Tag Archives: Montessori environment

The Gifts of a Montessori Education

By Alex Chiu

During this busy holiday season, many people find themselves frantically searching for ‘that perfect gift’. They are looking for the right size, color, and fit. Or they are trying to find something unique and one-of-a-kind. Some parents have their children write out wish lists of items they are hoping to receive, in order to be sure to select just the right thing. However, if we look beyond the clothes, toys, games, and gadgets, there are some incredible gifts that our children receive every day in the form of their Montessori education. Let’s unwrap some of the ‘gifts of Montessori’.

Montessori students are given:

A Beautifully Prepared Environment
From the moment children enter the classroom, they are welcomed into a carefully prepared environment that has been created especially for them. Child-sized furniture allows them to sit comfortably and with correct, safe posture. The beautiful Montessori materials, designed in specific inviting colors and crafted with care, are organized sequentially so that children may work with them and build on their growing skills from one material to the next. Items are placed where children can easily access them, and artwork is hung at the child’s eye level for their enjoyment and appreciation. Everything in the classroom has a purpose in further developing the child while at the same time welcoming them into a comfortable, aesthetically pleasing, home-like environment in which they can grow, learn, and thrive.

The Guidance of a Carefully Trained Teacher
Montessori teachers undergo many hours of training as they learn the purpose and practice of using the various Montessori materials in the areas of Language, Math, Sensorial, Practical Life, and Cultural Studies. In addition, they practice the art of observation, a key component of teaching in Montessori. Their keen observations of their students drive teachers to modify the environment make decisions about which lessons to present, and continuously work to maintain a productive, engaging, inspiring classroom environment for their students. Montessori teachers are passionate about their calling to be in the classroom.

A Global Perspective
Perhaps we could say that Montessori students are given the world. The Cultural Studies area introduces children to geography, cultures and traditions from around the world, and fundamental, basic human needs. Montessori students ‘travel’ the world as they learn about the continents, countries, states, and regions. They explore the unique differences between areas because of geographical features, as well as because of the people and animals that inhabit each place. They also come to learn what is fundamentally similar among all people, no matter where they come from or live. This global perspective allows students, even from the confines of their classrooms or communities, to move beyond what is familiar and to learn to respect, admire, and take interest in others.

Time to Develop Independence, Confidence, Responsibility, and Mastery
Within the Montessori work cycle, students have the opportunity to choose which types of work they would like to complete. They might spend a good part of their morning captivated by a Montessori Math material or engrossed in creating a map of Europe. Once an activity is completed, the child then moves on to his or her next choice, and is allowed time to work without interruption. Students learn to take ownership of their learning. They are responsible for using their time well. And by having time to engross themselves in their learning, they lead themselves to mastery in a variety of areas of learning. Having freedom to choose what work to do helps students develop independence, as do the self-correcting materials. As students work in the Language, Math, Cultural, Sensorial, or Practical Life area, they develop confidence in their abilities as they build on acquired skills with new knowledge. All of this naturally moves with them from their earliest Montessori classroom experiences on into adulthood where these skills will enable them to be productive, inquisitive, creative, and diligent workers in the world.

Opportunities to Contribute
In conjunction with Cultural Studies, students also engage in a Peace Curriculum, as Dr. Montessori strongly believed that “establishing lasting peace is the work of education”. Learning problem-solving strategies, becoming comfortable with silence, and developing strong communication skills all encompass this peaceful component of the school day. Students, through their cultural and peace studies, gain empathy and compassion. This is then translated into a variety of community outreach service projects. Montessori students understand that they are part of a greater whole, and that they have a responsibility for making positive contributions to their communities and the world at large. They learn that small actions can have big impacts, and they learn to facilitate ways for others to join in doing things for the greater good.

Sharing the Gifts of Montessori
For those of you who are current MCA parents, we believe that you will agree that the ‘gift of Montessori’ is one that will stay with your children long after they leave The Montessori Children’s Academy. And we hope you are considering extending the gift to your child(ren) for another year or beyond. As you know, MCA will soon hold its in-house registration for the 2018-2019 school year, which is then followed by open registration. Our program offerings include:

Montessori, My Child, and Me (for 18-30 months old with a parent or caregiver),
2 ½ – 3 ½ Year Old Program,
3 – 6 Year Old AM and PM Programs,
Full Day Kindergarten
Elementary for students in grades 1 through 8

We will be holding an MCA Kindergarten Open House at each of our three campuses during the month of December.

Chatham Campus Kindergarten Open House:      Tuesday, December 5th,         3:15 – 4:15PM
Short Hills Campus Kindergarten Open House:    Wednesday, December 6th,   3:15 – 4:15PM
Morristown Campus Kindergarten Open House: Thursday, December 7th,       3:15 – 4:15PM

Our MCA Elementary Open House will be held on Thursday, December 7th from 7:00 – 8:00PM at our Short Hills campus. We hope you will join us to learn how you can continue to enrich your child’s educational experience by extending this beautiful ‘Montessori gift’ through the Elementary and Middle School years.

We invite you to attend our Open Houses to learn more about the benefits of our Kindergarten and Elementary Programs, and we hope you will bring your family and friends so that they, too, can learn about the many gifts a Montessori education has to offer!

 

Photo Credit: http://www.discovertheregion.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/blog-giving.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

 

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Practically Speaking: Why Practical Life Matters

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” ~ Maria Montessori

Often at the beginning of a new school year, children in Montessori classrooms tend to choose much of their work in the Practical Life area over the other areas of the classroom.  For one thing, they are drawn to the pretty materials, which are usually very colorful and inviting in so many ways.  Transferring brightly colored rice from one container to another with a shiny silver spoon or pouring blue-dyed water from one large pitcher into three small cups is very appealing.

Children are also most comfortable with Practical Life work because it involves activities that they see being done every day at home.  Things that are ‘real’ appeal to children who want to do ‘grown up’ types of work and make a meaningful contribution to their homes and classrooms.  Practical Life is the area of the classroom in which children also receive the most lessons from the teacher at the start of the year, and for a very good reason.

On the surface, Practical Life activities provide the children with just that—practical, everyday skills that they need to survive.  Learning how to button and zip, how to set the table and wash dishes, or how to do simple food preparation, is necessary.  But even beyond these essential lessons, Practical Life, if you look at it closely, promotes additional skills that lead children to succeed in each and every other area of the classroom.  How?  Let’s look at just some of the skills that Practical Life teaches:

  1. Planning and Order:  The children learn, step by step, how first to take the work from the shelf to their work space and then set it up.  Sometimes the work requires items from other areas of the classroom, such as an apron, a mat, a bucket, or other tools.  The children learn where things are kept in the classroom and quickly realize the importance of putting things back in their proper places when they are finished using them.  This ensures that everything is ready for the next person who wants to choose that work.
  2. Self-Control: At first, children using the Practical Life materials may be tempted to rush through the activities.  However, in the careful presentation of the work by the teacher, the children discover the beauty and joy of the work done with control.  Instead of hastily scooping up beans with a spoon in a rushed, careless manner, the children learn to observe the beauty of the shape and color of the beans that they collect on the spoon and the lilting sound that they make as they are carefully spooned into the bowl.  Their senses are attuned to each part of the lesson, and they begin to gain an appreciation for a work performed well and with control from start to finish.
  3. Coordination: Grace in movement is important when using the Practical Life materials.  Trying hard to not spill out any drops of water from a pitcher or bowl, the child learns to move with control and purpose.  The children must negotiate how they travel from the shelves to the work space, making sure that all of the materials stay on the tray that they are carrying.  Once at the workspace, the children develop a variety of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.  These grow as the children continue using Practical Life works specifically designed to support this growth.  While teachers may adapt the appearance of the lessons (perhaps changing the color of the water or the types of materials being used), the essence of the lessons remains constant to help children continue to develop their coordination with each activity.
  4. Patience: There is only one of each activity on the classroom shelves.  Popular activities fly off the shelves quickly, and classmates learn that they must wait for their turn if something is already being used.  There is no grabbing a work out of someone else’s hands.  Instead, a child might be invited to watch while waiting.  Similarly, a child must practice patience in order to complete the work.  Many involve several steps, and each step, from set up to clean up, is equally important and necessary.  If a step is skipped, there is a natural consequence that affects whether or not the work can be completed correctly.  Children respond to these natural results and will strive to do the work to the best of their ability with the goal of getting it done ‘just right’ with practice and patience.
  5. Persistence: The Practical Life work is attractive for a reason.  It entices children to return to it again and again to practice important skills and achieve their goal of doing it correctly.  Because the Practical Life area ultimately helps the children develop skills they need in every area of the classroom, persistence and repetition are especially important.  Pouring wet or dry ingredients helps develop hand-eye coordination and estimation; using tweezers or tongs to transfer items strengthens the pincer grip needed for holding a pencil and other tools.  These will become important across academic areas.
  6. Mastery: The repetition of movements helps the children to eventually gain mastery over specific skills.  This is the aim of the Practical Life works, as it is with everything found on the shelves in a Montessori classroom.  The self-correcting materials let the child know whether or not the work was done well and with accuracy.  If the water spills when being poured, the children know they need to pour it more slowly or that they need to pour less in each cup so that the cups don’t overflow.  There is little to no teacher intervention required—the child can see for himself or herself if the work was done right.  Imagine the joy when a child who has struggled with one skill or another finally sees that success has been achieved!  It is that intrinsic feeling of pride that most strongly motivates children to continue to try, to continue to learn, in order to attain that wonderful feeling again and again!

Children’s time in the Practical Life area supports their success all throughout the Montessori classroom and extends into skills that help them all throughout their lives.  Planning, concentration, persistence, patience, and self-control all contribute to the children’s effectiveness in learning every academic subject and in their success in managing social interactions as well.  While Practical Life may seem simple, it is an area of significant importance for life skills.  It is the foundation for all of the learning areas within the classroom and extends beyond it into all areas of life.  As one parent commented to her son’s Montessori teacher, “I love that my child is learning to sew buttons in preschool.  Not only will he be able to fix his own clothes when the time comes, but he may also make a fine surgeon one day!”  Practically speaking, Practical Life really does matter!

A Joyful Start to the Montessori Journey with MMC&M

By: Camilla Nichols-Uhler and Alex Chiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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