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Looking forward to the kindergarten year March 9, 2013

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The Three Year Cycle

Now is the time that parents make plans for their children who are five, and about to enter the kindergarten year.  I always hope that our parents will consider including the Montessori School of Pullman into their plans for their children’s future.

The three year cycle is so important to a Montessori program.  Children aged 3 – 6 work together in an environment prepared especially for them by their teachers, according to the Montessori philosophy.  Each year, about a third of the students graduate out of the program, and we accept new students to join in the community, beginning in August, or even earlier, in summer school.

What is so special about this third year?  Well, your child’s teacher knows your child and family so well.  The teacher has watched your child grow and develop, knows your child’s interests, strengths and challenges.  The teacher is well prepared to guide your child to make great academic and social strides during this year.  During this third year, with help and encouragement from the teacher, the third year students take their rightful place as classroom leaders.

Whenever I am observing the children working together, some of my favorite moments are seeing one of our oldest students interacting with one of our younger students.  It may be showing a lesson, helping a younger child complete a work, reading to a younger child, helping a younger child get ready for outside play, or something as simple as giving a gentle reminder to use a Kleenex or a napkin.

Our third year students develop excellent self esteem, leadership skills and empathy from this third year.  That’s a positive outcome of the three year cycle.  If all of the children are the same age, it is difficult for every child to be a leader.  With different ages, all of our older children have at least one child who looks up to them.  I remember hearing one of our three year olds tell a kindergartener, “When I get big, I want to be just like you.”  The child receiving this compliment visibly grew and shone before my eyes!

At the Montessori School of Pullman we are lucky to have so many options for the five year olds.  Some five year olds come to Montessori alone, either for a half or full day, and then will go directly into first grade.  Other five year olds are dual enrolled in our school and the Pullman School District.  They come to us either in the morning or afternoon, and spend the other part of their day in the Public School Kindergartens.  A school bus transports  the children between the two schools.  Several parents have commented that they really like the dual enrollment.  Their children have the support of the familiar as they transition into the public school system.  Of course, several parents each year also express their hope for a Montessori elementary in the future.

Parent-teacher conferences are coming soon at our school, and I suspect, in many preschools around the country.  Your child’s teacher can be an excellent resource for talking through this important decision.  The teacher can help you answer questions such as: Is my child ready for kindergarten?  How can I help my child make the transition?  What are the options available in my child’s community?

DSCN2681I remember seeing the exact moment a set of parents made the decision to enroll their daughter into our school.  A younger child was watching an older child build a challenging design.  The older child whispered something to the younger child, and the younger child literally jumped for joy.  The older child had invited the younger child to join in the work.  The parents turned to me and said, “I want my child to be like that young child, so excited, and I also want my child to be that big kid, so kind and accepting of a younger child.  He really made that young kid’s day!”

With the three year cycle, your child can experience it all, from looking up to the big kids . . . to being one of the big kids!

In this photo, one of our older students leads circle time songs and activities.

Above photo – Academic success with the moveable alphabet for reading and writing.

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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.