Metamorphosis Elementary School Of Monticello Inc

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

We Win Some, We Lose Some, But, Oh, The Ones We Win

We're losing one. Oh it's happened before, and undoubtedly, will happen again. I should be used to it-- not dwell so much on how much the child will miss. And how much I'll miss the child. I'm as frank as I can possibly be when I give the initial parent tour of our school. After I've shown all of the beautiful materials that Dr. Montessori designed to serve every single child, at every conceivable stage of their development, after I've explained our beautiful natural history shelf that spans half the length of the room, upon which there is a living plant or creature which represents each kingdom, after I give a demonstration with the magnificent bell cabinet, and show my timeline of musical composers with CD's from which the children can choose to hear, representing primitive drums, medieval chants, classical to contemporary, after I've shown the amazing cooking and art experiences offered to the child, after I've shown and explained all of this, and so much more...the richest, warmest of environments designed to nurture intellect, body and spirit, I tell them this: Montessori is not preparation for traditional kindergarten. It is preparation for life. I even go so far as to say, "If you are thinking of enrolling your child for a year or two, and transferring to traditional kindergarten, you are doing your child a disservice. I would rather the child attend a traditional preschool, than come here, flourish in preparation for our kindergarten, and then be plunked into a seat at a desk to learn ABC and 1, 2, 3." This, I feel, is as honest and sincere as I can be. I am serious about Montessori education, and I want our parents to take it seriously as well. I want them to understand why they are choosing Montessori, so I go out of my way to explain this.

For a time, we had parents sign a contract that stated they understood this, and they paid a two hundred dollar deposit to be held in escrow until the first month of their child's kindergarten year at our school. This did appear to make an impression, but in the last few years, I've seen a generation of young parents who don't mind fudging the paperwork, or losing their two hundred dollar deposit. They don't get it, and I used to take it all upon myself, lie awake at night trying to figure out how I could have educated them to grasp the fact that this environment means the world to their child. How could I have made them see?

Some years ago, I purchased Tim Seldin's Finding A Perfect Match. Our enrollment was good at the time, and I found the information to be helpful. I think the concept of seeking compatible families is a sound idea. I felt encouraged that we would keep all of our families through kindergarten, as I selected parents who I assumed got it. Unfortunately the results have been about the same. At each year's end, our staff agonizes over whether or not particular children will get the opportunity to complete their Montessori early childhood education.

A puzzler is that sometimes the families who leave are parents who want the best "pre-school" in town, but feel compelled to place their child into real school kindergarten! From feast to famine...

Dr. David Elkind once stated that it is the kindergarten year in which a child develops either a "sense of industry," or a "sense of inferiority." I know this is true. I've seen children in public kindergarten be crushed by not making it to the bathroom, because they had to raise their hand, or because their handwriting was not strong, or because they were afraid to break a rule. I've seen them do worksheet after worksheet when they have not been prepared to hold a pencil. (And yes, perhaps by the end of the year they learn to write to 20 or 50 or to 100, but can they actually count those numbers?) They immediately begin to compare themselves to others, compete against instead of strive with--rather than have the opportunity to build themselves, with the help of their friends as they do in Montessori. I remember this happening to me as a child, I've seen it in my own children, my grandchildren, and in children of friends. It is precisely what Trevor Eissler describes in his video. That spark, that eagerness to learn simply begins to diminish.

My only solution to this is consistent, perhaps constant parent education. I go into family homes, help them to set up spaces that encourage and allow the child to develop her independence. I talk about the fact that the most successful individuals are those who had consistent daily, weekly and monthly chores. I show films and we hold workshops. We ask parents to observe often, and most are greatly impressed. They are not, however, trained in child development for the most part, so they do not fully understand the sheer magic they are seeing. So I realize that all of these measures may not be enough to convince the parents that their child needs to finish the crucial year for which we have so carefully prepared him. Some might say that money is the biggest factor, but I have proven that it is not. A few times I have offered particular families a scholarship for kindergarten. A free ride for the most important journey the child takes in early childhood. For I truly believe, as Elkind does, that character, self-worth, leadership, and an unshakable can-do spirit is formed during this kindergarten year. Academic skills that have been building are solidified at this time as well, and that is wonderful. But I'm most concerned with the spirit of the child. And you know what? These families have passed anyway. So what can one who loves Montessori education and reveres the child do? Keep trying. The factory model of education is crumbling. We have a scientific method of education. Proven. Evidence-based. But until people are better informed about the developmental needs of children everywhere, we shall have to wait, and, yes, worry as I do. And keep trying.

The child who will leave us at the end of term has flourished in our environment. Her parents realize this, but also disagree with some of our ideas, like the ill effects that media has upon young children. So, perhaps it is for the best. (But if I could just find a way to make them see!)

Last week I was working with their child with matching the pink tower to the brown stair. This was surprisingly very difficult for her. She didn't seem to understand bigger, or smaller, or grasp the relationship between the objects at all. Then suddenly she began to click, and fell in love with the game of carrying the pink cube a few feet to the brown stair prism that was exactly the same. After she got a few of them right, she bounced up, and announced to everyone in the room: "This is a beautiful place!" Yes it is, honey.

P.S. ACTUALLY, truth be told, most of our students do end up staying for kindergarten. And each year  a couple of students stay for first grade, which is as high as we go. So why do I dwell on the families that leave? Because I am obsessive about Montessori, and want it for every single child in the world...

For fun, let's look at one who has been with us since she was two, and is finishing first grade this term. Her two sisters before her stayed as well. All I can say is, "Look out world. These girls are coming, and they know who they are!" They are Montessori!





Saturday, March 3, 2012

Take a Walk

"It is high time that movement came to be regarded from a new point of view in educational theory. Especially in childhood we misunderstand its nature, and a number of mistaken ideas make us think of it as something less noble than it actually is. As a part of school life, which gives priority to the intellect, the role of movement has always been sadly neglected. When accepted there at all, it has only been under the heading of 'exercise,' 'physical education' or 'games.' But this is to overlook its close connection with the developing mind (Montessori, p.125, 1949).

I like to read this paragraph again and again. One, because neuroscience and early childhood practioners took a very long time to catch up with Dr. Maria. Two, because we adults still need to be informed and/or reminded of this: Children are developing their minds, bodies, characters and spirits through their movements. Movement is a given in the Montessori environment, but how about in the child's daily life at home? Who has not remarked that one does not often see children outside playing anymore? Part of the problem stems from parental fears of injury or abduction. Another component is time spent with media. We discuss this with our parents, and emphasize the child's need for free play outdoors, and for slightly more structured walks with parents. (Not going to write about screen time yet, suffice to say that I personally feel that the child should have no time with media of any kind until after age five.) We ask parents to give their children time each day, if possible, in all kinds of weather, to play outdoors. We also ask them to take them for walks: Around the yard, around the block, around the neighborhood, through the town, and into the woods. I will always remember a conference with a parent where we were indicating that the child had particular developmental and cognitive delays that we thought could be improved by walking. In shock, she said to us, "Without a stroller?!" Yes please, without a stroller!

Walking with Children

When the child first begins to walk, little forays about the yard are a good start. But as the child develops ability, long walks in a park or woods are wonderful. Be aware, though, that this is a perfect opportunity to offer the child rich language, so if one is not well-versed in nature, I suggest purchasing several inexpensive field guides. As the child grows, he or she will want more information, so be prepared!

"The Amateur Naturalist," by Gerald Durrell is good to have on hand, as well as Peterson and Golden Book Field Guides. Children also love to simply leaf through these books. You will be surprised at the conversations you might have.

I always recommend a child-sized nature table be placed in the child's room, for displaying their finds. Parents should write labels for their objects, and later children might love to begin collections. Older children should be provided with a sketch books and pencils for drawing their finds.

Read 'Anna's Table' by Eve Bunting

Also, go to the library or purchase developmentally appropriate, great non-fiction books for your child, with focus on nature, animals, community, biomes, etc.

Celma Pinho Perry notes in her book, 'The Cosmic Approach', "So the first development of the child - searching to become a human being he is called to be - depends essentially on the family: father, mother, brothers and sisters, relatives, neighbors. Are we as parents fully aware of our world? It is through our awareness that the child will be introduced to the world" (Perry, p.2).

You might find a beautiful slug. Read about them - they are amazing creatures!

I have always loved the lesson that Dr. Montessori gave her young teachers when they complained that there was "nothing to do or see" outside. I can just see her. She whisked the children outdoors with her and had them engaged in observation and discovery in a small area occupying just a few feet in nature. There is plenty to see outside if you look. Really look. Don't think about your work, or troubles, or wants--just look quietly.

At our school we are fortunate to have a natural playground that offers plenty of opportunities for play, work, observation and discovery. We enhance the children's playground and gardening experiences with a weekly walk. We are firm, loving guides, so the children know that in order to take the walks, they must adhere to our safety rules while respecting properties we pass. We walk at a child's pace, older children holding younger children's hands. We aren't hooting and hollering because we've escaped for recess. We are on a mission of discovery, so we are relatively quiet, so as not to scare animals away or bother neighbors.

We loved this gentleman, who shook every single child's hand.
 He has since passed away, and we miss meeting him on our walks.

Sometimes we decide to head south to the Forest Preserve and beyond. When we head west, we always wave to our neighbor who is usually outside fixing things, and sometimes we converse about his repairs. We see cornfields in various stages of growth, or lying fallow. We used to walk east and explore a creek, but we do not do this often anymore because of a cranky neighbor who put up a private sidewalk sign on a sidewalk that was city property since I was a child. Sad. But we do head north, up State Street quite often for good experiences. This week as we departed from our little school, we noted that the wind was picking up, and we could tell by watching our Metamorphosis Montessori School flag whip about, that the wind was coming from the SW. Up the street we went, enjoying the gusts. The children want to stop and see everything, and we do. This week we counted our favorite ancient sycamores. There are eleven. Each sycamore received a hug - from each child. (One of these trees stirs a memory that, of course, I didn't share with the children. When I was 12, walking home from school, a boy who "liked" me popped around from that sycamore tree and kissed me on the cheek!) Sights, sounds, and smells in nature can evoke such stirring memories in us. We must not deprive children of these connections to nature.

We admire roots on maples that make a good seat for a child, and incredible maple bark formations. I said that if I were a wee insect, I might like to live in those deep cracks. Another child exclaimed, "No! A woodpecker might eat you!" they remember everything we read... We see buds already. We can recognize the sound of a tufted titmouse, and we see milkweed seeds blowing above us. We wave at many people - joggers, walkers, UPS trucks, and the Mail Carrier receives much love and attention. A four year old boy was worried that she was leaving her truck parked and walking far, (to him,) to deliver mail to the houses. He said, "But she might get lost." He was deeply concerned for her. I could tell he was thinking about himself as well, and was fearful of being lost. We noticed a woman driving by with her Yorkie at the wheel with her. We waved and she lowered her window and stopped for us to look and say hello. We asked if her dog was a Yorkie, and she told us it was indeed. We have realistic matching dogs on our language shelf at school, and the children were happy to see a real Yorkie. She also told us that it was going to the groomer for a haircut. That made the children giggle, we waved goodbye, and told her thank you for stopping.

On our way back to school, we noticed several of the architectural styles that we just read about, and looked at doors and jams. Children have been cutting doors to glue to their own paper houses, and the jam is difficult to glue! And then, here came the mail carrier. My little friend was relieved as we all told her goodbye and waved at her for the umpteenth time. She wasn't lost, and neither were we.

M O R E to think about...

Nature needs children. We have all heard from numerous sources that our planet’s ecosystems are imperiled. It has been shown that children have heard about the damage that’s been done, and are actually frightened by the barrage of negative information that they are exposed to in regard to the environment. They know, for example, that destruction of rainforests is a really bad thing. Richard Louv explains, “Many of the kids we are scaring about nature have had precious few opportunities to directly experience its joys and mysteries.  Striking fear in people does not necessarily help them to be motivated to take action.  On the contrary, we believe that in developing a love of nature, children will become the impassioned adults that the planet needs as stewards. Rather than overwhelming people with bad news that makes us feel helpless, we can help adults and children alike to understand more about the natural world.  As naturalist Robert Michael Pyle writes, ‘What is the extinction of a condor to a child who has never seen a wren?’” The fact is that most children, (and adults for that matter,) do not know the names of common birds or plants that are right outside their doors! Children love and need to name things. They develop a keen interest in the naming of things, as part of the system they use to build themselves—creating order and understanding of the world around them. However, with the frenzied pace of daily family life, this particular need of children is often not addressed. For instance, “In one study, 8-year-old children were better able to identify Pikachu, Metapod, and Wigglytuff (characters from the Japanese card-trading game Pokemon) than common neighborhood flora or fauna, such as local oak trees”  (Balmford, Clegg, Coulson & Taylor (as cited in Driessnack, 2009, p.73). “Imagine a satisfactory love relationship with someone whose name you do not know. I can’t. It is perhaps the quintessentially human characteristic that we cannot know or love what we have not named. Names are passwords to our hearts, and it is there, in the end, that we find the room for the whole world” (Gruchow, P. , 1995, p. 130).


Driessnack, Martha. (2009) Children and nature –deficit disorder. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, (14)1, 73-75.

Gruchow, Paul. (1995) Grass roots: The universe of home. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions.

Louv, Richard. (2008) Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature deficit discorder. New York, NY: Algonquin.

Louv, Richard. (2006) leave no child inside. Sierra, (91)4, 1-4.