Thursday, March 24, 2016

What is Montessori--in just one word.

When you work in a Montessori School, the question “Just what is Montessori?” does come up quite often in one’s social circles. And for those of us who have studied the philosophy and pedagogy that Dr. Montessori put into practice over 100 years ago, it’s difficult to put into words, succinctly, all the benefits of this educational approach that took the world by storm back in the early 1900’s.

“Dr. Montessori was truly a woman ahead of her time. She saw the potential in every child. As a physician and a scientist, she used observation and a brilliant understanding of child development to figure out how to best support learning for life.”, remarks Colette Cross, Head of School at the Westmont Montessori school in #Mendham, NJ.

Indeed. But just what is this educational approach all about? Today, we will try to answer this question with one word (well…we might need to use a few “one word” answers):
  • #Respect for self
  • #Respect for others
  • #Self-confidence
  • #Independence
  • #Integrity
  • #Academic Excellence (coupled with a joy for learning)
  • #Cultural appreciation
  • #Love of #learning

Learn more @AmericanMonstessoriSociety as well as our other #Montessori #blog articles here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

How many times in a day do a clock’s hands overlap?

“What does it mean to think? And, how can I get good at it?

To be good at thinking, children should feel that thinking is fun and should want to be good at it. Good thinkers practice thinking just like they practice kicking or throwing a ball. And Montessori classrooms are ripe with opportunity for exploring, testing hypotheses and learning how to think. In most classrooms, the emphasis is on the "What", "Where", and "When".  Montessori settings allow for more probing with "Why?", "How?", "How can I ...?" and "What if?". Both the materials and the environment (including the teachers) allow for that kind of exploration and discovery.

Fast forward to when our pre-schoolers of today enter the job market--the jobs that exist then may not actually exist yet today. So maybe the facts they learn today may be less relevant, but their process of thinking will be pivotal. Let's say they were asked on a job interview, like some of the Google job candidates of today: "How many times in a day do a clock’s hands overlap?"-- how might they answer? Or better yet, forget the answer (which is 22, incidentally)--how might they go about solving that problem?

Here's a thought-provoking NYT Op-Ed article on "Thinking for the Future". And PS: it's no wonder Google presents prospective employees with an array of similar challenges. The founders graduated from Montessori schools, after all. And they have both attributed their innovative thinking skills to their foundational Montessori years.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What I like about #Westmont (

Surround Your Child with Language

Here's a great article lovingly written by two grandmothers who have worked in early childhood education for many years on building literacy with lullabies:
Read it here

(and a cute picture of one of our own Little Steppers!)

Monday, March 7, 2016

Snake Game, Stamp Game, Bird's Eye View, The Mess, Bank Game: Montessori Math is Amazing!

What can be more beautiful and appealing than the glistening bead materials—a centerpiece of the Montessori classroom? As with all areas of the classroom, beauty and usefulness coexist in perfect harmony.

The children begin their mathematical journey in the Montessori classroom even before they touch any of the math materials. Children start to build mathematical thinking in the other areas of the classroom (Sensorial, Practical Life and Culture) by using concrete materials to prepare the mind for abstract thinking. For example, children have had the opportunity to experience differences in length, width, weight and volume, build a sense of differentiation and similarity; perform grading work; build concentration; develop their sense of order and one-to-one correspondence; build fine-motor control and coordination to handle the small bead materials; and grow their sense of independence.  

Children can now embark on building and honing mathematical concepts using concrete—and visually stimulating—materials in the Math area. Eventually as the child matures and begins to think more abstractly, s/he will rely less and less on the concrete materials, although they will continue to fill the classroom with alluring beauty. Mathematics deals with the study of quantity, shapes and their arrangements. Children learn to recognize quantities and symbols, associate quantities to their respective symbols/numerals and combine and manipulate those quantities/numerals into larger or more complex concepts. Process is taught first, and fluency with math facts come later.

Come see the math materials and learn about works such as: the decimal layout, the stamp game, the short and long chains and more. 
Join us at our Open House Social at 10AM on March 19th (at the Westmont Montessori School, 577 Rt. 24 in Mendham (908)879-6355). Children–come ready to have some fun!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

lang-gwij in the Montessori Classroom

If we look closely at the Montessori 3-6 classroom, we can observe many “hidden gems” in all areas of the classroom that prepare children for reading and writing, including:  an emphasis on developing independence and concentration; ample opportunities to develop and hone hand-eye coordination and the pincer grip; as well as the repetition of “left to right; top to bottom” movement that occurs during lessons and is repeated by children as they work independently with so many of the materials in the classroom.  

 “Reading and writing are quite distinct from a knowledge of letters of the alphabet.”[1]

Another distinguishing feature of the language curriculum is that letters are first presented as sounds, establishing the phonetic value of the letter instead of simply the “name” of the symbol. This is done—initially via the sandpaper letters—in order to prepare the children for reading and writing. Another genius of the Montessori approach is that everything has multiple benefits. For instance: the sandpaper letters are not only devised to introduce children to the phonetic sound of the letter but also to the tangible “feel” of their physical appearance in preparation for writing. Once as many as 11 or 12 sandpaper letters are mastered, a child can continue his progression through the language materials via the moveable alphabet to discriminate the beginning and ending sounds, followed by middle sounds and ultimately, begin the construction of words. This too has a linear progression from 3-letter phonetic words, to 4+ letter phonetic words, to non-phonetic words. Initial word sounds and ultimately word construction can begin with representative objects then move to more abstract picture cards and ultimately to materials that have no visual cue, like reading lists and booklets and of course, books. During this time, writing is also introduced so that the child develops an association between words that are being read and words that are written.
As in all areas of the classroom, knowledge is constructed by mental and physical activity rather than by passively listening to the teacher or participating in teacher-directed activities.  Practically everything in the Montessori classroom contributes either directly or indirectly to the preparation for and execution of reading and writing. By creating this rich environment where there is plenty of conversation between and among peers and the teacher, lots of reading and writing opportunities in all of the areas of the classroom (not just the language area), the Montessori environment fosters the rich--and joyful--language development for the child.

[1] Maria Montessori, pg. 215, The Discovery of the Child

Friday, March 4, 2016

Seeing the universe in every child: The Montessori Cultural Curriculum

The cultural curriculum in the Montessori classroom is a window into the universe at large. We invite children to develop an awareness of how their world came to be and cultivate an appreciation for all the things, big and small, which coexist in it. Learning about our natural resources (land/air/water; sink or float; parts of a plant; how to grow a plant), the seasons (seasons sorting cards), the elements on our planet (magnetic vs. non-magnetic), the flora and fauna (vertebrates vs. invertebrates; extinct vs. non-extinct), the vastness of our world--as well as our connectedness-- (the solar system; the colored globe; the continent maps) and the concept of time (calendar; telling time) –these are all ways we help children to discover our natural world.

By exposing each child to cultural area of the classroom—Geography, Science, Botany, Zoology, and History—we invite them to explore the universe at large, using their own curiosity and drive. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Let's get practical: What is Practical Life in the Montessori classroom

At first, Dr. Montessori saw the need to help the poor children she was working with in Rome to practice good hygiene. But before long, she realized that children were naturally captivated by all kinds of typical “grown-up” and household activities and engaged in these activities gleefully, as if propelled by an inner drive. Often, they would engage in these activities tirelessly and with authentic tenacity and focus. Dr. Montessori quickly noticed that through this constant repetition of motions with both small and larger muscle groups, children were perfecting their coordination, building pre-writing skills (like their pincer grip) and gaining confidence in--and fulfillment from--a particular task.

As you may have noticed in your own home, imitation is one of the child’s strongest urges during the early years. So, too, is the cry of: “I want to do it. Let me do it.” Using the child’s natural inclinations as a point of departure, the Practical Life curriculum (coupled with the proper modeling provided through teacher-led lessons) was developed.  This set of classroom activities comprises work in:
§  Control of movement or “dexterity” (small & large muscles)
§  Care of self
§  Care of the environment
§  Grace & courtesy
§  Basic art skills
and is a good link between the classroom and the home. In a Montessori classroom, materials are child-sized, attractive, and real. Lessons are brief and succinct as children will watch and imitate, putting their own personal expression into the activity.

Practical life is a practical, enjoyable and effective launch pad for the rest of the Montessori curriculum and helps kindle a life long journey of joyful learning.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Our hands feed the mind: a look at the "sensorial" area of the Montessori classroom

Dr. Montessori was a scientific observer. 

According to Montessori, a child between two to six years passes through the "sensitive period for the refinement of senses". Children during this time are particularly drawn to certain types of activities. She further discovered that through exploration, repetition, and the introduction to language, children learn to refine their senses and their understanding of the world around them. She took each of the senses and developed materials that would support children in using and refining their skills of classification, ordering, and pairing. 

Here you see one of our young Montessorians deeply concentrating as she works with the Pink Tower-- an iconic Montessori material.These cubes develop visual discrimination of size in three dimensions. As with all Montessori materials, there is always a purpose in addition to inherent beauty. Working with this material prepares the child to understand mathematical concepts in the decimal system, geometry, and volume.(The cubes increase progressively in the algebraic series of the third power. Therefore, the second cube equals 8 of the first; the third cube equals 27 of the first etc…)

The hands, Dr. Montessori, put forth, feed the mind[i]—where the hands represent the physical way in which we take in information through our senses, from visual to stereognostic. As we classify the things around us, we begin to organize our intelligence.

Do you know the name of the other work pictured here? Share your responses or ask your children to tell you about this "colorful" work pictured on the right!
Happy Montessori Education Week!


[i] The hands are the instruments of man's intelligence." (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 25).

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What do these people have in common?

The foundation of a Montessori education.

Flash forward a year from now, a decade from now…what will the children pictured here have in common with today’s most remarkable innovators, such as the Google co-founders and the creator of The foundation of a Montessori education.

Starting February 28 through March 5, 2016, we celebrate the 109th anniversary of Montessori Education during Montessori Education Week. Dr. Maria Montessori believed that each child learns at his own pace and in his own unique way.  This innovative thinking shaped a new type of learning environment designed to kindle the individual interests of each learner. When asked by Barbara Walters in a television interview what they felt was a major factor in their success, Google co-founders credited their early childhood Montessori education: “We both went to Montessori school,” Mr. Larry Page said, “and I think it was part of that training of …being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently.”

As articulated by these alumni, the Montessori Method fosters independence and critical thinking skills in young children—skills that ultimately enable them to respond creatively to new challenges, resolve conflicts effectively, and understand and relate to others.

On March 19th at 10AM, we welcome the community to help us celebrate children and learning. Join us at our Open House Social at 10AM (at the Westmont Montessori School, 577 Rt. 24 in Mendham (908)879-6355). Children–come ready to have some fun!