Tag Archives: Montessori philosophy

Nurturing the Spirit of Charity and Goodwill

By Alex Chiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences

By Alex Chiu

By the month of November, students are well into their school routines. They have learned the classroom rules and guidelines, refreshed their memories after a summer off from school, likely made some new friends, and are deep into their new learning. This is why November is often the time of year when schools will schedule their Parent/Teacher Conferences. It’s a perfect time for teachers to connect with parents to share their observations about their students, and it’s the opportune time for parents to glean some insights into how their children are performing in school both academically and socially.

Prior to conference season, teachers take a great deal of time to prepare for their upcoming meetings with parents. They may work with the students individually for the most up-to-date assessments of certain skills, they will take more time observing the children as they interact with peers in the classroom and on the playground, and they will collect any important and pertinent information for students, which depending on the child and the school, may include support services reports, samples of student work, or additional notes.

Montessori teachers have an edge in preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences because a large part of their training specifically focuses on observation in the classroom. Montessori teachers learn and practice the art of observing how their students work and interact, using their observations to drive which lessons to present to which children, which materials to rotate, and which parts of the environment to adjust to meet the children’s needs. Therefore, parents of Montessori students can be assured that at their conferences, they will learn quite a bit about how their children function at school and what they might be able to do at home to bridge the school to home learning.

For parents with children in school for the first time, we’ve gathered some information to help you prepare for your first Parent/Teacher Conference. For ‘veteran’ parents, these reminders may help you get the most out of your conferences this year.

At your conference, you can expect to learn about your child’s:

1. Recent academic progress.
2. Behavioral development as observed by the teacher since September.
3. Social interactions and development in the classroom.
4. Strengths and challenges within the classroom.

During the conference, you can help your child’s teacher learn more about your child by:

1. Describing your child’s attitude towards school.
2. Sharing anything that currently may be impacting your child’s academic or social progress (e.g., family illness, move to a new home, other family changes or potential stressors).
3. Discussing what you see as your child’s strengths and challenges.
4. Providing information about any special interests/activities your child has outside of school, so as to help your child’s teacher get to know a little more about your child.

What parents can do to prepare for and help facilitate a smooth conference:

1. Bring a list of questions you may have or topics you would like to discuss, keeping in mind the time allotted for your conference. Prioritize your list.
2. Ask your child if there is anything he or she would like to discuss with the teacher and share his or her comments with the teacher.
3. Come prepared to listen and take notes.
4. Ask to see samples of your child’s work or which Montessori materials he or she has been using.
5. Ask what you can do at home to help your child with academic, social, and emotional development. Inquire if the teacher has any community references that may be helpful to your family.
6. Be respectful of the time. If you have more questions than time allows for, do ask for a follow-up meeting at a later date. Communication with your child’s teacher can and should continue beyond the conference as needed.

Parent/Teacher Conferences are a wonderful opportunity to learn about what a typical day at school is like for your child, develop stronger connections with your child’s teacher, and gain insights into your child’s development. By participating in these conferences, you are showing your child that you are interested in what happens at school. You also are modeling the importance of open communication, and you are building the bridge between home and school to promote your child’s success as a student.

Happy conferencing!

 

graphic credit: http://rlv.zcache.com/parent_teacher_conference_stickers_bright_leaves-rccdfe977e8404e3db9c5b4a5b6353c81_v9wxo_8byvr_324.jpg

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

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

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

A Short Review of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

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

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

Here are a few of my favorite selections:

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

Empowering Reads and Where to Find Them

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

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

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

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

montessori childrens academy

The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Year

I had the pleasure of running into a recent graduate of The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) and his family at breakfast last weekend. I asked him how he likes first grade. He told me, “First grade is awesome,” and launched into an impressive monologue about his math class, his soccer team, and how he had just borrowed a chapter book from the school library.

I could tell that his excitement about school had not faded at all since he left Kindergarten at MCA. I couldn’t wait to tell his Kindergarten teacher. When I did, she replied simply, “That’s why I love Montessori Kindergarten.”

The Kindergarten year in Montessori early childhood education, is an incredibly important one, as it is the third and final year of the 3-6 cycle. In her extensive studies of children, Maria Montessori observed and classified four “Planes of Development”. These six-year phases of growth are demarcated by cognitive achievement. In her early work, Dr. Montessori focused on the phase that includes children ages 0-6 years. She termed this Plane of Development “The Absorbent Mind” because she found that young children “absorb” learning from their environment naturally and spontaneously (AMS 2017). Her book, The Absorbent Mind, focuses on this Plane of Development and informs much of MCA’s Early Childhood curriculum.

The oldest children in this phase, 5- and 6-year olds, represent our Kindergarten program. The Kindergarteners are the oldest, most experienced students among the MCA Early Childhood Programs at each of our campuses. This final year of their 3-year cycle provides them with many advantages, from having the opportunity to be classroom leaders and mentors, to stretching their learning with the Montessori materials in the most complex of ways, all while remaining in the warm, familiar, nurturing classroom community they have grown to be a part of over the course of three years. This capstone year of the MCA Early Childhood Program provides the Kindergarteners with great benefits in their academic, as well as their social-emotional development.

A Day in the Life of a Kindergartener at MCA

During the morning work cycle, Kindergarteners have a special role in their mixed-age classrooms. As the oldest members of the class, Kindergarteners have a de facto role as leaders. According to MCA’s Director of Montessori Development, Camilla Nichols-Uhler, Kindergarteners are seen as role models for the 3- and 4-year-olds. Sometimes Kindergarteners even give lessons to their younger classmates. This not only provides the Kindergarteners with an important mentoring role, but it also allows the Kindergarteners to reinforce their prior learning as they teach their younger friends. The 5- and 6-year-olds take their role as classroom leaders very seriously. The cultivation of leadership skills in the mixed-age setting is one of the key benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten year.

In the afternoon, the Kindergarten class is separated from the mixed-age classroom for work in an exclusively same-age peer environment. This afternoon time provides a great deal of subtle preparation for first grade expectations students would find in a traditional school setting. In the afternoon, the students at times will work as a whole group and receive focused instruction in each of the five Montessori curriculum areas. When observing a Montessori Kindergarten classroom at MCA, you may see children working not only with traditional Montessori materials, but also with supplemental educational materials that closely resemble those found in a traditional classroom, including the McGraw-Hill Reading Literature Program, the Primary Phonics Reading Series, and the Handwriting Without Tears resources. The beauty of our Montessori Kindergarten is that the children continue to work and progress as they are ready. They do not need to wait for or catch up to the rest of the group—instead, they work at their own pace, making great academic strides and gaining confidence along the way. The Kindergarten year helps to build a bridge for the children so that they may easily transition from a Montessori early childhood program to whatever elementary program they may enter the following year.

Kindergarteners at MCA receive many benefits in addition to this special daily schedule. During their last year in the 3-6 program, Kindergarteners are granted some exciting privileges, and the opportunities they are afforded in the Kindergarten year increase in this culminating year of the MCA Early Childhood Program.

Benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten Experience at MCA

  • Full-Day Schedule: Many local preschool and Kindergarten programs only offer half-day programs. MCA’s full-day classes help prepare children transition to full-day elementary school programs beyond graduation.
  • Character Building Component: It is difficult to deny the social and emotional benefits of a Montessori Kindergarten program. Building leadership skills, fostering resilience, and developing empowered and responsible members of a classroom community are just a few of the character-related benefits of a Montessori education. In a Montessori Kindergarten program, lessons like these remain with students well beyond their Kindergarten year.
  • Specials: In addition to MCA’s weekly Spanish and Music classes with Mr. Vergara, our Kindergarten students participate in two additional specials. These classes help students develop additional skills for elementary school.
    • Technology: Most elementary schools use laptops, tablets, and other technology in one form or another these days. Our Kindergarteners thus need to be prepared to navigate such devices. We introduce this technology in productive, academic ways. Mrs. Kochanik, MCA’s technology teacher who is a certified Montessori Elementary teacher herself, is an expert in using technology in a Montessori-friendly way, and our students come to understand the use of technology as a tool.
    • Gym: Twice a week, our Kindergarten class gets an extra opportunity to exercise as well. MCA’s Physical Education Program, headed up by Mrs. Larsen and Mrs. Turiansky, teaches Kindergarteners the basic fundamentals of team sports. From dribbling a basketball to learning how to pass a soccer ball to a teammate without using their hands, our Kindergarteners learn the skills they need to stay healthy as they participate in a variety of team sports.
  • Kindergarten “Extras”: During the spring, our Kindergarteners participate in many special events. These include activities which combine Kindergarten students from all three of our campuses, such as a Kindergarten field trip and Field Day, and of course campus specific activities, such as our annual Bake Sales and Kindergarten graduations. This year, our Kindergarten students will have the opportunity to visit the beautiful Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick for a spring-themed celebration with hands-on, outdoor lessons in Science and Culture.
  • Community Outreach Projects: As leaders in the classroom, the Kindergarten students take on more responsibilities in the charitable endeavors sponsored by the school. They learn how to plan, prepare, and execute a variety of outreach service projects, from bake sales to speaking with community members about the charities they are supporting.

montessori childrens academy

MCA’s Kindergarten Program is an excellent alternative to public or other non-public Kindergarten options. Our full-day Kindergarten provides our students with immeasurable social and emotional benefits in addition to academic rigor. MCA may accept students from other preschool programs to join its Kindergarten classes after a “Kindergarten Interview”, if enrollment space allows. As Dr. Montessori said, “The Absorbent Mind is indeed a marvelous gift to humanity”, and giving your child the opportunity to complete the 3-year Early Childhood Cycle with a Montessori Kindergarten year, is a gift that will be carried with them throughout their educational journey.

If your child is a member of one of MCA’s 3-6 classes and you have further questions about the Kindergarten year, do not hesitate to reach out to your Campus Director to learn more about the benefits of completing the 3-year cycle at MCA.