Author Archives: Hannah Ferris

About Hannah Ferris

Marketing Coordinator at The Montessori Children's Academy

Prepping for Preschool Revisited

By: Alex Chiu, Hannah Ferris, and Jax Pisciotto

As we turned the calendar page to August, we realize that the beginning of another school year is right around the corner. Last year, we shared with our families some helpful hints in preparing for the first day of school, and we thought it might be important to share this information once again for our new families and as a reminder to our returning families. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer vacation, and we look forward to seeing you all soon!

Your child’s first day of school is a major milestone for your family. It is undoubtedly a very exciting time and likely will be marked by new clothes, a new backpack and lunchbox, and many adorable “First Day of School” photos. While the anticipation of a new school year is very exciting, it can also be stressful, for you and your child alike. Many years of experience have provided the staff of The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) with special insights into some simple things parents can do to prepare their children, and themselves, for preschool. We hope you find that these tried and true methods will help alleviate any stress that may be surfacing as the new school year approaches and that they will allow your family to truly enjoy the excitement of your child’s first school experience

1. Don’t miss “Meet the Teachers Day”

The first day of school at MCA is a bit different than what one might expect. We call this special day “Meet the Teachers Day”, and it’s coming up very soon! Parents and children come to MCA together to visit their new classrooms and meet their teachers face-to-face.

Meet the Teachers Day is followed by a “Phase-In” period that is aimed at helping to alleviate any separation anxiety and provide the children with a smooth transition into their new school environment. Meet the Teachers Day is just one piece of the school orientation that allows the children to acclimate both socially and emotionally to being apart from their parents and begin to take part in all aspects of their classroom community.

2. Take your child shopping for school supplies

Allow your child to get excited about going to school by bringing him or her with you when you go shopping for school supplies. Giving your child the freedom to pick out his or her backpack and lunchbox will also create a sense of ownership of these items, which will inherently point your child in the direction of being responsible for his or her belongings.

3. Begin evening and morning routines before school starts

Many of our teachers at MCA have already begun to re-adjust their internal clocks, which have been set to summer mode for the past two months. During the summer, we often stay up later, knowing that we can sleep in a bit. However, as we approach the start of a new school year, it is helpful to get back into a ‘school day rhythm’.

We know that it’s not always the simplest task to settle your little ones down for bed, especially when the sun is still shining, but it is important to establish a healthy bedtime for the school year. School days at MCA start early, at 8:30 or 8:45AM. If an early bedtime is proving to be tricky, you may consider implementing family “quiet time” in the evenings. This can involve quiet play, or you could engage in the time-honored tradition of reading before bedtime. Have your child pick out 3 or 4 favorite books to settle down with if he or she isn’t quite ready to sleep. As your quiet routine continues in the days leading up to the first day of school, cut back to 2 – 3 books until your child is prepared to settle down a little earlier.

In the morning, try the lure of a favorite breakfast to help rouse your little one while your family’s bodies adjust to school mode. Perhaps even do a practice run, where you and your child have breakfast and leave the house together to drive past the school. This will also allow you to assess how much time it takes to actually get out the door.

4. Differentiate your anxieties about separation from your child’s

Whether this is your first child heading off to preschool or your fourth, it is normal for parents to have some hesitation about leaving their children in the care of others. In order to assist children in making a smooth transition, it is important for parents to display a positive attitude and send children off with a big smile, a brief hug, and the assurance that you are looking forward to sharing stories about each of your days when school and work are done. Your positive attitude helps your child sense that you believe he or she will be able to manage the school day just fine, and that positive attitude just might be contagious!

To help you maintain a smile before you say goodbye, take some time to reflect on the successes your child has exhibited in playgroups or at other times when you were not by his or her side. Be confident that should your child need some extra support, the teachers at MCA will help you both through this transition until everyone is comfortable with a new school routine.

5. Talk about school at home using the names of teachers and classmates

After Meet the Teachers Day, and then throughout the school year, invite your child to share stories about the events of his or her school day. Keep a class list handy to help you both remember the names of new teachers and friends until they become familiar. Ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to share details, and be patient if it takes some time to remember events from the day. You might ask, “What story did you listen to during circle time?”, “Who did you eat snack with today?”, or “What did you do on the playground?” Gradually, you may find that your child will initiate and guide the conversations about school.

6. Take the time to meet other parents

 Chances are you won’t be the only parent who is nervous about leaving your child at school for the first time. Some veteran parents may feel the very same way! We can guarantee that there will be friendly and sympathetic faces willing to lend advice to a first-time preschool parent. Take the first step and introduce yourself to another parent after drop-off, and set up time to meet over coffee to share your experiences. The other parents in your child’s class will be wonderful resources at the beginning of the school year, and in time, you may find that they become good friends as well. Just as your child will be experiencing new things and making new friends during his or her school experience, so will you.

We can’t believe that the summer is almost over, but we are anticipating a wonderful school year ahead! Our teachers are busy preparing their classrooms, just as your family is preparing for the school year in your own way. Everyone at MCA is excited to welcome you in September!

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Other Good Reads for Empowering Young Women

During the month of March, MCA celebrated Women’s History Month with a special series of Facebook posts that shared different stories of women who have left their marks on history, both in America and around the world. As we were researching these amazing women, we happened upon the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. One of our Elementary teachers discovered a video about the origin of this wonderful book, which we’d like to share with you:

After viewing this video, we realized that Elena Favilli and Francesa Cavallo, the authors of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, were right. There was a lack of literature for young readers that featured strong female characters.  It was at that point that we decided to take action. We began researching books that would empower the girls that populate MCA’s classrooms, and our greater community. For families who are looking to open this door for their own children, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a perfect place to begin to introduce your children to the many important contributions made by women.

A Short Review of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Favilli and Cavallo are rebels in their own right, having taken a leap of faith in moving from Italy to Silicon Valley, California, to start their media company, Timbuktu Labs. They have put together an anthology of 100 stories of remarkable women who challenged gender stereotypes and made a positive impact on human history. I first heard about Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in August 2016, when the authors were raising funds to publish the book online. A former classmate who works on women’s issues in Washington, D.C. shared the crowdsourcing page with me in an email. She wrote, “Maria Montessori’s story is in the book. You have to buy this book for your school!”  When I found out that this book was already on MCA’s radar, I was ecstatic. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow it from our Elementary Program’s library in Short Hills.

As I opened the book, I was met with bright, beautiful pages. Each story is accompanied by a striking illustration, with 60 different artists contributing portraits to accompany the biographies in this collection. I randomly perused the pages, admiring the artwork and stopping to read the stories of some of my personal heroes, women whose portraits I would recognize anywhere. Simply flipping through the pages of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is an experience that I am grateful that the students and teachers at MCA can have for themselves since the book is available for them to borrow from the Elementary library.

Here are a few of my favorite selections:

Intended for “Rebel girls ages 4-101,” the pages adjacent to the portraits contain one-page biographies of each of the 100 female subjects. These short biographies begin with the classic line “Once upon a time…”, indicating that the story that follows is to be cherished in a time-honored fashion. However, these stories are not fairy tales. They are the true, stirring stories of scientists, athletes, writers, and more. The collection represents women from various points in history, different parts of the globe, and across a span of ages. As a ‘bedtime story’, readers may choose to read one or several of the biographies, as they can be consumed and accessed easily in whatever amount of time is available and whenever inspiration is needed. These brief excerpts of the highlights of these women’s lives are the perfect launching pad to inspire young people to learn more details about the women and their achievements.

Empowering Reads and Where to Find Them

MCA enjoyed our Women’s History Month initiative so much, that we decided to expand the project beyond our own classrooms and our Facebook audience. We have since shared Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as five other titles that celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout history, with a number of local libraries. By sharing these books, we hope that all young women in the communities that MCA serves will come to understand that they can accomplish anything they dream of doing.

The five additional “Good Reads for Empowering Young Female Readers” donated by MCA include:

  1. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
  2. Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History by Kate Schatz
  3. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh
  4. Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz
  5. Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs

These titles now can be found in the public libraries in the towns of Chatham, Florham Park, Livingston, Madison, Maplewood, Millburn, Morristown, South Orange, and West Orange. We hope that you’ll visit your local library and share and enjoy these books with the young women and the young men in your families.

montessori childrens academy

The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Year

I had the pleasure of running into a recent graduate of The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) and his family at breakfast last weekend. I asked him how he likes first grade. He told me, “First grade is awesome,” and launched into an impressive monologue about his math class, his soccer team, and how he had just borrowed a chapter book from the school library.

I could tell that his excitement about school had not faded at all since he left Kindergarten at MCA. I couldn’t wait to tell his Kindergarten teacher. When I did, she replied simply, “That’s why I love Montessori Kindergarten.”

The Kindergarten year in Montessori early childhood education, is an incredibly important one, as it is the third and final year of the 3-6 cycle. In her extensive studies of children, Maria Montessori observed and classified four “Planes of Development”. These six-year phases of growth are demarcated by cognitive achievement. In her early work, Dr. Montessori focused on the phase that includes children ages 0-6 years. She termed this Plane of Development “The Absorbent Mind” because she found that young children “absorb” learning from their environment naturally and spontaneously (AMS 2017). Her book, The Absorbent Mind, focuses on this Plane of Development and informs much of MCA’s Early Childhood curriculum.

The oldest children in this phase, 5- and 6-year olds, represent our Kindergarten program. The Kindergarteners are the oldest, most experienced students among the MCA Early Childhood Programs at each of our campuses. This final year of their 3-year cycle provides them with many advantages, from having the opportunity to be classroom leaders and mentors, to stretching their learning with the Montessori materials in the most complex of ways, all while remaining in the warm, familiar, nurturing classroom community they have grown to be a part of over the course of three years. This capstone year of the MCA Early Childhood Program provides the Kindergarteners with great benefits in their academic, as well as their social-emotional development.

A Day in the Life of a Kindergartener at MCA

During the morning work cycle, Kindergarteners have a special role in their mixed-age classrooms. As the oldest members of the class, Kindergarteners have a de facto role as leaders. According to MCA’s Director of Montessori Development, Camilla Nichols-Uhler, Kindergarteners are seen as role models for the 3- and 4-year-olds. Sometimes Kindergarteners even give lessons to their younger classmates. This not only provides the Kindergarteners with an important mentoring role, but it also allows the Kindergarteners to reinforce their prior learning as they teach their younger friends. The 5- and 6-year-olds take their role as classroom leaders very seriously. The cultivation of leadership skills in the mixed-age setting is one of the key benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten year.

In the afternoon, the Kindergarten class is separated from the mixed-age classroom for work in an exclusively same-age peer environment. This afternoon time provides a great deal of subtle preparation for first grade expectations students would find in a traditional school setting. In the afternoon, the students at times will work as a whole group and receive focused instruction in each of the five Montessori curriculum areas. When observing a Montessori Kindergarten classroom at MCA, you may see children working not only with traditional Montessori materials, but also with supplemental educational materials that closely resemble those found in a traditional classroom, including the McGraw-Hill Reading Literature Program, the Primary Phonics Reading Series, and the Handwriting Without Tears resources. The beauty of our Montessori Kindergarten is that the children continue to work and progress as they are ready. They do not need to wait for or catch up to the rest of the group—instead, they work at their own pace, making great academic strides and gaining confidence along the way. The Kindergarten year helps to build a bridge for the children so that they may easily transition from a Montessori early childhood program to whatever elementary program they may enter the following year.

Kindergarteners at MCA receive many benefits in addition to this special daily schedule. During their last year in the 3-6 program, Kindergarteners are granted some exciting privileges, and the opportunities they are afforded in the Kindergarten year increase in this culminating year of the MCA Early Childhood Program.

Benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten Experience at MCA

  • Full-Day Schedule: Many local preschool and Kindergarten programs only offer half-day programs. MCA’s full-day classes help prepare children transition to full-day elementary school programs beyond graduation.
  • Character Building Component: It is difficult to deny the social and emotional benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten program. Building leadership skills, fostering resilience, and developing empowered and responsible members of a classroom community are just a few of the character-related benefits of a Montessori education. In a Montessori Kindergarten program, lessons like these remain with students well beyond their Kindergarten year.
  • Specials: In addition to MCA’s weekly Spanish and Music classes with Mr. Vergara, our Kindergarten students participate in two additional specials. These classes help students develop additional skills for elementary school.
    • Technology: Most elementary schools use laptops, tablets, and other technology in one form or another these days. Our Kindergarteners thus need to be prepared to navigate such devices. We introduce this technology in productive, academic ways. Mrs. Kochanik, MCA’s technology teacher who is a certified Montessori Elementary teacher herself, is an expert in using technology in a Montessori-friendly way, and our students come to understand the use of technology as a tool.
    • Gym: Twice a week, our Kindergarten class gets an extra opportunity to exercise as well. MCA’s Physical Education Program, headed up by Mrs. Larsen and Mrs. Turiansky, teaches Kindergarteners the basic fundamentals of team sports. From dribbling a basketball to learning how to pass a soccer ball to a teammate without using their hands, our Kindergarteners learn the skills they need to stay healthy as they participate in a variety of team sports.
  • Kindergarten “Extras”: During the spring, our Kindergarteners participate in many special events. These include activities which combine Kindergarten students from all three of our campuses, such as a Kindergarten field trip and Field Day, and of course campus specific activities, such as our annual Bake Sales and Kindergarten graduations. This year, our Kindergarten students will have the opportunity to visit the beautiful Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick for a spring-themed celebration with hands-on, outdoor lessons in Science and Culture.
  • Community Outreach Projects: As leaders in the classroom, the Kindergarten students take on more responsibilities in the charitable endeavors sponsored by the school. They learn how to plan, prepare, and execute a variety of outreach service projects, from bake sales to speaking with community members about the charities they are supporting.

montessori childrens academy

MCA’s Kindergarten Program is an excellent alternative to public or other non-public Kindergarten options. Our full-day Kindergarten provides our students with immeasurable social and emotional benefits in addition to academic rigor. MCA may accept students from other preschool programs to join its Kindergarten classes after a “Kindergarten Interview”, if enrollment space allows. As Dr. Montessori said, “The Absorbent Mind is indeed a marvelous gift to humanity”, and giving your child the opportunity to complete the 3-year Early Childhood Cycle with a Montessori Kindergarten year, is a gift that will be carried with them throughout their educational journey.

If your child is a member of one of MCA’s 3-6 classes and you have further questions about the Kindergarten year, do not hesitate to reach out to your Campus Director to learn more about the benefits of completing the 3-year cycle at MCA.

MONTESSORI CHILDRENS ACADEMY

110 Years of Montessori

Montessori schools around the world are celebrating Montessori Education Week this week. Parents and visitors to The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) will notice festive banners on display at our schools and an excited buzz in the air as we begin this week-long celebration in honor of Dr. Montessori and the Montessori Method. Montessori Education Week is a highlight of the school year for MCA, and the warm feeling and festivities surrounding this occasion are certainly a welcome respite from a long, cold New Jersey winter. We wanted to share a little bit more about why we’re celebrating and what we’re doing to mark 110 years of Montessori education.

Why We Celebrate Montessori Education Week

There are four reasons we choose to celebrate Montessori Education Week:

  1. To reflect on the extraordinary life of Dr. Maria Montessori: Did you know that, in addition to being a pioneer in education, Maria Montessori was a medical doctor, a WWII refugee, an author, an advocate for peace, and a parent? Her biography is as impressive as her legacy. An important part of Montessori Education Week is learning about Dr. Montessori and her contributions not only to the world of education, but to the world as a whole.
  1. To share the benefits of a Montessori education with our local communities: Many people recognize the word “Montessori” but don’t understand its meaning. The Montessori Method is an innovative, hands-on, cross- curricular, and globally conscious educational philosophy. Children from early childhood through elementary and beyond benefit from working in Montessori environments, as they provide students with opportunities to expand both their academic and social skills necessary for critical thinking and civic responsibility in an ever-changing world.
  1. To celebrate the “birthday” of Montessori education: This year marks 110 years since the establishment of the first Montessori school, Casa de Bambini (or “Children’s House”) in Rome, Italy. 110 years is quite a milestone!
  1. To build a strong school community: MCA’s families are united by a common thread: a shared belief that a Montessori education is the best choice for the children in their lives. We relish the opportunity to have more of our parents, as well as important extended members of our MCA families – grandparents, nannies, and alumni students – join us for the special activities and events we have planned during Montessori Education Week. The continued support and dedication to MCA by this wide school community is a testament to the spirit of Dr. Montessori.

How We Celebrate

Every year, MCA plans a variety of celebrations during Montessori Education Week. Some of these special activities occur in our classrooms during the school day, and some are shared off-campus throughout the local towns where our MCA families live.

This year, parents have the opportunity to join us each day of Montessori Education Week for classroom observations and to watch students present formal demonstrations of favorite Practical Life lessons. During the school day, students will be taking part in special lessons about Maria Montessori, her native Italy, and timeless peace activities, such as lighting a candle for peace. Finally, we hope to see families from all three of our MCA campuses at Romanelli’s Pizza and Italian Eatery in Madison for our capstone Montessori Education Week celebration on Saturday, March 4th. At this event, students will share their favorite Montessori lessons with friends from other campuses, and the MCA community will wrap up its Girls on the Run community outreach campaign.

MCA is also spreading the spirit of Dr. Montessori beyond the walls of MCA through student-created art displays. Under the guidance of our Head Teachers, each MCA class has created an art project inspired by Montessori materials and lessons. Student artwork can be found at the public libraries in the following towns where MCA families live: Chatham, Florham Park, Livingston, Madison, Maplewood, Millburn, and Morristown/Morris Township. If a visit to your library is in your weekly routine (and we hope it is!) remember to check out the incredible exhibits featuring MCA’s students’ original artwork. The photo below is MCA’s display at the Madison Library:

Get in the MEW Spirit: Three Fun, Shareable Montessori Resources

  • Shaping a Love of Learning at MCA’s Morristown Campus: This short video shares the stories of some of our alumni students and how their time at MCA inspired a lifelong love of learning.
  • The 10 Commandments of Maria Montessori: We borrowed this infographic from our friends in NYC at Twin Parks Montessori. It’s a wonderful guide for parents and teachers alike!
  • BBCs “Extraordinary Women” Series had an episode about Maria Montessori a few years ago that we love. Watch an excerpt from the episode below and to learn more about Dr. Montessori’s biography:
Montessori Childrens Academy

Classrooms Filled With Character

While many parents today continue to put an emphasis on the academic rigor of their children’s education, more and more are asking how schools are addressing their child’s development of character. We hear buzz words like “grit”, “self-motivation”, and “emotional intelligence”, and begin to worry that our children are not adding these skill sets into their personal repertoire. Indeed, many schools are incorporating ‘character building’ into their curricula along with ‘anti-bullying’ and other similar social development and prevention programs. Adding these types of curricular areas is a beneficial component to a more holistic educational approach. Those who have been involved in Montessori education as former students, parents, or educators might find it interesting that current trends are just now catching up to something that Montessori education has been doing for more than 100 years.

Dr. Montessori believed in “educating the human potential”. The potential she referred to was not limited to academic potential, but rather reached beyond the limitless possibilities we all possess to learn and do meaningful things. Every aspect of Montessori education contributes to educating the whole child. Let us look at what it is about the Montessori approach that contributes to character building:

  1. The Environment: Children entering a Montessori classroom for the first time are introduced to the various works on the shelves by a teacher. The children learn how to handle the materials with care. After using a particular work, they know to return it to the shelf so that the work is ready for the next person. Children learn how to walk around the work rugs on the classroom floor. They receive lessons in making a ‘safe chair’. They learn to wait for a turn if something they want to do is being used by someone else. They learn to work cooperatively with their peers in a non-competitive environment. These seem like simple lessons, right? That is where Montessori is magical. These are so much more than simple lessons. At their core, these are lessons in safety, respect, and patience. To handle the materials with care keeps them in good condition for the benefit of everyone in the classroom. To move safely about the classroom demonstrates concern for others and their well-being. To learn to delay gratification and be patient is an enormous lesson in self-control. Respect, care, concern for others, and patience—character building in progress!
  2. The Work Cycle: Over the course of the school day, Montessori students are given an ‘uninterrupted’ period of time in which to choose and do their own work. They have the freedom to decide which activities from the shelves they would like to do, and so long as they are working purposefully, they may work with the materials for any length of time. This work cycle is another example of a multi-purpose lesson in Montessori education. By providing children with the opportunity to make choices, they learn decision-making skills, responsibility, and accountability for what they do. In addition, they build concentration and persistence by being permitted time to work on an activity without being rushed to complete it. This often results in children gaining mastery over skills and an understanding that ‘hard work pays off’. Again, we see character being developed through these opportunities as children gain skills in decision-making, persistence, concentration, and the rewards of self-motivation and diligence.
  3. Peace Education: We have already shared the importance of Peace Education in Montessori curriculum. It bears repeating, however, as this is another central and direct method of imparting values and building character in our students. Learning that there are peaceful methods for solving conflicts and providing children with tools for positive problem solving all contribute to well-rounded, healthy, communicative individuals, both inside and outside of the classroom.
  4. The Mixed-Age Classroom: Montessori classrooms consist of students across a 3-year age span. Much like in families, everyone in the classroom has his or her special role and important responsibilities. Older students act as mentors and role models in Montessori environments. Younger students learn from classmates as much as they do from a teacher. There are opportunities for collaboration and many discussions in which everyone participates. Working and learning together in a mixed-age setting promotes acceptance of differences, appreciation, and respect for individual skills and gifts, and an ability to work with a variety of people.
  5. The Teacher: Montessori teachers often are referred to as ‘guides’, which is a fitting term for their role in the classroom. They are the primary example-setting individuals in the classroom whom children are meant to model. Their words and actions deliver messages of how to speak kindly, respectfully, and clearly. And the teacher’s role in observing the needs of the children in the class is crucial, as it is the teacher who then presents lessons and creates an environment that meets the needs of the children who are served in the classroom.
  6. Stories as Teaching Tools: Many Montessori lessons revolve around The Great Stories. As children learn about time, history, math, and language, they learn these things in the context of stories that make sense as a whole and in a context children understand. In addition to these ‘teaching stories’, many circle time lessons in Montessori classrooms incorporate children’s literature rich with examples of virtuous characters. These stories are the springboard for classroom discussions, role-playing, and games to help students better understand how character makes a difference. Stories and fables about courageous mice, boys who cry wolf, hardworking pigs, and more, help children come to value these good qualities in the heroes of these important stories. Students are encouraged to share thoughts and ideas, and to apply the lessons in their everyday interactions.

Long ago, Dr. Montessori knew the importance of educating the ‘whole child’—from the academics to character development. She said, “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them…. The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.” (Education and Peace). Indeed, these Montessori classrooms are filled with students of great character who are a beacon of hope for our future as they are learning the skills they will need to be productive, peaceful citizens of the world.