4 Important Lessons Kids Learn in Montessori

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

Lesson #1: I am capable

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

Lesson #2: I am trustworthy

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson #4: I am respected

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

Child working on opening and closing work

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

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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. 🙂 

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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

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

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

Imagination in the Three to Six-Year Old

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

Three to Four:

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

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

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

Four to Five:

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

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

Five to Six:

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

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

Grounded in Reality

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

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

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

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

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

Work IS Play

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

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

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

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

Let’s Get Real

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Creativity in the Montessori Classroom

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

Built-In Creativity

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

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

Child working with Montessori Sensorial materials.

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

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

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

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

How to Help Your Child be a More Creative Problem Solver

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

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

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

Some good responses to keep in your back pocket:

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

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

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Why are Montessori Classrooms Mixed Age?

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

An Interesting Backstory: Children Running Amok!

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

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

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

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

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Ways of Learning

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

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

She noted that children learn through:

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

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Continuity and Confidence

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

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

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

Benefits of Mixed-Age Classrooms: Repetition and Advancement

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

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

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

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

A Natural Way to Learn

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

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Understanding Montessori: What do the children do all day?

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

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

The Importance of a Schedule

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

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

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

Morning (8:00 to 11:00)

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

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

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

Pin punching is fun with a friend!

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

Mid-Day (11:00 – 1:00)

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

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

8… 9… 10! Ready or not, here I come!

Afternoon (1:00 – 3:00)

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

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

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

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

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

Late Afternoon (3:00 – 5:30)

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

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

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

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We are Thankful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Virtues Project™️

Happy Thanksgiving!

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What is Montessori? And Other Common Questions

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

“What is Montessori?”

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

“Who was Maria Montessori?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are the toys?”

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

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

“Why are Montessori schools more expensive?”

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

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

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

Still got questions? Check out these previous posts:

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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.

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Questions? Call us at 703-481-6678 or email us through the form below.