Friday, February 16, 2018

On the Topic of Praise

Below is a recent piece and resource link from our Toddler Teacher Danielle Casillo to her students’ parents on the topic of praise in a Montessori classroom.  See for yourself how much sense it makes to think about the words we use when responding to a child’s accomplishments.   Saying things like "good job" actually casts judgement on a child’s efforts.  Children are not looking for that kind of feedback, the self-satisfaction of doing something that interests or challenges them is reward enough.  When we label what a child is doing or has done, we take ownership away from the child. It should be about what they feel and think.  

“I wanted to share something on the topic of praise, and how to differentiate between meaningless praise and constructive acknowledgement.  You may have noticed in any of the classrooms at Westmont, you really won’t hear the phrase “good job!”  You WILL hear things like, “I love the way you carried your work so carefully,” or “you worked so hard to finish that!” 

Part of the Montessori philosophy is to develop children’s intrinsic motivation - when they are self-motivated and feel a personal sense of accomplishment when they have achieved something, rather than be externally motivated, which is basically working for a reward.  When we are externally motivated, we are driven to do things to receive a tangible reward at the end.  This isn’t always necessarily a bad thing, but it can’t be the only way to be motivated.  Things are just things, while a personal sense of accomplishment is a far deeper and more lasting reward that also builds confidence”.

Parents can support the development of self-esteem and confidence by a simple choice of words, like, “You did it.”  This allows for self-reflection on the child’s part adding to a sense of accomplishment and pride to help them accept new challenges with confidence.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Real Reason Students Shouldn’t Sit In Class

03/31/2017 12:24 am ET Updated Mar 31, 2017
Laura Flores Shaw, Contributor
writer, speaker, gadfly

Montessori student age 6

A recent article in the New York Times discussed why children should be given opportunities for movement during class. I wholeheartedly agree with this proposition – but not for the reasons stated.
Movement is far more important than a means to enable children to attentively sit for long periods of time.
Educators (and parents) need to understand that the need for movement goes beyond the value of aerobic exercise as cognitive and motor development are intertwined.[1] Children with learning disabilities often have poor gross motor skills.[2] And children with developmental coordination disorder and undiagnosed motor difficulties (including manual dexterity) score lower on measures of executive functioning skills (working memory, inhibition, task switching, planning, and verbal fluency)[3] – skills necessary not only for academic achievement but also for life.
This relationship between movement and higher-level thinking, or executive functions, makes sense given what we now know about how the brain operates: subcortical brain regions involved in movement (the basal ganglia and cerebellum) communicate reciprocally with higher, cortical regions.[4] This view of brain functioning is different from the traditional paradigm in which the top of the brain (cortical) dominated the rest of the brain (subcortical).
For years it was assumed that thought only occurs within the higher, cortical regions, particularly the prefrontal cortex. Thus, the prefrontal cortex was tasked to direct the rest of the brain – especially those primitive subcortical regions. Essentially, thought, even within neuroscience, was disconnected from the movement of the body. But what the data now show is that those cortical regions are simply part of the circuitry for higher-level thinking, and that circuitry includes the subcortical regions. As Stanford neurologist Josef Parvizi states, the data suggest that “the so-called ‘higher’ functions of the brain might in fact depend on signals from subcortical to cortical structures rather than the other way around” (p. 358).[4] Neuroscience now recognizes that thought is not disembodied as movement and cognition are closely intertwined.
This current understanding of how the brain operates is important for educators to know for two reasons: 1) because children are not born with well-developed motor systems, and 2) because some of the subcortical regions (particularly the cerebellum) continue to develop during adolescence just as the prefrontal cortex does. For these two reasons, educators – who should be designing school from a developmental rather than efficiency[5] perspective – need to create learning environments in which children of all ages have constant opportunities to engage in a wide variety of gross and fine motor movements throughout the day. Doing so not only builds the circuits for executive functioning, but also gives students a large repertoire of mastered automatic movements they can perform without thinking, freeing up their attention for more creative thinking and problem-solving. After all, it’s difficult to create an award-winning poem or plan out your steps for your research project if your attention is focused on the actual movements of writing (or even typing).
Thankfully, there is one educator who understood the interrelationship of movement and cognition (though she wasn’t aware of the circuitry described above). Maria Montessori created classrooms that are essentially motor (and sensory) training grounds. She said:
When mental development is under discussion, there are many who say, “How does movement come into it? We are talking about the mind.” And when we think of intellectual activity, we always imagine people sitting still, motionless. But mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it. It is vital that educational theory and practice should become informed by this idea (pgs. 141-142).[6]
From birth through adolescence, Montessori students of all ages are practicing and perfecting a huge variety of movements while learning content knowledge in mathematics, history, English, science, arts, etc. Movement in a Montessori environment is an integrated part of the method’s highly complex system. It is not used in order to help children learn as they sit. It’s how the children learn.
Maybe it’s how they should learn in conventional schools, too.
1. Diamond, A. (2000). Close interrelation of motor development and cognitive development and of the cerebellum and prefrontal cortex. Child Development, 71, 44-56. ; Koziol, L. F., & Budding, D. E. (2009). Subcortical structures and cognition: Implications for neuropsychological assessment. New York, NY: Springer; Koziol, L. F., Budding, D. E., & Chidekel, D. (2012). From movement to thought: executive function, embodied cognition, and the cerebellum. The Cerebellum, 11(2), 505-525.
2. Westendorp, M., Hartman, E., Houwen, S., Smith, J., & Visscher, C. (2011). The relationship between gross motor skills and academic achievement in children with learning disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(6), 2773-2779. doi:
3. Leonard, H. C., Bernardi, M., Hill, E. L., & Henry, L. A. (2015). Executive functioning, motor difficulties, and developmental coordination disorder. Developmental Neuropsychology, 40(4), 201-215. doi: 10.1080/87565641.2014.997933
4. Parvizi, J. (2009). Corticocentric myopia: Old bias in new cognitive sciences. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13(8), 354-359. doi:
5. Callahan, R. E. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: A study of the social forces that have shaped the administration of the public schools. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
6. Montessori, M. (1967). The absorbent mind (1st ed.). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Montessori Math

By: Melanie Thiesse

This week Westmont presented a workshop for parents called, "The Marvels of Montessori Math" in which I outlined the progression of our math curriculum. For those of you who could not attend, I thought I would outline the presentation, sharing the highlights of the math that takes place everyday in every classroom at Westmont.
Math work begins (and continues) with the use of our Sensorial materials. These materials, many of them in sets of 10 (the base of our numbering system) and in heights, widths, and weights increasing in perfect mathematical symmetry, help the child to build discriminatory abilities. When you think about both math and reading, a keen awareness of subtle difference if very important if you are going to be able to tell the difference between an S and a 5.  

Preschool children are often taught to count, but the important skill for math preparation is being able to understand that a numeric symbol represents a given quantity. We have numerous materials in our classes for children to practice counting and sorting numbers and matching them to their numeral.

 Once children have a solid understanding of the numbers and quantities 0-9, they have concrete manipulatives to learn numbers in the teens. This concept, requiring the understanding of ten and unit place value, is easily taught using materials that are already familiar with the children. 
Learning numbers 10-99 is also done with manipulatives, allowing the children to "fetch" different quantities with beads and building their numeral to match.
One of the more difficult tasks when learning to count larger numbers is the decade transitions, counting to 100 and remembering which number comes after 59 is a challenging task for a preschooler or kindergarten student. Our materials for that process include the 100 board where children can not only lay out numbered tiles in order from 1-100, but they can learn about patterns in numbers by laying out only the 10's, the 5's or even the 3's. Discovering the patterns these numbers create of the 100 board can be an exciting task!
Getting the first lesson on the Bead Chains is a rite of passage in the Early Childhood classes! The bead chains are linked together bars of the squares or cubes of a given number. For example, the "Short 5 Chain" contains 5 bead bars of 5 beads each, for a total of 25 beads. The children will use this chain to count and at the end of each bar of 5, they will find and place the preprinted ticket with that numeral on it - When finished, finding 5, 10, 15, 20, 25. The amazing this about this activity is the ability for the child to begin counting again at the number where he last left off. So if he last counted 15, then searched for the corresponding ticket, found it, and placed it at the 15th bead, then he would then need to start counting at 16 up to 20. This is a difficult concept to master and one that will serve the child well when adding numbers together. Not to mention that it's a great introduction to skip counting!

One of the all-time-favorites in our Early Childhood classes is the Golden Bead Material used to create the Decimal Layout. With these manipulatives, a child can create the quantity and numeral for any number from 1-9999! 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Kindergarten - A Montessori Experience

As we prepare for our Kindergarten Information Session we would like to share a video from The American Montessori Society which explains why The Kindergarten Year in a Montessori School completes an important cycle.

Join us on Saturday January 20 (snow date January 27) for an up close and personal presentation on Westmont’s Kindergarten program.  Meet alum students, alum parents and faculty as we guide you through an experience that you will not want your child to miss.  Child care available at no charge.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Snowy Fun With Your Children

Just because the snowy season is underway it does not mean that outdoor fun has to stop. Although some days may be too cold for outside play, on days when bundling up is possible there are lots of fun things to do and explore outside, and the snow can make it that much more fun! Here are some great ideas to keep your young ones learning and developing during the snowy weather.
  1. Make a bird feeder and hang it near a window so you can watch the birds that visit in the warmth of your house.
  2. Use sand castle toys to play in the snow.
  3. Make a maze in the snow by walking in the shape of a path, pushing the snow down as you walk.
  4. Create a snow road for playing with cars on. Or use toy construction trucks to plow and move snow around.
  5. Bring a bucket of snow indoors to play with on a sand or water table or even in the bathtub.
  6. Don't stop with a snowman, build snow animals, too! 
  7. Blow bubbles in cold air below 32 degrees and see what happens.

For more ideas, browse through these great sites:

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Noise in a Montessori Classroom
Written by:
Charlotte Wood

One of the aspects of a Montessori Classroom which people notice is the noise, or, rather, the lack thereof. It’s pretty quiet. A room full of this many adults would be louder.
It’s not silent, though, and no one is making the children be quiet. They’re quiet because they’re working, concentrating, and content.
So, what sounds do we hear?
A snippet of a song.
Someone reading or counting out loud. (Silent reading and counting come later)
Scrubbing. There’s so much washing that happens in a Montessori classroom, and vigorous scrubbing is loud, at least for Montessori standards. If a classroom feels “busy” for no apparent reason, often some gross motor work is happening.
Conversations. Various discussions, affirmations, observations are shared, primarily between children, though also between adult and child, and also as monologue.
So much is happening. The air is electric with learning and joy. Sometimes things fall. Occasionally there’s a small disagreement. But these are anomalies.
When things fall, it is not because carelessness is the norm. It is because, really and truly, sometimes things fall. We’ve all experienced this. Children walking around a classroom are, so much of the time, more aware and more careful than we are as adults, but we have the benefit of our bodies being more practiced than theirs are. Have you ever seen a child watch with terror as their snack slides off their plate, as they are carefully, precisely, inching forward, and yet there’s nothing they can do? We never carry a plate that carefully, yet only rarely drop our food. We’re not more careful, just more practiced.
When the occasional disagreement takes place, it is not because children are selfish and don’t look out for others. Children are incredibly empathetic, and look out for one another. They are upset when one of their classmates is tearful, regardless of the reason, be it a Monday morning or turkey instead of a cheese sandwich or missing a parent. A disagreement happens because, though small, these are full humans. They have their own opinions and thoughts and are free to express them. Sometimes support is required, such as by an older classmate or adult, “It sounds like you two are having a difficult time deciding who is going to eat snack/paint at the easel/use the bathroom first. When you agree, let me know!” When the children agree, both sides are contented. Adults might, on the surface, not have the same struggle. We’re more practiced at the social norms of, “no, please, after you.” but, do we really mean it? Children might express their frustration more readily, but the agreement is genuine.

The noise that happens is learning and life. It is control and synapses forming. It is joy and work, really really hard, important, valuable, life-long work. It is hushed and vigorous. It is good.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Hand Washing to the Rescue

It is that time of the year.  Colds, coughs, runny noses and the dreaded flu are upon us all. Parents frequently ask what can be done to cut down on the spread of germs from child to child in school and at home.

Did you know, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), hand washing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of disease?  The CDC calls it a, “do-it-yourself vaccine.”   Teaching children appropriate hand hygiene habits can result in the removal of germs, preventing the spread of germs, decrease of infections, absenteeism, and associated costs.

Preschools are required to teach, model and enforce proper handwashing techniques at all times of the year.  Teaching from the earliest age with the goal of hand washing being as routine as getting dressed in the morning is a win for everyone.

Many experts agree that for hand hygiene promotion to be effective in changing behaviors and cutting down on the spread of illness, we need to create a family-centered approach. Handwashing steps utilized in schools can be reinforced at home. With parents and teachers on the same page and having consistent expectations, proper hand washing will become the norm.
Here are some tips on teaching when and how to wash hands:
When children are required to wash their hands in school:
·         Upon entering the classroom from the outside, either home or playground
·         Before eating snack or lunch
·         Before any food preparation
·         After using the toilet
·         After blowing one’s nose or touching one’s nose
·         After coughing or sneezing into one’s hands
·         After touching garbage
It is equally important to know how to wash hands for optimum results, think about these 5 simple steps:
  • Wet: Place hands under running water
  • Lather: Apply soap to hands
  • Scrub: Hands must be scrubbed for 20 seconds; rule of thumb is, count to 20 or sing or hum Happy Birthday twice
  • Rinse: Hands must be rinsed under clean, running water
  • Dry: Hands must be dried using a clean towel, or they can be air dried
Working on this at home and at school will most definitely cut down on the spread of illness and give children a healthy life long tool.