Tag Archives: Montessori in the home

Avoiding Homework Headaches

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

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

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

The Benefits of Homework

Homework reinforces learning introduced in class.

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

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

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

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

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

Homework offers students the opportunity to practice following instructions.

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

What homework is NOT:

Homework is never intended to be a punishment.

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

Homework is not the parents’ responsibility.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Packing the Perfect Lunchbox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Alex Chiu

Just one of the many wonderful things about Montessori education is that everything that happens in the classroom is viewed as a learning opportunity. Consider the simple act of having lunch. In a Montessori setting, the children learn how to follow multi-step instructions to take part in setting up and preparing their lunch spaces. This includes retrieving their lunchboxes from where they are stored to setting out their placemats and food, to eating politely, and finally throwing away trash and cleaning up. It’s a lot to remember and complete for our younger students, but they learn the routines quickly and perform the tasks beautifully every time they have lunch at school.

One of the best ways to ensure your child can enjoy eating and socializing during lunchtime at school is by having him or her help to prepare lunch for each day. Providing your child with healthy choices and allowing him or her to decide which to bring on a given day gives your child some control over what he or she brings in to eat and teaches responsibility in getting the lunch packed and ready for school. This begins with including your child in purchasing his or her first lunchbox and continues throughout the year as he or she works together with an adult to pack that beautiful box with daily meals.

Here are some teacher suggestions (or “secrets”) to packing a perfect lunchbox:

1. Label everything! Especially at the beginning of the school year, the children are learning whose lunchbox belongs to whom, and often the children see that their classmates have the same containers or placemats. Not only does labeling all items help your child recognize his or her name, it also helps to make sure all items that belong to you return home!

2. Consider your child’s lunch ‘space’. In a Montessori classroom, children learn to organize their workspaces on a floor rug or table. The same holds true during lunch. Many Montessori classrooms encourage children to use placemats during lunch because the placemats offer the children a visual context in which to organize their lunch and maintain their space among the others sitting at the table. Some teachers have their students make their own placemats to use during lunch, some provide a plastic or vinyl placemat, and some may request that parents send in a cloth placemat to be washed at home as needed for the children’s lunchtime routines. Ask your child’s teacher if a placemat from home is needed.

3. Consider reusable containers. While plastic disposable baggies are easy and light, they are not the best choice for our environment. Since lunch is another learning time in the Montessori classroom, children are encouraged to pack in an eco-friendly way. Not only do you help the planet by packing reusable containers, but you also help your child practice fine motor skills for opening and closing lids. Children learn to match sizes and shapes of containers and lids, and they gain a special awareness when deciding what will fit into different sizes of containers.

4. What about the food?! Montessori children do learn about health and fitness, and preschool is not too early to encourage varied and healthy food choices. While each child has his or her preferences, teachers find that children enjoy a small portion of a variety of foods rather than one large main dish. You might think about sending in a small container of carrots, olives, or cucumbers sliced and paired with a favorite cheese or dip (hummus or ranch dressing). Another Tupperware might be filled with grapes, berries, or apple slices. Still another may provide your child with favorite crackers and a few sliced cold cuts. Having several small portions of different types of foods gives children choice and variety, and creates a ‘picnic’ type of meal which most children really enjoy.

5. Keep it cold (or hot)! Be sure to put foods that need to stay hot in an airtight thermos. Use an icepack to keep cold foods cold. Most schools do not have the space for refrigerators or microwaves in the classroom, so it’s always helpful for parents to take charge of sending the food in the safest manner.

Most teachers encourage students to repack any foods that were left uneaten. It’s important for parents to pay attention to what comes back home in the lunchbox at the end of the day. Perhaps your child is tired of a certain food or is packing too much to be eaten in a given lunch period. Talk with your child about his or her lunchtimes. Ask what his or her classmates enjoying eating, who he or she sits beside, and what special routines the class has for lunch. We may think it’s ‘only lunch’, but in Montessori, lunch is an important part of the school day, too!

Photo from the howwemontessori.com website – a perfect example of a Montessori lunch!

What (Not) to Wear

 

By: Alex Chiu

Many parents anticipate that perfect “first day of school” photo with their children wearing fresh, new outfits, slinging those bright new backpacks over their shoulders, and smiling as they exit the front door ready to start a new school year. Before you begin your back-to-school shopping however, teachers (and especially preschool teachers) would love to offer some advice on what clothing choices are most appropriate for children to wear to school.

Choose clothing that allows freedom of movement
First, parents should consider their children’s daily school activities. Especially in a Montessori environment, children move a LOT. The clothing they wear should allow for comfort and freedom of movement, both in the classroom and out on the playground. Remember, Montessori work can take place either at a table or on the floor. Clothing that allows for sitting ‘criss cross applesauce’ is important!

Choose clothing that is ‘worry-free’
In addition to being comfortable and allowing freedom of movement, clothing at school should be ‘worry-free’. Montessori children work with water, soil, plants, paint, sand, and many other potentially messy supplies. While one of the goals is for children to use the materials purposefully and to be able to master using them without excessive spills, the reality is that spills happen. Often. Montessori education is prepared for that, which is why children also learn the important skills of cleaning up after their messes! However, children are much more likely to participate in all areas of the classroom uninhibited if they aren’t worried about staining a new dress or scuffing nice dressy shoes. They are then free to explore the environment and learn skills across all of the classroom’s offerings.

Choose clothing that encourages independence and safety
Just as many professions have a dress code for professionalism and safety, classrooms also encourage a dress code that is geared toward keeping students focused on what’s important and safe. For younger children who are learning to use the bathroom independently, a proper school wardrobe might include pants that are easy to pull on and off independently. While belts are fashionable, they may not be the best choice for success in toilet training! Similarly, in order for children to feel safe and successful on the playground, consider your child’s footwear. Sneakers or other closed-toe and rubber-soled shoes are the wise choice. These types of shoes allow children to climb and run more safely, and they don’t prohibit children from participating in activities in the gym or on the playground equipment.

Provide your child with time to learn the skills needed for dressing him or herself
Finally, as you assemble your child’s school wardrobe, allow your child to practice zipping the zippers, buttoning the buttons, snapping the snaps, and hooking the eyehooks. As adults, we may forget that these are skills that are learned and require practice. Provide your child with enough time when dressing to complete these tasks on his or her own or with minimal help from you. Then, send your child off to school to do his or her work with no worries about wardrobe and dressed for success!

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:

MONTESSORI NJ

Montessori Childrens Academy NJ

Celebrating the Seasons the Montessori Way

One of the greatest gifts Montessori children receive as part of their education is the gift of time.  They are given time to observe different types of work being done by peers.  They are given time to make choices about what work they would like to do during the school day.  They are given time to focus on their own work and time to explore without interruption during their three-hour work cycle.  This gift of time provides Montessori students with many benefits.  They learn about independence, decision-making, and the joy of learning for learning’s sake.

When holidays pop up on the calendar, Montessori students are given another gift.  Instead of a holiday taking over one day on the calendar without any connection to the days before or the days following the holiday, Montessori classrooms embrace celebrations of the seasons in a more cross-curricular, more involved, less obtrusive way.  For example, in the weeks prior to a holiday of importance, the Practical Life shelves may reflect the colors and symbols of the season in the pouring, sorting, or transferring works.  The Language area and circle time activities will most certainly incorporate poems, stories, and songs related to the seasonal celebrations.  Math works may use counting items that correlate with holiday themes.  Art supplies change to stimulate the children’s unique artistic expression using materials inspired by the time of year.  And perhaps the best part of the classroom to share information about specific holidays is the Cultural area, where the children may find continent boxes filled with photographs, artifacts, and items associated with various holidays and the cultures from which they originated.

The beauty of celebrating in this way is that the security and predictability of the child’s school day remains intact.  Children rely on this type of schedule.  They thrive and perform best in an environment where they understand the expectations and where they feel they have some control over their day.  Instead of having one day in the month where things become chaotic (and we have all attended school holiday celebrations that leave us exhausted and overwhelmed!), the season of celebrations unfolds slowly.  The children learn about the history, discover the traditions, and find delight in celebrating a variety of holidays over the course of time and within the parameters of how their school environment is already set up for them.  To enhance this learning and make it even more meaningful at The Montessori Children’s Academy, parents, relatives, and special guests often come into the classrooms to share their personal experiences with special celebrations, giving the students great insights into and appreciation for other cultures and the people within their community.

If we really think about it, we will realize that there is more to learn about a celebration than can possibly fit into one classroom session for it to be truly meaningful.  Montessori children learn about the celebration as something more than what they might see on television or in advertising.  Most would agree that the commercialization of many holidays could easily cause children to misunderstand the true meaning behind the celebrations.  However, in a Montessori classroom, the commercial ‘noise’ is silenced as children are provided with age-appropriate information about the people, places, foods, and traditions surrounding the holidays.  Celebrating the seasons the Montessori way provides children with the opportunity to engage in meaningful activities that teach them so much more than about just one day on the calendar.  By learning about holidays, they learn about other cultures.  They also gain an awareness of what is different and what is similar among people worldwide.  They learn tolerance and acceptance.  They learn about what brings joy to people around the globe.  The Montessori approach to celebrating special days is a gift to children as it expands their minds, their hearts, and their worlds.

Here are just a few Montessori-inspired ideas for making your family holidays more meaningful:

  • Visit your local library and check out books or music CDs related to the holiday before it arrives. Let your child choose one or two books to read each day leading up to the holiday and keep a CD in your car to listen to when driving around town.
  • Take out a map or globe and help your child find the part of the world where the holiday originated. In the days surrounding the holiday, share one new fact about the culture.  If it is a more global holiday, research how it is celebrated in different parts of the world.
  • Turn down outside ‘noise’: If the media tends to overload commercialized messages about the holiday you are celebrating, consider turning off the TV and tuning in to what makes the holiday important to you.  Make a ‘holiday happiness jar’ where you write the things that you enjoy most about the holiday on little slips of paper.  Each day, take out one of the notes to remind you what is important about the celebration.
  • Share special memories you may have of celebrating the holiday when you were a child and discuss what things are the same and what things are different when celebrating today.
  • Include your children in the preparations. Let them create a special centerpiece for the table or make decorations to display on the front door.  If special foods are part of the celebration, invite your child to help measure and mix ingredients.
  • Maintain a ‘normal’ schedule as best as you can. Children do best when their day follows a predictable pattern.  If you have special outings or you know your daily schedule will be interrupted because of holiday preparations or celebrations, prepare your child so that he or she knows what to expect.
  • Carry on a tradition from your upbringing or begin a new one with your child to help make the holiday even more special and personal!