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“Sticks and Stones may Break My Bones, But Words Can Never Hurt Me!” November 18, 2017

How many of us learned the above rhyme as a child, and how many of us still believe it is true?  For many of us, it is the names we were called that have caused us long-lasting hurt.

In the Children’s House, we focus on simple lessons of grace and courtesy and a safe place to practice these skills~ how to say please, thank you, sorry, accept an apology, accept or decline an invitation, offer to help, accept or decline help, how to invite a friend to play, how to ask to join a game, how to introduce yourself, introduce someone else, shake hands, greet someone, welcome someone . . ..

While the above lessons are still important in the elementary community, the focus of grace and courtesy extends to include the elementary child’s mission to discover for himself what is right or wrong, what are the rules of society, and how to develop a just and caring community, and find his or her place within it.  The children are developing their moral compass.

At the school where I work, the teachers and I are planning a series of lessons to help children develop their own inner moral compass.  The lessons offer opportunities to contribute to the well being of others, such as sewing and stuffing stockings for the local foodbank, to be distributed to other children in need.  The lessons will offer opportunities to participate in a Martin Luther King Junior project.  Students will be invited to participate individually or in groups to write or design a poster that shows how we can welcome someone into our classroom community.  The lessons will celebrate friendship, with a focus during February on celebrating random acts of kindness.  Lessons will include classroom meetings which offer opportunities to group problem solve, without blaming or shaming.  Other opportunities will include sorting actions into different categories, such as rude behavior, mean behavior and bullying behavior.

We introduced this focus on grace and courtesy with a discussion of the common saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me.”  At first the discussion was around who had broken a bone and how the bone was fixed, until someone in the group said, “Well, I’ve never broken a bone, or been hit with a stick or a stone, but I’ve had my feelings hurt with words.”

Another child added that hearing very mean words left her feeling damaged.

This was the perfect opportunity to introduce our activity – bullying an apple!  I demonstrated then invited children to take turns coming up to an apple and saying something mean to the apple.  Here are some of the words used:

“I don’t like your color.”

“I just don’t like apples.”

“I don’t like your shape.”

“You are too small.”

“You are a wimp.”

“Grapes are better than apples.”

“Apples are no good.”

“I hate apples.”

There were a few giggles, but then the conversation turned serious as we realized everything that we had said to the apple, we had heard said to people.

Next we turned our attention to another apple, and this time said something nice about the apple.

“You are beautiful.”

“Apples are so good for you.”

“You are just right.”

“I like apples.”

We all agreed that we felt better ourselves saying nice things, so we talked about how when we say mean things it can make us feel mean inside, but when we use friendly words, we feel kind inside.

Lastly, we cut the apples in half.  I had secretly dropped the apple we bullied several times on a hard wood floor, so when we cut the apple in half, it looked bruised on the inside.  The other apple was unharmed.  Of course, after the kids response of, “WOW!”, I explained what I had done, and that this was a demonstration, to make a point, not an experiment to see if we could damage an apple with our words.  The kids were still impressed and got the point.  Words can hurt someone inside, even if they don’t leave an obvious bruise on the outside.

There were immediate requests to “Do it again, please,” but it was time for lunch!

This lesson, to me, is similar to toddlers practicing gentle touches on a flower.  It is a reminder, and an experience we can refer back to.  In the future, when children use mean words to one another, we can ask, “Do you remember when we bullied the apple with our words, and how we discussed how words can hurt us inside?”

I would love to hear from others on ideas they have used to help elementary children develop these important social skills.

I got this idea from a facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/newsnercom/videos/924570201043625/

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Math in the Montessori environment March 25, 2017

Take a look at the focus with which these children from the 3 – 6 environment explore with the math manipulatives!  All of these students are pre-K

Below ~ an overview of Montessori math materials for the lower elementary years!

Below ~ a brief overview of math materials in the 3-6 year old environment

Finally a brief overview of math manipulatives in the toddler room

 

Stones in a Bucket ~ A Play about the Power of Words to put down or uplift! February 20, 2017

annikahalienina

Stones in a bucket

The Maple Room kids  wrote and performed a very short play called, ‘Stones in a Bucket’ as a way to show their understanding that words and tone of voice can hurt, as well as make someone feel happy and accepted.  They performed this play for the 3 – 6 year old children, too, so the younger children can learn from the older children about ‘put downs’ and ‘put ups.’  Thanks, Megan, owner of Montessori Children’s House of Lewiston, for introducing me to the concept of ‘put downs’ and ‘put ups.’

One child held a bucket.  The children took turns walking up to her, saying a put down and then dropping a stone into the child’s bucket.  This child’s face and body language showed her weighed down with sadness.  Examples of comments were:

“I don’t want to play with you.”

“You’re not my friend.”

“I don’t want to sit with you at lunch.”

“You’re not invited to my birthday.”

“Who cares?”

The words and the sound of the stones made a big impact on the preschoolers.

Next the children took turns walking up to the child with the bucket and said ‘put ups’ and took a stone out of the bucket.  The child responded, showing that she was feeling more confident and happier.  We wanted to end on a happy note.  Examples of ‘put ups’ included:

“Do you want to play?”

“You’re my friend.”

“I like you.”

“Do you want to sit with me at lunch?”

“You’re nice.”

Afterwards we had a ‘chat back’ with our audience, and asked for the younger children to respond.  They said:

“The stones sounded mean and hard as they clanged in the bucket.”

“The mean words with the stones made her feel sad.”

“When they said kind words, they took a stone away.  Her bucket got lighter.  She was happier.”

“Words can hurt and make people feel sad.”

The actors responded by saying that it was hard to say the mean words and it made them feel sad.  Saying the kind words was easier and made them feel good.

Thanks, big kids, for teaching the younger students a lesson on kindness and the power of our words.

 

Child Development Right Before My Eyes! November 11, 2016

Filed under: Child Development,learning,Observation,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 7:51 pm

This morning, early in the day on the playground, a few of our older children were pretending to be cats.  They were miaowing, wrapping themselves around my legs, pretending to wash themselves with their paws, etc.  I love pretend games.  I have a drama background.  I learn by trying out different roles,  So, when children themselves initiate fantasy play, especially fantasy play based on reality (e.g. acting in ways they know cats behave), I can play along.

“Oh, you are pretending to be cats.  O.K. ”  I then pretend to stroke the cats fur, and make comments such as, “This cat has such smooth fur.”  or “This cat feels so warm.”  I might wonder aloud about whether the cats are hungry, or what their names are.

One of our youngest children (just turned two) seemed very confused by what the children were doing.  I told him several times, “The children are acting like cats.  They are pretending.”  He still seemed unsure of what was going on, so we moved away from the game and went to check out our gardening boxes, and picked the last of our ripe tomatoes. (Amazing, I know, in the Northwest in November!)

Before I left for the day, I once again spent time on the playground with our children.  Our youngest child, who couldn’t quite grasp what was going on first thing in the morning, got down on all fours and began miaowing.  He was pretending to be a cat.  Somehow, during the day, his brain had figured out what was going on and he had learned to pretend to be an animal.  He had remembered the game from the morning.  He was so proud of himself.

And I was so thrilled to observe such development of the imagination in a single day in the life of a child!

 

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.

 

Seeing our School through New Eyes April 27, 2016

Seeing our school through new eyes is amazing!  We have Ms. Makiko, a kindergarten teacher from Japan, visiting our school for three weeks.  This is a great cross-cultural experience for us all, and I am really enjoying seeing Ms. Makiko’s enthusiasm for what she is learning about Montessori education.  Yesterday, on her first day, she had a tour of our school and an introduction to Montessori philosophy and practices.  We looked at the practical life, sensorial, language, math and cultural areas for different age levels, toddler, three to six year olds, and lower elementary.  She then observed in the toddler environment and both three to six-year-old classrooms.  Today she spent the day with our elementary students.  Observing students from age two to age nine working in their normal environments is a wonderful way to see child development.

Tomorrow she will accompany our elementary students on a walking field trip to our local public library and participate in her first staff meeting at our school.

I am really enjoying hearing her comments and answering her questions.

“Your students are so smart!”  Well, yes, they are.  Children are smart and given the right opportunities, are engaged and excited about learning.

“Your teachers are amazing!”  Well, yes, they are.  All of our lead teachers have Montessori teacher certification for the age levels at which they teach, and all of our assistant teachers have completed a Montessori assistant teacher training.  Our school is passionate about Montessori teacher training.  During the last eight years we have financially supported eight teachers through Montessori certification, and provided a practicum site for an additional seven students, and provided Montessori assistant teacher training for over twenty teachers. Our teachers are also hardworking and passionate, a winning combination.

“I noticed a boy doing math all morning long, and nothing else. Is that OK?”

What followed was a discussion about following the child and the importance of the teacher really knowing his or her students.  Some children balance their learning over a week, and spend each day focused on a different area – math today, language tomorrow.  Other children balance their learning over a longer period.  This is what one of my children did – focus on language for six solid weeks, followed by maps and geography for two months, then math for a month . . . Some children need their teacher to help them balance their learning.  “Yesterday you spent the whole day doing math.  Today, let’s start in a different area.”  Sometimes that might include the teacher and child collaborating on a work plan.  Teachers also need to take into account the development and age of the child.  For a young three-year-old, a focus on practical life is typical.

As for that cross cultural experience, one of our classrooms is currently studying Asia, and will invite Ms. Makiko to introduce them to Japan.  We are also all getting ready to celebrate Moms’ Day with a tea, and so would love to experience a Japanese Tea Ceremony.

I can’t wait to hear Ms. Makiko’s comments and answer her questions over the next few weeks.

 

 

Observation March 22, 2016

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We talk a lot about the importance of observation for the teacher, but perhaps overlook the importance of observation by the child of another child at work.  The two children watching in this photo are using an amazing amount of self control to watch another child at work without touching the work, or interfering in any way.  With hands in laps, they are respectfully watching, and perhaps gathering ideas for their later exploration and work with these materials.  They are indirectly practicing an important executive brain function skill, impulse control.  This is really challenging, even for adults!  Just think of a time you were either asking for help with a new computer skill, or trying to show someone else how to do something on the computer.  This is so difficult to do without the person in the teaching mode taking over the keyboard!

For visual learners, this may be a very important way to learn – by watching.  Montessori education respects the diverse ways children learn, and encourages children to find out for themselves what works best to facilitate their best learning.  This is a skill for life.