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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Empathy in Action

Today there is much talk of the “me “age and of the “selfie” generation, and I thought I would share this observation of empathy in action to demonstrate how we can alter outcomes and put others first.    A while back while I was visiting one of our toddler classes, I saw one of our students get bumped on his head.  I could tell that it hurt.  He immediately started to cry, the cry that tells of real pain.  One of his peers was the first to reach him and he asked what happened.  Through his tears the little boy held his head and pointed to the object of his hurt.  His young friend clearly understood and proceeded to rub his friend’s head.  He continued to rub and in the most caring tone told his friend he would feel better soon and it would be all right.   He stayed by his friend’s side until the little boy eventually stopped crying; adult intervention although offered was not needed, he did not even want ice.  His friend’s kindness toward him healed his hurt. I saw it all unfold and it restored my confidence in the fact that we can help our youngest students care.

What a moment to behold, empathy in action in such a young child.  No prods, no direction, no words needed by any adult.  This is a child who understands hurt and feelings and was able to respond naturally to his friend. The definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Children who can empathize are in touch with their own feelings and are able to connect theirs with what another is experiencing.

One can ask, is a child born with an innate ability to empathize or is it learned.  Research says it can be either.  Have you ever seen a baby or young child offer up his blanket, bottle, toy, or something treasured to someone who is feeling sad, or upset?  It happens, and is empathy in the making. We do know that not every child or adult can empathize. The great news is that we also know that empathy can be taught and the earlier the better. 

So in a nutshell how can we teach empathy?  It is easy to do the following:
Ø  Role model, a child does what a child sees
Ø  Validate a child’s feelings
Ø  Discuss feelings with children and give them “feeling” words to express them.
Ø  Praise kind and empathic behavior and responses

Submitted by Colette B. Cross

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I loved reading this recently published article by June George, A Montessori advocate, teacher and owner, and the overuse of “good job!” when praising children.  ACV

Montessori advocate, teacher and owner.
What's More Powerful than "Good Job?"
Pretend you’re sitting in the corner of a classroom of 30 children, ages 3-6. Everyone is working contentedly at their own tables. There is a buzz in the air, but not one of chaos.
Instead, it’s the quiet energy of independent children, picking their own tasks and following their interests. You’re so entranced, you might be inspired to pronounce “Good job!” to every child who passes by!
But that’s one phrase you’ll never hear in this classroom.
Why? What’s so bad about saying “Good Job?”
The reason adults in the Montessori classroom don’t say “Good Job” is because it casts judgement upon a child’s work. But those children aren’t going about their day in search of an adult’s praise. They are choosing activities ranging from washing dishes to multiplication work because it interests them. They want to do it!
When we place a label like “good” or “bad” upon a task that a child is doing in order to satisfy their own developmental needs, we take the ownership away from them. All of a sudden their work is about us and what WE think.
Here’s Ms. Wood:
“When a new milestone is reached, the first reaction is often, ‘Good Job! That’s amazing! I’m so proud of you.’ These are really positive things to say, but what do they do to your child’s development?”
How can we respond to a child’s work in a way that acknowledges them, but doesn’t get in the way of their ownership over a task? What’s more powerful than “Good Job?”
How about, “You did it.”
This simple phrase says so much. When spoken warmly and with a smile, a simple “You did it” allows the child to reflect upon their own accomplishments: “I did do it, didn’t I!”
And that sense of accomplishment and pride allows the child to move on to bigger things with a confidence in themselves that no “good job” could ever impart.

March 13, 2017 Primary

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Commitment to Professional Development

The Westmont Montessori School has a strong commitment to education, not just for the children who attend, but also for the adults who care for them. We host monthly parent events in our Parent Education Series and our teachers and administrators take part in Professional Development throughout the year.

Last year alone, our staff members took a total of 528 hours of Professional Development! Every year our teachers attend the New Jersey Montessori conference and several teachers are selected to also attend the national American Montessori Society conference. Although our classroom teaching staff of 11 have a combined 16 degrees (including six Master's Degrees), continuing to learn about new research, share ideas for the classroom, and hear about the great things happening in schools all over the world, ensures that we have the tools to provide the best for the children we serve.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ten Resolutions for Becoming a More Grateful Parent

It is also never too late to make, revisit or renew resolutions when it comes to parenting. I read this article in Independent School magazine and thought I would paraphrase and share some of it with you.
It was written by Madeline Levine a practicing psychologist, author, and co-founder of Challenge Success a project of the Stanford graduate School of Education.  I had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Levine at a Common Ground Speaks presentation some years back.
Dr. Levine offers Ten Resolutions for Becoming a More Grateful Parent.  I was struck by the similarities in her words and what is near and dear to our own philosophy of developing self-reliant young people:-
1.       I will not do for my child what he can do for himself.
·         This inhibits motivation and the ability to innovate
2.       I will not do for my child what she can almost do for herself.
·         At one time your child could almost walk, now she can walk.
3.       I will love the child in front of me
·         Appreciate and be thankful for your child’s unique gifts.
4.       I will not push my child to be perfect
·         Life is full of mistakes, imperfect days, and human failings. Children need to be able to feel happiness and gratitude in the face of imperfection. This builds resilience.
5.       I will make sure my child gets a full night’s sleep
·         Children need between 9 and 11 hours a night, sleep deprivations impairs concentration and compromises the ability to learn
6.       I will not confuse my needs with my child’s needs.
·         Over parenting is not healthy for parent or child
7.       I will remember that I am a parent, not a CEO.
·         Don’t’ catastrophize about grades/results, you will reap the benefits
8.       I will value my own (adult) life
·         Being a happy fulfilled parent is one of the best gifts you can give your child
9.       I will honor the importance of Playtime, Downtime, and Family Time
·         Don’t overschedule, children need down time, or “hang time” as we like to say.
1.   I will remember the success trajectory is a squiggle ≈ not a straight line
·         We know our own paths took twists and turns, life does not always go as planned.

Submitted by Colette B. Cross