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. "