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The Montessori Greenhouse

A concern of parents is that a Montessori environment is too protective, that children may not be prepared to face the real world. After all, a Montessori environment is made for the child, (the real world isn’t.)  Everything in the environment is child size. Again, the real world is made for adults. A Montessori environment is constructed for the child to succeed – the real world doesn’t care.

So, is the Montessori environment an effective preparation to learn to swim in the real world or are children better off to be thrown into the deep end? A Montessori education is designed to master the deep end – but not today! It is designed to step by step to prepare (and help create) the future adult to master all the challenges of adult responsibility. The environment affords the protection for the child to safely build the adult they will become. The child will build the adult out of real successes gained day by day and processes learned and mastered in navigating the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and task management. It is often said in Montessori that a child’s work is his play and the irony is that when a Montessori child enters the adult world his work does become like child play because he or she has already spent the formative years mastering the tools of the deep end. The child knows how to set priorities; how to follow a plan; how to work with others; how to work through mistakes; how to develop initiative and countless other adult tools.

As equally important as the tools are, so are the emotional building blocks the child is adding to his or her life of the adult that will emerge. Blocks like confidence and competence are invaluable. Blocks like the satisfaction of working through a problem and the understanding that you can just about conquer any problem you encounter if you don’t give up.  As successful as a Montessori education might be intellectually, its emotional components are far more powerful. Those emotional components only grow in the protected environment where making mistakes is not branded as failure but only interim steps on the way to success. Finishing what you start (not going seventy percent of the way and quitting or being satisfied with less than your best) can only happen in the supportive environment of a Montessori education.

As parents we need to be mindful that what we see happening in our children are the underlying preparations that are being constructed in our children because of the Montessori education. The iceberg of your child’s potential and ability is hardly visible but the bulk of it is being constructed (and growing) under the surface day by day in the protected environment of the classroom. Far more is being constructed than can be seen without the eye of time when it will come to fruition.

Montessori is certainly a greenhouse. No one plants their tomato plants outside in the deep of winter. Our Montessori seeds are lovingly planted and tended where the roots go down and the stalk grows up strong until the young fledgling plant has the strength to grow and thrive – in the real world.

By Edward Fidellow

www.crossmountainmedia.com

What is the Capstone Year and why does my child deserve to have one?

We often refer to the 3rd year a child is in a Montessori program as the Capstone Year. But what is it that really makes the year so special and important? We invite parents of our current 2nd year students in Early Childhood and Lower Elementary and 4th year students in Upper Elementary to consider the following reasons we recommend providing your child with their Capstone Year.

Reasons to Stay:

  • Is your child learning, happy, and engaged? If so, consider yourself lucky. Why tinker with a winning situation when so many other families are frustrated or disappointed with their child’s school experience.
  • Your child has waited for two years to be a leader in their class. The third year students are looked up to as role models for the younger students, and most children eagerly await their opportunity to play this role.
  • The third year is the time when many of the earlier lessons come together and become a permanent part of the child’s understanding. Leaving early means many of the still forming concepts evaporate.
  • As a leader in the class, your child has many opportunities to teach the younger children lessons that they learned when they were their age. Research proves that this experience has powerful benefits for both tutor and tutoree.
  • Third Year Montessori children normally go on to still more fascinating lessons and more advanced Montessori materials. The natural process of abstraction or critical thinking around familiar concepts materializes naturally and gears the child up for more advanced skills.
  • The Montessori curriculum is more sophisticated than that found in traditional programs.

  • Having spent two years together, your child’s teachers know the students very, very well. They know their strengths and areas that are presenting challenges. 3rd years can begin the year strong, without having to build a relationship of trust with the teacher.
  • Your child already knows most of their classmates. They have grown up in a safe, supportive classroom setting. They are learning appropriate social boundaries and interactions with a group of familiar peers.
  • Montessori math is based on the European tradition of unified mathematics. Montessori introduces young children to basic geometry and other sophisticated concepts as early as kindergarten. Our spiraling curriculum means students will revisit these skills and build on them throughout their elementary experience.
  • Third Years have a real sense of running their classroom community, an important leadership skill that goes on with them.
  • In Montessori, your child can continue to progress at their own pace. In traditional education, they may have to wait while the other children begin to catch up or will be forced to move ahead before they are ready.

  • Beginning as early as kindergarten and continuing through elementary, Montessori children are studying cultural geography and beginning to grow into global citizens.
  • In Montessori, students work with intriguing learning materials instead of preprinted work books, allowing a student to work on a skill for the right amount of time for their own understanding and not by a predetermined timeline.
  • Your child has been treated with deep respect as a unique individual. The 3rd year student is ready and able to recognize and reciprocate this respect and contribute to the culture of the school and their community.
  • Montessori schools are warm and supportive communities of students, teachers, and parents. Children can’t easily slip through the cracks!
  • Montessori consciously teaches children to be kind and peaceful.

The Capstone Year in Upper Elementary- 6th year students carry the peace dove in our annual walk on International Day of Peace.
  • In Montessori schools, learning is not focused on rote drill and memorization. Our goal is to develop students who really understand their schoolwork.
  • Montessori students learn through hands-on experience, investigation, and research. They become actively engaged in their studies, rather than passively waiting to be spoon-fed.
  • Montessori is consciously designed to recognize and address different learning styles, helping students learn to study most effectively.
  • Montessori challenges and set high expectations for all students not only a special few.
  • Montessori students develop self-discipline and an internal sense of purpose and motivation.

Three, six, nine and twelve years old are natural transitional ages for children. They are the best time for children to move to new classrooms or schools.

While the reasons to leave can be compelling and are worth every consideration, we believe the reasons to stay are worth your careful and thoughtful consideration.

(Adapted from Tim Seldin’s 25 Reasons to Keep Your Child in Montessori Through the Kindergarten Year, Tomorrow’s Child.)

The Montessori Transition

A common concern for Montessori parents is how their child will transition out of Montessori into a traditional setting. The question is valid but the concern may be overblown. Yes, there will be transition challenges. Those are an integral part of life – preschool to elementary, elementary to Jr. and Sr. High, to college, to a job, to marriage, to parenthood and on and on.

It is certainly nice if life can remain stable and unchanging (well, maybe not the 2:00 A.M. feedings.) But change is inevitable. The first transition for the Montessori child might tend to be more dramatic than for a child that didn’t have the privilege of attending a Montessori school. However, the ability to handle the change is better developed in the Montessori child.

 The Montessori child has developed coping skills

A traditional setting may not be as stimulating for the Montessori child. It may not offer the same opportunities for independent thought, learning and action. It might be more group oriented. It might be more teacher directed. Yes, it will require transition skills from your child. The good news is – your child has been developing adult coping skills all along in his or her Montessori experience. Even if your child can’t use all of the skills he or she has learned, they will not have gone to waste; they will not be lost. They will surface again and again as they are applied creatively to every day situations.

While non-Montessori students may be waiting for direction and instruction, the Montessori student will take the initiative and begin formatting plans for achievement. Though Montessori students have been raised in a non-competitive environment their training in initiative will give them a head start in competitive environments. Success also comes to the Montessori child because he or she already knows how to work with people; how to cooperate; how to collaborate.

The ultimate success that works in transition is that the Montessori student knows how to finish what she starts and that is not affected by whatever kind of environment she finds herself in. You don’t win unless you finish. Montessori children are great at finishing – and winning.

 The Montessori child takes initiative

There are going to be challenges but the advantage that your Montessori child takes with him or her are worth the minor inconveniences of transition.

by Edward Fidellow, www.crossmountainmedia.com

The Capstone Year in Early Childhood

The Montessori early childhood classroom serves children from the age of 3 to 6 years. Ideally, children spend three years in this classroom. In Montessori, the 3rd year is often referred to as the Capstone Year. This year is equivalent to the traditional Kindergarten year. MCS strongly recommends that a 3rd year student follows a 5 day schedule so that they can capitalize on all of the learning opportunities open to them in this important year and so they can have enough time to practise and process the year’s curriculum. The final year in early childhood is the harvest year for all the planting and intellectual tending that has gone on for the preceding years in preschool.

The Capstone Harvest
The 3rd year child’s learning explodes into an avalanche of reading and writing and math. All of the earlier preparation (practical life, sensorial) now finds academic outlets. The 3rd year child not only gains a wider breadth of knowledge but a deeper understanding of what they have learned and now is able to use this knowledge to enhance their own intellectual pursuits.

A Montessori education is not just cumulative in its learning; it is exponential in its understanding. The learning that happens in this final year of early childhood is not just adding another year’s knowledge but multiplying what is learned and applying it to what is to come. It is common for Montessori 3rd year graduates to be able to read well (and write) and to understand math far beyond addition and subtraction all the way to multiplication, division and geometry. Maybe even more significantly, the lifetime patterns of responsibility, goal setting, having a work ethic, working through mistakes, inquiry and curiosity are being firmly set.

The 3rd year in a Montessori classroom is also the year of mentoring. It is the year when the five year old is able to really help their classmates. This mentoring year is significant for two reasons. First, when you teach others, you really master the subject for yourself. Second, when you are asked to teach you demonstrate your mastery of the material. It is this mastery that produces the profound feelings of self-confidence and assurance that is the hallmark of Montessori students. Real achievement and real achievement demonstrated builds real self-esteem.

To miss this formative year that sets successful life patterns is to miss the ultimate advantage of this unique preschool experience.

Leaving the Montessori program before the capstone year often places a child into an educational setting that is not as advanced; nor one that allows for the initiative that has been carefully cultivated during the earlier preschool years. The child is often introduced to a different curriculum one that lacks the individual intellectual satisfaction that comes from exploring and discovering the wonderful world of learning found in Montessori.The essence of successful life is to be able to make wise choices. The Montessori 3rd year student is at a major threshold of exercising that wise decision making power. To lose that opportunity is to lose a significant part of the hard won success of the preceding years.

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”-  W.B. Yeats

The great gift of an education is not the accumulation of facts and statistics but the lighting of the fire of learning, discovery and joy. It is a gift that Montessori children have the privilege and pleasure of opening and using for a lifetime.

Adapted from The Kindergarten Year in Montessori by Edward Fidellow, www.crossmountainmedia.com

COVID: Heart to Heart

By Jessica Graham, M.D., Pediatric Emergency Physician and Thomas Hanff, M.D., Heart Failure Cardiologist; Current MCS Parents

​Our gratitude to Jessica and Thomas for providing the following information to our community: MIS-C myocarditis is seen in children after a COVID-19 infection; vaccine-related myocarditis has been described in children after they receive the mRNA vaccine. Which poses the bigger danger for your child?

What is MIS-C?

Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children is a rare inflammatory condition that occurs in children within 6 weeks after a COVID-19 infection. It can occur even if a child has an asymptomatic infection. This condition can cause inflammation of the skin, eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, brain and gastrointestinal system. The biggest concern is MIS-C myocarditis, which can cause low blood pressure, dilation of blood vessels in the heart, and a decline in heart function leading to heart failure.a

How common is MIS-C and what age group does it affect?​

Out of every 1 million children who get COVID, about 300 will get MIS-C. MIS-C is most common in children aged 6-10. b

Key points:

  • We don’t know why some children get sick with MIS-C after COVID while others have nota
  • All children with MIS-C need to be treated in the hospital, some in the pediatric ICUa
  • Most kids with MIS-C have excellent outcomesa

What are symptoms of MIS-C?

In addition to ongoing fever, children experience:c

  • Stomach pain
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness

What is the treatment for MIS-C?

All children with MIS-C are hospitalized. During hospitalization, they receive serial testing (labs, ECGs, echocardiograms to look at heart). Treatment can include IV fluids, blood pressure support, IVIG (antibodies given through a vein), steroids, and/or biologic medications (powerful drugs that stop inflammation). Most children take daily aspirin and are followed by a cardiologist after hospitalization.a

What is the biggest danger of MIS-C?

In most children, the biggest danger is MIS-C myocarditis. Some children with MIS-C myocarditis have a depressed left ventricular ejection fraction (the heart pumps less blood when it squeezes), some have diastolic dysfunction (the heart does not fill normally between squeezes), and some have coronary artery dilation (the blood vessels that feed heart tissue are dilated/floppy). Almost all children with these findings recover well; however, long-term data is still being collected.

How can I protect my child from MIS-C?

Fortunately, although MIS-C can lead to severe illness, it is still a relatively rare outcome of COVID-19. However, for children of eligible age, vaccination to prevent COVID-19 remains one of the most effective preventive measures. The vaccine also protects against all the other complications of COVID-19, including death and debilitating long-COVID symptoms. In addition, you should continue to take everyday actions to prevent your child and entire household from getting COVID-19.d 

 What is Vaccine Related Myopericarditis?

Myocarditis is inflammation of heart muscle. Pericarditis is inflammation of outer lining of heart. Myopericarditis is when both the heart muscle and the outer lining are inflamed. In the case of vaccine related myopericarditis, the inflammation is thought to be in response to the mRNA COVID vaccine.

How common is vaccine related myopericarditis and what age group does it affect?

Out of 1 million people 16 or older who got the Pfizer vaccine, ~ 20 got COVID-related myopericarditis. e Vaccine related myopericarditis has never been described in a child <12; however, data on mRNA vaccine side effects are still being collected.

Key points:

  • Occurs mostly in male adolescents > 12 years old and young adults
  • Most cases have been described after the second dose of an mRNA vaccine
  • Most cases have occurred within a week of the vaccine
  • Most cases responded well to medicine and rest and felt better quickly
  • Most people return to normal activities after symptoms

What are symptoms of vaccine related myopericarditis?

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Palpitations
  • Fever

What happens to kids when they have vaccine related myopericarditis and how are they treated?

When vaccine related myopericarditis was first described, all children were hospitalized and observed very closely. Some were treated with supportive care (fluids). Most children never needed any medical interventions. Now, most patients with this condition do not need to stay in the hospital but can be followed outpatient by their doctor.

How can I protect my child from vaccine related myopericarditis?

Your child will not get vaccine related myopericarditis if they do not get the mRNA vaccine. However, if they do not get the vaccine, they would be at higher risk of getting MIS-C or COVID-19

Table: Comparison of MIS-C Related Myocarditis Vs. Vaccine Related Myopericarditisf
MIS-C (149 patients) Vaccine-Related Myopericarditis (9 patients)
​Age ​​Median 7.5 years ​​Median 15.5 years
Sex ​Predominantly male  ​​Predominantly male 
Change in heart function (depressed LVEF)​ 42% of patients  22% of patients
​Discharged on medication for heart ​3% ​none
​Recovery of heart function Full  ​Full

Take-home points:

  • MIS-C myocarditis affects younger patients compared to vaccine related myopericarditisf
  • MIS-C due to COVID is more likely than vaccine-related myopericarditis in the 5-11 age group
  • Children with COVID-19 vaccine-related myopericarditis generally have a milder illness and lower likelihood of cardiac dysfunctionf
  • Children with COVID-19 vaccine-related myopericarditis generally have a more rapid recovery compared to patients with MIS-C myopericarditisf
  • Children are recovering well from both MIS-C and vaccine related myopericarditis
  • Both of the authors plan to vaccinate our children (currently ages 3 and 8 months) as soon as we have the opportunity

 References

a. https://www.rheumatology.org/Portals/0/Files/ACR-COVID-19-Clinical-Guidance-Summary-MIS-C-Hyperinflammation.pdf

b.  Payne AB, Gilani Z, Godfred-Cato S, et al. Incidence of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children Among US Persons Infected With SARS-CoV-2. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(6):e2116420. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.16420

c.  https://www.cdc.gov/mis/mis-c/hcp/provider-resources/symptoms.pdf

d.  https://www.cdc.gov/mis/mis-c.html

e.  Witberg G et al. Myocarditis after Covid-19 vaccination in a large health care organization. N Engl J Med2021 Oct 6; [e-pub]. (https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2110737. opens in new tab)

f.  Vaccine-related myocarditis is milder compared to MIS-C (Comparison of MIS-C Related Myocarditis, Classic Viral Myocarditis, and COVID-19 Vaccine related Myocarditis in Children. Trisha Patel, Michael Kelleman, Zachary West, Andrew Peter, Matthew Dove, AreneButto, Matthew E. Oster; medRxiv 2021.10.05.21264581; doi:https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.10.05.21264581)

Courage

The Montessori classroom provides daily opportunities to develop and practice courage.

It is amazing to observe the breadth of accomplishment that a Montessori environment fosters. Courage is not traditionally thought of as an educational outcome but then again Montessori is not traditional. For children, courage is the ability to try new things even if they are afraid and as they mature courage becomes the ability to do what is right and to do what is good.

For a child everything is new. That is the reality of childhood. The awesome task and purpose of childhood is to create the adult. Life takes courage to navigate and to become a fully functioning independent adult. It is this kind of courage that must be nurtured and practiced for it to become a practical virtue.

The courage to do what is right

We tend to identify courage with physical courage – running into a burning building, pulling people out of rivers etc. However, in real life every day common courage demonstrates itself in intellectual, emotional and spiritual settings. The courage to do what is right, to do what is good for others, to use our gifts, talents and opportunities well and wisely is the kind of courage practiced and displayed in a Montessori environment.

We well understand that the opposite of courage is fear. But for a child fear doesn’t yet have a definition. It is represented by an indistinct but palpable feeling of unease. For a child fear is “defined” by the unknown, the unfamiliar. (That is why Montessori children love and are so at home in their environments because of its constant sameness and familiarity.)

For the child, conscious fear starts from the unknown – the dog, the dark, strangers and then becomes attached to the inability (and frustration) of not being able to handle and control the environment – bringing it back to sameness. (Perfectionist children come to this earlier than others.) Then this fear attaches itself to the perceived rejection that comes from disapproval. The child, unconsciously thinks, that if I only do what is absolutely safe or what receives guaranteed adult approval I don’t have any reason to fear or face disapproval.

A sense of accomplishment and control

One of the hardest concepts for a new Montessori teacher to understand (and embrace) is that of not correcting children in the middle of their work. (This is particularly difficult for perfectionists and controllers.) Unless the child is damaging the material or endangering others or himself or being rude you let them continue. There are two outcomes to not correcting the child in the midst of the work. One, the child discovers his own mistake and corrects it which produces a sense of accomplishment and control. The second outcome is far more subtle. Because you are not corrected at every turn, you do not freeze up; you do not constantly look over your shoulder; you are not waiting for the next shoe to drop. You gain breathing room to make mistakes – that’s how we learn. In this way mistakes do not become the end of the universe or the world as we know it. The child is willing to try something new (which is an act of courage) without being weighed down with the fear of failure or reproof.

Not being corrected (all of the time) is the strange and unique Montessori training ground for courage. In trying something new the child gets to practice courage every day. Eventually, the child becomes used to trying new things without the overpowering fear of failure. The child learns to work their way through mistakes which becomes a normal part of life and the learning process – which is a significant part of adult life.

Life requires courage to live fully. The Montessori classroom provides daily opportunities to develop and practice courage.

 by Edward Fidellow, www.crossmountainmedia.com

Montessori and the Myth of Low Student Teacher Ratios

As parents we have to judge what makes a good educational program for our children. We ask our friends, we look at the school – is it clean and orderly and bright? We look at the children – do they seem happy? We observe the teacher – are they engaged and interested in the children? These are things that we can judge. And then we remember that we’ve heard that a low student–teacher ratio is important for a good educational approach and outcome. (It must be true because all of the governmental agencies are always trying to lower the ratios.)

Ratios aren’t critical

Low ratios are a myth as far as Montessori education is concerned. Traditionally, a low student–teacher ratio is desired if you are trying to make everyone do the same thing at the same time. (It is a lot like herding cats – the less you have, the easier it might be to perform.) Ratios aren’t critical in Montessori for three reasons.

  1. In Montessori education you do not teach classes (numbers) you teach children (individuals.)
  2. The goal in the classroom is not just to teach the material but to facilitate the child’s ability to learn on their own – which in effect makes the learning one on one.
  3. And because of the nature of the classroom where children are encouraged to help each other – the five year olds teach the four year olds and the four year olds teach the three year olds – you literally have more teachers than students.

Parents wonder still – “If there were fewer students wouldn’t my child get more attention from the teacher?” Interestingly, it is not just the amount of time your child needs but the amount of focused time (time spent directly on your child’s priorities and needs) that effectively contributes to their learning.

A Montessori teacher can be compared to a juggler who spins plates on a stick. They will begin spinning the first plate, then the second, third and fourth. They might go back and give the first plate a spin before spinning the fifth and sixth. They might then spin the second plate – and that first plate might need another spin before they get the seventh plate rotating. Likewise, the teacher notes each of their students and what it takes to power up the learning gyroscope in each child – so the child can keep the learning plates spinning on their own. A low ratio is good if you are driving the learning – not as consequential if you are leading it.

Now, because the teacher doesn’t spend all of their time driving the learning, they have time to study each child: to study their needs, skills, aptitudes and personality. All the ratios in the world are meaningless – unless you know your student.

The child is free to develop initiative

Ironically, there are many advantages of not having a low student–teacher ratio in the classroom.

  1. Children aren’t smothered by attention. They are given the opportunity to breathe and explore. The teacher does not feel compelled to guide and fill their every moment.
  2. Because the teacher does not dominate the society, the classroom becomes a community of interaction and learning. Cooperation is a virtue (instead of “Go back to your seat and mind your own business.”)
  3. With the adult not hovering and micromanaging, the child is free to develop initiative. This initiative creates the fantastic learning that comes out of a Montessori classroom (which a teacher would be hard pressed to produce in a traditional setting.)
  4. The child develops a personal sense of responsibility over the learning they have initiated.
  5. The child develops the ability to make meaningful choices – instead of just following directions.
  6. The power to choose wisely is a growing marker of maturity.
  7. Real choice making needs the opportunity to make mistakes, to correct them, to recover from them and to learn from them. (That is hard to do when someone is hurrying you along to get to the next lesson.)
  8. All of this allows the student to build confidence in themself. When the student assumes responsibility for the learning they begin to build confidence in their ability to navigate in the world as it is being opened to them through the classroom, the classroom community and the world of knowledge.

Montessori teachers have to train themselves in the art of not interfering with the internal learning process of the student. They have to train themselves to observe the child, to know how the child learns and how to allow the child to learn.

Ultimately, they have to learn how to help the child learn for themselves– which is always one on one.

by Edward Fidellow, www.crossmountainmedia.com

Parent Teacher Partnerships

The parent teacher partnership is different from any other professional relationship you enter. You call the electrician to your house. You tell him what you think the problem is. He then uses his expertise and experience to diagnose and fix the problem. He doesn’t need your help (nor does he want you to get shocked in the process). When he is finished you get the bill and he leaves. And everything was as it was before. It is the same for computers or cars or dishwashers.

However, it is not the same for parent teacher partnerships. Your child is not a “problem” to be fixed. You don’t drop off your child then pick him or her up and the “problem” is solved. Your child is a work of art that takes time to bring to creation. Each child is a unique masterpiece. Are you creating a song, a statue, a painting, a novel, or a monument?

The challenge is that few of us know at the beginning what masterpiece will come forth. If the art project is literature does the finished product look like a poem or a novel; a short story or lyrics; a biography or a history or anything in between? A great education gives the student the ability to communicate in that medium. Does an artist paint in oil or watercolor; pastels or charcoal? Do they paint portraits or landscapes, classical or modern?

Your child is that enigma of who they will become. You and the teachers share the journey of discovery. You are not creating the person but revealing what is already there in embryonic form. And with the right soil, water and light, with sun and seasons will blossom into who they are to become.

Montessori teachers understand this process and then take their training and their experience and apply it to the mystery at hand. Like every good detective, they seek relevant clues to the unfolding mystery. And that is where the partnership begins. You are a great repository of insight and information about your child. You, too, are going through a discovery process everyday with your child as they reveal their character, their temperament, their likes and passions. The more of who your child is that you share with the teacher, the better the teacher is able to individualize and focus their teaching on the emerging personality.

Montessori education is not primarily about facts and figures even though Montessori children acquire this knowledge in great depth and understanding. Montessori education is about nurturing and educating your child through the prism of their personality. One size does not fit all and Montessori education is tailored to your child’s strengths and gifts.

Embrace the partnership

The more the teacher knows about your family (they spend so much time with your child that they become like aunts and uncles) the better they become at helping your child become the success that they are capable of. To gain the most from your Montessori experience there need to be an ongoing relationship with your child’s teacher. In Montessori you don’t hire teachers – you adopt them. The partnership is one of love and concern that you both share for your child. Embrace the partnership for your child’s sake.

by Edward Fidellow, www.crossmountainmedia.com

Encouragment & Obstacles

The achievement belongs to the child.

The Encouragement of Eliminating Obstacles

by Edward Fidellow

The best encouragement you give is often the kind that is not seen – eliminating obstacles. This action is a hallmark of a Montessori education. Eliminating obstacles is not obvious – because you have removed them but it is essential for the amazing accomplishments that children achieve in a Montessori environment. To be clear, removing obstacles is not the same as doing the activity for the child. The achievement belongs to the child. Clearing the obstacles belongs to the adult.

The first obstacle is an environment that is not conducive to the child or their learning. A Montessori environment has everything in order for easy recognition for the child. The environment is child-sized, tables, chairs, shelves, bathrooms all accessible to the child without adult help or physical barriers. Obstacles can also be removed from home by placing everything the child needs at a level he/she can access. Plates, glasses, silverware can be located on a lower cabinet shelf. A small step stool can make the sink accessible. The same removal of obstacles can be achieved in bedrooms by installing low clothes racks and bottom drawers of dressers holding often worn clothing articles.

A second obstacle removed in a Montessori environment is the constant need of permission or direction. Once a child is introduced to an activity they are free to access it and work with it. This is also the beginning for the child to learn to make choices and make decisions instead of waiting to be told
what to do.

A third obstacle removed is the constant interruptions that plague a typical preschool. The ideal three hour work period fostered in a Montessori environment gives rise to the ability to concentrate. It gives rise to the ability to finish what you start. These are things that an adult cannot do for the child. These are skills that the child needs as an adult.

The fourth obstacle removed is not prohibiting social interaction and cooperation. Both are life-long assets and when learned young and practiced give great advantage to the child. However, you can’t remove the prohibition on socialization and cooperation without providing the necessary training for there to be benefits instead of deficits. Grace and courtesy is more than “please and thank you.” It is thoughtful consideration for those around you. Just as you provide an environment of concentration you also provide an environment of socialization where they work in tandem with one not intruding on the
other.

The fifth obstacle that a Montessori environment is good at removing is the negative – negative actions, negative words, negative attitudes, which unfortunately mostly belong to the adults. The training of the guide includes being careful with your words and your attitudes. Learning to be an effective Montessori guide requires you to dispense with the negative and enter into the world of “Yes.” It is not that you never use the word “no” but you frame it in a hopeful manner. “Can I do this?” asks a child. “Yes, but first we need to do this” (so you can succeed at what you are asking.) “Can I do this?” “Yes, maybe tomorrow.”

Clearing the obstacles belongs to the adult.

Removing the obstacles is an unseen work but vital to the success and well being of the child. Will there be failures for the child? Depends on how you define failure. “Do I get to do it again? “Yes! (until you succeed.)

Becoming a Montessori Parent

There are seven simple steps to becoming a Montessori parent. When we say simple we don’t mean that they are not challenging. It is a lot like the definition of bull riding. “The object is to keep the bull between you and the ground.” Simple – but challenging.

The first step to becoming a Montessori parent took place when you enrolled your child in a Montessori program. That in itself is a challenge. Most of us weren’t raised in a Montessori school. The whole concept is foreign and takes a bit of courage to step out of the norm and our comfort zone. We may have chosen the program because it wasn’t like our school experience (which is why we chose it.) Or we chose it because we saw something unique in a Montessori child we knew. Or we were just plain lucky and stumbled on to a Montessori school and were fascinated by what we saw. Even then we had to deal with the question, “If this is so great, how come the whole world isn’t lined up outside the door to enroll?” (Which is the same question Montessorians keep wondering about too!) But you made a complex and challenging decision to become a Montessori parent. And here you are. So how do you get the best out of your decision? You go to step two.

You begin to understand the core philosophy of what Montessori is all about. Fortunately, you don’t have to become a Montessori teacher to be a good Montessori parent. (You don’t have to know how to manipulate all of those materials and you don’t have to keep fifteen children from climbing the walls.) The most significant Montessori concept is to respect the child. I can almost hear the wheels turning “Of course I respect my child, I love them very much that’s why I have them in Montessori, I want the best for them.” Of course you love them – but respect is different. Respecting the child is first, to respect the nature of children. Children are not mini adults waiting to be molded. They are like tadpoles and caterpillars that have their own form and function of life waiting to become what they are intended to be. We are often impatient for them to become because we don’t realize that childhood – with its curiosity, playfulness, messiness and all – is part of the process of them transforming themselves into the adults they will become. We have to respect that process – which doesn’t mean they always get to do what they want. One of the operative words in Dr. Montessori’s writing is the word “train”. We do need to train our children but we need to train ourselves “not to destroy that which is good” in the nature of our children. The second part of respect is to respect the personality of your child. Your child is not a blank slate. They are already imbued with the unique characteristics of who they are. The artistic bent is already there. The math bent is already formed. The leader, the follower, the giver, the taker, the extrovert, the introvert are already dna’d into your child. Right or left handed, right or left brained are already formed. So how do you cooperate with nature? You become an observer.

That is the next step in becoming a Montessori parent – you train yourself to observe. What does your child gravitate to? What gives them great joy? What occupies them endlessly? These are all clues to who your child is becoming. You are fortunate that you have a trained helper in your child’s Montessori teacher. Your next parent conference should ask more than what has she done but who do you see her becoming. It is hard to cooperate with nature if you are not aware of the nature of your child.

Our third step is to become their champion. I know. I hear you say, “Of course, I’m their champion. I love them.” And so you do. But are their goals your goals? Translation: Do you have goals for them that do not take into account who they are. (There are many jock fathers who do not have jock sons.) Yes, you have many wonderful goals for them to be caring and loving, honest and faithful, upright, truthful, etc – and these are worthy, significant and meaningful goals which they should attain to. But the expression of their lives – career, vocation, work – is best met and fulfilled according to their gifts. When your five year old says, “I want to be a fireman.” He may be reflecting the latest book or television program he’s seen. However, if you continue to ask the why questions, “Why do you think that would be a good job? Why do you think that you would enjoy that?” you may discover that your child is not drawn just to the excitement but to the fact of wanting to help people or he likes the aspect of being part of a team. All are important clues to his personality. Your child needs you to champion and encourage his personality (especially, if it is different than yours.)

The fourth step is to practice what they learn at school – grace and courtesy. Please and thank you, may I, excuse me, please forgive me and a host of other considerations practiced (and modeled) at home will go a long way to giving your child every advantage in life. People respond favorably to a child with great manners.

Fifth, practice independence. Independence is the ability to be self-governing and that comes from making choices, living with the consequences and having responsibilities. As often as possible give your children choices. “What do you want for breakfast, cereal or eggs?” “Do you want two spoonfuls of carrots or one?” (Don’t offer choices where there are no choices. “Do you want carrots? They say no and you serve them anyway.) Give your children chores they can accomplish – making their beds, putting dirty clothes in the laundry, dishes in the dishwasher, etc. Chores build responsibility; responsibility builds independence; independence builds confidence.

Sixth, give them the gift of time. Give them time to accomplish their chores. Give them time to be children. Give them time to breathe. Give them your time.

Seventh, practice humility. They have a lot to learn from you. What is easy for you as an adult is mystifying and beyond challenging for them. Let your words be seasoned with grace. Look for the good in what they do. Their motives are often pure; their actions imperfect. Yet, we have a lot to learn from them also. And when you are wrong (when, not if) practice the humility of saying, “Please forgive me.” It will not destroy your authority or their respect for you. It will teach them one of the great lessons of life – when you fail, whether it’s in a relationship, school, career or life – own the failure and start over again – to succeed another day.

Becoming a Montessori parent is to become the best parent you can be.

-Edward Fidellow