the middle of her picture.  It was a nearly perfect  isosceles triangle.

Transfixed, I watched as she completely filled in the triangle and then painted another one, upside-down and smaller, jutting out of the top of the big one.  I wondered if she was going to continue filling the page with blue geometric shapes or if she would turn the shape into something else.

Never try to predict the creative direction of a four year old child.........

The triangles began to sprout appendages.

The appendages looped in upon themselves and were filled in with colour.

At one point, the artist realized she'd painted onto the easel so she carefully lifted the paper to clean before she resumed painting.

Now long lines began to emerge at the bottom of the blue.

The lines became rectangles and were quickly filled in with paint and..........

Well, I'm sure you've realized where this is going. 
 Eventually, the entire paper was filled in with beautiful blue paint. 

 Only then was the painting finished.   A wonderful example of a young child focussing on the process involved in a task rather than on the finished product.

We often hear the phrase 'process over product' in reference to the creative arts.  However, in a Montessori classroom, children can be found completely absorbed  in the process of just about anything.  It is the DOING of something that is important because doing leads to mastery.  Doing is the reason why teachers will allow a child to work with an activity for great lengths of time.  As long as constructive learning is taking place, a child will not be purposely interrupted.

I have witnessed a child engrossed in the feeling that scissor make when being used to cut different kinds of paper.  On another day, I've watched a child immerse himself in the process of washing a table, lost in the full arm movement required to make little circles with the brush over the table's surface.  I have even watched a child completely absorbed in sweeping the smallest particles into a dust pan.  Process is the most important part of any learning in which a child engages.

In the example of the painting (above) the child never invited a teacher or another child to see the picture.  In fact, while she painted, the little girl was almost oblivious to the rest of the classroom.  She was totally focussed on the process of painting blue.  When she was finished, the child matter-of-factly cleaned up and went on to her next activity never giving the painting another look.

I wonder if she even remembered to take the painting home.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Montessori and Social Justice

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on the role of social justice in our Montessori classrooms.  As I understand it, social justice concerns the ability of individuals to realize their potential within their own society, to lead fulfilling lives and be active contributors to their communities. Simply put, people are responsible for one another and should ensure that all have equal chances to succeed in life. So, with that in mind, does the Montessori curriculum afford enough opportunities for students to develop a sense of social justice?    Do we, as teachers and parents, do too much?  Do our students and children do enough?  How do we offer enough lessons around social justice without ramming it down their throats?

It begins with the training of Montessori teachers.   In proper training courses, emotional and spiritual preparation of the adult is essential to the education of future teachers. To be a Montessori teacher, one must discard thoughts of “teaching” in the traditional sense (filling children with information) and replace those thoughts with a commitment to and trust in a child’s developmental impulses. Montessori teachers are trained to recognize their own limitations and prejudices, to give up their need to control children and to guide the child as each sensitive period appears.  “The preparation of the Montessori teacher involves personal change, learning to be an astute observer, and learning to identify in oneself qualities that might be an impediment to fair observation and understanding of children” (2005, Lillard, p.286).

In the classrooms, teachers spend an inordinate amount of time preparing the environment to meet the needs of each child – to level the learning field, so to speak. The activities all have a built in control of error which allows the child to learn a concept by themselves rather than relying on (or worrying about) an adult stepping in to correct a mistake. Teachers are also expected to observe the children often and regularly so as to recognize and honour the rights of each child

Through all of these preparations, Montessori students are guided to help one another, to prompt their classmates who don’t know an answer, to cheer for one another, and not to compete for prizes or rewards.  They are introduced to, presented with and surrounded by social justice.

However, there are more overt ways for schools to continue fostering social justice in their communities.  Here are a few of the events and actions in which our elementary students take part.

Jump Rope for Heart
A fundraiser for the Heart and Stroke foundation that promotes healthy living to the students and raises money to help the greater community.

The School Store
Every other year, the elementary children set up a craft store to sell all the cards, ornaments, jewelry, and handcrafts that they’ve made.  Not only do the students learn valuable lessons around working as part of a team and handling money but a third of the profit made is allocated to charity. The students have a discussion about where they’d like the money to go and then a vote is taken.  The teacher is present and facilitates the discussion but the final decision is made by students and they all learn more about benevolent giving.

Kris Kringle
Every December, the elementary classrooms come together and take part in a game called Kris Kringle.  Although some parents find it a bit controversial, the game has withstood the test of time and continues to be a very effective way for the students to express gratitude, forgiveness, and how to deal with hurt feelings.  Every student draws, from a hat, the name of a “child” (another student) for whom they (the “parent”) will make 7 presents.  Each day the presents are brought to school and placed in a decorated box where they remain until just before lunch when they are handed out by the teacher. 

Now, here is where the controversy begins to germinate.  Some students forget to bring their present or simply don’t make anything and that can be very hurtful to the “child” who gets nothing.  Instead of an adult swooping in to fix the situation, the students are allowed to take care of it themselves.  This was evidenced last year when three girls sprang to give their gifts to one “child” who received nothing.  When a pattern of forgetfulness was noted by a few of the older children, they made extra gifts to make sure that everyone would get something.  Another older student wondered out loud if the forgetful person’s gift should be forfeit and given to his “child”.  Social justice at a very grass roots level.

Every year, a group of the oldest students take the food bank items collected by the school families to the local distribution centre.  There they spend the afternoon helping to sort the food and health items into boxes.  The conversations that take place after this event centre on how the students wish they could do more and how much more they’re going to collect next year.   Sure, there may be one or two who brag that they got to sort candy while the others had to sort diapers but the teachers quickly smooth ruffled feathers and make a mental note about who will be sorting diapers next year.

Spring Presentation
Unlike traditional school presentations, our spring presentation is completely created by the students.  That means they write the plays or skits, choose the songs they want to sing, and play solos if they want.  All the teachers do is help them to get organized, practise, make copies of lines and music to learn at home, and basically just assist.  Every single student contributes something and their part can be as big or as small as the group decides.  If a student really doesn’t want to appear on stage, they are given their choice of back stage roles.  If they want to play or sing a solo, they are welcome whether they’ve been taking lessons for years or just a few weeks. All the students are given an equal chance to take part and to feel that they’ve made a real contribution.  

The Montessori Model United Nations
“Students formulate, present, debate, and revise positions on current issues that are affecting people of the world.  By assuming the perspectives of a citizen of their selected countries, MMUN students not only develop an understanding of the needs and rights of others, but also learn the respect the cultures, the political views, and the belief system of others.” (See here for more information.)
This is the first year in a long while that we’ve had enough older students to consider going to the model United Nations.  If the trip is realized, our students will be getting a look at social justice on a much grander scale.

Finally, there is parenting for social justice.   Many of us believe we are committed to social justice in the greater community and want to pass that commitment on to our children.  However, if we stop and look at ourselves, we may find that our parenting model relies on control and domination - behaviours which ultimately reinforce many of the social systems that dis-empower children.   We believe we have the right to use power and coercion over children in order to control how they behave but that is really the foundation for all other forms of bias and discrimination.  The belief that we must use control in order for children to become productive and successful adults is deeply flawed.  If social justice is important to us as parents, we may need to rethink some of our parenting strategies.  It is just as important for parents as it is for Montessori teachers to scrutinize their own limitations and prejudices when it comes to the children.

Virtually every aspect of properly delivered Montessori philosophy gives lessons in social justice. The Montessori environment, which includes the properly prepared adults, fosters a keen sense of social justice and encourages the development of consideration for others through working together.  

So, do we do enough?  I certainly think so and I think we can do more.  If you disagree, please leave a comment.  I’d love to discuss this subject further.

Lillard, A.S. (2005) Montessori the science behind the genius. New York: Oxford University Press.