Thursday, November 22, 2018

Children's Tree Nursery

Last year we started a "children's tree nursery", and at the very beginning of the school year had all the children collect tree seeds from trees around their neighborhood or wherever they could find them. We amassed a nice collection, looked at all the differences in each seed, talked about ways of propagating, and where these seeds had come from. Each child picked one and planted it a few weeks later. Our idea was that we would take care of these trees, repot them every year, and children would take their tree home as a graduation gift at the end of their three years with us.

It was a great idea in theory. However, the plants grew so quickly that by the end of just six months, most of the plants were begging to be repotted in larger containers and stood taller than many of the children. On Graduation Day we lined up the third year children's trees along the entrance of the school and they took their tree home (hopefully to be planted in their yard).

Clearly though, keeping the second and first year children's trees for one or two more years would have meant dealing with pretty enormous plants and I was afraid they would get pot sickness (if that is a thing, where plants don't grow anymore because they've been confined to a too tight container for too long).

I decided all those remaining plants would be donated to the school and have been planting them in our own garden while I thought of a better plan for this year.

Our Family Holiday Picnic is next week, and it's the first event that parents and children attend together at our school. On that day, families will plant a tree seed together with their children and decorate the plant pot together. We will take care of these trees in our tree nursery for the remainder of the year. On the Moving on Ceremony Day, the last family event of the year (and last day of school) we will line up ALL the trees and have the families take them home. Six month old trees will be perfect for planting at home and a lovely gift for everyone to take with them on that day. I think that involving the parents in the planting of the seeds will also give them an incentive to plant and care for the tree in its future home.

I like the closing of this circle and like thinking of 25 trees being planted every year around the island.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

To teach inclusion,
include others.
To teach kindness,
be kind.
To teach caring,
be caring.

To teach how to work,

During our beautiful afternoon work period, when we only have the second and third year children present, I notice that if I go about my usual routine of observing first, it takes a while for them all to get back to the rhythm of work (or indoor play, whatever you will to call it). I have been working instead. They come in and they find me working. I choose materials that I find fun, challenges with blindfolds, bells work, practical life. Some of the children notice right away. At the beginning they found it super funny, very large me at the tiny table knitting- "What are you doing?" they would ask me. "I'm working". If I needed to stop to give a reminder, or to help with something, I would, and then resume my work as I would have them do. The more I have been doing it, the more normal it has become. The ones that notice are sometimes influenced by my choice and want to try it too (especially if it's something that they have not seen another person try before). It seems logical to me. If I want them to work but they always see me in my chair observing or helping or giving lessons, I am not modeling any work as they know it. When it is possible, and there is nothing more pressing to do, I will then. I think I should have snack with them too, and drink tea in the afternoon at the snack table as well. That sounds fun to me.

This year more than any, there is a real lack of pressure on the children to work in any particular area of the classroom. Other years, I confess, I have pushed math  in particular, for fear that children moving on would not be "ready" for elementary (especially elementary Montessori, as if it was less forgiving than when they go to mainstream schools). Since I have seen the fallacy in that and removed all the pressure on the children, given them real free choice, I see a much more balanced environment arise. The children choose from all areas. Not everyone from all areas, but everything is getting used. When something is becoming too much of a comfort material, we take it away for a few days and see if it brings children to discover other things that had forgotten existed. We have less on the shelves than on other years, but what is there is really getting juiced.

I feel we are headed in a good direction.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Start again, with a calm and quiet mind.

Today I started for the 15th time what I do. Eight new children to meet on this first day that always begins with so many questions. "Who are you?" "What will you have to teach me?" "How will our time together be?"

I was able to sleep soundly last night, which to me is a sign of growing in experience and trust. In a podcast I listened to last night, the meditation teacher said "If I can control my mind, what need is there to control anything else?" I take comfort in knowing that the best preparation really is a clear presence. I have done this enough that I can give myself that kind of space, besides, I simply can't know what the children coming will be like or how they will respond to the day.

I like the idea that the first days with the new children are mostly a time to observe them, to gently meet them, and hopefully for them to sense that this place they have come to is a safe place to be who they are.

It's a celebration to start again. I am grateful to do what I do.

“The delicate and essential art of beginning again is a whole path to freedom.” -Sharon Salzberg

Monday, December 18, 2017

"What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child."

George Bernard Shaw

When I was in training, my trainer Ginni Sackett, gave us a metaphor that has stuck with me ever since. She said, "the classroom is like a giant clock, full of ticking parts, and you are like the clock maker, you have to get the clock to work by itself. If you are moving all the parts, you are not doing your job right." (Or something to that effect.)

Sometimes I forget the above and am like a parent following a toddler around a room with a spoonful of food trying to feed him. Except in my case it's preschoolers and curriculum, not toddlers and food. And then the image of the clock maker comes to my mind. It is futile if I am the one moving all the pieces.

This happens mostly when I am tired. I recognize it.

I remind myself of what I want to cultivate instead:

To be able to identify authentic inquiry from the children, which can only happen through my own calm presence, observation and listening.

When I identify genuine interest, to be able to give just enough information so that it is a hook to their imagination, or to put the right material in their hands, to scaffold the next piece needed to fuel that fire.

Allow enough space and time for true exploration to unfold (and patience when that exploration manifests in a way I was not expecting).

When I don't know something, to say "let's find out".

Trust that children are always learning, and that they want to learn. That their learning follows their own internal drives and directives.

I am thinking of the ways to encourage motivation, interest, will to work, the internal motor of the children to run on its own and realize that the first thing to do is not be an obstacle for it myself.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Rainy Day Games

Occasionally during the afternoons we take out a bunch of games and building material for the children to use instead of doing regular classroom work. We have these as a reserve as well for rainy days when we can't go outside to play. I've been collecting games for some years, I can't resist good games or building materials when I see them in garage sales and have found some that really work well with our 3 to 6 year olds.

This afternoon it was too rainy to play outside so we took out the games and I observed the children working with them. I saw so many great learning opportunities! I know that our classroom is the foundation that makes these games successful, but I also see many ways in which the games support the development of our normal classroom activities.

This is the learning I observed:

  • Collaboration- many of the games involve 2,3 or 4 children. (I find that more than 4 children in a game at this age makes it harder for the children to manage well independently.) Games invite collaboration and learning to work together is what it's all about.
  • Taking turns- games are a great place to develop self regulation.
  • Following rules- the games we have are mostly simple and don't have too many rules, but there are always some fundamental rules that need to be followed for the activity to work.
  • Sharing- many of the building works involve sharing space and pieces. Learning to do this successfully is challenging. 
  • Responsibility- the building materials in particular can have many pieces and involve quite a bit of cleanup. In our room whoever takes the rug and work from the shelf is the responsible one for putting the work away even during collaborative work.
  •  Language- there is so much language exchanged during collaborative building. Because there is an element of free play to these works, there is opportunity for pretend play and a lot of language use.
  • Commitment to the work- choosing a game, inviting friends to play, playing the game, finishing it and putting it away is a big job.
  •  Inviting someone to play- learning to identify who is available and asking them if they want to play with you is one of the most exercised skills during afternoon games.
  • Social flexibility. This is probably my favorite aspect of learning during games. Because there is only a certain number of children that can play each game, permutations of social interaction get mixed and children often wind up paired with others that might not normally play with.
  •  Learning to lose graciously/ Learning to win graciously.
  • Organization- setup and group management are required for the games to be successful.
  •  And finally, some games have direct educational value aside from these indirect learning aspects: exercising memory, creativity, visual skills, language skills, counting and other math skills, motor skills just to name a few.

Here is our collection of games which we have curated over the years.


  • Spot it!

  • Balancing Moon

  • Color tower 

  • Mancala

  • Suspend

  • Castle Climb (with simplified rules)

  •  Jumbolino (with simplified rules)
  • Tic Tac Toe 
  • Domino
  • Memory
Building material:

  • Marble run

  • Magnet blocks  (Magnatiles)

  • Sticky blocks (Sticky Brix)

  • Sticks and cubes 
  • Lego
  • Duplo

If you have games that have worked well with your age group, please share!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I forget.

I was going to write a big long thing about busyness and about helping and then I had a thought. I forget sometimes that it is more important to pay attention to How I am Being than What I am Doing. I get lost sometimes in the helping and doing, in the teaching and yes, the correcting. I forget the listening, the smiling, the breathing and laughing. The deep noticing that comes from connecting. We have two more days before the holiday and I am moving so quickly. There is time.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Calling all schools! Anyone interested in a mailing exchange with us?

Since we live in a geographically isolated location (on a rock in the middle of the ocean) we are constantly trying to find ways to make geography come alive in our classroom. 
A few years ago we did a cultural items exchange with one school from every continent around the globe. We exchanged boxes with several different schools and it was great fun putting together our packages and taking a field trip to the post office to mail them, AND THEN receiving the lovely packages from our friend schools around the world.
We would love to do it again this year! We are looking for schools to collaborate with! We would mail you a box from Aruba containing the following:

1 cultural item for decorating the classroom
1 map of the country
1 food item that is mailable and non perishable
1 letter hand written by the students
1 photo of our group of children
1 cd recording of the children singing a song in their language

If it is something that you would be interested in doing with us please comment below!