Tag Archives: curriculum

Promoting a Lifetime of Healthy Habits at MCA


By Polly Bliss with Alex Chiu

Teaching health class is my favorite time of the day at MCA. The hand washing and vegetable songs are music to my ears, and I enjoy the great questions and funny, honest comments your children make during class. If you have Diet Coke for breakfast, I may hear about it!” ~ Nurse Bliss

Health lessons at The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) are based on five simple principals that are the same whether your child is in our Preschool, Kindergarten, or Elementary Program.

They include:

1. Washing your hands, brushing your teeth, and taking care of your body.
2. Practicing safety.
3. Taking a deep breath.
4. Eating more fruits and vegetables.
5. Exercising.

Every day, we should all be doing these five simple things.

1. Wash Your Hands! Brush Your Teeth! Take Care of Your Body!

The simple act of washing hands prevents us from getting sick and stops the transmission of illnesses. We encourage the children to wash their hands after they go to the bathroom, before they eat or prepare food, and when they come in from playing outside. The first thing children should do when they get home from school is wash their hands.
A Practical Life lesson MCA preschool students learn in Health Class is how to use a tissue, and children are reminded to keep fingers out of their noses and mouths. A favorite lesson is titled “Germs are Not for Sharing.” Using a spray bottle, we dramatically demonstrate what happens when sneezes and coughs aren’t covered—the children do NOT like to get sprayed with the pretend germs, and they quickly learn to use an elbow to catch their coughs and sneezes to protect themselves and others. In the Elementary Program, we take the topic of hand washing further by discussing viruses and germs and the many ways our immune system protects us.
In the fall, our preschool lessons also focus on body parts and how each body part has a specific job to do. We discuss ways to keep all of our body parts healthy and working properly. At the Elementary level, we discuss each body system, how the body systems work together, and ways to keep each body system functioning for optimal health. Later in the year, during Dental Health Month, students learn all about teeth and how important it is to keep teeth clean by brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. A local dentist and hygienist visit our classrooms for a fun, interactive dental health lesson, as well.

2. Practice Safety!

In winter, Health lessons focus on what to do in emergencies and calling 911. We talk about what an emergency is and what an emergency isn’t. Students are given different scenarios, and they must decide if it’s an emergency or not. They also learn to call 911. This is a tricky lesson because children cannot practice actually making the call to 911. However, as fewer of us have land lines in our homes, it’s important that children know how to use cellular telephones, so students should practice unlocking the phone, choosing a name to call from the contact list, or accessing the keypad–these are essential skills needed to call 911 in an emergency. Our Elementary lessons also focus on personal safety. After this lesson, you may find that your children remind you, their parents, not to text and drive or cross the street while looking down at your phone!
Poison Prevention Month in January provides us with the opportunity to teach the students about things that are good for our bodies and things that are bad for our bodies and that could hurt us. Students are introduced to a basket of poisons, such as cleaners, laundry detergent pods, dishwasher pods, and medicine, and in Health Class, they discuss the many things children should not touch or put in their mouths. At home, please remember to keep all poisons out of sight and out of reach. Elementary students also discuss medicine, both prescription and over the counter medicine, and they are taught how important it is to read directions and to take the proper prescribed dose. Students are reminded that a safe adult should always administer medicine to them rather than the children taking the medicine on their own.

Later in the year, during the month of May, our safety lessons focus on staying safe around water and the importance of wearing sunscreen. Students often end up reminding their parents to apply sunscreen, which is a wonderful way to see how they have internalized these important lessons!

3. Take a Deep Breath!

Throughout the year, and in every Health Class, students practice taking three deep breaths. The children learn to breathe in through their noses, the body part that warms and filters the air before it comes into our bodies. They learn to sit up, let their shoulders drop, and let their stomachs go out when they take a deep breath. We discuss how breathing is a great tool that can help us calm ourselves, and the children come to understand how breathing helps to flood our brains with oxygen so we can think better. In Elementary, students also use deep breathing as a strategy to calm their nervous systems, de-stress, and refocus their attention to the task at hand.

4. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables!

To introduce nutrition, preschoolers explore a basket of colorful fruits and vegetables and are invited to form a rainbow with the produce. They learn that each different colored fruit and vegetable has different health benefits. For example, blueberries are brain food, naturally red food is good for your stomach, naturally green food keeps your insides clean and builds strong muscles, naturally orange foods are good for your eyes, and naturally yellow foods are good for your lungs, while white vegetables are great for fighting germs. We also discuss the food plate and how important it is to eat a variety of foods.

It doesn’t matter what diet you follow at home, our health lessons at MCA focus on eating more fruits and vegetables and less junk food. Fruits and vegetables are nature’s multivitamins that come in a form our bodies can immediately recognize, absorb, and digest. Fruits and vegetables are loaded with healthy fiber. We encourage you to send fruits and vegetables for your child’s snack and lunch. If you have a picky eater, there are some strategies you could try to help your child incorporate a wider variety of healthy foods into his or her diet. If your child will only eat vegetables dipped in something or covered with cheese, that is a really great start in developing healthy eating habits. If your child is hungry after school, offer vegetables first. Have vegetables prepared when you are making dinner or setting the table so your children are free to munch on them. Choose different colors, shapes, and textures and let your child pick out new fruits and vegetables to try when you go food shopping.

In Health Class we refer to fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole foods as “go foods”, which are foods that our bodies need to stay healthy and foods that we should eat a lot of each day. “Go foods” also are foods that our bodies immediately recognize and can easily digest. Whole and natural foods have more nutrition in their natural, minimally processed state. At school, we call junk foods “whoa foods,” and these include foods that are loaded with chemicals, sugar, food coloring, preservatives, and anything hydrogenated. Our bodies aren’t designed to digest “whoa foods”. In fact, many foods we consume today wouldn’t have even been considered food 100 years ago. And sugar certainly wasn’t added to practically everything either. Our bodies don’t know how to digest highly processed foods and foods loaded with chemicals and preservatives. “Whoa foods” take much longer to move through our digestive system and since they stay in our bodies longer, it’s no wonder why obesity and chronic illnesses are on the rise.

Our MCA students learn that they should eat “go foods” most of the time and have “whoa foods” every once in a while. If you do choose processed food items, (which are usually the foods you find in the center aisles of the supermarkets), try to keep the number of ingredients listed on the packaging to under five. Another good rule of thumb as you shop is if you can’t pronounce an ingredient on the package, it’s probably not good for you. Also, if you lose count trying to count the number of ingredients, it’s not good for you, and if it will stay fresh for a year, it’s not good for you. You might also keep in mind that if your preschooler can reach a breakfast cereal, it probably isn’t good for them, and if your yogurt is loaded with sugar or has candy on top of it, it’s dessert.

During our Elementary nutrition lessons, we discuss the digestive system and how to read nutrition labels including portion sizes. We “re-think our drink” by using a sugar bowl to count out the number of teaspoons of sugar that are in our favorite junk beverages. This can be quite an eye-opening lesson for our students. Try it at home sometime and you, too, will be surprised! Take the number of grams of added sugar and divide by four. For example, if your 16 ounce bottle of soda has 44 grams of sugar, you are consuming 11 teaspoons of sugar. We hope this helps you all to ‘re-think your drink’!

As the seasons change and we get closer to summer, the children are encouraged to visit a local farmers market to see what fruits and vegetables are local and fresh. Not only is this a fun family outing, but a great way to take part in a community event and perhaps discover a new favorite healthy food!

5. Exercise!

MCA students are taught that exercise is also important for healthy bodies. Our bodies are made to move, not to sit in front of a computer or television all day. It’s no wonder so many of us have a stiff neck from looking down at our computers or phone screens constantly. Our MCA students learn that they should engage in at least one hour of physical activity a day. The best exercise for children is simply to go outside and play. Children build strong bodies by playing. Go to the park, go to the playground, go for a walk or a hike, ride bikes together, play a sport, learn to swim, and take the stairs. As parents, we model behavior for our children, so we encourage you to put the phone down, turn off the computer, turn off the TV, and go do something active together with your children. Encourage raking leaves, snow shoveling, vacuuming, cleaning, gardening, and car washing. They are all terrific physical, family activities that also count as exercise. Engaging in physical activity is a family affair that is good for everyone across the lifespan, and all of our MCA students from our youngest to our oldest, learn the value of movement and exercise. The older students extend their understanding of this by also learning about the cardiovascular, respiratory, and muscular systems. We are always emphasizing healthy behaviors that keep all of our body systems functioning properly.

Putting It All Together

In every lesson throughout the year, MCA students refer back to the 5 basic principles of taking care of their bodies, practicing safety, taking a deep breath, eating more fruits and vegetables, and exercising, and they learn to see the connection between these simple steps and staying healthy. It is our hope that our students are learning healthy habits that will last throughout their lifetimes!

Image credit: intranet.tdmu.edu.ua

Pennies for Peace 2015-2016

By: Camilla Nichols-Uhler, Hannah Ferris, and Alex Chiu

Since September, MCA students have been raising funds for Pennies for Peace, a “service learning program that brings cultural and philanthropic education to students and educators all over the world”.  Each campus recently totaled its pennies, with the help of our math-savvy students, and now plans to send the contributions on to assist children at schools throughout Asia.  Read on to learn how many pennies our MCA students counted, resulting in a significant contribution to this very worthy cause!

Program Overview

Pennies for Peace is part of the educational component of the Central Asia Institute (CAI).  CAI is an international development organization that works with communities to improve access to education in Asia.  The CAI believes that education can alleviate poverty and reduce conflict.

Pennies for Peace is a fundraising program designed specifically for children, and its philosophy of “students helping students” is relatable even to preschoolers.  MCA students, whose capacities for compassion find their foundation in the Montessori Philosophy, have taken ownership of this yearlong project.  The children collected pennies from home and then brainstormed additional ways to engage the community to help them with their fundraising efforts.

Through their classroom Cultural studies, the children have learned a great deal about the state of education in certain areas of Asia.  And perhaps of more significance, they have also come to understand the importance of sharing some of what they have with others who are less fortunate.  When the MCA students discovered that just a few pennies could buy school supplies like notebooks and pencils for children in these far-away communities, they realized that many pennies could do even more.  They wondered if they could work toward collecting enough pennies to build an entire school.

Connecting Curriculum with a Cause

The Pennies for Peace program ties in nicely with the Montessori Culture and Science curriculum. Over the course of the year, MCA students have learned a lot about life in the more educationally deprived areas of Asia.  For example:

  • In many communities, the need for children to work on family farms often prevents them from going to school;
  • Often the physical terrain is very difficult to travel, and many children cannot get to schools in larger villages because roads through the Himalaya Mountain Range are dangerous;
  • Cultures place an emphasis on boys’ education at the expense of girls’ education. In some areas, only 12% of girls can read.
  • The culture in countries is very different from that in the United States: many families move from place to place based on the seasons to farm, they celebrate different holidays, and they eat different types of food.

In addition, participation in Pennies for Peace relates to the Montessori Peace curriculum, which aims to teach children how people working together peacefully can make the world a better place for everyone.  The Pennies for Peace program also taught the MCA students about organizing their efforts for a good cause.  They learned the process of brainstorming ideas, developing a plan for collections, and then putting that plan into action.  All of these efforts resulted in building their understanding that working together towards a common goal is hard work, but that it reaps wonderful results and is well worth it!

MCA Students and Families Take Initiative

At first, the children came to school with handfuls pennies that they found around their homes.  The sound of the pennies clinking as they were dropped into the collection jars was music to the children’s ears.  As the number of pennies in the jar grew, so did the enthusiasm and creativity of our students, leading some of our students and families to go beyond dropping their pocket change in the classroom penny jars.  We are extremely grateful to everyone for supporting this schoolwide project, and we wanted to recognize a few for their extra special effort:

  • One of our students took advantage of the warm autumn weather and sold lemonade to his neighbors. He accepted payment only in pennies and explained to his customers that the lemonade proceeds would benefit MCA’s Pennies for Peace  He collected thousands of pennies in one afternoon!


  • Back in December, on an unseasonably sunny and warm Saturday, one family spearheaded a community fundraiser with the help of our friends at Café Beethoven in Chatham. Their children and friends from MCA created posters illustrating facts about the project and shared their knowledge about the countries they studied through the program with passersby.  Many kindly donated their coffee change after learning about the project.  This group of friends raised a total of $270 at the Saturday morning Café Beethoven fundraiser.

Cafe Beethoven

  • Recently, our MCA Elementary students sent a letter to the Short Hills Director, Mrs. Amy Hidalgo, and our Elementary Director/Senior Director, Mrs. Jeanine Christiana, pitching an idea for yet another Pennies for Peace In this letter, they asked permission to host a car wash before the end of the school year.  They explained in the letter:

E letter

Bragging Rights

The students at MCA are growing in their sense of responsibility as citizens of a global community through their involvement with the Pennies for Peace project.  As part of the Pennies for Peace philosophy, MCA students have helped spread the word about the project to other Montessori schools in the Tri-State Area, including sharing information about their participation with their pen pals at Brooklyn Heights Montessori School.  Our students recently found out that their friends at Brooklyn Heights are also in the process of totaling their pennies.  They realize that together they are making a difference!

Across our three campuses in Morristown, Chatham, and Short Hills, the MCA community has raised a grand total of $1,081.43 so far this year for Pennies for Peace.  That’s a lot of pennies… 108,143 to be exact!  Our Elementary students are currently working on a Math project to determine exactly how many school supplies this $1,081.43 can purchase for their friends on the other side of the globe.  Perhaps they will not build an entire school, but they are well on their way to building enormous positive changes in the lives of children in Asia who will benefit from their hard work this year.

We are incredibly proud of our students for sharing information about Pennies for Peace with their families, their Montessori counterparts at other schools, and their communities.  And we want to sincerely thank all of the parents, staff members, and community members from Chatham, Morristown, and Short Hills who contributed their pennies and their time to our various projects this year.

For more information about the Pennies for Peace program, please visit their website http://www.penniesforpeace.org.





References for this post:

“Pennies for Peace – a Free Service Learning Program.” Pennies for Peace. Central Asia Institute, Oct. 2015. Web. 10 May 2016.

More Than Blocks

By: Alex Chiu and Hannah Ferris

There is no question that Montessori materials are beautiful and intriguing.  However, there are often many questions asked about how these materials help children learn. Today, we’d like to give you a peek inside one of our Montessori classrooms with a close-up view of some of the most notable Montessori materials.

Maria Montessori, as a medical doctor, applied her knowledge of the developmental stages of the child to her educational method.  She understood above all that children learn by doing.  The materials that are used by our students today are specially designed to allow children to learn a lesson by engaging with them.  In fact, many of these materials are designed according to specifications left behind by Dr. Montessori.

In our mixed-age (3-6 years) classrooms, the materials first are presented by the teacher and then utilized by the students at different levels of difficulty according what is appropriate for each child.  The teacher introduces materials in a formal lesson where the teacher demonstrates how the materials are meant to be used.  The child will then conduct the lesson independently according to teacher’s (usually non-verbal) demonstration..  Materials are controlled for error and the use of physical objects allows abstract, complicated ideas to become accessible to young children.  As children become ready to learn more complex concepts, the same materials ‘grow’ with the children, offering new information to add to their understanding, moving from very concrete to more abstract learning.

This post will highlight one material from each of the five main areas of the prepared learning environment that MCA provides in its 3-6 classrooms.  It will serve as an introductory guide to the Montessori curriculum and to the science behind the materials that your children encounter daily.

Practical Life

The Practical Life area of the classroom contains activities that are designed to improve fine motor skills through daily functions like spooning, pouring, and hand washing.  Dr. Montessori believed that learning how to carry out daily functions fostered independence, coordination, concentration, and confidence even among her youngest students.  At MCA, the youngest members of our family begin their Montessori journeys in the Practical Life area.

Parents and visitors alike are always amazed to see our students engaged in Food Preparation, using real cooking utensils, inviting friends to eat snack with them, and then cleaning up when they are finished.  Child-sized tools welcome students to the Practical Life area and provide greater opportunity for success in completing the activities.  Parents are delighted when the confidence and skills gained in this area transfers to home life and children participate in cooking, setting the table, and cleaning up with their families.

Preparing Snacks

Recently, during our Montessori Education Week celebrations, our students demonstrated their Practical Life skills for parents and visitors.  Using the ‘flower arranging’ materials, they made lovely decorations with fresh flowers for their classrooms to mark the 109th anniversary of Montessori education.  This task required planning, measuring, careful handling of the flowers, and resulted in making our classrooms bright and cheery.  It was a popular Practical Life activity!


The Sensorial area of the classroom contains materials designed to develop sensory perception.  The most basic materials, designed for the youngest students in the classroom, may force the isolation of the senses.  For example, Color Tablets focus on the visual sense and Sound Boxes focus on the auditory sense.  As students grow and progress in this area, the activities become more complex and begin to prepare children for reading, writing, math, and logical thinking.

Pink Tower

The Pink Tower is perhaps the most famous Montessori material.  The Pink Tower is more than blocks; the ten cubes are classified in size from one centimeter cubed to ten centimeters cubed.  A child is able to visually and physically differentiate between large and small as he or she carries one cube at a time from the shelf to the workspace to construct the tower.  This pattern of movement forces the child to be aware of the surroundings, to control the body, and to concentrate on the task.  Over time, understanding of the ten size classifications of the cubes will help prepare the child’s mind for math.


Although our classrooms have a specific Language area, language lessons are not restricted to just one part of the classroom.  Students practice their spoken language and vocabulary skills through conversation with their teachers and classmates, by singing songs, and when engaged in reading or listening to stories at circle times.  Like the Sensorial area, the materials in the Language area of the classroom gradually become more advanced, and the children’s language skills progress into independent reading and writing exercises.

Sandpaper Letters

Sandpaper Letters help with both verbal and written language skills.  Consonants (pink cards) and vowels (blue cards) are introduced to students by their sounds to teach recognition of the letter.  The focus is on the sound the letter makes rather than the name of the letter. This allows for greater ease and understanding when moving from sound identification to reading words and later, sentences and entire books.  After the sound of the letter is presented, students are instructed to trace the letters with their middle and index fingers – the fingers they will later use to hold a pencil.  Again, as we have seen with so many Montessori materials, this provides the foundation for future skills.  Sandpaper Letters may be used in a variety of other activities, like forming patterns and complementing sound games.  Students will move on to the Moveable Alphabet to make words and sentences once they have mastered recognition of letter sounds using the Sandpaper Letters.


Montessori math allows students to physically hold the materials they are counting.  This teaches them to recognize and distinguish between quantities of the numbers 1 through 10 and beyond.  Such a hands-on approach makes understanding abstract math concepts easier when the student is ready to forgo materials and do math in his or her head.  More complex math lessons for children ages 3-6 years include an introduction to the decimal system with the Golden Bead Material and forming large numbers with Number Cards.  Montessori students graduate Kindergarten with a very strong foundation of mathematical ideas.

Counting Hearts

Number Cards and Counters are used by children who are ready to demonstrate that they recognize the numbers and can relate quantity to numbers.  Our students often use seasonally-themed objects to count instead of beads or discs.  These Valentine hearts nicely complemented our February holiday celebration, which is part of the fifth and final area of the classroom: Culture.

Science and Culture

The area of the classroom dedicated to Science and Cultural studies encompasses many activities, including maps, flags, calendars, and holiday celebrations, as well as the study of plants and animals, changing seasons, simple machines, and how things work.

Through the study of geography and different cultures, tolerance, grace, and curiosity are fostered and contribute to the Montessori ideal of Peace Education.  At MCA, we are fortunate to have families and staff from various cultural backgrounds across all three of our campuses.  These members of our community truly complement the study of culture when they come into the classrooms and share traditions from their home countries.

Students use Puzzle Maps to gain understanding of both physical and political geography.  This promotes curiosity about different countries and demonstrates to the children that the world is a big place!

Map Puzzle

Science exploration often overlaps cultural studies as students learn about animals and climates in the regions of the world that they are studying.  Creating a relationship with nature by observing the changing seasons, collecting natural objects to study closely, and caring for plants and animals in the classroom also shows our students that there are connections to be made across all disciplines and in their lives both inside and outside of school.

In every 3-6 classroom at The Montessori Children’s Academy, you can distinguish between Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Science and Culture areas.  When observing our students during a work cycle, you will likely see materials from each area being used diligently and appropriately.  Our teachers, who are skilled observers, determine when a child is ready to advance in a particular area to further sharpen his or her skills.  Such careful observation on the part of our teachers provides great insights into each student’s personality and learning style, and therefore allows MCA’s teachers to give each student individualized lessons that will lead to their success.  It is a very special environment indeed! The best way to learn more is to spend time in one of our classrooms.  Call us to schedule a visit:


(973) 410-9669


(973) 665-0071

Short Hills

(973) 258-1400





References for this post include:
Montessori Matters by Srs. Mary Ellen Carinato, Agnes Julia Cluxton, Anne McCarrick, Mary Motz, and Marguerite O’Connor (1973).
The Pink What? by Deede Stephenson.