Tuesday, March 26, 2013

More wonderful Pema.

Deepening rather than adding

I've been reflecting a lot lately on the depth of what is in my Montessori albums.  Having been teaching for some years now, I still sometimes go back to my albums and find something that I have never really incorporated into our classroom. Those books I made so long ago are full of extensions, variations, and following exercises that really encompass a world of activity. (I dream of the summer where I drop all of my renewing/goofing off activities and relearn everything that's in my albums.)

This year in particular I have maintained our shelves very minimal. It has come naturally and not necessarily as a resitance to adding "new" things, but more as an inclination to letting the children (and myself!) explore more deeply what is there already. Along with what my trainer mentioned should be done every day in the classroom like Grace and Courtesy, Walking on the Line, Language Exercises, Sound Game- it's challenging enough to get it all in there in six hours-  I trust more and more that there is enough there without having to reinvent the wheel with things "new".  The direction to go, I've felt, is deeper not broader.

I see it in my record keeping as well as in my planning, it is going inwards and deepening rather than piling on more. Last year the word that kept circulating was "simplify".This year, the word has been "deepen".  I still feel that I'm brushing the surface of what's there.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Anicca Anicca Anicca

Months after my first Vipassana course had ended, I still had the voice of the teacher in my ears saying "Anicca, anicca, anicca." He would often end his discourses  with these words reminding the listeners of the nature of impermanence that permeates everything.

This morning I was reading the Mentor Transcripts from MTIPS, by Wendy Calise- which through the year have been a wonderful resource for me. In the most recent transcript a teacher wrote a question about the "unnormalized" conditions in her classroom, and the lack of joy and cooperation she was seeing among her group. It was a vast question, and answered very practically by Wendy with many suggestions. What I loved about her answer though, was her wise words in closing:

"We have all been there, and we all know we will be there again. That is the nature of teaching."

After a lovely and peaceful week in the classroom where everthing felt in place, solid and joyful, I reflect back on prior weeks when I've felt I'm drowining in questions. There is a strength in knowing that it is all going in cycles, part of a larger law of life.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Singing Together

Our school celebrated it's 5th year with a Sing Along. Families arrived with babies and grandparents and goodies to eat. We all crammed together in our classroom to sing, and afterwards sat outside under the christmas lights to enjoy a light dinner together. My favorite things about this event are the simplicity of it, how our seating arrangement allows for a very relaxed atmosphere (children go to the bathroom, or get drinks of water when they need it, babies crawl around the floor and it doesn't interrupt the singing), everyone is actively participating the singing so it doesn't feel like a performance by the children, and ultimately- it's just plain fun. 


Monday, March 11, 2013

"As we learn to have compassion for ourselves, the circle of compassion for others - what and whom we can work with, and how - becomes wider."
Pema Chödrön
 A terrible flu kept me in bed a few weeks ago and caused a lot of unforseen changes in plans I'd made. While being sick, I thought about how taking care of myself is a skill that I shouldn't relegate only to times of sickness. "Health is wealth" was written on some product, I don't remember which, but after some visits to the doctor recently, it really dawned on me that healthy habits are sometimes hard to come by. Where do we learn to eat well, sleep deeply and enough, to balance work and home life, to stop and rest, to exercise and laugh, to find time to connect with each other? Where do we learn consistently do all those important things in life that keep us happy and in good condition physically and mentally?
 Taking good care of myself is not something that I remember learning at school, and for some reason I don't think I learned it at home either. As far as I can tell it's been a process that I've come about in adult life, slowly and with much repetition of mistakes. I often forget, and then either my body tells me in some painful way, or my mind becomes unbearable and I realize, hey! "slow down and pay attention." If it was a subject taught deliberately somewhere it would certainly be worth the tuition. It is indispensable to know how to care for ourselves especially when others are in our care.
In terms of our time in the classroom, how do we model this self care? Do we take enough breaks during the day? Drink enough water? Take time to sit back and just observe? Stay home when we are sick?

I am thinking about this as I get over the effects of a body meltdown and normalcy returns. I want to be mindful enough to create a normalcy that is sustainable and that will point my sails towards wellness.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Beyond Grace and Courtesy

"My hope and wish is that one day, formal education will pay attention to what I call education of the heart. Just as we take for granted the need to acquire proficiency in basic academic subjects, I am hopeful that a time will come when we can take it for granted that children will learn, as part of the curriculum, the indispensability of inner values: love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness. "
~ Dalai Lama
My hope and wish is that one day, formal education will pay attention to what I call education of the heart. Just as we take for granted the need to acquire proficiency in basic academic subjects, I am hopeful that a time will come when we can take it for granted that children will learn, as part of the curriculum, the indispensability of inner values: love, compassion, justice, and forgiveness. ~ Dalai Lama

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Sensorial Games

‘Interrupt the deviation; and give them something interesting to do’
Rita Schaefer Zener – AMI Primary Teacher Training Course 1981-82

The refresher course in Tampa this year was hugely productive for me. Ginni Sackett, my trainer from MINW in Portland, was the presenter for the Primary level and she is very engaging and an excellent communicator. I often return from the refresher courses with an overwhelming feeling of needing to change things, but this year most of the urge had more to do with philosophical implications of our work as opposed to practical ones. (More on that to come later)

 There are many parts of Ginni's presentation that I am still processing, but one aspect of the course that had immediate applications to the classroom was a good old reminder of the importance (and existance!) of the sensorial memory games. I had a good look at our sensorial materials after returning. Some of our 5 year old materials have taken a little bit of a beating, and I spent some time giving them care and repair. (For any of you out there with leaky metal thermic bottles, for example, we solved the problem by pouring in about a 1/4 inch of liquid epoxy and let it cure for 24 hours. Problem solved!)

Ginni tied the importance of these games to the process of connecting children with sensorial reality, especially in the face of a popular culture "invasions." Because they respond to children's natural developmental needs and human tendencies, they are meant to be very attractive to the children. They are a great way to deepen a child's work with the sensorial materials once they have lost interest in the original presentation, or on the other hand, to extend the work of a child who is very interested.

To reignite interest in the games, I added a tray of new "sensorial markers" to the shelf (a quartz crystal, a cross section of a geode, and a smooth piece of galena), and bought two new blindfolds from Montessori Services.

I reviewed my albums and Ginni's handouts and made a list of the memory games:

*Games in 2 locations- This is a game for matching or grading at a distance. The child sets up the work on two rugs or two tables that are far apart from each other. With a marker, the child selects one of the items and then walks to the other set and finds the corresponding object (for pairing.) For grading, the child places one set of the materials at one table and brings them to order on another table (or rug) one at a time.

Ex. The geometry cabinet. I don't see very much repetition in my room of the orginal geometry cabinet presentation and this game helps keep children's interest. We use the cards a lot as well. I am interested in presenting this with grading a lot more than I have been for older children who still love to work with the pink tower, for example, but could use a bit more challenge.

*Games in scattered locations- One set of the materials is placed on a table or rug, and the other is scattered in different places around the room. Or the materials are brought to graded order at one table from mixed locations. (The group has to be prepared for this game so that a child's work that's spread out all over a room can be respected. )

*Matching materials to the environment- the isolated quality of the materials is matched to the environment by either bringing the matches to a table (like objects that match a particular color tablet), or taking the material to the environment (like laying a red rod across a shelf that has the same length).

Ex: Bells. I heard of people matching the bells to the environment and thought that was really fantastic. I haven't tried it yet, but am curious if we would have matches for all the bells within our classroom. More typically what I see in my room is matching the color tablets and a few times the red rods. I'm sure that with some presenting some of the children could enjoy matching dimensions of the pink tower, and the color box 3 tablets among other materials.

*Group games- Materials are shared among a small group and brought to order by either pairing or grading.

Ex. I've found that this game is a great way to bring attention back to the purpose of the material and reinforce its correct use. We play group games with the sound cylinders (why do children like to build with them so much?), color tablets (make such great small fences), and the pink tower.

*Memory game with language- This game is played with one child or a small group. The teacher says the name of the material or a quality of the material (for example, "The largest"), and the child brings it. We play this game a lot in small groups since most of the children in our environment are not native English speakers we rely a lot on language games as enrichment of vocabulary. It can also be played with writing for children who can read.