Thursday, December 27, 2007

New Address for Our Blog

We are now hosting our blog on our site at My Montessori House Blog

Visit us for new articles on independent work in the Montessori classroom, a discussion of Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook, and more!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Montessori: Methodology? Equipment?

When parents first visit a Montessori classroom, the equipment makes a big impression, especially if there is no class underway during the visit. For parents who are researching Montessori online without access to a classroom, equipment makes an even bigger impression.

Interestingly, Chandra Fernando, a Montessori teacher and teacher trainer for over 30 years, feels that this emphasis on equipment is beginning to detract from the most important focus, namely, the methodology and the thought process behind Montessori education. She implored us to share with our readers her feelings that methodology should be the primary focus of parents who want to use Montessori at home, whether on a homeschool basis or just as a general approach to interacting and teaching their children at home.

If you are new to Montessori, here are a few suggestions to get you started with implementing the methodology:
  1. Create a child-accessible environment that allows your child to pursue independence in daily activities such as using the bathroom, making healthy snacks, working with his or her games and educational materials, and maintaining an orderly atmosphere.
  2. An orderly atmosphere means no blaring televisions and squabbling or loud adults. This might only be possible to achieve in your child's bedroom or a study, but a calm and orderly atmosphere means your child will have a chance to develop his or her own internal sense of calm and order, so it is worth it.
  3. Teach by example. This goes for everything from using the Movable Alphabet letters to make words to using manners to discipline.
  4. Adult-child interactions should be respectful. No yelling. This goes for both parties.
  5. A moot point for most of our readers, but it is important to emphasize that you should not spank or slap your child. Lori at Montessori for Everyone has written extensively on this topic.
This is just to get started. We will be writing up a short series of interviews with various teachers and sharing them with you on our blog in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Montessori Math Discussion for Parents at Home

If you send your child to a good Montessori school starting at the age of three, your child will start learning about counting and quantities using hands-one equipment ranging from cards and counters to Red and Blue Rods (see our archived articles for details), moving up to more advanced exercises such as long addition and division in the well-known Banker's Game with the Golden Beads. You can easily monitor your child's progress by learning a bit about the equipment and observing a class.

However, what about parents who are starting at home in mid-stream, say, with a five or six year old? A lot of people are tempted to buy equipment and rush through the process, so their child can "catch up" with the normal Montessori curriculum.

We highly suggest starting from the beginning, even if this means your five year old will be working with Math Spindles, Red Rods, or Sandpaper Numerals. The important concepts related to relative size, quantity, and numerals remain key to building a solid foundation in math at any age, so do not skimp on the basics to move your child ahead quickly!

The Golden Bead introductory exercise will quickly enable your child to begin more complex math exercises! For more details, send us a note or subscribe to our Montessori Curriculum Newsletters.

Children in the Primary class typically work with the advanced arithmetic mentioned above as well as fractions from one whole to one-tenth, the Binomial cube (a precursor to algebra), and ratios and percents.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Article Discussion: Television and the Montessori Child

This recent excellent post by Lori at Montessori for Everyone provides an insightful discussion of the issues at hand with TV and children as well as practical tips and suggestions.

Whether you are a confirmed anti-TV person or an avid fan of the hottest new TV dramas, this article is very useful for all parents and we recommend it highly.

If you are looking for another vote against letting your child watch CSI, The Simpsons, or another violent show, here you go!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Importance of Mats and Floor Work

Look at pictures of any Montessori classroom around the world and you will see children working on mats on the floor as well as at child-sized tables. The mats provide children with a delineated work space of their own where they can work and even leave work over the course of a day or days as they learn to work on larger and more complex projects.

Floor work is also practical. Children enjoy being able to move and interact with equipment. For example, when children use the Red Rods they spend most of their time walking to get the rods, carrying the rods to the mat, moving the rods around, and carrying them back to the shelf. Once you see how delighted your three or four year old is doing this exercise, everything will make much more sense!

Set up your Montessori classroom or home area with small rectangular mats the size of a yoga mat. The material for the mats should be carpet or rug -- anything that has a non-sticky texture and lends itself to being rolled and unrolled.

Questions? Send them in so we can share them with everyone!

A Well-Rounded Montessori Curriculum

An ideal curriculum for children under six provides a good balance between physical activities and projects that require sitting down and working.

For those of you have have not seen our earlier post from "The Montessori Method," here is the link Montessori Schedule.

Here are some tips for home and school:
  1. Include three to four physical activity times per day. These activities can include group games, outdoor play, and anything else that lets children run and be active.
  2. Make available equipment and instruction for all areas of classroom education including language, art, math, practical life, sensorial, geography, foreign language, music, and nature (botany, biology, zoology). Children will not usually develop at the same speed in all areas.
  3. Focus on material that involves touching, manipulation, fine and/or gross motor skills, and hand-eye coordination.
  4. Create child-sized equipment, shelves, and quiet areas for work. Present a new exercise several times a week in general.
  5. Leave your child alone to work. Avoid the temptation to go and "check on him or her" unless your child asks your for assistance or wants to show you what he or she is doing. A lot of parents and teachers meddle out of habit, not necessity.
    1. In teacher training, we observe other trainees and comment, critique, and use feedback to develop teaching skills. You can do this at home by video taping your classroom area and watching yourself at the end of the day. Or ask a friend or older child to watch you and take notes. Try to learn how to step back and observe yourself, too! It can be pretty tough to do, but it is a great way to learn.
    2. Young children can focus on projects for a very long time. Let them do it! Even if you would prefer to steer your child away from drawing and towards a reading activity, stop yourself from doing it.
    3. Look at your child's schedule and work activities over a one week or one month period. Your child doesn't necessarily need a balanced work day on a 24 hour basis. If you look at a longer period, you can introduce new activities in the areas in which you want your child to spend more time. For example, if you want your child to do more math, instead of talking about it, make a note to yourself to introduce a new and appealing math activity the next morning.
    4. No talk about "bad at math" or "not good at reading" or anything else. Your child is too young to have preferences, anyhow. If a subject is not appealing, you can probably fix it by changing or improving your presentation. If you hit a subject area that you are not comfortable presenting (e.g. you are a tone deaf math professor and you want to teach your child to play the recorder), enlist a friend, hire a tutor, or buy an instructional DVD! You can share the lesson with your child and learn together, too!

Remember that areas of the curriculum such as personal care (bathing, tooth brushing, etc) area equally as important for development as math and reading, even if they seem less exciting!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

New York Times Article "Some Food Additives Raise Hyperactivity, Study Finds"

This article by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the Sept 6th online edition of the New York Times is particularly interesting as it discusses the link between food additives and hyperactivity in children. Particularly parents whose children already have problems, it seems sensible to just weed out foods with additives such as preservatives and artificial coloring.

"The new research, which was financed by Britain’s Food Standards Agency and published online by the British medical journal The Lancet, presents regulators with a number of issues: Should foods containing preservatives and artificial colors carry warning labels? Should some additives be prohibited entirely? Should school cafeterias remove foods with additives?

After all, the researchers note that overactivity makes learning more difficult for children.

“A mix of additives commonly found in children’s foods increases the mean level of hyperactivity,” wrote the researchers, led by Jim Stevenson, a professor of psychology at the University of Southampton. “The finding lends strong support for the case that food additives exacerbate hyperactive behaviors (inattention, impulsivity and overactivity) at least into middle childhood.”

In response to the study, the Food Standards Agency advised parents to monitor their children’s activity and, if they noted a marked change with food containing additives, to adjust their diets accordingly, eliminating artificial colors and preservatives."

Check out this quote (bear in mind that psychopharmacology is the study of how drugs can modify behavior -- e.g. dose your child with ritalin if they are hyperactive.)

“Even if it shows some increase in hyperactivity, is it clinically significant and does it impact the child’s life?” said Dr. Thomas Spencer, a specialist in Pediatric Psychopharmacology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

“Is it powerful enough that you want to ostracize your kid? It is very socially impacting if children can’t eat the things that their friends do.”

If your child can't turn down a Twinkie in elementary school due to peer pressure, it's time to start working on dealing with peer pressure!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Foreign Language: Mandarin Chinese for Children

Children under six can pick up foreign languages with an amazing ease!

Take advantage of our work with Mandarin Chinese language teaching materials to pick up some beginning books and DVDs.

Popping Pandas blog has more details and an interesting video clip for the numbers from 1 to 10, 100, and 1000.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Starting at Infancy: Helping Children be Independent

Helping your child develop physical and mental skills to become independent is one of the greatest gifts you can bestow.

Independence in the Montessori sense of the word means that your child becomes capable human being. He or she will be able to embark upon age-appropriate challenges with confidence because he or she will have the physical and mental skills to give it all a good try. This does not ensure success, but it ensures a good healthy attempt and an attitude that lets your child pick him or herself up and try again.

Montessori focuses on providing the youngest of children with child-sized equipment and furniture so that early skills, both physical and mental, can be nurtured. Infants work with small objects to develop their refined hand movements and hand-eye coordination. In each step after that, children will build upon what they have already learned to develop new skills and soak in the experiences of new challenges.

But what is your child supposed to try to experience and learn at, say, three or five or seven years of age. Let's see. For toddlers, being able to use the toilet independently is a huge accomplishment. At age five, it may be the ability to get up in the morning, select the day's outfit, come downstairs for breakfast, and then choose an activity on his or her own. By the time your child is seven, he or she should be able to schedule his or her play or study activities, look at the clock to know when it's time to put everything away and help with dinner, and then take charge of his or her own bedtime preparation so you two can have a peaceful bedtime story together.

This sort of step-by-step skill building provides children with the ability to act and conduct themselves independently. By creating this foundation of competence, your child will be ready for big steps, such as learning how to drive. He or she will already have good judgement, practical experience riding a bike alone, and other valuable assets.

So, start now. As you read through articles, let your child try the age-appropriate activities and work independently. No little corrections or constant reminders as your child works! Yes, the paint will spill, the beans for pouring exercises will drop, but you have already shown your child how to wipe up spills, so let him or her take charge of it all.

After all, when he or she gets behind the wheel of the car in 10 years, you won't be able to control the environment, so take advantage of the time you have now!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

"Real-Life Homeschooling" by Rhonda Barfield

Rhonda Barfield's "Real-Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home" tells the true stories of these families, who range from conservative Christian families in the South to homeschoolers by necessity in the backwoods of Alaska.

For anyone worried about the legality of homeschooling (not much of an issue in most states anymore, thanks to the dedicated homeschoolers who came before you), this book provides general references and discusses how individual families in different areas dealt with everything from courtroom drama and meddling in-laws to social pressure and disapproval at church.

If you are wondering if homeschool is only for those folks with a religious background, this book will definitely convince you otherwise. On the other hand, if you are considering homeschooling for religious reasons, this book gives you insight into families who have succeeded with flair.

Stories of a family homeschooling their Down's Syndrome child will have you on the edge of your seat as will tales of the Alaskan family skinning a moose!

An awesome and inspiring book. Definitely a must-read for anyone considering homeschooling, but it is also a fabulous book for parents and teachers in general.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Montessori Mystery Bag: Sensorial DIY Material

The Mystery Bag is one of the most beloved items in the Montessori classroom. Fortunately, it is super easy to recreate at home with your own materials.

It is similar to the items in the bag below (see the Hainstock article), just add a blindfold so that your child can identify items by touch only and you're set to go! The main criteria in choosing these items is that they should be identifiable by touch, so take out the flashcard with label and add a movable alphabet letter cutout instead.

Create a cloth bag with a drawstring and fill it with your original items from the first exercise or add new ones such as:
  • different types of leaves
  • textured fabric strips
  • an old skeleton key
  • a small padlock
  • a small comb
  • a teaspoon
  • a tablespoon
  • a regular spoon
  • buttons
  • a rubber band
  • and any other interesting item to identify by touch!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

More on Elizabeth G. Hainstock's "The Essential Montessori"

Over the past 30 or so years, Montessori schools have become increasingly more expensive and popular. Because there is no control over the name Montessori, everyone can start a school and there is really no quality control. AMS, the American Montessori Society, and AMI, Association Montessori Internationale, provide teacher training and, hence, teachers themselves can be more closely evaluated.

A result from all this is confusion as well as a lot of questions about what a Montessori education is supposed to accomplish.

This is a nice quote from "The Essential Montessori" as it addresses a key misunderstanding about Montessori:

Hainstock writes "Evidence clearly shows that the early years, from birth to six, are the most formative and are too often wasted by not realizing the child's true potential. Gradual, sequential learning at this stage can be easy, fun, and important to the developing child. As the sensitive periods show, these early years are when the child learns with the greatest ease and is most responsive to particular phases of learning. To the young child, learning is a natural function of childhood -- effortless and challenging, and more meaningful than idle play." (page 32)

Most parents notice that infants and toddlers start out preferring to handle and explore adult objects. How often do you guide your child away from digging in your purse or computer bag and re-direct him or her towards a toy? The Montessori approach would advocate creating a small bag for your child that is full of ordinary objects that he or she can hold, touch, and even bite.

Objects in the bag should be child-safe, so these recommendations should be scaled for age, but here are some suggestions for children under six:

  1. a small book
  2. a picture flashcards with name label
  3. a set of keys
  4. a padlock with a key
  5. a marble
  6. coins
  7. a feather
  8. a stone
  9. a smooth pebble
  10. a twig
  11. a simple calculator
  12. a braided length of yarn that is tied on one end, so it can be braided and unbraided

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Discount Montessori Equipment: Test for Lead!

Montessori equipment was originally produced by the Dutch company Nienhuis (indeed the company worked so closely with Maria Montessori that the founder's son blamed Dr. Montessori for sending his father to an early grave with her constant demands for exacting standards of production).

Of course, these days Nienhuis equipment is amazingly expensive, leaving most parents to look for discount equipment online. Be aware that most of the discount equipment is made in China (or in other countries with equally as spotty safety standards and oversight for production) and should be tested for lead.

Here are some things to look out for:
  1. Montessori equipment should fit together perfectly. If your equipment has edges or pieces that do not seem well-made, this is a sign the manufacturer is sub par. Lead testing kits can be purchased online and at a number of drugstores.
  2. Test each color paint on a toy or piece of equipment. Different colors and types of surfaces often come from different subcontractors. So, the shiny red surface might contain lead even when the other colors do not.
  3. Does the equipment smell odd? Toss it. Cancer causing material is used in production of things like wood surfaces with varnish and plastic surfacing for toys.
Send us a note and let us know of anything you find, so we can post it for other parents!

Finally, it's not just China. They're biggest manufacturer. And it's not just Mattel. Finally, it's not just toys. Be aware of other products, too!

This quote from the August 15, 2007, article "Mattel Recalls 19 Million Toys Sent From China," is a good one:

“If Mattel, with all of its emphasis on quality and testing, found such a widespread problem,
what do you think is happening in the rest of the toy industry, in the apparel industry and even in the low-end electronics industry?” said S. Prakash Sethi, a professor at Baruch College, part of the City University of New York, who has acted as an independent monitor of working conditions in Mattel’s factories for the last 10 years. “Everyone is going to be found with lots of dirty laundry.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Montessori for Beginners: Where to start reading?

Whether you are interested in learning more about the Montessori Method itself or how to use it with your child, I suggest The Essential Montessori by Elizabeth G. Hainstock. She gives a great overview of Montessori and then she explains a bit about how to use it at home.

Hainstock's book also gives good quotes from Maria Montessori's own writings such as The Absorbent Mind, The Montessori Method, The Discovery of the Child, The Secret of Childhood, From Childhood to Adolescence, Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook, Spontaneous Activity in Education, and Childhood Education.

The Celebration of Women Writers project provides The Montessori Method online for no charge and here is the link:

The Montessori Method can be a bit hard to read, but we highly suggest at least skimming over it and looking for good quotes because it really does give you a flavor of the original Montessori idea.

Blackberries & Mobile Phones Turned Off

Teachers in the classroom can always tell which parents are addicted to their mobile phones and Blackberries...their children are the ones who are distracted and beg for attention noisily!

Focused time with your child will yield huge results. You can arrange a schedule where you retreat to your corner of the living room to work when your child is engaged in his or her own work, whether that be putting together a puzzle or watching educational DVDs -- we know some of these purchases were made with parental R&R in mind, that's okay;)

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Found: A fabulous article on Montessori and technology!

A lot of people in the Montessori community let their fear of technology and computers prevent them from bringing the best of technology into their classrooms. There is a small core of Montessorians, however, who are dedicated to thoughtful introduction of technology and Hubbell is one of them.

The link is for her article in PDF format, so you'll need Adobe Reader to see it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Discipline and Montessori: A Tiny Step Forward

Discipline means different things to different people. Teachers and parents tend to think of discipline as the maintenance of a scream- and biting-free area that makes possible peace of mind, enjoyment of quiet, and a generally decent atmosphere for all.

Montessori looks at discipline first as an internal goal. If you can help your child to find and enjoy the pursuit of self-discipline, the outward expression of discipline, whether in the classroom, at the store, or at home, will your reward.

Start with these basic steps and see what happens:
  1. Explain rather than punish by using a concrete example of the positive (e.g. tell your child to "hold the kitten in your lap so he is comfortable," instead of saying "don't hold the kitten like that!")
  2. Teach through example by using language that you would want to hear from your child. If you say "no!" frequently, this is sure to be what you will hear back.
  3. Provide clear cut and fair rules for the house and classroom that are easy to follow.
  4. Provide a physical setting that is conducive to a tidy and ordered environment.
  5. Adhere to a schedule that provides your child with appropriate outdoor and physical activity several times a day, nutritious meals and snacks, and stimulating educational material indoors. A child who has not had a nutritious breakfast and is twitchy due to lack of exercise is set for a disaster of a day!

Infants & Montessori: Refined hand movements and brain development

Take a step away from baby videos and introduce your infant or toddler to simple hands-on projects like the Montessori Imbucare Box with the small cylinder (the one here is from Nienhuis, but you can make your own, too).

These boxes assist infants and toddlers in the development of refined hand movements as they grasp the cylinder and learn to place it into the small hole on top. The door on the side opens and the cylinder can also be shaken out of the circular opening.

Developing refined hand movements are key to related brain development!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Montessori Terms and Equipment

Montessori terms and equipment names can be daunting. A super easy thing to do is to use Google's image search function so you can see pictures of everything!

Montessori, Language, and Metal Insets

This is a standard set of Metal Insets from Nienhuis, one of the oldest (and most expensive) suppliers of Montessori equipment.

From left to right on the top: square, rectangle, trapezoid, triangle, and pentagon.

From left to right on the bottom: circle, oval, quatrefoil, ellipse, and curvilinear triangle.

Children learn to grasp the small knobs on each shape with three fingers (pointer, index, and thumb), trace the interior of the frame and around the exterior of the cutout shape.

This is preparation for writing and not an art project.

All Montessori material is supposed to fit well, feel good to the touch, be perfectly shaped, and be fairly silent. Material that does not fit this criteria should not be used.

Unless you are buying from Nienhuis and especially if you are buying Montessori materials from discounters, I suggest taking paint scrapings from the red and blue colors and testing them for lead. You can just take a bit off the back. Lead testing kits are for sale online and at a bunch of drugstores. I thought about this when I read a forum posting by a mother who was saying that some of the shapes she bought from a discounter did not fit. Badly fitting material is a sure sign that the production was cheap. Test for lead to make sure!

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Zoology: Can you say Cnidaria?

Card matching exercises to teach new concepts and vocabulary are a tried and true Montessori staple.

This wonderful example of Cnidaria matching cards comes from Lori at Montessori for Everyone.

Your child will learn vocabulary such as cnidaria, basal disc, tentacles, and nematocysts!

Designed for early elementary school students, children use the master cards (the ones with pictures and words) to check their own work as they match picture-only cards with labels.

Kids adore these card exercises!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Montessori Classroom Schedule...From "The Montessori Method" Publication

This is a long quote from Maria Montessori herself in her 1912 publication, The Montessori Method. You will see our notes after certain particularly poignant sections. We wanted to post this to give everyone a bit of the flavor of Maria Montessori's thought on the subject of sitting down and "working" versus social interaction and physical play.

"Opening at Nine O'clock–Closing at Four O'clock

9-10. Entrance. Greeting. (...)Exercises of practical life; helping one another to take off and put on the aprons. Going over the room to see that everything is dusted and in order. Language: Conversation period: Children give an account of the events of the day before. Religious exercises.

10-11. Intellectual exercises. Objective lessons interrupted by short rest periods. Nomenclature, Sense exercises.

11-11:30. Simple gymnastics: Ordinary movements done gracefully, normal position of the body, walking, marching in line, salutations, movements for attention, placing of objects gracefully.

11:30-12. Luncheon: Short prayer (blogging note -- remember prayer was part of life in Montessori's time).

12-1. Free games.

1-2. Directed games, if possible, in the open air. During this period the older children in turn go through with the exercises of practical life, cleaning the room, dusting, putting the material in order. General inspection for cleanliness: Conversation. [Page 120]

2-3. Manual work. Clay modelling, design, etc.

3-4. Collective gymnastics and songs, if possible in the open air. Exercises to develop forethought: Visiting, and caring for, the plants and animals.

(blogging note: from 11am to 4pm, the children have been engaged in non-classroom exercises! notice the attention open air, plants, and animals in an interactive setting with other children).

As soon as a school is established, the question of schedule arises. This must be considered from two points of view; the length of the school-day and the distribution of study and of the activities of life."

Toddlers: Out of the stroller!

Spending an hour with Mom or Dad toddling along a garden path or even a sidewalk is far better than being bundled into the car to dash off to an expensive Mommy & Me class.

Take the time to let your toddler crawl, creep, walk and explore his or her way around the environment. Name items you encounter together. "A small leaf." "Two brown ants." "A pebble." Everything is a learning experience and nothing in this time is wasted. There is no need to hurry or accomplish any particular goal. Just let your child take the lead in exploring the area and follow along!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Montessori Math: Red Rods

Red Rods are part of the Sensorial section of the classroom, but they are one of the pieces of math equipment that your child will use.

Parents notice that the Red Rods are large, red, and contain no numbers. So, how does this help with math?

An important building block of math is hierarchy. Your child learns to put the rods in order using his or her sense of touch and sight.

It is important to use real rods that your child can hold and handle.

The next exercise uses Red and Blue Rods. More later!

For more on the Montessori curriculum, subscribe to our weekly curriculum newsletter!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Montessori Math Spindles: Counting & Quantity

Math spindles let your child learn about quantities, so all the spindles are identical and each box is labeled.

These Math Spindles should come in two separate boxes -- 0 to 4 and 5 to 9.

Count out and place the appropriate number of spindles in the boxes from 0 to 4. Now let your child try.

Repeat for the boxes from 5 to 9 .

The number 10 is introduced with the Golden Beads, which teach concepts of the decimal system.

Montessori Introduction to Math: Sandpaper Numerals

Sandpaper Numerals should be your child's first introduction to written numbers.

Using your pointer and index finger, trace the number in the direction in which it is written.

Say the name of the number as you trace it. Now let your child trace and say each number.

For teaching quantities, see the Math Spindles.

How Not to Teach

This is a delightfully wry quote from Maria Montessori herself in her book The Montessori Method.

"Let us suppose, for example, that the teacher wishes to teach to a child the two colours, red and blue. She desires to attract the attention of the child to the object. She says, therefore, "Look at this." Then, in order to teach the colours, she says, showing him the red, "This is red," raising her voice a little and pronouncing the word "red" slowly and clearly; then showing him the other colour, "This is blue." In order to make sure that the child has understood, she says to him, "Give me the red,"–"Give me the blue." Let us suppose that the child in following this last direction makes a mistake. The teacher does not repeat and does not insist; she smiles, gives the child a friendly caress and takes away the colours.”

“... the truth is that not everyone knows how to do this simple thing (to give a lesson with such simplicity). To measure one's own activity, to make it conform to these standards of clearness, brevity and truth, is practically a very difficult matter. Especially is this true of teachers prepared by the old-time methods, who have learned to labour to deluge the child with useless, and often, false words. For example, a teacher who had taught in the public schools often reverted to collectivity. Now in giving a collective lesson much importance is necessarily given to the simple thing which is to be taught, and it is necessary to oblige all the children to follow the teacher's explanation, when perhaps not all of them are disposed to give their attention to the particular lesson in hand. The teacher has perhaps commenced her lesson in this way: "Children, see if you can guess what I have in my hand!" She knows that the children cannot guess, and she therefore attracts their attention by means of a falsehood. Then she probably says, "Children, look out at the sky. Have you ever looked at it before? Have you never noticed it at night when it is all shining with stars? No! Look at my apron. Do you know what colour it is? Doesn't it seem to you the same colour as the sky? Very well then, look at this colour I have in my hand. It is the same colour as the sky and my apron. It is blue. Now look around you a little and see if you can find some thing in the room which is blue. And do you know what colour cherries are, and the colour of the burning coals in the fireplace, etc., etc."

Now in the mind of the child after he has made the useless effort of trying to guess there revolves a confused mass of ideas,–the sky, the apron, the cherries, etc. It will be difficult for him to extract from all this confusion the [Page 111] idea which it was the scope of the lesson to make clear to him; namely, the recognition of the two colours, blue and red. Such a work of selection is almost impossible for the mind of a child who is not yet able to follow a long discourse."

Your Child's First Reading ABCs!

Parents write us asking about phonics (sounding the word out) versus whole word instruction (memorization of whole words, not sounding them out) and how these methods of reading instruction mesh with the Montessori Method.

In the Montessori Method, the Sandpaper Letters are the first step in teaching a child to read. Children are not taught the ABCs until a bit later to avoid confusion.

Sandpaper Letters are made from very fine-grained sandpaper, which allows children to engage their sense of touch, sight, and sound when they learn the letter sounds. Vowels are mounted on pink or red cards, consonants on pale blue or medium blue cards.

Introduce your child to one letter at a time. For the first lesson, start with the letter m. Use your pointer and index fingers together to trace the letter as it is written. Say the sound of the letter when you trace it. Let your child trace the letter and say the sound. Young children love doing this! You will be amazed at how much time they spend tracing the letters and how much they enjoy learning these sounds.

If your child is ready to learn more, introduce the letters o and p. Let your child trace and practice the sounds until he or she knows the sounds well. Your next step will be to show your child how to create words with the sounds. Save this lesson for when your child knows eight or nine sounds.

Do not use the Sandpaper Letters to show your child how to blend the letters to form words. If he or she prompts you or jumps to the word mop, affirm your child's observation enthusiastically, and then move to the Movable Alphabet Letters.

Tips for Evaluating Montessori (and other) Schools

Here are some tips to guide you through the school selection process. As harsh as it sounds, kindergartens are big business in many areas, so you cannot rely on the Montessori or other label to help you navigate the process.

  1. Spend a day in the classroom with the teacher and teaching assistants.
  2. The school should be welcoming and invite your questions and observations. If there is a headmaster or principle, that person should also be knowledgeable about Montessori and explain things clearly.
  3. If the school cannot explain Montessori to you, they either cannot communicate well or they do not know what they’re talking about. Don’t fall for any hand-waving excuses about intricate methodology. You do not have to have any sort of training or educational background for a good explanation to make sense to you.
  4. The teaching staff is the most important element in the classroom, so don’t let yourself be wooed by expensively-decorated classrooms and beautiful new Montessori materials. Well-worn material may come with the most experienced and dedicated staff.
  5. Keep an eye out for schools that use Montessori equipment as toys and market themselves as Montessori schools.
  6. Talk to parents in the school to get feedback on the staff and school.
  7. Remember that everyone in the school will have an effect on your child’s learning environment.
  8. Is the headmaster a pompous arrogant non-educator hired for his or her fundraising prowess? This person's daily nteractions with the teaching staff may make their lives unbearable and that will effect their classroom demeanor.
  9. Will your child be sent to the headmaster’s office for behavior problems? Make sure your child will not be isolated with an adult, headmaster or not. In a typical classroom, children are given a time out in the corner of the classroom, if their behavior is out of control. Worse than that and the parent should get a call to pick up the child.
  10. Physical activities are important. Make sure children will be able to run and play outside.
  11. If you are overseas, check the staff carefully. Frequently, Montessori schools will charge high tuition and decorate impeccably, but save on staffing by bringing in cheap, inexperienced Caucasian teachers on the theory that parents will not be able to evaluate the teacher thoroughly (but be impressed because a Caucasian teacher looks as if he or she ought to speak good English).
  12. If you are not a native speaker of the language that the teacher uses for teaching, bring in a native-speaking friend to evaluate the teacher’s use of grammar, pronunciation, and quality of interaction with the children.
  13. The classroom should be clean, orderly, and bright with plants and fish or other animals.

We feel that it is better to put your child in public school with a wonderful teacher than to choose a mediocre teacher in a Montessori school. Remember, anyone can sign up for Montessori training, but no exit examinations for suitable personality types are given before certification!

Real Learning

"You can know the name of a bird in all the languages of the world, but when you're finished, you'll know absolutely nothing whatever about the bird... So let's look at the bird and see what it's doing -- that's what counts. I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

Quote by Richard Feynman
Nobel Prize Winning Physicist

Creating a Nurturing Environment for Infants & Toddlers

Here are some of our favorite quotes and ideas from Maria Montessori in her 1912 book, The Montessori Method:

"The little round stair is another game, in which a little wooden stairway, built on the plan of the spiral, is used. This little stair is enclosed on one side by a balustrade on which the children can rest their hands. The other side is open and circular. This serves to habituate the children to climbing and descending stairs without holding on to the balustrade, and teaches them to move up and down with movements that are poised and self-controlled. The steps must be very low and very shallow. Going up and down on this little stair, the very smallest children can learn movements which they cannot follow properly in climbing ordinary stairways in their homes, in which the proportions are arranged for adults."

Physical Environment, The Montessori Method, Ch. 9