Just In Time

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Happy New Year! As Amy Weber dropped her daughter off for school today, she shared with us a few valuable insights, insights that she had gleaned from her own childhood. We twisted her arm, twice to be exact, (don't worry, it's not broken) and asked if she'd be willing to share her observations with a much larger audience. She agreed! When you finish reading, be sure to leave Amy a note in the comments! It's her guest blogging debut. (We think it should become permanent.)

"We all look forward to the New Year in different ways and for different reasons. As a teacher, new years usually started in mid August with each new school year and ended again in late May as the year closed. To me, January always felt more like the middle of a year, and I really wasn't one to celebrate January 1st---until this year.

This year, the roles in our household changed a bit, with me taking a sabbatical from my teaching to stay at home with my children. This year, I'm the lucky one who gets to drop off and pick up my daughter from BaanDek each day. This year, I'm the one who gets to share the conversations about what work she'll choose and who her lunch partner was. This year is truly a New Year for me and my family and I couldn't be more excited.

On our first morning drive to school, I asked Emerson to tell me a little bit about the routine of her day. What happens after you shake hands with your teacher and put your lunch away? Her response was, "I choose my work." Of course came my barrage of questions like, What will you work on? How do you know what you will pick? It was her simple response that really struck me: "It depends on what's available."

You see, I remember my own dad bringing my brother and me to school each morning, but I don't remember the conversations we had. What I remember is anxiety--a feeling of dread and worry that I'll be late again, as we sometimes were. Even "right on time" caused me stress. What if everyone had started without me? What if I missed attendance and was counted tardy, or worse, ABSENT.

I started thinking about Emerson and her pride and excitement when it comes to her learning and work at BaanDek. What if there was a particular activity she loved to do, but it "wasn't available" by the time she got there? What if she too, had an anxiety about arriving late? In such a well structured learning environment like BaanDek, where my young learner gets the CHOICE in her learning and the feelings of excitement and ownership in "choosing her work," I am the most excited about getting her there on time, so that she never has to feel what I remember feeling. Instead, she can "choose the work" she loves and start her day off on the right foot, from the moment she walks through the door."

Excited about this NEW Year, Amy Weber

Working so carefully.

In Montessori classrooms, "work" means so much. For starters, it's all about the process, instead of the product. About developing rhythms, habits and consistency, repeatedly practicing with that which will help you grow. For instance, just because you accomplish a task one time, doesn't mean that you instantly have the activity mastered, no matter how great you are - and, we know you are awesome.

By working with the same activity over and over, children find new ways to improve themselves. There are layers to absolutely everything that we do: essentially, building the foundations for later, more extensive applications. Take, for example, the metal insets, demonstrated in the video above. The first objective of the activity is to carefully trace the inset, making an outline on the paper, then filling in the rectangle.

There are many variations to this specific activity, but you'll immediately notice his fine motor skills, diligintly working, concentrating on keeping the colored pencil marks precisely within the outline. While this is creating discipline, order, focus, determination, etc, it's also helping refine his ability to hold and utilize a pencil, which will become increasinly important for handwriting.

Learning From Each Other

We recently sat down with Charlotte Wood and Jamie Bauer and asked them to share their thoughts on the role community plays in Montessori. There's been a lot of attention in the media lately about public schools deliberately focusing more on community, intentionally attempting to foster stronger relationships amongst their students. As a result, we've received a number of inquiries, asking us about how community factors into what we do at Baan Dek. Here's what Charlotte and Jamie had to say:

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"Public educational systems have started introducing curriculum for teaching interpersonal skills. These skills include qualities such as empathy, strong communication, conflict resolution, and collaboration. These skills, to be sure, are important life skills that every child needs to learn.

For us, however, these are nothing new.

In Montessori classrooms, children learn these characteristics as a byproduct of being in multiage groups with the freedom to talk, help, and work with one another. Here are a few examples that we would love to share with you.

In the Toddler Classroom, the children are helping each other with things like walking quietly while carrying a tray, demonstrating a pincer grasp while putting a friend’s painting paper on the easel.

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In the Primary Classrooms, a great example is math, which is introduced as a group activity.  When the children are figuring out who is going to lead the addition equation or who is going to roll up the rug, not only are they learning the academic principals, they are also learning leadership, teamwork, and how to work toward a common goal.

In our opinion, these social skills are just as important, if not more so, than the academics.

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This natural experience of interpersonal development is yet another way Montessori classrooms prepare the whole child for life in the real world. " 

 

Teacher as Learner

We witnessed one of the most amazing interactions today. We wanted to share some of the details with you. We actually managed to capture some of it on camera. In so many respects, it is these singular moments, which we will share with you, that express the spirit of Montessori for us. In our opinion, this is exactly what "school" should be: a place to discover, explore and realize your interests, without judgement or competition, but with support and encouragement. 

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Here's what happened:

One of our four-year-old students, who had already mastered the 'pouring water in the funnel activity', which sounds like a secret Kung Fu move, was approached by a younger, three-year-old student. Without hesitation, embarrassment or any sense of apprehension, the three-year-old politely asked: "Can you show me how to do this activity?" "Sure", said the four-year-old. "I haven't done it in a while, but I can show you how to use it."

Thus started the lesson.

After the two friends had found a suitable table, where the light was just right and there were exactly two chairs, the older student carefully explained the activity. In remarkable detail, he pointed out the pitfalls and joys, walking his classmate and peer through the exercise. "You want to hold your hand like this...well, it's probably best if I just show you," he said.

And, that's exactly what he did. He demonstrated the activity with care, precision and a remarkable sense of compassion. The type of compassion that only a "true teacher" has mastered: comprised of patience, determination, and a shared sense of excitement. After all, he said to his young friend, "I just learned this last year."

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As they both gazed at the water, it slowly trickled through the funnel. We couldn't help but think that we were witnessing something special. These two young students were engaged in a moment. They were sharing in the magic of the science, relishing the same sense of awe and wonder, but each was drawing something completely unique from the experience. One had become a teacher, while the other was preparing to teach himself, with the guidance of his trusted and respected friend.

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"Now it's my turn", the three-year-old exclaimed. "I think I can do it." 

"Oh, you can do it", confided the four-year old. " I know you can."

As the older student methodically watched his apprentice tackle the activity, he was instantly filled with delight and a certain, almost familiar sensation of contentedness. He had helped his friend accomplish a task he had so desired to achieve. 

When the exercise was completed, and the work was put away, the four-year-old found us across the room. He said, with a cheerful smile, "I think I forgot how to do that activity, but showing him helped me learn again." We instantly melted. Our hearts were warm. This is it. This is why we do what we do. These moments mean everything,

Everyone thinks that solving the "crisis in education" is an impossible task. We beg to differ. It's easier than we think. It just depends on the assumptions that you have. Here's ours: everyone is born with a natural propensity to learn, we just need to be given the opportunity to explore our interests, at our own pace.