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Sunday, April 25, 2010

A bit about child development

     Developmental studies at the time of Dr. Montessori's research were called scientific education but, in her opinion, were incorrectly named.  Montessori felt there was no evidence of "education" in the studies because no attempt had been made to improve the educational system.  She also maintained that no true observations of children could be made within schools as they existed before she began to implement her method.  "These made the students adopt an attitude of weariness or of 'self-defence' instead of enabling them to give expression to the creative energies that naturally belonged to them" (Discovery of the Child, 1999, p. 43). 

     Dr. Montessori's intention was to develop the 'whole child' through motor, sensory, and intellectual activities.  She took detailed measurements of each child and tracked both their mental and physical growth.  She had doctors weigh the children and measure their heights.  Heads and chests were measured and each child was given a yearly medical exam.  She introduced nutrition and hygiene into her program and she encouraged her teachers to talk with the children's parents to obtain a better understanding of each child's family situation.  In short, Dr. Montessori was the first to incorporate all aspects of child development into an education method.

     Although authentic Montessori programs continue to promote the study of the whole child  there's still a need to separate the different developmental aspects in order to aid child observation.  Psychologists have separated child development into six categories - physical, intellectal, emotional, language, social, and spiritual.

     How a child's body grows and changes is the most obvious development.  Physical development begins at birth and continues on throughout childhood.  The rate of physical change is not, however, a constant among all children, and this can greatly impact a child's emotional and intellectual development simply by the ways in which others respond to her.  For example, if a child is shorter than most children of her age, she may be treated like a much younger child.


     The moment a child is born, intellectual development begins.  A newborn child is beginning to form concepts when she feels cold air on her skin.  As she grows, she will recognize her mother's voice and cry if she is hungry.  She is learning, solving problems, recognizing people and things, and beginning to understand concepts.  By the time she is of primary school (preschool) her most obvious characteristic is self-centred behaviour meaning everything that happens around her is for her.  To a child of this age, tactile experiences are imperative because of the information gleaned from each new experience.  In a Montessori enrironment, this need is beautifully accommodated through use of the sensorial materials.

     Proper development of the emotions is crucial for good self-esteem and self-perception.  When a child is in a positive environment in which her emotional needs are met she is free to think and act in the best way she knows how.

     Communication or language development begins with a baby's first cry and continues through to learning how to read and write.  It also means listening and understanding.  This can be seen very clearly by observing  a child of two who may use only a hundred words or so but, by the time she is three, has learned over one thousand.

     How a child learns to relate to other and becomes a contributing member of a community or group is the aspect of social development.  Learning to share, acquiring friends, or having constructive arguments are all vital steps toward becoming a social being.
    



Finally, the term spiritual development has nothing to do with any religious concept.  Rather it is the developmental aspect that allows a child to relate to others in an ethical, moral, and humane fashion.  It involves understanding the needs and feelings of others and, later, concern for the needs and fellings of others.




     The reason I write all of this is because identification of the various aspects of child development is intrinsic to the objective observation of children.  Within a properly prepared Montessori environment there is offered an intergrated approach to the developmental needs of the whole child.  In such an environment the child gains independence on both an emotional and social level which enables her to become comfortable and confident in her ability to understand the world, ask questions, seek out answers and learn without being driven by an adult.  It is a place where all aspects of child development are allowed to flourish. 

Sunday, April 18, 2010

More fish tales..er..tails


     The little fish were released last week.  Unfortunately, I was suffering from a horrendous migraine and the thought of going out into the sunshine was more than I could face - which is my whiney way of saying I didn't go with the children this year.
     However, Denis was pressed into service once again and off they all went, in my van, with my camera, to find a perfect spot to release the little fry.

First the little fish had to be put into a smaller bucket. 


Then a perfect spot had to be found.  A place with a flat shore or better yet, a flat rock works best for an effective release.  The children all want to get as close as they can in order to watch the fish swim off into the deep water.

Carefully tipped into the water........

Can you see them?  No?  Well, they are rather small but they are there.


Bye, bye.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

There are no "bad" children

     A Montessori teacher must believe that there are no "bad" children: there are only those who need to be directed toward work that will occupy them.  In writing that, I am reminded of Michael, a boy in one of my first classrooms.  At the beginning of the school year he wanted only to talk and tease the other children.  He constantly disturbed the others and had to be guided away.  Initially, my co-teacher and I wondered if he would ever settle down but decided to have faith in the method and to observe carefully.  When Michael interrupted others, we would distract him in order to stop the disturbing behaviour.  Often we would quietly remind him of the classroom rules or, at other times, we would simply guide him back to the Practical Life shelves. 

     After a few months, Michael was working more and disturbing others less.  By the end of his first year, Michael had become a willing worker and a helpful member of the classroom society.  This was achieved by our observing his behaviour, assessing his needs, then guiding him to find the answer to those needs within the prepared environment of the classroom.
This was also achieved through the development of a good relationship with Michael's mother.  
   
  A Montessori school or classroom should be an augmentation of the child's  family.  In essence, the classroom must provide a relational not an institutional culture.  Teachers do not know everything there is to know about the children in their care, nor should they be expected to.  Parents are the child's first teachers and can give us invaluable insight to their children if they are allowed.    It is the responsibility of every Montessori school to provide opportunities for families and teachers to form strong relationships with one another.



       Family picnic









Night walk before sleepover

Saturday, April 3, 2010

There's something fishy going on...........

     For many families, salmon is a staple food here on Vancouver Island. The First People have eaten all five species of salmon for centuries and newcomers who have been on the island for any length of time, whole-heartedly embrace this cuisine. Most Island children have seen a salmon run (and I don't mean on two legs) and watching the spawning is a pastime here. The fish is part of our Island culture and something that we reflect in our elementary program.

     Every year, our elementary teacher (Diana) and the children set up the salmon tank, which resides in the broom closet just off the elementary classroom. They prepare it with rocks and cold water, ensure there are no holes in the fish net, make sure the buckets are scrupulously clean, and that the tank's insulation is all in order. (In order for the salmon to survive and be comfortable the temperature of the water should be 12.8 C). When the tank is ready, someone from the Salmonids Program (Ministry of the Environment) comes and drops off the salmon eggs.



  Each day, the children take turns checking the eggs, recording the temperature and making scientific notes on a clipboard that sits on the tank. Once the fish hatch, feeding becomes part of the daily routine.
     When the time is right – usually just before it is time to release the fry (go here for more information about salmon) Diana brings a couple of frozen salmon to school to be inspected and dissected by the children. (The fish she has are spawning adults. Spawners lay eggs and die within a few days.)

     They begin by discussing the outer features of the fish. After all, the children have all eaten salmon, they've been learning the parts of the fish from the nomenclature cards for years, and they've watched the fish in the classroom fish tanks. Now they can really see the head, fins, tail, eye, lateral line, gills, and trunk.  With Diana's guidance, they discuss how and why the different parts work.
    
When the fish are thawed and the children have all inspected the exterior of the fish, Diana's husband Dennis comes in to show the children the interior of the fish.  This, of course, means it has to be dissected and every little bit of the fish is inspected.  (Dennis has work with the Dept. of Fisheries for years so he is an expert on fish bits.) This process is quite different from catching and gutting the fish one is about to eat, but the children are fascinated none-the-less.
     Pretty soon it will be time to release the fry into one of the streams near the school. The older children with Diana (me too, if I can get away) will carry the buckets of small fish to the stream and find an appropriate place to empty them. Then we will watch as the tenacious little fishes swim away and we will speculate about how many will make it to the ocean.  I wonder if any of the eggs we will hatch in years to come will be from "our" salmon.

     The cycle of life –Discover Montessori style.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A new blog.

As if I wasn't busy enough, I've begun another blog.  This one, called The Montessori Child at Home, is dedicated to all Montessori parents.  It will feature a different family from our schools every couple of weeks with picture of how they've incorporated the philosophy into their home life.  We have some truly committed parents at our school and I am honoured they are letting me showcase their endeavours.  Here is the link http://themontessorichildathome.blogspot.com/

Comments and suggestions would be greatly appreciated.  Enjoy!