Tag Archives: practical life

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!

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!

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Practically Speaking: Why Practical Life Matters

“The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” ~ Maria Montessori

Often at the beginning of a new school year, children in Montessori classrooms tend to choose much of their work in the Practical Life area over the other areas of the classroom.  For one thing, they are drawn to the pretty materials, which are usually very colorful and inviting in so many ways.  Transferring brightly colored rice from one container to another with a shiny silver spoon or pouring blue-dyed water from one large pitcher into three small cups is very appealing.

Children are also most comfortable with Practical Life work because it involves activities that they see being done every day at home.  Things that are ‘real’ appeal to children who want to do ‘grown up’ types of work and make a meaningful contribution to their homes and classrooms.  Practical Life is the area of the classroom in which children also receive the most lessons from the teacher at the start of the year, and for a very good reason.

On the surface, Practical Life activities provide the children with just that—practical, everyday skills that they need to survive.  Learning how to button and zip, how to set the table and wash dishes, or how to do simple food preparation, is necessary.  But even beyond these essential lessons, Practical Life, if you look at it closely, promotes additional skills that lead children to succeed in each and every other area of the classroom.  How?  Let’s look at just some of the skills that Practical Life teaches:

  1. Planning and Order:  The children learn, step by step, how first to take the work from the shelf to their work space and then set it up.  Sometimes the work requires items from other areas of the classroom, such as an apron, a mat, a bucket, or other tools.  The children learn where things are kept in the classroom and quickly realize the importance of putting things back in their proper places when they are finished using them.  This ensures that everything is ready for the next person who wants to choose that work.
  2. Self-Control: At first, children using the Practical Life materials may be tempted to rush through the activities.  However, in the careful presentation of the work by the teacher, the children discover the beauty and joy of the work done with control.  Instead of hastily scooping up beans with a spoon in a rushed, careless manner, the children learn to observe the beauty of the shape and color of the beans that they collect on the spoon and the lilting sound that they make as they are carefully spooned into the bowl.  Their senses are attuned to each part of the lesson, and they begin to gain an appreciation for a work performed well and with control from start to finish.
  3. Coordination: Grace in movement is important when using the Practical Life materials.  Trying hard to not spill out any drops of water from a pitcher or bowl, the child learns to move with control and purpose.  The children must negotiate how they travel from the shelves to the work space, making sure that all of the materials stay on the tray that they are carrying.  Once at the workspace, the children develop a variety of hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.  These grow as the children continue using Practical Life works specifically designed to support this growth.  While teachers may adapt the appearance of the lessons (perhaps changing the color of the water or the types of materials being used), the essence of the lessons remains constant to help children continue to develop their coordination with each activity.
  4. Patience: There is only one of each activity on the classroom shelves.  Popular activities fly off the shelves quickly, and classmates learn that they must wait for their turn if something is already being used.  There is no grabbing a work out of someone else’s hands.  Instead, a child might be invited to watch while waiting.  Similarly, a child must practice patience in order to complete the work.  Many involve several steps, and each step, from set up to clean up, is equally important and necessary.  If a step is skipped, there is a natural consequence that affects whether or not the work can be completed correctly.  Children respond to these natural results and will strive to do the work to the best of their ability with the goal of getting it done ‘just right’ with practice and patience.
  5. Persistence: The Practical Life work is attractive for a reason.  It entices children to return to it again and again to practice important skills and achieve their goal of doing it correctly.  Because the Practical Life area ultimately helps the children develop skills they need in every area of the classroom, persistence and repetition are especially important.  Pouring wet or dry ingredients helps develop hand-eye coordination and estimation; using tweezers or tongs to transfer items strengthens the pincer grip needed for holding a pencil and other tools.  These will become important across academic areas.
  6. Mastery: The repetition of movements helps the children to eventually gain mastery over specific skills.  This is the aim of the Practical Life works, as it is with everything found on the shelves in a Montessori classroom.  The self-correcting materials let the child know whether or not the work was done well and with accuracy.  If the water spills when being poured, the children know they need to pour it more slowly or that they need to pour less in each cup so that the cups don’t overflow.  There is little to no teacher intervention required—the child can see for himself or herself if the work was done right.  Imagine the joy when a child who has struggled with one skill or another finally sees that success has been achieved!  It is that intrinsic feeling of pride that most strongly motivates children to continue to try, to continue to learn, in order to attain that wonderful feeling again and again!

Children’s time in the Practical Life area supports their success all throughout the Montessori classroom and extends into skills that help them all throughout their lives.  Planning, concentration, persistence, patience, and self-control all contribute to the children’s effectiveness in learning every academic subject and in their success in managing social interactions as well.  While Practical Life may seem simple, it is an area of significant importance for life skills.  It is the foundation for all of the learning areas within the classroom and extends beyond it into all areas of life.  As one parent commented to her son’s Montessori teacher, “I love that my child is learning to sew buttons in preschool.  Not only will he be able to fix his own clothes when the time comes, but he may also make a fine surgeon one day!”  Practically speaking, Practical Life really does matter!

A Joyful Start to the Montessori Journey with MMC&M

By: Camilla Nichols-Uhler and Alex Chiu

This fall, The Montessori Children’s Academy (MCA) proudly launched an exciting new program called Montessori, My Child, & Me (MMC&M).  Designed for children ages 18-30 months, this program offers young children the opportunity to explore a modified Montessori environment with their parents or caregivers.  MMC&M also provides the adults with an opportunity to learn about Montessori education and to see firsthand how it benefits children.

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MMC&M sessions are 1 ½ hours once a week for eight weeks and are held in a classroom specifically designed for this younger age group.  The classroom is a beautiful, welcoming environment equipped with specially designed furniture and materials that are the appropriate size for little arms and legs.  Everything in the classroom is of the highest quality, obtained from renowned companies such as Hello Wood in Rickman, Tennessee and Community Playthings in Ulster Park, NY.

During each class meeting, the children and adults are introduced to a sampling of age-appropriate Montessori materials from each of the five main learning areas found in a typical Montessori classroom: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math, and Culture.  However, the materials for the MMC&M classroom are adapted to meet the distinct needs and abilities of the young children in this special program.

One example of a lesson modified for MMC&M participants is the Pink Tower from the Sensorial area.  In the MMC&M classroom, the tower contains five cubes for our little explorers to use in order to build the tower from the largest cube at the bottom to the smallest cube at the top.  In our MCA 3-6-year-old classrooms, the Pink Tower contains ten cubes, and the children learn to transfer one cube at a time from the shelf to their workspace.  As children use this material, they gain a sense of sequence and order.  When they are finished, they return the Pink Tower to its place in the classroom and arrange it in the same way that they found it when they began their work.  This way it is ready for the next person to use.

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As our youngest MMC&M students began to learn the process for using the smaller version of the Pink Tower, the adults observed that this activity is so much more than what it appears to be on the surface.  Many of the parents and adult caregivers marveled at how the children were able to follow directions, concentrate on the activity, and put away the materials in the appropriate place when they were finished!  This is just one example of how Montessori engages the whole child in each activity.  Gaining skills in independence, small and large muscle control, planning, and care of materials all are the essence of this seemingly simple lesson.  And as our adults observed, even the youngest children can be successful when given the guidance and opportunity to take on new challenges!

In addition to using a sampling of modified Montessori materials, the MMC&M children and adults participate in music, movement, art, and yoga activities under the guidance of a certified Montessori Head Teacher.  Movement is an important aspect of the Montessori environment.  Studies have shown that children engaged in movement while learning are able to retain information more easily.  In Montessori classrooms, the children often are moving to choose and complete their work.  Movement provides time to release energy, to think, and to plan.

Within the MMC&M classroom, children have many opportunities to move and to develop their large motor skills as they crawl through a tunnel, push a carpet sweeper, or balance a wooden wheel on a yellow line.  The MMC&M children also practice yoga poses and participate in a variety of songs and games that allow them to move their bodies in controlled, purposeful ways.  At the same time, they are having quite a lot of fun!

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And it’s not only the children who benefit from participating in the MMC&M program. The adults also glean a great deal of knowledge not only about Montessori but also about their own children. By welcoming parents and caregivers into the prepared Montessori environment and guiding them while their children explore the materials, the adults are given the opportunity to see their children through a different lens.  This allows them to come to a deeper understanding of their children’s needs and unique capabilities.

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During the course of the morning, the parents and caregivers are invited to visit the cozy adult area that offers a comfy couch, lounge chairs, and a coffee table. There, with a cup of coffee or tea, they can sit back and observe the classroom in action.  Past participants have told us that by taking note of how the classroom is organized and seeing the types of child-sized tools we provide, they have learned how they can model the Montessori layout in order to promote their children’s independence at home.  There are some simple things parents can do to adapt the kitchen, bathroom, and child’s bedroom to facilitate more practice with important daily life skills.  As Dr. Montessori once said, “The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self”. By modeling the Montessori environment at home, parents give their children the gift of independence, as well as a sense of pride in being able to do things for themselves.

The adults in our MMC&M program also have the opportunity to peruse Montessori resources, including books and articles related to the Montessori philosophy and methodology, and to read a collection of parent testimonials from current and former Montessori parents. Through observation and in conjunction with the parent education materials provided and guidance by the Head Teacher, the adults can witness how the Montessori environment addresses the needs of the children and fosters their natural curiosity, making learning meaningful and fun! They can also begin to build a bridge between home and school by implementing what they see in the MMC&M classroom in their own homes and family routines, which is one of the main goals of the program.

The Montessori Children’s Academy plans to expand the successful Montessori, My Child, & Me program in the future so that it is available at all three of our campuses—Morristown, Chatham, and Short Hills.  We are excited to offer even more parents the opportunity to join our community and to embark on a beautiful Montessori journey together with their children.

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“The greatness of the human personality begins at the hour of birth. From this almost mystic affirmation there comes what may seem a strange conclusion: that education must start from birth.”  ~ Maria Montessori