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.
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.
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.
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.
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.