An MSGL preprimary student prepares carrots at home using a chopper and cutting board of her own.
Dozens of MSGL students are enjoying increased independence at home thanks to the “Bringing Montessori Home” parent development night held January 21, 2015. Thirty parents and grandparents attended the 1 ½ hour event that offered live demonstrations of Montessori-inspired activities children can do at home as well as hands-on activities, and an introduction to the Montessori philosophy.
Small groups of parents rotated through three different classrooms to observe and take part in presentations. Dena Saunders and Emily Frazier presented Care of Self and Care of the Environment. Getting dressed, caring for plants and pets, and cleaning up spills were some of the topics covered. Dena elicited “oohs and aahs” from one group when she demonstrated how to use masking tape to make a square on the floor so a child can easily sweep spills into a dust pan.
Angie Shamo and Machelle French demonstrated how to put together a few simple art activities on a shelf at home for when a child wants to work creatively and independently. The cutting strips, which consist of thin, sturdy paper strips on a tray with a pair of scissors, allow the child to practice cutting safely and successfully. Another suggestion was to offer just three colors of watercolor paints at a time - in the beginning - so a child can successfully create a painting without all of the colors mixing into brown. Families were also given the school’s popular recipe for making play dough at home.
Many parents tried their hands at peeling and chopping carrots and peeling clementines in the food preparation class led by Anita Trent and Ana Ramirez. Each activity was arranged as it could be in the home, including child-sized tools. Hand-washing and serving etiquette were also discussed as these are important aspects of food preparation for young children. While one parent offered sliced carrots to the group, Anita said, “Imagine how it feels for your child to serve you just like you have always served your child.”
After the presentations, many parents said they were excited to try these activities at home with their children. They also felt that some of the things their children were already doing at home, such as preparing a salad and feeding the fish, meshed nicely with the Montessori philosophy.
Each family received a selection of child-sized items to use at home.
Each family in attendance received a materials bag containing a child-sized vegetable peeler and chopper, a small pitcher, a dust pan set, cutting strips and scissors, child-sized sponge and towel, and a hook to hang the child’s coat or book bag at a level where she can reach it. Families also received a custom-made photo book - created by the teachers - that reviews materials covered in the presentations as well as offering additional ideas and resources.
Materials bags and books are still available for purchase in the office for $10.
Thank you to everyone who attended! MSGL plans to offer “Bringing Montessori Home” again next year and will include new activities and take-home materials.
Last week, the preschool and Kindergarten children from the Catalpa Class learned about the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and they discussed what peace means to them. Here are some of their thoughts:
I was excited to capture this video of a preschool friend doing the 9 Layout recently. The 9 Layout is a Montessori math activity that presents the ideas of place value and increments. Beads representing ones, tens, hundreds, and thousands are counted and matched with the numerals. Here, my friend has completed the ones place and has started the tens. She is adding bars of ten until she makes ninety. (You might turn down your volume. The background is a bit noisy.)
What I noticed when I reviewed the video is how she stops to reflect after each increment. She moves the bars up, adds one, then sits back to review or reflect on the work. This is one of the beautiful aspects of Montessori - or really, just scientific pedagogy in general - the child doesn't need a teacher to step in and say, "Great! That makes 60!" All she needs is to see how to do the work then be allowed to do it. When she is all finished with the tens, then she looks up at me. My mentor, Don Czerwinskyj, made sure I understood the importance of offering a child a reflection when they were finished with work. He told me to wait for the child to finish and watch her face when she looks up. Is she pleased? surprised? excited? confused? Wait for her to assess her own work before offering any feedback. In this child's case, when she looked up at me and seemed satisfied, I said, "Ok. You did it! You completed the tens. Are you ready to count the hundreds?" She said she was and she continued.
A friend of mine told me recently about visiting a preschool where every child's work was praised lavishly. Every painting or block structure was met with, "Oh my! That's the most beautiful picture/castle/birthday cake I've ever seen!!" Montessori educators try to avoid empty praise because it causes children to look outside themselves - rather than inside - for affirmation. Just like adults, kids have opinions about their work and their performance. If a child is happy with her work then we can be happy for her. If she is unsatisfied with her work or feels she doesn't understand it, we can offer empathy, advice, or suggestions - depending on what's needed.
When this student was finished with the work, I snapped this photo just as she added the last thousand cube. She was pleased with herself, as the photo shows.
Now, because my job is to observe and assess her understanding of the concepts she was learning, I noticed that she had only stacked 8 cubes, instead of 9. This was no time for criticism - look at that beaming face! So I commented on how pleased she was with her work. I asked her if we could count all of those cubes. When she got to 8 thousands she realized that she needed one more. She added one more cube, we counted them again together, and I said, "There are 9 thousands and this says 9000. Is that correct?" She said it was, and together we determined that her work was complete. She then put all of the materials away.
Sometimes we think our grown-up words are essential to motivate children to learn and to keep them on track. But most of the time, we could get by with a few words and more time simply observing and offering reflections. Rather than saying, "That's a beautiful painting," we could say, "Wow! You used 5 different colors in this painting. Do you have a favorite?" It requires more work for us to look so carefully before commenting, but it shows the child that we are truly interested in her work. And, we are interested in the process and not just the product.
If words fail us, we can always try those three little words everyone loves to hear, "You did it!"
The best kind of snow day is when you can actually play in the snow.
Last week provided a miserable welcome to the new semester. Snow, high winds, and bitter cold meant that the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette was in session for only 20 out of a possible 40 hours over four days. Our staff did its best to maintain communication with the families and those families were very understanding. There were, however, a few questions about how we respond to Indiana’s volatile winter weather at MSGL.
The question of the week was “If the weather continues like this, can we expect to continue having so many delays and closures?” The short answer is, "yes." But how are decisions about school delays made? That's a longer answer.
I would have thought this to be a very elementary understanding. Doesn't everyone know when it's too dangerous to take the kids to school? But when I found myself working as MSGL's "Weather Delay Intern" last week, I discovered that many factors contribute to a closing or delay, and they are not always obvious to everyone.
First, there are no hard and fast rules for determining if conditions are too dangerous for school. Everything depends on timing. Temperatures below -12F are a general cut-off if people are going to be outside for more than a few minutes. However, if the roads are clear and the temperatures are on the rise at 8 a.m., then -12F might be acceptable at arrival. High winds could change that, of course. Roads that are clear now may not be clear when morning classes dismiss. Or they might be passable in town, but dangerous out in the country. And all of this has to be considered over the course of our 10-hour day.
MSGL can't follow the determinations of local school districts because they have special considerations - such as bus transportation and a large number of students who walk to school. Generally, MSGL can be in session more frequently than the public schools.
The weather is just one component of a weather-related school delay. Preparation of facilities and the safety of our staff are two others. And our families themselves are an important consideration.
Facilities: The parking lot and sidewalks must be clear of snow and ice before staff and families arrive. Our school is a small, not-for-profit, parent-owned school. A small core of people manage the day-to-day operations of the school and the needs of over 500 people. This is why we rely on a private company to clear the parking lot, sidewalks, and steps of snow and ice. That company serves several other businesses each day AND it needs two hours to clear MSGL after a snow or ice event. As an example, if the snow stops falling at 6 a.m. on a school day and we are third on the list for snow removal, school cannot open at 7:30. The ability of our snow removal contractor to clear our lot and paths before we arrive is a major determinant of our start time.
Cultural Considerations: Another little-known factor is our region's cultural relationship with winter weather. As one parent said, "I grew up in Vermont. We don't cancel school there." Indiana's threshold for tolerating winter weather might be a bit lower than other cold places because we don't see as many snowy days and our street departments are not equipped for a large quantity of snow on a regular basis. And because the majority of the West Lafayette community is made up of faculty or students from Purdue University, we also have a lot of families who come from places with absolutely no snow, ice, or cold temperatures. It can take these families a few snowy days to get the hang of dressing for the weather and driving in it. We are more comfortable with snow than Los Angeles, but less comfortable than Montpelier - and that makes a difference in how we respond to it.
Staff: Teachers and staff need to be able to travel safely and arrive at school before the children. Our staff are dedicated to their jobs and they want to be at school. While it’s easy to imagine teachers being excited to have a snow day, the reality is that the majority of our teachers have school-aged children of their own. Just like MSGL families, the teachers have to scramble to get their children safely to school in case of a delay or to arrange other care if public schools cancel and MSGL is in session.
Many of our staff live outside of city limits and travel county roads to get to work, so their ability to arrive safely is always a top priority. Delaying the start of school allows them to get out of their driveways and travel potentially hazardous roads in daylight so they can be here when the families arrive. We could call on substitute teachers to work for staff who cannot make it to school, but our substitute teachers are also home with their children on these days. Operating without adequate staff is not an option so we need to be sure all of our teachers can get to school.
Forecasted weather: Conditions throughout the day, and not just at arrival, need to be considered to determine closures and delays. The weather may be clear at morning arrival, but if incoming snow and/or ice and wind threaten later in the day, staff and children could become stranded at school or out on the roads. The administration must take into account the anticipated timing of dangerous weather and sometimes cancel classes in advance of this weather (even if that bad weather never fully materializes.)
Our early arrival and after school programs are the first to be cancelled because MSGL is a school and not a daycare facility. We do offer before and after-care programs that can function as full-day care for families, but our primary function is that of a school. This means being open during class time from 8:30 - 3:00 takes priority over being open before and after class.
We understand that it is frustrating to wake up to a school delay or cancellation. Our Montessori parents have jobs, commitments, and plans and not being able to leave their children in our care causes real problems for them. That being said, MSGL is a parent-owned school. We were started by parents over 40 years ago and all current MSGL families are the current owners of the school. If you are reading this and you have children enrolled at our school, you are one of the owners of the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette. With that ownership, come some responsibilities.
What can MSGL families do to help?
1. Stay informed - before school and during the day. We announce delays, cancellations, and early dismissals through many different sources. Here is a listing.
2. Offer help, if you can. If you have some time after bringing your child to school on a wintry day, you might:
If possible, we would prefer to be able to control the climate and prepare the outdoor environment as carefully as we prepare our students’ learning environments. But the realities of winter weather require our staff and families to be vigilant, flexible, and patient with weather events - and the timing of those events - over which we have no control.
And if you, like me, are curious how the large, public school districts determine delays, this video from Louisville, KY is interesting.
Thanks for reading, ~Heather