Tag Archives: Education

Preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences

By Alex Chiu

By the month of November, students are well into their school routines. They have learned the classroom rules and guidelines, refreshed their memories after a summer off from school, likely made some new friends, and are deep into their new learning. This is why November is often the time of year when schools will schedule their Parent/Teacher Conferences. It’s a perfect time for teachers to connect with parents to share their observations about their students, and it’s the opportune time for parents to glean some insights into how their children are performing in school both academically and socially.

Prior to conference season, teachers take a great deal of time to prepare for their upcoming meetings with parents. They may work with the students individually for the most up-to-date assessments of certain skills, they will take more time observing the children as they interact with peers in the classroom and on the playground, and they will collect any important and pertinent information for students, which depending on the child and the school, may include support services reports, samples of student work, or additional notes.

Montessori teachers have an edge in preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences because a large part of their training specifically focuses on observation in the classroom. Montessori teachers learn and practice the art of observing how their students work and interact, using their observations to drive which lessons to present to which children, which materials to rotate, and which parts of the environment to adjust to meet the children’s needs. Therefore, parents of Montessori students can be assured that at their conferences, they will learn quite a bit about how their children function at school and what they might be able to do at home to bridge the school to home learning.

For parents with children in school for the first time, we’ve gathered some information to help you prepare for your first Parent/Teacher Conference. For ‘veteran’ parents, these reminders may help you get the most out of your conferences this year.

At your conference, you can expect to learn about your child’s:

1. Recent academic progress.
2. Behavioral development as observed by the teacher since September.
3. Social interactions and development in the classroom.
4. Strengths and challenges within the classroom.

During the conference, you can help your child’s teacher learn more about your child by:

1. Describing your child’s attitude towards school.
2. Sharing anything that currently may be impacting your child’s academic or social progress (e.g., family illness, move to a new home, other family changes or potential stressors).
3. Discussing what you see as your child’s strengths and challenges.
4. Providing information about any special interests/activities your child has outside of school, so as to help your child’s teacher get to know a little more about your child.

What parents can do to prepare for and help facilitate a smooth conference:

1. Bring a list of questions you may have or topics you would like to discuss, keeping in mind the time allotted for your conference. Prioritize your list.
2. Ask your child if there is anything he or she would like to discuss with the teacher and share his or her comments with the teacher.
3. Come prepared to listen and take notes.
4. Ask to see samples of your child’s work or which Montessori materials he or she has been using.
5. Ask what you can do at home to help your child with academic, social, and emotional development. Inquire if the teacher has any community references that may be helpful to your family.
6. Be respectful of the time. If you have more questions than time allows for, do ask for a follow-up meeting at a later date. Communication with your child’s teacher can and should continue beyond the conference as needed.

Parent/Teacher Conferences are a wonderful opportunity to learn about what a typical day at school is like for your child, develop stronger connections with your child’s teacher, and gain insights into your child’s development. By participating in these conferences, you are showing your child that you are interested in what happens at school. You also are modeling the importance of open communication, and you are building the bridge between home and school to promote your child’s success as a student.

Happy conferencing!


graphic credit: http://rlv.zcache.com/parent_teacher_conference_stickers_bright_leaves-rccdfe977e8404e3db9c5b4a5b6353c81_v9wxo_8byvr_324.jpg

Avoiding Homework Headaches

By Alex Chiu
Contributors: Debbie Currey, Alisa Jones, and Jacquelyn Kernaghan

Homework. This may be one of the most dreaded words in a student’s vocabulary–perhaps in a parent’s vocabulary, too—but it doesn’t have to be! It’s time to take a look at the purpose of homework and to think about how it can make a meaningful impact on your child’s learning and your family’s after-school routine.

While some schools give an excess of work to take home and others give none at all, at MCA, we look to find a balance that is beneficial to students and their families. When we asked some of our MCA Kindergarten and Elementary teachers what they wanted families to know about homework, we found a common theme in their responses:

The Benefits of Homework

Homework reinforces learning introduced in class.

Homework is a way for students to make a link between prior learning and new learning.

Homework builds a student’s skills and confidence in different subject areas.

Homework teaches responsibility as the student is responsible for completing and turning in assignments.

Homework assists students in developing time management skills and creating routines.

Homework provides teachers with a way to check if their students understand what they’ve learned, and if they don’t, it offers students the opportunity to bring questions in to school for further discussion with the class.

Homework offers students the opportunity to practice following instructions.

Homework is a way for students to share what they’ve learned at school with their families at home.

What homework is NOT:

Homework is never intended to be a punishment.

Homework may not take the same amount of time every day. Multiple assignments may be spread out over the course of a number of days or weeks, and certain homework assignments may take longer than others. Some students may choose to spend a longer amount of time on special creative projects. However, especially in the younger grades, homework should not take an extraordinarily long amount of time to complete. The average amount of time for younger students to spend on daily homework is 30 minutes. The message to students should be that ‘homework is finished when you have completed your assignments and are satisfied with the work you have completed’.

Homework is not the parents’ responsibility.

Homework is not meant to be stressful for students OR parents!

What families can do to avoid homework headaches and facilitate homework success:

Establish a homework routine: If a child knows in advance that a specific time is already set aside to complete homework or to review schoolwork, he or she will be less likely to balk at it. Whether it is when they get home from school, before supper, or after their bath, consistency will help your children know what is expected of them and when. They come to understand that homework, like everything else, has its place in the family schedule.

Create a homework sanctuary: Equally important to developing a schedule is creating a place for your children to do their work. Set up a spot where your child will not be distracted by electronics or others in the house, and where they will be able to find everything they need for their work. Choose a space that is well-lit, relatively quiet, and spacious enough for your child to spread out his or her notebooks and papers. Also, acknowledge that different types of homework could allow for a change in scenery or routine. For example, if your child has to read from a chapter book and it’s a beautiful day outside, that reading certainly could take place in the backyard—what a wonderful way to enjoy homework!

Provide the basic tools for homework: Keep necessary supplies handy in a place that your child can easily access. Designate a special shelf or drawer to house pencils, erasers, paper, index cards, a hole punch, markers, and a stapler for your child to retrieve when needed.

Be present, but don’t intrude: Parents are not expected to sit with their children and do their work with them. However, you might ask for a general overview of what homework needs to be done, and perhaps help your child create a plan or order in which to do the assignments for that day. Make yourself available for questions, but remember to let your children come up with their own solutions. Finally, it’s appropriate to check in on your child’s work once completed, but try to resist making changes. Instead, you might ask your child to recheck a math problem or think about what else he or she could add to a story. Again, homework is the child’s work.

Plan ahead: If your child’s teacher has set days when homework is assigned and expected to be returned, then help your child plan out how best to use his or her time to get it done when it’s due. Prioritize what is due earliest, and work with your child to create a schedule for working on long-term assignments in short pieces over time.

Be a homework role model: Some parents have had great success in helping their children simply by modeling doing work at the same time. Maybe while your child does his or her schoolwork, you can be sitting nearby paying the bills, attending to emails, or doing other homework of your own.

Incorporate mini-breaks into the homework routine: If your children’s homework requires them to sit and stay on task longer than they are able to, encourage them to get up and move after sitting for a length of time. Put on a favorite song and dance for 3 minutes. Do laps around the kitchen table. Play fetch three times with the dog. Once your child has had a few minutes of movement, he or she may be better able to focus on the next sit-down task.

Know when to call it a night: Sometimes your child just cannot get through an assignment. Maybe he or she isn’t feeling well. Maybe there was a special event that took time away from the usual schedule. Maybe everyone is just TIRED. Under those conditions, whatever attempt at homework is sure to be a poor one. Perhaps the best use of time would be to cozy up and read a book together or simply go to bed. Knowing when to say ‘we’re done for tonight’ is important. Maybe this is the rare time your child speaks with the teacher about just not having his or her homework completed. Note, this would be the exception and not the rule, especially if you have created a homework plan when assignments are first given. If this type of situation starts to happen frequently, it might be time to reassess your family’s schedule or your child’s feelings about homework.

Communicate with your child’s teacher: If your child struggles with homework or has difficulty sticking to a homework routine, reach out to your child’s teacher. Teachers have great insights into how their students work at school and might be able to provide further suggestions on making homework run more smoothly for your family!

As the school year ramps up, so may your child’s homework. If you take a little time to remember the value of homework and to create a plan with your child, hopefully you will all avoid any homework headaches and have a successful school year!

Image credit: https://cdn.pixabay.com/photo/2017/08/25/16/58/back-to-school-2680730_960_720.jpg

What is Montessori, Montessori classroom, Montessori preschools

The Prepared Environment

Be prepared!  This is the motto for scouting organizations worldwide.  Maria Montessori would have a said “Si Preparato!” in her native Italian tongue.  And this is the message that Dr. Montessori shared with educators as she created her Casa di Bambini for the children she first taught.  Providing a carefully prepared environment, in addition to well-prepared teachers, is the tradition Montessori schools uphold today and remains one of the essential elements that makes this method of education successful for the millions of Montessori students worldwide.

Dr. Montessori believed that the school environment best served children if it was welcoming and felt like a home.  Casa di Bambini literally translates to ‘house for children’, and her school was designed with the needs of the children at the forefront.  In his biography of Dr. Montessori, Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, E. M. Standing tells us that “…realizing the peculiarly absorbent nature of the child’s mind, she has prepared for him a special environment; and, then, placing the child within it, has given him the freedom to live in it, absorbing what he finds there” (p.265).  The environment provides the framework that allows the children’s curiosity, confidence, and spontaneous learning to unfold.  It is central to Montessori education, and the environment is the first thing which makes an impact not only on Montessori students, but on visitors to Montessori schools, as well.

Walking into a classroom at The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA), the first comment from guests touring the school is often to say how beautiful it is.  It is a carefully prepared, beautiful, organized environment filled with an abundance of the highest quality Montessori materials.  The natural wooden shelves display an array of neatly arranged, attractive materials.  The shelves and materials are organized by area of study, including Math, Cultural Subjects, Language, Sensorial, and Practical Life.  The child-sized furniture is carefully placed to promote both independent work spaces, as well as places where children may sit together to work and socialize.  There is a cozy place to read, a well-lit area to create artwork at an easel, and plenty of opportunity for controlled movement throughout the room.

Every component of the Montessori classroom has a purpose.  The unique materials created by Dr. Montessori grow with the children through various stages of development, as the children are ready to proceed.  The classroom and materials are organized carefully and in sequential order, providing another aspect to the children’s development and learning.  Materials of advancing degrees are placed left to right and top to bottom, just as we read text from left to right and top to bottom.  Children are taught from the start where each particular material belongs, and they learn to return each item to its proper place after they are finished using it.  This keeps things predictable for the children, and they know where to go to find what they need very quickly.

The environment and the materials within it provide the children with choices, and they allow the children to experiment and to learn with their special ‘control of error’.  If a child doesn’t carry the material carefully from the shelf to the table or workspace on the floor, it may spill.  There is no punishment involved in that—instead the child learns how to clean it up and put it back in order.  Similarly, Dr. Montessori’s materials are created as ‘self-correcting’.  The child will easily see whether or not he or she has used them in an appropriate fashion, and the child will learn inherently from his or her mistakes.  This is incredibly careful preparation, and it allows children to take on challenges without feeling fear of failure.  Instead, the environment promotes positive risk-taking and fosters innate encouragement for the child to succeed through his or her repeated experiences with the materials.

In addition to the academic materials, careful consideration is taken in placing furniture, decorations, and other components of the classroom.  Montessori classrooms allow children to work at tables or on the floor.  The furniture and shelves are arranged with purpose to allow children to navigate their way around the classroom and to practice “grace and courtesy” and self-control.  Artwork is placed at the children’s eye-level, not the adults, because after all, the classroom is for the children.  Generally, the artwork displayed is that of well-known artists, and it reflects the best examples of a variety of types of art or enhances a current class study of a particular artist.  Living plants not only bring elements of nature into the classroom, but they also provide the children with the opportunity to learn responsibility for their care.  Montessori classrooms usually contain a Peace Table (or Peace Area) where children may sit and meditate over natural objects, forming designs in a sand tray, building a small tower with smooth stones, or looking at symbols of peace, such as a wooden carving of a dove.

This beautiful, carefully prepared environment is an outward, physical example of the beautiful, carefully prepared education Montessori students receive.  Montessori teachers prepare their classrooms with the knowledge that children respond to beauty and order.  Of course, the final element to the prepared environment is the prepared Montessori teacher or guide who has created this place where children can feel at home, feel secure in taking risks, feel challenged, and are excited about learning each and every day.

In her book Education and Peace, Dr. Montessori said, “There is a constant interaction between the individual and the environment.  The use of things shapes man, and man shapes things.  This reciprocal sharing is a manifestation of man’s love for his surroundings.  Harmonious interaction – when it exists, as in the child, represents the normal relationship that should exist between the individual and his surroundings.  And this relationship is one of love.” (p.57)  At the Montessori Children’s Academy, the teachers and children all share in a deep love of learning as they continue their Montessori journey together each day, prepared for a variety of daily adventures in their beautifully, carefully prepared Montessori environment.

Seven Extra Hours

By: Alex Chiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Few Tips for Monitoring Media Usage at Home

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




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

American Academy of Pediatrics www.aap.org

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

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

Center on Media and Child Health www.cmch.tv

Solutions for your Life http://solutionsforyourlife.com


MCA Book Club Inspires Summer Reading List

By: Alex Chiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A parent participating in our Book Club commented:

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

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

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