Sunday, March 28, 2010

Is Montessori right for every child?

     In a recent meeting of our Parenting Class, someone asked if Montessori is right for every child. Since this is a question that I get asked a lot, I've decided to give it a little attention here. My standard answer to the question is that Montessori is right for every child but it is not for every parent. By this I mean many things.

     Authentic Montessori schools understand that a vitally important factor in a child’s success is the understanding and involvement of the family in their child's education. On the surface, this means parents should stay informed by reading everything the school gives them (and more), and showing up (and on time) for conferences.

     However, being a Montessori parent entails much more than just reading and attending school gatherings and celebrations.

Being a Montessori parent means:

Ø observing your child on a regular basis (see this post)

Ø observing in the classroom so that you really know what goes on in there

Ø including your child in every aspect of family life

Ø slowing down and considering your child's developing needs

Ø fostering the same independence at home as at school

Ø counting to ten (and taking a deep breath) before imposing your will upon your child (unless in moments of extreme danger)

Ø doing your very best to refrain from slapping, threatening, or shouting

Ø ensuring you have not put your child into a Montessori school in order for them to get good grades when they go to "real" school. (There is sooooo much more to Montessori than that!)

Ø understanding that authentic Montessori schools are not babysitting services. (We call the 3 – 6 classroom "Primary" because that is what it is – the first and critically important years in a child's school life.)

Ø understanding that if you pull your child out in the middle of a three year level, they have NOT had a Montessori education. Taking a child out of a Montessori classroom to go into a public Kindergarten class takes away the child's leadership year. This may not seem like much to an adult but remember the young child has spent two years watching the oldest children. They've observed many things like how the oldest children give lessons and how the oldest children help to resolve conflict and how incredibly competent the oldest children are. The younger children understand that when they are 5/6 they will be the leaders and will be called upon to lead. I know this by the simple fact that every three year old I've ever had in my classroom has, at one time or another, said to me "When I'm 5 I'm going to do that work!"

Ø really trying to understand the Montessori philosophy. ( There are so many books written by so many different people that there is no reason NOT to read more. )

Ø understanding what your long-term goals are for your child and how those goals are going to be achieved.

Ø asking yourself "Are my everyday practises helping my child grow into the kind of person I'd like them to be?"


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sensitive Periods

    Through the study of butterflies and bees, Hugo de Vries, a Dutch biologist, concluded that there are "sensitive periods" during which insects must complete specific tasks to avoid irreversible developmental damage.  After extensive study, Dr. Montessori concluded that these critical periods parallel important sensitive periods in child development. 

     She found that the sensitive periods in a child's life are similar to those found in nature.  Sensitive periods found in nature, however, are guided by instinct, while sensitive periods in children are intellectual reactions to their surroundings.  They are times of heightened sensibility during which a child is expecially sensitive to a particular aspect or activity within his environment to the exclusion of all others.  During this period a child will work with dogged determination, repeating a task over and over until he feels complete or a particular skill has been acquired.
     Sensitive periods are not permanent, however and are limited to the learning of a task or attainment of a certain trait.  Upon achievement, the sensitive period will disappear.  It is of paramount importance, therefore, that as soon as a sensitive period emerges nothing should be allowed to impede its progress because these periods are vital to the healthy growth of any child regardless of background or cultural heritage.

     So what if a child is prevented from completion of a sensitive period?  It means that the task can still be learned, but it will not be easily learned.

     Therefore, sensitive periods must be able to flourish unimpeded.  A child needs to be able to explore his world.  He needs to be allowed to put things in their proper places.  He needs to move about freely using his hands to help him grow mentally and physically.  He needs to hear real language, not baby-talk.  He needs time to fully study the tiny things he discovers and he needs to be with other children of his own age as often as possible.  If  children are able to do all this with guidance and understanding from the adults in their world, they will be free to grow as  well-adjusted, happy beings.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Armchair Advocacy

At the left side of this page, under the heading Useful and Interesting Websites, is the link to The Hunger Site.  This site has been around for a number of years and many people may have already heard about it.  I'd like to encourage those people who don't know about the site to follow the link and partake in some armchair advocacy.
The Hunger Site

The Hunger Site has been around since 2001 and was formed by a pair of University chums (Tim Kunin and Greg Hesterberg), who saw the power of the internet and how it could be used to fight world hunger.  How it works is that advertisers pay for space on the site and every time one of us clicks the big button at the top of the main page, those advertisers pay for food to be distributed to people in need.  This is from the site - "Since its inception, visitors at The Hunger Site and shoppers at The Hunger Site store have given more than 671 million cups of food."  Wow!

Since then, 5 other sites have been established  - The Breast Cancer Site, The Child Health Site, The Literacy Site, The Rainforest Site, and The Animal Rescue site.  All sites work the same way.  We click the big button at the top of the page and the sponsors pay for mammograms, habitat protection,or pet food, etc.  While you are there, you can also sign a petition or two - and do a little shopping    : )

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Is there dramatic play in Montessori classrooms?

The other day, I was asked (quite belligerently, I might add) by a non-Montessori educator why there is no dramatic play allowed in Montessori classrooms. 
"Oh, but there is!"  I countered, " Where on earth did you get the idea there isn't?" 

What followed is not worth posting other than to say the woman was more interested in attacking the method than she was gaining any real knowledge about it. However, the conversation got me thinking about dramatic play and what it looks like in a Montessori classroom.

First, lets look at the word play.  It is supposed by many that children in Montessori programs do not play and I can't emphasize strongly enough the error of that supposition.  Put simply, Dr. Montessori described the things that children do as work so that adults would stop trivializing the importance of play.  Play is the work of children and it is how they learn. 

Perhaps the misunderstanding comes from the fact that we don't have toys on the shelf.  In fact, that first classroom in San Lorenzo was furnished with toys donated by a group of society ladies.  Gradually, Dr. Montessori brought in some of the materials she'd adapted to be used at the Orthophrenic School.  What she observed was that as the new didactic materials drew in the children, the toys were abandoned.   This can still be observed in many brand new Montessori classrooms; toys are available while the children are introduced to the Montessori materials but are abandoned by the children after a few weeks.  

So why does this happen?  Instead of a pretend kitchen filled with plastic food and a pretend stove and refrigerator, we give them real things.  (We call this the Practical Life area.)  Why pretend to prepare food to share with friends when the real things (apples, pickles, jam and crackers, carrots, etc.) are sitting in the real fridge or on the shelf waiting to be prepared?  Why pretend to clean house when there is a whole classroom to be scrubbed, dusted, swept and polished? 

Which leads me to look at the definition of dramatic.  The Oxford dictionary defines dramatic as "Of drama; as of a play-actor, theatrical; fit for theatrical representation…"   - in other words, pretending or mimicking.  Well, I've certainly seen lots of that going on in the classroom.  

I see dramatic play every time a five year old decided to be "Teacher" and give a lesson to a younger child.  I see it when two boys, looking at a book about Space, imagine what it will be like when they are astronauts.  I see it every time a child hands me a carefully cut strip of paper and tells me it is my ticket. I see it every time a child carefully cuts the zigzag line  (from the cutting tray) and turns it into a crown.  I also see it every time a child conducts the music coming from the CD player. (And let's not forget the dressing frame incident!)  Our classroom is full of pretending and mimicking and I bridle when I'm told otherwise.

So, is there dramatic play in our Montessori classroom?  Absolutely, however I will admit that we don't have fireman, policeman, doctor, or purple dinosaur costumes for the children and there are some very 'Montessori' reasons for that.  It is too adult-directed and not real.  I much prefer an assortment of scarves that can be used for anything a child can imagine. (They can also be used at circle to wave while listening to music.)  As for the realism, having a real stethoscope available to the children opens up all sorts of opportunities for dramatic play.  Because the stethoscope is real, they are also learning several science and sensorial lessons. 

Dramatic play is very present in Montessori classrooms but, because it does not look like the dramatic play seen in other preschools, it takes careful observation to identify it.

You will note that I've stayed away from a discussion about fantasy and imagination.  That is a topic for another day.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

One baby's Montessori room

Last year, one of our teachers left us to start a family.  Being a Montessori teacher, she and her partner are committed to raising their children within the philosophy.  I shared photos of the baby's room with our Parenting Class and someone mentioned that I should post them on the blog.  We've all seen pictures of  Finn's room,  so, with the family's permission, I'd like to post some pictures of Sawyer's room.  Enjoy!

 The black and white mobile is develop mentally appropriate and provides visual stimulation.

(See here for more information.)

A mirror attached to the wall beside his bed is so much more interesting than a blank wall.  It gives him another view of his room and lets him see his reflection.  The idea is that the child will begin to connect the movement his body makes with the movements happening in his mirrored reflection.

Another view of the room before the mirror was hung.  Note the low pictures on the wall.  When Sawyer was old enough to lift his head, these gave him another point of interest in the room.  Both the mobiles and the pictures are changed frequently.

Now he's old enough to grasp his soft blocks and lift his head.  In the background is the chest of drawers that his Mom designed and his Dad built just for him. Kathleen said "I will only keep 3 or 4 choices of shirts, pants, sweaters, in each drawer so that Sawyer can easily choose something to wear and not be overwhelmed with the task of getting dressed."

Update:  For more information and photos about Montessori children at home, please go to http://themontessorichildathome.blogspot.com/

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Please and Thank You Game

I thought I’d share a game I made up years ago.  It is called the Please and Thank you game.  This game can be used with a single child, small group or at transition time (circle) with all the children.  On occasion, I have witnessed small groups of children playing this game together without a teacher.  This is a great way to support some of the lessons of Grace and Courtesy (table manners) and can be played by anyone, anywhere.

Discuss the rules of the game first:
-  The correct answers are “Yes please” or “No thank you.”
-  The child must look you in the eyes when they say it.
-  The child must say “Thank you” if they are given something from the imaginary tray or
-  All of the children must wait until everyone has been asked and served before they eat
    the imaginary food.  Because of this rule, I usually serve the oldest children first
    working my way to the youngest.

Adult:  “On my (imaginary) tray I have some chocolate covered bumble bees with thorn bush sprinkles (the grosser the better).  Would you like a chocolate covered bumble bee with thorn bush sprinkles?” (This is said to the first child in the group).

Child : “Yes please.” (to which the adult answers "You're welcome.")  or “No, thank you”.  If the child says “Yes” the adult places an item in the child’s hands.  If the child says “No” just smile and move on to the next child.

Once the children have all been "served", the teacher says, "You may all now eat.”

With great gusto and a little silliness join the children as they devour the “food”.

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