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Two Complimentary Approaches to Working with Infants and Toddlers

The Oregon Montessori Association recently released a new interesting article by Breanne Monahan indicating that the Magda Gerber's Educaring® approach is a philosophy that compliments and supports Infant and Toddler Montessori environments.

We found it fascinating--perhaps you will too. Download the full document here:

A little background information:

RIE® (pronounced “rye”) is a philosophy for parents and caregivers of children from birth to 2 years of age developed by Magda Gerber, a child therapist and infant specialist. Gerber immigrated to the United States from Hungary in 1957. She was influenced by the work of Hungarian pediatrician and friend, Dr. Emmi Pikler. Dr. Pikler ran a residential home, Loczy, for infants in Hungary and was concerned with the challenges of providing quality group care to young children. Pikler’s simple yet revolutionary approach to infant care inspired many. In 1978, based on her work with Emmi Pikler and her own experiences with young children, Magda Gerber founded Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), a non-profit organization based out of Los Angeles.

Posted on April 8, 2014 and filed under Articles, A-to-I, Resources.

Assistants to Infancy, Applied in the Home

A few days ago, a recent MNW graduate, Ms. Junnifa Uzodike, shared some pictures of her son. Beyond their obvious cuteness, they also demonstrate some great Montessori principles that can be applied in the home. To better explain what you see here, Gloria Singh, Assistants to Infancy Course Assistant, has contributed a few notes.

On the bottom left we see her child looking at himself in the mirror, getting visual feedback about himself and also getting a view of the rest of the room--very beneficial when a baby can't move well independently to see what's around. Babies really enjoy looking at faces, studying the expressions, watching lips move in talking--even their own.

In the background, you can see the toys organized simply, with very easy access for the child.

We also see the baby very busy at the weaning chair and table, in this case he likely used it to pull himself up into a standing position so that his hands can be free to explore whatever has captured his interest. Non-walking children use the smallest chairs with arms--the arms give lots of support if their sitting is still unsteady and also helps them to stay at the weaning table until they are done with their eating.

A chair without arms at a table is best for children who have begun walking, because it is much easier for them to get into the chair without having to maneuver around the arms and they likely will not have learned to pull out the chair to make room for their bodies to get into it.

Have you ever watched a young child work out how to sit down in a chair? It's quite an event to witness. "How to Sit in a Chair" is a Practical Life activity that we learn to demonstrate for young children on the A to I course.

We also talk a lot about how simple, uncluttered, and appealing an appropriate environment is for young children--a few toys that get rotated, a mixture of materials (fabrics, wood, metal, etc.). You can see this here too.

Want to learn more about MNW’s Assistants to Infancy Course? Click here for additional information.

Montessori for the Masses

Sarah Werner Andrews, Director of Primary training here at MNW, came across this interesting intro to Montessori article in the March 2014 newsletter of the ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) which is printed and distributed to over 140K School and District leaders. It's great to see information about Montessori making its way into the hands of so many influential educators!

Please also note the quotes from new MNW Board member and senior associate at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector, Jackie Cossentino.

Download the full 3-page article by clicking above.

Download the full 3-page article by clicking above.

Posted on March 21, 2014 and filed under Articles, Elementary, A-to-I, From our Trainers, Primary, Resources.

News from the AMI Stewarding Council USA

The AMI Stewarding Council USA was formed in November 2012 as a result of the AMI Summit, with an aim to better facilitate the working of the Association Montessori Internationale across the formal and informal Montessori communities in the United States.  It comprises representatives of all AMI stakeholders in the United States.  Its overall aim is to significantly increase access to quality Montessori programs for more children, families, and communities. Learn more about the AMI Stewarding Council USA here.

Montessori Northwest, as represented by Executive Director Jennifer Davidson, is honored to be part of this ambitiously comprehensive work.

The Stewarding Council most recently met in February at the 2014 AMI Refresher Course in Houston, Texas. At this meeting the Council took time to ground itself in its mission and goals identified as outcomes of the Summit. They also discussed the vision of future work and adopted several action items.

A Communiqué was recently released, outlining the progress and process of that last Summit meeting. It's a lengthy document, but worth the read. It can be read in its entirety here.

Posted on March 17, 2014 and filed under Articles, From MNW Staff, Resources.

La respuesta Montessori al papel de la fantasia

This post available in English by clicking here.

Hace unos días publicamos una historia fascinante de Psychology Today en nuestra página de Facebook acerca de como los niños procesan la fantasía en los cuentos (lee el artículo completo aquí en Inglés).  

Este es un tema que la propia Dra. Montessori subscribió y que además atrae de forma particular a Sarah Werner,  Directora de Capacitación de primaria de MNW.  En respuesta a ese artículo, Sarah  ha contribuido con algunas perspectivas dentro del contexto histórico para ayudar a los montessorianos a entender mejor el papel de la fantasía en los relatos.

En 1919, María Montessori reconoció la controversia que provocaban sus puntos de vista acerca de los cuentos de hadas, al hablar ante la Child Study Society  (Sociedad de estudios infantiles) sobre el tema La imaginación de los niños a través de los cuentos de hadas. María Montessori bromeaba con el público acerca de que este tema le había sido impuesto, pues ella no lo habría elegido y después atrevido a enfrentar a la audiencia. A su crítica de los cuentos de hadas ella respondió: “Debido a que he sido muy directa al expresar mi opinión acerca del valor de los cuentos de hadas, la gente ha llegado a la conclusión de que yo estoy fuertemente opuesta a ellos. En realidad no siento un antagonismo tan intenso”. Su opinión acerca de los cuentos de hadas era muy simple: “La imaginación no es parte del problema, porque al contar cuentos de hadas, somos nosotros (los adultos) quienes imaginamos. El niño sólo escucha”.

Durante su conferencia, María Montessori dijo que “(El niño pequeño) no puede distinguir bien entre lo real y lo imaginario, entre las cosas que son posibles y las cosas que son meramente inventos”. Ella trataba, una vez más, de aclarar su posición acerca de la educación basada en cultivar la credulidad, en vez de la realidad (Times Education Supplement, 1919, reprinted in AMI communications, No. 2, 1975).

Y en un estudio relacionado...

A la edad de 15 meses, un infante es capaz de aplicar a la vida real algo que aprendió en un dibujo de algún libro y también transferir esa información en otra dirección (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009). 

Por ejemplo, un infante puede aprender el nombre de un pájaro en un dibujo de un libro y después identificar el pájaro en su patio y viceversa. Después de aprender el nombre de un objeto real, los niños pueden identificarlo con mayor éxito en una fotografía que en un dibujo. “El hecho de que la naturaleza emblemática de los dibujos parezca tener un papel relevante en la habilidad de los niños de interactuar de manera significativa con los libros tiene importantes implicaciones educativas, por ejemplo que los libros con más dibujos realistas son mejores para ayudar a los niños a aprender” (Ganea, Bloom-Pickard, & DeLoach, 2008).  En general, cuanto más se expone a los niños a libros antropomorfos (animales y objetos con habilidades humanas) tanto más se confunden acerca de las propiedades de animales y objetos reales (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009).

¿Qué piensas acerca de este tema? ¿Es este un tema al que te has enfrentado en el salón de clases o con los padres? Compártenos tus experiencias.

Necesitamos traductores

Cycles in Nature

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In July last year a group of 8 middle school students from Pacific Crest Montessori School in Seattle, WA set out on their bikes to ride 200 miles to the 2013 International Montessori Congress in Portland, OR. This was the start of something new and powerful with impact reaching far beyond a bike ride. The Portland congress was the first time ever that adolescents were invited—and given a voice—at a Montessori congress. The idea to bike there was inspired by the first Cycles in Nature event held in May of 2013; students from Australia, Thailand, Mexico, the US and Canada spent a day on bicycles participating in a grassroots initia- tive to build a global adolescent Montessori network. But, most importantly, these students represent the beginning of a movement that empowers Montessori students to make the world a better place. 

This year, the organizers of Cycles in Nature have opened the event to Montessori Students of all ages--And you're encouraged to participate!

Cycles in Nature is more than a day of fresh air and exercise. With a dedicated local and global fundraising component, it gives students a way to feel relevant in the world. So, we are dedicating May 2014 to cycle together to:

  • Create a network of empowered Montessori youth

  • Give indivduals the opportunity to feel relevant and have global impact

  • Support environmental sustainability and social justice through fundraising 

The cycle ride will be a sponsored event, raising money per mile from family and friends, local businesses, grant organizations and everybody in between. The funds will be split 50/50 between a local organization (of each school’s own choice) and a global initiative that supports social justice or environmental sustain- ability. This year’s global initiatives are: Children’s Eternal Rain Forest Project (Montessori Institute for the Science of Peace) and the Article 15 Foundation, which supports youth in Senegal to find their way out of poverty through education and income generating activities. 

Join us! You choose the day that works for your school, then through our website you’ll download all the resources you need to get started. On our blog students can publicize their event, put their route on the map, share stories and photos, and stay in touch with other schools all over the world. www.cyclesinnature.org

Montessori Responds to the Role of Fantasy

A few days ago we posted a fascinating story from Psychology Today to our FaceBook page about how children process fantasy in stories (read the full story here).

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This is a subject that Dr. Montessori herself addressed, and one that particularly fascinates MNW's Director of Primary Training, Sarah Werner Andrews. In response to that article in Psychology Today, Sarah has contributed some fascinating perspectives within historical context to help Montessorians better understand the role of fantasy in storytelling.

Montessori acknowledged the controversy surrounding her views on fairy tales in 1919, when she spoke to the Child Study Society on the topic:  Children’s Imagination by Means of Fairy Tales.  Montessori joked with the crowd that this topic was dictated to her; she would not have dared to choose it herself and face the audience!  To her criticism of fairy tales, she answered, “When I have been so bold as to express my opinion of the value of the fairy tale, people have jumped to the conclusion that I was fiercely opposed to it.  I do not really feel any such intense antagonism.” Her point regarding fairy tales was simply, “Imagination really does not enter into the problem, because in telling fairy tales it is we (the adult) who do the imagining.  The child only listens.”

During that speech Montessori told the listeners, “(The young child) cannot distinguish well between the real and the imaginary, between things that are possible and things that are merely ‘made up’.” During this speech in 1919, Montessori was attempting once again to clarify her position regarding education based on cultivating credulity, instead of on reality. (Times Education Supplement, 1919, reprinted in AMI communications, No. 2, 1975)

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And in a related study… By 15 months of age, young children can apply something learned from a picture book to real life, and also transfer that information in the other direction (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009).  For example, a toddler can learn the name for a robin in a picture book, and then identify a robin in the backyard, and vice versa.  After learning the name of a real object, children were more successful transferring that name to a photograph than to a cartoon drawing of the object.  “The fact that the iconic nature of pictures seems to have an important role in children’s ability to interact meaningfully with books has important educational implications; namely, that books with more realistic pictures are better for assisting young children’s learning” (Ganea, Bloom-Pickard, & DeLoach, 2008).  In general, the more young children are exposed to anthropomorphized books, (animals or objects given human attributes) the more likely they are to confuse their beliefs about the properties of real animals or objects (DeLoach & Ganea, 2009).

What are your thoughts on the subject?  Is this a subject that you've had to deal with the in classroom or with parents? Let's hear about it!

Great Visual Resource

As educators, we often seek out unique and fascinating visuals to engage our students. With this in mind, an interesting resource for you--Enjoy!

(This post originally appeared on the Public Domain Review.)

Last week the ever-incredible British Library announced that they were gifting more than 1 million images to the world, uploaded to Flickr Commons under the public domain mark, meaning complete freedom of re-use. The range and breadth of images is phenomenal. As they say in their post announcing the release the “images themselves cover a startling mix of subjects: There are maps, geological diagrams, beautiful illustrations, comical satire, illuminated and decorative letters, colourful illustrations, landscapes, wall-paintings and so much more that even we are not aware of”. Each image was extracted from its respective home (books making up a total of 65,000 already digitised volumes) by a program known as the ‘Mechanical Curator’, a creation of the British Library Labs project. A crowdsourcing application is being launched in the new year to help describe what the images portray – and the British Library is also putting out a general plea for people to innovate new ways to navigate, find and display this incredible array of images. (Email BL Labs here).

Doing Prekindergarten Right

We occasionally forward along relevant information from other sources.
For example, this great article from the Huffington Post by Ruth Bettelheim, Ph.D..

American leaders are beginning to address the deficits in our country's early education system. However, President Obama's call for a major expansion of public prekindergarten education, and even the commitment to providing universal preschool education recently made by both New York's governor and New York City's mayor, do not go far enough. While both proposals take big steps in the right direction, they would only apply to children age 4 and up, and would not systematically reform the kind of education these children receive. The only way to do preschool really right is to start when children are significantly younger, to use educational methods specially targeted at the emotional, social, and cognitive development of toddlers, and to increase mandatory training and salaries for preschool teachers.

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Preschool children think and function differently than school-age children, which is why primary school typically begins at age 6 or 7 everywhere in the world. Since the curricula and methods designed for older children don't work for toddlers, preschools are often run like babysitting centers, with teachers who are trained (and paid) much more poorly than their primary school counterparts.

However, we now know that the first 5 years of life constitute the most critical period for the development of social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. If things go wrong at this stage, the price is a life time of handicaps and often failure in one or more areas. Far from not being ready for education, young children urgently need high quality educational experiences to maximize whatever potential they were born with.

This maximization requires different educational methods than those developed for older children. Fortunately, several methods have been developed during the past century to enhance learning for young children. Most prominently, Dr. Montessori developed her method by investigating which approaches could best educate the severely impoverished slum children of early 20th century Rome.

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The Montessori Method systematically teaches independent problem solving, starting at age 18 months, using hands-on learning and the native interests of preschoolers. She demonstrated that, given adequate food, regular health checkups, and the right full-day program, virtually all of even the most deprived children could learn to an equal or higher standard than their more privileged, traditionally educated peers.

Other methods, such as Reggio Emilia, Waldorf, Dewey, Abecedarian, and Bank Street, also address the unique needs of this age group. Unfortunately, sufficiently rigorous, longitudinal trials of these approaches have not yet been undertaken to determine which ones best serve the developmental needs of very young children.

Pedagogy and education research have both systematically undervalued the importance of social and emotional development in preschool children. Indeed, neuroscientific evidence demonstrates that all learning is based on emotional responses and social experiences. Therefore, social and emotional intelligence need to be developed as carefully and as thoughtfully as IQ. We now know that all three are essential for success in our highly networked, rapidly changing technological age.

Therefore, teachers need to be trained not only in the most effective approaches to cognitive development in young children, but also in how to foster and enhance their very sensitive emotional and social development. This will require both increased funding for research, and more rigorous training programs for preschool teachers. But recruiting and retaining highly talented and motivated teachers requires that salaries be increased significantly, to better match the critical importance and extremely demanding nature of their work.

While all of these measures may sound expensive, over a generation they would be far more than offset by the reduced costs of homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, addiction and all the other ills to which poor educational outcomes can lead, and by the increased productivity of a better-educated workforce. Indeed, according to Nobel Prize winning economist James Heckman, the rate of return on investment when high quality preschool starts very early "is in the range of 6 percent to 10 percent per year per dollar invested."

However, even the best preschool education will not be maximally effective if it does not start until children are four, by which point the majority of that critical 0- to 5-year-old window has already passed. If we want to give every child the best chance for success, universal full-day preschool should start at 1+ or 2+. With that in place, in just a few years, children from all backgrounds will start arriving at primary school on track, with the skills and background necessary to be successful students. As we begin to expand and reform public preschool education, we should make the commitment to give all children a true head start toward fulfilling their potential.

Posted on February 5, 2014 and filed under Articles.

On Infants & Toddlers

Corinne Stastny, Primary Course Assistant at MNW, mother, and former Montessori Teacher, lends her insights into Montessorians working with the youngest members of our world; babies and toddlers. 

Observation is at the core of the Montessori guide’s work. During 250 hours of observation of children aged birth to three, students at Montessori Northwest take detailed notes about what they see, and interpret these observations through the lens of Montessori theory and practice.

Observation is at the core of the Montessori guide’s work. During 250 hours of observation of children aged birth to three, students at Montessori Northwest take detailed notes about what they see, and interpret these observations through the lens of Montessori theory and practice.

The Montessori approach to children under the age of three evokes much curiosity and enthusiasm from those more familiar with Montessori at other age levels.  Those of us with Primary or Elementary backgrounds know we love our prepared environments, know we love Montessori, and are sure that babies and toddlers everywhere would no doubt fall in love with a Montessori learning environment designed for them!  However, we also know that Montessori is not always easy to convey or understand in just a few short sentences.   

I’ve picked the brains of Assistants to Infancy (A to I) trained alumni a bit, combined it with my own experiences applying A to I principles with my child, and am happy to give some introductory resources for families creating mindful environments for little ones.  My focus here is just on babies who are not yet walking, as the most common question I hear from curious enthusiastic souls is “Someone’s having a baby and is curious about Montessori. What should I tell them?”  Below is a menu of resources, choose what you feel best captures the imagination of your target audience!

Know that the same essential principles apply to Montessori at any age group: respect and communication, supporting independence, free choice within limits, learning through experience, preparing an environment that matches the specific needs of the child. 

While rather involved, the inspiring texts of Understanding the Human Being by Silvana Montanaro and The Child and the Family by Dr Maria Montessori can be a strong resource for families seeking to a deeper connection to theory.

AidToLife.org– This beautiful, clear, and powerful website, provided by AMI, offers simple, straightforward advice that is easy to understand and apply.

MichaelOlaf.net - Michael Olaf and Susan Stephenson have inspired Montessorians, parents, and parents-to-be for years. The Joyful Child, a book focusing on 0-3 in the home, is now available and a rich resource!

In a Montessori Home is an inspiring book and DVD package from NAMTA featuring families enjoying Montessori principles in the home.

There are some fabulous blogs about applying Montessori in the home. A few particularly enjoyable ones are The Full MontessoriMontessori Moms, and Montessori on the Double.

Aside from schools, A to I graduates often share their knowledge via private consultations.  Montessori Northwest has the names of a few of these parent educators, and would welcome the names of more!

Come to Montessori Northwest, where we have a model home and toddler community environments.  We have regular open houses and are happy to schedule individual tours Monday – Friday.  The Assistants to Infancy training course is enrolling for the summers of 2014 and 15, and we are seeking not only teachers-in-training for this level, but also families whose infants can participate in on-site observation sessions both summers.  Being part of the observation is an incredible window into the Montessori approach to this age group! 

Visit our website, http://montessori-nw.org/info-assistants-to-infancy, or Email Andrea for more information--503-963-8992.

A portion of Montessori Northwest's model home environment for babies and toddlers.

A portion of Montessori Northwest's model home environment for babies and toddlers.

Posted on November 18, 2013 and filed under Articles, A-to-I, From MNW Staff.

Thoughts on History, Heritage, & Culture Workshop

Ginni Sackett, Montessori Northwest's Director of Primary Training, teaching a workshop on History, Heritage, and Culture.

Ginni Sackett, Montessori Northwest's Director of Primary Training, teaching a workshop on History, Heritage, and Culture.

Having left the Primary environment several months ago to join the Montessori Northwest Administration, it was like a homecoming with "my people" to participate in the second session of Ginni Sackett's Primary Workshop Series: History, Heritage, Culture. The joy of working with children and families came rushing back to me as our community of colleagues approached the realities of engaging children from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds in neutral, fun, experiential activities.

Complementing nuggets of lecture, we flipped roles to play like children. When free of discrimination, prejudice, and stereotype, children can come to embrace the universal similarities that thread across our species! Similarly, from movement to story and the artifacts within an environment, the adult is privileged - forced - to undergo a self-analysis that ensures they are practicing the preaching. After all, anything less would be disingenuous.  

In short, as Montessorians girding humanity's future through the vehicle of these young children, there is a relief in knowing our work is inherently designed to foster utopian results.

Register for the final workshop in the History, Heritage, and Culture series, taking place on November 20th, here.

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Posted on November 13, 2013 and filed under Articles, From MNW Staff.

Foundation Work in Elementary

Elementary students at Montessori Northwest have a unique Foundations Course integrated into their learning experience. Several times throughout the year, they hear from MNW’s Primary Trainers to learn about the first plane child. The focus of these lectures is the work of self-construction as it relates to foundational theory, physical, emotional, and social development. These areas of focus, along with the development of literacy and numeracy for the child under age six, create a “foundation” for what is built upon in the years that follow. 

We asked a current Montessori Northwest Elementary student to share her thoughts on the Foundation Course. Here’s what she so eloquently said:

There are 23 of us, all eager to learn about Montessori education for the Elementary children. But in order to understand the 6 to 12 year olds, we need to understand their previous experiences.  The integrated Foundation Course is our opportunity to learn about the child in his formative years, the child who will become our Elementary learner.  From lecture readings to dramatizations, from the exploration of the environment to Walking on the Line, from Maria Montessori’s discoveries of the child to the trainers' profound knowledge and wisdom, we truly immersed ourselves in the world of the 1st plane child.  Through our work on the Foundation Course, we were all able to learn about and to communicate our understanding of the 0-6 year old, the trained adult who supports this child and the prepared environment. 

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With this foundation in place, we have an understanding of how the child’s absorbent mind and sensitive periods guide him in becoming the person he is, and how the adult and the environment can positively serve that child’s potential.  Our task, as elementary teachers, is to collaborate with him in his next stage of development.

From a personal standpoint, having previously undergone the primary training, I had the opportunity to re-visit and reflect upon principles of practice.  What stands out in that reflection is the importance of understanding the difference between child work and adult work, and the significant implications of that understanding.  Our Montessori theory tells us that the child is internally-motivated and process-oriented, whereas the adult is externally-motivated and product-oriented.  The child’s work is to self-construct so that he can ultimately be a productive member of an adult society. 

As is often the case, understanding the theory is the easy part.  The challenge lies in the practice.  As Montessori educators, we have the clear advantage of working in an environment that supports and guides the child’s self-construction. Within a structured frame-work, we allow them to work at their own rhythm, with developmentally- appropriate materials that are freely-chosen so that they can respond to their inner directives. That being said we are still adults who can fall into the pitfalls of our agendas and timelines.  In our spiritual preparation we must regularly examine ourselves to ensure that we are staying true to our Montessori principles of following the child, and not imposing our adult expectations on them.  In doing so, we will create a psychological atmosphere that tells the child that he is in a safe place to do his work, with adults that are on his side.  The result will be children who are among things, joyful, benevolent, trusting, and non-competitive.  These characteristics are in fact manifestations of the child’s natural state.

Many adults and parents believe otherwise.  They think of children as having tantrums, being whiny, uncontrolled and generally demanding.   Unbeknownst to them, these negative behaviors are defense mechanisms that the children build to defend themselves against adults who are imposing their adult rhythm on the child.  When the child is able to follow his inner laws of development, he will drop his defense mechanisms and choose pro-social behaviors. 

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It is our task to advocate for young children by finding accessible ways to inform parents and caregivers on the child’s need for a process- oriented, self-directed learning opportunity.  Of course, this has to be done in a way that does not critic nor judge, but rather inform in a compassionate and supportive way.  We live in a society where there are many working parents who are under high demands from the working world, and we do not want to add to their stress.  We do however want to stress the importance of temporarily altering our adult characteristics for the sake of the child’s developmental rhythm and needs, and ultimately for the sake of a better world because put simply: happy children make for happy adults. 

Our future work as Montessori educators will be charged with many wonderful and eye-opening moments with children, but it is also one that comes with a great deal of social responsibility.  I think we can take comfort in knowing that the child will be our ally if we trust his human potential and stay true to the Montessori principles. 

Yours in training--Maryse Cohen 

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Talking Points

This article is available in Spanish by clicking here.

For those of us in Montessori, the idea that one should feel shamed, embarrassed, dumb, or sad in connection with a normal urge is the antithesis of what we want for children.  We want children to feel respected and supported.  We want to be an aid to life, in service to the human potential.  And yet, one place where it can be hard to overcome our own obstacles and conditioning is in connection with the natural tendency for children to talk!  Because I’m here to tell you, if elementary children are not shamed, embarrassed, put down, or saddened into silence, then chances are they will be talking.  Often.  About everything. 

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The most important thing about spoken language in the elementary is that it should be recognized as important work for the children.  “They don’t want to work; all they want to do is talk,” is sometimes what we hear from Montessori teachers.  What’s needed here is a wider, truer definition of work, because the talking is the work.  What happens when children talk to each other? How can we see this talking as developmentally appropriate and beneficial?  We start by recognizing that when children are talking, they’re doing a lot of cognitively and emotionally important things.  They are noticing, attending, perceiving, commenting, describing, explaining, abstracting, comparing, connecting, debating, defending, experimenting, opining, synthesizing, bonding, and expressing, to name just a few.  Whey would we want to interfere with that?  Our role as adults is not to keep them from talking, but to help them find interesting and useful things to talk about.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with some different structures or rules to help the conversations in my elementary classrooms be useful and productive for the children.  “We talk about whatever we want at lunch,” is a good one, but some practitioners find that it doesn’t support the children enough.  “We don’t talk about television or video games or movies at school,” is one that worked for a while in one community.  I explained to the children that what children are allowed to see on screens was a family decision made at home, and out of respect for each other’s families, we kept our focus in school on what could be shared at school without compromising those decisions.

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But the most useful “rule” about talking was this one:  We talk about our work.  Talking is a sign of interest.  So if the children are talking about something, they are telling you they’re interested in it!  And you, the adult, can probably think of a dozen ways to relate what they’re talking about to something they might explore or work on in your Montessori classroom.  So join in the conversation and redirect them!  “You know, what you’re saying reminds me of a lesson I’ve been wanting to give you…” We can tolerate a few irreverent noun booklets or sentence analysis sentences about the Portland Timbers; we can turn a discussion of Halloween candy into a word problem that can be solved with the checkerboard.   And any conversation gets deeper and more philosophical if the Fundamental Human Needs Chart is guiding it. 

Furthermore, the children can share in the responsibility of making their conversations useful and productive.  “Oh, I hear that you’re talking about Disney World/ghosts/your new Nikes/your grandma’s cat that got hit by a car/Miley Cyrus/etc.  How can you make that your work?”  Warmth, humor, and the absolute conviction that they are here to work and they will be happier if they’re working is what you, the adult, can bring to the conversation.    When we can see the children’s talk as a natural manifestation of a healthy community, we can guide them in positive, pro-social ways.

 

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Posted on November 7, 2013 and filed under Articles, From our Trainers, Elementary.

Holidays by Ginni Sackett

Halloween is almost here – ushering in a frequently scary season for Montessori teachers. We often have conflicted feelings around holidays and events that occur in the larger culture – afraid that these distract children from their work, disrupt the calm and productive atmosphere in the environment, and are just plain bothersome to us. I’d like to propose changing those feelings and

Re-thinking Fun

Think of a time recently where you undertook a task, game, or pastime that you really enjoyed. Maybe it was a Sudoku puzzle, or stripping wallpaper off a wall, or doing a craft project, or completing a jigsaw puzzle. Were you having fun? Yeah, you were. Not laugh-out-loud, knee-slapping, hysterical laughter fun, but rather

Posted on May 9, 2013 and filed under Articles.

Getting It Right

How do you know you’ve performed a task correctly? What does it take to be able to say, “That went well”, or “I could have done better”?

As adults, we self-correct constantly and pretty much unconsciously: speeding up our work so we can be ready for that 3pm meeting, putting some broccoli back into the bag if we accidentally take out too much, stabilizing our overfull mug of coffee as we walk across the room.  We’re good at self-correction; we’ve had a lot of practice.

Posted on April 26, 2013 and filed under Articles.