Just another site

Community Service April 19, 2016

Filed under: Community Building,Montessori education,Reading,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:53 pm

Recently I blogged about the service our elementary students provided to the larger community by raising money for five local non-profits.  They raised the money by planning, cooking, and serving over fifty lunches for donations.  The food was excellent, but what was even better was their sense of pride and teamwork.

Now I am so happy that our elementary students are providing community service to our school.  They are serving as reading buddies/mentors to our younger students in the 3 – 6 classrooms.  We have so many children in our 3 – 6 year old rooms eager to practice reading, and it is difficult for the teachers to find time to listen to them all on a daily basis, which is how often the children want to read!  Having our first and second graders help out by listening to the younger children is a win-win situation.  The younger children love reading to their big buddies, and the older children get the satisfaction and improved self esteem that comes from mentoring their younger friends.

As our elementary school grows, I am excited to see the development of opportunities for children from various age levels working together.  Soon our elementary students will help out with our Moms’ Day teas, for example, by helping to serve tea.  Our elementary students also meet once a week with our two year olds for a fun play time.

One of my favorite memories of teaching 6 – 9 year olds was when my elementary students built a  museum of Native American Life from long ago, and filled it with amazing models and posters.  They made themselves ‘docent’ badges, and arranged with the 3 – 6 year olds’ teachers for the younger children to visit the museum.  The younger children enjoyed seeing all of the models and listening to the big kids tell them stories of how life was long ago.  The older children got so much out of the experience, too, and as I listened to my big kids give tours of the museum to the younger kids, I found out how much each elementary child had learned during our study of life long ago in North America.

I am so proud of our elementary students ~ they are growing into such wonderfully engaged community members!


Freedom of choice = respect for your child! February 4, 2016

Recently, one of our students has blossomed into math.  Every day he completes challenging works in math, and is practicing excellent problem solving skills.  For example, with the multiplication bead board he found that 4 multiplied by 10 is forty.  To solve the problem 4 multiplied by 9, he started with forty, and counted back by four . . . 39, 38, 37, 36 . . . as he removed four beads from his bead board.  Later, while working on a series of multiplication equations related to the number 10 (4 x 10, 6 x 10, 10 x 3), he asked, “Can’t I just count by 10s?” and he proceeded to do so.  During the last four tours I have given to prospective families, this child has introduced himself, walked the visitors over to the bead cabinet, and explained to them how you work with the short and long chains for skip counting.  “I used this chain to count to a thousand.  It didn’t take me too long because counting by tens is easy.  I also like counting by twos and fives – they are easy.  Counting by nines is much harder.”  He feels very accomplished and satisfied.  He is working in the areas that most interest him at this moment in time.  His work is joyful.  He feels happy and proud.  This is the gift of Montessori.  When you respect the choice of the child, you are acknowledging that he is a person in his own right, with his own likes and dislikes, his own strengths and challenges, his own way of learning and doing things.  You are teaching him that his choice matters and that he is in charge and responsible for his own learning.

Sometimes a parent and/or teacher feels that a child should be doing more work in another area of the curriculum.

“Why isn’t he reading?”

“Why isn’t he choosing to do more writing?”

“Why is she spending all of her time drawing and painting maps instead of learning to count?”


Montessori asks us to trust the child, to follow the child!  When we allow the child to make choices, the child is most engaged and learning comes easily and joyfully.  Think about a time you learned something new, when you were really engaged in learning this skill.  It could be anything from skiing, to driving, to learning a new language, to learning to knit or crochet, or learning a short cut on the computer.  At such times, you are focused, engaged, willing to work hard to overcome obstacles and difficulties, and so happy when you mastered that new skill.  This is a high-five moment!


Respecting the choice of the child is crucial for optimizing learning.  To put focus on an area that is currently not a focus in the child’s mind, is to replace something that is intrinsically interesting to a child with something that we have to work hard to make interesting.  So please, if your child is currently enchanted with counting and numbers, embrace this and count everything you see.  If your child is currently enthralled by letters and sounds, embrace that and read everything you see.  If your child is busy every day with practical life . . . all of the food prep, pouring, washing, sweeping, cleaning activities . . . please try to respect that choice.  Your child is working on so much through these activities – developing independence, concentration, hand-eye coordination, a sense of order – skills that will prepare them well for later academic work. Try to find opportunities at home when your child can help with cooking, folding laundry, emptying and loading the dishwasher, washing windows . . .


When you embrace your child’s choice, you are not only maximizing his or her learning potential, you are letting your child know that you respect his or her choice, and that you recognize and value his or her opinions.  That is respect!


How is homework handled in a Montessori elementary program? March 31, 2015

Filed under: ; homework,Montessori education,Reading — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:17 pm
Tags: ,

What about homework? At our school, like many Montessori elementary programs, homework is rarely or never assigned. Our philosophy is that our children do their best work all day, from 8:30 to 3:30, and that after school is time that is precious family time. Children need time to relax, daydream, imagine, read, hang out with siblings and friends, play in the back yard . . . They need time to participate in their favorite enrichment activities, such as sports, gymnastics, dance, theatre, music . . .

We do encourage our students to take home books to read to and with family members. Reading together is a wonderful activity that not only helps develop the child’s literacy skills, but also a love of literature.

Sometimes children do request being able to take home work to complete, or independently do research at home about a topic that interests them. That is so different from being assigned homework.

That is what I am doing here. I worked hard all day, but this topic interests me enough to think about it and write about it at home, in my free time. That’s part of the Montessori difference ~ dedication, choice, following topics that interest you.


Three Favorite Things March 19, 2015

Filed under: Child Development,Montessori education,Reading — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:56 pm

DSCN4797My current three favorite things for today:

  • Spontaneously being gifted two pieces of art work
  • Hearing, “Ms. Bev, you are my best friend.”
  • Watching a child take off with skip counting through the bead chains. She was so ready for this work!

Lately, I have been asking the children to tell me their current three favorite things at Montessori. Then I pass this information on to the parents – in either a note or an email. This is my second month to complete this activity and I am noticing some trends.

  • For three year olds, whatever they are doing at that very moment is likely to feature in their list of three favorite things. They live in the moment.
  • The children’s personalities and learning styles come shining through. For some children their favorite things include helping others, playing with friends, eating snack, making people feel better . . . This suggests to me that these children are the social learners. Other children may have very specific favorite works ~ golden beads for addition, the pink tower, metal insets.
  • The older children in Maple room (kindergarten and first grade) tend to choose favorite curriculum areas – cultural, math, language.
  • Bob books are favorites in Aspen, Willow and Maple rooms. Reading books to a teacher is a top favorite. Our reading program is going well.
  • wedgitsThe wedgit building materials are also a big hit in the Oak, Willow and Aspen rooms.

Right from the start – helping develop your child’s early literacy skills January 30, 2015

WEBPRINTDSC_0059 copy reading 5 reading 2Reading1  reading 4

This month at our school in communications with parents we are focusing on literacy development. I would like to share some memories, ideas and thoughts on literacy development for the prereader.
One of my earliest memories of literacy development with my first born, Anna, is from April 30, 1981. April 30 is my birthday. On this day in 1981 my mother, Florence, was staying with us. I woke late, in a panic because Anna had not woken us, as she usually did. Her baby bed was empty – more panic. I found Anna, then aged three months, in bed with my mam. They were looking at my birthday cards together, and had been doing so for a long time. My mam would show Anna a card, and she would focus on the picture. Then my mam would read the words and greetings. Anna was so happy tucked into bed with her Nana, sharing special time. The birthday cards were like one of her first books. This reminds me that it is never too early to begin sharing stories with your child. Even before your babies are born, you can sing songs and tell them nursery rhymes. They hear you! In a few days Anna will be thirty – four and she still loves stories, and books!
All of my children had favorite books that we read over and over again. Later I would hear them ‘reading’ these books to themselves. They had memorized the words, but they were also developing an understanding of how books and stories worked. They were developing their sight vocabulary. They were learning to use the pictures as clues and prompts to tell the story.
We took books everywhere we went, and would visit the library at least once a week, and struggle home with as many books as we could. (No car, and hardback books are heavy!)
So we read, memorized, looked at pictures, and played games to learn about sounds. We played ‘I spy’ with a small selection of objects that began with different sounds – e.g. hat, sock, mitten, boot, cup. First we named the objects, and then played ‘I spy something that begins with ‘s’ . . . sock!
Around the dinner table, we played “I spy someone whose name begins with J . . . Johnjoe!”
At bath time, we played “I’m going to wash a part of your body that starts with ‘t’ . . . tummy!” Sometimes I would trace a letter on their backs and ask them to imagine what it was. “That was ‘S’.”
We noticed environmental print – name cards and names on cubbies at school, stop signs, names of their favorite stores and restaurants, fire exit.
When I was reading to my children, I looked for opportunities to ask:
“What do you think will happen next?” (making predictions)
What do you already know about . . . (front loading the brain, making connections with their already existing knowledge. E.g. A book about snakes – snakes slither, some rattle, they can bite . . .)
We looked through the whole book and talked about all of the pictures before we began the story. (Taking a picture walk – a great support for beginning readers before they read a book.)
I acknowledged my children’s contributions to the storytelling experience. “That’s a good question.” “I wonder about that, too.” “Oh, I never noticed that in the picture.”
My husband and I let our children see us reading every day – newspapers, books, magazines.
We made simple shopping lists for our children, with words/pictures, so that they could help us shop. Their lists might have words/pictures for cheerios, milk, juice, yogurt and bananas. (I’m no artist, so I looked for items that were easy to draw!) Activities like this really teach the usefulness of reading, and it made shopping with kids more fun.
We slipped notes, with simple pictures, into their lunchboxes.
I looked for rhyming books that helped my children join in the telling of the story. I looked for books with predictable text, where my kids had a good chance of guessing what words might be. I looked for books without words, where the pictures told the story.
And I read, and I read and I read . . . knowing that at some point in the not too distant future my children would be reading independently, and I would miss the reading together times.
But let me tell you, when they are teenagers, a new joy emerges, the joy of a child saying, “Mom, have you read . . . . This is an awesome book!”


Learning from our mistakes! November 10, 2014

20140213_181529 538050_10151577514871774_256301780_n 560812_10151807003321774_1529832368_n 558994_10151577516591774_807178508_n

Montessori learning materials are sometimes referred to as ‘didactic materials.’ This is just a fancy way of saying ‘self-teaching.’ There is a ‘control of error’ built into the materials so that the children know when they have made a mistake and will persevere until they correct their mistakes, and in this way teach themselves. This is how we learn from our own mistakes, by working to correct them.

So what is the job of the teacher, if he or she is not pointing out and correcting mistakes, as is more common in a public school setting? First of all, the teacher is observing the child, and noticing the errors the child is making, and watching to see that the child is gaining mastery over the errors. She might think of another work that will help the child. The teacher is often called a ‘guide’ in a Montessori school, so she is guiding the child to work on activities that offer the right amount of challenge, so that with perseverance the child can be successful. It’s not important to always get it right the first time. The child will be able to work with the materials and repeat the activity over and over again, until the skill is mastered.

So why don’t we just point out the mistake? Would that not be quicker and easier, than watching the child repeat the same activity again and again? Yes, but that’s not the most effective way for the children to see themselves as agents of their own learning, of being capable of independent thought and action, rather than dependent on someone else for their learning.

And what happens as the child moves into the kindergarten and elementary years? The teacher works with her students to help them correct their mistakes using tools such as control charts. As examples, a child reversing letters will be asked to check their writing against a correct model of the alphabet, and correct any mistakes he or she finds. The same goes for numbers. When a child is working on addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, there are again charts to help them check their work. A child will be taught to use the reverse operation to check their work. As an example, when a child works out with the division board and beads that 30 divided by 6 is equal to 5, he or she can check their answer by multiplying 5 by 6, and seeing if that answer is, indeed, 30.

After teaching elementary and first grade for many years, I feel this is even more important in developing literacy skills. Rather than pointing out every mistake a child made when reading, I taught them to ask, “Did that word make sense? Does it match the picture? Does it match the letters I see on the page? If not, can I read the sentence again and try another word that might make sense?” This is also true of early writing, if I expected correct spelling, I would have children not taking risks and writing stuff like:

‘I like cats. I like dogs. I like my Mom. I like my Dad.’

I would never get: ‘An albatross is a bird that is extinct. That means there are no more albatrosses left alive in the whole world.’

An albtrs iz a brd that iz extnkt. Tat menz thr r no mr albtrsz lft aliv in the hol wrld.

That was so much more interesting to read and write. And as a teacher, I noticed that work on vowels and vowel blends might help, such as work on the ‘ir’ blend, as in bird. I could also introduce some sight words to practice and memorize, such as ‘is’ and ‘there’ and ‘are.’

Throughout the year, the children’s reading and writing would get closer and closer to the correct form. At the end of the year, the children would look back on their earlier work, and easily spot their mistakes. They would laugh and say, “Look at how I used to spell the word ‘is’?” “Can you remember when I always wrote the number 6 backwards?”

There was no shame. The children owned the mistakes they had worked so hard to correct. They had done the hard work, rather than expecting me to always be there, pointing out their errors. That’s too easy for a Montessori child. It is so much more meaningful and productive when children correct their own errors. And then, they have the satisfaction of saying, “I did it!”

My daughter, Anna, a former Montessori student and now a professor of English uses a similar approach for her college students. She meets with every individual student in her composition class for a revision workshop, and asks each student to let her know what he or she wants to focus on ~ structure and organization, thesis statement, conclusion, sentence structure, transitions . . . They can’t do it all in one composition, but by focusing on what the student wants to work on, rather than Anna pointing all of the errors she notices (e.g. she does all of the work) the students are more invested in the process, and more likely to learn from their mistakes. When they receive their grade on the essays, she allows them to work some more on the essays, if they so desire, and make some more corrections and so improve their essays again, and gain a higher grade. She encourages her students to own their own mistakes and work to make improvements, but she does not do the work for them.

During my own education, my own writing was handed back to me covered in red pen. What did I learn? My teacher was smarter than me? I made a lot of mistakes? There was no incentive for me to go back and correct any errors, and so no opportunity for me to learn from my mistakes.

It’s so important to remember that mistakes are part of learning and an invitation to learn, but the process does take time and patience.



When will my child read? April 15, 2014

When will my child begin reading Books by Bob?

DSCN4753 DSCN4760 DSCN4768 DSCN4797Recently our teachers focused on ‘sensitive periods’ for our newsletter. This is what Ms. Jamey wrote about sensitive periods:

A sensitive period is a period of sensitivity to a specific stimulus in which a child will be able to form an ability or characteristic, such as language or writing. This can also be seen as a window of opportunity where growth is guided by periodic instincts (Donohue Shortridge). The period of sensitivity is short and intense and with the child usually focusing on one specific area of development. Sensitive periods can end abruptly and once it has passed it is over forever. This does not mean that it is impossible for a child to learn the ability once they have passed the sensitive period; it is simply easier and comes more naturally for them to learn the specific ability during that period (O’Neill).

Reading also has a distinct sensitive period, when a child is really driven to learn the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, how to blend the sounds together to form words and how to crack the code of reading. If the child is not ready, reading is a chore and a struggle. If you miss the opportunity and wait too long, cracking the code of reading is not as exciting or enough of a challenge. However, if you catch your children at the right moment, when the sight of the sandpaper letters, the moveable alphabet, and a new book excite them, when they can’t stop spotting letters, words and signs all around them, then reading is a joy. Please be patient, and wait for that sweet spot of opportunity! At that moment, in our school, your child will begin bringing home Bob Books. You won’t regret the wait!