Back to School, Back to Montessori

Dear Ms Keturah and Ms Helena,

I have no words! All of you are just AWESOME and I mean that from the bottom of my heart! L**** was so happy when I picked her up this afternoon! She had a great day and filled me in on all the things she’d done. And while I listened to all of her stories, the thing that struck me the most was, that there was no mention of having to wear the mask the whole day, of the social distancing etc.

The only thing that she did mention was how they had to cover their work [..] when done so that the teacher could clean it for the next friend. This told me just one thing – how you’ll have worked so hard to make the ‘new’ normal seem so very normal! We are so grateful to all of you, and blessed to be a part of this school!

All our support – always,

Yolande and Rahul

chms parents

We’re back! The 2020-2021 school year is officially underway! And, after all the planning, the strategizing, the cleaning, and the wondering, we are happy to report that it was a really good week.

It was so amazing to be back together again, to reconnect with old friends, and meet some new faces. The children were anxious to get to work and our classrooms were buzzing with the sounds of busy hands.

These friends were so happy to see each other again!

Children are a lot more flexible than adults give them credit for. The kids slid right into their new routines: working out of their individual supply boxes, bringing work to their marked tables, and keeping their masks in place (for the most part!). Circle time is still a time for songs, stories, and group lessons, and the playground is still fun. School is back!

We know how hard it is right now for parents to commit to a school program when there are still so many unknowns in our daily lives. We appreciate all of our families who have placed their trust in us and want you to know that we are committed to making your child’s experience at Children’s House the best that it can be.

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to send your child to school this year or keep them home, give us a call and talk to us about your concerns. We’re here and we’re willing to work with you to make sure your questions are answered, your child is safe, and you’re comfortable with your decision.

It’s sure to be a memorable year and we don’t want to do it without you! There are just a few spaces left in each of our programs. Contact us to schedule your tour! You can give us a call at 703-481-6678 or email us through the form below.

Back to School We Go!

As we get closer to the start of our 2020-2021 school year, there are still so many questions and concerns regarding the safety of returning to the classroom. 

Here at Children’s House, we want you to know that we are ready to get back to work! 

Will there be a learning curve as we navigate the challenges of teaching three to six year olds during an ongoing pandemic? Of course there will be. We’ll take it one day at a time and adjust course as needed. 

Do we have all the answers? Of course we don’t, but we are committed to following science-based recommendations to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of our staff, students, and families. 

Teacher Training Week

Our teachers have returned to school for the week in preparation for our re-opening. This is traditionally a week to reconnect after a long summer; a time to gather, reflect, and plan. We usually bring in inspirational trainers who reignite our passion for teaching and remind us why we do what we do. There are staff meetings, classroom team meetings, and time spent preparing the classroom for our students’ arrival.

This year will look a little different.

We’ll talk about sanitizing procedures, our new drop-off and pick-up procedures, and all of the other changes to our daily schedule that we have made to adhere to CDC and health department recommendations. Most importantly, however, we will talk about how to connect with our students, how to be there for our families, and how to make the best out of a challenging situation.

There are many unknowns ahead of us as we head back to school this year, but we know one thing for sure: we’ve missed the children! Let’s do this!

Meet the Teachers

We may be facing a year unlike any other, but we have the best staff in town to take on the challenge! Meet the smiling faces behind the masks!

The Sunrise Room

The Sunrise Room is the larger of our two classrooms and we are so lucky to have so much space! The room is open and airy, with large windows that can be opened at the top for plenty of fresh air and ventilation. This room will be for our pre-k and kindergarten children. Our decision to temporarily re-group our students by age, rather than adhere to our usual mixed-age classrooms, was based on guidelines from the Virginia Department of Social Services. Separating the children by age will allow us to keep the two classrooms from sharing space.

Ms. Keturah – Owner, Director, and Certified Montessori Teacher
Ms. Helena – Assistant Director and Certified Montessori Teacher
Ms. Ruth – Montessori Assistant

The Sunset Room

The Sunset Room is the smaller of the two classrooms and it is the perfect space for our three and four year-olds! This classroom also has large windows that face the playground and can be opened at the top for ventilation. It has its own bathroom, which makes it really easy to keep the children from this classroom separated from the Sunrise Room.

Ms. Asma – Certified Montessori Teacher
Ms. Amanda – Certified Lead Teacher

Additional Staff

Ms. Cinthia might be wearing a mask this year, but you can rest assured that she will still be her usual upbeat, smiling, self! She will be leading tours, managing registrations, and doing all of the millions of little things she does so well.

Ms. Arlene will return as our Spanish teacher later this fall when we resume Specials. We will also have music again this year and are in the process of finalizing that program.

Ms. Cinthia – Office Manager
Ms. Arlene – Spanish Teacher

It’s sure to be a memorable year and we don’t want to do it without you! There are just a few spaces left in each of our programs. Contact us to schedule your tour! You can give us a call at 703-481-6678 or email us through the form below.

Yes, we are open! Here’s what to expect:

Our 2020-2021 school year is underway! If you have a preschool, pre-k, or kindergarten-aged child and you need in-person child care and education, five days a week, please give us a call at 703-481-6678 today!

We have two classrooms that can accommodate limited numbers of children, due to our new COVID-19 precautions. There are only a handful of spaces left in each class and we anticipate that both classes will be full soon.

At this time we expect

  • to be open five days a week for all students with limited class size
  • in-person learning with no online classes, unless required due to unforeseen closure
  • to maintain our normal program groups (part-day, school day, and full-day) with no split schedules

We have made modifications in the following areas:

  • drop off and pick up procedures will change in order to do a daily health checks and minimize the number of people entering our building
  • full-day pick up time is temporarily changing — parents must pick up their children between 4:30 and 5:00 — in order to allow our staff to adhere to new cleaning and sanitation requirements
  • number of children in the classrooms to better accommodate social distancing guidelines and age-requirements from the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS)
  • cleaning and disinfecting procedures, which will impact our end-of day routine and pick-up time
  • keeping classes separate during recess, lunch, nap-time, and Specials
  • temporarily modifying our mixed-age classes to include one classroom for 3 and 4 year olds and one classroom for 4 and 5 year olds
  • masks are required for all staff and children
  • school events and family gatherings will be paused until such time as it is safe
  • parent education events will look a little different — stay tuned for more information

We are using all current available resources from The Center for Disease Control (CDC), Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS), and Virginia Department of Health (VDH) to make our plans and are committed to:

  • Providing a clean, safe learning environment for our students and staff
  • Adhering to current, science-based recommendations for managing the transmission of the COVID-19 virus
  • Maintaining open lines of communication about the health of our community
  • Making them most of out of our school year and having fun together

Additional Resources:

For more information or to schedule a virtual tour, call us at 703-481-6678 or email us through the form below.

Preparing to Return to School: 3 Steps for Independence

Here at Children’s House, we have been hard at work preparing for the upcoming school year. We are rearranging our schedule and our daily routines in order to better accommodate new health guidelines and to ensure the safety of our community, to the best of our ability. For a complete list of the changes we are making, check out our COVID-19 Precautions page.

If your child is enrolled in a Montessori program, then you know how we feel about independence. As we prepare for a school year unlike any other, it is doubly important for children to be independent in certain areas, so as to ensure minimal physical contact between the staff and students. The first day of school will be here before we know it, so consider these steps you can take at home, to ensure your child is happy, healthy, and ready for this next adventure! 

Step 1: Dress for Independence

Before you send your child off to school in those cute little tennis shoes and jeans, make sure they know how to tie, button, and zip! If they can’t undo their own zippers or re-tie their own shoes, please rethink their clothing. Loose-fitting, elastic-waisted pants, shirts without buttons, and shoes with Velcro fasteners are the way to go. As we strive for minimal physical contact, it is imperative that children do as much for themselves as they are able. 

When cooler weather comes, have your child practice putting on their new jacket or winter coat and gloves or mittens. Select clothes with easy zippers or fasteners and ask yourself, “Can he do it by himself or will a teacher need to help him?” Opt for independence, over fashion, please. 

Step 2: Practice Opening Food and Drink Containers

We want to ensure that your child’s food is not touched by anyone else before it is eaten. For that reason, teachers will not be assisting children with containers, lids, straw wrappers, etc. In order for your child to have a successful experience with lunch and snack time, be sure to send in foods that are either completely open and ready to eat, or can easily be opened by the child themself. 

  • Sandwiches should be wrapped in paper or in a plastic baggie
  • Fruit should be washed and cut up, if necessary, in a disposable bag or container
  • Only pack yogurt, applesauce, fruit cups, bags of chips or crackers, etc. if your child can independently open them 100% of the time
  • Consider purchasing compostable lunch containers that will be easy to open and are environmentally friendly

Step 3: Practice Independence in Personal Hygiene

Children are not exactly known for their amazing personal hygiene habits. Let’s do our best to keep our germs to ourselves and practice these at home:

  • Proper Hand-Washing – Before and after meals, after using the bathroom, after sneezing or blowing their nose, and after hands go into mouths. Teach your child to wash their hands often and properly. Their teachers will thank you!
  • How to Wipe After Going to the Bathroom – Outside of the fact that all children eventually need to learn to clean themselves properly after using the bathroom, good bathroom habits will help minimize the need for assistance from a teacher, which is a good thing for everyone involved. 
  • How to Use a Tissue – The more independent your child can be in all areas of personal hygiene, the better! Practice proper tissue techniques before your child gets the sniffles, including disposing of the tissue and washing hands when they’re done. And — when they DO get the sniffles, keep them home!
  • Wearing a Mask – Make sure you have plenty of time to get your child comfortable with the idea of wearing a mask at school. Let them pick out their own masks, incentive them to wear them for longer periods of time, if it’s a challenge, and educate them about the importance of wearing masks to keep others safe. 

Choose Your Words Wisely

Language matters! As we prepare for a new normal, be sure to use positive language to discuss these changes with your child. Try to avoid scary words or transferring your own fears about the unknown to your child. Some children will be starting school for the very first time — this is still an exciting time for your family, so celebrate it! 

Other children are returning to school after a very long absence — remind them of all the things they loved about their school and reassure them that their teachers are there to keep them safe.

  • “I’m so happy you get to see your friends again! I bet they’ve missed you, too!”
  • “We’re going to practice washing our hands properly so that we can help keep our friends and teachers healthy.”
  • “Wearing a mask helps us keep our germs away from others.”
  • “If you want to take applesauce for lunch, we need to practice opening the container, so that you can do it yourself.”
  • “You’re going to have so much fun playing on the playground with the other kids! I can’t wait to hear all about your day!”

Our Commitment to You

Here at Children’s House, we are committed to:

  • Providing a clean, safe learning environment for our students and staff
  • Adhering to current, science-based recommendations for managing the transmission of the COVID-19 virus
  • Maintaining open lines of communication about the health of our community
  • Making them most of out of our school year and having fun together

We are so excited to see your child’s smiling face again and no mask is going to change that! Stay safe, wash your hands, and we’ll see you in August!

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

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We are open for the 2020-2021 school year! In order to maintain a safer environment for our staff and students, we are limiting the number of people in our building. All tours will be conducted VIRTUALLY until further notice.

Please call 703-481-6678 and leave a message or contact Cinthia (cinthia@childrenshouse-montessori.com) or Keturah (keturah@childrenshouse-montessori.com) to schedule your tour today.

For more information: COVID-19 Precautions: Preparing to Open Safely in the Fall

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One Day Closer to “Normal” and Here’s What We Know

As we inch closer to reopening businesses and schools, we are all trying to anticipate what our new normal will look like. Will we all be wearing masks to school and checking temperatures upon arrival? Do we need to forgo hugs and handshakes when we greet our students for the first time in months? Will class sizes be limited in number or schedules be determined by a variety of factors? We don’t know yet, but there are a few things we do know and we want to share them with you.

#1: We are excited to see your children again

We have already missed over two months of their young lives! They’ll be taller when they come back. Their hair will be different and someone will have lost a tooth by now. They’ll have new stories to share and lots of things to tell us. You may not have been traveling or on some grand, family adventure, but there are still memories being made.

They’ll tell us about your family walks and how you had ice-cream for dinner that one time. We’ll find out that Daddy makes good pancakes and Mommy does all the voices when she reads books at night. And, yes… they might even spill the beans about how many times they watched Frozen II! We’ll listen to their stories, just happy to hear their voices and see their faces again, in person, with no screens between us.

#2: We are anxious to be part of your routine again

Remember routines? Remember getting up, getting dressed, making breakfast, packing lunches, and heading out the door? We do! We love routines and we know how important they are for young children. We’re anxious to get back on a schedule and into a routine that includes you and your family! We’re ready for lessons and circle time, playtime and our daily Virtue pick. We can’t wait to get back to work!

Will the routine be different? Of course it will, but “Flexibility” is one of our favorite Virtues, so we’ll be calling on it in the weeks and months to come. We’ll find “imaginative new ways to do things” and “adjust when something unexpected happens.” We hope you will help us as we all adjust to a new normal.

#3: Classrooms weren’t meant to be silent

A typical morning in a Montessori classroom is busy! Children are working, some are quietly independent, others are talking to their friends. You might hear a teacher giving a lesson or the running water from someone cleaning out their paint cups at the sink. The sound of footsteps, the scrape of trays on tables, and the clinking of glassware from the Practical Life shelf create the buzz and hum of daily life.

Right now the silence is deafening and the classrooms feel cold and empty. We’re ready to put new work on the shelves, open the windows, and bring back the chatter and laughter we have so missed. There’s a quiet that happens during the Great Period that we absolutely love. It’s the quiet that falls when everyone is concentrating, working hard on their chosen lessons. The classroom gets quiet and, sometimes, you could hear a pin drop. That silence is amazing, but this silence? It’s not the same and we’re ready to be done with it.

#4: The playground has been lonely

Playgrounds without children are lonely places. We are ready for laughter and shouting! Bring on the dinosaur roars and the butterfly dances! We’re ready to spend time outside! Our gardens need tending, our sand area needs digging, and our treehouse deck is waiting to be swept.

We’ve missed spring at Children’s House! We’ve missed flowers blooming and the lacy green leaves appearing on the trees. There have been baby birds hatching and fawns in the forest and we’ve missed them all. Summer will bring it’s share of delights — the butterflies, alone, are worth it — but nothing beats spring!

While we’ve been safe at home, our clematis has been busy blooming without us!

Additional Resources:

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

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We are open for the 2020-2021 school year! In order to maintain a safer environment for our staff and students, we are limiting the number of people in our building. All tours will be conducted VIRTUALLY until further notice.

Please call 703-481-6678 and leave a message or contact Cinthia (cinthia@childrenshouse-montessori.com) or Keturah (keturah@childrenshouse-montessori.com) to schedule your tour today.

For more information: COVID-19 Precautions: Preparing to Open Safely in the Fall

Clean Up Time: The Importance of Completing the Work Cycle

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

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

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

Setting the Expectation from Day One

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

They learn early on to:

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

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

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

Teach the Full Sequence

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

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

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

At Home: Hitting the Reset Button

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use Language that Includes Everyone

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

Instead of 

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

(Can you feel your blood pressure rising yet?)

Try 

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

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

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

And then do it all over again tomorrow. 🙂 

Additional Resources:

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

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We are currently closed, but are available to conduct VIRTUAL TOURS Monday through Friday between 8:00 am and 5:30 pm. Virtual tours are by appointment only. Please call 703-481-6678 and leave a message or contact us via the form below to schedule your virtual tour.

For more information: FAQs Answered: Closures, Tours, and the Upcoming School Year

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Every Child is an Artist | Our Montessori Art Curriculum

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

Keep it Simple

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

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

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

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

Practicing Basic Skills

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

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

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

Understanding Color

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

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

Experimenting with the color wheel.

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

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

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

An Independent Process

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

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

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

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

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

Art Appreciation 

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

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

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

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

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

Pablo Picasso

Additional Resources:

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

montessori art curriculum blog post title card

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

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

Imagination in the Three to Six-Year Old

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

Three to Four:

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

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

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

Four to Five:

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

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

Five to Six:

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

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

Grounded in Reality

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

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

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

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

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

Work IS Play

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Creativity in the Montessori Classroom

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

Built-In Creativity

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

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

Child working with Montessori Sensorial materials.

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

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

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

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

How to Help Your Child be a More Creative Problem Solver

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

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

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

Some good responses to keep in your back pocket:

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

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

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

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

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

The Three-Year Cycle

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

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

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

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

It All Comes Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Closure

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

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

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

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

When You’re On the Fence

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

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

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

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

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Title card for blog post: Eat the Cake! The Importance of the Montessori Kindergarten Experience