Kids and Quarantine: A Few Thoughts for Parents

We are at the beginning of what could be a very long period of one of the strangest times in our shared history. We are fighting an invisible enemy with no end in sight, and dealing with uncertainty, confusion, and an overwhelming amount of information. So many families are home now with young children, trying to balance school closures, cancelations, work obligations, and a million stressors in between. For what it’s worth, and at the risk of getting lost in the shuffle, here’s our two cents about parenting during a Covid-19 quarantine.

Routines and Schedules are Still Important

Kids need order amid chaos. They need structure, routine, and schedules, but that doesn’t mean that every minute of your day needs to be allocated to some enrichment activity or another. We have a long haul ahead of us. It’s unrealistic to expect to maintain a colorful “schedule of the day” that you found on Pinterest – especially for weeks at a time. There’s a lot of talk on social media right now about homeschooling; don’t feel like you’re under some parental obligation to duplicate your child’s school experience at home. You can’t and no one is expecting you to.

Young children get through the day in blocks of time: morning, lunch, nap, afternoon, dinner, bed. Keep those times consistent and reliable. This is not a vacation or an extra long weekend; it’s a new normal with an unknown end date.  You get to decide what that new normal schedule looks like.

Our advice? Keep the basics consistent: wake-up time, meals, nap / quiet time, and bedtime. The details are flexible, but the structure stays the same. Take it day by day, chunk by chunk. This, too, shall pass.

Be Mindful of Your Words 

Your children are listening to everything. Every news briefing that plays in the background, every Facebook post you read out loud to your spouse, and every phone call, FaceTime chat, and conversation with the neighbors. Your kids are trying to figure out what is going on, so keep your explanations simple and age-appropriate. 

  • Focus on language that expresses concern for others, personal responsibility to the greater community, and service. 
  • Turn off the news around children and keep adult conversations private.  
  • This is no one’s fault. Avoid words like “we’re not allowed to” or “we can’t.” Instead, focus on how your actions, as a family, are helping keep others safe. Be the helper, not the victim.
  • Answer the question you’re asked. There’s no need for longer explanations when kids are little. They don’t need all the details. Use small explanations, in small amounts.

“Why is school closed?” Because everyone is being asked to stay home for a while. 

“But, why?” You know how germs make people sick? Well, there are germs right now that are making some people sick and, if we stay home, it makes it hard for the germs to spread around. 

“But why do we have to stay home?” Because we don’t want to accidentally get someone else sick. We’re healthy and can help others stay healthy by doing our part and staying home.

“But I want to go to school.” I know you do. And you will, I just don’t know when. We’ll go back as soon as it’s okay for everyone to do that.

Keep it Simple

You don’t have to “homeschool” your three-year old. Your four-year old will be fine. Your kindergartener will, too. In the grand scheme of things, these next few weeks (months?) are a blip in their lives. Focus on what’s important: their sense of safety and security, and your sanity. Keep it simple, let them have fun, and don’t strive for perfection.

Read together as a family, build a pillow fort, bake cookies, take art supplies outside, and go for a walk. Just don’t do it all on the same day! Pace yourself. There are a million resources out there for online activities. Bookmark the ones that sound interesting and get back to them later. You have time. Plenty of time.

You also have our permission to plop your kids in front of the TV so you can get some work done. They’ll survive. Kids are resilient (and, psst! so are you.) You’ve got this!

Additional Resources:

You might also like these posts by Children’s House Montessori School

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For additional questions or to schedule your tour, please call us at 703-481-6678 or use the email form below.

How to Find a Good Preschool: Questions, Observations, and Red Flags

It’s almost springtime here in Northern Virginia, and many folks are looking ahead to summer and then to the upcoming school year. If you have a two-and-a-half to three-year old you might have already started mulling over the big P-question. No, not the “pee” question — we’re not talking Potty Training —  the Preschool Dilemma. When to start? What kind of program? Can we afford it? The questions have begun! With so many options, it can feel overwhelming, so we’re giving you our recommendations on how to find a good preschool for your little one.

Before You Start: Research

Let’s start with the elephant in the room — to Montessori or not-to-Montessori, that is the question. Obviously, here at Children’s House MONTESSORI school, we are a little biased.  We believe that the Montessori educational philosophy is pretty darn great, but you should do your research and see if Montessori is a good fit for you and your family. There are tons of options out there and many different approaches to early childhood education. Do your research and see what’s available in your area. 

Step 1: Make a List — Location, location, location!

Sounds pretty obvious, but that’s probably just because it’s the obvious first step. Make a list. A quick Google search will tell you which schools are in your area or closest to the area you want to be in. Maybe you’re looking for a location close to work or somewhere midway between work and home. Map out your options and make a list of the schools that fit your location criteria.

You don’t want to get your heart set on a school only to realize later on that it’s 20 minutes out of your way or would put you (and your younger children, if you have them) in the car for an hour or more each day. Google Maps is your friend!

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Is it close to home or work? 
  2. How much time will it add to your commute?
  3. Is the location within a reasonable driving distance for other care-givers who might pick up on a regular basis (like a nanny, babysitter, or grandparent)?
  4. Drive by a few of your top choices on your way to work and see what it’s like to add that stop to your morning or evening commute.
  5. If your child will be attending a mornings-only program, how much time will you realistically be left with after drop-off and before pick-up? Are there shops and amenities nearby to make it easier to run errands or take younger siblings to classes or playgroups?
  6. How do you feel about the location? Is the area busy? Does it feel safe? 

Step 2: Read Reviews

You wouldn’t buy a pressure cooker without reading a bunch of reviews first, right? Do the same for your child’s school. Check out the schools’ Google listing, find them on Yelp.com, or check GreatSchools.org. Follow their Facebook page and read up on what people are saying about your child’s potential school. Ask for recommendations from friends and co-workers. Where do your neighbors take their kids? 

Keep in mind that reviews come from a place of emotion — good or bad — and remember that children and families can have vastly different experiences at the same school. Weigh the positives and negatives and keep an open mind.

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Gut check: what stands out when you read them? Is this a place you want your child to be?
  2. For negative reviews, how old are they? Do they seem very specific to one family or was there a larger issue that the school could have addressed by now?
  3. Look for recent reviews, as those reflect the current atmosphere, staffing, and curriculum of the school. 
  4. In general, are the reviews positive or negative?
  5. Check several websites and compare reviews, you’ll notice a theme or trend — time for another gut check.

Step 3: Call and Ask Questions

We spend SO MUCH TIME on our phones these days, and yet somehow we forget what they’re actually for: making phone calls! Pick up the phone and call your top three choices! Talk to a person! First impressions matter and your first impression should come from one of the people you’re likely to interact with on a daily basis, once your child is enrolled in a program: the office manager, school director, or other administrative personnel. 

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Are they friendly, professional, and courteous?
  2. Do they take the time to speak with you about your questions and concerns?
  3. Do they ask you questions about your child and seem interested in learning more about your family and your needs?
  4. Did they answer the phone or return calls promptly?
  5. Gut check: how do you feel after you hang up the phone? 

Step 4: Tour and Observe

It’s all well and good, if your number one top pick is in the perfect location, has great reviews, and a friendly phone manner, but nothing beats an on-site tour! This is your chance to see for yourself what makes this school a great fit or a “nope, next!”  Bring a list of questions and get them answered. 

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Gut check: How do you feel walking through the space?
  2. How would you describe it to a friend? 
  3. What are the three to five adjectives that come to mind?
  4. Is the staff friendly? Do you feel welcome?
  5. Are the children actively engaged in their activities?
  6. Are you touring and observing a typical school day?

Step 5: Visit with Your Child

Once you’ve done your research, narrowed the field, and picked your favorite, it’s time to take your child for a visit. This is such an important step and shouldn’t be dismissed. While you, as the parent, are going to make the final decision about where your child goes to school, your child’s opinion (and reaction) matters. If you’re looking to enroll and start in a short timeframe, it’s especially important that your child have a chance to visit, meet their teacher, and spend time in the classroom. If their start date is further out, this is just a chance to interact with the teachers and get a feel for how your child will adjust. 

Questions / Observations / Red Flags

  1. Do you feel good about how the teachers and staff interacted with your child? Were they respectful and compassionate?
  2. If relevant, how did the staff handle your child’s hesitation, confusion, or anxiety?
  3. Is your child happy at the end of the visit? 
  4. Will the school accommodate additional visits closer to the start date? This is especially important for children who struggle with transitions.
  5. Gut check: is this THE place? By now, you’ll know.

Your child’s preschool experience matters! Do some research, ask around, call, and visit! Depending on where you live, you might feel like you have a million options or none. There’s a great school out there, we promise — keep an open mind and do your homework.

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

Interested in visiting CHMS? What to Expect During Your Tour

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For additional questions or to schedule your tour, please call us at 703-481-6678 or use the email form below.

4 Important Lessons Kids Learn in Montessori

Children are learning every day. They learn by experience, by example, by formal instruction, and a million ways in between. They watch, listen, experiment, and repeat. If they’re lucky, they’ll even be allowed to fail, to mess up, make mistakes, and figure out solutions. Learning is an ongoing process and it’s not always black and white and quantifiable. Here is our list of 4 important lessons kids learn in Montessori. (Spoiler alert: Reading, writing, and math didn’t make the cut!)

Lesson #1: I am capable

Montessori kids learn from the very beginning that they are capable of more than they think. The words “I can’t do it” are countered with “show me what you mean” and they are challenged to take a second try, ask for help, or figure out an alternative. Montessori kids learn that teachers are there for guidance and support, but that they, themselves, are the ones who will ultimately do the work. A child who steps aside while a well-meaning adult intervenes, does not learn the same lesson.

Lesson #2: I am trustworthy

Glass pitchers, porcelain dishes, sewing needles, and a teeny, tiny pink cube are just some of the items in a Montessori classroom that can get broken or lost on a daily basis. Yet they rarely do. A funny thing happens when you draw a child’s attention to the delicate nature of the glass they are holding or the diminutive size of the object in their hand; they straighten up and pay attention. When we let them use breakable materials, we show our children that we trust them to use gentle hands and mindful movements. Accidents happen and things do break, but more often than not, they don’t.

Lesson #3: I am a valued member of the community

The mixed-age aspect of the Montessori classroom is, truly, a thing of beauty. Younger and older children interact as they would with their siblings, looking up to each other or looking out for one another. When it’s time to clean up and get ready for circle time, there’ll always be at least one kindergartener stepping in to help a younger friend put away their work.

And if a three year-old needs help tying their shoe or zipping their coat, they know they can ask an older friend for a hand. Montessori kids learn that friends who work together, go further — together! On a larger scale, this translates to a global community, as the Montessori cultural curriculum emphasizes respect for others, an appreciation for diversity, and an ongoing quest for understanding.

benefits of a mixed age classroom: a child helps another tie her shoes

Lesson #4: I am respected

The Montessori philosophy encourages parents and teachers to see their children as human beings, worthy of respect. Montessori kids learn that their voices matter, that their opinions matter, and are encouraged to participate in classroom life as a valued member of the community. Take a peek into Montessori classroom and watch the teachers speak with the children down at their level. Watch them listen to the children and engage with them in a way that is respectful and genuine. Children are listening and learning all the time; respectful language matters.

Child working on opening and closing work

Four simple, but oh-so-important lessons to be learned! Every day offers opportunities to teach our children that they are capable, trusted, valued and respected. Be mindful of your language, look for teachable moments, and watch your child blossom!

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

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For additional questions or to schedule your tour, please call us at 703-481-6678 or use the email form below.

Clean Up Time: The Importance of Completing the Work Cycle

If your playroom, basement, or family room looks like a toy shop exploded in it, that’s okay! In this post we’re talking about the importance of completing the work cycle in a Montessori classroom and offering tips to help you get a little more clean-up cooperation at home. 

The Montessori philosophy emphasizes order, simplicity, and purpose. We do things in an organized manner, with a streamlined process, and with intention. Everything — from how the children serve themselves a snack to how they wash their paint cups at the easel — operates under the same framework.

Montessori children are taught (from the beginning) that cleaning up is just part of the lesson.  With a few simple adjustments, you can use this framework at home to make clean-up time less stressful and more fun.

Setting the Expectation from Day One

From their very first day in the classroom, Montessori kids help clean up! They are joining a community of teachers and children who are active participants in maintaining order in the classroom environment. The expectation, from the beginning, is that they, too, will help keep the classroom clean and tidy. The space is for everyone, and, therefore, so is the responsibility.

They learn early on to:

  • push their chair in after they get up from the table
  • return their work to the shelf where they first found it
  • roll their work rug up and put it away in the rug container
  • fold or roll their apron or paint smock

In a busy classroom with so many children working on a variety of different lessons, there’s a constant flow of activity. It takes time, practice, and patience, but after a few weeks, the children are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to cleaning up. 

It’s not unusual to peek inside a Montessori classroom and see children cleaning up a spill on the table or floor with a sponge, mop, or broom. You might spy someone washing their paint containers at the sink, making sure the easel, cups, and brushes are clean and ready for the next person. And you’re sure to see a child bringing their paper scraps to the recycling bin, returning a tray to the shelf, and rolling up their rug. 

Teach the Full Sequence

If a child is invited to a lesson and the teacher has already brought the work to the table, the child won’t know where to put it back when the time comes. If a child gets up and walks away at the end of the lesson and the teacher puts the work away, that child will repeat that sequence again the next time.

When introducing a new lesson, the teacher will take the child to the shelf to see where the work belongs. The child will take the work to the table or rug, receive the lesson, and return the work to the shelf, under the direction of the teacher. This way, he knows where to find it the next time he wants to do it, and how to clean it up and leave it ready for the next person.

When children first join the classroom, their lessons are shorter and more concise. As they get more confident with the materials and the lay of the land, lessons get longer, more involved, and require multiple steps. Montessori teachers are trained to know how much is too much and when to add those extra steps and challenges. The children learn, from the very beginning, that cleaning up is part of the lesson.

At Home: Hitting the Reset Button

If your kids (and you!) have gotten into some poor habits when it comes to cleaning up, don’t despair! It might not be Day One, but it’s never too late to start implementing some new expectations around picking up toys and helping out at home. 

Keep the Montessori framework in mind: order, simplicity, and purpose. Address one area at a time, get it under control, and move on to another area. 

For Example: If the bookshelf is overflowing and books are shoved in every which way or piling up on the floor around the bookshelf, deal with the bookshelf. The rest of the toys can wait.

Order: Organize the bookshelf.  Clear out older books your child has outgrown and sort out what’s left.

Simplicity: Bring in a basket and keep 10 or 12 books out for them to have easy access to. If they’re not yet able to properly return books to a (possibly) still-crowded bookshelf, take that element of stress out of the situation and make it easier for them to be successful. A basket just might be the answer!

Purpose: “This is our new book basket! We are going to start taking better care of our books. Books are special and we want to make sure we can enjoy them for a long time. We can choose books from the basket to read and when we’re done, they go back in the basket.”

Practice that today, tomorrow, and again until the books and the bookshelf are no longer an issue. Set the expectation that “this is how we treat books now in our family” and stick with it. If you give up too soon, you’re teaching a totally different lesson! Don’t give up!

Use Language that Includes Everyone

Use inclusive language that sets the expectation that EVERYONE in the family participates in cleaning up and EVERYONE benefits. Children want to be recognized as valued members of the family; they don’t want to be singled out as the reason the room is a mess! 

Instead of 

  • “This room is a disaster!”
  • “You need to clean up”
  • “I already cleaned the kitchen, this is your job!”
  • “Where are you going? You’re not done!”

(Can you feel your blood pressure rising yet?)

Try 

  • “It’s clean up time! We sure had a lot of fun in here!”
  • “In this family, we all work together — everyone helps!”
  • “Everyone had fun playing, and now everyone can help put things away” 
  • “This room looks so nice! Now we can see where everything goes!” 
  • “When the bookshelf is tidy, it makes it so much easier to find the books we want to read”

Remember that children behave differently at school than they do at home. Home is their safe space and where they will be the most relaxed and laid back. Chances are, you’re already dealing with a lot more whining and complaining about cleaning up than your child’s teachers do! Be patient, but persistent! It took three, four, or more years for your current habits to set in — it will take a while to undo them. 

  • Keep it simple by addressing one thing at a time.
  • Create order and make it easy for your child to know what’s expected.
  • Be purposeful in your language and actions.

And then do it all over again tomorrow. 🙂 

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

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Every Child is an Artist | Our Montessori Art Curriculum

Here at Children’s House, art is one of our favorite things! Each classroom has a dedicated art area, and it’s safe to say that art activities are among the most popular choices available. Some of the art materials are changed out each month and others, like the easel, are constant fixtures. Let’s take a peek inside our Montessori art curriculum and see what brings our little artists coming back for more!

Keep it Simple

We want our children to love art! We want them to love color and texture and shapes and lines. It is our hope that they learn that art is one of many creative outlets and that it’s fun! Children need to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes and get messy and that there’s more than one way to be creative.

The Montessori philosophy encourages freedom, within limits, and art is no different. Once a child has received an art lesson, they are free to do the lesson on their own. If they know how to start and how to clean up, what happens in the middle is up to them.

When creating new lessons for our art shelves, we keep these questions in mind:

  • What’s the basic concept or skill we want to focus on? How are we building on previously learned skills?
  • Is the work visually appealing? Will the children be compelled to take it off the shelf?
  • Will the youngest children be able to complete the lesson with little to no assistance from a teacher? Is the work too complicated or not complex enough?

Practicing Basic Skills

As with all things Montessori, our art program builds from simple to complex. Between the first day of school and the last, art activities that are available on the shelves range from very basic with minimal steps to longer, multi-step lessons. Over the course of three years, children build on these skills, gaining confidence and exercising their creativity in the art arena.

These basic skills — things like cutting with scissors, using a glue stick or liquid glue, and the proper use and care of a paintbrush — translate into other areas of the classroom. Many of the extensions that the children enjoy require an extra artistic step. A child might paint their world map with watercolors or trace and cut the shapes in the geometric cabinet drawers out of colored construction paper. 

Coloring, cutting, and gluing are part of life in an active Montessori classroom and it’s important that the children learn to do so independently and with confidence.

Understanding Color

In keeping with the “simple to complex” theme that runs throughout the classroom, our Montessori art curriculum starts off basic and ends with a full range of color. Each month we focus on a different color family and explore the different relationships between the colors.

We start the year with the primary colors (red, yellow, blue) and then learn how they combine to create the secondary colors (orange, purple, green). We explore the color wheel and note that half the wheel (red, orange, and yellow) are warm colors, while the other half (green, blue, purple) are cool colors. 

Experimenting with the color wheel.

Colors opposite each other are complementary and consist of one primary and one secondary color (red/green, blue/orange, yellow/purple), so we also like to highlight these color pairings.

We step away from the color wheel to experiment with black, gray, brown, and white (neutral colors) and then we bring back the color wheel and add white and black to create pastel tints and darker shades.

 By understanding how colors work together — to create contrast, mood, and even new colors! — the children learn to appreciate and play with this important element.

An Independent Process

Our Montessori art lessons are designed for one artist at a time. Each art shelf has a variety of staple activities: pin punching, cutting, and some sort of coloring / symmetry activity are available all the time, but the rest may vary from month to month.

There might be a painting activity, or a set of rubbing plates or textures. One month could find us gluing tissue paper collages or crafting jewelry out of beads and pipe cleaners. Whatever the case, the children know that there is plenty of time to do everything and plenty of supplies to go around. 

Children are responsible for their work from start to finish, which includes the clean-up required of any given art lesson. That might mean they have to wash out their paint cups or use a sponge to clean splashes off the table. It might mean carefully transferring a wet piece of artwork to the designated “drying shelf” or cleaning liquid glue out of a paint brush. 

As with everything else in the Montessori classroom, children learn to “complete the cycle” from start to finish. From the time they put on their paint smock, until they take that smock off and put it away, they learn to be responsible for their creative process.

Clean-up time! Cleaning the paint brushes is half the fun!

Art Appreciation 

Our final component of our Montessori art curriculum is to instill an appreciation for art in even our youngest students. Each month we highlight a different artist and share some of their story with the children. We marvel at their work, talk about their color choices or subjects, and try to bring them to life through stories and shared experiences. 

  • We learn that Claude Monet loved flowers 
  • And Mary Cassatt loved painting mothers with their children 
  • We learn that Vincent van Gogh didn’t decide to become a painter until he was a grown up
  • And Henri Matisse painted with scissors after he couldn’t stand at the easel
  • We learn that Horace Pippin taught himself how to paint
  • And Georgia O’Keeffe found beauty in the smallest places

We learn that artists get told “no” a lot and that sometimes people won’t like what you create, but that’s okay — create it anyway; art is personal. We learn that being an artist takes practice and perseverance and patience. 

It is our hope that the children will start to understand that even the greatest artists throughout history began just as they have: as a child. 

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

Pablo Picasso

Additional Resources:

You Might Also Like These Posts from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston:

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“Where’s the dress-up corner?” Montessori and Imagination

When you walk into a Montessori classroom you might notice something missing. There’s no dress-up corner or play kitchen. There are “blocks” on the shelves, but the children are “working” with them instead of “playing” with them, because they’re not “toys,” they’re “materials.” How does Montessori enhance a child’s imagination, if there are no toys in the classroom?

Imagination in the Three to Six-Year Old

Between the ages of three and six a child’s imagination is actively developing.

Three to Four:

Three-year olds are starting to sort out fact from fiction, reality from fantasy. Have you ever had a conversation with a three-year old in which you tried to convince them that, no, in fact, they actually can’t fly — even though they insist that they did it “this other time”?

They’re pretty hard to convince, because if they can see it OR imagine it, they can believe it. This is why three-year olds don’t tell lies: to them, it’s the truth, because they want it to be true. 

Child curled up on a tree stump, hiding. Imagination and Montessori
“You can’t see me!”

Four to Five:

By the time a child is four-years old, they’ve figured out that there’s “real” and there’s “make-believe,” and they know how to go back and forth between the two. Four-year olds love to dress up and play pretend. They imitate what they see and experience, so it’s no surprise that playing “house” or “school” are favorite activities.

Their world of make-believe might have spaceships and princesses in it, but don’t be surprised when those aliens have to take their spaceship to the mechanics or the princess loves making soup and ALSO likes being the teacher. It’s a blurred line.

Five to Six:

By five or six most children have a solid understanding of the real / pretend demarcation, but there will still be moments when the two blend together and they have a hard time figuring out which is which. It’s why sarcasm still goes over their heads (are you joking, because you sound serious…) and Halloween is more fun and less scary, but can still be pretty scary.

Take a six-year old to Disney World and they’ll be the first to tell you that it’s just a grown-up in a costume, while they happily stand in line to take a picture with Mickey anyway.

Grounded in Reality

So, how does Montessori support this facet of childhood? With no traditional toys in the classroom, how do the children find ways to engage their imagination? It might sound counter-productive, but if you want your child to have an active imagination, ground them in reality FIRST.

Montessori provides children with a solid, tactile, sensorial experience with the real world first, so that the world of make-believe has a concrete foundation. In a Montessori classroom there is no specific space designated for pretend play.

You won’t find a play kitchen or a tea-party set, because the entire classroom provides the real activities that children like to play. Children don’t need to play “house,” because their school is, quite literally, a Children’s House. 

Throughout their day, Montessori children actively participate in maintaining the classroom environment. They water plants, feed the fish or hamster, sweep the floor, wash the tables after lunch, scrub the chairs when they get dirty, and clean up their workspace when they’re done.

There are food-prep activities like apple-cutting, preparing a bowl of cereal, and carrot peeling (and eating!) and the children help themselves to a snack and sit down to chat with a friend.

Work IS Play

The Practical Life shelves are filled with materials that mimic life at home. Think about all the times your child sees you working in the kitchen: pouring, mixing, carrying, wiping, and sweeping. They see you carefully measure a teaspoon of sugar or a cup of flour and they watch you — intently — to see how it’s done. 

In the Montessori classroom, they transfer tiny beads from cup to cup with a delicate spoon or they carry a bucket of carefully measured water across the room to their scrubbing work. All without spilling a drop.

They are learning to control their movements and improve their hand-eye coordination while also having fun! It’s immensely fun to scrub a chair when you’re four-years old! (If you don’t believe us, visit a Montessori school and see for yourself.) 

In the Montessori classroom, the children don’t need to play “school” either. In a mixed-age classroom, children have the opportunity to teach and take on leadership roles within the classroom. A six-year old, who is working with a younger friend on learning sounds with the sandpaper letters, isn’t pretending to be a teacher; they’re being a teacher. 

Let’s Get Real

Many of the materials in a Montessori classroom are handmade by the teacher. You’ll find cards for sorting and categorizing, tiny objects for matching, and lots of science and geography materials to teach about different parts of our natural world.  There’ll be photographs of real animals and souvenirs and artifacts from different lands.

In a Montessori classroom you’ll see children working with glass dishes and ceramic bowls, because natural consequences provide excellent learning opportunities. Children learn to carry trays with care so as not to drop the contents. When things do break — and they will — the children learn to slow down, lift carefully, walk slowly, and place gently. 

The emphasis on what is real creates a classroom environment that is grounded in real experiences, which everyone can share. Because children in this age group are still learning to discern the difference between real and make-believe, giving them real touchstones helps them establish those boundaries.

If you stop and think about it, we enjoy the fantastical, because we understand that it’s not real. Adventures happening in a galaxy far, far away are real enough to feel real, but far-enough removed from our reality that we feel safe and secure watching from the comfort of our living rooms. 

For a child to develop a vivid imagination, they need lots and lots and lots (and lots!) of exposure to real experiences, real images, and real stories. After all, a purple horse in a story book is only funny when you’re 100% certain that horses aren’t purple. Otherwise it’s just another purple horse, talking to a pig in overalls; what’s so great about that? 

Ground them in reality, so their imaginations can truly fly!

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Creativity in the Montessori Classroom

Creativity is more than art and music. It means trying new things and looking at a challenge with a different perspective.  Montessori classrooms are filled with opportunity for creativity and imagination. Creativity in the Montessori classroom is about thinking outside the box. 

Built-In Creativity

Ever wonder how a child can spend three years in the same classroom and not get bored? Creativity! The same materials can be used over and over again in a myriad of ways.

Sometimes these are teacher-initiated, meaning that a teacher will give a child a second or third lesson on a material and show them something new that can also be done with that material. And sometimes the children creatively discover these extensions for themselves. 

Child working with Montessori Sensorial materials.

Extensions occur when two or more materials are combined and used together, as is possible with many of the Sensorial materials, or when additional steps are added to an existing lesson. These might include writing down a list of words related to an activity or drawing a picture or illustration.

Extensions usually take longer and require more patience, responsibility, and effort on the part of the child, which is why they are not introduced during an initial lesson. We lay the foundation with the first lesson and then, when a child has achieved mastery, introduce them to the next step or invite them to explore further.

By creatively thinking about new ways to use the classroom materials, children learn to look for possibilities. They start to see patterns and alternatives, which helps them learn not to accept everything at face-value and be open to new ideas. 

This is an especially helpful practice when it comes to solving problems.  When we give children the space to solve their problems themselves, they learn to trust their own judgement, ask for help when they need it, and learn from their mistakes. 

How to Help Your Child be a More Creative Problem Solver

As parents, it can be hard to watch our children struggle. We want to help them figure it out and fix the problem, but that’s actually one of the worst things we could be doing! 

The next time your child encounters an obstacle, do yourself (and your child) a huge favor, and just wait! Watch and listen and see what happens when you don’t jump in to help.

If your child asks for help, respond with open-ended questions that prompt them to think of that next step themself. Help them walk through the process and arrive at the solution themselves rather than offer the solution or provide the answer yourself. 

Some good responses to keep in your back pocket:

  • “I don’t know. Why do you think _____?”
  • “Is there anything you could use to help you with that?”
  • “What’s another way to do that?”
  • “Show me.”

Sometimes creativity is about patterns and symmetry or color and lines. Other times it’s about answers and questions and making mistakes. When children are exposed to a variety of opportunities to think creatively, we all benefit.

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Eat the CAKE! The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Experience.

So you made the hard decision: you found a Montessori program that you love! You’re happy, your child is happy, everyone can settle down and enjoy the ride, right? Not so fast! There’s a big decision coming up. It seems far away at first, because — c’mon — one milestone at a time, please! But, sooner than you’d like to face it, it will be here: it’s time to think about kindergarten. The Montessori kindergarten experience is unique and, before you dismiss it (because, public school is FREE!) take the time to understand what is actually happening during this final year in an authentic Montessori program.

The Montessori kindergarten year, is a big one. If we think of preschool as the gathering of ingredients, and pre-k as the mixing of ingredients, then we can liken kindergarten to putting the pan into the oven and pulling out a CAKE! 

The Three-Year Cycle

Dr. Montessori identified four distinct periods of growth, called the Planes of Development. They are approximately 0-6 years, 6-12 years, 12-18 years, and 18-24 years. Within each six year period, there are two, three-year cycles and they can be roughly summed up with the familiar concept of “beginner, intermediate, and advanced.”

The basic concept is that we move through cycles of development, building upon, and perfecting, that which came before. And every few years, we start out again as a beginner in a new phase of development. We do that over and over again until our adult brains are fully developed. And even then, if we’re doing it right, we keep learning, growing, as we age.

In a Montessori preschool program, the 3 to 6 age range is evident in our mixed-age classrooms. Those children are experiencing their three-year cycle together in the following ways:

  • Beginner 
    • The preschool year, from age 3 to 4. 
    • Lots of new information, lots of new experiences, lots to see and do.
    • Attention is largely inward; self-focused
    • Looks up to older peers, as one would an older sibling
    • Learns through hands-on experience and observation
  • Intermediate
    • The pre-kindergarten year, from age 4 to 5. 
    • Taking that foundation of information and making sense of it. 
    • Learning to organize and create order 
    • Strengthening bonds with peers, finding their “place” in the classroom environment
    • Learns through experimentation and observation
  • Advanced
    • The kindergarten year, from age 5 to 6. 
    • Emphasis on practice, refinement, and mastery
    • Adopts the role of Leader in the classroom and among peers
    • Builds confidence
    • Develops strong peer bonds, relates comfortably to teachers and adults
    • Attention turns outwards 
    • Develops interest in and begins to understand more larger matters relating to our world
    • Learns through teaching, experiencing, reflecting, and talking — lots and lots of talking!

It All Comes Together

Montessori is a sequential program that moves from concrete to abstract; from simple to complex. This can most easily be seen in the math and language materials, where a foundation is first laid and then built upon, but it exists throughout the classroom.  Children spend two years experimenting and discovering. Kindergarten is where they master what they have only just begun to learn. 

By the end of the Montessori kindergarten year it is not uncommon for children to be reading and doing complex math operations. They might be bringing home creative writing stories or booklets filled with math facts. This doesn’t just happen simply because they are in kindergarten. It happens because two years of work has come before it. 

Two years of counting, sorting, and hands-on experience with math: numerals, quantities, thousands, hundreds, tens, units, and more! Not to mention two years of sounds, letters, tracking from left to right (the entire classroom and all lessons are organized this way), and a language-rich environment. Montessori kindergarteners are writers and readers and math lovers!

There are the Practical Life activities (scrubbing, polishing, pouring, sewing) that have instilled the importance of organization, completing multi-step activities, and attention to detail. And the Sensorial materials that have trained their eyes to discern slight variances in shape, color, size, texture, and even smell and sound.

Let’s not forget the Science and Geography lessons and materials that provided a foundational understanding of our Earth and our natural world. Kindergarteners are enthusiastic animal lovers, passionate recyclers, and budding scientists.

And the Art? Two years of creative art opportunities are just the tip of the iceberg. They’ve learned the basics of color, shape, and technique. Now Kindergarten Art is coming and it’s the highlight of their third year.

The Importance of Closure

Have you ever had an experience cut short on you? Maybe you were working on a project and your boss came up and said the project had been scrapped due to lack of funding. Or you played sports in high school and had to sit out the last half of your senior year, due to an injury. 

Closure is so important for us, as human beings. We like things wrapped up. It makes sense to us. We plan for it and seek it out and your child is no different.

The kindergarten year provides closure for both the child and their family. It’s the tying up of the bows and the crossing of “t”s and dotting of “i”s. It’s a logical end to a natural cycle. We close out the year sad to say goodbye, but satisfied at a job well-done. It’s time to move on.

The ingredients have been gathered and the batter has been mixed. When children are allowed the opportunity to complete their third year, they get to eat the CAKE!

When You’re On the Fence

For many families the question of whether or not to send their child to a Montessori kindergarten program boils down to a couple of basic (and important) details: time and money. Maybe you have older children already in elementary school and it would be easier to put them all on the bus in the morning. Or perhaps you have a younger child who’s ready for preschool, but the cost of multiple children in the program is prohibitive.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to enroll your child for their Montessori kindergarten year, talk to their teacher. Get an understanding of where your child is within the three-year cycle. What are they working on and what is coming next? 

After two years in the classroom, your child’s teacher knows them really well! They can tell you what to expect for the remainder of the current school year and what their kindergarten year might entail. While we don’t have a magic crystal ball to predict the future, years of training and experience come in handy when it comes to anticipating how a child will fare during their kindergarten year. We know their likes and dislikes and can tell you what aspects of the Montessori kindergarten program will be both challenging and delightful for your child.

If finances are a concern, speak with the school’s director. Chances are they’ve had many families in a similar situation, and they might be able to offer financial assistance in the form of a modified tuition payment plan, reduced tuition in exchange for professional services, or a multi-student discount. The success of a school’s Montessori program depends on a thriving, three-year cycle. We want your child to stay for kindergarten just as much as you do!

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Why are Montessori Classrooms Mixed Age?

There are many differences between Montessori schools and traditional preschool programs. One of the more noticeable is the implementation of mixed-age classrooms rather than age-based classrooms. Visit a good Montessori school and you’ll see three, four, and five-year-olds working together, rather than being separated by age. What are the benefits and what’s behind the philosophy? Why are Montessori classrooms mixed-age?

An Interesting Backstory: Children Running Amok!

Maria Montessori opened the doors of the first Casa dei Bambini (“Children’s House”) in 1907 in San Lorenzo, a low-income sector of Rome, Italy. In this poor, run-down part of the city, it was common for both parents to work long shifts, while a grandmother or other older family member tended to the children.  During the day, while the older siblings went to school and the babies were home with a caregiver, the younger children were sent outside to occupy themselves. They did this by essentially running amok on the streets of Rome! 

Vandalism was a problem and the children were a nuisance to the building landlords and business owners.  They approach Dr. Montessori about finding some way to get the children off the streets and out of trouble. Dr. Montessori was already starting to make a name for herself through her work with intellectually disabled children and their educators. She had made impressive advancements in the field of special education and accepted the challenge to work with these unruly youngsters!  

And so it was that the first Montessori school happened to be a mixed-age classroom: the older brothers and sisters were already in school and the babies and toddlers were being cared for by their grandma and aunties. The three, four, and five-year-olds were put in a one-room school with Dr. Montessori and the rest is history!

the first Montessori school and Montessori mixed-age classroom
From humble beginnings, a movement was born!

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Ways of Learning

Dr. Montessori was a scientist. She considered her method to be a scientific approach to education; one based on observation, implementation, and revision. She was constantly looking for cause and effect, adjusting her responses, and learning from her mistakes and, most importantly, from the children.

Dr. Montessori recognized very early on that the mixed-age classroom had a number of benefits and applied this information to her method moving forward.  She observed that children learn in different ways and that a mixed-age grouping was a critical component in this learning. 

She noted that children learn through:

  1. Observation: Younger children learn by watching older children as well as adults. In a mixed-age classroom, older children who are completing challenging lessons are an example to the younger children; they show what is possible.
  2. Practice: In a mixed-age classroom, children stay with the same teachers for three years, giving them plenty of time to repeat lessons, practice skills, and advance at their own pace; they are not rushed.
  3. Teaching: Older children are viewed as role models in the Montessori classroom. They teach by example and it is not uncommon to see a five or six-year-old sitting with a three-year-old and giving them a lesson! In teaching something to a younger child, an older student deepens their own understanding of the lesson. In teaching, we learn.

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Continuity and Confidence

As children stay in the same classrooms with the same teachers, there is minimal change from year to year. Older students age out of the program and new ones are introduced, but the continuity of the classroom more or less remains the same.

This consistency builds confidence. Older children become leaders and step into their role with delight! They are finally the big kids! For children who might be the youngest sibling at home, you can imagine how exciting it feels to be seen as a leader in your classroom “family”. 

The final year of this three-year-cycle is typically a child’s kindergarten year. Rather than starting at a new school with new teachers and a whole new set of expectations, they enter their kindergarten year with confidence; excited for what lies ahead!

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Repetition and Advancement

For a Montessori child who is four years old and still working on learning their sounds, a mixed-age classroom offers plenty of opportunity to practice. They are not rushed to meet an invisible benchmark before the end of the year and they are not sent off to a new classroom or a new school. They have the benefit of added time and can work and learn at their own pace.

Their teacher works with them at the level they need and provides opportunities for that child to work with older students AND younger students to help that four-year old succeed. As time moves on, he or she will have the chance to observe children writing and reading and will want to work on mastering their sounds, so that they, too, can write and read! They will see new classmates who are just beginning to learn their sounds and will sit with them and do the sandpaper letters all over again, because this time they are the teacher.

In a mixed-age classroom, children can work at their own pace in a natural way. Whether a child is more advanced or needs additional time, the Montessori classroom is designed to meet them wherever they are. 

3 children working at a window in a Montessori mixed-age classroom
Learning and teaching by example.

A Natural Way to Learn

What Dr. Montessori observed all those years ago is still true today: children of various ages, working together, will learn from each other, both as students and as teachers. Just as siblings learn and grow together, so do children in a mixed-age classroom environment. Our little Children’s House is very much a family! 

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Montessori Quotes to Inspire and Uplift

If you needed a reminder about how intelligent, observant, and forward-thinking Maria Montessori was, type “Montessori quotes” into a search engine. Her words reflect an insight into childhood development in the first half of the 20th century that was unlike any other research being done at the time or for decades to come.

Her theories were based on observation, practice, and reflection, but she brought a reverence for childhood to her work that can not be duplicated in a scientific study.

Black and white image of Maria Montessori from Montessori Quotes

Maria Montessori thought kids were pretty amazing.

Dr. Montessori dedicated her life to understanding childhood development and sharing her knowledge with the educational community. At the heart of everything she did, was the belief that children come into this world with an internal desire for growth, learning, and independence.

She believed that it is our job — as their parents and teachers — to guide them to experiences, encourage curiosity, establish safe boundaries that allowed for mistakes, and — most importantly — teach them just as much as they need to be able to do something on their own.

Here are a few of her inspiring words:

Montessori Quotes about Joyful Learning

Dr. Montessori understood, decades before it became the norm, that children learn through play and movement. She understood that, for a child, the productive, purposeful actions they take to gain independence within their environment (we call it work) is fun!

Learning is a natural extension of a well-prepared environment. This component of the Montessori Method is alive and well in today’s Montessori classrooms. Visit a good Montessori school and you’ll see children actively engaged with the classroom materials and their peers — hard at work AND having fun!

“The satisfaction which they find in their work has given them a grace and ease like that which comes from music.

Maria Montessori, The Discovery of the Child

“As we observe children, we see the vitality of their spirit, the maximum effort put forth in all they do, the intuition, attention and focus they bring to all life’s events, and the sheer joy they experience in living.”

Maria Montessori, The Child, Society and the World (Unpublished Speeches and Writing)

“Discipline is born when the child concentrates his attention on some object that attracts him and which provides him not only with a useful exercise but with a control of error. Thanks to these exercises … the child becomes calm, radiantly happy, busy, forgetful of himself and, in consequence, indifferent to prizes or material rewards.”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Montessori Quotes about Peace

Maria Montessori strongly believed that, if peace on earth were to ever prevail, it would begin with the children. Montessori classrooms are places where children are shown the value of respect, compassion, and kindness through daily interactions with each other and the adults in the environment.

Children learn respect, because they are shown respect and they learn compassion, because they are shown compassion. Through the Montessori curriculum we teach an appreciation for diversity and respect for all cultures.

People fear that which they do not understand. In the Montessori classroom, we seek to understand.

“The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”

Maria Montessori, Education and Peace

“Preventing conflicts is the work of politics; establishing peace is the work of education.”

Maria Montessori, Education and Peace

“If we are among the men of good will who yearn for peace, we must lay the foundation for peace ourselves, by working for the social world of the child.”

Maria Montessori, International Montessori Congress, 1937

Montessori Quotes about Teachers and Guides

As parents and teachers we often find ourselves wondering if we’re doing a good job. We just want to know if our kids are going to grow up to be happy, well-adjusted, kind human beings who will one day get out there and leave a positive mark on the world.

Montessori understood that it is the adult’s job to prepare themselves first in order to be of best service to the child. As a parent, your job is to be there to offer support and guidance. It is not your job to do for them that which they can do for themselves. That is their job and it’s a very important one, so let them do it.

Montessori teachers learn to wait and watch, without intervening. We learn that experience is the best instructor. We believe that we are not in control of the process of a child’s development… we are merely observers and must take what we observe and use it service of the child.

The teacher, when she begins work in our schools, must have a kind of faith that the child will reveal himself through work.”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

The fundamental help in development, especially with little children of 3 years of age, is not to interfere. Interference stops activity and stops concentration.”

Maria Montessori, The Child, Society and the World

“The teacher of children up to six years of age knows that she has helped mankind in an essential part of its formation. […] she is happy in the knowledge that in this formative period they were able to do what they had to do. She will be able to say: ‘I have served the spirits of those children, and they have fulfilled their development, and I kept them company in their experiences.'”

Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

Serve the spirits of your children. Allow them to have their own experiences, make their own mistakes, and build their self-confidence along the way. Let them think and plan and decide and fail and succeed.

“Keep them company in their experiences.” How beautiful.

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