At the national American Montessori Society conference several years ago we heard speakers from all over the country citing bewildering facts about the rise in autism, ADHD, visual, cognitive and motor delays due to the child’s changing environment. According to Marlene Barron, professor at NYU, the chemicals in our air, water, food, clothing and cleaning products are affecting our childrens’ physical development. The tendency of parents to keep their children strapped into high chairs, car seats, infant seats, bouncers, walkers, strollers is delaying their motor development. Our modern affinity for tv, movies, computers, games, phones and iPads has children staring at screens in every room of the house, in the car and even in the crib. As a result children are showing delays in visual tracking skills. At a recent AMS conference Dr. Joanne Deak pointed out that children’s social skills are imparied by their decreasing face-to-face interactions with real people as electronic social networking occupies more of their time.
Recent articles in Newsweek and Scientific American suggest that we are lacking immunities and more succeptible to allergies because we don’t spend as much time working with soil as our ancestors did. Because of our fear of skin cancer and our increasingly indoor lifestyle we are not getting enough vitamin D from the sun which increases our risk for cancer, multiple sclerosis and auto-immune disorders.
Richard Louv points out in his book Last Child in the Woods that parents are afraid to let their children play outside any more. Between the media-inflated fears of child snatchers to the real threat of litigation should anyone get hurt parents more and more often opt to keep their children clean, safe and inside. He references studies in which disorders such as autism and ADHD are successfully treated with gardening and simple outdoor play.
Apparently, many of today’s concerns – chemical pollutants, delays in motor and visual development, autism, ADHD and a paucity of vitamin D might be treated by simply letting your child go outside and dig a hole or build a tree house or create a little town in the bushes. In fact, Louv points out, if our children do not make this connection with nature they will grow up without value for the wild places we have taken such pains to preserve, not able to continue our work in providing a treasury of wilderness areas which not only ensure a healthy earth, but healthy childhoods for coming generations. As Mr. Louv says, “Passion does not arrive on video or on a CD; passion is personal. Passion is lifted from the earth itself by the muddy hands of the young; it travels along grass-stained sleeves to the heart. If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered indicator species: the child in nature.”
Maria Montessori believed that every child has an intrinsic desire to do productive work. What she conceived of as the “normalization” of a child is that process by which the child is able to achieve a level of concentration in order to recognize, organize, and accomplish productive work. In the 1- to 6-year-old child the important tasks to be mastered are fine and large motor control, language, communication, social and self care skills, such as pouring, tying, buckling and washing, which result in greater independence and higher self esteem. Also important at this time are sensorial experiments with which the child discovers a great many principles in spatial relationships, physics, geometry, algebra, art and physiology. Only after these basic needs have been met can the child begin to turn concentrative powers on the more abstract skills required for reading, math and the many sophisticated subjects covered at the elementary level.
Maria worked with children of the 1900’s through the 1940’s whose behavior was a result of the popular notion of the time that “children should be seen and not heard” and who, in order to meet this level of acceptance, were plied with sweets and pretty, but useless toys. Today the options that the average child has are infinitely broader with most homes supplying sand boxes, art supplies, sports, music and dance lessons and creative toys and games. However, we also have an assortment of electronic entertainment, a bewildering array of electronic toys and games and mega-doses of sugar and additives in virtually every packaged food, all of which work to distract and disorient the child from his natural course. The adult attitude of the 2010’s is much the same as that of the 1920’s in that many believe brightly colored and frivolous things, now with flashing lights, most delight the child when in reality the average child will get more growth and entertainment out of playing with an empty box or a patch of dirt. Haven’t you and your child spent time wandering through Toys-R-Us looking for something you can really use?
In the toddler class normalization is seen in the ability of the child to transition smoothly from home to classroom, the child finding increasing satisfaction in moving around the room independently and concentrating intently on each task. In the early childhood classroom we see normalization occurring as the toys go untouched and teachers say less frequently, “What work would you like to choose?” Students have the ground rules down and at the first call to circle even the smallest are putting away their work and coming to sit with the group. In the elementary classes there is a quiet hum of activity all morning while students practice language and math skills. Throughout the afternoon the class is characterized by happy chatter, songs and games and the “oohs” and “aahs” of the cultural lessons. Normalized elementary students delight in their work, are able to solve problems independently and take responsibility for all the details that keep the class in harmony. Perhaps the happiest sign of a normalized class is the smile on the face of the child absorbed in productive activity in a peaceful classroom.
“Only ‘normalized’ children, aided by their environment, show in their subsequent development those wonderful powers that we describe: spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others.”
Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind
In November the topics for discussion are Bathing, Sleeping and Motor Development. Come enjoy the exchange of ideas and bring along any questions on these or other topics, such as what is “too much holiday” for an infant?
By now our toddlers are happily normalizing to the school routine. They can find their own hooks, lockers and cubbies and they move confidently about the room choosing activities to practice. They use polite table manners at snack time and they know where to find necessary equipment when it’s time to clean up the classroom or wipe up a spill. Young children enjoy these responsibilities and can easily be more independent at home.
Make sure hooks are low enough for your toddler to reach so she can hang up her coat as soon as she walks in the door. As winter approaches it is helpful to keep snow boots near the door too, so your child can find them easily when it is time to go. A small whisk broom, a dish cloth cut into small squares and a sponge cut in half can be kept in a basket on a low shelf so your toddler can easily help with clean up operations. The Montessori Services catalogs we sent home recently offer a child-sized carpet sweeper that is immensely helpful in allowing the child to clean up crumbs and dirt.
Allow plenty of time for your toddler to dress himself. Make sure clothes are of the slip-on/off nature to ensure independence and success. Acceptable choices for the season can be hung on a low rod in the closet to enable your child to choose his own clothes. You may want to buy clothes in the same color palette to ensure his success in matching until he can pick out good combinations on his own.
In the kitchen, provide a low shelf with snack items in small quantities so that your child can fix herself a snack at any time. Child-sized place settings, plates, bowls and glasses will enable your child to practice fine motor eating skills at meal times. Again allow plenty of time and resist the urge to feed your child. She will gain much more by feeding and dressing herself, even though it will take longer and the end product may not be as neat! As Susan Stephenson says in Tomorrow’s Child:
“It is not good for children when we, parents and teachers, push them into stages that they are not ready for. But neither is it good for us to hold children back when they are ready to operate independently. Every unnecessary help is really a hindrance to development. This is true at any age, from a child who is ready to wean himself from nursing, to the young child who wants to pick out her own clothing in the morning, to the adolescent who wishes to learn to play the violin.”
Monday – Art
Last month we drew self-portraits, learned about landscape, still life and abstract art, and each class began studies of an artist of the Renaissance, Rembrandt van Ryn. In November we will move on to the Impressionists with a look at Mary Cassat. Children enjoy the family scenes she depicted and the warmth of her colors.
Tuesday – History
We have begun the Thanksgiving timeline, each week adding another chapter to the story and acting it out. Thus far we’ve discussed King James, castles and dungeons, and the flight of the Separatists to Holland. In 1620 they came back to England, packed the Mayflower and left for the New World. We’ll bring the story up to the present in time for our Thanksgiving Feast.
Wednesday – Geography
Up until now we have studied the layers of the Earth, how the Earth got its shape and the basic land and water forms (island, lake, cape, bay, peninsula, gulf, strait and isthmus). We have seen how a map is made by cutting the globe in half and flattening it. We are now ready to embark on our study of the continents beginning with North America and the indigenous plants, animals and people. If you have any Native American dolls or treasures to share with the class, this would be a good time to send them in.
All ec classes will attend the Navajo Rug Show at Snow Park Lodge in Deer Valley on November 6th. In the spirit of the Native American give-away, students will make a presentation of the proceeds they helped earn at the Children’s Fair, non-perishable food donations from the Fall Food Drive and a few handmade items. Our “adopted” Grandmother Frances Bahe fell and is convalescing and cannot make the trip to Park City this year. So we are collecting small gifts for her such as lotion, gloves, tea and small monetary donations to send directly to her at home to help her through the long winter. Children are welcome to give contributions to any teacher to include in Grandma Frances’ “care” package. We will need drivers to get us and our donations to Snow Park Lodge on the 6th. This is always a wonderful cultural immersion experience which complements our Native American studies beautifully. You are most welcome to join us.
Thursday – Literature
Tomie de Paola is the author of the month. His humorous and poignant stories are fun to read aloud. He has also written and illustrated several Native American legends that integrate into our Geography and History lessons. If you have a favorite de Paola book to share, please send it to school with your child this month.
Friday – Biology
Through October we have studied invertebrates (animals with no bones), collected specimens for a Bug Zoo and studied several types up close and personal when Kim’s Cold-blooded Creatures came to school. In November we study plants by cultivating beans, learning and eating the parts of a plant. This study culminates in preparing vegetables for our stone soup at our Thanksgiving Feast.
November 25th will be an ec “Party Day” beginning at 9:30 am with all children dismissing at noon. Children are invited to dress as Pilgrims or Native Americans, participate in special Thanksgiving activities, cook their own feast and act out the entire Thanksgiving Timeline one last time. Ask your child to enact the story at home – most of them can tell it pretty well by now. The costume can be as elaborate or simple as you and your child care to make it. There will be sign-ups posted on classroom doors soon for the necessary items.
Monday – History
This month we bring our Timeline of Life into recent history with a look at US History and states in general, Utah and Park City history in particular.
Tuesday – North America
From the study of the formation of the Earth we move on to the specifics of the cultures of North America. This unit will culminate in a “Fifty Nifty United States” Historical Feast on November 25th. Children will research the foods of the state they will represent. Details will be forthcoming…
Wednesday – Art
The class has covered a review of sketching basic shapes, and will review the color wheel and color mixing. We will try our hand at various techniques including water colors and creating a still life. Students are encouraged to practice, practice, practice! Remind them to bring along a sketch book when going to a restaurant or on a car trip. They have been practicing sketching objects using the basic shapes – a sphere can be a snowman, an eyeball or a pumpkin, an ellipsoid can be a football, etc.
Thursday – Zoology
In November the elementary class will review characteristics and nomenclature of invertebrates (animals which have no bones) and examine various species. If you find any specimens crawling around, please bring them in for observation. This is a good time to have an invertebrate themed dinner which might include shrimp, clams and/or crab.
Friday – Field Trips
In Montessori education there is a tradition of “going out” which means getting out into the world in order to apply the academic learning of the week. Although from time to time there is talk of adopting the half day Friday schedule of the public school calendar we have held fast to our field trip tradition because it is a fabulous and unique opportunity to expand our horizons. This means we’ll need drivers and reminders about wearing school t-shirts. Thank you in advance for your help in “going out”.
November 6th – The Elementary Class will make presentations of proceeds from the Children’s Fair and the Fall Food Drive to Adopt-a-Native Elder at the Navajo Rug Show at Snow Park Lodge in Deer Valley. Grandmother Frances won’t be in Park City this year because she fell and is convalescing. So we are collecting small gifts to send directly to her. Children are welcome to contribute gifts such as lotion, gloves, tea, snacks and small monetary donations for Grandmother Frances. This represents the culmination of the months of planning, organizing and promoting the Children’s Fair for which the Elementary students took primary responsibility last spring. What a satisfying feeling of a job well done!
November 21st – We will dress up to attend the a special performance of Repertory Dance Theater at the Rose Wagner Theater in Salt Lake City. This will help us begin to think about our role in our upcoming winter play.
Asked of a random assortment of those who were handy on Halloween –
Mark – My house.
Chloe – I can take care of my mom.
Nikola – Ghosts scaring people.
Urijah – My baby sister.
Finley – My baby sister.
Adwen – My brother.
Rhys – Being invisible.
Maya P – Giving my toys way to other people.
Maya B – Friends like Wren.
Clara – Popcorn and candy.
Emery – Spider webs, skeletons, candy, trucks and cars.
Peyton W – Christmas and Halloween.
Bella- Family and my dog, Miso.
Ryder – All the people at my birthday party.
Max – All my Legos.
Sawyer – I’m thankful for everything equally.
Avery – Valentines Day.
Ian – My awesome costume.
Gabi – My family and good friends, food and water.
Allie – Our Earth.
Lori – Family and friends.
Lina – My grandma.
Duna – Our incredibly supportive school community.
Natalija – My beautiful family.
Leah – Warm days and comfortable shoes.
Tama – My 6-year-old (today) son.
Bruce – My family.
Shannon – For being around a lot of amazing people every day
“Yesterday is history,
Tomorrow is a mystery,
Today is a gift.
That’s why we call it
Barbara de Angelis
Last, but not least, avoid cliches like the plague.