Happy Montessori

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As a school operating in the Midwest of the United States, one of our greatest challenges is imparting the sense of importance that we attribute to early childhood education.

In our estimations, it truly is one of the most valuable times and opportunities that we have in our life to learn and explore the world around us. Unabatedly, we feel that it can help establish a life long passion for learning.

While we take our profession very seriously, we also want to share the idea that learning is, more than anything, fun. We would argue that no one is happier at school than when they are learning, and coming to understand the ways in which things work. As many of you know, we have a phrase that we carry in our back pockets at Baan Dek: social success leads to academic success. If the child is happy, they'll want to learn.

The Future of Learning

"Has knowledge become obsolete?" This is one of the many fascinating questions that the folks at Ericsson have prompted, one that is laid out in their new video on the "Networked Society". There are a number of interesting points of inquiry that are examined, carefully led and narrated by a plethora of educators and thinkers. The video is well worth a view.

Here's the tagline: "In a new video, renowned experts and educators explain how learning and education are shifting away from a model based on memorization and repetition toward one that focuses on individual needs and self-expression." Of course, in many respects, a vast majority of these points are questions that the Montessori community has been raising for generations.

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.

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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."

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"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."

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"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."

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"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.

The Art of Writing

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We're starting a new project to help inspire children to continue to learn the art of writing (cursive) and we need your help. We want to send you a postcard and we'd love it if you would write us back.

As many of you know, as a society, we're increasingly starting to write, less and less. With the advent of computers and mobile devices, our physical need to actually put pen to paper is dramatically decreasing. Of course, there may be as many advantages to this as there are disadvantages, but that's a conversation for another time.

Perhaps one of the most glaring disadvantages, at least that we're experiencing, is that, because children aren't witnessing adults and older children write, they're growing up with less and less interest in learning how. In many respects, especially in our culture, we only "need" to write checks. Even that, though, is becoming outdated. When was the last time you wrote a letter? Or a postcard? Believe it or not, it's become an observable international phenomenon: children just aren't learning to write, like they once did.

With your help, we thought we would up the game. Do you have a grandchild that attends Baan Dek? We would enjoy nothing more than sending you a postcard. Are you a teacher at another school who would like to start a correspondence? We would love to hear from you. Are you a friend from another country? Let us know (send us your name and address, and we'll send you a note.

Would you like to start the correspondence? Feel free to send us a postcard at: 1836 W. Grand Arbor Circle, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 57108, USA.

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.