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!