Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Ramadan!

The children have been learning about Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar during which practicing Muslims engage in a time of introspection, self reflection, and worship. During the month of Ramadan, healthy adults fast from sun up to sundown. In the morning, families share a a hearty meal called suhoor; then, they abstain from eating and drinking until iftar, the fast breaking meal which is consumed after sunset. The meal begins with the eating of three dates, followed by the Mahgrib prayer, and a lavish meal.

Fasting provides an opportunity to practice self control, sacrifice, empathy for those who are less fortunate, and encourages acts of charity and generosity.

This year, the children were fortunate to have a member of our parent community, Dounia Mouhouche, volunteer to come and teach the class to prepare kesra, a traditional flatbread. Kesra is an amazingly tender whole wheat bread.

Dounia began by teaching the children about Ramadan. She explained that it is a time for self-reflection- to think about your life, what you are doing well, and what you could improve upon. She explained that it is a time to make promises to yourself about things that you might try to change, to do good deeds, to help those who are in need, and to consider people who are less fortunate (those who are hungry, without family, etc). The children were very interested in hearing about Ramadan, and considering what it would be like to go all day without food. When it was time to begin cooking, Dounia began by expertly mixing whole wheat flour, salt, yeast, oil, and water together, without the need for measuring devices, until the mixture reached the desired consistency. She allowed the mixture to rest for about fifteen minutes until the dough had risen and divided it into equal portions (so each child could have one ball of bread dough).

Then, she taught the children how to carefully roll their ball of dough into eight inch circles (full moons!). Several of the children aptly remarked to Dounia that she was "a good teacher."

Then it was time for the children to try. They absolutely loved rolling out the tender dough and shaping it into perfect orbs.

Once the dough had been formed, the children assembled to hear some Ramadan books, while our gracious volunteer busied herself with baking the kesra on a flat griddle pan until they were golden and brown.

The children dined on warm kesra, golden dates, and milk. Dounia explained that a conventional Ramadan fast is broken with the consumption of dates and milk to quickly restore blood sugar levels after the long hours of fasting (by providing food that is rich in calcium and potassium).

The children absolutely adored the kesra! In an amusing moment, one boy observed that the smell of the kesra reminded him of street vendors on the Pearl Street mall! In fact, we could barely keep up with the demand! No sooner would kesra come off the pan, have time to cool, and get cut into small pieces, then a child would report that the serving vessels were empty. It was hands down one of their favorite treats.

When the meal was complete, the children took home some kesra to share with their parents. One excited four year old girl proudly reported to her mother that "I love African food; it's delicious!"

In a world which is all too often marked by intolerance and ignorance of other cultures, it was particularly wonderful to see a young child beam with pride as he told his companions about being taught to make kesra by his grandmother during a trip to Africa, and have the opportunity to share an amazing culinary and cultural tradition with his appreciative and enamored friends. It was also an amazing opportunity for these young people to gain an understanding and appreciation of a different culture, and to learn about a beautiful celebration of the human desire to live, to love, and to serve others.

We wish to extend our sincere thanks to Dounia Mouhouche for sharing her time and talents with us, and for sharing her cultural traditions with us.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Preschool: The Best Job Training Money Can Buy

What is the value of a high quality preschool education?

That was the question put forward on NPR's All Things Considered this afternoon.
You can hear Alex Blumberg's article, or read the full story, at:

NPR concluded their month long feature on child rearing with a piece on early childhood education. As part of the piece, they interview James Heckman, a Noble Prize winning University of Chicago economist and staunch advocate for the benefits of investing in early childhood education. Initially, Heckman's interest was not early childhood education, but researching the effects of job training programs. His research took an interesting turn when he discovered that for many participants, job training programs are ineffective because they lack a whole set of foundational skills, which are so basic that most people don't even consider them to be skills- the ability to focus and concentrate for an extended period of time, an attitude of abiding curiosity and interest in the world, the ability to resolve conflicts with others in a socially acceptable manner, and basic emotional regulation skills (the ability handle frustration, disappointment, and anger, to inhibit behavior, delay gratification, and modulate levels of arousal). Heckman calls these executive functioning skills "soft skills." His research shows that these skills serve as the foundation of future academic endeavors, and that if these skills are not acquired in early childhood, it is increasingly difficult to learn them later in life.

Preschool is where these skills are optimally acquired, and evidence suggests that providing children with a high quality preschool education confers benefits which can be seen forty years later. The most famous of these studies is the Perry Preschool study. In the study, 128 African-American three and four year old children from disadvantaged homes were divided into two groups. The experimental group attended a 2 1/2 hour preschool program, which (much like Montessori) engaged children in activities which required decision making and were child directed (not teacher directed); the control group did not attend preschool. For the rest of their education, the children attended the same public schools.

Twenty seven years later, the results were pretty staggering:
-There was a 44% higher rate of graduation amongst the children who attended preschool.
-There was a 26% lower rate of out of wedlock births among those who attended preschool.
-There were 50% fewer teenage pregnancies among those who attended preschool.

Forty years later, the effects continued:
-Those who attended preschool were 46% less likely to have served time in prison.
-Those who attended preschool had a 33% lower rate of arrest for violent crime.
-Those who attended preschool had a 42% higher median monthly income.
-Those who attended preschool were 26% less likely to have received government assistance.

Heckman's conclusion: Preschool is the best job training program money can buy. Put another way, as Dr. Montessori surmised more than 100 years ago, "The most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, from birth to age of six. For that is the time when man's intelligence itself, his greatest implement is being formed. But not only his intelligence, his full range of psychic powers... At no other age has the child greater need of intelligent help, and any obstacle which impedes his creative work will lessen his chances of achieving perfection."

To read more about James Heckman's research, you can visit his website at:

To read more about the Perry Preschool Project:

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Bon Appetit!

Are these pictures from an end of summer garden party?

No. It's a typical school lunch for preschoolers.

Today marked the first day of the Bloom! Montessori School hot lunch program.

For the 2011-2012 school year, we are fortunate to be partnering with Revolution Foods to provide the children with approachable, nutritious, hot lunch options. Revolution Foods was founded in Oakland, CA in 2006 by Kirsten Saenz Tobey and Kirsten Groos, two mothers who wanted to reverse the growing tide of childhood obesity and the poor eating habits that proclaim America's youth. To date, Revolution Foods has served more than 23 million meals to school children and serves more than 70,000 meals daily to school children in more than 600 programs across the country. Revolution Foods serves meals that are appealing, delicious, and nutritious. Their meals consist of lean proteins, whole grains, a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. They utilize whole, not heavily processed convenience foods, in age-appropriate portion sizes. Their mission is to instill life-long nutritional habits which will support student health and the maintenance of a healthy weight. All of their ingredients meet Whole Foods Market's stringent quality standards.

Revolution Foods meals never contain:

-NO rBST or hormones in milk
-NO fried food (including flash fried food)

-NO high fructose corn syrup

-NO trans fats

-NO artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners

-NO flavored milk or juice.

If the idea of "school hot lunch" conjures images of worn cafeteria trays, hair nets, and hamburgers, think again. The excited children participated in the ritual of setting the communal tables- carefully laying out the muslin tablecloths, setting the tables with a full place setting of china, and adorning the tables with their beautiful flower arrangements. When the preparations were complete, the children politely passed the serving vessels around the table, chatted politely about the day's events, and practiced using their best table manners. The children dined on all natural bean and cheese burritos, steamed carrots, salad, and fresh, local, peaches. Our meals are served with the child's choice of Horizon Organic Nonfat DHA Omega 3 milk, Silk Soy DHA Omega 3 with Calcium, or filtered water.

By the time lunch was over, practically all of the children had taken second helpings (interestingly, the steamed carrots and fresh peaches were the first to go) and the serving platters were completely empty! Everyone was very pleased with the quality, flavor, and appearance of the meals;

however, the main point of interest for the children was the ambiance. They were absolutely delighted with the embroidered tablecloths (embroidered place settings allowed them to set the table by matching the plates and silverware to their corresponding outlines), and they spent the majority of lunch practicing their table manners and mastering the skill of cutting food with a knife and fork (this was a new skill for all but one child- and I suspect the reason that the carrots disappeared first-they were the perfect food to practice cutting and eating).

As I watched the elated children learning to use knives and forks, I could not help but think of a recent Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution episode which addressed the subject of giving knives to young children:

Just as Jamie Oliver surmised, it took the children less than one meal to have the basics down, and taught them a valuable skill that they will use for the rest of their lives.

We would like to extend a sincere thanks to Revolution Foods, especially Jenny Herman, Jacqueline Gleason, & Pat Donovan, for their commitment to the revolution and for making this wonderful program available to our small school. For more information about their program, please visit their website at:

We would also like to thank St. Vrain Community Montessori School. We were too small to serve as our own "drop off site," and SVCM has graciously allowed us to use their location during the school year. Thank you so much for your kindness!

Finally, I wanted to thank my husband, Josh, for spending the weekend installing the new stove at the school and doing the vent and HVAC work to make this possible.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Visit from the Butterfly Pavilion

This afternoon, the children were treated to one of the highlights of our summer arthropod unit, a visit from the Butterfly Pavilion. The Butterfly Pavilion has the distinction of being the nation's first stand alone non-profit invertebrate zoo. It features more than 1,600 free flying butterflies, more than thirty five species of arthropods, and a tide pool showcasing other invertebrates.
For our classroom, Dorothy, a volunteer with the Butterfly Pavilion's acclaimed Outreach Program, presented their Summer Bug Safari program to the children. Spirits were high all morning in anticipation of the impending visit. When it was time to gather as a group to view the insects, the children sat with rapt attention as Dorothy reviewed the basic characteristics of all arthropods, explained the difference between carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores, and explained the terms habitat, decomposer, and scavenger. Then, she showed the children some amazing examples of preserved exoskeletons.
The presentation began with a visit from a reticent hermit crab,
followed by the largest centipede I have ever seen.

Then, the children were treated to a visit from a gregarious millipede with forty legs,

and several Madagascar hissing cockroaches. The children were allowed to touch the cockroaches, to feel their hard exo-skeletons and hear the unique hissing sound they produce by forcing air through their spiracles.

While our study of arthropods concentrated heavily upon insects and their important role as pollinators, the predictable highlight of the presentation is always the arachnids. The children were treated to an up-close view of a Black Widow Spider and a scorpion- the latter was met with stifled gasps and a refrain of "I've never seen a real scorpion before," (to which our amused and gracious guest guest responded "How lucky that I brought one then").

Finally, it was time for the appearance of Rosie, the Chilean Rose Tarantula (or one of her numerous doppelgangers), the star of the show.

Ask any child who has been to the Butterfly Pavilion before for the highlight of their trip, and you are likely to get one answer: holding Rosie the tarantula. Unfortunately, when the Butterfly Pavilion came to the school last year, Rosie was in the process of molting and feeling too temperamental to be safely fondled by a classroom of preschoolers; this year, we were in luck- Rosie was amenable. Dorothy gave the children some quick instructions as to how to safely hold Rosie and tried to alleviate any fears the children might have had.

Then, to the great surprise of our guest, every child in the classroom willingly invited Rosie to crawl across their little palms and give them an arachnid "high five" with her furry little legs.

At the end of the presentation, our thoughtful guest took a few moments to ask me about the school and inquire into Dr. Montessori's theories about behavior and guidance. "The children were so well behaved," she remarked (to my visible delight). "Dr. Montessori believed strongly in the importance of instructing children in grace and courtesy," I explained proudly. We spent a few moments discussing how little attention is often given to these skills, despite the fact that most research shows that impulse control, the ability to delay gratification, and teaching children pro-social behaviors are among the most important skills we teach them, and the very foundation of future academic success.

For my part, I couldn't help but think, the presentation embodied the ideals of a Montessori education: our job is to present the world to children in a way which will arouse their interest, curiosity, and admiration.

We would like to sincerely thank Dorothy, our kind and knowledgeable guest, and the Butterfly Pavilion for bringing this amazing program to our school. For more information about the Butterfly Pavilion, please visit their website at:

Monday, August 1, 2011

First Annual Camping Trip to Union Reservoir

What is more fun for a young child then spending a beautiful summer day outside riding their bike, swimming in a lake, playing in a playground, fishing, hunting for insects and natural artifacts, making s'mores, and sleeping in a tent? Doing it with fourteen of their closest friends.

This summer marked the first annual Bloom! Montessori School family camping trip. To commemorate the event, forty three students and members of our parent community convened at Union Reservoir for an afternoon of summer fun. For many of our students (and some very brave parents) this was a very monumental occasion- their first camping trip ever.

If you have ever taken young children camping, you know the importance of having some family-friendly amenities and a convenient escape route; it was with these thoughts in mind that we selected Union Reservoir as the perfect location to experiment with the concept of a classroom camping trip. Union Reservoir is one of the gems of the City of Longmont parks system. It is a naturally occurring 736 acre body of water located a mere three miles from the school. It features a sand beach, swimming area (with a lifeguard), wakeless boating, fishing, picnic shleter, camping, and bathroom facilities all in close proximity to the parking lot.

To be honest, when I discussed the idea of taking an entire class of preschool aged children camping with some teaching colleagues, the idea was met with some minor skepticism to say the least. Nevertheless, we decided to maintain our attitude of cautious optimism and persevere.

After equipping themselves with some important group camping trip necessities (matching t-shirts, flashlights, a compass, sand pails, and insect specimen jars), the children were ready to set out on their adventure.

They quickly made themselves at home at the park, enjoying the company of their friends and the plentiful good eats found at the BBQ

Then, they spent the afternoon swimming in the lake, erecting sand castles on the beach, playing in the playground, and fishing for Pumpkinseed Bluegills.

As anyone who frequently enjoys the company of young children knows, one of their best qualities is the unabashed delight they take in acquiring new skills and abilities. The children took turns enthusiastically showing their friends how far they could swim under water, how they had learned to pedal their bicycles, and how to cast a fishing line like a pro.They taught each other how to float on their backs, use a bicycle bell, and reel a fishing line. And, they explained to the adults that were present, with all the precision and seriousness of a medical examiner, what they could do "now, that I'm big and four and a half," as compared with what they could do a few months ago.

After a long afternoon spent enjoying the perfect sunny weather, we knew the children would be hungry. Having gone to college in Georgia and being big fans of both good BBQ and local small businesses, we could not have been more pleased to have our camping trip catered by Georgia Boys BBQ (a local business born out of necessity when two old friends met up in Colorado with the goal of raising $100 to finance an afternoon of skiing) who graciously supplied us with a delicious supper of brisket, cole slaw, potato salad, and Mee Maw's banana puddin' to nourish our famished brood.
After supper, it was time to make our way over to the campsite, for the arduous task of stripping the children of their swimming clothes and pitching tents. There was a flurry of activity as children furiously pedaled their bicycles up and down the path, investigating every inch of the campsites, and literally racing from campsite to campsite. The children were consummate hosts, graciously inviting their friends to come and see their tents, testing out each others sleeping bags, trading flashlights and assisting each other in subduing any small insects that warranted closer scrutiny. That is, until "it" arrived.

"It" was a pop-up camper brought by one of the members of our parent community. There was spontaneous silence throughout the campground as the young children raced over to the camper and stood in silent amazement until the unsuspecting parent opened the door.

The excited children inundated the small space and were delighted to find beds, sinks, and other furnishings that were just their size! Immediately, there ensued an emphatic chorus of skilled negotiators vying to spend the night in the camper.

Less adept adults might have feared the commencing mutiny, but there were no amateurs in this crowd and we had come armed with stores of two very powerful munitions- s'mores and Jiffy Pop! Within minutes, the children were assembled in front of the campfire, cheerfully melting marshmallows, their sticky faces plastered with insect repellent and melted chocolate.

The children had no difficulty burning off their dessert by racing around the campground like a swarm of giggling "fire flies," their tiny flashlights flickering in the distance, until (to my absolute astonishment) they disappeared into their tents and slept soundly through the night.
We would like to sincerely thank my very talented sister-in-law, Jeffie Pryor, who created the darling T-shirt design; Amber Selzer who provided us with the amazing sun shelter, loaned out a lot of personal camping gear, and provided some great advice and suggestions about camping young children; and our parent community for all of their help and support with this event. We really hope that everyone enjoyed themselves as much as we did, and we hope you will join us again next summer.