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!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Something Wicked This Way Comes...or Came

Wow!  We had some powerful storms rip through the area last night, thankfully we are safe as are our loved ones. On the sad side, there are neighborhoods not to far from us that have been completely destroyed in addition to the massive damage done to the airport.  My parents were on their way home from dinner when the tornado rolled through...less than a mile from where they were.  My mom doesn't like driving on the highways at night and so she opted to take back roads home; we are so glad she did because they would have been right by the airport as the tornado hit.  Too close for my comfort!

The girls handled the weather fairly well, we kept their minds off of the commotion with a Busytown video.  Charles of course had to go out and watch the storm toll through, I went out for a few minutes...long enough to see the clouds on the West side of our house swirling South and the clouds on the East side swirling North, then the wind came, knocked out power to the street lamps and sent them leaning.  I was ready for us to head to the basement.  The National Weather Service is saying that this is the worst storm we've had in over 40 years, thankfully no fatalities have been reported and only a few injuries.  It's amazing and a major blessing!  Mother Nature is a power force, I hope this is it for a while.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Might as well face it I'm addicted to blogs

It's true...I think I have a serious problem that may require intervention.  I am becoming addicted to blogs.  Not so much blogging on my own (because there's probably not anyone reading it anyway) but I love discovering what others are writing about, especially Montessori ones.  It started when I was looking for some inspiration for school and Googled "montessori toddler blogs" and I stumbled across Montessori Mama and spent an entire evening reading through all of her posts, then I started going through her links of pages that she followed.  There are so many wonderful, creative and inspiring blogs that I am finding each day, and they aren't just about Montessori, I found one that had a link to a woman who has organized a project to send boxes to children in Japan with school supplies and kind notes as well as boxes of supplies for adults that are living in shelters.  Boo is always wanting to do bake sales for different efforts so I thought between my desire to declutter the house and our desire to help others this would be perfect as the woman is actually just wanting people to share things that they may have in their house rather than going out and buying items.  We have a ton of school and art supplies around the house that I want to do something with and now I have an outlet...yey!

I also found a blog yesterday, also Montessori related that had a post featuring a quilt that had been made by my friend Amy over at Magdalene.  The blogger was in Australia and Amy is here in the States, I thought it was so cool that a random site that I stumbled upon had a connection with me's a small world after all.

If anyone happens to stumble upon my blog and has some wonderful ones to share, I'm always looking for a good read!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Well, I survived the trip to Chicago, more importantly I survived driving in rush hour traffic in the rain and negotiating tolls.  I came home with some wonderful ideas for next year but I also came home with some unanswered questions (unanswered because I didn't think of them until after I had processed all I took in that day...which was a lot!) but also some little nuggets of doubt in myself and my abilities as a teacher.  The teacher in the class who is also the director of the school was very calm and very quiet.  The children ranged in age from sixteen months to three years five months which was the first unusual thing, generally children move to primary classes between the ages of thirty months and three years, occasionally staying a month or two longer if needed.  I found out later that the child had chosen to stay in the toddler community, he occasionally went to visit one of the primary classes but he didn't feel ready to make the change fully where two other children in the class had moved up in January.  I wondered how this child was able to stay engaged in a classroom where he was beyond the materials being offered.  I saw that he spent a lot of the morning doing practical life, making bread, slicing fruit, washing cloths and helping fill a gigantic pot full of soil.  Not once he did seem to be bored or out of place in the class, I enjoyed listening to him offer suggestions to others as well as how he helped younger children...very amazing!

All of the children wore underpants, even the youngest ones.  I only saw two accidents all morning and yet no one was being asked to use the toilet.  The younger one went around in just a shirt and underpants, the ones who had mastered toileting had their pants on as well.  The Directress explained to me that it is easier for the children to just pull down one layer of clothing as opposed to two which makes total sense to me.  She also told me that she had a little boy who insisted on wearing his pants over the underwear and had just discovered on his own the week prior that it was in fact easier and he was now going around sans pants.  It took this particular child over an hour to change from his diaper into his underpants, and again I loved how the teacher and the assistant would both check in with him from time to time to encourage him to change and start the day but they also let him be until he was ready.  I find myself getting impatient and so I'm not sure I would have handled that with as much grace.

The children were not at all distracted by my presence, one of the younger ones would come over to me every so often to show me something in the room or to tell me something but otherwise they went about their daily routines.  What amazed me the most was that they started the morning by around 8:45, school starts at 8:30 but it takes a while to change from outdoor shoes to indoor shoes and to change into underpants,and they worked until lunchtime which was around 11:45.  Yes there was a child here and there who would wander for a time but overall the children were busy and productive the entire morning.  But I did wonder if there was ever a time for singing and more importantly for going outside.  It was raining that morning so I assume that was why they didn't go out but it didn't look as though there was a playground either, they had a small patio out the back door but it looked to be set up as a gardening area.

During nap time I had a chance to ask some questions, I noticed at lunch one little girl kept standing up while eating, even standing on the arms of her chairs.  She was encouraged to sit back down but it wasn't made into an issue.  Children worked at shelves or standing up at tables which is something I am working on letting go of being an issue and one little girl spent a lot of the morning walking around the room, something else I have a hard time letting happen.  But again, the teacher explained to me that right now movement is this child's work and so what good would it do for her to make her stop.  I can see that side of it but at the same time I always worry what someone might think if they look in the room and see someone just walking, would they think the child is bored or that I am not paying attention to their needs?  Something to make myself work on I suppose.

So once I got back to St. Louis I found myself wondering if they way I have run my classroom all of these years is not the best way?  I have always been proud of myself when I hear from parents and teachers how together the children in my class are or what a positive change is seen at home.  Obviously that means that I am doing something right, but then am I too rigid in my expectations of the children?  I have changed a few ways that I let my class flow and so far so good but there are things I am just not sure I can let go of.  After talking to my own Director I have decided that like always I will take what works for me and what I'd like to make work for me and go with it and see where it takes me.  In short, she told me to relax and let the children just be.  I think I have to learn to let myself be first...I know so much yet there is so much more to learn.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Riding the Storm(s) out

We're having some wicked weather today, woke up to some strong rain and hail which amazingly Boo slept through, I think this is only the second time in her eight and a half years she has done so.  Belle ended up in bed with us but since it was already after 5 it wasn't such a big deal.  The rest of the day was sunny, hot and humid; I wasn't sure how to dress for work today as it was a bit chilly this morning after the storm rolled through but by lunchtime when I took one of my half-day students out to go home I was sweating!  The girls also dressed for cooler weather so both were ready to put on some summer clothes when we got home.  Of course I had to deal with the pre-storm worrying from Boo and a little from Belle though I think she sometimes worries only because her sister does. 

We have been talking a lot about not worrying about something until it happens and that in this case, not even worrying if anything happens (like tornadoes) because we can't do anything about it anyway.  Boo has an obsession with weather and natural disasters so while she loves reading anything about it, there is also a lot of concern that goes along with it when we have severe weather.  Ever since the tornadoes struck on New Year's Eve in South County she has been even more worried anytime the word is mentioned, and it doesn't matter if they aren't for around here.  Two weeks ago she got herself worked up because there was a tornado warning for Illinois and she was worried that it would hit her Aunt and Uncle's house.

So tonight we went out and watched the storm roll in, it was actually pretty neat as the sky went from white to grey to blackish green.  Boo kept asking if we could go inside but then she would decide she wanted to stay out.  We had a nice brief downpour and Belle decided to do some dancing, finally Boo joined her and decided that she liked the rain after all.  When the trees started bending sideways we decided to go in...and that's when the hail started.  Pea sized at first then finally quarter size, anxiety started to grow so we turned on The Very Hungry Caterpillar for a distraction and I ran out to pick up a few pieces of hail for the girls to see, they were impressed.  Finally the storm blew off to the East leaving behind sunshine and a rainbow; a beautiful finale to an impressive show.  I'm hoping that we can keep getting Boo more comfortable with storms so that she will realize that we can be watchful of the situation but not be overrun with fear, I think today was a good experience!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

In the Windy City

Here I sit in bed (a very comfy one I might add) in Chicago this evening missing my girlies.  I was invited to come and observe at Gateway Montessori School on Chicago's North Side tomorrow and it turned out that Charles had some work to be done up here as well so we left the girls in the capable hands of their Bubbie and Zayda (my mom and dad) and are now here to do some work and enjoy a little get away as well.  I am very excited to observe tomorrow, I always love to see how others set up their classes and what materials they have available for their children.  Then we are going to have dinner with one of our friends who I used to play hockey with, I am looking forward to seeing her; it's been a few years so there is much to catch up on.  I also really want to go to iCream which is an ice cream shop where the ice cream is made fresh while you waiting using a flash freezing method.  You can choose ice cream, frozen yogurt, sorbet or even pudding and they can make any color, most any flavor you can think of and then you can mix in ingredients.  I am an ice cream addict so of course I must try it!

The only downside is that we are staying out in Downers Grove and according to Google Maps, my drive to the school tomorrow will take about an hour with traffic and even though I know my way around Chicago (well, I can get to most ice rinks anyway) driving up here makes me nervous, not knowing where I am going makes me nervous and the fact that I will have to deal with rush hour traffic and rain tomorrow on top of all of that makes me REALLY nervous but I'm sure I'll find my way...eventually...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Deep Breathing

I feel lately as though my patience has been thin, last week I was chalking it up to settling back into to routine after Spring Break but it seems to be carrying over to this week and it's only Tuesday.  Yesterday morning I felt that part of my lack of patience at school was due to needing to change some materials and so I spent an extra 45 minutes after school working on my environment.  I had seen some neat materials that others had made online and so after dinner I went to Michael's and bought some of the things I would need to make some new work for the class.  The one I finished last night turned out beautifully and I couldn't wait to get to school to share with my friends.  Several of the children noticed it on the shelf immediately and so when we started work time there was a mad rush to get to it.  However it was one of those mornings where we needed a lot of reminders about how to treat work gently, work was being stepped on deliberately, a pom pom got pulled to shreds, a few of my older friends had to be excused from certain works because they were throwing all it was just a very frustrating morning.  I found myself simply counting the moments until naptime and that was still 2 hours away.

So I turned the lights off which is my signal to the children to come to the carpet and I talked about why I was feeling so unhappy.  I re-presented a few of the materials that were being misused the most (the brand new work being one of them).  And that was when I heard the anger in my voice and I stopped.  I said, "Let's start over from here by closing our eyes and taking some deep breaths.".  We have been working on this a lot lately when we have friends who need some help calming their bodies.  Usually I have one or two children who actually do this the others just watch, but I kid you not seven out of the nine in my class actually placed their hands together in "Namaste" over their hearts, closed their eyes and took some big deep breaths.

Silence...for a whole two was incredible

I found myself not needing to count the minutes anymore, we went out and burned off some pent up energy.  The rest of the morning went well, nap was peaceful and the school day ended.  I was glad to know we were able to find our way back to calm because I was able to come home and not feel frustrated towards my own girls, which is something I often do when I carry stress home.

But I am still a bit frustrated with myself for getting to the point of hearing so much anger in my voice.  Tomorrow is another day, tomorrow we start all over again...and we breathe deep breaths.