6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Theory and Practice

The Art of Introducing a Lesson

Often, the most challenging part of giving a lesson is getting the children excited and ready to learn.  Here are seven strategies to ensure your presentation gets off to a good start.

1. Check your attitude: You need to believe in the value of what you’re going to present. The children will smell your fear or hesitation a mile away.  If a particular topic scares you, spend more time with it.  Read, listen to podcasts, watch videos, use your hands to explore the concept, and find new ways of looking at the subject.  When you love it, your students will likely love it.  If you’re worried your lesson will be boring, practice ahead of time. A trainer once told me that during the first year you teach in a classroom, you need to practice every single lesson ahead of time.

2, Prime the pump: Sometimes, I’ll  start a conversation about the topic a while before the lesson (like at breakfast or in the car). And that way, when it’s time for the lesson, I can say: “Remember when we talked about how angles can be found in buildings, trees, baseball fields and playgrounds? Well, did you know that some of those angles you saw have names, just like you have a name? Look over here…”

3. Play to their sensitivities: Second-plane children have a sensitivity for imagination.  For the first time in their lives, they can craft in their minds wondrous images that they’ve never seen or experienced before.  They also have a sensitivity for knowledge and culture; they want to know the why and how of everything.  Use that to your advantage by starting your lesson with: “Have you ever wondered…” or “Have you ever noticed…” 

4. Tell stories: “We’re wired for story”, writes Brene Brown.  And it’s true.  I recently told my seven-year-old son a funny story about dealing with a pushy bike salesman; he asked me to re-tell it five times in a row and laughed heartily each time.

“Travel stories teach geography; insect stories lead the child into natural science; and so on.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori

Tell lots of stories! In the car and during meals, get used to telling funny, interesting, and moving stories about your own life.  Do this to hone your craft, but also because when you introduce a lesson by saying, “I have a story to tell you”, they’ll be more inclined to listen.

For story-telling inspiration, listen to this podcast episode where master storyteller Jay O’Callahan shares his strategies for crafting a good story (and tells a wondrous story of his own along the way).  For stories that tie into the Montessori elementary curriculum, read “The Deep Well of Time” by Michael Dorer.

5. Entice them with interesting follow-up work: Sometimes it’s great to let children choose how and when they’re going to follow up on what you’ve presented, but other times, dangling an enticing follow-up activity will draw them to the lesson.  Don’t divulge too much information; offer just enough detail to draw them in.  You could say, “How would you like to draw all over the kitchen floor?  When we’re done learning about different types of angles, you get to do just that!”  Suddenly eyes are wide open, faces are turned towards you, and the children are ready to learn.  If they ask you questions about the mysterious follow-up, you can just lightly say, “Ahhh, you’ll find out soon enough!”  This approach works particularly well for lessons that are more dry and straightforward.

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6. Ask for helpers: To get and keep children engaged, let them get their hands on the materials as soon as possible.  Give them jobs ahead of time so their presence at the lesson has some significance to them.  “Today I want to show you something the Ancient Egyptians discovered five thousand years ago, that we still use in our lives today.  Zach, can you be in charge of the push pins?  Bill, can you be the stick selector?  Olivia, can you be the label reader?”

7. Be ready: In my trainings, I was told that you prepare all the materials with the children prior to the lesson so they know where everything is and what they need.  However, I’ve found that in my homeschooling environment, it helps to bring out the materials ahead of time, feature them attractively, and direct the children’s attention towards the rug or table when they seem to be at a good stopping point in their other work.  This works particularly well for my seven-year-old son and his elementary-aged friends who visit us to use our materials (I still follow the more traditional approach with my Primary-aged daughter).

Now, go forth and, as Dr. Montessori used to say, “seduce the child”!

_The secret of good teaching is to regard the child’s intelligence as a fertile field in which seeds may be sown, to grow under the heat of flaming imagination. Our aim therefore is not merely to make the child under (2)

*This post includes affiliate links.

Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Puzzle-Child

Over the years of working in Montessori classrooms I’ve met many children who are eager to attend lessons, engage in follow-up work, and share their new knowledge.  And then there are the occasional “puzzles” (as my son’s Primary guide once referred to him).  How do you know if you live or work with a puzzle-child?

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Puzzle-children are those for whom learning comes easily but who see most teaching as a hindrance to their own learning agenda. On a good day, they grumpily humor your agenda for a short while and then stealthily slink away to pursue their own interests.  But most days, your invitation will send them into fight/flight/freeze mode: they either become argumentative (fight), run away from you (flight), or shut down (freeze), refusing to speak or make eye contact.

I used to think puzzle-children felt intimidated by the work or lacked the desire to learn.  But these children aren’t insecure or apathetic – quite the contrary!  I started taking the time to connect with puzzle-children to understand why they rejected lessons, and the phrase they said again and again was: “I already know that.”  Upon gentle prodding, it became clear that indeed, they did understand the concepts I was trying to present.

Puzzle children don’t care about your ego. In fact, in a battle of egos, theirs will always win.  They don’t care about sitting politely through your carefully planned presentation or showing you what they know.  They don’t care about your album sequence, the state standards, or your lesson plan.  They know what they want to learn, and they know they can use you as a resource to overcome any gaps in knowledge that pop up as they pursue their own explorations.

And that right there is the key to engaging successfully with a puzzle-child.  You have to be like a floor lamp: present but unobtrusive, and willing to shed light on whatever topic the puzzle-child approaches you about.  The puzzle-child will often be found with his nose in a book; tinkering with random objects; or using Montessori materials in ways that might seem sacrilegious at first but that, upon closer inspection, constitute legitimate intellectual explorations.

Conversations are essential for connecting with the puzzle-child.  But you have to watch your tone of voice: puzzle-children detect the moment you switch to a “teacher” voice, and in that instant you’ve lost them.  They also detect when you’re trying to quiz them.  You’re better off assuming they’re already experts. Use precise terminology when chatting with them; rest assured they’ll pepper you with questions if they don’t know what you’re talking about!

Puzzle-children love stories and experiments, and they are cosmic thinkers (meaning they’re able to effortlessly make connections among seemingly unrelated topics).  They’re autodidacts who focus on a topic until they have filled their cup. And then, just as quickly as the interest blossomed, it seems to disappear (but rest assured that the knowledge remains).

For puzzle-children and their adults, the most difficult times are those when the puzzle-child is between interests.  They’re often restless and irritable, flitting from one activity to another.  This is an important time for puzzle-children, and one should not jump in to fill the void with busy work or adult teaching agendas.  For it is precisely the space and boredom of their aimless roaming that will help them find their next “big thing”.

Puzzle-children don’t need to be taught how to learn.  If anything, they need to be protected from well-meaning adults who want to impose their teaching methods at the expense of the puzzle-child’s creativity and resourcefulness.  It’s a blow to the adult’s ego not to be needed, especially when your entire identity rests on being a transmitter of knowledge.

For teachers and parents of puzzle-children, it’s time to change that identity and protect these powerful and eccentric learners.  Help the puzzle-child learn how to communicate their needs and let them know you’re there as a resource.  Prepare their environment with quality books and essential Montessori materials. Provide open-ended tinkering, building, crafting and drafting materials.  Go outside together and explore nature through their eyes.  Listen, observe, document, trust, and wait.  Be flexible, creative, and honest, and above all, be genuine.  Follow the child.

“Our care of the children should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

 

6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Favorite Books, Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Science, Theory and Practice

Moon-tessori (haha, couldn’t resist)

“You’re great at this homeschooling thing because you’re a teacher… I don’t think I could do it because I don’t know much about anything.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase since we started homeschooling two months ago, coming from the most capable and well-prepared mothers in my circle of friends.  So here’s a little secret… I don’t know everything.  Heck, I don’t know most things!  But I don’t let that hold me back from learning and sharing with my children.  Here’s an example of how I facilitate learning, and how you can, too!

The moon is a topic that seems to keep coming up in the Full Montessori household.  Over the past few months we’ve read several fiction and non-fiction books about the moon (links at the bottom of this post) and we play games trying to find different shapes (a rabbit, and old man) on its surface.  Seven-year-old Zachary had been asking why the moon changes through the month, so I knew it was prime time for a moon lesson.

Truth be told, even after 12 years as a Montessori guide, I could never quite grasp HOW the moon moved in relationship with the Earth, why the lighted part changed throughout the month, or how to tell when the lighted part was growing or shrinking.  But the beauty of being a guide is that you don’t have to know everything, you just have to “learn ahead of your children” (I love that Charlotte Mason phrase).

So, I found these two extremely helpful videos and FINALLY understood how it all works (thank you, Google)!

Then I dragged my kids to the craft store to buy a foam sphere (without telling them what it would be for); printed, cut, and laminated these free Moon Phases cards; and practiced the Moon/Earth/Sun demonstration when my kids weren’t around.  Yes, sometimes it takes That. Much. Work.

But, you know what?  It was so worth it!  I invited my son to sit down and told him his head was the Earth (my three-year-old daughter wasn’t interested, because, hello concrete thinker!).  I then began slowly moving the moon around his head, and he saw how the lighted part of the white sphere grew from waxing crescent to first quarter.  His eyes widened and his mouth stretched into a knowing smile.  I continued moving the moon around his head and I could tell he was enjoying the discovery process as much as I had.  When we were done and I had casually sprinkled the terms for the moon phases into the demonstration, he got up and went downstairs to play with his sister.

I waited for a lull in their play and pulled out the moon phases cards.  I told him we were going to play a moon game and put the “New Moon” card on the rug.  I lined up the other cards randomly on the edge of the rug and said, “Hmm, which card might go next?”  Eager to apply his knowledge, he quickly fished out the Waxing Crescent card and completed the entire cycle on his own.  He mixed up Waning Crescent and Waning Gibbous, but I didn’t say anything.  I just offered the control chart and he caught his mistake on his own.

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If you’re a Montessorian, you might be wondering why I used the control cards for the lesson (heresy!!).  If you must know, my son has little tolerance for three-part cards.  They just don’t resonate with how he learns.  If he knows the information, he isn’t the type of child who will humor you with busy work just to show you what he knows.  And if he doesn’t know something, he wants to get straight to the knowledge and understanding part right away – and three-part cards just don’t give him that.  I knew (from experience) that if I went through the whole rigamarole of having him lay out the picture cards, finding the corresponding labels, and then using the control cards to check, I’d lose him for sure.

There are about a thousand different ways to help your child solidify their knowledge of the moon phases, or any other concept they’re curious about.  My intention here was to illustrate how I go about preparing myself to facilitate my children’s learning – and often, my own!

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Favorite moon books:

Fiction: Luna and the Moon Rabbit, Kitten’s First Full Moon

Non-fiction: Jump Into Science: Moon, The Moon Book

The books mentioned above are affiliate links.  Purchasing through these links helps support the quality work you enjoy on this blog, at no cost to you.  Thank you!

Montessori Theory

The “Annoying” Seven-Year-Old

Seven-year-old Zachary learned how to build a popscicle-stick catapult at a free library workshop last week.  Over dinner that night, I “casually” asked my engineer husband if he knew the difference between a catapult and a trebuchet.  A brief but interesting discussion ensued, and my son hung on to every word.

Sitting around the kitchen table after breakfast Monday morning, I asked Zachary: “What would you like to explore today?”

He pouted and crossed his arms.  “Nothing.”

I tried again.  “Your pen pal is waiting to hear back from you.  Or I could give you ideas for that letter you’ve been meaning to write to Papa.  You could also practice the ukulele.”

“That’s dumb.” He walked upstairs and threw his lanky body on the floor of his LEGO-strewn room.  I followed him.  He mumbled, “I’m not doing anything today.”

Then I casually pointed out, “I’m going to be building a trebuchet downstairs.” (Because all moms need a trebuchet.)  “I would love your help.”

His head popped up.  He tried to look nonchalant as he followed me downstairs.  Five minutes later, he was reading instructions, gathering materials, and pondering physics.  He worked with joy and determination for almost two hours, through fingers scalded by hot glue and countless design adjustments. IMG_1008

We discussed potential and kinetic energy; used fractions and measuring; identified angles and defined new words.  He beamed with satisfaction when his creation was complete.  He then spent thirty minutes flinging projectiles onto a cardboard castle with his catapult and trebuchet, comparing the tactical advantages and destructive power of both weapons. IMG_1016

Second plane children want need to think for themselves.  For many children (and their parents) it can be a time of massive struggle.  Dr. Montessori wrote that the seven-year-old “starts to express judgements” and observed that “the adult finds [the seven-year-old] a bit annoying.”

“Without a new pedagogic directive, a new battle between the adult and this new child arises… [The adult] must be sure of what he ought to do, of what he ought to say, and of the extent to which he must reply to questions… It is indispensable to the child to feel the security the adult can and must give.”

Dr. Montessori observed that, “his thoughts could… have the tendency to lose themselves in abstraction by reasonings without end.” Pushing away or shutting down are the second-plane child’s ways of saying:  I’m feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the world and I need a concrete activity to ground my imagination. 

She reminds us to connect the child to “an external activity to which he will give all his potential.”  You can start anywhere, with any activity that requires the use of the hands and the imagination.  But the art of Montessori in the second plane is to help the child connect that one detail to the whole of the Universe.  “Each detail holds the child’s interest by reason of its strict relation to the others,” Dr. Montessori wrote.  Therefore, “it is sufficient to choose any one detail which will then become a point of departure in the study of the whole.” IMG_1015

You don’t need to have a vast depth of knowledge to engage a second plane child.  You  just need to know enough to get an activity going, and subtly point out a few connections through simple stories.  Spend some time today noticing how everything connects to everything else, and think about the little stories you can tell to bring those connections to life.  Learning will never look the same again to you or your child.

 

 

Montessori Theory, On Parenting

What Montessori is Not

Montessori is not a curriculum – not a series of boxes to check off.  It’s a guide for understanding how humans grow. It’s a way of supporting how humans learn.  It’s a means for finding joy and purpose in life.

Montessori is not dogma – not a script to follow blindly.  It’s a conversation about priorities.  It’s a toolbox for navigating parenthood with grace.  It’s a dance with the imperfect realities of life.

Montessori is not just for the wealthy – not a ticket to career success.  It’s for the homeschooling family.  It’s for the public school family.  It’s for the refugee, the migrant, the orphan, the elderly.

Montessori is a way of seeing and being.  It’s a new understanding of the adult’s role and a window into the child’s soul.  It’s a path that leads to trust; a path that leads to peace; a path that leads to life.

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Favorite Books, Language Development, Montessori Theory

BOTW: Kingdom of the Sun

The only thing I like more than discovering good children’s books is sharing them with others.  I’m starting these “Book of the Week” (BOTW) posts to spread the joy of quality children’s literature and will try to post a new book every weekend. (This post contains an affiliate link.)

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“Where do the names of the planets come from?”, asked 7-year-old Zachary.  I knew they were first named after Greek gods and then were changed to the equivalent Roman gods, but didn’t know much else.  Then I found Kingdom of the Sun, where we learned that Aristotle, the astronomer who originally gave the planets the names of Greek gods, “did his best to match the character the gods were supposed to have with what he knew about the planets – their speed, brightness, and color.”

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This sets the stage for the rest of the book, in which the author beautifully personifies each planet.  Thus, Mercury is “forced to lurk unseen in the dazzle of [the Sun’s] brilliance” while Venus “blazes like a brilliant diamond”.  Personification gives way to scientific facts, but the inspiring prose is maintained throughout the book.  The planet Jupiter, whose god persona used thunder and lightning to indicate anger, informs us that “immense electric sparks inject [his] clouds with jagged lightning.”

The Sun and Moon also make an appearance, the former reminding us that his “daily sky-ride is only an illusion” and the latter describing itself as a “somber rock… transformed into beautiful shimmering silver.”

The gorgeous full-color illustrations of the gods and planets have gold-foil accents and include the astrological symbols for each heavenly body.  The author’s use of descriptive language is ideal for expanding the vocabulary of young elementary children (whom Dr. Montessori described as being “lovers of words”).

We had a few minutes to spare before leaving for Zachary’s swim practice, so I offered to read two entries.  He became so smitten with the book that we ended up reading six planet stories before getting in the car; he then begged me to take the book with us so I could read him a couple more while we waited for practice to start!

I loved the combination of mythology, science, and lyrical prose – a true collection of cosmic tales that can inspire much research and creativity.  I hope you enjoy Kingdom of the Sun as much as we have!

Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory

When Help Is A Hindrance

Few clean-ups seem as overwhelming as that of the Montessori fractions.  The halves through sevenths are easy enough for most children, but the 27 hard-to-distinguish red wedges that make up the eighths, ninths, and tenths can leave even Elementary children feeling stuck and discouraged. Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 7.03.31 AMI’ve inherited Montessori fractions in several of my classrooms, and I’ve often found that a well-meaning predecessor had written the corresponding value on the underside of each fraction piece.  At first glance, this might seem helpful.  It sure makes cleaning up those pesky fractions a lot quicker!

So, why did Dr. Montessori design the fraction pieces without labels?  Did she harbor some evil desire to torment children and their over-worked adult guides?  Or did she observe that leaving the fractions unlabeled led to the development of problem-solving skills through creative use of the child’s knowledge?

The answer becomes clear when we consider Dr. Montessori’s advice: “Every unnecessary help is a hindrance to the child’s development.”

Is writing the values on the underside of the fraction pieces really necessary?  Or, by doing so, are we preventing the child from developing essential skills?  If we don’t want to be a hindrance to their development, but we need them to eventually clean up, what can we do to guide a child who’s feeling discouraged by this overwhelming task? IMG_0573

When a child is faced with sorting a pile of unlabeled slim red wedges, it’s enough to help him recall that two eighths are equivalent to – or take up the same space as – one fourth.  Depending on the child’s prior knowledge, you can ask, “What do you know about equivalences?” or “What do you know about the relationship between fourths and eighths?”

If the child is younger and doesn’t know this information, simply guide him in a sensorial exploration.  Invite the child to bring out the fourths inset, ask him to remove one fourth, and show how the space within the inset serves as an objective control of error.  When fractions other than two eighths are placed within the space vacated by the fourth, you will see a gap.  Only two eighths will fit perfectly within the space of the missing fourth.

The monumental clean-up now becomes a fun puzzle that satisfies the child’s love of precision and bolsters his self-confidence.  You can back away, returning only if he needs guidance to find the relationship between fifths and tenths, or thirds and ninths (children familiar with equivalences will likely make the connections on their own).IMG_0577Take a moment to observe the child’s concentration, enjoy his smile of accomplishment, and know that you helped him move one step closer towards reaching his full potential as a creative problem-solver.

 

 

 

Montessori Theory, On Parenting

A Village: Its Value and Values

A Montessori learning community is a dynamic village, whose success – defined not in financial terms but by the growth and joy of the children – depends on the collaboration and shared values of all its members.  What role do you play?

The Montessori Guide

Each environment (classroom) is steered by a well-trained and experienced Montessori guide.  She needs to have a profound love for children and a vision of their immense potential;  keep herself immersed in Montessori theory and continuously educate herself on aspects of human development; and be receptive to respectful feedback. But no matter how passionate, qualified and dedicated the Montessori guide be, she cannot fulfill the mission alone.

Administration

Administrators are the torchbearers of the school’s Montessori values.  They serve as a sounding board for the guide’s ideas and challenges; help parents and guides understand each other; and uphold the practice of Montessori philosophy (to the exclusion of all others) through comprehensive parent education, effective professional development, and consistent observation/feedback in the classroom.

Parents (at home)

Parents who choose a Montessori education for their child need to understand the impact their home life has on the functioning of the classroom community.  When the values of the home align with the values of the chosen school, the child transitions smoothly between his two environments.  This continuity of values and expectations allows him to feel safe, accepted and successful.  Parents who offer clear limits and hold their children (and themselves) accountable; provide a loving home environment rife with opportunities for connection; and model a growth mindset have children who come to school ready to reap the benefits of a truly transformational education.

The Parent Community (at school)

A parent community provides the “village” that allows families to successfully navigate the pressures of modern society and stay true to their core values.  The village upholds the school’s values and uses them as a guide for how they treat the children, staff and each other.  They volunteer their time and talents towards the upkeep and improvement of the school.  Children see their parents’ commitment towards school and begin to understand its value.

Stronger Together

In a society that tries to outsource or outwit the most challenging aspects of child-rearing, it takes commitment and vision to be a member of this type of community.  Only when we each understand and embrace our role – and find the humility to admit that we need each other – will we begin to be of service to the children.  It truly does take a village.

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Montessori Theory

Help and Salvation

When Dr. Montessori spoke of “following the child”, I often wonder if she was talking about following their development or following their example…

In the elementary community of thirty 6-12 year-olds where I spend my days, four boys ages 9 to 11 decided to set a new world record for the longest crochet chain.  They launched daily crocheting sessions while taking turns reading aloud from “The Odyssey”.  After a week, they decided to measure their progress.  The strategy they came up with was to measure the width of our soccer field, then lay out the chain back and forth across the field and multiply the width by the number of spans of crochet chain. chain

Inspired by this project, a group of boys ages 7 and 8 decided that they, too, wanted to crochet a massive chain.  They set to work, and after three days they showed their progress to the older boys.  James, the oldest of the bunch, nodded his approval and offered two words of encouragement: “Not bad”.  The younger boys beamed.

The next day, two members of the younger group came to tell me they were ready to measure their chain.  As I asked them to explain their measurement plan, another member of their team showed up with four yardsticks under one arm, a tape measure in one hand and a fistful of rulers in the other.  They set off for the soccer field, giddy with excitement.

After a while, they came back looking bewildered.  “That was a lot harder than we thought,” one of them confessed.  An hour later, one of the 8-year-olds came to me and said, “We’ve thought about a different way of measuring our chain.  We’re going to do it like James’s team.”

As they said this, 11-year-old James walked by and overheard him.  He stopped and said, “The width of the field is 20 feet.  Maybe that can help you.  Good luck.”  Then he walked away.

In our ruthlessly competitive American culture, one would expect the older boys to be resentful of the younger ones for copying their idea. They could’ve guarded their measurement strategy and data as proprietary information.  After all, we’re talking about setting a world record!  Yet the older boys not only offered words of encouragement, but also gave advice to ensure the younger boys’ success.

As Montessori adults, we’re called to model the collaborative behaviors we want future generations to embody.  And yet, in the words of AMI-USA President Gretchen Hall, we often fall prey to the pettiness of “a culture of ‘them’ vs ‘us’, [where] we…measure others on how ‘Montessori’ they are and we [use] the term ‘Montesomething’ to discredit and devalue others… We boast that our pedagogy lays the foundation for social cohesion, yet we have failed to achieve cohesion in our own community.”

The children know that collaboration is the key to society’s survival, for when we share knowledge, we all win. My students remind me daily that they are our true guides, leading us back towards the essence and truth of human nature.  We have only to follow.

“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for children are the makers of men.” – Maria Montessori