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!

blog ears

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.

Fact or Myth: Teachers Have Summers Off

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There is a myth that has been perpetuated over time that teachers – or actually all people who work in schools – are “so lucky because they have the summers off.” It is a commonly held belief and one that even teachers’ families sometimes believe to be true. It is time to debunk that myth. It’s true that school years end; students leave on the last day gleefully anticipating the long free days of summer. It’s also true that there are no more classes and things quiet down inside the very classrooms that were bustling with activity a few days before. And it is true that many teachers leave for the summer, looking forward to more time with their families and more freedom in their schedules.

However, what is missed in this picture is that teachers and learners are always teachers and learners. The very teacher who kicks her heels up when she is ending another school year is the same person who is traveling with her family and collecting things to share with her class the next year, reading the book about how to be a better teacher, watching the TED Talk or other video that will support her own professional development or attending a workshop that will inform her teaching in the coming year. Yes, she’s off. Yes, she’s also working because that’s what teachers do. They are passionate about their work. They are teachers because they love learning, working with children and bringing new ideas and experiences to the children in their care.

Yes, many teachers don’t go to their workplace for two months over the summer. Teaching is not a job for most teachers I have known and worked with; it is who they are. They are always teachers, always learning. So this summer when you envy that teacher you may know of who appears to be off while you are continuing to get up and go to work each day know that she is using this time to rejuvenate, reflect and prepare for the school year ahead. It is time well spent.

Where’s Monty?

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blog monty photoThis summer we have challenged our staff and elementary students to share a bit of their summer with us. Monty the Meerkat, our school mascot, is traveling with us. So far he has been to professional development workshops at the Kennedy Center and a Washington Nationals baseball game. He has also been a part of the lobby construction and watched the workers as they installed our new gym floor. Monty has been spotted at Elmwood Park preparing to go on a zip line with a few of our students. Monty is on the move, and it’s only the beginning of July!

One of the beauties of Wilmington Montessori School is the fact that each person in our community has a voice. We can say what we think, play with ideas, accept or reject them and move on. The idea of Monty spending his summer with us in different locales was brought to us by a long-time member of our community. She thought it would be fun. The next thing you knew, Monty was being created, distributed and introduced to us, and off he went for some summer fun. The way a community grows and thrives is that it allows space for thinking, reflecting and sharing. It is open…to ideas, people, differences in thinking and more. We are better together than apart. And that is how Monty is going places this summer. Thanks to this culture and ability to adapt, he will have the best summer of all of us!

Follow us on Facebook and Instagram to get updates about Monty’s whereabouts. Want your own Flat Monty to join you on your summer adventures? Email Noel Dietrich, our director of communications, at noel_dietrich@wmsde.org.

 

Peace Education

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Peace Day 2015 - 29“Education is the best weapon for peace.”
– 
Maria Montessori

 

As we continue to hear more about the shootings in Orlando and other acts of violence in our world, we question how this is possible and why it happened. We also struggle with how to talk to children about such atrocities. Many parents work hard to shield their children from these violent events. Sometimes, despite the best intentions, they learn about them anyway. This week I was reminded of the quote from Fred Rogers, of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.

This shifts the focus from the aggressor or attacker to the fact that people are helpers. We want to help. We want to do something meaningful to contribute to those who are suffering.  We yearn for peace. A strong tenet of Montessori education is the peace curriculum. It must be taught each day if children are to grow into adults who promote peace and continue to care for our world and each other.

Perspective Taking

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Blog - ElephantThere have been several occasions over the past few days to consider perspective. Construction is occurring at WMS. Walls have been taken down, doorways moved and entrances have been shifted. Things are changing and change can be scary…or interesting. As someone was overheard saying, “Things look so open. It is going to be great.” The same is true for moving our front entrance temporarily. “Where do I go?” Conversely, “Dad, I know where to go. Follow me,” was overheard as a 4-year-old led his father through the maze that constitutes our summer entrance. Perspective.

How do you look at things? How do you see what is presented? How does your perspective impact what you see and the reception that you give a new or different event or presentation? How does your view of the world impact the world? Does it look open and full of possibilities? Or are you uncertain about which way to go?

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