Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Almost New Year 2010

Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole which has roots in the most distant past and climbs toward the infinite future. Maria Montessori

As we look back on this passing year of 2009, let us cherish our work with children. We are blessed with being given the almost daily opportunity to listen to their stories, bear witness to their artistic expression, ponder the wonder of their enormous insight and to be present when they articulate with anxious breath the joy of a discovery or the completion of a work. How blessed we are to be in attendance when songs are sung by the old and the young, to participate in the celebrations of their births and to bear the heartache and joy of teary eyed goodbyes at the end of a school year. Let this be my life for years to come.

I wish each of you a joyful New Year and thank you for the fellowship which has grown up around this blog. Peace to all.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Welcomed Cup of Tea

I had the wonderful pleasure of visiting The Center School in Plainfield, Vermont last week. The small farm house serves as a single Primary classroom. It was so beautiful to look at that I had to take a couple of photographs to share with the blogging community.

After sitting and observing the children work for a short time, a five year old student approached me and asked if I would like a cup of tea. Stating that I would, she left and returned with a small basket that held a variety of tea bags. I picked the one I wanted and she went on her way to prepare it. The assistant teacher helped by pouring the hot water into a small tea pot that was part of a well assembled tray.

Another item on the tray was a timer. The child set the timer for three minutes and watched the time tick away. When the timer went off, she poured a cup of tea for me and one for herself. She placed my cup on a saucer and put this on a smaller tray.

When she served me my tea she looked at me and said, "May I tell you something?" I said yes and then she continued. "After you finish your first cup of tea, if you want more leave your empty cup up on the saucer. If you do not want more tea, turn your cup upside down on your saucer." She then smiled and walked away.

While I enjoyed my tea, I watched as the assistant helped a child make gingerbread cookies.

I turned my head looking here and there and then I found it. I found the pink tower.

This is what makes the Montessori classroom so wonderful - the consistency of the Montessori materials in all the environments. This provides new children (who may have left another Montessori school due to their parents deciding to move) comfort. They see work that they are familiar with. The adults change and how a room is decorated changes, but the materials remain consistent.

Thank you to The Center School for allowing me to both visit their school and to photograph the work being done there.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flow Theory: Seeing the Relationships Between Materials

I have been thinking about the relationships between the Montessori materials a lot over the past year or so. I have returned to the notion of an indirect aim as a grounding place for my own abstract thoughts which sometimes take me too far from what is at hand. So, I began mentally pairing materials that seemed to me had physically similarities or required a shared hand movement. These two variables became my mini-criteria for inclusion in a longer paper on this same subject.

Defining the pairs in regards to these two criteria meant having to mentally visualize their use and to remove the labels that so often isolate materials: Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Math and Cultural Studies. These labels, found on our albums, isolate materials from each other and therefore isolate and separate them in regards to their use by the children.

Once I simply thought about each work, and their individual design, similarities between the materials emerged. In fact, I would refer to this as a harmony which creates a flow in the classroom ultimately serving in normalizing a child. That is a lot to say but I whole heartedly believe that isolating materials fragments the environment and works in opposition to sensorial exploration and the freedom of movement - in the most broad understanding of the phrase. In regards to the term "Flow," I am referring to the writings of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Here are my initial pairs and some of my reasons for coupling them:

Spooning and the Multiplication board. Spooning is the transference of quantity from one place to another. Working with the Multiplication board, a child transference quantities from a small bowl and distributes them as required.

Similarly, Sorting and the Division board.

Here again sorting is a transference of quantities from one place to another. Sorting also requires that the items be divided into smaller portions and placed in individual containers. This is division. Look at the green beads in the small wooden bowl and think Practical Life instead of division. You should then be able to easily recall which work(s) the child initially did in order to have the eye hand coordination needed to carefully place all of those small beads in their circular placeholders.

Folding cloths and the Constructive Triangles.

The next time you see both of these materials in use by two separate students, look at the triangles and the rectangles made by the fold lines in the cloths and look at the various shapes made when the constructive triangles are placed together on a rug. See the black lines that designate which sides of the constructive triangles are to be matched and imagine each line as a fold. Do this and you will see these two materials have surprising similarities.

Perhaps the two materials most isolated from each other are the Botany Cabinet and the Geometry Cabinet.

When I was trying to think of materials to couple, I simply thought of the word Cabinet which instantly was followed by the question, "As these two materials are so physically familiar, what else do they share that I have not paid attention to?" Immediately I had an answer in my mind: the line. I then began thinking about polygons and non-Euclidean geometry. This was the key to unlocking the mystery of their relationship, of their overlapping values.

And what of that briefly mentioned statement regarding the line. When very young children do scissor work in the Montessori classroom they cut along a simple, straight line drawn on a small piece of paper. Soon, that paper is replaced by others which bear the image of a wavy line or a zig zag line. Eventual these are replaced by ones that resemble a shape, a recognizable shape. This is the same for the progression of sewing activities. The significance, other than learning to use scissors or needle, is the introduction of a line, of a basic element in grasping geometry. To pair this work I looked to the materials in Lower Elementary. Here, I found the geometry sticks.

Instantly I coupled cutting a line/sewing a line to this material.

I think children more readily see the relationships between materials than the adults in the environment. My suggestion for myself and for others is to go back to the albums and pick out a few lessons that have listed for their indirect preparation very specific materials. Get these out and work with them until you see their overlapping variables. And when you get an Ah ha! moment, set out to find other relationships between the materials. This will aid you enormously when you write your lesson plans for individual children.

I read recently that Maria Montessori took time off from her work to "meditate" on the writings of Itard and Sequin. She spent months hand writing the Italian translations of their work so that it would be available to her. She said she then meditated on the intentions of their methodology. That is what we need to do. We need to meditate on the intentions of Maria Montessori's work. It has become my passion.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How Do Montessori Toddler Programs Affect a Child's First Year in Primary

I have been here and there substitute teaching. Last week, I spent five days subbing in an AMI Toddler classroom. I was amazed at the work these young children were doing. So much of their work looked familiar, as it was. They did leaf washing, plant watering, cloth washing, mystery bag 1 and the list goes on. It was great to see them so occupied and so accomplished. But, I was left wondering how this work that they are now doing would later affect their work in the Primary classroom. I wondered about those first preliminary lessons that are so much of the work done in the first few weeks of the year. Would they be as captivated?

Looking at the Practical Life shelves in the Toddler room, I noticed several of the dressing frames. There was the button frame, the Velcro frame, the snap frame and the zipper frame - although the flaps and buttons were slightly larger than the Primary versions of these same works. Having already had lessons on these, could they simply use the ones in the Primary environment without another lesson or would I re-present the slightly modified frames in hopes that some small detail would catch their eye and their interest.

I am hoping all of you would provide answers to some of my questions - as naive as they may sound. I see more and more Montessori schools offering Toddler programs. I think they are amazing. I just want to dialog about how to create a bridge between the Toddler environment and the Primary environment, just as with the elementary program. If I have all these questions and thoughts, I am sure others do also.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

I Haven't Had a Lesson on That Work Yet...

I heard a wonderful story at lunch today. A couple of the AMS Primary Teachers at the school I was subbing at are taking their AMI Primary training. Today and tomorrow, an internationally recognized AMI consultant is visiting this school. She will spend time in each of the Primary classrooms (4) taking observation notes. Later, she will sit down with each of the teachers and discuss her observations with them individually.

During the time when the consultant was in one of the Primary classrooms, a child walked up to the lead teacher and asked for a lesson on the division circles. The teacher hesitated for a moment and then turned to the consultant and quietly said, without the student hearing, "I have not had a lesson on that work yet." She was referring to her AMI training which she completes next summer.

When the consultant heard the teacher's remark regarding not having had a lesson on the materials, she suggested that she give the lesson to the child instead and did. The lead teacher watched and witnessed the initial presentation of simply taking a few of the fraction circles to a working rug and sensorially manipulating them without giving any of the language.

Listening to this teacher tell her story, I couldn't help but think of how many times I have heard a child tell me that same thing when I substitute teach in a classroom or tell another child. To hear an adult say it out loud resonated within me as when something small stirs in you thoughts that result in new insights. I heard in her voice vulnerability, honesty and a humble self. She positioned herself as the student and the consultant as mentor, teacher of teachers. It was an ego-less act. The gift she received was to be able to see the work presented and to reap from that presentation the knowledge being offered her via the willing consultant.

It also made me think about the the 3-6 aged children in the classroom and the commitment that a multi-age environment has towards mentoring. I love the idea of a child observing their teacher learning from another teacher. It's all good.