Establishing Peace

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These are difficult times. Tragic events such as those in Charlottesville, Va., and Barcelona, Spain, have focused our attention on acts of violence and intolerance. Conversations are focused on our differences, with race, religion and culture at the forefront. What is our obligation when events such as these dominate our landscape? How can we make a difference?

One need look no further than historic thought leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Dr. Maria Montessori to guide us. They provide wisdom that will remind us of our obligation to each other as we work toward peace and justice. They and countless others have allowed us to live the lives we live today – lives of opportunity, equity and security.Peace Day 2015 - 29

Each day schools have the opportunity to shape our future. Peace and social justice are central to Montessori education. Students are taught grace and courtesy from the moment they enter our schools. These tenets are part of our students’ experience each and every day. Through conflict, they learn acceptance, tolerance and understanding. They make mistakes. They are sometimes unkind. However, what they learn is how to see another’s point of view, how to listen and how to respectfully engage in conversation with others. For as Maria Montessori said so well, “Establishing lasting peace is the work of education.”

As another school year begins, we must work to help children learn about others – their similarities and their differences – to create a world of peace.

Good News/Bad News

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People love to complain about the news media, saying most news is bad news. It certainly seems that is true. Each year schools deliver many messages to parents and students. They share facts, updates, and feedback about the students they serve. Report cards are issued and conferences are held. And what do most of us remember about these conversations? The “bad news.” Continue reading

Stories

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rudyard kiplingStories. They are part and parcel of all of our lives. If we are lucky, we begin our lives with stories being read to us from a very young age. The books of our youth are often worn out before we tire of them. Children never tire of hearing a favorite book or story. Stories teach us the rhythm of words, the joy of surprise and the comfort of resolution. Our family stories may not be written in a book, though are shared from generation to generation. They too teach us the elements of a good story and are sometimes embellished, though rarely forgotten.

Summers are often full of friends and family. As your family gets together with those who share some of its history, what stories will be shared? Are there new ones that will have their infancy as a result of some activity or gathering that is happening right now? How will you help your children craft the story and, ultimately, the memory that will accompany them for years to come? Ask the elders in your circle of friends and family to share more of their stories. It is the gift of a lifetime and history in the making.

Summertime Fun

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This week at our school’s summer camp, there are some old familiar faces. Some campers attend other local schools and visit us only in the summer. They spend time getting reacquainted with Wilmington Montessori School, the outdoors and each other. There are others who are with us most every season of the year. It is fun to watch them all come together, enjoying their time, recalling summers past and anticipating what they will do this year: how it will be the same and how it may be different.

Summer is a time for most of us to slow down, to look around and see what’s new, and to enjoy the familiar summer routine – a routine typically quite different from the school year. We hear so much about “summer slump” and losing the hard-fought skills that were acquired during the previous nine months of school that we sometimes forget what summer is all about. It is the time to relax a bit more, catch up with friends and explore. Summer for all of us is much like the camp experience for children. What were your summers like as a kid? What did you look forward to? As you continue to read with your children, play games and perhaps practice some math facts, I hope you find some fun and relaxation in the long days of summer.

Montessori Education: An Example of What’s Possible

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Sir Ken Robinson jokes that when he goes to a dinner party and says he works in education, the conversation stops.

“Of course,” he says, “if you’re in education, you aren’t invited to dinner parties.”

When you say that you work in Montessori education, polite looks of curiosity often follow; not many people know about Maria Montessori and her educational methodology, which was developed more than a century ago. Although there are literally hundreds of Montessori schools throughout the world – and many of those are in your town – people remain puzzled by them. They may not look like the schools of their youth. Continue reading

Where We’re From

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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

Graduation

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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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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.