Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why is there a Spring Break in an Independent school?

     The title of this post is paraphrasing a message recently sent to me by one of our parents. Since it is something I've been asked a few times over the years, I thought I'd address it here.

     There are several reasons why most Montessori schools follow the model created by the public school system.  However, in order to answer the question accurately, one needs to know why the question is being asked. As I mentioned, this kind of question has been asked many times in many different ways.   

     The question might be asked out of concern that the same amount of tuition is paid for each month although one month may have fewer school days than another?  In this case, its a very good question and one that I always try to cover in orientation meetings. Our tuition is actually a yearly fee.  We've broken it down into monthly payments to make it more accessible for most families. This is why we don't have a daily or an hourly fee nor do we have drop in rates.

     Perhaps the question is asked because parents don't understand the need for children to have breaks from academics.  Just like adults, children need breaks from work.  Taking periodic breaks has been proven to help children be more focused and ready for academics when they return to school.

     Sometimes the question is asked out of the misguided belief that teachers go skiing over the break.  Contrary to popular belief, most teachers work throughout their break time.  This is even more true  for Montessori teachers who are constantly creating, updating, and refurbishing their classroom materials.   Skip over to this post and you'll get a glimpse of the kinds of things Montessori teachers do on their breaks.

     Often, I am asked why Independent schools take time off for Professional development days.  The name says it all.  Our credentialing bodies require a certain amount of professional development per year in order to renew our teaching licenses.  Most of our teachers hold credentials from both the Early Childhood Educator Registry (to teach the primary children) and from the Ministry of Education (to teach the Kindergarten aged children).  This means that our teachers have to prove they've done more professional development than other teachers.  Not only do we attend our own Montessori conferences and refresher courses, but we also attend workshops on speech development, childhood development, music and art, special needs, observation of children, best practises in math and language, etc.  Very few of these courses are offered on weekends so we must take Pro D. days. With all that said, we take fewer Pro D days than public schools.  We also don't take every second Friday afternoon off.

     To close, I'd like to mention that this question is often asked because it is not understood that Montessori schools are not daycare programs.  We are schools.  Please don't misunderstand me - I am not denigrating daycare programs.  I am just trying to point out that authentic Montessori programs are vastly different than other programs.  Looking at Montessori programs through the daycare 'lens'  does both programs a great disservice.  There are many kinds of early childhood programs available to answer many different needs.  The decision to place one's child in any program depends very much on a parent's values, needs, and understanding of the programs available.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Elementary Formal Dinner

Every year, our elementary students prepare and hold a formal dinner......for themselves.  It is a wonderful event and the infectious magic of the preparations filters through the entire school as delicious smells waft down the halls and excited preschoolers sneak peeks at the industries taking place in the elementary classroom.

Preparation begins weeks before when the elementary teachers and the children decide on the menu. Usually this involves the children making suggestions and then voting on those suggestions.  Over the years, the dinner has included any combination of  appetizers, salads, soup, entrees  and desserts.   Depending on the group of children, the dinner could include anything from macaroni and cheese to ginger maple glazed chicken.

Once the menu is set, the office helps them make place-cards.   The menu is printed on one side of the card and the child's name is handwritten on the other.  Here is an assortment of place-cards that have graced the tables of formal dinners in the past.

The next step is buying the food.  The menu is broken down into ingredients and the teachers help them figure out the amounts they will need.  Once the shopping list is written out,  a small group of the children are taken to a local grocery store to purchase everything they will need to make the dinner.  Although they are driven to the store by an adult, they are not guided around the store.  The children are expected to push the cart around the store and find the items on their list.  If they need help, they are to ask someone who works at the store.  Now this does not mean that the driver just dumps the children at the store then goes to grab a coffee. ;0)  Far from it.  Having been the adult in question on several occasions, I find it best to hang out by the magazine rack in case the children need to find me.

Once the groceries have been bought and paid for, the children return to the school and the cooking begins.   By this time, another group of children have had time to really look at the recipes and decide how many steps are involved. 

While the food is being prepared, another group of children make the table arrangements. Our Board Chairman, Eveline, brings in an assortment of fresh flowers every year and guides the children as they make beautiful centrepieces for the tables. 

By 3 o'clock, the food has all been prepared and put away, the classroom has been tidied and the table has been set, so the children go home to prepare themselves for the festivities.  It is a Formal Dinner and the children take great pleasure in dressing up in their finery.  Over the years, we have seen everything from three piece suits  to freshly pressed Hawaiian shirts, opera length gloves to feather boas, and bolo ties to bow-ties. 

Once the children are gone, the party elves spring into action. (The party elves are the teachers and anyone else who can be pressed into service).  We set the tables, string fairy lights, tie balloons to the back of each chair, set up the music, and begin to warm the food for serving.

By this time the children start to arrive and find the room has been transformed in their absence. (At this point, the parents are "allowed" to stay for 15 minutes to take pictures.  After that, they are politely whisked out the door so that the festivities can begin.)

Then children find their places by reading the place cards.

 Excited chatter fills the air as they discuss the table settings, their attire, how much they are looking forward to the dinner, and how" cool" the whole event is.  This is my favourite part of the whole evening.  The youngest children are attending their first Formal Dinner.  For the previous 3 years, as Primary students, they watched (and smelled) the preparations and often wished they could take part.   Now, as they enter the classroom, one can see that they truly feel they've arrived.  They stand a little taller, eyes wide and shining.  Many of them don't stop smiling all evening.  In like manner, the older elementary children enter the room with happy anticipation.  Although they've attended previous Formal Dinners, their renewed sense of wonder is unmistakable.

Once the children are seated, the food is brought to the serving table.  One by one the children bring their plates to the food table and are served by their teachers.

They politely wait until everyone has been served and then.......the dinner begins. Table manners are expected and the children have been carefully schooled to say "Interesting" when they find they don't like the taste of something.

After so much sitting around and eating, someone inevitably asks "May we dance?" So tables are moved out of the way and the music is turned up. The children dance and dance......until.......their parents arrive and it is time to say farewell.

Our Formal Dinner is a long held school tradition.  It is another bonding experience for the elementary children as well as a safe venue for the children to practically apply the lessons of formal socializing. It is also a lot of fun for students and teachers alike.

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