Tag Archives: Montessori Method

Thinking “Outside the Box” in the Outdoor Classroom

With the arrival of spring, everyone is anxious (and happy!) to spend more time outdoors. Longer daylight hours and warmer weather inspire us to break out from our winter hibernation habits and get outside for walks, early gardening, or just a bit of fresh air!

However, the Elementary students at The Montessori Children’s Academy have been enjoying the outdoors all year long. Their unique Outdoor Classroom provides them with opportunities for learning outside throughout every season and in any type of weather! It is a place where our students go to explore science, math, art, culture, and language—in essence, the Outdoor Classroom is an extension of their indoor classroom environment, as it is a place filled with a wealth of learning opportunities!

The Outdoor Classroom is the ideal environment for Science and nature studies. Botany is often a focus of study when our Elementary students visit this space. They observe the trees, leaves, and plants in their outdoor environment, making sketches and diagrams of what they see, and digging into the earth to identify root structures and the parts of plants. Students are given the opportunity to watch both the growth and deterioration of plants. They witness how plants respond to weather, pollution, animal inhabitants, and human interference in the natural world. They also identify animal tracks and listen to birdcalls, learning their unique sounds.

When discussing ecology, the Outdoor Classroom became home to a “Food Web” created by the students. As the children used yarn to create a web among the tree branches, they saw how interconnected the different parts were. When one piece of yarn from their web was removed, the entire web started to fall apart. This type of visual, hands-on learning brought home a very important lesson on how there is interdependence in a variety of aspects of their world. These nature studies promote a sense of responsibility and respect for the natural world around them.

However, nature studies are not the only studies done in this special space. The Outdoor Classroom provides learning across disciplines. Recently, as part of their Cultural studies, our MCA students were learning about the Copper Age. They brought copper to their Outdoor Classroom and hammered it to flatten it and create tools in the same manner that early civilizations might have done. The students learned that even though the copper was malleable, it was very difficult to flatten to create the shape they needed for their homemade tools. This gave them greater insight into what early civilizations dealt with when making discoveries and inventions that today’s humans take for granted.

The Outdoor Classroom is also a place for Math studies. For one particular lesson, the students learned about Pi and the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter by creating a circle in the ground using their own bodies, a stick, and yarn. They had the physical space they needed to create their circumference projects, and it became a meaningful lesson as they could put the different mathematical concepts together in a very prominent manner. By learning in this way and in this space, our students remember their lessons and can make important and lasting connections.

Naturally, just as many of the world’s greatest writers have found inspiration in nature, our MCA Elementary students use their Outdoor Classroom to enhance their Language Arts curriculum to inspire their journal writing activities. They write poetry and prose pieces, personal reflections, essays, and impromptu thoughts. With so many sights and sounds surrounding them, they can capture feelings and compose descriptive passages based on what they see and hear in this natural setting. Similarly, they engage in art activities in this beautiful space, making sketches and using the natural setting as their inspiration for their artwork. This year, students learned about how clay comes from the earth, and they used it to create birds’ nests.

The learning opportunities in the Outdoor Classroom are endless. They also are an integral part of Montessori education where the whole child is addressed. Students need space, movement, and connection to the world around them, and this environment fulfills each of these needs. The Outdoor Classroom is the place where students engage in team-building activities at the beginning of the year to build a strong sense of community. It is the place where they hold their annual Peace Picnic and celebrate their friendships and relationship with nature near the year’s end. Dr. Montessori once said, “When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards.” Further, she commented, “The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.”

Certainly, our MCA Elementary students are making connections and opening up their minds as they explore their Outdoor Classroom and their world beyond the classroom. They come to see that they are indeed citizens and caretakers of the world—part of a greater whole—and with this understanding comes the awakening of a sense of respect and responsibility for the people and things inside the classroom, outside in the Outdoor Classroom, and beyond the classroom in their world at large. Through the Outdoor Classroom experiences, students grow and begin to internalize that sense of harmony in each aspect of their lives.

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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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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!

The Montessori Children's Academy

Sing for Peace!: International Day of Peace Celebration 2016

September 21st may not be a date you recognize, but around the world and in our Montessori community, we look forward to celebrating the International Day of Peace on this day.  Established by the United Nations in 1981, the International Day of Peace began as a way to promote a time for people worldwide to “honour a cessation of hostilities…and to otherwise commemorate the Day through education and public awareness on issues related to peace” ().

The Montessori Children's Academy

The UN’s theme for the International Day of Peace this year is “The Sustainable Development Goals: Building Blocks for Peace”.  Youth from around the world have been invited to share via YouTube their video messages of peace with ideas related to this year’s theme.  Solutions related to ending poverty and helping the environment are evident in the concerns of today’s youth.  The videos can be viewed on the United Nations Peace Day 2016 YouTube Channel, and they include brief messages from young people representing many different nations.

To do our part to celebrate this special occasion, The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) plans to take part in a variety of activities leading up to September 21st.  Each class will choose its own special way to celebrate.  Some will be reading books about peace, making peacemaker necklaces, or learning how to say ‘peace’ in different languages, while others will recite peace poems or decorate symbols of peace.  Then, on the big day, we will all participate in a worldwide event called Sing Peace Around the World.  The goal of the project organizers is to have the song “Light a Candle for Peace” sung continuously over a 24 hour time period all around the globe.  The singing will begin in New Zealand and end in Hawaii 24 hours later.  Our designated time to sing “Light a Candle for Peace” in Chatham, Morristown, and Short Hills is 9:30AM.  Please consider joining the endeavor–wherever you are at that time, take out the lyrics and sing along!  To date, nearly 90,000 children from around the world are registered to participate in this event, including all of our MCA students.  We hope the sounds of children singing for peace will echo across every land on every continent, and that it will reach into the hearts of all people in every corner of the world.

Of course, peace education and awareness is not something MCA recognizes only for one day or by singing just one song.  It is an important component of the Montessori curriculum and an integral part of each and every day in all of our schools.  Everything you find in a Montessori classroom has an intentional meaning and an underlying lesson and goal.  For example, the manner in which Montessori classrooms are prepared aim to promote the development of self-discipline.  The Montessori materials are designed to provide students with challenges that spark their critical thinking.  There are countless opportunities in Montessori classrooms for creative problem solving.  Montessori students are exposed to Cultural Studies, where they learn about people, places, and traditions from around the world, gaining a global awareness and appreciation for similarities and differences among people in all nations.  The focus on ‘grace and courtesy’, as well as the modeling of respect by the adults in the classroom, helps children to, in turn, learn to exhibit grace, courtesy, and respect.  These are all intentional features which are carefully woven into the fabric of Montessori education.  Dr. Montessori developed her method of education to teach not only academic subjects, but also to instill important values in children.  Montessori education is intended to help students learn how to work cooperatively and in harmony, to discover how to solve problems peacefully, and to find ways to promote peace in their interactions with others throughout their lives.

As Dr. Montessori 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).  Maria Montessori knew the importance of education for the greater good of the world, and she insisted on providing children with many opportunities to learn and internalize their roles as peacemakers through educational experiences, which encompassed not only academics, but the development of responsibility and character as well.  As she is well known to have stated, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education; all politics can do is keep us out of war.”  Dr. Montessori was nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize, and her advocacy for peace has made a lasting impression.  We are proud to uphold her legacy for spreading peace throughout the world.

Below are the lyrics to “Light a Candle for Peace”.

The Montessori Children's Academy

Please feel free to share the song with others, and help us to promote peace in our schools, our neighborhoods, our towns, our nation, and all around the world.  We wish everyone a meaningful International Day of Peace!

Light a Candle for Peace
by Shelley Murley

Light a candle for peace
Light a candle for love
Light a candle that shines all the way around the world
Light a candle for me
Light a candle for you
That our wish for world peace
Will one day come true!
(repeat)

Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world

Light a candle for peace
Light a candle for love
Light a candle that shines all the way around the world
Light a candle for me
Light a candle for you
That our wish for world peace
Will one day come true!

Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world
Sing peace around the world

For more information about Montessori peace education and other peace initiatives, as well as to find children’s books about peace, check out the resources listed below, some of which were used as references in this article:

Duckworth, C. (2008). Maria Montessori’s contribution to peace education. In Encyclopedia of Peace Education. http://www.tc.edu/centers/epe/
Montessori, Maria. (1992; first published 1949). Education and Peace (The Clio Montessori Series). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO.
Wolf, Aline D. (1996). Nurturing the Spirit: In Non-Sectarian Classrooms. Santa Rosa: Parent Child Press, Inc.
www.childpeacebooks.org
www.singpeacearoundtheworld.com
www.un.org/en/events/peaceday

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