Back to Basics: Preliminary Lessons

“It is interesting to see how little by little, these children become aware of forming a community which behaves as such…Once they have reached this level, the children no longer act thoughtlessly, but put the group first and try to succeed for its benefit.” (Dr. Maria Montessori)

In Montessori, our main goal is to help the child succeed in whatever way possible. When they first enter the community, there is a certain level of expectation for how they are to act. Children are treated with respect, and treat one another as such. This is called Grace & Courtesy. To help orient them to the environment, they are taught basic, or preliminary lessons on how to function in the classroom. They’re given lessons on which works are to be used at the table, or which ones can be used on the floor, where to locate table/floor rugs, the Guide models how to gently close/open doors, how to walk quietly and control ones body while moving about the community, how to ask for help, how to push in a chair, how we walk around our friends’ work, saying “please” and “thank you”, covering one’s mouth when coughing, or saying “excuse me”, and just generally how to act in the classroom. Exercises in Practical Life are also introduced to help the child refine skills necessary to carry out more complex works, such as dish washing, sweeping, dusting, window washing, and so forth.DSC_0230 (2)

I get asked quite frequently by newly enrolled families, “Why is my child receiving lessons on how to push in a chair”, or “Why did they spend the afternoon practicing walking on the line? Shouldn’t they be reading, or doing the art works”, or something along that line. These preliminary lessons, are just as important as any other lesson, and build the foundation for how the child will act and work in the classroom for years to come. These lessons are extremely significant to the child’s orientation to the environment. We cannot expect a new child to enter the community, and immediately focus all of their attention and concentration on one work at a time. Especially if they’ve never been in a school setting before. Take “learning to write” as an example. The child will never learn to properly write without first mastering the pre-writing lessons, such as strengthening their large muscles, developing strong hand-eye coordination, then refining their pincer grasp, and then working with pre-writing materials, such as tracing the metal insets, or tracing sand paper letters with their fingers, and so forth. In time, the child learns to master these complex works through muscle memory. Montessori children are patient. Their young minds are extremely absorbent. They have a deep appreciation towards caring for their environment, and those around them, above all else. 

12822325_361454707358585_1076512372_nDr. Montessori introduced the exercises in Grace and Courtesy as she observed a young child’s need for order.  “Montessori education includes explicit instruction on social behavior in a part of the curriculum called Grace and Courtesy, which are on par with lessons in math, music, and language” (Lillard, Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius). Grace and courtesy lessons help the child to have the language required to build confidence and awareness of those around them. They also help the child become a productive member of the classroom community.helping handsDSC_0238 (1) (2)Our goal is to model these fundamental lessons for the child, and have them repeat the activity in their own successful way. The child needs to participate in these core activities to prepare them for their environment; to learn how to grow into problem-solving, independent, young thinkers.

To initiate perfection at this time of life is an immensely productive piece of educational work: the teacher reaps a wonderful harvest after a minimum of trouble given to sowing the seed. (Montessori, The Discovery of the Child)

Third-Year Montessori

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“To prepare our students for world stewardship, we provide them with a foundation of learning that embraces the cultural, social, visual, historical, and physical aspects of life.” – HBMH Philosophy

This philosophy builds the structure of our kindergarten program.

From early infancy, we have been preparing our students for this very moment. Everything leading up to this point has been a preparation for their kindergarten year, and on. The most important commitment a parent can make to a Montessori child is to promise, both to the child and school, that the child will be allowed to complete the full three to four year primary cycle. The three-year old year is a time of discovery. The four-year old year is a time of solidification. The five-year old kindergarten year, hereon referred to as the “third year”, is a time for application of all the child has learned since early infancy.DSC_0286

The primary third year is critical to the development of self-confidence and independence. It is also the last chance to take advantage of the amazing abilities of the Absorbent Mind before it disappears forever.

Montessori children are given freedom to choose their own work. They know the expectations of the classroom, and they treat one another with grace and courtesy. Their work is respected by the guides and fellow classmates. We never interrupt their concentration, allowing them to develop their full potential.

Some parents choose to enroll their child in a new school for kindergarten because they believe this is the norm; that children of this age must go to public school. Montessori primary communities are well equipped for kindergarten-aged students. The curriculum is based upon the expectation that the child will remain in the same program through their 5th or 6th year.

Imagine working on a machine. You know you have six years to complete the project; the last year, you’ll have an opportunity to use the machine in the real world. You spend years perfecting and manipulating each piece of the machinery, preparing it for the last year when you’ll be able to present it to the community. Now imagine being pulled from the project on the 5th year, only to be told that you’re being moved to a new project, in a completely different environment. This is similar to what our kindergarten-aged students experience when they’re pulled out of their school environment before that last, critical year; the “application” year.DSC_0462

Unfortunately, not every school practices Montessori. A child who is used to working independently, getting one-on-one attention from the guide, completing each step at their own pace and not being rushed, working at the table or on a floor rug, and so forth, is now forced to sit at a desk all day, with restricted movements, listening to one teacher speak to the group as a whole. Montessori prepares the child to appreciate learning, develop a passion for discovery and research, use their creativity, problem solve, grace and courtesy, care for the environment, self control, amongst many other things. We want our children to leave our school, prepared to face each of life’s challenges and milestones with optimism and motivation. We want them to be young leaders of this world, tolerant and accepting of all cultural diversities.

In order for the child to succeed, they need to perfect their Executive Functions. According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, Executive Functions are a set of particular mental skills that help the child reach maturity, such as memory, mental flexibility, and self control. These skills, along with many others, are embodied in the lessons and materials that our students work with every day.DSC_0620

The primary third year is a time for the child to master life skills; skills that they’ve been working on their entire life. Skills that help prepare the child for the modern 21st Century. Many public/private preschools do not include these skills as a component of their curriculum, which are actually very critical to the child’s development. For instance:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills
  • Collaboration and Leading by Influence
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Oral and Written Communication
  • Assessing and Analyze Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination
  • Love of Work

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

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“We need every worker to be a ‘knowledge worker’. How do you do things that haven’t been done before, where you have to rethink or think anew, or break set in a fundamental way, it’s not incremental improvement.” – Hellen Kumata, Managing Partner at Cambria Association

“Our children are allowed to choose, explore, manipulate objects. They are encouraged to formulate ideas, try these ideas out, and accept or reject what they learn.” – Tami Kinna, Owner/Director HBMH

Collaboration and Leading by Influence

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“My greatest concern is young people’s lack of leadership skills. Kids just out of school have an amazing lack of preparedness in general leadership skills and collaboration skills. They lack the ability to influence versus direct command.” – Mike Summers, VP of Global Talent Management at Dell Computers

“Classroom communities encompass a two-or three-year age span, which allows younger students to experience the daily stimulation of older role models, who in turn blossom in the responsibilities of leadership. Students not only learn with each other, but from each other.” – Tami Kinna, Owner/Director HBMH

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

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“Leadership is the capacity to take initiative and trust yourself to be creative. I say to my employees if you try five things and get all five of them right, you may be failing.” – Mark Chandler, Senior VP and General Counsel at Cisco

“We encourage curiosity, creativity and self-directed development. The prepared environment creates innovation competence by means of including trained adults and the correct works and resources. The classroom is organized to support experimentation and learning rather than dictating what will be learnt and what the experiment will be.” – Tami Kinna, Owner/Director HBMH

Oral and Written Communication

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“We are routinely surprised at the difficulty some young people have in communicating: verbal skills, written skills, presentation skills. They have difficulty being clear and concise; it’s hard for them to create focus, energy and passion around the points they want to make.” – Mike summers, VP for Global Talent Management at Dell Computers

“Our students are encouraged to think for themselves and articulate their own opinions. Socially, they care about others, know how to work well in groups; take a long-term project and break it down into “do-able” parts, and they see assessments as feedback.” – Tami Kinna, Owner/Director HBMH

Assessing and Analyzing Information

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“There is so much information available that it is almost too much, and if people aren’t prepared to process the information effectively it almost freezes them in their steps.” – Mike Summers

“Montessori children are encouraged to observe, explore, question, and investigate everything. They are allotted the freedom and time for the conception of a problem or situation and the discovery of its solution. This gives them the opportunity to produce ideas through flexibility which allows for the ability to switch from one perspective to another.” – Tami Kinna, Owner/Director HBMH

Curiosity and Imagination

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“I want people who can think – they’re not just bright – they’re also inquisitive. Are they engaged, are they interested in the world.” – Clay Parker, President of the Chemical Management Division of BOC Edwards

“Children can compare, find similarities, and refine the powers of discrimination in order to create abstractions. They learn to distinguish similarities and differences, and learn to place these variables into an ordered progression. We foster an environment that inspires “what if” and curiosity.” – Tami Kinna, Owner/Director HBMH

Love of Work

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“Children know when their work is worthy and good. They know when it measures favorable against their inspirations, talents, efforts, values, and abilities. They learn to assess themselves and their ideas honestly.” – Tami Kinna, Owner/Director HBMH

HBMH’s kindergarten program gives children the opportunity to perfect all of these skills in a safe learning environment. Every parent must eventually make the decision where their child attends kindergarten. Of course, we respect your choice, whatever it may be. Our goal, as educators and Montessori mentors, is to encourage each child and family to reach and exceed their full potential. We are here to guide you through this decision, and find the right path for your child’s upcoming academic career.

The Definition of a Child’s “Work”

We reference the child’s daily activities as “work”. “The task of the child is the formation of man” (Dr. Maria Montessori). In other words, the child’s “work” is to create the type of person they will be for the rest of their lives. Their work is extremely important. These early years of their childhood are very precious. Their work is to be honored and protected, both at school and home. Giving them the opportunity to explore and learn from the tools in their environment is extremely critical to their development.

The term “play” is referenced as “work” in a Montessori community, because the children “play” with a purpose. Work is purposeful. When a child plays, it does not always need to be imaginative, overly-stimulated, chaotic, loud, or involve physical activity. When young children play, their purpose is to develop an executive function. Playing can involve many things, such as refining a fine or gross motor skill (small and large muscle movement), playing emphasizes emotional and social interactions, problem solving, patience, developing hand-eye coordination, balancing their bodies, learning to prioritize in order to carry out a particular task…the list is endless. A Montessori classroom caters to all of these functions of “play”.

“The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge.  He has the power to teach himself.” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 5)

As Montessori Guides, our main responsibility is to engage the child to the environment, therefore letting the materials teach the child. We do not present a lesson, and afterwards put it away in a closet, never to be touched again. The entire environment is available to the child (considering they’ve been given the proper lesson). They’re given the opportunity and freedom to work with whatever their driven to do for that day. The child experiences many different, spontaneous “sensitive periods”, where they’re internally driven to fulfill an inner desire. Often times, they’re desire is as simple as practicing to walk so that they can refine their balance and composure. Or, it could be that they want to work with water in the “practical life” area (as many children do), so you may see them washing their hands, cloths, tables, dishes, or watering plants for the entirety of the work cycle. Whatever it may be, it’s important to make sure the environment is fully prepared to meet their individual needs.

“The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it.  The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul.  He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear.” (The Absorbent Mind, p.56)

Simply put, the child absorbs everything. Every object, sound, smell in their environment plays a vital role in their daily learning. Stop and observe your children every once and a while. Watch their careful, gentle movements and observe how they carry out their work. Try to understand what they desire most, and capitalize on these spontaneous learning opportunities. Through the child’s work, they feel a sense of purpose; that they are contributing to a greater good. They are developing and refining skills, and shaping their personality, which will further build the kind of person that they will be for the rest of their lives.

Photos credit http://melmphotography.com/

The Montessori Journey – Birth to 6 Years

 

“the task of the child is the formation of man, oriented to his environment, adapted to his time, place and culture.” – Dr. Maria MontessoriDSC_0753

From early infancy, our children are preparing themselves for the more complex works and materials in the toddler and primary communities. In Montessori, we believe that “the task of the child is the formation of man, oriented to his environment, adapted to his time, place and culture”. Therefore, it is our job as Montessori educators to protect the child’s “task”, aiding in their development as they continue to form the person they will be for the rest of their lives. In order to do that, we need to understand the purpose that each Montessori material holds, and recognize the important role that they will play in the child’s development. For instance, the pink tower, while simple in appearance, helps prepare the child for a diversity of life skills, such as visual discrimination of dimensions in height/width, and adding the cubes together (math), refinement of voluntary movement which helps control muscle movement as they grow older, they’re also learning visual-motor coordination which is called upon to concentrate. This lesson goes far beyond introducing them to math. That is how many of the materials in our school work; they introduce and build upon lessons that the child will receive as they grow older. Each one serves a specific purpose in the child’s development. Continue reading

A Little Morning Mirror Polishing

 

This morning, we got a lesson on mirror polishing. Through this work, we’re given the fundamental principles for cleaning other objects in our environment. Our concentration is developed through order and sequence as we learn each step of this careful process.

“He does it with his hands, by experience, first in play and then through work. The hands are the instruments of man’s intelligence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori, the Absorbent Mind

 

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Seeing the World through our Children’s Eyes

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Imagine being able to experience every moment using all of your senses; touching an object for the first time, feeling its texture, tasting its surface, listening to each sound it makes, smelling its fragrance…

This is how our young children experience the world during their first few years of life. Everything is so new, and so exciting. Even the simplest things, such as a leaf that’s fallen on the ground from a tree can turn into an hour-long discovery session of pure concentration and admiration. The child may turn the leaf over and over in their tiny hands, inspecting its every crevice and texture, they may even taste it or smell it to really internalize what exactly it is. Every moment is so precious to them. Each new lesson is an exciting opportunity for them to experience the world around them. A child’s mind is extremely absorbent in the first six years of their lives, soaking up every detail like a sponge. They yearn to know everything, as fast as possible.

As adults, it’s important for us to stop every now and then, and “smell the roses”, if you will, just as our children would smell them. We need to take the time to enjoy these precious little moments. Additionally, it’s important for us to allow our children adequate time to enjoy these experiences to the fullest. Take the time to stop and observe your child as they experience new things, and find out what really sparks their interest.

The butterfly mobile in our Infant Nido, photo taken from the viewpoint of our babies. Although delicate and simple, the contrasting colors invite the child to use their visual senses to study the shapes and the natural movement of the butterflies as they move with the air currents of the room. I sat beside one of our young friends as we studied the mobile for several minutes, attempting to see what he was seeing.

(The butterfly mobile in our Infant Nido, photo taken from the viewpoint of our babies. Although delicate and simple, the contrasting colors invite the child to use their visual senses to study the shapes and the natural movement of the butterflies as they move with the air currents of the room. I sat beside one of our young friends as we studied the mobile together for several minutes, in the hope that I would be able to see and appreciate the work through his eyes.)

Maria Montessori spent a lifetime developing her teaching methods by observing how children learn, and how their young minds interpret the world. She believed in enhancing the child’s spiritual and academic growth, while focusing on their internal well being. Dr. Montessori emphasized the need for the child to use all of their senses while learning new concepts, in order to truly internalize the lesson being given. If we can try to experience and interpret moments just as our children do, we will gain a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life.

"Open" classroom, absent of inhibiting items such as playpens, "bouncing" seats, activity saucers, swings and walkers

(I use my bare hands and feet to feel the surface of the bridge as I walk up and down the stairs, allowing me to fully enjoy this new experience.)

One of the ways that we can understand how our children’s young minds work, is to try to see the world through their eyes, rather than our own.

1.  Everything is a new learning experience – absorbent mind

Reiterating the fallen leaf scenario, even the simplest of things can be a memorable experience for a young child. Each new smell, taste, sound, or sight captures their interest and forces them to want to learn more about that particular object. It’s natural for children to ask “but, why?” over and over again, because they truly want to understand everything in their big world around them.working hands

2.  Children see the good in almost everything

Children approach each new situation with an unbiased, positive outlook. Their innocent minds are programmed to see the good in almost everything.

3.  Limitless Imagination and Creativity

We need to be more open-minded and accepting of new things, in the way that our children are. Their creativity is endless; it’s truly amazing to see what they’re capable of when given the opportunity.

4.  Children experience everything using all of their senses  

The best way to see the world as our children see it, is to utilize each one of our senses. Treat each moment as if you are experiencing it for the first time. Slow down your daily routine so that you have time to sit back and observe your surroundings.

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“Respect all the reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.” – Maria Montessori