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.

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.

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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.

A New Generation

We're really blessed at Baan Dek. We have an amazingly diverse and eclectic community, comprised of so many beautiful and considerate students and families. With over seven different foreign languages represented in our school, (which is relatively small, especially considering that we're located in Sioux Falls, South Dakota) we're increasingly overwhelmed by the humanity and compassion that we see exhibited on a daily basis.

Sometimes it's difficult to read the newspaper, or turn on the television, and understand exactly what's going on in the rest of the world, when you can glimpse into one of these classrooms and see the germination of a new generation of global citizens. One of our lovely parents, Sarah Sibert, took the opportunity, not only to educate her child on the value of others (or was it the other way around), but also took the time, to share her story with us.

We have so much to learn from children..

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"When my daughter Piper brought me the scarf – an outdated black and red silk square that avoided the donation box and found new life in the dress up box – she asked me to help her tie it. “Like a belt?” I asked. “No, around my head like Manar,” she replied, referring to the hijab-wearing mother of her schoolmate and friend, Hamza.

Her tone was put off, as to say “how else would you tie a scarf?”

“Oh yeah, like that!” I said in my best that-was-my-next-guess voice, feeling very lame I hadn’t thought of it myself. I jumped right to work wrapping and tying, making sure that it was secure for whatever came next in Piper’s re-enactment of reality called “pretend play”.

My concentration floated between thoughts like how does Manar tie hers so pristinely? I should ask her to teach me… and more awakening thoughts like how cool is this that Piper’s circle of friends includes children and adults who can literally bring her the world – in their clothes, their languages, their travels and their customs.

Considering that during my own childhood, the only woman I ever saw wear a headscarf was my grandma on rainy days to protect her hair, I felt really optimistic and hopeful that Piper – and all the world’s preschoolers – will grow up genuinely intrigued by the things that make us different and even “try on” a few of them.

Once it was tied, I was expecting questions about why she wears a scarf and why I don’t, and oddly enough, nothing. She fluttered about in her butterfly dress and scarf reading books and singing songs to pretend friends.

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. To Piper, Manar is no different than any other mom – she kisses her son when he is hurt, reminds him constantly to stay away from the street and brings a purse chock full of fruit snacks to play dates. She just does it wearing a really cool scarf."

Frued on Montessori

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Anna Freud was a strong supporter of Maria Montessori, and the Montessori approach to education. Her father also corresponded with Montessori, and professed his respect.

Anna Freud writes, in the preface to Maria Montessori: A Biography, that as a contemporary, she is impressed that "the most important elements of the Montessori method" entered into modern discourse "in one form or another" and became indispensable components in the education of small children...". She lists both sense perception studies and metaphysics as the primary elements that contributed to the success of Maria Montessori.

In a letter of correspondence, Freud himself states, "I am in deep sympathy with your humanitarian and understanding endeavors, and my daughter, who is an analytic pedagogue, considers herself one of your disciples."