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