Part 2: Education of the Child

We have finally reached part 2. At this point in the book it feels like we are really reaching the “good stuff”. After many chapters outlining the way a child’s mind works, we are now at the section where Dr. Montessori talks about her experience with the education of the child.

In Part 1 we learned about the rich inner life that drives children. Through that learning, it becomes obvious that the environmental needs of children differ from those of adults. Children need to work slowly through simple tasks such as tying their shoes; we would rather get out the door quickly. 

Chapter 18: Education of the Child

These differences aren’t always so obvious, but can be discovered through the child’s actions. A tantrum for example, is an indication that something is amiss. “A tantrum is like a storm that prevents the soul of the child from coming out of its hidden retreat and showing itself to the world” (p 109). To allow the child to reveal their true personality and to grow unhindered, we must ensure their environment is properly suited to their needs.

Based on this idea, our system of education’s primary aim is “the discovery and freeing of the child” (p 110). To build this environment Dr. Montessori calls for the reduction of obstacles to growth and providing ample opportunity to exercise activities which help the child to develop. The main focus is on the environment and not the teacher. By taking on a more passive role in the classroom, the teacher can ensure the environment remains suited to each child’s needs as they continue to grow. 

This whole concept centers on a respect for each child. Specifically, by removing the teacher’s desk from the front of classrooms, Montessori schools readjust the center of focus. This change remains controversial in traditional schooling while others, such as child-sized objects, low windows, luminous rooms, and many others have caught on nearly everywhere. Nonetheless, we continue to see that these changes greatly benefit the education of the child.

From Humble Beginnings

All the changes that we associate with the Montessori Method did not spring out of nowhere. While Dr. Montessori was quite intelligent, it would be dogmatic to think she received some divine moment of inspiration and came up with a revolutionary system of education. No, instead she followed a very scientific process. She herself had doubts along the way.

Maria Montessori’s first school opened on January 6, 1907. She was given charge of 50 children who lived in an apartment building. Their parents worked all day leaving the children alone. These children had no previous education and there was little expectation from Maria Montessori’s employer for any great success. She had an assistant as teacher whom she instructed in what was then only a rudimentary idea of working with objects. Besides the materials she already had, they made all the furniture from scratch. (For those on a budget today, check out this video on Montessori furniture you can get from Ikea!)

The children took extremely well to the classroom materials. Dr. Montessori was amazed by their rapturous attention and the inclination to neatly put each material back in its proper place when they were done. When the children were done working, they appeared calm and satisfied. At first, Maria Montessori didn’t believe the teacher’s reports. After seeing it herself, the satisfaction of the children clued her into the significance of this work. 

This original Children’s House had little funding, a room and an untrained teacher and some materials left over from Dr. Montessori’s work with children who had intellectual disabilities. The reaction of the students to these materials sparked her curiosity. From there came everything else we know of as “Montessori” today. One at a time changes were made and evaluated. This scientific approach brought us to the system of education now used all around the world.

June Blog: The Intelligence of Love

Movement both grows and expresses the child's intelligence of love.

It has been a few months since I last wrote a blog. Not only were we coming to the end of Part 1 in “The Secret of Childhood”, but you may have noticed a couple large events that took place since February. I am happy to announce that Council Oak Montessori School has successfully navigated distance learning in a way that stays true to the Montessori method. We are using our summer to more fully examine and engage in the local and national dialogue towards meaningful change.

As I write this blog on the final two chapters of Part 1, I look back and am astounded by the truth in these pages – and their relevance even today. After reading and writing the chapters associated with each blog, I started seeing these concepts around the school- in Children’s House, and in children everywhere. I saw children’s curiosity leading them to amazing research projects, and simple tasks building a sense of order.

Even more importantly, I noticed that as I applied these concepts to my interaction with children, they responded positively. Dr. Montessori’s observations undoubtedly apply to this day. Part 1 has investigated the forces that guide children to learn and develop. Parts 2 and 3 will go further into the implications of this.

The more I learn about the Montessori method, the more I respect the teachers at this school. They are unceasingly deepening their understanding of children as a whole and individually. Applying the Montessori method is an art form, and like any great artist, our teachers are happy to share their knowledge, sense of beauty, and order with those around them.

Dave Power- Marketing Manager and COMS Graduate

 

Chapter 16: The Lack of Comprehension

When we don’t understand the reason behind a child’s action, it is easy to regard it as unimportant. This is especially true if the action is inconvenient. We’ve seen in earlier chapters that movement is essential to a child’s learning. However, it is not enough to be aware. We must comprehend.

Everyone can generally agree upon the importance of the child’s senses in learning. They take in information through their eyes, ears, and so forth. What we fail to understand is the way expression is also a form of learning.

This leads to those who would teach a child through discipline. “It would be absurd to think that a child would obtain a higher standard of culture and morality if they were deliberately deprived of sight and hearing” (p100). So why then would we think sitting still or being quiet is a mark of good education?

Through movement and expression, the child interacts with the world. They test out their ideas and explore the environment. Eyes and ears take in information, but it is only through movement that we use this information and give it meaning. (Want to give your child even more opportunities to move? Liz Smith, our school’s yoga instructor offers mindfulness for kids at her studio!)

Deaf or blind children go through great difficulties, but can make up for one lost sense by way of another. Those children deprived of movement have no secondary form of interaction or exploration. Therefore, movement is of primary importance.

“A fundamental goal of education and of life itself is  that a rational creature should so master their instruments of motion that their actions are not simply guided by an instinctive response to sense stimuli but also by reason itself” (p102). Put another way- we are not defined by our circumstances, but by our response to them. To develop the ability to respond is to attain “unity of personality”.

Chapter 17: The Intelligence of Love

So how do we know if it is working? Well, Dr. Montessori believed that “love is not the cause, but the effect” (p103). In earlier chapters she notes that tantrums are a way for the child to let us know that something is wrong. Likewise, love is an expression of things going well. “A child’s love of their surroundings appears to adults as the natural joy and vivacity of youth” (p103).

We may worry that too much joy distracts children from their lessons. However, this mistakes joy for excitement. “It is love that enables a child to observe in a keen and ardent fashion.” Love makes us extra observant, causing us to probe deeper and discover more.

When teachers at Council Oak Montessori School talk about the love of learning it is not at the expense of education, but rather the effect of it. The child’s love directs their learning and is magnified by it. This puts a heavy responsibility on those adults who are the object of this love.

Children are very impressionable. They want to follow our suggestions and imitate our patterns. When our patterns or directions are impossible this creates conflict. These tantrums are the child’s way of letting us know something is wrong. They are also a distress at disappointing the adults that they love.

The love of our children is immense and unwavering. It should be honored and appreciated. Eventually they will grow. The childlike purity of that love will fade. So, during those times when our children’s love is inconvenient- when they wake us up early, invade our personal space, or disrupt our Zoom calls- keep this in mind. They are doing this because they love you and need you.

One “secret of childhood” that we can take out of Part 1 is this love. Maria Montessori had a deep respect for this love. She worked to understand the impulses behind children. In part 2 we will continue with this book to show how she applies this to education. Until then let’s take the time to appreciate that love.

Practical Life Aids the Mathematical Mind

Council Oak Childrens House

I am a mom of 2 children, and a Montessori Guide from Council Oak Montessori School. Since completing my AMI Montessori training in 2009, I have been teaching for close to a decade in the 3-6 year old classroom and trying my best to create a Montessori environment at home. One way I do this is through the use of practical life activities.

Maria Montessori believed children of all ages crave inclusion in their environments. However, they do not always have the tools or skills to do so. With this in mind, she developed the practical life lessons and materials. These greatly mimic the “adult” work children see every day. By observing the children as they worked with practical life materials, Montessori discovered deeper learning taking place.

The Montessori 3-6 year old classroom is filled with practical life work. It is arguably the most important part of the early childhood curriculum, if not the entire Montessori pedagogy. Learning to button, pour, cut, lace, and clean can help a child feel successful, independent, competent and an important part of their community. (There is a wealth of supporting studies, but this is a good start.) Children gain confidence as they become more independent. These activities also play a big role in preparing the child for success in language and mathematics.

As we delve into distance learning, let us not forget that we can provide language and mathematic development in simple and everyday tasks. I might give the class activities like washing silverware, sorting their stuffed animals, or setting the table beautifully for dinner. I might even ask them to organize their sock drawer. While these tasks might feel like busy work or simple care of the community work, a lot more is going on here.

So, what does your child learn while washing silverware, sorting animals, setting the table or a host of many other things that will aid math? 

Concentration 

By providing simple and short activities to the young child, we provide them with clear moments of concentration and success. A child cannot be expected to sit for a 25-minute lesson without first learning to sit through a 30-second lesson. Through practical life activities, children slowly garner longer moments of concentration. 

Logical analysis of movements and sequence

Anytime we learn a new skill, we are learning that things need to be done in the correct order. This can be as simple as learning to open a door, put on a sock or snap a button. To open a door, you have to hold the knob tightly, turn your wrist to turn the knob, pull or push the knob to move the door, step out of the way, and finally release the knob. That is 5 steps! As we learn, the command “Open the door” becomes just one step. We have internalized each of those 5 movements, but for the young child, that same command feels like many steps. If a child skips just one of these 5 steps, the door will not open.

Not only does a child have to learn each step, they also have to learn them in the correct order. Each new skill a child (and really anyone) learns, can benefit from this type of careful analysis. In Montessori, we set up each practical life material to help isolate these movements, and to provide the child with practice they need to be successful in a larger task.

Refinement of movements through repetition

Practical life work, whether in a classroom or at home, allows for lots of repetition. Each simple task offers moments of repetition within the task itself and by repeating it over time. We all have seen a child take a towel that you had just folded, unfold it and fold it over and over again. While this might feel exhausting as you work to finish the task of folding, a child is hard-wired for this type of repetition. A person can sweep every day, can fold napkins every time they come out of the laundry, and wash lettuce before every dinner. These moments of repetition provide the child with ample time to perfect their movements and feel success and satisfaction simply through their practice. 

Control of error

This concept means that the material or activity provides a cue that the child performs the activity correctly. The child does not then rely on an adult to tell them if they did the task correctly or not. This not only instills self-confidence and independence but also an innate understanding of right and wrong.  

Ease or comfort in failure

Math has right and wrong answers. It is important that our children become comfortable getting things wrong and learning ways to persevere until they get it right. Through practical life work, children are given many opportunities to practice, concentrate, analyze movements, refine their movements and get things wrong before they get it right. And then once they start in more traditional looking math work, children will be ready to hear “hm, that is not the right answer, please try again.” 

Although Montessori teachers go through extensive training on these subjects, you can apply these ideas to your home right away. At Council Oak Montessori School we provide families with a variety of specific lessons during remote learning. Interested in some more ideas about practical life? Sign up for our email list to receive a free guide to practical life education, and follow-ups with specific lessons.

To more about our school, click here to get in contact with our admissions director, or call (708) 926-9720.

How Montessori Prepares Students to Adapt

Middle School students in a game of chess

Introduction

For this month’s blog I will take a break from The Secret of Childhood. For one, we have covered all, but the final 2 chapters of Part 1, marking a natural stopping point. However, the main reason for the shift is to write something topical. If you have read our alumni interviews, then you have seen that Montessori prepares students to adapt in their future education and careers. Today’s blog will explore that idea across the various age groups that you see in a high-fidelity Montessori school.

The importance of academic skills are widely understood. I would like to underscore that these are not sacrificed by education of the “whole child” in our classrooms. Instead, academic skills are bolstered by the less tangible aspects of Montessori education. Beginning with 3 and 4 year-olds in the Children’s House classroom, students develop the foundation for these skills. Spatial reasoning, fine motor skills, and the association of letter shapes with sounds, all begin at this age.

As students move to Lower Elementary (6-9 years old), then Upper Elementary and Middle School, they build on these foundations. Montessori students in Lower Elementary will work on division, binomials, parts of speech, and more. By Upper Elementary, they expand on these concepts with decimals and pre-algebra, by Middle School they work with geometry, exponents, and integers.

Mastery

One constant which remains through all this growth is a focus on mastery. The first way that Montessori education prepares students to adapt is by focusing on deep level understanding. Our students stick with a subject long enough that they can use it in various applications. Their mastery builds towards the next level of difficulty. Rather than taking tests, students demonstrate their mastery to teachers in holistic-assessments. The teacher watches for ease, understanding, and adaptability before presenting the next lesson.

In Children’s House, 3 year olds practice writing letters at the same time as they learn their sounds. Cards with color coded letters, create a distinction between consonants and vowels. Preliminary skills such as these prepare students to read confidently and make their transition into parts of speech easier. Through this foundational work, students become clear, and creative communicators.

Language mastery can eventually be applied to creative writing, interpersonal communication, and even scientific reports. This is just one example of the way mastery allows us to apply specific skills to multiple uses. Since Montessori classrooms work towards mastery in each concept that is presented, by the time students graduate to high school, they are prepared to use their current knowledge in new and creative ways.

Self-Direction

Along with a focus on mastery, the Montessori classroom encourages students to become self-starters. Among Montessori professionals, teachers are often referred to as classroom guides. This is because Maria Montessori believed that “Our care of the child should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”

Keeping that “light burning” has a purpose that becomes more profound the older the child becomes. As recent events have shown, the world around us can change unexpectedly. We either react with fear or cautious curiosity.

Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting, much in the same way puzzles are. Rather than using positive or negative reinforcement from grades, we encourage growth and mistakes. A self-correcting material allows students to practice working through mistakes with the promise of eventual success. That lesson sticks with students as they become adults.

3-Hour Work Cycles

The final way Montessori prepares students to adapt is through the use of 3 hour work cycles. During these work cycles students are free to organize their work schedule. They can choose the order and duration of each work that best fits their needs. Of course teachers provide guidance, but in general students have a high degree of freedom within the classroom.

With this freedom students begin to learn from a young age to organize their time. Starting at the age of 3, they learn how to use intrinsic motivation in order to keep working. They learn to focus for long periods of time, and they learn what their personal rhythm is in a work day.

All of these skills allow them to adapt later in life. By practicing intrinsic motivation they learn the perseverance needed to tackle difficult times. By learning to focus on one work at a time, they are learning how to isolate tasks in the face of a long list of “to-dos”. Lastly by learning how to work with their own rhythm, they know how to remain productive without burning out. (That last one is a lesson many people could use if the “self-care industry is indicative of anything.)

Montessori prepares students to adapt to whatever life throws at us. I would encourage you to do a little thought experiment. In what ways can we encourage this at home? How can we work through challenges with our children instead of solving things for them? How can we use our current knowledge in unique ways? Lastly, how can we be kind to ourselves without skirting our responsibilities? Adapting to change is difficult sometimes, but it’s rewards are essential. In the words of Maria Montessori, “development is a series of rebirths.” (The Absorbent Mind)

-Dave Power

Rhythm and Movement: Chapters 13-15

Trying out instruments in Gerry's music room

Chapter 13: Rhythm

We mostly think of rhythm in terms of music, dance and drums. Although music education is a large part of Council Oak Montessori School’s curriculum, the Montessori sense of rhythm goes deeper. It is one of those Secrets of Childhood which give us insight into developing a child’s self-control. “Rhythm is not simply an old concept that can be changed at will. It is an intrinsic characteristic of an individual almost like the shape of the body.

Children take great pains to accomplish tasks, often focusing on minute details which we see as unnecessary. To the child these tasks are critical. Their rhythm is slow and deliberate. When we take the liberty to perform tasks for our children rather than letting them do it on their own, we are substituting their rhythm for ours.

Our rhythms are so entwined in our personas that it can be uncomfortable to spend much time around someone with a different rhythm. For an example try driving behind someone going very slowly for an extended period of time.

When a child needs deliberation for simple tasks it can be frustrating for us. The difference in rhythm is frustrating even when we understand the need of the child to practice their skills. It is important to make sure that we respect our child’s rhythms. Imposing our own rhythms only represses the child’s.

Chapter 14: Substitution

Children are impressionable. If we are overly excitable or forceful in our guidance we run the risk of substituting our personality for theirs. This is especially true in young children who are just beginning to be self aware.

Maria Montessori noticed that in her schools “if we show a child how to do something with too much enthusiasm or exaggerated movements, the child’s capacity to think and judge for themself is repressed.” It is not willful repression, but simply the strength of our personalities that risks holding the child back.

This impressionability comes from a sensibility or love for their environment. The Secret of Childhood is a testament to the wonder of childhood development. Children are eager to grow and learn and will watch us eagerly to see how things are done. Maria Montessori saw it as our mission to be good examples- and that requires understanding and patience.

We must be careful to allow children the space to exercise their own newly formed wills. This takes care, and a network of peers to keep us accountable. Children at this impressionable age are likely to feel the effects of their early education for a long time. 

A careful education develop’s the child’s self-control, helping them master their desires. An education where the adults are overly enthusiastic leads to children who are out of their own control, acting on impulse rather than reason.

Chapter 15: Movement

We cannot assume that reason develops automatically in children. Instead it is built up through interaction with the environment. Through movement the child looks around the room, discovers that objects fall toward the ground without fail, and explores the dimensions of their environments.

That interaction not only builds a wealth of experiences, but it also builds an understanding for the child about what they are capable of. Exercising their muscles allows them to become capable of new things. As they improve control over their body, the child’s self-control is improved in all aspects.

Keeping one’s muscles conditioned is then vitally important for spiritual as well as physical well being. Our energy levels depend on movement, as well as our concentration. Whether it is through a yoga and mindfulness program, through gardening, dance, or simply playing outside, movement is important for development. 

Movement is perhaps the deepest expression of our will and our rhythm. When children move to their own rhythm, and exercise their own will, they are fully exercising themselves, gaining confidence and self-control along the way.

How Parents Can Ensure a Successful Transition to Montessori Elementary

Montessori schooling is a brilliant investment in your child’s well-being and future. With a great approach to nurturing and educating children, Montessori schooling is a favorite amongst new parents.

At the age of 6, your child is most likely going to begin Montessori Elementary. Bright-eyed, eager and with their backpack on, your child may be a little anxious about the first day of school – and most probably, you’ll be anxious too.

Here are some great ways to make this transition for you and your child a seamless experience.

Be Informed

By now, you must be well aware of how Montessori schooling prides itself on the principles of trust and child-centeredness.

Montessori elementary is no different, although it’s great to attend parent education seminars about the school to get an idea of how to acclimate your child to their new surroundings. Having conversations with teachers and expressing concerns about your child’s transition will also open you up to a professional’s take on transition.

A Different Classroom

Montessori classrooms are prepared classrooms with architecture, furniture and color schemes to encourage children to learn and visually engage themselves. With a low student to teacher ratio, it offers a much more homely environment.

However, the classrooms at Montessori Elementary are larger and noisier than what they may have become used to in the Children’s House. Acclimating your child to this information will help them ease into their new surroundings without feeling strange about a new place.

The Academic Workload

The workload of Montessori Elementary schools is more advanced, of course. Reading, arithmetic, algebra and certain other subjects are bound to be introduced and could worry your child.

In the summer before school, make reading and arithmetic fun for your child with interactive games and rewarding them when they apply themselves well on a new topic.

Give Your Child Some Time

Naturally, all parents want to protect their children from impending dangers and discomforts. But allowing your child time to adjust to their new environment is also equally important as preparing them for the change.

Giving your child a chance to process a novel environment will help foster independence and personal opinion, both of which are vital for personal and cognitive growth.

Montessori schooling is a learning environment; allowing your child to develop their own pace and preferences about their new school and communicating about it with them will help in their transition. To schedule a tour and learn more about our curriculum, please call (708) 926-9720 or submit a contact form on our website.

What is Montessori?

Montessori

Montessori schools are child-centered educational institutions providing a holistic approach to education for age groups up to 14 years old.

This time-tested ‘alternative’ approach to education helps develop children’s cognitive abilities and molds children into self-reliant and productive individuals. With an environment centered on children’s well-being, the Montessori schooling system promises enriching education and academics.

New parents are now realizing the benefits of secondary socialization and how it plays a vital role in a child’s development as a human being. Therefore, many are opting to enroll their children in Montessori schools for brilliant futures.

Evidence-Based Educational Practices

Teachers with AMS/AMI certification and degrees in child development, education and various other related fields are entrusted with students. Practicing effective communication and creating a nurturing environment, Montessori teachers establish close bonds and trusting relationships with children.

Experiential Learning

Montessori schools equip children with practical skills for independence, better motor skills, and a strong base for academics such as arithmetic, writing and reading that will help them to advance later on in their schooling years. Using specially designed Montessori materials and teaching through learning, Montessori teachers facilitate cognitive development.

Uninterrupted Work Period

Children enjoy a three hour, uninterrupted, morning work cycle. Longer time periods rather than shorter time slots help develop concentration, and hone focus.

Sensorial Education

The education of the senses is one of the most important components of Montessori schools. Learning through real-life experiences and experiencing the senses allows children to grow into aware and mindful individuals. Using interactive materials and tools, Montessori schools help children sharpen such skills for greater awareness.

Personality and Character Development

Unlike traditional schools with set dress codes and seating arrangements, Montessori schools allow children physical, social, mental and spiritual freedom. Children are encouraged to openly express their individual take on their learning environment and social interactions, allowing them to develop their personality traits in a safe environment.

Individualized Curriculum

Highly experienced teachers will be attuned to each individual child’s needs and areas of strengths, and according to their progress, will plan work accordingly. For example, this Montessori introduces algebra to children as young as three years of age with the Trinomial Cube.

Prepared Classrooms

Prepared classrooms refer to Montessori architecture. All rooms are built with low shelves, adequate furniture, visually captivating aesthetics and an environment that allows children to explore their mobility and decisions with independence. With tons of color and opportunity to be self-reliant, a well-rounded education is a promise.

Peace Education

Maria Montessori was a peace advocate. She believed that children were the future of the world and hence, inculcating values of peace in them is vital. Montessori schools instill in children skills of conflict resolution, effective communication, importance of self-care and constructive solutions.

In a world of evolving parents and parenting styles, making a decision for your child’s future can be anxiety-inducing. Having educational experts by your side will make it a smooth transition.

Cosmic Task

Before I had even heard of Montessori Education, before I ever even knew I had it in me to work with young children, let alone head a Montessori school, I picked up a book on early childhood development on a whim. It was by Maria Montessori, and in it she discussed the prepared environment and about the teacher’s role in the classroom. She writes at length about the preparation of a guide because the role of a Montessori guide is not to teach subjects but to provide children an environment within which they discover their Cosmic Task.

In the context of a Montessori environment, Cosmic Task refers to the decree each living thing comes into this world to carry out. It is built on the idea that everything has its own unique function in the cosmic plan.

The child pictured above spent close to an hour of intense focus, peaceful focus on his painting. He took great care to set everything up. Started with the sky, then the tree, then the flower, then the grass. A bluish puddle began to cover the grass, then it began to rain and storm. When he completed the dark clouds at the top of the paper, he put his paint brush down, contemplated his piece with such thoughtfulness before letting me know he was done.

Our day in Children’s House is full of moments like this one, where children immerse themselves in their work, in their Cosmic Task, which is to construct the human being itself, to build the foundation for peace in this world. What is this child’s Cosmic Task? What was his spirit working out / learning / expressing as he created this beautiful artwork? As the guides in the classroom, what must we present next? Which part of the environment is in the process of opening up to him?

Adults have a Cosmic Task too, of course, to prepare, maintain and nourish the environment. This is an awesome duty and privilege, and what ultimately sets a Montessori experience apart from all other modes of education.

Author: Lila Jokanovic

Lila Jokanovic is the Executive Director at Council Oak Montessori School. Prior to taking on administrative duties, Lila was the Lead Guide in Children’s House from 2008 to 2015. Currently, she is enjoying the opportunity to be back in the classroom in addition to guiding the school!

The Adolescent Prepared Environment

Recently I explained to the Middle School students that they are currently involved in launching a component of our program which will move us closer to Maria Montessori’s vision of the appropriate learning environment for adolescents. Our program has always implemented her ideas of giving the students real work opportunities, interactions in the larger society, and experience in production and exchange (commerce). Now, at our new school site, we will be able to include the land connection that Montessori prescribed for this age.

One of the indispensable principles of the Montessori method is the “prepared environment” – providing the appropriate setting and conditions to allow children the freedom to absorb or experience what is needed for their development at each special stage of self-construction.  In Children’s House (pre-primary) and elementary classrooms, much of the prepared environment is observable on the shelves where materials are arranged. Along with this is the preparation of the social environment and of the guide (teacher) whose role is to provide for the children’s independent learning and exploration with an understanding of their unique needs and tendencies.

 

Dr. Montessori stated that the appropriate prepared environment for the adolescent stage of development would prepare the individual to move from childhood into society, providing the opportunity to learn the value of commitment, responsibility, and cooperation, and building a sense of their own value in the community. The prepared environment should give them work experiences, both manual and intellectual, that will help them more fully understand the society they are about to enter, and to build their sense of self-sufficiency. An important element of the setting for adolescents is an outdoor environment, with work on the land serving as a starting point for studies in culture, the sciences, and human interaction. The land provides opportunity for physical work, and a sense of accomplishment as a result of the work. The outdoor environment also provides calm and quiet to satisfy the adolescent’s need for times of solitude and reflection.

Thus far our outdoor environment has provided our Middle School students with experiences in nature journaling in the field, planting kale and broccoli in the garden, setting up a compost bin, and harvesting seeds from donated milkweed pods for future planting. Plans are in the works for planting native wildflowers to help the declining population of pollinators; planting milkweed to create a waystation for monarch butterflies; and managing compost production for the school. As the students do their hands-on work outdoors, their studies in class add to their understanding of what they’re observing, nature’s cycles, and the interdependence of living organisms, including humans. Lessons on the needs of living things, classification of plants, the chemistry of photosynthesis, the microorganisms and macroorganisms involved in decomposition and composting, the study of the transition from the nomadic life of hunting and gathering to agriculture, and inventions of humans in the earliest ancient river civilizations are all relevant and support the students’ work on the land.

These are exciting times as Council Oak makes plans for expanding its agricultural program, involving students of all ages in planting, harvesting, and preparing produce for eating. The nature connection will surely build our awareness of and appreciation for our precious planet, and will provide our adolescents with a prepared environment that nurtures their development as members of a community and citizens of the world.

 

The World Coffee Swirl

Four years ago I visited a student run business at another Montessori school and after witnessing the confidence and pride the children exhibited while rushing to fill their customer’s orders, I immediately knew it was something I wanted to begin here at Council Oak. The next September I asked my Upper Elementary students if they would like to open a business of their own and the World Coffee Swirl was quickly born. Little did I know how much this experience would teach all of us, especially me!

The students choose to start a monthly coffee shop where they would have menus consisting of coffee, tea, muffins, and fruit. They decided they would use the shop to help our community, the world, and to have some fun. Every year they have been able to generously donate to a non-profit organization that they researched and want to help, purchased new materials for our classroom and community, and gone on some extra, fun outings. When a child decides that they want to spend and/or donate some of their profits, they create a proposal, present it to their peers, and take a vote.

One of the things that truly surprised me was how easily we can incorporate our daily curriculum into business lessons. Children practice public speaking when they invite other classes to our shop, they work on multiplication, division, and fractions when adjusting recipes, they work on accounting when budgeting and totaling numbers, and they work on their language skills in all of their parent communications and marketing materials. The children are engaged, excited, and focused during any lesson that involves their coffee shop. Most amazing has been watching their confidence, independence, and problem-solving skills flourish.

Allowing the students to fail was one of the most challenging things for me as a teacher, but one that proved to be the most beneficial for them.  One winter day, the students all agreed that they wanted to serve cups of blueberries for $1 each. Knowing that blueberries were out of season and expensive, I knew that they would lose money at this price, but I sat back and let it happen. Not only did this encourage a botany lesson, it also taught the students to pay attention to their product cost and size of the portion they served. Another month the students forgot to put creamer on their grocery list despite it being listed on all of their checklists. I watched as they realized their mistake, sprung to action, and offered the extra milk from baking as an alternate to their customers. Now instead of only being checked twice, every list is checked at least three times.

Next Friday the 27th, the students of Upper Elementary will once again be opening the World Coffee Swirl for 8:30-9 in the Before Care room and I do hope that you will stop by to check it out.