Observations and Discoveries

Chapter 19: Observations and Discoveries

In this installation of our monthly blog, we reach the stage of The Secret of Childhood where Dr. Montessori details the creation of her educational method. As you’ll see this developed through a series of observations and discoveries. Following the scientific method, Dr. Montessori would carefully observe the children and test hypotheses with the end goal of improving their experience. This did not start out with the goal of education, however the end result was so profound that these methods are used worldwide over 100 years later.

As we covered in the last installment, this classroom itself was given to Dr. Montessori not to be a place of education, but as a daycare for children whose caretakers worked all day. She hired an assistant to watch over the children during the day as she took notes and made suggestions. The first of these observations and discoveries involved repetition of an exercise.

Order and Concentration

Dr. Montessori noticed a child of about 3 or 4 “slipping cylinders in and out of their containers”. The child was so focused that Dr. Montessori decided to test her concentration. Despite the entire class making noise, and the teacher physically lifting this child onto a table she continued this exercise with the cylinders. In total she repeated the exercise 42 times. This level of concentration is the exception of course. However it helped in the discovery that repetition of exercises assists in children’s development immensely.

The next discovery grew out of what can be observed as a sensitivity to order (for more on this, read our blog on the Sensitive Periods). Dr. Montessori noticed how children worked diligently to keep their room tidy. One day her assistant accidentally left the cupboard open which housed the classroom materials. Students went inside, chose works in an orderly fashion and put them back in the same way. 

Dr. Montessori was intrigued by this and allowed students to continue choosing their works. She noticed that children showed obvious preferences for certain materials while others began to collect dust. She realized that “interest and concentration arise specifically from the elimination of what is superfluous” (p122). This preference was especially true for toys, which were only touched when there was nothing else to do. The interest of children is piqued more by things that assist their development than even the most splendid toys.

Exercise and Practice

The children possessed such intrinsic motivation that they seemed above rewards and punishments. One day she walked into the classroom to see a child sitting on a chair in the corner wearing a badge that was given out as a reward for good behavior. This child however, was being punished. What happened was a different child, indifferent to his reward, had given it away to this child who was being punished. Neither the punishment nor the badge seemed of much importance to the child sitting in the chair. The indifference to rewards and punishments “marked an awakening in the conscience of a sense of dignity that had not previously existed” (p123).

As Maria Montessori continued participating in this first classroom, she continued to make observations and discoveries. One day she brought an infant inside with her and joked to the children that they should be as quiet as it was. What followed was a period of such profound silence that they made an exercise out of it that they continued on other days as well.

Eventually she asked the children to move silently through the building or courtyard. They seemed delighted by this exercise and participated with a joyful, deep concentration. The exercise of silence taught her that “exercises involving movement where mistakes can be corrected is of great assistance to a child” (p124).

Discipline and Learning

In fact practicing skills and improving them can have profound effects. One day Maria Montessori decided to give a joking lesson on blowing your nose. She demonstrated how to blow her nose as quietly as possible and expected a round of laughter. Instead, the students were astounded. They asked her to do it again and broke out in a round of applause. For the rest of the day the students practiced blowing their noses and profusely thanked Dr. Montessori for the lesson.

It turned out that nobody had ever taught them to blow their noses properly. Because of this, they did so in a very undignified way and felt humiliated at the shame this caused. The lesson wasn’t successful because there is something special about noses, but that it gave the students a sense of dignity. From here Maria Montessori began to notice dignity in all their behaviors- in welcoming guests as well as in their home life.

Although the children were given free choice in the classroom and generally went about the day with an easy manner, they conducted themselves with discipline. Even when the teacher came in late or left the children to their own devices they behaved in an orderly, concentrated manner. Visitors from all around came to observe these children. Even foreign dignitaries and authors came to visit and marvel at these children.

The Results

One day 2 mothers asked Dr. Montessori to teach their children to read and write. Although this she did not originally intend the classroom for these types of undertakings, she decided to give it a try. She cut out the shapes of letters from sandpaper and backed them with wooden blocks. She grouped similar shapes and taught the children to trace, thus she creating the “sandpaper letters”.

Another day, after the children had spent some weeks with sandpaper letters, Dr. Montessori saw a child walking around and muttering to himself. “To make Sofia, you have to have an ‘S,’ an ‘O,’ an ‘F,’ an ‘I,’ and an ‘A’.” This child had discovered all on his own that these letters corresponded with spoken sounds. Dr. Montessori observed  the children making the connection between written and spoken language in real time.

With this discovery children began writing all over the place. Where before they might welcome visitors verbally, they now wrote their messages on a chalkboard. One child, in response to learning about an earthquake that devastated the city of Messina in Sicily wrote the following: “I am sorry that I am small. If I were big, I would go to help. However, despite this level of writing Dr. Montessori could not pique their interest in books. 

They first learned to read signs, and even elaborate fonts. It took months however before they learned to read books. A child brought in a piece of paper that he found to show his friends one day. They didn’t see anything special at first. Then he pointed out a story on the page. From then on, books held a special place in their lives.

All in all these observations and discoveries allowed Dr. Montessori to remove the obstacles to the children’s development. As she did so she marveled at their dignity, order and ability to learn. Even more amazingly, these developments improved the children’s health. While it may be common knowledge today that mental and physical health are linked, back then this improvement was one more marvel of the Montessori Method.

Online Classes: COMS rises to challenge

Online Classes: COMS rises to challenge

School in the time of coronavirus has become a topic of major discussion- and for good reason! Online classes, in-person school, hybrid models, and even terms such as “micro school” are circulating the media. It can be difficult to know which to pick.

Families who work need somewhere to send their children during the day. They also need to feel comfortable that their children will be as safe from the global pandemic as possible. Council Oak Montessori School has spent the last six months learning about the pandemic and best practices for returning to in-person learning. We plan to be open for in-person learning this fall. Using our large space, both indoor and outdoor, coupled with a small student body we feel confident in our ability to support the health and safety of students and staff while continuing our Montessori program. We also understand that not everyone is comfortable sending their children to school in the fall.

Simultaneous Online Classes

In addition to in person learning, Council Oak Montessori School will offer a simultaneous option for online classes. These classes would feature packets of learning materials to be picked up every other week in conjunction with Seesaw lessons Monday through Friday. Families and students will also enjoy weekly meetings with our online program coordinator.

Running simultaneous programs has the added benefit of maintaining an online learning infrastructure should pandemic conditions become exacerbated. Students enrolled in online classes also have a path towards enrollment for our in-person learning program should conditions become more favorable.

Our mission is to “nurture the whole child to bring about a better world”. This means a focus both on safety from the virus, as well as creating an environment where students feel comfortable to express themselves and to exercise their curiosity. We seek to create an environment where children can continue to grow and learn joyfully.

To learn more about online classes at Council Oak Montessori School, see our article in the Beverly Review!

Interested in learning more about our enrollment process? To inquire or to schedule a tour, fill out this short form. Someone from our staff will respond to you shortly.

Early Education and Lifelong Learning

A Developing Brain

Our brains change quickly during early childhood. According to this article from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, “in the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second.” These connections lay the foundation for lifelong learning. Furthermore, they are influenced by our experiences, creating a compelling argument for the importance of early childhood education.

In the earliest stages, children learn to bring order to their world. The right environment can either hinder or help this learning. At Council Oak Montessori School our teachers are trained to provide the right guidance for each age group, helping them to achieve their potential. Teachers give students developmentally appropriate tasks and teach skills which prepare them for life down the road.

Whether your child is learning addition or still learning to tie their shoelaces, their environment helps them to build confidence, concentration, and collaboration. Uninterrupted 3-hour work cycles give students the freedom to manage their own schedules. At Council Oak Montessori School our teachers and mixed-age classrooms teach students to be comfortable asking for help, and the respectful way to do so.

A Foundation of Lifelong Learning

During a normal school year Council Oak Montessori School hosts weekly classroom observations. Visitors frequently comment on the sense of orderliness they see in the classroom. They notice students working with great concentration, but moving freely through the classroom. They see socialization, but not an amount that disturbs anyone.

Sometimes children disagree. Generally, they handle these disagreements respectfully among themselves. If the teacher needs to step in, they guide the students through conflict resolution, helping students learn these skills themselves.

With careful planning on the part of teachers and staff, students learn life skills alongside those such as math, language, geography, and science. It takes a lot of structure to provide this level of freedom to students in the classroom, but we believe in the importance of doing so.

At Council Oak Montessori School our role extends beyond teaching specific topics and into increasing the student’s overall potential. The early years of education form the foundation for learning that will stay with each child for a lifetime. Teachers of our older students have an important job as well, but it is in the younger years that we lay the foundation for lifelong learning.

Interested in learning more about our Children’s House (3-6 years old) and other programs? Fill out this form to get in touch with our admissions staff. Or alternatively call (708) 926-9720

Cultivate Community

Cultivate community image.

In our transition to remote schooling, Council Oak is maintaining its focus on community. Not only does this help to keep us feeling good, but it also increases intrinsic motivation for schoolwork. Learning becomes more rewarding when you are doing it with your friends. So how do we continue to cultivate community while we’re socially distant? This article from Harvard by Emily Boudreau has an insightful suggestion. “To avoid isolation and self-focus, shift your attention and concern to the needs of others.”

Swing set

By modeling empathy towards our children and those around us we can set a good example. In fact, this is a key component of the Council Oak Montessori School curriculum. However, when we’re busy working from home it is important to have other ways of cultivating empathy. Talk to your children about the way everyone is working together. It is a great way to open their eyes to how connected we really are. The song “Ship in the Sky” is a great illustration of this connection.

Mr. Rogers used to tell a story about his mother’s advice in times of crisis. She told him to “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” Our nurses, first responders, grocery store workers, and all other essential workers work every day to keep things running smoothly.

Talking to our children about this together reduces feelings of isolation. On top of this, we can make projects out of joining in to help. Bring groceries to the elderly, make crafts for friends, or even let your child tip the delivery driver. These little ways of helping can help us to feel connected in a big way.

Not only does this show appreciation, but it also helps to channel our energy into something productive. When you’re busy working on a craft and thinking about how much everyone is working together, there’s no time to be grumpy.

Cultivate Community

Help us cultivate community!

We’ve heard stories from our Council Oak Montessori School families going out with chalk to leave happy messages around the neighborhood and at their friend’s houses. How are you cultivating empathy right now? Send your ideas and pictures to dave@counciloakmontessori.org and we will feature you on our upcoming social media post When Community Stands Together. Until next time: stay safe and healthy!

Council Oak Montessori School has been continuing it’s tradition of high fidelity Montessori education through the year, but look forward to re-opening our doors in Fall. If you are interested in learning more about the enrollment process, click here and get started today!