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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10 Ways to Encourage Independence in Your Child at Home

It starts with the little things, like helping scrub potatoes or put their socks in a drawer, and it builds. Soon, your little one is not so little and they’re actually helping with dinner, not just “helping” with dinner. They’re putting away their laundry and then they’re doing their laundry. And they’re doing it on their own! Your baby is growing up and life gets — dare we even say it? — easier! Let’s not pop the champagne just yet, though. If you’re going to have independent, reliable, responsible big kids someday, you’ve got to start today, when they’re not so big. Here are 10 ways to encourage independence in your child at home that will make life easier… a little later on.

1: Wait before helping

Hold your horses! Before you step in to “help” your little one, take a breath and pause for a second. Many a well-meaning parent has crossed the line from helping to hindering without realizing that their good intentions would have negative consequences. Before you help, solve the problem, jump in, or fix it, let your child have a chance to figure it out. Nothing says, “I don’t trust you to do this,” quite like, “Here, let me do it.”  So what if the pants aren’t folded perfectly or there’s a few extra Cheerios on the counter? Unless someone’s about to get hurt or something’s about to get broken, let them do it.

2: Think ahead and prepare

Life with independent kids gets easier. But first, there’s a little extra work involved. Think ahead, plan for obstacles, and be prepared. If you want your child to get dressed independently, you’re going to have to spend some time in her bedroom, making sure the closet is organized in a way that makes it possible for her to take control of the process. Don’t spring huge changes on your child. Lay the foundation with careful thought before introducing new expectations.

3: Limit the number of steps

One step at a time, one day at a time. Independence is an on-going process that takes years.  It’s kind of the point of the whole parenting gig: we’re in this to raise responsible adults, right?  A two year old and a five year old are capable of very different things. A two year old can help carry a grocery bag in from the car and that might be all they’re interested in doing. The five year old can help carry bags and put the food away. An eight year old will actually be helpful and a ten year old is going to make you dinner! Take baby steps and keep going.

4: Give lessons

Don’t assume that your child knows what to do. It’s a recipe for frustration on both sides, so take the time to do it right. Just because they’ve watched you, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do what you do. Break a new task into steps and teach them how to do it. Be clear, concise, and build upon prior experience.

5: Avoid the “yes” or “no” question trap

Never ask a yes or no question, if you don’t want to hear “no” for an answer. For example, “Can I help you with that?” when you’re desperately wanting to step in to avoid a huge mess is not the same as “Let me help you with that,” or “Now it’s my turn to pour.” The same applies to “Do you want to help me put away the laundry?” and “Can you clean your room?” What to say instead? Check out suggestion #6…

6: Offer choices

Independence grows through choices. Offering your child a limited number of choices is one of the best ways to build their confidence and allow them to make safe mistakes. Whenever possible, offer your child two choices, both of which you’d be okay with. For example:

  • The laundry’s done!  Do you want to help me fold the clothes or put them away?
  • It’s time to leave for school. Do you want to carry your backpack or your lunchbag?
  • I’m getting ready to make dinner and I need a helper. Would you rather set the table or help make the salad?
  • It’s time to clean up. Are you going to put away the blocks first or the books?

7: Let your child problem solve

Independence is more than just doing things on our own, it’s thinking through problems, making choices, and enjoying (or dealing with) the end result. Provided you’ve offered choices (number 6), broken big tasks into smaller steps (number 3), and taken the time to teach your child a new skill (number 4), let them do it! Let them take ownership of a task and expect the best. So what if there’s a little dirt left on the floor or there’s toothpaste on the bathroom counter? Tomorrow is another day and another chance to learn and figure it out. 

8: Be flexible

Just because your child wanted to help sweep the floor yesterday doesn’t mean they’re going to want to do it today. Young children are enthusiastic helpers… until they’re not. By the age of 6 or 7, you can expect to start assigning chores or regular responsibilities, like feed the dog or set the table, but until then, take their help when it’s offered and keep offering opportunities to help. Keep your expectations low and don’t pressure your 3 year old with a chore chart that needs to be completed each day. Take each day as it comes and set the expectation that everyone in the family helps in their own way.

9: Be patient

Have you ever noticed how, just when you thought you had this parenting thing figured out, it all seems to change on you? Growth spurts, mood swings, and Life will all work to derail your efforts, but don’t let them. Independence is a two steps forward, one step back kind of deal. Be patient with your child and with yourself. You are both learning.

10: Acknowledge small successes

One day you’ll look around you and notice that your child just did something on their own. Maybe they took it upon themselves to tidy their room or they got their own snack or brought their dishes to the sink without being reminded eighty billion times. Whatever it is, give yourself a pat on the back! You’re doing it! You’re raising small human beings who will go out into the world one day and think and act for themselves. You’re teaching your child to make choices, take responsibility, and solve problems. Today: the breakfast dishes. Tomorrow: the world!

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30 Things to Say Instead of, “Good job!”

Your child just tied her shoes, crossed the monkey bars, showed you a drawing, or helped carry in the grocery bags. If you’re like many parents out there, the words “good job” just bubbled to the surface and came out of your mouth before you had a second to think about. But, you’ve been reading our blog and learning that internal motivation is way better than external praise and you know you should say something else instead! But what?? Problem solved! Here are 30 things to say to your child instead of “Good job!”

10 Things to say when you want to acknowledge their CREATIVITY and ASSERTIVENESS

When you want to say something about what they did, something they created, or some way in which they solved a problem or shared their thoughts, try saying something like this:

  1. Tell me about your picture / story / project.
  2. How did you decide to paint / draw / write a ______?
  3. Look at how you used all the colors!
  4. What do you like about your work?
  5. What would you change about _____?
  6. That’s an interesting idea. Tell me more.
  7. I’d like to hear what you think about this.
  8. You filled in the whole paper!
  9. That’s one idea! What else could we do?
  10. I’ve never thought about it that way. Thank you for sharing that with me.

Draw your child’s attention to the process, not the product. Invite them to think deeper, reflect on their feelings about what they have created, and consider alternatives. Rather than just giving a quick, verbal “pat on the head,” you’ll be giving your child the tools he or she needs to tackle the next (bigger) problem or work harder to improve a budding skill.

10 Things to say when you want to support their PERSEVERANCE and DILIGENCE

Hard work should not go unnoticed. But, in order for true perseverance and grit to develop, children should be given the opportunity to think about what it took to complete a challenging task. Draw attention to the time spent, effort demonstrated, and lessons learned. Instead of saying, “You did it! Good job!” these might be a better fit:

  1. You kept going, even when it got difficult.
  2. That was challenging, but you really stuck with it.
  3. What was the hardest part?
  4. I can tell this is challenging. Do you need a short break?
  5. What would you do differently next time?
  6. We’re just going to take one step at a time. We’ll get there.
  7. You’ll feel better if you finish what you started.
  8. You’re doing just fine. Keep going.
  9. This is a big job, but I know you can do it.
  10. You finished! How does that feel?

One more thing… we know you’re proud of them for whatever they did, but don’t make their accomplishment about you. It’s totally fine to say, “I’m really proud of you,” but for every one parent-focused phrase, try to get into the habit of saying two child-focused phrases or questions.

You are proud of them, because you have a much deeper understanding of what it takes to accomplish whatever it is they just did. They’re still learning that. Give them a chance to learn it for themselves.

10 Things to say when you want to encourage their KINDNESS and FLEXIBILITY

We’re walking a fine line with this one. We want our children to practice kindness, caring, and compassion, just because it’s the right thing to do, not because they’re being rewarded. We want them to go with the flow, because it’s helpful — and they want to be helpful — not because they think they’re going to get something in exchange for their flexibility.

However, when we draw too much attention to it — and praise them in the wrong way — they are actually less likely to demonstrate these great qualities, unless someone is watching! You don’t want your kid being nice when you’re looking and on Santa’s naughty list when you’re not, right? So tread carefully when it comes to praising those good deeds.

  1. How can we be a good friend to _____?
  2. What does your friend like to do?
  3. Doing nice things for people shows that we care.
  4. Sometimes we just need to listen to our friends and what they need.
  5. Thank you for using your gentle hands.
  6. When everyone gets a turn, everyone has more fun!
  7. Thank you for noticing that I needed help with that.
  8. People make mistakes; that’s how we learn.
  9. I like that one, too, but we’re buying a present for _____ what do they like?
  10. Is there another way we could try doing that?

These can take the place of all those “I saw how you _____! What a good friend you are!” types of comments. Give them opportunities to think about their actions and how their actions affect others. Allow them to make mistakes and help them figure out how to fix them. Practice flexibility for yourself and your child; according to #8, it’s how we learn, after all!

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Understanding Montessori: What do the children do all day?

There is often a veil of mystery over the goings on in a typical Montessori classroom. Children come home with reports of “doing work,” which sounds kinda serious. They talk about circle time and playground time, but they also throw around words and phrases that make no sense to the average parent. I mean, “what the heck is “pin punching” anyway and why is my child doing it?” When you’re trying to understand what Montessori is all about, you’re going to find yourself wondering, “What do the kids do all day?”

So, let’s lift the veil and take a peek into a typical day in a Montessori classroom. If you’re still trying to make sense of what sets Montessori apart from other programs, you’re going to want to start with this post from earlier this year: What’s the Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Preschool?

The Importance of a Schedule

Montessori programs are ALL about consistency! A regular, consistent schedule sets the pace and is important for the emotional well-being of both the students and the teachers. When we all know what’s coming next, we can plan better, learn to use our time wisely, and look forward to different parts of each day. Learning to tell time begins with learning the rhythm of the days, weeks, and seasons, and consistency and routine are key!

The schedule of each day is more or less the same as the day before it, but there are always exceptions, opportunities for spontaneity, and necessary changes, such as days with special events, holiday celebrations, weather-related changes, or in-house program days. Because most days run like clockwork, changes to the schedule are fun and exciting for most children, rather than stress-inducing, which can be the case for programs that lack consistency and have a lot of built-in variability and change.

Although Montessori schools are similar in that they follow the same philosophical educational principles, they are all independently owned and operated, making each one unique and special in its own right. We’re going to break the day into four sections: morning, mid-day, afternoon, and late-afternoon and give you a snippet of what each time looks likes, here at Children’s House.  

Morning (8:00 to 11:00)

Also known as the Great Period, mornings in our Montessori classrooms are taken pretty seriously. It’s one of two work periods and offers an opportunity for children to concentrate on their selected activities. Concentration is the pathway to learning, so we work really hard to establish a calm, organized, and engaging environment that sets the stage for concentration. 

Children spend this time working on individual activities at a table or on a rug on the floor. Many activities require a lesson from the teacher before a child can use them independently. Others, such as puzzles, can be taken off the shelf without a lesson. Children who are not receiving a lesson from a teacher might be having a snack, working on something alone or with a friend, completing a work that was started the day before, or just walking around, observing. 

Some favorite morning activities include painting at the easel, learning sounds (sandpaper letters), writing words (moveable alphabet), counting (cards and counters), math (golden beads and more), and, of course, pin punching (Pin-punching: using a pointed tool to poke holes along a line on a piece of paper. The end result is a shape that is released from the paper. Pin punching improves fine motor skills and requires a lot of concentration, especially for the youngest members of our community!)

Pin punching is fun with a friend!

It’s a busy time of day, but, as we all know, time flies when you’re having fun, so it’s not too long before we’re wrapping up the morning, getting the tables cleared, cleaned, and set for lunch. The children join a teacher at the carpet for Circle Time, share the daily Virtue card, read a story, sing some songs, and then head outside to play.

Mid-Day (11:00 – 1:00)

At Children’s House we are so lucky to have a beautiful, natural play space for our children! We love our playground and the opportunities for exploration, observation, and imagination that it provides. The children climb on the traditional play equipment, dig in the sand, and enjoy a variety of seasonal activities related to maintaining our classroom gardens. If we’re especially lucky, we’ll spot deer in the woods, a hawk in the trees, and all sorts of creatures and critters who visit us inside our fenced space. 

After playtime, it’s lunch time! So, we head back inside, wash our hands, and enjoy our lunch together in each classroom. Lunch time is a chance to engage in polite conversation while eating lunch and listening to music on the CD player (yes, they still make CD players!). After lunch, several children are tasked with helping a teacher wipe down the tables and sweep the floor, which the rest of the class return to the playground for a second play period.

8… 9… 10! Ready or not, here I come!

Afternoon (1:00 – 3:00)

Depending on their age and the program in which they are enrolled, the children do one of the following afternoon activities in three, separate, classrooms spaces:

Nap– Our youngest children (3 turning 4) go to the bathroom and lie down on a mat with a soft toy brought from home. Then we turn off the lights and play soft music to help them fall asleep. 

Rest and then classroom work – Our middle group of children (4 turning 5) will rest quietly for 30 minutes while they listen to a story, and then join their peers to continue work begun in the morning.

Kindergarten work – The kindergarten children (5 turning 6) from both classes come together in the afternoons for kindergarten-specific lessons. These include lessons in art related to specific artists, in-depth lessons on a science or geography topic of study, sewing lessons on a variety of stitches and sewing techniques, and advanced math lessons. They also have writing and penmanship lessons as well as lots of opportunities throughout the year for creative and nonfiction writing. It’s a busy time, for sure!

For the last half hour of the afternoon period, the children come back together again for another Circle Time before the afternoon dismissal. 

Late Afternoon (3:00 – 5:30)

Children enrolled in our Aftercare Program enjoy additional time outside on the playground, an afternoon snack, and a variety of activities, like creative art projects and games. 

Aftercare is a Montessori-friendly extension of our school-day program. Our program is run by our Montessori teachers and assistants, which allows for continuity and consistency for the children in our care.

At 5:30, our busy day is over. It’s up to you to fill in the details for the rest of the day! Home, dinner, bath time, and stories? What does family time look like for you?

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Is Your Child Ready for More? Three Key Signs of Preschool Readiness

It can be a tough call. For many families with young children, knowing when a child is “ready for more” can come with a lot of doubt and uncertainty.

  • Maybe your child has been in an at-home daycare since they were a baby, and the idea of putting them into a larger group setting is making you nervous. Are they ready for that? Will they get lost in the shuffle?
  • Or perhaps it’s that you love the teachers at their daycare, but you just don’t think your child is being challenged enough and she seems bored or disinterested.
  • Let’s be honest here — maybe it’s just too much to think about right now and you know that a change for her means a change for you — you’ll need to tour new places, fill out applications, and then there’s the forms, fees, and the new schedule and routine. It’s a lot.

Whatever your hesitations or looming question marks, knowing some signs of preschool readiness can make the decision a little easier. We’ve put together a quick list of what to look for in your child that will help you make the transition from home or daycare to a more formal school setting.

children working together with a globe / signs of readiness for preschool
Learning about the continents

Signs of Preschool Readiness #1: Independence

If the words, “I do it!” are frequently heard around your house and it seems like you don’t make it through the day without at least one power struggle or tantrum, it’s time to consider preschool. The toddler / preschool age is a tough one for many parents. Their sweet baby has blossomed into a fiercely independent child who has opinions and knows how to voice them.

Send them to school! We’ll take that budding independence and give it some boundaries. We’ll encourage it in a way that makes your child feel in control, but we’ll also show them how to participate in group activities, follow directions, and complete the work cycle. Yes, we’ll show them how to take work from the shelves, do it properly, and then clean it up!

You’ll start to see the changes at home. They’ll start showing you what they’ve learned, start singing songs you didn’t teach them, and you’ll see their independent spirit grow and flourish.

Signs of Preschool Readiness #2: Purposefulness

Most children love to help! They want to be part of the action, and being told they’re “such a good helper” is a badge of honor they are proud of. Young children love purpose; they love big jobs. Helping a parent carry the grocery bags or push the vacuum cleaner makes them feel strong and grown up.

Send them to Montessori school! We’ll take that purposefulness and put it to work! The Montessori classroom is filled with opportunity to do “big work” — like scrubbing chairs and tables, watering the plants, or setting the tables for lunch. Children work together with teachers to maintain the classroom environment and a child’s efforts are seen and acknowledged.

In a Montessori classroom, all activity has purpose. Children learn that this is a place of great accomplishment and they take pride in hard work and new challenges.

Signs of Preschool Readiness #3: Flexibility

So we’ve got this fiercely independent 3 year-old who wants to do big, important tasks their way, right? And now we’re saying that flexibility is the final component to preschool readiness? Yes, we are. You see, flexibility is the potential that lies behind the stereotypically stubborn toddler. You want to see growth and maturity? You guessed it: send them to school!

Children learn by example. They learn by watching others, imitating behavior and language, and through trial and error. When it comes to flexibility — the ability to go with the flow, cooperate when asked, and follow rules and directions without a whole lot of pushback — we don’t necessarily think preschoolers have much, because we may not see it very often.

But, it’s there. Young children want so badly to learn, to grow, to be a big kid. They want to be like you — all grown up and smart!

Send them to school.

  • A good teacher will see their stubbornness and recognize the strong will that lies beneath. She’ll take that need for independence and work with it, rather than against it.
  • A good teacher will expect cooperation and will have 32 tricks up her sleeve when it doesn’t come out the first time around. She’ll make working together fun and engaging.
  • A good teacher will trust that flexibility will come. She practices patience and kindness, models calmness and reliability.
  • A good school will welcome you and learn about your child before they enter the classroom. They’ll ask questions and make you feel comfortable. We understand that, for most families, change is scary / exciting. We’re here to help you navigate that transition.
  • A good school will make you feel at home.

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We are Thankful!

It’s that time of the year! With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it’s only natural that we spend some time reflecting on all the wonderful things we have in our lives. Here, at Children’s House, we have been sharing our gratitude daily at circle time.

We take our lead from The Virtues Project™️ card for Thankfulness and remind the children (and ourselves) that “Thankfulness is being grateful for what we have. It is an attitude of gratitude for learning, loving, and being.”

As a school, we are wrapping up our annual food drive to benefit Cornerstones, a local non-profit. This is one of our favorite ways to share what we have with those less fortunate in our community. The children love bringing in their donations and it has sparked some great conversations about generosity, helpfulness, and compassion.

We have so much to be thankful for! From families and love to pumpkins and volcanoes, there are little (and big) things around us every day to make us smile. Take a minute to enjoy these smiling faces and big hearts that we are thankful for!

Wherever you are this Thanksgiving, we hope you have a safe and happy holiday with your loved ones. And, if you still need a little help getting into the spirit of things, try repeating the Thankfulness affirmation with us! Read this out loud:

I am thankful for the many gifts within me and around me today. I appreciate my life. I look for the lessons. I expect the best.

The Virtues Project™️

Happy Thanksgiving!

Additional Resources:

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Foster Internal Motivation with these 4 Phrases

If you’ve ever had a hobby or pastime that you did just because it made you feel good, and there was no prize or other compensation at the end, then you can recall how internal motivation feels. It feels pretty good, right?

Well, you’ve probably also had an experience where you stopped doing something you used to enjoy, because something about the activity changed for you. Maybe you used to love a certain sport, but after too many competitions and tournaments, you felt burnt out and you haven’t played in years. Or maybe you got in trouble for doing something you enjoyed and decided it wasn’t worth it anymore.

Internal motivation, or intrinsic motivation, is the idea that we do things we enjoy simply because we enjoy them, not because we’re seeking rewards or trying to avoid punishment (external motivators) and it is a deeply connected to learning. What we enjoy, we seek more of, and what we love, we learn. So, how do we foster internal motivation in our children? How do we help them identify those positive feelings without connecting the behavior to an external motivator (like praise or punishment)?

To start with, stop saying “good job.” If you can put a red light on that one, you’ll be well on your way. “Good job,” and other simple phrases that praise children for — let’s be honest, pretty much everything — are external motivators. It may sound a little backwards, but too much praise is actually a bad thing! Here are some examples of what to say instead of “good job, great work,” or “I love it!”

Phrase #1 to Foster Internal Motivation: I can see how hard you worked.

Acknowledge your child’s effort and then expand on it. Draw attention to the details you see and elaborate on them.

“I can see how hard you worked on this building. Wow… look at the windows and the corners you added… You used up every block!”

“I can see how hard you worked to tie your shoes! That must feel good to do it all by yourself with no help!

two boys smile with pride at their work. Foster internal motivation.

Phrase #2 to Foster Internal Motivation: What do you love about this?

Encourage your child to reflect on what he or she enjoys and let them have their own opinions about what they like or don’t.

“Look at all these colors and shapes! So fancy! What do you love about this picture you drew for me?”

“You ate your whole dinner! What was your favorite part?”

Phrase #3 to Foster Internal Motivation: I can tell you’re really proud of yourself.

Drawing your child’s attention to internal feelings of pride, accomplishment, or success, helps them identify it the next time it shows up. It feels good, so name it and describe it.

“I can tell you’re really proud of yourself for getting all the way across the monkey bars! Your smile is so big!!”

Phrase #4 to Foster Internal Motivation: That was tough, but you kept going!

Perseverance and determination are two qualities that will get any child over some major hurdles in life. A child who learns, at a young age, that she is capable of doing hard things, will be able to build on that experience.

“That was tough, but you kept going! It’s okay to be tired, you’ve been working so hard.”

Look at how much you’ve done / how far you’ve come! What was the most challenging part?”

Instead of falling back on external motivators like praise or rewards (sticker charts, prizes, etc), talk to your child about what’s happening to them inside when they’re engaged in a behavior they enjoy. Help them identify the emotions they’re experiencing so that they can learn from it for the next time.

Additional Resources:

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What is Montessori? And Other Common Questions

Despite the fact that Montessori education has been around since 1907, there are still some common misconceptions about what it is and what it isn’t. “What is Montessori?” is a huge question, really, because the answer is a lot bigger and more philosophical than the average person is expecting when they pose the question. Here are our (brief) answers, to some of the more common questions people ask.

“What is Montessori?”

Montessori (or the Montessori Method or Montessori Philosophy) is a child-centered educational approach. It is more typically associated with Early Childhood programs (ages 3 – 6), but is also popular in Infant / Toddler programs. While there are elementary, middle, and high school programs available, they are less common.

“Who was Maria Montessori?”

The short answer? A woman ahead of her time! Dr. Maria Montessori was the first female doctor in Italy who applied her scientific observation skills to develop the Montessori Method. She spent her whole adult life working with young children and used her years of study to develop materials and practices that served to enhance the learning process and respect a child’s natural development.

“Do the kids just get to do whatever they want?”

Dr. Montessori observed that, when given the opportunity and right environment, children were naturally inclined to select activities that fostered concentration and independent learning. When a child makes a selection based on independent choice, he or she is more likely to fully engage with that material and therefore, more likely to learn whatever it is they are there to learn.

You know that feeling you get when you’re completely in your “zone”? Time flies by, you’re deep in concentration, and when you’re done with whatever it was you were doing, you feel good! That’s how work should feel. And that’s how children in a Montessori classroom feel after a solid morning work period: refreshed, accomplished, and proud.

Happy and proud after a good morning's work! What is Montessori?

“Where are the toys?”

Montessori classrooms don’t look like traditional preschool classrooms, it’s true. There is no dress-up corner or block corner and there are not trucks and dolls for the children to play with. The Montessori Philosophy extends to the materials in the classroom as well: real and functional take priority over pretend.

When you tour a Montessori school, make sure you do so during the morning work period (the Great Period) and look closely at what you see. You may not see children playing dress up or cars, but you’ll probably see them scrubbing a chair or table, watering the plants in the classroom, sewing with real needles, and painting at an easel (and then cleaning up their paint supplies). The classroom will be busy, but engaged. There will be children sitting at tables and on the floor, walking around, taking out work and putting it away. You might even catch a child doing yoga or sitting quietly in the peace corner or reading a book.

“Why are Montessori schools more expensive?”

Montessori schools tend to have higher tuition rates than traditional preschool programs, because the vast majority of Montessori schools are independently owned and operated. Each school is responsible for all of its own costs and there is no larger Montessori corporation working behind the scenes to cut expenses and offer the lowest rate in town.

There are so many factors to consider when choosing a school for your child and one of them is certainly cost. Call around and compare pricing and programs to make sure you know what your tuition covers and what it doesn’t. Most importantly, take a tour! Your tuition directly impacts the staff, facilities, and program expenses, so make sure you feel good about supporting the school you choose! Visit the schools you’re considering and ask yourself:

  • Are the children happy, engaged, and relaxed?
  • Are the teachers helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable?
  • Is the classroom warm and inviting?
  • Does this feel like a good fit for my family?

Still got questions? Check out these previous posts:

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Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 5 (Excellence and Creativity)

This is the fifth 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™: Excellence

Excellence is doing your best, giving careful attention to every task and every relationship. Excellence is effort guided by a noble purpose. It is a desire for perfection. The perfection of a seed comes in the fruit. When you practice excellence, you bring your gifts to fruition. Excellence is the key to success.


Think for a minute about a child who is just learning to tie their shoes. Consider how much focus and concentration is required to steady the hands, grasp the laces, follow the steps, mess up, get frustrated, and try again. Excellence calls the child back to an activity, gives them opportunity to practice and perfect new skills, and allows for further growth and progress in different areas. Excellence draws their attention to the feel of the laces, the shape of the loops, the gap between the loops, and exactly how much tension is needed to pull the two loops just enough to complete the bow and not end up with a knot. It’s a lot to learn!

Children practice excellence when they focus, concentrate, and pay attention to details. The Montessori classroom is set up to allow this concentration to occur and the Montessori teacher is trained to recognize the opportunities when they present themselves. It’s so much more than “Wow! Good job!” When we take note of excellence, we acknowledge that children are constantly fine tuning themselves; getting stronger and more capable each and every day!

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

Acknowledgement: “I’m so proud of you for finishing the 45-layout! You worked hard with excellence to complete the whole thing by circle time.”

Guidance: “This part of the map is tricky. We’ll need to use excellence to make sure we trace each and every state so we can see them clearly.”

Correction: “I know it’s frustrating when your sewing work gets all tangled up. Try to pay close attention to your needle next time… up, down, up, down. Slowly, slowly, with excellence.”

The Virtues Project™: Creativity

Creativity is the power of imagination. It is discovering your own special talents. Dare to see things in new ways and find different ways to solve problems. With your creativity, you can bring something new into the world.

Creativity lead this young man to practice writing his numbers in a different way. We love it!

Creativity is paint, brushes, scissors, glue, tape… and so much more! At our school it’s also dirt, sticks, leaves, and rocks! Creativity is fun and sometimes messy, but it’s so important. Using tools and resources in a new way allows children to think creatively by exploring alternate options, experiencing trial and error, and taking risks. By allowing children to try different ways of approaching a task or project, we allow them to develop strengths they may just be discovering.

As adults, it can be challenging to stand back and observe a child who is doing something new for the first time. Let them try first, before intervening! You never know what creativity can unlock!

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

Acknowledgement: “You found a new way to use that work. I hadn’t thought of doing it that way before. You used creativity to try something different.”

Guidance: “I’m not sure what will happen if we try it that way. Let’s use creativity and find out!”

Correction: “I wonder what would happen if we do it another way? Next time, let’s use creativity to think of new ways we can make it work.”

Using Excellence and Creativity at Home

Above all, naming the Virtues when you see them in action is one of the best ways to draw your child’s attention to what he or she is experiencing. Name the Virtue! Describe it and give it context. Here are some examples of what we mean:

Excellence is present in the following examples:

  • Completing a multi-step task, like putting on shoes, jacket, and hat before leaving the house, or setting the table
  • Sweeping the kitchen floor or raking the leaves
  • Cleaning up the Legos and getting every. single. last. one. into the Lego bin! Every. single. last. one!

Creativity can look like this:

  • Solving a conflict with a sibling in a new way
  • Repurposing cardboard boxes, paper towel rolls, etc for play
  • Cooking / baking / helping in the kitchen

Have FUN with creativity and HONE in on excellence! You’ll be amazed at what you see!

boy with drawing / character development in early childhood
Days we do our metal inset work the “right” way and other days we turn it into a baseball picture for our favorite team. (Go, Nats!)

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 Thankfulness and Understanding, so be sure to subscribe to our blog  to stay in the loop!

Additional Resources:

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