Tag Archives: grace and courtesy

Nurturing the Spirit of Charity and Goodwill

By Alex Chiu

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “charity” as “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” and “generosity and helpfulness, especially toward the needy or suffering”. We seem to hear more from charities during this time of year, with Salvation Army bell ringers on every corner and more envelopes than we can carry from the mailbox requesting donations for various groups. It is in December when more people are inclined to volunteer or make a contribution, opening their hearts and wallets a little more easily.

No doubt, we all feel a little lighter when we’ve done something to help someone else. Scientific studies have shown that volunteering and making charitable contributions of time or money can affect how we feel—people who are charitable tend to be happier, and even, according to some studies, healthier. So, if it makes us feel good to help others, why so often, do we set aside the needs of others until December rolls around? How do we keep this spirit of charity and goodwill alive throughout the year not only within ourselves, but in our children?

Think about that first Merriam-Webster definition again. In what ways do we foster “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity” at home? First, it comes from how we treat our own family members, showing respect through our words and actions at home. We then must have the same expectation of our children to show respect to us, their siblings, and other relatives. Words do matter. So do actions. When our children see and then emulate respect at home, this then naturally trickles into their interactions with friends, neighbors, store clerks, classmates, teachers, colleagues, etc. For Montessori students, it’s reinforced daily with Grace and Courtesy lessons as well. In addition, as Maria Montessori herself said, “There is a great sense of community within the Montessori classroom, where children of differing ages work together in an atmosphere of cooperation rather than competitiveness. There is respect for the environment and for the individuals within it, which comes through experience of freedom within the community.” The Montessori classroom is an extension of that environment of respect which is developed in the home.

Next, think about the second part of the definition: “generosity and helpfulness, especially toward the needy or suffering”. Again, as the old adage acclaims “Charity begins at home”. How can your child show generosity and helpfulness at home? Very simply, they can do this by participating in the necessary tasks of daily life—tidying up, helping with mealtimes, sharing with siblings, or offering to do something for someone else who may be tired or busy. Parents who model this type of generosity and helpfulness, and who encourage their children to follow suit, have already laid the foundation for spreading that goodwill beyond their homes, where their children will realize that their acts of charity, however big or small, can benefit ‘the needy or suffering’, too.

This year, it’s been impossible to ignore the many needs of people suffering both in our own country and around the world. The many natural disasters, resulting in fires and flooding, have devastated so many areas near and far. Sometimes, even for adults, seeing the news repeat the details of such events can be overwhelmingly sad and disheartening. However, as we have seen with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, these disasters have actually brought people together working for the common good. And even our youngest children can learn that there are ways that they can help.

At The Montessori Children’s Academy, we recently held Bake Sales at each of our campuses, with all of the proceeds benefiting Montessori schools affected by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The students learned about how the schools were damaged, and class discussions led by the teachers allowed the children to process what it must be like for children just like them to not be able to go to school following such a strong storm. The empathy of the students permeated into their beautiful posters which were displayed at the Bake Sales, and the overwhelming response of parents, teachers, and administrative staff to contribute items as well as purchase them to support this great cause was heartwarming. In all, MCA raised more than $3,000 to support Instituto Nueva Escuela in its efforts to provide disaster relief to Montessori schools and their families in Puerto Rico!

In addition, MCA annually chooses an organization to support through various charitable endeavors throughout the entire school year. This year, we are supporting Paws of War. From September through June, our MCA students will learn about this organization and participate in several activities in the hopes of raising awareness, as well as funds, for the good work that they do. Earlier this fall, the students were treated to an in-school assembly where a Paws of War representative shared information about how the organization trains rescue dogs to become supportive service dogs to military veterans. The children had the opportunity to meet one veteran and his canine partner, and they learned firsthand how this partnership has improved the life of both the rescued dog and the serviceman. Doubly good work! Over the course of the next several months, MCA students will continue to learn about the programs and brainstorm other ways they would like to help.

At home, children learn respect and the value of helping family members. In school, there is a natural extension of this in the multi-age Montessori classrooms, where students help one another every day. Our Montessori children quickly come to learn that it feels good to help others. As a school that promotes awareness of a different charity each school year, our students also learn about the variety of larger needs in our communities. Whether it is by helping a classmate tie his or her shoelaces, making posters for a bake sale, or collecting money to support an organization such as Paws of War, they see that there are so many ways they can contribute to their communities and help others each and every day. And when a sudden disaster strikes, such as the hurricanes of this past fall, they see that their school families can combine efforts to help with those needs as well. Charity then is something that becomes a natural part of the children’s lives. Most importantly, they see that charity isn’t a one-time, December event. The children find that charity comes in the words and actions that they share daily, showing their “benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity”.

This holiday season, everyone at
The Montessori Children’s Academy

extends our warmest wishes for
Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All!

*For more information about or to make a contribution to Paws of War, please visit their website www.pawsofwar.org. For more information about Instituto Nueva Escuela, please visit www.en-inepr.weebly.com and the GoFundMe page https://www.gofundme.com/puerto-rico-montessori2montessori to help support the disaster relief efforts for the Montessori community in Puerto Rico.

A Practical (Life) Thanksgiving

 

By Alex Chiu

Thanksgiving is just the holiday for making connections between home and your child’s Montessori school experience. With the number of preparations involved, it’s wonderful to have extra hands helping with all of the details, and your children have a great deal to offer as helpers. Since September, they have been refining many of the skills needed to pull off a perfect Thanksgiving holiday for family and friends. Invite your child to participate in the planning and preparation. They will take pride in and feel great satisfaction in being able to contribute, and you’ll be grateful for the extra help in getting things done!

Before the Big Day

Clean: As you begin your household chores, consider what tasks can be done by your child. At school, Montessori students practice folding cloths, scrubbing tables, washing dishes, sweeping, cleaning the leaves of plants, rolling rugs, and pushing in chairs, just to name a few. See what needs to be done around the house before company arrives, and then invite your child to take on one or more of the chores that he or she can be successful in completing. Simple chores such as putting clean hand towels in the guest bathroom, organizing their toys, or pushing in the chairs around the dining room table allow even the youngest children to feel like they are making a contribution to the festivities.

Decorate: Montessori students have ample opportunity to be creative with a variety of art supplies at school. Charge your children with the task of creating table centerpieces. Encourage them to take a nature walk and collect items to use in their creations. They may also enjoy making place cards for your dinner guests. Provide them with colored paper, scissors, colored pencils, and the list of guests. To welcome visitors, you might like to spend time together making a welcoming wreath for your front door. Using a wire or grapevine wreath frame available at most any craft or dollar store, use clothespins to attach favorite photos or items from nature, or tie strips of different colored ribbons around the frame.

Set the Table: Your children are already old hands at setting the table by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. They have been setting up their lunch spaces since the start of school, and many classrooms have likely set out a “table setting” work on the Practical Life shelf, showing the proper placement of forks, knives, spoons, and napkins. If your dishes are too fragile, work together. Let your child set out the napkins and utensils while you set out the dishes and glassware. And remember to have your child count while doing this chore. How many people are coming? How many of each item will we need? How many utensils will be on the table in all? Learning opportunities across disciplines abound in this preparation work!

Thanksgiving Day

Help with Food Prep: Food prep is often a favorite activity for Montessori students. They become young experts in peeling, chopping, pouring, and so much more. Allow your child to help with measuring and mixing, slicing (with a child-safe kitchen tool) and washing, or pouring and peeling. Remind your child to wash hands prior to doing any food prep, and provide some guidance, but be prepared to be surprised at how well they can manage many tasks in the kitchen!

Practice Grace and Courtesy: Prior to the arrival of your guests, coach your child in some of the social graces you expect of them. You might have your child collect coats as guests arrive or provide newcomers with a small tour of the main level of the house. Have your child introduce guests to one another, and practice some ‘conversation starters’ for your child to use. Share some memories about family and friends who will be joining you for the celebration, or put out some photo albums for your child to peruse with guests as a springboard to hearing old stories and making new lasting memories. At the dinner table, include your child in conversations by asking open-ended questions or encouraging your child to share some stories about school, friends, or special events.

Clean Up: Just as with setting the table, your children can easily assist with certain clean up jobs. Ask them to help clear dishes, wipe counters, or push in chairs. Transferring leftover items from serving dishes into storage containers is a great job for children to do. Whatever the task, allow your child to do the job to the best of his or her ability, and enjoy having the help!

When everyone is full, when all the work is complete, and when the busy-ness of the day winds down, take a few moments to reflect on all of the hard work that was done in order to create a special day for everyone to enjoy. Think about the ways in which your child was able to help and how he or she is growing, developing new skills, and gaining independence. Maria Montessori once said that “Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.” So before the day is done, share your reflections with your child, and remember to give thanks for it all!

 

Photo Credit:  http://farm3.staticflickr.com/2677/4104214861_9f3e18b225_z.jpg

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

 

Sunshine, Summertime, and Social Skills?

By: Alex Chiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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.