|October 25, 2013|
From birth through adulthood, there are so many things that children must learn along the way. How can any education program find a way to cover them all? Well, the fact is, if you’re trying to teach them all, one at-a-time, it can’t be done. There just aren’t enough hours in the day, let alone a school day. Teachers in traditional education are fighting against the clock every minute of the day. The response from our educational leaders has been to fast-track concepts, spend less time on each new lesson, gloss over others and cut whatever else isn’t on “the test” from the entire curriculum. Not surprisingly, this has created a trickle-down situation for parents across the nation, who have come to expect that if they want their children to learn the things that school has forgotten, it’s up to them to do it at home. It’s been going on so long, we don’t even stop to think about why this has to be.
Addition, multiplication, subtraction, division, decimals, fractions, geometry, algebra, hand-writing, sight words, phonetics, encoding, decoding, parts of speech, punctuation, compound words, synonyms, sentence structure, spelling, social studies, government, economics, geography, longitude, latitude, ancient civilizations, historical events, botany, zoology, biology, chemistry, physics. This list could continue for pages and pages without even getting into developmental, social and emotional skills like concentration, patience, persistence, focus, problem solving, empathy, divergent thinking, confidence, self-reliance and the things that are so often cut from programs like art, poetry and music. Granted, all of these concepts are not learned in a single year, but each child is going to grasp them in his or her own way at different times and not until they are good and ready to do so. Given that, how can anyone expect a teacher to successfully help each child to grow by giving everyone the same lesson at the same time? To make the question more technical, even if children are given the lessons individually, how can a teacher possibly cover all of this when the children learn one thing from each lesson? The answer is they can’t and they don’t. Sadly, until we start expecting more from education and looking at things from the child’s perspective, things will only get worse.
Dr. Montessori has shown there is another way. She knew it 100 years ago. I may say this about each of the Montessori differences covered in this little series, but of them all, cosmic learning may be the biggest reason to choose Montessori for your child. “Cosmic Learning” refers to the interconnectedness of all things in the universe. If you look hard enough those connections begin to reveal themselves. The practical application of this concept, put in layman’s terms, is the idea that multiple things can be learned from a single experience.
I recently observed an elementary classroom at a Montessori school in Florida. Shortly after I sat down a child walked past me on his way to return one of the puzzle maps to the rack (these are fairly large 24” x 18” wooden maps representing each of the continents and hemispheres of the globe). Without noticing, he dropped one of the pieces as he passed. It bounced and landed at my feet. As an observer of a Montessori classroom, it is important to remain as invisible as possible, so I did nothing.
About 5 minutes later, a little girl walked by and noticed the piece on the ground. She picked it up and immediately began looking around this very large room in search of the correct puzzle. This continued for a few minutes as the child stopped by each puzzle she saw. South America? Nope. Asia? Nope. United States of America? Nope. Eventually, she passed another student who asked what she was doing. “I found this piece on the ground and I’m looking for the map that goes with it.” She said. “Let me see” said the other child. She inspected the piece and said “That’s Liberia. It’s in Africa.” She gave the piece back to the little girl who thanked her, replaced the piece in the Africa map and returned to her work.
Now, I’m not saying that this only happens in a Montessori classroom, but I am saying that it happens in every Montessori classroom. I’m also saying that in the Montessori classroom, this doesn’t happen by accident. It’s cosmic learning at its best, but if you’re not looking for it, it is easy to miss. Let’s analyze what happened and how. When this child saw the puzzle piece on the floor, she had multiple options; ignore it because it’s not her problem, tell a teacher, or pick it up herself and put it where it belongs. At six years old, having spent several years in the Montessori environment, there was almost no chance that she would choose the first two options. Still, if she hadn’t chosen to take action, I can almost guarantee that one of the other students would have. During her years in Montessori, this child has worked to develop an understanding of her responsibility to herself, her peers and the environment. She has internalized these concepts to the point of ownership. She and all of her classmates own equal parts of everything in the room. That’s apparent from the moment you walk through the door. It is a child’s place. It’s their place. There is nothing that she owns more or less than anyone else. It has been this way all along, but at six years old, she may only just have come to consciously realize this.
Once she started her search for the missing puzzle map, she had made the decision to solve the problem. When she encountered difficulty, she might have considered giving up. Then again, the idea may never have crossed her mind. In either case, she showed persistence. Her classmate, who was doing her own work, has also developed ownership along with empathy for her classmate. Because she is given the opportunity for collaboration so often, it was instinctual to offer help. In the process of collaboration, she also shared her knowledge of geography. One of the more subtle points of interest here is the fact that the helping child stopped short of solving the problem for her friend and instead, returned the piece to her and continued with her own work. She knows when she should lead and when to empower others. When the child finally located the correct map, she didn’t seek any reward or praise. She paused briefly to consider her success, and then found another work for herself.
Be honest, when you first read the story, did you see everything that really happened there? Did you see ownership, persistence, concentration, empathy, responsibility, academic learning, self-motivation, confidence, leadership, collaboration and friendship? If you’re cynical like me, you probably thought, “big deal, the kid put away a puzzle piece.” You’re not wrong. You’re just missing the big (or small) picture.
This sounds like an accidental occurrence and certainly, it was not planned by anyone -not specifically anyway. However, the experience was an intended one and in order for it to happen, the environment, the students and the teacher all required preparation long before-hand. Where, exactly, was the teacher in all of this? As is so often the case in Montessori, she wasn’t directly involved at all. She was on the floor working with another student. She noticed the child walking around the room, but she did not interrupt her. Instead, she observed and allowed the child the independent experience. She did this because she believes -no, she knows, that if left to her own devices in the Montessori classroom, a child will learn. Most of that learning happens when the adults set the stage and get out of the way.
Now let’s look at the Montessori materials themselves. Last week I observed a child working with the constructive triangles. These are wooden boxes which contain triangles of various shapes, obtuse, isosceles, equilateral, right and acute triangles. The triangles are color-coded and when placed together correctly, they form larger triangles (or other shapes). Each triangle has a pronounced black line on one or more edges which designates a connection point to one or more triangles of the same color. When each triangle is complete, the lines identify the smaller triangles within the shape. A solid shape colored gray is there as a template for checking one’s work. It looks like this:
I watched as the teacher presented the lesson. She was completely silent. The work is self-explanatory -no need to talk. Her movements were slow, deliberate and smooth. The child paid close attention as the teacher traced each black line with her finger before sliding the triangle into position. The final triangle is composed of 4 equilateral triangles. The center triangle is black on all three edges and must be pointed downward in order to create a larger triangle that points upward.
Over the next 10 minutes, this child, who was new to the classroom this year, repeatedly struggled with the final triangle. Each time she was excruciatingly close to success, but at the last second, seeing the other triangles pointed upward, she turned the small, center triangle pointing upward as well. When she connected two more equilateral triangles, she formed a trapezoid with the small side pointing down. Placing the final, fourth triangle on top, pointing upward, resulted in a shape similar to a paper sailboat.
At one point, the child appeared as if she was going to give up and put the work away. She stopped what she was doing and looked at me. I responded with an ecouraging shoulder shrug conveying the message “What can you do about this?” She made eye contact with the teacher sitting nearby who sort of raised her eyebrows and nodded her head as if to say “You can do this.” The child returned to her work and after another minute or so, she completed the final triangle.
I was expecting elation. I myself, was smiling ear to ear. Given her effort, I thought she might go to the teacher or a friend for some kind of acknowledgement. Instead, she immediately used the grey template to check her work. Confident that each triangle was correct, she paused for only a moment to survey what she had done, and then she replaced all of the triangles in the box, one-by-one, returned the work to its place on the shelf and sat down with a friend to enjoy snack.
Thinking about the first story, what did you see here? If you said, persistence, geometry, self-reliance, concentration, fine motor development and sense of order, you’ll get no gold star from me, but you should be proud of yourself. You saw the connections. You saw Montessori. You know those posters which, if you stare at them long enough and sort of “look through” the pattern, a hidden image like a pirate ship or an airplane emerges seemingly from thin air? The first time you tried it, maybe you weren’t successful. Maybe it took you years to figure it out, but once you got it, you’ll never miss it again. Observing cosmic learning is the same thing. Once you know what to look for, you can’t help but see it.
|October 4, 2013|
I’d be lying if I said that being a Montessori parent was easy. In fact, it can be downright stressful, confusing and difficult. Aside from the pressures we place on ourselves as parents and our all-consuming desire give our children the best of everything, there is an entire world out there just waiting to pile on -sometimes in ways that we don’t even realize. By choosing Montessori for your child, you made a decision (whether you realized it at the time or not) to put yourself directly in the path of all this pressure. You made a choice to live outside the box.
On some level, each of us has ventured outside the box at times -some of us more than others. So we all know that doing so carries its own challenges and difficulties, but it also offers great rewards. Ironically, thinking outside the box is considered to be a good thing. When we get stuck on a problem, where do we go? Outside the box. Why? Because that’s where all the ideas are. Inside the box, the questions have been asked and answered, but when we step outside the box, we realize that maybe those questions weren’t asked in the right way and that there is more than one answer to every question. Outside the box is where we go to expand our minds and grow as individuals and as a people.
In spite of the fact that it has been around for more than 100 years, Montessori is very much outside the box. It is fundamentally different from every other program out there.
We look at children differently: They are not empty vessels to be filled with our own ideas. They are driven to work -to refine themselves, to learn. They desire ownership, responsibility and they are capable of so much more than conventional wisdom would have us believe.
We look at teaching differently: The teacher is a guide -a facilitator. He or she is far less important than the children in the room. There is no teacher desk. No punishments or rewards for behavior. We look to step back from the child as often as we look to step toward her so that as the child grows, the teacher diminishes. Indeed, the goal of the Montessori teacher is that the children are working as if he/she is not in the room.
We look at work differently: Instead of arbitrary assignments based upon the “average” child, our work is designed based upon brain development. This enables children to choose their own work because it is relevant and meaningful to them. We don’t need a grade or a test to know the children are learning and growing because we observe them. The objective of the work may be the process itself as opposed to the result. We believe in cosmic education -that a child can learn multiple things from just one activity. Homework is not necessary because each child learns at a pace and in an individualized manner which can be fully accomplished during classroom hours. Every child gets what he or she needs.
This is not the case inside the box. Somewhere along the way it became acceptable for children to dislike or even hate school. It’s a sad fact but an indisputable one. The evidence is everywhere you look. Ask just about any child if he likes school and you’ll hear something like “I like recess, PE and Art, but I don’t like the work.” Regardless of how the answer is worded, there is clearly someplace he would rather be. Every television show aimed at children highlights the fact that school is a drag. Entire cartoons are based upon mean principals, inept teachers, bullies, bumbling parents and boring work. At best school is something we all must endure until the bell rings and “real life” starts. Still, school became “boring” long before television confirmed this. We have only ourselves to blame.
This concept -that “school sucks” to use the vernacular, is one that thrives inside the box. As near as I can tell, no one is doing anything about it. Now think about it this way -think outside the box: How many adults would subject themselves to 12 years in a job environment where they have no control, no input, the work is irrelevant, the method is antiquated, the goals are unclear, there is little freedom of choice, mistakes are penalized and the result is more important than the process? Well, thanks to a school system that conditions children to believe this is the way things are, probably quite a few. However, there are many of us who would not sit idly by and accept the status quo. We would do everything we could to affect change and if that didn’t work, we’d find a new job. Our children can’t do that. They have no voice. We are their voice and it is up to us to speak for them.
But wait a minute, you’re a successful, happy adult and you made it through school. It wasn’t all bad. You even did “well!” You have a good job. A nice home. You don’t remember “hating” school and maybe you didn’t. Based on the person you are today, school “worked” for you. But those of us outside the box in Montessori believe it’s not enough to simply say that school “works” -especially when the general consensus now is that it really doesn’t work at all and hasn’t for a long time. In fact, it is entirely possible that much of the person you are today happened as an accidental by-product or in spite of your school experience.
It’s not enough to say “school isn’t and wasn’t that bad.” Its the biggest part of a child’s life by far. If the best thing we can say about it is that its not that bad, there is something very wrong here! Shouldn’t school be GREAT? Shouldn’t it be a place that children want to be? Shouldn’t the focus be on things that are meaningful for the child? Shouldn’t it be a place where mistakes are encouraged and individuality is appreciated? Shouldn’t the place where children spend most of their developing lives actually prepare them to live? Believe it or not, when it comes to how school really works, this is out of the box thinking. By choosing Montessori, you have answered yes to all of these questions. You, my friend, are way outside the box. Welcome!
Back inside the box, “real school” starts at Kindergarten -if not first grade. That’s where we ratchet up the pressure -and it can come from nearly anywhere. Your child MUST be able to read at a certain level or know the names of each state, or answer test questions and memorize math facts. The neighbor’s kid is reading Harry Potter. Grandma and grandpa say “you went to public school and look how well you turned out.” Friends say “why would you pay so much for something when you’re just going to switch to traditional school eventually?” And don’t discount the internal pressure we all feel when we see another child in the class working at a higher level than our own child, or perhaps the reading or math is coming along more slowly than we hope. We pass our own worries onto our children. If we struggled in math as a child, we tend to be hyper-focused on making sure our child does not. If we had attention or behavior difficulty in school, we stay awake at night hoping our child can avoid this. All of this and more seems to bombard us in waves throughout the growth of our children and it will not go away anytime soon.
How, on earth, are we supposed to resist all of this pressure? The first thing to do is arm yourself with information. When we first opened MAB 14 years ago, I was relatively new to Montessori -especially as it pertains to the parent’s perspective. I wasn’t even a parent myself. I am also naturally skeptical, so that’s exactly how I entered into this position. I figured there must be some holes or failings in Montessori that I would have to spin at some point. I kept looking for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. Over the years I have fielded just about every question you could possibly imagine on the Montessori method many, many times over. I have asked a significant number of questions myself and I’ve done quite a bit of research and observation. I have experienced it as a Montessori teacher, an administrator, a teacher trainer and a parent. Through this process I have come to learn that Montessori really does have an answer for everything. It may not always be what those inside the box want to hear, but the answers are there.
So what is Montessori? If I had to explain it in 60 seconds, I’d say that Montessori is a child-centered, mixed age environment where children are encouraged to develop independence. It is a place were the focus is on social skills, self-reliance, concentration, executive functioning, empathy, generosity, decision making, confidence and a host of other things that ALL come before academics. In spite of the advanced math and language materials, Montessori is not an accelerated learning program. We are devoted to maintaining a child’s innate love of learning so that it may continue beyond the walls of this school and long into the future. We consider what the children need now as well as the skills they will need25 years down the road. We prepare children for life.
While taking advantage of the endless resources available to you at MAB, including observation, parent conferences, Facebook classroom groups, parent group discussions, newsletters, emails, our parent library, the resources page of our website and your child’s teacher, be sure to look to your child for evidence of Montessori’s value. When you do, look beyond the more obvious things like work product and academic progress. Does he seem more helpful at home? Is her social language improving? Do you find that he gets frustrated less? Does she look for opportunities to lead? Is she more patient? Is he happy? Does she value her own efforts? Does he focus longer? Is her pincer grip strengthening? Does she make better eye contact when speaking? Does he offer greetings to others? Is she more comfortable with others? Does he share without prompting? Does he pay more attention to the needs of others? Is she more accepting of responsibility? These are the intended results of early Montessori education, but there will be not test or grades offered as evidence of their development. It’s up to you to find these things in your child. If you’re not specifically looking for them, they are easy to miss.
Aside from understanding your child and the process of his or her development, your goal, in reading, listening, observing, questioning and thinking is to answer the most important question of all “Why Montessori?” Your teachers and I can give you 100 reasons, but those would just be our words. So truly answering this question requires more than a quick tour of the school or a visit to Wikipedia. One observation and a few pictures from the classroom Facebook page won’t do. Your answer will be unique to you and might well be different even from that of your spouse. But whatever the answer is, it’s something that you must truly believe and understand in your own way.
There is a hard reality of Montessori. It is one that you might not want to hear, but it is true none the less. Montessori is for just about every child, but it may not be for all parents. The ones that miss out are usually the ones who fall victim to pressure from inside the box (most often the pressure comes from inside themselves). They don’t attend parent events. They don’t learn how to apply Montessori philosophy at home. They continue to do too much for their child without looking at things from the child’s perspective. They drill math facts and spelling, reading and writing each night. They fail to recognize the importance of social and emotional development. They don’t observe and look for the smallest changes. They view school as one place and home as another with very little connection between the two. These parents don’t stand a chance. Living outside the box is hard enough as it is but it’s down right impossible when you don’t know why you’re there in the first place.
|September 27, 2013|
Montessori is different. Walk into a classroom and the evidence is everywhere you look. In fact, there are so many differences in Montessori that many of them tend to slip by unnoticed. So I’ve decided to devote a few blog posts to some of the most important differences (both obvious and subtle). The first part in this little mini-series will discuss “work.”
Let’s do a little word-association test. I’ll say a word and you tell me all the words that pop in to your head. Ready? Here goes; “Work.”
O.K. Obviously this is a one-sided blog post and you can’t really tell me what you thought. However, those of you who said your answers out loud just now get extra credit in my book. Chances are, you didn’t come up with words like “Yay!” “Give me more!” or “Fun!” some of you might have have thought of words like “necessary”, “challenging” or “important.” More than likely, the words you heard were something like “boring”, “commute”, “boss”, “tedious”, “NOT fun.”
What about the images that popped into your head? Did you see visions of a cluttered desk? A giant yard full of leaves to be raked and weeds to be picked? Did you envision a disappointed boss with a scowl on his or her face? Maybe you saw a line of traffic 10 miles long. Perhaps you saw a stuffy, dark windowless office full of cubicles as far as the eye can see. All of this and more are common adult responses to the notion of work.
It’s a simple little word, “Work”. Its a verb and a noun. It’s a concept and an object. It is the effort put forth to accomplish something and it is the something on which effort is exerted. No matter how it is defined, work just isn’t to adults what it is to children. The fact is that for adults, unless it is something that we love to do, most work is something to be avoided. Even if we love the work, there are still plenty of things we’d rather be doing instead. Never the less, this is an adult view and I mention it because it is absolutely critical that we do not project it onto our children (anymore than our society does on a daily basis).
Young children are driven to work, to refine themselves, to correct mistakes and to figure it out. Their work is to build the adult they will one day become. In spite of how many times we might clap or praise, sitting up, crawling, walking, talking, eating and the million other little milestones that children achieve are not done because of external reward. The motivation comes from within. Children work for the sake of the effort. Even when their actions do not appear successful to us, they feel accomplishment because the work is its own reward. This applies even to things children don’t necessarily love to do. Right now, its the process which holds the most value. Isn’t that the way it should be?
We are products of our environment. Our parents, family, friends, school, teachers, the jobs we have held and the people we have worked for and with, all worked together to lead us to the perceptions we hold today. As a result of our life experience, most of us are more likely to focus on how many answers we get right and wrong or whether the job is complete to a certain standard than how we got the answers or how we completed the job. It takes a conscious, directed effort for us to look back on the process -very often, this acknowledgement comes in the form of “self-evaluation.” Even then it’s after the fact. It is this view -the adult view, that has led us, in the larger educational world, to create work and curricula which focus on the results and pay little attention to the entire reason children would choose the work in the first place. This view even drives current teaching techniques, because teachers realize the work they prescribe has lost its value and they feel forced to attach praise and rewards to help the children find motivation.
Not so in Montessori. From day one we operate from the child’s point of view. We start with what motivates them. It’s not an accident that we call everything in the classroom “work.” It’s the best word to describe what it is that the children are doing. To them, this word means exciting, new, challenging, satisfying, purposeful, fun, interesting, fulfilling and rewarding. It’s what they love and what they are biologically born to do. Blowing your nose is work. Tying your shoes is work. Washing dishes, sweeping the floor, helping a friend, learning to read, write, count -it’s all work and when they choose it, there is nothing these children would rather be doing and there is no place they’d rather be.
So how do we ensure that the work is interesting to children in the first place? What makes them choose a specific work over another? At first, it’s all based on brain development. Each material, or work, is designed to appeal to children as their brain moves them through sensitive periods. These are windows of time where a child is particularly receptive to certain things. There are many of them; water, small objects, order, language -to name a few. Dr. Montessori observed that children enter these sensitive periods at relatively specific periods throughout their growth. There is a definite opening of the window as well as an obvious closing. If you’ve been in any of our classrooms you’ll notice elements of those sensitive periods in all of the materials in the room.
Knowledge of brain development is part of the genius behind the design of Montessori materials (many of which remain unchanged in more than 100 years). As I said, its what encourages children to choose their own work spontaneously -which is a huge benefit to the child’s ability to internalize the concept. What Dr. Montessori did with this knowledge, frankly, is a whole other level of genius. She designed works pairing what children want to do with what they need to develop. It seems so simple -and that’s the genius. It’s called indirect learning.
What does a three-year-old need most? Among other things, they need patience, concentration, self-reliance, fine motor development. Look closely at any of the practical life works and you’ll see how children learn all of this and more from every one. Indirect learning is one of those subtle but important differences I mentioned. Pouring between two small pitchers requires the use of the pincer grip. It must be taken from the shelf to the table and then replaced on the shelf when it is completed before the child can choose a different work. This creates a beginning and an end to the work, all of which are controlled by the child. Walking back and forth from the sink while holding a pitcher of water and not spilling a drop requires patience. Likewise, it takes patience, concentration and self-reliance to clean up the inevitable spill.
What I love most about work like this is that mistakes are every bit as valuable as success -perhaps even more so. It may sound funny but we Montessori teachers share a secret sense of glee when children spill pouring work. Its not schadenfreude. Its because we know what is coming next; opportunity. The moment that water hits the table and the floor, a whole world of options opens up. It’s a beautiful process to behold; “Uh oh! Why did that happen? What do I do know?” We can see the wheels turning as the child scans the room for some kind of assistance or clue as to his next move. He settles upon the teacher, making eye contact with her. His eyes tell the story “I need help!” The teacher, maybe without even stopping what she is doing, looks at the child and gives an inquisitive but encouraging shrug, clearly saying “What can you do about this?”, but instilling confidence at the same time.
From that point on, the possibilities are endless, but you can be sure that the teacher will not interfere unnecessarily. Whether a friend comes over to help or the child continues to work alone, he’s using problem solving and logic both to complete the work and to figure out how and if he should do it differently next time. “Maybe if I keep the pitchers on the tray any spill will be contained and easier to clean up.” “Maybe if I hold the pitcher differently or pay closer attention to what I’m doing, I’ll get all the water into the pitcher.” However he goes about doing it, the end result is that the child has turned a mistake into a success, and he has done it virtually on his own. The value of his work is as plain as the look of pride on his face when he returns his work to the shelf. That’s how work is done the Montessori way. That’s the Montessori difference.
|March 22, 2013|
I’m a member of a fairly exclusive club. It has nothing to do with the fact that I am a trained Montessori teacher, that I own and operate a Montessori school, that I attended Montessori as a child or even that I’m a member of the Montessori Madmen. I am a Montessori dad. In a few months I’ll be renewing my membership for the fourth time. I’m by no means a charter member, but I try to attend all the meetings. I read the newsletter. I’m in the know. Recently, I had a revelation about our club and I wanted to share it with you. At the risk of being controversial, here it is: Dads are the third rail of Montessori.
I didn’t coin the phrase. I’ve heard it used in politics “Social security is the third rail of politics.” The analogy refers to the third rail on the subway tracks that carries the electricity. Essentially, the third rail is where all the power is, but you need to treat it with care or you might get shocked. I think the analogy applies to dads, just as it does to Social Security. No one would suggest that social security is the most important of political topics and I am certainly not suggesting that dads are the most important part of child education or any family unit for that matter. I think the analogy holds for both because in spite of all our effort, nobody really knows the best way to work with either of them.
That’s where the comparison ends. Social Security isn’t going to stand up for itself. We can’t inspire social security. Social Security is not a club. Montessori dads, however, are all of these things and more. In January, I held a club meeting of sorts to discuss a few things. I inventively called it “Montessori for Dads.” My goal was simple; make Montessori occupy a larger part of dad’s brain. Thirty-five dads showed up and kept the discussion rolling for more than 2 hours. The energy was great. The questions were thoughtful and the discussion was fun and informative. It was our most successful dads event ever. There was no “shock”, but unfortunately, it is difficult to say what -if any, will be the long-term results of the meeting.
Here’s what I learned:
When you get a group of dads together to talk about parenting, there is a palpable sense of humility in the room. In case anyone out there misunderstands, humility is a good thing when it comes to parenting -it might be one of the best things. My theory is that we dads have grown comfortable with the idea that parenting is mom’s game. In that game many of us are considered bench warmers. Sure, we get our time on the field, but it’s usually only when mom goes down with a hammy. I’m sorry if that stings a little. Being a dad, I’m not so happy about the news myself. However, I’m basing my theory on 13 years of experience in working with parents and their children.
O.K. yes, there are some great dads out there. You might be one of them, but that doesn’t change my theory. If you think it through, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Turn on any family sitcom and you’ll see what I mean. Mom generally has her act together. She’s organized, handles the kids and essentially is responsible for the parenting. Dad, when he’s not at work, scratching himself or watching football, mows the lawn and fixes the sink. Cross those lines and you’ve got a disaster on your hands. It’s funny because its true.
In the case of our club meeting, the humility worked well. It created a wonderful openness to the ideas being shared. Dads didn’t feel like they needed to have all the answers. Society gives dads a hall pass and says it’s o.k. for us to be clueless when it comes to child development. We took advantage of this that night. But the group also had something else going for it, drive. I didn’t have to force anyone to show up and I certainly didn’t force anyone to stay and participate. The dads did it themselves. Halfway through the meeting, I found myself thinking of how much we could accomplish if we work together. Perhaps like most bench warmers, we want to get in the game, we just need the opportunity to show what we can do.
After the event, I started thinking about what really seems to be a paradox of Montessori education. In the overwhelming majority of parents that I have enrolled, it is mom who makes the decision to enroll in our school. If I only meet with mom the first time (which is the case 90% of the time), I try very hard to meet with dad shortly thereafter. This is harder than it sounds. Most of the time, when I do meet dad I hear “My wife makes the decisions on this stuff. I’m just here to check the place out.”
Fast forward 2 years. The child has grown emotionally, socially and academically, but that growth is far from complete. It’s the third year, the Kindergarten year where everything comes together. For more than 100 years the value of the three year cycle has been proven over and over again. All that the child learns in those first years has been building toward this moment. It should be a no-brainer. MAB Kindergarten? Where do I sign? For some moms, it is. Then, I get the note that says “We have chosen another program for our child.” So I talk to mom and what do I hear? “I really want to send Timmy back for Kindergarten, but I can’t convince my husband.” BZZZT! SHOCK! We just hit the third rail.
Year after year this happens. Of the reasons students leave Montessori before the third year, this may be the most frustrating, because it tells me something could have been done somewhere along the line to avoid this. But What? Why is it that mom gets the child in the door but dad is the reason he or she stays? Moms, does this sting a little for you, too?
Once again, society and conventional thinking may be a part of the problem. Our entire educational system is based upon the idea that “real” learning starts at first grade. I’ve even heard that from a few dads who have come through my door. Yet all of the most recent scientific studies of brain and child development tell us that it’s actually the first 6 years of life that are the most important. Even President Obama has realized this and has directed a new focus of education on preschool. Yes, Dr. Montessori figured this out more than 100 years ago, but this is not just a Montessori concept. It’s science!
At our club meeting, one of the dads very graciously asked me “Now that you have us here, what we can do for this school and the children.” What a great question! A soft-ball, if you will. What can you do? First, learn why your child is here. Why he or she is thriving. Learn what the teachers do and do not do to aid in that growth. Take advantage of the fact that almost all of what we do here can be done at home. Experiment with your parenting. Discuss parenting with your friends. Discuss it with your child’s teacher. Learn about brain development. Learn what is going on behind the scenes in your child and figure out what is coming on the horizon. Surf the internet to find videos and resources on child development. Start at www.TED.com and this website work out from there. In short, make Montessori and child development occupy a larger part of your brain. That’s all we need.
Most importantly, don’t fall victim to society’s views. You are not a backup. Dad’s don’t babysit! Remember you are not just one dad in a sea of parents. You are a member of an exclusive club but one which consists of literally millions of dads around the world. We are the third rail. We have the power to make a huge difference -one way or the other. As a group, we have yet to flex our collective muscles to influence the path of our children’s education and development, but it’s high time we get off the bench and get in the game.
|March 13, 2013|
By Kristin Tubic (MAB Faculty / Guest Blogger)
When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him. Let us take the child out to show him real things instead of making objects which represent ideas and closing them up in cupboards – Maria Montessori
On Valentine’s Day this year a bug landed on my pink sweater. I didn’t notice it but a child from my class did and warily cautioned me that it was there. I studied it more closely – It was about half an inch long, black, had six legs and wings. By this time a small group of children had gathered to look at the strange creature on my arm. It started to head towards my shoulder so I let it crawl onto my hand instead so the children could get a closer look. When I moved my hand down to their level there were a few gasps and the area around me got noticeably wider as many feet shuffled backwards. Only when the bug decided not to move again did small heads start poking closer to look. A few seconds later the bug suddenly flew up and away to a nearby light. Again there were scared gasps and one child even ran away from the area when the bug took flight.
I find that this is a common reaction among children. Such yells and gasps can be heard when a spider or stinkbug appears on the classroom floor. I often wonder how such young children can have a phobia of bugs – I think it should be the opposite way around – they should have a curiosity and interest. Is this phobia learned from parents or is it because many of these children have not spent enough time in nature?
Growing up in Australia many animals such as cockroaches, bats, frogs, geckos and spiders routinely found their way into our house. It was such a regular occurrence that sometimes we didn’t even both to escort them back to the outdoors.
In the classroom setting we will sometimes get the bug catcher out so the children can have a close up view of little critters without much fear. Other times we will get a cup and paper and simply let the animal go back into nature. We remind the children that all animals, no matter how small should be taken outside and not hurt in any way.
The wonderful season of spring is just around the corner. The beauty of flowers popping up from the soil and the new leaf buds on the trees make it a pretty awe inspiring time. I grew up in the northern part of Australia that had a rainy season (summer) and a dry season (winter). We never really celebrated the changing of the seasons because you really couldn’t tell when they stopped or started. We could swim in the ocean all year round, the trees never lost their leaves, no snow ever came, and even frost was a very rare event. Needless to say, the first time I experienced the four seasons was when a moved to a northern US state in 2001. So to me, as I suspect for many of the children, Spring is still a magical time.
Spring is a great time for you and your child or children to get out into the great outdoors. The challenge posed to you in this blog is to set aside at least one hour a week to let your children explore nature. This exploration can be unstructured or structured. It can be a nature walk close by to where you live, an exploration of a local park or stream, a hiking outing or simply spending time among the plants and bushes in your garden.
In unstructured exploration your job is to follow the child, not for the child to follow you or your agenda. See what they start looking at, touching or smelling. Equip them with a magnifying glass that they can hang around their neck. If your child is hesitant, you can make suggestions like, “I wonder where that ant is going? Let’s follow it.” If your child asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, be truthful and say something like, “You know what, I have no idea how long turtles can hold their breath underwater for, we can find out when we get home.” A simple question like this can, depending on the child’s interest and age, lead to a simple search on the Internet or a budding interest in ‘all things turtle’ at the library.
In a structured exploration you could let your child know that today we are going on a scavenger hunt to find certain things in nature – this could be a list you’ve made together, or for younger children pictures of what you plan to look for –such as an acorn, a maple seed, a pine cone, a large stick, spotting a cardinal etc.
Other ideas from structured exploration idea are:
- To bring a camera and try to find as many different leaf types as possible (or flowers, animals, seeds).
- Older children can bring a journal and sit in one place and describe in words or pictures what they are seeing.
- Bringing paper and crayons and seeing how many different types of rubbings you can find.
- Be silent in a natural area for 5 minutes and then talk about what you heard.
- Have a picnic in the park or near a stream.
- Make a small raft out of twigs and tall grass and watch it float down the stream.
- Go fruit or flower picking
Getting out into a natural setting is also a great way for children to enhance the information in their brains. A child who sees a nest in a book many come to think that a birds nest is two dimensional, brown and fluffy. Upon actually seeing one in real life and being allowed to touch it, their brain will reorganize itself to include words like prickly, made out of twigs and mud, and three dimensional. A child can see how big a nest is, whether it has a smell, what color it is and what it is made out of. The bottom line is a picture in a book can never replace the power of holding an object in real life.
Here at MAB we think of the outdoors as an extension of the classroom. Aside from the unstructured recess time there are many other ways the children get to experience the outdoors. In our class we like to do nature walks with magnifying glasses and baskets to collect natural objects. We then at a later time analyze and sort the objects, always returning them after we have finished studying them. Sometimes we bring a large blanket into the courtyard and look up at the clouds – watch their movements and shapes that are formed. We also observe if there is a breeze, if we can see butterflies or birds flying in formation. On a beautiful day many classes will bring a table or art easel outside so the children can work in the great outdoors. Scrubbing the exterior of the building, cutting the grass with scissors, weeding, and planting flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables in our garden beds are many other ways we incorporate the outdoors with education.
Some ending thoughts and ideas are to make sure you allow your child to be an explorer. Let them pick up an ant or poke their fingers in the stream. A fun thing to do is go for a walk in the rain and let your child know that today it is alright for them to splash in the puddles. At another time, allow them to walk barefoot so they can experience what it is like to feel the squishy mud between their toes and the slipperiness of the grass or the hardness of the rocks.
Children are fascinated by nature. We just have to make sure, as parents and educators that they have enough exposure to the wonderful greenery Northern Virginia has to offer.
Below are some links that you may find helpful.
|January 17, 2013|
Does your child see you as “The Boss?” Do you see yourself that way? Maybe your spouse is the boss. I’m not talking about the lovable Tony Danza type. I’m talking about the Donald Trump, King Henry type.
In generations past, the patriarch was exactly that. “The Boss.” “Coffee is for closers.” “My way or the highway.” “Because I said so.” Teachers were that way, too. Thankfully, things have changed since then, but in some homes (and many schools), perhaps not as much as they should.
What image does the word “boss” project in your mind? Assuming it’s not Tony Danza, it’s probably something pretty negative. The working world has come to realize that the stereotypical boss/employee relationship is not a productive one. Traditional school systems are slowly following along as teachers begin to realize they have much to learn from their students. But the best kept secret out there is that Montessorians have known this for more than 100 years!
The patriarch of old expected complete subjugation. The old school teacher sought compliance over understanding and the 20th century boss told everyone what to do. It was me versus you. Us versus them (which makes it all the more amazing that Dr. Montessori was able to accomplish what she did). If you have this situation in your home, it can be a recipe for disaster. You may not realize it, but because of this relationship, even in the best case scenario you’re entering into each parent-child interaction at a significant disadvantage.
At home, there should be no boss. At least not in the traditional sense of the word. Certainly mom and dad have the authority and the final say, but the ideal parent child relationship is more of a partnership –and that is exactly the relationship that Montessori teachers work to cultivate with each student.
Consider the following scenarios.
Imagine you proudly bring a new idea to your boss at work who says “We can’t focus on that now. We have other more important work to do first.” That answer would very likely deflate your enthusiasm for your new idea (at least temporarily) and would turn the “more important work” into nothing more than a barrier to your plans. If the goal is simply getting past the work, there isn’t much hope that we will give our best effort . With a few simple words, your boss just created problems for both of you.
If instead, when your boss sees your new idea he/she says “Yes. I want to hear more about that, and we’ll take a look at your idea right after we finish this.” In this scenario, wouldn’t you be more interested in cooperating with the boss’s request? It’s a subtle difference but all we did was to change the phrase from negative to positive. With that simple change in language your boss became your partner.
Now read that again putting yourself in the boss’ position and your child in that of the employee. Which scenario is closest to the one that most often plays out in your home? Now, the comparison may need to move beyond the literal, since most children aren’t submitting power point presentations to their parents. So think of situations where your child needs your assistance or approval, or even situations where you want your child to do something that he/she may not especially want to do. How does that compare?
If you find that the first scenario hits closer to home, there are things you can do. First, but gradually, give your child as much responsibility as he/she can handle by physically making your home a place where he/she can be successful in simple everyday tasks without you. This can really help to reduce unnecessary interactions and arguments.
Second, when you do have these interactions, always try to enter the situation with a specific goal and a basic plan to achieve it (What does my child really need and how can I help him/her meet this need?) Say what you mean, phrase it positively and don’t repeat it unless absolutely necessary. For example; Don’t ask a child to clean up his room unless you are prepared for him/her to say “no.” If it’s not a question, don’t make it one. Instead simply say “clean up your room.”
These are just a few ideas. Contact your child’s teacher to learn techniques that will apply to your specific child. In any case, don’t expect to go from boss to partner overnight. Montessori teachers require years of training to successfully apply these techniques in the classroom. Some of these changes may yield immediate results. Others may work more behind the scenes. None of the above ideas are one-and-done solutions. Parenting is a marathon. Not a sprint. Consistent, pro-longed application of these concepts is the key to their success.
The fact of the matter is that whether it’s in the classroom, boardroom or living room, human beings respond better to cooperation than domination. Sorry for the alliteration. I had to do it. But don’t let that obfuscate the points, here, which are many. At the risk of oversimplifying I’m going to bullet point them below:
Remember, as a Montessori parent, you have access to a nearly limitless resource in child development. Give us a call. Send an email. We are here to help.
|December 5, 2012|
By Bart Theriot, Head of School, Administration MAB
I own an iPad, iPod, iPhone and a desktop computer. I also have two televisions, thousands of channels of cable and a Sony Playstation 3. I even have a record player. I am no stranger to electronics and technology and clearly I am in favor of their use –judiciously of course. However, it is also my job as a Montessorian and as a father of three boys to constantly analyze the manner in which children experience life. From my observations, I am convinced that our society is approaching a point where “boredom” no longer exists. Depending upon your view of boredom, that might sound like a good thing, but the implications of this for our children could be more drastic than you may realize.
I placed the word “boredom” in quotes because its definition changes depending upon whom you ask. As a child, I remember complaining to my parents that I was bored. My friends and I would even commiserate over our boredom when we were together. At the time, I don’t think we really knew what it meant to be bored. To some, the opera may be boring, and to others reading a book is a total snore. Various forms of boredom are used in prison and even as a means of psychological torture. For now, let’s agree on the following general definition for the word: “Boredom –the feeling that results from a lack of personally interesting/engaging stimulation.”
However you define it, boredom can be downright painful –especially if you aren’t mentally prepared for it. An increasing number of us aren’t, which is why we have invented so many external means of avoiding it. Filling our downtime with entertainment has become such a part of our lives that we unwittingly project this idea onto our children. Not to mention that we have extra reason to promote the concept since parenting becomes much easier when your children are entertained.
So what do we lose when we are so easily able to escape boredom? One thing we lose is patience. If you don’t believe me, leave your phone at home and then head over to the DMV. I’ve written about the importance of patience right here on this blog and I’m certain all parents agree that it is an important life skill. You can say goodbye to creativity, too, which is often borne from boredom. We also lose the ability to engage with our environment –especially the human beings around us. Here I’m speaking more in evolutionary terms since staring at your smartphone doesn’t immediately erase your social abilities. Over time, however, if the bulk of our society continues to walk around with eyes glued to smartphones and iPads, I promise there will be a widespread drop in the ability of humans to interact face-to-face. Raise your hand if you think in-person human interaction is something we can do without.
There is an important distinction if we apply the thoughts above to our children instead of ourselves. The difference is that we adults (most of us anyway) already have these important skills to lose. But children have not yet had the chance to develop these skills and it is our responsibility as parents to ensure that they take advantage of the limited opportunities they will have to do so.
I remember when computers came equipped with the game solitaire as a standard program (now you get Youtube and who knows what else?) and businesses all over the country had to develop internal policies to prevent staff from spending more time playing cards than working. Clearly management wrote these policies because they knew that playing solitaire meant lower productivity, I also like to think that they recognized the value of boredom for their employees (and to their business).
What’s the value of boredom? Why is something that we consider an annoyance actually so good for us? For starters, boredom, and time spent “doing nothing” may be the birthplace of creativity (look at just about any sport out there from basketball to jai-alai and I guarantee it was invented by a creative and perhaps very bored individual). You could also say the same for many inventions, books, songs, paintings, plays, poems and other works of art not to mention some pretty important thoughts and discoveries. In point of fact, James Naismith, Isaac Newton, Leonardo DaVinci, Ludwig Von Beethoven and Martin Luther King, Jr. may not have considered themselves bored at all. However, they certainly had less options for “entertainment”, so when they had “nothing to do” they painted, wrote music, thought, spoke and invented amazing things. They discovered their own passions and abilities and used them to change the world. Watching a movie, playing a video game or reading what our “friends” had for lunch on Facebook is not creating anything. In fact, these things actually take away from the time where we could be discovering our own abilities and creating something uniquely wonderful.
Even if you aren’t creating a masterpiece, boredom is still a great time for your brain to take action. We all carry thoughts with us –especially children, who’s brains, because of their higher number of synapses, are literally jam-packed with ideas and questions waiting to be resolved. At times there may be so many ideas that they actually interfere with one another, making concentration difficult. A little boredom can be just the thing to allow the brain to catalog all those ideas and sort of reset itself to make room for new thoughts. Boredom is our brain’s opportunity to stop and smell the roses.
When a child says he is bored, often times it is not because there is nothing to do, it is more likely because there is nothing he wants to do, or that he may need to be creative in finding something to do. Now, children complaining of boredom is nothing new, but new technology allows parents to respond in a very different way than that of our parents. As a young child, when I told my parents that I was bored, nobody handed me a smartphone or even bothered to suggest options for my entertainment. Knowing my parents, I suspect they wouldn’t have reached for the iPad so quickly even if it was available. No, I remember hearing “Go outside and find something to do and don’t come back until dinner.” Thus, I was left to develop my own methods of handling boredom.
At the time, this was not the response I was looking for and I’m certain that I muttered a few things under my breath as I sulked my way into the back yard. Sometimes I made mistakes. Occasionally, I even got into trouble. Sometimes I learned more about myself and the world around me and even created some pretty amazing things. Other times I returned to my parents hours later just as bored as I was when I left. Still, no matter what I did during each of those times of boredom, I developed patience, self-reliance, character, honesty, creativity, problem solving, ingenuity and a host of other critical life skills that I use every day in my adult life. It was that downtime –that boredom, as much as anything else, that helped me to become the person I am today.
Children need to struggle. They need to fail and make mistakes and they need to experience times where they must rely on themselves and their own abilities to solve problems. This is where true character and grit come from and it is often where the greatest discoveries are made. Every time we save our children from “boredom” we stand in the way of their independent development. At the same time, we send them the message that not only is boredom something to be avoided, but that it is someone else’s responsibility to provide the tools to do so. So the next time your child starts showing signs of boredom, before you reach for the iPhone or step in to solve the problem, remember that message and realize that you may be taking away from your child the very skills you want him to develop.
|September 10, 2012|
By Bart Theriot, Head of School, Administration
The earliest lessons learned by students new to the Montessori environment are those of grace and courtesy. As discussed in Part I, these lessons form the backbone of the Montessori method. As the new year begins, it is always fun to see the children learning how to relate to one another as they begin to take responsibility for their own development. The wonderful thing about these lessons is that they continue through the child’s entire Montessori experience. They build the framework for the life ahead. We’re going to discuss as many as we can here on the MAB website. Today, let’s talk about patience –certainly, an essential human skill .
Does this scenario sound familiar? You’re having a conversation with your spouse –nothing time sensitive or important, just catching up on the day’s events. 45 seconds into your conversation, you hear “Mom.” Your beautiful child approaches and stands directly in between you and your spouse and says “MOM!” What happens next varies from house to house. Many parents will stop their conversation and direct their attention to the child. Some parents may attempt to continue their conversation and ignore the child –a tactic which is usually met with “Mom. Mom. Mooommmm. MOMMY!” until the parent has completely forgotten what she was talking about, thus ending the conversation all the same.
Patience comes in many forms. It is one thing to have patience when engaged in a preferred activity, but another thing entirely when waiting for a need to be met. Neither of the two options above provide the child with an opportunity to develop her patience. Simply ignoring the child may allow you to finish your conversation, but doing so does not send the proper message to the child, who may learn that ignoring is an acceptable method of human interaction. However, if the parent immediately gives her attention to the child, the message is sent that no matter what mom is doing, what the child wants is more important. In the grand scheme of things, our children’s needs must come first. The problem arises when neither the parent nor the child is able to treat wants differently than needs. After all, when you are accustomed to having all your wants and needs met immediately, who needs to know the difference between the two?
Dr. Montessori clearly recognized the need for patience in early life. As a result, nearly every material in the classroom and all of those in the practical life and sensorial sections teach patience. Here’s a lesson our teachers use from toddlers through elementary. Please try it at home and let us know how it goes (chances are your child has already heard it, but she will get a real kick out of doing it with you). It’s also a good way to show her that you are a part of her class.
The next time your child interrupts a conversation in this manner, use this as the opportunity to share this lesson with her. Pause your conversation, get down to her level and while making eye contact, say “I am talking to dad right now. I want to hear what you have to say, but I will listen to you when I am finished my conversation with dad. In the meantime, please put your hand on my shoulder/arm and wait patiently until I stop talking and look at you.”
This may take a few times to get it right. After a few attempts, it is helpful to remind the child simply by quietly motioning to her to wait without making eye contact and softly tapping your hand on your shoulder to remind her what she should do. When your child has mastered this technique, you can explain to her that she may simply wait nearby as the hand on your shoulder is no longer necessary.
There is also a nice little bonus lesson of independence attached to this. It happens without any extra effort on the part of the adult, but we see it very often in our elementary classroom. In addition to developing patience, your child will also begin to learn to find the answer to her own questions. Then all that is left is to learn to differentiate needs and wants, but that’s another lesson for another time.
|August 31, 2012|
I love the start of a new school year. Less than one full week in the books and already the classrooms are humming with that electric energy found only in the Montessori environment. New relationships are forming and old relationships are strengthening. For some of our students, even those we haven’t seen all Summer, it is as if they never left! In truth, if we have done our jobs, Montessori will remain with each child for the rest of his life.
I hope you are enjoying these early days of school as much as the children. Your children will be bringing home so many new ideas beyond the tangible work in their backpacks. Sometimes, the learning is subtle and takes a keen parenting eye just to notice it. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you won’t miss a thing.
Thanks again for joining us. We look forward to sharing these amazing and important years with you and your child.
Head if School, Administration
|July 20, 2012|
Hello and welcome to our brand new website!
If you are new to MAB or Montessori, you’ll find an excellent introduction to both right here on this site. We also have a fairly expansive list of references and links to other sites concerning all things Montessori conveniently located in “The Cubby” . We are still updating some of the content on a few of the pages but that should all be taken care of soon. If you are considering enrollment for your child, please click on the “Visit Us” button at the top of the page and schedule a tour. Thank you for your interest. We look forward to speaking with you soon!
For our returning parents
Welcome back parents! And may I also add “how awesome is our new site?” There’s so much potential here we can’t wait to jump in! We are in the process of developing individual classroom pages which will give you even more access to your child’s daily experience with newsletters, pictures, video and other information. The site also holds a wealth of information both on the school and Montessori -there is always more to learn. We’ll be updating this blog with all sorts of interesting topics and we look forward to your comments and feedback. We’ve also taken a big step in trying our hand in the world of social media. Facebook and Twitter represent two excellent means of sharing information and reaching out to our community. We are also adding many of the student forms to the site -some of which can be completed online. The FAN page is also going to be updated, but we encourage you to join our Facebook group MAB FAN Officers & Volunteers to be sure you’re kept in the loop. In addition, we will be adding a paypal button both to the FAN page and the MAB home page shortly.
Please take some time and play around with the site. We would love to know what you think. Please send feedback and suggestions via email by clicking on the “Contact Us” button at the top of the screen.
Enjoy the rest of your Summer!
Head of School, Administration