Tag Archives: early learning

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!

Montessori Childrens Academy

Classrooms Filled With Character

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

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

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

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

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

 

A Joyful Start to the Montessori Journey with MMC&M

By: Camilla Nichols-Uhler and Alex Chiu

This fall, The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) proudly launched an exciting new program called Montessori, My Child, & Me (MMC&M).  Designed for children ages 18-30 months, this program offers young children the opportunity to explore a modified Montessori environment with their parents or caregivers.  MMC&M also provides the adults with an opportunity to learn about Montessori education and to see firsthand how it benefits children.

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MMC&M sessions are 1 ½ hours once a week for eight weeks and are held in a classroom specifically designed for this younger age group.  The classroom is a beautiful, welcoming environment equipped with specially designed furniture and materials that are the appropriate size for little arms and legs.  Everything in the classroom is of the highest quality, obtained from renowned companies such as Hello Wood in Rickman, Tennessee and Community Playthings in Ulster Park, NY.

During each class meeting, the children and adults are introduced to a sampling of age-appropriate Montessori materials from each of the five main learning areas found in a typical Montessori classroom: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math, and Culture.  However, the materials for the MMC&M classroom are adapted to meet the distinct needs and abilities of the young children in this special program.

One example of a lesson modified for MMC&M participants is the Pink Tower from the Sensorial area.  In the MMC&M classroom, the tower contains five cubes for our little explorers to use in order to build the tower from the largest cube at the bottom to the smallest cube at the top.  In our MCA 3-6-year-old classrooms, the Pink Tower contains ten cubes, and the children learn to transfer one cube at a time from the shelf to their workspace.  As children use this material, they gain a sense of sequence and order.  When they are finished, they return the Pink Tower to its place in the classroom and arrange it in the same way that they found it when they began their work.  This way it is ready for the next person to use.

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As our youngest MMC&M students began to learn the process for using the smaller version of the Pink Tower, the adults observed that this activity is so much more than what it appears to be on the surface.  Many of the parents and adult caregivers marveled at how the children were able to follow directions, concentrate on the activity, and put away the materials in the appropriate place when they were finished!  This is just one example of how Montessori engages the whole child in each activity.  Gaining skills in independence, small and large muscle control, planning, and care of materials all are the essence of this seemingly simple lesson.  And as our adults observed, even the youngest children can be successful when given the guidance and opportunity to take on new challenges!

In addition to using a sampling of modified Montessori materials, the MMC&M children and adults participate in music, movement, art, and yoga activities under the guidance of a certified Montessori Head Teacher.  Movement is an important aspect of the Montessori environment.  Studies have shown that children engaged in movement while learning are able to retain information more easily.  In Montessori classrooms, the children often are moving to choose and complete their work.  Movement provides time to release energy, to think, and to plan.

Within the MMC&M classroom, children have many opportunities to move and to develop their large motor skills as they crawl through a tunnel, push a carpet sweeper, or balance a wooden wheel on a yellow line.  The MMC&M children also practice yoga poses and participate in a variety of songs and games that allow them to move their bodies in controlled, purposeful ways.  At the same time, they are having quite a lot of fun!

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And it’s not only the children who benefit from participating in the MMC&M program. The adults also glean a great deal of knowledge not only about Montessori but also about their own children. By welcoming parents and caregivers into the prepared Montessori environment and guiding them while their children explore the materials, the adults are given the opportunity to see their children through a different lens.  This allows them to come to a deeper understanding of their children’s needs and unique capabilities.

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During the course of the morning, the parents and caregivers are invited to visit the cozy adult area that offers a comfy couch, lounge chairs, and a coffee table. There, with a cup of coffee or tea, they can sit back and observe the classroom in action.  Past participants have told us that by taking note of how the classroom is organized and seeing the types of child-sized tools we provide, they have learned how they can model the Montessori layout in order to promote their children’s independence at home.  There are some simple things parents can do to adapt the kitchen, bathroom, and child’s bedroom to facilitate more practice with important daily life skills.  As Dr. Montessori once said, “The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self”. By modeling the Montessori environment at home, parents give their children the gift of independence, as well as a sense of pride in being able to do things for themselves.

The adults in our MMC&M program also have the opportunity to peruse Montessori resources, including books and articles related to the Montessori philosophy and methodology, and to read a collection of parent testimonials from current and former Montessori parents. Through observation and in conjunction with the parent education materials provided and guidance by the Head Teacher, the adults can witness how the Montessori environment addresses the needs of the children and fosters their natural curiosity, making learning meaningful and fun! They can also begin to build a bridge between home and school by implementing what they see in the MMC&M classroom in their own homes and family routines, which is one of the main goals of the program.

The Montessori Children’s Academy plans to expand the successful Montessori, My Child, & Me program in the future so that it is available at all three of our campuses—Morristown, Chatham, and Short Hills.  We are excited to offer even more parents the opportunity to join our community and to embark on a beautiful Montessori journey together with their children.

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“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth. From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth.”  ~ Maria Montessori