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.

Reading anyone?

Wow, how times have changed.  When Dr. Montessori started her first “casa” over 100 years ago it was NOT expected that children would learn how to read or write.  This is one of the many things that just “happened” in the Montessori classroom  which amazed the world.

Now, children ARE in fact expected to learn to read and write at a very early age.  In the US a huge emphasis has been placed on literacy.  In our local school children are expected to read at least a full grade level above their current grade.

Children in a Montessori classroom are well equipped to learn to read in a natural way, by this I mean that they are not “drilled” with letters or words.  They are simply given the opportunity to learn sounds and then have their own desire to read and write.  The Montessori curriculum hasn’t changed in over 100 years!  This is simply amazing.  Children all over the world learn to read and write with the same materials in the casa.

So lets get to the “magic”.  We start by giving lessons with the sandpaper letters.  We show 3 letters at a time, teaching the SOUND of the letter, NOT the name (this comes later).  It has always amazed me that children seem to somehow learn the NAMES of the letters (and always in capital).  This is valuable information, however, it does not aid reading.  Try and sounds out a word saying the names of letters.  It is impossible  We have to know the SOUND the letters make.

Sandpaper letters

When the child knows many sounds they are introduced to the moveable alphabet, a box containing cut out letters where a child can place an object on the rug and “spell it” by placing sounds that they hear.  This is early writing.  This material is used for a long time, to write lists at first, later sentences and stories.  At first we are not worried about spelling, we just want the child to love the process of writing.  Later we can use this material to correct spelling and teach punctuation.  It is much easier to manipulate cut out letters then erase pencil on paper.  Once the child is ready to write we can copy what has been written with the moveable alphabet.

List with moveable alphabet

Reading begins with a lesson where 10 objects are placed on the table and the child is told, “I am thinking of something but I am not going to tell you what it is.  I am just going to write down the sounds.”  The guide then starts to write on small slips of paper and the child begins to sounds out words, looking for a matching object.  Soon the child is reading!  This lessons not only gives the child experience with sounding words out but also shows them that reading is actually a way to communicate… silently.  It is all very exciting!

object box for reading with hand written labels

Soon your child is reading everything they see; signs, boxes at the grocery store, menus.

If you are eager to teach your child at home, you can start by teaching each letter sound.  This will allow your child to eventually read.  This is usually a long process and many times children are proficient at “writing” before reading.

beginnings

The start of the year is always an exciting time.  Especially for Children entering a Montessori classroom.

A parents we sometimes have mixed feelings: excitement for our children, anticipation, worry and happiness.  For the first few days the house can feel empty with them being away from home, we sit and wonder how they will do at school with others. I still feel all this about my 3rd grader!

For most children entering a community with other “friends” is pure joy. I can’t tell you how many parents have reported that their child just seems to be drawn to other children.   Even those who put up a show when parents depart, (we have all seen the tears or withdrawn little one), they are completely at ease within minutes.

Child sized furniture

And who wouldn’t be?  To be in a place that is made just for me!  Tables and chairs all my size….. low shelves, attractive interesting materials all around me.  And best of all….. other children who are kind and respectful. They want to help and show me what to do.  It really can be quite harmonious!

blocks

As a guide and parent I have learned quickly to take photos of the children throughout the day and send to parents.  This way parents can get a sense of what their child does during all those hours at school where they are told “I did nothing” when questioned at home.  Let me assure you, your child IS doing something!  Montessori children are among the busiest I have ever seen.

washing a table

One thing that I have always loved about the Montessori approach is that children stay in their same community for 3 years.  That means the same guide, same classroom and same children. To this accord, we always have returning children, in our case we are in the third year of our school so many children have been with us since the start.

These returning children are SO helpful to all the new children.  They know where materials are and how to use them.  They are kind and respectful, happy and engaged in work.  They are the ambassadors of the classroom.  They greet new children with open arms and help them become part of the community.

As a Montessori Mom I am at ease knowing that my child is in good hands: not only with the teacher but more importantly with the other children in the class.

Amazing ART!

We had the opportunity to come together for the holidays and celebrate with some amazing ART.  We met at Art ala Carte PDX located in the heart of NE Portland.  WOW!  This place is great!  The space is set up for free form art…as much or as little supplies as you want.  Including buttons, yarn, many recycled materials, and of course lots of glue and glitter.

“Filling up on the goods!”

 

At Art ala Carte PDX children are encouraged to enjoy the process.… assisted by the adults in creating whatever they like.  There are endless possibilities as you fill up your tray and start creating!

decorating a stocking

Building a new creation

Getting ready to get messy!

I love the relaxed atmosphere here, I know that I will be back soon with my older daughter as well.

 

 

My sons favorite part… all the glitter you can imagine, (and Mom loves) , none of the mess!

If you live in the Portland area make sure to check this place out, your children will love you for it!

http://www.artalacartepdx.com

A Peaceful Path

“Peace is what every human being is craving for, and it can be brought about by humanity through the child.”  – Dr. Maria Montessori

 

One of the many things that drew me to Montessori education was what I saw in the casa (age 3-6).  These children were different from what I was accustomed to seeing.  They went about their own activities with complete confidence . Children worked alone or in small groups.  The room was buzzing with activity but was not in chaos.  The teacher was actually hard to spot.  She also moved around the room quietly with intent, interacting with the children or leading small groups.  The children were so compassionate and caring.  They went around the room helping each other without being asked.  I would never have expected this from a group of 25 three, four and five-year olds.

A few years later when I was in school to become a Montessori teacher I found out that there is MUCH more to the classroom than learning to read and write.  Yes, our children achieve some amazing academic feats; however, they also emerge with great compassion, a sense that they are connected to the world and an overall feeling of self-worth and responsibility to others.

How do we do this? It comes from learning how to work and play within a community of children where each child feels respected and fulfilled.  Our children are encouraged to help others, one reason why 25 children in one room works so well is that there is a variety of skill levels.  Children can help others instead of an adult.  This translates outside the walls of the classroom as well.

We model compassion.  We offer children a chance to tell others how they feel, whenever they need to.  When a child is hurt or upset the other child is responsible for helping them feel better. We help children stop and listen to how others feel and then decide what to do to help them.  This does not mean a quick “I’m sorry” will suffice. I have seen children sitting together holding hands quietly “talking it out”, a child making a snack and water for a friend, sometimes a lasting hug can do the trick.

Dr. Maria Montessori writes, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education”.

I know that Montessori is not the only way to instill these values in our children, but it is one way that I have seen work.

I feel a great sense of responsibility and joy that I am able to share the Montessori classroom with so many children.  I am humbled in knowing that I have chosen a profession that allows me to help make the world a better place, and am grateful for all the parents who have chosen this for their child.

 

Music

Children are born with an inclination for music.  This must be why singing will calm a baby and we all do this without even thinking about it.  As the child grown older their love for music grows, as well as all things related to music; dancing, instruments, etc.

Children participating in Music Together class

I noticed that parents of young children often spend a lot of time singing and dancing with their child.  We do this in  a Montessori classroom as well.  We sing songs all the time. I have found that Montessori classrooms are full of amazing songs about seasons, friendship, animals and nature.

Music Together collection

 

Our school is proud that we have been able to integrate the Music Together program into our community.  WOW, they know what they are doing!  Their curriculum is all research-based.  They offer a program that runs a full 3 years with no repeats.  This follows Montessori exactly, with 3 year cycles.

Our Music Together teacher using the songbook

The songs!  They are truly amazing collections.  Each CD has many songs that I knew from childhood, also a few new songs that I haven’t heard.  Adults can actually listen to these CD’s without cringing!  We receive new music 3 times per year, complete with a songbook with all the music, lyrics and even fun pictures for children to identify.

Enjoying “the sticks”

It has been fun having all the families included in this program.  The children sing the songs at school, we play the music, and of course use many instruments!

One thing MT has stressed is that ALL people are musical and our children DO NOT care if we sing in tune or can carry a melody.  They just want the experience of making music with their grown-ups!

Friendships.

When we send our children off into the world of “school” we are left to ponder what they are like with other children when their parent is absent.  At about the age of 2 or 3 most children are looking for something outside of the home.  We can see this when our child wants to play with others at the park, or talk to another child at the store.  Humans are social beings so it just makes sense that our little ones will follow suit.

Watching a bug is a group activity!

If you have your child in a Montessori school you are in LUCK!  There are many opportunities for our children to be social.  They work together, talk, dance, play, learn and much more.  Many people have told me that when they think of a Montessori classroom they are put off by the fact that children are engaged in their own activities and not together.  This is done by design.  Each child in the room is interested in learning different things, some might be practicing sounds, some numbers, others shapes or refining handwriting.  The classroom is set up to meet each childs needs as they make their was through the cirruculum.  This results in individual lessons given to each child.  This does not, however, mean that the children are disconnected from each other.

sitting together reading

They spend their day freely moving around the classroom, weaving around rugs and children on the floor, choosing work, chatting, having snacks, etc.  There is A LOT of time for socialization.  As the children get older (around the age of 4) Montessori devised a whole group of lessons that need to be given in groups of 2-3 children at a time.  Children are also encouraged to go to other children for help. Yes, this means that the adult is NOT the answer, it is usually another child in the class that is sought out to help.

“Helping”

I love that the child’s emotional and social growth is held at the core of the Montessori method.  Learning to be patient, considerate, loving and kind.  These things are not “taught” or “imposed” by an adult.  In the Montessori classroom these are simply LIVED, leaving a harmonious group of children to be in a community together.