Giving Time

tyingabow.jpg

Whether we know it or not, we live busy lives. Each, in our own way, we strive to accommodate, and sometimes even tackle, our overpacked calendars. Calendars can be extremely overwhelming, especially the digital sort, as they constantly beep, reminding us of a pending appointment, or perhaps one that we just missed.

Sometimes (and here you can read 'more often than not') we're in a hurry to get here or there: to the grocery store or the soccer game; to work on time, or home before our spouse arrives. It's become a commonplace occurrence: there just isn't enough time. How often do we hear that phrase repeated? "If only there was more time in the day." To be sure, there's just so much to do, and of course, we want to make sure that we have the time to do it all. 

In a way, it's the exact same with children. They want, or should we say need, to have the time it takes to accomplish tasks they set out to effectuate. What do we mean by that? Well, in our estimations, the motor of education, for creating the environment to develop confidence, independence, and the ability to think for oneself, is driven by the time it takes to learn.

What does it mean to "take time"? Whose time are we taking? In this wonderful video, there's so much at work. What you'll see is a four year old student, taking the time to tie her shoelaces. It's only a minute, which means that she's practiced her heart out. Speaking of hearts, how about those green converse!

The majority of the import of the video is not actually what is depicted on the screen, but rather what falls outside the frame of the camera. Mainly, we're speaking about the space that was created to afford this four year old the time and confidence needed to complete her tasks: however simple or inconsequential they may seem to us. The creation of such a space takes patience, care, confidence and, in many respects the most important element, time. She felt comfortable enough to take the time the task required.

Putting on our Montessori hats, it's one of the many reasons we fell head over heels for this approach to education. Montessori creates a space in which time is allowed to blossom. The way Montessori was developed was according to the specific, individual, developmental needs of students. Which is to say, it's not based on a general, one-size fits all curriculum.

How is this different from traditional approaches? Well, for starters, in the conventional system, everyone is working on the exact same thing, at the exact same time. They're allotted x amount of time. When that time expires, it's time to move on. Take, for example, the issue of learning how to tie your shoelaces. While we've just witnessed the product of this students tireless efforts, and can imagine her teacher's fastidious, loving hands and voice helping her every step of the way, picture an environment in which halfway through the task, she was told it was time to wrap things up and move on to the next activity. What would that have done to her confidence?

As adults, and despite our best efforts to optimize our time by planning ahead, waking up early, packing lunches before we go to bed, we simply run out of time. One of the many, incredible benefits of Montessori is that it "gives time" to children. Montessori provides children with the space and confidence that they can take the time it needs for them to accomplish the tasks that they set out to achieve.

Five Days a Week

Transient

There are a lot of misunderstandings about why Montessori requires five days a week. We thought we'd take this opportunity to address a few of them.

First, we think that it's really important to remember that we employ five days a week, not for ourselves, but for our students. We really believe, and the research tells us, that it is in the best interest of the children that they attend five days a week.

Second, and with this first point in mind, consistency is extremely necessary for children. As children learn to navigate the world around them, they really thrive on order, habits and routine. Children don't understand time the way we've come to adopt the clock, so following a consistent path is essential.

Third, and just as important, children need to have the time and freedom to make mistakes. With five days a week, we create an environment in which children feel confident enough in themselves, that they're willing to take chances, and explore new activities.

Basically, they're more inclined to push themselves, without the fear of external or internal pressure to achieve perfection, and perform to "expectations". With more time allotted, we find that the children are much more comfortable and confident in themselves and their peers. They have a vested interest in each other.

As a matter of fact, they spend a lot less time trying to figure things out, being re-acclimated to the situation. In essence, they just feel out of place, if five days a week is not followed. Additionally, the anxieties of transitions, which many children experience, become less and less.

We're certain that there are more points, and we'd love to have you chime in below.

Preparing for Literacy

For those that couldn't make our first parent education workshop of the year, "Preparation for Literacy", and for those joining us from around the world, we thought we'd put together a few of our notes from the event. If you have comments or questions, we would love it if you would leave a response below.

Transient

Alright, let's get started. A few words from Charlotte Wood: "In the Montessori classroom, nothing is stand-alone. Literacy does not simply begin with, “Okay, letʼs learn to read and write now.” Your child has been preparing for literacy since their first day in the classroom in both subtle and overt ways."

"Everything is intentional. Even how our shelves are laid out gives the hint of literacy -- for the most part, we work left to right, top to bottom. As you well know, every child begins with work in the Practical Life area, with things like pouring, the dressing frames, and polishing. Not only are these skills that the child needs for life in the Montessori classroom and at home, we reiterate the left to right, top to bottom pattern whenever possible. This is where our work of preparing the childʼs hand for holding a pencil begins. Spooning, dusting, even the delicate grasping of a tiny pitcher all encourage the child to hold things in a precise way, the pencil grip."

Transient

"As the child moves into the Sensorial area, there are many new materials that are preparations for later academic work. Again, we use the pencil grip to hold things like the Cylinder Blocks, knobs in the puzzle maps, the Geometry and Botany cabinets. When the child works with the shapes in the geometry cabinet, and particularly with the cards, they are working on visual discrimination, remembering a shape, identifying subtle differences that form identity, and that is precisely what learning the Sandpaper Letters hinges on."

Transient

"After the child has started writing and perhaps reading, they return to the Sensorial and Practical Life areas with renewed interest. Perhaps they scrub a table with precision and vigor, again with the left to right, top to bottom pattern, after sitting quietly and focusing on a big reading work for much of the morning."

Transient

"Or they take out a work like the Color Tablets, long ago mastered, but this time they write the names of the colors with the Moveable Alphabet or with a pencil and labels. They label the Bells high, higher, highest, low, lower, lowest. We can also begin music literacy at this point, naming the bells as middle to high C, composing music the same way they compose a story about what they did this weekend. There are environment labels the child can read and place around the room, or write themselves if theyʼre interested. Everything in our classroom has a name, and the child now gets to read and write those names as their interest in and ability for literacy grows and flourishes."

One of the most important points to note, and to reiterate, is that in Montessori, we start with the sounds of the letters, before the names of the letters. Sounds are the first introduction children have to literacy, and we believe it's the strongest path to learning how to write and read. We'd love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below.

He's Only Two Years Old

Once a child enters the Montessori environment, we completely forget how old they are, and focus entirely on their capabilities.

We come to learn what they struggle with and what we know in our hearts, they can overcome. We also know where their limitations start to manifest, and try enthusiastically, to help support, guide and excite the students beyond them. It's important for them to know that we're always here to embrace them, but that there are no limits to what they are capable.

Sometimes, seeing the children in terms of their capabilities, instead of their age, can be problematic. Sometimes we can lose our point of reference. Sometimes, for instance, we forget that "they're only two years old" and not expected to be able to sew a button or tie their shoelaces or have a conversation with a peer over a glass of water. Sometimes, however, must never become always.

These expectations that we impart, we make every possible effort to show the children that they are not of our construction, but of their imaginations. We remember, only a few decades ago, it was taught in schools throughout the world, and understood virtually everywhere, that such a feat of putting a human on the moon was impossible. Well, in our estimations, impossibilities are meant to be questioned.

When our students leave the Montessori environment, we know, in many respects, they return to being "just two years old". We also know that they leave feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride, having developed their confidence and self-esteem, and their desire to constantly improve and explore their capabilities and...yes, find happiness.

On Repetition in Montessori

We thought we would put together a few thoughts on the power of repetition in Montessori.

We recently had the good fortune of having a conversation with one of our parents about the nature of repetition in the Montessori classroom. The discussion with this father was prompted by us, recounting a fairly typical question from prospective families: "Once my child has completed the activities, won't they exhaust the possibilites of the classroom?"

This question takes us to the heart of repetition. It also takes us to the heart of Montessori. You see, the Montessori classroom was not built to be accomplished in an afternoon. Like all good things, it takes time to progress, and master not only the concepts, but your movements as well.

It's also important to remember that Montessori is here to accommodate a wide spectrum of interests, individuals and abilities. Academically, the later work in a Montessori classroom is the equivalent of a third grade public school education. This is not to say, however, that every child will accomplish all of these activities. Nor is it to say that these activites won't be reached. It's merely to state, that we're here to support each, individual student and their unique needs and learning styles. This is why the prepared environment of Montessori was established.

Transient

We live in a society where the idea that knowledge is something that can be downloaded is rather widespread. We see this notion disseminated everywhere. For us, even if you can download Ulysses on your Kindle, it might take years to truly come to terms with what Joyce was laying out. Reading takes practice, like so many other things.

Montessori herself said, to paraphrase: "Everyone can read Shakespeare, but how many people truly understand it?" This leads us back to the question of repetition. Why repetition? Well, it helps us focus. It helps us concentrate. It gives us confidence. It also helps us to "perfect" and refine our senses, as we learn to navigate and appreciate the world. Repetition takes perseverance and determination. What beautiful characteristics to develop.