Tag Archives: montessori preschool

What (Not) to Wear

 

By: Alex Chiu

Many parents anticipate that perfect “first day of school” photo with their children wearing fresh, new outfits, slinging those bright new backpacks over their shoulders, and smiling as they exit the front door ready to start a new school year. Before you begin your back-to-school shopping however, teachers (and especially preschool teachers) would love to offer some advice on what clothing choices are most appropriate for children to wear to school.

Choose clothing that allows freedom of movement
First, parents should consider their children’s daily school activities. Especially in a Montessori environment, children move a LOT. The clothing they wear should allow for comfort and freedom of movement, both in the classroom and out on the playground. Remember, Montessori work can take place either at a table or on the floor. Clothing that allows for sitting ‘criss cross applesauce’ is important!

Choose clothing that is ‘worry-free’
In addition to being comfortable and allowing freedom of movement, clothing at school should be ‘worry-free’. Montessori children work with water, soil, plants, paint, sand, and many other potentially messy supplies. While one of the goals is for children to use the materials purposefully and to be able to master using them without excessive spills, the reality is that spills happen. Often. Montessori education is prepared for that, which is why children also learn the important skills of cleaning up after their messes! However, children are much more likely to participate in all areas of the classroom uninhibited if they aren’t worried about staining a new dress or scuffing nice dressy shoes. They are then free to explore the environment and learn skills across all of the classroom’s offerings.

Choose clothing that encourages independence and safety
Just as many professions have a dress code for professionalism and safety, classrooms also encourage a dress code that is geared toward keeping students focused on what’s important and safe. For younger children who are learning to use the bathroom independently, a proper school wardrobe might include pants that are easy to pull on and off independently. While belts are fashionable, they may not be the best choice for success in toilet training! Similarly, in order for children to feel safe and successful on the playground, consider your child’s footwear. Sneakers or other closed-toe and rubber-soled shoes are the wise choice. These types of shoes allow children to climb and run more safely, and they don’t prohibit children from participating in activities in the gym or on the playground equipment.

Provide your child with time to learn the skills needed for dressing him or herself
Finally, as you assemble your child’s school wardrobe, allow your child to practice zipping the zippers, buttoning the buttons, snapping the snaps, and hooking the eyehooks. As adults, we may forget that these are skills that are learned and require practice. Provide your child with enough time when dressing to complete these tasks on his or her own or with minimal help from you. Then, send your child off to school to do his or her work with no worries about wardrobe and dressed for success!

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.

Montessori Childrens Academy

Classrooms Filled With Character

While many parents today continue to put an emphasis on the academic rigor of their children’s education, more and more are asking how schools are addressing their child’s development of character. We hear buzz words like “grit”, “self-motivation”, and “emotional intelligence”, and begin to worry that our children are not adding these skill sets into their personal repertoire. Indeed, many schools are incorporating ‘character building’ into their curricula along with ‘anti-bullying’ and other similar social development and prevention programs. Adding these types of curricular areas is a beneficial component to a more holistic educational approach. Those who have been involved in Montessori education as former students, parents, or educators might find it interesting that current trends are just now catching up to something that Montessori education has been doing for more than 100 years.

Dr. Montessori believed in “educating the human potential”. The potential she referred to was not limited to academic potential, but rather reached beyond the limitless possibilities we all possess to learn and do meaningful things. Every aspect of Montessori education contributes to educating the whole child. Let us look at what it is about the Montessori approach that contributes to character building:

  1. The Environment: Children entering a Montessori classroom for the first time are introduced to the various works on the shelves by a teacher. The children learn how to handle the materials with care. After using a particular work, they know to return it to the shelf so that the work is ready for the next person. Children learn how to walk around the work rugs on the classroom floor. They receive lessons in making a ‘safe chair’. They learn to wait for a turn if something they want to do is being used by someone else. They learn to work cooperatively with their peers in a non-competitive environment. These seem like simple lessons, right? That is where Montessori is magical. These are so much more than simple lessons. At their core, these are lessons in safety, respect, and patience. To handle the materials with care keeps them in good condition for the benefit of everyone in the classroom. To move safely about the classroom demonstrates concern for others and their well-being. To learn to delay gratification and be patient is an enormous lesson in self-control. Respect, care, concern for others, and patience—character building in progress!
  2. The Work Cycle: Over the course of the school day, Montessori students are given an ‘uninterrupted’ period of time in which to choose and do their own work. They have the freedom to decide which activities from the shelves they would like to do, and so long as they are working purposefully, they may work with the materials for any length of time. This work cycle is another example of a multi-purpose lesson in Montessori education. By providing children with the opportunity to make choices, they learn decision-making skills, responsibility, and accountability for what they do. In addition, they build concentration and persistence by being permitted time to work on an activity without being rushed to complete it. This often results in children gaining mastery over skills and an understanding that ‘hard work pays off’. Again, we see character being developed through these opportunities as children gain skills in decision-making, persistence, concentration, and the rewards of self-motivation and diligence.
  3. Peace Education: We have already shared the importance of Peace Education in Montessori curriculum. It bears repeating, however, as this is another central and direct method of imparting values and building character in our students. Learning that there are peaceful methods for solving conflicts and providing children with tools for positive problem solving all contribute to well-rounded, healthy, communicative individuals, both inside and outside of the classroom.
  4. The Mixed-Age Classroom: Montessori classrooms consist of students across a 3-year age span. Much like in families, everyone in the classroom has his or her special role and important responsibilities. Older students act as mentors and role models in Montessori environments. Younger students learn from classmates as much as they do from a teacher. There are opportunities for collaboration and many discussions in which everyone participates. Working and learning together in a mixed-age setting promotes acceptance of differences, appreciation, and respect for individual skills and gifts, and an ability to work with a variety of people.
  5. The Teacher: Montessori teachers often are referred to as ‘guides’, which is a fitting term for their role in the classroom. They are the primary example-setting individuals in the classroom whom children are meant to model. Their words and actions deliver messages of how to speak kindly, respectfully, and clearly. And the teacher’s role in observing the needs of the children in the class is crucial, as it is the teacher who then presents lessons and creates an environment that meets the needs of the children who are served in the classroom.
  6. Stories as Teaching Tools: Many Montessori lessons revolve around The Great Stories. As children learn about time, history, math, and language, they learn these things in the context of stories that make sense as a whole and in a context children understand. In addition to these ‘teaching stories’, many circle time lessons in Montessori classrooms incorporate children’s literature rich with examples of virtuous characters. These stories are the springboard for classroom discussions, role-playing, and games to help students better understand how character makes a difference. Stories and fables about courageous mice, boys who cry wolf, hardworking pigs, and more, help children come to value these good qualities in the heroes of these important stories. Students are encouraged to share thoughts and ideas, and to apply the lessons in their everyday interactions.

Long ago, Dr. Montessori knew the importance of educating the ‘whole child’—from the academics to character development. She said, “The child is capable of developing and giving us tangible proof of the possibility of a better humanity. He has shown us the true process of construction of the human being. We have seen children totally change as they acquire a love for things and as their sense of order, discipline, and self-control develops within them…. The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.” (Education and Peace). Indeed, these Montessori classrooms are filled with students of great character who are a beacon of hope for our future as they are learning the skills they will need to be productive, peaceful citizens of the world.

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.