Friday, January 30, 2015

Communicating Montessori: Food For Thought

As educators of the Montessori pedagogy we sometimes make assumptions about parents.   We assume that they think what we are saying is important to them.   Often times we communicate Montessori jargon because it makes so much sense to those of us that have been trained.   It has become second nature to communicate in a “Montessori way.”    What is really important to parents?   For one, we have to ask them, we have to listen, and we have to connect with them at the heart level.   They want to trust us as much if not more than we want to trust them.   Parents are hoping to entrust us with their most precious seed(s).   Ultimately, they want to know and see their seed(s) be in a nurturing environment where they will grow and flourish to their fullest potential.   What do we say and how do we show parents that a Montessori experience gives their seed(s) the best chance with the best conditions for them to grow to their fullest potential?   That is really a loaded question and each guide and administrator probably needs to figure that out for themselves while taking this journey.   However, I came across leaflet No. 1 from “A Parent’s Guide to the Montessori Classroom” by Aline D. Wolf.   This led me to want to share a few insights and practical information from this leaflet and my own experience.

In the first part of Aline’s leaflet entitled No. 1 The Purpose of Montessori Education, she states that “early childhood education should not be to fill the child with facts from a pre-selected curriculum, but rather to cultivate her own natural desire to learn.”   So we communicate to the parents and especially the unfamiliar parent that our classrooms are designed to cultivate your child’s innate natural desire to learn.   Just as a seed grows into what it is supposed to grow into when under the right conditions, your child too will grow into what he or she is supposed to grow into.   A true Montessori classroom and a nurturing, well executing guide will foster the innate characteristics and tendencies (can you link this to my article) of your child.   How?   First, this is done by giving the child the experience of “controlled” exploration to experience the excitement of learning.   The guide helps the child to master the tools being used to learn the given activities.   The materials are the physical expression utilized to fulfill both an immediate and long range purpose.   There can be many and it varies for each material.   However, for example think about how the knob cylinders are used both for their immediate purpose, but also to encourage a correct pencil grip.   That leads us to the section in the leaflet of How the Children Learn.

It states that “Dr. Montessori always emphasized that the hand is the chief educator of the child.   We now have research to prove that not only is that true for children, but also it is simply true for humans.   More can be learned about this from Dr. Steve Hughes, a board-certified pediatric neuropsychologist   What better experience to give our children then to be in an environment that incorporates hands on learning for every subject area?   What parent doesn't want to see their child become more independent at an earlier age?   We can talk to them about a couple of practical life experiences that can help bridge the gap between the home and school experience.   What about the parent that sincerely asks, “Why is this so important for my 3-6 year old, they are not even six?”

Well, this leads us to what we are all familiar with, the Sensitive Periods.   Parents may have noticed their child is beginning to have an intense fascination with things.   They may be simple, like putting parts of toys in order or doing an activity over and over again.   Aline states, “The Montessori classroom takes advantage of this fact by allowing the child freedom to select individual activities which correspond to her own periods of interest.”    In the classroom, they can put things in order all that they need too, they can learn other skills to practice such as pouring, slicing apples, washing a table.   All of these things foster a sense of order through their steps and meet the need of organizing through the experience of the whole activity.  

The last section of the leaflet is, At What Ages?   Essentially, Montessori pedagogy is crucial for all ages of the child.   It is not just for 3-6 year old children.   And it is certainly not another day care.   It is a true preparation for life.   Not to be confused with a preparation for life through a drudging and rote learning process.   Yet, it is a self-rewarding, self-fulfilling, interdependent and enthusiastic process.   This is not just true for the child, but parents would also like to know that the same is true for the guide.   That is a communication that is often left out.   It is something that many public and traditional private school teachers are not getting to experience with the children they are teaching.   Communicate when possible that Montessori education also happen before primary and after primary in an elementary program.   I am shocked by how many parents didn't even know that elementary even existed.   This reminds me to always keep an open mind, listen, ask questions and assume nothing.   The servant’s heart is necessary not only in working with the child, but also the adult.   Sometimes we forget that.

My hope is that this served as some food for thought.   Please share your thoughts, comments and food.   Thank you for taking the time to read.   

Thursday, January 1, 2015

From Dream to Reality

Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.  ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
            The date is now January 1, 2015. I came across this quote, and credit for it was given to Albert Einstein. Since I tend to be one to check my sources, I found that it may actually have been written by H. Jackson Brown, Jr., who wrote a best-selling book in the early 90’s called “Life’s Little Instruction Book.” Another source that I found said that the author was unknown. Whoever wrote it, how fitting it seems to me that this is the title, because what I have to share compliments this quote and vice versa. With that said, I would like to share a personal story that is and will always be on-going, transforming and growing. The story started several years ago. 
When the story began, I thought I saw the ending. However, I was very wrong! The story was not ending, but simply changing and evolving. I am so grateful that I found this quote, because it brought me to a realization that goes along with my story.  And so my story begins as follows:
            Several years ago, I thought my life was planning itself out before my very eyes. Everything was falling into place. I knew I would become the head of a certain Montessori school, everything was pointing in that direction. Big ideas and simple ideas were coming to me to help make improvements and I was completely supported. It felt GREAT! The calling and passion that I had longed to realize was beginning to unfold. I loved being a Montessori teacher, but even before I started this job that I was at, I knew that I wanted to lead a high quality, enjoyable, nurturing Montessori environment. 
            To what I thought was my dismay, except for the last half of 2014, the last three years were probably the worst three consecutive years of my life. By the spring of 2014 I felt this plan, this dream, slowly ripped from my fingertips as if I was holding on to the ledge of a rock for dear life. Then in June of 2014, I could no longer hold on. Falling far and fast, something happened along the way down. While fear and uncertainty were certainly present, a sense of peace, fortitude and faith came into my being like light shining its way into darkness. What I thought was my goal, my ambition, my reason for waking up in the morning changed. Going above and beyond, without a care for recognition, was being replaced with resentment, frustration, and uncertainty. 
            Then, within a day, that resentment, frustration and uncertainty of a cocoon that I felt I was in, was actually a cocoon that I broke free from to be transformed forever. I was encouraged to start my own school. Starting my own school in eight weeks seemed like an impossibility. Yet, there was nothing left for me to do, but to do just that. With the help and support of colleagues and parents, that is exactly what happened. Over the summer of 2014 there were many ups and downs that occurred almost on a daily basis. 
            The story of that summer could be a book in and of itself. The very short version of that book is that Montessori Seeds of Education opened its doors in a newly renovated school attached to a church on September 2, 2014. People said that it was impossible, and it seems like it is, but there is one thing I know for sure.  Never give up on what you really want to do. The person with big dreams is more powerful than the one with all the facts.  ~ H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Adding to that quote, “The people behind and who walk with the person with big dreams help that dream to never be given up on and together they are even more powerful than the one or those with all the facts.” There is more to this story and more to this quote, but I will share that in the next post.
              In the meantime, I would like to ask and encourage you to share your own story. Did you achieve something that was against all odds? Is there something you want to achieve, but are afraid to go after?  Maybe you can share something that may not seem grandiose, yet it might make all the difference for someone else who reads what you have to share.