Thursday, December 17, 2009

Calm, happy and wonderful.

With experience growing, organizing family events at school is becoming increasingly enjoyable and less stressful. On Tuesday we had our first Holiday Picnic and children's performance at school. Because we have children of multiple religious denominations, we kept the Christmas aspect of it more low key and focused more on the end of the year and a time together before the holiday break coming up.

Early in the day, the children helped to put all of our classroom tables and chairs outside under the trees. We laid out a couple of picnic blankets as well in shady areas of the garden and invited the parents to come to the school at lunch time.

The children had come dressed out of uniform that morning which already lent things a very celebratory air. We had practiced a set of songs and poems for a couple of weeks that the children were going to present to the parents. We chose songs in English, Dutch, and one in Spanish to reflect the languages of the school. And each of the oldest children had memorized a poem (with the help of their parents) and presented them individually after each song. It was a short and happy performance, very relaxed.

Parents each brought a dish to share for the picnic and the spread was amazing. After the performance everyone went outside with plates of food to eat in the nice weather. And after lunch, families went home.

I loved this gathering because it reflected a communal effort (parents bringing food, helping oldest children prepare their poems) and a really calm and happy get together. The children and adults enjoyed it equally.

I'd never before wanted to organize something at this time of the year feeling that families were hectic enough with the holidays coming up, but after this year's event, we will surely repeat next year.

Community gift

This year, with the idea of community in mind, as the gift for the parents for the holidays we made family portrait refrigerator magnets. We traced 2 inch circles on cardstock, and each child got one circle for each member in their family. For a couple of days, we set a table with a pencil and color pencils for drawing a portrait of each family member in the circles.

I cut out the circles and laminated them, and then glued a small magnet behind each one.

We had our Holiday Picnic on Tuesday morning, and instead of wrapping the little portrait magnets, on our big whiteboard we outlined all of the family trees of the children in our class. It looked so full and pretty!

Each child has such a unique drawing style and the magnets were a success.

Last years gift was a silhouette of each child, and they were beautiful as well. But entirely teacher made. It's nice to give a gift that the children have really made themselves.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I've been reflecting on the importance of inspiring a sense of community and responsibility towards the group in the children at school. I'm interested in presenting or bringing to the children's attention a grace and courtesy lesson, book or true story daily that meditates on some aspect of life as part of a group. Or finding further ways of incorporating this idea into our daily routine.

I often feel like I'd like to emphasize the ideas of helpfulness/community/respect/generosity/kindness, but sometimes find the topics too daunting or too vague to approach practically.

Specific activities we do already to inspire a sense of community:

- We have times during the week when we all sit together and children have the opportunity to share something they brought from home or tell a story about something related to their home.

- At some point in the mornings we come together as a group and sing a song and recognize the absence of whoever is not at school that day. (To emphasize that even though you are not there, you are still a part of the group)

- At lunch we join hands and sing a "Community Song" before we eat.

- We have a set of "Community cards" that have a picture and the name of all the children and staff members of our school. We use them on special occasions (birthdays, important gatherings) and they are available for the children to look at individually as well. (They live on the peace shelf)

Things I'd like to do more of:

- Involve the children as a group in problem solving or decision making related to our life together in the classroom.

- Find books, and tell true stories related to life together as a group.

- Reflect back to the children verbally more of what I see that is positive about our day together in the classroom.

- Start a "heart journal" where anyone can write something positive that happened to them that day and read the entries at the end of the week.

I'd greatly appreciate any ideas/feedback on further ways of incorporating a sense of community in our daily routine!

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand-new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.
Thich Naht Hanh

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If you can't beat 'em...

Movement games we have been playing to secretly drive home the points I keep trying to make with grace and courtesy lessons (insert maniacal fake evil laughter here):

- I roll out all the classroom rugs in different parts of the classroom. I play music on the cd player and the children walk #1 always walking #2 without touching any of the rugs. When the music stops, they must freeze. As they get better at it, I put rugs closer and closer together and limit the space where the children may walk. (This is to help with walking in the room, and with rugs with or without materials on them that become jumping challenges.)

- Walking around the room with the bead cabinet chains. I invite the children to each take a square or cube chain. I do the same as above with music. They must #1 only walk #2 the chain is held correctly. (This is to help with walking in the room and with the occasional chain that becomes double dutch.)

- Walking around the room with different materials in your hands. I invite the children to pick a material to walk with. I do as above with music, but I play it very softly. They must #1 only walk #2 their material may not make any sounds as they walk. (This is to help with walking in the room, and with materials that become maracas on their way back to the shelf.)

I challenge them further, push them to their limits, by choosing Harry Belafonte as the background music for the games. Oh to be able to resist "Jump in the line, rock your body in time, OK I believe you!"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Conscious Discipline

This Saturday I attended a seminar for teachers and parents about the "Conscious Discipline" method, based on the work of Dr. Becky Bailey. It was presented by a child development expert on the Island, Helen Guda, who gave a really excellent and well timed workshop.

Since I've been fretting about the ideas of freedom and limits in the classroom so much lately, the seminar came as a opportune blessing. A lot of what was said was familiar from the bits about classroom management given to me in training, or from the parenting books I've read, but it's always good to be reminded of why certain things work better than others. And that when faced with a frustrated tantrumy child there are ways of handing things respectfully without helping the situation escalate.

Here are some notes on the lecture:

If we always do what we've always done, it would be crazy to expect a different outcome. Most adults (me sometimes) use fear based discipline techniques when managing conflicts with children because that's how most of us were raised. We do it institutionally.

Fear based discipline involves:

- motivating a child through fear/punishments/threats (ex: "If you do that again I'm going to...")
- focusing on the behavior that you DON'T want (ex: "don't throw pencils...if you throw the pencil... why did you throw the pencil?"- all child is hearing is THROW THE PENCIL!)
- manipulating or trying to control the child with rewards/punishments
- believing that a child must feel pain in order to learn, usually through some kind of repentance based method (like time out or other equally inefficate punishments)
- believing that we can change or make another person behave a certain way (ex: If I keep reminding him, he will eventually learn to do it...)

Positive/Conscious discipline involves:

- motivating the child through connecting with him
- focuses on the behavior that we DO want
- focuses on respecting the child and connecting with him to create cooperation
- stimulates self regulation in the child
- the child does things out of internal motivation
- believing that mistakes are necessary in order to learn (friendliness with error!)
- believing that the only person we can make change is ourselves

Conscious Discipline is based on research of the development of the brain. It uses knowledge about how the brain works to offer a way to connect with children at moments of conflict so that both parties may be enriched in the process of finding a solution.

It is based on the idea of helping the child work through the different natural reactions until they are at the point where they can register what you say, think, and find a solution to the conflict. The child moves from the survival mode (fight or flee), to a place where they can empathize or at least understand the situation. In order to carry out the process the adult has to want to connect with the child and be fully present.

When a child experiences fear or stress their primal response is to fight or flee. This is the body's natural defense mechanism. The responses of the body are triggered from the stem of the brain which is basically in charge of survival. The child under stress (very angry, having a tantrum) is operating under conditions that allow him only to choose between fighting or running away. It's not very effective to use reasoning with the child at this point. When approaching a child in this state the adult can calmly state what they see in the child (be a reflection of the child). Ex: "You are so angry, look at your brow, and you are red and stomping your feet..." You can even, the instructor suggested, imitate the child- this will either distract him or (my guess) drive him totally bonkers.

It is important at this point (when the child could be yelling and possibly cussing at you) to remember that no on can make you angry without your permission. We choose or not to get crazy and frustrated. The point here is to show the child a way out of their emotional mayhem into a more peaceful state. We have to be calm ourselves to do this. In the course they said that using affirmations such as "I am safe", "I am calm", or "I can handle this" is useful along with being aware of our breath.

Ok, so not judging the child, or getting into it with him about his tantrum is supposed to already help alleviate the situation a little. The child feels a little safer, you are not towering over him or yelling at him, so he moves up to the place where the limbic system (responsible for feelings) can be active. At this point you can talk to the child about how he feels: "You got so angry when Fred took your pencil and threw it, you were furious, it made you feel hurt." This is where a connection can be made with the child, he feels that you understand and trusts you.

Once out of that stage, the child is calmer and clearly ready to listen, you can approach him for problem solving. This is where the prefrontal cortex, that part of the brain where we make decisions based on choices (the CEO of the brain if you will), comes in. At this point you can talk to the child about finding a solution to the problem: "You got angry with Fred because he took something from you. What could you say to Fred so that he knows that you didn't like that?" It is only at this stage that the child is capable of reasoning with you and learning by making better choices.

With children who you have difficulty connecting to the following things are also helpful:

-build rapport with the child during positive moments by showing affection, conversing, showing interest and giving attention to the child

-it is possible to encourage the child by noticing out loud when he does things the correct way (a SUPER book about how to use praise effectively is "The Kazdin Method" by Alan E. Kazdin)

-creating a "safe place" or "quiet place" in the classroom gives the child the option of knowing where to go when he is angry or sad. (More on creating these spaces in "Nurturing the Spirit in Non-Sectarian Classrooms" by Aline Wolf)

-being assertive in our own communications with the children especially when it comes to limits (More on this in "Non Violent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Wild things.

So much of my after school time has been dedicated these weeks to thoughts about limits, and how to become more consistent in the environment that I've been looking at the classroom through a focus perhaps a little narrow. What a break I had today, when I sat back more, observed more, tried to influence things less, enjoyed myself, listened, and appreciated all the minor/major things that so easily go unnoticed when you work with little children. I enjoyed myself with the children so much today.

I have to say that the change in perspective has to do with having watched "Where the Wild Things Are" last night. What an excellent reminder of what it's like to be a child going through difficult times at home. The producers and director were bold enough to try to present the story from the point of view of a 9 year old (it could have easily been a 5-6 year old) without having to filter the experience into a completely coherent adult viewpoint. I recognized so much of the raw emotion that I see in some of the children at school. The abundance of emotion and at the same time confusion, the trying to make sense of things that you can't possibly understand yet... I cried and cried thinking of what some of my own wild things in the classroom are going through in their little lives, and of my own experience as a child from a divorced home- what a difference it can make if someone just listens and connects without judging.

I sit at child's eye level all day long in the classroom on my little stool, I see what the children see, but I forget every so often that they are new, overwhelmed, abundantly emotional, intensely creative (each in their own unique way), and longing to be understood.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Shark Tooth Mountain

We went on a little field trip to a mysterious ancient shark tooth deposit on the island, and then to the rock formations to have a short hike and picnic. A parent took some beautiful pictures and I wanted to share.

Exercises of the will

In my quest for better understanding of freedom and limits I came across lots of passages in the Montessori literature about the path to discipline, or the stages of obedience in children. It's fascinating to me that I can read a part of a Montessori book I've read before but feel it in a different light ever time. It is like the Czech saying that you can never bathe in the same river twice...

Montessori is clear in her writings that talking with children of this age about limits or rules is completely ineffective. This is also what I read in contemporary parenting books; children of this age need to learn by doing.

“Such discipline could never be obtained by commands, exhortations, or by any of the ordinary means used for keeping order. Actually it is useless to depend upon scoldings and entreaties for the maintenance of discipline. These may at first give the illusion of being somewhat effective; but very soon, when real discipline makes its appearance, all this collapses as a wretched illusion in the face of reality: “the night gives way to day.”

from The Discovery of the Child

Montessori insists, as did the trainers who pounded this into my brain, that normalization only comes about through WORK. But I think about the child that's out of control, that shows no interest in materials, that hits and would rather roll on the floor, or fling cylinders across the room. Hm... and then comes the part about limits:

-You are free to move about / as long as you don't disturb others who are working.

This is a good start.

Perhaps that child needs an assigned table. Or a quiet place to be when they can't control themselves.

Montessori talked about stabilizing the experience of the group, or of a child, through gradual exercises of the will. She linked normalization to control of movement. I love this excerpt:

“Children who are disorderly in their movements are not simply children who have not learned how to move about. They are rather children whose minds have not been properly nourished and are suffering from mental starvation.”

“We must teach him how to coordinate his movements so that he can carry them out in a harmonious fashion, analyzing them as far as we can and perfecting each of them individually.” both from the Discovery of the Child

Then I think about all the small problems we encounter in the classroom during the day, and how through practice masked as games (grace and courtesy lessons basically) we can tackle the issues:

- Walking across the room (we can set all the chairs on one side of the room and just practice walking back and forth)

- Walking around rugs

- Walking around rugs or through the room carrying materials without making a sound

- Walking around the line holding the square chains (or perhaps I could borrow one and put it on the "Line Exercises" tray so that they can then practice on their own. I can imagine the end of the swinging chain phenomenon we've been seeing lately)

- So much silence game.

This is all basic stuff, and I do it at the beginning of the year a lot, but often forget why it is so important. Why it is the MOST important. If the children can move about respectfully that is the platform for respect towards materials, and eventually concentrated work.

Here I interrupt to tell a little story about what happened in my car on the way back to school from our field trip this week. The children who get to ride in my car on the field trips are not coincidentally the children who are probably the least willing to cooperate during the silence game in the classroom.

As I drove, one of these children said "Let's see who can be quiet from here until we reach the school!" I jumped at this impromptu invitation for a silence game in the car! And would you believe it, that out of the three children, just one squirmed, for a slight second, during the last 7 minutes of the drive to school. It was beautiful! Here were the children that reject the silence game and sabotage it regularly in the classroom, capable of carrying it out for much longer than we do it in the classroom, and their proud faces when I parked the car outside of our gate.

There is so much hope.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


The past couple of weeks in my life, both private and at school, have been revolving around the theme of "limits". The importance of knowing where to draw the line is critical, I realize, in cultivating relationships of respect.

As a teacher, I've felt throughout the years that my understanding of the freedoms and limits of a classroom has been deficient. I think that by nature I am a very tolerant person, but this works to my disadvantage if I am unclear about where the limits are. For the children, knowing where the lines have been drawn helps them enjoy the freedoms granted in the environment. This is especially true when it comes to aggressive behavior, and abuse of materials.

"Montessori felt that physically abusive behavior in children was destructive. Far from making the child feel better about himself, she observed that it left him more dissatisfied than ever. She did not permit such behavior in the classroom, feeling it was not part of real freedom. She emphasized in its place the child's ability to discover himself, and his capacities for a positive response to his environment through the joy of discovery and creative work. She believed a lowering of standards of conduct of intellectual development would only lead to an inferior education and society.

If education is to be an aid to civilization, it cannot be carried out by emptying the schools of knowledge, of character, of discipline, of social harmony, and, above all, of freedom."

"The first idea that the child must acquire, in order to be actively disciplined, is that of the difference between good and evil." To achieve this distinction, the adult must set firm limits against destructive asocial actions."

"In striving to develop this freedom, it should be clearly established that ony the destructive acts of the child are to be limited. "All the rest- every manifestation having a useful scope- whatever it be, and under whatever form it expresses itself, must not only be permitted but must be observed by the teacher."

Quotes from Paula Polk Lillard, Montessori a Modern Approach

As an administrator, if I can be clear with parents from the onset about what the boundaries are regarding their children, both entities can work together to help the child on a better path. Or it can eventually save both the school and the families from painful realizations later on.

As a partner in a relationship, realizing when I've reached a limit and being able to communicate it bravely and clearly can save my relationship or it can help create the direction of where I am moving towards.

I have been reading everything I can get my hands on about "limits" in all forms and environments- and a reminder that struck me deeply was from a simple article on

"Steps for setting limits: Honor your feelings. Remember they are neither right nor wrong. They just are."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Celebrating the small stuff

* D found someone's silence rug out, and much in his style of not working with anything unless it belongs to someone else, he took off his shoes and sat and did silence independently for about 2 minutes. Then he got up, put his shoes back on, and left the rug just in time for the work's original owner to return to their work from the bathroom.

* At lunch T realized as the three year old's lined up to wash their plates that the scraps trash can was not out, he went to the snack table, got it, went to the kitchen, emptied it, and brought it to the lunch area.

* C set up the snack are all by herself this morning. Read and sorted all the snack cups and drinking cups. Brought the water jugs and waste basket. (I love it when children do the real practical life stuff with total autonomy.)

* T started an independent project of writing a song book. She phonetically wrote the lyrics of 5 songs in Hindi, one in Dutch, and two in English.

* S didn't hit anyone in the afternoon.

* A was scrubbing the floor and got so into it that he accidentally tipped over his water container. D and M pitched in to help him clean up the spill with buckets and sponges. When they'd dried the original spill, D tipped the rest of the water onto the floor so that they could clean up some more. And did it once more when they were done with that.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Only small things with great love.

Sometimes the most basic realizations materialize for me, translated in different ways.

I was reading Susan Dyer's blog "The Moveable Alphabet" and looking at the pictures of children doing work in her room. I recognized the look on her children's faces, and the brilliance was familiar to me. I've seen those looks here and there in my room, those little focused hands, the joy of discovery. I got to thinking about all the Montessori classrooms around the world, where children are working with similar materials, making similar discoveries on their own, growing into the people they will eventually be.

It made me realize that so much of my work, I guess the very core of it, is to be able to recognize those small moments and how marvelous they are. They happen all the time, really. Regardless of the level of normalization in the group, or they type of day we're having, those moments are around us. Small dialogues between children, brief "aha" moments, the wondering of excellent questions, the most generous small kindnesses... sometimes I'm very caught up with what I am doing, with what needs to be changed, or how to best address a certain moment, or what lesson I'm about to give that I miss those little revelations. Observation is all about learning to find them among all the things that are happening in an environment at once, and celebrating them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

On a good path.

"Look at every path closely and deliberately, then ask ourselves this crucial question: Does this path have a heart? If it does, then the path is good. If it doesn't, it is of no use."

Carlos Castaneda

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Notes from Parent Night

Back on the island after a kind of life changing fall break, it's taken a while to reflect back on that parent night that took place two weeks ago. It was our first parent evening of the year and here is what we did:

- Parents were responsible for bringing finger foods.
- Introductions and a little free time for chatting.
- Presentation by yours truly on "Montessori in the Home"
- Parents made a gift for the children- an embroidered napkin to be used on very special occasions and which is part of the 3 special gifts child will take home at the end of their 3 years at our school.

Notes on the lecture (highlighted with pictures using a projector of the child carrying out the equivalent of the home suggestion at school):

Selected 5 qualities that we strive to encourage in the child in the Montessori environment:

Independence- self esteem comes from being able to carry things out on ones own.
Socialization- your child learning to manage himself in increasingly greater social environments.
Communication- the human need to communicate clearly, to understand and be understood.
Order- addressing the human need for patterns and structure. Applied both to the external world (your child's world) and the internal world (your child's mind). The mathematical mind.
Curiosity- The scientific mind.

Practical ideas for the home:

1. Independence

Care of the Person:

Teach them slowly how to dress themselves
Allow them to choose from limited outfits
Give them a drawer or space in their own closet where they can choose their own clothing from
Teach them where to put soiled clothing
A dress up box can aid in this practice for young three year olds
Let them brush their own teeth
A low cupboard in the kitchen where they can choose their own snack
They can help set the table
Let them participate in the kitchen
Provide them their own tools for kitchen use
Let them choose and make their own breakfast
Clear the table
Wash dishes
Teach them bathroom hygiene- let them do it themselves
If toilet is too high, put a step on it
Teach them how to use utensils properly, no reason why they shouldn't be able to use a knife

Care of the Environment:

Low work spaces
Tools that are accessible to them (sponges, buckets, soap, water)
Put a step up to your kitchen sink
Keep things in one place as much as possible so that they will know where to put them back
In the kitchen: measuring, pouring, stirring, spreading, cutting, peeling, grating, washing, seeding,
Watering the plants around the house
Wiping the table or counters
Washing hands
Mopping the floor
Making their own bed
Preparing their clothes for next day
Opening and closing curtains
Feeding animals
Putting dirty clothes in hamper
How to treat their toys

2. Social Relations

Practice wanted behaviors
Talk about positive things you see in them
Talk about positive things you see in others
“Catch them being good”
Let them hear you saying good things about others, including children, notice more of what you DO want them to do
Clear limits to unacceptable behavior
Talk about your values and what you find important
Model your beliefs

3. Communication

Clear precise communication with your child
Talk a lot with them, explain things
Read to them even when they can already read for themselves- they love the same books over and over
Let them see you reading
Tell them true stories
Prohibitions should be clear (and you should hold yourself accountable as well)
Give words to feelings
Introduce complex vocabulary
Stick to your own best language
Give realistic choices
Let them be a part of family meals

4. Order

Routines! Morning routines, and bedtime routines especially
Things have a place in your child's room, then he will know where to put them away
Not too many toys
Not too many activities to do- time to process the day is necessary
Limited sets of clothing to choose from
Limited work space
How to treat their toys
Tell them what happens before, and what will happen after
Make a picture schedule and talk about it
Give them real world word problems
Notice patterns with them

5. Curiosity, Creativity

Listen to what they have to say!
Outdoor provides much opportunity for exploration
Let them solve their own problems
Ask them what they think about things
Wonder with them
Expose them to art
Give them tools for expression
Open ended toys

Saturday, September 26, 2009

True stories.

Roger likes to bring things in his pocket.

He says, “Guess what's in my pocket?”

I say, “A coin!” “No,” he says. I say, “A toy car!” “No,” he says. And then he shows me what he brought.

It's a sharp pin. My eyes get very wide. He says, “It's a nail for the peg board. Since we lost one yesterday.” “Thank you!”, I say, and I take the pin.

On another day he walks through the school gate with his hand in his pocket.

“Guess what's in my pocket?”, he asks me. “Hm, did you bring another pin?,” I say. “No,” he says. He takes out a 50 florin bill. “Wow”, I say, “where did you get that from?” He looks at me and says “When my mom was showering I went in her room and I got it from her purse.” I tell him I think he should give it back to her later, she might be wondering where her money is.

Another day he says, “Guess what's in my pocket?”

Today I am a little afraid. I say, “Is it a sharp object?” “No,” he says. “It's a bee!”

But it's really a cockroach. Everyone gathers near to see the “bee.” I explain, “Roger brought a cockroach to show everyone. Don't worry. It's not alive anymore. Lets count it's legs.”

On another day, Roger took off his shoe and inside of it was a big dead lizard. He has a way of talking... he said “What the?!” I said, “Roger, there was a lizard in your shoe. You must have not noticed he was there when you put your shoe on this morning.”

These things happen to Roger.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

7 Japanese aesthetic principles to inspire your classroom design

I found author Garr Reynolds' blog through accident and found his post on Japanese aesthetic principles to be quite inspiring. How well it is suited for translation into a Montessori environment! I had never before considered how many parallels exist between a Japanese garden and a Montessori environment. (My interpretation follows, but it pales in comparison with the original post, read it!)

Seven principles for designing your Montessori environment

1. Simplicity. The post mentions "elimination of clutter." How many of my stuffed closets does this bring to mind? I love the idea of the very simple Montessori environment, where everything has a place and there is a place for everything. There is an elegance to a sparse environment and the natural materials. Clarity as an extension of simplicity.

2. Asymmetry or irregularity. The idea here is that symmetry often involves a lot of control, Irregularity is more natural, an okness with imperfection. Friendliness with error, anyone?

3. "Direct and simple without being flashy." "Being precisely what is was meant to be". To me, in terms of the environment, this means child proportioned and purposeful. The materials are very direct and minimal- the isolated difficulty, the materialized abstraction.

4. Naturalness. Natural materials evoke much more to the senses than artificial materials. It is easier to trace their history as well. The post also mentions "full creative intent unforced", " design is not an accident, even when we are trying to create a natural-feeling environment"(what beautiful wording!) To me, this means that the flow created within the environment is not totally lawless and not under a total control- reminds me of freedom and limits.

5. "Profundity or suggestion rather than revelation." "Showing more by showing less."

6. "...made with the raw materials of nature and its success in revealing the essence of natural things to us is an ultimate surprise. Many surprises await at almost every turn in a" Montessori environment.

7. "Tranquility or an energized calm" (What a perfect description of the ultimate goal in design of a classroom!)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Parent Night- help!

Next week we'll be hosting our first parent night of the year. I like to do this a few weeks into the beginning of the school year so that new parents can already be somewhat familiar with the children in the group from their own children's stories, and from what they see during picking up and dropping off their children at school. The main purpose of these gatherings is for the parents to get to know one another and to build a sense of community in our school.

At our school, we have a fairly diverse parent community especially considering the small Island we live in. I find that a successful night often involves lots of sharing and listening to the interesting backgrounds and customs of the parents. Therefore, giving the opportunity for lots of interaction is important to me.

In the past, I've wanted to share aspects of our program with them during the evening, and then had a type of activity where they would get a chance to talk to each other. This year, I feel like all the families are familiar enough with the program since I did an introductory workshop for the new families in June. So I'd like to focus more on the community building aspect.

What do you do on your first parent night? Have you attended any parent night's that had some kind of really great activity to get to know one another? Any suggestions?

Here are things we have done in the past:

- A condensed version of going through the child's day at school. (Parents got to "work" with materials, sit in their child's place for lunch, have a Spanish lesson, etc.) It was really fun, but time consuming. There was not a lot of time left for just getting to know one another, it ended up centering on the program.

- After a brief introduction to the program, parents were invited into our lunch room where they had to paint a ceramic cup for their child to use on special occasions at school.

- Children drew self portraits. Parents had to guess which one was their child's. They got to take the portraits home.

- I took photos of the children's hands at work. Parents had to guess which ones were their child's hands.

- We made black and white profiles (cameos) of the children. Parents had to guess which one was their child. They got to take the cameos home.

- The children baked bread or cookies in the morning for the parents to eat at night.

- Children left a note for the parents. Parents left notes for the children.

Things I've considered for this year:

- Have the parents embroider their child's name on a napkin to be used on special occasions. (If every year the parents make a special "gift" for their child (like the cups they made last year), the child gets to take the 3 special gifts home at their graduation.)

- Some kind of ice breaker game involving questions to be answered one at a time. I don't know many of these games. Suggestions?

- Having the parents together make some kind of mural on our lunch wall.

- Teach the parents a song, then sing it all together, record it and play it for the children the next day.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

International Peace Day, Sept. 21

I just found a great way to celebrate International Peace Day on Monday. Montessori schools from all around the world will form a "singing chain" starting in New Zealand and ending in Hawaii where the song below will be sung continuously for the whole day. I just submitted my form to know at what time we have to sing in Aruba. I love this idea!

Light a Candle for Peace

Light a candle for peace,
Light a candle for love,
Light a candle that shines,
All the way around the world.

Light a candle for me,
Light a candle for you,
That our wish for world peace,
Will one day come true

Sing Peace Around the World
Sing Peace Around the World
Sing Peace Around the World
Sing Peace Around the World


"We can do no great things,
only small things with great love."

Mother Teresa

Monday, September 14, 2009

Taking care.

It happens to me often that when things get rolling along at school I start to spend more and more time there, both physically and mentally. The day is done and I get very caught up in material making, in record keeping, in emailing parents, in staying on and on. Then I'm getting home and checking the school email again. The fine line between home life and school life becomes blurred and all of a sudden it's like I've been at school all day.

When the school year began, just a month ago, I told myself I'd try to maintain a good, healthy perspective. Be home by 4. Leave school at school. And work with as much enthusiasm on the rest of my life.

Ultimately, a good balance surely helps me be a better person in both camps.

Thanks to a good partner, I am reminded to rescue that balance.

I listened to Tim Ferriss on TED, author of the book "The 4 Hour Workweek" (aka. the ultimate goal? ) and from his very excellent blog come some tips for work obsessed folks, such as myself, on boundary setting:

- Engage in your other hobbies after work.

- Take care of your personal life. He writes "Set goals in your personal life just as you do in your professional life."

- Nurture your non work related relationships.

- Keep your personal email separate from work email. (This seems to be really key for me.)

- Manage your time. It's the old Parkinson's principle. "Work expands to fill the designated time you have for it." If I set my limit to staying at work till 4, then I should be just as capable of doing everything that's got to be done before the next day as if I stayed until 6.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some free materials

In preparation for our field trip this week to the mangroves, I made a set of classification cards with animals and plants that we will encounter there. You can have them too!

Also, on our grammar shelf this week, I added an article box for distinguishing when to use "a" or "an". And it's uploaded here if you want it as well.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Montessori Institute for Professional Studies

I found a link to the Montessori Institute for Professional Studies this morning and it looks very promising. Basically they offer one or two day continuous workshops throughout the summer on topics that Montessori teachers often don't get to explore in depth perhaps as much as they'd like to, such as Music (course taught by Sanford Jones), Class Management, Science, and Art among other things. They offer workshops for Primary level, Elementary and and for Administrators as well. They also have online discussion groups called "Ask a Mentor" where different subjects are touched on in a one hour live online chat. They also have consulting services ($500- $1500 a day!) for schools. Definitely something I will consider along with/instead of the yearly AMI Refresher Course.

Meeting myself.

"Ultimately, of course, there is no other, and you are always meeting yourself." from Stillness Speaks

I thought about these words in regards to work in the classroom this week. In very simple terms, we see in others what is inside of ourselves. What we are seeing is always colored by our own experience of it.

In my efforts to be present, calm and still, I kept those words close at heart when dealing with some rough moments in the classroom this week. To be able to receive an angry child without touching on anger in myself. To be able to see the normalized child beneath the confused surface.

It reminded me also of how regardless of how a day objectively turns out at school, it is my own inner environment, my private experience, that qualifies it as a good or not so good day. In other words, in the end, it is only on my own responses and the way I carried myself that I have real control over. They are the only factors that I can change and through which I can effect change in the external world.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Non Judgment

Occasionally, things come together from many sources suddenly as powerful reminders.

Yesterday I was watching the video "Demystifying the bells" by Montessori trainer Vera Ligtelijn-DePass and in her introduction she mentioned Montessori's precept:

"A teacher's work is not to judge the child, but to help him."

So perfectly, this idea came together with what I read last night in "Stillness Speaks":

"To know another human being in their essence, you don't really need to know anything about them- their past, their history, their story. We confuse knowing about with a deeper knowing that is non conceptual. Thoughts and concepts create an artificial barrier, a separation between human beings. Without the conceptual barriers, love is naturally present in all human interactions."

"How quick we are to form an opinion of a person, to come to a conclusion about them. You give them a conceptual identity, and that false identity becomes a prison not only for the other person but also for yourself."

"To let go of judgment does not mean that you don't see what they do. It means that you recognize their behavior as a form of conditioning, and you see it and accept it as that. You don't construct and identity out of it for that person."

All this reminded me strongly of how my trainer used to say that we should beware of judging a child, you don't want to be creating self fulfilling prophecies.

It is easy to resort to judgment when you have brand new children in a classroom. They are little strangers that unfold their true selves slowly. Sometimes it's easy to lose patience with the process and race to conclusions. I'm grateful for the reminders that came not so subtly this weekend.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Review of recently purchased early reader books.

For a long time I thought the time and inspiration would come to write my own little early reader books for our classroom. I got this far, and wrote 4 (you can have them, but they have no pictures), before I ran out of steam and decided to order me some ready made books. (Time is a precious commodity when you're administrating/teachering.) I ordered some sets from Montessori Services, which is a GREAT GREAT company because they have a good selection of quality materials, their prices are very fair, the customer service is really great, and they shipped everything SO FAST. Can you tell I was pleased to open my box from them?

Here is what I ordered, and what I thought of what I ordered:

Bob Books- Set 1
- I can't believe I spent 16 bucks on these. Oh well. The red books (Mac, Sam, Mat, Dot) are easy and phonetic and repetitive enough that my most recently budding readers can read them in our library. Better yet, they can take them home for the weekend with our new library checkout system. The consecutive books (yellow and green) are much more difficult though and contain lots more text. It's a big step from the red books to the yellow books which contain both phonetic and some sight words. The illustrations are very basic drawings- someone with minimal skill could draw them. I thought this could be taken advantage of and if children wanted to copy the drawings it would be cool... but then again, it would be much cooler to draw ANYTHING from sight than to copy a Bob book drawing. The books are popular, but they are not my favorite.

Peacekeeper's Series- Level 1 - Now we're talking. These books were written by Marianne Bivins and illustrated by Betty Bivins Edwards. They are thematic little early reader booklets. The books are folded card stock stapled in the middle, they are small. The drawings are simple (more complex than BOB though) and remind me of squiggly children in the Assistants to Infancy charts. The great thing about these little books is that they are mostly phonetic and they have a simple story line about the peaceful resolution of conflicts in a Montessori classroom.

The Sense of Wonder Series
- These books are larger than the Peacekeeper's booklets and they look like handmade and illustrated books. I love the handwriting and calligraphy in these books. The illustrations are drawn as well but they are much more refined than the ones in books mentioned above. They are nature themed, and the set includes six books (three phonetic and three phonogram). I'd encourage a child to copy these or make their own similar ones any day. The stories are really nicely written. These books, as opposed to the ones mentioned above really discourage me from feeling like I should save money and write my own, they are so nice.

Mrs. Rhonda's readers
- There are 8 books in this completely phonetic set and they are really cute. I usually don't use the word *cute*, but that's what these books are. They are made out of hard glossy card stock and the illustrations are something in the style of attractive Japanese packaging, minimalist and slightly cartoony (but not in a bad way). The stories in these books are actually good. They are even funny, but not in the "Mat sat on Sam" slapstick way, but funny in a manner more respectful to a four year old's intellect. I really like these A LOT. The children like them A LOT. We read them.

If I had to rate my newly acquired books in terms of difficulty for the children, the sequence would go like this:

-red Bob, then the other sets of Bob
-Peacekeeper's series
-Mrs. Rhondas
-Sense of Wonder

Books that I am considering for the next round of spending:

Flyleaf publishing books- look like they have excellent illustrations, are reality based, and come in a range of reading stages.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Power With

During the summer, I read Nancy Carlsson-Paige's "Taking Back Childhood", and excellent and very relevant read for anyone working with young children and for parents as well. The chapter that struck me the most was titled "No more time outs" and my assistant and I decided to re-read it and discuss it after school today. I was very inspired by the idea of removing "time-out" from the classroom for good and finding ways of sharing power with the children.

The following are the points we brainstormed while talking about how to share power with the children:

- To notice what percent of our total communication with the children is afforded to telling them, in one way or another, what to do. Instead: writing the issue down in our observation notebook and giving a lesson on the issue later (showing not telling), invite them to notice what the problem is, have a group meeting where the children come up with solutions to common issues, conflict resolution where children individually come up with solutions to their problem.

- To remember that children at the primary level age, usually focus on one thing at a time. This means that we have to help them through transition times. We figured a system of auditory transition signals to prepare them for transitions in the day (such as going outside before lunch, coming inside for lunch, coming to the circle). We also decided to post next to our calendar a visual day calendar, so that three year olds can refer to it to better understand the structure of our day.

- Be aware of traces of blame or punishment in our tone of voice or way of speaking and substitute these with a calm and loving tone of voice. Especially when helping children resolve a conflict.

- Give and uphold clear limits in the environment. As much as possible, allow the environment to teach the limit. I think clear limits are certainly an aid to children's sense of security and trust. Use grace and courtesy, visual aids, books and any other varieties of reminders to help children understand the limits.

- Listen to their problems and work with them to find solutions together. (There is a child that has been recently very reluctant to come to the whole group lessons, I approached him like this "I need you to be present at the lessons because there are things I will say that I want you to know. What can we do so that you will be in your place when I ring the bell?" And he came up with the solution himself. )

- Involving the group much more during whole group meetings or lessons. Their feedback is an excellent control of error, and involving them in relevant decision making strengthens the group's sense of community.

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Our second week of school is almost over, and about now is the time that new children start to show their true colors. After the initial shyness and insecurity about the change of environment, they are starting to feel more confident and are increasingly exploring the boundaries of their new space. As the group awakens, it's also time for me to evaluate my environment limits. After changing the environment dramatically during the summer, I really wasn't sure how the children would respond to it until they were actually there, testing it!

To help regulate chaos, when problems arise in the classroom or outdoors, I'm trying to focus first on the physical environment:

- How can I change the environment so that it enforces a limit I want to set?

For example, we have a really nice tree with low overhanging branches. The children love to sit in it and climb. But some climb a little too high where I feel they could be in danger. I painted stripes on the branches to show how high it's ok to climb. I told the children, you may climb but just up to the lines. If the closet door keeps being opened and materials are being investigated, then either I can take out some of those materials that keep those curious hands opening the doors, or I can put a little lock on the door (we had to do that with the teacher's bathroom and the closet).

- When the limit has been set and reinforced with the environment but is still broken by some children, I have to decide how I can make the limit more clear, or talk with the children about why they think the limit is disrespected. Is it a necessary limit? Is there a way to translate it into children's needs and find another way of fulfilling it?

For example, children still run out of the sandbox without putting their shoes back on. I observed and noticed it was mostly the youngest three year olds. Perhaps they forget? Or perhaps they have trouble putting their shoes on by themselves, so they "forget" to. So I talked to them once more about why we have that limit (your feet are not protected in the garden without shoes on), and reminded them that they can ask for help with shoes if they need it.

- What to do when a limit is set but only one child continuously ignores it? In this case, I guess I have to consider the natural consequences or logical consequences if the natural ones are too vague or dangerous.

For example, we have a little low fence that separates the outdoor environment from the back of the school. The fence marks the boundary of where the children may play because anything beyond it is beyond an adult's line of vision. A little boy loves to run and jump over it. Hm. I don't want natural consequences to teach him anything in this case... So then I have to impose the logical consequence, "If you cannot play safely outside, then you can't be outside or you can't play."

Limits we've had trouble with: (of course, it's only the beginning of the year...)

- Only one person works with a material at a time
- Materials have to be put back before you take something else out (with the youngest three year old's)
- Only materials you've had lessons with can be chosen (again, with the tiny ones)
- The materials must be worked with gently

And for these types of issues, I'm trying Grace and Courtesy lessons as the main approach. I have found that sometimes having pictures of what I want them to be doing (ex. a photo of a child observing properly) and placing them somewhere where they can see and discuss them freely (like in the library, or next to the snack table) also helps.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"to bear all cheerfully, do all bravely, await occasions, hurry never."

I'm not so good at whole group meetings. I admit it. Sometimes I get sidetracked, I hurry, I get anxious watching three year olds fidget (lie down, talk, wrestle), I call people's attention. I've been trying to get calm and still and quiet to my very core before these gatherings. To model the patience and posture that I want to see in them. To keep the gatherings short and fun. Still, they are a challenge for me. I have questions:

- What to do with constant interruptions?
- What to do with the little ones that can't seem to sit for longer than a minute?
- What to do with the ongoing conversations?

This is what I've tried so far:

- Assigned seating arrangement for the circle
- Scrapped the circle and done a wedge arrangement
- Grace and courtesy about raising hand
- Invited some children to sit out of the circle/wedge in chairs
- Positioned the assistant next to the children that have most trouble
- Kept gatherings short
- Grace and courtesy about how to sit
- Grace and courtesy about how to listen
- Calmed myself

What do you do to keep meetings sane?

Things I know I could do but don't do as much as I should:

- Include the children in decision making processes
- "Practice" a lot more with them how to sit for gatherings

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Words Fast.

"When you become aware of silence, immediately there is that state of inner stillness. You are present. You have stepped out of thousands of years of collective human conditioning."
Ekhart Tolle

Inspired by this post, yesterday I decided to be still from 6 to 6. I turned off all the media (no email,which is hard), I put away books, no podcasts (running with no podcasts, which is hard), and spent a day being slow and doing only "real" things. Most importantly I tried to be quiet and listen, instead of always thinking and talking. I tried to be aware of all my senses when I was working.

I cooked, cleaned the house, walked the dogs, surfed, sat around and let myself be amused by boredom. I tried to be conscious of what I paid attention to. (Remembered David Foster Wallace : “Bliss—a-second-by-second joy and gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious—lies on the other side of crushing, crushing boredom. Pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (Tax Returns, Televised Golf) and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. Ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. Like water after days in the desert. Instant bliss in every atom.”)

I'd like to be a better listener. Both in the classroom and out of it, I often get too excited in conversation and end up jumping into other people's words, finishing their sentences, interrupting, throwing my ideas and anecdotes out a loud jumble. It was comforting to consider that instead of my frantic participation in conversation, I could instead give all the space up and listen and reassure. Consider my intention before speaking.

Yesterday the day was much longer because of this period of quiet time. With none of my regular media charges, and with the intention of being still (mostly in my mind) the time went slower and I was rested when it was over. It was like taking a vacation from words.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When your corner is really a whole city.

In my 0-3 training, the catchphrase for the class became "Brighten your own corner." And the consensus was that if everyone takes care of their own little corner, eventually the whole world becomes a better place.

This morning on my jog I listened to This American Life about Geoffrey Canada's project, "Harlem Children's Zone". He's a man who has made Harlem his "corner". His vision is to help bring the less fortunate people of that community out of poverty through education. Big claims. Being a huge advocate of the crucial importance of the early years in life for future outcomes in society (especially the first three years), he has implemented a spread of social service courses. They start with one called "Baby College" where mothers and pregnant women in the city take an 8 week class which teaches them about the development of their child in the first years and how best to serve it. They follow this with charter schools and advanced parenting programs, all the way to helping the students graduate from high school and eventually college.

It is so rare to hear about someone's big plans for educational change actually going through. I was greatly inspired and ran a mile extra to finish this very great radio essay. I super recommend. Just looking at the statistics on the HCZ website gives me chills.

Monday, August 17, 2009

First community building exercise

These are the pins for the "helping hands" ceremony where the returning older children will pin the heart on a new younger child and tell them "I'll give you my helping hand". The goal is to highlight the responsibility that returning older children have towards the newbies in our community.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Projection for the school year ahead: “Smile, breathe and go slowly”

I took the afternoon off from the many tasks on the never ending "to do" list that eventually will merge with the beginning of the school year. There is a mistake I make often before the start of things. I develop such an intense sense of anticipation that I expect things to have reached a "complete" state before I feel I can begin. The classroom must have everything it needs for the year, all repairs completed, all the odds and ends tied up neatly, and a mad rush of productivity at the end of vacation. Life going by in a succession of checks on my list.

Instead, I got a hot stones massage (thank you Sayenne :) ) and listened to Thich Nhat Hanh on my mp3 player. During that blissful hour, I projected the feeling that I want to embrace throughout the year. These are words it has to do with: slow, presence, smiling, trees, breath, blue sky, joy, calm water, perspective.

The mad dash for the start is over.

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday, August 14, 2009

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy,
the chance to draw back, always

Concerning all acts of initiative (and
creation), there is one element of truth, the
ignorance of which kills countless ideas and
splendid plans - that moment one commits
oneself, then providence moves all.

All sorts of things occur to help one that
would never otherwise have occurred. A
whole stream of events issues from the
decision, raising in one's favour all manner
of unseen incidents and meetings and
material assistance which no man would
have dreamed could have come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can,
begin it. Boldness has genius, power and
magic in it.

Begin it now.


Congratulations Yasuyo!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New Assistant Training

My assistant from two years ago has gone on to college to study Psychology and after a very successful search, I found someone with the spirit and energy necessary (it seems) to run with a room full of 3-6 year olds. Since my new assistant doesn't have any experience in Montessori, I wanted to give her a good introduction to not only the method, but the practical things about what will be her job.

My first year in Montessori I was an assistant. Honestly I think I was a terrible one. The reason was not lack of inspiration, but rather a lack in communication. If you don't know what you're supposed to be doing, then how can you be expected to do it? I really want my assistant to know how to help me. So I must teach her how.

Because the school is so small, and I'll basically spend all day with my assistant in the room with the children our communication is key. We've been spending every morning this past week, and will continue until Friday going over this mini crash course in Montessori classroom assistant's job.

I know different people understand the role of the assistant in different ways, but I think I know what I'm comfortable with. So what to some might seem an excessive amount of information, to me seems just right.

Here is what we're doing this week:


The Prepared Environment:

-Organization of the Classroom
-Identify Areas
-Identify Materials present (a place for everything, everything in its place)
-Where to sit for observing, for giving lessons, during meetings
-Where to gather groups

Practical Life:

-Analysis of Movement:

-How to walk
-How to carry a basket, pitcher, tray, box
-How to sit in a chair
-How to roll and unroll a rug
-How to approach a child

Grace and Courtesy:
-How to Help

-PL Modes of Activity (wiping a table, dusting, sweeping, mopping, using the spill bucket, etc)

-Normalizing the Conditions:
-Trust: how to gain the trust of the children
-Approachability- attractiveness

-How to identify it
-How to protect it

-Modes of Activity
-The goal

-How to gather a group
-How to sustain the interest of the group
-How to dismiss the group


-Concentration (hands and eyes work together)
-Purpose of the material respected
-Social Exchanges
-Interests (opportunities for new lessons)
-Large group movement
-Individual work
-Self evaluation

-Overview of Language:

-Dutch Objectives
-How to communicate in the classroom
-Language modes of Activity

-Enrichment of Vocabulary
-Language Training
-Poetry and Song

-Good Literature

-Lesson Plans:
-How to prepare
-What they should look like
-Record keeping


-Freedom and Discipline:
Rules of the classroom:

-Positive Phrasing
-Active Listening

-Overview of Sensorial Area:

-Introduction: How children create a map of their world
-Modes of Activity
-Smell: smelling game
-Taste: tasting lesson
-Touch: touching game
-Auditory: The other sound game
-Visual: Show and tell

-Key Concepts in Montessori Education:
-Maria Montessori
-Four Planes of Development
-Prepared Environment
-Absorbent Mind
-Sensitive Periods
-Control of Error/Friendliness with Error
-Role of the Adult


-Overview of Mathematics:
-Modes of Activity

-Overview of Science
-Modes of Activity
-Field Trips

-Overview of Art
-Modes of Activity

-Overview of Music
-Modes of Activity

-Overview of Geography
-Modes of Activity
-Country of the Week

-Parent Communication:
-At Beginning of Day
-At End of Day
-In General Community
-Appearance of the assistant


-Create a lesson plan
-Go over daily schedule and scenarios for first week
-Clean Shelves

Monday, August 10, 2009

Home Visits.

For the first time in my teaching career, last year before school started I decided to visit all the children in their own homes. My friend who teaches at Near North Montessori in Chicago has been doing it for years and suggested it as a way to further increase the trust bond between school and home before the year begins. It ended up being one of the most valuable experiences to draw upon during the rest of the year.

It amazed me midyear, when I would ask a three year old if they remembered when I visited them in their home and they would recall an incredible amount of detail: what they showed me, what we played with, the snack we had... True stories about my visits to their homes ranked way up there on the scales the whole year round.

This year I am in the midst of home visits and enjoying them so much. I feel so privileged to be welcomed into the homes of the families that will join our community this year. The reception of the children when I arrive is always a surprise- from the little boy who was so excited that for five minutes he raced across the hallways screaming, to the little girl who sat across from me in her living room and didn't say a word for the first 15 minutes. All the visits end with a feeling of increased closeness and fill me with anticipation for working alongside these little guys in the coming year.

Follow up on the Review of Montessori Outlet Materials

I got a call from the customer service department at Montessori Outlet recently after I posted my review of their materials here. As the lady on the phone explained, they company was undergoing major changes last year as I was purchasing my materials. They recently went from "outlet quality", to "premium quality" materials but are keeping their prices very low. They were very generous and offered to replace many of the materials that I'd had problems with even though a whole year had passed since I purchased them. The agent on the phone was really nice and I was surprised and pleased with the service. Another point scored for MO.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Celebrating with the Kaybee Bells

This week we completed our first fiscal year. I'm so pleased with my math skillz. Very proud to announce that we didn't end up in the red. Even more pleased with myself because of the huge gamble I took when deciding to only take 10 children on for the first year. Cheers to that!

To celebrate, and with a little of our leftover budget mullah, I decided to splurge and bought the much advertised Kaybee Montessori Bells set. I was skeptical, I confess. (Fingers have fallen off from having been crossed for 2 and a half weeks.) Compared to other bells sets that I've used in the past Gonzagarredi ($750), Nienhuis (I don't know, 1 million dollars?, first born son?) at $450 they seemed a little too "underpriced" (crazy, I know). I'm a sucker for bargains though, I admit it.

The bells arrived neatly packed in a sea of foam peanuts. The complete set of brown, white, and black bells. The bases and stems are made out of wood and painted with a flat finish. The bells themselves are heavy, very shiny, and the bell crowns (?) are rubber. There were 2 mallets in the box, thin wood dowels with rubber balls at the ends (all wood would does produce a nicer sound). The sound of the bells is very clear. They have a precise and lovely sound and they match perfectly with their counterparts (as clearly as my own hearing goes.) And that's the most important thing, considering their purpose.

If you want to be picky though... Montessori people can be like this about materials... especially expensive ones... A couple of the wooden bases have irregularities. Minor things with the paint, or seem slightly warped upwards. No damper comes in the set. And here's the only thing that really irked me. The bells have a tiny number engraved at the top. A quarter inch size number that matches each brown bell with its white or black pair. I guess they thought this would be a good control of error. The problem is, the numbers are obvious. The control of error is too blatant. Other bells I have used had the name of the pitch written or on a sticker on the bottom of the bell. If children wanted to check their work, they could tip up the bell and see if the name of the pitches matched. I don't know if I can cover the number somehow without interrupting the tones.

I am excited about having bells in the classroom though. Numbers or not because music is best. And I'll be so happy hearing those babies ringing in our room all year long!

Getting Ready. What I've been up to.

No rest for the weary.

After a nice week long sailing course vacation in Brooklin, Maine, a.k.a. the Wooden Boatbuilding Capital of the World, I plunged back into my own version of extreme home makeover (except it was at school, and it really wasn't that extreme.)

We turned our storage closet into a small library. Children will be free to go and work in that quiet little nook surrounded by bright windows and books. I got all of our English books in random garage sales and used book stores during visits to the US. You just can't beat going up to that 12 year old girl at the yard sale who's outgrown some good picture books and having her tell you "You can have all those for two bucks."

I pushed my desk up against the wall and in it's place I got a second hand super sweet teak table and mismatched chairs. I'm feeling like conference time should be
much more like a team meeting than an "I'm the boss in the big chair behind the desk" meeting.

I love swings. It was finally time to get a good set of them at school. Woohoo! Who would like to come to a varnishing party?

I inherited this nice bookshelf from my own home and brought along with it all my parenting/teaching books, Montessori DVDs, and put all of our classroom music on it as well. The clipboard on the shelf means anyone around who is interested can sign up and check them out. If you'd like a list of my titles, I'll trade you for yours.

And the magnus opus of my vacation: the demolition of the wall into the spare room to extend our classroom. Source of the eternal fountain of concrete dust that I've won a war against (MURIATIC ACID- In case you were wondering. Yes, it is the same stuff that Brad Pitt used on Fight Club to tattoo kisses on dudes hands. Apparently it's the only thing that will get rid of concrete dust on tile floors. Beware though. There are many a skull and bones on the bottle.) Our classroom is about 45% larger. So much more of it to love!