Filtering by Author: Sally Coulter

Making the Color Tablets

Color Tablets, Box 3

Color Tablets, Box 3

The Color Boxes are a lovely material in the Primary classroom to develop the child's ability to distinguish different colors and hues. A few years ago, we decided to replace the commercially-made Color Tablets in the Primary model classroom with ones that were wound with embroidery floss. This was partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly because the commercially-made ones kicked up a lot of glare that impeded one's ability to easily distinguish the colors. We've been asked so frequently about the process of making this beautiful material that it seemed worthwhile to describe it here in more detail. (skip to the bottom of this post for a PDF of how to wind the embroidery floss onto the tablet).

I'm not going to lie: it's a big task, especially if you're doing all three Color Boxes. Firstly, we had a local carpenter make the wooden tablets and matching box for us (while he appreciated being able to help the training center, he made it clear that this was a one-time project, so we shall not disclose his name). Then Corinne Stastny, our intrepid Primary Course Assistant, journeyed to Joann's Fabrics for the task of selecting the colors.

The trick with the embroidery floss colors is not to worry too much about the exact color families that the manufacturer offers, but instead, just put together a gradation of seven colors yourself using your own judgement. You can bring a commercially-made set of Color Tablets to the store as a guide if you need it. In Color Box 3, the middle hue (number four in the gradation of seven) is exactly the same hue of that color that is used in Color Boxes 1 and 2. This will help to orient you to where the "middle" of the gradation is, and will help you know where the extremes are. You may find it easy to sit down with a bunch of embroidery floss colors from each color, find the middle one, and then work to the extremes from there. Remember, it doesn't matter if the manufacturer thinks the colors belong to a set. What matters is that to your eye, they look like a set. It also helps if all the colors that are from the "darkest" are about the same hue, and all the colors that are "lightest" are all about the same hue. We found that one skein of embroidery floss would make one tablet, with very little left over.

The process of winding the thread on is time consuming, and I recommend doing at home, preferably on your sofa with your comfy pants on, Maybe a Netflix marathon playing in the background. Cats are not helpful for this process, by the way (I speak from experience). We've made a tutorial for winding the thread so you can see how to start it and how to finish it (see below for link to PDF). The method we use requires no glue or other fixative, and it's lasted for well over four years without coming undone.

The reverential gasps we get when visitors see the Color Tablets for the first time is worth the time and effort. We notice that people handle them more carefully, using only the edges to avoid touching the embroidery floss. They are indeed beautiful, and more than ever are a pleasure to use.

Tutorial: How to make the Color Tablets.PDF

NOTE: If the PDF is a bit wonky, please email Sally Coulter and she will send it to you as a Word document. Thanks!

Posted on April 10, 2014 .

Life and Death in the Kimberley

Typical landscape in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. 

Typical landscape in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. 

I visited my sister Robyn and her three young children in Australia recently. They live in a hot, remote, and beautiful part of Western Australia called the Kimberley, defined by its ancient landscape, red dirt, and boab trees. I don’t get to see my two nieces (Kailey, 5, and Millie, 3) and my handsome young nephew Sam (almost 8) very often, so it was a rare time for us to be together. While I was staying with them, however, a sad event occurred: Hopscotch the family rabbit died.

Hoppy had been in the family for a number of years, alternately crabby and affectionate, depending on his mood of the day. In general, though, he was a good rabbit, and gave the children an opportunity to be responsible as they attended to his physical needs: feeding, giving water, cleaning the hutch.

On occasion, Robyn would remove Hoppy from his hutch and put him in an old, rusted-out, flat-bottomed boat on their property. This would give Hoppy a chance to hop about and stretch his legs without risk of him escaping into a dingo’s jaws. On the day of Hoppy’s demise, he’d been placed in the boat with a bowl of water and an open hutch for his comfort. He’d done this many times without incident. We left to go on a boating tour of nearby Lake Argyle (which, fun fact, contains enough water to fill nineteen Sydney Harbors). It was after dark when we returned from our trip, and we immediately put the kids to bed.

“We should go get Hoppy”, I said, once the children were tucked in. Together, Robyn and I went out to the boat. Hoppy was lying in some leaves, very still. Unusually still. Immediately, I thought, “That’s one dead rabbit, right there”. My sister took a little longer to convince.

“Hoppy?” she called uncertainly.

Predictably, Hoppy made no response.

“Hoppy?” Robyn called again with mounting alarm. She nudged him. He did exactly what you’d expect a dead rabbit to do. Robyn’s hands flew to her mouth.

“I think he’s dead”.

“I think you’re right”, I agreed, nodding.

“I can’t believe he’s dead!”

I nodded again. “He certainly is dead”.

We silently regarded the furry, motionless body. 

“How do you think he died?” Robyn asked. 

“Hmm…. heatstroke? Snakebite? Old age? Who can know?”

We stood there, a little shocked, staring at the earthly remains of Hoppy the rabbit. Our thoughts turned to the same topic: what should we tell the kids?

“Maybe we should tell them he ran away”, Robyn ventured.

I thought about this for a while. He ran away… how would the children respond to that? Maybe they’d think he’d return at some point. Maybe they’d want to go looking for him. Maybe they’d be worried for his safety, imagining him being attacked by dingoes or being hungry or scared. Maybe they’d become anxious that other animals – or even people – would run away, too.

“I think we should tell them he died”, I said.

My mind turn to the Montessori training and the suggestions I’d received about how to deal with this type of situation. True and brief. Compassionate but not pitying. I was already writing the speech for the children in my head. I delivered some of it to my sister, and explained how this was a sad but useful opportunity to acquaint the kids with the realities of death and dying. Eventually we agreed that we’d tell the children after school the next day.

In the meantime, we went to work committing Hoppy’s corporeal form to the earth from whence it came. Which is to say, we dug a hole and buried him.

The next day dawned and the children didn't notice Hoppy’s absence prior to departing for school. When they returned home the next day, and were enjoying an iceblock on the veranda, the moment seemed ripe to break the news to them. Robyn and I had sketched out a plan, and I felt confident delivering the story.

“So… there’s something that we have to tell you”, I began. “Something quite sad”.

Three pairs of eyes looked at me. They continued to eat their iceblocks, but I had captured their interest.

“Do you remember Speckles the dog?” Speckles was Robyn’s beloved dog who had died a few years earlier. Sam and Kailey were old enough to remember her.

“Speckles was a good dog. She had a long life, and had a lot of fun. We loved her very much. And when she got old, she died, and we couldn't see her anymore”.

Okay… here it comes.

“Last night when we came home, it was very late and you all went right to bed. Mum and I went to the boat to get Hoppy and put him in his hutch. But when we saw him, we found out that he’d died”.

Blank looks.

“Hoppy was dead. He wasn't moving. He wasn't playing or breathing”.

Sam’s bottom lip started to quiver. He was older, and he was following along in a way that the two younger girls weren't. I forged ahead with the story.

“Mum and I were very sad that Hoppy had died. We knew we needed to bury his body, so we dug a big hole over near the windmill. Then we put his body in the hole, and covered it up again”.

“Can we see him?” asked Kailey.

“No, honey. We can’t see Hoppy anymore. He’s dead. That means we can’t see him again. He can’t move or play or eat or breathe anymore”.

The children took this in. They were quiet, but not devastated. Millie ate her iceblock without understanding. Sam became thoughtful. Kailey appeared to be mentally chewing this over, as well.

“It’s sad when pets die, because it means that we can’t see them anymore. But we will always have happy memories of them. If you like, we can each take a stone and put it on Hoppy’s grave, which is the place where he’s buried. You can have a nice memory of Hoppy anytime and anywhere you like, but sometimes it’s good to have a special place to go to remember him. And his grave is a special place”.

There was general agreement that stones should be placed on Hoppy’s grave. We all gathered some stones (mine being much larger and heavier to deter any enterprising dingoes from grave-robbing), and we journeyed to Hoppy’s final resting place.

Kailey looked down at the mound of dirt, her stone for Hoppy clutched tightly in her hand. 

“I want to see him”, she said, a little sadly.

“We can’t see him anymore, Kailey love. He’s dead, so he can’t play with us or be with us anymore. But we can remember some nice stories about him. What was your favorite thing about Hoppy?”

She considered this. “He was soft and nice”.

“Yes, he was, wasn't he? Hoppy was a soft and nice rabbit”.

I put my big stones on Hoppy’s grave. The children did the same with their smaller rocks.

“Bye, Hoppy”, I said, modeling the finality of the moment. “You were a soft and nice rabbit”.

“Bye, Hoppy”, Kailey echoed.

We stood there for a few minutes until our shoes were discovered by the large and aggressive ants that had emerged from a nearby ant nest. We stamped our feet. This was still the Kimberley, and life continued, uncaring that Hoppy did not.

We walked back to the house.  “That went well, I think”, said Robyn. I agreed.

There had been no hysterics, no real tears. I had been very cautious to avoid using any euphemisms for death. I didn't say Hoppy was sleeping. I didn't say that he’s passed away. Euphemisms are for adults, who understand the real meaning behind the words. The children needed to know that dead meant dead: not breathing, not moving, not playing or eating or thinking anymore. Dead meant never coming back.

Robyn informed her husband, Mat, about Hoppy’s death that evening. Mat is an electrician who works at the Argyle diamond mine about 200 kilometers (124 miles) away. Millie, the youngest, was all too happy to inform Mat about Hoppy.

“Hoppy got dead!” she reported enthusiastically. “We dug a hole and buried him!”

For a very young child like Millie, the event was easier to accept. Hoppy was here, and now he’s not. And it makes for a good story to tell Dad, apparently.

The next evening at bedtime, Kailey became very sad as the true impact of Hoppy’s absence hit home. She cried, lamenting both the loss of Hoppy and the loss of a pet. In between shuddering sobs and back rubs, we remembered all the things we loved about Hoppy: how soft his ears were, how it was funny that he would attack the hand broom, how he would nuzzle your hand while you held him. Kailey went to sleep with fond memories of Hoppy in her dreams, even as her tears dried on her cheeks.

Hoppy had a long and happy life, and there’s no tragedy in dying peacefully at the end of such a good run. With death comes sadness and loss, but also the realization that it’s part of a very natural cycle, one in which we ourselves will someday participate. By offering to the children a true, brief, and compassionate story of Hoppy’s death, we laid the groundwork for a healthier attitude to death: what happens to the one who died, but also what it means for the living who remain.   

Posted on November 15, 2013 and filed under From MNW Staff.

Meet our Graduates - Polly

Polly.JPG

A little about you:
I was an EFL teacher and was in the process of applying for a Primary Teaching course in England when my friend introduced me to Montessori. I hadn't heard that much about it and after observing at a school in London and speaking to the Montessori trainers, I felt this was the course for me!

Describe the course workload:
Although it was a lot of work, more than I expected, I really enjoyed it. As much as possible I tried to type up the notes on a daily basis to keep on top of things and that really helped. Other times I let myself have a night off and do something fun!

How well did the course prepare you to be a Montessori teacher?
I now have a new perspective not just of how I perceive children, but also of the role of the teacher. Ginni and Sarah have given me a strong theoretical understanding of child development and the Montessori materials and how we work with them in the classroom. It was great to have the opportunity to be in the same classroom for observations and practice teaching. I was able to get to know each child and able to make the connections between what we learned at during the lectures and what I observed during my practice teaching and observations.

Did you enjoy your training at MNW?
Absolutely! I can honestly say it has been a life changing, eye opening experience. I not only feel proud that I worked so hard during the course, but also honored to be a part of a form of education that respects the child and challenges me as a teacher to be as good a role model  as I can be!

What were some unexpected challenges?
Working on the weekends. This made me a little sad at times, but it had to be done!

What were some unexpected highlights?
I didn't expect to meet so many amazing people. Like minded and wonderful!

Would you recommend this course to others?
Yes. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Need I say more!

Any advice for incoming students?
Find a nice, relaxing cafe with a plug socket for your computer and get your typing up to speed!

Posted on July 1, 2013 and filed under Graduates | Testimony.

Meet our Graduates - Emily

Emily.JPG

A little about you:
Some of my earliest and happiest memories are from my years as a Montessori primary student. Those memories called me back to Montessori and affirmed the importance of this work. I was lucky enough to attend Montessori through 8th grade so I can confidently say this education shaped who I am today.

Describe the course workload:
Previous trainees had described the intensity of the course, but I still was surprised by the time required to create the quality of teaching manuals, papers, and materials that I envisioned for myself. As a former Montessori student, I had a level of familiarity with the concepts and materials that clearly aided my understanding of the content of the course.

How well did the course prepare you to be a Montessori teacher?
I feel very prepared on many levels. The thorough exploration of Montessori theory in the lectures and our own theory paper created a solid foundation for the practical application when working with children. The practice with the materials and time in the classroom gave me a sense of what to expect and the confidence that I have access to the resources to succeed in the classroom.

Did you enjoy your training at MINW?
This was a wonderfully rich and exciting year for me. On a personal level it affirmed my own strengths and gave me an insight into my own educational experience. MINW is a collection of amazing and dedicated individuals who create a welcoming, accepting environment for all the trainees and the greater Montessori community. This made it such a joy to learn and grow in their presence.

What were some unexpected challenges?
My challenges were on a personal level. I had some unexpected difficulties during the time in the training. While it was a challenge to balance this and the coursework, the training helped me stay positive and focus on what is important in life.

What were some unexpected highlights?
The Mardi Gras parade was a wonderful memory and a reminder of the spirit of Montessori. It was a fun event and the whole community joined together to participate. I think it showed me the importance of sharing culture and celebrating our differences in a tangible way. I hope to do this often with children.

Would you recommend this course to others?
The more people who deeply understand Maria Montessori’s vision for education the better. It gives me hope to feel her ideas spreading and becoming more mainstream. It is important for all of us to communicate what we know to others in a way that they can understand. I hope to see many more of my friends and Montessori classmates taking the training. It is relevant to all professions!

Any advice for incoming students?
I think making the course the number one priority will allow for a richness of experience and growth of character unlike any other experience. The people you will meet and the opportunities you will have are such an important part of the training itself. If you have many other commitments, it may be difficult to take advantage of all the MNW community has to offer.

Posted on July 1, 2013 and filed under Graduates | Testimony.

Meet our Graduates - Patty

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A little about you:
I have a B.A. in Fine and Performing Arts, and danced in four dance companies. My two children, and now my grandchildren as well, experienced a Montessori education. I worked in Escrow for twenty years, but have discovered my passion in Montessori.

Describe the course workload:
The workload included very interesting literature that sometimes kept me up late at night, because I wanted to read more than was required! The workload seemed comparable to a full load of credits in college, plus a few more.

How well did the course prepare you to be a Montessori teacher?
By the end of practice teaching I found my comfort level with the children in my host classroom. Everything that Montessori wrote and Ginni [Sackett] lectured on was in my thoughts as I observed in class.

Did you enjoy your training at MNW?
I always looked forward to the lectures given by Ginni Sackett, and really enjoyed the Reading Seminars as we shared ideas from the literature in an informal manner. I met some incredibly intelligent and compassionate people that share a similar passion for giving young children an education that is best suited to their psychological and intellectual needs. I knew by the end of this course that I had joined a community that I will enjoy being part of for years to come.

Any advice to incoming students?
Sharpen up your typing skills, and start reading the required readings, not so much to keep up, but to solidify your decision for the course. The Absorbent Mind motivated me to observe a Montessori classroom, and a conventional Primary class, and I immediately signed up for the Fall at the Institute!

Would you recommend this course to others? If so, why?
I would definitely recommend this course to anyone who wants to teach young people. I am surprised that Montessori education is not a requirement in the public schools, as advanced as we are in the U.S.

Posted on July 1, 2013 and filed under Graduates | Testimony.

Meet our Graduates - George

George and John.jpg

A little about you:
I graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering, and worked with Nike for 15 years in their computer and technology area. I also volunteered in a non-profit Chinese school and youth group ministry before registering for the Montessori training. Montessori has always fascinated me about the way it works and its difference in approach to educating children from conventional education. I never have any experience with Montessori education, and found out about MNW completely by chance. It certainly changed my perspective of the world.

Describe the course workload:
The workload is reasonable. Theory instruction and lesson demonstration is taught at a consistent and carefully moderated pace. The most difficult part is keeping up with lessons through various distractions in daily life. The friendly Montessori environment and helpful classmates and trainers were always there to help when I fell behind.

How well did the course prepare you to be a Montessori teacher?
Daily classroom activities were amazingly well thought out. For example, thoughtfulness in the sequence of Montessori theory instruction and lesson demonstration inspires me how Montessori methodology is applicable to almost all aspects of life, both in the controlled classroom environment and out in the busy world. Also, I see consistency in pace of instruction as a good training to help prepare me for the heavy workload in a Montessori classroom.

Did you enjoy your training at MNW?
Yes, I surprised myself that I actually looked forward to attending the next day of school throughout the school year. From the first day, we were given a very clear set of expectations, we were then led in baby steps through the assignments as we learned more. Also, the application of Montessori theory is evident everywhere in the training center, from setting up of lunch room to the respect everyone gives one another in our interactions.

What were some unexpected challenges?
I did not realize that every single day at school, when we forgot ourselves through the fun watching our trainers demonstrate how to give lessons, and listened with intrigue to the theories and their application, there was some kind of expectations lurking from behind. I heard it, but it sank in only when I was preparing my first album (teaching manual) for submission.

What were some unexpected highlights?
Designing my own materials that can be used in classroom was certainly a delight. Shopping for the "Phonetic Object Box" trained me to look at objects through the lens of the children. Just like what Ginni and Sarah said: it's never going to be the same as before, it was so delightful when I find the perfect item to add to my classroom.

Would you recommend this course to others?
If seeing is believing, experiencing is heartfelt understanding. Through interaction with my trainers and classmates, I feel concern and care that I want children to feel in Montessori environment; through practicing with actual Montessori materials I remembers how to intuitively give lesson using the materials. I could never have imagined the dedication of Montessori teachers without experiencing the training myself.

Any advice for incoming students?
Advice given in the Student Handbook is a great place to start.  It is a good reference for almost everything from preparation for the class to checklist for to do lists. Organization skill goes a long way towards helping us complete albums for submission, and have a better experience doing so. Like a child watching presentations, I was expected to interpret all the demonstrations by myself. Developing a personalized experience relating to the theories and materials helps in making them become alive within us.

Posted on July 1, 2013 and filed under Graduates | Testimony.

Meet our Graduates - Alden

A little about you:
As a young male with no children, I'm a little unusual in the Montessori world, so I'm often asked how I made the decision to work with 3-6 year-olds. The abridged version of the story is that I was looking for a career which I could reconcile with my desire to contribute to the creation of a better future, rather than simply a means of acquiring money. I'd settled on teaching, when, serendipitously, my then-girlfriend's grandmother suggested that I look into Montessori. The more I read about the theories and methods employed by Montessorians, the more convinced I 

Posted on July 1, 2013 and filed under Graduates | Testimony.

Meet our Graduates - Tehut

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 A little about you: 
I'm a former Montessori student and the child of a Montessori teacher, but it wasn't until I returned to my business degree after 8 months out of school as a full time assistant  that I ever considered Montessori for myself.  I took a number of management classes that stressed the importance of autonomy, feedback, intrinsic motivation, and self-efficacy (a firm belief in one's ability to overcome obstacles and achieve objectives, best developed through experience) for optimal performance and motivation.  I recognized these elements as the methods and results of Montessori education and made my decision there.

Describe the course workload:
We created our own reference albums which ended up being a lot more work than I expected and sometimes more than I wanted it to be. But none of the work felt arbitrary. We observed and took notes on presentations, typed our notes, made illustrations to accompany the text and then organized them into albums.  In addition to forcing a deeper connection with the material than we would have gained from buying and reading textbooks each of these steps served as preparation for character traits necessary work as a Montessori teacher. .

How well did the course prepare you to be a Montessori teacher?
While the course was great academic preparation for the technical knowledge we need before entering the classroom I feel it comes secondary to what Montessori called "the spiritual preparation of the teacher."  In modern language that comes down to separating identity from performance, embracing the call to personal discipline, and cultivating perseverance. Between the workload and the incredible modeling of the staff there are so many opportunities to work on these character traits, which set us up to enter our careers with humility, patience, acceptance, and the knowledge that as long as we keep trying we'll keep growing.

Did you enjoy your training at MNW?
For Montessori children there isn't really a distinction between work and play.  They come to the classroom every day and play "division" or "the verb game" and the MNW staff bring that spirit to the training. Plus, we sing. Like, a lot!  

What were some unexpected challenges?
I struggled with the illustration requirement, mostly because I wasn't expecting the "attention to detail" requirement to be so literal.  There are a lot of details and they all required attention.

What were some unexpected highlights?
The community that developed in our course. There were runs, knitting nights, study parties, group expeditions, a parade, and a musical at graduation.  Sort of "brotherhood in the trenches" kinda thing.

Would you recommend this course to others? If so, why?
Unequivocally, the course is both rigorous and supportive which is rare in general but almost unheard of conventional higher education. 

Any advice for incoming students?
Buy a printer that uses inexpensive ink, keep a spare cartridge, and either set aside plenty of time for finishing (pagination, headings, page protectors, etc) or do it weekly because that always seemed to be the thing that kept people up the night before a deadline!

Posted on July 1, 2013 and filed under Graduates | Testimony.