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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Noisy Classroom?


There are definitely times during the year (or week!) that a classroom can get noisy.  My classroom was always louder in the spring when my third year children were starting to transition into the second plane of development.  They became little social magnets!  Always stuck to one another in a chatty clump!



I have some fast fixes for a noisy class!
Engagement:  Children are quieter when they are concentrating and engaged.  As the teacher, you are the link to the environment.  Try taking a looking a look into your albums for some fresh extensions that you haven’t tried in a while.  This will give the child an exciting new perspective on a material they may have lost interest in.  This goes two-fold to also deepen their understanding of the concept the material is offering.


Grace and Courtesy:  Are the children disturbing one another?  Is the concentration of a working child protected?  I would try direct modeling during circle time so everyone can see and practice how to observe.


Shouting:  Many homes are filled with noise from telephones, video games, and television.  Many children are simply used to a louder environment and have compensated by speaking louder.  Some have distracted parents and find that they need to shout to get the adults attention.  In this case I would practice “inside and outside voices” with the child.  Take the child outside to practice the “outside” or louder voice, then back inside to practice the quieter voice.  Also, try teaching that the best way to get attention is to silently touch the teacher’s shoulder.


You:  Yes you!  Are you calling children from across the room?  Are you using an “inside voice”?  I was terribly guilty of this in the classroom.  It was something I checked myself on for years.  The teacher is the ultimate model.  If you aren’t using an appropriate volume of voice, why should the children?


I hope a few of these tips will have you on your way to a more peaceful classroom!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Observation by the Child


Observation is one of the cornerstones of Montessori.  The teacher is trained to objectively observe each and every child, without passing judgment.  These observations lead us to seeing learning patterns or sensitivities in the child which help us to direct the child to the materials that will best satisfy their natural development.  Taking the time regularly to simply sit and observe is so very important to meeting the needs of each of the children in our care!

Observation by the Child

Not only is it important for the adult to observe children but equally so for the child!  BUT observing is a skill that we should directly teach the child.  All children love to watch each other, but observation is different in the grace and courtesy we use.  When young children “watch” they are rarely quiet and most insist on joining-in with what they are seeing.  To observe is to watch, but silently, so as not to disturb the other child.  To observe is to also watch without touching a working child’s table or work.
 

What would that look like?  A child should be invited for a lesson on observing.  They should be shown by your modeling how to stand by the table of the working child with their hands at their sides or behind them.  Then you explain in a whisper, “We are going to observe this work.  We are not going to talk or touch because that might disturb her work.  Let’s try.  Show me how we can observe.”

Also, the children need to know what to do if another disturbs their work.  This is a great group-time lesson! “Children what would you do if you are busy and another child touches your work?  Or talks to you and disturbs your work?”  See what the children say and then add, “You can very nicely say “Please walk away, you are disturbing my work.”

Reinforcing the procedure for the children to observe and how a child can direct another away will help a great deal in creating peace in your classroom!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Misuse of Materials


This is a biggie for me!  My Montessori trainer was who many would consider  “old school”.  Any and all misuse of material was to be stopped immediately with, “Dear, you may not play with the materials.  I will put them away for you.”

So what is misuse versus exploration? 

That may be up to interpretation, BUT a rule of thumb could be: if the way the child is using the material no longer satisfies the aims for that material, you must stop it.

Some choice examples I have personally encountered are hammering on the musical bells with the narrowest prism from the broad stairs, making the farm animals ride the roof of the barn, scribbling instead of carefully drawing the metal insets, using a red rod as a pretend rifle (that one almost sent me through the roof!), turning the binomial cube box into a pretend garage.

Misuse of materials can also correlate to the handling and physical use, if the child is being rough or destructive, it is best to redirect them in a way that better suits their energy or interest level and put the work away yourself.  So if a child is banging the cubes of the pink tower together, he may be showing you he needs some large motor activity like digging outside.  Focus the energy and use those muscles!

I'm using this picture because it is hilarious!  This young friend happens to my daughter three years ago.  She has hogged three rugs and hunkered down in her work avoidance claiming to be "tired" (she's not, her teacher swears!)  Could it be a misuse of the rugs...I'll let you decide! :)
 
But is it misuse??? 

Could the child have been shown the material by another child and is mimicking the lesson you may not have known happened?  Or if the child got the lesson from the teacher, was he truly ready to receive it?  Check your album!  All lessons have an age range for presentation.  Just because a child may have a fleeting interest in a work on the shelf, doesn’t mean he is ready for it.  Follow your album!

Back to school means making those expectations for material use and misuse very clear!  If you do, your classroom life will be so much easier! 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Student Wandering


Remember that saying, “Not all who wander are lost” ? Well… in a Montessori classroom that may or may not be the case.
 

Types of Wanderers

1.        The three year old-pretty new to class-wanderer.  This kiddo needs to wander; in essence he is definitely not lost!  He/she is absorbing everything they see.  This is not limited to the materials, but human interactions, grace and courtesy, and language.  This friend needs to move about and just “be”.  Now, that doesn’t mean that the teacher can’t artfully try to entice him/her into engaging in a work that the child enjoys observing.  It’s the perfect lesson invitation, “I see you like watching this work.  Let’s have a lesson on it.”

 

2.       The work avoider-wanderer.  This child would rather do laps around the classroom than exert the effort to make a selection.  Why?  Could be a couple of things:

1.       Perfectionist children hate mistakes.  They are painful.  For this child, not taking the risk of choosing a work is safer than making a mistake.

a.       What to do?  Model yourself making mistakes and talk to the child about how you felt and what to do next, like don’t give up and keep trying.  Explain that the classroom is the perfect place to make mistakes, we are all learning and without mistakes, we don’t grow!

2.      The child who can’t choose.  We see children that have no control over any aspect/choice/decision in their home.  This child doesn’t choose because it is not something they are accustomed or comfortable doing.  They want the teacher to choose. 

a.       What to do?  Offer the child three choices to select from.  Educate the parents of the child’s challenge and ask what kind of choices he is offered at home.  Help the parent to be mindful to start offering the child some choices in the home.  Start with selecting his clothing and what to have in his lunchbox. Capitalize on that beautiful absorbent mind!  Invite the child to stay with you to observe the lessons you are offering around the classroom.

 

3.       The challenge eluder.  This is a child who doesn’t want anything to do with challenges.  Some of these children are used to being rescued by adults when they face challenges.  They learn they will not be rescued in a Montessori classroom.

a.       What to do?  This child needs enticement and success!  Key into what he/she really loves and incorporate it into some activities.  Love trains? Have a wooden train for the child to polish.  Like race cars?  Print out small pictures of race cars to use as counter in the cards and counters.


4.       The atypical learner.  This child may have an undiagnosed learning difficulty that causes them anxiety or difficulty in certain situations. 

a.       What to do?  Careful observation of frustration levels will help you see if this child needs additional assistance.  If you feel that something is developmentally wrong, request the parent go for a developmental and/or speech screening at their local public school. (Please educate yourself on what is available for parents and where they can go.)

                                                                                                                                      i.       This can be a delicate situation.  The way I have handled it in the past is to have a conference with the parents starting with the child’s strengths and how they progress successfully with the materials they do use.  Then share your observations of the behavior that may not be typical, in your experience, for a child of that age.  (You are not a doctor, never suggest a diagnosis! Developmental ranges are quite vast in early childhood, especially with speech.  What might look like atypical behaviors could still be within normal ranges for the child’s age.)

                                                                                                                                    ii.       I also share what interventions or assistance I have modified for the child’s success.  From there, I suggest the developmental or speech screening, provide the information to the parents, and explain what the screening entails.  The screening is just to be on the safe side to make sure the program will be meeting all of the child’s needs. Please be sure you are also supporting the parents by answering their questions and making yourself available for extra meetings or communication as they move through the screening process.  This can be a nerve-wracking time for a parent.   If the screening indicates other supports, then parents, teacher, and school can work together to make certain all are doing what should be done for the child.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hitting


Happy New School Year!


For many of us, the year new school year has begun (or will shortly) and we all know what that means…new kiddos!  New students are “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get”.  It sounds cheesy, but it is absolutely true!  Setting expectations high and being clear what the rules are in your classroom is critical to solid management.  The best way to do this is through modeling your grace and courtesy during your circle time every day for several weeks or all year, and being consistent in the classroom.  Beyond that, well, things happen like…
 
Hitting
What do you do?
 I would first address the hitting child with “Johnny, hands are not for hitting.  Hitting hurts!  Hands are for working, rolling rugs, and petting your kitty. (Please insert your own things hands can do, gosh that sounds funny!)
Why did you hit?” most often, you get a shoulder shrug or an “I don’t know”. 
“Johnny we have to talk Mark now, he is crying.”  This is when you are going to whisper coach the two through a resolution. 
“Mark, please tell Johnny how you feel.” He says, “Sad”.  “Please tell Johnny why you are sad.”  He says, “I was hit.” “Tell Johnny that you don’t like to be hit.”  He tells the offending child using an “I” statement (I don’t like it when you hit me, it hurts).
The final piece is that I ask if the child who was hurt needs care, like a hug.  Then ask if the offending child can offer some care.  I do not make children apologize.  A forced apology is meaningless and equal to a lie.  If the child looks remorseful, point that out! 
"Johnny, your face tells me that you might feel bad about hitting Mark.”  Then move on.  Don’t bring it up again unless it happens again.  If it does, keep the child at your side to work for a little while to observe what might be setting him/her off.
Keep checking-in!  In the next posts I will cover wandering students, inappropriate observation, disruptive voice and misuse of the materials.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Primary Assistant Interview Questions

A Helpful Bank of Interview Questions



I completed my last post about training a new classroom assistant and then, through social media, noticed that teachers were looking for interview questions.  So, here are a few!

  • What is your educational background?
  • What is your experience working with children?
  • What do you enjoy the most about working with young children?
  • What do you enjoy the least about working with young children?
  • What does child discipline look like to you?
  • Tell me about a child you have worked with that inspired you.
  • Tell me about a child that you have worked with that has challenged you.
  • Are you familiar with the Montessori Method?
  • What kind of learner are you? Visual, auditory, or kinesthetic
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Explain how comfortable you are working in a team and what skills you bring to the team.
  • If a problem arises in your team, what do you typically do?
  • If a problem arises with your supervisor, what do you typically do?
  • What kind of relationship do you want to have with a supervisor?
  • Are you comfortable taking direction from a supervisor?
  • What are your hobbies/what do you enjoy doing in your free time?
  • What is your three year plan? 
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Monday, July 13, 2015

Your Glorious Assistant

More fondly: your classroom wing-woman, your right-hand ma’am, and at times your sanity saver! *

While I was in Montessori teacher training, I was my mentor teacher’s assistant.  I recall the first two days of sitting and observing the environment in full-swing.  My reaction was, “O.M.G.  How does this work?  How do I do this???”  I try to bring this feeling back when I train a new assistant.  Our classrooms are so complex and our assistants are absolutely critical!  I hope that this blog post could give some ideas on how to get training started, or how to build an even more stellar relationship with the assistant you have!

Training a Brand New Assistant

·         Before they start, provide your new assistant with as much easily digestible Montessori theory as possible (this meaning basic Montessori theory and principles). 

·         You could refer to a solid Montessori website like www.amiusa.org to enhance the information you are providing.

·         Allow them to observe two full days in your classroom before they jump-in.  This will give them a good view of the rhythm of the work cycle, how arrival/lunch/dismissal works, and what behaviors to expect from the children.

·         Spend time on educating your new assistant with State Health Department rules and regulations for your child care setting. (If you are licensed by Childcare licensure, include those rules as well and where to find them.)

·         Explain about and create a daily schedule.  This is key!  It really takes the guesswork out of what you are expecting of them and gives a guideline of the day.  I have an example below:
 
Determine What You Need From Your Instructional Assistant
 Every teacher and class is different, so this next part can give you some specific ideas.  Your assistant has to know what you need of her.  You can provide a list (takes the mystery out of your expectations) or instruct as you go.
·         Help children prepare snack
·         Assist a child when asked
·         If necessary, remind the child to complete an activity before putting it away
·         Offer sound games
·         Play distance games with the children with the appropriate sensorial work, language nomenclature, or maps (you have to train on how and why we do this)
·         Play name games with the maps, geometric solids, or geometry cabinet
·         Do dictation for the moveable alphabet
·         Check student work
·         Protect the teacher’s lessons
·         Redirect children (provide a clipboard with work choices that can be offered to each individual child)
·         Reinforce the grace and courtesy of how to interrupt, observe, ask for help, pushing in chairs, respecting the materials, and respecting each other
·         Help with lunch setup and cleanup
·         Replenishing materials at the end of the day
·         Guiding children in the restoring of the environment
·         Listening to children read or reading to the children
·         Taking children for walks in the garden (if you have one)
·         Help prepare materials
·         These are just a few of the many ways your assistant can enrich the class!
Honoring Your Assistant
The first day in the fall that your assistant is out sick is the day you will realize what a blessing she is to you and the class!  Our work is not easy so please be mindful to make sure they feel appreciated.  Be as patient with your new trainee as you would be with a new student.  They have a lot to learn!!  Communication is critical in the beginning.  It will take time, but if your communication is strong in the beginning, and you provide constructive criticism, you take the mystery out of how our special classrooms work.  Encourage them to ask questions about the children, materials, and theory. This builds trust and confidence.  Also, I used to end each day thanking my assistant for her work.  Little cards or morning goodies go a long way in showing your special assistant how special they really are.
 
*(Please excuse the references to a primary classroom assistant being only a woman, I have only had female assistants, but that doesn’t mean that a man couldn’t do the job well too!)
On a side-note, I need to give a shout-out and big thank you to my acting editor Mary! 

 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Student Crying Due To Separation


The First Days Of School Blues 

Children cry, period.  For this post, I will be addressing crying due to separating from the parent.  I will later attempt to cover the different ways a teacher can help a child through their tears in other situations (there can be a bunch!)

It is gut-wrenching to watch a small child struggle to separate from his/her parent during those first few weeks of school.  What’s worse for me is to watch a parent feed the child’s distress or simply not separating themselves from their child.  So this scenario is where we begin!  The child will be able to separate, in their own time, successfully as long as you can get the parent/caregiver on-board!

The “Walk Away” Talk

Here is a pretty average scenario: the parents have just signed up to start their child in school.  You are meeting them for the first time to talk briefly about the class, supplies, morning routines, and things.  This is your opportunity to do two things: 

1)      Assess whether the parents are actually ready for their child to go to school.  You will get the feeling of yes or no by the questions they ask you and their general demeanor.  If they are nervous and have a bazillion questions about the minutest details like does the school use lint-free toilet paper and can they remotely access the school’s security cameras…you have a pretty solid “no”, that they may not be comfortable yet with their little one leaving their nest.  On the other hand, if the parents seem confident (maybe even excited), and ask good general questions, you probably have parents who are ready to help their child take the next step on their road to independence.

a.       Why is this important??? Because if you have a “no” parent, you will have to put some extra time-in building their trust.  This means lots of extra communication about the child’s day and what the class is doing as a group.  Also, this may be a signal that they will also need extra help separating from their child.  Which is totally natural, and makes perfect sense for this parent.  Here is what you do…

2)      Have a brief conversation about separating and the first few weeks of school.  Be super honest that the child will cry, probably every day for several days up to and including a week or more.  Let them know the worst crying will be while the parent is within sight and the most important thing to do as a parent is walk away.  Give a tight hug at the door, a big kiss followed by a “have a wonderful day” in a cheery voice, and allow the teacher or the assistant to bring the child inside.


Next, assure them that a Montessori teacher’s first priority is to charm the children and we are VERY good at the art of distraction!  This is how we get the tears to stop.  The other students also help by offering hugs, glasses of water, and tissues.  It is very hard to convince a parent that the tears don’t last long, so please offer to call them or email as soon as the child is settled (I prefer a call so the parent can hear that their child is not crying).

That “Charming Part”: What’s That About?

It took me three school years to find the fool proof combination to stop the tears for brand new students…it’s a little silly, but I swear it is magical!  Are you ready?

Vanilla body spray and a kaleidoscope.  I hope you are smiling right now!  The vanilla makes you smell like cookies and you become instantly likeable and comforting to a three and four year old! I quote, “Miss Meg, you smell like goodies!” (I am not a fan of wearing fragrances, but on first days, I always do this!  You don’t need a ton, just a mist or two.)


The kaleidoscope I use is stained glass (so delicate) and is in a box lined with beautiful satin.  I whisper as I give the lesson on how to hold it and turn it.  The children instantly are careful and start to calm themselves as they look inside.  When they are finished, usually they will let me offer a few lessons to get them going in the environment.

There you have it! Three ingredients to help separating, the “walk away” talk, vanilla body spray, and a kaleidoscope.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Birthday Celebrations!


Birthdays Are So Much Fun!
Birthday celebrations are so beautiful in the Montessori classroom.  Planning for them can be as easy as making a list of all of your student’s birthdays by month and taping to the inside of you classroom cubby or closet.  At the end of each month, make a habit of checking your birthday list and write down which parents you need to contact to schedule your birthday celebrations.  Which leads me to the next subject…

Parent Involvement…or Not
This is really up to you and how you envision celebrations of this kind in your classroom! Speaking as a Montessori parent myself, I LOVED attending my daughter’s birthday celebrations in her classroom!  As a teacher, I liked sharing this time with parents. 

When I emailed to schedule the celebration, I would also attach the form below and the Birthday Snack Guidelines (see under Snack heading).  The snip below is just part of the form, which is the same my mentor used.  I only asked that the top of it to be returned if the parent could not attend so I could tell the child’s special story.  Now, if you choose to have the Celebration of Life be a class only celebration, I would suggest asking for a document of this nature to be returned by the parent so you would be able to share the birthday child’s story with the class.

 
Snack

I have always taught at schools where there was a strict no sugar policy.  When this is the case, parents need ideas of what to bring if they would like to provide a special snack.  I used this basic guide for many years.  My students loved making a fruit salad in class to be served during the morning snack.


Pictures

Again, your call!  I gave the parents options-the first two bullets below.
  • They could come to class with one picture from each year of their child’s life to share at circle and then take home.
  • They could make a poster board with one picture from each year of their child’s life that we could hang in the classroom for a few days. This was my favorite!  The children love the baby pictures and great conversation happen in front of these poster boards!!

  • You could provide a frame for the parents to fill.  I knew a teacher who sent home a large 16”x20” Acrylic Box Frame (Michaels Craft carries them) for the parents to decorate with photos.  Remember that you will need at least two frames to allow for twins or children that might have the same birthdays.

What Does It Look Like?

Above is my daughter’s first birthday celebration in her Montessori Primary classroom.  The teacher used a candle for the sun and color coded the months by season.  You can see her photo poster board behind her.

I used a spherical paper lantern as the sun because I always misplaced/ran out of matches and inevitably a child’s feelings would get hurt that I couldn’t make the candle burn for their celebration.  This solved the problem!  I also used cards with the months laid around the lantern.



This year I saw this (please excuse my representation above! It is not nearly as neat as the teachers!).  Each ray of the sun had a month printed on it.  The sun was assembled in the center of the group for the child to walk around.

How to Facilitate It

After the children are settled at group, the parent and the birthday child sit at the head of the circle.  The child will carry the political globe (with the colored continents) or another small globe around the circle once for each year of their life.  Often a song is sung by the group as the child walks.  My class used to sing:

The Earth goes ‘round the sun tra-la
The Earth goes ‘round the sun
The Earth goes ‘round the sun tra-la
And now (name of the child) is (age)

Before you begin the walking, ask the parent about the arrival of the child, place, time, who was there. Then start the “Earth going around the sun”.  After each turn around the circle you ask the parent what the child was like the age of one, then two, then three, and so on.

After this portion is finished you could:
  • Clap and count for each year of the child’s life.
  • Sing Happy Birthday (my students loved to add “cha-cha-cha” to the end).
  • “Pinch to grow an inch”.
  • Have the group thank the child for the birthday snack.

 How to Manage It

My advice to you, and something I did myself in the classroom every August, was to postpone ALL birthday celebrations for the month.  Please give you and your class a month to learn how to be at group together before adding the excitement of birthdays and parents!!  I’ve never had a parent upset that I was postponing their child’s August birthday until the start of September because I wanted the help the children learn how to be respectful group members.

When you are ready for those celebrations, I would let the children seat themselves where they like when they come to the circle.  Then take a look to see which children you know are not going to be able to manage themselves during celebration while sitting next to the child they have chosen to sit by. Separate them by moving one a few children down the circle.  Then, direct those little ones who have difficulty sitting nicely or keeping hands to themselves or sitting quietly and seat them next to you at the circle.  (Good ‘ol proximity at its best!)  You will be able to help them manage themselves during the celebration by touching their knee softly if they start to get wiggly to bring awareness back to their body, or you are close enough for a quiet “shhh” if they are speaking out.

That’s it! Like everything else we do, practice make perfect!!
Leave a comment if you would like to share your Celebration of Life ritual!  I only have a few ways here, the possibilities are endless!!