October is always an exciting month for young children. Autumn is usually in full swing here in Pennsylvania and the children are looking forward to Halloween and Trick or Treat night. October is an exciting month for teachers because we generally begin to see more and more of what we in the Montessori world call normalization. Yes, normalization is kind of a funny sounding word. What we mean by it is that the children have come to understand the routine of the classroom, they are able to find their own activities without a great deal of adult guidance and they are working with purpose. We begin to see the big four: order, concentration, coordination and independence in most of the children.

How is this achieved? For the youngest of our students (in my current classroom my students range in age from not quite three to five years old) we try to focus their lessons in the practical life area of the classroom. This is an area that is not typically seen in non-Montessori preschools. The practical life area of the classroom encompasses fine motor activities, care of the environment, care of self, art, sewing, and cooking. This month our activities are pumpkin colored or fall themed. We are learning to weave using orange ribbon, our spooning and pouring works have small pumpkins and candy corn buttons to catch the interest of the young child. The art shelf is full of painting, drawing and gluing supplies which are always in full use.

Why are these type of activities so important for the youngest child? Practical life activities assist the student in gaining fine motor coordination and muscle readiness for writing, they focus the child’s attention and to help build concentration. A child who can carry a tray with a glass pitcher, pour the water into a small container and then carry the tray back to the shelf has mastery over herself indeed. The self pride and independence we begin to see will carry over into other areas of the child’s young life and will have great impact on her future abilities.

How can you help your child at home? Ask him to help you as you work around the house. Children love to help set the table or help make a part of the meal. Put a small pitcher of water in the refrigerator and some cups in a space she can reach so she can be independent in getting her own drink. Give her child sized tools to clean up when she spills – small towels, a broom and a dustpan make learning to clean up much more enjoyable. Don’t expect too much. Children have short attention spans and will not be able to perform tasks perfectly or to adult standards. No worries! If you work side by side with your child and give gentle guidance you will be amazed at what he can accomplish and how independent he can be.

As we enjoy the cooler weather and look forward to Trick or Treat costumes and candy I hope you are also seeing some positive changes in your children. I am definitely seeing it in my Montessori classroom.

September in the Montessori Classroom

Welcome to the September edition of my ‘A Year in a Montessori Classroom’ series. I plan on posting once a month about my classroom and what we are learning. My hope is to help you learn a little about how a Montessori preschool and Kindergarten are unique among early learning classrooms.

September is a time of transition for us all. Some of our students are starting school for the very first time, some are coming from other schools and some are returning to the same classroom but as an older student. For all of us, we have had summer break and we need to get back to our routines.

The first thing to know (and love, in my humble opinion) about a Montessori classroom is that about 2/3 of the students are not new to the classroom. They have already spent one or two years in the classroom. This means they know the routine, they understand the rules and they are comfortable with the teacher. It also means the teacher (me, in this case!) knows most of his or her students very well.

Why is this important or noteworthy?

Having this level of knowledge and comfort with returning students helps eliminate time spent getting to know students and planning for their educational progress. I am able to start on day one understanding how my students work, what their passions involve, how they struggle, what kind of learner they are, etc. It is only a small number of students I need to get to know from the ground up.

For the students who are returning, they are ready to be helpers for the younger students. I find the 2nd year students to be the best helpers. They are SO PROUD about their knowledge and growth (and that they are no longer the youngest in the room) that they are tremendously happy to show the younger students how to do things in the classroom. What amazing learning for all the students from day one!

The youngest students are often happier when a child close to their own age takes them under his/her wing than if it was the teacher. As the teacher, it is amazingly helpful to have an army of young educators giving comfort and guidance to the newest members of our community. This is an amazing level of growth and self confidence that can’t be found in many other educational philosophies.

Well, I’ve just spent most of my post on just one little aspect of the September classroom. It’s an important one, though. A few other things we do include learning things like the procedure for having snack, looking for your classroom job and doing it every day, learning how to clean a spill, push in a chair and roll a floor mat. Another important thing we learn at the beginning of the year (and practice all year long) is how to resolve conflict with a peer. That is a whole separate blog post so stay tuned.

If you are interested in more about my Montessori classroom (I teach at the New School of Lancaster – www.newschool.net), follow me on Instagram (@montessori_nurture). I will posting about our learning throughout September.

Finally, I’ve made a little YouTube video with a couple of the songs we sing in September. I hope you enjoy it. I’ll try to upload our songs each month if I am able. I hope you enjoy the songs and also learning a little about my Montessori classroom.

One of the biggest pitfalls educators encounter is not the system, not administration, not parents, not difficult behaviors. No, the biggest pitfall is much, much closer to home. The difficulty? The self.

What? Isn’t it because of who we are that we became educators in the first place? Isn’t it our love of children that keeps us going everyday despite the difficulties? Didn’t we spend years studying for this vocation?

Yes, yes, and yes. Yet, unless we slow down and prepare the innermost part of ourselves, we will not be fully prepared. In The Secret of Childhood, Dr. Montessori writes, “We insist on the fact that a teacher must prepare himself interiorly by systematically studying himself so that he can tear out his most deeply rooted defects, those in fact which impede his relations with children. We need to see ourselves as others see us.”

She points out two things that impede the teacher: pride and anger. Let me give you some examples from my own experience. As a Montessori teacher who teaches children between ages three and six we have an area of the classroom called practical life. In this area children practice pouring water between two or more pitchers, preparing their own snack, using spoons, tongs, eye droppers, etc. to transfer items between bowls, decorating the classroom with flowers. Often I have provided the materials used by the children: lovely small vases, beautiful bowls, interesting spoons, etc. The children do not always use these items with care and they are often broken. It is easy to become angry or frustrated when these carefully curated items don’t make it through even one day. If an unprepared teacher were to lash out at a student at this time instead of carefully considering the underlying cause of the carelessness or breakage (poor motor control, tray not right size for activity, etc.) we can damage the self esteem of a very young child. Something far more precious than any vase or bowl.

Pride also can hamper the teacher’s ability to move the children forward. Too often we are so concerned with how others will view us by the behavior or academic prowess of the children (our pride) that we may lecture the children before or after a visit instead of allowing them to be themselves in their individual developmental time frames. We show them our disappointment or give too much praise merely for the sake of the visitor’s perception. Again, these things damage the children’s sense of self in a way that can be difficult to repair.

What is so important prior to the beginning of school but also each and every day is that we as educators (or homeschool parents, or just plain old parents!) is to take stock in our interior life. Reflect on your state of mind first thing in the morning. Is there something bothering you? If you have negative feelings, how will these impact your day? Is there something you can do to gain peace?

At the end of the day, reflect. Where did the day go right? What did you do that you could improve? What caused you to act in a way that wasn’t helpful? How can you change? Look at yourself but don’t be harsh. We all make mistakes, we all fail, we all have room to improve. When we are kind with ourselves during this kind of emotional honesty we will remember to be kind with the children as they are also learning how to act and behave.

This kind of inner care is called many things. Mindfulness is probably the newest term. Whatever you call it, know that by taking the time for introspect at the beginning of your day and also at the end will help no matter what your vocation – teacher or otherwise. Knowing ourselves will always assist us as we connect with others.

This is always our first goal in the Montessori classroom – to connect with the children, the parents, our larger community. Only then are we able to begin the larger process of education.

*This post is part of the Year in a Montessori School series.*