Monday, September 12, 2011

A Toddler Community

I am preparing for a Back to School meeting with my parents next Tuesday; since we have already had the quick overview of the day/what to bring to school meeting a few weeks back I'm not really sure what to say.  For my returning parents, they know how the day flows more or less and for my new parents we just talked about it so what do I do at this meeting.  I want to go a little more in depth into what exactly is a Montessori toddler community and how to bring it all together at home.  My concern is that there is so much I'd want to say that I might come across as preachy or long winded (definitely worried about the long winded, as much as I despise public speaking, if it is a topic I am passionate about, I tend to go on and on...) and I'm not wanting to keep parents there for three hours so I am trying to figure out the best way to go about it.

I think I want to start with the basics, how the environment presents itself to the child and how that differs from what the adult sees.  Almost every adult that comes into the room to visit dubs it, "cute".  The small furniture, the child size cleaning tools, the small utensils, etc.  Yes, it is cute and seeing the children within the environment working and using the materials is "cute" as well.  But there is so much more to it than that, and that is one of the big things I want to convey.  How very important everything the children do in the class and how if offers so many things to them, even the simple task of walking in, carrying their own lunchbox and putting it away on their own.

The other big point I want to talk about is the importance of time; time to observe, time to step back, time to let go and time to slow down.  Slowing down I think is one of the most difficult aspects of any level.  Even with children 6 and 9 I find myself at times forgetting how differently the world moves to them than it does to me and trying to find a balance between the adult time frame and the child' time frame.  Especially when the child is only just begin to discover the world and their place within it.

So I think this is where I will start and as I write I hope to get my thoughts posted here and perhaps to receive some feedback from others, Montessorians/parents/and friendly visitors curious about Montessori alike.  What would you want to know more about if you were a parent just beginning your journey in Montessori?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Make New Friends...

Today was my first day with children, the Primary classes have had their new children visiting since Tuesday.  Last year when I had ten new ones I had half come one day and half come the other first with parents and the second time solo.  What an overwhelming experience that was, especially those last two days when the children were on their own.  This year I have three new ones beginning with me at the start of the year, one child started in July and another will be joining us Mid-October when Mom eases back into work from Maternity leave.  Because of that, I didn't feel it was necessary to have them come all four days plus the fact that the room wasn't quite ready until yesterday and there are still a few materials I am putting finishing touches on.

One of the children had actually enrolled last Fall but he was very young, not even 14 months yet and when he came to visit he was still crawling primarily and in the dumping/putting everything in his mouth stage.  So it was decided that perhaps he would wait a while and come back later in the year.  His family decided to wait until this school year and I was so pleased to hear his mom tell me she was very glad they had waited...I was as well, he was so together this morning, he knew to put objects back in the baskets on on the trays when he was finished using them, he could drink from his cup all on his own, he was very purposeful in his work and the important part, he was comfortable moving away from his mom and interacting with me.  I was so glad for him as this is what the experience is supposed to be for the child at any level, positive and full of successes!

The other child is almost two and a half; she has been at home with a Nanny her entire life but has two older brothers that are school aged.  Apparently she has been very sad that they have been leaving in the mornings for school and she has not so her mom said that she was up, dressed and waiting with lunchbox in hand at the door at 8 o'clock this morning.  She was too was very comfortable in the community, very verbal, already using the toilet successfully and loved exploring the room.  Both children loved having the sinks at their level and spent a great deal of time washing hands and getting drinks.  Most of the children are like this for the first week or two until the novelty wears off, we send home a lot of wet outfits : )

So tomorrow they will come visit for another short time without parents, I think both will be fine.  Tuesday when we add the other eight children; two of whom have been home all summer, one that was in and out sporadically and one who was out for the last two weeks of summer after surgery, we will see how they react then.  I am already prepared for a lot of separation sadness and lots of nervousness from parents and children alike.  I am keeping my fingers crossed that it is not as hot as it is this week so that if necessary we can spend those first few days enjoying our outdoor environment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Getting back into the groove

I've been back at work for two days now (well, today was my third) and I feel like I am settling back in fairly well.  It was great on Sunday not feeling the overwhelming anxiety and doubt that I had at this time last year, I was a little nervous and sad since the last two and a half months home with the girlies has been wonderful!  But I was also excited to set up the classroom and implement some of the new ideas I have had tucked away since the Spring.  The challenge this year is that I am preparing the classroom on my own as my wonderful assistant had surgery last Thursday and won't be back until the first day of school on September 6th so I am down two extra hands but I had plenty of help moving my furniture back into the room and getting my cubbies moved into the closet which has freed up a lot of space in the room and has allowed me to really spread things out.  I did a lot of cleaning and organizing, and now I am working on materials.  This is a little tricky because I'm not sure where my friends from last year who are returning will be when they come back and I don't know where my new friends will be either, so I am putting out materials knowing that I will probably have to revamp the first few weeks as I get to know everyone.  Next week on Thursday and Friday the three children who will be new this year will come and visit for about an hour and a half just to get familiar with me and with the school, I think I am only going to have a few simple materials out so that they are not overwhelmed by decisions.  If the weather is nice we will probably take a short walk as well, though I was disappointed yesterday when I went into the woods to find items for my nature basket and discovered that the trail behind the playground was blocked by a huge tree that had been uprooted at some point during the summer and the path was overgrown with plants and weeds.  I am hopeful that this will get cleaned up before school starts or I may have to invest in a machete and take care of it myself.

Here are some pictures of the work in progress

Handwashing Stand and one of the practical life shelves, there are two more to put out.

Language Shelves
Reading chair and Sensorial Area
Transferring activities and small motor activities
Clothes Washing and Handwashing Stands
I hope to have most of the materials put together by Friday or Monday, I am so excited for the children to be back!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Road Trippin

We got home from Cleveland late last night, what a great trip it was.  As nervous as I was about taking the girlies on a trip sans Daddy I quickly discovered that they are ready to handle road trips...and long ones at that.  We broke up the drive up into two days spending the night in Dayton on Thursday but yesterday we were determined to get home in one trip.  So 11 and a half hours later we walked into our house exhausted but happy to have shared this time together.  It was neat for me to have this special "girl time" with Boo and Belle, we took our friends DVD player, lots of books, magazines, toys and art supplies to make time pass quickly and not a complaint or "Are we there yet" emerged once.  Well, there were a few "Are we there yets" but they were from me : )

Boo and Belle have not seen their cousins Sam and Meredith since they were 4 and 1 respectively and Belle had never met her Aunt Nancy and neither girl had ever met their Uncle Ron so it was a weekend full of reconnecting.  The girls are smitten with their cousins and Meredith's boyfriend Andrew and we are trying to work out logistics to get them down to us for a while this summer.  It was so much fun watching them play on the beach and on the trampoline but it was also so sweet to see two teenagers shower so much affection on two younger girls.

We made some wonderful memories this weekend, the time went by too quickly but now that we know long car trips can be tolerated hopefully it won't be five years before we can make the trek up North again.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Let the Summer begin!

School is officially done for the summer, the girls had last week off as well, I had to finish up some things at school so I am counting this as my first official week of break.  I am so excited that Boo and Belle were chomping at the bit to start homeschooling, my intention was to do something for an hour each morning but both yesterday and today we were going strong for almost three hours!  Our power went out for a bit yesterday so we adjourned to the library where it wasn't 85 degrees inside and then went to Bubbe and Zada's to hang out so our work got interrupted but I can't believe what got accomplished in the hours we had!  Boo is still fascinated by weather and natural disasters so she wanted to do some work with both of those subjects.  Belle pretty much wants to do what Boo does she followed along. 

We found a website called that had some weather based activities on it and from there we decided which ones to do.  I was thrilled because I could sneak the math and language studies in with it.  The three of us picked cities to chart the weather from for a week.  Boo decided on Cleveland because we will be heading there on Thursday and Dallas because that is where Grammy lives.  Belle decided to do home and I wanted to show a contrast of temperature so I picked Barrow, AK.  Each day we check to see what the weather is in each city and then Boo and I go back in the evening and see what the actual high temperature was in each city and figure out the difference between the prediction, between her two cities and the between the hottest temperature and the coldest temperature, yesterday there was a 63 degree difference between Dallas and Barrow which the girls thought was amazing!

I was going to stop there, and the girls were hungry (we started school before 8 yesterday at their instance) so we had breakfast and I was going to let them just do whatever.  About ten minutes after breakfast Boo came in and said, "Aren't we going to do more homeschool?  I have a report I want to do about different natural disasters".  So following their lead we went back to work, Boo made a four page report on volcanoes, tsunamis, tornadoes and waterspouts complete with illustrations.  Belle drew pictures of a hurricane, a tornado, a volcano, a landslide and and avalanche and then labeled each drawing with the words.  An hour and a half later when the power went out we had to call it a day.

Today Boo finished her report and presented it to us, Belle decided she wanted to do a report on the human body so she and I worked on how we talk and how we see, she of course drew pictures and wrote a brief summary of how each works.  I read to her from our human body book and then had her tell me what she thought it meant.  I wrote down her words in our notebook that we are using for spelling words and she copied them onto her paper.  She gets frustrated because she isn't able to read and write as well as Boo (of course this is due to her being 6 and Boo is almost 9) but she doesn't see it that way, she wants to do and feels she should be able to do everything Boo does.  This seems to be an acceptable compromise to her at this point, I'm hoping the practice of writing, even if it is copying what I wrote will give her some confidence.

They then spent the the afternoon playing with their cousin Jack which will also be a big part of our summer, Belle was already asking if he could come back over again tomorrow.  We leave for our trip on Thursday morning, just me, the girlies and my parents...Daddy is staying back to guard the manner.  I am a bit nervous about the long drive, we are breaking it up into two days and have lots of books, CD's and art supplies to hopefully stay busy but eight hours in the car is a lot.  I am going into it with no expectations and as my cousin Emily said, "Just letting it flow".

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The End of Days

School days that is...I can't believe that there is only one more week in the school year, one more week until both Boo and Belle make major leaps in school (Boo from Lower Elementary to Upper Elementary and Belle from Primary to..sniff..sniff...Lower Elementary) and one more week until we have three months of unscheduled bliss ahead of us.

I am so excited to have my first summer off since being on maternity leave with Belle six years ago.  At that time I wasn't really in a place to relax and enjoy, in fact even when I was off for a month last summer I wasn't emotionally in a calm state to fully enjoy the time I had with the girls.  But so much has changed in me over the last year that I think I can embrace this summer and know that not everyday is going to be sunshine and peace and us all enjoying one another but I am able to let go of pre-conceived ideas and let whatever happen just happen.  We are also going to try our hand at some homeschooling which I am so glad that the girls are excited about, in fact most mornings they talk on the way to school about where we should have our classroom be, what day we should get started and what we are going to need to make it all happen.  I have asked the girls to think of some things that they would like to learn more about and because we are not going to have my paycheck over the summer we are going to find free or nearly free things to do about town.  Thankfully we have quite a few resources handy, memberships to the zoo and Magic House and a State Park with a beach and swimming area about forty minutes from our house.

I am busily scouring the blogs for homeschooling ideas, art activities and other subjects of interest for all three of us.   I am so excited to give this a go, but again I keep reminding myself that it won't always be what I picture it to be.  In fact I have to remind myself not to fall back into old habits when I am frustrated with what is going on around me or with me...I think yoga might be a part of our summer as well so we can all keep breathing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A small bit of relief

Thank goodness for a brief respite from all the rain, we actually had some sunshine yesterday, enough for Belle to go snail hunting in the woods with a friend after school.  I really didn't want to leave, it was so nice to be outside for longer than ten minutes.  This morning we started out our school day on the playground, the children really needed to be able to run, climb jump and yell.  It worked beautifully, the class was a picture of concentration when we went in to work.
Belle's teacher and I were chatting the other day about the grassy patch off to the side of our classroom.  Her class is wanting to landscape it to make it a toddler zen garden and perhaps an area for us to do some gardening.  We began talking about the outdoor environment, she was telling me that our school is the first that she has worked in where the children have recess, at her former schools they simply used the outdoors as an extension of the classroom...something I have just been thinking a lot about and have even posted about.  It also led me to think about a post I had read on another Montessori blog where a teacher had to defend herself in a way to a parent who was upset that the children weren't given enough chances to move around.

In actuality, if you look at a Montessori classroom at all levels there is a great deal of movement happening within.  For toddlers, it is a crucial part of their development.  As I was reminded a few weeks ago, for the very young toddler, movement is their work.  Carrying something as simple as a block or even a tray can be very challenging for those who have just gained control over their bodies.  I have two younger toddlers who are just moving out of their need to move; their mornings were a lot of walking around the room, stopping briefly to watch others at work and carrying a material from a shelf to a table or rug only to take it right back to the shelf again.  At the beginning of the year it bothered me to have children "wandering" and wondering where I was going wrong by not getting them engaged in activity.  Now as they are beginning to work with more focus I can see that I did the right thing by letting them be.  One of them spent almost twenty minutes working on spooning rice into through a funnel into a bottle and then pouring it back into the bowl.  He would start to put it away and then say, "I do it again."  this happened three times until finally he was satisfied and moved on to squeezing a sponge.  He worked with many materials and I noticed that for the last week he has been working more and moving less.

I think the big difference in why children in traditional schools need "recess" is because they are expected to spend the majority of their day sitting at a desk.  Montessori children are up and moving, caring for their classroom, choosing their materials and carrying them; sometimes one piece at a time; to a table or rug or even practicing control by walking on the line.  I do think they need a chance to be outside to breathe fresh air, to explore and learn more about the world around them and yes, to have a chance to burn off a little extra energy but the need is definitely as great as their traditional school counterparts.  I do also think that spending a day outdoors is wonderful as well (as previously stated), so much can be gained from nature!