Sunday, December 30, 2012

Rocks and Minerals cards

We left off before the holidays with a group of children excited to start rock collections and hunt for fancy specimens. A few of the children had started to notice differences in rocks in our garden, so we gladly gave some lessons in rock identification and started a class collection. Drawing from an old rocks and minerals collection I had kept for years in a cabinet, we added a few at a time to our display tray. I got to polish up on my high school geology, which was fun.

During the break I made a set of reading classification cards based on the collection we have at school, and you can have it too! Download here for free.

Perhaps this will lead into interest in fossils. Exciting territory!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A kind of resolution.

Be patient toward all that is un-resolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Sunday, October 14, 2012

I don't get tired of reading this.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann 1927

Monday, October 1, 2012

Silent Journey and Discovery Parent Night

Yesterday we had our first parent night of the year. In the past, I've felt that the main purpose the initial parent night is to stimulate connections between the parents and to introduce the new parents to the school community. This year however, there were few new families because most of the new children are sibling of children who are or have been in our school so I wanted to try something different.

I had read about the "Silent Journey and Discovery" workshop developed by Barbara Gordon, head of the St. Alcuin Montessori School in Dallas that's been conducted in schools all over the US for more than 30 years. The workshop lasts two days and is usually takes place in schools that have programs from toddler all the way to elementary or beyond. From what I had gathered, it seemed like a monumental and transformative experience for the parents. Inspired by the written accounts of parents and teachers who had attended such workshops, I tailored a version of the workshop suited to our limited single 3-6 environment and 1.5 hour time span. A document by Mary Caroline Parker, titled “The Journey and Discovery: Empowering Parents as Participant-Observers ” was extremely helpful during the development of the workshop.

Part of what attracted me to this kind of workshop is that in all the years the parents have had in our school, I don't think any of them have ever experienced working with the materials or really ever paid attention to what is on the shelves. When they have come to observe, I'm sure it is hard for them to focus their attention on things other than their child, or other children at work. My intention for the evening, was to help the parents develop a deeper, hands-on awareness of how children work at school, and with this to enrich their forthcoming observation.

The way we organized the event was to think of it as a macroscopic three period lesson. The first period would be to observe the environment in silence and without touching anything, the second to work with materials, and the third to synthesize our experience by having an open discussion.

We invited the parents into the environment to be in silence, without touching anything for about 7 minutes. The silence aspect created a feeling among the group of something important happening. It was so nice to see everybody really taking a look at the shelves, going outside to see the environment in the moonlight, or in the kitchen. I played a bell to let them know to return to our lunch room for a short debrief.

From what they shared, they noticed the size of things, the order, how attractive the materials are, some of them discovered rooms in the school they'd never been in before (the library). Their curiosity had been awakened!

We then asked them to put aside any self-consciousness, and really get down to exploring the materials. We told them to try anything that had called their attention, and that they could work alone or with others. I had set out direction cards on some of the materials, and others simply had a card that said “Ask for a lesson.” It was interesting to see that some parents immediately knew what they wanted to work with, and others observed the other parents working (just like the children!) Some were hesitant to try blindfolds. Some took things off the shelves and tried to figure out the materials on the floor. Some gravitated towards certain areas and stayed clear of others. No one washed a table- I would have! Some went to the library to look at books. Others played the bells. Some went outside. Some stood on the sidelines and instead of touching things, asked me questions about them. We worked for about 25 minutes.

When we gathered for the last time to talk about their experience with the materials there were lots of comments. My intention was to keep the discussion based on their impressions and it NOT to become a questions and answers session and that was tricky at times. One parent said that he now felt that he had a completely new understanding and respect of what his child did at school, and that his new insight would affect the way he saw his child at home. Another parent spoke about experiencing a sense of overwhelm at how much children were exposed to in the classroom. One of the mothers said she felt she could now ask her child better questions related to her child's school day. As they left, one mother told me that this parent night had been her favorite school event in her two years of being a part of the school.

My favorite parts of the evening were to observe the parents while they walked in silence in the environment, and to see the enjoyment with which some of the parents got down and dirty with the materials. It was a very joyous occasion.

I encourage anyone out there thinking of what they can do for their parent night to try this!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

"Let's take some time out."

One thing I'm thinking of introducing: Positive self time outs. I was talking with a parent from our school some months ago about my thoughts on "time out", and how ineffective it seems to me to isolate a child when they lack social skills, how little it teaches a child, and how much it just seems like old fashioned punishment. She mentioned the idea of approaching "time out" as a positive thing, as in "let's take some time out from this situation to calm down together" instead of "if you do that again I'M GOING TO PUT YOU in timeout." I kept on thinking about her words, and the idea of walking out of a situation willingly to calm down. Even as an adult to be able to say "I'm going to take a little time out for myself" and be able to remove ourselves from something that is making us upset or tired or whatever feeling is not working for us. How elemental and what an important skill to develop. I imagine an area in our classroom where children can take themselves to just for the purpose of self soothing. It would be an easy lesson to teach, and it would be very interesting to see if children decide to use this area on their own.

What I have been doing this year when a child has been aggressive or antisocial has been to bring them next to me and helped them calm down. If another child was hurt, going to that child together to see if they are ok and modelling care for each other happens first. (One thing that really makes a difference to me is keeping my own energy neutral in the whole process. If I am angry during any part of the process they might reject it because it feels like punishment.)

For some children, touch and talking helps, others get very antsy when touched, and for some just to sit next to me as I breath deeply or talk to them works best. The priority is for the angry or upset child to calm down. Once they are relaxed, we often observe the environment together. Sometimes I bring attention to something particular that might have to do with the situation that just occurred. When it seems like the child is ready to reincorporate, they go. (The idea is that they learn to function in the group, and this can only happen with practice, a.k.a. BEING in the group as much as possible.)

I take note of the situation and later on give the grace and courtesy lessons for the skills that were needed.

This approach has worked really well for us this year. I am very pleased with the results so far.

One thing that surprised me as I've been moving away from punitive and conditional tactics and language, is to recognize that when a child has repeatedly done something very hurtful or damaging (and I am angry) I naturally divert to old habits of thinking. That the child should somehow "pay" for it, or repent, or experience something negative because of what they did. Like behaviorism and the way I was raised and educated- that if you do something wrong then you should experience a punishment for it so that you won't do it again. It takes so much time to cure the habit. I see more clearly now that when you do something hurtful and damaging you are already having a negative enough experience. It does not need to be compounded with some external punishment. It needs to be alleviated. Alleviated with understanding and with skills building.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Nothing without joy."

The joy of mistakes, the joy of being able to apologize, the joy of still being here and the people around me being here too, the joy of clean water, the joy of dirt and mud and swings, the joy of maximum effort, the joy of loudness, the joy of stillness, the joy of the beginning of the day, the joy of the end of the day, the joy of rest, the joy of singing together, the joy of dancing super silly, the joy of nourishment, the joy of sharing ideas, of listening and being able to hear, the joy of the sky and being able to see, the joy of being ok after a big anger, joy joy joy joy joy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Being kind to yourself.

I don't know if it has to do with nature or nurture, but I know that my typical way of solving problems or dealing with difficulty is to just work harder. As an amateur runner, it's a terrible trait: "My ankle is really hurting right now, I think I just need to press on a little farther and it will go away." "I can't figure out this situation, I think I'll just stay at work till six pm reading these articles about the topic until I figure it out." It is my natural tendency.

Thankfully, I have been becoming more aware of it and realizing that often I compound the difficulty by trying harder. I know, it sounds wrong to say that there is something not ok with "try try again." But in my case, trying LESS is much more difficult. I am learning to be kinder to myself, to listen to my body better, to say "it's enough" and let it go.

What I see happens when I loosen the grip and say "it's ok" is that a space opens up that allows a more human and real connection to happen. Whether the connection is between me and children, or me and the environment, or me and well, just me, it feels better. I feel better. Things around me feel better.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Things in the classroom that I'm loving.

Sometimes, the smallest tweaks in the classroom yield the greatest results. These are some small changes in our class that I'm all over at the moment:

Our new and improved snack area. This year, I moved the snack area so that it is not in the middle of the room where it used to be. Socializing at the snack was bringing the volume in our classroom up quite a bit, and it was an area frequented by loiterers. I put it in a corner of the room that's closest to the kitchen door (which makes set up easier for the children). We put a class picture next to the table, which creates a nice topic of conversation for the children and helps with the orientation of the new children. We have glassware (finally) in our snack area, and the children handle it so carefully compared to our setup last year. And best of all, the snack waiting chair. there are no more hang-outers at snack now that there is a specific place to wait for snack and a one child waiting limit.

The getting-a-drink-of-water station. According to the internet (so it must be true) in Aruba we have some of the purest water in the world (thanks to a process of reverse osmosis desalinization, look it up.) So we can drink straight out of the faucet. In the past, all water drinking was done at the snack table, which just meant more snack table traffic. This year we have labeled children's cups for drinking at the faucet. It was too expensive to install a water fountain, so this has been a great alternative and a pretty energy green one.

Two necklaces for going to the library, two for the garden. We removed the book corner from the classroom (which much like the snack area was ALWAYS in demand, and children LOVE to talk about books together so another source of excited volume inside the classroom.) Instead, now the children can take their love of books and conversation to our small library and get as excited as they want about the sharks on the page. This has reduced the volume in our room considerably. Having two garden necklaces so that two children can play together outside when they want to has been really interesting. Because of staffing issues, I'm not ready yet to progress to a fully indoor-outdoor program, but in my observations so far, the usage of the outdoor work has been responsible. Some of the children spend more time outside than others and I am taking note on what I see them do, and how much time they choose to spend out there in preparation for our transition.

Name tag ROCKS. It being so windy where we live, stuff is constantly flying all over the room. Laminated nametags last year would have to be weighted down artfully with works or jamed between parts of works, and it was high time to make these. For those who don't have nametags in their room, they are used to claim ownership over a work that for one reason or another has to be left out (bathroom use, group lesson joining, extended work, coming to walk on the line).

Removal of most whole group lessons, simplification of routine. We've removed most group gathering times, and opted for mostly small group and 100% voluntary joining. We no longer sit on the line (a big no-no in AMI)(*except for birthdays) and instead gather wedge style (which has worked out great). The routine is simple, there is space and choice for joining or not, and this has increased the sense of ease within the group and staff.

Cleanup chart. At the end of the day (the last 5-10 minutes) we play music softly, and the children know it to be the signal to put work away and do their clean up work before going outside to meet their parents. :)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Out of all three, mental action is the most important.

I go back to the idea from Vipassana that of all three types of action (physical, verbal, mental), mental action is most important. I try during the day to stay close to my thoughts, noticing what I am thinking about a particular moment, or about a child during a particular moment. I notice my judgements, how easily I can start to label a child and how much that severs my efforts to guide. I notice my breath, and how feelings can suddenly well up when my attention was all over the place and nowhere really. I am guilty of sometimes being the last to find out that I said what I said, or did what I did because I was hungry or tired or irritated. I go back during the day, over and over again, to focus on how I am being instead of what I am doing. Staying at the root from where my words and actions will stem and hoping I can be supportive.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Be the path of least resistance

"I have learned that the most important thing to transmit to the children is our way of being. The children are very sensitive. They don't live by their intellect; they live by their feelings. So our presence, calmness, gentleness, and peace are the most important things we can offer them. Therefore, we need to really practice in order to have these things to transmit to them."

Planting Seeds, Thich Nhat Hang

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
— Tao Te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell

I am grateful that these first weeks of school have been slow and deliberate. I notice that I've over planned for every day, and am instead now moving toward spontaneity. Instead of focusing on teaching and talking, I am more aware of listening. Instead of acting, observing. There have been beautiful surprises in restraint. New children that suddenly figure things out when no one stepped in to help. Like exchanging a smile all the way across the room with a three year old who was waiting so still for his turn at the snack table. Or one of my old friends, now almost six, who brought me three little wild passion fruits wrapped in tin foil after I mentioned not being able to find any more on my afternoon walks with the dogs. The day moves quickly, but I feel slow and present.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Meditation for teachers.

When I graduated from my training, in my diploma folder was a copy of the "Montessori's Ten Commandments". I framed it and put it over my desk where it is always visible. I read it often. It surprises me how often in the deceivingly simple 10 instructions I find the direction I was looking for when I'm in a conundrum. I think it's a great list to ponder during these first weeks as a help to setting positive habits.

Montessori's Ten Commandments

1. Never touch the child unless invited by him (in some form or another.)

2. Never speak ill of the child in his presence or absence.

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.

4. Be active in preparing the environment: take meticulous and constant care of it, help the child establish constructive relations with it. Show the proper place where the means of development are kept and demonstrate their use.

5. Be ever ready to answer the call of the child who stands in need of you and ever listen and respond to the child who appeals to you.

6. Respect the child who makes a mistake and can then or later correct it himself. Stop firmly and immediately any misuse of the environment and any action which endangers the child, his development, or that of others.

7. Respect the child who takes rest or watches others working or ponders over what he himself has done or will do. Neither call him, nor force him to other forms of activity.

8. Help those who are in search of activity and cannot find it.

9. Be untiring in repeating presentations to the child who refused them earlier; in helping the child acquire what is not yet his own and overcome imperfections. Do this by animating the environment with care and purposive restraint and silence, with mild words and loving presence. Make your presence felt to the child who searches and hide from the child who has found.

10. Ever treat the child with the best of good manners and offer him the best you have yourself and at your disposal.

(Preface to Around the Child. Association of Montessorians, (Calcutta, India), vol. 7, 1962.)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The uncomplicated moment

"Mindfulness, seeing clearly, means awakening to the happiness of the uncomplicated moment. We complicate moments. Hardly anything happens without the mind spinning it up into an elaborate production. It's the elaboration that makes life more difficult than it needs to be."

Sylvia Boorstein "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There"

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Free Montessori Word Study Sets

More sharing of the fruits of my summer. Summer? Now a dream of the past.

Part of my material making projects these vacations involved re-making many of the language area materials (which were sorrily incomplete, unmatching to unsightly degrees, and in some cases not really appropriate for emergent readers and children whose first language is not necessarily English.) I was so pleased when I finished making these sets of word study cards. They fit snugly in clear cases, and look so nice and neat on the shelf!

You can have them too! (click)

Here's what I have:

1) Antonyms
2) Names of numbers 1-10
3) Compound words
4) Synonyms
5) Homophones
6) Alphabetizing
7) Gender words
8) Days of the week
9) Months of the year

After printing, laminating and cutting them, I drew small control of error marks behind them. I can't wait for little chubby fingers to be all over these.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Watch them.

“Even though you try to put people under control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in a wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good. That is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them.”

― Shunryu Suzuki, "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind"

Sounds a lot like Montessori.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Tomorrow is our first day of school.

The way we organized things this year is that we're having the new children come alone for four days at first, and then be joined by the older ones. I figured this will give us ample time to orient them to the classroom, lunch and snack areas, the outdoors, and most importantly to us (the giants) and each other! By the time the returning children join us (next Wednesday) the new little guys will hopefully already be able to work independently for short periods and understand the basic functioning of the classroom.

The shelves are stripped bare except for a few things in each area:

Practical Life: Opening and closing containers, Opening and closing nuts and bolts, Opening and closing wingnuts, Opening and closing nesting dolls, Large bead stringing, The large snaps frame, The small snaps frame, The velcro frame, Dusting a table, Using a dust pan, Mopping, and an assortment of knobbed puzzles

Sensorial: Wooden blocks, Large lego basket, Small lego basket, Cylinder block 1, Cylinder block 2, Touch board 1, Touch board 2

Language: Blank chalkboard, Sensitizing, Sandpaper Letters

Math: Sandpaper numbers

Art: Crayons, Play Dough

As the days go by, transition materials will disappear, and more practical life materials will make their way onto the shelves. When the returning children join us, I will I add quite a few materials to the shelves for them. By then, with some guideance, the new children will be able to distinguish between works they've been shown and works they have not been presented yet (and may not yet use).

Outside we have nice new buckets and shovels for the sandbox, the chalks and erasers for the large outdoor chalkboards, ye old swings and tire swings, the rope swing, balls, and large building blocks.

The grace and courtesy we'll be working on during these first days will be: How to enter the classroom, How to use the bathroom, How to work at a table, How to work at a rug, How to clean a dry spill, How to clean a wet spill, How to wash hands, How to stand in line (for washing hands occasionally, and for washing dishes after lunch), How to get the teacher's attention, How to walk in the room, How to use a soft voice, How to tuck in a chair, How to brush your teeth, How to have snack, How to sit at the lunch table (to name a lot.)

As the days progress we will add more to this list, and ever repeat the lessons as needed. (Especially as six year old elders begin to slip into the next development plane and conveniently forget them.)

Our focus as adults will be on establishing trust with the new children through conversation, songs, games, lessons and good times. As well as to use analyzed movements and soft language to give a clear impression to them. And to just enjoy all this.

It usually feels like a tidal wave when summer vacation is over and we're on the cusp of starting another year's cycle. Do I remember how to do it? I know that in two days the summer will be like dreams from a distant past. I think about "beginner's mind" and Shunryu Suzuki saying:

“Go, and enjoy your problems.”

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Beginner's mind

The new school year is soon to start. It will be the fifth year of the school, and my eigth year of teaching Montessori Primary. I've been thinking about cycles of knowledge, and time passing, and how still I have not come around to making definition booklets (I recently gave up prospects of making my own and just ordered them from Maitri) or mastered all the lessons with the bells.

Last year before the school year began, my strong intention was to "keep things fun and simple." I used that phrase like a mantra throughout the year, especially during the treacherous moments of planning school events where my habit for complicating things and overworking is especially flagrant. I relaxed more, was more present, and enjoyed being with the children more when I was spending less time planning and worrying. During this holiday, the time I spent at school was mostly invested in un-cluttering, cleaning, and sorting out materials that honestly were never going to make it out to the shelves.

During the break I found a new north for the coming year: to keep a "beginner's mind". To me, beginner's mind means to bring freshness into the things I do. Even though I've presented hand washing two hundred and fifty times, to do it as if I was presenting it for the very first time. It also means to keep my mind open to possibilities, inquisitive, to listen well. When you are new to something, you observe very carefully and attentively. I'd like to observe like that. Beginners are also humble, friendly to the fact that learning something new will certainly involve making mistakes. Touching back on that way of thinking is what is on my mind these days.

A post from Zen Master Mary Jakzch inspired me on this new heading:

"Let go of knowing – that’s real wisdom. "

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Free Montessori Phonogram Booklets

Earlier this year I decided that I'd remake our phonogram booklets. I've used the set I made four years ago, but one thing about them was really bohtering me. The booklets I made long ago emphasized practice recognizing the phonograms in the words, so each booklet had about 12 words. What was happening though, was that when children were reading the booklets independently they didn't know what LOTS of the words meant (with "au" for example... audit?, jaunt?, gaunt?, fraud? daunt?). So instead of maximizing words per booklet, I chose fewer words (in the case of some phonograms) but chose words whose meaning could be easily understood by the children. This was especially challenging considering we have many children for whom English is not a first language.

This time, instead of taking them to be spiral bound I will put rings on the booklets. I think this is a more durable binding for such small books. I'll print them on regular white cardstock and make a front and back cover of a much thicker cardstock.

The pdf file for the booklets is here if you'd like to make them too!

The phonograms that we use (as they were taught to me in my training):

ee- as in bee
oo- as in book
th- as in moth
ch- as in chop
sh- as in ship
ou- as in cloud
qu- as in quit
ie- as in pie
oy- as in boy
ar- as in car
au- as in haul
ue- as in blue
er- as in her
or- as in fork
ai- as in mail
oa- as in boat

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Inspiration for outdoor environment

“Must we always teach our children with books? Let them look at the mountains and the stars up above. Let them look at the beauty of the waters and the trees and flowers on earth. They will then begin to think, and to think is the beginning of a real education.” - David Polis

Back from time alone, with family, and just lots of being outside, I'm eager to invest some time developing our outdoor environment at school. These are some of the projects that inspired me:

Creating areas with different surface textures. In Aruba having a lawn or even a patch of soft grass is out of the question, so creating areas with sand, rocks, and weeds is as good as it gets for us. This little island of rocks seems very inviting and fun for climbing, or just contemplation. The use of rocks to create an impression of water is something that appeals to me as well.

Mulch is another surface area that's available for us. I'm going to section off a small area under a tree to be a building area with our very large home-made (construction salvaged wood) blocks. I love this little tunnel and the feel of this small play area.

Small spaces to crawl into and hide are great. We have a small wooden playhouse that three children fit in comfortably, but this recycled tire tepee seems like a winner. In our incredibly windy environment the sheet around the bamboo might not be possible, but I will try with a porous garden fabric.

This idea seems pretty great for partitioning off areas of our space. We can plant low maintenance wild flowers in the recycled tires after painting them.

This morning we put up two large plywood sheets along the fence, and tomorrow I will paint them with dark green side walk chalk. I am very excited to have such large and inviting chalkboards outside! I love the idea of the dangling bucket for holding the chalk.

I'd love to have a set of uniform brick-like blocks like this, but am happy with our construction grade salvaged wood blocks that I made earlier this year. I will add some sanded boards as well so that perhaps improvised see-saws or other inventions can be built.

Places to ponder and just observe are as fundamental as places for movement. We've made driftwood furniture for our home, but I never considered making something for school. This bench is totally inspiring.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

More Free Montessori Reading Classification cards.

Here are emotions cards and farm animal cards. The emotions cards are ones we pick for early on in the year to get the new children familiar with feelings language as early as possible.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Free Classification Cards

I'm making some more sets of reading classification cards for our classroom. Here are some tools cards, and weather cards that you can download. :)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

turning turning...

As we wrap up another school year, I am looking forward to having the time to look inward at what I have learned. The idea occurred to me that if Maria Montessori outlined the stages of development in three year cycles of creation (building), and then crystallization (refining), our little school, just completing it's its fourth year, is in the middle of it's first refining stage.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Concert Lunch

Once a week we have "Concert Lunch" at school. On this day, we tell the children that they may not talk, but only listen and taste. We started this two months ago and it has been fantastic. I thought that it would be hard for the children to forgo conversation, but whenever I announce it's Concert Lunch day, they cheer. We play any type of music, listen to audio stories, or sometimes I sit and read aloud while they eat. On one very special occasion, we had a parent who plays violin give us a live concert while we ate. It was my very favorite lunch in the history of the school.

Different music creates different reactions from the children. We asked parents for music suggestions and one sent us "West Side Story". When we played it for the children, some of them could simply not contain themselves and got up to dance.

If I can find music by Diego Stocco quickly enough, surely it will be an interesting one to play for the children.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


Noah is four years old. She wakes up in the morning next to me. And after stretching and groaning, she then jumps to her feet, her whole body communicating excitement. She looks at me grinning in manic disbelief, and I think that she is saying "I'm alive! I'm still here! It's another day and I'm still here!". She wants to get so close to me and kiss me." And you're still here too!" and then she goes over to Max, who is on the other side of the room, "Max! I love you! You're here too!" And to Yair who can ignore all this hubbub in the room and sleeps on unperturbed. "We're all still here! This is so great! This is the best!"

Noah is my dog. (Max is my other dog, who is more pragmatic.)

I think Noah is a very grateful dog. I'm inspired by the way she wakes up every single morning as if it was the greatest day of her life. (I know that I'm anthropomorphising considerably here, but to me it's an undeniable phenomena.)

I contrast this with my mental state upon waking (or being woken up by the dog.) Planning, remembering, worrying (sometimes), figuring out how to control things.

My mental state throughout the day wavers... I notice that I'm quite aware of imperfection. In my classroom, in myself and my reactions. In my home, in the dishes that pile by the sink, in the sometimes lack of mindfulness when I'm with the people I love the most. Sometimes I get stuck thinking about all the things that are not right, that are not there yet. Sometimes I think about all the "if only's" and put my contentment constantly out of reach... "If only I read this stack of books, then I'll know what to do. And then it will be good enough."

Sitting at the end of the day and stopping to recognize the details that were beautiful in the day calms down that other voice that is saying "work harder", "do more", "things are not right", "it's not good enough yet", "you're not good enough yet." I sit often because I think gratefulness is the only antidote for dissatisfaction. I think about my dog, about how she wakes up. I am grateful for this daily reminder of the precariousness of life, and how fortunate I am of all the things that are going for me at the moment.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Before you speak.

My trainer Ginni said in my training: "With young children keep it brief but true." And that is more difficult to do than it sounds.

Monday, May 14, 2012

even more rumi.

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." ― Rumi

Friday, May 11, 2012

All day, All year, Indoor Outdoor Montessori

*This is a "water slide" that one of the five year olds built while he was outside today.

As the year progresses and begins it's (vertiginous) wrap up, I am feeling very interested in the idea of moving our school towards an all year, all day, indoor/outdoor free flow program. I'm attracted to that idea like a moth to a light bulb, not yet sure if it's a wise choice for us...

Our current school day ends at 1:30, so we have a three hour work period in the morning, and an hour and a half work period after lunch. The day often slips through my fingers and I cannot believe it when I look up and see that it's time to clean up.

There are MAJOR reasons why I think year round, day long, free flow is the way for us to go. The truth is that in most families in our school both parents are working (at least until 4pm). Children are regularly picked up after school and taken to other places before going home. I can imagine that for a child of 3-6, having all this environment switching and rules and routine switching must be tiring. It would be more consistent and clear for them if they just have a longer day at school.

The summer is just a magnification of this issue. I'm all for families and children taking vacations together, but in most cases, the vacation in company of parents is just a few weeks, and the rest of the time the children are at an alternate care environment once again. Upon returning to school there is a re-acclimating process.

From a teacher's point of view, if the day is longer, and the year is longer, then there is PLENTY of time to give all those lessons that I am so eager to give and sometimes am disappointed when there is no time for.

With a year long, day long structure, an successful indoor/outdoor flow in the classroom seems much more realistically achievable. There is enough time to get to everything, both indoors and outdoors.

There are some mental hurdles to overcome when contemplating these changes:

1) Staffing and finances: We have a humble staff of 3 adults at our school. An all day, year long school would require more humans and more money.

2) My fear of napping areas. An all day program would require the creation of a napping set up which we don't have. I have visited several schools with napping policies that just didn't seem that awesome for the four year olds who had to lie in their cots for two hours.

3) Will the children ever choose to come indoors? At our school, one child at a time may be outside as long as he/she likes (it's like choosing a material). And we have a time before lunch when everyone may (or not) be outside (they mostly all choose to). I admit I have a fear that some children, when given the choice to be outdoors the whole day, WOULD (I know I would have as a child).

4) Supervision of the outdoor environment. In a free flow environment, I suspect one adult would have to be outdoors the whole time (if there were say, more than 2-3 children outside). That takes me back to number one.

5) The organization of this would require some letting go of some control of environment which is hard for some people. (Ok, it's me. I have a hard time with it.)

6) My own love of summer vacation. Which takes me back to number one.

I am curious if there are any blog readers who can allay my fears of taking this leap by sharing some of their experience in any of the following: ALL DAY/ YEAR LONG/ INDOOR OUTDOOR FREE FLOW

or at least kindly point me in the direction of some excellent resources... :)


(This article in itself holds the vision of what I want to move towards)

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Do not withhold

“Do not withhold yourself from each other.
To withhold is to lie to yourselfand to each other.
Do not withhold your feelingsbut share them openly and with compassion.
Do not withhold your forgivenessbut give it freely as a natural gift.
Do not withhold your delightbut dance and laugh and play with ease.
Do not withhold your body,but give it often in the myriad ways of passion.”

-From The Couple’s Tao Te Ching

Friday, May 4, 2012

more Rumi.

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I want to change myself. — Rumi

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Out beyond right and wrong there is a field... I will meet you there. – Rumi

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Happiness in education.

When parents visit the school for the first time, I like to ask them what they are looking for in an educational program. Invariably, most responses have to do with their concern for the happiness of their child. I have many parents who ask me, first thing at conferences, whether their child seems happy at school. All this concern about happiness, and yet, where does happiness figure in the educational curriculum? If joy is what we are aching for in ourselves and children, why are not more conversations in education centered around happiness research? I watched this fantatsic video that touches just on that subject:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Loving the Universe

"It is not enough for the teacher to restrict herself to loving and understanding the child; she must first love and understand the universe." Maria Montessori
Sometimes it's time to put away the books, the thoughts about children, the techniques, and spend the afternoon floating in the sea, sitting under the tree, walking in the national park with the cacti and the bats, under the blinking stars.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Developing young children's relationship to nature.

*(Note: the cushion star was safely returned to the sea bottom away from harms way after the children got to meet it)

Hearing about the Global Summit for Climate Change, and the amount (and at the same time lack) of attention given to environmental awareness made me ask myself if we are doing enough at our school to cultivate environmental mindfulness in the children. Lots of research (Richard Luov's book "Last Child in the Woods" among them) points to the conclusion that it is in the early years that the foundation for environmental consciousness arises. Logically so, it is only by connecting to the natural world do children develop a relationship to it. He also states that if they have adults around them that can facilitate that interaction, the impact is more likely to stick.

I read this (click here) great article about the importance of outdoor environments in the development of environmental consciousness. It mentions designs for play spaces that help foster the relationship between children and nature and got me thinking about our own outdoor environment. The recommended elements for an outdoor play space in the article included:

*Water: this is a tricky one for us living in desesrt landscapes. Any ideas anyone perhaps from Arizona out there?

* Plentiful indigenous vegetation, including trees, bushes, flowers and long grasses that children can explore and interact with: we do this already and I'm inspired to plant more indigenous vegetation, including succulents and cacti with the children

*Animals, creatures in ponds, butterflies, bugs: We have bird feeders and a bird bath, and a butterfly plants garden, but I have strong feelings about keeping animals "in captivity". Luckily we have enough iguanas and lizards roaming our playground to satisfy this element.

*Sand, and best if it can be mixed with water: we have two sandboxes and every year have a sand party when the dump truck brings in more sand. However, I haven't had the experience of mixing it with water. Any ideas out there?

*Diversity of color, textures and materials: This one is a bit vague... but I think possible to satisfy with perhaps wooden structures, rocks, flower beds, perhaps some small structures like a teepee (I really want to build one with the children)

*Ways to experience the changing seasons, wind, light, sounds and weather: We don't have changing seasons, but I guess this could include raking leaves of deciduous trees, shady spaces and open spaces

*Natural places to sit in, on, under, lean against, climb and provide shelter and shade: We have a tree for climbing (with a sandbox underneath in case of accidents) park benches under some of the other trees, but I think it would be fun to build a few more low tree structures for one or two people to sit in, and the teepee (did I mention the teepee?)

*Different levels and nooks and crannies, places that offer socialization, privacy and views: see above

*Structures, equipment and materials that can be changed, actually, or in their imaginations, including plentiful loose parts: In Sweden I saw a playground full of logs and boards, and children built bridges and small huts and carried the logs and boards around and stacked them and it was pretty amazing. We have large driftwood blocks that the children use for props for play outdoors, but I think we could definitely have more loose materials for work/play outside.

I've also been thinking about a comment that Annicles left recently on the post about Flow:
"In the UK all children under the age of 5 must be allowed access to the outside environment all the time. It is called free-flow. We would be severely reprimanded if we kept under fives in the classroom for three hours without the possibility of going out. The work that happens outside is often quite amazing."

I love the idea of free flow, and I know that many Montessori schools with outdoor environments have this type of arrangement. We have something like it, but for a limited amount of children at a time. I am thinking about incorporating complete free flow in our school as well. It seems to be the best arrangement for an organic flow of the day and for fostering connection with nature. I am excited to try it out.

Aside from what we can do inside of the school, we take the children on field trips (mainly to outdoor locations) once a month (whether it's to the beach, the National Park, or for a nature walk somewhere). In preparation for our outings we make vocabulary card sets about what we will encounter there, tell true stories about the creatures/plants/structures that we will see, and generally enthuse the children in the environment before we go out to spend the day exploring what we have been studying.

The aspect of conscientious environmental practices seems to me to work with 3-6 year olds best if it can be a part of their day to day life at school. Composting, recycling, plant and animal care, reduction of wastes, reusing of materials are some of the ways we try to inculcate these practices in the school. Does anyone have any ideas or great resources to share about other ways we can help foster this important connection? Comments please!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Vulnerability and Connection

"Connection is why we are here, it's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.[...] Our job is to tell to our children: I know you are imperfect and you're wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging."

Brene Brown

Friday, March 23, 2012

Smoothing the Flow

The idea of flow has been a lot on my mind lately. I'm reading a book called "Design in Nature" about how everything that moves is constantly self organzing into the most efficient pattern (which is why rivers, lightning bolts, and leaf veins among many things have the same design). At the refresher course, there was a section on improving the flow of the day in the classroom, in which the book "Flow" by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi was referenced as well. I've been noticing what obstructions (structural/organizational) are preventing smooth transitions in the flow of our day at school.

Here's what I notice:

Arrival: Children at our school are free to arrive between 7:45 and 8:15. They are dropped off at the gate of the school and they walk independently up to the classroom, wash their hands, greet the teachers and then begin their school day. The preparation for the day (moistening sponges, taking down chairs, opening windows, setting up the snack table, folding the dry laundry, sweeping the walkway) is left for them to do voluntarily as they arrive. These types of preparations for the day have helped children who are not yet ready to choose work from the shelves as soon as they arrive. However, this arrival time stretches occasionally and we sometimes have children saunter in at 8:45 or even later. Creating a narrower window of arrival times will help us transition into more focused work more quickly.

Outside time: After the three hours of work, we invite children one at a time to put their work away and go outside until our lunch is ready. I think it is very important to make it clear to the children (and to myself) that this outside time is choice based (there might be children that prefer to stay in the classroom and continue working). This is possible in our setup because the outdoor environment is right outside of the classroom door.

I'd love to make this transition non-verbal as well by establishing a signal for it. My friend Annie has a picture frame that flips both ways, one side is a bird in a nest, the other, the bird in flight. Establishing a signal like that for children who would like to go outside before lunch would involve less adult intervention and be less intrusive to the children who would prefer to stay and work.

For those who are outdoors, we can invite one child to remind others when lunch is ready.

Lunch: Our lunch routine is fairly smooth. We have a small lunch area with four large tables arranged to seat six people. Children have a designated place to sit at lunch. Teachers sit at the head of three tables, and the last table is where the third year children sit together. The heads of each table serve the others. Our lunch is prepared in the school by a teacher and three children every day.

Yesterday in a conversation with my assistant, we came up with the idea of having a "concert lunch" one day a week. This came about when she noticed that it would be good to find a way to help children be more mindful during lunch of tasting and really enjoying their food, and and perhaps play down the overt socialization which sometimes dominates the meal. We will pick one day a week to play a CD while we have lunch, and invite the children to only listen and taste. One day a week of no conversation at lunch might help with mindfulness. I look forward to trying this out!

Back to work: As children finish eating, they wash their dishes and go back to the classroom. In the classroom, one person sets up the toothbrushes for everyone next to our sink. Children return to their work calmly most of the time.

End of day: When it's time to begin our clean up for the end of the day, I sometimes ring a bell to signal to everyone to put their work away. I'm trying to move away from this because I think the bell sometimes creates a frenzy effect and children get excited about the transition and then there it a LOT of energy to deal with. This week I will try a new routine. I will play music to signal it's time to begin to clean up. We don't have a clean up chart to designate the end of the day tasks, so I'll be making that this weekend. When the music starts to play children can put their work away and go to the chart and see what their task is for that week. The music will be classical to help with the energy, a "classical clean up".

Pick up time: What we've been doing at school for pick up time is to let parents come through the gate when children start to come out of the classroom. They hang out sometimes and talk, others are more in a hurry to leave right away. My original vision was that this would help parents get to know one another better and help build our community.

However, this has not worked well for us for several reasons. The children get very excited to have all those parents there, and they also want to stay and play before going home. Transition anxieties are really clear at this time, and sometimes translate into unsafe behavior. Parents sometimes struggle to get their children to go with them, and sometimes the pattern is unclear or inconsistent for the children.

Another reason why this has not worked so well is that often parents (I'm guilty of this as well) want to have conversations with me about their children with the children present.

We decided to change it this week to be more like the "carpool model" that I've seen at other schools. As parents arrive and wait by the gate, we bring their child to them. This establishes a clear pattern for the child.

I'd be really interested if anyone has suggestions of transition changes or signals that they use in their environment that are really effective to share in the comments!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Simple Gifts

I don't know how this song escaped me, but I heard it for the first time at the refresher course in Dallas. I consider myself fortunate enough to have met the song when it was being sung by like, three hundred super enthusiastic Montessori teachers. I can't wait to share it with the children. It's my favorite song now.

Simple Gifts

'Tis the gift to be simple, 'Tis a gift to be free,
'Tis the gift to come down where you ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
Will be in the valley of love and delight.

When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed,
To turn, turn, will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right

(Shaker traditional poem)

Friday, March 16, 2012


"You don't have to be singing about love all the time in order to give love to the people."

Jimi Hendrix

No, you don't. You can be singing about being a cow (that's right), and singing the word "beets" over and over again, and lots of songs about bells.

Here's our sing along line up for anyone interested:

1. Our school community song
2. The National Anthem of Aruba (children sang the chorus)
3. I am a cow (version from "Singing in the Kitchen")
4. Mary Mack (version from Ella Jenkins)
5. Clap your hands together (with home made instruments, version from "Singing in the Kitchen)
6. Row row row your boat (traditional round)
7. I love the mountains (traditional round)
8. A ram sam sam (traditional round)
9. Oh how lovely is the evening (traditional round)
10. Sugar snap peas (version from "Singing in the Kitchen"
11. Mister Moon (I learned it from my Montessori training and don't quite know where it's from)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

All Together Singing in the Classroom

A few months ago while browsing through books, I came across a little gem of a book called "All Together Singing in the Kitchen" by Katrina and Nerissa Nields. The hand drawn pictures, and the simple and honest writing style drew me in immediately. The book feels like home. I'd been searching for music resources to enrich and reinvigorate our music curriculum at school and I've also been very interested in using music to deepen the sense of community and empathy among the children (and school community). I think singing is the vocal equivalent of walking on the line.

The book is filled with practical ideas on how to incorporate songs and music into daily life with kids. There are chapters on singing, movement, games, listening, making musical instruments, and creating musical traditions. There were so many valuable bits in it, that after finishing the book, we started incorporating much from it in our classroom immediately.

One place in particular where it had a major influence was in our yearly sing along. The sing along is basically an evening where the families come to celebrate the community through song. In the past, our sing alongs have had a feel of performance- children sitting on one side of the room, and parents loaded with cameras sitting on the other side. (I have lots of thoughts about how taping the whole thing, or even business with pictures puts a barrier between the camera holder and the present moment, but that's subject for another time.)

This year we changed all that, and moved away from the feel of performance towards a more collaboration friendly arrangement. The seating arrangement was of two concentric circles, the inner circle for the children, and the outer one for their parents. Several things were accomplished with just this simple change of seating:

*Children felt the support of their parents who were sitting right behind them (some of them took little breaks during the singing to sit in their parents laps and then returned to their chairs).

*It no longer felt like a performance because we were all at the same level and doing it together (something about adults in child size chairs and how one child stood up in the middle of a song, used the restroom- we heard the toilet flush- and returned to his chair to resume the song). In a more stage like setting this would have been perceived differently.

*Children were seated directly in front of their parents (with their backs to them), so people's view was of other families and other children (instead of a stage setting where they tend to only focus on their child)

*Even though we have a beautiful little garden and it was decked out with christmas lights, we sang indoors (where it was stuffy and cramped). We maximised sound in this way- even when we sang softly, it was audible. And when we sang loudly it was really it felt like rocking the house! We chose lots of call and response songs, rounds, and made use of our home made instruments.

My only intention at the event was for everyone to have a good time. That meant removing the pressure from the children to perform, using humor and silliness (the children's expertise) to help people feel comfortable with singing ("you don't have to do it perfectly and it doesn't even have to sound good"), an by being relaxed and enjoying it myself (which I often forget to at parent events).

The results of these changes were overwhelmingly positive. I mean dads were giving me high fives at the end of songs, and children danced next to their chairs, and people were happy. Now I'm thinking about how else we can adapt our other school traditions to this model that focuses more on strengthening the bonds of our community, instead of the accustomed use of children's performances to show how good they are and how much they've learned.(I think there's a time for that too, but it's good to know I have different-better?- options.)

The happiest people

"The happiest people don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything they have."

Karen S. Magee

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Play ethic

My friend Carol sent me this little piece in the email yesterday, and what struck me about it was the definition of play:

"Play is anything done in joy -- including "work"!

In our environment we call what we do with materials "to work", we call the objects "materials", but when I worked with another teacher in the past, she called them "jobs." And I've heard parents tell children "I have to go to my work now, and your work is to come to school." And I have a little slip of paper on my wall at school with Maria Montessori's words "Work is the cure". And I am well aware of work being a human tendency (and have experienced a year of unemployment and can attest to the difficulty of existing without a defined work). And although I love my work (see, I even wrote it in my blog description), all this talk about work, and no talk about play. And the article, although simplistic, was a nice reminder.

:: The Play Ethic ::

According to the *work ethic* of our culture,
happiness comes from hard work and toil.
"No pain, no gain."

This contradicts the *play ethic* of nature:
maximizing pleasure while avoiding pain.

Nature always follows the path of least resistance.

Children naturally express the play ethic, and a lot
of parent-child conflict reflects the clash between
the two value systems.

Joyful parenting begins the moment you abandon the
work ethic and start taking play seriously. That
doesn't mean never working; play is anything done in
joy -- including "work"!

So if parenting feels like hard work to you, set your
sights on a new career of full-time play. But don't
change your routine yet. Start with a change in

Focus on the pleasure potential in every moment and,
gradually, a joyful new routine will evolve to match
your intentions.

From here:

It also brings to mind a question that's been lingering since I had a conversation with some folks at an airport on my where to somewhere some weeks ago:

Do you work to live, or do you live to work?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Gentling the violence

While at the AMI Refresher Course, my friend Annie shared with me a technique for mediating conflicts that I've been trying out for a few days. It was shown to her by the trainer Janet McDonell, who was also the presenter at this year's Refresher course. It's called "Gentling the Violence". What I loved about it is how simple it is and how much connection it can convey with minimal talking and minimal intrusion. It seems very appropriate especially for the younger Primary age children, with whom a lot of explanation and detective work is never really helpful. Also, the adult presents herself like a calming force, and not like a problem solver.

Of key importance here is that there already an established trust between children and the adult. This is a topic in and of itself, but suffice to say now, if when you approach children they run away, it's not going to work.

When a conflict occurs where children could use some guidance, the adult can approach them and put her arms around both of them. I really think that if the adult is genuinely serene, and the arms are communicate love, just that simple touch and the closing of the space can begin the process of soothing.

With an calm facial expression, the adult asks the children "Is there something you would like to say?" This is not necessarily directed towards one of the children, it is just put out there as an invitation for either child to speak. Whoever needs it. In my experience so far, sometimes there is a barrage of words and sometimes the children don't really have a lot to say. It has been amazing for me to notice how when approached this way, the children have been much more clear about what their problem was to begin with, than when I ask a lot of questions.

When the talking is finished, the adult asks "Is there something you would like to do?" This is the invitation for action. In some cases in my experience so far, the children say no, they seem more calm, and they go back to what they were doing. But in some cases they want to actively make amends.

I want to give this system a little more time before I decide exactly what benefits it has in our community and in which situations it is best to use. But so far, with small disagreements where children want an adult to help, it has been great.

For independent conflict resolution I've found that having a "peace flower" or a "peace rug" are very helpful tools.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

to be

"I strongly believe that we should start respecting the capacity of reflection and the power of silence a bit more.

This world probably requires something extremely simple—to be together with it, and enjoy the magnificent diversity such an effort can bring about. But when I say be, I mean be, not be this or be that. This is in my opinion the greatest personal challenge each of us is faced with: to be brave enough to be."

Manfred Max-Neef