Tuesday, December 6, 2011

if you are not having fun, you must be doing something wrong.

"Even more important than the warmth and affection we receive, is the warmth and affection we give. It is by giving warmth and affection, by having a genuine sense of concern for others, in other words through compassion, that we gain the conditions for genuine happiness. More important than being loved, therefore, is to love."

Dalai Lama

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Reading Classification

Yesterday I was reviewing my language album and classroom materials. When I got to my reading classification card sets I noticed that over the years my sets have become tattered, incomplete, and many of them are of different sizes and made on different templates. How nice to have a uniform set of at least the basic cards! What a luxury to have them all complete, laminated, and in pouches in good condition!

So my project this weekend has been to do just that. I've made the following sets so far and you are welcome to download them (for free) here:

Fruit- mainly fruits we eat at school
Body Parts -very difficult to find appropriate pictures on the web of body parts such as chest, torso, and to NOT get photos of diseased body parts... funny that I found myself using search terms like "healthy human head"
Geometric Solids
Flowers- these are typical flowers found both indoors and outdoors in Aruba, so they might not be useful for people living in other countries
Classroom Furniture

Enjoy! I know I will!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Saturday, October 22, 2011

School lunch.

When I first envisioned our school, one of the aspects that gave me feelings of most happy anticipation was the idea of school made lunches. Our first year, when we had 12 children, I would make lunch every day with 3 different children. Now that our school has grown, we have an assistant who works specifically in the kitchen and in the garden with the children.

We rotate our three lunch chefs every week, and at 10:15 every morning, they wash their hands and head into the kitchen. We've arranged it so that every week one five year old, a four year old, and a three year old work together. This way, the oldest child has the most opportunity to help the others.

They first set the tables with tablecloths, plates, forks and spoons, cups, and then set up the dish washing station. Then they put on their aprons and help make lunch. Their tasks are given depending on their level of skill- cutting, peeling, grating, washing, tearing, spreading, measuring, taking out refuse to the compost bins, sticking fruit cores on the tree for the lizards and birds. What I love about the kitchen work is that it is real life practical life work.

My dream would be to have a community supported agriculture system to get our produce from, but living on a dry and windy island makes that kind of implausible. Our menu incorporates lots of fresh vegetables and fruit for dessert every day, and we try to vary it from week to week and include input from our parent community which includes a lot of international families.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chop wood and carry water.

I got my hands on this wonderful article by Angeline Lillard comparing Montessori education to mindfulness. It is my favorite Montessori research paper that I've read in a long time!


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Living in the present.

One of the things that I am grateful for in my work with children is that children keep me in the present moment.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The greatest gift.

"If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself.
If you want to eliminate all the suffering in the world,
then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself.
Truly the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self transformation."

Lao Tzu

Friday, October 14, 2011

Children teaching children.

Here is one of our five year olds leading a game of "sound bingo". I love how she caters to both the level of skill of the different children and to their energy level. That little high five is priceless!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Loving it.

We live in the world when we love it. ~Rabindranath Tagore

Conscious Discipline

Living on a rock in the middle of the ocean, it's a rare opportunity to find something that speaks to me personally and at the same time is functional in my work as a Montessori educator. A few years ago I attended a parent education session on a method of classroom management called Conscious Discipline and I was delighted to find that it melded perfectly with Dr. Montessori's vision of the prepared environment. I've written about it on this blog before, but wanted to share some of the great stuff that was shared during the seminar this week.

It is especially useful in these initial months of school when much of the work with new children involves developing a connection with them, and among them.

From a 2 day Conscious Discipline seminar with Jill Molli:

"Discipline is not something you do to children, it is something that develops within them."

"Fear based discipline techniques don't work because they don't teach children the skills they are lacking. They simply damage your relationship with them."

"Our thoughts and beliefs influence our feelings and behavior. What you believe about a child influences your feelings and actions towards them. They listen to the message you give them. If you choose to see a child in a negative light, you give them no option but to follow. In order for a child to change, we have to see the child differently first."

"Eye contact, touch, presence, in a playful manner are necessary to build a connection with a child. Cooperation from them is not possible without there first being a connection."

"Shift from controlling others to connecting with others."

"The brain functions best when we feel safe."

"The way that you talk to yourself is the way that you will talk with the children in your care."

"Stop and honor kindness."

"The way we talk to our children TODAY is the way they will talk to themselves in 30 years."

"It is important to teach children how to handle disappointment and failure."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Peace Day Plans

Tomorrow, to celebrate Peace Day, we will have some special things planned.

On Monday, we sent to parents a package with instructions for how to fold a paper crane a white square paper and a small slip. We asked them to fold the crane at home, hopefully with their child, and decide on a message to write on the slip of paper that is appropriate to Peace Day, then to string the crane and slip together with a needle and thread. Tomorrow morning, as the children get dropped off at school, the parents will hang their homemade cranes along the entrance to the building. I can't wait to see how beautiful our tree lined entrance will look with all the white cranes and positive messages.

When the moment is right, we will gather the children to play a modified version of the Osani Circle Game (pictured above) that a friend emailed me from this website. Our variation will be for the children to pick a friend to sit next to as we "build the circle with our feet touching" and then we will pass a ball of yarn from person to person and talk about how we are all connected.

And if the mood is right, at the end of the day we will offer for children who want to sit in silence together with the sand clock to stay a little longer, "because silence is peaceful."

Do you have any plans for Peace Day? Share in the comments section if you like!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The circle is complete.

This week we had our whole group and staff together for the first time since the new year began. I felt that this was an important even to honour. We all sat in a large circle and lit our special "birthday candle". I told the children that I'd like the light of the candle to travel around the whole circle, passing in front of every member of our community, until the lit candle got back to me.

I was prepared for our group to not succeed in passing the candle around the whole circle on the first try. I was thinking of the children for whom it would be a challenge NOT to blow it out, or who would have trouble passing it to the next person. But the moment was solemn enough that the candle made it all the way around, passed from little hand to little hand.

The children cheered when it made it to the end, and I heard one of the children spontaneously break out into our community song. Someone suggested we sing our "School Family" song:

(to the tune of "You are My Sunshine"- borrowed from this website)

You are my family
my school family
I feel happy
when you are here

You'll never know friends
how much I love you
When you are gone
I'll keep you here (hand on heart)

At the end I invited the oldest child to pick someone to snuff out the candle. Without hesitation, he walked to the child that had been missing for a week because of a broken arm, and gave him the candle snuffer.

To my delight, our assistant captured this lovely moment in video!

We are always looking for new community building activities or rituals- if you have any favorites, please share in the comments!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Cultural Exchange Box Project

A teacher recently wrote to me from Chicago and asked if we'd be interested in setting up pen pals with the children at our schools. I've tried that in the past, and because our mail system is so slow and somewhat unreliable with small letters, the children have become quickly discouraged. Not wanting to dismiss this great opportunity I came up with a project that is making me giddy with excitement.

We have 6 eldest children in our school this year (5-6 year olds). Each of them is going to put together a box of items to represent our small Island and school. They will each write a letter, draw a picture, include a class photo and some typical food items, make a flag, and include one souvenir, and perhaps include a recording of what the native language (Papiamento) sounds like.

My big idea is that each of them will exchange their box with a school in a different continent. I have found schools who want to participate from North America (in Chicago), Asia (China), and Europe (Norway). But am still reaching out to anyone interested in exchanging with us from Africa, Oceania, or South America. Is there a teacher out there who would like to sign up for this with us?

Let me know!

The excitement of receiving these boxes from around the world will be such a special occasion for us, and a great way to reach out across the world from our small Island.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Community building, first weeks of school.

Starting the year, one of my main focuses is to build the sense of community among the children. We begin the first week with only the new children coming in for half a day. This gives us the opportunity to build trust with them, and give them a gentle introduction to the general grace and courtesy of our environment. When the returning children join us, the new children have had enough lessons to be able to work independently along with the others. As much as possible throughout the day, we redirect the children to reach out to each other when they need help or a partner.

We introduce all the children to each other by playing name games and singing songs that include their names. And in the first days, we put together a "School Family" poster. We hung it this year under our school name right at the entrance of the building where children can visit it often. We include the teachers and maintenance staff (of one).

We also put up a long poster with pictures of our daily schedule. This is especially important for the new friends to have an idea of how our day goes. When they get a little homesick, we go to the schedule and can show them exactly when their parents are coming to pick them up. I try to include things that will serve as markers throughout the day, for example, somewhere during the three hours of work ("morning work") there will be writing, so I include this aspect. As well as story reading during the afternoon work period.

The calendar serves the same purpose. We write in it anything that will represent a schedule change- for example, when the returning children will join us. When full days will begin, when a returning child who is coming back late will be with us, etc.

This year we made a chart with the groups of children that will go into the kitchen to make lunch and set the tables. Last year we would let the children volunteer each week, but I think that having it on a schedule will work better. This way the children can already foresee when it will be their turn to cook.

During our first days we also have a "helping hands ceremony" (there's another post about this earlier in the blog). This year, the children picked a new friend to give their helping hand pin to and promised "I'll give you my helping hand." This sets a lovely tone of cooperation among the children right at the fresh start of the year.

We have a large blank wall in our lunch room and decided it was a great place to diplay children's work. We hung two lengths of twine from one side to the other and use clothes pins to hang the children's works. For the first weeks we will hang the children's self portraits that they made in the first days. Having all the portraits hanging is another way to reinforce the idea of us all together being a community. Also, it's nice to have them in the lunch room where we can admire them while we eat and converse during lunch.

Year #4, I can't believe it.

Because we finished our third year of school, our first complete cycle, I decided this vacation to invest a good chunk of money and time into our building. To give it a breath of fresh life for the next 3 years. We spent some weeks this summer repainting the entire inside of the school, had the outside of the school painted, and renovated our porch by closing it in and making it part of our classroom. The changes have really made it feel like a new place.

I was nervous that closing off the porch was a big mistake and would rouine the flow of the classroom, but instead has given us a fourth more of beautiful classroom space to work with. Plus, it has made our lunch room 100% independent of our classroom.

It's amazing what a coat of fresh paint will do to a room. We repainted our kitchen a much lighter shade of green and it has made it feel much more spacious and cooler. I'm in love with our kitchen.

Because of our structural changes, we moved the snack table to the middle of the classroom. In it's more central location, it gets noticed so often and all the practical life hovers around it. It's awesome. Children sweep spontaneously, wash the table, mop around it and generally keep it much neater than when it was in a far corner of our room.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pale Blue Dot

I love the idea that we can be everything and nothing at the same time, and that the infinitely large and the infinitely small are practically the same.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Passing the torch.

Today was our last day of school and our "moving on" ceremony. The plan for it evolved over some weeks of going back and forth on ideas and it ended up being simple, significant, and beautiful. I am so pleased with how it went, and was able to enjoy ever minute of it.

Our ceremony began with the oldest children sitting on one side of the line, and the second years sitting on the other side. Parents and first years sat in the space remaining, and anywhere else they could fit on our school porch. (I've been reading about tea ceremonies, and liked the idea of humility- the honored children sitting in chairs, and everyone else on the floor). I explained how the line is an exercise for mastering gross motor control, and that the oldest children would demonstrate their mastery by walking around it with a lit candle (Aruban trade winds permitting).

One at a time, each child walked on the line with a candle and then presented the candle to a second year child. This represented a passing of the torch. The second years, in turn, had made "garden necklaces" (a material in our class for choosing to be out in the garden) and gave one to each of the oldest children. This represented how the old children will now be "outside".

It was lovely to see the children walking solemnly with their little candle flames flickering. The sharing of the candle and necklace gifts was very sweet.

After reading them a short letter with advice for the future (1)be kind 2)take care of plants and animals...) , we all went to our lunch room to watch the graduation video (see posts below).

All this ended with a picnic in our yard. It was a perfect morning. Complete. I think this will be our standard ceremony for future years.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The master in the art of living

“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he's always doing both.”

James A. Michner

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Our graduation slide show

I used open source "Open Shot" to make this slide show. It was really easy to learn how to use, and very fun to make. And free.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Discovery: lap harp.

This weekend I was at a friend's house and on a shelf she had a rusty old looking dulcimerish type of instrument that had been given to her by her Russian grandfather. A trapezoidal box with 18 strings that looked fairly complicated. When I was little, we used to accompany my mom's piano playing with an auto harp (which is the instrument that June Carter Cash played, I think) and even with our amateurish playing it sounded beautiful. So I was intrigued.

I asked my friend about the thing, and THEN... she showed me how the music score (sheet?) fits in just so under the strings, and it shows you exactly where you have to pluck the strings with a pick to make the music. So easy! Even in it's rusted state, it garnered my applause when she played.

Immediately I thought, this would be a GREAT addition to a Primary music shelf. How to ask her for her family heirloom?! Of course, I didn't ask. But went home and researched and sure enough, there was the lap harp. For sale kind of anywhere (meaning, on Amazon.) And coincidentally later that night, when looking through the Montessori Services catalog, there it was again. Why I failed to notice it before? The exact same one, at a better price than the other places (meaning Amazon), and extra sheets of music also at a better price.

So I ordered one. And I am the person sitting at the desk impatiently tapping my fingers waiting for it to arrive. I can already picture the very musical five year olds playing songs on it. The addition of a string instrument to our percussion and bells and xylophone orchestra will be very very exciting.

I will update on the results.

What is good.

Point three on the "10 Commandments of Montessori" is as follows:

"3. Concentrate on strengthening and helping the development of what is good in the child so that its presence may leave less and less space for the bad."

There is so much wisdom in this one sentence.

I think about the individual child who struggles. Stopping to celebrate the small progresses, no matter how small. Encouragement. Tirelessness. Patience. And much hope.

Today I was thinking about this in collective terms instead of the individual child. The development of what is good in the group... It was interesting to ponder, "What are the strengths of our group?" "How can I make them aware of and help them develop them?"

And then on to how I treat myself and my shortcomings and errors. Can I focus on the good in myself to leave less and less space for the bad?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


"Non-violence is a very deep philosophy. Not only does it require me to harm no one physically, but also to avoid harming anyone's self-respect. Such an ethic requires tremendous awareness and sensitivity. When I have learned to be gentle with myself, I can be the same with others."

Sunday, May 1, 2011

"Believe in the child."

We are getting to the end of our Spring Break and preparing for the last seven weeks of school. At this point, I reflect on the journey we've had this year at school and on the individual progress each child has made since August. During the break, I meditated on each child, especially on those with who for some reason or another this year I had moments of disconnect. Instead of leaving this work for the end of the school year, I thought it might be fruitful to stop now and acknowledge each child in my mind while there are still some weeks left in the school year.

Recently, our Conscious Discipline teacher, Helen, visited me at school and we discussed the subject of "positive intent." It is one of the pillars of the CD program, and basically means that if we dedicate ourselves to seeing the best in others, and in cultivating a vision of the child's best self, it is possible that they may see it too. We both agreed that it is a challenging but crucial part of our work as teachers to foster the best mental image of a child as we can. Children are developing their self image based on the messages they are receiving from the world around them. I'd like my message to be one of genuine encouragement, even at my worst moments.

Perhaps this was instigated by reading "The Creative Development in the Child" chapters 26-29 where Montessori discourses at length on children's possible deviations and gives examples of what they look like in the classroom: "a child who is disorderly in movement", "who is very noisy", "speaks in a very loud voice",""putting the Buttoning Frame around his neck", "runs from one side of the room to another jumping over the Long Rods" familiar to anyone?

Contemplating each child in a beneficial way and giving myself the same treatment as well, it was reassuring to read:

"How long does this correction [normalization] take? It all depends upon the child. Sometimes it takes a week, sometimes a month, sometimes even a year."

There is still plenty of time.

"She must believe in the child, she must understand that the child loves to work. She must have in front of her eyes, the impressive picture of a child who when left free to concentrate on work, gives every atom of energy to the task upon which he concentrates."

("Creative Develpment in the Child, chapter 29)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Happy Moments Journal

Because I've caught myself focusing a little intensely on some negative aspects of the day at school, I've decided to help train myself. Today I started a happy moments journal, where at the end of each day of school, before I go home I will write at least 3 moments where I felt deeply happy or where I noticed something wonderful. And these are the things I will put into my pocket and take home to reflect on at the end of the work day. (I can see myself in the classroom next week, when one of those moments happens, giving it a bit more importance simply by thinking to myself "Ah, this is worthy of writing in the book at the end of the day.")

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The clumsiness of power spoils the key, and uses the pickaxe. - Tagore

How often it's happened that I go to a child, and am so excited to show them something, and when I offer the lesson and the child says "No." Worse yet, he recoils and makes a disgusted face when I kneel down to touch the material that I'm going to present. And inside of me there is a slight panic that says "You're not supposed to be rejecting this- it has been scientifically designed for you to like it!" And I have a split moment where I decide if I'm going to overrule the child ("YOU WILL SWALLOW THIS MEDICINE! IT'S FOR YOUR OWN GOOD!") or smile mildly (sometimes it hurts) and say "That's ok. We'll do it at another time." It happens to me. Still. After years in the classroom, that I still wage an internal battle at certain moments when this situation comes up.

I picked up "Creative Development in the Child" and there was a passage that addressed this exactly. And it's not wishywashy about it at all.

"It is necessary that we obtain the deep felt consent of the child before doing the exercise. [] When these exercises are not done of the child's own will, they have no success, and are of no use. So the teacher must not only prepare the material but also suceed in establishing this contact. Without this spiritual contact, without the spiritual assent of the child and his eager collaboration, these exercises have no value at all. "

"The teacher may be prejudiced. She may say- What? Must I teach only what the children consent to? Where is my authority, and my dignity? We must understand however, that we can use our authority in many ways, but no one will force a child to do an exercise which he does not choose. Force will only awaken the disgust of the child towards the means of education given to him. By authority, which forces the child who is helpless, to do something we wish him to do because we are powerful, we put out a vital flame of light in the soul of the child. It then becomes impossible to make the child do these delicate exercises."

"A good teacher therefore is one who succeeds in opening the roads to furnish the child with the means he seeks, who can call down the spirit of the child. "

(Maria Montessori, Creative Development in the Child, pg 152-153)

I know that the result when I push the child is most likely going to be negative- usually the child will not repeat the lesson. Give up halfway. And usually lose interest. That's a steep price to pay. But I admit I sometimes wield the pickaxe.

It's good to be reminded why it has to go into the storage. For good.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Parent Participation

Every year, we schedule 3 parent conferences (30 minutes during the pickup time in the afternoon in Nov., Feb., May) and 3 observations (30 minutes during the morning after dropping the children off). All sessions are made optional, but last year I noticed a waning in the number of parents who signed up for observation in the middle session.

Since parents often, perhaps I imagined this, ask me if and when they can come in to work or interact with the children, I decided to change the second session of observation/conference into a participation/conference. For the last 30 minutes of the day for a month, any parent who wants to come in and give a lesson, read a book, teach a song, cook, demonstrate something is invited to.

We had a huge turnout for the participation and it's been really interesting seeing the types of lessons parents have come up with. We've had fly fishing demonstrations, group painting, craft works, book reading, a presentation about Togo... It's nice as well to give the children an opportunity to get to know the parents a bit better and they are enjoying it!

I'm thinking this will be a permanent change in our calendar because it's a great way to improve community spirit, a learning opportunity for both children and adults, and it's actually been great fun.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mirror Neurons and Empathy

I love the idea of Homo Empathicus from this video. In my A to I training the most fundamental idea that struck me was that humans are hard wired to WANT to socialise, we are social animals, we learn not just by doing but by socializing and observing each other. A major emphasis on our work must be not just on the transfer of the ideas and knowledge/information, but on the RELATIONSHIPS among the children, among the families, the staff. The parts about mirror neurons are a great reminder of our role as primary models of behavior in the classroom.

Since watching this, I have tried to be much more self aware of my expression while I'm at school. What my face is communicating when, for example, I come into a conflict situation between two children or a hurt child can already affect the situation considerably.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Less is more.

I had been experimenting with dramatic reductions in the amount of materials available to the children for the last month. Then, at the AMI refresher course this weekend, the presenter, Annette Haines, said something that really struck me:

"Repetition comes naturally IF the environment is limited enough."

We have a large group of new children this year, all very young three year olds and although it's February, I had been leaning on a lot of transitional materials that I still felt these new children needed to sustain a 3 hour work period. Of course, as it happens with transitional materials (Legos, puzzles, etc.) the older children also end up working with them instead of with other materials. A few weeks ago I decided to just "see what happens" and took away all of the transitional materials, including some of the art works that are ALWAYS out. Not necessarily because I have anything against these materials (ie. clay, crayons, blocks) I still feel that they do have a place in the classroom and are educational, but what would happen without these staples?

I saw someone choose the red rods for the first time in AGES. That was one thing that happened. Explorations with the pink tower and brown stair deepened as children began to work with them more freely (the kind of exploration they had been doing with blocks.) A return to practical life happened when there were none of the automatic "go to" materials on the art shelf. And yes, aside from all these very positive occurrences, there was a slight fluctuation in amount of works out during the day (it took some children time to wander to rediscover the materials on other shelves that they had forgotten were there.)

I had thought that the refresher course was going to end up being a reminder of how all the Montessori materials are woven together into a perfect web of indirect preparations and interconnectivity. I guess what I wanted was the lecture that my trainer at MINW gave us in our last session of training, which inspired me to trust in the value of each material as part of an inter related whole that is the Montessori classroom, without needing to rely on additives.

Yesterday I returned to my classroom feeling strongly about the outcome of the past week's experiments. Feeling more emboldened in the pruning of the shelves, instead of the ever adding-on. Reaching out and not feeling a limit to the depth that the materials presented to me so many years ago have to offer. I am welcoming the mystery of all I have yet to learn about what is right in front of me.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


"Stay without ambition, without the least desire, exposed, vulnerable,
unprotected, uncertain and alone, completely open to and welcoming life as it happens, without the selfish conviction that all must yield you pleasure or profit, material or so-called spiritual."

Friday, January 14, 2011

The circle is complete.

This is the one and only

firmament; therefore

it is the absolute world.

There is no other world.

The circle is complete.

I am living in Eternity.

The ways of this world

are the ways of Heaven.

Allen Ginsberg

(Keri put this on her Facebook today, and it made so much sense to spread it. )

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Real Work

by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.