Tag Archives: Montessori preschool NJ

The Language of Montessori


By:  Alex Chiu

If your family is new to Montessori, you might think you hear your child speaking a ‘new language’ when he or she returns home from school each day. As the children are learning their new classroom routines, they are also learning some of the terminology unique to Montessori. In order to help you ‘translate’ some of the new phrases that might be coming home, we’ve put together a brief list of common terms you may encounter as you begin your Montessori journey.

The Prepared Environment: This is your child’s classroom. However, the Montessori classroom is specifically and meticulously arranged in such a way as to provide teaching opportunities at every turn. Organized by areas of learning, your child’s prepared environment at MCA includes the full complement of beautiful Montessori materials designed to facilitate learning and exploration in the areas of Math, Language, Sensorial, Practical Life, and Culture/Science. Teachers thoughtfully place the materials, furniture, rugs, and adornments with the children’s needs in mind. You’ll notice that the furniture is just the right size for the children and that artwork is hung at the child’s eye level. The classroom is set up to facilitate independent and group learning, and to offer children a safe, comfortable space in which to grow and learn.

Work: This is the term used for the activities the children engage in at school. Montessori ‘work’ includes all of the meaningful, beautiful materials the children will receive lessons on and then may choose from the classroom shelves while they are at school. At home you might ask your child, “What work did you choose today?”

Normalization: As defined on the American Montessori Society website, “normalization” refers to “A natural or “normal” developmental process marked by a love of work or activity, concentration, self-discipline, and joy in accomplishment. Dr. Montessori observed that the normalization process is characteristic of human beings at any age.” In Montessori schools, the beginning of the year focuses on the activities and skills that lead to a ‘normalized’ classroom in which students understand the expectations and are able to function in the classroom independently and successfully.

Grace and Courtesy: Part of the “normalization” process at the beginning of the school year involves a big focus on “grace and courtesy” in Montessori classrooms. Teachers model and then have students practice using simple courteous phrases such as “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me”. Students learn the polite way to ask for help or to get someone’s attention. They learn how to walk around the work rugs of their classmates so as to not disturb them. They learn how to stand in a line or how to sit at circle without interfering with the physical space of their friends. These lessons are the fundamentals of a functioning classroom, and Montessori students learn them quickly and wonderfully!

Work Rug or Work Mat: Students define their work space in the classroom by using a work rug or mat. This keeps the materials contained and safe, and it also designates the area for the child’s activities. Other children learn to walk carefully around the work rugs or mats of their classmates. Your child may also use a special work mat at a table, especially when working with water or paint. The tablemat also contains the work to a specific area and helps in the cleanup of the work area as well.

Three-Period Lesson: When a student is introduced to a new concept for the first time, he or she is given a three-period lesson.

The first period is naming. Using the Montessori materials, the teacher first tells the child the name of or provides the specific vocabulary for the new concept. The teacher will say “This is a cube” or “This is a circle”.

The second period is recognition after being given the vocabulary. The teacher next will use the material in some manner, and then invite the child to show what was just named. For example, the teacher might say to the child “Show me the cube” or “Show me the circle”. The child is required only to recognize and identify the newly learned item.

The third period is when the child is able to provide the vocabulary spontaneously, showing mastery. In the third period, the teacher will ask the child to provide the vocabulary for the new concept. The teacher will ask, “What is this?” and the child is expected to give the name (e.g., “This is a cube” or “This is a circle”).

Note that a child may not reach the third period right away—a lesson may require several attempts over the course of time for a child to be able to master the third period and identify and provide the vocabulary of a new concept.

Work Cycle: Montessori students are given a wonderful gift of time called the “work cycle” during their school day. The work cycle is a long, uninterrupted work time during which the children may choose their activities and then spend time doing those activities for as long and as often as they wish. Montessori education understands that children need time to make choices, complete tasks, repeat tasks, and engage in their learning. During the work cycle, the child may complete many independent tasks, work with a teacher one-on-one, or do activities with a friend or in a small group—all productive and important components of the school session.

Practical Life: Especially at the beginning of the school year, the Practical Life area of the classroom is the most used and most popular. It is in this area that children learn the fundamentals used across all areas of the Montessori classroom. In Practical Life, they learn the steps for selecting work, taking the work from the shelf to the work space, organizing the work, performing the tasks, completing the work, and returning the work to the shelf so it is ready for the next person.

Practical Life activities involve a great deal of fine motor control, concentration, patience, and motivation to complete. Each activity assists the child in developing necessary everyday life skills from dressing to cleaning to preparing food, etc. As adults, we often take these skills for granted, but in Montessori classrooms, we know they are learned skills that promote learning across all areas!

Pincer Grip or Pincer Grasp: While not a uniquely Montessori term, children develop their pincer grip as they perform a multitude of tasks across the Montessori curriculum. The pincer grip is the combination of the thumb and forefinger working together to manipulate, move, or grasp an item.

Sensorial: The colorful and inviting Sensorial area is where children develop a heightened awareness of their five senses of sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Children also develop understanding of size, space, and sequence, and the Sensorial materials provide a foundation for the Math and Language academic areas. The popular Pink Tower, an iconic Montessori material, is just one example of the Sensorial work your child might choose, building the tower from the biggest pink cube (which is 1 cubic decimeter) to the smallest pink cube (which is 1 cubic centimeter).

Control of Error: Because the child is encouraged to explore and learn at his or her own pace, the Montessori materials have a built in ‘control of error’ that lets the child know whether or not he or she has completed the work correctly. For example, if a child is learning to pour water from one small pitcher into another, the control of error is if the water spills. The child can see his or her success in completing the task without any interference from the teacher. If there is a spill, the child has learned already how to clean it up. Then, he or she can make another attempt at pouring, and another, until he or she pours without one drop spilled. Imagine the satisfaction felt after achieving that goal!

Circle: Again, this is not a uniquely Montessori term, but one that often is used in Montessori classrooms. Circle time refers to the time of day when the entire class of children come together with their teacher(s) and sit (usually in a circle) to listen to stories, sing songs, observe a group lesson, or do some other all-class activity.

Absorbent Mind: As defined on the American Montessori Society website, the “absorbent mind” is the time when “From birth through approximately age 6, the young child experiences a period of intense mental activity that allows her to “absorb” learning from her environment without conscious effort, naturally and spontaneously”.

If you encounter a Montessori term that is new and would like to learn more, or if you’re interested in gathering more information about Dr. Maria Montessori or the Montessori philosophy, you might enjoy reading some of the following books:

A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom by Aline D. Wolf
Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work by E.M. Standing
Montessori: A Modern Approach by Paula Polk Lillard
Understanding Montessori: A Guide for Parents by Maren Schmidt and Dana Schmidt
Montessori Madness! A Parent to Parent Argument for Montessori Education by Trevor Eissler
The Absorbent Mind by Dr. Maria Montessori

 

Packing the Perfect Lunchbox

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By: Alex Chiu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prepping for Preschool Revisited

By: Alex Chiu, Hannah Ferris, and Jax Pisciotto

As we turned the calendar page to August, we realize that the beginning of another school year is right around the corner. Last year, we shared with our families some helpful hints in preparing for the first day of school, and we thought it might be important to share this information once again for our new families and as a reminder to our returning families. Enjoy the last few weeks of summer vacation, and we look forward to seeing you all soon!

Your child’s first day of school is a major milestone for your family. It is undoubtedly a very exciting time and likely will be marked by new clothes, a new backpack and lunchbox, and many adorable “First Day of School” photos. While the anticipation of a new school year is very exciting, it can also be stressful, for you and your child alike. Many years of experience have provided the staff of The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) with special insights into some simple things parents can do to prepare their children, and themselves, for preschool. We hope you find that these tried and true methods will help alleviate any stress that may be surfacing as the new school year approaches and that they will allow your family to truly enjoy the excitement of your child’s first school experience

1. Don’t miss “Meet the Teachers Day”

The first day of school at MCA is a bit different than what one might expect. We call this special day “Meet the Teachers Day”, and it’s coming up very soon! Parents and children come to MCA together to visit their new classrooms and meet their teachers face-to-face.

Meet the Teachers Day is followed by a “Phase-In” period that is aimed at helping to alleviate any separation anxiety and provide the children with a smooth transition into their new school environment. Meet the Teachers Day is just one piece of the school orientation that allows the children to acclimate both socially and emotionally to being apart from their parents and begin to take part in all aspects of their classroom community.

2. Take your child shopping for school supplies

Allow your child to get excited about going to school by bringing him or her with you when you go shopping for school supplies. Giving your child the freedom to pick out his or her backpack and lunchbox will also create a sense of ownership of these items, which will inherently point your child in the direction of being responsible for his or her belongings.

3. Begin evening and morning routines before school starts

Many of our teachers at MCA have already begun to re-adjust their internal clocks, which have been set to summer mode for the past two months. During the summer, we often stay up later, knowing that we can sleep in a bit. However, as we approach the start of a new school year, it is helpful to get back into a ‘school day rhythm’.

We know that it’s not always the simplest task to settle your little ones down for bed, especially when the sun is still shining, but it is important to establish a healthy bedtime for the school year. School days at MCA start early, at 8:30 or 8:45AM. If an early bedtime is proving to be tricky, you may consider implementing family “quiet time” in the evenings. This can involve quiet play, or you could engage in the time-honored tradition of reading before bedtime. Have your child pick out 3 or 4 favorite books to settle down with if he or she isn’t quite ready to sleep. As your quiet routine continues in the days leading up to the first day of school, cut back to 2 – 3 books until your child is prepared to settle down a little earlier.

In the morning, try the lure of a favorite breakfast to help rouse your little one while your family’s bodies adjust to school mode. Perhaps even do a practice run, where you and your child have breakfast and leave the house together to drive past the school. This will also allow you to assess how much time it takes to actually get out the door.

4. Differentiate your anxieties about separation from your child’s

Whether this is your first child heading off to preschool or your fourth, it is normal for parents to have some hesitation about leaving their children in the care of others. In order to assist children in making a smooth transition, it is important for parents to display a positive attitude and send children off with a big smile, a brief hug, and the assurance that you are looking forward to sharing stories about each of your days when school and work are done. Your positive attitude helps your child sense that you believe he or she will be able to manage the school day just fine, and that positive attitude just might be contagious!

To help you maintain a smile before you say goodbye, take some time to reflect on the successes your child has exhibited in playgroups or at other times when you were not by his or her side. Be confident that should your child need some extra support, the teachers at MCA will help you both through this transition until everyone is comfortable with a new school routine.

5. Talk about school at home using the names of teachers and classmates

After Meet the Teachers Day, and then throughout the school year, invite your child to share stories about the events of his or her school day. Keep a class list handy to help you both remember the names of new teachers and friends until they become familiar. Ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to share details, and be patient if it takes some time to remember events from the day. You might ask, “What story did you listen to during circle time?”, “Who did you eat snack with today?”, or “What did you do on the playground?” Gradually, you may find that your child will initiate and guide the conversations about school.

6. Take the time to meet other parents

 Chances are you won’t be the only parent who is nervous about leaving your child at school for the first time. Some veteran parents may feel the very same way! We can guarantee that there will be friendly and sympathetic faces willing to lend advice to a first-time preschool parent. Take the first step and introduce yourself to another parent after drop-off, and set up time to meet over coffee to share your experiences. The other parents in your child’s class will be wonderful resources at the beginning of the school year, and in time, you may find that they become good friends as well. Just as your child will be experiencing new things and making new friends during his or her school experience, so will you.

We can’t believe that the summer is almost over, but we are anticipating a wonderful school year ahead! Our teachers are busy preparing their classrooms, just as your family is preparing for the school year in your own way. Everyone at MCA is excited to welcome you in September!

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:

MONTESSORI NJ