Montessori Basics: Geometry from the Start

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Perhaps it happens one day when your four-year-old comes home from school one day, excited to show you their work for the day.  They proudly show you a perfectly traced pentagon with elaborate, colorful patterns inside that they have created.

Maybe it’s when your eight-year-old casually references acute-angled scalene triangles.

Regardless of when it happens, as Montessori parents, there comes a moment when we become acutely aware (pun intended) of our children’s interesting knowledge of geometry.  We may recall our own study of the subject beginning much later - likely sometime during our high school years and typically not as exciting as our own children depict!  We notice that our children seem to be really ready for the information, which can feel surprising.  Not only are they ready, but the work seems to fill them with joy and satisfaction.

What, exactly, is going on?

As with so many things, Montessori discovered that young children are fully capable, and in fact developmentally primed, to learn about subjects that have traditionally been reserved for much older children.  Geometry is a perfect example.  Read on to discover what this portion of a Montessori education can offer your child.

The Primary Years

From ages 3-6 much of children’s geometry instruction in Montessori classrooms is indirect.  That is to say that while they are practicing crucial developmental skills, they are often doing so through the lens of geometry preparation.  One obvious example, as mentioned above, is with the metal insets.  Children trace a variety of geometric figures including squares, triangles, circles, curvilinear triangles, and quatrefoils, among others.  The main objective of this work is to prepare the child’s muscles for proper pencil grasp and handwriting.  When they have mastered tracing they work to create intricate designs within the figure.  

Primary children are also given a number of simple geometry lessons that allow them to begin naming figures and exploring shapes.  Wooden geometric solids are held and named by the children (cube, sphere, square-based pyramid, etc.).  The geometry cabinet is composed of drawers of related figures; small wooden insets are organized into a polygon drawer, curvilinear figure drawer, triangle drawer, and so on.  Children also use constructive triangle boxes to manipulate triangles in order to form larger triangles and other geometric figures.  The key during these early years is to give children early exposure to geometry and allow them to use their hands to explore these concepts.

The Elementary Years

During the elementary years the Montessori geometry curriculum expands significantly.  Teachers often begin by reviewing content taught during the primary years, but 6-year-olds are ready and eager for more.  This begins with a detailed study of nomenclature.  Using a series of cards and booklets that correspond with lessons given by the teacher, children explore and create their own nomenclature sets.  Topics include basic concepts such as point, line, surface, and solid, but go on to teach more in-depth studies of lines, angles, plane figures, triangles, quadrilaterals, regular polygons, and circles.  For example, when children learn about lines they begin by differentiating between straight and curved lines, but go on to learn concepts such as rays and line segments, positions (horizontal and vertical), relational positions of lines (parallel, divergent, perpendicular, etc.)

Throughout the second plane of development (ages 6-12) the study of geometry continues to spiral and go into more and more depth.  Children as young as seven learn about types of angles and how to measure them.  Eight-year-olds explore regular and irregular polygons, as well as congruency, similarity, and equivalency.  In lower elementary children begin learning about perimeter, area, and volume.

In upper elementary, children begin to learn about the connections between the visual aspects of geometry and numerical expressions.  They apply what they’ve learned about perimeter, area, and volume to measuring real-life objects - including Montessori materials they’ve seen in their classrooms since they were three years old.  They learn about things like Fibonacci numbers and Pythagoras which appeal to their sense of number order and geometric patterns.

Now, when your child comes home with surprising knowledge about geometry content, we hope you have a better idea of where they’re coming from.  If you have any questions or would like to see this type of work in action, please give us a call.

Ten Fabulous Fall Titles

Each month we like to provide you with a timely booklist to inspire daily reading at home.  This month we focus on fun fall books.  Between falling leaves and ripening pumpkins, what’s not to love about autumn?  Visit your local library or click the book images below to find these titles that your children are sure to love.

 

Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf, by Lois Ehlert

This book by Ehlert is simple but provides gorgeous illustrations and informational text for our youngest children.  Perfect for toddlers and primary students, Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf details the life of a tree.

 

The Pumpkin Book, by Gail Gibbons 

Gibbons is known for creating books that draw children in with beautiful illustrations and clear, factual information.  The pumpkin book does not disappoint!  It covers such information as types of pumpkins, the process of planting, growing, and harvesting pumpkins, the parts of a pumpkins seed, history of this amazing squash, and so much more.

 

The Reasons for Seasons, by Gail Gibbons 

Once again Gibbons delivers a perfect book for Montessori (and all) children.  She uses clear, bright diagrams and short but accurate paragraphs to explain why certain regions of the earth experience four seasons.  

 

Yellow Time, by Lauren Stringer 

“Yellow time comes before white time.  Every time.”  Stringer uses words and images alike to paint a picture of the final days of fall.  The variety of color among the leaves has gone, along with many of the animals.  The ones that are left are so busy preparing for winter that they don’t notice the beautiful yellow that remains.  That is, except for the crows.

 

Apple Cider-Making Days, by Ann Purmell, illustrated by Joanne Friar 

This wholesome tale follows two children as they pick apples to be made into cider on the family farm.  Readers learn about the process via this charming realistic fiction, and several pages of interesting cider facts follow the story.

 

Autumn is Here!, by Heidi Pross Gray

Young children will enjoy chiming in with the alternate pages of predictable text.  Between exclamations of “Autumn is here!” Gray inserts classic hallmarks of the season, such as the potential futures of acorns and the busy work of squirrels.  Her whimsical watercolor paintings that illustrate the pages are a perfect fit.

 

Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, by Kenard Pak 

In this charming book a young girls is taking a walk through her town and nearby woods on a crisp fall day.  She greets the plants and creatures she passes; they, in return, return her greeting and explain the changes they are undergoing during autumn.  

 

Autumnblings, by Douglas Florian

Florian writes poetry that is silly, surprising, and teaches us new things.  While he has books (with really cool collage and paint illustrations) on a variety of subjects, Autumnblings is all about fall.  This book would be best enjoyed by children in kindergarten and lower elementary, and covers a wide range of topics from apple picking to trick-or-treating to baseball.

 

Fall Walk, by Virginia Brimhall Snow 

This book is a unique two-in-one.  The story takes readers on a walk through the woods with a grandmother and her grandchildren.  On each page a different tree is introduced, along with a detailed picture displaying the shape of the tree’s leafs.  This compliments the Montessori botany work beautifully.

 

Squirrels Leap, Squirrels Sleep, by April Pulley Sayre, illustrated by Steve Jenkins

Few things delight children in quite the same way as squirrels.  They always seem to be having fun scampering around or furiously preparing for winter.  This book lets children in on all the action as it describes the many tasks of this familiar neighborhood mammal.

 

We hope you enjoy our fall book suggestions.  Let us know if you have any favorites that were not included on this list, and happy reading!

5 Time Savers for Your Morning Routine

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The slow, easy pace of summer is rapidly drawing to a close.  Everyone tends to have mixed feelings about going back to school; the prospect of seeing friends, learning, and getting back into the regular routine are all enticing, but the loss of the magic of summer can be tough.  How can we, as parents, make the switch easier on everyone (including ourselves)?  By focusing on making our mornings run smoothly we set a positive tone for the rest of the day.  Check out these 5 great time savers to make the sleepiest time of day just a little bit easier.

1. Meal Plan

Thinking ahead when it comes to meals is one of the most impactful steps you can take to start the day off right.  Think quick and healthy breakfasts, lunches you can make days ahead of time, and ways to make dinner prep simple when everyone gets home after a long day.

Breakfast 

Overnight Oats are a nutritious and simple option.  Using the measurements listed on a container of steel cut oats, bring the water to a boil and cook for just 5 minutes.  Cover, remove from heat, and place the whole pot in the fridge overnight (perhaps with a potholder or trivet underneath).  In the morning everyone can stir in their favorites: berries, apples, bananas, walnuts, honey, cinnamon - the possibilities are endless!  The oatmeal keeps well in the fridge for a few days, so go ahead and make a big batch!

Not-So-Green Smoothies can be prepared several weeks in advance.  Line up your freezer containers on the counter and distribute the following among them in whatever amounts you prefer: spinach, mixed frozen berries (these tend to turn the smoothie purplish), sliced apple, and banana (optional).  In the morning, place the frozen contents in the blender, add some water, and blend until smooth.

Lunch

Making lunches the night before might be one of the most helpful things you can do for your morning routine.  Looking for more ways to simplify?

  • Cut up an assortment of vegetables Sunday night that can be used throughout the week.
  • Keep it simple - lunches don’t need to be fancy to be delicious!
  • Sandwiches are key: find out what your kids like and keep it coming!
  • Have older children help pack their own lunches.

Dinner

Many families find that a little planning on the weekend makes the whole week feel easier.  Ask your family for input, then decide what dinners you’d like to make throughout the week.  Grocery shop on Saturday or Sunday and prep whatever you can before Monday (chopping vegetables, shredding cheese, etc.)

Does it ever seem like generating recipes is the most tedious step?  Basic meal schedules can help.  Having a basic plan with room for variation makes the whole process so much simpler.  Use the following as inspiration:

Mondays: Pasta (pesto, ravioli, primavera…)

Tuesdays: Tacos (soft, crunchy, chicken, tofu…)

Wednesdays: Breakfast for dinner (pancakes, scrambled eggs, crepes…)

Thursdays: Leftovers

Fridays: Pizza (homemade or takeout!)

2. Check the Weather

This tip is quick and straightforward.  Don’t get caught scrambling to find rain boots or sweatshirts on your way out the door.  Having a general idea about predicted temperatures and precipitation is useful information to have when getting ready for the day ahead.

3. Getting Clothing in Order

As Montessori parents we like to give our children choices.  It’s important for them to have a say in what they will wear to school, partly because it allows them to express their individuality, but also so they can practice learning what is appropriate for the season.  Try having your child select and lay out their clothes the night before for a speedy morning routine.  Better yet - lay out a week’s worth at a time!  One easy way to organize this process is to buy small removable hooks (Command-style) and place them somewhere out of the way - like behind a bedroom door.  Five hooks (with a hanger on each) can display five outfits, making getting ready for school fun and easy.

4. Establish a Routine

Create a morning routine and stick to it.  This makes the days predictable for kids, which makes it easier for them to know what’s expected and to get things done.  For example, your child could wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, put their lunch in their bag, and put on their shoes.  By keeping steps the same and in the same order, the process (eventually) becomes second nature.  Figure out what works for you, and then try not to vary it too much.

5. Create Reminders

We all need reminders when we’re getting used to a new routine or just because we’re tired.  For older children it’s a simple as making a written list on a sticky note and hanging it somewhere noticeable like the bathroom mirror or refrigerator door.  For younger kids it’s best to have a picture list.  You don’t need to be an artist to sketch out simple images layered in an order that will serve as a reminder.  Bonus: have your child color the pictures so they’re more attached and more likely to refer back to it.

May your transition back to school be joyful, peaceful, and an exciting time for everyone.  See you soon!

7 Back-To-School Essentials

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As much as no one likes to admit it, summer is quickly winding down.  The exciting part is thinking about back to school preparations.  While the real fun begins in the classroom, there are some things parents can do to set their children (and themselves) up for success.  Read on to find out how you can get ready...

1. Soak up every last drop of summer

Go stargazing.  Take a long bike ride.  Eat just one more s’more.  Find as many ways as you can to enjoy every moment you have left of summer together.  Is there anything you talked about doing that you hadn’t gotten around to yet?  Do the kids have any fun requests that you can manage before the school year begins?  Think day trips, lazy days together at home, projects you want to finish, or even some more leisurely trips to the library.  Think about what makes everyone feel happy and content, then do some more of it.

2. Start to adjust bedtimes

Between longer periods of sunlight and looser schedules, staying up late often becomes the norm during summer months.  While this works out just fine for that particular part of the year, it doesn’t work well when it’s time to wake up and catch the bus.  The first thing you may want to do is revisit how much sleep your child should be getting.  

Here are some more tips to get back on track with ease:

  • Allow 2-3 weeks for the transition
  • Keep things calm for an hour before bedtime
  • Slowly shift bedtime earlier by 5-15 minutes each night
  • Keep a consistent routine (example: pjs, brush teeth, story, lights out)
  • Expect bumps along the road - it’s okay!

3. Gather supplies

Many schools have lists of supplies needed at the beginning of each school year.  Check in with your school and keep in mind that different classrooms often have different lists.  It takes a lot to keep a classroom running smoothly; when each family chips in, it really helps make the task a little easier for teachers.  

Think beyond classroom supplies as well.  What will your child need?  Do they have a lunchbox that is in good working order?  Cloth napkins?  Snack containers?  A water bottle?  What else might they need to start the year off right?  It’s important to remember that children don’t need new everything each fall - quality items last for years!

4. Inventory clothing

Kids have a funny habit of growing all the time.  The transition between summer and autumn is the perfect opportunity to check and make sure they have enough of the right clothing.  Has your child grown a size over the summer?  Is the changing weather a factor?

One great way to stay ahead of kids’ clothing needs is to share with others.  Because children grow so fast they only wear items for a short period of time.  It makes sense to pass outgrown clothing along to siblings or another family who could use it.  Hopefully you can find a family who is willing to do the same for you.  By sharing hand-me-downs, parents can save time and money, leaving you a little extra to buy your child a nicer pair of shoes or a good warm winter jacket.  As a bonus, sharing clothing is also a great environmental choice!

5. Keep reading

Reading to our children every day is so important.  Hopefully you’ve been able to enjoy lots of story time all summer long.  Don’t let the rush of a new school year end the fun!  Aim for at least 20-30 minutes each day.  Bedtime tends to be a natural fit, but reading anytime is beneficial.  Infants, preschoolers, new readers, and even older children enjoy being read aloud to.  Hearing you read sets and example for them regarding the importance of books and literacy, and your voice serves as a great model for oral fluency.  Use dramatic expression, create silly voices for characters, and have fun! 

Older children should spend time reading each day as well.  They can read to themselves, you, a sibling, or even a pet.  Practice makes perfect!  One helpful tip for new/reluctant readers: try setting a pattern of ‘you read a page (or sentence or paragraph), I read a page’.  This gives them the practice they need without it feeling overwhelming.

6. Set goals

Everyone in the family can get on board with this step.  Parents: what are your goals?  Do you want to find ways to not feel so rushed getting out the door in the morning?  Do you want to try out some new meal prep ideas to make the week run more smoothly?  Do you want to find opportunities to volunteer at your child’s school this year?  Think about what you hope for and break it down into small, measurable, steps.

Talk with your kids about the hopes and dreams for the upcoming school year.  What are some things they hope to learn about or accomplish?  This might include specific academic skills, but it might also include social goals or even play-based fun.  Does your child want to learn how to write their name in cursive?  Get across the monkey bars?  Make some new friends?  Learn more about frogs?  It can be fun to have them draw a picture of their goals and write (or have you scribe) what they hope to do.  Tuck the paper away in a drawer and take it out again in June.  It can be so fun for children to reflect on their own growth!

Think of ways you can support each other with your goals and talk about that.

7. Get excited!

Feel free to hype up the beginning of the school year.  Transitions can be hard for kids, but it’s always easier when they’re excited about what’s to come.  A new school year brings the promise of fun learning, friendships, and experiences.  That’s something we can all look forward to.

Montessori: What’s in a Name?

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A common question among parents is, “What, exactly, makes a school ‘Montessori’?”  The answer is more layered than you may think.  The truth is, any school can call themselves ‘Montessori’ but the interpretation of the approach can vary greatly.  Read on to better understand the differences...

Humble Beginnings

As you may already know, Montessori education had its start in the slums of Rome, Italy.  Dr. Maria Montessori was a physician who had been studying child development.  She already found some success with institutionalized children who had been deemed uneducable.  Her first school, Casa dei Bambini, was created to serve the children of poor families while their parents worked during the day.  It was here that Dr. Montessori worked to create more materials, observe the children, and further develop her ideas and methods.  

Dr. Montessori’s successes quickly gained attention of the international community and schools began to open across the globe.  

Organization: AMI

Dr. Montessori soon realized the importance for standardization among Montessori schools.  She felt it critical to preserve the integrity of the method, ensure teachers were well-trained, distribute publications, and manufacture materials.  In 1929 she created AMI, Association Montessori Internationale, to meet these goals.

Today AMI has its headquarters in the Netherlands and supports affiliated societies in thirty-five countries around the world, including the United States.  AMI works to provide high-quality teacher training, materials, consulting services, publications, materials, and much more to Montessori schools.  AMI is the original Montessori organization and is regarded as having high standards and preserving Montessori’s original ideas, methodology, and work.

You can learn more about AMI here: https://montessori-ami.org/

Information about AMI USA can be found here: https://amiusa.org/

New Ideas: AMS

While Montessori had come to the United States much earlier, it wasn’t until the 1960s that its popularity really began to spread.  Nancy McCormick Rambusch was a young American teacher who trained at an AMI center in London.  She was appointed by Mario Montessori (Maria Montessori’s son) to be AMI’s United States representative.  Rambusch opened the Whitby School in Greenwich, Connecticut, and worked to support the spread of Montessori education in the United States.

Over time, Rambusch and her colleagues began to advocate for certain changes within Montessori.  They felt that for Montessori to be successful in the United States certain elements of the curriculum needed to remain flexible.  Leaders at AMI disagreed, arguing for preservation of Montessori’s original ideas in their entirety.  Representatives from both perspectives worked together toward a solution, but eventually parted ways and the American Montessori Society was created.

Rambusch established AMS at Whitby in 1960, and it continues to be the most prevalent Montessori organization in the United States today.  AMS functions similarly to AMI, in that it provides teacher training, publications, and resources to Montessori schools across the country, as well as to a number of international schools.

More information about AMS can be found here: http://amshq.org/

Montessori Schools Today

As mentioned earlier in this article, any school may call themselves a Montessori school.  Montessori can mean different things to different people, and it can be helpful for parents to understand the differences.  Montessori schools can be public, private, or charter schools.  They may be affiliated with a church, but most are non-denominational.  Beyond those basic definitions, the delivery of a Montessori program can vary widely.  Some of the many possibilities include:

  • Montessori Inspired Schools

Educators around the world have learned from the important work of Maria Montessori.  Her texts and lectures are often regarded as some of the most respected guides to non-traditional education.  The strong emphasis on child development, individualized education, and a beautiful environment appeal to educational facilities across the nation.  Montessori materials are now much more readily available than they were even a decade ago, so preschools or even homeschool families implement them in various ways.  The creation of online programs has increased access to basic teacher preparation.  

  • Montessori Member/Affiliated/Associated Schools

For a school to become an AMS full member school, the school must meet specific requirements.  Most importantly, every lead teacher at the school must be certified through an approved teacher education program (including those affiliated with AMS, AMI, and several other well-respected organizations).  Starting in 2020 there will be additional requirements for heads of school as well.

AMI requires specific standards to be met in all its schools including AMI trained teachers, a full complement of AMI approved materials, and specific requirements concerning class sizes, ratios, and organization of the work period.  Schools that meet a certain percentage of these requirements or are committed to meeting all requirements within three years may be considered affiliated or associated schools.

  • Montessori Recognized/Accredited Schools

Schools who wish to be formally recognized at the highest level by either AMI or AMS must adhere to the strictest of standards.  

If a school meets all the requirements of an AMI school, they may receive an AMI Certificate of Recognition.  Schools must reapply annually.  Details on those requirements can be found here: https://amiusa.org/school-standards/

For those wishing to be accredited by AMS, the process is typically about eighteen months long and includes the writing of a self-study report, a site visit by a specially trained team of evaluators, and a commitment to ongoing evaluation and improvement.  After initial accreditation, schools must apply for reaccreditation every four years.  More information on the process can be found here: http://amshq.org/School-Resources/AMS-Member-Schools/AMS-Accredited-Schools

Still have questions about what it means to be a Montessori school?  We would be happy to chat with you.  Contact us today!

Service to Others: Instilling Values Early

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Have you ever thought about finding ways to get your kids involved in community service?  Many families think it’s a great idea, but it can be hard to figure out exactly what to do.  Especially when it comes to our kids - we want to make sure we find an activity that is age-appropriate, safe, and helps them feel a deeper connection to others.

If you have found a way to make this work, great!  We hope you can share you experience in a way that encourages others to do the same.  If you wish you could but want some practical ideas, read on.  Even our youngest children can pitch in to make the world a better place.

Hunger

Communities across the country work hard to provide food to those who simply don’t have enough.  Food banks and soup kitchens are always looking for donations.  This is one simple way families can make a difference.  Some tips to make it even easier (and more helpful):

  • Call your local food bank or visit their website to see what donations they are most in need of.
  • When you go grocery shopping, grab an extra box of pasta, can of vegetables, or bag of dried beans.  
  • Organize a food drive in your school or business.  All it takes is an empty cardboard box and a sign.  Once the box is full, take a drive to your local donation center to drop it off.
  • Give your kids some guidelines and let them help choose items to buy.  For example, let them pick which can of vegetables or what shape of pasta they think a family in need might enjoy.

Homelessness

While it’s not always so obvious in rural or suburban areas, those living in urban communities likely notice homeless people in and around their cities.  One simple way you can help the homeless is to create small care packages, and it’s an activity that appeals to children as young as 3 or 4.  Simply purchase quart or gallon sized zip bags and fill them with any number of useful items.  Some ideas:

  • Granola or energy bars
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Travel-sized first aid kits
  • Travel-sized toiletries
  • Small package of tissues
  • Bottles of water
  • Crackers
  • Chapstick
  • Wet wipes
  • multivitamins

Have your kids help assemble care packages assembly-line style.  Keep a stash of them in your car for whenever you see someone in need.  There’s a good chance your kids will be in the backseat when you do, and the act of reaching out to help others will make a lasting impression on them.

Elders

Elder care facilities are a great place for children of all ages to make a difference.  Call your local nursing home and find out what works best for them.  Just being there to say hi to residents can make a huge difference to elders and children alike.  One simple idea is to bring some basic coloring supplies along.  Children who love to sing may also want to share that talent.  You don’t need to bring anything at all, but flowers or children’s artwork will always be welcome.

Remember to talk to you children ahead of time to give them an idea of what to expect.  It’s also a good idea to talk to them after the visit to find out how they felt about the experience.  Who knows - you may make some new friends!

Animals

Your local animal shelter is full of hard-working men and women who do a lot, often without enough resources.  Much like collecting food for hungry people, it’s easy to collect and donate supplies for animals, too.  Be sure to contact the shelter and find out what supplies will be useful.  Children of all ages can help choose what to donate and visit the shelter for drop-off.

Animal shelters are often in search of volunteers.  While this wouldn’t be appropriate for young children, find out what ages are welcome - it’s typically 16 and up.

The Earth

Why wait for Earth Day to help our planet?  This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to be of service, because it starts in your home with simple lessons every day.  Talk to you kids and get them involved in a wide range of topics:

  • Reducing, reusing, and recycling
  • Mindful food choices
  • Water conservation
  • Finding ways to reduce energy consumption
  • Read about endangered animals and how we can help

One final idea

Many older children across the country are skipping gifts at their birthday parties in favor of something more altruistic.  While this shouldn’t be forced upon a child, it’s certainly a nice trend to see!  

Finding ways to give back to your community with your kids should be a fun, rewarding, and memorable experience.  When we teach our children to help, we are nurturing values that will serve them and others for a lifetime.