Category Archives: Parenting

preschool open house nj

Five Questions to Ask at a Preschool Open House (Repost from October 2016)

As this is a common time of year for families to begin their preschool search for the next school year, we would like to once again share with you some pointers when attending a preschool Open House. An Open House provides parents with a firsthand impression that cannot be replicated via a website or a brochure. The opportunity for parents to establish a personal connection with the administration, the teachers, and the classroom environment is one that shouldn’t be missed.

Moreover, an Open House gives parents the opportunity to ask questions to help determine whether the school is the right fit for their family. If you’re just starting out on your family’s preschool search, begin by asking the following five questions when attending preschool Open Houses:

  1. What is the school’s educational philosophy?

Today, there are dozens of different philosophies and methods applied in preschool settings.  First, do your research. Once you know a bit about the different early education philosophies, you may be able to narrow your search based on what you believe fits in with your family’s values and educational goals.

At The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA), we believe that a Montessori education benefits children in so many ways. Montessori classrooms are designed to recognize and address various learning levels and styles. Teachers take unique roles as classroom guides and observers, providing children with the freedom and opportunity to learn at their own pace within a carefully prepared, stimulating environment.

It’s also important to determine how strictly the philosophy is adhered to at each school. This is particularly important if you are looking at Montessori schools. Many parents are unaware that the American Montessori Society (AMS) has established guidelines for adhering to Dr. Montessori’s practices. Programs that work with AMS are required to uphold high standards in areas including teacher certification, classroom preparation, and parent education regarding Montessori education. The Montessori Children’s Academy is an AMS Member School.

  1. How does learning take place at the school?

Children must have opportunities to explore how things work, to move their growing bodies, and to engage in activities that they find enjoyable. Especially with preschoolers, hands-on activities involving multiple senses often better facilitate the growth of children’s natural curiosity and their interest in learning for learning’s sake. When attending an Open House, ask what types of activities the children participate in during their school day. How much time is spent in teacher-directed activity? Do children have opportunities to make choices and move throughout the classroom? What types of learning materials are used?

The materials in Montessori classrooms are attractive, inviting, and meaningful. They also grow with the children, as the lessons move from concrete to abstract concepts. Every aspect of the Montessori classroom promotes the development of fine and gross motor skills, the expansion of new knowledge, and the joy in learning. Children have a balance of independent work time where they choose what they would like to do, small group learning lessons, and large group activities. Learning opportunities are integrated into all aspects of the Montessori classroom.

  1. What is the school’s standard for teacher qualifications?

Some early childhood facilities, like cooperative programs run by local parents, and traditional day care centers, do not require state or nationally recognized teaching certificates for their staff. Regardless of the type of school setting, it is important that preschool teachers understand how children grow and learn. You will also want to find out whether teachers and their assistants are trained in CPR and First Aid, and if they regularly attend continuing education workshops to stay current in their field.

If you are looking exclusively at Montessori schools, check that the teachers have their Montessori teaching credentials. This will ensure that they have been trained in the Montessori Method by a qualified teacher education program. You can learn more about AMS Montessori teaching credentials from the Montessori Center for Teacher Development.

  1. How is discipline handled?

Preschools have a very important responsibility in how their teachers manage their classrooms and help children grow and develop in a healthy, safe environment. Since preschool is often a child’s very first school experience, how discipline is handled can make a difference in how children view school and how well they succeed in learning.

MCA focuses on positive discipline and conflict resolution. Teachers are keen observers in their classrooms, and they are carefully trained to manage a variety of situations before there is any escalation of improper behavior. Redirection, positive reinforcement, and logical consequences allow teachers to help children learn respect, self-control, and responsibility in the most natural of ways. Peace Education is also a significant component of the Montessori curriculum, and children are guided through conflict resolution techniques with the aid of teachers and peers. Montessori classrooms are communities, and children learn that every member of the classroom is valued and important.

Later this month, MCA will host guest speaker Teresa LaSala, a positive discipline expert and author. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please consider attending this Parent Education event, as it is open to the public. Details can be found on MCA’s website.

  1. What will a typical school day look like for my child?

This is an important question because it will help to alleviate some of the common anxieties that parents have when the first day of school arrives. Understanding how the day flows will help you to determine if your child will be comfortable in the classroom. As young children thrive on routines, it would be helpful to learn about things like what the procedures are for eating snack or lunch at school, using the restrooms, spending time on the playground, or having a resting time. It is important to know how much structure is in the school day. You might also ask what opportunities the children have for socializing with peers, spending one-on-one time with the teacher, or learning responsibility by having a classroom job.

At any Open House, it is important to get a feel for the facility and to meet the staff. Above all, you want to be able to picture your child in the classrooms. If possible, bring your child along to the Open House so that he or she can meet the teachers and interact in the school space. Watching your child explore might make your choice just a little bit easier.

The Montessori Children’s Academy is hosting Winter Open Houses at each of its campuses on the following dates:

Morristown: Saturday, January 21, 2017, 9:00-11:00AM

Chatham: Saturday, January 28, 2017, 9:00-11:00AM

Short Hills: Saturday, February 4, 2017, 9:00-11:00AM

 

Prepping for Preschool

By: Alex Chiu, Hannah Ferris, and Jax Pisciotto

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 TeachersDay”

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 2016-2017 school year! 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 on September 7th. To all of our new and returning MCA families, we look forward to seeing you very soon!

Seven Extra Hours

By: Alex Chiu

What if you and your child were given the gift of seven extra hours to your day or even to your week? Most of us would probably be thrilled to have that extra time to do all of the things we complain that we never have the time to do! Looking at some shocking statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), it might just be possible to find those seven extra hours. According to the AAP, “today’s children are spending an average of seven hours a day on entertainment media, including televisions, computers, phones, and other electronic devices” (www.aap.org). Seven hours a day. That is longer than an average school day in the United States. And adults might be right up there with their own screen time, too, if they carefully and honestly looked at how they spent their leisure time.

So why should we be concerned, and what can we do? The prevalence of media and modern devices has many of us in a frenzy to keep up with the latest trends and to be ‘connected’ at all times. There are great advantages to having access to media and all of the new technology, and there are many excellent and appropriate times and places for its use. However, we need to be careful that too much screen time, especially for children, doesn’t negatively impact their growth and development.

And we do know that are consequences to our children’s media use. Childhood obesity and shorter attention spans are just two issues linked to media overuse by children that have raised the alarm for parents and experts alike. From a child development perspective, young children need hands-on, real world, sensory-rich activities that promote concentration, experimentation, and socialization much more than they need to leap into a cyber world. As Maria Montessori said, “It is through appropriate work and activities that the character of the child is transformed.  Work influences his development in the same way that food revives the vigor of a starving man.  We observe that a child occupied with matters that awaken his interest seems to blossom, to expand, evincing undreamed of character traits; his abilities give him great satisfaction, and he smiles with a sweet and joyous smile.” (San Remo Lectures).

The work that Dr. Montessori saw as crucial to healthy development in children was that related to real world, daily life activities where children touched, smelled, tasted, carried, tended, learned about, and experienced the world around them. She said, “The hands are the instruments of a man’s intelligence” (The Absorbent Mind), and it’s hard to imagine her thinking that little hands constantly holding onto electronic devices would lead to this goal.

To be fair, some of our children’s screen time is constructively spent on educational purposes and schoolwork. Schools rightly take pride in the technology they offer to their students. Teachers work tirelessly to find creative ways to incorporate technology into their lessons to capture their students’ attention and to make this very big world a little smaller and more accessible to their students. We do want our children to become familiar with cutting edge technology and to not fall behind on the rapid developments in that field. Staying savvy with progressive technological advances is necessary in our modern, fast-paced world. We can even find wonderful Montessori apps that extend traditional lessons, and technology certainly can be seen as something which promotes children’s curiosity and desire to learn more. It opens doors to places some children might not otherwise experience, and it has real benefits as children continue to broaden their scope of learning as they grow.

However, the emphasis from the AAP is that seven hours is spent on entertainment media. So, how can we limit our children’s media use and help our children find other ways to entertain themselves? Healthychildren.org suggests creating a “Family Media Plan” where you set boundaries for what media your children may use, when they may have screen time, where in the house screen time takes place, and how long your child may spend with entertainment media. But once the screens are powered down, what will your children do? Consider moving more, playing more, connecting more (face to face, not online!), and creating more. Just being aware of how much time your family spends in front of a screen may help you take a step back and start to brainstorm other things you’d like to be doing instead.

We know that childhood passes so quickly. Freeing up some of those seven hours spent on entertainment media may provide you with the opportunity to do more meaningful activities where you are engaged with your child. It may ultimately help to slow things down for a little while and result in some of your family’s best memories. You can share those memories on social media when you’re done!

A Few Tips for Monitoring Media Usage at Home

  • Designate screen-free zones at home—especially consider no media in children’s bedrooms.
  • Let your children know when they are permitted to turn on the electronics and set time limits.
  • Utilize parental controls to keep your children safe from inappropriate content, websites, etc.
  • Have a TV/Media “Turn Off” Week—no screen time for 7 days, not just 7 hours! Or consider “No Media Mondays” where at least one day a week is spent without any screen time.
  • Make the media meaningful: watch television together and discuss and ask questions about what you are watching. Or research a topic of interest together online or help your child find a YouTube tutorial for something he or she is interested in learning.
  • Mix up media with movement – decide that after 30 minutes of screen time that you and your child participate in 30 minutes of exercise. Dance, walk, play tag, anything that gets you up and going!

 

 

 

For more ideas and information about children and media, visit the sites used as references in this article:

American Academy of Pediatrics www.aap.org

American Academy of Pediatrics Information for Parents   www.healthychildren.org

PBS Children and Media Site for Parents http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia

Center on Media and Child Health www.cmch.tv

Solutions for your Life http://solutionsforyourlife.com

 

MCA Book Club Inspires Summer Reading List

In the fall of this past school year, The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) was proud to host Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore as a guest speaker for a Speaker Series event.  Dr. Kennedy-Moore shared her professional insights on a variety of parenting topics, balanced with her own honest experiences as a mother of four.  She was an engaging speaker, and she enlightened everyone who attended this special event.  Her focus on the topics in her book Smart Parenting for Smart Kids stirred up lively conversation.  The book, which is filled with vignettes and strategies for raising smart kids who will become healthy, happy, and independent adults, raised a great deal of interest and intrigue among the audience members.

In order to keep the conversations going, MCA sponsored a Parent Book Club featuring Smart Parenting for Smart Kids in the spring of 2016.  Twenty parents from all three MCA campuses participated in the six weekly sessions, with each week zeroing in a different topic of discussion taken from sections of the selected book.  A Head Teacher at each campus guided the conversations where parents exchanged personal experiences about the challenges of parenting, asked questions, and bonded over the content of the conversation.

The Book Club provided a platform for delving into a variety of issues that were commonly experienced by members of the group, and together, using the book as a guide, they brainstormed methods for better understanding and helping their children.  Certainly this was the common denominator for the group – all parents seek new techniques for working with their children as they grow up.

We reached out to Dr. Kennedy-Moore and invited her to share some background information about why she wrote Smart Parenting for Smart Kids. She shared the following:

One of the comments that my co-author, Mark Lowenthal, and I hear a lot from parents in our practices is “My kid is smart, but…” The “but” could be that their children get very upset when they make mistakes, or they have trouble getting along with other kids, or they constantly argue with adults… These parents know that their children are bright, but they worry because they also know that it takes more than school smarts to create a satisfying life…

This book is about helping children develop inner strength and outward empathy. The world tells bright children that their performance matters; they need us, their parents, to tell them that they are much more than the sum of their accomplishments. They need to know that we love them for their kindness, curiosity, imagination, determination, and sense of fun. Qualities like these aren’t necessarily impressive, but they matter deeply.”

MCA’s Director of Montessori Development, Camilla Nichols-Uhler, added that many of the tenets in Dr. Kennedy-Moore’s book complement Montessori education, making this book choice something which dovetails with what our parents are learning about how their children work within a prepared Montessori environment.  She explains:

“In Montessori classrooms, teachers guide the children to develop solutions to challenges and problems in a practical way while at the same time gaining self-confidence.  Children find ways to be successful working independently and in groups through each stage of their development and throughout their Montessori education.  The focus is not just on academics, but also on developing the whole child.  Smart Parenting for Smart Kids and the Montessori philosophy share the value of nurturing the whole child.  Parents learn how to lay the best foundation at home just as we lay the foundation for our students’ academic, social, and emotional growth while at MCA.”

Our Book Club facilitators and parent participants enjoyed Dr. Kennedy-Moore’s book and the discussions about positive parenting that ensued at the club meetings.

Mrs. Gallo, one of the club facilitators, shared her experience with us:

I thoroughly enjoyed hosting the MCA Book Club.  The parents were great and really positive and supportive of each other.  We had five parents and most were able to attend the entire series. We typically started out with the chapter topic, but often parents had parenting issues that they wanted to talk about.  The biggest takeaway from the series was tuning into the child by reflecting what the child is saying.  This enables the child to know that you heard him or her and allows the parent to slow down and focus on the child.  I think a forum for parents to come together and discuss parenting concerns is so needed…  All-in-all it was a positive experience…”

With so many challenges facing parents and children today, having a place where people can come together to exchange ideas and glean insights from experts and peers can alleviate some of the stress of parenting.  It can also foster feelings of confidence when parents realize that they are not alone and that there are people and resources out there to support them in their efforts to be the best parents that they can be.  As the saying goes, “It takes a village.”

A parent participating in our Book Club commented:

“The Book Club offered me an opportunity to pause and reflect on some of the struggles I face as a parent in addressing my children’s needs.  I found it helpful to hear other parents’ experiences and to discuss strategies with them….  I enjoyed participating in the Book Club and found it helpful, overall.”

We were thrilled by the positive response to our inaugural Parent Book Club and are looking forward to hosting another in the 2016-2017 school year.  Stay tuned to learn when it will be held and which book will be the focus for the next set of meetings!  If you were unable to be a part of our Parent Book Club this year, we recommend that you add Smart Parenting for Smart Kids to your summer reading list. And while you’re at it… Here are some other titles you may want to check out while traveling, lounging poolside, or just taking a lemonade break in your backyard:

  1. Montessori Madness!: A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education, Trevor Eissler
  2. The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: Five Steps to Help Kids Create and Sustain Lifelong Joy, Edward Hallowell, MD
  3. The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, Michele Borba, Ed.D.
  4. Getting It Right with Children, Madelyn Swift
  5. Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Stoll Lillard
  6. Parents Do Make a Difference, Michele Borba, Ed.D.
  7. The Pressured Child, Michael Thompson, Ph.D.
  8. Raising a Self-Disciplined Child, Roberts Brooks, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D.
  9. Building Moral Intelligence, Michele Borba, Ed.D.
  10. Generation Text, Michael Osit, Ph.D.