Have Faith in the Child that Does Not Yet Exist: A Note to Teachers on How to Survive the Beginning of the Year

“The instructions of the teacher consist then merely in a hint, a touch—enough to give a start to the child. The rest develops of itself.” —Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook

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As an administrator at a large Montessori school, I spend a lot of time observing. And let me tell you, as a person who has spent a lot of time in the classroom, I get it. October is not always your friend. It begins with a fresh set of children and ends in a sugar high. 

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Some days it can feel like herding cats. What I often see observing, whether it’s a young toddler class or an Early Childhood room, the children are busy, yes, but the teachers are the ones who seem most frazzled and discombobulated. 

I often hear teachers trying to reinforce grace and courtesy, reminding children not to walk around with materials, or to “choose work.” Teachers are desperate for normalization and worry “will they ever start concentrating?”

I get it. You’re clinging to some sort of routine and grasping for order amongst the chaos, but hear me out. 

If a child is walking around the room with materials, take him by the hand and engage him in something purposeful, take a minute to analyze and observe the behavior to address later, or leave him be. If a child is not using the materials the way you have shown him, either engage, observe, or leave him be. If the child is not harming another child or himself, engage or observe, or leave him be. 

“The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.” (Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind)

Maybe the previous paragraph made your blood pressure spike. 

You’re probably thinking, but there must be limits - freedom within limits! You’re right. Limits are important. But they’re not built in a day. When we loosen our vice grip on having complete control, and relax, we’re able to enjoy ourselves a bit more. And guess what gets a child most interested and engaged in work? A teacher who delights in being with him. 

“The fundamental help in development, especially with little children [...] is not to interfere. Interference stops activity and stops concentration.” (Maria Montessori, The Child, Society, and the World)

No experienced administrator or observer that comes into your room in October expects all of the children to be working as if the teacher did not exist. With careful preparation of the environment, exciting, developmentally appropriate materials for the child to explore, and weeks or months of consistent guidance, that will come. 

In the meantime, take some deep breaths. Prepare yourself. Engage, observe, and leave them be. Take a minute every day to delight in their raw, untethered curiosity. Light up as you watch them discover and let that light in your eyes gently guide their independent, unceasing exploration.  

“The first duty of an education is to stir up life, but leave it free to develop. (Maria Montessori)  

A Hope and a Promise for Mankind, Peace Education in the Classroom

“Peace is what every human being is craving, and it can be brought about by humanity through the child.” Maria Montessori

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September 21st we celebrate International Peace Day. Children seem to have an innate ability to interpret complicated concepts in a simple way, so I thought it appropriate to ask them what it means to be peaceful. 

“Peace is when you respect other people’s bodies and be quiet so you can listen to what they say.” - Ellie, age 3

“Peace is when you say “You can come sit with me or you can come play with me.” - Satya, age 4

“Peace is when you are quiet, stop talking so you can listen, and don’t touch other people’s work.” - George, age 4

“Peace is when you’re sweet and ask someone how was their day.” - Nikolai, age 4

“Peace means being nice, giving people flowers, hugging them, and sharing kind love.” - Eliana, age 4 

As usual, I was surprised at their summations and curious where they got these ideas about what it means to be kind to one another. Unanimously they replied they learned from their teachers and their parents. 

We have some formal Montessori lessons where children learn about peace, grace, and courtesy, but I’d venture to guess they learned primarily by watching and absorbing their everyday interactions with the adults in their lives. Here are some ways as educators that we can bring peace into our environments and share that with our students:

  • Model respect. A few times I have been in the classroom with teachers who lament about children being “disrespectful.”It’s easy to forget that children learn by watching us. They cannot be respectful, patient, and empathetic if we don’t consistently show them what that looks like. Be cognizant of the fact that children are watching and learning from your every move; your tone, words, and body language with them as well as other adults you encounter. 

  • Model active listening. Make eye contact and commit to acknowledging when a child wants attention, even if your acknowledgement is “I am speaking with someone else right now, and will be ready to hear what you have to say in just a minute.” This is another way we demonstrate respect for others. 

  • Model honesty. Try as we might, we will never be perfect. It’s important to show children that it’s okay to make mistakes and to show ourselves and others grace and the space to do so. Sometimes we may have had a bad morning - sat in traffic for hours, came in late and frazzled, and had a fight with our spouse at home. We may not always react to our students as our best selves. We should work hard to prepare ourselves to meet the needs of our little ones, but when we do react impulsively, it is just as valuable to come back and admit that we made a mistake and demonstrate an authentic apology. 

  • Model acceptance. Accept and honor that each child moves at his/her own pace and is their own individual person. Some may take 2 minutes to put on their shoes, others may take 20. When we model acceptance and unconditional respect we teach a younger generation to do that for others. 

  • Model Self Care. When we take time to fill up our own cup, we are better able to fill others’. We are better able to respond intentionally; respond, rather than react. 

While I learned a lot from asking Primary children what peace means, what was even more impressive was what I observed. I spent time in 3 different classrooms for only a few minutes each, and what I saw was not just amazing, but encouraging. In one classroom, I heard a little 3 year old girl quietly, politely saying “Excuse me,” while patiently waiting and trying to pass behind me. I saw one little girl showing another who was struggling to complete a Bow Tying Frame, step in and show her how to complete, then watch patiently while she gave her a turn to try. 

It’s not every day we see or hear stories of peace nowadays. We have to look a little harder, but they’re there. We have the power and opportunity to model peace in our interactions with the little ones in our care and help spread it one hug, one kind word, one child at a time. 

Why I Became a Montessori Teacher

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          In the early years of high school I knew that I wanted to work in education. During my day to day I would tell anyone who'd listen how vital I believed the role of the educator was to the world. Literally influencing and sculpting the future of tomorrow, I couldn't envision working in a career more valuable. After college my first position in education was an assistant teacher in a regular education PreK program. I was excited to meet the kids and ready to get the semester going. I very quickly fell in love with the age range. They were highly inquisitive, fearless and full of excitement. Through personal research I found the two and a half to 5 year old age range was a huge period for their growth and development. My new goal became obtaining a teacher certification for PreK. I was definitely on the right track, but very soon I would be turning in a slightly different direction.

 At the beginning of our spring semester, my lead teacher  mentioned to me an advertisement for a Montessori school (The Suzuki School in Atlanta) looking for assistant teachers. I wondered "What does Montessori mean?" Having no knowledge of it prior to this, I did some research and immediately became interested in this approach to learning. I applied for the position and set up an informational tour of the facilities. I was in love: the environment, materials, the subjects and concepts they were being introduced to blew my mind. I was so compelled to learn and see more. Thankfully I was given that opportunity and offered the position.

Now with an even closer look at the kids in action inside of a Montessori room, I had no doubt in my mind what my goal would be: to become a Montessori guide. The way the children gravitated to the lessons, intrinsically created a love for learning, nature, and each other truly inspired me to gain my certification. I applied, was accepted into an MTEI Early Childhood training cohort, and the rest, as they say, is history. I can honestly say that I've learned so much from my Montessorian experiences and am continuing to learn everyday. I have grown, not just as a guide but as a human being. My journey continues to astonish me and those around me, and I am very excited to see where the path takes me next!

Can You “Montessori” That?: How to Take Every Day Activities and Make Them “Montessori”

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As teachers we enjoy supporting our parents and giving them great advice to carry the Montessori method into the home.  Many parents would like to partner with us and mirror our approach at school, but don’t know how! Here are some tips you could share with parents to help make the bath-time routine a little smoother, a lot more Montessori, and help feed every child’s budding sense of independence and confidence. Let’s help spread peaceful parenting one family at a time. 

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Create a Visual Schedule

When you’re a toddler there are many things that are out of your control. You can help involve a child in the process by talking with them beforehand about their nightly routine. 

“What do we need to do before we go to bed?” Come up with a list of things: bath time, brush teeth, read books, etc. As they come with ideas, parents may place a picture or draw together a picture of the activity on a piece of paper or board. Children like to know what’s coming before it does (so they have time to process.) A visual schedule can also help a lot with this need! 

Prepare the Environment for Independence

Invite the child to turn on the bath with guidance, helping to check the temperature of the water and talking about which side makes it hotter and which side makes it cooler, allowing them to turn the knobs some.

Prepare the bath with tiny soaps rather than large bottles that can get messy quickly. Hotel soaps are usually the perfect size for little hands! 

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Use tiny travel size bottles with just the right amount of shampoo or conditioner. Show your child how to squeeze it into their hands first and rub into their hair. Then let them have a try! 

Hang low hooks in the bathroom so your child is able to retrieve and hang their own towel. 

When it comes time to brush teeth, provide a low stool for the child so they can get up to the sink and mirror on their own. Place the toothbrush close enough so they are able to reach it independently. A toothbrush timer will let your child know how long to brush for before it’s your turn to help! Travel size toothpaste helps ensure they are able to get some paste onto the toothbrush independently creating less of a mess. 

Parents may feel like letting their child take over some of the nighttime routine slows down the process. It’s important we communicate that when we allow children to practice doing things themselves we empower them. When we jump in to do it for them, we unintentionally send the message that we do it better than them. Either we spend time guiding them how to do things themselves now, or we spend more time later on doing it for them.  Either way, we spend the time. 



Establishing Lasting Peace is the Work of Education


The title of this article comes from a quote by Maria Montessori, a true visionary who saw her work with children as directly impacting the future of the world at large. And it’s true; the children of our world will inevitably grow up to be adults responsible for the stability of our society, and how we choose to educate them directly influences how they will one day govern their responsibilities. 

Despite how innate our conflict resolution skills may feel to us as adults, these are skills that are cultivated from a very early age as we learn how to cope with one another, how to resolve disagreements, and how to compromise. As we mature in our ability to resolve conflict, we also learn how to be empathetic, compassionate, and tolerant of one another. But these skills must be practiced before we are able to intuitively navigate social conflict.

As an adult in a Montessori environment, you are constantly modeling how to handle stress and conflict with others to your students. Children are especially attuned to what we exhibit in natural, organic circumstances, as opposed to how we behave during a prepared lesson or interaction. This is often the first cue that children receive in how to handle their own instances of conflict.

Maria Montessori knew that young children would need physical, concrete tools, just like the materials they use for learning math and language skills, for conflict resolution skills as well. So the same care and preparation we put into our classroom environment, we extend to our focus on peace education, designating an area of the classroom that inspires ideas of peace and contains concrete tools such as a peace rose or peace stick. This object can be held in the child’s hands in order to facilitate turn taking in speaking to one another about a disagreement.

The Montessori classroom is designed to be an independently functioning community. It is not by accident that its structure mimics on a small scale the operations of a larger, adult community. This is to allow children the opportunity to practice scenarios they will inevitably face as adults, in a supportive setting.  Montessori children learn very quickly the actions they take impact others and there is a certain grace and courtesy that must be maintained to keep a harmonious balance within the community.

Having well developed “rights” of the classroom that are clear and consistent is another important aspect of peace education. Montessori children are often invited to participate in the creation of these rights, helping them take ownership and responsibility for making sure they are maintained. Some examples might include:

Everyone has a right to his or her own space.

Everyone has a right to work undisturbed.

Everyone has a right to work with beautiful materials.

Where there are two or more people, eventual conflict is inevitable. We must give our children the space and the tools to navigate conflict clearly, respectfully, and peacefully. The more they experience success with this approach, the more they will grow in their ability to utilize peaceful solutions to resolve disagreement, and this understanding of peace will extend far beyond the classroom, on into their roles as adult leaders in the community. 

Think of peace as a seed you are planting each day, for the future of the world depends on it.

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