Sunday, May 30, 2010

And the survey says.....!

     Every three years or so, our school sends home a survey asking parents various questions about their family's experience at our school. These surveys can be signed or returned anonymously in order to receive some constructive criticism. For the most part, comments on this year's returned surveys were extremely positive. There was however, one survey, which posed some very good questions, and I'd like to dedicate the next few posts to those questions in case there are other families wondering the same things.

The first comment was on the lack of physical activity in the classrooms.

     This questions always throws me because we believe that movement is vital to children's learning.  However, there is more involved in movement than just simple exercising or running around the playground. Children must also be given activities that appeal to their inner commands (sensitive periods).

In this picture, a girl stretches as far as she can to cut off a spent bloom.

It is no secret that children are constantly moving. They are, in fact, seeking to hone those movements required to achieve the mundane occupations of daily life: occupations such as dressing and undressing, setting the table for meals, or taking care of a pet. Dr. Montessori believed that adults need to keep this in mind instead of pleading with children to keep still and that we should give some order to their movement.

In this picture, two children use many different muscle groups while washing the dishes.  In this shot, the girl is pouring the rinse water out of the tub without spilling it onto the counter - lots of concentration and honing of movement required to do this.

A love of beautiful images is not enough to paint beautiful pictures. A will to paint and many hours of practise and study are also required. However, and this is where man is greatly different from animals; learning to paint is a choice we can make. Therefore, it is not enough to simply have children do simple exercises just to strengthen their muscles. It is equally important that movement be coordinated with the will.

Within a Montessori classroom, undisciplined movements are channelled through the lessons and materials on the shelves. Repetition of these most important activities gives children the practise and confidence necessary for taking care of themselves and their surroundings.

Here a child uses his whole body to place the red rods from long to short.

Another example is the activity of walking on the line.  This is hugely popular in the classroom and for very good reasons. Children love to walk on narrow curbs and walls because it helps them develop their sense of balance. When a child practises this activity, the whole body is engaged.

Balancing a bean bag and a metal bowl while walking on the line.

A younger child balances a flat basket
on his head.  Look at the focus on the face of the child watching him.

Taking care of the classroom environment affords many opportunities for using fine and gross motor skills.

From using the carpet sweeper, …

to shaking out mats, …

to washing the windows, …. the children are constantly moving.

And let's not forget about yoga in the classroom. It starts with lessons from the teacher and, when the moves are mastered, is done independently but under observation.

At circle time, we dance and sing and play rhythm instruments and play games. Yes, we read stories too and sometimes a puppet or two comes to visit.

However, sometimes a child just wants to be still. There are opportunities for that, too.

The finger labyrinth.

Watching the bunnies.

 A quiet moment with a beloved teacher.

Montessori classrooms are in constant motion because that is the nature of the children who bring them to life. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Eagles of Hornby Island

While I am working on another post, I'd like to pass on this link to the webcam on Hornby Island.  Hornby Island is a beautiful place just off Vancouver Island (the big island - not to be confused with Hawaii). The camera is in a tall tree close to the eagles  and there are babies in the nest!  It is worth a look even if you live where the sight of a soaring bald eagle is an everyday thing.  Make sure to scroll down past the video to learn a bit more about these beautiful birds.

The link was sent to me by another teacher at our school.  It isn't everyday I get to watch an eaglet in its nest - thanks, Shelley!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Bird watching

    In many Montessori classrooms there are activities that have grown out of another and out of the children's need for independence.  A lovely example of this in our classroom is birdwatching.
 It started as the simple morning activity  of hanging the birdfeeder in a playground tree.  (There are always a few children who are dropped off early and this is one of the jobs they do to help get the classroom ready. )
The tree in question is right outside  one of the classroom windows making that window the perfect spot from which to watch the birds.

Once the feeder has been hung, it has to be filled with birdseed.  This means a trip  back into the classroom to get the bucket of birdseed.  There is a scoop in the bucket to make filling easier and the general rule of thumb is one scoop for the feeder and one scoop to be scattered on the ground. 

Sometimes, however, the bucket is empty and more birdseed needs to be mixed up.  On the shelf beside the bucket are three containers with different kinds of seeds (depending on what birds come to the feeder), a small mixing bowl and a soup spoon.  Each container has a number on it so the child knows how many spoons of each to put into the bowl.  Once the seeds are all mixed, the bowl is emptied into the bucket, the containers and tray are returned to the shelf and the business of filling the birdfeeder continues.

After a little while, word is spread amongst the neighbourhood flocks that breakfast has been served and the serious job of birdwatching can begin.  At first the children just peered out the window and watched the birds.  Then we added a field guide sheet with pictures of birds that can be found in the   Pacific Northwest.  After another little while, I remembered a small pair of binoculars I'd squirrelled away for just such an activity.
The laminated sheet and the binoculars allow the children to speculate on which bird they are seeing in the feeder and often a teacher is brought over to cast the deciding vote.

I am really looking forward to seeing where this stream of activities takes us next.  Perhaps to the easel to paint some of the birds that have been seen or maybe to the Moveable Alphabet to write a bird story?  I'll keep you posted.


Saturday, May 8, 2010

A few things to think about.

     Lately, I have been musing over some of the reasons parents choose to leave a Montessori school. Why would parents choose to leave a program that is clearly working for their child? When we ask that question to parents in our own school, we hear many answers but here are the three we hear most often.

We want our child to learn to speak another language so we're putting her/him in Immersion.

     I whole-heartedly applaud parents who understand how important learning a second language is to a child. There are, however, other ways for children to learn that skill rather than putting them into a teacher-directed educational method. That is what Immersion is – at least here in BC – a traditional teacher-directed classroom experience.

     With that said, I would ask parents to zoom out and look at the larger picture. Do you want your child in that kind of education system? Isn't the independence of a child-centred method one of the reasons you chose Montessori in the first place? Perhaps leaving your child in a Montessori Elementary program and giving them extra-curricular language lessons is a better route? Something to consider.

It is just too expensive to keep paying tuition. Public school is free.

     Yes, paying tuition can be a strain on some families. We get that, which is why we ALL try to keep tuitions as low as we possibly can. Believe me, if we could enter the public system without having the Government telling us how to run a Montessori program, we would.

     Public school is free. So are the hours of homework that public school children are given daily. So is the lack of independent choice that your child will be given. So is the reward and punishment system otherwise known as grades.

     Now, I'm going to get a little harsh and point out that monthly tuition is no more expensive than buying new clothes every month, or filling up the humungous SUV a few times a week, or taking yearly family vacations in far away places. It really is just a matter of priorities. Is stuff more important than a child's education?

I went to Public school and I turned out all right.

     In regard to parents using their own experience in public school to decide their child's next step, I would ask those parents to take a really hard look at that experience. Is just 'turning out all right' really what you want for your child? Were you ever bored? Did the teachers take time to get to know you and your family? Were you able to follow an interest as far as you wanted even though it wasn't in the curriculum?

     My own boys went to public school so I know what I'm talking about. The option of authentic Montessori elementary was not available to us. One of my children thrived in the public system; one of them did not. If I could do the whole thing over again, I would move to a city that had an authentic Montessori program for my children to attend. 20/20 hindsight.

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