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The Montessori Advantage ~ Excellent Executive Functioning Skills! October 22, 2016

Filed under: Child Development,impulse control,learning,Montessori education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 11:45 pm

11934944_10153555355176774_4321930277428401165_nPhoto caption ~ “May we watch you work?”  Impulse control practice!

I have thought long and hard about what I call ‘the Montessori advantage’, that special characteristic of Montessori students that allows them be successful in later schooling, relationships and work, and to become the people they were meant to be.  At the recent annual conference of the Montessori Institute of America the keynote speaker, Dr. Steven Hughes presented on Education for Life.  You can find out more about Dr. Hughes here: http://www.goodatdoingthings.com/GoodAtDoingThings/Welcome.html

I had the pleasure (and the fear – it is very hard to follow a keynote speech by Dr. Hughes!) to present on the development of Executive Functioning skills in children.  These skills (short term memory, flexible thinking and impulse control) are an important part of education for life.  These skills help us succeed in school, at work, in relationships, and as a parent.  You can hear more about executive functioning skills by following this link to a short video: http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-executive-function-skills-for-life-and-learning/

I think that Montessori schools provide children a wonderful environment for the practice of these skills, and like any skill, practice helps develop and strengthen the skills.  The video clips in the executive function overview include many set in Montessori schools, yet Montessori education is never mentioned.  That’s why I think it is important for us to join the conversation as Montessori parents and teachers.  ‘Executive functioning’ are buzz words in education right now, and this is something Montessori education excels at ~ providing the opportunity to practice, develop and strengthen working memory, flexible thinking and impulse control.

Just think of these examples:

Working memory ~ consider all of the distance games (matching pink tower or broad stair pieces, shapes from the geometric cabinet to cards on a rug across the classroom), three period lessons, matching games, remembering the sequence of a lesson, remembering where a work goes on a shelf . . .

Flexible thinking ~ so many works (knobbed cylinder blocks, binomial cube, trinomial cube, puzzles) encourage a child to persevere and try a different arrangement to solve the puzzle

Impulse control ~ walking on the line, fine motor control activities, just having one of each material so you have to be patient and wait your turn, watching a work without touching, waiting for a lesson. . .

With twenty children in a room, all moving freely and making their own choices of what to work on, you can see that our students get a lot of practice on focusing on their own work and avoiding being distracted by the movement and choices of those around them.  Their executive functioning skills get a daily workout.

As parents and educators, we can not only provide lots of opportunities for practice of these skills, but also set about providing the best environment to avoid long term factors that negatively impact the development of these skills.

  • Poor role models
  • Stress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Lack of opportunity to practice and develop

Please note: In the short term, tiredness, hunger, not feeling well, can also impact a child’s (and a teacher’s or parent’s!) executive functioningIf you consider how you feel less than your best when you are tired, hungry, stressed, not feeling well, you can see how detrimental these same factors are on a long term basis.  Within our school we provide lots of opportunities for practice, we stress excellent nutrition (no junk food), we provide a predictable routine, opportunities for gross motor play, yoga to prevent stress and our teachers strive to provide positive role models to our children.

When I consider the lack of opportunity to practice and develop, I think of two extremes.  When a parent or teacher does everything for the child, and prevents the child from making choices, making mistakes and facing natural consequences, the child does not have the opportunity to practice executive functioning skills.

When a child is afraid to make choices or make a mistake because of fear of ridicule or punishment, the child is also prevented from practicing and strengthening these skills.  Fear makes for stress, a long term factor that inhibits the development of executive functioning skills.

I have included some references and resources for interested parents and teachers.

References:

Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/building-the-brains-air-traffic-control-system-how-early-experiences-shape-the-development-of-executive-function/

(above links to 20 page full paper)

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-executive-function/

(above links to two-page summary of full paper)

Download a sixteen page guide to developmentally appropriate activities ( six months through adolescence) to strengthen executive function skills

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/activities-guide-enhancing-and-practicing-executive-function-skills-with-children-from-infancy-to-adolescence/

Video overview of executive function, with many video clips set in a Montessori classroom

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-executive-function-skills-for-life-and-learning/

Fifteen-minute TED talk, about helping adults develop executive function skills, and the ability this has to lift families out of poverty:

http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/using-brain-science-to-create-new-pathways-out-of-poverty/

Thanks to the parents and teachers who asked me to share some more information about Montessori education and executive functioning.

 

Experience the great outdoors! October 19, 2016

img_3689I recently talked with a friend about experiencing the fullness of life.  When we live mostly indoors, either in central heating or air conditioning, in a very comfortable zone, we dull our senses.  I remember hiking on the moors in North Yorkshire (think Wuthering Heights), on a blustery day, with winds chasing rain showers and clouds, and meeting an old guy who greeted my friends and I with, “It’s cracking up here!”  (Cracking, think Wallace and Gromit movies, and Wensleydale cheese being ‘cracking good cheese’), and thinking, “Yes, it is cracking!  I feel so alive!”  So, that’s what I love about our River Walk.  Our senses come alive.  “Look at the trees!  They look like rainbows.”  “Smell!  It smells so good!”  or “Yuck, the mud smells so bad!”  “Listen to the water!”  “Ouch, this tree is so prickly!”  “Look at the river shining.  It’s like silver.”

I love that the children pushed themselves to walk a little further than was comfortable (about four miles) and braved crossing plank bridges across the river.  We spotted ladybugs gathering for hibernation, identified all of our favorite trees (Oak, Aspen, Willow, Maple and Spruce), and also experienced a little local history ~ the site of the first Artesian well, a comparison of the university  100 years ago with today ~ and viewed some local art (a mural by Pat Siler, a local artist).  We estimated.  “How far do you think we have walked so far?”  “How many ladybugs did we see?”  “How many toadstools do we think are right here?” “How tall is the Willow tree?” We measured the circumference of trees.  We compared – leaf shape, bark.  But above everything else that I loved today is that we spent  an amazing day together as friends.  Five hours together went so quickly!  It was cracking!  I leave you with an invitation to get kids outdoors as much as possible, and photos of our day, because a picture is worth a thousand words!

img_3618

 

Atlanta Montessori International School October 18, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 10:25 pm

I totally enjoyed an extended tour of the Atlanta Montessori International School.  The school has about 200 students, representing about 40 countries and many languages, serving children ages 8 weeks through adolescence.  This is the sort of school that inspires me, and I hope our school can grow to this size.  It’s hard to pin down what were my favorite things about this school, but I especially loved the international flavor and the emphasis on the appreciation of diversity.  I loved the flags at the entrance to the campus, representing the families of the school, and the cultural display in the foyer organized by a family.  This family was from Columbia, and made a presentation to the children, and then left some artifacts for display for the children to view for about a month.  I especially liked the clocks set to the time in different time zones.

I also appreciated the abundance of art on display in the school, especially the spectacular ceiling tiles in the Spanish room,and the group art projects, such as designing tiles for the school.

And as a gardener, I was very impressed with the abundance of gardens that the children managed, and the beautiful labels that not only gave the name of the plant in latin, but also information about its natural habitat and uses.  This has really inspired me to do more gardening with the children next year.

 

Montessori Institute of America’s school tours, 2016

Filed under: Diversity,Montessori education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:36 pm

As part of the Montessori Institute of America’s national conference  (https://mia-world.org/annual-conference/), I attended the school tours on the Friday morning.  For Montessori teachers, the school tours are always a big highlight of any conference!  This tour was really brilliant because we got to see three very different versions of Montessori, yet all three were very authentic.  One school was large and very corporate, one was small and homey, and one was in a rural setting.  Big differences from Washington State, where I live and work, is that in Georgia there are more children per teacher : 15 children – 1 teacher, versus 10: 1 in Washington.  The group sizes can also be larger, especially in the toddler range.  I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the schools with me!

Below, photos from Montessori Academy of Sharon Springs.  This school serves children ages 18 months through 15 years of age.  The school is run by an educational corporation called ‘Endeavor’.  The building is purpose built for a school, with each classroom having direct access to the outside.  The environment is very polished and perfect.  I loved the photos throughout the building with the Montessori quotes,  the awesome rug in this classroom, the flags at the entrance that signal diversity and the greenhouse that is being built by the middle school students – great practical life for big kids!

Below, photos from Stepping Stone Montessori School.  My first impression of this smaller school was that it is a very warm, homey environment, serving infants through kindergarten.  I loved the sculpture out front, and the emphasis on nature (composting, feeding the birds, herb garden for sensory exploration) and their beautiful infant environment.

Finally, take a glimpse into Children’s House of North Forsyth.  This school is in a rural Georgia setting.  This school has a very full set of Montessori materials.  As an example, for exploring landforms, there were 3 D models, landform wooden puzzles, nomenclature cards, felt versions of the landforms, and materials for the children to make their own versions of the landforms.  The classrooms were very quiet and peaceful.  The adult to child ratio was about 1:6 in the preschool and 1:5 in the elementary, so the children received a lot of adult attention.  The school has a chef (yes, a chef, not a cook) and I was very impressed with the delicious smell of lunch cooking.  The photos below are of the elementary classroom and the awesome outdoor music feature on the playground.

 

Making Peace, Part Three October 4, 2016

Filed under: Community Building,Diversity,Montessori education,peace — bevfollowsthechild @ 10:10 pm

Photos above, clockwise from top left – The Peace Rose book, a great tool for teaching respectful conflict resolution, yoga cards for individual yoga practice, oil timers – an aid to relaxation, and yoga flow – learning to listen to the breath to restore calm and peace

Ms. Jane suggested that each month we focus on a quote to inspire discussions around the lunch table and during staff meetings.  As all of the classrooms have been focusing on peace, Ms. Jane chose this quote from Maria Montessori: “Establishing a lasting peace is the work of education.”  After seeing the rise of Mussolini in her own country of Italy and living through World Wars I and  II, Maria Montessori devoted a lot of time to the topic of peace education during the latter part of her life.  She believed, as do I, that our children are the hope for a lasting peace.  When they are young, they are forming beliefs  and attitudes and developing skills.  Through education at home and school, we hope those attitudes include compassion, empathy, acceptance, fairness, and an appreciation for diversity.  We hope the skills they develop include problem-solving skills.

So how are our teachers and children focusing on peace within their classrooms and our school?

On Wednesday, September 21st, on Peace Day, our school joined schools all across the world in singing a song for peace.  We sang it in the morning, so we could include our youngest students from Oak Room, and again in the afternoon.  We joined hands in a big circle, sang Light a Candle for Peace and passed around a globe.  We talked about how children from many countries would also be singing the same song in their own languages, too.  We were all taking the time out of our busy day to celebrate and hope for peace.

What you can do, at home and school:

Create an atmosphere of welcome and acceptance in your classroom and/or home, so that children develop the quality of acceptance of diversity.  Mr. Abe, lead teacher in Oak Room for two year olds, added, We are going to be inviting parents into the classroom to spend the morning with us  to focus on family, culture and peace. We have families that speak Chinese, Korean and English at home. This will create a warm, welcome and accepting environment as we get to know each other.

Learn to share your thoughts without hurting feelings or shouting: Ms. Jane, Aspen Room for 3- 6 year olds, writes, We have learned a lot about friendships and how to share our thoughts with each other, without hurting feelings or shouting.  We have shared friendship stories from my favorite set of books, the dinofours. The main characters are four year old dinosaurs who go to preschool and have some of the same issues that we too have as a class. I love sharing these friendship stories.  Please do look out for books focused on friendship, sharing feelings and resolving conflicts respectfully.  Thanks.

Use tools to help children learn how to relax, meditate, solve problems, appreciate silence and solitude: Ms. Tessa, Willow Room for 3 – 6 year olds, adds, We talk about peace on a daily basis in Willow Room, and we practice peace, too.  We use materials such as the peace rose book to problem solve, the oil timers to  relax (They are so beautiful to watch!), and we have a special stool which is reserved for a child when he or she wants to be alone and undisturbed.  These materials help our children learn to take time to be quiet and calm and undisturbed.  They are learning early how to take a minute or two for a mental health break!  We also use important words, like respect, friendship, calm, quiet.

In addition, we do yoga before every group circle time.  Yoga is a fine way to learn to listen to our minds and bodies, and to learn to use our breath to bring peace, quiet and calm.

Help children recognize the words and attitudes of peace: Ms. Sudha, Maple Room for 5 – 8 year olds, says, Peace Education is the process of acquiring the values, the knowledge and developing the attitudes, skills, and behaviors to live in harmony with oneself, with others, and with the natural environment. In the first two weeks, we learned about grace and courtesy lessons, which led to lessons on peace. We have discussed the value of peace in education, peace words and peacemakers. Children are adopting peace mentally, physically and emotionally within themselves. Maple students are making a peace book where they write all the peace words that we use in our daily lives. Peace in education is practicing problem solving and conflict resolution, being loving and caring, being confident, independent, kind and polite, and being respectful  of living things and nature.

Thanks, teachers, for sharing your thoughts on peace education.