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.*

In a just over a week I will begin a new school year with my students, ages 3-6. I teach at one of the two Montessori schools in my town (The New School of Lancaster). A very long time ago I was a parent to two young boys and was faced with the challenge of deciding where to send them to preschool. I was a stay-at-home mom and thus didn’t need a full day program for my children which gave me more options from which to choose. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or just the opposite! At the time, I was not a Montessori trained teacher and didn’t know much about the differences in school options. I really just took into consideration cost and location. I wish now I had known more about the differences in school educational philosophy. In order to help others with this type of decision I will be posting for a full year about the Montessori classroom.

I hope you will join me in this look inside the classroom. You may or may not have the option of choosing a Montessori school for your children but perhaps by seeing what it is we do and why what we do is so important during the first years of a child’s life you can look for similar ideas as you search for a school. You may also decide to implement a few things you read about at home. Please leave a comment if you have specific questions or topics you’d like to see covered. I look forward sharing this year long journey with you.