Saturday, July 31, 2010


The children have been learning about the different parts of a plant, including the different structures present in leaves, and we have been discussing how plants make their own food through the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis begins when light is absorbed by proteins that contain chlorophyll (photons hit the chlorophyll and knock loose an electron) which begins an incredibly complex process in which energy from the sun is used to convert carbon dioxide into organic compounds (glucose) and oxygen. The ability of plants to perform this vital function can be traced back to cyano-bacteria (bluish green bacteria ) which were the very first plants on Earth, and responsible for making the oxygen that built up in the atmosphere to make life possible.

Needless to say, it is difficult to comprehend how sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water can make carbohydrates and oxygen. Cyanotypes provide one opportunity for children to get a hands on, sensorial, experience with a photo-reactive chemical process and the opportunity to achieve a better understanding of chemical pigments by analogy.

Cyanotypes, or "sun prints," are an antique photographic printing process which is distinctive due to it's Prussian blue monochrome prints. The method was invented during the Victorian era, but later abandoned except as a copying method for documents and plans as "blueprints." The cyan-blue prints are created by exposing photosensitive paper to ultraviolet light as a result of the photosensitivity of iron salts. Of course, you don't have to understand any of the chemistry involved or appreciate any of the historical significance to enjoy making prints.

This is an incredibly simple lesson to set up and 2-6 year old children can make prints independently if you supply an hourglass or simple method for ensuring that the paper is exposed to adequate amounts of sunlight (we achieved good results with a 3 minute egg timer). Here is how the lesson looks on the shelf.

The children select natural artifacts, place them on the photosensitive paper, and wait until three minutes has passed. They seemed very interested in the color transformation of the paper; additionally, many found watching the sand pass through the hourglass to be an exciting point of interest.

Then the children develop their prints by rinsing them in water (where the unreacted, water-soluble, iron salts are washed away). We intensified the characteristic blue effect by adding some lemon juice to the water bath.

I recommend supplementing the experience with an art appreciation lesson wherein you show the children some classic cyanotype prints; in particular, Anna Atkins, an English botanist and the first female photographer, has some very beautiful seaweed prints in her book Photographs of British Algae.

Older children can experiment with toning (changing the color of the print)- oolong tea works well! Also, here is something else that I plan to try (and present to the children if it is successful):

What's the Value of a Good Kindergarten Experience? About $320,000 According to Harvard Economists

Hopefully, this isn't too self-aggrandizing, but I wanted to share an article I read this week about the value of early childhood education. As Montessori observed, it is true that the most important years in a child's life may not be those of university studies, but the formative years (when a child's brain is literally wiring itself up, learning how to store and retrieve information efficiently, and learning how to learn).

What is the value of a good kindergarten experience? Well, according to Harvard economists, about $320,000 in earnings before the age of 30 (in addition to social gains like improved physical health and lower crime rates)! Pretty staggering!

(and, oh, lower class sizes- like 13-17 vs. 22-25, apparently that helps too!)

Here's the article from the New York Times:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Flower Dissection

"Once I tried to show some children how a flower should be dissected, and for this purpose I supplied all the necessary instruments: the botanist's needle, pincers, etc., just as is done in the university for the experiments in the natural science. My only aim was to see whether the preparations which university students make for botanical anatomy were in any way adaptable to the needs of little children. Even at the time when I studied in the botanical laboratory at the university I felt that these exercises in the preparation of material might be put to such use. Students know how difficult it is to prepare a stem, a stamen, an epithelium, for dissection, and how only with difficulty the hand, accustomed for years exclusively to writing, adapts itself to this delicate work. Seeing how skillful our children were with their little hands I decided to give them a complete scientific outfit and to test by experiment whether the child mind and the characteristic manual dexterity shown by children were not more adapted to such labors than the mind and hand of a nineteen-year old student.
My suspicion proved correct. The children with the keenest interest dissected a section of violet with remarkable accuracy, and they quickly learned to use all the instruments. But my greatest surprise was to find that they did not despise or throw away the dissected parts, as we older students used to do. With great care, they placed them all in an attractive order on a piece of white paper, as if they had in mind some secret purpose."
-Dr. Maria Montessori, The Advanced Montessori Method, 1917

For most people, a dissection set would not be something you would expect to find in a preschool classroom. Nevertheless, Flower Dissection is a classic Montessori lesson, which happens to fit in very nicely with our summer units of study- botany, arthropods, and pollinators. The children have been learning to identify the parts of plants and learning about the functions of the different structures. Flowers are particularly interesting to children because of their diversity and their beauty, and they are crucial to achieving an understanding of the life cycle of plants (and an understanding of how plant structures relate to their functions and plant adaptations). Like any Montessori work, entrusting the child with real, high quality, adult tools, which are appropriate for their development and to the work at hand, conveys an attitude of respect for the child and for the work with which they are engaged.

Dissection begins with selecting a suitable flower (lilies, tulips, daffodils, alstroemarias, and gladiolus work best).

Then, the child identifies and removes the sepals (which make up the calyx) and the petals (which make up the corolla); these structures are really just modified leaves. Together, they are called the perianth. It is particularly interesting to discuss the nectar guides (markings which are sometimes visible to humans that are believed to make the flower more attractive to pollinators and particularly visible under UV light). Additionally, the child will probably be surprised by the amount of nectar and pollen which is visible.

Then the child can carefully remove the stamens and identify the anther, filament, and pollen sacs.

Finally, the child can locate the pistil (and identify the stigma, style, and ovary). A quick cut through the center of the ovary reveals the seed-like structures called the ovules, which contains the unripe female sex cells and become the seeds when fertilized).

The duration and quality of the children's attention to this work is just as remarkable as Montessori described. Many of them were driven to repeat the activity several times with different types of flowers

and, as Dr. Montessori correctly observed, the children were keenly interested in carefully preserving the dissected structures. I am always amazed by how aptly her observations correctly describe the abilities and aptitudes of children educated according to her principles nearly one hundred years later (and by how radical her ideas may still appear).

Integrated Suzuki Program

At last Saturday's BBQ, our community was treated to a special presentation by Erron Lacy, of Longmont Suzuki Strings. Beginning in August, Ms. Lacy will be offering Suzuki violin lessons at the school. Children who participate in the optional program will attend a weekly "Master class" style lesson at the school; additionally, they will have the option of bringing their violin to school and practicing during the uninterrupted work period, as they would with any Montessori material. Bloom! Montessori staff will attend the children's lessons with Ms. Lacy so that we are able to assist the children with their practice during the work time; we will also establish a classroom listening station where children can listen to the Suzuki CD and we will integrate Suzuki activities into the daily line time. We are very excited about the program- and if the BBQ is any indication, we are off to a great start!

The children seemed immediately comfortable with Ms. Lacy- and very interested in her presentation.

Then, she showed (and demonstrated) an adorable 1/16th violin! When the children heard her play the first Suzuki variation, an amalgamation of "Mississippi Hotdog" and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" that my husband has renamed "The Hotdog Sonata," one eager student called out unabashedly "I want to try!"

As did most of them!

For more information about Ms. Lacy's regular studio practice, please visit her website at:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Garlic Harvesting

"You can never have enough garlic. With enough garlic, you can eat The New York Times."
-Morley Safer, Canuck CBS News Correspondent

It was finally time for the children to harvest the garlic that they planted last October!
My husband, Josh, led the excited brigade of aspiring farmers out to the garden (fresh carrots from this week's CSA share still dangling from their mouths), where they used a pitchfork to dig up the bulbs of organic Georgian Crystal (hardnecked garlic) and German Extra Hardy (hardnecked) from the garden.
Then the children contentedly busied themselves with relocating the straw mulch from the garlic beds into the compost bin (incidentally, shovelling dirt, lawn clippings, or mulch into the compost bin is one of their absolute favorite tasks- they seem to never tire of making trips back and forth, the blades of their shovels brimming with organic matter).

Afterwards, they removed the chunks of dirt from the fragrant bulbs, being careful not to bruise them

and the cloves were braided for storage while they cured. The curing process consists of hanging the bulbs out of direct sunlight (in a warm location with moderate air circulation) for about two weeks. This allows the bulbs to dry evenly, without spoilage. The leaves and the wrappers will dry, while the garlic will retain its moisture and essential oils.

The children took some of the garlic home with them to stock their own pantries. Once the garlic has cured, we will use the school's supply to make some pasta sauce for the best pizza party a school has ever had (I happen to know some children who maintain a wonderful Sourdough culture that is just perfect for pizza dough)!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Summer BBQ/Suzuki Information Session: Saturday, July 24th 4-7pm

We wanted to put out a reminder that the school will be hosting a BBQ on Saturday, July 24th from 4-7 pm for everyone (both existing and incoming families are invited)! The school will provide the protein and the "fauxtein" (hotdogs, hamburgers, Boca burgers, etc), condiments, chips, and beverages; please bring a side dish to share!

The BBQ should be a great opportunity for new children to meet their classmates and feel more comfortable in the school environment (with their parents present); additionally, it is a great opportunity for new parents to meet the other members of our community.

This will also be a very special BBQ, because Erron Lacy, of Longmont Suzuki Strings, will be giving a presentation about the new Integrated Suzuki Violin Program. Her presentation will begin at 4:30. This will be a great opportunity to meet Ms. Lacy and get your questions answered!

If you are planning to attend the BBQ, we ask that you RSVP to the school by Wednesday, July 21st. Thank you! We really hope to see everyone there!

Last Showing of The Lottery is this Evening

I wanted to put out a reminder that this evening marks your final opportunity to head over to The Tivoli for the final showing of The Lottery at the Starz Film Center in Denver. You can learn more about the film, and purchase tickets or copies of the documentary here:
Josh and I went to see the film last weekend; I thought it was a really powerful expose of the failures of the public school system, particularly in reaching out to African American children (58% of African American children in this country are functionally illiterate; of the African American children who graduate high school, the majority are performing at a level 4 years behind that of their white peers). I made it five minutes into the film without needing to open the box of tissues that my husband had the foresight to bring; Josh made it about ten.
As a Montessorian, it is impossible to watch this film without thinking of the very first Children's House which Montessori opened a little more than a hundred years ago in a tenement in the San Lorenzo Quarter. The conditions in which she found her pupils was remarkably the same, and perhaps a little worse, than the children featured in this film. Montessori writes:
"It may be that the life lived by the poor is a thing which some of you here today have never actually looked upon in all its degradation. You may have only felt the misery of deep human poverty through the medium of some great book, or some gifted actor may have made your soul vibrate with its horror...this is the home of the underpaid, often unemployed workingman, a common type in this city which has no factory industries. It is the home of him who undergoes the period of surveillance to which he is condemned after his prison sentence has ended. They are all here, mingled, huddled this we must add the evils of crowded living, promiscuousness, immorality, crime...Here there can be no privacy, no modesty, no gentleness. It seems a cruel mockery to introduce here our idea of the home as essential to the education of the masses, and as furnishing, along with the family, the only solid basis for the social structure. Conditions such as I have described make it more decorous, more hygienic, for these people to take to the street and let their children live there. But how often the streets are the scene of bloodshed, of quarrel, of sights so vile as to be almost inconceivable. The papers tell of women pursued and killed by drunken husbands! Of young girls with the fear of worse than death, stoned by low men. Again, we see untellable things- a wretched woman thrown, by the drunken men who have preyed upon her, forth into the gutter. There, when the day has come, the children of the neighborhood crowd about her like scavengers about their dead prey, shouting and laughing at the sight of this wreck of womanhood, kicking her bruised and filthy body as it lies in the mud of the gutter.
Such spectacles of extreme brutality are possible here at the very gate of a cosmopolitan city, because of a new fact which was unknown to past centuries, namely the isolation of the masses of the poor."
The Lottery juxtaposes images of abject poverty (children playing in empty apartments, eating their dinner on step stools for lack of furniture, drinking bottled water because the drinking supply is so contaminated), horrifying statistics about the probable plight of these children (corporations can calculate the need for prison construction based upon educational outcomes of six year old children), and personal anecdotes about a system which is failing (principles and former teachers crying as they describe the circumstances of the schools and what has happened to their former students), with intimate and familiar scenes of parents caring for their children, doing their very best to educate them, and trying to help them better their lives and break the cycle of poverty (single mothers who have gone back to school and gotten advanced degrees to improve their financial systems, parents actively seeking out the best schools for their children and tutoring them at home). Despite all of the parents best intentions and efforts, the grim statistics bear out the probable truth that few (if any) of these children will overcome their facticity. The problem is nicely summed up by one of the fathers in the film who has been sentenced to 25 years to life prison and says "I know my wife is a good mother and she is doing her best for our child, but my mother was a good mother too and she couldn't keep me from making the mistakes I made that have landed me here."
The heroine of The Lottery is a woman named Eva Moskowitz, who lives a life with many parallels to Montessori. Like Montessori, who lived (and had her directresses live) in the tenements amongst the families they served, Moskowitz was raised and continues to reside in Harlem (where she is often regarded with great suspicion by other locals). Moskowitz is the CEO of The Success Charter Network, several charter schools which have proven that they can educate children in Harlem cheaper (less per pupil), with larger class sizes, and significantly better educational outcomes than the local public schools (in fact, it would not be hyperbolic to say that winning a spot in a charter school lottery might be the only chance these children have to get an education). Additionally, it is very interesting to note that many of the characteristics which appear to make her school successful, closely parallel Montessori's Method- involving the families even before admitting the children, performing house calls when children do not attend regularly and arrive on time, providing hands on activities, and abandoning an antiquated agrarian school calendar in favor of longer school days and terms which have the added benefit of keeping the children off the streets.
Montessori's description of a Montessori directress would be an apt description of Moskowitz:
"The directress is always at the disposition of the mothers, and her life, as a cultured and educated person, is a constant example to the inhabitants of the house, for she is obliged to live in the tenement and to be therefore a coinhabitant with the families and all of her pupils. This is a fact of immense importance. Amongst these people, into a house where no one dared go unarmed, there has come not only to teach, but to live the life of a very gentlewoman of culture, an educator by profession, who dedicated her time and her life to helping those about her."
The film contrasts Moskowitz with the public school teacher's unions and educational bureaucracy and their more pedestrian concerns. For me, the most enlightening part of the film was its explanation of the forces inherent in the status quo which were preventing meaningful reform. The biggest impediment to change came from a rather unexpected place, the New York teacher's unions and the government officials (largely Democrats) who accept money from them. In many ways, the film is about a battle between people committed to reforming this broken system and an entrenched teacher's union which is unwilling to alter the status quo; or, a school district which has forgotten that it is in the business of educating children, not catering to union officials. One of the main complications in the film is a battle between a very successful charter school that wants to take over a school building where the school has already been closed by the district because less than 10% of the students were performing at grade level (surprisingly, the charter school was not successful as a result of opposition from the teacher's union, local residents, and paid Acorn protesters). The film completely changed my perspective on teacher's unions and collective bargaining and provides a very effective critique of the traditional public school system; additionally, it is a good reminder of the importance of Dr. Montessori's views on social reform and the ideals to which Montessori educators should aspire. I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Farm Fresh Carrots!

"Some foods begin as little seeds that farmers plant in Spring.
The seeds need water and the sun to do their growing thing.
A season later, fields are filled with veggies, fruits, and grains,
The farmer did the work, and we all get to say... Bon Appetit!"
-Bon Appetit, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer

This afternoon marked a much anticipated summer moment- the first delivery of fresh carrots in the CSA share (in addition to numerous other tasty treats- including broccoli, snow peas, and some very beautiful beets)!
At the end of the day, the children went outside to play while I brought out the dishwashing station stocked with fresh water and the vegetable cleaning brushes. "What is that for?" inquired a visitor to the school. "You'll see," I got to respond with a smile.
Soon enough, the CSA share was delivered and the children raced to plunder the familiar yellow bags. With shrieks of delight they began scrubbing carrots and wandering around munching on them, long leafy stems dangling from their lips. When it was time to go home, they bargained for more to eat on the ride home. Thanks Farmer Mike!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sushi Party!

Let me begin with confession- first of all, the pictures I am about to show are nearly three weeks old (my camera broke and while it was being replaced I used my husbands which does not upload as easily); second, although I love receiving the school's weekly CSA shares, and I am quite the fan of the spinach, chard, and kale that comprises a lot of the early season vegetables in Colorado, occasionally, I too find myself tired of eating my greens and in need of some inspiration.

So, on a particularly quiet Friday afternoon (we had a lot of children absent due to vacations), I invited the second best sushi chef I know (my brother-in-law wins the prize), my sister Becky, to teach the children to make onigiri and hosomaki sushi rolls with the leftovers from the weekly CSA share and celebrate with an impromptu sushi party.

Onigiri is essentially a rice ball that is eaten as a quick, informal meal. It is traditionally rolled into the shape of sphere or a triangular prism. Ours was topped with a liberal helping of fresh, local, chard.

First the children rolled the sticky rice into a sphere (very satisfying!);

then they topped it with chard

and rolled it up with a thin strip of nori.

Then it was time for the children to experience the fun of making traditional sushi rolls. If there is any single cooking project that I would recommend doing with primary aged Montessori students it is this one! The lesson uniquely complements many of the traditional Montessori activities and it is a project that children can replicate safely and independently after being given a demonstration.

First, the children put the rough side of the nori facing up (rough smooth board extension?!);

then, they spooned a liberal helping of sushi rice on top,

filled it with their favorite vegetables,

rolled it up (just like rolling a Montessori rug.... "tight little rolls" the children kept chanting),

and carefully cut it into pieces with the chef's knife.

Mmmmnnn.... chard never tasted so yummy!

Afterwards, the children read Yoko by Rosemary Wells (one of their absolute favorite stories about a Japanese kitten who gets teased by her classmates when she brings a darling bento box of sushi and mochi for lunch). Then, we set out the sushi making materials on a floor table in the practical life area and every single one of the children chose to repeat the lesson and make more sushi to take home and share with their families for supper.

My sincerest thanks to my sister, Becky, for sharing her talents with us! Domo Arigato!
Becky's Favorite Sushi Rice:
8 oz. sushi rice
1 1/4 cups water
1 small piece of kombu
2 tbs rice vinegar
2 tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
Rinse and drain the rice (water should run clear). Put the rice, kombu, and water in a sauce pan and allow it to swell slightly. Bring to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes; then, cover and simmer for 10 minutes at the lowest heat. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, covered with a damp cloth. Heat vinegar, sugar, and salt; heat until solids are dissolved. Allow to cool. Put rice into a non-reactive bowl (preferably a flat, wooden bowl); remove kombu and mix the rice with the vinegar mixture.