Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Saturday, November 12, 2011
"The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, "The children are working as if I did not exist."
-Dr. Maria Montessori
I have spent the last few weeks meeting with colleagues to discuss the importance of the mixed age group and the value of the Montessori kindergarten experience.
Dr. Montessori concluded that there are four distinct planes of development that an individual must pass through on their way to adulthood. In each plane of development, Montessori believed that children are instinctively drawn to those activities which meet their developmental needs; as a result, the Montessori method of education consists of removing obstacles to the child's development and preparing the environment with purposeful activities, from which the child is permitted to self-select. Dr. Montessori's genius was an anthropological insight- when given a choice among purposeful work, children naturally seek out lessons that are more challenging then what an adult might select for them and those lessons which are most appopriate to their own development. She also found that children perservere at those tasks for a longer period of time (they are driven to repeat them until they master them), with a higher degree of concentration, and take more joy in completing them, then activities which are assigned to them. In the Montessori philosophy, education is not viewed as the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the child, who assumes the role of passive spectator, but re-conceived as a spontaneous process which is directed by the child, who is an active participant in her own act of self-creation .
The mixed age group is crucial to this process. For the younger children, the mixed age group provides the child with experienced peers whose examples are worthy of emulation. For the oldest child (the kindergartners, in a primary classroom), the kindergarten year provides children with the opportunity to perfect their skills, consolidate their understanding, and to develop their character, as they serve as mentors to younger students and leaders in the classroom. This affords children the opportunity to learn the value of service to others, to become charismatic leaders, and to experience the authentic sense of self esteem that comes from making a meaningful contribution to a community. Since children work at their own pace, there is no stigma for any child associated with being "ahead" or "behind" their same aged peers in a specific domain. Children are not pitted in competition against each other; instead, they work collaboratively in freely chosen groups, and work toward their own self-improvement and self mastery, with the help of their peers. Because the Montessori classroom affords such an amazing diversity of motives to activity, and gives children large blocks of uninterrupted time to engage in self-directed learning, three years is necessary to achieve the "total possibility" offered by the classroom environment and the final year (in this case, kindergarten) is both the culmination of the child's achievements and a necessity to prevent academic loose ends, partially developed skills, and incoherent knowledge.
Think all of this sounds a little abstract? Wonder what that looks like in practice? Here is a five minute glimpse into what education can look like.
In this video, which is officially one of my "favorite things", a kindergarten age child teaches her companions about the pilgrims and the Mayflower (complete with her own commentary and supplemental explanation), discusses punctuation, and provides her companions with gracious encouragement for their own works. The kindergartner gets to practice her reading skills (developing her fluency and understanding of orthographic-phonological representations of highly challenging words- including sight words, silent e words, and phonograms) and perfect her own understanding of the history lesson. The other children listen with rapt attention to the story, learn about history and punctuation, develop their own auditory processing, comprehension, and inferential reasoning skills, recieve peer based literacy instruction, cultivate a strong interest in learning to read (absolutely every young child in the classroom wants to be able to read like this), and receive encouragement and constructive feedback on their own works.
This is individually differentiated instruction and educational reform at its best, and it was invented more than 100 years ago. No assignments, no homework, no grades, no standards, no assigned seating,no rewards or punnishments, no guided reading groups, no teacher instruction or direction. Montessori is magic!
For our Veteran's Day menu, we decided on a child-friendly classic- homemade chicken noodle soup!
The children took turns using the pasta maker to turn their little balls of fresh pasta dough into long, thin noodles.
Then the children took to carefully separating each pasta strand
and hanging them on the rack to dry.
All day, the delicious aroma of garlic, onions, and herbs wafter through the school. At lunch time, the children crowded around the lunch tables, to receive their reward of fragrant, steaming bowls of homemade soup.
Unfortunately, the batteries on the classroom camera ran out before lunch time, but the children absolutely adored the soup. They happily slurped the homemade noodles, picked out their favorite tasty bits, and drank the savory broth. Many of the children had three bowls of soup and by the time lunch was finished, the soup pot was completely empty!
Not surprisingly, many of the children asked if we could make soup again tomorrow. Perhaps, we will need to add a monthly soup making day to our menu!
Monday, November 7, 2011
Please sign up for your preferred date and time!
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Learning is the modification of behavior as a result of experience. Psychology traditionally focuses upon behavior because it is the objective, measurable, aspect of learning.
1) All were dominated by a single idea or mission.
Monday, October 31, 2011
Let the rumpus begin...
Sunday, October 30, 2011
Bloom! Montessori is Bicycle Friendly!
One of our long-standing facility improvement wishes has been the installation of a bicycle rack at the school. We envisioned the rosy cheeked children happily riding to school with their parents, locking their bikes to the rack, and then riding home at the end of the day. Well, that vision is finally a reality!
I ordered this pretty bright yellow rack a few months ago, and after months of waiting, it was delivered this week, right in the middle of a snowstorm which dumped 8-10" in town (naturally!). So, I waited patiently (until the weekend); then, prevailed upon my very tolerant husband to go dig some 12" holes in the freezing ground and install it before Wednesday's storm.
Not long ago, children routinely moved around their neighborhoods and traveled to school by bicycle. In 1969, 48% of children aged 5-14 walked or rode their bicycles to school; by 2009, that number had declined to 15%; however, the percentage of children who lived within one mile of school has remained fairly stagnant. To understand the decline, the Centers for Disease Control conducted a nationwide survey of parents and students to identify the most common barriers; most parents cited distance to school, traffic related danger, weather, crime danger, and opposing school policies (schools that do not allow children to bike to school) as the main factors. Many of these concerns work in concert to create a self-perpetuating cycle. For example, as motor vehicle traffic increases, parents become increasingly concerned that it is unsafe for children to walk or bicycle to school; as a result, they begin driving to school, thereby adding even more traffic to the road and sustaining the cycle. In fact, 25% of morning rush hour traffic is comprised of parents driving their children to school!
We are fortunate to be a little neighborhood school and we want to do our part to encourage parents to consider this mode of transportation. Bicycling with your child is a wonderful way to spend some quality time with them, to become more physically active as a family, to support your child's gross motor development, and to positively influence your child by setting a healthy example. Bicycling is excellent exercise- the average 170 pound person, biking for an hour at 10 mph, will burn 300 calories! There is also a potential for a completely different workout every time you hop on your bicycle- you can vary your speed, distance, route, intensity, and ride up or down hills. Additionally, unlike motorists, cyclists see more of nature, save on travel costs, have better health and more energy, and reduce the pollution caused by vehicle emissions.
We ask that cyclists park their bicycles in the middle of the rack, leaving space at the ends for parents who wish to lock Burley trailers to the rack. Because there may be more commuting cyclists than available spots on the rack, we also ask that bicycles are not stored at the school overnight. We also ask that bicycles not be locked to the fence, or parked in a manner which impedes the sidewalk or access to the building.
Need some additional motivation? Here are some of our favorite bicycle links:
- A great site describing the factors that have contributed to the decline in children walking and cycling to school by an organization which advocates for safer routes: Safe Routes to School Program, The Decline of Walking and Bicycling, http://guide.saferoutesinfo.org/introduction/the_decline_of_walking_and_bicycling.cfm
-A local nonprofit dedicated to making bicycling in Longmont safer and more enjoyable (their site includes maps of local bike paths and popular routes): Bicycle Longmont, http://bicyclelongmont.org/content.aspx?page_id=51340
-One of the coolest bikes we have ever seen for transporting children: Madsen Bucket Bicycle, http://www.inhabitots.com/a-bike-bucket-for-your-brood/
-A lovely blog written by Dottie Brackett, a Chicago attorney, about her adventures in bicycle commuting: Let's Go Ride A Bike: Life on Two Wheels, http://letsgorideabike.com/blog/
-A great blog written by a Canadian mother about bicycle commuting: http://www.girlsandbicycles.ca/
-A beautiful blog that combines European fashion and cycling: http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/
Our favorite bicycle shops (anywhere!):
The Seattle Dutch Bike Company, (Seattle, WA), http://www.dutchbikeseattle.com
The Mindful Bike, (Denver, CO), http://www.mindfulbike.com
Great Bicycling Resources for Children:
-Strider Bikes: Want a painless approach to teaching your child to ride a bicycle? The stryder method teaches children balance and coordination before pedaling, helping your child to experience success. Visit their website at http://www.stridersports.com/
-Boulder Indoor Cycling: Teaches fundamental cycling skills to children aged 2-10; offers camps on days when schools are closed! http://www.boulderindoorcycling.com/
We hope that you will enjoy this new addition to our facility!
Friday, October 21, 2011
On Friday, the children went to visit Ollin Farms, and their favorite farmers Mark and Kena Guttridge, on their final trip to the farm for the CSA season. While visiting the farm serves the important purpose of teaching the children about where their food comes from, how it is cultivated, teaching them valuable concepts in nutrition, botany and science, and encouraging children to develop an appreciation for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, this trip served another very important purpose- the children were going to select their pumpkins from the Ollin Farms pumpkin patch.
The trip began in the same fashion as most of our field trips- with excited children rousing their parents at first flush of morning, sharing a hearty snack with their friends, and situating themselves in front of the fence to anxiously await the first glimpse of that icon of American public education, the big yellow school bus.
The children were entertaining themselves by singing The Wheels on the Bus, when our favorite bus driver pulled up, overheard their singing, and surprised them by tapping the horn just in time for their "horn on the bus goes beep beep beep" refrain. SVVSD bus driver, Daniel Grove, is what every bus driver should be- kind, patient, and visibly fond of children. We had been fortunate to have him as our driver on our last field trip to Fiske Planetarium, where he reminisced about his own children, who had also attended Montessori schools, and remarked upon how well mannered the children were.
The doors to the bus slid open and our merry little travelers set off on the short trip to the farm.
Our bus had arrived at the school early, and the children are so used to the routine of finding their seats, buckling up, and traveling with polite manners, that we got to the farm earlier than expected. We were in the process of considering where to wait until our host arrived, when Bruce passed by and invited the children to help him feed the sheep. The words had barely escaped his lips and the children were off and running at full speed toward the sheep.
Of all of the field trips the children go on, I must admit that the trips to the farm are my favorite. As the children are racing about these wide open spaces, experiencing nature, caring for plants and animals, hunting for highly prized rocks and sticks, rambling through marshes, delighting in fortuitous encounters with frogs, turtles, insects, or crayfish, and testing their strength and agility with a variety of impromptu physical challenges (balancing on rolling logs, hopping from stump to stump, climbing up fences, and heaving heavy vegetables), something quintessential to childhood, and maybe to humanity, is revealed.
Interestingly, despite their different modes of investigation, most disciplines recognize this phenomena and attribute importance to it. In the positive sciences, Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson calls this biophilia, the tendency of humans to affiliate emotionally with other life forms, to develop a love, abiding curiosity, and an attachment to nature, and to spontaneously assume the responsibility for caring for the natural world. In the social sciences, Dr. Montessori calls it "normalization," the peaceful and joyful state which children enter when their environment meets their needs, obstacles to their development have been removed, and children are free to pursue their own purposeful endeavors. Philosopher Martin Heidegger calls this "the Saving Power," or the experience of standing amazed, astonished, and inspired before an experience which is so full, and beyond complete description that it it reveals nature as something which surpasses our own institutionalized thinking of it and inspires the care and concern for other living things which is the basis of ethics itself.
No matter what you chose to call it, it is certainly the case that our emotional and affective love of nature develops long before, and is even more integral to childhood, than our logical, abstract, or rational curiosity about it. The timeless love children have for unhurried afternoons spent exploring natural surroundings, is immediately evident, completely contagious, and extremely important to human development. In fact, contemporary research is beginning to understand just how important these experiences, and regular interaction with nature can be. In one ground breaking book on the topic, Last Child in the Woods, journalist Richard Louv coined the term "nature deficit disorder." Louv argues that the increasing trend of children spending less time outdoors (due to a loss of natural spaces, over-groomed pea gravel play areas, increasing electronic media consumption, and parent fears about children's safety) is disrupting the ability of modern children to connect with nature. Louv persuasively argues that regular connection to nature is so integral to the human experience that a lack of time spent outdoors can be directly correlated to increasing rates of juvenile depression, anxiety and mood disorders, obesity, and ADHD. Indeed, a 2009 study by the University of Illinois, one of several studies which Louv cites in his book, found that "regular exposure to ordinary natural settings in the course of after school and weekend activities was more effective then both attention restoration therapy and medication in reducing attention deficit symptoms in children."
But I digress... the children made their way to the sheep pen just in time to discover another wonderful use for pumpkins- as a tasty treat for a herd full of friendly sheep!
The well trained little flock of sheep came running out of the barn as they saw the children approaching, anxious to see what vegetable delicacy lay in store for them. The children were elated to find Lluvia, who had visited the school last December when she was only a few weeks old, was now a large black ewe with quite formidable horns. The flock now contained a new little black lamb and an ewe who would probably deliver this winter.
The children contented themselves with hunting for natural specimens (some wool, a few interesting insects, and some interesting lichens which one girl proudly explained were "fungus that partner with plants" to our amused host), trying to balance across a large fallen log, and climbing around and looking for sticks in a large wood pile.
A few moments later, Farmer Mark and his preschool aged daughter, affectionately named "Farmer Coral" by the children, appeared.
Farmer Mark is a passionate advocate for both sustainable farming and education; he is also one of the hardest working people I know. When he is not busy running his successful farm, preparing CSA shares, planning Farm to Table dinners, planning summer programs, and making the rounds at the Longmont and Boulder farmer's markets, he can be found creating internship opportunities for high school children, sharing his knowledge of sustainable food production with visiting groups from Africa through the CSU Extension Office, and preparing educational outreach programs for the Longmont Museum and the Wow! Children's Museum; nevertheless, he still made time to personally oversee our tour of the farm.
The children set off scampering after Farmer Mark and Farmer Coral. They stopped to see the fields of vegetables and to listen to Farmer Mark explain about winter crops, and how some different vegetables have different growing seasons.
He showed the children the greenhouse and told them about how floating row covers can be used like blankets to provide extra insulation for crops.
Then, he invited the children to see the creek. The creek is one aspect of the farm which neither the children nor I had seen previously. The children's interest was immediately piqued. They raced off, not even sure where they were going,
pausing only for the obligatory log rolls down a perfect little sledding hill which they found near the apiary,
until they reached what would be an amazing picnicking spot on the bank of the creek. The crystalline water softly gurgled around them as our little explorers set about making little leaf boats to send down the stream, finding great big sticks and branches to pretend to fish with, prying stones and plants from the water, pouring water with cups that the Guttridge children left strewn about the bank for their own play, wading about, and examining a crayfish.
A few of the children had been fortunate enough to come to the farm dressed in waterproof wellies, and they were the envy of all, as they waded around in the cold water.
The children would have been completely content exploring the creek for the rest of the day; in fact, I daresay that it would have been nearly impossible to drag them away if it had not been for one thing- chickens!
They love chickens! About ten months ago, the children completed a unit of study about birds, incubated some eggs, and raised Maran and Arancuna chickens. Initially, we had planned to give the chickens to the farm when they were old enough, but the children enjoyed them so much that we bought a little coop and kept them. In the last three months, the chickens have begun laying eggs and throughout the day one of the children's favorite past times is to go gather the eggs from the nesting boxes and carry their beloved (and quite tame) pets around the garden.
Ollin Farms has a large flock of chickens- consisting of many different breeds (some amazingly beautiful birds), a few roosters, and a large hen house. The excited children left the creek with barely an argument and followed Farmer Mark to a large pile of pumpkins that the squirrels had been feasting upon. Then, they helped Farmer Mark carry the pumpkins to the chicken pens.
The children, who are used to their tame pets at the school, wanted to hold the chickens. They were quite surprised to find that these chickens were uninterested in being carried about like dolls. Luckily, little Farmer Coral had tamed a cute little chicken named Charlie,who volunteered to allow the class of preschoolers to pet him.
Then it was time for a little Autumn refreshment. We assembled to share some apple cider and fresh Gala apples from the farm with our hosts.
We would like to sincerely thank Mark and Kena Guttridge for their hospitality and for an amazing CSA season. It is impossible for me to imagine a better Farm to School experience for our children. We adored the fresh fruits and vegetables supplied by the farm, and the children developed an interest and understanding of good nutrition, botany, science, and sustainable farming. Thank you for everything!
We would also like to thank St. Vrain Valley School District Busses and Transportation for providing us with the transporation for our field trip and Daniel Grove, the kindest, most patient, bus driver I have ever met.
Finally, our thanks go to Lianne Tengler for lending an extra hand during the trip!