Saturday, August 15, 2015

Begin Again.

You never bathe in the same river twice, and starting a school year (even after 8 years) is always different.

Last week was our orientation week. We start our year a week before the local schools open up and invite only the new children. Because we have more children this year than we've had in the past we decided to dedicate a whole week to orientation instead of 3-4 days like we've done in the past. Orientation week eases us into the school year. We shorten the school day for that week, we remove almost all materials from the shelves except the transition materials, preliminary exercises and a few materials in each area to introduce the new children to. We've found this pays off when in the second week the returning children join us and the shelves are more replete, the new children remember more easily what works are available for them.

Having had them visit the school several times prior to their entry, and having visited each little one at home, typically the new children's separation process in the first days is gentle. It's not uncommon in our school that children come to us at age 3 with no prior school experience so these prior visits are crucial in their developing trust. 

On this first week we focus on helping the new children develop a sense of emotional and physical safety with the environment, the staff, and hopefully with each other. To help them connect to their new peers we introduce them to each other and play games so they'll learn each others (and our) names. We play together in the garden, help children on swings, sing together, eat yummy things, give many hugs and try to have a happy time. Developing a connection with the new children is the foundation for any work we want to do with them during this first week. At the beginning, we are all new to each other and wanting to make sure we're safe together. 

Routine and consistency (this means limits too) from the start are also helpful in the development of trust and feeling of safety for the new children. We have a picture chart with the school schedule on it (Play outside, Morning Work, Lunch, Go home) to remind those who are missing their parents of what the day looks like and to reassure them their parent will be there for them after lunch.

Having this week alone with the new ones gives us plenty of time to show them the basic routines of the environment: using the bathroom (some of them take some days before they are comfortable using a new bathroom), setting up snack, eating lunch and cleaning up, and how to choose one material at a time and put it back in its place before taking another one. And enough time for them to develop an initial body of work choices to make once the returning children join us the next week.

The materials I put on the shelves for this year's orientation week are the following: Walking on the line, Opening and closing containers, Opening and closing nesting dolls, Opening and closing nuts and bolts, Opening and closing wingnuts, Stringing Beads, Pouring Grain, Spooning large beans, Spooning small grains, Using a dustpan, Pouring water, Pouring into different size glasses, Using a Dropper to fill small bottles, Sponging, Hand Washing, Cloths for wiping spills on a table, Mopping, Wiping a table, Dressing Frames (velcro, snaps, large buttons, small buttons), Drawing on the large chalkboard, Table chalkboards, Coloring with crayons, Cutting strips of paper, Playdough, Puzzles of Parts of Animals, Puzzles of Parts of Plants, Assorted other puzzles, Building blocks, Lego, Magnatiles, Sticky Blocks, Demonstration Tray of the Geometry Cabinet, Color Tablets #1, Rough and Smooth Boards #1 and #2, Sandpaper Letters, Sand Tray, Books, Classification Cards (several sets), Number Rods (for older new children), Sandpaper Numbers.

Because the majority of the new children that join us each year are not native English speakers we gather them for small group lessons and focus on vocabulary using Classification Cards, the Sound Game, Singing, Reading Books, and simply through conversation. We do Tasting Lessons to introduce foods that will be included in our lunch later that day- the children love these and will usually venture to taste the food at the lesson even if they don't choose to eat it later.

Orientation week is over and on Monday we start again with the whole group together and full days of school. Staring again.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quote sent by Carol

"Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique but is rooted in the identity and integrity of the teacher. Good teaching takes myriad forms but good teachers share one trait: they are authentically present in the classroom, in community with their students and their subject. They possess "a capacity for connectedness" and are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, helping their students weave a world for themselves. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts - the place where intellect, emotion, spirit, and will converge in the human self - supported by the community that emerges among us when we choose to live authentic lives." 

- Parker Palmer

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The decisive element

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

Haim Ginott (1972)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Smoothing the flow.

I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to ask a fellow teacher to observe our flow routine during a day of observation at our school. Her fresh eyes were able to see the moments where the routine of our day was getting us "stuck" and the transition times that were disrupting the calm flow of our day. With her help we made some changes that have really helped our schedule feel like a more gentle passing of moments instead of the stop and go, and bunch of control mechanisms necessary to get all the children to "now do this" and "now we are going to do this other thing."

Our schedule is blocked very simply:

8:00-8:45 Arrival and outdoor free play
8:45-11:45  Morning work period
11:45-12:15 Lunch
12:15-1:00 Outdoor free play
1:00-2:00 Afternoon work period and dismissal

Transitions among the blocks of time are signalled non-verbally. In the morning, I hang up a sign on the classroom door that lets children know the classroom is available. Outside, Noemi sees the sign and also invites children a few at a time to come to the classroom. The environment gradually becomes fully populated. When it is time to cleanup for lunch, a sign is hung on the lunchroom door to let children know lunch is available.

We divided the lunch tables into groups and have painted marks on the clock that let children in each group know when it is time to cleanup to go outside. Children who finish all their food can cleanup as soon as they are ready without having to wait for the clock sign. The sign is mostly for those who take a longer time to eat and 30 minutes is the limit for eating.

Since last year we have eliminated scheduled whole group lessons including any variation of circle time. Although we occasionally have group meetings, all group lessons in our room are optional attendance. During meetings or when we present something that is interesting enough for all children to want to join,  I notice there are always one or two or three children who continue to be engrossed in their own work and prefer not to join. This includes birthdays. Having a choice to participate in the lesson or not also gives me leverage with the children who DO choose to join about what participation looks like. It is obviously more difficult to manage a larger group lesson so we practice how to sit and join lessons, how to listen and observe, and what to do if you want to say something during the lesson.

Since there is no set time for these group lessons, we can do them when it is most convenient for our group. Sometimes I have a very exciting lesson planned and decide not to give it, because most of the children are engaged in their own work. It has taken time for me to develop the patience and humility to be able to say, "my lesson can wait." (And that means sometimes a day or two.)

The morning free play time I've also found to be a great moment for me to gather small groups in the classroom to practice grace and courtesy that may be specific to a smaller group of children.

Some days the environment calls for more small group lessons during the work period because there is less individual concentrated work happening, and other days I am giving individual lessons and observing for the whole work period. It varies depending on the needs of the group on that particular day. I actually enjoy this fluctuating level of normalization, when there is lots of opportunity for small group lessons it just means I get to play more games and that is also fun.

(Thank you Carol, for being our fresh eyes and sounding board often.)

Wait and see what happens.

“If a child approaches another child at work, should the teacher protect the child who works? This poses a problem in the teacher’s mind. We must remember that the child comes to school not only to work with the
material, but also to have social experiences. Amongst these social experiences is self-defense. To observe how one child defends himself from another child is interesting. We know that the energies of two children of the same age are more or less of the same intensity. When the teacher disturbs the child, it is like a big animal falling on top of the child. If a lion or a hippopotamus came near us, our nerves could not stand it! However, if another child disturbs him, he is just a comrade, a companion who comes around to help...

“Therefore, if one child goes near another child to grab a pencil, we must wait and see how the child reacts to this interruption. A child who disturbs another child at work may be send away at first, but may return persistently till the first one says, -‘All right, let us do it together!’ The two children may sit next to each other and start to work with the same material; a sort of association may arise between them while working together, helping each other to carry out an exercise.

“On the other hand, the child who is working may not give in. In both cases there has been a social experience, an experience leading to social adaptation. We must consider that if we defend one child from the interruption of another, the child may carry on with this work. However, his interest in the activity may
have been so great that he would have returned to take up the work later on. In the meantime, he would not have had the social experience needed for his character building. If the teacher constantly defended the child, he would never be able to defend himself. It is therefore important for the teacher to observe all that happens in this small world, where individual strengths are more or less equal.”

Montessori, Creative Development of the Child Vol 2, pp.32-33

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


He has all the children, the moms and dads, and the chairs singing... this is one of my favorites.