Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Reading the Same Book Over, and Over, and Over...

Reading out loud to children is a great way to share a love of books and learning. Children improve vocabulary, use their imagination, make connections to real life, and make memories of special time spent with a parent. But did you know that there are great benefits to reading a favorite story over and over again?

Children feel comforted by the familiar. They like familiar foods, routines, toys, and even books.This familiarity in a special book though builds a child's skills needed for reading. A parent models reading fluency, speed, and expression while reading and the more this is modeled, especially with the same book, the more a child tries to emulate this. Reading comprehension also grows with a familiar story, as a child practices anticipating what will come next and has discussions with a parent about what happened in the story. And finally, vocabulary is grown, as a child needs to hear a new word repeated a number of times before committing the word to memory. 

So, as difficult as it can be to read "Green Eggs and Ham" for the 300th time, just remember that your child benefits from each reading...and re-reading...and re-reading!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Value of Parent Teacher Communication

At Westmont we strive to keep ongoing and open dialogue between parents and teachers so parents can have up to date knowledge of their children’s school experiences.  We believe that communication between parent and school is vital to a positive home/school relationship.  After all, school is a home away from home for our students. 

 We also know that quite often the standard responses to “what did you do at school today?” include, “Nothing”, “I ate snack”, or “I played on the playground”.  The former we know is not true and the latter very important to every child.  We do see some parents every day and the teacher often has the opportunity to give a brief update on a child’s day or week.  Other parents do not make it to the school on a regular basis and our weekly Montessori Compass comments and photos online provide a welcome glimpse into a child’s day or week.  A simple login allows parents to see what activities their child engages in, and supporting photos help facilitate leading questions for them regarding what really occurs on a day-to-day basis.

Westmont offers formal parent teacher conferences three times a year and this week all teachers and parents are meeting to review each child’s year and subsequent development.  Although we do not test, or give homework, we do assess children and measure their development on an ongoing basis. Because our Montessori philosophy is developmentally responsive to each individual student and provides resources and time for each student to learn at his or her own pace, teachers must know their students. Montessori teachers therefore are trained in, and adept at, observing students.  Based on their observations, they plan for future activities to support each child’s individual skills and can address strengths and challenging areas.

The goal of this week’s meetings is to present the outcome of the year’s plans, observations, and assessments.  Teachers and parents can then reflect on all areas of development relating to each child, including growth observed in independence, confidence, social, motor and cognitive skills.
Research has shown that parent involvement in a child’s education is an important factor for a child’s future school success.  Shared feedback between teachers and parents will strengthen trust between home and school and enlighten parents as to what their children are really doing in school, which we know is a lot more than words here can express.

Colette B. Cross

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Our Children all Need Great Teachers Like You 
by Felicity Luckey



Our Children all Need Great Teachers Like You 
by Felicity Luckey
You once had a choice
And you chose to teach
And every day
It's our children you reach

You make the difference
In the life of each child
Those that are quiet
And those that are wild

It's the way that you teach
You do it so well
They look up to you
And think you are swell

You teach from your heart
That's plain to see
They think you're divine
And we all agree

Please never forget
And remember it's true
Our children all need
Great teachers like you

We appreciate you
And we value your time
And if you should forget
Please re-read this rhyme

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Public Speaking in Kindergarten

When you're five years old, the prospect of speaking to one adult, let alone a whole room of them, can be quite daunting. Providing children with the confidence to do so, however, is a skill that will provide the child with social skills that will serve him or her well for years.

At Westmont, we incorporate public speaking early and often, to build up to a kindergarten play in their final year with us. Children first learn to speak in front of their class during show-and-tell in their Early Childhood class. Then in kindergarten, they are given the opportunities to share projects they have created and read books to their class. We even have a small stage in the room so they can gain confidence as the center of attention. They also put together and perform a play, first for the children of the school, and then for the families of the school. To get the Early Childhood children ready for this big step we invite the EC children to sing along at the play as chorus members, sitting in chairs in front of the stage to ease them into this type of production and make them more comfortable with the concept when their performance day as a kindergartener arrives.

Instilling children with the confidence to stand on a stage and speak publicly is a skill that we hope children take with them when they leave Westmont. We want each child to believe they have something to contribute to the world and that their voice matters.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Reading and Writing the Montessori Way

Colette B. Cross

If you attended our Language Workshop today, you left with an impressive view of a Montessori Language Curriculum in an Early Childhood Classroom.

I never cease to be amazed, not only at the wealth and depth of language skills available to every student in a Montessori classroom, but to the fact that students do not have to wait until a certain age or time to work on a specific skill.  I observed one of our Early Childhood classes recently and in the space of an hour I saw three, four, and five year olds engaged in a multitude of activities that had to be seen to be believed. The children were actively and productively engaged.  They chose and carried the work out with pride and purpose: no pressure, no worries, simply realistic expectations and a desire to learn.
Learning in a Montessori classroom is as natural as learning to walk and talk.  Children learn to do these things when they are developmentally ready to do so.  So it should be for all learning.   The prepared environment, the teacher who understands and supports each student’s developmental level, the engaged student and supportive parents are key to successful learning.   I watched a four year old read an amazing list of sight words because she could, a three-year-old build three letter “a” words with a moveable alphabet, and a five year old independently completing a comprehension exercise.  The list goes on; matching sounds to objects and to visuals, booklet making, medial vowel activities, story writing.   But you get the picture, endless possibilities!

It is well researched that learning to read and write is critical to a child’s success in school, as well as later in life, and the early years are the most important years for literacy development.  This is the developmental stage when children can absorb information from people, ideas and tools within their environment.  The preparation and precursor skills are offered from day one in the form of the practical life activities, vocabulary development, and lessons using concrete materials.

If you missed our presentation, come visit a class and see for yourself.  A visit to a Montessori class will make you wish you could go back to school and learn to read and write the Montessori way!

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Soft Skills
Peter Davidson

I had an interesting conversation with a prospective parent recently who teaches at a local college. She shared that she and her colleagues are constantly discussing “how underprepared kids are for college in terms of ‘soft skills.’” By soft skills she meant skills other than the purely academic — the personal qualities, habits and attitudes that make someone a successful college student and, by extension, a good boss or employee later in life. She had just come from an observation in toddlers and primary and was surprised to have seen that in Montessori, “starting in toddlers students develop the self-motivation, independence, and follow-through that many college students lack!” In other words, beginning at these very young ages, Montessori children are already developing the soft skills that will benefit them so greatly later in life.

It was a pretty astute observation for a prospective parent seeing Montessori for the first time, and it got me thinking. When I talk to parents, I often describe a Montessori learning material, like the binomial cube, detective adjective game, or golden beads, that leads to the acquisition of academic or “hard skills.” Obviously, hard skills are important, but soft skills are equally so.

One of the most important is self-motivation. In my experience children are born self-motivated. Any parent reflecting upon their own child’s acquisition of the skill of walking is bound to agree. At no point did you need to motivate your child to learn how to walk, did you? Instead, he did it all on his own, through arduous repetition and gradual improvement. And what did he do after he taught himself this difficult skill? He added the next movement challenges — running, climbing stairs and carrying objects – entirely on his own initiative! So perhaps our job is often just to get out of his way, to remove obstacles from his path, and give him the time he needs to do his work. In other words, our job is not to motivate him but rather to be sure that we don’t inadvertently blunt his own internal motivation.

One way we can avoid that is by not doing things for her that she can learn to do them for herself. We can also allow her the time she needs by slowing ourselves down to match her pace, rather than forcing her to conform to ours. Of equal importance is allowing her to choose her own activities. When are you more likely to be self-motivated – when doing something someone else has chosen for you? Or, when doing an activity you have chosen for yourself?

Doesn’t this perfectly describe the atmosphere of a Montessori classroom? From their earliest days in Montessori, children are shown how to do a thousand and one activities for themselves, and then given time and choice. They are shown how to care for their own needs, as well as to care for their friends and their environment. We train ourselves as Montessori adults to get out of the way, let them do for themselves, and never to give more help than they need.

And what will you acquire if you are choosing things to do without undue help and without external motivation? Independence, the second of the soft skills to which our college professor referred. And if you have chosen it for yourself, you will have the self-motivation to follow-through and persevere through whatever challenges or difficulties may arise.

Obviously, the hard skills are important, but they don’t do you much good without the personal qualities, skills and attitudes that allow you to use the hard skills effectively. That’s why in Montessori we are working with children to develop the whole range of skills, hard and soft, that he or she will need as they take their place as an adult in society many years from now.

Peter Davidson was the founding Head at the Montessori School of Beaverton, an AMI school in Portland and currently serves as consultant for Montessori in Redlands, an AMI school in Southern California.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Why We Sew

Learning skills for Practical Life is a major part of every Montessori class. By learning to dress one's self, set the table, clean up messes, and use kitchen tools, children gain confidence and pride.

The Kindergarteners at Westmont have been busy learning the Practical Life skill of sewing. Although this may seem like an extra, unimportant skill for six-year-olds to have, there are many amazing learning opportunities for children who engage in this task.

  • Handwriting ability is directly correlated to hand dexterity and hand-eye coordination which can be strengthened with hand stitching and threading needles
  • Sewing is not an immediate-gratification activity, patience is learned as fabric slowly transforms
  • Mathematical concepts such as measurement and geometry are honed as children visualize how a pattern can be used and even created for their project
  • A greater appreciation for the work involved in making the things around them (houses, food, furniture, etc.) inspires more question and wonderment
  • Pride and accomplishment from doing "real" work with a real purpose