Monday, October 1, 2012

Silent Journey and Discovery Parent Night

Yesterday we had our first parent night of the year. In the past, I've felt that the main purpose the initial parent night is to stimulate connections between the parents and to introduce the new parents to the school community. This year however, there were few new families because most of the new children are sibling of children who are or have been in our school so I wanted to try something different.

I had read about the "Silent Journey and Discovery" workshop developed by Barbara Gordon, head of the St. Alcuin Montessori School in Dallas that's been conducted in schools all over the US for more than 30 years. The workshop lasts two days and is usually takes place in schools that have programs from toddler all the way to elementary or beyond. From what I had gathered, it seemed like a monumental and transformative experience for the parents. Inspired by the written accounts of parents and teachers who had attended such workshops, I tailored a version of the workshop suited to our limited single 3-6 environment and 1.5 hour time span. A document by Mary Caroline Parker, titled “The Journey and Discovery: Empowering Parents as Participant-Observers ” was extremely helpful during the development of the workshop.

Part of what attracted me to this kind of workshop is that in all the years the parents have had in our school, I don't think any of them have ever experienced working with the materials or really ever paid attention to what is on the shelves. When they have come to observe, I'm sure it is hard for them to focus their attention on things other than their child, or other children at work. My intention for the evening, was to help the parents develop a deeper, hands-on awareness of how children work at school, and with this to enrich their forthcoming observation.

The way we organized the event was to think of it as a macroscopic three period lesson. The first period would be to observe the environment in silence and without touching anything, the second to work with materials, and the third to synthesize our experience by having an open discussion.

We invited the parents into the environment to be in silence, without touching anything for about 7 minutes. The silence aspect created a feeling among the group of something important happening. It was so nice to see everybody really taking a look at the shelves, going outside to see the environment in the moonlight, or in the kitchen. I played a bell to let them know to return to our lunch room for a short debrief.

From what they shared, they noticed the size of things, the order, how attractive the materials are, some of them discovered rooms in the school they'd never been in before (the library). Their curiosity had been awakened!

We then asked them to put aside any self-consciousness, and really get down to exploring the materials. We told them to try anything that had called their attention, and that they could work alone or with others. I had set out direction cards on some of the materials, and others simply had a card that said “Ask for a lesson.” It was interesting to see that some parents immediately knew what they wanted to work with, and others observed the other parents working (just like the children!) Some were hesitant to try blindfolds. Some took things off the shelves and tried to figure out the materials on the floor. Some gravitated towards certain areas and stayed clear of others. No one washed a table- I would have! Some went to the library to look at books. Others played the bells. Some went outside. Some stood on the sidelines and instead of touching things, asked me questions about them. We worked for about 25 minutes.

When we gathered for the last time to talk about their experience with the materials there were lots of comments. My intention was to keep the discussion based on their impressions and it NOT to become a questions and answers session and that was tricky at times. One parent said that he now felt that he had a completely new understanding and respect of what his child did at school, and that his new insight would affect the way he saw his child at home. Another parent spoke about experiencing a sense of overwhelm at how much children were exposed to in the classroom. One of the mothers said she felt she could now ask her child better questions related to her child's school day. As they left, one mother told me that this parent night had been her favorite school event in her two years of being a part of the school.

My favorite parts of the evening were to observe the parents while they walked in silence in the environment, and to see the enjoyment with which some of the parents got down and dirty with the materials. It was a very joyous occasion.

I encourage anyone out there thinking of what they can do for their parent night to try this!


Jackie Grannis-Phoenix said...

Thank you so much for your description and reflection on your parent evening. We are trying to create just such an event for my school. I am having a hard time finding the article by Parker that you mention. Do you know how I might access it? Thank you. Jackie

Maru said...

Thanks a lot for what you write, we are from a Montessori school In Argentina and we are planning to do the Silent Night and reading you have been a great help!! Maru

Susanne said...

Maru, I was given a beautiful puzzle map of Argentina that was made by a friend. It is very lovely, but I think it would be appreciated so much more in a school in Argentina. If you'd like to have it I'd gladly mail it to you.