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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!



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.


Why is the Pink Tower pink? September 5, 2012

Why is the pink tower pink?  (And why are the long rods red?)

More good questions!  Perhaps Maria Montessori had some left over pink paint?  Perhaps she noticed that children were attracted to the color pink.  Today, in many schools, the tower is no longer even pink – it’s a natural wood color.  (I imagine that even when the tower is no longer pink, a teacher might still use the name ‘pink tower’ just out of habit!)

I believe the color was never the point of the pink tower.  What’s important is that each of the ten cubes of the tower is identical in shape, color and texture, and only different in size.  When a child is working with the cubes, there is no doubt that the child is exploring dimension/size.  The pink tower consists of ten cubes varying in three dimensions from 1cm cubed to 10 cm cubed.  The child can focus on grading the cubes according to size, and building the tower in order, starting with the largest cube, and proceeding cube by cube to the smallest cube.

Consider the alternatives offered to many children when they are working with building materials.  Each piece is often a different color and a different shape, and maybe involves numbers, patterns and/or texture.  Building becomes complicated and confusing.  With the pink tower, there is no confusion.  The child can understand the point of the exercise – finding out about size.  This allows the child to focus.

The pink tower is a wonderful tool for teaching vocabulary – small, smaller, smallest, big, bigger, biggest.  This is especially useful for English language learners.  When the teacher points to the smallest cube, and says, “Small”, there is no doubt that the teacher is talking about size.  That’s the only difference between the cubes.

When Montessori teachers talk, they might use expressions like ‘point of interest’ or ‘isolation of point of difficulty’ when discussing materials like the pink tower.  The ‘point of interest’ of the pink tower is size.  The pink tower isolates one feature – size – and makes everything else the same (pink, smooth, cube).  A young child only has to focus on the difficult task of arranging the cubes in order of size to be successful.

Most Montessori materials follow this same design – simple, focused, explicit – to allow for ease of learning.  Therefore the long rods focus on length (and yes, they are often red, but now, just as often, they are plain wood), the broad stair focuses on width, the sound cylinders focus on sound, the color tablets on color, the geometric solids on three dimensional shape, etc.  All of these materials mentioned are part of the sensorial area of the classroom, and aim to help children to make sense of the vast array of external stimuli the child receives all of the time from the world.  The sensorial materials help the child develop a sense of order and a vocabulary with which to describe the world.


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!


Let’s talk about food! August 4, 2012


Our children have never been picky eaters.  Partly this might be because their parents had such healthy appetites they knew that if they left any food, our response would be, “Oh goody, more for us!”  I was also lucky to work at a childcare center owned by a nutritionist.  She gave me lots of tips on healthy eating for children, and her advise really fits in well with the Montessori practices of following the child, allowing the maximum amount of freedom within a very structured environment, and allowing children to make their own choices and develop their independence.  Here are some suggestions for healthy eating:

  • Serve all of the food, including dessert, at the same time.  Then there is no opportunity to bribe a child with dessert for finishing eating the main course.
  • Make sure all of the food served is healthy, including dessert (fresh fruit, canned fruit in 100% fruit juice, apple sauce, yoghurt, milk pudding, rice pudding – dessert can be an important source of vitamins and dairy for a child).  This allows the child to only make healthy choices.
  • Serve food family style and allow your child to pass food bowls and serve him or herself.  If a child has control over the food on the plate, he or she is more likely to try a little taste of something new.  Never force a child to try something new, but remind him or her that it can take four or five tastes on different occasions before a food is liked.
  • Involve your child in food preparation – growing, harvesting, grocery shopping, cooking, serving.  We are growing cherry tomatoes, squash, radish, corn, ‘jack o’ lantern’ pumpkins, beans and strawberries at school.   Strawberries and cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden, warmed by the sun, are unbeatable for taste!  The children have been gobbling up all of the produce they have grown in their gardens.
  • When you are at the grocery store and farmers’ markets, allow your children to choose some of the items you will buy and serve to your family.  Ask them, “What looks good to you?”
  • Have a standby that your child can prepare for him/herself as an alternative to the meal.  Our children could always fix a PBJ sandwich or have cereal and milk as an alternative.  This prevents mealtimes becoming a battle scene between parents and children.  There is no pressure to eat the meal as the child can always fix the alternative.  The child can still sit at the table and enjoy the conversation and does not have to go to bed hungry.
  • Involve your child in lunch preparation.  We had a chart of food choices for lunch.  Our kids could choose a fruit /vegetable (fresh or juice or apple sauce or canned fruit, dried fruit, salad, vegetable sticks), a dairy (cheese stick, pot of cottage cheese, milk, yoghurt), a protein (peanut butter – in a sandwich, or for dipping fruit into, or spreading on celery – now we would use tahini or almond butter, hard boiled egg, cheese, chicken) and a carb (crackers, cereal, bread, bagel, muffin).   So a lunch might be bowl of cereal, pot of blueberries, thermos of milk, cheese stick . . . or tahini sandwich, yogurt and apple juice . . . or cheese and crackers, grapes and milk . . . or salad and cottage cheese and canned peaches . . . or leftover slice of vegetable lovers pizza and fruit juice . . .rice/pasta salad with hard boiled eggs and cheese . . . the combinations are endless!
  • Prepare lunch the night before.
  • I always made the salad first for dinner and left it on the table as I prepared the rest of the meal.  Our children were at their after-school hungriest and would graze through the salad as dinner was prepared.  For many years, all that was left of the salad for my husband and I were leaves.  All of the tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, celery, mushrooms, etc., had already been eaten.  This was a small price to pay for knowing that our children had eaten a lot of raw vegetables.
  • When your child says, “I don’t like onions, peppers, mushrooms,” etc., try using the blender to disguise the unloved ingredients.  We served so many of the unloved food items in spaghetti sauce just by blending them until they couldn’t be recognized!  My husband and I ate the unblended version for texture!
  • Invite your children’s friends over for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Make mealtimes fun.

My family still loves to grocery shop, cook and eat together.  All of my children love to cook.  They continue to eat very well.  I love this photo of one of my daughters inhaling the smell of fresh produce.  We love the smell, texture and taste of fresh produce!


Pouring Games, Part II July 8, 2012

Filed under: Montessori education,Practical Life,sensory play — bevfollowsthechild @ 10:53 am
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  Maria Montessori recognized that real practical life activities are more attractive to children than pretend activities.  It’s more interesting to prepare and serve real food, to sweep and mop the floor, and to work with a purpose, than to play with pretend food or to play house.  Gardening provides so many real life activities for children to enjoy.  First we enjoyed mixing in the compost, using trowels and rakes and our hands.  Then we dug holes for our plants and seeds.  The gravel pit, where the children normally dig, was deserted when we had the opportunity to dig for a purpose in our garden boxes.

Now we return each day to ‘pouring games.’  Our watering materials include a hose, a deep basin, a pitcher, a funnel and a selection of watering cans of various sizes.  After filling the basin with water, the children take turns filling the pitcher, sometimes using the funnel to then transfer the water into the watering cans and sometimes just pouring the water in directly.  The big watering can filled with water takes a lot of effort for our three year olds to carry, but they love to use their strength and test their muscles! On a hot day, getting the chance to play in and around water is a joy.  Getting a little bit wet helps us stay cool.  And yes, just using the hose would be quicker and less effort, but that’s more the adult’s view of work than the child’s.  Effort is what they enjoy!

We are growing cherry tomatoes, squash, radish, corn, ‘jack o’ lantern’ pumpkins, beans and strawberries.   In the fall, we’ll plant bulbs, and then in the spring, we’ll be reminded of our planting when the flowers appear.

When my own children were young, every spring break they would choose plants for their own large planters. They mostly chose flowers.   If I were to start over, I would have given each of them a large barrel planter and helped them to grow something they could eat.  Strawberries and cherry tomatoes fresh from the garden, warmed by the sun, are unbeatable for taste!