Thursday, January 31, 2008

Confectionery Conundrum in the Classroom

We recently had a steady flow of children's birthdays. Everyone of the children who celebrated their special day brought cupcakes to school to share with the other students and teachers. Due to our no-nuts school policy, almost all birthday cupcakes are homemade. These classic birthday confections arrive topped with mounds of frosting. After eating a batch of birthday cupcakes, the head of our school noticed that my classroom was "full of energy." My assistant Jill and I explained that they had just finished eating their double-frosted special snack.

Later, Jill and our school's head discussed the aftermath of eating the extra sweet treats on both the children's appetites for their lunch and their ability to sit still during lunch. In the next all school newsletter it was stated that cupcakes without frosting was now the school's preference.

As my own childhood memories of sharing cake with friends tugged at my heart, I began to think maybe a l lesson in cake decorating was needed to be added to my already lengthy list of Practical Life exercises. It wasn't long before I had decided on the materials and the steps needed. I asked the head of our school and the other teachers what they thought of my frosting alternative. The possibility of a child carefully decorating his/her own cupcakes for their fellow students to enjoy instead of wandering throughout the classroom telling other children again and again that it was their birthday was eagerly embraced.

The lesson would be broken down into two completely separate presentations. The first would be on dusting confectionery sugar into a bowl. That would allow the children to acquire the basic skills needed. The second would involve non-frosted cupcakes and a few baker's stencils. Ultimately, the birthday child would use the confectionery sugar tray to decorate his/her cupcakes during the morning three hour work period. In the end, party baked goods would be carefully embellished with both a sweet taste and a decorative design.

A couple of days ago, I assembled all of the materials for the first tray and gave a large group presentation. Before I put out this work, I removed the flour sifting tray. I decided that due to the similarity in appearance of flour and confectionery sugar, I should provide an opportunity for the children to distinguish between the two. I talked to them about how often one thing will look like another. I used sugar and salt as an example. They immediately made a mental comparison and agreed with my example. Next, I had my assistant Jill collect 20 straw coffee-stir-sticks from the staff lounge. I carefully dipped one end of an individual stick into the confectionery sugar. A very small amount was collected on the end of the stick. I then walked around the gathered circle of children offering each the opportunity to accept or refuse the small taste of sugar. Of course, each child disposed of their stick after they consumed the sample. The children seemed pleased with its sweetness.

When I sat down and gave the presentation, I encouraged the children to pay close attention to the confectionery sugar as it fell into the bowl from the hand strainer. I also asked that they think of words to describe the descending white sugar. Immediately hands were raised. "It's like falling snow," a child stated while all of the others agreed.

I always remind the children when I am doing a presentation, whether individual or group, that the lesson, like the work itself, is never complete until the materials are cleaned and returned to the shelf. This includes the table on which the work was done.

I am still in love with the cloth-puff lesson my AMI trainer, Mrs. Fernando, gave for dusting a table. Using a square cloth, you fold the four corners into the center and then repeat. Next you grab the folded cloth and pull the center of the underside out and make a puff. This is used like the sponge in table washing. The child slides the cloth-puff across the table left to right. Next, when all of the dust, flour, soil, and, in this case, confectionery sugar is in a small pile at the lower right hand corner of the table, the child uses the puff to sweep it into the cup of their hand. Holding the cloth-puff over the collected pile in their hand, the child walks to the trash barrel, shakes out their hand and the cloth. They then fold the cloth into a small square and return it to its own tray. The youngest children seem to master the puff. The 5 and 6 year olds would rather skip this part. I marvel at it and love to see it done properly as the child in this series of photos is doing.

The child spoons the sugar into the strainer. The child softly taps the side of the strainer dusting the bowl with confectionery sugar.

The child spoons the sugar into the smaller bowl. The child has used the small bowl with the spout to pour all of the sugar back into the red container.

The child makes a cloth-puff . The child cleans the table with the cloth-puff.

This is the next step in the work; sugar dusting cupcakes.

I will add stencils later for m
ore detailed decorative work.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Orange Peels Are All Dried and Hard - Now What? Extending A Practical Life Exercise

Orange peel cutting has been very popular. However, when the children returned to the classroom after a long weekend, the peels were very dry and hard. Instead of tossing them, a new lesson and work emerged. I learned from one of the other teachers at the school, that her students were grating dried orange peel. This sounded similar to nutmeg and cinnamon stick grating which meant that I probably had all of the materials needed to quickly put together a tray during lunch. The head of our school had also gifted me with a package of fillable tea bags. I now knew that the orange grating and the tea bags were meant to be used together. I still needed to find in my crowed practical life storage cabinets a handled grater, a small spoon, one medium sized bowl, one smaller sized bowl, one medium sized tray and one smaller tray. Lastly, I needed a small stapler. After about 15 minutes, I had assembled all of these items and found a shared decorative pattern - the image of a bird/s.

I removed Indian corn work from the Practical Life area and positioned the orange peel grating work besides the orange peel cutting work. Then as the children flowed into the classroom, I made a mental outline of just how to present this new work.

After asking the children to come to the rug, I took one piece of fresh orange peel and another of dried orange peel and passed them around for all of the children to feel, smell and verbally label the contrasts between the two. "Damp," was a word one child used for the fresh peel. "Rough" was another child's description of the dried peel. All of the children noticed that the dried peel had a much milder orange scent than the fresh piece.

I also held out the grater and let each child touch and describe the back side of the grater. "Smooth." "Cold." These two words were repeatedly used by the children to describe the non-grating side. Then I flipped the grater over and asked each child to careful feel that side. "Scratchy," stated a young girl. "Sharp," was the word another girl used. I next instructed the children on what side of the grater to use and cautioned that they not rub their fingers or hands across its surface and to carefully hold the object to be grated with the tips of their fingers. All of these steps needed to be done to ensure the children were successful with a new tool - the hand held grater.

I put on my apron and began the lesson. After taking all of the materials off the tray and returning it to the shelf, I selected a small piece of dried orange peel from its bowl and began grating it over the larger bowl. It made a very distinctive sound which captured the children's attention, as had happened with the sound of the ribbon being pulled from its canister on the ribbon cutting work tray. Never underestimate the significance of points of interest. These guarantee your audience's attention.

After I grated the peel as much as I could, I placed the grater on the place mat and walked over to the provision shelf to get the small funnel. I carefully opened the tea bag and then spooned the larger pieces of peel into the opened mouth of the delicate bag. I then placed the funnel into the tea bag opening and then lifted the bowl with the gratings and poured them into the funnel. My next step was to staple close the tea bag.

Next, I asked my assistant to bring me a mug of hot water and a Lipton tea bag from the kitchen. As we waiting for her to return, I reminded the children that they should never touch boiling water or to attempt to make tea. That part of the work was to be done by an adult. After a couple of minutes my assistant return with the mug of hot water. I put the Lipton tea bag into the cup and then added the orange peel tea bag to it. I let it seep for a minute or two and then lifted the enclosed peels from the hot water so that the children could see how orange they were. As soon as the work was back on the shelf a child was using it. The orange peel tea bags were taken home as gifts for parents. I am thinking of adding a piece of cinnamon stick to the work. In the spring, we will crushed mint leaves and use them instead of the peels in the tea bags. The herb world awaits us.
To view a slide show of orange peel grating / tea bag exercise go to:

Click on orange peel grating set in right hand corner. Select slide show.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Free Expression

Collage materials

This morning, after giving an individual presentation with the subtraction strip board, one of my students suddenly appeared besides me. She had made something and wanted to share it with me. The results of adding bits of cut ribbon to the collage box was now being displayed. A beautiful work of art. Here it is for all to see. I love those eyelashes!

And yes, after yesterday's role-playing, the children were much better about putting their work away and were even gently reminding others to do so. Success is so sweet.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Role-Playing Classroom Guidelines While Re-Presenting Handwashing

Yesterday, my morning assistant, Jill, and I had wonderful success role playing and therefore reinforcing one of the classroom guidelines regarding a child's commitment to completing chosen and initiated work. We allow children to put their name tags on their work when they either need to use the bathroom, are breaking to have snack after a period of focused work, if I ask them to join me for a large group presentation or if the bell has been rung announcing the end of the day and the child has asked if she could leave her work out till the next day. However, it has been observed by both myself and my assistant that a few children are simply putting out their name tags so as to get work out in another area. They are abandoning one work and engaging another.

There are several issues that have arisen regarding this misuse of name tag placement. One of the most obvious is when work with the student's name tag is left out on a table, the table is not available for another child to use. As we have a limited number of tables in my classroom, this has become a significant issue. Additionally, it is not only the table that is occupied and unavailable, the materials abandoned are also not available for another child to use. Both the table and the materials are in a state of limbo.

In regards to the child remaining committed to the work, the moving from one incomplete work to another does not reinforce and maintain the cycle of activity needed to be completed with all of the work in the classroom. Let me define cycle of activity - a child takes work from the shelf, the child does the work, the child returns the work to the shelf. There is a beginning, a middle and an end. A child moving quickly from one incomplete work to another is demonstrating a lack of focus, concentration and understanding of the work/s purpose. In TV lingo - they keep changing the channel not interested in any particular show. The child is using their name tag to escape finishing the initial work they took from the shelf. It is a misuse of their freedom to choose work and their freedom of movement. The children's independence in the classroom is sustained by a framework of guidelines presented during the first few months, ex. work is returned to the shelf exactly as it is taken and therefore immediately available for the next student to use.

Commitment to work is a must. Without that commitment from the child, they will either spend all day puttering at it - never engaging and understanding its purpose or they will be thinking about exit strategies. They know that it is a rare moment when I answer "yes" to a child asking if they can return work to the shelf that they have not completed. To get around that, they instead put out their name tags and walk away.

My assistant Jill and I decided that a little role playing was needed. I had already planned on re-presenting hand washing to the entire class. A few moments before I rang the bell and invited the children to finish/clean up their work so as to come to the rug, the two of us came up with a short script that we would act out shortly after I started to give the hand washing lesson.

After I had all of the materials on my table, and had returned the tray to the shelf, I began the lesson. I got water with the pitcher and poured it into the matching bowl. I dipped my finger tips into the water, then my hands and said to my on-looking class, "Actually, I don't want to do this work anymore. I think I will make myself a name tag and put it out." The children's mouths dropped open. They were absolutely quiet. I saw some very puzzled looking faces.

I made eye contact with my assistant who then asked me,"Ms. Dyer, why don't you want to finish your work ? Do you want to have snack?" "No, I already had snack," I answered. "Do you need to use the bathroom?" was her next question. "No. I don't need to use the bathroom. I just want to do jam work now and finish this later," I answered. All of the children sitting in the circle watching me had a look like "I can't believe my eyes. Ms. Dyer doesn't want to finish giving the lesson."

"So, would it be ok if I just put out my name tag and finished this later?"
I continued.

"Ms. Dyer, you know that you have to finish one work before starting another. I think you should continue giving the hand washing lesson and have jam later,"
my skilled assistant stated.

"Well, you are right. I should finish giving the hand washing lesson first," I said drawing the role-playing to an end. I completed the lesson. The children walked away with two lessons instead of one - commitment to work and hand washing. The role-playing was so effective because Jill and I had verbally sketched it out prior to the lesson. This allowed her to follow my every move and direction. It was really a wonderful moment of synchronized effort between the adults in the classroom. Now we will observe the children to see if they continue to walk away from their work. That will ultimately serve to show how successful the lesson really was.

To view the hand washing

exercise as a slide show go to:

and, in upper right hand corner, click "slide show."

Monday, January 21, 2008

Preparing and Presenting New Cutting Work for the Classroom

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I spent most of it re-evaluating in my mind what I wanted to introduce to the classroom and how to find all the items I would need. This required hours of visualizing those items and how they would be placed on trays. I recently changed the items in the Cards and Counters. I had been using identical buttons since September. I have now replaced those with the correct number of small, colorful fish.

The type of numbers that I use are wooden and are red. They are not painted on individual, wooden cards. They are simply the shape of a number 1-10. There was a wonderful discussion about this at the San Francisco refresher course last February. The wooden cards limit the possible directions that a child might place the number on the rug - up or down. Where as the wooden outline of the number - looking very similar to the letters in the moveable alphabet - allow many more choices for placement. The adults may then observe whether the child has learned how to place each number correctly - again, the similarity with the moveable alphabet in that a child may place an s or any other letter incorrectly. Once we have observed incorrect placement, we can plan lessons to assist the child in mastering this act.

In regards to selecting the counters and making sure that they are not used as toys, I included in my lesson specific attention to the positioning, in this case, of the fish. The fish are to be placed with their heads up. This provides a point of interest which enhances the child's attention to detail. The children received the replacement of the buttons with the fish as one receives a gift. They appreciated and were careful with them.

The work I prepared for today was a cutting work I read about. It required the following materials:
  1. A large canister with an open and close lid
  2. Contact paper (or other such materials) to cover canister
  3. A handful of small stones or other materials sealed in a plastic container to provide weight.
  4. A ball of yarn/ribbon/string
  5. A pair of child sized scissors
  6. A narrow card/guide/ruler identifying how long the yarn/ribbon/string should be cut.
  7. A basket to hold cut lengths of yarn/ribbon/string
  8. An attractive tray to hold the above materials

Preparing the work: Cover the canister and, if has labeling on it, the lid with contact paper. Make a small X shaped opening in the center of the container's plastic lid using a small knife or scissor tip. The X shaped opening will provide some resistance for the ribbon. Place the bagged stones inside and on the bottom of the canister. On top of the stones, place a ball or skein of ribbon. Take the end of the ribbon and poke it through the X in the removed lid. Secure the lid and pull a small length of ribbon through the opening. Place this canister, the ruler, scissors and the basket for cut ribbons on a tray. Place on shelf.

The work on the shelf. *Note: I added a laminated number 4 and replaced the paper ruler I initially had chosen with a green ruler.

Returning to the math area after placing the materials for ribbon cutting on the table during my large group presentation so as to demonstrate / re-present to some the technique of folding a small number rod over in the case that the numbers in the equation are the same ex. 5+5= . This is the same skill needed to fold the ruler back over itself to measure two times the length of the ruler.

Doing the work: This one person work is done at a table. The child removes all of the materials from the tray and places them on its designated place mat at their chosen work area. They return the tray to the Practical Life shelf (I put mine next to my sewing materials). The child first examines the ruler studying the desired length to cut the yarn. The child carefully pulls at the end of the ribbon. Determining the correct length by measuring it with the ruler. This requires the child to measure the length of the ruler once and then to fold it back over itself so as to measure the identical length a second time. This is the length needed for the potpourri sachets in the botany area. The child then cuts the ribbon and places it in the awaiting basket.

This type of estimation of length is consistent with the flower arranging materials. The child may repeat this work a maximum of four times, which is why the number four is included in the materials. This will be removed from the work when it has lost its initial popularity and provides the opportunity for each of the children to do the work rather then one child cutting all of the ribbon into dozens of short pieces. When he has completed the work, he retrieves the tray, places all of the materials back on it. First he puts the place mat on the empty space on the shelf and then returns the filled tray placing it on top of the place mat. He then takes the cut ribbon in its basket to the various areas in the room that require its use such as the potpourri sachets tray. He places a few pieces of ribbon on such trays and next returns the basket with the remaining yarn pieces to the ribbon cutting tray. The materials that the child has made have a purpose and allow the child to feel connected to the environment through the act of replenishing /refilling / caring for the environment. If the work has no logical purpose, the child see it as only a game. This is the whole concept of "purposeful work" reduced to this one tray.

The child pulls the ribbon through the cut X opening. This is a point of interest as the ribbon makes a specific and noticeable sound as it is pulled carefully through the opening. Next, the child carefully folds the ruler back over itself as I demonstrated with both the small number rods and with this ruler. It provides continuity and reinforcement of acquired skills. Simultaneously, it repeats the left to right movement.

The child cuts the work and places it in the provided tray.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

When Was Maria Montessori Born?

Maria Montessori was born in 1870.

Maria Montessori - A Biography

The Official Website of the Indian Montessori Centre

Birth and early childhood.

photo of a happy child

A section of the map of Italy with Ancona highlighted

Maria Montessori was born to Alessandro Montessori and Renilde Stoppani in a town of Chiaravall, in the province of Ancona (see map), Italy in the year 1870. Her father, Alessandro Montessori, was a soldier who later on became a civil servant. Maria's mother, Renilde Stoppani, was a very well-educated lady, which was very incredible given that women in the Italy of those days would hardly know how to write their names.

photo of Maria when she was ten years old

Right from her younger days, Maria was self-confident and always optimistic. She was greatly interested in change. Maria was a brilliant student and had the ability to learn and grasp things easily. She always did exceptionally well in her examinations...Maria was not only a bright student but also good at games and sports. She would often be the leader in the games in which she participated in.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Dream"

My assistant and I have been talking about Martin Luther King Jr. during circle time. Last week we read a few books, put out some hand outs to illustrate, made peace necklaces and explained Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream for peace. I overheard several children casually discussing these facts as they worked on the various handouts. As these discussions continued over several days, I began to get a gut feeling that maybe the children were not correctly comprehending the history of this great man's life and his celebrated vision for the rights of all people. They were talking a lot more about his "dream."

Then I remembered a class discussion I had initiated the day we returned to school after the holiday vacation. I asked the children how their days began. "Is it a kiss and a nudge from a parent that awakens you?" I inquired. Many children agreed that this was indeed how their day began. But one child said, "Well, first I have a dream while I am sleeping. When my dream ends, I wake up."

After reflecting for a bit on this child's comment, I began planning on how to bring my concerns up during circle time. When we had finished singing a couple of songs, I started to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and his dream for peace. I next asked the children, "What was Martin Luther King Jr. doing when he had this dream?" A flurry of hands went up. I selected an eager child to answer. "He was sleeping," she enthusiastically blurted out. Several other children chimed in with the same answer. "He was dreaming, Ms. Dyer. You dream when you are asleep," another child clearly stated.

Well, I had my answer. I then proceeded to ask if any of the children knew what they wanted to be when they grew up. "I want to be the best artist in the world," was one response. I used this hope to be something in the future as a springboard for discussing a vision, a goal, an aspiration, a dream. After the day ended, I felt confident that my four and five year had move towards understanding the difficult concept "to dream."

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Re-Presenting : Drawing the Child Back to the Work

After the holidays, I make it a point to re-present several materials throughout the classroom. I generally start in Practical Life and select a material that has several steps. The head of my school brought in flowers yesterday, so my first repeat presentation was with flower arranging. I rang the bell and asked the children to put their name tags on their work and to join me on the rug. I explained that I was going to give a lesson on flower arranging. Right away, one of the children said, "Miss Dyer, I forgot how to use that work and I was hoping that you would show us again. " I was grateful for her affirmation. I put on my apron and the room grew completely quiet. Even my youngest children followed my every move. As I completed the work, I reminded them that the lesson/work is never complete until all of the materials are returned to the shelves. After my lesson, the flower arranging work never stayed long on the shelf for the remainder of the day.

Often, when children lose interest in Practical Life we are quick to change the materials, removing the old and replacing with the new. I do this too. But if it is done too often, it is like changing the channel on the television. "Oh, are you bored? Let me find something new for you to do." Instead of just changing the beans in the spooning bowls or adding a seasonal or new work to the shelf, re-present the classics: table washing, hand washing, flower arranging, polishing, etc. Through re-presentation we draw the child back to the details of the work and allow them to make discoveries in regards to texture, taste, similarities/contrasts. etc. They master materials by re-using them over and over again. A few years ago, a child who had done table washing many, many times over a two year period came to me (having just completed it again) and said, "I thought I knew how to do the work, but I really didn't Ms. Dyer." Then they just looked at me and smiled. I caught a happy buzz off that child's wonderful grin.

Next, I am planning on re-presenting hand washing. I need to remember to get a new little bar of soap. Caring for the materials and making them beautiful is such an important part of what my role is in the classroom. Don't expect a child to be drawn back to work that has been neglected by the adults in the classroom. A decade ago, when I was doing my observation hours during my training, I was sitting in a chair next to the Practical Life area in a certain classroom. The carrot on the tray for peeling and cutting was unmistakably wilted. When I later ask the lead teacher about the absence of children using the Practical Life materials, she responded that she herself hadn't been able to figure that out. I didn't point out the carrot as I was a guest in her house. A child responds to beautiful materials. I am penning on a post-it note right now - new bar of hotel-sized soap.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Wandering Child

There has been a lot of discussion in the Montessori by Hand yahoo group about what to do with the "wandering child." The answer in a recent post was so on point that I have copied the entire text here for those of you who may not have had the opportunity to read it as this question about "wandering children" seems a common enough one:

Hi everybody. I'm a teacher in my 3rd year of teaching. Just wanted to add an interesting phenomenon my trainer told us about. There are many different kinds of wanderers. If we are good observers and use our intuition, we will know which ones are the disruptive kinds, which ones need that extra connection (through touch, eye contact, conversation, bonding), and which ones are 'under construction'.

The 'under construction ones' don't do work simply because they are going through a time of integrating the experiences they have had so far internally. A lot of learning happens in the subconscious, during times of inactivity. It's important to respect the child who is in this phase. When this period is over he returns to the life of the classroom with much more energy, love of learning, refined skills and receptiveness. Like a caterpillar quietly waiting in the stillness of its cocoon, only to emerge as colorful, fluttering butterflies.

As for the disruptive ones, for the sake of the whole class it's paramount to put an immediate stop to the disruption of children who are working. I especially protect the young ones who aren't strong enough yet to protect themselves. My trainer compared new children to helium balloons attached to strings. Keep them close to you at first (no freedom), and then gradually lengthen the strings as they gain self-control. The child may resist, or throw a tantrum at first, but I stick to my guns. Because following the child is not the same thing as allowing him to dictate everything. Children need and want limits (even through the tears), and you do get that feedback from them afterwards because they become more settled and happier.

Wandering children who are not disruptive I leave alone: I continue to present to them as
much as I can to find their interests, but if it doesn't stop them from wandering, I just trust in time. Because I have seen children wander for months, and then suddenly become model children not only in behavior but also in work- and I would ask them, where did you learn all this?! It certainly beats forcing them to do work and then creating in them an aversion to school/work.

Anissa Moussi

Great answer. Nothing more needs to be added.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Magnetism of a Focused Child

After the one student completed her painting of the parts of the flower puzzle (see Jan 9/ 08 post) and left it to dry (labels still need to be written and put in place), a familiar outcry echoed throughout the classroom. "I want to do that work next!" Children are drawn to beautiful work. They are also drawn to a child who is concentrating and focused on a material in front of them. This is articulated by the student/s when they ask the teachers "What is she doing?" "Did I have a lesson on that work yet?" "May I observe them working?" This final question is of course answered by, "You need to ask her/him." There is without a doubt in my mind a magnetism surrounding a focused child

I have seen it again and again, children drawn to the quiet, focused energy of another child. They become almost trance like moving towards it. Their bodies become calm and quiet. They look at the child's work mesmerized. Their silence is only broken when they ask if they may observe. The more difficult moment emerges if another child is already doing that. A competitive element arises. Who is going to get to do the work next? At times, I have seen the child last to arrive on the scene start acting out as if to throw a wrench in the whole scene ultimately disturbing both the observer and the child working. This too generally draws my attention and a discussion is initiated on who is going to be the lucky one to get the work next, a sort of public rehashing of the earlier debate only I have been drawn in.

My first instinct is to move the second child towards an alternative work, this is mostly successful. At other times, the first child observing offers up her spot. "He can observe. I'm going to have snack," might be their solution to ending their own long wait. It is also stated that the work is not completed as of yet and that the child doing it needs as much time as they would like to finish it. This is why we only have one of each material (generally speaking that is) - so that the child shows his/her maturity in being able to wait and observe respectfully and that while waiting for one work a child decides to select another. In this case, the flower puzzle and the parts of the tree puzzle were immediately taken from their shelves. A child was soon busy completing each and each had one observer. In a very few minutes, all of the painting materials were being used and the materials on the botany shelves were being selected by another handful of children. They all wanted to participate in the energy that they had witnessed, "concentrated work"or what Maria Montessori referred to as the child's "great work" of the morning (work often chosen after several easier materials have been used by the same child).

I too am drawn to the stillness of a child immersed in their work. It makes me think of so many things - Maria Montessori's entire text on the spirituality of work, on Kandinsky and his Spirituality and Art thesis, on the famous child doctor and writer Robert Coles and his extensive writing about children and spirituality. Too, let me not forgot "Nurturing the Spirit" by Aline Wolf. I have spent a lot of time over the years thinking about this "transcendent" energy surrounding a single child in the midst of many other active children. It is so important that I, and the other adults in the room, not disrupt them with our own desire to acknowledge it or participate in it.

For the child completing the work, the aftermath of such concentrated work can be identified in the following (although this list is far from complete - rather a sampling of my own observations):
  1. The child expresses that they are very hungry. They generally go right to the snack area.
  2. The child expresses fatigue. They either go to the library and rest on pillows or to the rocking chair.
  3. They want to show everyone their work. They can not contain their pride and sense of accomplishment.
  4. They want to repeat the work immediately.
  5. Depending on how much time that they spent concentrating on the recently completed work, the child leaps to another work of the same level of challenge or greater with invigorated energy.
  6. They spend a long period of time simply looking at the completed work and then after putting everything away, wander through the classroom for the remainder of the day - not settling upon any new work.
As a writer, I have experienced all of the above after finishing a poem or a story. Witnessing it in the classroom, I am convinced it is core to all of the work all of the children are doing. I have so much more to say on this, but now I want to be quiet and think a little more. I will continue this post later (1:20 pm. Sunday)

Ok...having taken a short break, I close with two quotes from "The Secret of Childhood" :

"One cannot see the method; one sees the child." (pg. 147)

"Let us now seek to discover some of the manifestations on the part of the children.

The most pertinent, which seemed like a magic touch opening the gates to an expansion of normal characteristics, is a consistent activity concentrated on a single work, an exercise on some external object, where the movements of the hands are guided by the mind. And here we find the unfolding of characteristics which plainly come from an inner impulse, like the "repetition of the exercise" and "free choice of objects." It is then that the true child appears, aglow with joy, indefatigable because his activity is like the psychic metabolism to which life and hence development is attached. From now on it is his own choice that guides him." (pg. 149)

(9:30 pm Sun.)

Friday, January 11, 2008

Serving Others - A New Lesson in Grace and Courtesy via Pickle Work

I am excited to announce that pickle work has finally made it to the Practical Life shelf. It is tucked between orange peel scissoring and the silver cabinet ( a large jewelry box I converted into a small version of a traditional cabinet for storing one's best silver). Pickle work presents an immediate taste contrast to the already available jam work - this month's flavor is apricot. The children are learning that pickles, like jam, come in a variety of flavors. The first to be used were miniature gherkins. Also, this is the first time that children are using the vegetable cutter so those small muscles in their hands are being challenged, again. And while all of this is good, the best part of pickle work for me is the serving part. A child cuts, places toothpicks in each thin slice and then serves their fellow classmates. However, there are a few guidelines for serving food in the classroom.
  1. Always wash hands before doing food work in the Practical Life area.
  2. Children participating in a small group are not offered food as it disturbs the cohesion of the group - distracting them from the lesson being given.
  3. No one is to follow the server requesting to be offered a pickle or any other food being served.
  4. Children serving food should politely ask, "Excuse me, would you like a pickle." If yes, the receiving child would then answer by saying,"Yes, thank you." They may then select a offering taking it off the tray via the toothpick inserted in it.
  5. Children offered food may politely decline by simply stating, "No thank you."
  6. Toothpicks that are used to serve individual pieces are to be placed in a trash receptacle by the one who ate the food.
  7. Also, one pickle per child in terms of using this work.
  8. Lastly, the child preparing the pickle work may choose to eat all of the pieces of pickle themselves. Serving the others is a choice, not a demand.
This may all seem too serious, but this is a lesson designed to assist children in acquiring grace and courtesy acts that we as adults take for granted. The more we break it down for them into basic steps and give them the language needed, the more successful they will be. When I see a child serving the others I am reminded of my visits to Kripalu in the Berkshires. It is a Healing Arts Center and is where I took my yoga for children training. They have a Seva program that I hope to one day find the time to commit a month to. Seva is "selfless service." This seems so intrinsic to developing a cooperative and peaceful community.

You should have seen the smiles on the faces of the children serving their classmates. One child later told her mother that she had never tried pickles before but decided that since the others where tasting them that she would too. Gherkins may not be her favorite, but she did seem to enjoy the next offered "bread and butter" pickles.

This spring, after several varieties of pickles have been sampled, I am planning a pickle tasting that will include samples of several and labels with their names to be placed besides them by the taster. I might even add a blindfold to the work. It will be sort of a pickle potluck.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Parts of a Flower Puzzle Painting

This is just simply beautiful work by one of my five year old students. It was a very busy day in the classroom today. I walked by this child's table looking for some tracing paper for another child and was drawn into the work. I had to photograph it and put it on my blog so as to simply share its beauty. First she traced the outline of each of the individual pieces of the puzzle and next she carefully painted it. Notice the glass sand dollar (top photo) and the two smaller metal leaf paper weights (bottom photo). I keep several paperweights in the class for the children to use to secure paper or a book page while they work.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Practical Life + Botany = Seasonal Potpourri

Orange peel scissoring tray in Practical Life

Potpourri Sachet Tray on one of the Botany shelves

I was inspired by the Dec 12, 2007 post on the Montessori Mama blog titled, "Seasonal Scissor Fun." I thought her pictures of the work were so lovely. Also, every year there is a shortage of flowers during the New England winter months in my classroom. So using evergreen boughs, dried orange peels and cloves instead of dried flowers for potpourri seemed a seasonal solution. Inviting into the classroom this collection of scents was also attractive. Last week I put out orange peel cutting. The children loved it. I would catch them snipping and smelling the small slivers that they scissored. I placed a canning jar besides the work with its lid propped open. After a child cut several peels down to rather small segments and had collected these in a small bowl, they poured them into this jar to await the completion of another material. Evergreen bough scissoring.

I carefully copied the constructed tray posted on Montessori Mama's blog. I added a small basket to the tray for the remaining pieces of Evergreen bough stems. They emptied these into the trash but could compost them. This afternoon I watched a young child trim the needles from a small branch. Again, she stopped now and then just to smell the scent. The cut needles were gathered in a small bowl like the orange peels and placed in a second canning jar.

Evergreen bough scissoring
also in Practical Life

The child had now completed both orange peel and Evergreen scissoring. They got up and left the Practical Life area and walked over to the Botany materials selected the tray for making potpourri sachets. This work has many steps.

Practical Life Shelves

Botany Shelves

After removing each of the items from the tray onto a Practical Life table and returning the potpourri sachet tray to its shelf, the child took both the orange peel jar and Evergreen needles jar and placed them on the same table. Next, they scooped some of both of these prepared items and placed them into the wooden mortar. They added five cloves which they counted by placing one on each petal of a small flower plate. Next, they used the pistil to grind the materials together. After a few minutes, they opened and placed face down a pre-cut circle shaped piece of fabric. They also cut a length of ribbon. After spooning the ground ingredients into the center of the fabric circle, the child gather the edges of the fabric up into a cluster, the potpourri a ball in the base of the sachet. The child then twisted the fabric to hold all of its contents together and used a clothespin to hold it closed, while tying a colorful ribbon around it and securing the captured orange peels, needles and cloves. All was then cleaned up and returned to the appropriate shelves. Oh and do these winter potpourri sachets smell good...

What is also great about this work is that it moves the child from one area of the environment to another and back. It links two areas of the classroom together via the completion of a singular material. Also the work gives testimony to the students that certain scents are more dominant during different seasons of the year. We eat so many Clementine oranges in my home during the winter months that providing the orange peel for the classroom shelf was quite simple. My assistant's left over Christmas tree provided ample boughs of pine needles for scissoring. As with most of the Practical Life materials, the most challenging task was putting a color coded tray together for the various work. In a school which was to be named by Maria Montessori as Sensorial Education, the coupling of Practical life with the aroma of a winter day seems perfect.