Montessori Basics: What is the Montessori work period?

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You may already know a bit about the Montessori work period, also known as the work cycle.  What exactly is it, and why is it so important?

A Montessori work cycle is an uninterrupted block of time.  During this time children are able to explore the prepared environment and engage with materials of their own choosing.  The time is meant to give them opportunities to enjoy the work they love, while also cultivating basic life skills.

How long?

The length of a work cycle varies depending upon the age group and the school.  Most classes typically have a three hour morning work period most mornings.  Some other general guidelines to keep in mind for different age levels:

Toddler classrooms: 1-2 hours each day

Primary/early childhood classrooms: 2-3 hours most mornings, additional time in the afternoon for 4 and 5 year olds.

Elementary: 2-3 hours most mornings and another 2-3 hours most afternoons

What are the goals?

When we give children this time, we do so in an effort to assist their development.  The work cycle helps children:

  • Become more independent
  • Strengthen their ability to focus
  • Find joy with the materials
  • Feel deep satisfaction with their work

What exactly do children do during this time?

While it looks slightly different at different levels, there is always some combination of most students working independently while teachers give individual or small group lessons.  Great care is taken to not interrupt children while they are working, showing them the respect that this time and their exploration deserves.

In primary/early childhood classrooms, lessons are given mostly to individuals.  Children move around the classroom selecting work of their choosing.  They may work on a table or the floor, with a special rug laid out beneath them.  After selecting a work from the shelves, they bring it carefully to the workspace of their choosing, and use the material as they have previously been taught.  Children know they are responsible for putting the materials back neatly and selecting their next work independently.  At this age, children are typically focused on their own work and may engage in what is called ‘parallel play’.  This can be seen as defined working and playing beside one another while focused on their own individual work.

At the elementary level the basic structure is the same, but teachers honor the developmental need for more socialization in children of this age.  Lessons are more often given in small groups, and children prefer to work with one another.  While there is a great emphasis on choice and self-directed learning, children in elementary classrooms are expected to meet certain academic guidelines.  For example, a teacher may require that throughout the course of the day or week, a child must do work in all academic areas.  Teachers check in with students to make sure they are meeting these goals, and gently guide them with strategies to do so.

Regardless of the level, the work cycle gives children a chance to develop autonomy, make choices, and find genuine joy in their work.  Teachers hold this time as sacred, and it allows children to dive deeply into learning.

Check out this cool time lapse video that shows a four year old’s three hour work cycle in four minutes:

February is Black History Month!

It’s never too early to begin teaching our children about black history.  One simple way for families to start is by reading books that are compelling, beautifully illustrated, and age-appropriate.  Today’s post will give you a range of options.  Another great resource?  Your local librarian!  Ask them about these books or if they have any other suggestions:

(Click on the book images to go to the book's page on Amazon)

Follow the Drinking Gourd by Jeanette Winter

Peg Leg Joe teaches slaves a song about the drinking gourd to help them on their path to freedom.  Based on the African American folk song by the same name, this book takes readers on a journey through the underground railroad.

 

The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, illustrated by George Ford

This true story takes place following the supreme court decision of Brown versus the Board of Education.  Ruby Bridges was ordered to attend first grade as the only African American child in an otherwise all white school.  She faced confusion and hate each day, but armed herself with love, compassion, and courage, helping a New Orleans community moved toward school integration.

 

Sit-in: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

This book is appropriate for slightly older (elementary aged) children.  It tells the story of a famous sit-in, in which four college friends entered a Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina.  They sat down for lunch at the whites-only counter and waited patiently to be served.  Over the next several days, they were joined by hundreds, and the movement was instrumental in desegregating lunch counters in the south.

 

Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

This story is based on the life of Harriet Tubman.  Tubman was a slave in Maryland who escaped, only to make many trips back south in an effort to guide others to freedom.  

 

Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa by Jeanette Winter

Wangari Maathai, also known as Mama Miti, was an African woman who changed the ecological landscape and economic opportunities for women in Kenya.  While she was not an American, she did earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the United States.  Upon her return to Kenya, she was disheartened by the drastic change in the land and people as a result of deforestation.  Armed with her education and determination, she taught the women of Kenya to plant trees and rebuild their communities.

 

Sojourner Truth’s Step-Stomp Stride by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

Sojourner Truth was born a slave named Belle.  She endured the cruelties of slavery with several masters, eventually escaping and renaming herself.  She spent the following years traveling the country speaking out as a powerful abolitionist.  Though the journey toward abolition was slow and challenging, Sojourner kept her steady pace and determination to speak for those without a voice.

 

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Munoz Ryan, illustrated by Brian Selznic

Marian Anderson was a renowned black singer who struggled for equality before the Civil Rights Movement began in the United States.  She was recognized for her natural talent as a young child, but struggled to find teachers who would help her refine her voice, and later, venues that would feature her as a performer, because of the color of her skin.  The earlier years in her career were spent largely in Europe, where she was more accepted.  She is perhaps most famous for a performance she gave on the steps on the Lincoln Memorial to an integrated crowd of 75,000 people. 

 

The Story of Martin Luther King Junior by Johnny Ray Moore, illustrated by Amy Wummer

This simple introduction to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is perfect for primary-aged children.  The book is brief and easy for little ones to understand.  Consider it a great option for families who are looking to introduce their youngest children to the concepts of inequality in an age-appropriate way.

 

 

We March by Shane W. Evans

This simply written book takes readers through the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  The march is perhaps best known for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which was delivered at the end of the march.  Kirkus Review named this one of the best children’s books of 2012.

 

Happy reading!

The Importance of the Kindergarten Year

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It’s that time of year again…

Schools and parents alike are planning for next school year.  If your child has been in a Montessori class for a year or two, you may be thinking ahead to kindergarten.  Many public school systems offer kindergarten, and many parents are curious about this transitional year.  This post is meant to highlight the important reasons why a child benefits from that final year in the primary (Children's House) classroom cycle.

Why should your child stay in Montessori for the kindergarten year?  Consider the following:

Montessori inspires children

Does your child love school?  The aim of Montessori education is not just to deliver information, but to encourage their existing curiosity and wonder.  All children are born ready and eager to learn; it is our job to show them how amazing our world is.  We want them to ask questions and search for the answers.  

If we can give children this gift at a young age we are setting them up for a lifetime of success and happiness.

They will get a chance to practice leadership skills

Most Montessori classrooms host an age span of three years.  During the first year or two of the cycle, children are familiarizing themselves with the materials while watching the older children who begin to master their environment.

The third year gives children the opportunity to be role models.  They are able to take on more responsibilities in the classroom and often help guide younger students.  Kindergartners even give lessons to younger students (which has the added benefit of displaying their mastery of skills.)

Children in Montessori get to work at their own pace

Montessori teachers strive to meet children right where they are, in every area.  We truly “follow the child”, giving lessons and guidance according to the individual’s needs, not the needs of the whole class.  

Perhaps your child is a strong reader and needs someone to provide them with advanced books that are still appropriate for their age.  Montessori teachers have the flexibility to do that.  Maybe your child needs a bit more guidance in math.  Montessori primary classrooms are structured to include lots of individual and small group lessons, so teachers use that time in whatever ways best meet the needs of each child they serve.

Montessori uses formative assessment, not standardized tests

Children in Montessori classrooms don’t have to worry about high-stakes standardized tests.  The english word assess is derived from the latin assidere, which literally means ‘to sit by’.  Montessori classrooms rely mainly on formative assessment, a style of gauging student understanding that reflects the original definition of the word.

Formative assessment is done continuously throughout the learning process - even mid-lesson!  This allows teachers to adjust instruction in the moment so that learning is constantly tailored to meet children’s needs.  

In conventional classrooms, lessons are often firmly defined prior to instruction.  The information is delivered to a group of children, and they may later be given a summative assessment to check for their understanding.  This data may be used to drive future instruction, or it may just be used to support a grade given on a report.

In classrooms that rely heavily on formative assessment, a teacher can change course while they are in the process teaching.  If students demonstrate prior knowledge or quick understanding, the lesson can be extended and additional information can be included.  If children appear to need more support, the teacher can repeat the material or give other supplemental information.  Montessori teachers take copious amounts of notes to constantly document these interactions.

The spiraling curriculum comes full cycle

The Montessori curriculum is forever spiraling back on itself.  Children are exposed to skills for the first time in very concrete ways, which is why the classrooms are stocked with so many beautiful materials.  These materials help the hand teach the mind, and learning first in this physical way helps make important connections in the brain.

The concrete lessons are repeated in new ways, each time moving further toward abstract concepts.  By the time the spring of the kindergarten year rolls around, children are finally solidifying so many of the ideas and skills they’ve been practicing for years.  

Come see for yourself!

One of the best ways to truly understand how a Montessori classroom works is to come in and observe.  We encourage you to make an appointment to sit in a classroom and watch the children in action.  Keep an eye on those kindergartners - you will be amazed at what you see!

Cooking With Our Kids

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Children love to help out in the kitchen.  Though they may be prone to extra messes, letting them help has many benefits:

  • Promote healthy eating habits - Children are likely to eat more fruits and vegetables if they help to make their food at home.  Preparing ingredients together is a great time to talk about why our bodies need certain vitamins and how we can get those from the food we eat.
  • Increase their likelihood of trying new foods - When children make a meal themselves, the pride they feel in their accomplishment and the interaction they have with the food often takes away apprehensions they might have had about trying it otherwise.
  • Teach children where their food comes from - Whether you grow your own food, visit your local farmer’s market, or head to the grocery store, the kitchen is the perfect place to talk to children about where their food comes from.  
  • Give them practical life skills - Someday your child will have to prepare their food.  Why not start learning now?  Doing so lays the foundation for confidence in the kitchen, and independence as an adult.
  • Cooking teaches reading and math - While the youngest children might enjoy counting while adding ingredients, older children can read recipes and work with fractions and time.
  • Children gain a sense of contribution - When a child helps cook a meal, they have done something important to help their family community.  This is just another way to promote confidence and independence.

Things to Keep in Mind

Emphasize safety.  Talk to your children about what is off-limits - whether you’d like them to stay away from hot stoves or sharp knives - make sure they know what you expect and remind them often.

Make it fun!  Make meals that are full of color.  Make silly faces on your pizzas.  Dance around the kitchen.  Cooking should be a fun experiences for everyone in the family.

Give your kids tools that will work for them.  Make sure they are comfortable in for little hands to hold, but make sure they get to use the real thing.  Click here for one good resource to find such tools.

Recipes to Get You Started!

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French Bread Pizzas

Ree Drummond over at the Pioneer Woman is always full of great ideas.  You may want to do some of the chopping and ingredient cooking ahead of time unless you have older children.  Even the littlest ones would enjoy assembling their own pizzas with whatever toppings they like.

 
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Nutella and Raspberry Sandwiches

It doesn’t get much simpler (or more delicious!) than this.  Children as young as three often practice spreading butters in their Montessori classrooms, so they may surprise you with their skills!

 
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Pinto Bean and Cheese Tacos

Not only is this recipe easy to make, but it’s a great quick dinner option for busy weeknights.  Feel free to substitute the beans for whatever your favorite protein is, and add in fun extras like guacamole!

 
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Earth Cookies

While these may not be the healthiest recipe on our list, they were far too cute to leave out.

 
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Cookie Cutter Fruit Salad

Consider this recipe an inspiration.  You could use so many different fruits and veggies in an unlimited number of shapes.  The final product could be a fruit salad, or you could make kababs, put them on pancakes, the possibilities are endless…

 
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Salad in a Jar

Looking for ways to teach your kids to make their own lunches AND eat more vegetables?  Look no further…

 
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Waldorf Chicken Boats

For those of you looking for something a little fancy (and fun!), check out these Waldorf Chicken Boats.  If you cook the chicken ahead of time and stand by to assist in measuring, children can make this recipe almost entirely on their own.

Happy cooking!

Spending Time Outdoors in the Winter

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Norwegians have a long-standing tradition known as “friluftsliv”.  The word loosely translates to ‘open-air life’ and embodies the nation’s dedication to spending time in nature on a regular basis.  This is easy enough to do when the sun is shining and the days are long, but how can we continue to get outside during the colder, darker months?  And why is this so important for children?

Why Get Outside?

We all know the stir-crazy feeling that sets in after too many hours cooped up inside.  The following are just some of the benefits to bundling up and heading out.

  • Soak up the sun for vitamin D: One simple way to boost our body's’ supply of vitamin D is through sun exposure.  While it is important to consider our skin’s need for sun protection, we all need some time to enjoy the benefits of the sun’s rays.  
  • Reduce stress: A short walk - even just 20 minutes - can significantly lower stress hormones in the body. 
  • Gain focus: One study determined a clear link between children spending time outdoors and a decline in ADHD symptoms.  
  • Improve immune function: Japanese ‘forest bathing’, or simply spending time in a forest or around trees, has been linked to an increase in immune function.  
  • Boost your creativity: Regular time spent exercising outdoors has been linked to an increased capacity for creative reasoning. 

Endless Options

So what exactly is the best way to spend time outside when it’s chilly?  Winter provides us a huge range of opportunities:

  • Sledding: Dragging a sled up a hill while trudging through snow is a workout!  The reward of sliding down a slippery slope each time is fun for all ages.
  • Star Gazing: Even younger children with earlier bedtimes can enjoy star gazing on crisp winter nights.  
  • Skiing and Snowboarding: Whether you prefer the speed of the slopes of the quiet of cross-country, there are options for everyone.  Many mountains offer lessons for children as young as three.
  • Visit local parks: Public parks stay open year-round.  Go together and enjoy your local resources, or make a day trip of it and visit a park that’s a bit farther away.
  • Feed the birds: Because many species migrate during the winter months, your area’s population will look different now than during the spring and summer.  Borrow a field guide from the library and do some bird watching.  Set up or make your own bird feeders and place them outside a window of your home.
  • Make environmental art: Use what you find in nature to create inspiring pictures and sculptures!  
  • Take a closer look: Use a magnifying glass to examine snowflakes, ice, or whatever else sparks curiosity.
  • Walk: Perhaps the simplest option, this can be made even more special if done while it’s snowing outside!  Consider location as well - think about any access to nature nearby, whether it be a forest, river, or even a city park.

Shifting Our Mindset

One way Norwegians support their philosophy of friluftsliv is with an old saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”  By preparing ourselves adequately, spending time outside can and should be enjoyable, no matter the season.  So bundle up and head outside!

Sources
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494413000959
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1448497/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3520840/ 

Embracing Diversity from a Young Age

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We all want our children to be be peaceful and accepting of others.  It is never too early to start teaching them to embrace diversity.  Too often, we falsely imagine that young children do not notice what makes them different from each other.  They do notice, and instead of waiting for them to ask questions or gather information on their own, we can be proactive about diversity education.  We can teach them that while there are so many ways humans can be different from each other, those differences (and our similarities) should be celebrated.

Setting an Example

Our children constantly look to us as models for their own behavior.  We can take the lead by embracing the values we hope to see in our children.  This starts by educating ourselves.  We can learn about different cultures and groups of people.  We can confront our biases and consider how they might be coloring our view of the world.  We can read about current issues in social justice and decide what responsibilities we have to make the world a more equitable place for all people.   

Read Together

There are many quality books written for children about this very topic.  Here are just a few... (click on the book images to go to the book's page on Amazon)

Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña & illustrated by Christian Robinson

This book was the 2016 Newbury Medal Winner, and also received a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor and a Caldecott Honor.  A little boy rides the bus with his grandmother after church each Sunday.  His grandmother’s laugh guides him through the journey as they meet a wide variety of people.

The Ugly Vegetables, by Grace Lin

Award-winning author Grace Lin wrote this charming book for young children.  A daughter helps her mother in their garden, but becomes dismayed when she sees it is fully of “ugly vegetables” while the neighbors are all growing flowers.  The soup her mother makes and the gathering of neighbors teaches the value of differences.

The Sandwich Swap, by Queen Rania al Abdullah & Kelly DiPucchio, illlustrated by Tricia Tusa

Salma and Lily are best friends.  One day, a conflict arises over their sandwiches at lunchtime (pita with hummus, and peanut butter with jelly).  The food that threatens to end their friendship ultimately binds them together again.

The Family Book, by Todd Parr

Parr’s books are simple, but his bright illustrations and straightforward story are perfect for young children.  The Family Book highlights many different types of families, and ends by saying, “There are lots of different ways to be a family.  Your family is special no matter what kind it is.”

You Hold Me Up, by Monique Gray Smith & illustrated by Danielle Daniel

Smith’s website states that she “wrote You Hold Me Up to prompt a dialogue among young people, their care providers and educators about reconciliation and the importance of the connections children make with their friends, classmates and families.” (link: http://moniquegraysmith.com/writing/ )

Experience Together

There are so many ways a family can have fun together while encouraging curiosity, understanding, and empathy with different groups of people.  Think about the activities your family already enjoys, and find ways to make those activities learning experiences.

Do you and your family enjoy cooking?  Try whipping up new recipes from different cultures around the world.  Preparing and sharing a meal is one way we all bond, so why not explore other cuisines?  

Many cities and towns hold festivals celebrating the cultures of the various people who live there.  Music, food, traditional crafts, and performances can be a fun way to learn about another culture.

Does your family love music?  Visit your library to borrow CDs or find some audio clips online.  Music from around the world can inspire your child to sing and dance.  Grab any instruments you may have on hand (or make your own!) to join in on the fun.

Share Your Own Experience

Each family has its own unique history, heritage, and traditions.  Teach your child about their ancestors, where your family originated, and what makes your family special.  Offer to share these traditions at your child’s school.  Teachers love to have parents come in for special presentations.  Whether you teach the children to prepare a snack, sing a song, or read them a traditional story, every new bit of cultural learning gives them a broader view of their world.  

Let’s open up the world for them, so that they may share it peacefully with each other.