Where We’re From


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learning without reflection

School’s out for most. Another year has ended. Everyone awaits these longer days of summer and enjoys a more relaxed schedule. How did these marvelous students, most children, get to this day?

Heather Siple- graduation-018.JPGWorking in schools – teaching a variety of students – confirms that children take individual paths to graduation day. Some move through school at the established pace, completing the required steps, causing knowing smiles as they accomplish predetermined goals. Others meander, checking out things along the way, perhaps devoting more time to some things than others and getting to the finish line in their own time. Still others may have difficulty determining where the finish line is and an even harder time figuring out what to do to come close to reaching it. Educators find these variations and more. Parents typically prefer the first option as it is tried and true. We know it works and what is expected is carried out. However, which is the best path? That depends. Continue reading



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graduation whoopi

June is graduation month. Schools – from kindergarten to universities – await this special day. Families and friends celebrate as accomplishments are shared and futures are contemplated. Though it is a time for endings and hard work, it is truly a time to look forward to all that lies ahead. Graduation day is typically a day where congratulatory wishes are balanced with warnings of what is to come. And each year, graduation speeches are shared. Enjoy speeches from the past that continue to be relevant today. And congratulations to those of you who are graduating. Your hard work has paid off and it is now time for the next step in your journey.

Keep Learning


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Screen Shot 2017-05-25 at 10.54.26 AMAt Wilmington Montessori School, we have moved slowly but surely from mostly using Microsoft Word documents and Excel spreadsheets to using Google Docs and Sheets. Some embraced the move and did it quickly and rather painlessly. Others, not so much. Recently, I was asked how I learned to use Google Docs. My response was a simple one: “I made myself do it.” You see, if I were given a wishy-washy mandate to change from a familiar and comfortable and manageable system (for me) to one that I found time-consuming to work on and didn’t look the same or respond in the same way, I wouldn’t have done it. I would have elected to stay with the familiar. I knew the change was coming and made myself take the extra time to work in one system while not completely trusting it and also saving things in the one I knew. I doubled up for safety! But I did it.  

Making changes such as these is not easy. There will be questions, unfamiliar interfaces, mistakes and frustration. Help will be needed. It’s there for the asking. As we learn new things, whether by choice or mandate, others are there to help us along the way. There will always be new things to learn and others to guide us and answer seemingly simple questions. Take the leap. Embrace change. Keep learning. You’ll be ready for what happens next.

Curiosity vs. Knowledge


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curiosity killed the cat

We all know the saying: “Curiosity killed the cat.” This article sheds a different light on that age-old adage, highlighting the premise that curiosity might be a better attribute than knowledge. It is commonly stated that we are living in the information age. Information, also known as knowledge, is there for the taking. We can search on Google, ask Siri or look up something on Wikipedia, and we will get an answer within minutes if not seconds.

If we simply want an answer to a question, those tools will provide the answer and the quest is finished. However, if we want to make connections, think further or wonder “what if,” that is only the beginning. In other words, if we are curious, we need more than the initial response to our questions and our thoughts. We need to think. We need to connect ideas and ask more questions. We need to wonder, to dream and to be curious. Knowing the multiplication tables is an attainable goal and one that schools hold important for children in elementary school. Connecting that knowledge to wonder about why yet another ice cream shop is going out of business if so many of the people walking on the boardwalk on a hot summer’s day are eating ice cream requires curiosity. It’s not simply looking at what exists and looking for a simple answer. Curiosity is going beyond that thinking to consider the “why,” the “how” and the ways in which one can make a difference by connecting those ideas.

Schools need to continue to help students gain knowledge; it is necessary to maintain an educated populace. However, it is imperative that they also instill a culture of curiosity. Children who are encouraged to think harder, try various ideas and adapt the results using a variety of tools are building skills needed for their future. They need to be given the time to think freely, wonder and guide their learning. Curiosity may be a problem for cats – not so for students. Allow it to thrive.

What do children need to succeed in school?


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What do children need to succeed in school? Google that question, and you will find more answers than you have time to read. However, take the time to think about it, reflecting perhaps on your own school experiences, and you will come close to an answer that will serve children well.

Children, like their adult counterparts, come in all shapes, sizes, appearances and abilities. They live in houses, apartments, in the country, suburbs and the city. They are as varied as can be and so is their learning. Some children can “do school.” They enter school at a young age, and it works for them. They know how to navigate through the information, demonstrate their understanding and successfully work within the established parameters. Others struggle with all or some of this. They can’t figure out what is expected, or don’t have the ability or skills to navigate the many demands of school. These children need ongoing support to get through their school years.

At their best, educators are continually asking how they can help children succeed. If a lesson isn’t working and a child isn’t learning, they ask themselves what else they might try. They strive to find the best approach to assist each and every learner. What helps one may indeed help another. These teachers don’t give up. They teach resilience to children by being resilient themselves. They lead by example, showing each and every day that even though school might be hard at times, they push through the difficulty, trying again and accepting the support that is offered.

To succeed in school, children need advocates. They need people who know them and try to understand them and their needs as learners. They need people around them who care, support them and bolster their confidence as they work hard to gain the skills and knowledge needed. What do children need? Caring adults, a warm and friendly environment of confidence, resilience and dedication. They need to know that we will never give up and will find ways around and through any difficulties that exist. They need to know we are on their side.

The Key to Success


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You’ve seen them and perhaps entered one; escape rooms are a current fad. They have popped up everywhere. I’ve had fun in two different rooms in two different states. In the first room, there were six of us, and we worked for the entire hour to locate and use the clues and find a hidden time machine. The clock ticked. We ran around the room, giving orders, taking orders, sitting down to think, wiping our foreheads in frustration. It was hard – a lot harder than we anticipated. We worked hard for the full 60 minutes… At 59:59, we unlocked yet another door and were sure we were there, on the verge of discovering the answer to the problem. When they opened the room, that idea was quickly shattered; we had only made it through about two thirds of the maze. Really? The second room was a similar experience. Six of us worked together to find a key needed to solve the mystery. The clock ticked, clues were provided and, again, time ran out. Continue reading

The Traditions that Unite Us


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Last week, I was reminded of my family’s many traditions as we gathered to dye Easter eggs, hunt for hidden ones, and wish each other a “Happy Easter” while breaking cascarones on each others’ heads. We enjoyed brunch with extended family and friends. Some of these traditions have religious significance, arising from traditions in European countries long ago. Others are relatively new to our family, having learned of them when we visited San Antonio several years ago. Regardless, it is what we have come to expect each year when Easter weekend rolls around.

Children love traditions. Once we do something one way, it becomes an anticipated event. At Wilmington Montessori School, we have a birthday assembly each year to celebrate the school’s founding. We share a moment of silence and sing a song of peace each year on the U.N. International Day of Peace. Children stop at the front desk on the morning of their birthday to receive a ribbon and have “Happy Birthday” sung to them. They look forward to the bubbles on the first day of school and the graduation ceremony on the last day. These all have become traditions at our school. They are anticipated and adored. We keep them alive because they are an integral part of the life of the school.

In your family, you can name traditions that have been handed down to you from past generations. You have most likely begun many of your own. They unite us. They help us to appreciate each other and learn about our similarities and differences. Think about the traditions known to you and your family and those you might want to explore as your children grow. Cultural influences and traditions are an abundant source of learning, sharing and creating acceptance in our world.




Play. Seems like a simple concept. We’ve all done it, and if we’re lucky, even as adults, our lives still include some play. I was reminded of its importance when a local school board passed a resolution about play, stating:

X School District believes that ample time for student-driven, unstructured play must be included among the essential learning experiences in the education of our students. Beyond physical activity, these experiences include imaginative play, creative/constructive play, and games with rules. Student engagement in undirected, freely chosen activities is an essential component of healthy human development as well as a necessity for social/emotional, physical, and cognitive growth of children.

Kudos to this school district for recognizing what we all know: Play, downtime and relaxed/unstructured time are essential for humans. Play allows children to figure out things on their own terms, without a lot of adult intervention and rules. Play frees a child’s spirit. It allows children to practice what they are learning, to try out new ideas; it encourages creativity, curiosity and problem-solving. As Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.”

Now is a great time to get outside, conduct some of that research, and play to your heart’s content.

Expectations Matter


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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Sonia Manzano speak. You may know her as Maria from Sesame Street; she was on the show for more than 40 years. Ms. Manzano spoke about the importance of a strong early childhood education, sharing the inequities that persist today. She said of her childhood, “I was smart in the Bronx and stupid in Manhattan.”

She was speaking to Montessorians and spoke with her audience in mind. Ms. Manzano understands that children learn through play and that it takes experienced educators to guide them in their choices and explore mistakes with them along the way. As she warmed to her topic, I was profoundly moved by her statement that, “I was good in school because so little was expected of me.”

Expectations matter. It is one thing to guide children through a curriculum. It is another to learn what is needed for each child to stretch themselves, to learn all that is possible at a given moment and to communicate that we know they can reach their goals, offering support as needed. Educators must know their students. They must offer opportunities to learn and expect the best from them. Communicating expectations for success allows children to rise to those expectations and beyond. When educators set goals that require children to stretch and yearn for more, they are proud of their accomplishments. Children count on us to share the world with them and to stand firmly beside them while they explore, question and learn to expect the best of themselves and their educational experiences.

What do we need to know?


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What do students need to succeed in school and in life? That is a question that educators have struggled with since societies began offering education to its citizens. Most of us wouldn’t argue with the idea that we all need to read, write and know basic math skills. After that it gets a bit muddier. What content must be “covered” to ensure an educated populace?

If you take a moment to consider your own education, what you loved about it, what you absorbed at the time, and what you quickly forgot and relearned later in life, you will begin to understand the limitations of a singular attempt at becoming an educated person. We have all learned a body of facts about history, geography, varying sciences and more. How many of those facts do you recall? Of those you remember, why do you suppose they are easily recalled? If you happen to have loved learning about Greek mythology as a child, chances are you held onto that information and have added to it throughout your life. If you were not interested in it, the opposite may have occurred; you remembered what was needed for a report or a test, forgot most of it and can perhaps pull up one or two facts years later.

There are national standards for education in all disciplines. Schools and educators throughout our country use those standards to determine what to teach and at what age or grade they should be included in the curriculum. What standards don’t address is how to ignite the interest, curiosity and passion of the children who are the intended learners. Education is much more than sharing facts. Attending school means so much more than being presented information. It is the place where we are inspired by ideas, current and past, by questions that ignite a curiosity and passion to seek answers, and by educators who are learners themselves. It’s imperative that those who call themselves teachers continue to be learners. None of us will ever learn all that is to be learned. Each of us has the capacity to continue to seek knowledge, to ask questions and to ignite curiosity in ourselves and others. Learning for life is preparation for the future and is the best standard we can set for students in our schools.