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Help! How do I help non-readers at the Elementary level?

Dear Ask a Montessorian,  as a Montessori elementary teacher, I try hard to place the Cosmic Curriculum at the core of all of our work. However, more and more students are entering our elementary program as non-readers. How do I teach an authentic Montessori elementary program with students who are not reading or have no previous Montessori experience? -Cosmically Concerned, Baltimore, MD

Dear Cosmically Concerned, the dilemma you are facing is a common concern for many elementary teachers. It is true that Dr. Montessori envisioned the Cosmic Curriculum for students who had been through the Montessori Primary program and who were confidently reading and writing. In her book To Educate the Human Potential,  Dr. Montessori (2007) wrote that a child who has been through Montessori program “knows how to read and write, has an interest in Mathematics, Science, Geography and History, so that it is easy to introduce him to any amount of further knowledge. . . . [The plan of cosmic education] cannot be used with the wholly illiterate or ignorant, but it is received with joy by the child who has indirectly been prepared for it in the Montessori School.”

Many Montessori teachers therefore wonder how to implement an “authentic” elementary Montessori program with students who are not yet fully reading and writing, or do not have prior Montessori experience. While it is certainly simpler to implement the plan of Cosmic Education with students who are already reading and writing, if we carry out the fundamental principles of Montessori education, with some thought and planning, I believe we can absolutely provide a means for all of our students, regardless of their reading level, to benefit from the genius of the Cosmic Curriculum.

Whenever considering the plan of Cosmic Education it is important to remind ourselves of its origin, underlying philosophy, and ultimate goal. The vision of Cosmic Education was developed by Maria and Mario Montessori during the “Kodaikanal experience,” when they were placed under house arrest in India during World War II. During this period the Montessoris were in a period of “forced retirement” allowing them time to work with children, experience nature and reflect on the wider implications of world relations. It is also important to note that, during that time, they had been working with the Theosophical Society, whose philosophy includes a “Universal Brotherhood without distinction based on the realization that life, and all its diverse forms, human and non-human, is indivisibly One” (Children of the Universe, M. & D. Duffy, 2014). For Maria and Mario Montessori, the goal and ultimate purpose of Cosmic Education was both a way to help the child of the second plane develop in an environment structured to meet their needs, and a greater means of achieving world peace. They believed that the needs of the elementary child went beyond that of academic education, to exploring the greater questions of “who am I?” “where do I come from?” and “why am I here?” Ultimately, the child is searching for their place in the world in the form of their “cosmic task.” In Cosmic Education (1976) Mario Montessori wrote that if we, “place [the child] in relation with other men and make him realize what mankind has accomplished, then this will form the first step in the formation of the supraman, toward which humanity tends. . . to the older child we must give not the world, but the cosmos and a clear vision of how the cosmic energies act in the creation and maintenance of our globe”(p.5).

Our aim in presenting the elementary child with the plan of Cosmic Education is to inspire and impress upon her the interconnectedness of all inhabitants of Earth, both living and in the past. It is to show him the beauty and power of the world beyond our mother Earth, and out into the cosmos. It is to help her understand that human beings have a special role, an important task, in connecting with one another as stewards of the Earth. It is to spark her inner desire and motivation to explore these concepts while searching for her own cosmic task. This, I say, without a doubt, can be done regardless of whether a child is yet able to read and write fluently. In fact, it is quite important that we present Cosmic Education to all of our students in the second plane of development, for they are in a “sensitive period” for embracing all that it embodies. Comic Education was created to perfectly match the characteristics and needs of the second plane child. I would argue that not only must we present Cosmic Education to a second plane child who is academically “behind,” we must also refrain from moving a child who is academically advanced into the elementary environment, if she is developmentally still residing in the first plane of development.

A fundamental characteristic of the second plane child is an active imagination and a mind that can (and desperately wants to) reason. The ability to reason and abstract through imagination are crucial elements of Cosmic Education. As highlighted by Allyn Travis in her AMI/USA Cosmic Education Workshop, Theoretical Principles (2008), “we need to hold in mind that abstraction means arriving at understanding, not just using paper and pencil” (p.2). The Cosmic Curriculum begins when we present the child with the Story of the Universe. We present grand stories in the form of Great Lessons, as well as through impressionistic lessons in all areas of the classroom. From there we introduce images and materials designed to capture the imagination and inspire contemplation and curiosity. Materials such as the Timeline of Life, The Clock of Eras, The Long Black Strip, and The Hand Timeline give the child real experiences from which they can build. We present further concrete materials and experiences such as the science experiments, interplanetary distance cord, relative size of planets, impressionistic charts, botany dissection, and so on. Students are able to physically manipulate materials, create diagrams and charts, cause physical reactions, and explore natural specimens. All of these experiences should be open to all of the students in your elementary classroom and do not necessarily require the ability to read.

The role of the teacher in this grand plan is to connect the child with the environment. This is done not only through stories and presentations, but in creating an environment where each child has an opportunity to find and connect with work that speaks to him. The teacher must be tantalizing in her lessons, giving simple information, asking questions, and then providing a way for the child to further explore. For a non-reader the teacher must work a little harder to ensure resources and means for further exploration. This can be done, as described above, through work with concrete and visual materials. Materials can be created for early readers, such as a series of images with simple captions of the Great Lessons, which students could sequence and label. The teacher needs to ensure there is a variety of media, tools, and equipment available. As technology continues to evolve the resources available to us are expanding. There are many wonderful websites through museums, NASA, National Geographic, “The Kid Should See This,” etc., which provide not only images, but diagrams and videos on a great many topics. The teacher herself can be a tool for the student, reading with them, offering dictation or connecting them with tools such as dictation software. As follow-up work, students can find creative ways to share their knowledge. Dr. Montessori (2010) said simply, “To make it clear whether or not a child has understood, we should see whether he can form a vision of it within the mind, whether he has gone beyond the level of mere understanding” (p. 10). Students can both further their exploration of these topics and display their understanding through 2D and 3D art, by creating charts, copying diagrams and creating posters. For example, I have had students make books and card sets using pastels on black paper to recreate the story of the Universe, create a clay model of a volcano showing all the parts, and create a game which represented the evolution of man moving through different types of shelter, tools and food.

In connecting students to the world, teachers must remember to look beyond the walls of the classroom. Dr. Montessori (2007) explained, “In the second period the child needs wider boundaries for his social experiences” (p.3). The teacher must encourage students to go out into the greater community to explore and search for answers to their questions for, “to go out of a classroom to enter the outside world, which includes everything, is obviously to open an immense door to instruction” (Montessori, 2007, p. 17). Again, this requires preparation on the part of the teacher. As a guide you must ensure safety on these trips, create a framework for students to use in planning the outings, research opportunities that are available in your area, and make connections with parents and members of the community to find experts in the field able and willing to speak with students. “Going Out” is a wonderful experience and should be happening regularly in your classroom, not just as a culmination of research, but as a means for gathering information and connecting with the world. A Going Out is a perfect way for non-reading students to gather information and explore beyond the confines of a written book.

Students in the second plane of development require social connection and interaction. Students in an elementary classroom have a desire and need to work together. Lessons should be given in small groups, not on the basis of skill level, but based on interest and need. Groups should change and remain fluid in composition. In Practical and Essential Aspects for Implementation, Phyllis Pottish-Lewis (2008) explains that, “groups should vary in age, gender, abilities and personalities” (p.13). In grouping or pairing students of varying abilities and based on interest, students are able to learn from each other. Students who are free to work and talk together engage in discussions, debates and planning. When working together, students bounce ideas off of each other, question, and collaborate in ways that extend their education far beyond what any lesson or reading of an article can offer. This is particularly beneficial for students who need assistance reading and writing. I have witnessed a great many fruitful collaborations happen whereby students who are not competent readers have researched, experimented, created visual demonstrations, and presented information as part of a group effort with fellow students who can take on the role of reading and writing. These pairing or groupings can be designed when presenting a lesson or they can occur naturally as younger students learn to ask for assistance from their classmates. This is one of the great benefits of a Montessori classroom that make Cosmic Education possible for all of our students, regardless of their reading prowess. As Allyn Travis expounds, “The three-year mixed ages also help in the implementation of cosmic education, providing opportunities for motivation and to offer assistance. We want to see children helping and inspiring each other. . . Each child learns to determine strengths that can be used to help others. Each child also learns what areas need to be strengthened” (p. 4).

Finally, the beauty of the Cosmic Curriculum is that it is not only accessible to children still learning to read and write, it can and should be a tool used to help them develop these skills. We begin language study with the Story of Writing. This provides the child with a sense of connection to the written word. This story helps provide the deeper reason for learning to read, write, and study language. Students are having lessons and working in the language curriculum concurrently with the Great Lessons, thus their language work also informs their work in the cultural curriculum. While learning the complex rules of the English language students can learn how language itself has grown and evolved, and how different languages have different rules and forms of grammar. Students can be inspired by the grandeur and mystery of the Great Stories and use that as inspiration for reading and writing. They can practice reading and writing simple captions, or make stories with the moveable alphabet. Early reading materials can be brought into the classroom, which focus on topics being highlighted through the Cosmic Curriculum. Reading work is made more meaningful when it is connected to lessons and work introduced in the cultural curriculum. In Spontaneous Activity in Education Dr. Montessori (1965) reminds us, “Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire ‘to make him learn things,’ but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence”(p.240). If we keep this idea firmly in our minds and hearts we will find our students learning, growing, and flourishing within the Cosmic Curriculum, no matter their level of reading or writing.

Anya Bartlett spent 8 years as Lead Montessori Elementary teacher before transitioning into an administrative role as Head of School for another five years. Anya now resides in Glen Dale, Maryland where she now as an Instructor, Practicum Advisor and Field Consultant with The Center for Guided Montessori Studies and serves on the board of Montessori Schools of Maryland. She has presented workshops at local, national and international conferences throughout the United States. She received her Elementary I-II Montessori certifications through Pan American Montessori Society and The International Montessori Council. As a former Montessori student herself she has had the opportunity to experience and learn about Montessori from all perspectives, as student, teacher, administrator, teacher trainer and parent of two Montessori children.

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.