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Each child is a unique individual August 29, 2012

When revisiting the sensorial materials, a four year old likes to combine and make patterns.

Parents ask the best questions.  Questions help us examine our practices and beliefs, and then to explain them in plain, non-Montessori jargon, so everyone can understand – or at least that’s what I hope happens.

Recently a parent asked “How do Montessori teachers differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of children returning for their second or third year?”  As a parent, you definitely don’t want to think of your child doing the same thing again, year after year.

In general, our three year olds love practical life (pouring, scooping, cutting, cleaning, dressing frames, food prep) and sensorial activities (associated with learning about size, shape, color, texture, smell, sound, pattern, etc, through the senses).  They are working on developing their attention spans, their fine motor control, their independence, and refining their senses.  They are learning new words all of the time to describe what they see, hear, feel, smell, taste, and so on.

Four year olds begin to spend more time in the language, math and cultural (history and geography) areas, learning about numbers, sounds and letters, how to read and write, and about the world around them.  When four year olds work with the sensorial materials, they are more likely to be combining, matching and making patterns.  They may like to work with a friend, too, whereas many of our three year olds still like to work side by side with a friend, rather than on a two person project.

Our five to six year olds often spend their time focused on just one or two challenging and longer activities per work session – making a map of the world, writing words in a journal, counting a long bead chain, working on a booklet of multiplication problems.  These children are developing their social skills and their leadership skills.  They often like to work in a small group.  Ms. Sudha has a ‘journal writing group’, for example.  They like to work together and share ideas for writing.

A Montessori teacher is trained to notice the changing interests and abilities of the children as they grow and develop, and to find activities that match and challenge each child.  When a child returns for a second year at Montessori, the teacher will check the child’s understanding and memory of previous work.  If the child was working on learning to recognize numbers 1 – 10, both in and out of sequence, and to count objects to ten, then the teacher might begin the year with some counting games.  If the child still remembers number 1 – 10, the teacher will introduce the teen numbers.  If a child was previously working on teen numbers, the teacher will introduce the decimal system with the golden beads, the hundred board and the activities for learning to count by tens to one hundred – ten, twenty, thirty, etc.  As most lessons are individual, it is easier for the teacher to find the right amount of challenge for a returning student.

Similarly in language, if a child remembers the letters and sounds of the alphabet from a previous year, the child will begin writing and reading simple three letter words.  If a child completed the previous year knowing how to read three and four letter words, the teacher will introduce more challenging reading and writing work – compound words, such as ‘football’ and ‘bedroom’, or sight words, such as ‘their’ and ‘said.’

A child may continue through three years at Montessori with an interest in a certain activity.  A child may love puzzles, for example.  Knowing this, as the child develops over the years, the teacher will introduce many learning opportunities to this child through puzzles – puzzle maps, to learn the name and shape of the continents, and then countries and states, names of the parts of many animals and plants, the human skeleton, the planets, etc.  We have many puzzles in Montessori classes, going from the simple, suitable for a very young child, to the advanced, maybe a hundred pieces or more.  With a wide array of materials on the shelves, the teacher can find something that is just right for each child, whether they are brand new, or a child returning for a second, third or even fourth year.

To get back to the question about differentiating the curriculum for a returning student, I am reminded that the teachers differentiate the curriculum for every child, depending on their interests, abilities, and attention span, regardless of whether the child is new or returning.  In Montessori, no two children in a class will follow the same path through the materials, because each child in the classroom is recognized and valued as a unique individual.

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Ms. Colleen works her magic! August 10, 2012

 Change is difficult, so I can quite understand the rollercoaster of emotions Ms. Colleen experienced when the school board decided to expand our school to include a class for two year olds.  The plan is to convert our former After Care room into an environment especially prepared for children aged two to three years of age, and move our After Care program into our largest Montessori classroom.  Ms. Colleen has been running our After Care program since 2001, and she has a lot of materials to move . . . so, it is no surprise that on Tuesday she felt like quitting!  By Wednesday, as she organized the After Care activities on mobile shelves and storage units, that can be wheeled easily out of her storage room, directly into the classroom, she started to get excited, and by Thursday, she was talking about having cake and ice-cream to celebrate!

I love to watch people ‘do their stuff’ . . . whatever it is they are good at, whether that be cooking, gardening, painting, dancing, working a room . . . Ms. Colleen is so good at preparing an environment that is magical and inviting to children.  Dragon puppets peep down from a higher shelf, a fleet of emergency vehicles are lined up to race to the rescue, dressing up clothes are hung, tea sets and purses and suitcases are ready for games of make-believe, there are art materials galore – paints, crayons, colored pencils, glue, papers of various colors, and so much more.

Now I can’t wait to see our new After-Care program in action, with the children all engaged in the wonderful activities that encourage creativity, group interaction and help develop social skills.  Ms. Colleen’s goal was to prepare an environment that is attractive, inviting and magical.  Thanks, Ms. Colleen . . . you are a magician!

 

Let’s talk about food! August 4, 2012

 

Our children have never been picky eaters.  Partly this might be because their parents had such healthy appetites they knew that if they left any food, our response would be, “Oh goody, more for us!”  I was also lucky to work at a childcare center owned by a nutritionist.  She gave me lots of tips on healthy eating for children, and her advise really fits in well with the Montessori practices of following the child, allowing the maximum amount of freedom within a very structured environment, and allowing children to make their own choices and develop their independence.  Here are some suggestions for healthy eating:

  • Serve all of the food, including dessert, at the same time.  Then there is no opportunity to bribe a child with dessert for finishing eating the main course.
  • Make sure all of the food served is healthy, including dessert (fresh fruit, canned fruit in 100% fruit juice, apple sauce, yoghurt, milk pudding, rice pudding – dessert can be an important source of vitamins and dairy for a child).  This allows the child to only make healthy choices.
  • Serve food family style and allow your child to pass food bowls and serve him or herself.  If a child has control over the food on the plate, he or she is more likely to try a little taste of something new.  Never force a child to try something new, but remind him or her that it can take four or five tastes on different occasions before a food is liked.
  • Involve your child in food preparation – growing, harvesting, grocery shopping, cooking, serving.  We are growing cherry tomatoes, squash, radish, corn, ‘jack o’ lantern’ pumpkins, beans and strawberries at school.   Strawberries and cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden, warmed by the sun, are unbeatable for taste!  The children have been gobbling up all of the produce they have grown in their gardens.
  • When you are at the grocery store and farmers’ markets, allow your children to choose some of the items you will buy and serve to your family.  Ask them, “What looks good to you?”
  • Have a standby that your child can prepare for him/herself as an alternative to the meal.  Our children could always fix a PBJ sandwich or have cereal and milk as an alternative.  This prevents mealtimes becoming a battle scene between parents and children.  There is no pressure to eat the meal as the child can always fix the alternative.  The child can still sit at the table and enjoy the conversation and does not have to go to bed hungry.
  • Involve your child in lunch preparation.  We had a chart of food choices for lunch.  Our kids could choose a fruit /vegetable (fresh or juice or apple sauce or canned fruit, dried fruit, salad, vegetable sticks), a dairy (cheese stick, pot of cottage cheese, milk, yoghurt), a protein (peanut butter – in a sandwich, or for dipping fruit into, or spreading on celery – now we would use tahini or almond butter, hard boiled egg, cheese, chicken) and a carb (crackers, cereal, bread, bagel, muffin).   So a lunch might be bowl of cereal, pot of blueberries, thermos of milk, cheese stick . . . or tahini sandwich, yogurt and apple juice . . . or cheese and crackers, grapes and milk . . . or salad and cottage cheese and canned peaches . . . or leftover slice of vegetable lovers pizza and fruit juice . . .rice/pasta salad with hard boiled eggs and cheese . . . the combinations are endless!
  • Prepare lunch the night before.
  • I always made the salad first for dinner and left it on the table as I prepared the rest of the meal.  Our children were at their after-school hungriest and would graze through the salad as dinner was prepared.  For many years, all that was left of the salad for my husband and I were leaves.  All of the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, celery, mushrooms, etc., had already been eaten.  This was a small price to pay for knowing that our children had eaten a lot of raw vegetables.
  • When your child says, “I don’t like onions, peppers, mushrooms,” etc., try using the blender to disguise the unloved ingredients.  We served so many of the unloved food items in spaghetti sauce just by blending them until they couldn’t be recognized!  My husband and I ate the unblended version for texture!
  • Invite your children’s friends over for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Make mealtimes fun.

My family still loves to grocery shop, cook and eat together.  All of my children love to cook.  They continue to eat very well.  I love this photo of one of my daughters inhaling the smell of fresh produce.  We love the smell, texture and taste of fresh produce!