Montessori elementary classrooms are fundamentally different from traditional elementary school rooms. In fact, they are so different that it can be hard to understand how they work, and why they are so great at helping children thrive.
While it would be easy to write volumes about this topic (and some have: read Paula Polk Lillard’s book,Montessori Today, if you want a detailed description of the Montessori elementary classroom), here are five key differences, and how they matter to your child’s success.
Teachers are guides, not lecturers. They individualize instruction to keep each child optimally challenged. In traditional elementary education, much instruction happens at an all-class level; students generally move through the same curriculum at the same pace. This is more true now then ever, as mandatory standardized testing forces teachers to ensure that all students meet common minimum standards. This approach by definition fails to optimally challenge most of the students, most of the time: a child who is advanced in a subject will be bored; one who is behind will quickly become anxious and concerned about his shortcomings. Montessori is different. Most instruction happens in small groups: teachers observe students and bring together children who are ready for a particular lesson. After a lesson, each child has time to practice a skill or further explore an area, either alone or with freely chosen partners. Writes Lillard: “Because the children are in a period when they have immense energy and curiosity, the secret to maintaining their interest is to keep them challenged.”In a Montessori classroom, an advanced student will be challenged to perform at his best: it’s not unusual for a 3rd grade Montessori student to tackle what would typically be considered 5th grade math, for example. At the same time, a child who struggles can get the extra support he needs, without suffering the negative effect on his self-esteem that comes from needing remedial work in a traditional elementary school setting....
13 kids books to spark conversations about empathy
Lately, it seems like every other day, we turn on the news or open up our social media to find that another tragedy has occurred. Each time we’re faced with these events, we may be overcome with sadness, frustration, and hopelessness. But in these times, it’s important to have conversations with the children around us about inclusion and empathy.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It’s what helps us connect to other humans, and what makes us better humans. You may be surprised to learn that empathy isn’t an inborn trait, but rather one that must be learned – preferably during early childhood.
Image from Last Stop on Market Street
We hope everyone is enjoying their summer and finding their own creative ways to stay cool and spend fun time together. It is hard to believe the new school year will be starting soon!
Montessori education is unique, untraditional, and gaining popularity across not only the state of Utah but the entire country. During parent interviews we often ask parents "What are your hopes and dreams for your child?" and the following is among the list of heartfelt responses that we often receive:
- To develop leadership skills
- To develop self-discipline
- To develop a sense of personal responsibility
- To develop independence
- To develop initiative
- To discover their passions
- To develop a lifetime love of learing
- To build a strong academic foundation
Classrooms at Montessori Community School offer all that and more as we strive to follow each individual child, carefully prepare an environment that supports each of these goals, and work as a community in the best interest of each individual....
Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg
Let's be honest, this parenting gig doesn't come with a description of roles and responsibilities that make it completely clear what is expected at all times. Giving our absolute dedication and best effort just doesn't look the same from day to day (or moment to moment!) Throw your hands up (or hide in shame) if you have ever ended the day thinking "I am an awful person...my child probably went to bed thinking how awful I am and they don't feel safe and they don't feel happy and I've ruined everything." Just me? Didn't think so.
This article really spoke to me in terms of how we can (and should) give ourselves a break. News flash - we are raising our kiddos to be humans. Giving them human experience, whether we feel good about it at the end of the day or not, is essential to their success and existence. I have decided that I have three main goals, call them standards if you wish, for parenting:
- Do I honor my child for the person that they are every moment? (You can't imagine the number of parents I've met who wish their child was different...if you are talking poorly about your child any time you might be doing it wrong. Not just parenting - but life.) Am I willing to see them change at their own pace and will I fight for their authenticity? Yes - to the death!
- Have they heard me say "I'm sorry" and have they watched me make effort at being better? EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. Admitting we are wrong shows our kids that it's okay to make mistakes and that doing so in our care is a safe place to do it. We accept mistakes as opportunities to do better.
- Do I follow my own guiding set of principles and give myself a break for being imperfect? Hmmm...principles, yes. Giving myself a break...work in progress.
I am the first to admit that I am imperfect and I question myself constantly when it comes to parenting. But at the end of the day, I really do think that there is more than one right way. My wish for you is that each day ends with perfect love, even when everything else seems to have gone awry.
Best wishes for a fun-filled weekend,
My props to Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg and his Lighthouse Parenting strategy, a true delight and inspiration. His methods are discussed at length in Raising Kids to Thrive: Balancing Love With Expectations and Protection With Trust. (MCS parents - don't forget to log in to your Compass account to place your Amazon order.)
A Montessori education is designed to provide a love of learning and to give children the means to find the information they need. We hope to instill a passion for knowledge and the confidence to seek understanding. We provide avenues for curiosity about this big, beautiful world and all it takes to make it tick. Our objective is to give children the tools they need to follow any dream they may have. The reality is, they probably won't choose a career and spend an entire lifetime at it....thats just not how the world is turning anymore.
This really fun article shows one perspective on preparing our kids for what (might be) to come!
And so, just a few weeks late but with extra attention due to the heartache and disunion going on around the world, I feel inclined to stand as a global citizen and honor my fellow parents throughout the world.
A teacher walks with Toddler students past our Outdoor Classroom where the student's peace flags have been hung.
Upper Elementary students prepare to carry the Peace Dove to the Outdoor Classroom, where it will be visible to the Salt Lake Community.
An Early Childhood student decorates a peace flag with images that remind her of peace. Her flag will be hung outside with the intent of spreading love and peace.
Another peace flag.
Elementary students help their younger peers locate their flags in the Outdoor Classroom, where the breeze blows the students wishes for peace.
Siblings share a moment.
Friendship is honored and celebrated.
Montessori and the real building of self-esteem
This year, our PSA Committee reinstated Coffee Tuesday. The first Tuesday of every month from 8:15 - 9:30 am Coffee, Tea, and a light snack were provided along with MCS' PSA members.
What a wonderful opportunity these gatherings were to get to know our families and create a greater sense of unity.
Competition in Montessori? Well, No! Which is it? Is there competition in the Montessori classroom or not? Well – yes and no! Let’s examine the “No” first. There is no formal institutionalized competition in the Montessori philosophy because Montessori is about your child not about your child in competition with others. Your child is not competing with any one else. Nor is your child competing for stars or popsicles or even attention. Your child is not being compared to anyone else in the environment nor is your child being set up to win or lose. Competition is not part of the curriculum or the philosophy and yet there is competition in the classroom. So where does it come from? It walks in the door with your child. Competition is part of human nature. Some of us are more competitive than others. Some of us lean more to cooperation but all of us have some of the competitive gene. What Montessori education can achieve is to help a child recognize and manage this human characteristic. Traditional education often uses the negative aspect of competition (“I’m better than you.”) to motivate learning and behavior. Children are unfairly forced into competition with others who may be more talented or gifted in certain areas while their own personality strengths (determination, aesthetic, creativity, compassion etc) are not recognized or valued because they do not fit the educational matrix that is being graded. Yet, it is these other strengths that in the end determine the satisfaction of a life well lived. Here, competition can be destructive to the developing self-image of the child. How many brothers and sisters grow up competing with each other – wasting years of energy – only to realize that they are in different races, have different personalities, different talents and different goals?
Learning to manage the positive aspects of competition has great value. In the Montessori classroom children get to choose the arena of their competition. It is never the slowest child who accepts the challenge of a race with the class sprinter but yet there are always takers. There are those who enjoy the demonstration of their abilities and those who want to stretch their own limits – which is only done against good competition. Montessori children (and mature adults) realize that there are venues in which they cannot compete and realistically assess their own goals and abilities. Montessori children can grow up into adults who have no need to compete with Hollywood looks, Wall Street money or professional athletic prowess because they are secure in knowing who they are and what their gifts and talents are. So, where do we find and how do we judge healthy competition in the Montessori classroom? We find its most excellent use in the Montessori concept of mastery. Mastery brings out and into focus the child’s most significant competitor – himself or herself. Mastery says “I’m not working for a grade, I am not working to get by or to do the least I can do. I am working for excellence. And I am my own competition.” And that is the mind set that produces success in life. Choosing your goals wisely (learning to choose wisely is another Montessori quality) according to your abilities, passions and goals brings the kind of success that is meaningful. Many people have found that unless you know who your real competitor is you often run races in life that give you no pleasure and bring you no closer to your goals. Montessori children are afforded the opportunity to compete with the best – themselves.
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.
Children's fears are ongoing. How do we teach our children self-soothing, positive self-talk, how to recognize their true feelings, and, most importantly what to do with their fears to become better and more resilient humans? My 13 year old son's fears have shifted...gone are the days of monsters under the bed. I am discovering that helping him develop his own set of guiding principles becomes increasingly important with each passing day. The Fred Rogers article below gives some helpful insight to helping young children through their fears.
Parents want their children to be afraid of some things, because fears can keep children from doing dangerous things. But we don't want our children to develop irrational fears that hold them back from doing healthy things, sleeping well, and making friends.
Part of our "job" as parents is to help our children feel safe and secure. Sometimes it can be very frustrating to try to explain to a frightened child that a monster or witch or some other imaginary thing isn't real. We adults have already learned that, read more here.
"We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education. No one can stop us. We will speak up for our rights and we will bring change to our voice. We believe in the power and the strength of our words.
Please join us for Parent Education Night next Tuesday, March 8th, from 6:30-8pm. Child care will be available but must be signed up for in advance. There is a sign up sheet in the office.
Melissa DeVries, Ph.D, MCS School Psychologist and parent will be talking about adolescence...because its never too early to prepare. Below is an excerpt from Melissa about her upcoming presentation.
“We should be like lighthouses for our children—beacons of light on a stable shoreline from which they can safely navigate the world. We must make certain they don’t crash against the rocks, but trust they have the capacity to learn to ride the waves on their own.” –-Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MS Ed, FAAP
Adolescence is a uniquely challenging, yet rewarding period of development for both parents and teens. Teens are trying to find the answer to “who am I?” by striving for more independence, seeking new experiences. Meanwhile, parents are realizing their time and direct influence is decreasing and they may fear “how will I ever be able to let them go?” or “are they ready?”
No matter your child’s age, it is never too early, or too late, to start thinking about adolescence. Not just getting through the here and now, but preparing your children to survive and thrive far into the future. Join us for an informative evening of education and discussion about parenting during the adolescent years presented by MCS School Psychologist, Melissa DeVries, PhD. Information presented will include an overview of research on adolescent brain development, and parenting strategies from a leading expert in adolescent medicine with an emphasis on how these strategies fit with a Montessori perspective.
Melissa DeVries, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist who provides contracted psychological services to the Montessori Community School and Valley Behavioral Health. She holds a Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of Arizona. Dr. DeVries has co-edited textbooks and numerous book chapters on various topics within child and adolescent mental health and developmental disorders. Dr. DeVries provides psychotherapy and behavioral consultation for children and adolescents, parenting education and classroom consultation. She also possesses extensive background and experience in comprehensive evaluation for learning, behavioral, and emotional disorders across the lifespan. In her free time, Dr. DeVries enjoys playing recreational soccer, skiing, running and rock climbing.
Of course we know our students are amazing, bright, and beautiful; however, this Winter Session Performance from our studio classes, Broadway Kids and Pitched Perfect, was a reminder as to how radiant our students shine. Read more to learn about the benefits extracurricular activities have in your child's life.