Build Your Child’s Vocabulary: 3 Activities for Fall

When you’re out and about doing fun family activities this fall, take the opportunity to add a little language boost to your outings! We’re going to give you three tips to help build your child’s vocabulary this fall while you’re enjoying the season and just having a good time!

Children are little sponges. They soak up everything and are capable of so much more than we sometimes give them credit for. One of the best ways to take advantage of this natural inclination to absorb information is to use proper names and descriptive language in your everyday conversations.

Build Your Child’s Vocabulary Tip #1: Name that tree!

Whether you’re out in your yard raking leaves, walking around your neighborhood, or enjoying a family hike, take a few minutes to identify some of the different species of trees that you see. Autumn is the perfect time of year to note the differences in common trees in your area. Different trees will turn different colors, making them easier to identify and fun to collect and admire.

Draw your child’s attention to differences in shape, size, color, and texture. You can compare a reddish-orange leaf from a white oak tree to the bright yellow leaves from the tulip poplar tree. They are distinctly different; something that is not necessarily easy to spot in the spring or summer to the untrained eye. Instead of just saying “look at the pretty leaves,” you can say “which do you prefer? The tulip poplar or the white oak?”

Need a little help? There are an endless number of resources online! We searched for “tree identification Virginia” and found this handy guide from the Virginia Department of Forestry. Look for resources related to your neck of the woods and take a few minutes to ID some trees!

Build Your Child’s Vocabulary Tip #2: Carve a Pumpkin!

Like many families, you’ll probably be carving a pumpkin some time soon. You might even be heading to a pumpkin patch to pick it yourselves! Take the time to identify and name the different part of the pumpkin. Use descriptive words to draw attention to the shape, size, texture, and colors that you see. And encourage your child to explore the many fun aspects of this autumnal fruit (yes, a pumpkin is a fruit).

  • Stem – thick, prickly, green, brown, short, long, curved, straight
  • Vine – twisty, rope-like, prickly
  • Leaves – green, brown, large, dried, soft, crispy
  • Skin – smooth, bumpy, rough, clean, muddy, dirty, rotten, ripe, lumpy, creased, orange, yellow, white, green
  • Pulp – stringy, slimy, wet, squishy
  • Seeds – smooth, slippery, large, small, numerous, flat, edible
  • Meat – thick, orange, smooth, cold, wet

There are so many wonderful words to describe our favorite fall gourd! Dig in, scrape around, and get creative!

Build Your Child’s Vocabulary Tip #3: Apples Galore!

Have you ever had an apple taste test? Fall is the perfect time of year to try out different apple varieties, so get your taste buds ready and have some fun with apples! If apple-picking at a local farm or orchard is an option, head out to pick your own or select your apples from local markets. If you’re in the Northern Virginia area, Stribling Orchard in Markham is reasonable drive and offers a beautiful country setting, fresh food market, and apples galore (through early November).

Select five or six different apples, cut them up, and have a family taste test! Which do you prefer? Everyone knows about Red Delicious and Granny Smith, but have you tried Cortland, Empire, or Pink Lady apples? What about Ginger Gold, Stayman, or Tyedman Red?

For extra vocabulary bonus points that also taste delicious, get baking! From pies, to crisps, to breads, and sauces, apples are such a versatile fruit. They are tart, sweet, juicy, firm, soft, ripe, rotten, and a million words in between!

Final Thoughts

  • Use your senses— Pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures around you this fall. There are so many ways to experience this season and share those observations with your child!
  • Let your child explore without judgement — yes, pumpkin pulp is wet, slimy, and stringy, but that doesn’t mean it’s gross, yucky, or disgusting! As parents and teachers, it is our responsibility to introduce new experiences without bias.
  • Beware of activity overload — It’s tempting to load up the calendar as we head into cooler months, but choose quality over quantity when it comes to outings, adventures, and experiences. Nothing ruins a fun day out like a tantrum or a meltdown! Know your child’s limits and quit while you’re ahead.

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Encourage Independence in Young Children: Our Top 3 Household Picks

Most parents are well-versed when it comes to baby-proofing their home. They know that there are cabinet and drawer locks to be purchased, safety gates to be installed, and electrical outlets to be blocked. But what about after the crawling baby and curious toddler phase have passed? How can you encourage independence in young children while still maintaining a safe space?

Young children want to help! They want to participate in the daily chores and activities around the house, but all too often, their efforts are hampered by their size. Help them out! There are three simple items that can make a huge difference in your home. Each can be used in multiple rooms and in multiple ways. We have selected the ones we feel are the most helpful, versatile, and easiest to purchase.

Encourage Independence in Young Children Pick #1: A Small, Lightweight Step Stool

We call the step stool “the great equalizer.” It makes more of the adult-sized environment available and allows the child to do more things for himself. A simple step stool makes brushing teeth, washing hands, helping prepare meals, and so many more activities easier and more accessible to little ones. They want to help! Let them!

Consider multiple step stools for different areas of the home: one for the kitchen and one for the bathroom, or have one on each level of your house. For a larger space, consider purchasing a learning tower. Learning towers are adjustable in height, provide a greater surface area for standing, and have the added security of side walls and a front and back bars.

Encourage Independence in Young Children Pick #2: Tension Rods or Closet organizers

Easily modify closet spaces without drilling holes in the wall. As your child grows, rods can be moved and adjusted for height. Put one in their bedroom closet and another in the hall closet for coats and jackets. For a larger closet, look for closet organizers that provide a low hanging rod.

By placing clothing lower down, you’ll allow your child access to more choices. For that reason, be sure to swap out clothes seasonally and as he or she outgrows each size. Otherwise, don’t be surprised, if you find yourself trying to convince your child that shorts and t-shirts are not appropriate in the middle of January!

encourage independence in young children: low closet organizer
A low bar on this closet organizer allows the child to select her clothing independently and makes it easier for her to help put clean laundry away!

Encourage Independence in Young Children Pick #3: Removable Hooks

Hooks that can be peeled off the wall without damaging the paint are the best! Use them in the bathroom for low towels and washcloths, the entryway for coats, jackets, and backpacks, or the kitchen for small brooms and dustpans.

As your child grows, hooks can be moved or replaced. Removable hooks allow for flexibility as you adapt your home to the changing needs of your family. Buy lots and use them often!

Key Concepts to Keep in Mind:

  • Safety first — Safety first, then independence! Be sure to consider the pros and cons before modifying your home space and respond accordingly. Make sure that medications, household chemicals, and sharp or dangerous objects are still safely out of reach.
  • Get down low — check out your house from your child’s eye level. What challenges can you easily help them overcome by adding a step stool, low bar, or hook?
  • Use common sense — adult supervision and guidance is the most important factor in making your home child-friendly and accessible.

Additional Resources:

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Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 4 (Cooperation and Respect)

This is the fourth post in a monthly series that will be devoted to practical tips for using the Virtues language when teaching character development in early childhood. We’ll explain how we use this program in our classrooms, what it sounds like in conversation, and how you can use it at home in a variety of examples. We’ll be highlighting two Virtues each month, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for monthly Virtues tips that you can use at home!

If you missed the first posts in the series, you can catch up here:

And, if you haven’t already downloaded our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS, you’re going to want to do that now.

The Virtues Project™: Cooperation

Cooperation is working together and sharing the load. When we cooperate, we join with others to do things that cannot be done alone. We are willing to follow the rules which keep everyone safe and happy. Together we can accomplish great things.

Two children work together. Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood
Two friends working together and using cooperation to complete a Bank Game operation.

Cooperation is a big one. It encompasses everything needed to maintain a safe, happy learning environment at school and it is something that we talk about often.

As with all of the Virtues, cooperation is a tool we use, it is not something we are. A child is not cooperative or uncooperative, they are simply a child learning to respond to different situations. By teaching them to use cooperation in specific circumstances, we teach them that they are in control of their actions and this allows them to see that their choices affect others, for better or worse.

Here’s what it sounds like when we talk about Cooperation at school:

Acknowledgement: “I saw you using cooperation when I rang the playground bell! It makes it so much easier for us to all get inside for lunch quickly when we cooperate and line up as soon as we hear the bell!”

Guidance: “You boys have chosen to do this work together. Please remember to use cooperation and work together from beginning to end to make sure the work gets put away properly when you’re finished.”

Correction: “Please use cooperation and remember to walk inside the classroom. Using cooperation and following our classroom rules, like using walking feet when we’re inside, helps keep everyone safe.”

The Virtues Project™: Respect

We show respect by speaking and acting with courtesy. We treat others with dignity and honor the rules of our family, school, and nation. Respect yourself and others will respect you.

A child rolls a work rug. Teaching character development in early childhood.
We show respect for our classroom environment by rolling up our work rugs and keeping our classroom neat and clean!

Respect and Cooperation go hand in hand. When we cooperate by working together and following the rules, we demonstrate respect for ourselves, our peers, our teachers, and our school. BUT — here’s the part that most adults forget: Respect is a two-way street.

In order to gain a child’s respect, we have to first show respect for the child. The success of the Montessori method of teaching is due, in large part, to the respect that Montessori teachers have for the children in their care. We don’t just teach and expect cooperation and respect, we respect our students as people first and earn their respect and cooperation by leading by example.

Here’s what it sounds like when we talk about Respect at school:

Acknowledgement: “Thank you for being so careful with this new work; it shows me that you respect our classroom and the materials we share.”

Guidance: “Please remember to raise your hand during circle time and wait to speak until the other person is finished talking. It is respectful to wait your turn.”

Correction: “The next time you get upset, please remember that use respectful language at our school. That means we use polite words with our friends and teachers and we don’t use words that will hurt someone else’s feelings.”

Using Cooperation and Respect at Home

What goes around, comes around! If you make a conscious choice to respect your child’s thoughts, needs, and feelings, he or she will feel valued and seen and will, in return, be much more likely to cooperate! Is it a magical formula? Of course not, but it’s a pretty good start.

We all want to feel validated, seen, and appreciated and that goes for kids as well! Respect them, and they will respect you. Cooperate with the rules you’ve set for your household and they will learn that we all follow the rules!

Some things to consider:

  • Do you follow your own rules at home? Do you do what you’re asking your children to do? They’re going to follow your lead, so make sure you’re leading them in the right direction. Take off your shoes, make your bed, and eat your veggies! Put down your phone, make eye contact, and engage in polite conversation around the dinner table. Be the example you wish to see reflected.
  • How respectful is your language? Modeling good manners is important, if you want your child to pick up on good habits and practices. This includes while driving, so watch yourself! Say “please” and “thank you” to your children, your spouse, the grocery store clerk, and anyone else you encounter. Monkey-see, monkey-do.
  • Remember that in this day and age, social media- and the anonymity it often allows – has changed how we interact online; don’t let it change how you interact in life! Be polite, show respect, model courtesy, and cooperate, if you want your child to do the same!

For more information on the Virtues and for lots of examples you can use at home: Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. Next month we’ll talk about Excellence and Creativity, so be sure to subscribe to our blog  to stay in the loop!

Additional Resources:

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The First Weeks of School at Children’s House

It’s finally fall! It seems like it’s been a long time coming this year, but here in Reston, Virginia we are ready for all the beautiful changes that are coming our way! As we prepare for colorful leaves and cooler weather, we thought we’d share a few highlights from the first weeks of school at Children’s House!

The First Weeks of School at Children’s House: We Made New Friends!

A happy student at Children's House Montessori School of Reston. The first few weeks of school.
Smiling faces are the best!

We welcomed new friends and families this year! The children quickly adapted to the daily routines and it wasn’t long before we felt like we’d been working together for ages! Our older students are always such a big help with our new friends! They show them where to find things they need and love being role models for their younger classmates.

Our parents enjoyed a Parent Coffee the first week of school, where they had a chance to connect with new faces and get to know each other. They also joined us for Back to School night to get some insight into what their children do all day when they are with us. (Spoiler alert: they’re really busy!) We are looking forward to our Family Picnic coming up this weekend! It’s a great chance to chat while the kids play and get to know each other better!

The First Weeks of School at Children’s House: We Laid a Solid Foundation

We spent the first weeks of school learning about the basics of geography, science, and art. In a Montessori school that means learning that the earth is made of air, land, and water, all things on earth are living or not living, and the primary colors are red, yellow, and blue.

Once we understand those basics, we can expand and add all sorts of information, which will come in the months to follow. We’ll explore continents, learn about different types of plants and animals, and experiment with all sorts of color families! The first weeks of school lay the foundation for the rest of the year!

Children working at Children's House Montessori School of Reston. The first weeks of school.
Hard at work! The mornings are spent working on a variety of lessons from all areas of the classroom.

The First Weeks of School at Children’s House: We Participated in the International Day of Peace

At Children’s House we firmly believe that “peace begins with me.” Through a variety of methods, we have made peaceful language, mutual respect, kindness, and compassion part of the fabric of our school culture. We started participating in the International Day of Peace several years ago and it has become an event that we look forward to each September.

Along with Montessori schools around the world, we sang the song “Light a Candle for Peace” and spent a few minutes sending peaceful thoughts out into the world. The children gathered on our playground around the peace pole. They each had a chance to step up, drop a beautiful leaf, and make a wish for peace.

Click here to watch the video!

The NEXT Few Weeks at Children’s House: What’s coming up?

  • Gardening: We’ve started getting ready for fall gardening. The gardens will be weeded, trimmed back, and mulched in the coming weeks as part of our gardening program. The children will work in small groups with teachers and parent volunteers to clean out the leaves and old summer flowers and bring the gardens back to order.
  • Specials: We will start our weekly Specials classes next week! We are really looking forward to Spanish with Ms. Arlene, Musical Yoga with Ms. Tessa, and nature activities!
  • Fall Parent Day: We are excited for parents to join us for a morning in the classroom!

It’s been a busy few weeks, but we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Do you know of a family in the Reston / Herndon area who is looking for a preschool for their child? We’d love it if you’d share our information with them! They can join us to play on the playground or take a tour with Ms. Cinthia! The more the merrier!

Additional Resources:

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How Do Montessori Schools Teach Independence?

If you’re new to Montessori, one of the first things you’ll notice is that there’s a lot of emphasis placed on the importance of teaching a child to be independent. You might have begun to understand why they do it, but how?? With a classroom full of three, four, and five year olds, how do Montessori schools teach independence?

The short answer is “from day one.” The longer answer involves pie graphs, statistics, case studies, and a intensive two-day workshop. Just kidding. We’ll actually map it out for you in three easy steps.

Children working together. How do Montessori schools teach independence?
Independence doesn’t mean working alone!

Here at Children’s House Montessori School of Reston, we are wrapping up our first month of the school year. We’ve welcomed new families and friends and are well on our way to independence! Let’s break down how we do it:

# 1 — How do Montessori schools teach independence? We observe the children!

“Do it myself” is a familiar phrase to most parents, but when visions of broken glass dance through their heads, the average person will simply say, “here, let me help” or (brace yourself) “here, let me do it.” Cue tantrum.

A Montessori teacher hears “do it myself” as an invitation, not a challenge. A child who is willing to learn, is ready to learn. Everything from tying shoes to reading a book is learned when a child wants to learn for himself.

Montessori teachers are trained to observe first! They learn to pay attention, look for patterns, listen to language, and to watch for signs that a child is ready for the next step, next lesson, or next material in a sequence.

If you visit a Montessori classroom, you might see the teacher quietly standing out of the way, watching the classroom. She’s observing, taking notes, and paying attention to the signs that her students are ready for more.

# 2 — How do Montessori schools teach independence? We are intentional

Everything that you see in a Montessori classroom has been put there on purpose. Every shelf, every tray, every bead, every everything, has been chosen because it serves a purpose: to lead a child to independent learning and allow space and opportunity for independent action.

The shelves are low, so that a child can take a work off the shelf without assistance. It’s easier to make your own choices when you have choices available to you.

Trays are weighted properly: not too heavy and not too light so as to be easily carried to a table or work rug.

Materials are placed on the shelves in sequential order: a child has a lesson on one material and then knows, based on it’s location, which materials are next in the sequence, or similar in difficulty. Materials are arranged from left to right and top to bottom.

There is nothing haphazard about a Montessori classroom! Most visitors notice how calm the children are, how organized the space appears, and how everyone is busy working. Independence in action!

A shelf in a Montessori classroom. How do Montessori schools teach independence?
A place for everything and everything in its place on this Practical Life shelf.

# 3 — How do Montessori schools teach independence? We break it down

There are few things in this world that can’t be taught by breaking a large concept down into smaller chunks and independence is no different. Anything can be learned, if we take the time to break it down into smaller pieces.

The Montessori classroom is all about sequential learning! We do this and then we do that. We learn this and then we move on to that. A child who is captivated by a muti-step, complicated math activity that she sees an older peer doing, will be invited to work on a material that will help her master the skills needed to move on to that more complex lesson.

A child who is dying to learn how to read, will be shown the materials that will help her learn the phonetic sounds she needs to know. She will take those sounds and use them to build words (writing) and then move on to decoding the words that others have written (reading).

Visit a Montessori classroom and look around at the variety of activities you see. You will see independence at at every level!

Enjoying a snack with friends.
Children help themselves to morning snack when they are ready.

What’s the secret ingredient?

Patience. Children want to learn it all and they want to learn it now! It takes patience to balance the varying needs of the children in our care, but — at the heart of it all — we have the Montessori method to rely on. We observe, take intentional action, and teach one step at a time. Rinse and repeat.

Additional Resources:

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Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 3

This is the third post in a monthly series that will be devoted to practical tips for using the Virtues language when teaching character development in early childhood. We’ll explain how we use this program in our classrooms, what it sounds like in conversation, and how you can use it at home in a variety of examples. We’ll be highlighting two Virtues each month, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for monthly Virtues tips that you can use at home!

If you missed Parts 1 and 2, you can catch up here:

And, if you haven’t already downloaded our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS, you’re going to want to do that now.

The Virtues Project™: Perseverance

Perseverance is being steadfast and persistent. You commit to your goals and overcome obstacles, no matter how long it takes. When you persevere, you don’t give up… you keep going. Like a strong ship in a storm, you don’t become battered or blown off course. You just ride the waves.


Child (in a whiny voice): “But, I can’t do it!”

Show of hands: who’s heard those words before? And what do we, as parents and teachers typically say next? “Of course you can!”

Children don’t know what they can do, until they do it. They don’t know what’s possible, until we show them what’s possible. They can’t predict an outcome (that we know is there), until they see it for themselves.

“I can’t do it” is based on what they know and understand about their current circumstances. Getting to the other side, getting to “I did it!”, is a matter of calling on Perseverance.

Perseverance, just like all of the Virtues, is within us and it is learned. We all have the capacity to push through adversity, rise to the occasion, and overcome obstacles. Whether or not we choose to depends on how the strength of our Perseverance muscle. This is a “use it or lose it” kind of deal.

So, how do we encourage them to keep going when the going gets tough? How do we encourage them to get up when they fall down, try again when it didn’t work the first ten times, and just keep going, because they’re so close??

We call on Perseverance! We name it, describe it, acknowledge it, and encourage them to use it! It’s a tool in their tool box, just like a hammer will drive nails, and a saw cuts through wood; perseverance gives you the strength to try again.

Here’s what it sounds like when we talk about Perseverance at school:

Acknowledgement: “You kept going! You didn’t stop until you got all the way to 100! You used perseverance to finish your 100 board!” 

Guidance: “You’ve chosen a big work! You’re going to need to use perseverance to get this completed before circle time, okay?”

Correction: “Next time you choose a challenging work, remember that perseverance will help you finish. You don’t need to clean up when it gets hard. Just take a break and then you can come back and finish later.”

Psst! Not sure what we mean by “Acknowledgement, Guidance, and Correction”? It’s in our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS.

The Virtues Project™: Cleanliness

Cleanliness means washing often, keeping your body clean, and wearing clean clothes. It is putting into your body and your mind only the things that will keep you healthy. It is staying free from harmful drugs. It is cleaning up mistakes and making a fresh start.

teaching character development in early childhood
Cleaning up after a spill

Cleanliness is in use on a regular basis in a Montessori classroom. The children are responsible for cleaning up their space after they finish a work, putting the material away on the correct shelf, and helping to maintain the general cleanliness of the classroom.

It’s not unusual to see a child sweeping, dusting, scrubbing, and wiping spills. A child who paints at the easel, will learn how to clean her paint cups, and a child who knocks over a cup of water at snack, will be shown where the towels are located and how to make sure the table is dry for the next person.

If something spills, we have tools available to use for cleaning, (dustpans, brooms, sponges, buckets, and towels) and a teacher will assist a child to ensure that he knows how what steps to take and how to restore order in a way that is calm and stress free. Kids make messes! It’s part of life, both at home and at school, so making sure that they know that messes are okay and we have the tools we need to deal with them, is an important part of maintaining a calm classroom environment.

If there is broken glass involved, a teacher intervenes, but, in general, if a child makes a mess, a child learns how to clean it up.

Here’s what it sounds like when we talk about Cleanliness at school:

Acknowledgement: “Floor looks so clean! Thank you for using cleanliness to sweep up all the beads that fell on the floor!” 

Guidance: “That’s quite a spill! We’re going to need to use cleanliness to make sure we get all the water off the floor, so no one slips and hurts themselves.”

Correction: “After we finish painting, we need to clean the cups, so the work is ready for the next person. Can you please come back to the easel with me and we’ll use cleanliness to make sure it’s done properly?”

Using Perseverance and Cleanliness at Home

If you’re like most parents, you sometimes wonder if you’re the parent or the maid! Somedays it seems like all you do is clean up other peoples’ messes, are we right? It’s a frustrating and thankless job, so let’s fix it!

Starting at a very young age, children can help clean up! In fact… they want to help clean up, but too often get shooed away, because “it’s easier” for parents to do it themselves. The problem with that, however, is that as time goes on, the excitement for cleaning goes away and you’ll find yourself with school-age kids who never lift a finger to help. Don’t let it get to that!

There are lots of creative ways to include your child in the cleaning process and make cleanliness part of their everyday life at home as well as at school. Here are just a few:

  • Keep a small dustpan and broom in a location that is accessible to your child and show them how to use it!
  • Mix vinegar and water together in a small spray bottle and show your child how to clean mirrors and glass doors.
  • Keep old towels or rags in a low drawer or shelf to allow your child to easily access them, if needed. And then make sure they know what to do with wet towels when they’re done!
  • Purchase a small shrub rake (you might need to cut the handle shorter) and let your child help rake leaves in the fall.
teaching character development in early childhood
Cut broom handles down to make them just the right size for enthusiastic garden helpers!

Got a big cleaning job? Time to purge the playroom or the closets? You’ve got this! Perseverance will get you through! Sometimes, we need it, just as much as they do!

Let’s go from this: “Why am I the only one that ever cleans anything in this house?!”

To this: “With a little perseverance, we can get this job done — together!”

Need more ideas? Download our free guide: Montessori at Home for plenty of suggestions to get your house in order and your kids on board!

For more information on the Virtues and for lots of examples you can use at home: Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. Next month we’ll talk about Cooperation and Respect, so be sure to subscribe to our blog  to stay in the loop!

Additional Resources:

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

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What’s the Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Preschool?

Some of the most common questions parents have when looking for an early childhood program focus on the difference between Montessori and traditional preschool. Parents want to understand how Montessori differs from other programs, why those differences matter, and which is the right fit for their child.

There are many factors to consider when selecting a program for your child and, depending on where you live, your options might be few and far between or overwhelmingly abundant. Understanding the core differences between Montessori and traditional preschools will help you narrow your focus and find the program that makes sense for your family.

The Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Preschool #1: Child-directed vs. Teacher-directed

A common misconception about Montessori is that the children “get to do whatever they want” with no structure or boundaries. Nothing could be further from the truth, but it certainly might look that way, if you are used to a more traditional school model that places the emphasis on the role of the teacher.

In a traditional preschool, the teacher is the central figure in the classroom. She is guiding children through various station activities, group activities, and through the schedule of the day. She is responsible for making sure that everyone participates in different activities and for ensuring that all the children meet the guidelines set by the school or determined by the curriculum.

In a Montessori classroom the teacher follows the lead of the child. Children learn at their own pace and are guided by their own interests. This means that children are free to make choices about how they spend their time, but not without some boundaries set by the teacher. The role of the teacher in a Montessori classroom is multifold:

  1. She prepares the classroom environment to appeal to each child’s innate curiosity.
  2. She observes a child and determines which lessons would be a timely fit — one that appeals to their interests and teaches a new concept or reinforces a learned concept.
  3. She invites a child to a lesson, shows him how to use the materials independently.
  4. That child is then free to select that material again on his own.

In a traditional preschool classroom, the teacher is the leader of the pack. In a Montessori classroom, she is the guide.

A child works with math materials. Difference between Montessori and traditional preschool.
A child learns her teen numbers with this interactive math material.

The Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Preschool #2: Work vs. Play

Traditional preschools are generally play-based, meaning that a child will spend much of their day playing with toys and in familiar settings. A typical preschool classroom has “centers” designated for different types of play or skills. There’ll be a dress-up area for social and imaginative play, a block area for building, an area for puzzles, etc. Children will have time during their day to choose different activities, but much of the schedule is pre-determined, so children will rotate through centers, as well as participate in group activities, like story time or art.

In a Montessori classroom, the materials on the shelf are called “work,” not “toys,” and after receiving a lesson from the teacher on how to use a work, a child is free to select that material at any point throughout the morning or afternoon work period. At any given moment in a Montessori classroom you can observe children engaged in math, language, art, and geography studies. Because they have chosen the work themselves, they are invested in it. They are excited about it and they’re learning something!

Maria Montessori believed, through observation and years of working with children, that children were like little sponges: capable of soaking up incredible amounts of knowledge when given the right environment. She designed her materials and precise techniques to maximize a child’s desire to learn. Children love to learn and do challenging things — it is fun for them and feels a lot like play!

A child writes words with the Moveable Alphabet. Difference between Montessori and Traditional Preschool.
Learning to read and write is fun with colorful manipulatives, like the Moveable Alphabet!

The Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Preschool #3: The Classroom Environment

A traditional preschool classroom is filled with colorful toys, brightly colored posters and wall decorations, colorful rugs, tables, and chairs. The shelves are filled with toys, games, and other familiar items. A child has access to blocks, dolls, cars, puzzles, etc. For a play-based center, you can expect to find lots of color!

A Montessori classroom will look a little different. There will be more muted tones and less visual stimulation. Any wall art or decorations will be placed lower, so as to be at the children’s eye level, and all furnishings will be child-sized. The classroom might be busy and active, but it should also feel calm and peaceful.

The Montessori classroom is divided into different curriculum areas: Practical Life, Sensorial, Math, Language, and Cultural (Art, Science, Geography). There might be a reading corner or a peace corner, and there should be a variety of seating options and work spaces available. Children spend their morning moving through the classroom at their own pace, selecting work that appeals to them, receiving lessons from the teachers, and having fun with their friends. At the end of the morning, the class gathers for circle time and prepares for the next part of their day.

A teacher leads circle time. Difference between Montessori and Traditional Preschool.
Gathering for circle time at the end of a busy morning.

Choosing Between the Two

Knowing some of the key differences between Montessori programs and traditional preschool programs is the first step. Once you get a feel for the different options in your area, ask around! Recommendations from friends and online reviews can help you get a sense of which programs are a better fit for your family.

Once you’ve narrowed it down, take a tour. Websites can only do so much. To get a better feel for a school you have to visit. Ideally, a tour will take place during a typical school day and you’ll get a sense of how your child will spend her day.

Take your child’s needs into consideration. Will a bright, colorful, noisy classroom overwhelm your sensitive child? What about your high energy child? How does the program take into consideration different needs and personalities? There are no wrong questions, so be sure to ask as many as it takes to get the answers you need. Happy school hunting!

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What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool

Wondering what to look for in a Montessori preschool? There are so many schools to choose from, so be sure you do your homework to find a school that is right for your family! Here are 5 questions to ask when considering a Montessori school for your child.

But First… Why Is It Important to Ask the Right Questions?

Did you know that the name “Montessori” is not trademarked? Maria Montessori, who developed the method of instruction, materials, and philosophy that bears her name, did not put an official trademark or legal limitations on the use of her name before she passed in 1952. That means that anyone can open a classroom, call it a Montessori school, and there will be no legal ramifications, if the program and curriculum in no way resemble Montessori’s teachings.

So, although the Montessori method has gained popularity in recent years (yay!), unless you know what makes a “Montessori school” an actual, real, authentic Montessori school, you might find yourself visiting schools that are hoping to capitalize on the name, while not putting the actual Montessori Method into practice.

There are some key elements to look for when visiting a Montessori school that will tell you if the school’s program is authentically Montessori or just loosely based on Montessori’s ideas. Here are some questions to ask that will help you figure out just how genuine the program actually is:

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #1

Is your school affiliated with the American Montessori Society (AMS) or Association Montessori Internationale (AMI)?

Although there is no requirement for schools to affiliate with one of the two main Montessori organizations, taking the time and effort to officially connect with either of these entities means that the school is legit. The school has to show proof that its teachers are properly certified and that it adheres to the main Montessori principles, to be covered in later points.

The school might be a Member School or an Affiliate School, but it should, in some way, indicate that it’s a member of a larger Montessori organization. Be sure to look for certificates of membership, or inquire about a school’s status during your tour.

Children's House Montessori School of Reston teachers enjoying the AMS Montessori Event
Teachers from Children’s House Montessori School of Reston enjoying the
2019 Montessori Event hosted by AMS

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #2

Do you have mixed-age classrooms or are children separated by age?

Mixed-age classrooms are critical to the success of a Montessori program! Younger children learn from their older peers and older children have the opportunity to model for their younger classmates. Learning by doing, teaching by example, and aspiring to be one of the “big kids” are important components of Montessori learning. If you are looking for an early childhood program, there should be a mixture of three, four, and five-year olds in the same class.

Classes should be mixed-age in the morning, but are likely to be separated by age in the afternoon, as this is when state-mandated rest time occurs. Be sure you know how the classrooms are organized and whether or not the school separates children into different aged classrooms. An authentic Montessori school will not have a “threes” or “fours” classroom or a separate kindergarten class.

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #3

Are your teachers Montessori certified?

Similar to #1, this is a matter of “the real deal” vs “Montessori-themed.” Anyone can read one of Maria Montessori’s books and get the gist of what she and her teaching philosophy were all about. You can’t become a true Montessori teacher through a weekend workshop! It takes time, dedication, training, and mindset to be a true Montessorian.

The training process, whether through AMS or AMI, is intense and not an under-taking one takes lightly. It’s the equivalent to a Masters program, with intensive classwork, exams, practice, and an internship. At least one teacher in each classroom should be Montessori certified. If they’re not, move on!

A teacher working with a student at Children's House Montessori School of Reston
Ms. Asma works with a student on the Pink Tower

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #4

How long is your Great Period?

The Great Period is a period of time dedicated to classroom work and it should typically be 2.5 to 3 hours in length. This means that the morning work period should last from around 8:30 to 11:00 or 9:00 to 12:00. During that time, children will work with the classroom materials, enjoy a morning snack, receive a lesson from a teacher, and participate in a group circle time before moving on to the next activity, possibly going outside to play or getting ready for lunch.

Why is the Great Period so important? Because children (and adults, too actually) have a natural rhythm of learning and only by allowing them ample time to explore, make choices, and receive guidance, can they deepen their ability to concentrate and learn. Learning happens through concentration and the Great Work period allows opportunity for concentration to unfold.

Programs that are broken up on different days of the week (ie. Music on Mondays, foreign language on Tuesdays, etc) or throughout the morning (ie. multiple activity changes / group circles) do not allow children to delve deeper, spend more time on one activity, and focus for longer periods of time. It’s important, so make sure that the program you are considering makes it a priority.

What to Look for in a Montessori Preschool: Question #5

Does your school use _______________ in the classroom?

Fill in that blank with any of the following: computers, tablets, worksheets, televisions, work plans, or homework.

Young children learn by doing, and there is substantial research to support the idea that computers and tablets can not replace hands-on learning in the early childhood classroom. There’s no denying that technology has a huge place in our society and we’re not saying that children shouldn’t touch an iPad until college, but electronic learning can not take the place of manipulatives.

Likewise, worksheets, work plans, and homework are all commonplace in our society, but they should be used to support child-driven learning, not in place of it. An authentic Montessori program will put the child first and will follow their lead, supporting their learning each step of the way.

student concentrating at Children's House Montessori School of Reston
Concentration in progress as this student completes the Trinomial Cube

What You Should See in an Authentic Montessori Classroom

  • Freedom of Movement — Children should be walking around, sitting at tables, sitting on the floor, and generally having freedom of movement throughout their classroom.
  • Respect for the Child — Teachers should be working with children at their level, speaking respectfully to them, and listening to what they have to say.
  • Montessori Materials — A variety of Montessori materials organized by different curriculum areas: practical life, Sensorial, math, language, art, geography, and science. Not sure what you’re looking for? Ask the person giving you a tour to point them out.
  • Child-sized Furnishings – low shelves, small tables and chairs. The classroom is there for the children, not the adults, and should be designed and arranged with their needs in mind.
  • Joy of Learning — This one is little subjective, but authentic Montessori classrooms are places where joy is critical to learning! Smiling faces, intense concentration, children working together on a big project, and children working quietly at a table alone are all indicators that this is a classroom where joyful learning is valued.
Smiling faces are a sure sign of Joyful Learning!

Final Thoughts

Sending your child to preschool is a big deal. We get it! Montessori schools have so much to offer and we hope that you will strongly consider Montessori education for your child! Just make sure you do your research and support authentic Montessori programs in your area.

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Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 2

This is the second post in a monthly series that will be devoted to practical tips for using the Virtues language when teaching character development in early childhood. We’ll explain how we use this program in our classrooms, what it sounds like in conversation, and how you can use it at home in a variety of examples. We’ll be highlighting two Virtues each month, so be sure to subscribe to our blog for monthly Virtues tips that you can use at home!

If you missed last month’s post, you can catch up here:

And, if you haven’t already downloaded our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS, you’re going to want to do that now.

Go ahead, we’ll wait.


All caught up? Good! Let’s dive into today’s Virtues:

The Virtues Project™: Helpfulness

Helpfulness is being of service to others, doing thoughtful things that make a difference in their lives. Offer your help without waiting to be asked. Ask for help when you need it. When we help each other, we get more done. We make our lives easier.

Two boys practicing helpfulness / teaching character development in early childhood
The job gets done faster, when we help each other!

Young children love to help! The like to know that they are contributing, that they are needed, and that their actions are having a positive impact on the people in their environment. So, tell them! Beyond just saying “thanks for your help,” give you child more information about how they are being helpful, what that means to you or your family, and how they can continue to be helpful in the future.

Children can be fickle, as you’re probably already aware, so don’t be surprised when their urge to help comes and goes. Just keep acknowledging it when you see it, expecting it when appropriate, and — as with ALL the Virtues — modeling it yourself.

In the classroom, we point out Helpfulness all the time! It takes a lot of work to keep the classroom running smoothly, and we can’t do it without a lot of help from the children. As your child gets older, expect their help in different areas of the home: cleaning up toys, helping with chores around the house, and other day to day activities.

You don’t have to do it all yourself! Acknowledge their helpfulness when you see them using it, correct them when you don’t, and let them know that you expect it in different circumstances. For example:

Acknowledgement: “You put your books away without being asked. Thank you for your helpfulness.” 

Guidance: “There are a lot of grocery bags in the car. If we all carry one bag inside, we’ll get done faster. I’d appreciate your helpfulness with this.”

Correction: “When it’s time to clean up the toys, we all need to do our part so that it gets done quickly. Next time, please use helpfulness and start putting toys away the first time I ask.”

Psst! Not sure what we mean by “Acknowledgement, Guidance, and Correction”? It’s in our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS.

Moving on…

The Virtues Project™: Orderliness

Orderliness is being neat and living with a sense of harmony. You are organized, and you know where things are when you need them. Solve problems step by step instead of going in circles. Order around you creates order inside you. It gives you peace of mind.


This can be a tough one for parents to get a handle on. If you’re like the majority of parents out there, you’re still in some form of Survival Mode on a day-to-day basis. Between work, home, school, activities, and everything else that lands on your plate, it’s all most people can do to just get from one day to the next. Throw in multiple children at multiples stages of life and Orderliness can seem impossible. Yet — and this is a big YET — it’s the ONE thing that will help life come together and settle down.

Taking the time to organize your home, your schedule, your closets, the playroom, and whatever else needs organizing, will have a ripple effect on your family. Orderliness is calming. When we know what to expect, we live with less chaos, less stress, and are more at ease. Everything from a regular bedtime routine, to eating meals at the table, to putting the puzzles on the bottom shelf, is Orderliness.

When we teach our children to create order, restore order, and function with order we are teaching them more than just how to tidy up or leave the house on time. We are teaching them to organize their thoughts and actions. They are learning to sort and organize, manage their time, anticipate and predict, and plan ahead.

A Montessori classroom is nothing without Orderliness. Every material, every tray, and every rug, has a home. This orderliness means that materials seldom get lost or broken. A teacher can look at any shelf in her classroom and immediately see that something is out of place.

A place for everything! The Montessori classroom is neat and organized.

The children take responsibility for alerting teachers to missing or lost pieces, and the classroom stays cleaner and more organized. “A place for everything and everything in it’s place!” Whoever said that, must’ve been a Montessorian at heart!

This could be the topic for a whole other blog post, but for now, here are some examples of what it sounds like to talk about Orderliness, draw attention to it, and ask for it in certain circumstances.

Acknowledgement: “Look at how we’re using Orderliness to straighten up the playroom: the Legos are in the Lego bin, the books are on the bookshelf… everything is where it belongs!” 

Guidance: “We need to leave for school on time tomorrow. Let’s use Orderliness and get your clothes set out now, so you are ready to go in the morning.”

Correction: “Yes, it’s sad when we lose our things and can’t find them. We need to use Orderliness when we clean up, so we put things in the correct place. Did you put your baby doll in the doll basket? Oh, look! I found her under the couch! That’s not where she belongs!”

Using Helpfulness and Orderliness at Home

Helpfulness and Orderliness go hand in hand. We use helpfulness to restore orderliness, and using orderliness is helpful! When you see these virtues in action, draw your child’s attention to them. You will reinforce one, which will help with the other.

Talk about Helpfulness and Orderliness as positive things! As parents, we oftentimes feel under-appreciated and taken for granted. Rather than point out how much you’re doing to take care of your family in a begrudging or sarcastic kind of way, show them that it makes you happy to help and that you value orderliness, because it helps your family function better.

Let’s go from this: “No, here… I’ll do it, since apparently I’m the only one who knows how to fold laundry in this house!”

To this: “I am happy to help you fold the laundry… can you please put it away? It will go so much faster, if we work together!”

For more information and lots more examples you can use at home, remember to download our mini guide — Virtues 101: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the Virtues at CHMS. Next month we’ll talk about Perseverance and Cleanliness, so be sure to subscribe to our blog  to stay in the loop!

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Five Key Elements to Creating a Natural Play Space for Children

Creating a natural play space for your children is one of the best ways to encourage them to spend time connecting with nature and less time inside, watching TV or playing on their devices. Children love to be outside and the benefits of outdoor play are numerous.

Children who spend time outside connecting with nature learn to problem solve in creative ways, develop responsibility and self-confidence, and have reduced levels of stress and fatigue. There’s a great article linked at the bottom of this post, so be sure to check it out, if you need more convincing that children and nature go together like peanut butter and jelly or mud pies and a summer day.

Children watering the plants in the natural play space
Watering the plants outside the entrance to our playground

Here at Children’s House Montessori School of Reston we LOVE nature. We have a beautiful outdoor space and over the years we have expanded our playground, included more natural elements, and encouraged exploration, discovery, and respect for the natural world. We work on our gardens regularly, and our students spend time outside almost every day, digging, climbing, balancing, creating, and quietly reflecting.

Our space is a combination of traditional play structures with natural exploration spaces. As a result, our children get the best of both worlds: a playground that looks like a playground and a playground that is, in actual fact, a woodland discovery zone.

Developing a Dirt-Friendly Mindset

Kids that play outside will get dirty. As parents and teachers, we need to be okay with that and have a plan in place to deal with the messes as they happen. A positive attitude towards dirt, and a proactive plan for dealing with it, will keep everyone relaxed. Don’t stress over mess!

  • If your child is going to be outside getting wet or muddy, have an old towel handy by the back door to wipe off muddy hands and feet. At our school we have a hand-washing bucket near the hose for rinsing off sandy or muddy hands before going inside and washing up with soap at the sink.
  • Have a change of clothes handy, so your child doesn’t have walk through the house with dirt on the seat of their pants, and save the nice clothes and new shoes for going out in public.
  • Keep the conversation going so that your child knows what is and what isn’t allowed. For example, at our school it’s okay to get dirty and we expect that clothes will get wet. But it’s not okay to purposefully cover oneself in mud or dump water over ones head. We want to encourage play and exploration, but supervision and boundaries are key.
Children playing a natural play space
Getting dirty is half the fun!

Getting Started

So how do we do it? How do we encourage outdoor exploration, and what are some of the key elements to creating a natural play space that is fun and safe? Here are our five key elements to creating a natural play space for children:

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #1: Water

Providing safe access to water is the most impactful way to encourage exploration and connection with nature. Children will play in the water all day long, if given the opportunity, so make sure that adding a water source to your outdoor space is at the top of your list.

Safety first: Never leave your child unsupervised around water. If there is water in a bucket, there should always be an adult present to monitor its use.

How can you add a water source to your play space?

  • Fill a tub or bucket with a hose or bring the water outside from an inside faucet.
  • Add plastic pitchers, jugs, cups, and containers to allow your child to carry the water around the play space.
  • Set your limit — tell your child you’ll fill the container two times or three times and then the water is done for the morning. At CHMS we want the children to have fun and play, but we also want to instill a respect for the source of their fun, and simply dumping water out onto the ground is wasteful.

What will they do with it?

  • Pour it on the ground and watch the water flow down the hill or create puddles
  • Water the plants
  • Mix it with soil, sticks, and bits of leaves to make “soup”
  • Splash in it
  • Get wet
  • Ask for more — they always want more!
child watering plants in a natural play space

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #2: Feed the Senses

Consider your child’s five senses when setting up your natural play space. Nature is full of opportunities to use our senses and sometimes, just drawing your child’s attention to what is around is all it takes.

  • Sight: plant a variety of colorful flowers, take a nature walk and look for the natural items in all the color of the rainbow, or “adopt a tree” in your neighborhood and observe it in all four season.
  • Sound: It can be as simple as adding a wind chime to your outdoor space. Got rhythm instruments, like sticks, shakers, and drums? Bring them outside and play them in the open air!
  • Touch: water, mud, dry sand, wet sand, rough bark, smooth stones, waxy leaves, delicate flower petals — the opportunities are all around you.
  • Taste: Got lots of space? Plant a small vegetable garden! Limited space? Grow some strawberries in a pot. No green thumbs in your family? Bring snack outside or indulge in more picnics. Food tastes better outside anyway!
  • Smell: Take time to stop and smell the roses. Literally. Did you ever notice the seasons have distinct smells? Go for a walk around your neighborhood or in a park and smell the freshly mowed grass, the fallen leaves, the snow in the air, and the earth after a spring shower.

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #3: Access to Tools

Kids gotta dig! Let them dig! And not with those cheap plastic sand toys, please. Real tools that really work are best. Go to your local gardening center and pick up some hand tools: shovels, forks, and trowels a couple of lightweight buckets and you’re in business. At our school we have shelves set up with containers and storage tubs where we store our outside tools. At the end of the day, the tools and toys are brought back to the storage area and made ready for the next day.

As with water play, tools should be monitored and proper instruction given first. We do not throw tools, dig in areas that we are not allowed to dig in, or use tools in an unsafe manner.

Encourage your child to help with yard work, when possible. A small shrub rake makes a perfect child-sized leaf rake and a broom with a wooden handle can easily be cut shorter to make it more manageable for little ones. Children want to help and they want to feel like they are contributing, so get creative and find ways to include them in working in your outdoor space.

sweeping and raking in the a natural play space

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #4: Gross Motor Opportunities

Think about the many ways your child can use your outdoor space. Outside of the obvious (running), consider adding elements that encourage different types of gross motor activities and add them when you can. If space is limited, be on the lookout at nearby parks or natural areas and keep these in mind:

  • Climbing — trees with low branches, fences or low walls, fallen trees in the woods, over rocks. Children love to climb and it is only through climbing (and sometimes falling) that they learn their limitations and how to overcome them. Always supervise climbing play, but trust that your child will figure it out, get stronger, and learn to assess risk. You can’t become a strong climber, if you don’t climb. So, let them climb!
  • Balancing — fallen logs, rocks, low retaining walls, and stepping stones. Activities that require balancing improve a child’s core strength and control, resulting in fewer falls and less injuries. For children who are engaged in sports and other group activities, balancing builds confidence and improves skill.
  • Carrying, Pulling, Pushing — rocks, logs, buckets filled with dirt and water, and wagons or wheelbarrows. The best way to build strength is to use your muscles and this is especially important to young, growing bodies. Give your child heavy things to carry and let them help pull that wagon filled with mulch. Their muscles will thank you.
children climbing over trees in a natural play space
We love climbing over fallen trees when we take nature hikes!

Key Element for a Natural Play Space #5: Quiet Spaces

Ultimately, creating a natural play space for children is about giving children the opportunity to connect with nature. And one of the best ways to do that is to be still; to listen, breathe, and just be. Whether it’s a small bench in a flower garden, a tree stump in the woods, or a rocking chair on your porch, providing spaces that invite quiet is an important element to creating a natural play space.

Being still gives children the opportunity to:

  • Listen to the sound of birdsong, the chattering of squirrels, and the rustling of leaves
  • Notice a hardworking ant, the changing color of a leaf, and the breeze in their hair
  • Catch their breath
  • Rest their muscles
natural play setting
Children often find themselves at the bottom of the playground, enjoying the peace and quiet.

Get Outside

The best way to start is just to start! Turn off the TV, put down your phone, and get your kids outside! Whether you have a huge backyard with ample space to create amazing opportunities for your child to explore and create, or you live in an apartment with a single flower pot on your balcony, children need to connect with nature. Get them outside, find natural space, and let them be kids!

You’re Invited to Play with Us!

If you’re local to Northern Virginia and the Reston-Herndon area, we’d like to invite you to come and play with us! Join us for open playground time on the first Friday of every month (except for January — that’s the second Friday)! Playtime is from 10:00 am to 11:00 am. Bring your toddler or preschooler and let them explore our playground: dig in the dirt, walk through the gardens, and sit on a bench and enjoy the fresh air. Drop us a message, give us a call at 703-481-6678, or just show up and say “hi!” We have an amazing playground and we want to share it with our community.

Our Open Play sessions start on Friday, September 6 and will run through the school year. We hope to see you soon!

Additional Resources:

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

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