Thursday, February 23, 2017

Selecting a Preschool

A big part of the news cycle these days is the importance of preschool and the “strong correlation between high quality child care and higher levels of academic and cognitive achievement.”   This places great importance on selecting a preschool for your child.  Without a doubt, a warm, safe and nurturing environment that inspires learning while supporting social and emotional development is key.   As you research, plan and visit the preschools, be sure to consider these additional factors:

Educational Philosophy:   Many of the preschools follow a prescribed learning philosophy and it is important to choose one that best suits your family values.   Ask questions about the philosophy, why did the school choose this philosophy, and how is it applied in the classroom?  What are the benefits to the philosophy verses another philosophy?  Is the school licensed? Accredited?  

Teachers:  The fond school memories we hold as adults are often a direct correlation of the teacher and classroom experience. Be sure to gather information on the faculty and staff, meet with prospective teachers, ask about their educational background, observe a class and see the interaction between the teacher and children. 

School - Family Partnership:  “It takes a village to raise a child,” says an old adage. Entering into a partnership with a school, where the child’s success is first and foremost, is a vital ingredient in selecting a preschool.  The mutual and trusting relationship that forms in these formative years will provide families with a strong support system for years to come.  Do clarify how the school and family will communicate with respect to a child’s progress and development, how often will this communication occur, what will be communicated and who will be communicating. 

Safety First:  Ask how the children are kept safe and properly supervised.  Are there emergency drills; is there a security system, if the faculty and staff trained on first aid, what is the allergy protocol, what is the sick policy, etc.?  Most, if not all schools, will have all these systems in place to keep children safe.

Location, Cost and Family logistics:  Be sure to consider where the school is located, the cost and the effect on your family day to day logistics.

It is a wonderful time in your life and in your child’s life; enjoy the journey as you plan and research the preschool of your choice.  

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Spatial Reasoning as Preparation for Math and Reading

By: Melanie Thiesse

What do stacking blocks and doing puzzles have to do with algebra and reading? There is a growing amount of research linking early exposure and understanding of spatial reasoning with future success in those subjects. Children who can manipulate objects, match patterns and sort objects develop the spatial and reasoning skills necessary to later tackle more academic tasks.

This concept was one that Dr. Maria Montessori saw to be true decades ago. She noticed that not only were preschool aged children interested in exploring shapes and discriminating objects by their size, color, similarities, and differences but that the earlier they were exposed to these hands-on activities, the easier it became for them to extrapolate the rules of mathematics and language.

She also designed many materials as geometric representations of mathematical concepts, providing visual and tactile reinforcements of some of the most abstract concepts. (Math Works, Michael Duffy)

Some of the activities developed by Maria Montessori to improve spatial reasoning in children include:

 The Pink Tower and Brown Stair
The Pink Tower and Brown Stair are each sets of 10 blocks that change in size and weight incrementally. As children stack or sort them they must use their discrimination skills to correctly order them.

The Knobless Cylinders
These cylinders (each in sets of 10 again) change in height, width, or a combination of height and width, requiring a detailed eye to arrange or match them.

Binomial Cube
The Binomial Cube is a puzzle that requires attention to detail of height, width, length, and color to put together. The cube itself also represents the algebraic representation of (a+b)3 =  a3+3a2b+3ab2+b3, a concept not introduced until the elementary years.

Geometric Solids
The Geometric Solids provide an opportunity for children to explore different three-dimensional objects to discover the differences and similarities between such shapes as a triangle-based prism and a rectangular-based prism.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bringing Montessori Home

Colette B. Cross

Parents often ask how they can support Montessori principles at home.  One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Montessori is “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed." 

Keeping this in mind, here are some tips from The American Montessori Society for developing independent, capable, responsible, young people in collaboration with your child’s Montessori school experience.

Create an Ordered Environment

Having a place for everything, on a child friendly scale, encourages both independence and self-discipline.  Children know where to find what they need and where to put it when they’re done.  An ordered environment also has fewer distractions, allowing children to focus on the task at hand.
To make things accessible to your young child:
·         Provide shelves or drawers for clothing; lower the rod in the bedroom closet.
·         Keep a step stool in the bathroom and kitchen so your child can reach the sink
·         Arrange toys and games n low open shelves with a particular place for each.  Sort smaller items into trays or baskets by category, such as puzzles, art supplies, and blocks
·         Put healthy snacks and foods on a low pantry shelf so your child can help himself.
·         Pour drinks into small, manageable pitchers placed on a low refrigerator shelf. Keep cups within your child’s reach – along with a sponge to clean up spills.

Teach Real Life Skills

Montessori students are taught to take care of themselves and their classroom and to be helpful to others.
Having your child help at home can bring similar rewards.
 Take time to teach each skill separately and to repeat the lesson as needed.
·         Each task your child masters adds to his confidence and self-esteem. 
·         Young children, for example, can peel vegetables, fold their socks, and care for pets.

Promote Concentration

The ability to focus and concentrate is an important skill for learning. You can help develop your child’s concentration by observing what sparks her interest.  Set her up with the means and materials to explore it. And let her work without interruption.

While your child’s work environment should be free of distraction, it doesn’t have to be away from family activity. Some children prefer working at the kitchen table or reading in a cozy corner of the living room to holing up in a bedroom or study.  Observe your child’s response to various environments, ask questions, and make adjustment as needed.

To read the entire article click on the link

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Sowing the Seeds of Community Giving


When we step back and think of community, our first thought is of a geographic location, or a myriad of homes, or our very own street.  As we delve a bit more, we realize that community is so much more – it is a feeling of fellowship with others, sharing some common threads and goals, and giving of ourselves to maintain the bonds.

The Westmont Montessori School, has been part of the greater community for 52+ years.  It was through generous gifts by local families, a set of dedicated parents, a Board of Trustees, and a strong vision, that Westmont came to open its doors for families who desired a quality preschool education.   
Westmont has never forgotten and is grateful for the ongoing support of the community it serves and is proud to be in a position to give back.  Every year, whether it is through Westmont’s need-based scholarship in memory of Jason K. Jacobs, an active Alumni Committee supporting our young adults in scholarship and service, partnering with Preschool Advantage of Morristown, which funds quality preschools for families in need, provisions to the Chester Food Pantry, or our ongoing visits by the Kindergarteners to the Seniors of Holly Manor, it reaffirms, “It is definitely nice to receive but infinitely more rewarding to give!
Our collaboration continues through the support and participation of local sports teams, the annual Mendham Harvest Hustle, support of local business and tourism associations, and the Westmont Parent Education Speaker Series.
The seeds born from the generosity of gifts from more than 50 years ago continue to bloom.  Today, we impart this community spirit of kindness, caring, and collaboration through our Montessori philosophy and our day-to-day role modeling in the classroom.  

Friday, January 27, 2017

Division of Responsibility at Mealtimes

This week we had Registered Dietary Nutritionist, Jeanne Petrucci, from Living Plate present in our Parent Education Series on Raising Competent Eaters. The parents in attendance received some practical and very Montessori-friendly, advice including learning about the research-based method of feeding children endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics called Division of Responsibility in Feeding.

Like with the Montessori Method, the adult is responsible for providing the environment and choices that are acceptable for the child. The adult is the role model for good behavior and sets clear expectations for those behaviors. 

In Division of Responsibility in Feeding, the parents are responsible for:
·What food is served
·When eating occurs
·Where eating is allowed
This means that the children are responsible for:
·How much to eat
·Whether or not to eat

The Division of Responsibility in Feeding method eliminates all need to cajole, bribe, threaten, or manipulate children into eating certain foods or amounts, methods that research has shown to actually worsen poor eating habits.

If you missed the presentation and would like more information, there are many resources available to learn about this method, including:

Satter EM. The feeding relationship. J Am Diet Assoc. 1986;86:352-356. - See more at:

USDA, FNS. Maximizing the message: Helping moms and kids make healthier food choices. FNS-409. 2012 . - See more at:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

10 Reasons Why Educators Should Encourage Independent Learning

This abbreviated article was written by Julie DeNeen, and as a Montessori educator I was struck by the fact that she was describing the advantages of a Montessori Education without ever mentioning the word Montessori.

Ms. DeNeen states, “The benefits of self-learning are well documented. Just look at all the advantages an independent learner takes away from their own education.”

1. Learn how to learn.There is a difference between regurgitating materials on an exam vs. understanding the process of learning. Students who aren’t given the opportunity for independent learning don’t acquire the skill of HOW to learn and how to examine a principle from multiple angles. The teacher stands in the way of the student’s natural curiosity.

2. Independent learning focuses on the process and not simply the goal.The process of learning is an exciting adventure that can be interrupted when the primary focus of the classroom is on the goal. We can learn from famous inventors whose failure in the process became the seed for amazing success down the road.

3. Flexibility for different levels of intelligence. Not every student is going to work at the same pace. A facilitator in the classroom can oversee the environment so that each student can work at their own pace and timing. 
4. Independent learning includes time management and other life skills. Traditional classroom environments can hamper a child’s ability to function in the real world where deadlines, distractions, and other obstacles are in the way. Bosses on the job don’t act like teachers. 
5. Passion and curiosity cement learning. Can you imagine the difference in motivation if you allowed a student to research a topic that truly piqued his or her interest? 

6. Internal satisfaction.The world isn’t going to cheer us all on always. When things get tough, those who don’t quit are the ones who are determined to rely on their own sense of satisfaction and not someone patting them on the back. Students who have a facilitator rather than a teacher will come to depend on themselves for a job well done.
7. Independent learners are more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. A weakness is only as dangerous as the level of ignorance the person has about it. Independent learning forces students to grapple with both their strengths and weaknesses through the educational process.

8. Students learn how to educate others.If a facilitator invites the student to plan the lesson, then he or she is also learning about how to teach someone else.

9. Students can self-critique more effectively. When the process is part of the goal, failure isn’t quite so scary. When the fear of failure disappears, it is much easier to learn the art of self-critique.

10. Resourcefulness. Learning is not always a straight path. Oftentimes it is a messy walk in the woods with a lot of detours. Independent learners are ready and capable of navigating the process…

Submitted by Colette B. Cross

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Learning by Doing

By: Melanie Thiesse

Through the use of hands-on materials and teachers who are willing to teach by asking more questions, students in a Montessori classroom are encouraged to experience and learn from the world around them.

Just this week we were learning about sound in the Kindergarten class. It started with a group conversation that began when one student asked why when he moves his mouth sometimes sound comes out (words) and other times no sound comes out. From there, we were able to talk about our vocal chords and children rested their hands gently on their necks while speaking and whispering to feel the vocal chords when they were vibrating and when they were at rest. The children were astonished to learn that sound is made (and heard) through vibrations!

The next day the children were delighted to find several new activities in the science area. There was a diagram of the parts of the ear, a few books about hearing, and materials for making a telephone out of paper cups and string. But this is just where the learning began!

Because the children were given the tools to learn, rather than the answers of how sound moves through objects, the children started to experiment with the tools they were given. Soon children were making telephones out of different types and sizes of cups, changing the string to yarn, and creating very long strings to see just how far their voices could carry. They also discovered that the cups amplified more than just their voices and soon were making musical instruments out of their telephones, strumming and plucking the strings to make different sounds. They even discovered that the farther away you plucked the string from the cup, the more the tone of the sound changed!

All of this experimenting brought up more and more questions about how sound worked and with each new question, a new experiment was invented by the children to discover the answer.

This is the real purpose of education, to inspire thinkers, creators, analyzers, collaborators, and learners.