1 Unit, 1 Ten, 1 Hundred, 1 Thousand

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You've probably heard us say this before, but if there's one way to describe Montessori, it is that the only way to achieve the abstract, is through the concrete. Now, there's a lot at work in this photo, which we thought we would take the opportunity to elucidate in greater detail.

First, you'll notice the golden beads positioned on the left of the floormat. 1, 10, 100, and 1000. Of course, at this stage, we don't actually represent them with those numerical determinations. We call them, one unit, one ten, one hundred, and one thousand. As soon as the child understands what the concept of one unit is, what it actually, concretely represents, then we introduce them to the abstract representation of that unit, which is the numeral, "1".

Second, you'll also note that this student decided to spell out the golden beads: unit, ten, hundred, thousand. In our estimations, this is a perfect example of how Montessori students come to appreciate math: not that they apply language to mathematics, but they understand that units aren't just represented with numerals.

The famous philosopher Alfred North Whitehead made this exact same point. A different appreciation of math is afforded when you first think about it in terms of the concrete. It's easier to understand how many bricks are in a house when you understand, individually, what those bricks represent.

Intro to Reggio Emilia

When we stumbled upon this excellent video introduction to the educational philosophy of Reggio Emilia, with Carla Rinaldi, we thought we would take the opportunity to briefly share the history of the Reggio Emilia approach to education.

First, it's important to realize that Reggio Emilia is, foremost, the name of a city in northern Italy. In the aftermath of World War II, amidst destruction and ruination, the parents around the community banded together. They decided that the greatest investment in the future that they could make, was to focus on the needs of their children. Not only that, though, they were "convinced that the best thing was to build a school... A school is a symbol, not only to educating (sic) the children, but to educating themselves." What a beautiful philosophy of life.

Second, we think it's equally important to understand that Reggio Emilia is not necessarily a pedagogy that can be replicated or scaled. It's based on a passionate community, intricately involved and committed to education. It is equally focused on collaboration, self-discovery and the environment. In a way, this is precisely why Reggio Emilia is such an exemplary model, because it highlights that education in the twenty-first century must depart from the factory style of learning.

In so many respects, there are major overlaps between Montessori and Reggio Emilia: architecture, self-education and community, to name a few. In fact, Loris Malaguzzi, the person often credited with founding the Reggio Emilia approach to education, recognized their indebtnedness to Montessori. There are also a number of differences, which we can articulate in another discussion.

We'll leave you with a few thoughts from Carla Rinaldi, from the excellent, and highly recommended, Art and Creativity in Reggio Emilia, by Vea Vecchi. When prompted to comment on inter-disciplinarity, Rinaldi responded: "We consider inter-disciplinarity to be essential for seeking new answers and new questons, which our times call form. Ours is a true 'season of design', when it is indispensable to dare the new and design the future."

The Origins of Discipline

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Discipline has a very punitive connotation in our society. The origins of the term, however, are much different. Discipline derives from the latin, discipulus, which literally means, "to learn". Disciple, of course, has a very different intimation than discipline, especially in our contemporary landscape.

With disciple comes thoughts of, 'instruction, teaching, learning, knowledge': basically, a student of education. With discipline, though, our society has a much different understanding. Typically, we think about punishment, i.e.: a wrong that needs to be corrected.

We thought we would take this opportunity to express and explain the Montessori approach to discipline. In point of fact, Montessori has nothing to do with 'discipline', conceived as punishment. Instead, it is our ambition to foster what could be termed, on this same model of thought, 'self-discipline'.

What is our role as educators? Well, in our estimations, our responsibility is to help children gain their independence and confidence: to learn to think and act on their own accord, with their own motivations and inclinations. We live in a world that sets limitations for children. Our goal is to help children overcome these limitations.

How? This prompt drives to the heart of the Montessori approach to discipline. It is our job to create the conditions in which the children can succeed. Here's an example: A three-year-old student, who knows how to use the zipper, (because he's practiced with it repeatedly in the classroom and has had assistance from his family at home), starts to get frustrated when faced with the challenge of zipping up his coat.

"I can't do it," he exclaims. He's distressed and agitated, bending himself out of shape. So, what's our standard, knee-jerk response to this type of situation? Well, we want to help! We want to jump right in and zip up his coat to prevent any tears and alleviate any obstacles. Doing so, however, despite our best intentions, is counter-productive. As Maria Montessori says, "Never help a child with a task at which he can succeed."

As a Montessori teacher, our job becomes one of support and reassurance. "You can do it," we profess. "If you need any help, I'll be right here." While the child needs to know that we are there, that we're willing to help at a moment's notice, they also need to know that we'll only truly intervene when they absolutely need help. We don't want to create crutches, we want to accelerate beyond constraints.

Our greatest challenge, then, becomes knowing when to step in and when to step away. The Montessori classroom is not designed to say, "No". Hence the lack of conflict and outbursts. In essence, there's hardly any need for "discipline". We rarely, if ever, have disputes or physical upsurges, because the children are going about their business as they see fit. There are no obstacles impeding their growth, nor any challenges that they're unprepared to encounter.

The Montessori environment is specifically setup to exclaim, "Yes". There are no prescriptive, normative applications of "punishments" or "rewards". We're here to guide our students, students who are disciples, who will become who they want to become, exceeding even their own expectations.

Happy Birthday, London

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Today, November 6, 2012 is a special day at Baan Dek. It's London's 5th birthday! It's so hard to believe that she's turning five. She's been with us since the start: eager and excited and happy to always go to school. She often greets the children in the morning and chases after them in the afternoon.

Throughout the day, she can be found taking a nap in the office, next to her bones and bowl of water and dreams. Of course, it's Election Day in the United States, but around Baan Dek, it's also London's Birthday! Here's a picture of her attempting to blow out a candle, a lovely squeeky toy gift from one of our students. (She ended up eating the gift.)

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Five Days a Week

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There are a lot of misunderstandings about why Montessori requires five days a week. We thought we'd take this opportunity to address a few of them.

First, we think that it's really important to remember that we employ five days a week, not for ourselves, but for our students. We really believe, and the research tells us, that it is in the best interest of the children that they attend five days a week.

Second, and with this first point in mind, consistency is extremely necessary for children. As children learn to navigate the world around them, they really thrive on order, habits and routine. Children don't understand time the way we've come to adopt the clock, so following a consistent path is essential.

Third, and just as important, children need to have the time and freedom to make mistakes. With five days a week, we create an environment in which children feel confident enough in themselves, that they're willing to take chances, and explore new activities.

Basically, they're more inclined to push themselves, without the fear of external or internal pressure to achieve perfection, and perform to "expectations". With more time allotted, we find that the children are much more comfortable and confident in themselves and their peers. They have a vested interest in each other.

As a matter of fact, they spend a lot less time trying to figure things out, being re-acclimated to the situation. In essence, they just feel out of place, if five days a week is not followed. Additionally, the anxieties of transitions, which many children experience, become less and less.

We're certain that there are more points, and we'd love to have you chime in below.