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.