Montessori School of Greater Lafayette Blog

Insights and inspiration from our Montessori classrooms.rss


Here is the MSGL team after presenting “Bringing Montessori Home” at the American Montessori Society national conference at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Chicago, Illinois, on March 12, 2016. Pictured from the left: Executive Director Daphne Wiles, and teachers Emily Frazier, Kelly Sallee, Ana Ramirez, Lena Atkinson, Anita Trent, Dena Saunders, Machelle French, Heather Harvey, and Angenette Shamo.

     On Saturday, March 12th, ten MSGL teachers came together to present their original parent development event, "Bringing Montessori Home," to 150 teachers and administrators from around the country at the American Montessori Society's (AMS) Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois.

     Bringing Montessori Home is a parent development course on practical life in the home. It was designed by the team to empower parents to create home environments that allow their children to be independent and successful in the activities of daily life, much as they are in their Montessori classrooms.  The team worked throughout the year preparing the 90-minute presentation that took place on the last full day of the three-day conference. The presentation gave educators and administrators specific information for organizing this type of parent education event at  their own schools.

     Many attendees were eager to praise the group's presentation not only for its content but also for the obvious bond between the staff members. When one audience member asked how the teachers worked together to present the various components of the program, one of the MSGL staff responded that they met one-on-one and also used Google docs to bring it all together. "Yes," the audience member responded, "but how did you get everyone to work together to make this happen?"  It became apparent that ten teachers in matching blue shirts at the front of the room supporting each other and having a good time was, to some educators in the audience, a most impressive feat. 

Group hug! There were lots of good feelings at the culmination of a year's worth of work.  

     When not presenting, the teachers attended workshops about Montessori philosophy, classroom management, child development, learning differences, school administration, and exciting presentations from all areas of the Montessori Toddler, Early Childhood and Elementary classrooms. Each day a different key note speaker was featured, including psychologist Mitchel Adler, lawyer and social justice advocate Bryan Stevenson, and poet Sarah Kay.

     The teachers also had time to shop in the vendor hall where they could see and touch the classic Montessori materials as well as supplemental materials. Each class received $180 from the Payless/Kroger Cares fundraiser that they could spend on materials at the conference. Several classrooms also received generous donations from families that they used to buy new materials.     

Dena and Lena with the giant pink tower at the Nienhuis booth.

     Everyone was thrilled to be chauffeured to the event by Epic Limo of Valparaiso, Indiana. Teacher Angie Shamo's brother Brian Sheely owns the transportation company and made sure the ladies had a safe and fun trip to and from Chicago in the party bus.

                                                                                                                                                      Ana, Angie, and Kelly are ready to go on the party bus!

     A few of the teachers enjoyed presenting at the conference so much that they have submitted proposals for next year's national conference in San Diego. Good luck, Ladies! 





We Love Our Teachers!

The lovely ladies of MSGL, August 2014

     It's Teacher Appreciation Week and it's the perfect time to give a shout out to the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette's amazing teaching staff. Our teachers come from all over the world and from many different backgrounds, bringing their experiences, understanding, and love of children to share with our Montessori families. Did you know that West Lafayette is the most culturally diverse city in the Midwest? This is largely due to the population of Purdue University which is ranked 2nd in the nation for total international student enrollment. Since over 60% of our families have a connection to Purdue either as staff or students, it's not surprising that MSGL's teaching staff is also diverse. 

     One way we measure this diversity is with a tally of languages spoken by the staff. Over 26% of the staff speaks English and a second language fluently. And 10% of staff members are trilingual, allowing MSGL to offer students daily exposure to Spanish, Russian, and Korean language and culture. Here is a breakdown of staff languages.  

     The teachers' love for their work shows in the number of years they have been with the school and their eagerness to enroll their own children here. Over half of our staff members have been with the school for over 10 years. And 61% of the staff currently have children enrolled at MSGL, are parents of MSGL alumni, or are MSGL alumni themselves.

     Some of our teachers came to Montessori after studying education. Many others followed their children here before deciding to become a teacher with backgrounds including art history, biology, interior design, psychology, anthropology, nursing, journalism, medieval studies, philosophy, history, and chemistry. However they discovered Montessori, we are grateful they found us and chose to stay. Here is a look at these hard-working ladies over the past year.


Mary Dyrenfurth and Cathy Stier

Revati Nemani

Stacie Seipel

Constance Straight

Machelle French

Lena Atkinson

Angie Shamo

Somdatta Datta Roy

Eunsuk Han

Dilya McClaine

Dena Saunders

Ana Ramirez

Pam Adams

Anita Trent

Janet Lee

Emily Frazier

Suman Harshvardhan

Fay Mentzer

Marilyn Martin

Erica Wallskog

Ginette Roos

Heather Harvey

Melissa Valencia

Chloe Garwood

Beth Nichols


     We salute you, beautiful ladies of MSGL! Thank you for bringing your dedication, your love of children, and your sense of humor with you each and every day.



     February in Indiana is tough. It’s 28 days of Arctic cold, howling winds, and brown slush everywhere you turn. The air hurts your skin and the gray sky steals your hope. Do you know why February is only 28 days long? Because no one would survive if it lasted even one day longer. February is the Chuck Norris of our calendar year.

Not everybody loves the snow! He was mostly pretending to be sad.

     I think February brings out the worst in everyone, even the sweet little children at the Montessori school. So it's often in February when I remind myself that the primary purpose of preschool is socialization. Sure, our Montessori classrooms have these beautiful materials and teachers trained to present them, but our primary goal is for each child to develop naturally into a well-rounded and well-adjusted individual. And for that to happen, each child must learn many, many social skills. Here’s a partial list. Lucky for me, blog inches are cheap!

  • How to talk to others.
  • How to listen.
  • How to respond to positive events.
  • How to respond to negative events.
  • How to express emotions.
  • How to read emotions.
  • How to move gracefully across the room.
  • How to walk peacefully in a hallway filled with people.
  • How to be part of a group.
  • How to speak in front of a group.
  • How to listen as part of a group.
  • How to lead.
  • How to follow.
  • How to make decisions.
  • How to choose an activity.
  • How to clean up and put away.
  • How to sit next to a friend.
  • How to ask for help.
  • How to offer assistance.
  • How to comfort others.
  • How to share.
  • How to ask to share.
  • How to say “No, thank you” to sharing.
  • How to improvise.
  • How to make do.
  • How to say “I’m sorry” and mean it.
  • How to stick up for yourself.
  • How to show respect.
  • How to be worthy of respect.

     Preschoolers do all of this really challenging work surrounded by 23 other children who are all trying to do exactly the same thing. (Twice that many, if enrolled for a full day.) Preschool can be very hard work!

     Sometimes a child will do something inappropriate to another child and a well-meaning parent will ask me, “Did you tell them not to do that?” Of course. Every day our teachers remind children that hands are not for hurting and to use their words. But listening is not the way young children learn morals and social skills. (Although it IS the way they learn language.) Preschoolers learn by doing and that means that sometimes - lots of times, actually - they do inappropriate things. And gradually, they learn from them.

     So, since young children are not born knowing the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, and they can’t simply follow our instructions, the grown-ups have to give them lots of opportunities to figure it out with other children. We must provide them with an environment that allows them to safely - with close supervision - make many, many bad decisions. In our preschool classrooms, the teachers expect inappropriate behaviors and respond to them consistently with each occurrence, knowing that they will lessen over time. A child’s “bad” behavior might keep us on our toes, but it rarely surprises us.

     And thank goodness for that! Imagine if doctors were shocked to see so many sick patients every day. Or if plumbers were bewildered by clogged pipes. Or firefighters were stymied when houses caught fire. They would not be very effective at their jobs. In order to be effective at my job as a teacher in a Montessori classroom of three to six-year-olds, I have to first: like children, and second: understand that all of the terrible things that children can do to each other are not failings, but simply a natural part of their development. A child who hits or bites or kicks is showing me that she is upset about something and has not yet learned to respond without hurting. It’s my job to help her develop a new, appropriate response while doing my best to keep the other children safe.

     I admit that my best isn’t always enough. And it’s not easy to watch these children suffer through the process of dealing with separation anxiety, or a friend’s harsh words, or simple frustration at being unable to dress themselves. I love the children in my care and it hurts to watch them hurt themselves or others when their anger literally comes out of their fingers and toes.

     Recently, I was sitting next to two children who had been playing very actively all morning. I will call them Danny and Sandy. They were having trouble working together but they just couldn’t stand to be away from each other. They are each learning how to be friends with someone who drives them a little bit crazy. I stayed close to them so I could intervene and help them resolve the issues that were bound to arise when things got out of hand.

     At group time the children got to talking about which animals they liked the most. Danny laughed and said, “My favorite kind of animal is Sandy.” I turned to them just as Sandy pulled back her arm and punched Danny squarely in the face. Danny was really surprised. He thought maybe he was hurt for just a moment, but quickly regained his composure.

     Seeing that he wasn’t hurt, I said, “I don’t think Sandy liked it when you called her a name. What do you think?”

     “I was just saying it to myself,” he said.

     “Well, I'm pretty sure she heard you," I responded.

     Having made herself clear already, Sandy had nothing to add.

     Did Danny deserve to be hit? No. But he did need to know that Sandy didn’t like the way he treated her. Should Sandy have hit him? No. But she did need to let him know that it wasn’t okay to call her a name. Did either of them “get in trouble” by me? No. We talked about other possible responses and there was no more name-calling or punching that morning. But it’s not over. I will keep those two on my “Watch List” for the rest of the year and when I hear their voices get loud or see them chasing each other I will do my best to be right there to help them work through their next disagreement. That’s my job. Not to punish or shame children, but to help them learn to express themselves and to be good listeners and… ah, just refer to the previous bulleted list.


     I have read about preschools with zero tolerance policies for hitting and biting. My question is always, "Where will they send all of those children?" If a 4-year-old is banned from preschool because she has not yet learned to get along with others, what’s next for her? Reform school? Prison? Dr. Phil?

     Preschool is THE BEST place for young children to learn how to get along with others. Sometimes it’s tense, sweaty, gritty, even frightening work. But the mis-steps children make in preschool prepare them for a future that is much less secure. A time when they won’t be surrounded by loving adults waiting to step in and guide them to resolve problems peacefully. A time when using hands to hurt can have lifelong consequences.

     I am not complacent about children hurting each other and I put myself between thrown punches and sweet little faces every time I can. But I also know that "bad" behavior is not a fault in a child, it signals an important learning opportunity. A child who lashes out is showing us how we can help her. Maria Montessori put it this way,

“The undisciplined child enters into discipline by working in the company of others; not being told he is naughty. Discipline is, therefore, primarily a learning experience and less a punitive experience if appropriately dealt with.”

     Please try to be patient with your children and other people's children as we all wait for the Earth to travel just a little further around the Sun. February will become March, winter will become spring, and children who are not yet peaceful will develop a little more self-control and gradually, gracefully learn to cope with the many frustrations of being a small child.

     Thanks for reading,

     ~ Heather



Following Friends to Physics

Free play and building with logs and boards is a realistic way to explore physics concepts. MSGL has an outdoor space that allows for more than just "recess." Outside time is not a chance to get away from the classroom, it's an opportunity for children to use their whole bodies to learn and, most importantly, have fun with friends.

     On Thursday, a quartet of boys was getting very silly in the back corner of our Montessori classroom. They were speaking with outside voices and using all available paper to make pretend swords so they could have a pretend swordfight. When I tried to redirect them, they asked to make paper airplanes and see whose would fly the farthest. Although Montessori teachers are known for their flexibility and laid-back grooviness, I could not condone sword-fighting and airplane-flying during class on this, only the second full week of preschool. What would people say?

     I empathized with these friends because they wanted to play together and needed to actively move their bodies, but it was still 30 minutes before we (read: I) could even think about going outside where this type of gross-motor play was appropriate. They took a half-hearted interest in another activity and I sat at a table nearby to observe. When they realized I was there to stay, they started putting away their work and chanting with dead eyes and sad voices, "No more fun. No more fun. No more fun." It would seem I had officially become "the man." They went to the other side of the room to build a tower with the brown stair and the pink cubes and within minutes, they were using the smallest brown stair as a lever to launch the smallest pink cube across the rug. Clearly, they were trying to tell me something.

     What these boys wanted was action. They are perfectly willing to come in each morning and work on their maps or practice writing their names, but after a time they really want to make things move. And it's not just the boys, of course. Girls thrive on kinesthetic learning activities and they are usually the first to line up to walk across the log seesaw.


     In fact, all young children are kinesthetic learners. Most mature into adolescents who can learn successfully through watching and listening, but not all. As long ago as 1979, researchers studying how humans learn understood this:

"Restak (1979) and others have indicated that many students do not become strongly visual before third grade, that auditory acuity first develops in many students after the sixth grade, and that boys often are neither strongly visual nor auditory even during high school. Therefore, since most young children are tactual and kinesthetic learners, such resources should be developed and used, particularly for those who are experiencing difficulty learning through lectures, direct verbal instructions, "chalk talks," and textbook assignments."- See the full article at

     No one is suggesting that preschoolers should be taught through lectures, but sometimes society (or maybe our high school principal's voice in the back of our head) worries us into thinking that if we don't make our children sit down, concentrate, and learn - how will they ever be successful in school or the Real World that supposedly comes after?

     Parents sometimes ask, "When will you teach him to sit still and listen to the teacher?" The answer is that he will sit still and listen when what I am saying is of interest to him. It's my job to find the topic that is so fascinating to the child that he can't help but hold his body still so as to not miss a single word. A teacher's job is to be fascinating; but only until the child is so interested in the subject that he sets off to explore it on his own. At that point, the teacher observes and prepares for the child's next question then guides him to find the answers on his own. (Please note: Matters of health, safety, and courtesy are always addressed immediately. No one in the classroom has the freedom to hurt themselves or to hurt or disrupt others.)

He has found the exact point to stand where his weight balances the log.

     Maria Montessori observed that not only do young children learn kinesthetically, they absolutely MUST learn this way for proper brain development. 

"Movement, or physical activity, is thus an essential factor in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside. Through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas." - The Secret of Childhood

     So, as a good teacher who believes in a research-based approach to education, I am obligated to consider the kinesthetic learning style of my preschool students. I am also obligated to follow a child's interests because a child who is studying something she is interested in, as opposed to an externally-imposed curriculum, is much more likely to retain that information and build connections in her brain. So why were we still inside the classroom and NOT outside studying the physics of flight and simple machines? Because I didn't know they were interested until Thursday. But now I do.

     As a result, my assistant and I will be following our 3, 4, and 5-year-olds into the action-packed world of physics this week starting with the simple lever. We will spend a little extra time outside on the log seesaw for some major gross motor exploration, then we will scale down the kinesthetic experience to make smaller levers inside the classroom using blocks, rulers, pennies, rocks, and pompoms. We will introduce the appropriate words such as "load", "effort", and "fulcrum" and we will figure out how many pennies it takes the raise the rock load. I will do my best to be fascinating. There may be squeals of joy and pompoms flying through the air, but no more "No more fun."

Thanks for reading,



Photo courtesy of Lena Atkinson


     What is Montessori?

     Rather than explaining what Montessori is, I am offering an excerpt from an article that does a beautiful job of describing what Montessorians do. Maria Montessori's Decalogue is a set of 10 rules for adults working in a Montessori classroom. It is relevant to parents, grandparents, and caregivers of all types who strive to relate to children peacefully and respectfully in any environment.

     I hope you will enjoy this expanded version of the Montessori Decalogue as written by The Mammolina Children's Home Montessori Kindergarten in Beijing, China. 


The Montessori Decalogue


1. Never touch the child unless invited by him (in some way or another).

Unless there is a very strong reason to (like avoiding an accident, for example), one should never touch a child unless a child requests it. Picking up a child without the child’s consent, even if in a playful manner, or grabbing her hand, pushing her, etc., should always be avoided. If children are engaged, looking at a book, working, playing, resting, the same principle applies. Children invite contact in many ways, and parents and adults in general, who work with children, know how to interpret the signs they send. It is important also to respect a child when she is angry and does not want to be touched or picked up.

2. Never speak ill of the child in his presence or absence.

Speaking ill of a child, or making negative comments about a child, either in the child’s presence or absence, denotes lack of respect for the child. It also sets a frame of mind and denotes an attitude that is negative and conducive to confrontation—and not always open! Preconceived ideas often linger as negative thoughts and breed reactive behavior. If an adult falls into this trap, it is very easy for a lack of patience and negative attitudes to creep in and damage the relationship with the child.

3. Concentrate on strengthening and helping the development of what is good in the child, so that its presence may leave less and less space for what is negative.

If adults focus on negative behavior, children will feel inadequate. This will result in low self-esteem, and a self-fulfilling prophecy like behavioral patterns will take over. Negativity will become second nature. Instead, by focusing on what is positive, the child will feel safe and confident. Children are learning what is and is not acceptable behavior can and cannot be done, etc. They do not need punishments or rewards. Simply to be shown what is and is not acceptable, by adults that model appropriate behavior.

4. Be proactive in preparing the environment, take meticulous and constant care of it. Help the child establish constructive relations with it. Show the proper place where the means of development are kept and demonstrate their proper use.

If the child is presented with a prepared environment, there is little need for much more. Again, modeling appropriate behavior is essential. A child that is shown an orderly environment will likewise feel encouraged to keep it orderly. If a child has available manipulatives she can handle, play and work with, rather than things she cannot touch, she will feel at ease to explore the world around her. If objects are at reach, that the child may break or hurt herself with, she should be shown how to handle them, rather than told “don’t touch!” A kitchen is a world full of wonder for a child! Cutting, cooking, stirring, pouring, etc., are all activities the child will want—and need!—to master in order to become independent. Include the child in as many activities as possible at home, from cleaning to cooking; there is enough to keep any child busy and engaged all day long.

5. Be ever ready to answer the call of the child who stands in need of you, and always listen and respond to the child who appeals to you.

There is nothing worse for a child than to feel insecure and ignored. Abandonment is a feeling no child should have to live with. “If a child asks for attention, then that child needs attention,” stressed Montessorian Margaret Homfray. When people brush a child aside and say, “she just wants attention,” that person is missing the point: a child only wants attention when she needs attention. Children who feel cared for and do not have to worry about being abandoned, even if for a short time, are far more likely to care for others and show concern for and trust others, than those who experience this sort of “cold shoulder” treatment. Also, “timeout” and “go to your room and stay there” approaches are also expressions of abandonment.

6. Respect the child who makes a mistake and can then or later correct it herself, but stop firmly and immediately any misuse of the environment and any action which endangers the child, its own development or that of others.

Avoid rushing to correct mistakes a child has committed. Children are learning to cope and function. They will persist and practice to their heart’s content whatever skill they need to acquire, until they master it. If a child starts throwing things around and disrespecting the environment, by all means, stop her. Yet, explain why you had to stop her. Reason and listen to what the child may have to say. Maria Montessori said that “a child’s first tantrums are the first ills of her soul.” There is always a reason for everything. Try to bring the reason to light. Punishing, isolating the child, etc., will only feed her pain, and burry deep those reasons—she will learn to hide rather than communicate.

7. Respect the child who takes a rest or watches others working or ponders over what she herself has done or will do. Neither call her nor force her to other forms of activity.

A child that is idle is often not idle at all… Children need to be given space to find what it is they are interested in and want to do. Once they do, they pursue their interests with unrestrained passion and perseverance! A child that is observing other children or adults is also learning. If the child is resting, she is not being lazy and doing nothing just lying there—she is most probably processing information, observing, reflecting on something she did, or saw, or is planning on doing.

8. Help those who are in search of activity and cannot find it.

Be sensitive to the needs of the child including differentiating when apparent inactivity is inner activity, or in contrast, a child is simply lost. A child in search of activity and unable to find it is usually restless. If sitting or lying down, it can be noticed that she is not “engaged;” she is not resting, but simply lost and prostrated. There is a thin line that separates these two worlds. It is the adult’s responsibility to observe carefully and find out the signs—often very different from child to child—that can reveal what the child is experiencing. Abandonment differs from rest and contemplation.

9. Be untiring in repeating presentations to the child who refused them earlier, in helping the child to acquire what is not yet her own and to overcome imperfections. Do this by animating the environment, with care, with purposive restraint and silence, with mild words and loving presence. Make your ready presence felt to the child who searches and hide from the child who has found.

A child may need to be shown the right way to do something, say a word, express her feelings or acquire any sort of new skill, many, many times. One should never grow tired of repeating it, such as reading the same bedtime story or singing the same jingle. Children seek perfection in all they do until they reach a level which meets their needs (not what the adult may think “perfect” is, or means.) To be always available but not intrusive is an art. When a child needs help, she will ask for it. When a skill has been acquired and the child no longer needs assistance, adults should respect the child’s new acquired or reached level of independence.

10. Always treat the child with the best of good manners and offer her the best you have in yourself and at your disposal.

Children who are respected will learn to respect others. Giving the child the best one has to give helps the child learn that you are someone she can count on, and teaches her to also give others the best she has to give. It is important the way Montessori puts it, “the best you have in yourself,” as if to say, always reach higher, but do not feel dismayed if you fall short, and “the best” that you can give is not the best you think or know you should give. If your best manners are not always what they should be—a common feeling parents harbor when children seem to be pushing their patience beyond the limits, do not lose heart. The way Dr. Montessori put it, is basically this: have realistic expectations towards the child, and yourself too. Give the best you have to give, but don’t feel guilty if you fall short. Simply keep striving to improve and always do your best. If you commit a mistake, giving the child your best may well be recognizing it and apologizing. “Amy, Mommy got upset and shouted. That was not nice of me. I am sorry.” Children also need to recognize mistakes, learn to apologize, and that parents are not always perfect.

These are basic principles. What Montessori strives for is to protect the child from all sorts of negative influences that can create deviations in the child’s spirit and psyche. To preserve the natural curiosity of the child, help her find her interests, protect her passion for learning, foster it and let it grow in a healthy way. In this way, the child can contribute her best to society. This is conducive to world peace, as Dr. Montessori envisioned it, and Montessorians believe is possible. It takes passion, it takes commitment, and it takes working together.

- Excerpted from Montessori: Committed People with a Passion for Children by the Mammolina Children's Home Montessori Kindergarten in Beijing, China.



    I had the great pleasure of working in my former classroom today and it reminded me of why the three-year cycle in Montessori classrooms is so beneficial, not least of all, to the teachers.

     Our Montessori preschool classrooms are composed of a mixed-age group of children who remain, ideally, in one classroom for three years. A child starts at age three and stays through her Kindergarten year. This is called the three year cycle. Each of those years brings new and unique learning opportunities for the child. As a three-year-old, the child observes her older peers and benefits from their experience. As a four-year-old, she starts to see herself as one of the “big kids” and expands her social circle. In her Kindergarten year she is recognized as a leader and takes pride in helping others.

      It’s easy to see how the three-year-cycle benefits children, but it is also a tremendous opportunity for personal and professional growth for early childhood teachers. Few other settings offer the experience of observing and interacting with a child for half of that child’s life!

  When I took a sabbatical at the end of the school year in May, I left behind children who had been in my classroom for one or two years. I was able to catch up with many of those students today when I visited the classroom. I observed that two of “my” third-year students, I’ll call them S and K, were part of what Montessorian John Chattin-McNichols calls a “roving pack of 5-year-olds.” They were wandering around with some other boys and mixing it up a little. I knew these two boys when they were just barely three years old. I knew them before they could consciously control their bodies at group time and even before they could dress themselves successfully. Now, here they were - big, bold 5-year-olds and I was curious to see who they had become eight months after we last worked together.

    Angie, my dear friend and the lead teacher of my former class, shared with me that S and K had been working on the squaring and cubing chains in the math area, so I asked them about those activities. They were eager to show me what they had already done and tell me what came next. Within a few minutes, they broke off from the pack and were ready to master the 10 cubing chain.

    The 10 cubing chain - or 1000 chain - is a concrete representation of 10 cubed. It’s made up of one thousand pea-sized beads organized into bars of ten. The bars of ten are attached at the ends to make a chain. Children are ready for this work after they have mastered the 1 - 10 squaring chains and the 1 - 9 cubing chains. This video from the DuPage Montessori School in Naperville, Illinois provides a good overview of how the squaring and cubing chains are presented in the Montessori classroom.

    The 10 cubing chain is nearly 30 feet long so it must be laid out in the hallway outside the classroom. So, off to the hallway we went.

    S and K divided up the tasks between themselves. One carried the rolled-up mat and the other carried the chain. We established the space we would use in the hallway and K unrolled the mat while S went back into the classroom for the number tabs. We discussed how they would sort the tabs on the tray and move it down the mat as they worked.

    S found the 1000 tab. He knew it went at the very end of the chain but he left it on the tray. There was a pause before they started and I asked what number they would start with. S said, “We have to count them all.”

    That is certainly one way to do it. But when a child is ready for the 1000 chain, he is generally ready to complete it without counting every number because he can now count by tens and hundreds. Once you trust that 10 is ten, you don’t have to count it again.

     I asked if they thought they could first put tabs on the hundreds. Yes! They were sure they could. Together, we counted the bars as 10, 20, 30 and so on until we got to 100. S got the 100 tab and marked that spot. K quickly grasped the system and immediately went to work sorting out all of the hundreds tabs in a separate group so that S could place them. This was my cue to find something else to do. I went back inside the classroom to assist Miss Angie while the boys marked off every 100th bead on the chain with the appropriate tab.

    They repeated the process, stopping after each bar of ten. K was the sorter, S was the placer. “150! I need 150,” S said. K had it ready. There was never any disagreement, that I heard, over who would do which task. They just got started and they each found their niche as they went. And they were really digging their work.

    They started the cubing chain work at 9:45 and I checked in with them every few minutes. They finished at 11:00. One of them stopped to use the bathroom then went straight back to his work. Other children would step into the hall to see what was happening and then go back inside to their work.

    Sometimes I checked on S and K without speaking and other times I acknowledged their progress. Once, I said I would be back to check on them in a bit unless they needed some help. “We need some help,” S said. They could not find the tab for 590. I suggested they leave a space for that number and they could put it there when they found it. They never found it, but they were able to move on without hesitation.

    As they got to the very end, S picked up the 1000 tab and started to place it under the 1000th bead. K said, “Hey! We decided we would put that one on together!” And so they did. That’s when this photo was snapped.


    If you had asked me three years ago if these children were developing normally and if they were going to learn to read and write and grow up to be compassionate humans I would have responded, “Of course they will!” But in the back of my head there would have been a tiny voice saying, “What if they aren’t? What if they are never able to sit in a chair for more than 8 seconds? What if they never learn to put their shoes on by themselves? What if they show no interest in reading? What if they always write six as 9?”

    That doubtful voice is a familiar one to parents because most of us only get to experience the development of one or two children. We fear we will do something wrong and our children will not achieve their potential. Preschool teachers should know better because we get to observe hundreds of children over the course of our careers, right? But sometimes, even with years of experience, we forget that our job is simply to prepare a nourishing environment. It is the child who must do the work of building the man.

    In 1949, Maria Montessori offered us some guidance in our quest to relax and trust that each child will reveal himself as a competent and confident being in his own time. In The Absorbent Mind she wrote, “...for while, in the traditional schools, the teacher sees the immediate behavior of her pupils, knowing that she must look after them and what she has to teach, the Montessori teacher is constantly looking for a child who is not yet there.”

    Dr. Montessori also implemented the three-year cycle in our classrooms to give us enough time to look for that child and see him before he moves on to primary school.

    I am not at all surprised that S and K can count to 1000 by tens and hundreds. I am not surprised that they can recognize 3-digit numerals or that they can prepare, complete, and put away their work. I am not even surprised that two 5-year-old boys willingly work together on a math material for 1 hour and and 15 minutes with only a bathroom break and very limited guidance. I’ve seen it before.

    I am surprised at the sense of joyous relief I feel each time children reveal themselves in this way. It's an experience that never gets old. I suppose that’s the ultimate reward of being a teacher.