Organized chaos

It can be hard to imagine how a classroom works when there are 15-20 children ages 3-6 that are all doing their own “work” for 3 hours.  In a Montessori classroom there are limited group lessons (these are usually limited to 3-4 children at a time when they do occur).  Children get individual lessons from the teacher (Guide) and then are able to choose that work anytime they want.

 

Children happy at work

 

The rules of the room are simple: Children may choose any work they have had a lesson with, it MUST be on the shelf, work with it as long as they choose, then put it back when they are done.Even though most lessons are given individually, the children often team up to work on puzzle maps, or dishwashing, or to have snack.

 

working together on a puzzle map of North America

working together on a puzzle map of North America

 

A group of older children reading lists of words with different spellings

A group of older children reading lists of words with different spellings

 

working independatly

working independently

This method works because it allows children to be self- directed (within reason).  The teacher can offer suggestions and give new lessons when the child has mastered something so there is always a new challenge to explore.  There are also all the lessons they have already mastered to go back to any time they choose.  

 

Within the classroom there are multiple “peer teaching” moments.  Because the children stay in the same class for 3 years and sequentially move throughout the curriculum many of the older children have already mastered something that a younger child can not yet do.  This affords a wonderful teaching moment for an older child and a great interaction for the younger child to experience what they will one day be able to do.

 

A Child who has already mastered the map of North America is helping replace all the pieces.

A Child who has already mastered the map of North America is helping replace all the pieces.

 

You may think that the classroom where children are able to choose their own activities all morning would result in chaos.  However, it is quite the opposite.  The children go from work to work, setting up their table or rug, exploring with the material and then cleaning up.    This is repeated over and over again.

 

Looking at a new book toggery- the child in the middle is reading to the other two.

Looking at a new book together- the child in the middle is reading to the other two.

Because the children are happily engaged and busy, the room is calm and humming with activity.  It is a wonderful way to spend a morning!

 

The simple things

The beauty of flowers!

The beauty of flowers!

One of the this I love about working with children this age is that they MAKE me slow down and notice things I would probably miss.

A 2 (or 3 or 4)  year old does not care how fast they get to the corner, but they do care about all the rocks, flowers and animals they pass.  In the classroom and out in the play yard I am constantly reminded to slow down, listen to what they say and examine things with them

 

Children do not have the same life experiences we do, so things we may find mundane, they revel in!

image

Examining rocks…this is a favorite for many children!

I know that its not always an option to slow down to a childs pace.  Sometimes we just don’t have 10 minutes to let them put on their shoes or look at an insect.  But when we do, it is a wonderful gift to take it all in!

 

I can read!

Most children begin reading at some point during their primary years in the Montessori classroom. This usually starts after the child knows all of the sounds of the alphabet- (thank you sandpaper letters).

sandpaper letters

sandpaper letters

We have found that it is easiest to show the child a few sounds at a time- naming the sound and then thinking of words that start with that sound- until one day the child can recite all the sounds back to us.

Children begin reading all phonetic words- which means they can actually sound out the entire word. There are no blended sounds like ee, or sh. There isn’t silent e, or any other exception.

My son has finally begun to show an interest in reading- yes, he is in the first grade but he has decide that he actually enjoys it now so the task of reading is so much easier!  He is really starting to excel!

IMG_0041

We started with this amazing set of phonetic books- real phonetic books!  Most readers for children contain a lot of words you can’t sound out or words with blends in them. This can be really discouraging to the emergent reader

IMG_0038

IMG_0039

If you are looking for a great set of books for your child at home check these out- you can’t go wrong!  There are  multiple sets; as your childs skill level increases, so does the vocabulary and amount of words in the books.

 

Time to PLAY!

We had our Winter Family Social at The Little Gym in Lake Oswego this year.  This is an event  that the whole family participates in; parents, grandparents and siblings.  I wanted the children to be able to be in a safe, fun environment with some free time as well as a portion of more structured time.

We found the right place!  When we arrived the children (and families) were welcomed into the gym by energetic, fun staff members.  They had a variety of apparatus set up for varying ages.  We had siblings as young as 6 months up to 9 year olds.  There was something for everyone.

After the first 20 minutes or so the children were invited to come to the large red mat and participate in a class designed just for us!  The children took part in a number of different activities which included follow-the-leader, balls, running, jumping, twirling sticks while singing and dancing to music.

IMG_4981

“look at those moves!”

Then the inflatable run came out.  The children watched as it slowly inflated.  Afterwards they had plenty of turns running, skipping, hopping and having all sorts of fun on this inflatable run.  When it was time to transition to the next activity all of the children piled on, laid very still and waited for it to deflate.  I have never seen them all so still and quiet at the same time.

We ended the morning with fun parachute games and then a light snack in the party room.

My son had SO much fun that we also signed up for a few days of “winter camp”, where he spent three hours in the gym and loved every minute of it!  I know that he will be begging to go back over spring break and summer.

If you haven’t checked out the Little Gym, I highly recommend it for some SERIOUS FUN!

www.thelittlegym.com/lakeoswego

 

School time

Four years ago when I was getting ready to open Community Montessori I structured the program around two things: the Montessori philosophy, and offering a flexible schedule.  I had been in the Montessori world for 10 years at this point, every school I worked at, or even knew of, only offered 5 day schedules.  I know from my experience that more time spent in the classroom is beneficial.  However, I had a 16 month old and was working part-time.  I felt that he would still benefit from being in the classroom part-time.  Ended up that a few other parents that I knew felt the same away, and CMS was born.

It can be hard as a parent when you want to spend time with your child but also want them in school some days. Or if you work part-time and want your days off to be with your child.  It has been a trend at CMS that children start 2 days per week, but are soon adding days.  I think that this is a good transition for the child and parents.  It gives everyone a chance to ease into school life.

As a teacher I will always recommend that families have their child attend as much as they can.  I know that it might take longer for the chid to adapt to school if they are only attending 8 times per month.  Think about when you started a new job or began a new hobby.  The more time spent the easier it is to feel at home, know how things work and what is expected.

If a part-time schedule is what works for a family, I would recommend consecutive days of enrollment.  The Montessori materials are interactive and your child learns new concepts when they spend time working with the materials.  When they attend consecutive days your child is able to practice concepts with momentum.

As enrollment approaches I am sure that many families will be taking this into consideration.

Preparations

Preparations.

We know that all young children have a lot of knowledge they need to acquire.  In a Montessori school learning is self-driven and is done effortlessly.  When the child is young they busy themselves with washing tables, polishing brass, stringing beads, moving cylinders in and out of blocks, matching colors, dishwashing and even making flower arrangements.  Believe me, the children LOVE this work.  They are completely content and joyful going about their daily activities, being part of a group and knowing that they took part in caring for their classroom and themselves.

washing a chalkboard

Maria Montessori knew what she was doing!  Not only did she figure out a practical life curriculum that children LOVE, design and make real materials at a child size, but also embed preparations for reading, writing and mathematics into each lesson!

Each lesson is shown with a left to right movement of washing, scrubbing or drying.  When a child washes a chalkboard they start on the left side and make strokes across the board (just like when you track a line with your finger in a book).  This happens dozens of times each day with a variety of work: washing a table, washing a mirror, scrubbing an underlay, scrubbing the easel…..you get the idea.

 

washing a mirror

When the child is ready they are shown more complex lessons with many steps.  The lesson of dishwashing involves multiple trips to fetch water (some warm and some cold).  Gathering dishes from all over the room then rinsing, scrubbing, rinsing again, drying then replacing in the correct space in the classroom.  Then a whole series of tasks for clean up.  All of which the child does without any help!  This experience helps prepare children for multi-step processes later in math and language.  It aids in establishing sequences which they can call on later when they are working on division and sentence analysis.

dishwashing

Children are also able to work on their fine motor control and manual dexterity within the scope of practical life lessons.

Here children are washing leaves, polishing brass and snapping.  Each child is preparing for holding a pencil and forming letters without even knowing it.  It is amazing to me that these lessons not only give the child a deep sense of satisfaction but also prepare them for what is ahead in such a natural way.

snapping
polishing
leaf washing

The magic of numbers

A young child is bombarded by many, many things to learn.  Thankfully they are born with the gift of an “absorbent mind”.  Maria Montessori, (founder of the Montessori Method), uses this term consistently in her observations of children.  She uncovered the fact that a childs’ brain is like a sponge.

We have all seen this in action, when we are amazed at what they remember and know.  Yes, this come out when you refer to a sweater as a sweatshirt, or a sandal as a shoe.  All of a sudden this small child is all-knowing!

Sandpaper letters

In our classroom we use this magical power to our advantage.  We present concepts with real hands on materials that the child can feel, see and hear.  A staple of any Montessori classroom is sandpaper letters and numbers.

The concept is simple: a board with one letter cut out in sandpaper.  26 boards (child-sized) where we can teach one sound at a time.  Soon the child knows all the sounds and can start to read and write…. Yes, writing actually comes FIRST.

“Writing”

The same is true for the numerals.  Numbers 0-9 are presented this way, with many other materials at our disposal to expose the child to numbers as a whole (number rods) or numbers as a group (spindle boxes).  We even give the child experience with odd and even (cards and counters).

sandpaper numbers

numbers with counters

What I love about a child learning letters or numbers is that once they start they connect this to everything.  Counting whatever they can get their hands on, looking for signs with letters or numbers.

We can’t expect them to get all this information right from the start, so there is a long period of time where children will call letters numbers and numbers letters.  They won’t remember all the sounds or numerals for a while.  But when it finally does “click” they HAVE it…….in such a natural way, Montessori method at its finest!

Rivalry

The first time I walked into a Montessori classroom I was 20 years old looking for a ‘job with children”.  I had held many jobs prior, all related to kids, but NOTHING like this.  As I walked up to the “school” I marveled at the 2 cottages that had been turned into classrooms. It looked so warm and home-like. Inside the doors there were many children (30 in all, ages 2.5-6 years old)  There were a dozen low shelves made of natural wood that held all sorts of “work” (as the children called them).  The children were each busy with their own task, some alone and some in groups.  There was a feeling of love and peace in the room.  The children were all happy.  I was amazed!  I knew right then that I found my calling.

A few years later I found myself in Portland, Oregon where there happened to be an AMI training center for Montessori teachers.  I jumped at the chance, took the one-year intensive training and emerged as a Montessori guide.

Montessori Institute Northwest, Portland Or

Upon graduation I went right to work in the “casa” (Childrens house for ages 3-6).

When my daughter was born I was eager for her to reach the age where she could participate in this community of children.  Like every parent I wanted her to learn all the basics of reading, writing, mathematics, geometry, botany, and geography.  YES, the Montessori classroom actually teaches all this and much, much more!  However, what I was really eager for was for her to experience all the social and character building moments of the casa.

In the Montessori classroom children are peaceful, respectful, happy, friendly, compassionate, loving, the list goes on and on.  I think that this comes from the guidance of the adult but also from the heart of the fulfilled child.  A child who can make choices for themselves, who is encouraged to be independent, allowed to make mistakes and self correct them, a child who is lead to the edge of discovery but NEVER told the answer instead allowed to reveal it ALL BY THEMSELVES.  This child who watches other children do things they can not yet do and is okay with it.  Knowing that one day “I can do it too!”  A child who helps another with a task WITHOUT being asked.

My daughter got all of this and more.  AND… she still has it!  She is now 8 years old and is totally OKAY with what she can and can not do.  She does not feel the need to compete with her neighbor or friend.  She knows that, if she is persistent, one day she can do it too.  She is not easily flustered.  She knows from her experience in Montessori that if it doesn’t  turn out the way she likes we just do it again.  She is growing up with a great sense of respect for others as well as the world around her.  She knows that if something sparks her interest she can learn more and be in charge of her own education.

My daughter age 3

 

working with the zipper frame

My son has just entered the casa, I can already see the wheels turning…..

My son at work

I am so grateful for both of my children’s experience in the Montessori classroom, I know that it has (and will) make life long impressions!

Figuring it out.

It has always surprised me that “learning materials” for young children can be very confusing.  For example, we find materials that try to “teach” shapes, but each shape is a different size and color.  Our children can easily be confused by WHAT they should be learning. I saw a puzzle the other day that had an array of shapes, each a different color and size, with capital letters on them (representing the color).  A large yellow triangle with a Y on it?  A small blue square with a B?  Am I learning shapes, colors, letters, or dimension? What exactly is the information being presented?

In a Montessori classroom a carefully devised set of materials have been made that isolate only ONE characteristic.  For example, when we present shapes to children we use the geometry cabinet (a set of 6 drawers all the same size with blue cut out shapes)  Each one identical in dimension and color.  The  ONLY information given is that of shape.

Geometry cabinet polygon drawer

We use a material called color tablets to show children colors.  Montessori believed that children need a clear picture of each concept being experienced, so that they can accurately “file” it away in their brain.  The children are given a box with two of each color tablet, they are shown to match the colors, name them, and even play games where they find object from around the room of each color.  This allows the child to experience that colors are not only in the box but also all around us in the world.

Color box 2

 

The stair below lets the child experience change in dimension, yes, only ONE change.  To top it all these materials are actually mathematically precise (the change in dimension is in uniform gradation with all pieces).  Many materials are in sets of 10, to prepare even the youngest child for our base 10 mathematical system.

Dr. Maria Montessori knew what she was doing!  After all, these materials were all tested by the children and she only kept the activities they used were drawn to (in some cases the children even chose the perfect color!)  Check out the PINK tower sometime.

 

 

“Ah- ha!”

As parents and educators we want our children to make discovered on their own.  As adults we know that when WE figure something out by ourselves our memory is heightened, our self worth is elevated and we take that feeling forward to preserve  with our next task.

How do we accomplish this with our children?  When I was in training to become a Montessori guide my trainer often said “sit on your hands”.  Simply put, DO NOTHING!  When we, as adults, do nothing, and allow our children to “play” by themselves they are bound to make a discovery.

Man, can that be hard!  Especially when we are conditioned to DO things for our children and be present when they play (and yes… play WITH them).  Now, I am not saying to totally abandon your child.  Instead lets show the child how to do things and then let them explore by themselves to make discoveries.

Cylinder Block

In the Montessori classroom we have beautiful, inviting materials that are actually SELF CORRECtING.  Yes, that is right, your child needs NO outside conformation.  Take for insntace cylinder blocks.  These are used to explore dimension, develop a pincher grip for writing and are used very early in the primary classroom as an activity.

The concept is simple, 10 cylinders (different dimensions) that a child takes out and replaces.  Each cylinder only has one hole in the block.  If they get to the end and there are cylinders left they must take them out and replace again.  If one (or more) are sticking out higher than the top of the block, they must replace and figure again.

A young child doesn’t need an adult to tell them the cylinders are misplaced, they can see it plain as day.  When a child places them all in the correct place I often hear a “I did it!”  or “I did it all by myself!”  This is usually directed at no one in particular, just a response to that “a-ha” moment.

This feeling, which happens repeatedly, gives a young child a feeling of accomplishment (with no big person involved), an experience of  persistence, and of course JOY!

People ask why Montessori children in the classroom are so happy, at ease and busy.  The answer is simple: they are allowed (and expected) to make discoveries by and for  themselves.