Our classroom was gifted a bulb kit from one of our families during the holiday season this year. Early January we planted the bulb in shredded coconut husk (the children were very excited that it was not just ordinary soil)! As a work in the classroom children could take the bulb to a table and observe it. They then would record their observations through a drawing of the bulb and write the number of days that the bulb had been planted. The bulb had a slow start, not having much change for the first two weeks. Then to our enjoyment the bulb started shooting up rapidly! The amount of growth each day was impressive; the children loved to observe and record the growth. When we came back from the long President’s Day weekend break, on day 42 of the bulb being planted, it had bloomed! The children were amazed by the large pink petals. Together our classroom will continue to observe and record the progression of our bulb. Will the bulb stay bloomed for a long or short time? Will more flowers bloom? There are many questions to be answered simply by observing our plant.
Observing a bulb’s growth!
Our classroom had a lovely Valentine’s Day celebration. We had a gathering in which every child that brought a homemade valentine shared how they made it and how it showed their love for the class. I could tell the children had put a lot of thought and time into their valentines. One student even shared that they spent so much time on their valentine that they did not have time to do anything else that day! As children presented their valentines the children listening had smiles on their faces. We then took a quiet moment to feel the love in the room and sang Magic Penny together. Here are the lyrics; if interested you can sing this with your child and they can show you the hand motions.
Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.
It’s just like having a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, you’ll have so many
They will roll all over the floor.
Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.
Social development in the Montessori Casa
February was a great month with much a-buzz in our community. I’ve been reflecting a lot on the social development within our community this month.
As Maria Montessori conducted her research in early classrooms, she began to discover what she called “social cohesion” among the group of children. She began to see children show a heightened level of social interaction with one another, including controlled and purposeful interactions, mutual respect, willingness to help others, responsiveness to others’ needs, feelings of benevolence, sympathy, and understanding, and a non-competitive attitude. Dr. Montessori found that these characteristics emerged naturally from children as they had experiences with consistent sociability among other children. While a Montessori classroom is not the only environment a child socializes in, there are some key components that make a Montessori classroom favorable to social development. A few of them include:
- We have a mixed age group of children. This gives the youngest children the oldest children to look up to, and it gives the oldest children the opportunity to serve as role models.
- We have a limited number of activities, which requires social development. For example, we generally have only one of each material out on the shelf. When that material is in use, it is unavailable to the other children. Children can use the material once it has been returned to the shelf and children quickly adapt to this limit and respect when another person is working with a material.
- The environment also mirrors true social life, where many individuals within a community are pursuing their own interests and their own work.
- The adult plays a critical role in supporting social development among the group. From modeling Grace and Courtesy to protecting concentration, the adults in the community set the limits for children to succeed in their social interactions day-to-day.
It is delightful to see the children navigate their social development each day. When disagreements arise among children, they generally handle the interaction independently, asking for support only if they get stuck. We have modeled how to say “Let’s agree to disagree” if they come upon something they can’t agree on. We also model how to ask if someone would like support with something (and how to walk away if that person would not like support). We model how to ask if someone would like a hug prior to hugging them.
The children have been enjoying learning about all different kinds of animals. We have discussed the characteristics of mammals, birds and amphibians and also learned interesting facts about each species. The pangolin is the only scaled mammal, some birds lay eggs out in the open (instead of in a nest), and a few amphibians lose their tails as they grow into adults! The children are fascinated by all the different creatures that live around us, and we were fortunate enough to have a family bring in a beautifully preserved bird’s nest for us to examine closely. We’ve been singing the song “Robin in the Rain” and reciting the poem “The Bird’s Nest” by John Drinkwater to celebrate our new knowledge.
Careful observation of a hummingbird nest.
The FCMS staff was fortunate enough to attend the AMI Refresher Course over President’s weekend, and the Primary staff recently attended an Observation workshop at the Great Work, Inc training center in Denver. Both events focused on the Prepared Adult and the Art of Observation. Preparation and observation are the cornerstone of the Prepared Environment, and inform the Guide’s daily work. Without physical, spiritual and scientific preparation and close observation of the children, we are conventional teachers, and we lose our connection to child development.
We watch closely for that highly sought after phenomenon: concentration. We watch the child’s large and fine gross motor skills: How do they carry a tray through the room? How do they hold a writing instrument? We listen to the child: How do they communicate with others? Are they able to express their thoughts and emotions clearly? Can they identify sounds and letters when we play sound games? We look beyond the surface for the child who has not yet shown themselves: Who is this child? What are her needs and interests? What can I offer her that will best support her development? We assess every minute of every day.
This work takes ongoing self evaluation and reflection. What am I doing for the child that they could do for themselves? What are my triggers? How do I recenter myself when I am having a challenging day? What habits have I created that are an obstacle to this child and how can I change them for the positive? Do I allow time for myself to breathe, to laugh and to model for this child that we all make mistakes? Do I approach this child with patience, love and humility? Do I allow this child to have their own time to experience stillness, silence, contemplation and boredom? How can I better understand this child, and in the process, myself?
This work happens every day, every minute in the classroom, but it can also extend to home. The parent can also be a Prepared Adult. Look over the previous two paragraphs and ask yourself these same questions about your child. Do so without judgement, of your child or yourself, and do so with an open mind and heart. Maria Montessori called the child the ‘teacher of love’ and you will find that the transformative path that your child is on mirrors your own journey.
There’s this myth that self-esteem comes from making everything easy for your children and making sure they never fail. If they never encounter hardship or conflict, the logic goes, they’ll never feel bad about themselves. Well, that’s ridiculous. That’s not even a human life. –Barbara Kingsolver
In addition to practicing cursive handwriting, geometric shapes, and math with a variety of materials lately, the children have been practicing soft skills like conflict resolution and persevering through challenges.
Unfortunately, children cannot learn by simply being told something. We cannot give them confidence by telling them they are smart any more than we can give them self-esteem by telling them they are beautiful. Children must be allowed to experience things like failure and conflict in order to learn how to gracefully walk through them.
Right now, the Grace and Courtesy we are focusing on is around conflict resolution.
The oldest children in our community are doing a lot of collaborative group “research” with the Moveable Alphabet. They are moving toward the types of “big work” they’ll be doing in Elementary. This week, they’ve been rounding up plants from various classrooms, studying them, and writing down what they observe!
As these children approach the Second Plane of Development, their need for social interaction heightens, along with a focus on fairness and right and wrong. This means there may be an argument happening at any given time!
The second year children are also leading many Collective Exercises with the Golden Beads. These games (addition, multiplication, subtraction, and division), are a concrete first way that the child experiences operations in math. This provides a foundation for all later abstract work. It also requires much social coordination!
Conflict is a healthy part of life. Our role as adults is not to prevent conflict or remove obstacles, but to stay grounded and help children walk through these situations with kindness and clear communication.
Some of the Grace and Courtesy language around conflict we are currently practicing:
- “I’m concerned that someone might step on your rug. May I help you move it?”
- “I’m concerned that some of the buttons for sewing are in your pocket. May I help you to put them back?”
- “I’m working right now. Please respect my work!”
- “No thank you, I’d like to make my own choice right now”
Sharing out the Golden Beads equally in a game of Division.
If we can learn to struggle, we can learn to live. –Magda Gerber
Going Out in the Elementary
A Going Out is a concept developed by Maria Montessori. In essence, it is the idea that a “field trip” can be conceived, planned, organized, executed, and followed up by the children.
Recently, two children from our class went on a Going Out. They had done research on an insect and wanted to gather more information. Over the course of several weeks, these two children contacted a local entomologist, set up a time to meet with him, contacted and secured a driver/chaperone, drew out maps/directions to get to their location, and successfully met with their insect expert (along with a few others) at the Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity on the CSU campus. They were exuberant upon their return.
For these types of experiences, the children’s intention is to gather the information they are seeking. For the guide it’s about encouraging the children to gain the independence and experience of working/maneuvering through the world. The Going Out is the materialization of what it is to be independent and responsible.
Going Outs prepares children to live in a society that encompasses this planet, and also in the universe. It is aimed at opening the door to the elementary classroom and enabling the child to confidently explore.
These outings allow children to practice their independence, self-discipline, and responsibility (in addition to making phone calls, sending emails, map-reading, reading bus schedules, etc.).
Earlier this year we had a child who was surveying the other students on campus and making a bar graph of his data. When he collected information from each student, he realized that we also have many students at the primary campus. He took it upon himself to contact the primary teachers and get to that campus to survey the children there. It was a really excited experience for him and the younger children as well.
These are really practical activities that the children participate in, and the confidence and enthusiasm it builds in them is unparalleled.
Help us out!
We are in desperate need of more Going Out drivers/chaperones. If you are interested in being on our approved list of drivers/chaperones please contact the office for more information. We are really trying to grow our pool of drivers. J
In contrast to a Going Out, we also have some children planning a Coming In. These children have an interest in how bicycles work and have contacted a local expert to learn more. They are now in the process of setting up a 3-part class where this person will be coming into the classroom to teach them everything they want to know.
These opportunities are such a benefit to the children. They gain the information they are looking for and so much more!
Understanding the Lower Elementary Students’ Characteristics and Tendencies
Good social skills, including basic manners, etiquette, problem solving, emotional control, and patience, must be taught as deliberately as reading or math. That is why “grace and courtesy” lessons are an integral part of the Montessori classroom. –Seven Helpful Tips for Teaching Social Skills, From The Montessori Classroom
What is social life if not the solving of social problems, behaving properly and pursuing aims acceptable to all? [It is not] sitting side by side and hearing someone else talk… – Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
The classroom peer ecology, or the social environment of classroom peers in interaction with each other, is one of the most immediate environments for students’ social and academic development:
Sensitive Periods is a term developed by the Dutch geneticist Hugo de Vries and later used by the Italian educator Maria Montessori. The term refers to several overlapping periods of development where a child is sensitive to a particular stimuli or type of interaction. Sensitive periods open a window of opportunity where experiences have a greater impact on certain areas of brain development. During sensitive periods, the brain is most likely to strengthen important connections and eliminate unneeded ones. Maria Montessori believed that children pass through phases in which at certain stages throughout their development they have a predisposition or sensitivity to learning a specific skill.
The 6-12 year old is very much concerned with right and wrong, beginning with a primitive ‘eye for an eye’ concept of fairness and justice. This is often the age of a lawyer ‘letter of the law’ mentality for many children. If handled carefully, the student will develop a sense of compassion, conscience, and ethics.
The 6-12 year old is normally absorbed with her friends, forming cliques or friendships with their own codes of conduct and pecking orders. This can often resemble tribal behavior in adult societies. Adults may find this behavior annoying; yet Maria Montessori planned for it by considering group process as an important part of development. The child is interested in other cultures and easily forms positive or negative prejudicial attitudes towards them. This idea goes along with different opinions and sharing different ways of our lives.
There are always social interactions within our school environments among our students whether they are working on reports, sharing information, helping refine a lesson, playing a game, rehearsing a play, sliding down the slide, kicking the soccer ball, presenting a project, reading aloud to friends, eating lunch, celebrating a birthday, practicing Chinese, or engaged in a key lesson.
What matters during these varied opportunities is the way we treat ourselves and each other. Support and encouragement are daily routines within our communities:
- Eye contact
- Giving compliments
- Receiving compliments
- Conflict resolution
- Identification of emotions
- Respect for personal space
- The speaker
- The listener
- to be continued
A Perfect Day for Reading Outside
Dr. Montessori saw children as a hope for a more peaceful world. In the Montessori elementary classroom, human history is approached as the story of humanity. And what that brings to children is that all people, past and present, no matter where they are from, have the same needs and tendencies as we do. So what we are nurturing is the human culture that sees inequality and works toward repairing it. When we approach history this way, as a record of human beings, we offer children a chance to step outside events and stand back from wars, conquests, political intrigues and dates so they can focus on the people.
To continue supporting the children’s development along this path, we celebrated Black History Month in February by continuing to learn about people of color around the world, the way in which people of color have been treated, and how we can be of service and be inclusive. The children have been learning about these heroes of history, how their voices were silenced and how they can use their own voice to amplify people’s stories.
A fifth grade student, Clover, researched the contributions of African Americans during World War II. She was dismayed to find out after fighting for our country, Blacks were still not treated equally. She writes:
“World War II was a war where more than 70,000,000 people were involved and more than 30 countries. More than 1,000,000 of those people were African American. They fought alongside white people for America and often needed to do the hardest or lowest jobs. After the war was over, all people including African Americans went back to their daily lives. The white people got all of the recognition and privileges, where the African Americans got nothing except the experience of warfare and many dead. They did just as much as the white people, yet got nothing. This is why we need to acknowledge what they have done to shape our world. Without them, the US may not have won World War II.”
Clover has sketched up plans for a monument to celebrate the contributions and recognize the sacrifices of African Americans in World War II.
Dr. Montessori hoped that people who have a view of history focused on the human story would develop a sense of community with all people- and it didn’t matter from what time or from what place. They were part of us. And she hoped that with that perspective, children would direct their attention to innovative approaches to solve the problems of the world without biases and preconceptions.