Rites of Passage

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south-mountain-mollyThroughout our lives, we have rites of passage that reflect movement from one stage to another. In our Upper Elementary classrooms, one of those milestones is the overnight trip that our students participate in each September. Each of their three years in the 9-12 Program, students travel to different locations to spend two days together outside the confines of Wilmington Montessori School. This year, the students set off for a camping experience at South Mountain YMCA Camp. They met the bus with their sleeping bags, luggage, flashlights and terrific excitement. It was time to leave their typical school days behind.

anand-rock-wallThe purpose of this trip is to solidify the community. Children navigate the low ropes challenges, try their hand at archery and climb a rock wall. They help set up before meals and clean up the dining hall when the meal is complete. They make sure their cabin is clean before they leave, and they lug all of their own belongings to and from their cabins and bus – there are no bellhops at camp. The students must work together to achieve success, sometimes leading while other times taking a backseat and allowing others to lead. They cheer each other on as they try new things.

When this class returns from the trip, they share a common experience and wonderful memories. They have learned more about each other, how to work together and how to bring out the best in each other. They have formed a more cohesive group, which is the foundation of the work they will be doing this year as they support each other as learners and friends.

The Power of Observation

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observing-blogObservation is a key component of Montessori education. As part of a Montessori teacher’s training, she is taught how to be a thoughtful observer. Teachers are given lessons on how to allow the space for observing students during the school day, and in those observations, much is revealed. Watching children go about their work, play, interactions and lessons helps a teacher more fully understand the students in her classroom. Through these regular periods of observation, teachers are able to determine which lessons need to be reinforced and the next steps in each child’s path of academic and social growth. Continue reading

More than an Athlete

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world-map-made-up-of-peopleAt the beginning of each school year, the Wilmington Montessori School staff has the opportunity to spend one day together. We are not setting up classrooms, ordering supplies or making name tags for the students who will soon appear. Instead, we are nurturing our community and sharing common experiences. This year, we spent part of that day learning more about cultural awareness and our sensitivity to those from cultures different from our own. It was nothing short of enlightening. Continue reading

Why?

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As another school year begins, one can’t help but think about why all of the people who work so hard to make schools places for children to grow and thrive do so. The work is challenging – the days often long. It is sometimes difficult to know if you have made a difference. Yet teachers, administrators and students everywhere eagerly anticipate the first day of school.

Years ago, I worked with women who did not have the opportunities our children have. They were marginalized due to a lack of choices and perhaps making some erroneous choices. Many of them lacked an education and did not graduate from high school. My coworkers and I worked to help them achieve that goal and move forward in their lives. This experience made me rethink school. What is the purpose of school? Why does it work so well for some and not others? What can be done to make a difference? Continue reading

Word Play

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BLOG - raining-cats-and-dogs1This week has been spent culling the collection of books in our school’s library. It is a challenging job, especially for people who love books. Each book has its merits – one harder to part with than the next. You can tell so much about our library by the books in the collection. Some draw us in more than others. One of the sections I loved looking at was the books that have word play as the theme. Among the dictionaries, thesauruses and other reference materials, one can also find idioms and books about alternate uses of language or words.

From children’s books about the character Amelia Bedelia who makes a sponge cake with a kitchen sponge or pitches a tent by throwing (or pitching) it in the woods, to the book for older children Eats, Shoots and Leaves about misplaced punctuation changing the meaning of a phrase, these books are a delight for those who love words. 

As children grow, they learn to speak, to read and to make meaning of language; as it become increasingly complex, mistakes are made. They repeat what they think they heard and what makes sense to them, only to have adults chuckle at their misunderstanding. Language takes a lifetime to develop. At WMS, we focus on language development from the earliest ages when toddlers are mimicking sounds, to rhyming words with primary and elementary students and laughing along with children as they begin to “get” words’ double meanings and play with words and their usage.

They’re all ears!

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What is a library?

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BookmobileWhen I was a child, Tuesday was my favorite day of the week. The Bookmobile came to our local shopping center.

For those of you who grew up in towns with libraries, you may not be familiar with a Bookmobile. It is essentially a library on wheels. Each week, we would visit the Bookmobile to return the books we had read and check out new ones. Adventures awaited on those shelves…from the mysteries of Nancy Drew to the books needed to do research for a school project, we counted on the Bookmobile and all it had to offer. When I was a child, libraries meant books. I loved books; therefore I loved libraries. Continue reading

Seymour Papert

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Seymour Papert, a co-founder of the MIT Media Lab passed away last week. His life was spent thinking about learning and how to make it accessible to everyone. Many of his contributions focused on the integration of technology and learning; he was a trailblazer. If you’ve not heard of him, please learn more. His work informs much of what we deem to be leading edge in our schools today: makerspaces, technology integration, teaching Scratch programming and more. He has left us with many writings and a great deal of inspiration. Montessori education focuses on helping children learn how to learn; learning is not stagnant. It is an ever-present goal for all of us. Thank you, Seymour Papert, for your inspiration and innovation.

“So the model that says learn while you’re at school, while you’re young, the skills that you will apply during your lifetime is no longer tenable. The skills that you can learn when you’re at school will not be applicable. They will be obsolete by the time you get into the workplace and need them, except for one skill. The one really competitive skill is the skill of being able to learn. It is the skill of being able not to give the right answer to questions about what you were taught in school, but to what you were taught in school. We need to produce people who know how to act when they’re faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared.”
– Seymour Papert

Powerful Learning

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types-of-relationships-between-teachers-and-students-9-638The first day of school is just around the corner. Children are preparing for a new school year, already missing the more relaxed days of summer yet eager for what lies ahead. Teachers are doing the same. Many have spent the summer months reading, learning and adding to their toolbox. All of us are learning all of the time. Some of the lessons we learn last for a moment, others a lifetime.

While attending a workshop this summer, I had the opportunity to explore the idea of powerful learning.  A simple exercise gave each participant the chance to share a story about power learning – an experience during which the participant learned something of value that has stayed with him or her. As we reflected on each of our experiences, a few common characteristics became evident. In order for powerful learning to take place, trust, authenticity and a deep emotional connection have to be present. Some stories were shared that were a bit painful – unpleasant even – and the “student” entered the learning experience kicking and screaming. They weren’t necessarily eager to learn. However, when it became clear that the mentor or teacher was their ally in helping them move toward a new level or new understanding, they learned the lesson, expanded their knowledge and moved to the next plane. This was true whether the learning was about school, sports, hobbies or life lessons. It didn’t matter.

We all went to school. We all had good, bad and mediocre experiences while there. We all had gifted and talented teachers and others who were just OK. We know the difference. No matter the school, no matter the teacher, no matter the student, we know what it means to learn. We know how we felt and can recall the emotions present at that time. Education does not have a beginning nor an end. Learning takes place all of the time; the conditions must be right. As we get ready for another year of school, it is critical to take the time to prepare the environment, consider the children entering our classrooms and get to know each of them. These are the tools needed to build trust and connections – the tools of powerful learning.

The Genius of Montessori

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Last weekend, as an evening of theater came to a close, an image proving the Pythagorean Theorem appeared. I was reminded immediately of the Montessori material used in upper elementary classrooms. Though this character in “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” was demonstrating his acute mathematical abilities, I again considered how much Dr. Montessori knew about how children learn. She developed a system to make concepts accessible to children and lay the foundation for the more complex mathematics they will encounter as they move on to middle and high school.

pythagoras-materialThese particular materials help children prove the Pythagorean Theorem, which states that given a right-angle triangle, the sum of the squares formed on the short legs equals the square formed on the hypotenuse.

Manipulating these materials demonstrates this and gives children visual and kinesthetic ways to see the theorem in action. They explore it much like we might explore a puzzle; they can see that the pieces “fit.” One side squared plus the other side squared equals the third side…the squares are right there; children can see them, count them and physically move them. They don’t need to be advanced mathematicians to do this work, nor do they need to be able to write the algebraic expression to prove it. Instead they have the opportunity to explore it, manipulate it and see for themselves how to make sense of this idea and store it away for future use. The wonder of Montessori!

Seeking Peace

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“Establishing lasting peace is the work of education.” – Maria Montessori

Too many times over the past few weeks and months we awakened to hear of instability and injustice in our world. We are shaken to our very core with stories of violence from Orlando, Chicago, Dallas, Paris, Nice, Turkey, Baton Rouge and more. As adults, we try to make sense of these situations that make no sense to us at all; we yearn for peace and understanding. And we often ask how we can get there. What can we do?

This weekend, I had the pleasure of listening to Thich Nhat Hanh in this podcast. It is not a new episode, but one that seems particularly relevant. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk who works for peace throughout the world:

“Peace always begins with yourself as an individual, and as an individual you might help build a community of peace….And when the community of a few hundred people knows the practice of peace and brotherhood, and then you can become the refuge for many others who come to you and profit from the practice of peace and brotherhood. And they will join you, and the community gets larger all the time. And the practice of peace and brotherhood will be offered to many other people….”

Establishing peace is at the core of the Montessori philosophy. Cultural studies are central to each and every lesson in the Montessori curriculum. As we share stories of the universe, the coming of life and of humans to earth, and the development of language and mathematics, we are sharing the world with children. We are not only sharing the science and the history of how life began; we are also sharing our interconnectedness and recognizing what it is that binds us. We are establishing a community – a world community. For in a Montessori classroom, we quickly realize that we are more alike than different. We have the same fundamental human needs and depend on each other to survive and thrive.

As Thich Nhat Hahn states, “When you practice looking at people with the eyes of compassion, that kind of practice will become a good habit. And you are capable of looking at the people in such a way that you can see the suffering, the difficulties. And if you can see, then compassion will naturally flow from your heart.”

Teaching compassion and peace underlies all we do at Wilmington Montessori School.