The Week Before School

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As summer winds down and we get ready to head "back to school", we wanted to take this opportunity to offer a few general tips to help ensure a fluid transition. Whether you're a new family just starting out or a current family returning for your second, third or even fourth year, we've put together a list of what we hope are some helpful suggestions. Here's the first:

The Week Before School

Before school starts, we recommend that you talk positively about school. Often, "going to school" can be subjected to negative connotations in our society, especially when high school students are involved in the equation! As adults, the same thing could be said for, "going to work". To combat this, and to foster a positive appreciation of school, you can use favorable expressions like, "Next week, you get to go to school!"

Another tip is to drive by the school, pointing it out as you go about your daily routine. Keep the conversation enthusiastic and upbeat. Try to relate to your own childhood experiences. Here's a sample: "I was always so excited to go to school, meet new friends and learn new things." If you want to add in the part about walking uphill there and back, that's up to you! As school becomes more familiar, it will become less of an unknown.

Also, however hard it is to imagine, it's also probably a good idea to start getting back into a routine, going to bed at a reasonable time, and starting to wake up in anticipation of the many awesome things that are going to happen this school year! With that said, enjoy the last few days of summer!

Growing Education

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We've been thinking a lot about education. Not only what it means to learn, as in the ways in which we learn, but also the system, tools and constructs that are needed for the opportunity. There are so many people that think the traditional system of education is in a state of disarray. We're overwhelmed, they say, with how to accommodate the needs of each and every child. "The system just doesn't allow it."

Think of Alice and Wonderland. We can't measure her growing, only her growth. As Francois Jullien notes, "To grow - we do not see growth, whether we are looking at children or at trees." The state of education encapsulates this paradox. If our goal is "growing", but we can only measure our "growth", what do we try to teach to: the transformations that lead to "growing" or the meausrable results of "growth". How could you possibly create a system of education to accommodate this paradox? Well, Montessori did...

Nature in Education

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Maria Montessori, in an excerpt from the forthcoming Nature in Education, originally written in 1913: "The importance of nature in the devleoplment of the physical and intellectual life is all the more significant to us in the method which I promote, because when a child has been prepared to observe the environment by means of the didactic material we give him, the intellect of that child is largely formed. And one of the aims and forms of education, as offered withint hte scope of the method which I expound, is that of guiding a child, indirectly, to know how to observe to the greatest poissible degree, and then to wait for the subsequent spontaneous manifestations. Contrary to others who make use of nature in order to form the inner life of a child, we do not wish to teach the child too directly to observe nature. We leave children to observe by themselves and only try to give them the means and the capacity to observe, and whwen we see that they are not yet able to observe natural facts, we do not make them, although we do continue our work which should turn them into observers. When children succeed in being interested in and in observing the phenomena of nature of their own accord, then we may be certain that nature will have a great influence on children themselves."

We'll miss you, Ms. Berry

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We knew the instant we met her, that Ms. Berry had that wonderful disposition, the one that every great teacher possesses. That's why we're especially sad to announce that Ms. Berry has accepted a teaching position at Tri-Valley Elementary, where she'll be a first grade teacher starting in the Fall.

Not only is Ms. Berry kind, knowledgable and compassionate, she also follows through, gaining respect and adoration from her students and staff alike. We'll miss her dearly, but know she'll blaze a path that's all her own. We'll leave you with a final quote from Ms. Berry: "I have had some amazing experiences at Baan Dek, met some unforgettable people, and made memories I will never forget."

Math in Montessori

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Yesterday, we were prompted to describe the Montessori approach to mathematics in a few short paragraphs. This was quite a challenge, one we were up for, and wanted to share with you. Of course, we'd love to hear your ideas, so please feel free to send us your notes! Below, we offer some very basic generalizations, through the specific example of the Pink Tower. There are countless others. Okay, here we go:

If there's one way to describe the Montessori approach to mathematics, it's that the only way to truly understand abstract concepts, is by first developing a concrete appreciation. In a phrase, the only way to achieve the abstract, is through the concrete. Which is to say, before we move on to the abstract, we need to make sure that the children have a solid, tangible grasp of the concepts that they're working on. As adults, we take for granted that children understand concepts, but concepts can be extremely difficult to teach.

From the very first day students enter the Montessori prepared environment, we're busy indirectly laying the foundations for critical and creative mathematical thinking, not only through the way the materials are ordered on the shelves - from left to right, top to bottom, ordered in terms of complexity - but also, through implementing ten units (preparation for the decimal system) in many of the sensorial activities. Later, these concepts will be made more direct or explicit, but only when we're certain that the children are ready for the them.

Take, for instance, the Pink Tower. When the children first engage with this activity, on the surface of things, it's merely a fun, engaging puzzle for them to build. While it teaches volume, visual discrimination, and requires children to carefully position the largest piece to the smallest piece, requiring great manual dexterity and concentration, at this point they are unaware that the blocks are actually the cube root of ten, nine, eight...

Years later, or at a time when the children are ready for more advanced mathematical work, we'll introduce them to square and cube roots. We don't make the direct connection to the Pink Tower, leaving it for the children to explore and discover on their own - which so many of them do! Children will inherently be familiar with the concepts, because they would have been introduced to them many times before.