Observing a Montessori Classroom

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One of our absolutely favorite things to do is to showcase our classrooms. We believe in transparency, thinking that the more people can see, the more they’ll come to understand. In our estimations, a lack of transparency has been one the greatest obstacles to the success of Montessori, and it’s our desire to try to open things up. Having the opportunity to see a Montessori classroom in action can be an incredible experience. In the least, it prompts a number of questions, both simple and complex. Ultimately, and this is our greatest hope, it can help observers make an informed decision, not only on the education of their children, but also on the perceived societal value of early childhood education.

We encourage current parents to schedule a time to observe, keeping them up to date through photographs and daily conversations, but we do not make it a requirement. With prospective families, however, especially those with no previous experience of Montessori, we do make it a condition of acceptance. Of course, the way we see it, it’s not about us, but it’s about them. Primarily, we want to ensure that Montessori is the right fit for their family. It also, and at the same time, provides a wonderful opportunity and insight into how people think about education.

With anything, the further down the hole you travel, the harder it gets to try to keep that surface perspective. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that this is the only way to do things. We must always try to keep in mind that different families have needs, expectations and desires that might exist outside the parameters of what they envision as Montessori. It’s not our task to tell families what to do, but merely to showcase what we do, seeing if it’s the right fit for them.

Meet Ingrid Geiger

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We have some really exciting news to share!

After literally scouring the planet for a teacher, one that would compliment our unique ethos at Baan Dek, we are very pleased to announce that Ingrid Geiger will be joining our team. Ms. Geiger, a trained Association Montessori International directress, will be relocating from Germany, starting at Baan Dek in late February.

How did this come about? Is she really from Germany? Yes!

Here's the story: A few years ago, and rather out of the blue, we received a lovely email from Ms. Geiger. She came across our website, having read a few of our blog posts. She really identified with what we were doing. She loved our culture and said that she would be honored if we would consider her for a position.

Of course, at the time, we weren't quite ready to hire a teacher, and knowing that she was from Germany, well, we were a bit apprehensive about the entire immigration process. After years of back-and-forth exchanges, staying in touch over email and getting to know each other over Skype, we finally made Ms. Geiger an offer in November. To our delight, she excitedly accepted.

Ms. Geiger received her Association Montessori International training from the prestigious Montessori Internationales Ausbildungszentrum e.V. training center in Munich, Germany, in 2006. Upon graduation, Ms. Geiger spent a few years in Mexico, helping to establish ‘Ecomundi Montessori Preschool’ in Chalmita, Mexico, before returning to teach in Munich.

Ms. Geiger is fluent in three languages: English, German and Spanish. She has two children, Marvin and Jamie. Ms. Geiger will become the lead teacher in the Bamboo Room, where Mrs. George will stay on hand, to help ensure a smooth, gradual transition.

In growing a school the greatest challenge that we have faced is finding quality individuals who are committed and passionate to the profession. We're extremely excited that Ms. Geiger will be join us at Baan Dek.

We're planning an Open House, so everyone can get a chance to meet with Ms. Geiger. In the meantime, please feel free to send her an email: ingrid@baandek.org

If you have any questions, please don't hestiate to let us know.

Montessori Kindergarten

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Over the weekend, we held a parent education workshop on the Importance of the Kindergarten year in Montessori. After some really fruitful, engaging conversations with parents, we decided to put together a few of our notes from the discussion. More than anything, we wanted to share with you some of the many wonderful points that were raised. We really want to stress that we feel strongly that this is a personal decision, and in no way are our comments meant to pressure families. Our intention is merely to present the information.

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The discussion was primarily centered upon the benefits of staying in the Montessori environment for the Kindergarten year, without trying to negatively differentiate Montessori from public or private school alternatives. [As a side note, Baan Dek does not currently have an elementary, but it's something that we're actively exploring as we continue to grow.]

With the above in mind, we pointed out that Montessori, with a mixed-age classroom, was specifically designed to accommodate children between the ages of three to six years old. This isn't an arbitrary age classification: it's based on the developmental needs of children. As you may have heard us say before, the main idea is that everyone learns differently and at their own pace, so just because you are three doesn't mean that you are like every other three year old.

What is remarkable about this experience is that when you enter Montessori, you are the youngest. You turn to your older peers to help you with your tasks and with your daily activities. The older students serve as your mentors and role models. Of course, when you reach the Kindergarten age, you now become the leader, remembering exactly what it was like to be in the position of the youngest student in the classroom.

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What this model fosters is a method of collaboration as opposed to competition. Instead of children working on the exact same task at the exact same time with peers their exact same age, Montessori allows children to work independently, at their own pace, following their own interests. Children receive help and support from their fellow classmates. In Montessori, it's okay to help someone out, because you're not competing against each other, you are competing against yourself.

Academically, the Montessori classroom was created to accommodate a spectrum of interests and abilities. It wasn't designed to teach to the median. It was designed to teach to the individual. With a broad range of capabilities, the later Montessori math work, for example, is actually the equivalent of a third grade pubic school education. Needless to say, this doesn't mean that every child will reach that level, but the structure exists in case they do. 

Academics, of course, are important, but Montessori is predicated on an entirely different set of assumptions. Academics are not the sole focus. They are the outcome of careful preparation. Which is to say, in Montessori, we focus on the total experience of the child. In a phrase: we believe that social success will lead to academic success. If a child is happy and wants to learn, they will learn. You don't need to force them. We're all born with a sense of curiosity. We just need the space, or what Montessori called the "prepared environment," to follow our interests.

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After a short conversation on the highlights, or the positive benefits of why the Montessori Kindergarten year is important, we received a number of questions. We thought it might be helpful if we pose the hardest and most difficult questions and their responses, to provide you with a better frame of reference for the discussion. Certainly, each school will have their own set of specific inquiries, but hopefully this can serve as a context in which to jumpstart a conversation. 

The two main questions posed were: 

1. How will my child adapt to public school? Is it better to go ahead and send them to public school for their Kindergarten year or will it be the same transitional experience for first grade?

2. Are there any long term studies to validate Montessori? What does the research say? Can you point us in the direction?

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1. How will my child transition to public school?

In our experience, Montessori students are extremely adaptable. They thrive on new situations, primarily because they have strong foundations. Having come from an environment that encouraged social interactions and personal achievement, they are ready to meet new challenges. They are prepared, both academically and socially. Adjusting to a new system, however, no matter the circumstances, is always a process.

The point we would like to emphasize is that Montessori students develop a special characteristic: a life long love of learning. Why? Well, they've never been told what or when they need to learn. They've just been passionately following their interests. When they discover that they've been working on multiplication, for instance, they are proud of their achievement, but they're also just as excited to keep on learning. No matter the task, or the level of difficulty, there are always ways to find joy and excitement. It's also important to note that Montessori students know how to follow instructions. They, just as all children, only need an explanation for why they are supposed to be doing what an adult told them to do. A little explanation, goes a long way. In this case, we could say, "Told you so!".

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When hard pressed to answer the difficult and at times sensitive question, "Should my child leave Montessori and start Kindergarten instead in the public or private school system?", "Will it be easier to adjust if we make the transition now?", our answer is pretty straightforward: it depends on your family. Every family is different, having their own needs, expectations and questions. We're merely here to help talk through these issues and support your decision. The last thing we want to do is to pressure, let alone tell, families what to do. Nothing could be further from the spirit of Montessori.

With that said, we believe that the greater the foundations the greater the success. Developmentally, we learn more in this window, from 0-6, than we do in the entire rest of our lives. In our estimations, it's this period, the period Montessori recognized as essential, that will help pave the way. This is what leads Montessori to write, "There are many who hold, as I do, that the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six."

Kindergarten was originally created by Frobel to serve as a transition between home and school. It was implemented to help acclimate children and better prepare them for the start of their "real education", which would begin in the first grade, at the age of seven. Montessori, however, recognizing the biological importance of the period 0-6, envisioned the Kindergarten year as arguably the most important, as it was the completion of a learning cycle - based on the developmental needs of children. 

2. Are there any long term studies to validate Montessori? 

We thought we would provide a short list of references that we've found to be helpful. For starters, we would recommend that you take a look at the videos of Dr. Steve Hughs, a board-certified pediatric neuropsychologist. There's also a wonderful study on the Outcomes for Students in a Montessori Program, and a wonderful collection of essays that will help you get started.

We hope this post has been insightful. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. Your child's teacher can also be a helpful resource in this important family decision.

Trust in the child

Watching a process unfold allows you an opportunity to see how the results were achieved. In a society driven by results, we often fail to address the inner workings of just how something came to be. Needless to say, we all lead busy lives and the more convenient something is the greater value it seems to hold. With this, we couldn't agree more. Except, of course, when it comes to learning. Optimizing time may optimize results, but it doesn't necessarily optimize the process or the happiness to be discovered in the repetition of learning. Taking the time to practice, or allowing the process to unfold, is often what you see in the results, but don't completely grasp or witness in the process. It's where the joy of learning takes hold, often accompanying you for the rest of your life.

One of the many brilliant insights that Maria Montessori gleaned was to understand that everyone learns differently and at their own pace. With this observation, she created a mixed-age classroom which she called a "prepared environment", realizing that just because you are three doesn't mean that you are like every other three year old. The message Montessori imparts with this approach is that everyone is special.

Now, in traditional approaches to education, which do not necessarily adhere to these insights and principles, if a child misses a lesson or doesn't fully understand a concept, the class progresses, despite the lack - or lag - in comprehension. The system just isn't designed to accommodate that which overflows or supercedes its structure. We all know the stories. Many of us have our own.

What is evaluated in the traditional model is not the process, with qualitative implications, but the results, with an emphasis on the quantitative. Essentially, no matter what end of the spectrum you are on, you are at great odds with the interests of the middle. What an entirely different message. Even the pace of instruction is geared towards that of the median. How? By measuring the results of the averages. How are these determined? More often than not, by age.

The logic behind this method runs something like this. "We've seen hundreds of thousands of children go through this system. It works. We have the data. We understand exactly where children are in relation to their peers and where they should be in relation to their class." What they fail to take into account, however, is where they should be in relation to themselves.

Classifications, no matter their nature, always produce cracks. If, for example, a child in the traditional system is not at a certain level, at a certain time, steps are taken to focus on how to improve the results, to get the student up to speed with the rest of their class. "We don't want anyone falling through the cracks," we hear the administrators say.

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So, what is often recommended is personal, customized tutoring, allowing a child the opportunity to receive the individual attention that they need, focusing on a very limited, precise set of tasks and problems, i.e.: concentrating solely on carrying over numbers while doing addition. While this highly specialized attention no doubt leads to greater, immediate results, it's also at a total remove from the development of the whole child.

This raises a number of interesting questions. What sort of message does this send to a child? In our estimations, instead of offering positive, constructive, daily feedback, based on the "whole child" and their individual development, a child in this traditional approach is instantly introduced into a negative system of learning, where the joy of the process is sacrificed for the success of the result. "Let's make sure you know how to do x - so you can go back to class with the rest of your friends." 

To be sure, personal tutoring is important as an outgrowth of the traditional model, but it's part of the same cycle. It helps obtain results, when, in fact, what needs to be concentrated on is the processes neeeded to obtain the results. It's not that Montessori, and other alternative forms of education don't care about the products of education - nothing could be further from the truth - but what matters is how we get there. Ironically, this is also why Montessori students often achieve such great results. 

If we create an environment in which process becomes the focus, as opposed to product, trusting children to accomplish tasks for themselves, at their own pace, based on their own abilities becomes the conditions of that education. More than anything, it gives children the confidence to achieve the precision needed to perfect themselves. Why? Because they know we trust in their abilities, because they trust in them too.

It's a question of environment. Not a question of age.

 

Montessori Guide

We're very pleased to introduce you to Montessori Guide, a new initiative by The Association Montessori Internationale. As an online resource tool for Montessori teachers, Montessori Guide strives to serve as an innovative catalyst to support teachers "in their daily work to meet the neeeds of children". Through a series of instructive videos, Montessori Guide serves as an excellent tool to serve and promote Montessori standards and practices. As Montessori continues to grow, one of the greatest challenges the community faces is quality. Montessori Guide is a really wonderful way to get a glimpse into quality Montessori education. We highly recommend that you peruse the videos.

Here's a brief quote from Siliva Dubovoy, who speaks throughout this video: "We have a been trained or conditioned by society to see children in a certain way. There is a different way to see children. To get rid of preconceived ideas about childhood. About certain things we do about judgement of the child. Criticising the child or looking at the child as someone inferior or someone small." We particularily like the tone and perspective. There's a lot of work to be done. We're excited to be a part of this conversation.