Week 2 in an Elementary classroom, and I had a massive smack to my conscience today: Where you are teaching inquisitive minds to continue inquiring, the Teacher does not know everything.

I followed my Supervising Teacher around today and made a point to observe all interactions. So many times today I would have said to a child “Actually, the answer is _____”, but my ST instead would say “That’s an interesting thought, why don’t we research that?” The first time I heard her say that, I will openly admit I thought “She must not really know the answer! AHA! But I do!” I even more than once went to open my mouth to chip in. Suddenly, like a frog to the face it jumped into my head “She DOES know! She’s just showing them that she is not the only resource available!”

Sounds like a minor epiphany really, but it was truly a humbling moment. In the Casa aged classroom, the Teacher is the authority and all-knowing-being. We know how all materials work, forward and backwards. We have an endless bag of tricks for working with tots, tantrums, and tears. The children at this age need that stability in their life. They need direct answers as soon as possible. Elementary aged children are learning that no-one person holds all answers. Research and reflection are what guides most orders of life! How better to teach them this, than to let them research and reflect on their pressing questions?! Truly these lessons learned through their own reading and experimentation will stick with the child much more, than words spoken quickly in answer to an inquiry.

These little interactions between my ST and the students were very eye-opening to me today. Not only did I see that I need a bit more of an Ego check, but I learned a valuable lesson that I know will stick with me in the years to come.


I’ve come to a realization. There’s nothing wrong with growth.

When I started in the Montessori world, I was an Assistant in a Toddler room. I adore the Toddler age! There is certainly a reason why children are called “sponges” in this phase. A concept needs one or two exposures, and the child has gained that understanding for life. It’s also a very challenging age to work with. You must be repetitive, consistent, and quick on your feet. You must show most of your teaching, instead of explaining it. You must be able to let temper-tantrums go, as they are a healthy part of the growth process.

I am not that person.

For 8 years, I’ve worked with the Casa / Early Childhood aged child. This is where the amazing human nature blooms. Ideas are easily planted and acquired, and through exploration are reinforced. The true innate personality of the child begins to open. Here we see the child who likes to learn while playing with concepts that are familiar, and starting to branch towards unfamiliar. Working in this age range requires a moderate amount of repetition, forgiveness for out-bursts, a love of flexibility with a respect for consistency, and have well-practiced grace and courtesy.

I am less this person than I thought I was.

And that’s O.K.

I’m doing the Montessori Elementary Course for a reason. The attractiveness of the lessons is certainly a driving factor for me. I am over the moon with the Scientific nature of the Montessori Elementary curriculum. However, this is not the only reason I’m so drawn towards the Elementary age group.

In the Elementary age group, children have a better balance of self, play, and work. Less repetition is required, patience takes on a different meaning with blossoming personalities and maturities, concentration can last much longer, the children take themselves less seriously, and humor begins to present itself.

I can be a boisterous person. I use humor in many conversations. I love doing interest-based lessons on the fly. I use language as an exploration of expression, as children this age are learning to do.  I love learning about new and foreign concepts much as the Elementary student does.

I don’t think I was ever a “bad fit” in the Toddler or Casa classrooms. I feel I adapted quite well, and knew forwards and backwards the appropriate demeanor required for each age. I do however think I have reached an age in my life where I want to fit in as I am, not as I should be.

Understanding myself is something I’m learning in the Elementary training program. Of course it’s important to know, but I’m only realizing now that my ideal me and my realistic me are not always equal. I’m learning to be O.K. with this, and trying to use it to my advantage at work and at home.

Montessori methods for people with dementia

Source: Montessori methods for people with dementia


Something beautiful to share. I’ve researched this before, and it’s so exciting to see a newly blossoming field for something I already love so much. I live and breathe Montessori, and to see that it is helpful in all stages of life is truly amazing.

I spent some time over summer with my Grandfather, who has been diagnosed with Dementia. Seeing first-hand how much this has changed him was quite a shock. I worked with family members while visiting to give tips on how to work with him, and make him feel valued, as he’s losing his self-esteem daily. He has good days, and he has bad days. On his more self-aware days, he’ll mention how he feels he cannot be trusted to complete anything. Gearing the home and my relative’s collective mind-set is part of helping him. The same as it is in the Casa classroom, really. With a Prepared Environment, and a well-trained Montessori Guide, we provide the opportunities for discovery, building self-esteem, and developing (or maintaining, in this case) important life skills.

Wouldn’t it be amazing, if sometime in the future Montessori training centers started offering Dementia / Alzheimer’s training?

New Direction

I’ve decided I have too much free time. As of this June, I’m filling that free time with Montessori Elementary teacher training! I’m so excited, it’s not really possible to express it in words. This is something I’ve been interested in since my very very first day in Primary Montessori Training. We were shown Lower and Upper Elementary classrooms at the first school my training classes were at. I saw a human skull sitting on the shelf in the Upper Elementary room, and a reading nook in the corner with a literal wall of books behind it, and I was sold. I’ve tossed the “what-if’s” and such around for years since. After observing some followers of this blog’s Elementary journeys, and now being at a school with an Elementary classroom, I broke down, and couldn’t resist temptation any more.

Of course, I keep coming across passages and concepts in my training that I love turning over in my mind, and that’s what this blog was originally designed for. To give me a place to wheedle away at the thoughts buzzing around in my head, especially after reading a juicy passage.


Do we ever take enough time to observe?

I mean well and truly observe?

Now it is obvious that the possession of senses and of knowledge is not sufficient to enable a person to observe; it is a habit which must be developed by practice. When an attempt is made to show untrained persons stellar phenomena by means of the telescope, or the details of a cell under the microscope, however much the demonstrator may try to explain by word of mouth what ought to be seen, the layman cannot see it. . . . It is well known that when a new discovery is to be explained to the public, it is necessary to set fort the coarser details’ the uninitiated cannot take in those minute details which constituted the real essence of the discovery. And this is because they are unable to observe.

Maria Montessori, p. 102, The Advanced Montessori Method

“A habit that must be developed by practice.” How often do I spend time observing my own classroom? If I were to go by the strict definition I was given in my training (sitting uninterrupted in a chair with notes for at least 30 minutes), I fall quite short. I’m lucky to get to do it weekly. This is not to say that I’m not observing my class at all times. I make a running list of quick notes in my head, and tend to jot them down at the end of the day. “K needs more work in Language, struggling with Pink Reading.”  “B has mastered the Map of Africa, has great interest in animals, perhaps a tie in?” 

However after reading this passage, in fact this entire chapter in the Advanced Montessori Method, I feel I need to step-up my observation game significantly. What am I missing?

The Beauty of a Child at Work

To see a child in the classroom completely lost in the moment of what they are doing is a captivating and wonderful experience. I truly wish that I could read their thoughts at that moment – however I know that really being lost in the moment doesn’t involve much thought at all. It’s the beauty of the motion, the sound of the water, the spill of the droplets into a glass that grabs the child’s attention. In an over-stimulating society, it’s a great thing to see children slow down and be entranced by aligning the Pink Tower properly.

Look at that smile!

Lately I’ve been looking up Montessori school sites to get an idea on what to expect in Canada. I love school websites that feature pictures showing the classroom environment in use. A child focusing on their activity and completely ignoring someone pointing a camera at them is a sacred thing.

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Isn’t it amazing that Maria Montessori’s materials are over 100 years old, and still hold a current child’s interests? We have iPads, cell phones, music at the push of a button; yet a set of long red rods of varying length will occupy a child for 20 minutes solid regularly. Watching that child build with the Red Rods I see much higher self-satisfaction than playing for 20 minutes with an iPad. Of course there is excitement and joy from playing with technology, but it’s a different feeling to be proud and feel accomplished after mastering a physical task. Aren’t adults the same way? The sense of accomplishment in having painted a room or a sewn project or planting a garden is more satisfying than having watched an hour of TV or puttered about on the internet. (I’m guilty of the latter, for sure) It’s a physical accomplishment demonstrating our mastery (attempted or expert) in something. Trying to get children up and moving has become a big focus these days. Why not encourage that from a young age?

[Please realize that I’m not saying I hate technology – it’s really the opposite. We’ve never been more informed or educated, and that’s something to be celebrated. But as is everything in life, MODERATION IS KEY. ]

Observing a child at work is a beautiful thing, especially when you see the confidence and smile afterwards. A child walking away from a shelf after putting down the tray of a completed work walks a little straighter and a little taller. Isn’t that the best result?

Building the Best Self-Esteem

Browsing Pinterest the other day I stumbled upon a wonderful article about how Praise effects children. (Part 1 and Part 2) As a Montessorian, I know I’ve had my own struggles with learning not to praise in the classroom. Everything around us tells us we should constantly reassure children they’re doing a great job and what they’re doing is amazing. After a while a child comes to expect that praise.

During a Parent-Education night once a parent asked me “What’s the worst habit parents have?” A few chuckles went around the room as I thought for a moment. It went very quiet when I said “Praise your child.” I explained by telling my favorite example of this:

When I first started at the school as an Assistant, I had the privilege of working with the most seasoned teacher in the school who would later become my mentor. One of my first days in the classroom, I was very eager to prove to her I was worth having in her amazing room. I wanted so much to be like her, I would watch her interactions with the children so I could manage them as well as she did.

One day, a girl in the class brought a picture to her, and said what we’ve all heard children say “Lookit this picture I made!” The teacher looked at the picture for a moment, nodded her head, then said “Make sure you put it in your folder to take home.”

I was blown away – this teacher that everyone revered so greatly just seemingly blew-off this little girl! The girl wanted praise, and the teacher didn’t deliver! As shocked as I was by what I saw, I continued to watch the little girl. With a smile on her face still, she walked away contentedly and put the picture away.

Later in the day I approached the teacher and asked her why the situation played out like that. She explained the concept of Over-Praising, and how it affects children’s self-esteem in the long run. It made sense, but I still wasn’t buying it 100%. For a few weeks I continued to tell each child who approached me with a picture “Wow, that’s amazing!” or “Great picture, I love it!”

Quickly I noticed that I was being inundated with children constantly asking me what I thought of their work. One day I had a small circle of children around me asking simultaneously how I liked their latest drawing. It was like a movie where the camera keeps spinning around the circle of faces as the little chorus chanted at me “How do you like my picture?!” I looked toward the Lead Teacher to see if she had the same thing happening to her and noticed she was sitting quietly observing the children around me. She didn’t have any children around her begging her for approval, so what was I doing wrong?  I realized she was right about praise. By openly validating one child’s picture, I had to validate everyone’s.

The parents at that Parent Education night agreed with me then, and some shared similar stories of resorting to “That’s nice, dear” when being shown the 400th scribble on paper. I wish the articles above had been available at that point so I could have directed the rest of my parents to it.

I brought the concept of praise up during my Montessori Training and asked my instructor ways to constructively acknowledge what a child is showing me. Because Montessori is more focused on a child’s self-esteem, you need to redirect the attention to the child’s opinion, not your own. Why does it matter what I think of the picture? Shouldn’t it only matter what the child thinks? So instead of praise, I now prompt with specifics:

  • What are you going to do with this at home?
  • What’s your favorite part of the project?
  • What’s happening here on the picture?
  • How do you feel now that you’ve finished ____ ?

Not one of these statements has to do with my feelings. Ideally we want the child to be happy with what they’ve accomplished. Why should the discussion be about how I feel then? Otherwise, you’re basically saying to the child “It’s only a good picture if I think so.” Self-esteem comes from within, so give children the chance to exercise their own pride and accomplishment.

Do you find it difficult not to praise? Do you continue to praise anyway? Is praise not an issue in your culture? Please share!