Humility

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.

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!

Where I’ve been/Where I’d like to go

Where I’ve been: As many other people on the internet, I’ve been splitting my time between pondering for this blog, and starting a business on Etsy- www.magentamoo.etsy.com . I’ve designed a few Montessori Infant materials that I’d like to put up in the shop eventually. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, I’ve always been rather crafty. It feels very pleasing to have a tangible product of your time!

Where I’d like to go: I want to become more engaged here with the people who view and read this blog. It was my hope when I started writing here that I share the Montessori method with those who aren’t sure of what it is, and to spark conversation with my fellow Montessorians. I’ve got so many posts half-written that talk about what my training discussed and how we learned to approach things, but then I question if by posting that I push AMI Montessorians away.  This is not my intention at all! I want us to talk about why we learn different ways with friendly and open-minded discussion. I know there’s a rift between AMI and AMS as well as other schools of Montessori education, and I think that communication between the groups is quite valuable. One of my teachers told us that Montessorians view their training and the Montessori Method as a religion. We defend it fervently to anyone who brings up education, even going as far as disagreeing with other Montessorians who attend different training.  If the education of the child is what’s important, why can’t we get along? I digress – still, I want everyone to know that no matter what training or school of thought you come from (Waldorf, AMI, AMS, Home Based Education, Public Education, ANYTHING) that this is a safe place to discuss and question everything. 

I encourage any and all comments and questions for anything on this blog so long as you keep an open mind and an open heart – for isn’t that what we teach our Children in our classrooms and homes?

Different Styles and Methods

All Montessorians have their own little ways of running the classroom. Some things are not set in stone and are left up to the individual style of the teacher. Methods may be learned in training or from your mentor. Sometimes they’re borrowed ideas from observing other classrooms. What are some of the different areas that a Montessori teacher can shine with their own personality? (aside from the obvious decor) I’m going to examine different areas one at a time, starting with the Snack Area.

The self-serve Snack Area is a truly beautiful part of the Montessori classroom because you see so many fundamentals learned coming together at once. The child must use Practical Life, Math, Social, and Language skills to properly serve themselves. I’ve seen many examples of individual teacher’s snack areas and through my own experimentation have come across many different ideas for a well-loved area of the room.

In my own classroom I generally had two snacks available for the day. One was a self-serve style snack usually for two children at a time. The other was some sort of Food Preparation that involved the child doing all of the work themselves and then serving friends first, then enjoying their own portion.

Self-Serve Snack Areas

A Snack Table at a school I visited during my training. Healthy options are always important!
An entire snack cupboard at a different school I visited. I love the real plates they used and how everything was contained in this cabinet.
This was the snack setup in my classroom. I made a set of the cards seen in the back. All of the cards were color coordinated with the beads from the math area to promote continuity in the classroom and had the appropriate bead pictured. I had a set of 1-10 and multiples of each card for the snack table inside and outside.

The snack area is really an area that is dictated by the individual teacher’s style and the ability of the children in the classroom. I know there are many different ways to set this up, I would LOVE to see pictures of everyone’s tables!

Time Flies

when you’re having fun!

So I graduated in May, I’m officially done with my training! Just yesterday I started in my own Pre-Primary classroom, and it is SO exciting. I get to look at the shelves and edit them to my own ideas! I get to decorate! So many apostrophes I know, but this really is a exciting time for me.

When I get the classroom set up, I’ll share some pictures.

Bliss Despite My Mistakes

Is there anything greater than looking up from what you are doing, and seeing the entire classroom of children quietly working on independent projects? Today was one of those very perfect days. No one needed to be asked to work, no massive social disruptions…just gears turning and thoughts crunching away!  There were several children writing stories, a few Movable Alphabets being done, a duo working on the 100’s board, some Geometric Cabinet lessons, and some quiet puzzle work. Really beautiful to see everything so seamless and quiet! I’ve been a bit passive with my camera lately, and I realize this is pretty boring with no pictures, so I will fix this ASAP.

And now, a confession. I caught myself doing something bad during a lesson the other day. Worst part is, I caught myself doing it several times throughout the day after that too! I have this horrible habit of correcting small things on the child’s work while they are working. In my mind, I justify it by saying that I’m trying to maximize their success, but I realized this is actually impeding them! With one child doing the Bow Tying frame, I kept moving the bow one row up while the child was tying the next bow. In my head, I was thinking “It’s pretty confusing that this bow is blocking some of their view, I’ll just move it.” Of course as soon as I did that, I realized “Oh, now she’s watching my hand instead. Crud.” I can’t believe I did it again later too with a completely different work…I feel like such a failure at Montessori. Watching a child do the Color Matching tablets, I see some aren’t lined up just right and instead of letting the child correct it for himself, I moved it. What’s funny, is I found that at the split second I went to move something into line, or into the correct order, the child makes a move to do it themselves. In that second, I went from thinking how helpful I was feeling, to feeling guilty for not trusting the child to do it independently. I know better now, and I’m making a conscious effort to let them do it alone. Part of their exploration of the materials is learning placement / trial and error. Montessori works are so well designed that the child has the ultimate level of success provided the lesson was given correctly. My interference with the child’s concentration is not optimal for them to see the dynamics of the activity. It’s a lesson learned for myself, for sure. Perhaps after demonstrating the lesson, I should try sitting on my hands to ensure I won’t fidget with their work! 🙂

Good Morning Sunshine!

Starting my day earlier at school was a big change for me. I’m not typically a morning person, but I’m learning to deal with that. Since I started at the school I currently work at, I’ve worked in the afternoons, so shifting to mornings felt really weird. I was expecting a rougher transition, but after seeing how wonderful the mornings are, I’m rather glad I was given the opportunity to switch. At the start of the day the children are alert, awake, and ready to learn. Towards the end they might lose their steam, and are ready to go home. I understand completely why after-school care exists for the families that need it, but it is a rather long day for the children too.

One truly great thing that I love that our classroom does every day is say “Good morning!” I’ve alluded to the fact that I’m really not a morning person, and at first this seemed almost torturous – having to greet each person with a smile on my face is a terrifying thought when the morning is your enemy! I’m learning to love the mornings though…Each time one of the children greets me and we smile to each other, I honestly feel as if my day got a little brighter. It’s really a simple practice that has a great impact on everyone’s day.

The other benefit of me working in the morning now is that I get the mixed-age classroom – the full Montessori experience. In the afternoon, we only have the children who do not nap, which is typically the 4-6 year olds. The morning class is 2.5-6year olds. I’ve worked before in the morning, before I went through training. Now I understand much more why the age ranges are mixed in the classroom. If you had nothing but 3 year olds in a Montessori classroom, you’d be running around insanely giving lessons and putting out fires! (This is not to imply that your children are not well-behaved, or that you do not have a good handle on the classroom. This is just saying 3 year olds are capable of….a lot!) Having the older children with the younger ones provides the chance for peer-education and peer-supervision. I see the older children say to the younger ones “Oh, let me help you with that” quite often, and it makes me very happy to see the generosity being cultivated in the children.

Of course to many of you who read this, I am stating the obvious in a Montessori classroom. I just find the process unfolding in front of me so beautiful and amazing that I can’t help but be captivated by it! I hope that I never come to the point that I take this for granted. Watching the children so focused and in the moment of what they’re doing is an amazing privilege. Morning work time has even further opened my eyes to the truly beautiful environment of the Montessori classroom.

Sorry I haven’t been writing more, I’ve been quite busy the past few weeks! I’m also working on some larger posts that are more specific to the classroom that I hope to be sharing with you all very soon. I guess I just didn’t realize how time-consuming this whole blogging experience would be!