Growth

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.

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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!

What’s Happening Lately

We mailed our Arizona postcards to the other schools / home-classrooms from the 50 State postcard exchange we participated in. That’s been a wonderful experience, I plan on joining many more in the future! I put the postcards that we received into a basket on our Geography shelf for the children to use. It’s become a tradition at our school for children to bring back a postcard from wherever they visit, so we can talk about it. Those postcards were added to the basket as well, so they made a Reading Matching game out of the multiple cards from the same state. Some children took the postcards and found each state’s location on our large map of the United States.

This past weekend in my Montessori Training class, we discussed Peace Curriculum, and the idea of a Peace Table, and a Peace Rose. I LOVE the concept of both the Peace Table and the Peace Rose, and definitely plan to use those ideas in my own classroom someday.

Peace Education is something that is very important to teach young ones. It’s a difficult concept to teach as Peace has many forms, but by leading by example the concept should be easily attained. Lately I’ve been trying to think of different ways to say things to children, so that my words are kinder. Looking for the positive when a child pours food-colored water all over themselves and the furniture can be difficult, but it really makes a difference in the child’s future interactions.

Lately during our afternoon line time, the children were very rambunctious when putting their work away and coming to sit down. I decided to try one example of Peace Education, and sit quietly amongst them until they quieted down. Normally I would have raised my voice and asked them to get quiet, and then have to deal with a few minor behavioral issues as we continued to sit there. However as I sat there quietly, they one by one started to notice me not speaking, and not making eye contact at all. I glanced at my watch occasionally to see how much time had passed. I had several children ask me questions, or come up to me to tattle on someone bothering them. It was SO SO SO tempting to respond to them, but I remained quiet. After 9 minutes of loud ruckus the classroom fell completely silent. After a few seconds of silence I started whispering very quietly how pleased I was that they decided to join me on the line quietly. I talked a little bit about respect, and how by observing quietly the classroom got much quieter than if we had demanded quiet.

The next day I wanted to see if they had remembered, so I sat quietly before they were told it was time to clean up. Without mentioning anything, a few children put their work away and came and sat silently next to me. One of the afternoon Assistants went around and quietly whispered to each child it was time to clean up. It was enchanting how quiet the classroom got as each child quietly put their work away and sat peacefully. It was as if the children understood an unspoken rule about the Peace around us in the classroom and were entranced by it as well. We sat for a few minutes in complete silence instead of having a group discussion or a book read, as everyone was enjoying the Peace. I learned so many things from them during this! Even our noisiest children were completely content sitting silently. I know the Silence Game is something Maria Montessori loved, but I hadn’t really ever seen it’s beauty until that moment. No one in the room wanted to be the one to break the silence: even I was reluctant to do so, but it was time for the regular school-day to end and for after-care to begin. I can’t wait to try it again, I just don’t want to do it too soon so they lose interest in it!

Getting back to the Peace Table and the Peace Rose – I’d like to know more about what sort of set-up others have out there… What do you include in your Peace Table? How do you demonstrate to your own children how to use the Peace Rose? Have you noticed improvements in peer to peer relationships? I haven’t seen it in practice and would love any ideas you all have!

The things I ponder most

  • What work should I direct _____ to?
  • Where on earth did I leave my pen?
  • Has _____ had a lesson on that yet?
  • I’m hungry…is it snack-time yet?
  • Why does this child move around this way?
  • How can I assist this child?
  • This would make a beautiful picture – OH NO! Where’s my camera?
  • What is the best way I can enlighten this child?
  • Really now, where is my pen?
  • I thought ____ was here today, you mean they aren’t?
  • Should we talk about our latest “You’re not invited to my birthday party” issue during Line Time, or not…
  • Which specific sense of the child is engaged at this moment?
  • Where is the child’s current fixation?
  • What can I do to be more organized?
  • Her name isn’t coming to me, what is it, what is it, what is it…OH RIGHT
  • When can we go outside again, it’s soooo hot….
  • Am I being the best teacher I can be?
  • What will my next blog post be about?

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!