Each one of us is a storyteller (whether we choose to believe it or not is another matter). We all have a plethora of unique and interesting stories to tell. Any time you pass along information about something that happened, and it has a beginning, a middle and an end, then that’s a story. This is the message I am continually conveying to the children I get to spend time with every day in Children's House. I like to remind them that even though some of us are more dramatic (so telling a story feels easy and natural), and some of us are more reserved (so telling a story feels a bit more uncomfortable), we are ALL still storytellers are heart!
Here at White Bear Montessori, and in all authentic Montessori schools, the Farm Game is one of the most sought after and longed for presentations in the Children’s House environment. If you watch even the youngest children enter the room, they seem drawn to it by magnetism. I certainly can’t blame them. Of all the materials in the Children’s House, this presentation looks the most like toys they are familiar with. I’m sure some of them have many of these very pieces at home! In our environment the Farm Game includes a barn, of course, but it also has a farmhouse for the farmer to live in, a mud puddle for rolling, a pond for swimming, grass for grazing, and nearly 50 farm animals of different colors, sizes and types. Our youngest children, ages two or three, would love to set up and play with the plethora of animals. For our older children, the Farm Game provides so much more learning.
In an earlier article on this topic, Tiffany touched on some practical ways to bring Montessori ideas and principles into your home to aid in your child’s growing independence. Today's article will touch a little more on the philosophy and reasons behind practicing these ideas at home.
Has your family personally experienced the joy of labeling yet? Mine has. My son spent WEEKS in Children’s House at White Bear Montessori practicing writing one letter at a time and sounding out the word for every object he saw. One day it all came together for him and he realized he could write a word – and the sky was the limit. He labeled our entire home!
When we think of the way that most of us learned about addition, we think of the classic: 2+2=4. Most people think that small children need to start with small addition. Some of our first experiences with addition probably involved a chalkboard or worksheet. If any of you are like me, math was not my favorite subject, and it was a challenge for me. I vaguely understood the concepts I was taught, or managed to remember them long enough to regurgitate them onto a test, and then they left my head pretty much as quickly as they entered.
I’ll never forget how my perception of math all changed once I took the training to be a Montessori Guide. I had so many “aha moments” where I saw math concepts in a whole new way; they made so much more sense. I remember at one point thinking, “If I had only learned math this way when I was a child, I would have probably actually loved it!” It is for this reason that I love presenting the Montessori math materials to the children in my class. I love seeing the moments of clarity and understanding and the way they are able to grasp such abstract concepts after exploring with these materials. Not everyone loves math, but if you would like to learn how math is taught in the Children's House, keep reading.
Children in Montessori often learn to read at a very early age (although I will admit there was a point in time when I wondered if my son would EVER learn to read, but he did exactly when his teacher predicted he would.) They learn their numbers – not just counting but understanding that seven is one more than six and not just because it follows six. They begin to add and subtract, even multiply and divide, as early as kindergarten. They learn about leaves and leaf shapes. They learn about zoology, geometry and time. There seems to be almost no end of the surprises of what our children learn. It is ironic, however, that one of the most important lessons they learn in Montessori does not appear on a progress report. And yet once it’s learned, it’s a lesson that will make your child stand out for the rest of his or her life. The lesson: grace and courtesy.
Recently we took a trip to Florida to go to a wedding where I saw people ranging from my sisters to my Father’s distant cousin. What a trip! Although I had met all these people before, some I hadn’t seen in years. As I sat in the kitchen to catch up with my relatives, we ended up talking about Montessori. A cousin told me that a neighbor was considering Montessori but changed her mind because when she visited the school she was very surprised to see a classroom with no desks and children walking about the classroom, engaged in half a dozen different activities.
“I have never seen a classroom where children could just do anything they want,” she told me. “I could only imagine what a challenge it must be for the teacher to maintain order or get anything done,” commented my sister. Clearly she felt the same way. I will share Montessori’s view on discipline with you in the same way that I shared it with her that day.
“I want to do it myself!” I cannot even count how many times I hear this every day from my increasingly independent three-year-old daughter. Most of the time I marvel at the tasks she wants to undertake: getting dressed, pouring her cereal, packing her lunch, getting on her coat and shoes, feeding the dogs, etc. And most of the time I’m very good at providing opportunities – and time – for her to tackle these tasks, making both her and me feel good about our abilities.
The most frequent questions I get asked from people outside of my Montessori circle are in some way related to why I chose Montessori when it has a reputation of being pretty loosey-goosey. It surprises them when I start talking about the academic success my children have, but more importantly, they are more impressed with the character development beyond academics. I'm going to tell you a story about an experience one of my colleagues had recently that shows one of my favorite benefits of Montessori: children who take responsibility for themselves.
Last week I was talking to a colleague at another Montessori school that goes through middle school. She was sharing how her son had attended a Montessori school through sixth grade, then transitioned to his neighborhood middle school for seventh grade. Although there were aspects of the transition that were hard for her (most notably the realization that our public schools set a relatively low bar when it comes to our children’s learning), one of the things she’s realized is how responsible her son is compared to other kids his age. One example: she has never had to ask him if his homework is done. It always is. And it is because her son knows that it’s his responsibility to get it done.
I've had many friends along the way ask why I chose Montessori when the public schools in Minnesota are so far ahead of most other states. Sometimes it's really hard. Especially when it's time to make two tuition payments. I don't have a new car. Heck, I haven't even fixed the dents in my mini-van (don't get me started about having to drive a mini-van in the first place.) But our family has finally reached that pinnacle year - Kindergarten - when all of the promises of investing in Montessori are coming to fruition. My son is a curious, respectful little boy who is a joy to be around. There was a time when I wasn't sure I liked him at all, so this is divine. My daughter learns so much from her older brother, it's very sweet to watch. So in my bliss, I give you my top ten reasons why I'm happy, even joyful, that I was able to choose to send my children to a Montessori school rather than daycare.
- My child's learning environment is based on what each child needs, rather than what is required by a standard curriculum meant to cover a wide range of capabilities. I love the freedom of choice!
- I get to meet other parents who value their child's happiness above convenience.
- My view of education and the value of a child's thoughts and words changed when I started learning about Montessori. It’s exactly what I was looking for to encourage my child’s curiosity, independence, and enthusiasm.
- Montessori isn’t just about the education of children. It gives each child a whole new outlook on the history and path of humankind.
- Montessori has given my family a healthy base for building a family system that hinges on respect, courtesy and mutual responsibility for keeping our home inviting, clean and pleasant. It's not perfect, but our children feel like it's just as much their home as mine.
- I enjoy letting my children do things for themselves... which is really as simple as allowing them to try things you wouldn't have thought they could handle - such as helping with dinner using child-size cooking and cleaning tools, organizing their toys and clothing, and engaging in active play instead of endless screen time. Hopefully they will grow into responsible adults who work hard at what they love.
- I am so proud that both family, friends, and strangers frequently tell me how amazed they are at how well both of my children speak. They use full sentences and ask thoughtful questions. There's no baby-talk in our house - although there is still some whining :)
- My child’s teachers see the joy in my children and treat them with respect. They do not constantly try keep them quiet and still, but allow them to explore their interests with activities that engage their minds and bodies.
- I love the fact that the Montessori emphasis on individualism combats the messages of conformity and materialism that are all too prevalent in our world today.
- The staff at my child’s school believes that parents are the first and primary educators of the child. They are quick to offer a word of encouragement or a helpful suggestion, are never judgemental, and do a great job of keeping me up-to-date on my child’s progress. There are many days when a few words of wisdom from the staff keeps me from losing my mind.