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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.


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.


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!!