Tag Archives: child development

Packing the Perfect Lunchbox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Alex Chiu

Just one of the many wonderful things about Montessori education is that everything that happens in the classroom is viewed as a learning opportunity. Consider the simple act of having lunch. In a Montessori setting, the children learn how to follow multi-step instructions to take part in setting up and preparing their lunch spaces. This includes retrieving their lunchboxes from where they are stored to setting out their placemats and food, to eating politely, and finally throwing away trash and cleaning up. It’s a lot to remember and complete for our younger students, but they learn the routines quickly and perform the tasks beautifully every time they have lunch at school.

One of the best ways to ensure your child can enjoy eating and socializing during lunchtime at school is by having him or her help to prepare lunch for each day. Providing your child with healthy choices and allowing him or her to decide which to bring on a given day gives your child some control over what he or she brings in to eat and teaches responsibility in getting the lunch packed and ready for school. This begins with including your child in purchasing his or her first lunchbox and continues throughout the year as he or she works together with an adult to pack that beautiful box with daily meals.

Here are some teacher suggestions (or “secrets”) to packing a perfect lunchbox:

1. Label everything! Especially at the beginning of the school year, the children are learning whose lunchbox belongs to whom, and often the children see that their classmates have the same containers or placemats. Not only does labeling all items help your child recognize his or her name, it also helps to make sure all items that belong to you return home!

2. Consider your child’s lunch ‘space’. In a Montessori classroom, children learn to organize their workspaces on a floor rug or table. The same holds true during lunch. Many Montessori classrooms encourage children to use placemats during lunch because the placemats offer the children a visual context in which to organize their lunch and maintain their space among the others sitting at the table. Some teachers have their students make their own placemats to use during lunch, some provide a plastic or vinyl placemat, and some may request that parents send in a cloth placemat to be washed at home as needed for the children’s lunchtime routines. Ask your child’s teacher if a placemat from home is needed.

3. Consider reusable containers. While plastic disposable baggies are easy and light, they are not the best choice for our environment. Since lunch is another learning time in the Montessori classroom, children are encouraged to pack in an eco-friendly way. Not only do you help the planet by packing reusable containers, but you also help your child practice fine motor skills for opening and closing lids. Children learn to match sizes and shapes of containers and lids, and they gain a special awareness when deciding what will fit into different sizes of containers.

4. What about the food?! Montessori children do learn about health and fitness, and preschool is not too early to encourage varied and healthy food choices. While each child has his or her preferences, teachers find that children enjoy a small portion of a variety of foods rather than one large main dish. You might think about sending in a small container of carrots, olives, or cucumbers sliced and paired with a favorite cheese or dip (hummus or ranch dressing). Another Tupperware might be filled with grapes, berries, or apple slices. Still another may provide your child with favorite crackers and a few sliced cold cuts. Having several small portions of different types of foods gives children choice and variety, and creates a ‘picnic’ type of meal which most children really enjoy.

5. Keep it cold (or hot)! Be sure to put foods that need to stay hot in an airtight thermos. Use an icepack to keep cold foods cold. Most schools do not have the space for refrigerators or microwaves in the classroom, so it’s always helpful for parents to take charge of sending the food in the safest manner.

Most teachers encourage students to repack any foods that were left uneaten. It’s important for parents to pay attention to what comes back home in the lunchbox at the end of the day. Perhaps your child is tired of a certain food or is packing too much to be eaten in a given lunch period. Talk with your child about his or her lunchtimes. Ask what his or her classmates enjoying eating, who he or she sits beside, and what special routines the class has for lunch. We may think it’s ‘only lunch’, but in Montessori, lunch is an important part of the school day, too!

Photo from the howwemontessori.com website – a perfect example of a Montessori lunch!

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!

Sunshine, Summertime, and Social Skills?

By: Alex Chiu

Let’s face it. Summertime is when we all take a little break. Whether it’s a vacation from work, time off from school, or a slight easing up on the usual daily routines, summer often finds us relaxing in one way or another at some point. And that’s a good thing! With our wound up, stressed out lives, we DO need to take a breather and enjoy the ‘dog days’ of summer while we can.

However, it’s important to remember that even in the summer, we must never allow ourselves, or our children, to take a break from basic human kindness, respect, and compassion. Actually, summer is a great time to focus even more on acts of kindness since it is for many a season that makes us naturally happier! As people are out and about, walking in parks, eating in the outdoor seating of restaurants, etc., we have a chance to connect with others even more. Let’s show our children how to make that connection positive, and how we can use this summer season to spread some joy.

Children in Montessori classrooms learn all about “Grace and Courtesy”— common, decent, kind interactions with others. They greet their teachers and friends with a kind word, handshake, and eye contact to start the day. They take care in how they move about the classroom so as to not disturb someone’s work on a table or rug. They learn the tried and true ‘Ps and Qs’ of saying, “Excuse me”, “Please”, and “Thank you”. They also learn conflict resolution and the art of making a genuine apology. It’s a part of the curriculum that’s as important as the academic subjects children learn. So, just as parents worry about ‘summer slump’ for their children in regards to math or reading, be sure to address your child’s social skills as part of your family’s summer lessons.

Here are just a few ideas of how to attend to your family’s own Grace and Courtesy skills this summer:

  • Greet people with a smile. As you walk through your neighborhood, greet others with a smile and extend a hello. Teach your children that while we must be safe regarding strangers, there is no harm in sharing a brief, kind greeting in passing when they are with a trusted adult.
  • Encourage your children to speak with community members. When visiting the library, encourage your child to ask the librarian where to find a certain type of book to practice exchanging conversation with others. If you see a police officer at a crosswalk, model for your child a “thank you for your service to our community” greeting and then have your child emulate that the next time you see a first responder.
  • Bring a sweet treat to your volunteer firefighters or first responders. Have your children decorate cards and bake cookies (or if it’s too hot to bake, stop by the local ice cream shop for a gallon of ice cream) to share with these hard-working community members.
  • Make a phone call to a far-away family member. Practice before you call! In this digital age, more and more children are learning to text and NOT learning the art of conversation. Keep this fine art alive by making a monthly call to someone special! Teach your children how to ask questions that elicit a response from the person on the other end of the line. And teach them to listen! Both are important skills in being gracious and kind.
  • Write a letter. Similar to phone calls, many of us have strayed from the tradition of letter writing. Still, most of us smile at the sight of a card or letter that’s not a bill in our mailbox! Share that feeling with someone you know who needs a little pick me up. Encourage your children to share a funny story, personal anecdote, or information about a family outing that the other person might like to learn about in the letter. And remind them to include some questions for their recipient in order to prompt him or her to write back! Then wait for a reply to come in the mail! Speaking of mail, why not greet your mail carrier with a cold drink on a hot day? Just another opportunity to perform an act of kindness and learn how to interact with a community member.
  • Maintain the expectation of kindness and respect in your own home. It’s easy for children to get too comfortable with parents, siblings, and other close friends and family members. However, EVERYONE deserves our respect and kindness, so make sure you model this for your children and maintain the expectation that they mind their ‘Ps and Qs’ with you, too! Even when there’s a disagreement, keep the Montessori spirit of Grace and Courtesy at the forefront of your interactions. It’s okay to disagree or to feel sad or angry, but the way we act when we feel this way is in our control and makes a difference in how others see us and how we find our place in the world.

While these words and actions are small and brief, they can have a positive impact on how your child interacts with others and grows in his or her capacity to be a kind, compassionate, contributing member of our world. So go on—enjoy the sunshine of the summer with a smile, and keep those social skills sharp!

 

 

 

Enriching Your After-School Schedule

Enrichment classes are offered by schools, community recreation programs, churches, and even the local library. Enrichment offerings fall into many different categories: sports, STEM, and art are just a few. Enrichment is for everyone, too; there are classes around town geared towards toddlers on up to adults. These recreational activities have something in common. They teach many lessons that go beyond just the subject of the class. I learned this firsthand when I took an enrichment class in college.

In my junior year, my advisor feared that I was working too hard. She suggested taking an enrichment course to break up my tough schedule. I recall laughing at her suggestion, but I soon found myself loving my lunchtime Tennis 1 course.

I learned a lot more than how to hit a backhand in that course. In fact, it became one of my most important college courses. There are four reasons why Tennis 1 was so important to me. And I have since discovered, in my time working in a school setting, that these same four reasons describe the value of enrichment for learners of all ages.

  1. It taught me a skill: Tennis is a game that I can play for the rest of my life. Like learning to cook or to appreciate art, tennis is something that I’ve never forgotten and continue to enjoy. Enrichment classes are designed to help students discover stimulating, social activities that will complement their natural inclination to learn. While enrichment classes are not always purposely designed to teach “life skills” like cooking or playing a sport, they provide your child with the opportunity to learn new things outside of the traditional classroom setting.
  1. It gave me the opportunity to make new friends: I took Tennis with students who were neither in my classes nor my social circle, and I made new friends. Enrichment classes give children the opportunity to interact with children from different classrooms every day. Enrichment thus allows them to broaden their horizons not just through new activity, but also through new personal connections in their school communities.
  1. It helped me to build character: Tennis reminded me to exercise good sportsmanship. I became more respectful of the athletic abilities of others and learned not to take a win or a loss too seriously. Enrichment programs bring children together on a level playing field, as many participants are trying out activities for the first time. Students come together to explore a new activity, often encouraging one another through the process. Enrichments allow students to simultaneously develop confidence in their own abilities and respect for others through group activity.
  1. It led me to adopt healthy habits: In addition to being good exercise, my tennis course reminded me of the importance of taking time to do something fun for myself. I learned to invest more time and effort into my personal well-being and spent time building new relationships with my tennis classmates. Many of us feel overwhelmed by school, work, and family pressures, and we all seem to have never-ending ‘to do’ lists. However, we have to remember to make some time for fun and to focus on things that we are passionate about. This applies to both children and adults. Our mental health is as important as our physical well-being, and enrichment activities allow for uplifting experiences that provide that positive boost. This is one of the most important things that you will learn from enrolling your family members in enrichment classes.

LEAF Approach to Enrichments

From November through February, The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) will offer eight different enrichment classes (seven for 3-6 year olds and one for elementary students) through LEAF Approach to Enrichments. LEAF’s enrichment programs provide an array of areas for exploration, creative expression, and social connections after the students’ formal school day is over. LEAF programs combine learning and fun under the guidance of experienced and enthusiastic instructors, many of whom are MCA staff members.

For the 2016-2017 Fall/Winter session, LEAF is offering the following classes for 3-6 year olds*:

  • Adventures in Art
  • All Sorts of Sports
  • Creative Builders
  • Games Galore
  • Kitchen Chemistry
  • Musical Adventures Around the World
  • Science in Bubbles

For students in MCA’s Elementary Program, LEAF is offering an exciting class called Project Discovery. This is a STEM class that combines science, technology, engineering, and math skills, and challenges the students to use their classroom knowledge in a practical setting. The students will be inspired to utilize innovative approaches to take on a variety of design challenges. We’ll be excited to see what all these students create!

Classes will run between November 28, 2016 and February 6, 2017. Enrollment for LEAF classes will begin on Monday, November 7, 2016. For more information about the classes or to register, visit the LEAF website.

Enrichment classes provide lasting benefits. They provide a space for acquiring positive attitudes and healthy habits that promote future academic and social success. They provide opportunities for your children to build new friendships, gain confidence, and discover new passions. Most importantly – they are fun!

 

 

 

*Please note that these classes are offered at different times on different MCA campuses. When registration opens on November 7th, a full class schedule for Chatham, Morristown, and Short Hills will be available on the LEAF website.
practical life montessori

Practically Speaking: Why Practical Life Matters

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” ~ Maria Montessori

Often at the beginning of a new school year, children in Montessori classrooms tend to choose much of their work in the Practical Life area over the other areas of the classroom.  For one thing, they are drawn to the pretty materials, which are usually very colorful and inviting in so many ways.  Transferring brightly colored rice from one container to another with a shiny silver spoon or pouring blue-dyed water from one large pitcher into three small cups is very appealing.

Children are also most comfortable with Practical Life work because it involves activities that they see being done every day at home.  Things that are ‘real’ appeal to children who want to do ‘grown up’ types of work and make a meaningful contribution to their homes and classrooms.  Practical Life is the area of the classroom in which children also receive the most lessons from the teacher at the start of the year, and for a very good reason.

On the surface, Practical Life activities provide the children with just that—practical, everyday skills that they need to survive.  Learning how to button and zip, how to set the table and wash dishes, or how to do simple food preparation, is necessary.  But even beyond these essential lessons, Practical Life, if you look at it closely, promotes additional skills that lead children to succeed in each and every other area of the classroom.  How?  Let’s look at just some of the skills that Practical Life teaches:

  1. Planning and Order:  The children learn, step by step, how first to take the work from the shelf to their work space and then set it up.  Sometimes the work requires items from other areas of the classroom, such as an apron, a mat, a bucket, or other tools.  The children learn where things are kept in the classroom and quickly realize the importance of putting things back in their proper places when they are finished using them.  This ensures that everything is ready for the next person who wants to choose that work.
  2. Self-Control: At first, children using the Practical Life materials may be tempted to rush through the activities.  However, in the careful presentation of the work by the teacher, the children discover the beauty and joy of the work done with control.  Instead of hastily scooping up beans with a spoon in a rushed, careless manner, the children learn to observe the beauty of the shape and color of the beans that they collect on the spoon and the lilting sound that they make as they are carefully spooned into the bowl.  Their senses are attuned to each part of the lesson, and they begin to gain an appreciation for a work performed well and with control from start to finish.
  3. Coordination: Grace in movement is important when using the Practical Life materials.  Trying hard to not spill out any drops of water from a pitcher or bowl, the child learns to move with control and purpose.  The children must negotiate how they travel from the shelves to the work space, making sure that all of the materials stay on the tray that they are carrying.  Once at the workspace, the children develop a variety of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.  These grow as the children continue using Practical Life works specifically designed to support this growth.  While teachers may adapt the appearance of the lessons (perhaps changing the color of the water or the types of materials being used), the essence of the lessons remains constant to help children continue to develop their coordination with each activity.
  4. Patience: There is only one of each activity on the classroom shelves.  Popular activities fly off the shelves quickly, and classmates learn that they must wait for their turn if something is already being used.  There is no grabbing a work out of someone else’s hands.  Instead, a child might be invited to watch while waiting.  Similarly, a child must practice patience in order to complete the work.  Many involve several steps, and each step, from set up to clean up, is equally important and necessary.  If a step is skipped, there is a natural consequence that affects whether or not the work can be completed correctly.  Children respond to these natural results and will strive to do the work to the best of their ability with the goal of getting it done ‘just right’ with practice and patience.
  5. Persistence: The Practical Life work is attractive for a reason.  It entices children to return to it again and again to practice important skills and achieve their goal of doing it correctly.  Because the Practical Life area ultimately helps the children develop skills they need in every area of the classroom, persistence and repetition are especially important.  Pouring wet or dry ingredients helps develop hand-eye coordination and estimation; using tweezers or tongs to transfer items strengthens the pincer grip needed for holding a pencil and other tools.  These will become important across academic areas.
  6. Mastery: The repetition of movements helps the children to eventually gain mastery over specific skills.  This is the aim of the Practical Life works, as it is with everything found on the shelves in a Montessori classroom.  The self-correcting materials let the child know whether or not the work was done well and with accuracy.  If the water spills when being poured, the children know they need to pour it more slowly or that they need to pour less in each cup so that the cups don’t overflow.  There is little to no teacher intervention required—the child can see for himself or herself if the work was done right.  Imagine the joy when a child who has struggled with one skill or another finally sees that success has been achieved!  It is that intrinsic feeling of pride that most strongly motivates children to continue to try, to continue to learn, in order to attain that wonderful feeling again and again!

Children’s time in the Practical Life area supports their success all throughout the Montessori classroom and extends into skills that help them all throughout their lives.  Planning, concentration, persistence, patience, and self-control all contribute to the children’s effectiveness in learning every academic subject and in their success in managing social interactions as well.  While Practical Life may seem simple, it is an area of significant importance for life skills.  It is the foundation for all of the learning areas within the classroom and extends beyond it into all areas of life.  As one parent commented to her son’s Montessori teacher, “I love that my child is learning to sew buttons in preschool.  Not only will he be able to fix his own clothes when the time comes, but he may also make a fine surgeon one day!”  Practically speaking, Practical Life really does matter!