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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Uncategorized

BOTW: The Story of Money

Is your child afraid of math?  I know many who are.  I also know that one of the most effective ways to help them overcome their fear of math is to give them an allowance.  In addition to teaching your child patience, opportunity cost, and the value of things, money is a hands-on way to work through many math skills!

My son got hooked on math through his allowance.  At the age of four, he wanted to save up for a LEGO kit. On a piece of graph paper, I marked one square for each dollar he would have to save.  Whenever he got his allowance, he would color in the associated squares and we would count how many more squares – or dollars – he needed to reach his goal.  By the age of five, he was using addition to calculate his goals, and by six he was multiplying.  Now that he’s seven, he has a money journal, where he writes down his debits, credits, and current balance.

His interest in money, and his age, led to the question: “Why do we use paper money?  Why don’t we use gold or computers?”

I’m glad we had The Story of Money in our home library!  This lovely book, written by an elementary teacher, traces the fascinating history of world currencies from the time of the very earliest humans. The engaging illustrations and clear text will take you and your child on a journey through ancient civilizations like Sumer and China.  You’ll then make your way to colonial America and discover how the dollar came to be. storymoney

The Story of Money is written in the style of Montessori’s Cosmic Stories, which helps children stay engaged from start to finish.  My son loved looking at all the different ancient coins, all carefully illustrated to actual size.  This book can inspire many avenues of research for elementary students, from timelines to coin collections.

So, the next time your child feels scared of math, connect math to money, and money to human history with The Story of Money, and watch their fear turn to enthusiasm!

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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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On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

Entitlement: Been There, Done That

Few things trigger me more than interacting with a child who has an entitled attitude.  rich-kidWhy?  Because I was one of them.  I grew up in a traditional Mexican upper-middle-class family, with a stay-at-home mom and two maids who did all the housework so we didn’t have to.  I never did my laundry, tidied my room, or set a table.  Those things just happened!

When I was 18, my mom went back to school and decided that I needed to learn how to run a home.  One night, my dad was coming home a bit later than usual, my mom had class, and the maids were gone, so I was tasked with re-heating my dad’s dinner.  With the burner on high, I stirred the tomato sauce and thought, How will I know when it’s ready?  It eventually burned and my dad had to eat charred tomato sauce on his pasta.  I remember the feelings of shame and incompetence that washed over me as I watched him pick through the blackened bits on his plate.

The irony is that I ended up in hotel management school in Switzerland, which is like Practical Life boot camp for rich kids.  Within weeks I went from not knowing how to boil water to cooking coq au vin; from not knowing how to make my bed to mastering hospital corners; from not knowing how to set a table to prepping a banquet room for 350 people.  My teachers were kind, but they also had high expectations and only a few short months to prepare us for demanding industry internships.

After 12-hour shifts scrubbing pots and pans, I would drag myself to my dorm, body aching but self-confidence bolstered by what I had accomplished.  During my three six-month internships, I sometimes cried in the bathroom after getting chewed out by the head chef, but then I’d wash my face, put on my apron, and continue plucking thousands of chicken feathers or slicing tray after tray of tomatoes.

The resilience, growth mindset and grit that define my adult personality were not developed in my posh private high school or in my comfortable childhood home.  They came from three bone-crushing and character-building years of meaningful work, high expectations, and caring guidance.

Meaningful work.  High expectations.  Caring guidance.  These are the three cornerstones for the development of true self-worth.  They’re also inherent in the work children do in Montessori environments (both in school and at home).  When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the experiences that will help them forge strength of character, develop autonomy, and lead fearless lives.

PS: About a decade ago, my father lost his business in one of Mexico’s financial crises, and my mom had to go into the workforce to support them.  She works long hours and doesn’t have time to cook, so my father was forced to prepare the meals.  He’s now a passionate home chef who pours over elaborate recipes and has found self-worth through cooking amazing meals.  It’s never too late to transform your life through meaningful work.

On Parenting

Full Bloom

When you’re pregnant, it’s as if you’re handed a seed of unknown origin. You put it in the soil, water it, and give it light. The first seed leaves emerge, and you feel so proud! As the first set of true leaves unfurl, you begin to imagine the possibilities. You’re sure your plant will be a hydrangea, because those are your favorite plants and surely nobody would give you a seed of a plant you don’t like!

But then, much to your surprise, your hydrangea begins to look more and more like a tomato plant. Oh no, tomatoes were never part of your plan! You can choose to be frustrated by your tomato plant; move it into one pot and then another and another, feed it chemical fertilizers, stake it, place it among other hydrangeas in a partly shady area, and pinch off its flowers, all in hopes that it will somehow turn into a hydrangea.

Or, you can observe it. You can notice its delicate yellow flowers, the tiny hairs on its stems, its jagged leaves. You can marvel at the first tiny green tomatoes, and leave it undisturbed where it gets the best sunlight. You can feed it the best organic soil, learn what time of day it likes to be watered, and surround it with other companion plants that attract helpful insects. And you can rejoice when your little tomato plant puts forth luscious, juicy, red fruit. Just as it was meant to do all along.

We don’t get to choose the seed, but we do get to choose how we tend it. What does your seed need in order to blossom? Observe it. It knows.

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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

Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

A Deep Understanding

When I became a mom, I realized that it takes a parent to understand a parent.  I have been blessed to have a worldwide community of Montessori-trained friends who are navigating the same beautiful, yet often turbulent, waters of parenthood with me.

One of my wisest friends is Junnifa Uzodike, the founder of the Nduoma Montessori blog.  She contacted me through my blog some years ago, when she was beginning her Montessori journey, and we have shared countless conversations about motherhood and Montessori.

What sets Junnifa apart is her adherence to the Montessori philosophy against all odds.  Through two international moves, several summers of intense training, and three pregnancies she remains steadfast in her study and application of Montessori.  If she can do it, you can too!  That’s why I’m proud to share Junnifa’s newest e-course, Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler.

Junnifa has agreed to share some of her deep wisdom in this interview.  Enjoy!

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Please tell us about yourself and your family.

My name is Junnifa Uzodike. I live in Nigeria with my husband and we have 3 children: Solu, aged 3.5; Metu, aged 2;  and a baby who will be here in a few weeks. Our parenting has been guided by the Montessori philosophy and we have implemented as much as we can, from conception, with each of our children.

junni-bikes

Can you share your Montessori journey with us?

I discovered Montessori rather serendipitously. My mother, who is an educator and school owner, was visiting the U.S. and wanted to observe some schools in the area where I lived. One of the schools was a Montessori school and I happened to have accompanied her. Observing the children has such an immense impact on me. I was amazed at the beauty and order of the environment as well as the independence and the concentration of the children. It was literally life-changing for me. I went home and ordered all the Montessori books available in my local library. I also signed up for an “Introduction to Montessori” course which only increased my interest and admiration for the philosophy.

 My desire to learn more led me to quit my management job at Fortune 500 company and enroll in the AMI 0-3 training. My first son was born soon after and seeing the effect of our parenting choices on his development only made me want more. I have gone on to complete the AMI 3-6 training as well as the RIE (Resource for Infant Educarers) Foundations course. Since giving birth to my children, I have mostly stayed home with them. I have also consulted for schools, worked with parents, run parent- child classes and briefly led a toddler class. My training and experience so far have shown me the importance of the first three years in laying the foundation for the rest of the child’s life and so I get the most joy from supporting parents as they guide their children through these crucial years.
junni-cooking
What are the three most important pieces of advice that have helped you in your parenting journey?
Observe before you react.
I have found that when I pause before reacting to my children’s actions, it gives me a chance to see, to understand, to evaluate and most especially to compose myself. It allows me to respond respectfully with understanding instead of reacting and a lot of times, it allows me realize I don’t even have to respond or react.
Model instead of teaching.
I grew up with a lot of verbal admonishing and lecturing and I sometimes catch myself defaulting to that but my children have confirmed to me that children absorb what we model and not what we say. They do what they see me doing, talk how they see me talking, and respond the way I respond. When I notice negative behaviors, I can usually reflect to see who has been modeling that to them. We talk a lot about preparing the environment and I think the adult is a very important part of the environment so we must prepare ourselves so that we are modeling what we want the child to be.
“This too shall pass!”
Sometimes children go through stages that just make no sense and we try everything and it’s just not working. It is important to not overreact because our negative reaction might stay with the child consciously or unconsciously even longer that whatever stage he is going through. I have found that taking deep breaths and just chanting “this too shall pass” in my head helps me until it passes because it always does!
junni-plane
Why did you decide to create the “Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler” e-course?
I created the course to share this gift that I have been given. The AMI Montessori training courses cost a lot financially and otherwise ( I had to move to two different countries and be separated from my husband). I realize that not everyone can take the courses and really, not everyone needs to. So I wanted to provide access to the information that is useful to parents.
I also created the course because I found that a lot of the information and resources that were available focused on the periphery of the philosophy and did not really go into the core or the essence. Parenting the Montessori way is not about Pinterest-worthy rooms or wooden toys. It’s about understanding the child’s true needs and supporting them as best we can. This can be done regardless of where you are and what you have. This is what I really want to communicate in the course. I think that a deep understanding of the child gives us new eyes and that allow us to see the child for who he truly is…
junni-table
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Junnifa, thank you for taking the time to share your journey with us!  If you’re ready to embark on your own Montessori journey to help guide your child’s development, sign up now for Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler.  Just click the link and change your life, because the “terrible two’s” don’t have to be so terrible!
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