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.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Books to help children find hope and strength in stressful times: A librarian’s list

By Karen MacPherson

As an inveterate bibliophile, I naturally turn to books in times of stress, and because I’m a children’s librarian, those books tend to be ones written for kids. Children, too, are seeking guidance as they navigate these challenging and sometimes confusing times. Books can help.
Here’s a list of titles to nurture hope in kids and adults, while also inspiring them into activism to make that hopeful world a reality. My idea was to choose books for younger readers that focus on kindness, peace and feeling good — and proud — about who you are. For older readers, I looked for books about diverse people, including kids who have overcome sometimes overwhelming odds to make a difference in the world. My choices draw heavily on “Unity.Kindness.Peace.,” a list published a few days after the November election by the Association for Library Service to Children. Given time and space constraints, I’ve had to leave out many wonderful books, so head to your local public library and seek out children’s librarians, experts eager to help you find just the right title.

YOUNGER READERS (Ages 3 to 7):

“Because Amelia Smiled,” by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick)
Because Amelia Smiled, by David Ezra Stein (Candlewick): One smile has international consequences in a book that celebrates the power of love and hope.
Can I Play Too? , by Mo Willems (Disney/Hyperion): Elephant and Piggy must wrestle with the question of what to do — and how they should act — when Snake, who has no arms or legs, asks to play catch.
Counting on Community , by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square): In this counting book, readers learn many ways that community is important, such as working together in a community garden and protesting injustice.

“If You Plant a Seed,” by Kadir Nelson (Balzer + Bray)
If You Plant a Seed , by Kadir Nelson (Balzer+Bray): A food fight breaks out when a rabbit and a mouse refuse to share the bounty of their vegetable harvest with a flock of birds. Things look grave until the mouse realizes that sharing just might be a better solution.
Last Stop on Market Street , by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson (Putnam): During a bus ride, a young boy in the inner city learns to appreciate his Nana’s ability to find — and celebrate — beauty anywhere. The picture book won the 2016 Newbery Medal and for its illustrations, a 2016 Caldecott Honor.
“The Lion & the Mouse,” by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
The Lion and the Mouse , by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown): Setting Aesop’s beloved fable in the African Serengeti, Pinkney’s illustrations — and nearly wordless text — give this classic a powerful new twist. This book won the 2010 Caldecott Medal.
The Peace Book , by Todd Parr (Little, Brown): In his cheerful style, Parr defines the meaning of peace for very young children, from “offering a hug to a friend” to “keeping the streets clean” to the concluding message that “peace is being who you are.”
“The Story of Ferdinand,” by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson (Grosset & Dunlap)

The Story of Ferdinand , by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson (Grosset & Dunlap): This classic tells the story of a peace-loving bull who is mistakenly thought to be a tough, violent animal but proves otherwise when he’s put to the test in the bull ring.

OLDER READERS (Ages 5 to 12)

A Is for Activist , by Innosanto Nagara (Triangle Square): This unusual, beautifully illustrated book offers ways to identify and promote activism through each letter of the alphabet.
Drum Dream Girl , by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Rafael López (HMH): Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban musician, won international acclaim for her drumming, but only after overcoming Cuba’s ban on women drummers.

“Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah,” by Laurie Ann Thompson and Sean Qualls (Schwartz & Wade)
Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah , by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls (Schwartz & Wade): Born with a deformed leg, the determined Yeboah became a renowned athlete, winning fame for a 400-mile journey in his native Ghana to campaign for equal rights for the physically disabled.
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez , by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Yuyi Morales (HMH): Krull tells Chavez’s compelling story with emotion and compassion, as she details what led him to push for the creation of the National Farm Workers Association.

“I Am Jazz,” by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings and Shelagh McNicholas (Dial )
I Am Jazz , by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas (Dial). Jazz Jennings, who knew from age 2 that she was really a girl in a boy’s body, has become a young spokesperson for the transgender community.
Malala: A Brave Girl from Pakistan/Iqbal: A Brave Boy From Pakistan , by Jeanette Winter (Beach Lane): The stories of two brave Pakistani children who refused to accept the limitations set by the Taliban. Both were attacked for their outspokenness; one died and the other lived.

“Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story,” by Ruby Bridges (Cartwheel)
Ruby Bridges Goes to School , by Ruby Bridges (Scholastic): In 1960, 6-year-old Ruby Bridges was thrust into the national spotlight when she became the face of school desegregation efforts in New Orleans.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation , by Duncan Tonatiuh (Abrams): The Mendez family led a successful fight to desegregate the California schools nearly a decade before the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education outlawed segregated schools.
Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up By Sitting Down , by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney (Little, Brown): On Feb. 1, 1960, four young African American men took a seat at a “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C., inspiring others to do the same throughout the South.
The Storyteller’s Candle , by Lucia Gonzalez, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Lee & Low): A Puerto Rican family newly arrived in the United States finds refuge at their nearby public library, where the children’s room was presided over by Pura Belpré, the first Puerto Rican librarian in New York’s public library system.

“Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement,” by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes (Candlewick )
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement , by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes (Candlewick): In emotionally searing poems, Weatherford takes readers through the momentous life of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. The book won a 2016 Caldecott Honor.

Karen MacPherson is the children’s and teen services coordinator for the Takoma Park, Md., library, the only independent community public library in the state.

          Published December 2016

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Teaching Children to be of Service

Colette B. Cross

Today I proudly watched our Kindergarten students bring holiday song, cheer and handmade gifts to the seniors at our local senior residential home.  This is an annual tradition at our school for our oldest students who, as leaders in our school, have earned this great privilege.  Observing this interaction never fails to bring every adult watching to tears.  The mix of multi ages all experiencing smiles, innocence, joy, and with kindness abounding warms every heart present.   It is true that it is never too early to help children be of service to others.

Every year, and throughout the year, our school supports our local food pantry. Each class takes a turn to bring in needed items on a monthly basis.  It is difficult sometimes to understand that there are hungry people right in our back yard, but there are.  It is an easy lesson to teach our young children: how can we help people who are hungry and make a difference?  Children can choose a can, or packet, or food item from their own pantry at home, or from the store shelf whilst shopping with mom or dad, and then bring it to school and place it in our special container.  Because our parents are so generous the bags are often heavy and the children watch as their parents deliver the items and then assist in the unpacking.  This real and visual experience can make a huge impact, and can develop a great sense of lasting empathy and kindness.

At this time of year and during the holidays many opportunities to help others present themselves, from toy drives, clothing drives, soup kitchen support, adopt a family plans, and various food drives.  Many families participate in their own way, in their own communities. What a wonderful example for children.   However, in order to develop the life skill of helping others, it is important to role model kindness and giving every day.  Allow and expect children to help out at home regularly, assign chores and responsibilities, and talk to them about giving and kindness to others as part of their daily lives.

Research shows that showing kindness brings greater happiness and greater friendships to the giver.  It is definitely nice to receive but infinitely more rewarding to give.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

An Hour of Code

The Westmont Montessori Kindergarten class participated this year in the Hour of Code. They were led by Maria Fehling, a Westmont parent from the company Accenture who encourages their employees to volunteer at schools to teach computer coding. In the case of our Kindergarten class, they learned that computers have a special language that people called programmers use to tell the computers what to do. They discussed the kinds of computers around us and the children named quite a few items in their own houses that were programmed.

Next, the children participated in an activity in coding. Some of them were “programmers” and some of them were “computers”. They were told that the code they were going to use was arrows and the task that the computers were to accomplish was to build a structure using cups. The programmers then worked to write their code of arrows; an arrow pointing up meant to pick up a cup, an arrow pointing right or left meant to move the cup that many spaces on a grid, a circular arrow meant to turn the cup 180 degrees, and an arrow pointing down meant to put the cup down.

Once the children had a few practice runs all together, they split into groups and started their work. It was a great experience for them in collaboration, cooperation, and coding!

Thank you to Mrs. Fehling and Accenture for the opportunity to participate in this fantastic lesson!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Montessori Student

Children in a Montessori Early Childhood classroom (ages 3-6) experience a different preschool experience than what is traditionally offered. The Montessori classroom is an environment filled with exploration, order, and a community of multi-aged learners that inspire and lead one another.

The key to this peaceful and busy classroom is the carefully prepared environment filled with materials that can be adapted to meet the needs and interests of the children. The classroom is divided into interest areas that include, math, language, practical life, sensorial, geography, science, and art, with work that frequently changes  to grow with the children and pique their interests. Children are free to work in all areas of the classroom and receive new one-on-one lessons with the teacher throughout the day.
Learning Areas in the Early Childhood Classroom
The work of a preschooler, and what brings that child the greatest joy, is learning to do things for himself. Whether the task is putting on his own shoes, pouring a glass of milk, setting the table, or reading a book, the confidence and joy that comes from a child who is encouraged to help himself, is what Montessori is all about. Our curriculum focuses not just on the traditional academic subjects, but on the development of the whole child.
Care of Self:  Children learn to care for themselves, including dressing independently, organizing their work space, completing work in a timely fashion, washing hands, bathroom independence, cleaning up after oneself, being respectful, and patiently waiting for a turn. With this independence, children grow confident of their abilities and take initiative in all tasks, rather than waiting for an adult to direct them to tasks.
Motor Development:  Motor development involves learning to control the whole body: walking up and down steps with ease, carrying large items, and having coordination while playing outside. It also focuses on the small muscles of the hand, enabling the child to scoop and pour, use utensils, and develop the muscle strength and memory required for writing.
Social Development: The multi-age classroom provides for opportunities to interact with peers in different ways. The community of learners develop a love for helping each other and find joy in the successes of others, as well as their own.

Through lessons about geography, cultures, science, and nature, children develop knowledge and understanding of the world around them and learn to appreciate diversity in the world.
Speech and Language: As vocabulary grows, our classroom provides countless opportunities for practice with language.Our curriculum also focuses on sentence use, answering verbal questions, expressing feelings, and following directions. Children are introduced to the sounds that letters make as soon as they show interest in them. By teaching the sounds instead of the letter names, children can begin sounding out words as their language skills develop, and by the end of their three years in the classroom children have become enthusiastic readers.
Cognitive and Mathematical Development:   Development of processing, perception, reasoning, and memory takes place at an early age.  Children are introduced to the concepts of order, matching, and sorting, which serve as the foundation for mathematical concepts.  Children learn numbers, shapes, and colors not simply by memorizing their names, but by experiencing them with hands-on materials that engage the whole body and mind, while developing concentration and focus. The hands-on mathematics materials help to develop a true sense of number quantity, quantity-symbol relationships, and an understanding of mathematical operations for numbers into the thousands.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Teach Gratitude not only on Thanksgiving.

At this time of year we are always more aware of giving thanks for what we have as we gather with friend and family to celebrate Thanksgiving and all that it brings.
At our school our children delight in preparing for a special “feast” or celebration with friends where they express their thanks for what they hold dear, their mom, their dad, their baby, their pet, their teacher, their home, their bed…the list goes on and on and is heartwarming to see their faces when they speak. 
Luckily our Montessori curriculum includes a Grace and Courtesy component, and on a daily basis we model and teach and model grace and courtesy.  We expect our students to say thank you to a friend who holds the door, or helps them clean up, to a teacher who helps with laces or zippers, or a parent who comes to read a book or do a craft.
“Thank you” - two very small and simple words that are big and important to both the user and the receiver.  Showing and receiving gratitude makes a person feel good and sets them up for positive interactions and relationships. Gratitude is a skill that will help children grow into healthy adults, therefore it is really important that we help our children focus on what they can and should be thankful for apart from material things.
Dr. Monisha Vasa in an article on mindbodygreen.com  recommends the following to encourage attitudes of gratitude in children:

·         Have them engage in random acts of kindness
·         Spend time in nature and learn to appreciate its beauty
·         Create a daily reflection ritual on the highs and lows, joys and challenges of the day
·         Practice mindfulness at meals, exclude toys and electronics to allow appreciation for the meal
·         Help children volunteer in age appropriate ways

We all know the importance of role modeling, if we can make gratitude part of our daily lives our children will too.

Colette B. Cross