Tag Archives: Early Childhood Education

The Language of Montessori


By:  Alex Chiu

If your family is new to Montessori, you might think you hear your child speaking a ‘new language’ when he or she returns home from school each day. As the children are learning their new classroom routines, they are also learning some of the terminology unique to Montessori. In order to help you ‘translate’ some of the new phrases that might be coming home, we’ve put together a brief list of common terms you may encounter as you begin your Montessori journey.

The Prepared Environment: This is your child’s classroom. However, the Montessori classroom is specifically and meticulously arranged in such a way as to provide teaching opportunities at every turn. Organized by areas of learning, your child’s prepared environment at MCA includes the full complement of beautiful Montessori materials designed to facilitate learning and exploration in the areas of Math, Language, Sensorial, Practical Life, and Culture/Science. Teachers thoughtfully place the materials, furniture, rugs, and adornments with the children’s needs in mind. You’ll notice that the furniture is just the right size for the children and that artwork is hung at the child’s eye level. The classroom is set up to facilitate independent and group learning, and to offer children a safe, comfortable space in which to grow and learn.

Work: This is the term used for the activities the children engage in at school. Montessori ‘work’ includes all of the meaningful, beautiful materials the children will receive lessons on and then may choose from the classroom shelves while they are at school. At home you might ask your child, “What work did you choose today?”

Normalization: As defined on the American Montessori Society website, “normalization” refers to “A natural or “normal” developmental process marked by a love of work or activity, concentration, self-discipline, and joy in accomplishment. Dr. Montessori observed that the normalization process is characteristic of human beings at any age.” In Montessori schools, the beginning of the year focuses on the activities and skills that lead to a ‘normalized’ classroom in which students understand the expectations and are able to function in the classroom independently and successfully.

Grace and Courtesy: Part of the “normalization” process at the beginning of the school year involves a big focus on “grace and courtesy” in Montessori classrooms. Teachers model and then have students practice using simple courteous phrases such as “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”. Students learn the polite way to ask for help or to get someone’s attention. They learn how to walk around the work rugs of their classmates so as to not disturb them. They learn how to stand in a line or how to sit at circle without interfering with the physical space of their friends. These lessons are the fundamentals of a functioning classroom, and Montessori students learn them quickly and wonderfully!

Work Rug or Work Mat: Students define their work space in the classroom by using a work rug or mat. This keeps the materials contained and safe, and it also designates the area for the child’s activities. Other children learn to walk carefully around the work rugs or mats of their classmates. Your child may also use a special work mat at a table, especially when working with water or paint. The tablemat also contains the work to a specific area and helps in the cleanup of the work area as well.

Three-Period Lesson: When a student is introduced to a new concept for the first time, he or she is given a three-period lesson.

The first period is naming. Using the Montessori materials, the teacher first tells the child the name of or provides the specific vocabulary for the new concept. The teacher will say “This is a cube” or “This is a circle”.

The second period is recognition after being given the vocabulary. The teacher next will use the material in some manner, and then invite the child to show what was just named. For example, the teacher might say to the child “Show me the cube” or “Show me the circle”. The child is required only to recognize and identify the newly learned item.

The third period is when the child is able to provide the vocabulary spontaneously, showing mastery. In the third period, the teacher will ask the child to provide the vocabulary for the new concept. The teacher will ask, “What is this?” and the child is expected to give the name (e.g., “This is a cube” or “This is a circle”).

Note that a child may not reach the third period right away—a lesson may require several attempts over the course of time for a child to be able to master the third period and identify and provide the vocabulary of a new concept.

Work Cycle: Montessori students are given a wonderful gift of time called the “work cycle” during their school day. The work cycle is a long, uninterrupted work time during which the children may choose their activities and then spend time doing those activities for as long and as often as they wish. Montessori education understands that children need time to make choices, complete tasks, repeat tasks, and engage in their learning. During the work cycle, the child may complete many independent tasks, work with a teacher one-on-one, or do activities with a friend or in a small group—all productive and important components of the school session.

Practical Life: Especially at the beginning of the school year, the Practical Life area of the classroom is the most used and most popular. It is in this area that children learn the fundamentals used across all areas of the Montessori classroom. In Practical Life, they learn the steps for selecting work, taking the work from the shelf to the work space, organizing the work, performing the tasks, completing the work, and returning the work to the shelf so it is ready for the next person.

Practical Life activities involve a great deal of fine motor control, concentration, patience, and motivation to complete. Each activity assists the child in developing necessary everyday life skills from dressing to cleaning to preparing food, etc. As adults, we often take these skills for granted, but in Montessori classrooms, we know they are learned skills that promote learning across all areas!

Pincer Grip or Pincer Grasp: While not a uniquely Montessori term, children develop their pincer grip as they perform a multitude of tasks across the Montessori curriculum. The pincer grip is the combination of the thumb and forefinger working together to manipulate, move, or grasp an item.

Sensorial: The colorful and inviting Sensorial area is where children develop a heightened awareness of their five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Children also develop understanding of size, space, and sequence, and the Sensorial materials provide a foundation for the Math and Language academic areas. The popular Pink Tower, an iconic Montessori material, is just one example of the Sensorial work your child might choose, building the tower from the biggest pink cube (which is 1 cubic decimeter) to the smallest pink cube (which is 1 cubic centimeter).

Control of Error: Because the child is encouraged to explore and learn at his or her own pace, the Montessori materials have a built in ‘control of error’ that lets the child know whether or not he or she has completed the work correctly. For example, if a child is learning to pour water from one small pitcher into another, the control of error is if the water spills. The child can see his or her success in completing the task without any interference from the teacher. If there is a spill, the child has learned already how to clean it up. Then, he or she can make another attempt at pouring, and another, until he or she pours without one drop spilled. Imagine the satisfaction felt after achieving that goal!

Circle: Again, this is not a uniquely Montessori term, but one that often is used in Montessori classrooms. Circle time refers to the time of day when the entire class of children come together with their teacher(s) and sit (usually in a circle) to listen to stories, sing songs, observe a group lesson, or do some other all-class activity.

Absorbent Mind: As defined on the American Montessori Society website, the “absorbent mind” is the time when “From birth through approximately age 6, the young child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows her to “absorb” learning from her environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously”.

If you encounter a Montessori term that is new and would like to learn more, or if you’re interested in gathering more information about Dr. Maria Montessori or the Montessori philosophy, you might enjoy reading some of the following books:

A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom by Aline D. Wolf
Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work by E.M. Standing
Montessori: A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Lillard
Understanding Montessori: A Guide for Parents by Maren Schmidt and Dana Schmidt
Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education by Trevor Eissler
The Absorbent Mind by Dr. Maria Montessori

 

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!

What (Not) to Wear

 

By: Alex Chiu

Many parents anticipate that perfect “first day of school” photo with their children wearing fresh, new outfits, slinging those bright new backpacks over their shoulders, and smiling as they exit the front door ready to start a new school year. Before you begin your back-to-school shopping however, teachers (and especially preschool teachers) would love to offer some advice on what clothing choices are most appropriate for children to wear to school.

Choose clothing that allows freedom of movement
First, parents should consider their children’s daily school activities. Especially in a Montessori environment, children move a LOT. The clothing they wear should allow for comfort and freedom of movement, both in the classroom and out on the playground. Remember, Montessori work can take place either at a table or on the floor. Clothing that allows for sitting ‘criss cross applesauce’ is important!

Choose clothing that is ‘worry-free’
In addition to being comfortable and allowing freedom of movement, clothing at school should be ‘worry-free’. Montessori children work with water, soil, plants, paint, sand, and many other potentially messy supplies. While one of the goals is for children to use the materials purposefully and to be able to master using them without excessive spills, the reality is that spills happen. Often. Montessori education is prepared for that, which is why children also learn the important skills of cleaning up after their messes! However, children are much more likely to participate in all areas of the classroom uninhibited if they aren’t worried about staining a new dress or scuffing nice dressy shoes. They are then free to explore the environment and learn skills across all of the classroom’s offerings.

Choose clothing that encourages independence and safety
Just as many professions have a dress code for professionalism and safety, classrooms also encourage a dress code that is geared toward keeping students focused on what’s important and safe. For younger children who are learning to use the bathroom independently, a proper school wardrobe might include pants that are easy to pull on and off independently. While belts are fashionable, they may not be the best choice for success in toilet training! Similarly, in order for children to feel safe and successful on the playground, consider your child’s footwear. Sneakers or other closed-toe and rubber-soled shoes are the wise choice. These types of shoes allow children to climb and run more safely, and they don’t prohibit children from participating in activities in the gym or on the playground equipment.

Provide your child with time to learn the skills needed for dressing him or herself
Finally, as you assemble your child’s school wardrobe, allow your child to practice zipping the zippers, buttoning the buttons, snapping the snaps, and hooking the eyehooks. As adults, we may forget that these are skills that are learned and require practice. Provide your child with enough time when dressing to complete these tasks on his or her own or with minimal help from you. Then, send your child off to school to do his or her work with no worries about wardrobe and dressed for success!

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!

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