Tag Archives: Maria Montessori

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and Other Good Reads for Empowering Young Women

During the month of March, MCA celebrated Women’s History Month with a special series of Facebook posts that shared different stories of women who have left their marks on history, both in America and around the world. As we were researching these amazing women, we happened upon the book Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. One of our Elementary teachers discovered a video about the origin of this wonderful book, which we’d like to share with you:

After viewing this video, we realized that Elena Favilli and Francesa Cavallo, the authors of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, were right. There was a lack of literature for young readers that featured strong female characters.  It was at that point that we decided to take action. We began researching books that would empower the girls that populate MCA’s classrooms, and our greater community. For families who are looking to open this door for their own children, Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a perfect place to begin to introduce your children to the many important contributions made by women.

A Short Review of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

Favilli and Cavallo are rebels in their own right, having taken a leap of faith in moving from Italy to Silicon Valley, California, to start their media company, Timbuktu Labs. They have put together an anthology of 100 stories of remarkable women who challenged gender stereotypes and made a positive impact on human history. I first heard about Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls in August 2016, when the authors were raising funds to publish the book online. A former classmate who works on women’s issues in Washington, D.C. shared the crowdsourcing page with me in an email. She wrote, “Maria Montessori’s story is in the book. You have to buy this book for your school!”  When I found out that this book was already on MCA’s radar, I was ecstatic. I was lucky enough to be able to borrow it from our Elementary Program’s library in Short Hills.

As I opened the book, I was met with bright, beautiful pages. Each story is accompanied by a striking illustration, with 60 different artists contributing portraits to accompany the biographies in this collection. I randomly perused the pages, admiring the artwork and stopping to read the stories of some of my personal heroes, women whose portraits I would recognize anywhere. Simply flipping through the pages of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is an experience that I am grateful that the students and teachers at MCA can have for themselves since the book is available for them to borrow from the Elementary library.

Here are a few of my favorite selections:

Intended for “Rebel girls ages 4-101,” the pages adjacent to the portraits contain one-page biographies of each of the 100 female subjects. These short biographies begin with the classic line “Once upon a time…”, indicating that the story that follows is to be cherished in a time-honored fashion. However, these stories are not fairy tales. They are the true, stirring stories of scientists, athletes, writers, and more. The collection represents women from various points in history, different parts of the globe, and across a span of ages. As a ‘bedtime story’, readers may choose to read one or several of the biographies, as they can be consumed and accessed easily in whatever amount of time is available and whenever inspiration is needed. These brief excerpts of the highlights of these women’s lives are the perfect launching pad to inspire young people to learn more details about the women and their achievements.

Empowering Reads and Where to Find Them

MCA enjoyed our Women’s History Month initiative so much, that we decided to expand the project beyond our own classrooms and our Facebook audience. We have since shared Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, as well as five other titles that celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout history, with a number of local libraries. By sharing these books, we hope that all young women in the communities that MCA serves will come to understand that they can accomplish anything they dream of doing.

The five additional “Good Reads for Empowering Young Female Readers” donated by MCA include:

  1. Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky
  2. Rad American Women A-Z: Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History by Kate Schatz
  3. Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions by Women by Catherine Thimmesh
  4. Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History by Kate Schatz
  5. Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History by Sam Maggs

These titles now can be found in the public libraries in the towns of Chatham, Florham Park, Livingston, Madison, Maplewood, Millburn, Morristown, South Orange, and West Orange. We hope that you’ll visit your local library and share and enjoy these books with the young women and the young men in your families.

Child’s Play: Why the Materials in Montessori Classrooms Are Not Called ‘Toys’

“What a beautiful classroom with such beautiful toys!” a visitor exclaimed when she entered a Montessori classroom for the first time. Her guide, the school’s Director, smiled and quickly replied, “Yes, the prepared environment is beautiful, isn’t it? The materials in the classroom were developed with very specific intentions, and if you look carefully, you’ll see that they aren’t quite ‘toys’.” The Director then led the visitor to a chair where she could sit quietly and observe the class in action. At the end of her visit, the guest met with the Director and commented, “You were right. Those beautiful materials are not toys, are they? They are wonderful learning tools!”

This experience is very common. Visitors to Montessori schools quickly come to realize that the children in the classrooms are working purposefully with very special materials that have been carefully arranged in the environment just for them. As it should be, the materials are beautiful and inviting, and they entice the children and provide them with an opportunity to experiment and explore. However, they are not toys, as we know toys to be from what we see on television and the mad marketing aimed at children by the media. Instead, the materials in Montessori classrooms have a purpose much deeper than just to amuse the children. The items set out in the classroom draw the children to them, and the materials help the children develop various sets of skills as the children engage with them.

This is part of the magic of the Montessori materials. Children are drawn to them. They learn so much and gain many skills by interacting with them, all the while finding meaningful enjoyment in the activities. To begin, let’s look at the items found in the Practical Life area of the classroom. They are child-sized versions of items children might find around the house for cooking, cleaning, and attending to daily tasks. However, the children find these fascinating! They love learning how to pour liquids from one container to another, and as they are learning this skill, they also have fun learning how to clean up spills with a sponge or a mop. They find joy in washing dishes! Unbelievably, the children delight in folding laundry! Part of the intrigue is that these are the very things they witness adults doing all around them. Imagine how proud 3- or 4-year-olds are when they can offer to help with these chores and show an adult that, indeed, they can complete the tasks! Children gain confidence and experience a feeling of importance when they see they can make a positive contribution to family life. So much is gained from learning these daily life skills—so much more than just the skill itself, and all because the children have appropriate items carefully set out for them to explore! Not many toys offer this type of benefit, and yet, the children are having fun in completing these tasks with the materials.

During your child’s birthday or special holiday, how many times have you found that the wrapping paper, bows, and boxes have been more appealing to your child than the gift that was wrapped? It’s a common complaint that parents share. Dr. Montessori in The Absorbent Mind said “[the child] is not quiet with his toys…. for more than a few minutes. The real trouble is that children have no real interest in these things, because there is no reality in them.” While every December we see shows dedicated to the “10 Hottest Toys for Tots” and advertisements warning us to “get it before it’s sold out!” we should remember those adult complaints about the packaging being more appealing than the toy itself. Dr. Montessori was spot on in her observation of children. They prefer spending time with things that have meaning or purpose. These types of activities draw the child’s focus, and he or she will use them over and over again, not toss them aside as children often do with toys. With this self-directed repetition, the children begin building concentration while at the same time experiencing joy in working with the materials. Not many toys could make that claim.

Throughout the Montessori classroom, children explore the materials that not only teach a specific skill (such as pencil grip, pattern recognition, counting, or word identification), but that also teach concentration, manual dexterity, problem-solving and much more. In addition to being multifaceted in its purpose, each material in the classroom also provides a way for the child to know whether or not he or she completed the task correctly. As Dr. Montessori noted, “The control of error through the materials makes the child use his reason, critical faculty, and his ever increasing capacity for drawing distinctions. In this way, a child’s mind is conditioned to correct his errors even when they are not apparent to the sense.” The genius of Montessori is that children very naturally learn from the materials, and the children see this as time spent on joyful activities! Toys, in general, do not offer this to children. This is why toys are often cast aside, while children can be found working with Montessori materials for long, extended periods of time.

While the materials in the classroom are often referred to as ‘work’, the ‘work’ provides the children with the opportunity to do things that they are very interested in doing and to explore their world. Montessori recognized that children thrive in a prepared environment with inviting materials that are arranged in a special order from the more simple to the more advanced. Children happily progress as they are ready and as their interest leads them from one activity to another. Because there is only one of each item in the classroom, the children must learn to wait for their turn to use something when it is available. By comparison, many homes are overflowing with toys that aren’t necessarily organized or accessible to the child—baskets or bins of toys must be emptied to find the one at the bottom, and often, the toys are a muddled mess. The wonder of the Montessori classroom is that it is carefully prepared and arranged, and children thrive in this predictable environment where they know exactly where to find what they are looking for. In Montessori classrooms, it is rare to find a child with nothing to do, and nearly impossible to hear the words ‘I’m bored’. Children, surrounded by toys in their homes, often make these complaints, much to their parents’ dismay!

We learned from Dr. Montessori that if we “Follow the child, the child will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in. The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to “learn”; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” The needs of children are met in Montessori classrooms where there is a joy in the activity, as well as a productive buzz that radiates throughout the room. Children are engaged, learning, and having fun with the materials. Dr. Montessori seemed to find the perfect solution to engaging children in meaningful activity from even the youngest age. All without the need for a cluttered mess of toys anywhere in sight. Clearly, the Montessori materials have stood the test of time over the course of these 110 years. While the packaging that the materials come in may, indeed, be fun to play with, children in Montessori schools are rapt by the materials themselves, and these materials are a great gift to them, more than any over-advertised toy you could ever find!

Are you interested in learning more about the Montessori philosophy? Request more information from The Montessori Children’s Academy below:

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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

 

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Montessori Around the World

Last spring, Montessori education made international headlines when the United Kingdom’s Prince George was enrolled at a Montessori school in England. George’s family has a history with Montessori education; his late grandmother, Princess Diana, worked in a Montessori school as a young woman. Diana later sent her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, to Montessori schools. Royalty aside, the Montessori approach has stretched across continents since Dr. Montessori first entered the classroom at Casa dei Bambini in Rome in 1907. We’d like to share with you a little bit of the story about how the Montessori philosophy made its way around the globe.

The Beginnings of the Montessori Method in Italy

The Montessori Method was born in Italy when Dr. Maria Montessori, one of the first Italian female medical school graduates, turned her interest to the field of education. Intrigued by her observations of children, Dr. Montessori began developing specialized materials to facilitate the children’s natural tendencies to explore and their desire to do things for themselves. She also worked extensively with teachers at training institutes, eventually conducting her own Montessori teacher training sessions, using the materials she developed to help teachers reach a wide range of students and promote their independent learning and growth.

The Spread of the Montessori Philosophy

After the publication of Dr. Montessori’s books The Montessori Method and Pedagogical Anthropology, the Montessori message spread beyond Italy and into England, France, Spain, Switzerland, Argentina, and the United States. Some schools adapted Dr. Montessori’s methods into their existing curricula, while other schools were being created specifically to follow the approach Dr. Montessori outlined in her books. International teacher training sessions were well attended, as more educators wanted to bring this innovative and effective approach to children in their home countries.

Due to political turmoil and the breakout of war in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, Maria Montessori lived as a political refugee in many different countries, including Spain, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. During this time, she continued to travel widely, giving lectures about her philosophy and peace education.

Maria Montessori passed away in the Netherlands in 1953, where the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), established by Dr. Montessori, remains headquartered. This is significant because the Netherlands is a country known for its culture of tolerance and its support of education. After her death, Dr. Montessori’s son, Mario, carried on his mother’s legacy, enlightening educators about the Montessori Method throughout the world.

Montessori in the United States

Some of Montessori’s earliest supporters in the United States included the likes of Alexander Graham Bell and Margaret Woodrow Wilson, daughter of the President. However, her philosophy didn’t truly strike a chord in the world of American education until the 1960s when Nancy McCormick Rambusch returned to the United States after being trained under the guidance of Mario Montessori in Europe. With Mario’s support, she later founded the American Montessori Society (AMS). A resurgence of interest in Montessori education was cultivated, and new Montessori schools began to crop up throughout the country. Today, AMS oversees thousands of schools in the United States. Montessori schools that are affiliated with AMS are held accountable for upholding the classroom standards set forth by Dr. Montessori.

Montessori Around the World Today

Today, approximately 20,000 Montessori schools serve children from birth through 18 years of age. The Montessori Method, with over 100 years of practice, is recognized worldwide as an educational approach that helps children achieve their fullest potential. Montessori schools are often the first educational choice for immigrant and expatriate families because of the international recognition of the Montessori philosophy. The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) has certainly experienced this phenomenon in recent years.

MCA’s International Community

MCA’s school community reflects the international acceptance of the Montessori philosophy. Our area is culturally diverse in part because of the many international companies headquartered here. When international families relocate, they have a desire to enroll their children in Montessori schools because the philosophy is already familiar to them. In addition to the many MCA families born and raised here in America, our schools include families from Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, India, Pakistan, China, and Australia. Due to this diversity, a celebration such as the International Day of Peace becomes even more meaningful. Diversity also allows our students to expand their knowledge of different cultures and traditions, which we believe will encourage them to grow into tolerant, responsible, and informed global citizens.

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Notes and sources for this post:

The Montessori Children’s Academy is an AMS member school and the Montessori Center for Teacher Development is our Teacher Education Program that is fully affiliated by AMS and accredited by the Montessori Accreditation Council for Teacher Education (MACTE).

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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.