Filtering by Author: Angelika Steinberg

A Montessori Morning

A fantastic link to share with parents of Casa-aged children!

This video compresses a great morning's work by four year old Jackson Palmer into a short and fun-to-watch summary of his three hour, uninterrupted work cycle. We've learned that the best way to talk about Montessori is sometimes not to talk at all, but to show.

Video reposted from the FaceBook page of  www.MariaMontessori.com

How to Fancy Up a Box

Montessorians are the ultimate do-it-yourselfers. Need a blue box? You paint that box blue. Need a pink tray? You've got that covered, too, you creative maven. 

At Montessori Northwest, we try to model that DIY mentality as much as possible, both to keep our costs down and demonstrate how a little effort can yield lovely results for classroom materials.

Before: a fantastic thrift store purchase with lots of potential

One of our recent projects was refinishing a great little thrift store purchase: this charming wooden caddy. Intended for use in our Brass Polishing activity in the Primary classroom, the caddy was made of sturdy wood that had seen better days. Plus, its neutral tones didn't fit with our yellow color-coding for Brass Polishing.

Some sanding, some paint, some paper, some varnish, a little creativity, and a lot of patience while the paint dried ("C'mon, you're seriously not dry yet?"), and that rather modest little box was transformed into a charming and cheery caddy that fit nicely with the existing color coding.

After: a bright and cheery box ready for classroom use

Our students often ask about the methods we use for such a project as this. While there are many ways you could paint a box, we have the ones that we're used to, and we thought it would be a helpful thing to share them with our Montessori friends.

To that end, please find below a handy, step-by-step guide to "fancying up" a wooden box, caddy, tray, or other wooden container. If you have any questions, or are having problems viewing the pdf and would like it emailed to you as a Word document, please email Sally Coulter.

How to Fancy Up a Box.PDF

Posted on April 17, 2014 .

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 and filed under From MNW Staff, Primary, Resources.

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.