The Beauty of a Child’s Imagination

The child’s imagination is a beautiful thing.

A few days ago, I was able to witness spontaneous creativity at its best. A few friends chose quiet rug works while the rest of the children were sleeping (hence the dark lighting in the photos below). They chose familiar works that had been practiced so many times before.

The first chose to work with the brown stairs. She fashioned the prisms in a way to imitate an art easel. She took the smallest prism and used it as a “paint brush”. The largest, as her canvas. I have to point out the satisfied look of achievement when she finished her masterpiece, and sat back to observe.13254477_10209963074981699_4247165993987414362_n13255945_10209963077101752_8728604753358836456_n

The other child I observed chose the knobless cylinders as her work this afternoon. I’ve seen her manipulate this work in many different ways, mastering all of its variations. I believe in this particular set of photos, she was pretending the cylinders were little people. The boxes represented their house. She showed such great concentration and enjoyment as she worked. 13256106_10209963076661741_2458312059209810681_nDSC_072813263669_10209963077661766_3575737498091857058_n

Our older 5 and 6 year olds enjoy working with familiar works…as if they’re revisiting something known rather than discovering something unknown. To witness such pure joy and satisfaction is truly amazing. When you let a child’s creativity flourish, letting their imagination lead the way, the end result is very rewarding.

Teacher Resource: The Outdoor Prepared Environment

The Outdoor Prepared Environment

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Even outdoors, you are still the third point of the triangle! When we take the children outdoors, where it seems so easy for them to function, we tend to forget that the magic of the Montessori prepared environment depends as much on the teacher as it does on the materials and the child. Do children really need the same active support, parameters, and supervision in the outdoor prepared environment as they do inside the classroom? In theory, yes; in practice, we sometimes fall short.

Intellectually, we all know the prepared environment doesn’t stop at the classroom door. So, why is it so easy for us teachers to abdicate responsibility when we walk outside? I’ve heard more teachers talking lately about the disappearance of peaceful play on the yard. Some may think today’s children are shorter on tolerance, or that it’s natural for children to interact less peacefully in a more stressful world. Perhaps. And perhaps there is something else going on. Something that has less to do with the children and more to do with us.

Let’s face facts. Every teacher’s time is precious – our responsibilities can be exhausting. Labor laws aside, in the real world there is sometimes no formal space for teachers to take a mental break or check in with each other. We see the children running, jumping, digging, dancing, and singing in the outdoor environment we have prepared for them. It’s easy to persuade ourselves that it’s all right to use outside time to check in with a colleague or for a little personal rejuvenation – what teacher doesn’t need a breath in the middle of the day! We justify this notion by telling ourselves the children are just playing, after all; it’s no big deal. Is that true?

Let’s remember that for many children, free play in the outdoor environment is very big work! Here are just some of the social skills children are developing – with or without you:

  • Negotiating social scenes of all kinds
  • Interacting successfully with others, while creating
    their own games
  • Implementing their own plans, while incorporating
    the ideas of others
  • Determining the difference between reality and fantasy
  • Role-playing in new situations, some that don’t
    make sense to them
  • Experimenting with leadership & being a follower, team-play, etc.

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Attachment to Reality: The Importance of Real Materials in the Classroom

“Yet, when all are agreed that the child loves to imagine, why do we give him only fairy tales and toys on which to practice this gift? If a child can imagine a fairy and fairyland, it will not be difficult for him to imagine America. Instead of hearing it referred to vaguely in conversation, he can help to clarify his own ideas of it by looking at the globe on which it is shown.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

One of the most obvious differences between Montessori and your typical, conventional daycare, is the use of real materials in the classroom, as opposed to plastic toys made from synthetic materials. The pedagogy is only successful if the child has real tools to work with. One of the characteristics of a normalized child is their “attachment to reality”. We strive to provide real material as safely and practical as possible. We want children to develop real skills and habits for living in a real world.

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I use a glass mortar and pestle to grind fresh cinnamon. The sound of the crushed spice against the glass, and the fragrance stimulate my senses.

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There is absolutely nothing wrong with imaginative/fantasy play, however there is a time and a place. Play is the work of the child. Playful learning is done so through many aspects of the Montessori philosophy. Play is beneficial for children in a variety of developmental areas, and different types of play is associated with different stages. The pedagogy is dedicated to meeting all of the developmental needs of the “whole child”. Montessori guides must consider play as a developmental area, and observe and guide the children’s movement in the classroom to support their growth. These areas should contain the same preparation, analysis and sequencing as all other areas of the classroom.

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” -Fred Rogers

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Primary Art Gallery

Our Annual HBMH Art Gallery is in full swing! Our friends have been preparing for this event for quite some time now. We encourage our families to take the time to look at each piece, allow your child to point out their art works.

This event is hosted annually as part of “National Youth Art Education Month.”

“Creativity is basically an attitude, one that comes easily to young, but must be sustained and strengthened lest it be sacrificed in our too logical world”. (Marzollo and Lloyd, 1972)

In our student community, we encourage creativity through the use of the child’s imagination. Creativity leads to self-exploration and discovery. Art is one way that children can creatively express their emotions, or tell a story. Art comes in several different forms. It can be through painting the “parts of a flower” after tracing the different pieces at the light box, or it can be written in a simple poem. Even pin-pricking an object or shape and gluing it onto another piece of paper is a very detailed and meticulous form of art that the child creates.

Montessori supports the idea of independence, “I can do it for myself, I can think for myself. I can create.” (Miller, J,  2001)

One way that we promote and encourage different forms of art in our classrooms is by providing materials that the children can confidently use on their own, with little adult guidance. They aren’t given a list of instructions on what to create, or a “kit” to complete; the end result being exactly the same as everyone else’s. Instead, they are free to choose their works and materials, creating whatever their heart desires.

When a child is encouraged in the creative process this can also help increase their concentration, it allows them to lose themselves in their work as they engage themselves in the process completely (Miller,J, 2001). Since art and creativity go hand in hand it is then we look at how Montessori encourages art in the classroom. She realizes the need for self-expression and having the means for communicating these ideas. She takes into mind the abilities of the child in this endeavor. (dailymontessori.com)

In our Montessori community, it’s the process of the child’s creation that we emphasize, rather than the end result.

We hope to keep the art on the walls for the remainder of the month. It’s so wonderful to hear the children explain the intricate details of each piece of art to their families. They’re all so proud of their hard work!

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Superwoman Was Already Here! – Daniel Lipstein

“According to a recent Newsweek article, preschool children on average ask their parents about 100 questions per day. Sometimes, parents just wish it would stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school, children have pretty much stopped asking, and student motivation and engagement plummets. Kids don’t stop asking questions because they lose interest. They lose interest because they stop asking questions. In a Montessori classroom, this does not happen, because questions matter more than answers; a child’s natural curiosity is welcomed, not shunned. In fact, a child’s curiosity is also what drives the lesson forward.

…Preparing children for the future demands that we encourage and inspire them to ask questions, and teach them how to explore those questions for themselves.”

Really interesting video created by a Montessori father, talking about the positive impact Montessori education has on our young children. Definitely worth 6 minutes of your time!

HBMH Summer Camp 6: Natural, Environmentlly-Friendly Art

Our primary friends are thoroughly enjoying this week’s new Summer Camp 6 theme “Discovering and Creating Natural Art Projects: Good Earth Art“. Several friends are using their creativity to make natural art by incorporating items such as rocks, leaves, sticks, and other environmental resources. Our hope is that they will learn to recycle and use natural materials for art, while developing an awareness of the environment and a caring attitude towards the earth.

Our camp themes were designed to feature creative hands-on activities that build skills, bodies, and excitement. We offer an environment that fits the needs and interests of all our children, incorporating Montessori principles that foster independence and freedom with responsibility. I’m hoping to update our blog all summer long to show the children as they progress through the different themes.
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Nature collages made with items found in our outdoor environmentGood Earth Art_10Hand-made stained glass mobiles created from twigs, leaves, grass, flowers and other items gathered from outside. Of course, these were gathered after they had fallen to the ground and were no longer a part of the plant/tree. Remember, nature stays in nature!
Good Earth Art_8Good Earth Art_9Natural “ice paint” art! We added a few drops of paint to an ice cube tray, placed popsicle sticks into each ice cube and put in the freezer overnight. The results were pretty cool! (pun intended) 
Good Earth Art_3Good Earth Art_1Good Earth Art_4Leaf tracing was a great way to draw and compare leaves to the ones found outside.
Good Earth Art_5Sand was also incorporated into many of our art projects. The children absolutely love working with sand as it stimulates their senses in several different ways; touching the soft grains and manipulating different shapes, they’re able to challenge their visual senses as they dig for shells in the sensorial discovery box, or even just enjoying the sound of the soft grains sifting through their fingers. Using glue and sand, we created nature scenes, including flowers, trees, sunshine, and so forth. 
Good Earth Art_2Good Earth Art_6Next week we will be exploring “art appreciation” and discovering new, great artists…stay tuned for updates!

Outdoor Play is Key to Child Development

Outdoor Play

Playing outdoors is crucial in the physical and mental development of children. In its simplest form, playing outside is a good way for children to get their daily exercise. With one out of three children overweight or obese, being active is critically important for the health of children. Lack of outdoor play has been linked to such problems as childhood obesity, increased reliance on behavior regulating medications, low self-esteem, and lower academic performance. Improving a child’s health and well-being might be as simple as sending him or her outside to play!
Outdoor play and exploration can promote learning across all developmental domains and help ensure overall health, fitness, respect for the environment, positive social relationships, and readiness in academic subjects including science, math, language arts, and more! According to the National Center for Physical Development and Outdoor Play, playing outside improves children’s gross motor skills, which increases their ability to process and remember new information. Furthermore, interacting with nature and other kids outside helps to stimulate the curiosity and creativity of children, and also boosts their confidence as they learn new things. 
A generation ago, playing outdoors in nature was a given. Times have changed. TV and computer use, unsafe neighborhoods, busy and tired parents, and elimination of school recess are just a few reasons children are spending less time outdoors. Many modern American children are likely to find themselves in the “highly scheduled” category, where life is a constant shuffle between school, sports, church, camps, lessons, or various other activities. This daily shuffle can be overwhelming and more often than not, playing outside is the last thing they want to do. So, what can you do to increase outdoor play for children in your care?
Try some of these tips to increase outdoor play:

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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

DIY Montessori: Knobless Cylinder Patterns & Variations

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Making your own Montessori materials can be lots of fun, and so rewarding. The key item when making any new work is to find what is needed in your classroom, and add lesson opportunities according to those needs. Try adding seasonal variations to an already-established work on the shelf, such as snowflake pin pricking during winter, or hand-made nomenclature cards for specific holidays. These exciting new work extensions help keep the spirit of learning lively and spontaneous.

A fun way to incorporate new lessons, is to create extensions, or variations on a work. For example, the knobless cylinders have an endless amount of lessons that can be given to help the child learn to discriminate in size/diameter. A fun variation that our children enjoy is the knobless cylinder patterns, hand-made by our guides. Often times the child can trace the pattern and complete the puzzle on their own. Here is an example of one of our knobless cylinder patterns:
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To make your own pattern, you’ll need:

  • Canvas, or some sort of material that easily rolls up for storage (we used non-adhesive shelf liner)
  • Permanent Markers (black, red, blue, green, yellow)
  • Pencil

Start by deciding what pattern you’d like to make. Get creative! You can make a train, boat, or even incorporate the cylinders into natural scenery, as long as the child is able to grade the objects, just as they would off of the pattern. Once your pattern is made, use a pencil and trace around the cylinders to replicate the different sizes, starting from largest to smallest, left to right. Using a pencil helps preserve the cylinder’s paint, and not leave behind scratches or marks. Re-trace over the pencil with a permanent marker.

Optional: It might be helpful to draw an additional, colored line around the circles to indicate which color cylinder goes where. For instance, I re-traced the boat’s windows in blue to indicate that the blue cylinders were to be placed there. I did not fill in the circles with the color blue, but rather a thin blue line to highlight that specific circle.

Have fun, get creative, and use your imagination!

“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” – Dr. Maria Montessori