Monday, March 30, 2009

Control of error.

I have been thinking about control of error. While the children work, the material itself is guiding them to success. Something they can perceive will not be in harmony until the work is completed correctly. The materials are auto-didactic because they have an embedded control of error, this is what allows for the great measures of independence present in a Montessori classroom.

But what are the controls of error for the adult?

The children surely are the most important controls of error for the adult. The harmony present in the group, the levels of concentration, the depth of the work, if there is joy and some peace existing in the group. And our material is the environment, it is our tool to inspire and guide the children.

The parent community. My trainer insisted on making sure that as teachers we understood that the parents are our customers and ultimately we are offering a service to them. Their satisfaction with the program and their trust in it are controls of error.

Our own sense of harmony. When the work is too hard something must be wrong.

I am inspired watching a child manipulating a material that is presenting some challenge. Turning it over, upside-down, trying again, removing some pieces, adding new ones, starting over, applying some pressure, trying from a different angle, taking a break, even asking for help when the struggle is too great.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rocking it.

Friday we visited the Ayo Rock Formations. It is one of my favorite places in Aruba. There is a really stunning trail that you can take that climbs up and descends under boulders, but when I walked it the day prior to our trip was I dismayed to find dozens of active paper wasp nests inside the tunnels. Too many extreme mental images of the possibilities of walking with the children in the wasp infested darkness drove me to the conclusion that we'd skirt the boulders instead of walk through them.

We did climb onto a tall flat boulder and did a silence exercise with the stunning view of the formations before us. The children could choose to sit in silence with their eyes open or closed.

We had made rock identification booklets in advance, and at the end of our walk took them out and marked the rocks that we'd seen. The images were taken from the Rocks and Minerals classification cards- the children cut out printed images of the rocks and pasted them in little booklets and then wrote or pasted labels for them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rock on.

Friday we will be having a field trip to the Ayo Rock Formations. I don't know what I'm more excited for, the walk among the enormous tonalite boulders, or the french picnic we are planning on bringing along.

In preparation for the field trip, we have begun a rock collection in the classroom. Weeks ago, I brought one rock out at a time from my own little collection and then opened it up for the children to bring their own special rocks. When presenting a new rock, I tell a story about how the rock was possibly formed and illustrate it (very crudely) on a chalkboard. Then I tell an additional and shorter story about how I got the rock. As the collection grows, we revisit almost every rock when a new one is added to the collection reviewing their names and qualities.

Today, as a summary of our work so far, I made and printed out Rocks and Minerals classification cards from all the rocks we've seen so far. They are here for anyone to download and print out. Now the readers in our group can read and match the labels to the pictures on the cards.

Of course, this has sparked a frenzy of rock hunting in our garden. Every piece of broken glass is obsidian, and a chunk of concrete is possibly a geode to be smashed against the sidewalk.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sing Along.

On Friday, our school hosted a family Sing Along and Dinner evening. I have never organized an event like this before, but having grown up in a family where singing and music were an important part of life, I decided to try for it at school as well. We sing songs in the classroom every day. My Montessori trainer considered music one of the activities that should be done EVERY DAY in the classroom. I have heeded her advice.

The children know many songs, so they each got to select one song to sing individually. I was surprised that many of them chose songs that we sung very early on in the year (the traditional and familiar songs like "ABCD's" and "Twinkle Twinkle"). When I first pitched the idea, not every child wanted to sing solo, but as the weeks went on and we practiced informally, they warmed up to it and every child (except one) picked a song. That is how the program was built.

We sent out potluck request forms, so parents signed up to bring different items for the dinner of the Sing Along evening. I encouraged cultural dishes, and our Greek family indeed brought authentic Greek salad. Fantastic.

The week prior to the event, we gave to each parent a CD with all the songs for the Sing Along copied on it so that they could become familiar with the songs we'd sing as well. (We had a plan for them to sing too!)

On the day of the Sing Along, the children organized the tables in the classroom and each one was responsible for setting their family's table. They made a flower arrangement each, and set the tables with table cloths, cutlery, and name tags. At the end of the school day, our classroom was transformed!

The greatest excitement for the children was that they would get to come back to the school at night! When they arrived, Sayenne and I had decorated the room with lanterns and christmas tree lights and soft Django Reinhart music playing in the background. It looked so cozy and sweet!

The children sat in chairs lined up on one side of the classroom, and the parents were invited to sit at their tables. One of the parents had volunteered to join me with a guitar, so we had a band of two to accompany the songs. We sang 14 songs, each song was first sung individually by one child, then by all the children, and then by the parents and children. I didn't expect to hear many of the parents singing, but I was delightfully surprised! They all sang with gusto! It was beautiful!

After all the singing, the children lined up in the kitchen and brought out the plates of food for their parents. When everyone was served, we ate. And talked. And laughed. And were happy.

You can download our complete Sing Along program (the lyrics and chords for guitar) in my files at the bottom right of this page.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Saturday. Chicks love frozen yogurt.

What is sweeter than a handsome man who loves puppies?

Vanilla orange frozen yoghurt!

I had some friends visit a few weeks ago from Portland, OR. And during their visit we broke out ye old ice cream maker a few times. After our discovery of the yumminess of drinking orange tea with a splash of vanilla soy milk in it (so creamsicley delicious!) we decided to replicate it in frozen yoghurt form. Here's our recipe:

In a blender:

3 cups plain yoghurt (the thicker the better)
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
large splash of vanilla extract (the kind that comes from vanilla bean if you have it)
juice of 6 oranges
grated rind of 1 orange
1 cup of half and half or cream

Pour it into the ice cream maker and voila! I am wondering about the possibility of making it without the ice cream maker...

The G rated version of this recipe that we used for school this week was:

3 cups of vanilla yoghurt
juice of 2 oranges
large splash of milk

Then poured this mixture into popsicle molds (we make a lot of popsicles at school)and had Vanilla orange yogurt popsicles. Very very delicious.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thank you for my eyes.

In one of my books recently, there was a line that has stuck with me all these days. I like it so much. "When the mind is calm, like still water, you can see clearly." I think this idea applies to observation in the classroom. When I am calm and present, I can really see what is happening. I had a moment of synchronicity with a child, through the environment, and it made me so happy today.

I have been observing/enjoying N's explorations with the metal insets. She works carefully and for long stretches of time with one shape, placing it in different ways on the paper and creating new shapes. Then there was a lull in the work! "Oh no!" I thought, "It's over!" Her work had been inspiring others to try new variations with the metal insets and I wanted to see if this work could be extended. I made a set of variations myself, laminated them, and placed them in a basket on the metal insets cabinet. I made them for N but wanted to see if she would find them herself and if they would move her into more in depth work with the metal insets. They were on the shelf about 20 minutes before N found them, leafed through them, came running to me- "I want to do this!" And then inscribed circles in squares, and ellipses in the circles, shaded and drew lines. To watch her relishing in the work, matched perfectly with her level of interest was incredibly satisfying to me.

My endeavors to start these kinds of explorations are not usually as overtly successful as today's. I am grateful for my eyes!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Free Montessori 3 Part Cards

Inspired by this post by Montessori Candy on very simple and beautiful display envelopes for 3 part cards, I updated my online "box" of 3 part cards. I have added the Butterfly Cards which were very well received by the children who learned all of them for our field trip to the Butterfly Farm. I've also added our Shell Cards, Triangle Cards, and the rest of the Aruban Plants, Aruban Land Birds, and Insects (Which are probably more useful to local teachers). My table setting cards are too heavy to upload into the box- they crash my system every time. You can download these cards for free by clicking on the box link at the bottom right of my page.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Assistant's Album

For all of you who asked, following is the breakdown of the Assistant's album that we are using at our school:

1. Brief History of Montessori
(First Theory Lecture from AMI Training from my own Practical Life Album)

2. Key Concepts of Montessori Education
(Prepared Environment, Human Tendencies, Sensitive Periods, Mixed Age Group, Respect for the Child, Self Correcting Materials, Areas of the Casa- a summary of each concept)

3. Comparing Montessori and Traditional Education
(Handout from AMS website)

4. School Overview - Staff Names and Phone Numbers
Children's Names and Ages
School Calendar

5. Schedule of the day in detail- with detailed assistant tasks (where to be, what to do)

6. Role of the Assistant in the Classroom
-List of assistant duties both before, during, and after school
-End of day tasks (Clean up list)

7. Communicating with Children
-Classroom Ground Rules
-Hints for effective discipline (from Becky Bailey)
-It's not what you say, it's how you say it (tips about how to positive phrase, and communicate clearly with the children in a respectful manner)
-How to recognize real work with materials and concentration

8. Observation Tasks
To further familiarize the assistant, each day/week there are specific things to
notice and note when observing.

8. Helpful Articles: To be read as home work during first weeks and discussed at meetings. To be supplemented as time goes by with articles that support the further development of the assistant.

*The Four Planes of Education- by Dr.Maria Montessori
*Freedom and Discipline- by Judi Orion
*The Role of the Teacher and the Role of the Assistant- by Annette Haines Ed.D.
*Setting Limits- So Little Understood, So Greatly Needed- by Judy Orion
*Conflict Resolution in Young Children- by Lori Woodard
*Working with your Assistant- by Shannon Helfrich

9. Lessons: Modes of Activity
As the assistant becomes familiarized with her duties and tasks, more can be
added to the list of possible lessons/activities she may direct

-Language Games
-Counting Games
-10 Ways to dismiss children and re-engage them with work
-Sound Game
-How to read a book
-How to tell true stories
-How to have a conversation about something that a child noticed
-The Question Game

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Great Assistantship.

After a wonderfully normalized-like day in our environment I had the nicest surprise when my very talented assistant shared with me her observations of the day with a prelude that went something like this:

"Today I wanted to see what they were actually doing, not just like -"working with the clay", but notice exactly what was happening with the children and the materials. When Z was washing the sink, for example, I was thinking of how much sensorial information was going to his brain. He was counting brushstrokes as he washed, he counted to seventeen. (Mathematics while washing the sink!) The movement of his hands and his whole body while he was scrubbing and getting water. He repeated parts of the work several times- why those parts?, I wondered."

And then she proceeded to give me forty minutes worth of fine in-depth observations of what she saw, including at the end, a summary of each child and the areas they worked in. I am inspired!

Sayenne and I meet every day after school to go over observations. Not every day for 40 minutes, usually 20-30. This happens after we clean up the kitchen and the environment. I am lucky enough to have an assistant that is not only glad to, but prefers to meet at the end of each day and share with me in detail what she wrote in her observations notebook. I am also lucky enough to have an assistant who shares a similar sense of humor to my own and can notice things that cause peals of laughter to erupt from the office after school. Talking about the day, hearing her observations, how she felt about the day, giving some feedback from my own training and other experience and recording the most relevant aspects of the observations has become an invaluable part of my day.

Talking about the frustrating parts as well as celebrating the breakthroughs has allowed me to disconnect a lot better from school when I go home. It removes the urge to talk about school outside of school, better yet, removes the urge to give summaries of my day to any available soul after school.

We have tried several methods of communication through the years. One year she would hand me her observations notebook and I would read it after school and write feedback, comments and if possible I would add an article or even bring in a book to tie in what I was noticing from her. This worked pretty well, but I think it perhaps obligated Sayenne to have to keep notes that were coherent for me to read, and it is so hard to capture some moments in a couple of sentences.

In those days we had weekly meetings, which I would prepare for and try to have enlightening literature, observation tasks, and other things to aid Sayenne's development in the classroom. (Writing this reminds me that it is important for me to continue to supplement our meetings with things for her to take home and read and think about. )

My trainer emphasized the importance of keeping clear delineations of what the assistant's role and what the directress' role are. I have found that both roles are incredibly complex, and the exact delimitation of both roles migrates! I am very fond of the idea of taking into consideration each other's aptitudes and talents. I have also found that even when a directress may know well what her role is, it is also her responsibility to make sure that the assistant knows hers. There are some wonderful articles written about this, and if anyone out there is interested I can point you to them.

In order better understand myself what the assistants role is, during my training, one of my classmates and I put together an Assistant's album. Into it we put articles about the assistant's responsibilities, presentations that the assistant may eventually be giving, lists of possible short transition games that the assistant may play, as well as the relevant information about the classroom (the schedule, class list, clean up tasks list, etc.) Ours is well worn and has expanded over the years.

I am feeling very grateful today to be able to share this journey with my assistant, and feel quite proud of how much we've trekked together!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lemonade Stand Awards

P.S.Montessori nominated my blog for a "Lemonade Stand Award" and wrote some pretty sweet things about this blog on her page. Thank you! Passing it along, some blogs that nourish me:

The Moveable Alphabet- Joshua Slocum's great granddaughter, Susan Dyer, shares the beautiful happenings of her environment. This is what Montessori is all about.

Montessori by Hand- Although this blog is in a permanent state of hiatus, it is the original reason why I started blogging. Insightful, practical, and lots of shared goodies.

Take me out on a field trip...

I love field trips with the children. Connecting with nature in different environments is one of my favorite things to do with them. Preparing for field trips and helping the children begin to see something in the environment that they were not aware of before is very satisfying.

I have read that it is not until you have the language to classify something that you can actually see/notice/appreciate it. If all we know about trees is that they are "trees" then they are a green blur in the landscape. But as soon as you know how to differentiate them, their barks, the shapes of their leaves, their relationship to animals and insects, THEN you can't but stop in front of a tree and find it amazing.

In my training, the trainer did not recommend taking the 3-6 year olds out on field trips because they are in a stage where they prefer what is known and comfortable for them to unknown surprises. Field trips can disrupt their sense of order and stress them out. I understand and agree with this. In order to compensate, we prepare very much for our field trips. We mark our calendar weeks in advance, we talk about what the place will be like and what our routine on that day will be like. As the date gets closer, I go into more and more detail about where we are going and what the experience will be like. I think this gives the children positive reinforcement about what behavior is expected of them, and calms them to be able to visualize what is going to happen.

In reality, I don't really expect the field trip to be anything more than a brief sensorial experience in a new environment. But I try to plan for it to be so much more. We make identification booklets of flora and fauna that we may encounter- the children draw or color the plants and animals and make small check boxes for marking off when they see it. We bring samples of plants or minerals we may see on our trip. We make classification cards of geologic structures, plants, animals or minerals we may focus on. So much to do in preparation!

Instead of using a field trip as a culmination to a "unit", we try to integrate the experience into our daily classroom life and find ways of continuing and deepening the themes. For example, we continue to expand our shell collection from our first trip to the sand dunes where we went simply to collect shells and slide on the sand. When a child brings in a new shell we label it and add it to the group. The children continue to reinforce their knowledge of shells by visiting the ever changing collection.

Making a photo book of the field trip and captioning it with words that an older child can read to himself or others is another great way to continue the experience. A set of these memory books is invaluable to a feeling of community experience.

Anyway, I was inspired to write about this since we are just beginning to bring out works related to our next field trip which will be to the Ayo Rock Formations. We are starting to look at rocks and minerals- beginning with the story of quartz, three kinds of it, their names (clear, milky, and amethyst), and a geode that we will smash open tomorrow morning. The children speculated about what would be inside the geode and about how to open it- they all agreed hammer would do the trick.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Resistance is Futile. Giving in to each moment- no matter what it brings.

Sometimes after I gripe or grieve even minimally to Yair about something regarding my work, he says to me "Sweetheart, that's all part of your work." I've been thinking about those words.

I am realizing that I sometimes resist certain parts of my work. Sometimes I feel resistance towards situations in the classroom (especially when I don't understand why they are happening), bathroom episodes with children, unkempt closets, dust on the shelves, some phone calls to parents. Yesterday I was washing cups in the kitchen at the end of the day, and I realized that I was feeling a small resistance to having to do so much clean-up at the end of every day. I remembered the words, "it is all part of the work".

Being a Montessori directress in my case involves doing all of those things. One activity cannot be without the rest, they are all necessary, integrated, interdependent. Setting limits with a child is as important as giving a lesson (wait, it IS giving a lesson!), preparing the environment, helping a child become independent with the use of the toilet, keeping parents informed of the manner of activity of their child, all are equally important. When I resist any of these small activities, I am putting myself at odds with what is actually happening.

If I am trying to hurry over one aspect, the rest are diminished. If I am aware during all phases of the work, present, listening, open, then all the work is enlightened. The work is not just a practice, each moment is my life.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Working on it.

Today was one of those days in the classroom where I was, once again, dominated by a hectic feeling. I was very happy when it was over.

Later, when I was walking with my dog, I was replaying the day in my mind and with the calm surroundings and the sea and the trees, things didn't seem like they'd gone that awry this morning. I guess it's like when parents come for observation on wondrously productive and quiet days, and then they say “It seemed a little chaotic.” It's all about present state of mind.

Children everywhere are doing the same things, going through the same stages, presenting the same behaviors in classrooms all over the world. I'm sure I'm not the first one to witness baskets used as hats, puzzle pieces as swords, pencils as projectiles (yikes). It's universal. The only thing that wavers is the way the adult handles herself in the midst of these incidents.

I would like to be more patient. I'd like to be able to handle all the interactions of the day with an internal smile. To be able to respond to every little hand on my shoulder with the same openness and readiness to listen. To be unwavering in the still water of my mind regardless of the circumstance surrounding me. To be able to model the kind of patience that I'd like the children to have. Patience for the children, and patience for myself. To have enough patience to respect the pace of my own learning.

Secondly, I want the humility to not gloat in the successes nor take the mishaps too much to heart, but to respond to both as simply the natural ebb and flow of life with young children.

I'd like to possess the clarity to appreciate all the happy wonderful and insignificantly miraculous occurrences that are happening under my very eyes during the day with the children.

Lastly, to possess the knowledge to best judge how to respond to the situations that need my attention.

I am working on it.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


We took a hiatus from the classroom work on Friday and took a trip to the beach instead. I have found that taking a day and devoting it exclusively to enjoyment, out of our regular routine and location, offers our group a moment for a different kind of bonding. We swam, built sand castles, ate snack and lunch together under a shady tree, and I even brought my soft surfboard for the children to try. During our beach day there were no squabbles, no one got upset, everyone was happy and interacting joyfully. When we have done this in the past, the children come back to school the following week seemingly refreshed and eager to get back to the normal routine. As do the teachers, naturally. It restores the freshness to the group.

There is something about a day like this where it is easy to focus only on what is happening in the moment, to just be in the sunshine, or under the shady tree, in the company of children.