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:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

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:

Additional Resources:

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

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.

THE VIRTUES PROJECT™

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.

THE VIRTUES PROJECT™
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:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

Three Reasons Why Montessori Makes Sense

We’ve explained the difference between Montessori and traditional preschools and we’ve told you what to look for in an authentic Montessori program. We haven’t filled you in though, on why Montessori makes sense in the first place.

What is it about this teaching method that has resonated with so many parents and educators across the world for over a hundred years? Trends come and go, but Montessori is not a trend. Montessori education has staying power, because at the heart of it all, it just makes so much sense!

Reason #1 Why Montessori Makes Sense: Engaged Learning

“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

If you’ve ever suffered through a class you didn’t want to take in the first place, then you know that learning because you have to learn is a different experience, entirely, to learning because you want to learn. Montessori classrooms allow opportunities for children to make their own choices regarding their learning, which results in happier children who actually want to learn.

When we are active participants in our learning, we are more engaged learners. It just makes sense: give a child choices and follow their lead. They’ll show you what they need and you’ll be able to guide them to materials that help them learn.

Reason #2 Why Montessori Makes Sense: A Sensory Experience

“The hand is the instrument of intelligence. The child needs to manipulate objects and to gain experience by touching and handling.” 

Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures

The Montessori classroom is one that has been thoughtfully designed to meet the child’s sensory needs. Everything in the room serves a purpose (and, if it doesn’t have one yet, one will be assigned to it by an astute teacher looking for a teachable moment. Ha ha!)

In our classrooms we see and learn to discern shapes, colors, and sizes. We touch and learn to identify texture, weight, and shape. We smell (well, we don’t smell, but our noses do), we taste, and we hear and we make observation and connections with the world around us.

It’s fall — we can talk about apples or we can touch, smell, and taste them. We can talk about pumpkins or we can get our hands on one! If you read last week’s post, you know that there’ll be lots to experience when we carve our classroom pumpkins next week. You’d better believe that it will be a hands-on, sensory experience!

Adding a blindfold to a work is a surefire way to isolate one sense (touch) by removing another (sight).

Reason #3 Why Montessori Makes Sense: Mixed-Age Classrooms

“Children acquire knowledge through experience in the environment.”

Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures

If you want to understand something — really understand it — teach it to someone else. It is in the teaching that we truly learn. The Montessori classroom is designed to be a place where the youngest children learn from the older children. It is therefore also a place where the oldest children learn by showing the youngest children.

Older children in a mixed-aged classroom take on a combination role of student and teacher. This is why it is so important that a child remain in the classroom for their third year, the kindergarten year. They love being the leaders in their classroom and, in so many ways, solidify their own learning by demonstrating to their younger peers.

Additional Resources:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

Build Your Child’s Vocabulary: 3 Activities for Fall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

Additional Resources:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

Encourage Independence in Young Children: Our Top 3 Household Picks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encourage Independence in Young Children Pick #3: Removable Hooks

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

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

Key Concepts to Keep in Mind:

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

Additional Resources:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

The First Weeks of School at Children’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to watch the video!

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

How Do Montessori Schools Teach Independence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the secret ingredient?

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

Additional Resources:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

Teaching Character Development in Early Childhood: Part 3

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

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

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

The Virtues Project™: Perseverance

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

— THE VIRTUES PROJECT™

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Virtues Project™: Cleanliness

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

— THE VIRTUES PROJECT™
teaching character development in early childhood
Cleaning up after a spill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Perseverance and Cleanliness at Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!

What’s the Difference Between Montessori and Traditional Preschool?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choosing Between the Two

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

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

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

Additional Resources:

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

Like what you’re reading? Leave us a comment, share this article on Facebook or with a friend, and subscribe to our blog for weekly updates!