Monday, August 26, 2019

An environment for ACTUAL children

I was reading an article about a school somewhere recently that described their classroom as an environment for ACTUAL children. The phrase stuck with me as I was preparing our own environment for the start of this school year.

I really love setting up the classroom, but do recognize that I get caught up in a kind of Montessori interior decorating frenzy sometimes where I set things up to look beautiful and complete, sure, but perhaps not quite keeping in mind the actual children that will be coming to use those things. I am guilty of adding the too precious objects that will really hurt me when they get dropped by accident, a material that is perhaps beautiful but not quite sturdy enough to handle real use, or an area that will invite a certain kind of use or number of children that no amount of grace and courtesy will be able to counter. I kept those words in my mind as I set up our room this year and did some things differently. Needless to say, the ostrich egg did not make it onto the shelf.

This is not to say that we cannot trust the children with precious and semi-sturdy things, but that in setting up and environment for independence (and personal sanity) considering what the first call of a material or area will be (especially during the first days with 9 new friends joining us), it's perhaps smarter to err on the side of reality, since it is 'actual children' that will be joining us.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Establishing Order

“Order is one of the needs of life which, when it is satisfied, produces a real happiness.”

Maria Montessori 

One of my favorite things of the first weeks in our Montessori classroom is the clear establishment of order. I think the idea that external order brings about internal order is by now well accepted and with all the Mary Kondo-ing that happens in my own home, I know as an adult how well I feel when my house is in good order. I hope that for the children coming to our environment it would feel the same.

The children of this age group are primed to respond to order. They crave routine, consistency, repetition, and being shown how to do things in a clear and organized way. They don't like surprise expectations, so we walk them slowly and carefully through the path that satisfies that need.

We start the year by stripping the shelves clear of anything unnecessary for the new children who arrive a full week before returning children. Parents of the new children are surprised at how little is available on the shelves these first days. Few things available makes it easier for the new children see what is available, where to put it away, and avoids the difficulty of having to choose from too much or something that you may not be ready for yet.

Our orientation week is structured simply and the same routine is followed each day. Our short day schedule is as follows:

Work outside
Work inside
Eat Lunch
Go Home

(Play being used interchangeably for the word "Work").

We focus on establishing relationships between the children and the adults, mentioning each other's name aloud often and facilitating collaborations among the children from the very beginning.

We give a plethora of initial grace and courtesy lessons. Each lesson demonstrated purposefully by the adult, practiced by a handful of children (repetition for the others to watch), and then hopefully acted out in real time in the classroom.

We show things like:
How to enter the classroom
How to wash your hands
How to use the bathroom
How to work at a table
How to work at a rug
How to roll and unroll rugs
How to walk around a rug
How to set up and clean up snack
How to set up and clean up lunch
How to observe a friend working

Aside from these lessons, I am watching for what else is needed to establish the social harmony and independence that will allow the new children to function well once the larger group returns. Whatever is missing becomes the curriculum for the next day.

Many of the materials available are basic exercises for developing independence in the classroom: Using a dustpan, Using a sponge, Using a mop, Using a broom, Spooning, Pouring, Dressing frames. Other materials are transitional toys to support the new children's ability to sustain concentration while choosing their own work for 2 hours (the length of their work period) such as Lego, building blocks, puzzles, and gives me time to observe and respond to the needs of the new children as I learn a little about who they are and what they can do.

The days go by smoothly, safely, predictably with an order that feels supported by the environment around us.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Taking Refuge

This summer I took a one day Vipassana course with some friends. At the opening of the course, as in all Vipassana courses, one 'takes refuge' and repeats the words "I take refuge in buddha, dharma, and sangha". Over the years I've come to appreciate a deeper meaning from this vow of resting in the qualities of enlightenment, in the law of nature, and in community.

During the weeks after the course, whenever I was prone to anxious thinking, comparing myself to others, feeling anger or unworthiness, I remembered this promise and could tell myself to return to calmness, clarity, emptiness, joy for others' successes and to love. When unwanted thing happened, I remembered all things are ultimately impermanent. I purposefully sought out the company of those who uplift and inspire me.

School begins again on Monday, and I'm keeping this refuge close at hand. Not as a protection or shield, but as a reminder of a way I can be.

Mary Oliver – The Buddha’s Last Instruction

“Make of yourself a light”
said the Buddha,
before he died.
I think of this every morning
as the east begins
to tear off its many clouds
of darkness, to send up the first
signal-a white fan
streaked with pink and violet,
even green.
An old man, he lay down
between two sala trees,
and he might have said anything,
knowing it was his final hour.
The light burns upward,
it thickens and settles over the fields.
Around him, the villagers gathered
and stretched forward to listen.
Even before the sun itself
hangs, disattached, in the blue air,
I am touched everywhere
by its ocean of yellow waves.
No doubt he thought of everything
that had happened in his difficult life.
And then I feel the sun itself
as it blazes over the hills,
like a million flowers on fire-
clearly I’m not needed,
yet I feel myself turning
into something of inexplicable value.
Slowly, beneath the branches,
he raised his head.
He looked into the faces of that frightened crowd.