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Outdoor Science School ~ day four. Inquiry projects May 26, 2017

Today we returned to Sunnyside Park for our final day of our outdoor science school, and focused on inquiry projects.  The children divided into two groups the day before, and thought about what they were most interested in studying.  One group chose birds, and the other group chose more hunting for aquatic macro invertebrates ~ remember them from day one?  Next they chose a question to which they did not already know the answer, and designed a project, using the scientific method, to find the answer.  They learned and used new words like hypothesis (best guess), data (numbers), location, materials, conclusion . . .


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The first group wanted to know whether there were more land birds or water birds at Sunnyside Park.  Five of the group shared the hypothesis that there would be more land birds, and two members of the group thought there would be more water birds.  To find the answer, they chose two locations – one on a hill, surrounded by trees, and then down on the edge of the pond.  At each location they decided to spend five minutes watching for birds, and using tally marks and columns to keep check of how many were water birds and how many were land birds.  They spent two five-minute bird watching sessions at each location.  After each five- minute session, the children spent time discussing what they saw and adding up their tally marks.

The second group wanted to know whether there were more macro invertebrates in the pond or in the stream.  Their hypothesis was that there would be more in the pond.  To find the answer, they decided to sample four tubs of water at each location.  They worked in pairs, as hunters and recorders.  The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch the macro invertebrates in the tub of water and to transfer what they caught to the sample tray – an ice cube tray.  The recorders used lenses to view each sample and a field guide to try to identify each organism.

The groups then used their best team-working skills to prepare a poster to communicate their inquiry project to the other group and parents who would be attending a presentation.  I loved watching the children work together as writers, illustrators and data managers to present their projects.

After a picnic lunch with parents, the children presented their projects and answered questions.  And what did they discover?  There were more land birds than water birds in Sunnyside Park.  The second group rejected their hypothesis, because they found about the same number of macro invertebrates in the stream as in the pond.

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Next we sang two songs that the children had learned and one that they spontaneously composed.  The children’s songs were about habitat, eco-systems and perspective.

Finally, parents and children had time together to look through field journals, take a closer look at the project posters and try out some of the scientific tools we used during the week.

After a few group photos, we said goodbye to Ms. Audry and Ms. Rachel, our educators.  As a wonderful surprise, Audry and Rachel had prepared an individual note for each child, mentioning their strengths and skills.

This week went by so fast.  I watched the children grow not only in their science skills and knowledge but in their sense of community, their resilience and their independence.  One of our children said, while bird-watching, I could keep doing this forever!  We will definitely be interested in another Montessori Outdoor Science School next year.

Thanks once again to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman, and one of our students’ Grandfather.

 

Outdoor Science School ~ Day three. It’s all about perspective! May 24, 2017

Today we travelled by public transportation and a long walk to reach Roundtop Park, one of the highest points in Pullman, and a remnant of the original Palouse prairie.  Part of the challenge of today was the weather.  The temperature dropped about thirty degrees from yesterday, and there was a fierce cold wind blowing.  We got a very concrete lesson in being prepared for changes of weather.  Many of the kids were under-dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and were feeling very cold.  We made an emergency trip back to one of our family’s home to stock up on jackets, hats, gloves and long pants.  Lesson learned, we hope!

The theme of today was perspective.  We spent part of the day getting up close and personal with individual prairie plants, and using a plant guide to identify the plants.  We also considered what we might have named a plant.  I loved the name given to a type of grass by a child ~ ‘purple seeds’   From the photos you can see how intent the children were on seeing ‘up close’ and noticing detail.

Above is one of my favorite photos,  At outdoor science school, no desks are needed for learning and work!

We also switched perspective, because we were up high, and looked out at the landscape.  We drew and talked about what we saw.  We also talked about what we noticed using our different perspectives.  This is similar to using binoculars and a magnifying lens, two tools we have been using throughout our outdoor science school.

Part of today was also spent in being a child in nature – having fun by running, climbing, jumping, and pretending to be animals!  We ended the day by composing a song about perspective!  I hope we will sing this for parents at our presentation tomorrow at 1:00.  Tomorrow morning the children will work on inquiry projects, and will present their findings to the group and parents after a picnic lunch.  This week has gone by too fast!

 

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 manipulative!  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.

 

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.