Montessori philosophy is based on the concept that humans are evolving toward a peaceful way of life in relation to all things. Many of the small things we do in the classroom every day are aimed at this goal. Etiquette, respect for the work of others, using words to solve problems, learning to share and take turns with limited resources, respect for all living things and celebrations from around the world are just a few of the ways Montessorians work toward peace every day. We also turn games from competitive to cooperative and make up stories where the evil witch doesn’t die a horrible death but learns to get along with everyone else.
Yet in our culture the children are bound to be exposed to violent actions. At this stage in their development it is very natural to mimic what others are saying and doing and adults should respect this need. We witnessed block towers repeatedly falling down in the weeks following September 11, 2001. There were also drawings of people crying and planes crashing into buildings. Before we’d even heard the news about the shooting in Colorado last summer there were already emails about how to help children with such a disaster. Though human civilization is slowly evolving toward peace, children will continue to witness troubling images on the tv news. Children need to sort out their feelings just as adults do and we respect this need by providing suitable age-appropriate outlets.
At home and at school we can set standards for the type of behavior we expect. Violent behavior is never tolerated at school, even if it’s “just pretend”. Playing super heroes almost always results in someone getting hurt. The preponderance of jumping, kicking and swinging motions that seem to arise with budding social skills around the age of four can be easily channeled into more positive activities such as gymnastics, soccer, dance, karate or simple imaginative games involving active but benevolent characters such as animals, community figures or athletes. Monitor your child’s TV viewing or delete it altogether. Educators agree – the less time your child spends watching tv, the better. How about a family game of “Kick the Can” instead?
Maria Montessori was developing her philosophy of education throughout the World Wars. She realized that if humankind is to achieve peace, the children must be taught to solve problems by talking rather than fighting, to share limited resources and to respect other cultures and religions. She could not have foreseen the violence that plagues our society today but her ideas remain the obvious solution; if we want to see our grandchildren living in peace we must teach our children to live peacefully.
Maria Montessori’s approach to discipline was based on the concept of “normalization”. When the child is “normalized” or free of distractions and able to concentrate on the skills he is in need of practicing, misbehavior does not occur. Only when the child is frustrated or distracted does improper behavior occur. With this idea as a basis we have built our disciplinary approach incorporating the techniques of many other authors (notably, Jane Nelsen’s Positive Discipline, Rudolph Dreikurs’ Children the Challenge and Faber and Mazlish’s How to Talk So Kids Will Listen). Montessori Parenting by Sonnie McFarland is the latest in the long line of parenting books. We feel Sonnie has beautifully summarized the rationale of parenting.
We start off the school year with very few classroom rules and add them as they are needed, often with the children deciding on what the new rules should be. Every rule has a purpose and every child is aware of that purpose. When rules are broken we employ logical consequences. For example, if a child is misusing equipment, the equipment is removed from her immediate use and the child is directed toward something more suitable. If the pink tower is being knocked about we direct the child to a hammering activity. If an Elementary child misuses work time he may have to spend some play time getting caught up. Rules are designed to protect the right of the child to work in a safe, distraction-free environment. While we are striving to provide a “fail-safe” environment, in which the child’s self confidence is continually being reinforced by her own successes, we allow her the opportunity to learn from her own mistakes with as little adult interference as possible. When a dispute arises we ask even the youngest child to “use words” to tell the other child how he feels.
In the most extreme cases a child may be asked to sit apart from the group until the child has decided she can return to the situation with control (In contrast to “time-outs” where the adult decides when the child may return). Spanking is never a solution to a problem in child behavior. Spanking teaches children to hit. Reward and punishment teach the child to behave for the satisfaction of adults rather than for their own satisfaction. This sort of domination by adults very often results in rebellious and manipulative behavior in the child and low self-esteem.
Of course, every child offers a new set of challenges, but these are the general tactics we use in handling day to day problems. By the end of the normalization period (approximately 6 weeks) teachers, parents and students have hopefully arrived at an understanding of how each of our individual needs can best be met so that we can all spend more time on academics and less time on behavior management. The public libraries have many books on this topic. If you have a particular concern, please feel free to talk to any of us after class or schedule a time for a conference or a class observation.
All babies and their families are welcome to join us every Friday in the El Nido Class. October is a short month due to Fall Break and Parent Conferences but teacher Lina Singleton will make the most of class time and cover the Montessori approach to diapering and dining as well as any individual topics parents and careivers are interested in discussing. Parents report that the class offers an excellent opportunity to learn more about their own baby in particular and parenting in general while getting to know other families. It’s a great place for a baby to explore new wonders like paint! Let us know right away if you or a friend may be interested.
Self care and toileting skills are a huge part of the toddler curriculum. You have probably already noticed your toddler’s confidence increasing and she has fallen into the routine of coming to school, hanging up her coat, taking her shoes off and putting them on again. We allow plenty of time so the child can practice these tasks at her own pace. Even the youngest children are following the crowd into the bathroom to work on toileting.
The following are excerpts from the Summer 2001 edition of Infants and Toddlers, a Montessori journal pointing out the philsophy of the toilet learning curriculum in our classes. (Note: The author points out that cloth diapers are preferrable to paper from a child development as well as from an environmental point of view. We find that cotton training pants make the toilet learning process much easier for a toddler. G Diapers are another choice – more absorbent that cloth, but more environmentally acceptable than traditional disposables.)
Diapers and Toileting that Works: Follow the Child
by Susan Tracy, MEd, Montessori teacher, lecturer, consultant and parent educator, Palatine, Illinois
In the United States, in the last 30 years, cloth diapers have become a rarity. Coinciding with the widespread use of disposable diapers, toilet training has been happening later and later, often not until a child is three or four years of age.
In Montessori infant/toddler teacher education, early toileting is taught as a practical life, self-care skill. We observe the child’s interest (a sensitive period) at approximately 18 to 24 months of age. My experience with my own four children, and hundreds of children in toddler classes, confirms this.
With all of the current interest in infant and toddler learning and development, new attention is being given to the early capabilities that they possess. None of this is new to Montessorians. Current research confirms what we have known for years: children develop their basic human capabilities during the first three years.
-It is best to use cloth diapers that are all cotton. Velcro or snap diaper covers hold the diaper in place. My favorite is the all-wool cover. It is very cool, soft, breathable and it repels wetness. One cover can last through several diaper changes, until it becomes soiled. The all-in-one type of cloth diapers (diaper attached inside of vinyl cover) are more expensive and not as breathable but they are even easier to use.
-Cloth diapers allow both the infant and the adult to notice wetness. The diaper should be changed promptly so that the baby’s normal condition is to be clean and dry. Disposable diapers are so absorbent that the child is less aware that wetness results from urination.
-Change diapers in the bathroom so that the child learns where these things are handled. A changing table is unnecessary, expensive, and potentially dangerous. Babies like to move and can easily fall off a changing table. It is preferable to change the baby on a low pad placed in the bathroom. A gardener’s kneeling pad makes this easier on the adult.
-Dump or scrape solid waste into the toilet. You are supposed to do this even with disposables. The baby learns where bowel movements should go; this is also a help with toilet learning. Put diapers in a diaper pail; no need to soak them.
-I wash my own cloth diapers every other day with mild detergent and run them through an extra rinse. Hanging diapers in the sun will help whiten and sterilize them. I do this instead of using bleach. A diaper service is still cheaper than disposables, if you prefer not to wash diapers.
-Diaper changing can be pleasant. We do it cheerfully, without giving the child negative messages about his body or waste like icky or stinky. Diaper changing provides the adult an opportunity to give some attention to the baby several times throughout the day. We can kneel facing the child when we talk. We can verbalize what we are doing.
-Give a baby or toddler some time out of diapers every day. They can be bare-bottomed or wear cotton underpants although it is difficult to find a small size. This will increase awareness of bodily functions, help with diaper rash and enhance freedom of movement. Babies can often crawl a month or two sooner without a diaper on.
-I recommend that a potty-chair be placed in the bathroom at 9 to 12 months of age. At this age, infants enjoy sitting on any little chair. They are just learning how to sit. At two years of age, they can switch to a big toilet with a step tool. Provide a diaper pail in the bathroom for the underpants and clean-up towels. Old towels should be available just for this purpose. They can then be washed along with the underpants. Allow the child to clean up along with you as part of the natural consequence.
-Provide clothing that allows independence: elastic-waist pants, loose shirts and socks, slip-on or Velcro shoes. During the toilet learning process, it is easiest for children to have no clothing over their underpants. Just dress them in underwear and shirt whenever possible. It is best not to go back to diapers at night or when going out. You can put plastic pants over the underwear at this time.
-Observe and note the child’s elimination schedule. Notice signs with facial expressions or behaviors like hiding or grunting. Take the child to the potty according to these observations so he or she has some beginning experience. There is no pressure for the child to produce anything in the potty.
-“No” is a toddler’s answer to most any question. So don’t ask, “Do you need to use the potty?” Say instead, “It’s time to go potty”, or better, “We use the bathroom before we…”
Within a few weeks or months, a toddler can be using the potty consistently. The adult needs to be calm when there is an accident. We do not need to scold, it is a natural process and they are just learning to control it. Try to be matter-of-fact. The adult is prepared, talks with the child and provides the environment and opportunity for toileting. We are not forcing the child; we are allowing the child to follow his own interest.
In Montessori schools the activities are called “work” so that children will associate positive feelings with the term which will hopefully carry over into their adult lives. During the work period the children are free to choose anything they have had a lesson on. Teachers give new lessons, assist and observe. By now each child has had lessons in every area of the classroom. They are encouraged to practice each skill again and again as teachers look for areas of special developmental interest for each child. Much of the work period up to this point has been spent remembering to put work away, push in chairs, use “inside” voices and feet, use “careful” hands, use words rather than hands when a problem arises with another person, and respect the work of others.
We finish each class with a “circle” lesson including songs, calendar, weather and sharing (the opportunity for each child to have a turn to talk). At circle time we usually read a story or play a game. The first weeks of class were spent focusing on health and safety rules, good manners and the concept of “community” from the family to classroom, school, neighborhood, town state and planet. This is where we are with the currculum lessons:
Monday – Music/Art
We have concluded a brief history of art this month discussing the perennial question, “What is Art?” We have talked about primitive art on cave walls and the Egyptians and Romans recording history through their art. We will touch on the Renaissance and Modern Art before we begin our “Artists of the Month” with Renaissance artists Rembrandt in October. We will try our hand at self-portraits, will learn a little about the artist’s life and notice the similarities and differences between his paintings. If you have any pictures or books about Rembrandt van Rijn please send them in for us to share.
Tuesday – Time/Seasons
We have been enjoying the fall weather and looking for signs of fall. We are collecting leaves for rubbings, collages and collections as long as we have them!
We will soon begin the Thanksgiving Timeline which begins with the story of cranky King James of England and the Pilgrims’ hope for a better life, and ends in six weeks with the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving. The purpose is not only a history lesson, but also to establish the concept of the passage of time as the story unfolds week after week. By then end the children will be telling the tale with little help.
Wednesday – Geography
We’ve talked about how the Earth got it’s shape, what it is made of (in case the song is not yet running through your head!), the water cycle, and we are studying the shapes that land and water can make. The land and water forms we study include lake, island, bay, cape, gulf, peninsula, strait and isthmus. Look for these shapes in puddles or in your travels and help your child identify them.
Thursday – Literature
We’ve talked about the importance of books, parts of books, how they are made, the proper way of handling them and are working on our own books individually and as a class. The bookmobile visits the school every other week which helps to foster a life-long love for books and learning.
You can help at home by being a good role model and showing your child how much you enjoy reading. Reading aloud on a daily basis is important for your child’s development of language skills. If you’ve gotten bored silly of Disney and Sesame Street, try choosing a book you enjoyed as a child that may seem a little over your child’s head. As your child gets used to more words and fewer pictures you may be surprised at the level of books you can enjoy together. Try the original Winnie-the-Pooh and Mary Poppins books or just a few pages at a time of Chronicles of Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, The Secret Garden, Trumpet of the Swan, Stewart Little or The Little Princess. Older siblings will enjoy hearing these as well.
We begin our study of authors this month with Mitsumasa Anno. He is a Japanese artist with a strong interest in math whose wordless picture books can be enjoyed over and over with new discoveries always to be found. If you have an Anno book to share please encourage your child to bring it to class.
Friday – Biology
So far we have studied the characteristics of living and non-living things. Moving, eating, growing, reproducing, breathing, eliminating waste and sensitivity are some of the qualities your child may be able to pick out as distinguishing a rock from a cat. The delight of a Montessori look at science is in moving from the world in general around us in for a close look at the details of life with discoveries as small as the parts of an ant. We progress through the year toward an understanding of how all living things are interdependent in the web of life.
During September we looked at those living things that are neither animals nor plants – molds and algae of the order Protoctista. We successfully raised healthy batches of mold and looked for algae in the aquarium.
In October we are studying Invertebrates. We have created insect zoos in class. Any specimens you and your child find before they go into hiding for the winter will be greatly appreciated. This is a good time to have an invertebrate feast of shrimp, crab, lobster, clams or oysters for dinner. Can you find any bones inside?
On the second day of school we scrapped our original plan to separate afternoon classes by ability. This had worked well in the past when only about half of the EC students stayed for afternoon class but with most students now staying for a full day it made more sense to keep them in the same classes. So now all afternoon classes are called “Elementary Prep” which means they are all mature enough to spend more time at school, focusing more on academics and preparing for their eventual move to the elementary class. The afternoon curriculum covers language, math, science, geography and penmanship and the many community projects integrating these skills such as cooking or writing a letter and going to the post office to mail it. Tthe younger students work on sensorial skills as well, which is preparatory for math. Morning class time is a bustle of activity. Afternoon class time is often when the “Great Work” of the day happens.
We spend unstructured time outside each day. We also like to take occasional walks to allow us to enjoy the seasons as they change. Going to the park is good for practicing field trip skills before taking the entire Early Childhood group to a place like the Wheeler Farm. Please remember that when we are returning from an excursion if your child sees you across the street or parking lot it will be a huge temptation to run to you. Please help us by staying out of sight until we are within a safe distance.
Early Childhood Events
In September we visited the Fire Station. We reviewed fire safety rules and how and when to dial 911. Make sure your child knows two ways out of his bedroom (is going out the window safe?) and a family meeting place outside. Have a family fire drill so everyone knows what to do. When checking into a hotel establish a family ritual of locating the nearest exit first thing and then checking the smoke detector. Make a jingle out of your address and phone number so even the youngest child can sing it. Decide which neighbors to go to for help. In an emergency your child may be able to help you out of trouble!
Our first big EC field trip of the school year is to the Wheeler Farm on October 9th from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm. We will notice the signs of the season and confirm our lessons in connectedness – where food comes from, how we make things like soap and butter, what the fall harvest is all about. Please make sure all students are at school dressed for the weather no later than 9:00 am wearing their Soaring Wings t-shirts. If you don’t already have a t-shirt or if you need to trade in for a larger size, let your child’s teacher know. Your first shirt is free, extras are $10. Please let us know if your child cannot attend. We will need lots of parent volunteer drivers. Drivers should bring the following: water bottle, first aid kit, change of pants and a cell phone. See the driver signup sheets on the classroom doors. Pick up is on the playground at 2:00 pm.This always a fun fall outing!
Halloween parties will be Friday October 31st. Early Childhood students will experience “The Party Day”. There are three of these special days built into the school calendar – Halloween, Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day. For EC classes in particular we strive to create an exercise in “How to Have a Healthy Celebration”, avoiding sugar and mayhem and incorporating an appropriate lesson. A lot of time, effort and thought goes into the preparations for each party; we want to provide opportunities to celebrate through cooking, crafts, storytelling, song and dance. The youngest children are often unsure about the change in routine and it may be Valentine’s Day before they are comfortable with the party concept. Our goal is for each child to grow up with a sense that celebration does not necessarily include overindulgence.
For the 3- to 6-year-old child, Halloween provides a great opportunity to experiment with what is real and what is not, what is scary and why, and the role-playing that goes with dressing up. Early Childhood students may wear a costume (No candy, weapons, bloody or grotesque costumes, please!) to the party and we will have signups for necessary goodies. EC parties will be from 9:30 am until noon (classes are closed until 9:30 for preparation) . This schedule allows the teachers time for special preparation, and allows the children just the right amount of time to celebrate. Prep students have an optional noon pick-up on this day. Please let your child’s teacher know whether or not your child will be in class that afternoon.
When children are just beginning to enjoy their ability to write, we must be careful not to discourage their attempts. Remember how it felt to get a corrected paper back from the teacher dripping with red ink? For this reason we carefully consider the child’s abilities and encourage him to make his best attempt at writing on his own. An emergent reader does not yet know all of the bizarre spelling rules of the English language. We want him to enjoy the thrill of written communication and work on those spelling rules as his skills allow. The elementary student learns to use the dictionary often. Grammar lessons expose him to a wide variety of words and their meanings and spellings. Make sure you have a good dictionary available, and above all, read, read, read! At the elementary age students still enjoy snuggling up with parents and a book on a daily basis. And the books your students are reading now are likely more interesting to the whole family. Be a good model and let them see you reading often. Try sharing passages out loud with your family from your current books. Reading out loud is a great way to pass the time on a long road trip – take along a book or two everyone will enjoy.
Monday – History
This month the elementary class brings the study of the history of the Earth down to a focus on North America in general and the USA in particular. We will spend some Mondays in October on book reports.
Tuesday – Geography
In October we will wrap up our study of Functional Geography and how the Earth came to be in it’s present form and turn our focus to the continents beginning with North America.
Wednesday – Healthy Lifestyles
We will take advantage of any lingering warm weather to walk to the park, wrap up game skills and begin a review of sketching.
Thursday – Botany
We will focus on Botany this month, including botanical nomenclature, flowers, fruit and adaptations. Toward the end of the month we will move into the study of invertebrates.
Friday – Field Trips
We are confirming dates for field trips this month including Natural History Museum of Utah, Thanksgiving Point and Wasatch State Park. We will need drivers – stay tuned for details!
Leti has reviewed common vocabulary and phrases used at school and during lunch time. There is a smattering of Spanish conversation going on throughout the lunch period and during transitions. In October we will continue formal lessons on vocabulary, reading, writing and spelling in Spanish. We are conscientious about introducing new concepts in English and being sure each child is proficient in reading and writing English before being asked to do so in Spanish. Leti follows up in Spanish as the children become ready to broaden their skills. Gracias, Leti!
We will have a party and dance on Friday October 31st from 1:30 – 3:00 pm. Students may bring costumes to change into. No candy, nuts, weapons, bloody or grotesque costumes, please! See the party sign-up at the classroom door.
Thanks to all of our happy camping Moose Tracks parents for their support of our Fall Family Campout. Even though the weather was brisk the spirits were warm and we had a wonderful time together. Teachers and students gained much from the team building and group projects and we all appreciated your help and team spirit.