Thursday, August 19, 2010

Practical Beginning Stuff

(tasting lesson with some of the new children- food is a great indirect motivator for learning how to join and leave a small group lesson)

I inevitably get anxious at the beginning of new school years. I struggle with the uncertainty and feel a bit like a rusty teacher after the long vacation. The comfortable (if I am not romanticizing it) atmosphere that we ended our school year with undergoes a makeover- the new group of oldest children and the new children change the society every year.

To prepare, there are "rituals" that help me feel more ready for the change: Writing a letter to both new and returning children about how I am excited sharing the coming year with them, visiting the new children in their home, reading the chapter in my album about the first days in the classroom, and of course, setting up the environment.

At our school, only the new children come for the first 2 days of school. This gives me the opportunity to focus on them exclusively and make sure they get all of the introductory grace and courtesy lessons. I strip the classroom of materials and leave out plenty of transitional materials and just a few of the very basic and indestructible Montessori materials.

In those two days we try to prepare the new children enough to be able to function somewhat independently. We shorten the work period considerably and give lots of group lessons. On the second day of only new children, we focus on grace and courtesy such as not taking a material if you haven't had a lesson with it (in preparation for lots of other materials that "appear" on the shelf the following day, when the returning children arrive.)

Everything shifts once again with the return of the "old" children. A really nice thing is that since the old ones are used to a 3 hour work period, and are eager to be back at school, they really INJECT a surge of work force in the environment. I could feel this yesterday (it's our 4th day today) how the new children were able to work a little longer, and a little more carefully because of, I guess, the "energy" in the room.

Tomorrow will be the end of our first week of school. And by next week I will add a considerable amount of materials on the shelves for the "old" children to get back in gear from where they left off last school year.

It is great being in an environment that is so dynamic and changing, and to work in a field where things are in constant flux. Just when you think you've got the formula right, something or someone comes along and you have to modify it again. Observation, observation, observation. Flexibility. Enthusiasm. Love.


Laura S. said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences of your first days of school!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this. I am a new teacher and just starting in a new school, and have been obsessing over WHAT HAPPENS in those first few days. Sometimes it seems there is a lot of "what not to do" out there, but not a lot of talk about how to get to the point of having a true Montessori environment. I am getting a whole class of new students and am unsure of school culture for introductions, and am generally an anxious over-planner anyway, so I am grateful for your practical and spiritual perspectives.

Leptir (NataĊĦa) said...

I like the idea of preparing the newly enrolled children only. Unfortunately, we (in Croatia, in city's kindergarten) do not have that option.

Anonymous said...

Dear Susanne,
It's amazing how the universe will bring along the "just right" thing when you need it most! I was feeling a mild panicky feeling last night with the upcoming first full day of school (after doing this Montessori thing for over 25 years!)when I read your most recent blog entry.What comfort it, thank you for taking the time and thoughtfulness to share with us. I've always felt a kinship to you; we have similar Montessori paths. I have a comparably small primary school here in Flagstaff, Arizona, AMI training, and I also wear "all the hats" (administrator/directress/janitor/sidewalk sweeper...). If you ever travel to the Grand Canyon, please come for a visit to Bambini Montessori. We're on the way! Sheryl

Susanne said...

Thanks everyone for your encouraging comments. I wish you great things in your school years as well!

Susanne said...

Hello Sheryl,

Thanks for your comment. I have a very dear friend that is from Arizona who comes to visit every year and finds so many similarities in the landscape. If you have a website of your school I'd love to visit it! Or you could send some pictures? 25 years of the "Montessori Thing" is admirable, congratulations.

I wish you the best in your school year,