A Gentle Moment

We managed to capture a rather 'gentle' moment on video. Of course, these moments happen every single day, in all sorts of ways, but we thought we would take this opportunity to share this moment with you. Please make sure that your volume is turned up, and that you pay extra careful attention to the very end.

Here's a very short explanation of the activity, and the wonders of learning language in Montessori:

Ms. Wood is working with one of our students on the logical adjective game. The logical adjective game gives the child an opportunity to practice reading. Also, it enhances the role of the adjective in modifying nouns, and allows children the chance to explore their personal preference in literacy.

When our student makes the connection between what she was reading, "gentle", and what "gentle" is, it's an absolute spark of magic. And, the fact that she connects it to taking care of her baby sister...we almost started to cry. It's these connections that we try to foster, and that make Montessori so unique.

Montessori famously said that anyone can learn how to read Shakespeare, but not everyone can truly understand what is said. She's on her way...

Integrating Montessori

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While Montessori doesn't expect or encourage outside homework, as this may cause confusion in the classroom, and with the child, we do recommend that parents work with their children on a regular basis. That almost sounds like a paradox. Let us explain.

Children thrive on routines and they adore order. The more consistent their lives, the better they seem to do. In this respect, it's important that a home and school environment mesh, as this equilibrium can be extremely helpful for the development of a child.

So, how can this be achieved? What can we, together, work towards to accomplish this task of integrating Montessori: at home, in the classroom, and in the community at large? To be sure, there are things that are unique to a home environment, just as there are things that are unique to a school environment, or an outdoor setting, but there are a few basic principles that we can employ to bring Montessori full circle.

One of the most important things to remember, is that Montessori offers hands on, real world experiences. The phrase that we like to use, is that the concrete always precedes the abstract. For instance, if we wanted to teach a child the concept of fractions, we would first start with a fraction puzzle, two halves of a whole, for example, before introducing them to the symbol 1/2. While the puzzle is concrete, the symbol is abstract.

Here are a few practical suggestions, but there are certainly many others. As you can see from the picture above, one of our students is at home, helping his family prepare the coffee. What a beautiful illustration of how to integrate Montessori at home. In this instance, the boy is measuring just the right amount of grounds to pour into the coffee filter, working on his manual dexterity and fine motor skills, balancing the measuring spoon, carefully scooping the grounds, counting how many scoops are needed.

How about another example? Let's say that you're at the grocery store and your daughter wants to help. ( By the way, the grocery store is a magical place to learn, to put practical life skills into action. ) So, you've decided that you want to make banana bread. The recipe calls for three bananans, so you assign your daughter a simple task, "Can you please find me three bananas?" Your daughter then proceeds to select three bananas, counting out loud as she carefully places them in the cart.

Understanding abstract concepts, like the number three, can be a challenge, so finding ways to connect the concrete (three bananas) to the abstract (3) can be illuminating for a child. This will help to support their progress, and reinforce what they are learning in the classroom. While it seems like a slight shift in the way we traditionally think about learning and teaching concepts, it has radical implications for discovering and thinking about the world.

The Sound Game

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Here are a few little tips on how to implement Montessori at home, by using The Sound Game. In order to help children hear the sounds that make up words, we play The Sound Game in class. It can be played any time, any place, and can take as long or as short as you need it to. Say, “I’m thinking of something in the car (on the table, on the floor, in the room, etc.) that begins with the sound ‘m.’ What is it?” If your child is struggling, you can give more clues (move the object, say “m, like ‘monkey’.” etc.) You might be thinking of one object, and your child might come up with several others you hadn’t even noticed! As literate adults, we “see” words, but children see objects. If you’re thinking of the sound “j” as in “jump,” and your child comes up with “giraffe” or “gem,” this should not be corrected, since the sound is identical, and we focus on sounds at this age in the Montessori classroom (spelling is a function of literacy and comes later.), but try to have your examples be spelling-accurate; the child can come up with “j” like “giraffe” and “gem,” but adults should try to come up with “j” like “jump” and “just.” As your child becomes more comfortable with hearing the first sounds in words, you can progress to more levels. “I’m thinking of something in the car that starts with c and ends with t” “Do you hear other sounds in that word?” As needed, give your child more clues, hints, information. Here's a helpful guide as to how to pronounce the sounds:

a short as in ant, cat, astronaut

b as in bug, barn

c as in cup, camp

d as in duck, dance

e short as in elf, egg

f as in fish, fan

g as in gas, gum

h as in hat, helmet

i short as in it, igloo

j as in jam, jump

k as in kick, kite

l as in light, lion

m as in mom, milk

n as in nose, night, run

o short as in olive, octopus

p as in pin, pants

q as in queen, quick

r as in red, ribbon

s as in sun, sand

t as in tummy, toe

u short as in up, umbrella

v as in visit, violin

w as in window, white

x as in box, fox

y as in yellow, yes

z as in zoo, zebra

The Nature of Perfection

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We have the extreme good fortune of having a directress that is as passionate outside the classroom as she is inside the classroom. Inspired to write on the nature of perfection, following our first parent education workshop of the year, Charlotte Wood presents her thoughts on the matter. You're in for a treat, as Ms. Wood tackles this delicate topic, with precision and care.

"As Montessori educators and as people interested in child development and family relations, we spend a considerable amount of time talking about concepts, phrases, and buzzwords in the ether, in popular media, and in Montessori culture. As is often the case with a subject as emotionally connected as our children and their future and well-being, we often come to a conversation with certain abstractions tied to a concept, and clarity is required in the dialogue to increase mutual understanding. One of these words we keep coming around to is perfection. We talk about it a lot as a staff at Baan Dek, it comes up with parents not infrequently (as was so gracefully demonstrated by a parent at our most recent education afternoon conversation on the topic of Practical Life), and it is another of those really challenging hurdles for bringing people who are not familiar with Montessori into the magic that we witness every day. It’s like “normalization” -- what do we really mean by this fraught word?

It is a common anxiety of parents and prospective parents that their child might worry about being perfect. Mistakes happen, accidents happen, LEARNING happens, and all of this looks messy and less than perfect. Why do we have this expectation of children in a Montessori classroom to be perfect? Is it reasonable? Are we giving them complexes? What are we doing to our children?!

Even when I use perfect as an adjective, the verb to perfect is what sticks with me. I do want the children in my class to perfect their actions, for the satisfaction, for the pride, for the grace with which this means they can carry themselves. Perfect is a process, a learning that embraces mistakes and accidents and spills because they highlight what still can be honed. It is an internal drive to do things beautifully and with grace -- the music beans make when they are poured exactly, not too quickly, not too slowly, from one pitcher to another. The internal autopilot that knows, when water spills, how to clean up a mess. The meticulous three-year-old who walks just precisely around their friend’s rug, because disrupting their work would just be, well, unthinkable! These are perfections! These are not “because I said so” moments; the child does not engage in these things because of fear of the teacher, to please the adult. The child does this because they are internally driven to do so, because they are intrinsically motivated to be masters of themselves, in every way.

Externally, perfect does have results. There is one way the Pink Tower goes on the shelf, but there are THOUSANDS of ways to build the Pink Tower perfectly, correctly, well. The way the child experiences the proper way to put this material together is by experimenting, by practicing, by getting it “wrong” many, many, many times. It is only then that the visual progression of change in three dimensions is so beautifully, exquisitely, perfectly highlighted. The Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting; they call to the child to use them in the appropriate way -- this is the Montessori principle we call “Control of Error”. This puts the child in charge of the learning experience, and anything we learn for ourselves we attach to in a stronger way. Error is what teaches us. As Ginni Sackett stated, “Error is my friend. Error give me the opportunity to go further than I thought I needed to go.” This Control of Error supports independence because it allows for self-correction. It allows the child to be their own teacher. It supports emergent reasoning and problem solving, it supports the child’s growing attention to detail. This Friendliness with Error is totally natural to the Montessori child.

Part of what makes it so difficult for adults to be comfortable with error and perfection is that, often, error, mistakes, mean “back to the drawing board,” or “we have to start over.” For the child, error means, “next time I can do better with that,” or “I’ve mastered these skills, now I can examine this.” Perfection plays a vital role in things like science and math (2+2 is always, exactly, perfectly 4), and, though the creative process of music and language can be messy and tumultuous, intervals in music are described as “perfect” -- perfect 5ths -- and everyone has read a phrase in a book that struck us as perfect. There are experiences, particularly in the fields of the arts, that are perfect not because they follow any scientific formula, or because they are “right,” but because they speak to you, what they emulate matches your perspective in this moment; a beautiful piece of art might not be your favorite because the artist never colored outside the lines, but because of the intensity of a color, because of the beauty of a line, because of the dedication of the artist. It is a detriment to our children to expect them to be perfect because we want them to be so, because they are in a world that asks them to be more than they are able or different than how they are made. But the child is surrounded by perfect things all day, in so many facts of their life. Who are we to take away this ownership of learning, this desire to perfect?"

Dressing Frame Activities

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The "dressing frame activities" are a staple of the Montessori approach to education. Let's find out why. Not only are these activities enticing tools for children, so neatly and carefully displayed, they're also extremely useful in the development of their practical life skills. And, as we'll see, so much more, like the careful and steady build up of their confidence. The various dressing frame activities, ranging from zippers to safety pins and tying a bow, seem to call out, "Try Me. Work with me. You can do it!". In this blog post, we'll take a closer look at these activities, and see, more precisely, what is at work.

First, you'll notice that these activities are meant to be used on a table. We don't we try to teach a child how to fasten a zipper, for instance, on their body. Why? Because it's much more challenging to try to learn such an activity upside down, and on oneself. The fine motor skills required to complete a task are difficult enough. So, in Montessori, we isolate the difficulty (learning how to operate a zipper) and present it in a maneageble way. Additionally, and this is the second point, you'll notice that we focus on repetition. Repetition is a vital component to the development of the child, as it allows them the opportunity to practice and improve their skills, growing their confidence. Oh does their confidence grow...