Filtering by Author: Nicholas Stocco

Beyond the Walls of the Training Center

Here at Montessori Northwest, the scope of our teacher trainers extends well beyond the walls of our beautiful training center. Whether offering individual consultations within schools, providing original content for Montessori journals, or presenting at education conferences, MNW’s leadership is passionate about advancing the international Montessori movement and bringing the benefits of Montessori education to children worldwide.

This fall, the North American Montessori Teachers’ Association (NAMTA) will be hosting their “Fostering Montessori Preparedness for Global Citizenship” conference just up the road in Seattle, WA, from November 13-15th. NAMTA has invited two of our Directors of Training, Sarah Werner Andrews and Elise Huneke-Stone, to present workshops and lectures to Montessorians coming from the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

When asked about her breakout session at the conference, Elise Huneke-Stone, Director of Elementary Training, said:

“The six years of elementary (6-12) are the relatively stable period between the transformative times of infancy and early childhood (0-6) and adolescence (12-18). At this stage of development, human beings are primed to learn as much as they can about how to get along together, how to meet their social needs. Dr. Montessori writes that these children have a special sensitivity for the acquisition of culture, and the classroom is one of their most significant experiences of human society. The prepared environment for elementary has to be a place in which the children are guided by the adult in the creation of a "practice society" in which the elements of social life can be explored. In this workshop, we'll examine ways that we can put before the elementary child these elements of social life, and help them develop the social skills they will need throughout their lives.”  

The staff of Montessori Northwest are committed to the success of our students and the growth of Montessori as a whole. By training to become a Montessori teacher at MNW you access our rich organizational history, work alongside some of the best trainers in the world, and begin a journey towards more meaningful and enjoyable work. 

Click here to begin your journey!

Observing Children

“When [the teacher] feels herself, aflame with interest, seeing the spiritual phenomena of the child, and experiences a serene joy and irresistible eagerness in observing him, then she will know that she is initiated. Then she will begin to become a teacher.”    - Maria Montessori, Spontaneous Activity in Education

Observation is a way of looking at something in careful detail. It is the identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical exploration of a natural phenomena. For Dr. Montessori, observation itself was an art that had to be exercised and practiced continually. She was constantly collecting and reflecting on her observations of children, which allowed her to consolidate and refine her method. Montessori expressed observation’s task as being based on an interest and commitment to each individual child and his development.

Observation is the cornerstone of the Montessori method. Dr. Montessori’s observations enabled her to provide for the needs of the child. She never stopped observing the child, and neither should we. The better we can understand the art of observation, the more we will regard it as vital to our practice.

As MNW students leave the training center for their first round of observations, we’re reminded of what Dr. Montessori had to say to a teacher training course in 1921 as they were about to go out on their first observations. Click here to read what she said them.

Posted on October 17, 2014 and filed under Articles, Resources.

What A Wonderful Weekend!

“Thank you for inspiring my work with children!”  - Workshop Participant

This past weekend, Montessori Northwest was host to 124 Montessorians for our first ever Weekend Workshops. Attendees included teachers, assistants, administrators, program coordinators, parents, and students. Every level of Montessori training was represented, along with a handful of participants who were not trained. While there were many local Montessorians at the workshops, one-third of the participants traveled from outside the Portland area, representing seven different states and four countries. All in all, it was an extremely diverse group.

The Primary workshop, Self-Discipline and Joyful Learning, was presented by MNW Director of Primary Training, Ginni Sackett. In this workshop, the seventy-nine participants explored Montessori’s theory of normalization in relation to the materials and activities found in a Montessori 3-6 classroom: how to first offer motives for concentrated activity leading to normalization and then turn this point of arrival into a point of departure through the materials for development in Sensorial, Language, and Mathematics. Observation, friendliness with error, and indirect preparation all gave further focus to this exploration across all of the areas and all of the ages in the Children’s House environment.

The Elementary workshop, Stories and Self-Construction, was presented by MNW Director of Elementary Training, Elise Huneke-Stone. In this workshop, the forty-five participants examined the Great Stories in terms of how they contribute to children’s intellectual and emotional well-being. They also explored practical ways to start and sustain the children’s journals and individual conferences, and to help the children develop these Tools of Responsibility in accordance with their growing independence and self-awareness. The workshop concluded with a focus on how to implement a developmentally appropriate class meeting that meets the children’s social needs and empowers them as citizens in the “practice society” of the Montessori elementary community.

Thank you to all those who were able to attend. We hope you enjoyed the workshops and your time at Montessori Northwest. We look forward to seeing you again!

Posted on October 17, 2014 and filed under Elementary, Primary, Workshops.

Respect this House

Mario Montessori’s entire account of the events summarized in the story below can be found in the NAMTA Journal, v23 n2 p7-9 Spr 1998. It's an incredible story, that makes one feel very grateful for its amazing ending.

In 1936, while living in Barcelona, Dr. Montessori was approached by the Spanish Minister of Education, a former pupil of hers, to give a series of radio talks aimed at mothers and fathers. Her protege believed that, “It is the mothers and fathers who must be illuminated as to the greatness of their little ones.” The talks had a profound affect on many people, who soon began calling on Dr. Montessori in order to thank her for her transformative words. 

Mario Montessori would later elaborate on his mother’s growing popularity in Spain, “She gave a second series of talks on “The Social Question of the Child,” which awoke event greater interest. The figure of “The Child, Constructor of Man” began to loom in all its majesty in the minds and in the hearts of the Catalan people.”

Not long after her talks, the Spanish Civil War began. Clashes between forces led to much destruction and death. Churches were burned, homes looted, and people disappeared. It was only a matter of time before the conflict reached her front door. 

Then, one day, while out on the veranda with her grandchildren, she saw them coming. The “militanos” marched down the street, shouting and brandishing their weapons. Mario, who was in London at this time, relays the dramatic scene, “They came straight to her door, but they did not ring. They stopped in front of the wall and one of them began to paint something over it with a black, dripping brush. Soon it was finished. They all looked up, saw her in the window, raised their hand in salute, and marched away.  

The children all ran down to see. Written on the wall, in large black letters, was the caption: “RESPECT THIS HOUSE. IT HARBORS A FREIND OF THE CHILDREN.”

Posted on October 9, 2014 and filed under History.

Peer Review at MNW

Peer review is a collaborative learning process in which students assess each other’s work and provide constructive feedback. It shifts responsibility away from the instructor in order to give the student a more active role in managing their own learning. At MNW, peer review involves students reviewing each other’s weekly assignments and illustrations for their albums. Guided by the trainers and course assistants, this process provides students with an additional opportunity to engage with the presentations and illustrations. The following is a quick look at how peer review is incorporated into our Primary and Elementary Courses.

In Primary, peer review typically takes place in pairs, which include the teaching staff. When reviewing presentation write-ups, students look for a logical sequence of activity, clear descriptions of movements, important notes from the lecture, and detailed illustrations, all of which will reflect if the future guide will be able to accurately present the material and support its aims. If any issues should arise during the review, students can go to the material for guidance or check with staff. This helps students not only create accurate albums for future reference, but also adds another layer of understanding about Montessori principles and practice.                                  

In Elementary, peer review is targeted toward the accuracy of specific language, drawings, and etymology. The reviews take place in groups of four, each of which is overseen by a staff member. These groups will often have practiced presentations together, which helps to confirm understanding of a concept. Initially, peer review is helpful in learning how to write an album as most students have not had experience with doing this. As the students become more seasoned in the review process, they are able to offer more detailed feedback on the accuracy and readability of their peers’ albums. As final exams draw near, peer review sessions offer valuable time to review concepts and solidify practices.

Peer review is not a replacement for staff input, but rather an opportunity for the students to benefit from collaboration with peers, to become more familiar with the concepts presented, and to become more adept at editing and self-correcting. Staff still review the work in more detail after the peer review and offer individual spoken and written feedback on each week's work. It also gives staff the opportunity to spot trends and notice challenges students are having with specific assignments and provides feedback about how the students are receiving the information presented to them.

Since peer review was introduced at MNW two years ago, we’ve witnessed many benefits for students, including: 

  • Exposure to different approaches to formatting and content 
  • Clarification and reinforcement of students’ own understanding
  • Builds problem solving skills
  • Encourages self-reflection and self-assessment
  • Increases motivation through responsibility for peers’ learning
  • Improves self-confidence
  • Provides preparation for professional workplace

At its core, peer review is about students working together to capture the essence of a concept and coming to a consensus about it’s relevance and meaning, creating another layer of learning and a deeper and more fulfilling understanding of this great work they’re embarking on.

Posted on October 3, 2014 and filed under Elementary, Primary.

Books to Love at School and Home

Books are a beloved and important way for children to explore the world around them.  In the Montessori classroom for children under 6, there are specific criteria for books, including: 

  • Books that have a variety of styles of prose and esthetically appealing illustration styles.
  • Books that relate to the child’s own life and expand their understanding of the experiences of others.
  • Books that can be looked at or read independently.
  • Books that convey a sense of joy and appreciation for life and the world around them.

To get more insight into this topic, we recently had a conversation with Sarah Rinzler, a self proclaimed bibliophile and recent MNW graduate, who became “hooked” on Montessori when looking into preschools for her son. Sarah, who is currently an assistant at Chestnut Grove Montessori, shared some of her tips and insights about embracing books with children both at school and home.


What do you see as the characteristics of a really great book for a Montessori Children’s House classroom?

I will admit that I do “judge books by their covers.” Or at least, it is the cover art that first draws me to a new book. Beautiful, interesting, unique illustrations are important to me in choosing books. Attractive pictures are more likely to entice children to explore with books on their own, especially if they are not yet reading. I also strive to find books with a variety of art styles and which depict the wide array of settings and cultures present in the child’s world and the world as a whole.  

Selecting books with rich language and vocabulary is also important, but variety is important too so I want to strike an overall balance with some books with simple text, others more poetic or rhythmic. I also look for books that are funny! There’s nothing better than making a group of children laugh.

In terms of a book for the classroom, it’s almost always essential that the book to be based in reality, with context that the children can relate to. I don’t discount books that have fantastical elements like talking animals, princesses or superheroes, but if I did read this type of book I would be sure to consider my audience and have conversations with the children about which themes are realistic and which aren’t. I don’t believe that a child who reads “The Cat in the Hat” will believe that cats can talk that Thing One and Thing Two may one day show up at his doorstep, but I would take a moment to acknowledge this.

I also prefer books whose goal is not to “teach a lesson.” Children don’t learn how to act from hearing a story that tells them how to behave; they learn from their own experiences.


You wear two hats, one as a mom to a 5 year old and one as a recently trained Montessori who is entering the classroom. How do you decide if a book is a good fit for the home vs the classroom? 

In the home, I personally feel that we don’t need to shield children from fairy tales. I think it’s a losing battle, because at some point or another they’re going to be exposed to them. At Nana’s, for example, at a friend’s house, at the library, it’s going to happen. They will find a book that teaches them that all girls aspire to be princesses who wait around for their whole lives for a knight in shining armor to come and make them happy! And I actually think it’s great when that happens, because then you have a golden OPPORTUNITY to talk about the ideas in those books, and talk about why you may not (or maybe you do!) agree with that philosophy on life.

So much of Montessori education is based on the idea of exposing children to situations that will give them the opportunity to practice cognitive and social skills so that they develop independently. We sort of guide them into these situations that secretly turn out to be “learning experiences.” We can’t teach them self-control, for example, but we can put them in situations in which they need to control themselves. They learn self-control by experiencing it. Along those lines, books and stories can help them experience some things about life that can translate really well into opportunities for helping them learn about life.

This can lead to some great, and sometimes hilarious, conversations about life and how to treat people and how not everyone is nice all the time. My five year old son told me that he thought Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker in James and the Giant Peach were so mean because their underpants were too tight. It’s kind of silly, but the point is that, here we see something happening that we don’t like, and don’t want to see in our children. So, let’s take this chance to talk to them about it. Now, that doesn’t mean that we will read these kinds of books at school. All of this stuff I’ve been talking about really applies to YOU at home (families and caretakers), and what kinds of stories YOU are comfortable sharing with your children, and how much “real life” YOU want to dive into with them. 


What’s your favorite way to find new, wonderful books?

In general, as I mentioned, I wander around and pick up books that appeal to me aesthetically. My favorite haunts are the Library, Kids at Heart, and Powell’s. I do have enough of a collection now that I will also explore what’s new by my son's and my favorite authors. I pass around books and recommendations with my parent friends (this is such a great resource!) and always look for used copies at bookstores and online. 


Dip into a treasure trove of book ideas for the Montessori 3-6 environment by visiting our Primary Course Assistant lists on Powells.com -  Casa Friendly Books to Share

Posted on September 26, 2014 and filed under From MNW Staff, Primary, Resources.

Come Celebrate with Us!

For nearly a decade, The Celebration of Light has been a time for Portland’s Montessori community to come together and support the work happening at Montessori Northwest. We’re profoundly grateful for all of the support we’ve received through the years which has helped us achieve many of our goals, including expanding our teacher training courses, cultivating new AMI teacher trainers, and initiating significant momentum around community networking and organizational partnerships.

At this year’s event, we look forward to sharing news about our satellite teacher training beyond Portland and our vision to open a demonstration Montessori classroom within an at-risk community here in our area. While there will still be a special appeal to the community, there will not be a silent or live auction, so the evening's focus can rest on celebrating this great work with friends, both old and new. 

Join us on Friday, January 30, 2015, from 5:30 - 9:30 pm, at the Melody Ballroom, for the 10th Annual Montessori Northwest Celebration of Light, as we raise a glass to the teachers, administrators, parents, and supporters who compose this incredible Montessori community! 

Tickets for this event will be available soon.

Posted on September 23, 2014 .

Montessori is Early Intervention

MNW Primary Trainer Ginni Sackett strongly recommends this New York Times article ‘The Way to Beat Poverty’, written by the highly respected team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuBunn. These renowned advocates for worldwide human rights turn their gaze a little closer to home here, making a persuasive case that if we want to fight inequality, we’ve got to give help early – even before birth. 

“One reason the United States has not made more progress against poverty is that our interventions come too late. If there’s one overarching lesson from the past few decades of research about how to break the cycles of poverty in the United States, it’s the power of parenting — and of intervening early, ideally in the first year or two of life or even before a child is born.”

The article provides great talking points for Montessorians and references some quotable science, including the intriguing connection between ‘toxic stress’ early in life and cycles of poverty over generations. 

“…the constant bath of cortisol in a high-stress infancy prepares the child for a high-risk environment. The cortisol affects brain structures so that those individuals are on a fight-or-flight hair trigger throughout life, an adaptation that might have been useful in prehistory. But in today’s world, the result is schoolchildren who are so alert to danger that they cannot concentrate. They are also so suspicious of others that they are prone to pre-emptive aggression.”

Kristof and WuBunn are not the first to take on this topic; but they provide an excellent rationale why donors should be endowing nursery schools and not just big-name universities.

Click here to read the entire article, 'The Way to Beat Poverty', by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, which appears in the September 12, 2014 edition of the New York Times.

Posted on September 22, 2014 and filed under Articles, From our Trainers.

Don't Miss Our Primary Workshop

On the weekend of October 10-12, Ginni Sackett, MNW Director of Primary Training, will be presenting a workshop entitled: Self-Discipline and Joyful Learning: Normalization in the 21st Century Montessori Children's House at Montessori Northwest. We asked her a few questions about what participants can expect from the weekend:                                                                                                        

What excites you about the workshop?

I am most excited about the opportunity to work with a great group of dedicated Montessori practitioners in a focused, interactive, and engaging format; empowering each participant to take their work with children to new levels of success.   

Describe the workshop's format?

There will be various types of participant engagement, including: power point presentations, demonstrations, small group breakouts with specific tasks, full group de-briefing sessions, targeted readings, and exploring participant scenarios as the basis for the creative application of Montessori principles in challenging circumstances. 

What will participants gain from attending the workshop?

Participants will leave with practical, creative strategies based in Montessori principles to support positive, pro-social behaviors and intellectual achievement in young children, and increased understanding of how teachers use conditions in the environment to transform challenges into successes and guide children to achieve the developmental purposes of all the Montessori materials.

Register now! Space is filling up for this workshop. Early Bird rates available through Thursday, September 25. Registration deadline is Wednesday, October 8. Click here for all the details and to register.

Posted on September 17, 2014 and filed under From our Trainers, Primary, Workshops.

Specimens in the Elementary Environment

From her recent post on EAA-Talk, Elise Huneke-Stone, Director of Elementary Training at Montessori Northwest, shares her thoughts on how to keep the teacher's and children's specimens and sharing from overwhelming the prepared environment. 

In the elementary practice classroom at the training center, I've instituted a practice borrowed from my tenure in the classroom for displaying specimens. In each 'area,' (math, history, geometry, language, etc.) there is a large tray on the top of a shelf. I use identical big rattan serving trays. That's the "sharing tray" where the children or I can display specimens or artifacts or things brought from home or even their work as relates to that aspect of Cosmic Education. I keep a general supply of small baskets and book stands to group or display things. Children (and students in the training) are encouraged to write a little display card and/or share with the group in a gathering.  

There are two trays for biology (one for botany, one for zoology) because that's where the most specimens showed up! Additionally, I have a little extra biology display space that's teacher-managed: A series of 5-6 crocheted doilies across the top of the biology shelves, each housing one particular specimen or small collection (e.g., 3 sand dollars). Most of these specimens rotate, either seasonally or more often.  

This way of preparing the environment has had so many benefits: reducing clutter, increasing order, controlling my own collector impulses, keeping things fresh for the children through rotation of objects, making it easier for the children to clean and put things back, etc. There was the added benefit of the grace and courtesy that was possible when the children were involved. The child who brought the artifact or specimen shared with the group how it was to be treated, handled, observed, etc. Additionally, the rule was that if the tray was full and you wanted to bring something new, you had to make space for your object by politely informing someone else that it was time for their object to go home. The process became entirely managed by the children.  

One other thought: My favorite book as a child was Little Men by Louisa May Alcott. It's the story of Jo from Little Women all grown up and running a boarding school for boys (and a few girls). In it there's a description of the "natural history museum" that the children built in an old barn, with a glass-doored curio cabinet with many drawers for the housing and display of their treasures. I'm still searching for that cabinet, decades later.  

There is nothing like a single isolated rock, shell, branch, feather, leaf, or bone to spark the imagination of the elementary children...

Warm regards,
Elise

Get more great insights from Elise by attending our upcoming Elementary Workshop: Stories & Self-Construction, October 10-12. Click here to learn more and sign up.

Posted on September 15, 2014 and filed under Elementary, From our Trainers, Materials.