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.

Exploring Gravity

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We observed a pretty magical thing today. One of our students took out the pouring pasta exercise - yes, that’s a real thing! There are many purposes to the activity, one of which is to develop an appreciation for, and experience of, the role that gravity plays in our lives.

As this student attempted to carefully and equally distribute the pasta into the three smaller, equally-sized glass containers, something unusual happened. A few of the pieces of pasta got stuck on the bottom of the pitcher. You should have seen the look on her face.

Now, immediately, as if in succession, she started rattling off possible explanations, trying to deduce exactly why the pasta couldn’t be removed. It was a total mystery. As she was going through possible scenarios in her head, she shook the pitcher, gently pounding on it with the side of her hand, almost like one would try to coax ketchup out of the bottle.

Then, turning to her guide for thoughts, together they worked through a few different possible reasons, before finally arriving at an interesting solution: somehow, water had found its way to the bottom of the pitcher, causing the pasta to stick.

As we witnessed this experience, we suddenly remembered something that Steve Jobs said: "The elements of discovery are around you. You don't need a computer to know..I mean, here..(Steve Jobs picks up and objects and let's it fall to the ground)…Why does that fall? You know why? Nobody knows why. Nobody in the entire world knows why that falls. We can describe it pretty accurately, but no one knows why. I don't need a computer to get a kid interested in that. To spend a week playing with gravity and trying to understand it, and coming up with reasons why. You do need a person."

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.