What happens when school starts?


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The carefree days of summer are behind us. Were they as carefree as we romanticize them to be? Summer means time – time spent outdoors, long stretches of time with “nothing” to do, time spent with siblings, neighbors and other kids with minimal adult intervention. Maybe you have memories of playing baseball on summer afternoons, hitting, missing, and throwing down the bat and heading home in a huff. Or perhaps you spent hours at the pool with your friends. Or maybe you lived in a more rural location and were able to amble through the woods, fighting imaginary villains, climbing trees and building forts – all without adult help.

Things change. And one of the things that has changed is the amount of unstructured time available to children. They are enrolled in programs after school, on weekends and sometimes in the summer months. If a child really wants to excel in a sport or interest, participating in it as part of a school program may not be enough. And everyone is expected to excel.

As school is starting, there are more and more articles appearing such as this one, focusing on the increasing levels of anxiety in our children. The upshot of this and much of the research about this topic points to the same things:Kids need recess. They need longer lunches. They need free play, family time, meal time. They need less homework, fewer tests, a greater emphasis on social-emotional learning.” And all of these things that are stated as “needs” are things less and less available in our culture today, for many reasons. We know what children need – what they’ve always needed: time to dream, imagine, play, and enjoy the company of their friends and families – just like they always have. 

The Discomfort of Growth


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I made the decision to take an online class this summer. It was a carefully considered choice, one which would push me personally and professionally, and one that I knew would lead to growth in both of those areas of my life. I did not fully think about my discomfort with much of the class – the format, getting to know new teammates each week, and considering ideas that are far from my everyday experience at work or at play. 

As I write this, I am exactly halfway through the course. I have met people I would never have met otherwise. I’ve entertained ideas about subjects I’d never heard of or read about. I was asked to consider questions and reveal aspects of myself that I typically hold on to tightly. It has been a great experience and a scary one as well. 

As I reflected on this class and all that it entailed so far, I was reminded of what we ask of students each day. We ask them to be uncomfortable without fail, and often without giving them the choice to avoid this discomfort. We ask them to work with others who they don’t know, don’t like or who we know won’t contribute fully to the group experience. We ask them to speak up, listen well, be creative, get along with others at all times, and do a good job no matter the subject or their interest in the work. We ask them to be superhuman. Most of us, as adults, would not take on that challenge. Most of us would try to negotiate another way to do things or ask for assistance at every turn. Some of us might even opt out of an experience if it did not have some comfort and familiarity built in. 

There are things we do each day that allow us to have choices, and some things we simply have to do. Children must attend school. Time in school can be spent in a variety of ways that involve student choice along with the “have tos.” How do we want students to spend their time in school and recall their days in school in the future? Will they remember the learning, challenges and enjoyment, or the intense discomfort and unknowns? Balance is the key to building the strength needed to learn and grow.

Making Connections


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If you’ve ever gone to a conference on anything, you know it can be hit or miss. The speakers you think will really motivate and interest you can be duds, or you can come across one you had little interest in that sparks your imagination and offers pearls of wisdom. At the National Small Schools Conference, that was the case for me.

Jordan Shapiro, author of The New Childhood: Raising Kids to Thrive in a Connected World and professor at Temple University, spoke about a new way to view screen time. As he waxed on about his interest in ancient philosophers, it became quickly apparent that I would have to dig deep to connect to his message. And then there it was. He was speaking in a way that helped me understand how we teach kids the expectations around behavior – from learning to playing. His analogy was that he has to help his kids learn to cross the street. He wouldn’t trust them to do that alone until he did it with them hundreds of times and was certain they would remember to look both ways and could cross without getting hurt. Continue reading



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Ahhh… summertime. We all anticipate the relaxing days that summer promises. With the end of another school year comes the promise of longer days to relax and engage in the activities we enjoy. Students and teachers alike create lists – on paper or in their minds – about how they will fill long stretch of days ahead. That may mean trying new things or enjoying the comfort of those pastimes we set aside until summer comes once again. 

Most educators spend part of their summers taking classes, planning lessons and generally continuing the work they do during the school year. Teachers may have a more relaxed pace to their days, but many spend some part of their summer “break” working on behalf of the students they serve. Learning doesn’t stop when the calendar turns to the month of June. Summer is the time to take a deep breath, hit pause, and continue to learn, create and grow in ways that time may not allow during the rest of the year. Here’s to another summer of learning!

Who are the teachers?


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In education today, there is a common understanding that the best environments promote learning among everyone in the school. We are all learners and we all benefit from being with each other. Wisdom comes in all shapes, sizes and ages. In a Montessori classroom, you can be sure that is true.

Montessori classrooms typically have a lead teacher or guide and an assistant teacher. Both are responsible for keeping things humming along. They differ in their responsibilities, but each has the training and knowledge to help the children learn. Montessori classrooms have other teachers as well – the students. In Montessori multi-age classrooms, children learn from other students. The student helping another is learning to do more than help; he or she is learning more deeply. Teaching strengthens knowledge of the teacher, whether the teacher is a child or adult. Asking students to help others who are younger or less experienced is a surefire way to benefit both students.

We often hear that schools are filled with learners, and lifelong learning is certainly recognized as a core value in many schools. Empowering students to share their knowledge and allowing them to lead the way is the best way to promote a dynamic learning environment.

My, how they grow!


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As another school year comes to a close, it is often a time to reflect on the students who fill our hallways each year. The end of the year at our school means celebrations for those moving up to the next level and those moving on to high school. It is bittersweet to see those you’ve watched for many years get ready to leave the nest. Graduation season brings ceremonies, speeches and, of course, celebration. (Watch this year’s Wilmington Montessori School eighth-grade graduation ceremony.)

Each year, our school has an alumni speaker as part of the graduation ceremony. Former students come back to share their journey since middle school. It is always fascinating. In preparation, we review what was said about the speaker when she/he was a student with us. We reflect on the contributions they have made to our school and others they have attended. We eagerly await their words of wisdom, knowing they will share not only what their life is like now, but how our school played a part in their future experiences. It is not only interesting but often surprising. Students we thought were quiet and perhaps reluctant to share their ideas with others demonstrate the ability to step up and lead a project, visit a far away country or invent something that will serve those in need. Students who maybe were a bit reluctant to take the stage and speak to a group, come back and speak to an audience easily and comfortably. They continue to grow and change, though always remain true to themselves.

Schools have the responsibility to not only teach academic subjects, but to help children learn about themselves – their strengths, challenges and uniqueness. Schools are places where children can try on a variety of “hats,” learning which fit best. Students can be readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, dreamers, artists, singers, athletes, caretakers, gardeners, friends and so much more. In the right environment, children can learn about themselves and take that strong sense of self with them as they move through life. The right school environment nurtures a sense of self, provides opportunities to grow, and sends students off confidently to their next phase of learning. The right school environment allows children the opportunity to know themselves well and continue to build on that throughout their lives. As this year’s graduates move on to the next phase of their lives, may they find the places that will continue to challenge them while allowing them to be true to themselves.

Do you believe in your child?


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I was reading a blog post by Dr. Robert Brooks, a Harvard Medical School professor and speaker and writer about parenting and building resilience in children, and was reminded of a time when my daughter was driving to a new music teacher’s house and got turned around. She had a cell phone, but no GPS. She called in tears and asked if she could just come home. I said no because she had a commitment to the teacher. Well, she drove for over an hour (in circles) until she called me again, I pulled out a map and told her how to get there- giving her every turn- until she arrived safely at her destination. She was frazzled to be sure, but she did it. I could have rescued her – gone to where she was and led the way or told her to come home and we would take care of it. But, for a person who finds directions challenging, she had to prove to herself that she could manage. And she did. It’s now a funny family story, and she uses her phone’s navigation programs like a pro. She is no better at figuring out directions, but has the confidence to use the tools she needs to help her in places near and far.

One of the most important jobs we can do for our children is to believe in them. They need to know that we are there when needed and that we trust them to handle the decisions they are faced with each day. We need to demonstrate confidence in their ability even when we may not feel it. Rescuing them puts the responsibility for their decisions and actions squarely on our shoulders. It also sends the not so subtle message that we don’t think they can manage and need us to handle their difficulties. I am almost certain that most parents do not believe this and want their children to be independent, resilient and able to negotiate good times and bad. To do that, we have to step back, perhaps fret quietly, and exude confidence that we may not feel. That is what builds the skills needed for them to manage their future goals and to rebound from disappointment.




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Standards. We all have them, whether we name them as such or not. We have a standard for everything from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, to the work we do and the relationships we enjoy. Some of the standards we live by are established externally – the FDA determines the health and safety of the food we eat and the medicines we take. The regulations by the EPA determine the standard for the air we breathe and the water we drink. OSHA determines what safety standards must be in place in every workplace. These standards were established so that we could all live safely and be unharmed in our daily existence. Most of us would agree that we are better off with these standards and regulations in place than without them.

Education has standards. We hear about them all the time – No Child Left Behind, Common Core, NSTA, NCTM, NCTE, ISTE and many other governing bodies. A school’s job is to live up to these standards. Again, most people agree that we are better off with the standards than without. However, how is it determined if a school, a classroom, or a teacher is indeed meeting the standards? How do we know it to be true? Is it the curriculum that is used? Is it the training of the teachers? Is it the performance of the students?

As a Montessori school, it is clear that some schools adhere to the Montessori standards of excellence more than others. Some classrooms within a school administer the standard differently. Some schools have “Montessori” in their name, yet make no attempt to adhere to the standards set forth by the American Montessori Society, the governing body for excellence in Montessori education. Though standards can sometimes push or pull in varying directions, it is important for schools to determine the standards to which they will hold themselves and work to uphold the excellence of those standards. Educating children is the work of schools. Using standards to inform instruction holds schools accountable as they work to serve all students in the very best ways.

The Montessori Difference


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As a Montessori parent for almost 30 years and an educator practicing in the Montessori world for more than 20 years, I sometimes forget that others do not have the advantage of the Montessori perspective. I came across a blog that fully supported Montessori education, yet tried to find a way to adapt it to other school settings. While I appreciate this thinking and am thrilled with the endorsement, it’s just not that simple.

The blog endorsed student choice, supporting independence, mixed age groupings, focusing on the whole child and individualized lessons. Yes, and… While those are all essential elements of Montessori education and, we could argue, elements of the best standards of all educational models, there is so much more. Each of these elements may be visible to outsiders. What isn’t visible is the underlying structure which is the essence of Montessori education.

The Montessori philosophy and pedagogy are based on Dr. Maria Montessori’s study of children, specifically noting the planes of development: infancy/preschool, elementary, early/late adolescence and maturity/adulthood. Every decision about what materials are on the shelves, which lessons are introduced and what expectations are established is a result of a strong understanding of the students’ development at those ages. Nothing is happenstance. This was all established through Dr. Montessori’s scientific approach as she developed each material, each lesson, and the setting in which they occur. Continue reading

Learning with Purpose


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When we look at the things that each of us has learned most deeply in our lives, the same certain conditions almost always apply: Among other things, we had an interest and a passion for the topic, we had a real, authentic purpose in learning it, we had agency and choice, deciding what, when, where, and with whom we learned it, and we had fun learning it even if some of it was ‘hard fun.’

– Will Richardson

There is not much more to say. When did you learn something that was quite difficult? What were the conditions under which you learned it – was it forced on you or did you want to learn? Did it matter to you? Was there a reason to learn it? In other words, did you have agency, choice and an authentic purpose for learning? This, more than any imposed requirement, leads to the deepest learning. Once we have acquired the basic reading, writing and math skills, it is then up to us to determine what we want to learn and how we will learn it. This is the work of schools and education.