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Spokane Valley Montessori School November 5, 2017

23167903_10210495617410259_5693371300634601430_n23316555_10210495617490261_756158605853610551_nAs a Montessori Teacher, it is a great joy to be invited into another Montessori environment.  Yesterday, I had the great pleasure to spend a day at Spokane Valley Montessori School.  I was presenting a training for Montessori Assistant Teachers, sponsored by the International Association for Montessori Education, a new Teacher Education Program forming in Spokane, Washington.  Gwen, the owner of Spokane Valley Montessori School, graciously allowed us the use of her fabulous school for the day!  Wow!  What a perfect setting for assistant teachers to practice and see the importance of the prepared environment.  The school is gorgeous, spotlessly clean, filled with beauty and light, and everything is in its place and ready for use by the children.  Gwen has been involved in Montessori education for forty years, and Montessori education is her passion!

The building was purpose built for a Montessori School, so sinks, toilets, etc., are all just the right size for the children.  The rooms are filled with natural light from the big picture windows.  On the day I visited, snow was falling.  I could just imagine the excitement of the children gathered at the windows watching the first snow of this winter.  Magical!  I could imagine the children watching the birds flock to the feeder.  How lovely for children to be so connected to the outdoors, even when inside.  I also loved the direct access to the outdoors from the classroom.

I really loved the seasonal work offered to the children.  You could see the colors and shapes of the season all through the environment – napkins for folding in greens, oranges, reds and browns, napkin rings shaped like leaves, pumpkin work, corn work, fall colors on offer at the easel, seasonal books . . .

 

The rooms were really spacious, with lots of floor space for big works.  All of the classrooms had lots of practical life tools ready for the children to use, and lots of lovely cozy spaces, too!

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I enjoyed the day so much!  We had teachers from five different schools – Spokane Valley Montessori, Spokane Falls Montessori, Spokane Montessori North, Children’s Montessori, Inc., and the Montessori School of Pullman.

 

We learned a lot from each other, and shared a delicious soup we cooked together, in a retelling of the story, ‘Stone Soup.’  Thanks once again, International Association for Montessori Education, and Spokane Valley Montessori School, for inviting me.  I send a special big thanks to Gwen, the owner, for sharing her beautiful school with the larger Montessori community.  Your school is an absolute gem!

 

Big, real practical life work! June 7, 2017

At this time of year, when the weather is good and the children are full of energy, what a gift it is to come across an opportunity for real effort, and really big practical life work!  Scrubbing furniture is one such opportunity, and helps the children to prepare for the end of the school year.  “We are washing everything before the end of the school year, so we will leave our classroom clean and ready for the start of next school year.”  This big work can be done within the classroom, or out on the playground.

 

Practical life that is real and necessary is so much more meaningful than works on trays on shelves that practice skills, but don’t have any real-life purpose.

Today, due to having to reschedule three times (don’t ask!), we finally had a big delivery of bark for our playground.  This bark was needed for under the swings to ensure safety in case of a fall.  Our old bark had just become too compressed and worn out.  After rescheduling three times, our parent volunteers were thin on the ground, and the bark pile seemed enormous,  (Three truck loads!)  What could we do?  One of the teachers suggested that some of the children might like to help.  We had a handy supply of child-sized rakes, shovels and buckets, after all!  Thanks, teacher, for reminding me of how competent and capable and eager to help children can be.  What started off as a few children ended up as a school wide effort, with everyone involved except the two year olds.  (They were napping, by this time).  During an hour long effort in the morning, followed by an hour long effort in the afternoon, the children, with the help of a few teachers and a handful of parent volunteers, moved and spread three truck loads of bark.  What an amazing effort.

What was especially sweet was that as we were working this morning, children from the other school that shares our play area sat down to watch the effort.  After our children had gone inside to get cleaned up and rehydrated, they came up to me and asked if they could help, too.  I was already very hot and pooped out, but I couldn’t resist, so I filled one big bucket for every child.  They were so happy to join in the effort.

One of our kids told me, “I just love helping my school.”  This fits in 100% with some of our values – child-centered, dignity (of work), and community.  I hope parents involve their own children in the real life of their homes, including yard work!

 

 

Montessori Memories February 18, 2017

Filed under: Montessori education,Montessori memories,Mother,peace,Practical Life,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 6:22 pm

16826004_10208585533099345_3254929054996917078_oWhen I first saw this photograph, recently sent to me from one of the children in the photo, I thought that it was a photo of me, around 1984, working in a childcare center.  And then I realized it was just my back yard. We are dying Easter eggs.  The child, now grown, said that she always remembers doing interesting things at our home.  I think I was meant to be a Montessori teacher!  I loved cooking with the children, setting out pouring games, and our favorite, the doll’s clothes laundry.  Most of the time in Texas, this laundry was set up outside, but on cold days, I would string a washing line up in the den!

Looking back, I realize my first exposure to Montessori was in a friend’s home in England.  She never called her home a Montessori home, but I remember how peaceful and calm it was, and how activities were available in baskets on shelves, ready for the children to choose.  Anna, my daughter, used a knife to cut up her own snack while we were there.  We left England when Anna was two and a half, so she was very young to be using a knife.  That is my confirmation that this was indeed a Montessori home.  There was the right size knife for Anna to use.

My next exposure was at Arlington Country Day School.  I was looking for a preschool for my daughters, Anna, now four and a half, and Elanor, almost three.  Once again, it was the sense of peace that really hooked me in.  I was close to tears when I realized that this is where I wanted my children to go to school, but also because I had found my passion!  I wanted to be a Montessori teacher.  Thirty-two years later, I am still passionate about Montessori education.  The sense of peace and joy remains an inspiration.  I am full of wonder that after so many years children still surprise me with new and unique ways to learn, problem solve and create with the materials.Just look at the variations below!

HeAnna loves pouring games. Love the wellington boots and apron!re are a few more photos from the eighties!  This is Anna, long ago in England, playing pouring games.  When I saw the water works in practical life at the first Montessori school I visited, I thought, “Pouring games!  my children will love this!”

My one year old son washing dishes at the kitchen sink, while big sis helps!

 

Friendship Tea February 7, 2017

February at our school is all about the heart!  We are celebrating love and friendship.  Friendship Tea is one of our favorite activities in the preschool.  One child initiates the activity, setting up the beautiful table with everything neccessary for sharing a pot of chamomile tea with a friend ~ cups, teapot, teabags, hot water, tongs for transferring a teabag to the pot, and a timer to time the steeping of the tea.  The host then invites another child from the class to share a pot of friendship tea.  The idea is to invite someone whom you do not know very well, in order to share conversation and get to know each other better.  During a group presentation, the teachers model conversation starters that the children can use while the tea is steeping.

“Do you have a brother or sister?”

“What are your favorite games?”

“What do you like to do at school?”

“Do you have a pet?”

After tea and conversation, the host is responsible for cleaning up, and the guest for thanking the host for the invitation.

This is such an amazing activity in so many ways ~ practicing grace and courtesy, social skills, language skills, and practical life skills.

During this month, I will be writing about other prosocial ideas.

 

 

Mom’s Day, 2016 ~ An invitation to work May 6, 2016

Oh my goodness, today was a busy day at school, with our school  hosting three Moms’ Day teas!  I wear a fitbit, and today I tracked 19000 steps, almost eight miles and thirty flights of stairs! I took an hour nap when I got home today.  I know that I wasn’t the only one who was this busy.  Thanks, teachers.

The children were also very busy.  An event like this is an invitation to work ~ invitations and name cards to write, decorations to make, gifts to make and wrap, songs to learn, poems to write, flowers to arrange, furniture to move and rearrange, muffins to bake, strawberries to slice, tables to set, tea to pour and then a lot of clean up chores and dishes to wash.  I think of special events like our Moms’ Day teas as invitations to work ~ a joy filled opportunity to work hard for a specific purpose.

So far, it has all been very worthwhile ~ 100% turnout by Moms, lots of hugs, laughter, joy, love, excitement and special memories and traditions being made.

This is also building our school’s sense of community and traditions.

 

Working Together for the Common Good ~real practical life in action! February 12, 2016

In December, our kindergarten and elementary students were invited to participate in a program called ‘Kids Give.’  This program is organized by a local group, “The Alternative Giving Market of the Palouse,” and in 2015 the money to fund the ‘Kids Give’ program was donated by our local Food Co-op through their ‘dime a bag’ giving program.  Each time a shopper brings reusable bags to the Co-op, a dime is donated to a local non-profit.  So

already you can see a large group of people working together for the common good ~ a local non-profit, a local Food Co-op, and all of the shoppers who donate their dimes.

The Kids Give program gives each participating class $50 to donate to a local non-profit.  The children learn about what each charity is about, and then through small and large group discussions, the children come to consensus about how to donate their $50.  This is a kid friendly introduction to the concept of philanthropy.  And children are so naturally generous and excited to get involved.  This is a second year for our school to be involved, and both times the children have responded with, “What else can we do?”  In 2014, the children decided to work for donations at home by completing extra chores, and some also brought money from their own piggy banks and ‘tooth-fairy’ money.

This year, the children have been enjoying cooking meals together, so they decided to cook and serve a lunch for donations.  This project involved so many skills – choosing a menu, setting the date, advertising the event, lots of food prep work (slicing, dicing, stirring, whisking, measuring, timing, mixing, serving . . .), setting up our ‘pop up café’, clean up, money work (donations – cost of ingredients = amount to donate), and more group discussions and decision making about where to donate the money raised.

The children prepared penne pasta with made from scratch creamy garlic alfredo sauce, salad, chocolate brownies and strawberries.  The food was delicious, and the whole school smelled like an authentic Italian restaurant.  The children served about fifty lunches, including serving themselves!   You can see from the photos how busy they all were.

This project fitted in so well with our values – child-centered, love of learning, community, diversity and dignity.  The children were excited, proud and enjoyed all of the tasks involved.  They worked together in teams, building their sense of community.  The project was the kids’ idea, and they were deeply involved in every step, so it was definitely child-centered.  I really love it when children experience the dignity of real work and are able to work together as a community for the greater good of the larger community.

As a side note, several families have told me that their child is now cooking dinner for the whole family on a regular basis.  Scrambled eggs, made-from -scratch macaroni and cheese, English muffin mini-pizzas, salad, grilled cheese sandwiches . . . all made with love by a child.  What could taste better than that!

 

What Moms Can Do May 8, 2015

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We recently celebrated Mom’s Day at school, and what an invitation to work this was for the children! Gifts to make and wrap, cards to draw and color, name tags to write, songs to learn, decorations to make for the windows and walls of the room, centerpieces of flowers to arrange, shortbread to bake, cream to whip and strawberries to slice, tables and chairs to carry and move, tables to set, and finally, lots of clean up. Our elementary aged students provided a lot of community service to the school by working as servers at the teas for the younger students and their Moms.

Was it worth it? Absolutely! One Mom told me that her child counted down the days until the tea. “Mom, only two days to go.” “Mom, only one more day!” He told his Mom that he wanted to dress up, including wearing his church shoes and tie, and asked Mom to dress up, too.  The children were all buzzing with excitement – and the Moms were, too!

The children were provided an excellent opportunity to demonstrate their grace and courtesy – remembering to say please and thank you, to pass the small bowls and plates of cookies, whipped cream and strawberries around the table, to use the tongs and small spoons for serving, to drink from china or glass tea cups. to take turns conversing . . .

One of our school’s values is ‘community.’ This was a true community effort, with all of the children, teachers and classes pitching in to help. And when I saw Moms and children lingering in the afternoon sun, sitting on benches outside of the school and conversing, I realized that the tea helps build community by providing parents an opportunity to meet and converse. The tea also builds our communal memory of shared events.

The children in the classes for 3 – 6 year olds even wrote two community poems. Each child contributed a line to the poem, based on ‘What Moms can do.” I love the way the children have captured the very essence of what it means to be a Mom ~ all of the love, caring, fun, learning, strength, responsibility, and yes, even vulnerability. For sure the poems show that the children are watching and appreciating what we do!

Enjoy!

What Moms can do

By Aspen Class – spring 2015

Grocery shop

Feed me

Give me food

Pack lunches

Bake fish

Cook us breakfast

Make me pancakes

Bake yummy stuff

Clean the dishes

Take me to school

Take me to the park

The pirate park

The playground

Take me bowling with my family

Take me to Zeppoz for the very first time

Color with me

Write

Tape my pictures up on the wall

Buy me new toys

Play with me

Build an igloo

Plant flowers

Snuggle me up in my bed

Snuggle with me

Snuggle

Tuck me in

Give me goodnight kisses

Take care of me when I am sick

Wake me up

Give me hugs

We thank you for all of the wonderful things you do!

Mom, I love you!

“What Moms Can Do”

Willow Classroom

Spring 2015

Sew and needle.

Knit me a scarf

Wash dishes

Clean the walls

Cook dinner

Make something that I want

Teach me how to write

Write things for me

Help me do arts and crafts

Play piano with me

Put on a show and put on music

Turn on “Rooftops step in time”

Play a game with me

Let me play with my toys

Wash the car on hot days

Pick up a couch with my dad

Ride her bike with a helmet

Put the recycling out

Use a pitchfork

Juggle anything

Some things are too heavy for her

My mom can get sick

My mom can come back to me

and she can kiss me

My mom can

My mom loves me

And I love my Mom!

 

An Afternoon in the Life of a Montessori Child October 26, 2012

I recently spent a couple of afternoons just watching the children work in the classroom.  I kept notes of the different activities chosen by each child, the games they played on the playground, who they played with, who they ate snack with, and so on.  I took lots of photos, too, candid snaps of children building, painting, writing, looking at books, working a puzzle – no cheesy grinning at the camera shots!  I’ve used these notes to write ‘an afternoon in the life of’ each child.  I plan to give each parent a write up of an afternoon in the life of his or her child, together with a collage of photos, so that the parents can experience a typical afternoon at the Montessori School of Pullman, through the activities of their own children.

I saw some really impressive work – painting maps, drawing flags from countries around the world, journal writing, math counting work – but what impressed and touched me most was seeing the quiet leadership of some of our older children.

One girl, who has been at our school since before she was three, is now in kindergarten.  She’s a younger sister in her family, but at our school she is like the older sister to the younger children.  She offered a box of Kleenex twice to a younger child.

“Take a Kleenex and wipe your nose.  Now put the Kleenex in the trash and wash your hands.”

She also helped a younger child engage in a new building activity.

This kindergarten child helps the class run smoothly by taking care of the younger children in a quiet, thoughtful way.  She has grown enormously in confidence, competence, empathy and leadership since she was one of the younger children.

Another child, also in kindergarten, and also a younger child at home, helped several times during the afternoon.  He helped some of the younger children find the sandpaper letters they were looking for.  He helped one of his peers put away an enormous piece of writing with the cursive moveable alphabet.  He helped without any fuss or showing off or need for reward.  He helped simply because he could.

A parent pointed out to me some time ago that in a Montessori environment, younger siblings in a family, and children without siblings at home, get the opportunity to be the big brothers and sisters to children younger than themselves in the classroom.  That’s another benefit of the three year age span of the children.

 

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.

 

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!

 

 
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