Soft Skills, by Peter Davidson, Montessori Blog

I had an interesting conversation with a prospective parent recently who teaches at a local college. She shared that she and her colleagues are constantly discussing “how underprepared kids are for college in terms of ‘soft skills.’” By soft skills she meant skills other than the purely academic — the personal qualities, habits and attitudes that make someone a successful college student and, by extension, a good boss or employee later in life. She had just come from an observation in toddlers and primary and was surprised to have seen that in Montessori, “starting in toddlers students develop the self-motivation, independence, and follow-through that many college students lack!” In other words, beginning at these very young ages, Montessori children are already developing the soft skills that will benefit them so greatly later in life.

It was a pretty astute observation for a prospective parent seeing Montessori for the first time, and it got me thinking. When I talk to parents, I often describe a Montessori learning material, like the binomial cube, detective adjective game, or golden beads, that leads to the acquisition of academic or “hard skills.” Obviously, hard skills are important, but soft skills are equally so. Continue reading

Soft Skills

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Article Credit: mariamontessori.com

I had an interesting conversation with a prospective parent recently who teaches at a local college. She shared that she and her colleagues are constantly discussing “how underprepared kids are for college in terms of ‘soft skills.’” By soft skills she meant skills other than the purely academic — the personal qualities, habits and attitudes that make someone a successful college student and, by extension, a good boss or employee later in life. She had just come from an observation in toddlers and primary and was surprised to have seen that in Montessori, “starting in toddlers students develop the self-motivation, independence, and follow-through that many college students lack!” In other words, beginning at these very young ages, Montessori children are already developing the soft skills that will benefit them so greatly later in life.

It was a pretty astute observation for a prospective parent seeing Montessori for the first time, and it got me thinking. When I talk to parents, I often describe a Montessori learning material, like the binomial cube, detective adjective game, or golden beads, that leads to the acquisition of academic or “hard skills.” Obviously, hard skills are important, but soft skills are equally so. Continue reading

A Quest for Reality

“[It] may be said that in order to develop the imagination it is necessary for everyone first of all to put himself in contact with reality.” -Dr. Maria Montessori

When Dr. Montessori opened her first classroom in 1907 in the San Lorenzo tenement housing in Rome, she had two cabinets of materials for the children’s use. One was filled with the materials she had designed and made for the children based on her earlier work in hospitals, and the other was filled with toys that had been donated to her by her friends.

DSC_7932-mediumDr. Montessori found very quickly that the children in the classroom exclusively chose the materials over the toys. She was surprised, and went so far as to sit down with the children and show them how to use the toys. After sitting with the dolls and so on for a short time, the children returned to the materials and remained with them. This observation brought Montessori to the conclusion that the children preferred reality and real work to toys and fantasy. Her conclusion has since been supported both by Montessori’s own work and that of many educators the world over.

I have found myself wondering on occasion if such a scenario could still take place. Surely contemporary battery-powered toys with flashing lights and a different song for every button would attract attention away from our simple, orderly materials. But I have seen that it is not so.

A year or so ago, my school hosted a fundraising garage sale. We filled part of a classroom not being used for the summer with donations. We had all kinds of things – plastic play kitchen sets, a cat-shaped keyboard, toy cars, dolls, a bin of dress-up clothes, bikes, and the list goes on. The other half of the classroom still had Montessori materials neatly arranged on shelves.

I watched as a two-and-a-half year old girl walked into the room, looked at all the toys, even touching some of them, and went straight to the shelves of materials and took great delight in working with a cylinder block (one of the Montessori sensorial materials). She was not prompted in any way, nor did I put her in the room as a test or experiment. She was not a student at our school returning to the familiar joys of the classroom. She was a child entering into a room filled with choices and after seeing what was available, she chose what she wanted (or needed) most.

Often in Montessori, we speak of the materials calling out to the children, and we do our best to make sure that call is clear. That is why our classrooms tend to be simple and uncluttered, decorated to the point of orderly beauty, not to the point of distraction. The children want to engage in the classroom. They want the experience that the materials will give them because they will get more learning from that experience than from flashy toys or reasoned rhetoric from an adult.

I think this story supports several truths about children, but the thought I want to land on today is that children crave reality. They want to do real work with real things. Nearly every parent of a two or three-year-old child sympathizes with the image of sweeping the floor and having to drag the child along on the end of the broom. The children want to help, they want to understand their own power to do work, and they will be best satisfied in that quest when they have real things to do.

Paul Gutting has been the Executive Director at Campbell Montessori School since 2011.  Prior to that, he served as Campbell’s Associate Director for two years.  His career in education began in 1992 when he started as an assistant at Campbell, and he has worked in both public and private schools since that time. Paul has served as assistant, teacher, drama specialist, and administrator including service as Dean of Academic Affairs at The Fulton School at St. Albans.  As a child he attended a Montessori school run by his mother, Miriam Gutting.  He is a graduate of Truman State University (B.A. English/Theatre 1999), Washington University (A.M. Drama 2004), and the AMI Orientation Programme to Adolescent Studies (2011).  Paul and his wife, Heather, have three children eight and under, all of whom attend Campbell Montessori School.

http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=2862

Nurture and Nature, by Charlotte Kroger

The environment is nurture; the child in his raw form is nature.

Outside my bedroom windows, along the back property line where my neighbor’s yard begins, I can see the four cherry laurel trees we planted a few years ago. Three of them are flourishing – getting tall and treelike – while the fourth is not doing so well. It is not as tall as the others and is skimpy in canopy. It’s not its fault. When we planted these trees we were not terribly discerning about the location. The gardener helping us said that the laurels should do well whether in sun or shade. So we planted them in an offset row across the back of our yard to serve as screening. We hadn’t taken into account the future growth of all the surrounding trees that now cast that part of the yard into deep shade, where the fourth laurel lives.

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The trees came with ‘instructions’ – hidden potential with everything needed to become cherry laurels we could one day count on to screen the back of our property. But the environment in which they grow varied enough that one of four has not lived up to its potential of tree shading. Continue reading

A Gentle Reminder of the Beauty of Silent Observation…

 

The Guide walks about the room, slowly and with calm focus so that she will not distract or disturb the children in their work. She repeats this routine a few times a day, deliberately choosing a different route each time, in order to make herself available to the child that might need some scaffolding in reaching the next level in an activity or to inform herself of the work being done. The Guide is careful to observe indirectly so that no one feels monitored or intruded upon – she has developed a deep respect for the child’s concentration and work. She also recognizes that the children themselves take cues from her on how they show respect for the concentrated work of others, or not. She makes mental notes of the children’s needs for fresh lessons with points of interest, of readiness for the next step in a work or a new work.

DSC_8790-largeOccasionally, she finds a child using a material in a manner not reflecting the aim of the lesson presented on that material and she makes note to herself to continue observing this child and his work from a distance. She means to ascertain if it is exploration that will benefit him in reaching the essence of the material, or if the child stands in need of a new, clarifying lesson with the material or perhaps even disruption of the present work and a return of the material to the shelf.

When she observes misuse of the material that calls for gentle but firm intervention, a calling to the child to engage with the material in a safe, respectful and knowledgeable manner, she does not hesitate to intervene in these instances. Her long years of experience in guiding a Children’s House have strengthened both her instincts for appropriate action and her instinct to wait and observe a bit longer. She recalls the early years when this instinct and skill that must accompany it was not so keenly developed and she was sometimes confused on which, if any, action to take. Luckily, she recalled from her readings in Montessori books that encourage a ‘wait and see’ approach. She recognizes that the adult is often the biggest obstacle to a child’s ability to concentrate. Continue reading

The Power of Play: A Two-Hour Work Cycle

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I’ve been stuck on a question from one of my new family tours earlier this week. They were fairly new to Montessori, in fact, they had never witnessed a Montessori work cycle in motion (something of which I was excited to show them). Many of the children were outside at the time, so we were able to walk inside the rooms and describe the layout, feel the works, and discuss what a typical day for their young toddler would be like. We talked more in depth about the various works, and their purpose in the environment. Unfortunately, they did not get to witness an active work cycle, since the children were outside, however I did my best to describe it to them, attempting to paint a picture in their minds. They asked me a few very familiar questions typical to non-Montessorians, “When do they play?”, “Are they just working all day?”, or “Do they just do chores all day?”, all of which made sense since we were discussing the dish washing work, hand washing, clothes washing, plant polishing, care of environment/self, and so forth. To children, this is purposeful work. To them, it is “play”.  They enjoy working with their hands, concentrating on the task at hand, free from unnecessary interruptions form the guides. By doing so, they learn that their work is essential to the community, and that they have a beneficial role in their classroom environment. I referenced the familiar quote by Dr. Maria Montessori, “The first essential for the child’s development is concentration. The child who concentrates is immensely happy.” It didn’t take long for them to catch on and start referring to the “toys” and activities as “work”.

“Here are five characteristics of play that allow the child the ability to move through his morning effortlessly, as described by Dr. Rachel E.White for the Minnesota Children’s Museum’s report, The Power of Play.

  • PLAY IS PLEASURABLE. Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play.
  • PLAY IS INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED. Children engage in play simply for the satisfaction the behavior itself brings. It has no extrinsically motivated function or goal.
  • PLAY IS PROCESS ORIENTED. When children play, the means are more important than the ends.
  • PLAY IS FREELY CHOSEN. It is spontaneous and voluntary. If a child is pressured, she will likely not think of the activity as play.
  • PLAY IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED. Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.

When parents tour a Montessori school they often ask about the difference between play and work.  Play is the work of the child.  We use the term ‘work’ in order to hold it in high regard and respect it as purposeful and meaningful.”

Article Credit: http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=2727, Sarah Moudry, Parent Educator and Early Childhood Specialist

Parent Resource: Grades

“Instead of focusing on the end goal, like a grade or a test, Montessori focuses on the work that kids do to reach the goal. I am able to solve problems in a new way because Montessori has taught me to think outside the box, and to always do my best. It didn’t matter what I did as long as my teachers and I felt that I was doing my best, with the understanding that the best looks different for everyone. I believe that kids want to learn, and that given the right tools, will far surpass all expectations. Instead of setting up markers for where all students should be and implementing standardized tests that don’t measure problem solving, we need to instill a culture where challenges are valued.

Many parents with children in Montessori worry that their kids are missing something by not getting tests. The opposite is true. By not worrying about tests or grades these children are gaining a love of learning, something that will stay with them long after their knowledge of calculus fades and they no longer remember the different parts of a cell.”

http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=2722

Happy reading!

Parent Resource, Practical Life Skills, AKA “Executive Functions”

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It’s always inspirational to hear and witness the beauty of a Montessori student at work. Simple practical life works, such as washing a chalk board, can provide an immense amount of skills that the child will be able to use much later in their lives and in their academic career.

“It is often in the exercises of practical life that the child’s attention is captured, and in which the ability to focus, ‘concentrate’ and ‘repeat’ is first developed.”

“practical life activities…contribute marvelously to a child’s sense of responsibility and accomplishment, thus building self-confidence and self-esteem.”

The evidence of just how precious these exercises in practical life are, lies in the child’s appreciation for such purposeful work.

To read the article in full, provided by mariamontessori.com, click on the following link:

From humble beginnings, come great things….

About the Author: Peter Davidson was the founding Head at the Montessori School of Beaverton, an AMI school in Portland and currently serves as consultant for Montessori in Redlands, an AMI school in Southern California.

Happy Reading!

Parent Resource: “The Best Gifts for the First Year”, Junnifa Uzodike

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What are some of the best gifts that you can give your newborn?

As a mother, this article pulled my heartstrings. In such a gentle way, the author describes some of the best, natural gifts that you can provide your newborn to help them enter the world in the most peaceful and nurturing way possible.

http://mariamontessori.com/mm/?p=2590