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Help! How do you help a new-to-Montessori student transition in the later years?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, what is your experience regarding students who begin Montessori later in the elementary years, instead of having had the benefit of beginning from Casa? For example, a student switching from public school to grade 5 Montessori. How realistic is it to make the transition academically viable? I’m Casa trained and know hands on knowledge of the materials is very important in the early years.  Are these materials still required as a foundation in upper elementary? As teachers, how is it advised to help a new student entering your Montessori class for the first time to adapt?

William M., Virginia

Dear William, I understand your concern. I have had experience with older children entering my Montessori elementary classrooms. It definitely varies based on the child and their experiences up to this point in their education career. Most older children transferring into Montessori do so after many years in a traditional school, whether public or private. Some transitioned seamlessly into the Montessori environment, as if this is what they have been waiting for. Others have required more time and direct guidance to adjust.

Some students who transfer into a Montessori environment in Upper Elementary struggle with time management. In their previous environment, their learning was more teacher directed. They were most likely told  what to do and when to do it. Math, Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science happened at the same time each day, for the same length of time. Most of the time in class was spent in very structured teacher lead activities, with independent work mostly assigned as homework. When they leave the more traditional program and enter a Montessori environment, they have to adjust to an entirely different approach to education.

In the Upper Elementary environment, there is a high expectation for independence and internal motivation. If a child has not had the opportunity to develop these skills, then navigating a Montessori independent work cycle can be very challenging. While Montessori environments, by nature, work toward cultivating intrinsic motivation, students from a more traditional setting may not have had the opportunity to develop that internal sense of satisfaction that comes from doing your best, for yourself. Therefore, when they are faced with follow-up assignments during the work cycle, they can feel very overwhelmed, and have very limited internal organization strategies to apply to this framework.

Once you’ve observed that the student does not have the internal organization skills to approach assignments and an independent work cycle efficiently and successfully, part of your work then becomes to give them lessons on how to approach their tasks. After all, we are here to serve as the link between the environment and the student. Time and its management is definitely a part of the environment at the Upper Elementary level. Learning how to manage one’s time effectively is one of the main elements toward cultivating independence in the child at this age.

Regarding the use of concrete materials for the new 5th grader, there are many ways to approach this topic. It is, of course, important to begin by assessing the child. If the child has mastered the concepts that a material is designed to teach, then they will most likely not be open to that material, and should not be required to learn the material for the material’s sake. Another consideration is that many of the Upper Elementary materials are built upon experiences students have had with the materials during the younger years, especially in math. Therefore, if a teacher encounters a child for whom a material seems appropriate, it is important to see what prerequisite materials might need to be introduced. It is also necessary to remember that the materials were designed to support Sensitive Periods, so if the child has already exited that particular Sensitive Period, then use of the material may not be very effective. One may need to be creative in finding a different more developmentally appropriate approach to present or strengthen the concepts or skills.

After considering all of these points, I believe that materials are a vital part of an Upper Elementary classroom, and students should have lessons on them and opportunities to work with them. At the Upper Elementary level, the child is generally abstracting concepts at a much higher level than in younger years and materials will serve more as a key experience. The amount of follow-up work with the material will vary for each child. There is still a great deal of foundational learning happening at the Upper Elementary level, and the more solid we can make that foundation, the better we are serving the child.  Our patience and commitment to observe and adapt to the needs of each student will play a big part in making this later transition to Montessori work.

Missy McClure, M.Ed., has been a Montessori educator for 21 years. She is certified 3-12, and currently teaches Middle and High School at Heartwood Montessori School in Cary, North Carolina. She is also on the faculty at CMTE/NC, and serves on the board of the Montessori Association of North Carolina.

Varios padres me han preguntado el porqué los niños cucharean frijoles.

Tengo varios padres que me han preguntado el porqué los niños cucharean frijoles en lugar de aprender las letras y números.  ¿Qué puedo hacer para comunicarles la importancia de la Vida Práctica como parte vital de nuestro currículo?

Es muy común que padres que no conocen nuestro método tengan toda clase de preguntas acerca de lo que está haciendo su hijo/a en la escuela. La mayoría de las preguntas son acerca del porqué los ejercicios de la Vida Práctica.  Cuando sus niños llegan a la casa diciendo que cucharearon granos, que plancharon, que lavaron la mesa, que limpiaron los vidrios, que vertieron agua de un recipiente al otro, que barrieron y trapearon el piso, es natural que los padres cuestionen las razones.   También sus preguntas vienen con el miedo de que a la mejor no han escogido la mejor escuela para sus hijos porque no están aprendiendo nada, es decir letras y números.   Es por eso que sugiero contestar con seguridad las razones de los ejercicios de Vida Práctica como aprendieron en su curso Montessori.

Recordemos el porqué de esta área tan importante en nuestra metodología.

La Dra. Montessori en su obra “El Niño – El Secreto de la Infancia”, habla de la diferencia en el trabajo del niño y del adulto.  Nos dice que el trabajo del adulto es “un trabajo externo hecho de actividad, de esfuerzo inteligente, es el llamado trabajo productivo que por su naturaleza es social, colectivo y organizado.”  El trabajo del niño es “el trabajo de producir al hombre” “….es un trabajo inconsciente realizado por una energía espiritual que está creando el momento.” (Montessori, 1936)

Sabemos que la mano está relacionada a la vida psíquica del niño, con nuestros ambientes preparados, le damos al niño la oportunidad de usar diferentes materiales con los cuales irá aprendiendo poco a poco a controlar y perfeccionar el movimiento de la mano.  Es decir, cuando un niño de 2.5 o 3 años comienza su trabajo en un aula de Casa de Niños, los movimientos de su cuerpo son toscos y rápidos. Sus brazos se mueven siguiendo sus intenciones que a veces son impulsivas.  Es nuestra labor de guías ayudar a este niño a encauzar sus movimientos para así poder funcionar como miembro de una comunidad ayudando con la imitación inteligente y selectiva de acciones que se lo permitan en un ambiente en el cual pueda moverse, hablar y dedicarse a una actividad constructiva.

Al presentar las lecciones de Vida Práctica al niño seguimos un orden ya que cada material presenta una dificultad que el niño tendrá que aprender. El área de Vida Práctica fue diseñada por María Montessori para satisfacer la necesidad innata en el niño de imitar las acciones de los adultos para así poder funcionar en su medio ambiente.  Los ejercicios sirven un propósito de suma importancia ya que éstos emplean el cuerpo y lo ponen al servicio de la mente para realizar un trabajo significativo.  Estos ejercicios a su vez asisten al niño en su:

  • Independencia: Los ejercicios que la promueven se dividen en:
    • Actividades de cuidado personal
    • Actividades del cuidado del ambiente
    • Control de movimiento
  • Coordinación, necesaria para la exploración de su ambiente y que comprende:
    • Motricidad gruesa
    • Motricidad fina
    • Coordinación ojo-mano
    • Control de movimiento
  • Orden: los niños necesitan un orden externo para ir construyendo el orden interno. La manera de ejecutar la lección con una rutina precisa promueve el desarrollo de la “mente matemática” (término tomado de Pascal).  María Montessori dijo que la naturaleza no le da al niño artículos de precisión matemática, y por consiguiente para poder darle al niño la apreciación por la precisión, el medio ambiente tiene que proporcionar artículos y rutinas artificiales para desarrollarla.  Es por eso que nuestras presentaciones en esta área siguen un orden y precisión que va aumentando en dificultad conforme el niño va creciendo.
  • Concentración: es necesaria para el aprendizaje y cuando hay una concentración intensa, el trabajo y la mente están en orden.

Los ejercicios de Vida Práctica no solamente son para los niños de 2.5 a 3 años.  Los ejercicios, como se ha mencionado, aumentan su dificultad y se van adaptando al desarrollo de las habilidades de cada niño.  Así como nuestros primero ejercicios son de cucharear granos y trasvasar a diferentes recipientes, poco a poco serán más complicados como el de Lavar una Mesa.  Tenemos también que explicarles a los padres de familia que las lecciones de Vida Práctica van alternándose con actividades en las otras áreas considerando que en un aula de Casa de Niños tenemos idealmente un período de trabajo ininterrumpido de 3 horas.  Dentro de este período, los niños son libres en escoger un trabajo constructivo y los trabajos en Vida Práctica son solo una muestra de nuestra rutina diaria.  Los niños descubren trabajando con los diversos materiales Montessori siguiendo pasos ordenados y en secuencia en las áreas de Sensorial, Matemáticas, Lenguaje, Arte y Música.

Podemos concluir y contestando a la pregunta inicial, que los ejercicios de Vida Práctica son vitales para la normalización del niño en la Casa de Niños preparándolo así para su vida futura.

  1. Montessori, 1936/2015, p. 218, 221

Help! What parent education topics should I present to my adolescents’ parents?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, what are some ways I can describe to my adolescents’ parents how to understand and support their children during this time, especially in terms of self image and the importance of social valorization?

Samuel H., Tallahassee, FL

Dear Samuel, being an adolescent today is not the easiest of tasks.  We observe children who appear distant or moody. Many times we find the adolescent has a lack of concentration or focus. Parents are always searching for “best practices” to build more trust or a closer relationship with their adolescent children.  It is likely that as parents, we just simply can’t understand or fathom the reality that is the life of the adolescent. Many times these children are unable to tell us exactly what is wrong, but that there is just something wrong.

It is often that today’s adolescent blames themselves for their challenges.  When it is hard for them to communicate, they may resort to anger or withdrawal from those who want to help them. 

We need to understand those things that make the lives of adolescents challenging and help them to become more capable at dealing with those challenges (or opportunities, as I like to refer to them).  

Adolescents are trying to understand the whole world.  Throughout their lives, they have tried to understand how things work in their sphere.  Most of this navigating is done on their own, unless there are adults who have made themselves readily accessible for guidance.  Even if that guidance is available, they strive to figure out how to handle things on their own. Advice given by parents and others is often ignored.  Regardless of the activity, the adolescent is continually seeking information to find her place in the world.

Adolescents often feel that they aren’t respected.  They are often thought of as “in between,” meaning that they are too old and too young at the same time.  Their opinions are often cast aside and they are often listed as immature. Adolescents are also often faced with disrespect from their peers, from things as simple as their clothes to choice in music among others.  This feeling of disrespect can be internalized and in time the adolescent can become so unsure of herself that any decision is agonizing.

As children grow into adolescence, the affection from parents is often withdrawn.  No more snuggling or sitting on laps. Affection is at the heart of close trustful relationships.  This pulling away from parents creates loneliness and self-doubt that can be unbearable.

Parents need to build relationships that will strengthen their children against the harshness that the environment can be for them.  Parents need to think outside of the box, to freshen their thinking. Keeping in mind that each adolescent is a unique individual, and each parental approach as well will be unique.

Most importantly, parents need to listen.  Adolescents are always sorting through things and if parents make themselves available, the children will talk.  Parents often ask questions out of fear, curiosity or suspicion. The adolescent knows this and will withdraw and not talk.  Being available and non-judgmental is what the adolescent needs in a parent. When they do talk, parents should listen and stay interested and happy in what is said.  Listening well will allow the adolescent to continue to be open and share the more difficult topics.

Listening can often mean simply being accessible.  Parents don’t need to hover, and in fact most adolescents will not want their parents near.  Parents need to stay without being overbearing. Adolescents sometimes feel that their parents are the problem, not a solution.  Parents need to cooperate to an extent, but still be there. This may mean stepping into another room or telling them that you will leave for a few minutes.

No matter what, parents must stay supportive through even the worst that may face their adolescent.  Parents need to make it clear that no matter what the child is going through they support the child and will be there for them.  

Through everything, parents must display respect for their adolescents.  This can be accomplished through the listening that is so important. It will show the interest of the parent and again, allow the adolescent to be more open which in turn will continue to boost self-image.

Parents can easily counter the difficulties that adolescents may face.  By showing respect and interest, listening, and offering affection, the adolescent will gain confidence in her ability to uncover the good that they possess, the good that they are.

Ray McClure, M.S. has been involved in Montessori for 18 years.  He holds certifications from the American Montessori Society and is currently the Director of the Upper School program at Heartwood Montessori in Cary, North Carolina, where he also teaches middle and high school mathematics and sciences.  In addition to his teaching duties, Ray is also a teacher trainer for the Center for Montessori Teacher Education of North Carolina, the Center for Guided Montessori Studies and the Montessori Institute of Poland, located in Warsaw, Poland, where he has written and is implementing the curriculum for Montessori Upper Elementary throughout Poland.  Ray received his Masters of Science degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Mathematical Physics and continues university research in the fields of String Theory and Quantum Gravity. Ray is a member of the American Montessori Society, The International Montessori Council, The Polish Montessori Council, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, The Institute of Physics (London), and is a voting member of the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Help! What parent ed topics should I address with my Elementary students?

Dear Ask a Montessorian,

I’ve been teaching Children’s House for quite some time and am excited to be entering my first year as an Elementary teacher next year. What parent education topics would you suggest for our Elementary families, especially when it comes to the home environment, screen time and academic expectations?

Sharita, Des Moines, Iowa

 

Dear Sharita, welcome to the Elementary community! With a background in the Children’s House, you will have wonderful contributions, knowledge and experience, especially with the first year students. Your question poses an important discussion that all schools and guides should consider. Creating a relationship based on an open communication between parents and the school serves to benefit our main goal in education: the spiritual, emotional and academic development of children.

Sending out a survey is one way to get an idea of what parents are concerned or have questions about. Parents of first years may not know what to ask besides logistical questions, but parents of second and third years will be able to express what they’d like more information on. This will also give you an idea of the interest level of the parents, and if you are to hold a parent evening focusing on a specific topic.

One topic I would suggest starting the year off is a “Montessori 101.” This would answer questions, such as: What is Montessori? Why is it important? What are the differences between Montessori education and a traditional setting? This is where you WOW your parents. The parents should feel your excitement, and no one will misunderstand why you’re there!

Many schools hold “Back to School” nights during the first month of school where classroom guides introduce themselves and review procedures and routines for the school and individual classrooms. Topics such as homework, projects, field trips, volunteering and expectations should be reviewed. You can go over the curriculum, or you can have a special experience such as “The Montessori Journey” or “The Silent Journey.” This is a wonderful whole school education event that exposes parents to the curriculum and the unique Montessori materials and lessons that demonstrate and support.  I’ve experienced a wonderful afternoon where the focus was one academic subject, in this case, math. In each classroom, they highlighted the journey of mathematical knowledge and skills for the three-year cycle.  At the end of the event, parents walked away with a sense of how a child would experience math from a toddler classroom all the way through high school (depending on how far your school goes through). It’s wonderful to bring to attention how some materials resurface at different levels, for example, the binomial cube at the primary, lower elementary and upper elementary classrooms. An alternative approach to The Montessori Journey may be to focus on main topics in each curriculum area instead of one topic.

Most likely your students’ parents did not attend a Montessori elementary school. Be conscious and empathetic that parents often struggle with building the bridge between a Montessori classroom and home environment. Often times, parents are unaware or just need reminders on how independent and capable their children are at school and how this can translate to home activities. A workshop giving specific suggestions is highly recommended. This may include incorporating a responsibilities routine and setting up a prepared environment in a child’s room, playroom or kitchen. For example, elementary children are capable of preparing their lunches, help with meal preparations and simple cleaning jobs, such as washing dishes, laundry, wiping tables and sweeping floors. You may want to discuss allowances and how to use  intrinsic motivation without rewards. Depending on your school policy regarding homework, you can give suggestions on incorporating real-world experiences without using textbooks and worksheets. Kids can cook, create reports and presentations on family vacations, go on walks with field guide books, do mindfulness activities or have your child plan out your next weekend with a focus on where to go, expenses (parking, entrance fees) and travel notes using a map (such as travel time, distance, fitting it into the schedule for the day).

Screen time can be a tricky topic since parents have their own opinions on how much, when and why. I would suggest backing up your suggestions with current research and your school’s policy and recommendations.  Companies have convinced parents there are “educational” apps or games. They market more screen time, or even convince parents their child will be “behind” the norm unless they purchase their app or product.  Give alternatives to how parents can encourage academic growth without increasing screen time. This may include family board game night, walking outside after dinner, practical life activities, or just reading books. Encourage reasonable screen time limits that are enforced. A brief reminder of the downfall and dangers of unsupervised screen time might be necessary.

In addition to those above, I would suggest additional parent education topics, such as:

  • Sensitive periods
  • Freedom within limits
  • Curriculum (Cosmic, Language, etc.)
  • Practical life in elementary
  • What does “Follow the child” mean?
  • Why Montessori works
  • Summer parenting the Montessori way

Thank you for you questions. Educating our parents is a crucial component in keeping a strong, positive school community.  I would suggest planning a parent education class once a month. I understand it can be exhausting for classroom guides to prepare and present parent workshops. An alternative would be to search your Montessori community for consultants, like myself, who can present these topics in person or online. There are also online courses for parents or guides. Good luck and have a wonderful school year!

 

Jacqueline Grundberg has spent 20 years in the field of education with 16 as a Montessori classroom teacher.  She is currently an Instructional Guide with The Center for Guided Montessori Studies and an independent consultant to families and schools.  Learn more about Jacqueline here.

CGMS Secondary and new standalone Elementary programs receive MACTE accreditation

On September 28th, the MACTE Board of Directors met to review several CGMS applications for accreditation and residency changes. We are pleased to announce that all applications were approved with no issues or exceptions. MACTE President, Rebecca Pelton, reported that the MACTE Board applauded our hard work, efforts and commitment to the process.

The programs approved for accreditation include the renewal of our Elementary I-II program and approval of our new standalone Elementary I (6-9) and our Elementary II (9-12) programs.

All of our new residency sites were also approved: Oakland, California (EC and EL), Lakeland, Florida (EC and EL), Beijing, China (EC), Amman, Jordan (EC), and Istanbul, Turkey (EC).

Several other new programs were approved at the June MACTE Board meeting; Plaquemine, Louisiana (EC and EL), Alexandria, Louisiana (EC), Wesley Chapel, Florida (IT), and our new Secondary I-II program with residential locations in New Albany, Indiana, and Washington, NC.

With this news, CGMS has completed our years-long goal of offering fully accredited training solutions for every level of the Montessori journey. We are now developing a School Administrator’s program and training in other languages.

We want to thank all CGMS Level Directors, faculty, and administrative staff who contributed to the preparation of MACTE accreditation documents and welcomed the MACTE onsite visit teams at the new residential sessions. We also thank the host schools for working with us to provide a positive environment for our budding Montessori guides. Most importantly, we thank our wonderful adult learners who shared with MACTE much positive feedback about their experience with CGMS and also provided some great suggestions for improvement. We do all of this for you and for the children and families you will serve throughout your career!