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Our thoughts on Montessori and education

New website helps children become entrepreneurs

Montessori teaches entrepreneurship, RisingInnovator.com offers help outside classroom

In 2011 the Harvard Business Review published an article, Montessori Builds Innovators, which sought to explain why so many innovators – business leaders, scientists, famous artists and thinkers – come out of Montessori classrooms. Some of the most wealthy wealthiest and most famous entrepreneurs attended Montessori schools and even attribute their success to this education. The founders of Threadless and Kickstarter have specifically called Montessori “Entrepreneurship Education.”

Indeed, most Montessori secondary programs include a class business. Dr. Montessori taught that adolescence is a critical time to understand the practical life lessons of economics – understanding the interplay of finance, production, service, and exchange. As children perform this real work, they discover what they enjoy and don’t and begin to explore their own roles in the pageant of human civilization.

A new website, Rising Innovator, intends to to step beyond the classroom by helping children 8 to 18 turn their ideas into successful businesses. Working in partnership with The Center for Guided Montessori Studies, Rising Innovator has developed a variety of tools, tips, information, inspiration, and advice designed to help young people become successful entrepreneurs.

The website offers business ideas, help with creating a business plan, advice on taxes and contracts, inspirational videos from other young entrepreneurs, and more. It has advice for parents on how to help their kids create successful businesses, and forums to connect with other young entrepreneurs and mentors.

Starting a business venture is a way for a young person to earn some extra cash, and it looks stellar on a college application. But the website has a larger purpose that is best described by its slogan: Improving the world one entrepreneur at a time. “An innovator changes the world, and we see all innovation as a form of entrepreneurship,” says Marc Seldin, Entrepreneur in Chief at Rising Innovator. “Both independence and interdependence are skills for the 21st century, whether you are an artist or a business leader. Entrepreneurs must be creative, self-motivated, and able to understand both the details of a project and its broader strategic goals.”

The website aims to become the primary portal for young entrepreneurs and their families, helping them get what they need on their own, at their own pace – for free. According to editorial director Dan Holly, “Our motivations are not only financial. We are equally motivated by our strong belief in the necessity of developing entrepreneurial skills among youth. We believe that we are instilling in the next generation a mindset for success that will help them in whatever career they end up pursuing. It will also help our nation as a whole by producing a sharper, more knowledgeable, more innovative workforce.”

Visit Rising Innovator on the web at www.risinginnovator.com.


My child is a picky eater and struggling in school. Could the two be related?

Dear Ask a Montessorian, my child is a picky eater and struggling in school.  Could the two be related? I’m afraid that my child is a ”carb junkie.” Breakfast has to be a certain cereal or pancakes. She even sneaks crackers, chips, and cookies into her room.  Her teacher tells me she is a very picky eater at school and only eats the snacks I send. Her teacher has said that she is struggling in the classroom, unable to complete activities, hyper-talkative, and distracts other kids.  I wonder if her picky diet is playing a role in this?

–Aaron T.

Aaron, first of all, you are not alone. Many children eat way too many simple carbohydrates! They taste good and provide a short-lived energy boost.  However, they take the place of vital macronutrients needed for sustained mental and physical energy that your daughter needs. It is quite possible that your daughter’s diet is a bit out of balance.  The quick drop in energy and blood sugar levels throughout the day can have a negative impact on focus, learning, and behavior.

We need carbohydrates because they fuel the energy centers of the cell which drives every function of the human body and brain. Simple carbohydrates which include cookies, crackers and pasta are not bad as an addition to, but not a replacement for, a balanced diet.

It is important to build the nutritional control of error into the child’s school day and that includes “complexing” up the carbs. A complex carbohydrate with the germ and bran intact needs to be broken down in the small intestines to absorb the nutrients. This provides sustained released fuel for the “think tank.”

A few examples:

1)   Add quinoa to white rice

2)   Nut and seed butters on sprouted grain breads (Little Big Bread – children’s favorite)

3)   Steel cut oatmeal

4)  Low sugar granola (< 5 gms per ½ cup) in trail mixes

Start a food journal for or with your daughter.  When you’re able, record observations of her energy level, focus and behavior as well.  As you adjust her diet over time, you will be able to see new patterns emerge. Communicate with her teacher so that he or she can let you know what improvements your daughter is making in the classroom.  Nutritional education for both parents and educators is integral to this process. Many times snacks served at school can throw off a child’s delicate metabolism if they have not eaten a balanced breakfast or have been chronically deficient in important ‘brain essentials.’ By following best practices, educators, parents and school communities can integrate meal and snack ideas to increase nutrient specific foods conducive to learning, behavior, and emotional well-being.

Next, work with your daughter’s pediatrician toward balancing the three macronutrients that our bodies need most: fats, proteins and complex carbohydrates. When you hit your daughter’s daily macronutrient trifecta, her seemingly insatiable cravings for simple carbohydrates are likely to diminish.

For added inspiration, refer to The Montessori Method.  You may know that Dr. Maria Montessori included recipes in Chapter 8, ‘Reflection, The Child’s Diet.’  In this chapter, Dr. Montessori emphasized that sugar should be treated like a condiment. Sugars are listed after the macronutrients in her meatballs, croquettes, and egg dishes. How times have changed!  Reducing sugar and simple carbohydrates may seem difficult at first, but with the right information, you will see that your daughter can enjoy a variety of nutritious foods without cravings for nutrient-deplete foods.

Also, as you evaluate the types of fats that your daughter is eating, consider the butter versus margarine debate.  Dr. Montessori was a pioneer in nutrients in brain development and function. She wrote, “Instead of removing grease from the broth, it is better to add butter to it, or in the case of the poor, a spoonful of olive oil, but substitutes for butter such as margarine should never be used.”   Margarine, a man-made fat, is deleterious to development. We know today that many margarine spreads (and a myriad of foods) contain hydrogenated oils or trans fats, which are a powerful deterrent to visual and neurological development and function. Most importantly, they lack high vitamin cholesterol (found in free-range animals and by-products), an essential nutrient to build myelin, the fatty sheath that activates the action potential between two neurons.

Current nutritional research is robust with data that confirms Dr. Montessori’s recommendations and concurrently expanded to include new fields of investigation, as our food is less nourishing, chemically enhanced, and wreaking metabolic havoc in the brains and bodies of many children.  As mentioned, incorporating the latest cutting-edge research in tandem with Dr. Montessori’s sage nutritional advice is important for both parents and educators.  I have created a new CGMS course for participants to learn about nutrients in brain development and ongoing physical and mental health. This course emphasizes and expands Maria Montessori’s directive that we develop in ourselves ‘the habit of specializing in children’s food.’  

–Jan Katzen, AMI, CFP, CN

Jan Katzen AMI, CFP, CN is a former pre-primary Montessori educator. She is now a nutritional therapist working with developmental pediatricians in Phoenix, Arizona. Jan is a certified nutritional educator and instructs Nutrition for Learning, Health and Well-Being, a 4 week professional development course offered by CGMS. She is also the nutritional education video presenter in the CGMS Infant/toddler certification course.

To learn more about Jan, please visit her website  www.nutritionforlearning.com   

Help! How do I protect the 3-hour work cycle?

Ask a Montessorian, how do I protect the 3-hour work cycle? My school begins at 8:30,  but many students don’t arrive until 8:45 or 9 am, which gives them only until 11 am to work. Should I change my expectations of a work cycle, or communicate differently with the parents?

–Nanci L.

Hi Nanci, protecting the integrity of the work period is a common conversation among even the most seasoned Montessori guides. If you choose, you can communicate the importance of arriving by 8:30 am to parents who might be receptive to your requests. Let them know that you need their help in order to begin on time each day. In many situations, this can be a challenge for families as parents navigate morning routines at home, or for parents who have multiple children with various school drop-off times.

If you feel this is not an option for you, you might consider the rhythm of your work period and adjust/build work into arrival and closing rituals. Typically, children aren’t governed by the clock, however we as adults recognize that the day is governed by schedules. Try to focus on the phases of the work period instead of the time. This will help you to feel confident about the joyful learning taking place from the moment the children arrive until they leave for the day. Here are some examples:

Arrival:  As children arrive, ponder the exercises of grace and courtesy such as greetings/salutations, self-care/readiness, and preparations. Work begins as children say goodbye to parents, greet others with a handshake, put away belongings, and wash hands. Right after transition, children can work through care of the indoor environment (folding laundry, setting the snack table, preparing the easel, feeding class pets, rolling rugs, watering plants, arranging flowers, dusting, washing windows) and care of the outdoor environment (filling bird feeders, sweeping a patio, watering outdoor plants, tending a garden).

Engagement: Now the the child is ready to engage. This is the phase of the work period marked by exploration, concentration, coordination, order, independence, and repetition. Adults are engaged through observations and can interact with children through lessons while noting the flow of energy. It is normal for an ebb and flow to occur during engagement and most guides notice period of time where everyone is ‘working,’ followed by periods of socialization. Children will often re-engage with little to no redirection if given the opportunity.  Although socialization might seem boisterous, try to allow the children to re-engage independently.

Transition: Prepare for transition as the engagement phase comes to an end through tidying shelves, sweeping, rolling rugs, washing snack dishes, setting tables for lunch, making beds for nap.  Remember, work is not limited to materials on the shelves. The rhythm of working is what aids in normalization.

Monica Johnson,

CGMS Early Childhood Instructor

How to avoid calling children from across the room

Dear Ask a Montessorian,

I play several roles at my school, including teacher and administrator.   I have noticed that I am raising the voice in my environment and I am not being able to control it. When I notice that someone is using a material in the wrong way or something similar or disruptive, I feel angry and call the child’s name across the room. How can I improve in this area?

–Alyssa S.

Dear Alyssa, congratulations on your achievement of both roles! You must be very busy and rewarded daily by your work as administrator and guide in the classroom.

Now, take a deep breath and know that within yourself, you already hold the answer to your questions. Because you are skilled and aware of your own feelings of frustration and sense of discord, you can tap into coping strategies before and during challenging situations. Here are 5 easy strategies to implement right away:

  1. Recognize that this IS and ISN’T personal.

Children are learning and require repetition and reminders of the expectations–especially when it comes to behavior. You have the honor of reminding and guiding them and while we cannot control the child, we can influence and guide their behavior by how we react.

  1. Pause.

In the moment, when you feel like calling out, pause. This is a challenge, but if you pause and count to 10, you give the child a chance to self-correct, the other children to step in, and ultimately you can think of how you will react. If the child is in danger, step in immediately and say something such as, “I don’t want you to get hurt, I must put this away for you” and proceed to calmly collect the material (sometimes it’s necessary to completely remove it for a work cycle and redirect to something in nature such as looking out the window, the nature shelf, or your classroom library). However if there is no danger, proceed to the next step.

  1. Note to Self.

Make a mental note or write the issue on a slip of paper. Schedule time daily to review what you are observing and use this as a tool for developing grace and courtesy lessons.

  1. Grace and Courtesy.

Plan to present a grace and courtesy lesson every single day. Make it part of the routine and speak scripted and calmly. “Today, we will practice how to remind one another to push in a chair. Sometimes I notice chairs have been left out. This is a problem because it can cause us to trip or get hurt. Let me show you how we solve this by pushing our chairs in or reminding one another to do so.”  Gather around a table with chairs left out. Ask for a volunteer (possibly a co teacher) and present the lesson to the group.

  1. Individualize.

You might notice one or two children who need constant reminders and repetition in order to grasp social graces and appropriate use of materials. Prepare yourself first; sometimes this means waiting until the next work cycle. Invite the child when you are not frustrated and can present the lesson individually. Also, consider presenting something new if you suspect misuse to be a result of boredom. Ultimately, remember that we are unique. The child who tests rules and limits is your greatest classroom anthropologist. The child who commands attention is your classroom leader. The child who explores and tests the materials is your scientist. Look for the strengths of the children and present materials that call upon their strengths, all the while knowing that you are in the presence of the hope and promise for mankind.  As Dr. Montessori said, “the child is both the hope and a promise for mankind.” 

Monica Johnson,

CGMS Early Childhood Instructor


Ask a Montessorian

Question:  I have a question related to the classroom management aspect of the toddler classroom (ages 18 months to 3 yrs). This particular class has 21 students and 5 adults. The students are all new to Montessori and are taking time to slowly absorb the activities and become more normalized.

Is the number of adults reasonable? How might you suggest dividing the roles of the adults? Should each of them be in charge of an area of the classroom? Should two teacher assistants always be circulating and supervising from different sides of the classroom to ensure the bird-eye-view of the room and intercept when needed? Any suggestions are appreciated.

Thank you!  —An N.

Dear An N, thanks for the great question! Of course, classroom management begins with an optimally prepared environment, which includes group size, ratio, room layout and design as well as a sufficient number of materials responsive to the developmental needs of toddlers. Additionally, well-prepared adults, certified for the infant-toddler level bring a deep understanding and appreciation for this unique stage.  The more prepared the environment is to serve the toddler, the less “classroom management” is required.

One factor to consider is that toddlers find safety and trust in an environment that has consistent routines, rituals, and expectations. When toddlers are in an environment that is responsive to their needs they are engaged, happy, gracious and curious, some might even say “normalized”! Since toddlers are in the period of unconscious absorbent mind, all of this is decidedly different than our primary friends. So often we make the assumption that toddlers are just mini primary students! In a toddler community we recommend a group size and ratio of either 12:2 or 15:3. These recommendations depend on classroom size as well as indoor/outdoor access. The ratios are designed to allow for supporting independence as well as responding to the individual needs of young children. 

When we have toddler communities that are considerably larger, such as your example of 21:5, it can be overwhelming for both children and adults, not knowing exactly where to go or what to pay attention to. Since all of your students are new to Montessori, there is and additional challenge, ie.,there are not any role models yet who know the routines, rituals, and expectations. This provides some unique challenges that can be addressed with proper planning and communication between all of the adults in the environment. It is essential that they are aligned in all aspects of leading and supporting a community of toddlers. 

Some thoughts for your consideration: 

  • if possible, split the group into two smaller groups with two adults in each;
  • reduce adults from five to four;
  • utilize a primary caregiving model (5:1 or 6:1) that allows children to create a trusting relationship with one adult who is responsible for modeling, observation & record keeping, positive redirection, and aids to independence such as eating, sleeping, dressing, and toilet learning.
Whatever you decide, make changes slowly and respectfully for the children and adults. Involving the adults in making decisions based on best Montessori practice and actual observations of your current students will ensure a successful outcome!

Kind Regards,

Kathy Leitch

CGMS Director, Infant Toddler Program

Do you have a question for our column?  Email us at the address below.

CGMS Instructional Guides, we need your help!  What are some of the frequent questions that you encounter about Montessori philosophy and practice?  Please email RKincaid@GuidedStudies.com with your suggestions, and thank you!