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

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

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

A Short Review of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls

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

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

Here are a few of my favorite selections:

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

Empowering Reads and Where to Find Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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preschool open house nj

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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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!
Girls on the Run NJ

Seasons of Gratitude and Giving

This time of year inspires many of us to reflect on all that we are grateful for and to look for opportunities to help others.  Indeed, Thanksgiving and the winter holidays invite us to treasure what we have and to share with those in need.  Statistically, food banks receive the majority of their donated supplies during this time of year, and according to the Digital Giving Index produced by Network for Good, over 30% of annual giving occurs in the month of December (charitynavigator.org).  People are very generous during this traditional ‘season of giving’, which makes a tremendous difference to those in need.

It is commendable that people, reminded of the needs of others during the months of November and December, take action and contribute to various charities.  However, students at The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) are learning that there is something to be thankful for every day of the year and that there are ways to help those in need during every season.  As part of the Montessori Peace Curriculum, the MCA community annually takes part in supporting a charitable organization.  This year, MCA students, teachers, staff, administration, and families are working together to support the Girls on the Run of New Jersey East (GOTR) organization through a variety of efforts throughout the school year from September through June.  The season of gratitude and giving at MCA extends through all four seasons as the children learn about and take part in a variety of activities to support the organization.  As MCA students learn about respect and kindness in their everyday interactions and lessons at school, they also learn about civic responsibility and discover how everyone can play an important role in making the world a better place.

Part of the Montessori Peace Curriculum involves teaching children how to express themselves appropriately.  At the beginning of every school year, Montessori teachers spend significant time engaging their students in “Grace and Courtesy” lessons so that children learn the polite way to greet teachers and friends, to ask for help, and to use the polite “please” and “thank you” responses that go such a long way when interacting with others.  They are taught to wait for their turn when someone else is speaking, to offer to hold the door for someone behind them in line, to return classroom materials to where they belong, and to treat everyone in the same way they would like to be treated.  They practice peaceful conflict resolution.  They learn responsibility for their belongings as well as for their words and actions.  While these things may seem small, they are significant in developing a peaceful and respectful community at school.  Learning to care for their classroom, for their classmates, and for themselves helps children gain appreciation for the people, places, and things in their lives.

Once the Grace and Courtesy lessons have become the norm in the classroom, the children are ready to discover how their actions and interactions outside of the classroom can make a positive impact.  Simple things like sharing a smile when walking down the street is one way to extend kindness to others in the simplest of ways.  Picking up a piece of trash on the playground helps protect our environment.  Setting out a bird feeder provides nourishment when it is hard for birds to find food on their own.  Little acts of kindness make a big impact. Through these actions, children become aware that there are many things that they can do to contribute to the world in a positive way.  The children then come to realize that there are many different types of needs among the people in and around their communities.  They learn about different organizations that work to help others, and the school’s annual charity event becomes incorporated into their classroom discussions and activities.

Montessori Elementary School NJ

To kick off this year’s initiative for Girls on the Run, MCA students participated in a mini fun-run at MCA’s Harvest Family Fun Picnic at Mayapple Hill in South Mountain Reservation.  In addition to taking part in other seasonal activities at the picnic, the children enjoyed donning capes and tutus and running through a small obstacle course to ‘get running for Girls on the Run’.  The school has set a goal to collect $5000 to sponsor 20 girls in the GOTR program in underserved areas.  The Montessori Children’s Academy Family of Schools and Services, MCA’s parent company, has pledged to match donated funds up to $2500, and rapidly, donations have already started coming in to support this great cause.  To view our progress, please visit our special Girls on the Run fundraising page.

Girls on the Run NJ

gotr-cta

To help the MCA students keep track of the donations, teachers designed a special bulletin board display at each campus.  Using the famous Montessori Pink Tower as a progress chart, each of the ten pink cubes represents $500 in donations.  The children will see that when the flag marker showing how much money has been raised reaches the smallest cube on the top of the tower, they have reached their ambitious goal!  In addition to accepting monetary donations for Girls on the Run, MCA is collecting new or gently used athletic wear to share with the girls in the program.  Items such as sneakers, sweatpants and sweatshirts, t-shirts, shorts, and headbands are just some of the items that are already filling the bins at each MCA campus.

Montessori preschool NJ

Students become involved in each year’s charitable cause through many avenues that reach beyond fundraising.  Students are educated about the organization in age-appropriate lessons and discussions, and a variety of activities help them gain insight and develop greater interest in each year’s chosen charity.  Just some of the upcoming projects related to this year’s Girls on the Run initiative include class presentations on health and fitness by our school nurse and local athletes, demonstrations of Girls on the Run activities by organization representatives, and creating a ‘paper sneaker marathon’ display throughout the MCA hallways.  The culminating event will take place at the Girls on the Run 5K in June where MCA students, parents, teachers, staff, and administrators will have the opportunity to volunteer in a variety of capacities to support the organization.  More information about each of these activities will be forthcoming throughout the year.

It is important to note that the students’ means of contributing to the community reaches beyond taking up collections from family and friends.  MCA students gain awareness about the needs of others in their communities through class discussions and then brainstorm ways that they can help in a hands-on, meaningful way.  Student-driven projects from past years have included hosting lemonade stands, holding bake sales, washing cars, and offering to do chores in exchange for a donation, to name a few.

Just last spring, MCA students set up an information table in front of a local food establishment and created posters explaining the work that was being done to help others by one of their chosen charities for that year.  As people passed by, the children engaged them in conversations about the charity and informed them about what they could do to help.  This type of outreach provides the students with the opportunity to share their knowledge, practice public speaking skills, and connect with the people of their community.

Montessori Childrens Academy Chatham NJ

The children learn that every effort to help others, big or small, is worthwhile.  They become educated about needs within their communities and then become empowered, seeing that children can, and do, make a positive difference in their communities and throughout the world.  Through these activities, our students come to realize that when people work together, the collective efforts make an impact that can positively affect people’s lives.  Working together to better the lives of others is at the center of Montessori’s vision of peace through education, and MCA strives to keep this spirit of gratitude and giving alive throughout every season of the year.