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Setting up your home for Montessori baby

Being an expectant or new parent can be overwhelming. I remember being assailed late in my pregnancy by well-wishers and advice givers who proposed dozens of items I should get before my baby arrived. It was enough to make my head turn and to doubt my own instincts, which yearned for a simpler, less complicated approach to parenthood. I admit I followed most of the advice, even when it seemed counter intuitive. Yet 18 years later, with two almost grown children and Montessori training under my belt, I know for a fact that I did not need all that much. Many of the “must-have” were labeled by misconceptions that did not help my children thrive.

Now, as a parenting consultant and Montessori guide, I help create beautiful Montessori infant environments without many of the staples of a traditional baby registry: No bouncer, no walkers, no exersaucers. No noisy battery-operated plastic toys. No cribs! Not even a high chair in sight! The contrast to the traditional nursery is so stark that it can be disorienting for parents who first enter such an environment.

Nido

After regaining their voice, parents often ask, “how do the babies sleep on these low beds, without falling out?” and “where do you feed them?” and “aren’t they getting bored?” Parents are concerned, naturally, about their babies’ well being in a setting that is so fundamentally different from the traditional nursery, the expected, and the norm. Yet once they learn more, once they understand a baby’s true needs at a deeper level, once they observe and experience a Montessori Nido (Dr. Montessori’s term for the prepared Infant Environment, the Italian word for ‘Nest”), they often feel drawn to it, and become eager to modify their own home environments along similar lines.

To understand why a Montessori home environment is so different, it helps to realize that as Montessorians, we view babies as “fully human”—as independent beings, on an active, urgent journey to become masters of their own inner and outer worlds. Our goal is not to entertain or serve babies; rather, we want to respect their inner drive for child-led exploration, and help them do for themselves whatever may be in their own power to do. Our goal is not to make it easy for an adult to feed, clothe and put a baby to sleep. Our goal is not to make the adult’s life easier. Instead, we recognize that, in the words of Dr. Montessori, “to assist a child we must provide him with an environment which enables him to develop freely.”

As a Montessori home consultant, I help families set up the four key areas of the home—sleeping, feeding, physical care and movement—with this principle in mind. These basic areas give the child important points of references, allowing him to figure out what is expected of him depending on where he is in his environment. They help the child feel secure by being able to predict what is coming next. He comes to expect food in one area, a chance to move about in another, and the quietness of sleep somewhere else. Routines, order and consistency along with these simple points of reference are of upmost importance during the first few years of life.

Here’s what these areas look like in a Montessori home:

Voila Montessori's baby-focused nursery designed in collaboration with mollieQUINN. Photo: Laura Christin

Voila Montessori’s baby-focused nursery designed in collaboration with mollieQUINN. Photo: Laura Christin

The sleeping area is characterized by the absence of one nursery essential, the crib. Instead, we provide a simple low bed (just a mattress on the floor often suffices), along with a Moses basket. The low bed can be any size you choose (crib size, twin, queen etc.), depending on the location and space you have. This “floor bed” will need minimal changes over time if properly set-up as a safe relaxing area for the child. The area should be toy-free with no nearby mirrors: a sleeping place needs to be void of any distractions to help an infant self-soothe, relax and ease into sleep.

“A bed which has enough space to allow for movement and no obstruction
to vision is the first thing to provide in order to assist
the development of voluntary movement.”
~ Dr. S. Montanaro

 

SleepingThe floor bed is maybe the most controversial of the Montessori infant suggestions. Parents often wonder, will my child roll off his floor bed, or crawl off and begin to play? Well, that’s certainly the case—but is that an argument against or for the floor bed? By rolling off onto a soft carpet, from the height of a few inches, a child learns to recognize boundaries with little risk. By having the freedom to get out of bed when no longer tired, a child feels empowered, rather than trapped. Think about it from a child’s perspective: wouldn’t such a bed allow a baby to discover something fantastic, namely, that he is in control, that he can get himself to sleep and get himself up again: “I am the master of my movements, I don’t need to stay in my container and cry until somebody rescues me, I can even go to bed when I am tired, no need for me to wait until my sleepy cues have been interpreted.”

Needless to say, the floor bed requires the adult’s trust in the child’s capabilities and a commitment to letting the child explore her physical boundaries. It means that the entire room a child sleeps in needs to be extremely safe (baby-proofed). So while needing no expensive crib, the Montessori sleeping area requires space and a different type of careful set-up. It may not be easy, but trusting and allowing your child from the very beginning to be aware of their body scheme and physical boundaries will help her on her quest for independence as she matures into a self confident, well adjusted child.

The feeding area is first set-up for the caregiver who is either breast-feeding or bottle-feeding the infant. For the first few months, when babies are dependent on us for food, we should have a comfortable place to feed and bond with them. Keep this area free of any distractions (especially free of TVs and other screens). Feeding is an important bonding time for the child and caregiver. Set up your area so that you have everything you need at arm’s reach, and so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy this precious time that , while exhausting for sure, goes by all to quickly.

“Clearly then the nursing mother should be comfortably seated in a quiet place and feed the child while looking at it. Although it is technically possible to offer the breast and read a book, talk to someone or watch television, we must realize that, in this way, we detach psychological nourishment from biological feeding. As Erich Fromm puts it:
‘We only give the milk but not the honey.’”
~ Dr. S. Montanaro

Later, as the child’s interest in adult foods develops and he becomes capable of sitting upright unassisted, Dr. Montessori recommend a small weaning table and chair, especially for snacks or meals the child takes separately from the parents or other caregivers. These low chairs and tables allow children to independently seat themselves, instead of being lifted up and strapped in. They allow children to sit and have a meal with others of similar ages. They make it possible to set a pretty table, with small, open glasses and real ceramic plates, as a low drop is much less likely to lead to broken china than a drop from an adult-height table.

For meals taken together as a family, I find chairs such as the Tripp Trap a great alternative. These chairs allow an older infant to sit at the table with the family, instead of being pushed back in their own high chair with a tray. Seated at the family meal table, the baby can again have access to a plate, glass and utensils (which often barely fit on a high chair tray). Thus joined at the table, meals are a time for bonding and social relationships. They become a learning opportunity, as adults model proper cultural etiquette using real utensils, real glass cups and plates, and adults are fully engaged and present with children at mealtime. It is important to keep distractions such as iPads, phones or TVs away from this important meal-time ritual.

The physical care area—which includes diaper changing and getting dressed—is designed to facilitate care giving as an opportunity to interact. I highly recommend a changing table in European style, where you face your baby directly, rather than one of the typical US design, where you baby lies perpendicular to you. Being able to look your baby in her eyes as you change her, being able to talk to her and interact with her, is critical to make changing diapers not a drudge and chore, but an opportunity for bonding and learning. Make sure you have all the critical supplies close by, so you can give your child your undivided attention, so you can explain to her what you are doing, and ask for her active participation—such as lifting a leg or pushing an arm through a sleeve.

Only when we become able to give maternal care with the child’s
collaboration are we really doing things ‘with the child’ and not ‘to the child’.
~ Dr. S. Montanaro

While I recommend that changing tables be set up in the bathroom from the start, space may not allow that in all cases. Once children become mobile (strong crawlers or cruisers), I recommend moving diaper changes into the bathroom. Often, a pad on the floor is a good step; as the child can get to it herself, rather than being lifted (sometimes against her will) onto a high surface. Once a baby can stand well, you have the option of doing diaper changes standing up. It helps to provide a grab bar of some kind. If you want to go fancy, you can place it in front of a mirror, so the child can see what happens when you change her and clean her up.

If space permits, I recommend setting up a “care of self” area in the bathroom, too. This area can include a low shelf or table, upon which is placed a basin of water and a small piece of soap for hand washing, along with a little towel for drying. It’s not too soon toward the end of the first year to offer a small potty, along with a bucket for soiled clothing and a basket for clean clothes to switch into.

With this careful preparation, toilet learning during the toddler years is likely to be much smoother: The child will have played an active role in his elimination process from an early age. He will associate toileting with the bathroom, and will likely become more curious and more eager to master this skill independently.

The movement area at first consists of a comfortable thin mat or a folded blanket placed on the floor. It is best if placed against a wall with a horizontal mirror along the side. Very young babies spend time here looking at simple mobiles created to develop the child’s visual sense. The mirror gives the child information about her body scheme (self-concept) and encourages movement, as children are very attracted by the image of themselves. As the child begins to get into a stable sitting position on her own, it is a good idea to place a low bar, such as a ballet bar, in front of the mirror to encourage pulling up to a standing position. This bar offers a sturdy support to practice standing and cruising. It’s much better at fostering gross motor skills than contraptions such as bouncers, saucers, and playpens, which often limit movement or provide unnecessary crutches. Your child’s conquest to develop his equilibrium will be met with confidence and a sense of empowerment if he is able to discover his amazing capabilities naturally at his own pace.

As your child begins to be mobile, the entire home will become the movement area! Let her explore. Movement is life and an essential basic need for the child. Children need to be able to safely move and explore their home environment. Take time to explore with her, creating areas that you know are entirely safe for exploration. One of my child’s favorite activities when he first started crawling was emptying the corner cupboard in the kitchen and crawling into it. The look of accomplishment on his face was well worth my effort to re-arrange the kitchen to make it a safe place for him to explore!

A child’s home should be simple and free of clutter. Less is truly more: a baby’s mind is still trying to find its way in the world, and too much stuff can be disorienting. For the movement and active area, use low shelves, with only a few toys, attractively displayed. (Extras can be stored away and swapped out.) The abundance of items can often overwhelm a child and get in the way of his need for concentration. Choose attractive and varied toys that are “passive”—that is, toys your child needs to engage actively with, rather than those that passively entertain without effort by the baby. Experience your home like your child sees it: crawl around and move things that you want your child to engage with at his level. This may mean lowering family photos and artwork so your child can admire them, and so they can be the springboard for engaging conversations and story telling.

The impact of adapting your home in this way is well worth the effort.

Not long ago I worked with a lovely single mother living with her eighteen-month-old son. The mom admitted it was hard to stay home with her son, since she felt she would “go crazy.” She would spend a large part of her day at the park with her son to avoid the common frustrations she experienced when he was at home for an extended period of time.

It did not take me long to see that the environment was not satisfying her son’s needs for independence, collaborative work and his need for order. The toy shelves were over-flowing with toys, the kitchen and bathroom had not yet been adapted for a young child and strangely enough the backyard was fenced off. I worked with this mother to make adaptations in her home—such as creating child-centered spaces in the kitchen, bathroom, and backyard by reducing the toys available down to a more manageable level. With these simple changes, my client was finally able to enjoy staying home with her son as she saw him being engaged, self-disciplined and able to concentrate on the developmentally appropriate activities set out for him. As she wrote to me,

“The changes in my son were immediate! Every new task and responsibilities I presented him with were so exciting to him. He thrived to help, participate and was eager to learn. He could play with one toy for long periods of time, was a lot more focused, calm and serene. Our house became his own playground and a place where he can now safely explore and take part of.”

A Montessori home environment may be devoid of many of the traditional items found on a baby registry—yet it is a rich, beautiful environment for children to explore. For ideas on how to get started in your home, download our “Montessori babies must-have” list.

JMPaynelJeanne-Marie Paynel, M.Ed, holds AMI Montessori diplomas for ages birth through six. She is a Montessori Parent Liaison for LePort Montessori Schools and the founder of Voila Montessori, where she guides and empowers parents to create age-appropriate home environments for their children.

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Encouraging the Scientist in Your Preschooler

If you follow the discussions about education reform and improvement, you will have heard much about the deplorable performance of U.S. students in the STEM fields—Science, Technology, Engineering & Math—at the high school and college level. Effort to improve this performance usually centers on tougher standards and more testing, often for middle school and up.

We think that’s the wrong approach. The scientist in each child is born (or not born) in preschool.

In a Montessori classroom, the Sensorial Exercises are designed to foster an interest in the natural world. Here, during the formative years of their lives, children develop many key attributes of the successful scientist:

  • Observing carefully, with all senses. In contrast to computer screens, which are two-dimensional and primarily visual, the sensorial activities heighten observation skills by training all of a child’s senses. Children listen to differences in sound made by shaking cylinders to match, or tones in the scale made by the Montessori Musical Bells. Blindfolded, they match wooden tablets by their weight; other tablets by their heat conductivity or roughness of texture. They match taste and smell bottles; they arrange rods by lengths and cubes by volume. They put together complex, three-dimensional puzzles by using multiple sense modalities in conjunction.  Why does this matter? In addition to the fact that many professions, from cooks to research scientists, need finely-tuned senses, deliberate, sequenced observational training helps children become active observers of their environment. And of course, the world is a much more enjoyable place when we have the tools to notice and appreciate the beauty around us!
  • Categorizing things by their attributes. One of the key skills possessed by a scientific mind is the ability to ascertain similarities and differences, and to group things accordingly. In the Sensorial area of the Montessori preschool classroom, children learn precisely this skill. They identify attributes—length, width, height, color in wide gradations, taste, texture and so on. They acquire the vocabulary to accurately capture and describe what they see (mauve, magenta, crimson—instead of just "reddish"). They learn to sort and arrange things by their characteristics.
  • Developing a scientific vocabulary. Dr. Montessori observed that preschool-age children operate with an "absorbent mind", that is, they can learn big words in an effortless way, just by being exposed to them:

    We have to conclude that scientific words are best taught to children between the ages of three and six; not in a mechanical way, of course, but in conjunction with the objects concerned, or in the course of their explorations, so that their vocabulary keeps pace with their experiences. For example, we show the actual parts of a leaf or flower, or point out the geographical units (cape, bay, island, etc.), on the globe. (The Absorbent Mind, p. 175)

    As part of the sensorial exercises, we expose children to a range of scientific vocabulary: they are introduced to the names of different forms of leafs (palmate, acicular) as they trace and match them; they identify land and water forms (peninsula, archipelago) as they work with water and clay to make these features in miniature; they make maps of the world, and learn the names of countries and states; they learn the names of two-dimensional geometric shapes and three-dimensional geometric solids (triangular pyramid, rectangular prism). The primary value here is not even the specific terms that the child retains, but the fact that she develops an inner norm for what it feels like to use vocabulary to heighten and capture one’s observations. Language itself becomes a precision tool to classify and categorize the world one perceives, rather than just a series of vague impressions.

The preschool-aged child, given his proclivity for observation and retention, is naturally inclined to develop a passion for science. So whether your child attends a Montessori school or not, there’s a lot you can do at that age to support your child’s budding scientist within:

  • Spend at least half a day outside, exploring nature, on as many weekends as you can. In California, we are blessed with amazing nature, and a warm climate that enables us to be outside year-round. By taking your child out to explore the great outdoors, you naturally foster her interest in scientific inquiry. Whether she’s a toddler going on a short walk in a local park, picking up pine cones, rocks and flowers, or a five-year-old exploring the tide pools, unhurried outdoor experiences with you as a companion, engender an underlying fascination with the observable, natural world. The goal is not to make these instructional events: you’re not there to teach her about science so much as to let her use all her senses, let her explore at her pace, let her become enamored with the world around her, and curious about what makes it work. For ten fun things to do outdoors in OC, click here; this blog about OC parks is also full of great ideas; I refer to it often when I visit OC with my children.
  • Express enthusiasm for technology as well as nature. While it’s particularly important to explore nature, we sometimes forget that for our children, everything is new and unfamiliar, whether natural or man-made. If your toddler is drawn to the garbage truck every time it passes, or really likes the shininess of a railing’s metallic surface, or notices every time an airplane passes overhead, treat these moments as instances of scientific exploration. An early fascination with technological innovation is a common characteristic of great scientists.
  • Point out and name what you observe in the world about you. Just like we give children words in the classroom—for leaf shapes, for rocks, for land and water forms—you can provide much vocabulary in response to your child’s gaze and interests. Don’t worry if you don’t know all the scientific terms yourself: often, it’s helpful to just describe what you see—the bright red color of a maple leaf in autumn; the warmth of the sun on your skin; the fact that the sand is wet on the beach where the high tide covered it. If you can, and if your child is interested, do provide short explanations, of course—and use questions you can’t answer as a jumping-off point for joint research at home!
  • Ask and answer questions about how things work. Recently, I was getting ready to go out to a park with my six-year-old daughter, when she, out of the blue, hit me with this series of questions: "Mama, there are some things in life that I don’t quite understand. Why does the light turn on up on the ceiling, when I flick the switch in the wall? Were there always bananas—and if not, where did they come from? What pushes the water up in a straw when I drink? How come the water in the toilet stops by itself after I flush?" Welcome questions like this—and do your best to answer them. We took off the top of the toilet tank, and watched what happened. I didn’t know the vocabulary for all the parts either—but you can always look it up! "Let’s find out together" are great words to use often!
  • Include good, well-illustrated non-fiction books in your home library, and re-read them often. Picture books are a great way to introduce the fascinating world around us to young children. You can create many tie-ins to your excursions, for example, reading about constellations or moon phases as you spend time outside on a winter evening, or about marine creatures before you visit tide pools.  Books are also a great way to bring new vocabulary terms to life: make reading interactive, as you name the things you see on the pages, and, on the second or third read, ask your child to find animals or plants or tools on the pages.  Click here for a convenient Amazon list of some of our favorite non-fiction picture books for ages three to nine.

The preschool years are a wonderful time for making shared memories with your child. Going out into the world together, slowing down, noticing the sights, smells, sounds around us are wonderful ways to enrich your child’s preschool education—and to enjoy these precious years, when your child is so immensely curious, so aware and still so excited to be together with you.

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Books Children Love – LePort 2013 Suggested Books for Toddlers, Preschoolers and Elementary Children

books

Colder, shorter days are upon us, and the outdoors are not quite as welcoming. But as the dark comes early, so does the opportunity to cuddle up with our children in a favorite spot and explore the timeless treasure of great books.

At LePort, we are big believers in the power of literature. Beautiful, inspiring literary works help children become voracious readers who look to books for enjoyment as well as education. Whether it’s a 3-year-old enraptured as a teacher reads to her, a 5-year-old reading to a younger child, or a group of 8-year-olds engaged in animated discussion about a read-aloud character, we love seeing our students discover the joys that await them in the pages of a good book.

As a parent, you can help your child discover the joys of reading. In looking for that perfect gift this holiday season, we offer up the list below of favorite books, from simple picture books for toddlers and younger preschool children, to more elaborate stories for older primary students, and beginning chapter books that elementary students can read by themselves, or that you can read to your five-year-old.

This is our fourth holiday book list, and we plan to make it a yearly tradition! You can help us by sharing your favorite books for this age group in the comments; maybe you’ll see them in next year’s list.

P.S. If you aren’t yet sold on reading out loud daily to your child, or want an even broader range of book recommendations, check out reading advocate Jim Trelease’s web site. He has free excerpts from his Read-Aloud Handbook with helpful advice, and lots of ammunition on why reading aloud is so important.

Click sections below to view books.

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While we will continue to recommend only products we personally use with our own children or in our classrooms, LePort is piloting an affiliate program with Amazon.com. Items placed in your Amazon cart directly from the above links earn LePort Schools a commission of up to 8%, which we donate to our Support LePort scholarship fund. We hope to offer a similar program from other vendors in the future. To learn about other ways you can contribute – or how to apply for a scholarship for your child – please click here. Together, we can spread Knowledge for Life to children across America.

For more book ideas from our 2012 holiday book list, click here.

Applying Montessori Ideas When Reading With Your Child

Part four of four of our reading aloud blog post series

montessori preschools huntington beach

While the "why" of reading aloud to children is discussed everywhere, the equally important "how"often receives short shrift. That’s unfortunate, because as valuable as it is to know why reading together is important, it is getting better at reading with your child that will actually ensure that the experience is mutually joyous, and help you build it into your routine.

Here are some Montessori-inspired ideas to implement as you read with your child:

  1. Embrace and celebrate repetitive reading. Most preschoolers love to read the same books, over and over again, just like they go back to favorite activities in their Montessori classrooms. This need for repetition is a wonderful opportunity for learning during read-alouds: it is often when we read a story the 5th or 10th time that children begin to use its words, or remember its moral lessons. And it’s only during the preschool, picture book years that we have this audience eager to read the same book over and over again! Make the most of these few years by reading books at different levels:
  2. montessori preschools huntington beach

    • Read for the story during the first take. Get caught up in it, and read through with limited stops, maybe just to explain a key term here and there, and to answer a brief comprehension question. Talk about the story afterwards.
    • Become progressively more interactive on subsequent reads. Stop to give short definitions of vocabulary terms ("An dwelling is a house, a place someone lives. Our dwelling has green walls, and a big garden around it.") Point out interesting things in the illustrations. Talk about why the events happen, how the people in the story feel, how the setting compares to the world your children live in. There are some good articles out there detailing how to implement interactive reading, but the general principle is to guide your children to be interactive explorers of the books they read!
  3. Integrate ideas across books and into your child’s real-world experience. When we study literature in the upper grades at LePort, we explicitly highlight the ways in which books are guides for better living: we discuss the moral lessons books offer, and help children draw on literary experiences to illuminate the choices they make in their own lives. While we’d not suggest quite such an abstract approach for preschoolers, there are many ways you can connect the reading you do to your children lives, even at age 3 or 5:
    • Consciously use a book’s vocabulary in your daily conversations. ("I’m exasperated right now, Max, because your crayons are all over the floor!") Repeating and using the vocabulary from books will reinforce the learning, and help your child comprehend the new words and use them actively in speaking and writing.  It also develops an implicit awareness in your child that the language in a book can be extended to life as such.
    • Highlight how your child’s experiences relate to those of characters and settings in books. ("You found a creative solution here, instead of giving up, just like Sadie did in Sadie and the Snowman!" "I know this flu shot hurts, but it’s better than the prospect of sending you away for months, like Marvin’s parents had to do in the book we read.") Engage in real-world activities that relate to the books you read: go to a park to look for butterflies after reading Where Butterflies Grow; bake bread after reading Sunbread; re-read Hello Oceanbefore a trip to the beach.
    • Make connections for your child between different books. Highlight similarities and differences, and tie them to your child’s experience.  ("See, the family in When I Was Young in the Mountains has to heat their house with a wooden stove, just like Laura’s family did in The Little House on the Prairie! We don’t need to cut wood today, or light a fire, or clean a messy stove; we have gas furnaces that work at the flick of a switch.")

    montessori preschools huntington beach

  4. Let your child choose books. While you need to do the initial selection, especially for those books you buy and expect to read over and over again, let your child choose from the books you selected. It’s fun to discover which books your child likes—and a great starting point for conversation about values and choices we make: why is this book a favorite? Why doesn’t he like that one? Once they are older, let children pick library books, even those you may not love: it helps to have an occasional not-so-exciting book to highlight the special joy we get from better ones!
  5. Provide firm guidance around reading behavior. In our house, my son loves books, and he’s a born story-teller. Often, he’ll take the first opportunity during reading time to launch off into a story of his own. Sometimes, when it’s just the two of us, I’ll follow his lead, and reading morphs into 20 minutes of my 4-year-old spinning his own yarns. At other times, when we read with his sister or visiting friends, he has learned that he needs to raise his hand or put it on my arm to let me know he has something to say when we get to a stopping point in the book. Making reading interactive does not mean anything goes: interrupting constantly, talking with dolls, or running around usually means the reading stops, until the children choose to pay attention again. It’s the same "freedom within limits" approach your child experiences in our Montessori classrooms, and it can work just as well at home!
  6. Never tie rewards or punishments to reading. While there are many programs that offer incentives for children to read (free Pizza, anyone?), we recommend never tying reading to any rewards or punishments. Don’t reward reading; don’t offer reading as a reward; don’t withhold reading as a punishment. Extrinsic rewards or punishments debase the activity they are tied to, and reading is just too important an experience to risk!

montessori preschools huntington beach

If you can make reading something you and your children treasure, infuse it with meaning by selecting great books, and make it a pleasant, interactive experience, you’ll do something amazing: you’ll lay the foundation for a love of reading in your child—and create a storehouse of wonderful, shared memories.

Selecting Read-Aloud Books, the Montessori Way

montessori preschool private school

Part three of four of our reading aloud blog post series

Great books are essential if reading with your child is to be a joyful, replenishing experience, a highlight of the day.

When I first set out to find books for my two children, I quickly discovered that choosing outstanding children’s books is a challenging task. Our local library has an extensive picture book collection. I headed there, and asked a few of the librarians for advice. One handed me a somewhat helpful trifold booklet of 25 favorite books; another one suggested some well-known classics (The Hungry Caterpillar, Goodnight Moon, The Big Red Barn.) It was a start, but few of the books really got me excited, and much of what was suggested just didn’t seem right for my vision of reading.

Over the past five years, as my children have grown older, I’ve discovered many good resources, approached Montessori-inspired friend and LePort teachers for ideas, and built a library for our family that we treasure, filled with picture books all of us love to re-read many times, along with an ever-growing list of books we put on hold and pick up at the library.

If you want some guidance on selecting books that are in line with your child’s Montessori education, books that you might enjoy reading as well, here are some principles to keep in mind on your library trips:

  • Find books that "are real or could be real" for your younger reader. To a toddler or young preschool child, the real world is full of mysteries. A three-year old is fascinated by how different animals live, how things work, what the world looks like, why people act the way they do. Because young children do not yet have a clear conception of the difference between reality and fantasy, they are best served by books that either are about real things (non-fiction books) or stories that could be real (events that could actually happen, even if they are fictional). So when you select books for children younger than 5 or 6 years old, make sure you pick a preponderance of books about the real world. If you choose to share some occasional fantastic stories (of which there are some great ones, e.g. of the type that includes talking, anthropomorphized animals), make sure you help your child to understand what is real, and what is just pretend. ("Do animals talk? No, they don’t: this book is a fantasy book.")
  • Read up to your child, not down. Toddlers and preschoolers are in what Montessori calls the sensitive period for language: like little sponges, they absorb effortlessly the language around them. Preschool children can readily learn big vocabulary words, when the words are introduced in an accessible way. By selecting books with appealing and appropriately complex language models, you greatly aid your child’s language acquisition. Many children’s books unfortunately use very short, choppy language, and are overly simplistic. My rule of thumb is to buy up, not down: I’ve always picked books that had bigger words, longer sentences, more elaborate constructions, than most people would think appropriate for a 2- or 4-year old. In most cases, my children were engaged—and I was surprised and delighted to hear them pick up and use the language of the books. ("East sky purples, sun is coming", my then 3-year-old daughter echoed after Bats on the Beach. "Mama, we don’t need to dread this knight: he’s extinct, like the dinosaurs", explained my 3-year-old son as we read Cowardly Clyde.)
  • Search for beauty and don’t settle for less. In Montessori, we surround our students with beauty, from the clean lines of our natural wood furniture, to the delicate porcelain bowls in the Practical Life area, to the art work hung at child’s height in class. Let the same sense of beauty be your guide as you choose books: look for illustrations that are realistic and detailed, not cartoonish and simplified. For a 2- or 3-year old, much of the learning from picture books comes from the pictures. Real art illustrations or beautiful photography will add to your enjoyment of the books you read, and, over time, will elevate your child’s taste, too. We’ve put together a collage of favorite picture book pages here, so you can get a feeling for how visually pleasing these carefully chosen books can be.
  • Broaden your horizon. While I select individual books based on their unique appeal, over the years I also strive to expose my children to the world via books. We read about different settings (cities, beaches, forests, mountains, space, the US, China, Japan…), times (pre-history, ancient times, the past century, today), different beings (animals, plants, human beings in different societies and of different ages), different types of stories (historical fiction, non-fiction, poetry). These virtual journeys around the world give us a lot to talk about—and, without an explicit effort on their part, provide children with a wonderful bounty of vocabulary and background knowledge they will draw on later in their lives.
  • Make sure you enjoy the books you buy. I saved the best for last: when you preview a book in the store, via Amazon or in the library, make sure it appeals to you! If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t like reading it over and over again. I’ve made the mistake to buy books I didn’t like (usually books that violated one of the first three points above!), and found myself reluctant to read them. And, yes, I’ve even hidden away some of these books, to avoid feeling reluctant when my children bring them to me to read!

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Following these guidelines, I’ve put together two starter book lists, one for toddlers and younger preschoolers, and one for older preschoolers and younger elementary children. These books are personal favorites in our family, collected over time and based on recommendations of many knowledgeable teachers and parents: they are books we treasure and couldn’t imagine not having read to our children. 

Enjoy!

LePort Blog: A Prepared Reading Environment

Part two of four of our reading aloud blog post series

Just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand if it is to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things. Aristotle

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In Montessori classroom, much of the magic happens because children act within a carefully prepared environment. Activities are displayed beautifully, always in their proper spots, always ready to use. The children’s time and space to explore is respected for several hours each day. The Montessori guide is an expert at observing, and only stepping in when she finds a child ready for a new lesson, or in need of someone to make a point of interest with a material.

The Montessori prepared environment makes it possible for three- or four-year-olds to enter a classroom, take off their outside clothes, choose an activity and work with focus. It’s an environment that instills a lot of good habits: respecting other’s space, developing a pro-work attitude, using inside voices and walking, not running, in the classroom. If you’ve seen your super-active, noisy, goofy 4-year-old enter his Montessori classroom and be transformed into a serenely joyous, responsible, focused Montessori child, you’ve experienced the power of the prepared environment at work!

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In the book The Power of Habits, Charle Duhigg explains that much of what we do happens on auto-pilot: we receive a cue (entering the classroom), which triggers a routine (calming down and picking an activity from a shelf and working on it), which in turn leads to a reward (the feeling of accomplishment of having mastered a new skill.) To instill any habit, Duhigg argues, we need to put in place a cue-routine-reward system that supports the change we want to make in our life. The prepared environment, in Montessori, functions as such a system, and supports what we call the childhood choice to learn. Duhigg’s idea of a cue-routine-reward framework is something we can also apply at home to enable our children to develop good habits.

Take, for instance, reading aloud. As we discussed elsewhere, reading can and should be a joyous, daily experience shared by a parent and a child—but for it to be so, certain conditions must be met. If you are already experiencing your own Bed Time Book Club, congratulations! If not, read on for some ideas on how to prepare your home environment to facilitate a habit of reading together.

 

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    • Create cues for reading. Cues can be certain times of day: right after you come home from picking up from school, first thing in the morning before getting out of bed, right before bed at night. Cues can also be certain areas of the house that invite reading: you can place a book basket by the sofa, out books on the nightstand next to your bed, or upon a low shelf or magazine rack next to your child’s bed. Finally, cues can be certain other activities: why not put a few books in the car, and make it a habit for one parent to read, while the other is driving? Or place a book in your purse—as a reminder to take it out and read when you are waiting anywhere with your children! (iPads and Kindles are great for this: just make sure you always have a book to read to your children at the top of your favorites section—another cue to think about reading, whenever you turn on your device!)

 

    • Make it a routine. Your toddler or preschooler is your best ally here: 2- or 4-year-old children love consistency, so if you want to instill the habit of reading, start by making reading at certain times and places an expected, recurring event. In our house, we always read at bedtime—and there is no way our children would ever let us get away without doing it: even when we come home late from a trip, or an evening out, we still have to read at least for a few minutes, or risk the major drama that is a preschooler whose favorite routine has been interrupted!

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  • Ensure reading is a rewarding experience. By this, we emphatically don’t mean offer rewards: research shows that extrinsic rewards, such as stickers, sweets or even praise, devalue the activities associated with them. Instead, make the reading itself a time you and your children treasure. Cuddle up somewhere comfortable. Have the books close by, so you don’t need to walk to another room to get them. Shut off all electronic distractors, from phones to TV. Be fully present—and really engage in the wonderful worlds you encounter together in the books you read. Importantly, the pleasure of reading needs to be felt by both the children and by you, the parent: the goal is to make you crave reading time just as much as your children do, so you won’t want to miss it, ever! For me, no matter how tumultuous a busy evening is, no matter how many limits my 4-year-old tested that night, reading has become a healing factor: when we cuddle up with our books, we feel a comforting bond, a calm and connection that brings us back together as a family at the end of every day.

A reading habit is a powerful habit to instill in our children—and a rewarding way to feel connected to them, every day.  Do you have a favorite way of fostering reading with your children? Please share with us in the comments!

Beauty in Words and Pictures: A Visual Tour of Favorite Picture Books

Note that each photo is linked to the book on Amazon.com, to make it easy for you to buy books that appeal to you.





LePort Blog: Reading for Happiness

Part one of four of our reading aloud blog post series

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Much has been said about the benefits of reading with your child. Reading together regularly helps your child develop basic literacy skills, such as the left-right progression of words and the connection of print to the spoken word; it enriches his vocabulary; it offers her the background knowledge essential to understanding written content, once the progress beyond decoding simple books. Perhaps most importantly, by reading with your child you model the practice of turning to books for information and entertainment, rather than defaulting to TV and video games. Children who acquire a habit of reading for fun consistently show higher academic achievement, both in school and in college.

All these are valid reasons for reading with a child. And they are certainly true: in our classrooms, we can readily tell which children have a strong literacy environment at home. They are the ones who listen attentively when we read aloud, the ones who ask the best questions, draw the most creative pictures, and can’t wait for both silent reading time and the opportunity to write their own stories.

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As a parent, however, these concrete educational benefits are not why I read to my two children every day.

I read with my children because sharing great books brings joy to us. We devour books because reading is a personal value, because I love doing it, and because sharing this value with my children, and seeing the pleasure they derive, is a highlight of every day.

My children, in turn, can’t wait to cuddle up next to me with a good book. They are excited when we go on our bi-weekly library trips, which usually end with us sitting amidst a pile of book when we get home, forgetting all about making dinner or cleaning up the family room, losing ourselves in story after story. When I come home from work, they often greet me excitedly holding up an Amazon package that arrived in the mail, eager to open it and discover a new favorite book.

In Montessori, we distinguish between the direct and the indirect lessons a child learns from an activity. The direct lesson—tying laces, preparing and serving snack, creating art with the Metal Insets—is often what interests and motivates the child. The indirect lesson—finger dexterity, following multi-step processes, impulse control, pencil grip—are inherent in the design of the activity, and a key pedagogical reason for offering it to the child. Yet they usually hold no motivational value to the child.

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A 4-year-old does not draw dozens of Metal Inset in order to improve his pencil grip, so that he’s ready for handwriting later on. No, he is drawn to the Metal Insets because of the pleasure of working with it, and the pride he takes in seeing the picture he has created. The power of a Montessori environment is that a child’s direct, inner motivation and joy is what fuels the motor driving his development forward.

Similarly, when we read with our sons and daughters, our direct motivation should not, and cannot, be the academic benefits that result, no matter how important and real they are. To the extent we view read aloud as a mere educational tool, a “should do” rather than a “want to”, we’ll find it hard to fit it into our busy days, where another “to do” is the last thing we need. We’ll feel guilty if we don’t read, because we know its good for our children, but it just won’t happen as often as it “should”. When we do squeeze reading in, we are tempted to make it a lesson. Our children will notice, balk at being made a means to an end (even if the end happens to be their own future), and resist engaging fully.

If, instead, we manage to make reading a want, something both we and our children crave, if favorite picture books become, as one dad reminisces, “evocative of some of life’s best things — wet hair, clean pajamas, the end of working days”, then reading with our children will not be yet another imposition on our time, but instead a treasured moment we will protect jealously.

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At LePort we believe that education and parenting is all about facilitating a child’s quest for his personal happiness. For us, this means not just helping a child become a successful, fulfilled adult many years down the road, but just as importantly, making childhood and the process of learning a joyous experience. At the deepest level, we reject any dichotomy between these two profound needs.

If you find it challenging to fit reading into your daily routine, if you’d like to read more, but can’t seem to find the time, if reading seems like a “should do” rather than a “want to” at the end of a busy day, I’d encourage you to reframe your purpose: think less about how reading will help your child succeed in the future, and focus instead on how fun it will be to share a story with your child today in the here and now. Approach reading a book with the same attitude that you would approach going out for ice cream or throwing a football or playing a board game—not a necessary means to a future end, but a treasured and cherished end in itself.

Happy reading!

Supporting Your Child’s Budding Independence at Home

 

We just bought a small table and chairs for Sophie’s play room. At the end of the day, I went to the room and I was so surprised and laughed so hard.

Erin I.

I heard some moving around upstairs this morning. I went to check on Hailey and she had gotten out of bed and was brushing her teeth all by herself. She put the cap back on the toothpaste and put her toothbrush back after she was done. (This is not the norm in my house). Hailey started in the toddler program and has been at Le Port for 2 years now. It’s great to see the progress she’s made.

Lori P.

At lunch today, I took the suggestion from the Tuesday folder and put the girls’ dishes and cups in a basket on a low shelf in the kitchen. I already had some cloths stored on a low shelf with tablecloths, and the girls have a small table in the kitchen to eat at. Audrey (3 1/2) set the table for herself and her sister (17 months) and then both of them sat and ate. After they were both done, she cleared the plates and utensils and cups and put them in the sink and then, most stunningly to me, took a cloth and wiped off the table before pushing in all of the chairs. She was so enthusiastic to be able to do it all herself, and smiled broadly when all was clean. Thank you so much for instilling such awesome skills in my little one.

Reba N.

When toddlers and young preschoolers start in Montessori, parents are often amazed at the sudden spurt in independence and skill their children display.

If your child is starting in a Montessori toddler or preschool program, and you want to witness this incredible development in your own child, it helps if you are able to prepare your home environment in ways that support your child’s new skills and desire to be independent.

Here are some ideas to consider:

    1. Provide simple storage spots for belongings right inside the front door.  A small rug to place shoes or a basket to put them into and some hooks to hang jackets are a great start.  This can help your child get out of the house and back in more independently, and maybe prevent some meltdowns!  A little stool to sit on helps, as well.

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    1. Make your kitchen accessible to your child.  Find a low shelf or drawer to store cups, placemats, and utensils within your child’s reach.  Buy glass cups and inexpensive ceramic plates (IKEA is great!) that you don’t mind getting broken.  Invite your child to set his own place at the table.  A bigger step stool, or a learning tower can be a great help to little people who want to join you in the fun cooking activities at counter height.  And, of course, when it comes time to sit down and eat, encourage your child to feed himself:  Even young toddlers can eat finger-foods on their own, and start using a spoon; this is what they do in their Montessori classrooms, too.

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    1. Organize and simplify the play area.  Fewer toys, displayed on open shelves, are preferable over lots of toys in boxes that the children can’t see.

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    1. Small chairs and tables facilitate independent snack time and organized playtime.  Provide some buckets, sponges, rags, and child-sized brooms, and your child can even clean up after himself.

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    1. Facilitate getting dressed independently.  Low open shelves, low racks, a mirror and a bench with brush or comb can enable even 2- or 3-year-olds to begin to dress independently, especially if you pre-select an outfit the night before, or lay out two simple choices for a younger child.

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    1. Consider a floor or other low bed.  Some Montessori parents never have cribs; instead, they baby-proof an entire room and let even infants sleep on a floor bed.  While this may not work for every parent, a low bed or a twin mattress on the floor can be a great step up after a crib, instead of a toddler bed.

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    1. Make books accessible and create cozy reading areas.  The more that books are all over your house, the easier it is for your child to grab a book instead of asking for your iPhone or the TV when you are not available to play.

montessori preschool daycare private school

To see growth in your child’s independence, it’s not necessary to reorganize your entire house (who has the time and energy for that?!).  Just pick one or two ideas and make little changes over time.  You might think your child is too young to take advantage of these kinds of opportunities for independence—but once she starts school, you might be just as surprised and thrilled as the LePort Montessori parents who wrote the Facebook posts above!

Thanks to Bernadette, a LePort parent of three children, ages infant to preschool, for inviting us into her house to take many of these beautiful pictures!

Holiday Gifts They’ll Love

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The holidays are a great opportunity to come together as a family. In many families, they also are a time to express our appreciation with thoughtful gifts that align with our values, and that put big smiles on the faces of our precious children.

Unfortunately, among the many highly promoted toys that are commercially available this season, it may be difficult to find ones that foster the skills and attitudes at the core of your child’s Montessori education. If you are interested in finding gifts that help you support your child’s education at home, read on to discover gift ideas that your child will both love and learn from, and that, importantly, you will enjoy, not regret buying.

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  1. Get into the kitchen and out into the garden.  Most children love to hang out in the kitchen and “help”. They love to garden along with us, or take a turn at handling tools. Commercially available toys allow children to pretend to do these things, often using cheap plastic replica hammers, pots, rakes, and pizza slices. Why not give them the real thing, and let them apply their Montessori-acquired skills toward doing the real job? For Small Hands is a great online store that offers real, high-quality tools sized for young children to handle comfortably. You’ll find everything from child-sized brooms and aprons to hand-drills, from gardening gloves to child-safe vegetable choppers.

  2. Game time! Needless to say, this doesn’t mean video games or games on TV… The holidays are perfect for starting a tradition of turning that TV off and instead playing games together as a family. Children as young as age three can play board games, such as Hi Ho Cherry O, the Ladybug Game or Sequence for Kids. Memory games—with wide ranges of pictures, from construction equipment to life on earth and more challenging I Spy versions—can be turned into "matching games" for 2-year-olds; with practice, some 4- or 5-year-olds will love to beat Mom and Dad at memory! Simple card games, such as Uno or Go Fish, can also be fun, especially if you start by playing them with the cards laid out openly, so you can help younger players. And older children may enjoy more challenging games: Shut the Box was a favorite at this year’s Game Day at LePort.

  3. Pretend play. Every child should have plenty of time for unstructured free play. Pretending to take on grown-up roles, working together to make up far-flung journeys, or acting out day-to-day situations is lots of fun. Children are creative, and can make a lot from a little, so you don’t have to buy much. Consider largely unstructured items, which inspire and not limit creativity, things like a play cape, a doctor kit or even a working stethoscope, some huge card board blocks, a child’s tent structure, and your little ones may be off to hours of play, especially if you also make sofa cushions, chairs, blankets and tables available to them!

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  4. Let’s draw and do crafts together. With your child’s growing attention span and improving fine motor skills, he’ll soon delight in having quality and fun materials to be creative with. If you have the space, a two-sided easel can be great for the youngest ones to draw on a big, toddler-suitable surface, especially if you can offer nice chalk or poster paint. (Don’t forget the artist smock!) For older children, invest in drawing pads and high-quality colored pencils. If you want to help your budding artist to both learn to draw more things, and practice reproducing shapes (a key skill in writing), you may find one of the "How to Draw" series a great way to spend some quality time together. The step-by-step instructions for drawing animals, flowers, people or monsters are super-simple; 3-year-olds will delight in coloring the figures you draw for them, while older children will be excited to try their hand at tracing or copying the figures. Klutz books and activity kits also are a great source for creative inspiration, and so easy that even those of us who don’t think we are very good at crafty things can have fun with our children!

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  6. Head outside and play! Every child should have a collection of balls: even infants can enjoy easy-to-clutch open balls to throw around outside. Or try having fun with bubbles: this bubble wand is just amazing, and sure to be a hit, whether in your yard, or at the park. Finally, we keep coming back to balance bikes, which we wrote about in a prior blog post. These make great holiday gifts for children as young as age 2, and are a great way to get ready quickly for riding real bikes for older preschoolers.

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  8. Design and build. Unstructured building materials, from Lego Duplos to Citiblocs, from Magna Tiles to Zoob building sets, from Wedgits to wooden pattern blocks and the classic Tinker Toys, all foster creativity and offer lots of play value for the money.

  9. It’s story time. No surprise here: we think books are a must-have gift for your child whenever there’s a joyous occasion. If you haven’t seen our new 2012 list of favorite books yet, just click here to download these recommendations for preschoolers to lower elementary children now.

We hope you find some interesting new ideas in this list for your family, and that whatever gifts you choose add joy to your holidays and for the year to come.

Happy Holidays!

P.S. Do you have favorites you think other parents might enjoy? Please share them in the comments below, so we can add them to next year’s list.


While we will continue to recommend only products we personally use with our own children or in our classrooms, LePort is piloting an affiliate program with Amazon.com. Items placed in your Amazon cart directly from the above links earn LePort Schools a commission of up to 8%, which we donate to our Support LePort scholarship fund. We hope to offer a similar program from other vendors in the future. To learn about other ways you can contribute – or how to apply for a scholarship for your child – please click here. Together, we can spread Knowledge for Life to children across America.

Toilet Learning, not Potty Training

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Potty training: Just mention this word, and many parents of toddler cringe. Numerous books have been written about the subject–including variations on potty training for boys and potty training for girls–and parents and educators hotly debate the right time and approach for children to transition out of diapers and learn to use the toilet.

At LePort, we apply Montessori principles to this important childhood task: toilet learning is an integral part of our Montessori toddler program, and, of course, included in the program at no additional charge. (We say toilet learning, not potty training, for a reason–read on, and you’ll find out why!)

    • Toilet learning is a natural part of a child’s developing independence skill set. Being able to use the toilet without help by an adult is an important milestone to a child’s independence. In a Montessori toddler class, it’s just one natural step in all the other work on independence your child will engage in. In fact, many of the independence skills we teach him – hanging up his coat, putting on socks and shoes, learning to button and to close zippers, proper hand washing techniques – are skills that will make it much easier for him to successfully use the toilet by himself.huntington-beach-preschool-daycare
    • A respectful focus on learning, not training. Much advice on “potty training” includes relying on rewards (stickers etc.) and punishments. These extrinsic incentives, in our view, are detrimental to any learning process, including learning how to use the toilet independently. In the Montessori toddler classrooms, your child will instead encounter the toilet as a natural part of growing up. He’ll see older peers using potty chairs or low, child-sized toilets. He’ll be invited to try sitting on the toilet, as a natural part of changing his diaper. The child’s wish to imitate his older peers, his burgeoning desire to be master of his own needs, and his interest in a consistent routine are our best allies here. And, of course, our 1:6 (or in limited cases 1:7) ratio up to age 3 enables us to spend more time teaching than in other programs, where the ratio of staff to children sometimes changes to 1:12 at age two, long before most children have completed the toilet learning process!

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    • An early start to learning. In a Montessori infant or toddler daycare setting, toilet learning starts early. When we diaper babies in our infant daycare rooms, we do so in the bathroom, to begin associating elimination processes with the appropriate location. We invite them to help: to lift up their legs, to climb up on the low changing table, to pull open diaper tabs. Once a child is able to stand up steadily, we start changing his diaper while he is standing up. We also invite him to sit on the potty, sometimes for children just barely over a year old. We never force a child to sit on the toilet or otherwise rush the process of toilet learning– but often, they become interested in these activities the same way they become interested in other things older children or adults do!
    • An encouraging follow-the-child approach. Montessori teachers are careful observers, introducing activities to children whom they judge to be developmentally ready. The same is true for toilet learning: while we encourage participation in the process from day one, our teachers watch for signs of readiness to start a more intensive, “official” toilet learning phase. Readiness, in this context, does not mean a child who declares, “I want to use the toilet and wear diapers” (although some 2-year-olds have been known to say just that!) “Potty training” readiness means a child who has mastered prerequisite skills (e.g., who has a dry diaper for longer periods between changes, who can pull his own pants down and back up) and who shows an interest in becoming more independent and/or in using the toilet (observing other children, asking questions, being interested in flushing, talking about bodily functions.) Once we identify a child as ready, we begin to work together with you, the parents, and switch from diapers to cotton underpants.

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  • A joint school-parent effort. In order to help your child be successful at toilet learning, we work closely with you to identify the right time, and to put in place a consistent approach at home and in the school. For example, once your child starts, we want him to be in cotton underpants (no pull-ups!) for all his waking hours, at school and at home. Since some “wet events” early in the process are unavoidable, we work with you to start the process at a time when you can dedicate your attention to it at home, too. We provide detailed, written tips that we encourage you to follow, from the language to use (e.g., saying “Let’s use the toilet now that you are awake”, rather than asking “Would you like to use the toilet”, which invites a reflexive no from many toddlers!), to advice on clothing to wear, and common mistakes to avoid in the process. Every year, we also host one or several Parent Info Evening dedicated to potty training, where you can get your questions answered by your child’s teachers.

We have found that toilet learning the Montessori way is often much easier than parents expect when they first approach the “potty training” process. When parents and school work closely together, a child can easily complete toilet learning well before the age of three, the time the child transitions to the primary classroom, which requires him to be fully independent in the use of the toilet.

Books Children Love – LePort 2012 Suggested Books

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Colder days are upon us, and the outdoors are not quite as welcoming. But as the dark comes early, so does the opportunity to cuddle up with our children in a favorite spot and explore the timeless treasure of great books.

At LePort, we are big believers in the power of literature. Beautiful, inspiring literary works help children become voracious readers who look to books for enjoyment as well as education. Whether it’s a 3-year-old enraptured as a teacher reads to her, a 5-year-old reading to a younger child, or a group of 8-year olds engaged in animated discussion about a read-aloud character, we love seeing our students discover the joys that await them in the pages of a good book.

As a parent, you can help your child discover the joys of reading. In looking for that perfect gift this holiday season, we offer up the list below of favorite books, from simple picture books for toddlers and younger preschool children, to more elaborate stories for older primary students, and beginning chapter books that elementary students can read by themselves.

This is our third holiday book list, and we plan to make it a yearly tradition! You can help us by sharing your favorite books for this age group in the comments: maybe you’ll see them in next year’s list.

P.S. If you aren’t yet sold on reading out loud daily to your child, or want an even broader range of book recommendations, check out reading advocate Jim Trelease’s web site. He has free excerpts from his Read-Aloud Handbook with helpful advice, and lots of ammunition on why reading aloud is so important.

 

Books with shorter text and generally simpler vocabulary, perfect for younger primary children. Some of these books are also accessible for older toddlers.

Gentle Giant Octopus—by Karen Wallace
This title in the Read and Wonder series follows a mother octopus on her journey to find a place to lay her eggs. Written in simple language and beautifully illustrated, this book will introduce a strange and different creature to a child’s life.

The Lotus Seed—by Sherry Garland
Ba, a young Vietnamese girl, witnesses the fall of the Vietnamese empire, and picks a lotus seed as a memory. Many years later, after Ba emigrates to the US, her grandson loses the treasured seed! Still, a happy ending awaits…

Little Elephant’s Trunk—by Hazel Lincoln
Follow a young elephant in his native African savannah as he discovers the many uses of his initially annoying trunk.

Apples to Oregon—by Deborah Hopkinson
How did apple trees come to the west? This silly story follows a farmer and his family on their adventures as they move with a wagon full of little trees across the entire US. Fun reading, esp. when taking a road trip across the country!

Library Lion—by Michelle Knudsen
There are rules we must obey. But are there reasons to occasionally violate rules, even in the library? What if a lion comes to the library, and is the only one to help the librarian in distress?

Christmas in the Big Woods—based on the book by Laura Ingalls Wilder
This series is a sweet picture book adaptation of the famous Little House books. It’s a good introduction to life in America in the 1800’s, and a great first step toward reading the Little House chapter books series with your child later on.

Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin—by Lloyd Moss
This short, rhyming book cheerfully introduces the instruments of a classical orchestra, in a way even the youngest children can enjoy.

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site—by Sherri Duskey Rinker
Sure to please all truck-obsessed boys (and girls), this beautifully illustrated story in rhyme follows the diggers, dump trucks and cranes as they finish up their fun work and settle down for the night.

Niccolini’s Song—by Chuck Wilcoxen
A night watchman at a rail yard discovers the power of his lullabies to help the trains sleep. When a strong wind wakes the town’s children, the trains help him in return. Great good night book for all train lovers!

Madeline—by Ludwig Bemelmans
This first book in the classic series, a Caldecott Honor book in 1940, takes children on an exploration of Paris, along with the spunky Madeline and her eleven friends.

These books have more advanced vocabulary, longer texts and more involved content.

A Street Through Time—by Anne Millard
In a series of fourteen intriguing illustrations, the award-winning A Street Through Time tells the story of human history by exploring a street as it evolves from 10,000 BCE to the present day. This book can be fascinating for 3-year-olds to use as an “I Spy” book – and children can come back to it in elementary to support their study of history and fundamental needs of man.

Pilgrim Catby Carol Antoinette Peacock
This picture books tells the story of the first Thanksgiving from the perspective of a young Pilgrim girl and the stray cat she adopts on her long, arduous journey to the new world.

The Gardener—by Sarah Stewart
Set during the Great Depression, this book follows a young country girl sent to live with her uncle in a time of need. It’s told through the letters the girl writes back to her family—a great opportunity to encourage older primary and lower elementary students to embark on letter writing on their own!

Mercedes and the Chocolate Pilot—by Margot Theis Raven
During the Russian blockade of Berlin, the children were close to starving, and candy was an unheard luxury. Then an American pilot flying one of the “raisin bombers” begins to shower chocolate bars on the waiting children. This retelling of a true story follows the relationship between one little girl and her Chocolate Pilot, from their letters during the blockade, to their reunion decades later.

Story of the Orchestra—by Robert Levine
This book-CD combo is a very accessible way to introduce older preschoolers and elementary children to the instruments of a classical orchestra. Load the CD onto your mp3 player, to make it easy to play a specific track as you browse through this book with your child!

Snowflake Bentley—by Jacqueline Briggs Martin
As winter comes, this is a great story of science to share. A young farm boy in Vermont falls in love with snowflakes, and pursues his passion to become a world-renown expert and snowflake photographer.

Because I Could Not Stop My Bike—by Karen Jo Shapiro
This collection of funny parodies of famous poems will delight children and adults alike. The poems explore day-to-day topics – such as a dawdling daughter, a messy room, and macaroni and cheese – all in whimsical rhyme. Great read-aloud!

Emma’s Rug—by Allen Say
A young girl is an inspired artist, drawing beautifully. But what happens when her mother accidentally washes her inspiration rug?

These are books that 1st – 3rd graders can tackle on their own. Some are also good read-alouds to introduce younger children to chapter books.

A Dog on Barkham Street—by Mary Stolz
Edward is desperate for a dog of his own—and also desperate to be rid of the neighborhood bully.  This is a much-beloved story with a satisfying ending.

Caddie Woodlawn—by Carol Ryrie Brink
Growing up in Wisconsin during the American Civil War, Caddie gets into all kinds of adventures with her brothers, befriends the local Indians, and would rather run free outside than learn to bake and sew indoors.

A Lion to Guard Us—by Clyde Robert Bulla
What’s it like for three siblings to travel across the Atlantic by themselves in search of their father, in 1609?  Clyde Bulla has a talent for communicating engaging stories with simple narratives – perfect for the beginner reader.

The Sword in the Tree—by Clyde Robert Bulla
This is another straightforward Bulla story, set during the time of King Arthur’s England.  This is a page-turner whether you’re 7 or 47!

Thimble Summer—by Elizabeth Enright
This book is written with warmth and simplicity that is reminiscent of simpler times.  After 9-year-old Garnet Linden discovers a silver thimble, things start to happen:  the local draught finally ends, an orphan boy comes to live with her family, and her pig wins a ribbon at the county fair.

Mimmy and Sophie All Around the Town—by Miriam Cohen
Mimmy and Sophie are two sisters who are always there for each other as they find treasure, play in mud puddles, or otherwise explore their neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY, during the Great Depression.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—by L. Frank Baum
A classic of American literature, this imaginative tale is accessible to a strong young elementary reader.  Join Dorothy and Toto as they make their way to the Emerald City in the land called Oz.

Socksby Beverly Cleary
Socks is one happy cat until his owners, the nice young Bricker couple, bring home their new baby.   Beverly Cleary at her best!

The Family Under the Bridge—by Natalie Savage Carlson
This is an unusual story about a crabby homeless man in Paris who acquires a ready-made family when three young children befriend him.

Follow My Leader—by James B. Garfield
After Jimmy is blinded by an accident with a firecracker, he has to relearn all the things he used to know.  With the help of a therapist, he learns to read Braille and to use a cane.  Then he’s given the chance to have a guide dog.  Learning to work with Leader is not easy, but Jimmy tries harder than he ever has before.

 

 

 

The Home / School Connection

Informing yourself about school events and important dates is vital for you and your child to get the most out of your time at LePort and to feel connected with the school community.

We’re constantly working to communicate with families in a variety of ways. Here’s how you can stay informed:

    • Make sure you have the most up-to-date school calendar easily accessible. It’s highly recommended that you add the calendar to your own personal calendar system. Calendars are available in a one-page pdf summary (sent out via the Tuesday email, and included in your enrollment documents), as well as in Google Calendar format, so you can easily access the calendar and load it into your own calendar system.
    • Read your Tuesday emails. Every week, important information is included in your campus’s Tuesday email, especially regarding Minimum Days, holiday care, the hot lunch program, and field trips. Look at your child’s Tuesday Folder. At some of our elementary and middle school locations, you will also receive a hard-copy folder with key information, once a week.
    • Sign up for and get updates via Transparent Classroom. Transparent Classroom is our online record keeping system, where our Montessori Head Teachers keep track of all of the individualized lessons each child receives. This system allows us to ensure that each child progresses through the entire Montessori curriculum, at their own pace. It also allows your child’s teacher to communicate with you: he/she can easily share photos of your child with you, as well as to let you know of specific lessons she wants you to be aware of. You’ll receive typically one message a week from Transparent Classroom, so you can watch your child grow in Montessori.
    • Join your school’s closed Facebook community. Here, we’ll post the most current pictures of in-class events, field trips, etc. It’s also a great forum for getting to know other LePort families or arranging play dates.
    • Be on the lookout for Watch Me Work Wednesdays. Each year, starting around October, you’ll be invited to sign up to observe in your child’s Montessori classroom (for preschool, kindergarten and elementary school). Come see first-hand how your child spends his/her time in class!
    • Touch base with your child’s teacher at drop-off or pick-up. Teachers are happy to share anecdotes about your child’s day at drop-off or pick-up, as time permits, but it’s not possible to have in-depth conversations at these times of day. If your child’s teacher isn’t available to talk for long, leave a message with front office staff and she’ll get back to you as soon as possible, or email him/her to coordinate a time for a meeting.
    • For full-day infants and toddlers, pick up your child’s “daily reports” every day. These will keep you up to date about basic information from your child’s day, such as eating, napping, and toileting.
    • You’re always welcome to ask front office staff to look in on your child or give you an update if you’ve had a tearful goodbye. They are there to help and answer any questions you might have.
    • Parent-teacher conferences happen twice a year, with a back-to-school conference typically in September/October, and a mid-year conference around February. Some teachers and schools may send out a get-to-know-you questionnaire before conferences, for new parents, so your child’s teacher can better understand the goals you have for your child.
    • You’ll receive comprehensive progress reports of your child’s Montessori experience in February and June. These detailed reports are available online, in the Transparent Classroom system, and contain information both on the progress your child has made in the Montessori curriculum, as well as commentary about your child’s life in the classroom.
    • Finally, be sure to attend parent info events throughout the year. These will help you better understand what your child is doing at school. Parent info events can take a variety of forms–everything from casual morning coffee chats with a school leader, to hour-long late afternoon or evening meetings, and even weekend multi-hour workshops. Some of our schools make these events accessible via Facebook Live broadcasts, so busy working parents can join, too.

Thank you for staying connected!

Summer Travel: Should you “app” it? – Part 1

Summer time, for many of us, means travel time! From day trips to the local beach, to weekends at Grandma’s house, to long vacations in different parts of the world, summer is an opportunity to get out there and explore.

But travel time also means being stuck in a car, train or airplane for hours on end. For families with preschool-age children, it’s hard to know what to do to pass the time in these situations.

Out come the iPad, Kindle, Android phone or another hand-held electronic device: what easier way to keep your child occupied? And if you just invest in the right educational software, so your preschooler can learn her letters while you can focus on driving or enjoy a summer book for yourself, then doing so is totally guilt-free. Right?

Well, maybe.

montessori preschool

There’s no question that electronic devices work very well in keeping preschool children occupied: videos and games do hold their attention. They do buy you quiet as you wait for a plane, or drive a car on longer trips. But are they really providing value? Are they the best use of the precious vacation time you get to spend with your preschool child—and are they optimizing your child’s vacation experience?

As Montessorians, we believe that its critical for a preschooler to view the world “out there”, the real world of people and places and objects, as a wondrous opportunity for discovery. This attitude is achieved through engagement with a caring adult who illuminates all the things to be encountered and explored.  So while we as parents may occasionally call upon select apps for help (more on good and bad choices in this blog post), our view is that we should also prioritize the value of finding ways to share experiences that are unique to the trip, or that we’re otherwise unlikely to share with our children.

By thinking ahead, we can plan for many fun (and educational) experiences, most of which don’t require us to add time to our travel. Here are just a few ideas as you prepare your preschooler’s “travel environment”:

  • Give a lesson on simplified map reading. Many Montessori preschool children have worked with maps in the classroom. While they can’t read normal maps, you can easily sketch a map on a piece of paper. Draw in a few highlights: a tunnel, a refinery along the way, a big farm, some mountains, an airport, a planned lunch stop. Ask your child to find these places for you as you drive. Label highways, and you can practice numbers.
  • Explore the world you travel through. Identify some unique features you’ll encounter, whether outside the train window or in your car. Provide your child with the language: “See that lake over there?”, “look, there’s an oil derrick”, “see this farm? They are growing oranges!” Especially on car trips, there is much to see. On one recent trip, we noticed lots of trucks loaded with tomatoes, and had an impromptu discussion about farming, the many things tomatoes are used for, and transportation.
  • People watch together. Airports are great for this: watch the people with your child. Discuss where they might be going, and why we think that. Notice people in different moods, and discuss their feelings: this child is really upset, this couple is in their arms and happy to see each other again, and so on.
  • Read together. For airplanes, bring books instead of video games. Scour the library for topics that might be related to your trip – Hello Ocean makes a great introduction to the beach, for example; About Mountains is a great springboard for discussing on a trip to go hiking. Click here for a suggested summer time reading list with ideas for common summer destinations.
  • Play anywhere games. Some can be educational: ask your child to count white cars, or to add together three raisings plus five raisins before you give them to her as a snack. For ideas on games for any situation, try Fun on the Run, a pocket-sized little book full of easy ideas that require just you, your preschooler and maybe a few things like crayons that you probably have in your purse anyway.
  • Sing songs together. Music Together, a company that organizes very popular preschool music programs, sells two CDs of wonderful sing-aloud songs, called Family Favorites. The best thing? These songs are actually fun to listen to for the adults, too! Or make up your own songs as you go along, to any familiar tune.
  • Read and memorize poems. For slightly older children, a long car ride can be a good opportunity to memorize some poems. Jack Prelutsky has a fun collection of silly rhymes. Ride a Purple Pelican is one of our favorites: it’s a great travel book, as many of the poems relate to places in the US and Canada. The Random House Book of Poetry for Children is a great collection of children’s poems from many authors, a number of which are short enough to commit to memory.
  • Bring simple arts & crafts supplies. Your Montessori child may delight in fun activities like tracing & coloring simple animal shapes (this book is a fun source of ideas), making art with stencils (my 5-year-old loves Mandalas), threading beads (just bring a little tray to keep them together in the plane), or cutting up and gluing together colorful paper mosaics. For Small Hands, a Montessori-oriented online store, has many read-made crafts supplies, a number of which can easily be done at an airport or in a plane.

montessori preschool

So back to the initial question: should you bring your iPad or other device? Our answer is yes, go right ahead. Just make sure to use it sparingly, so that it doesn’t take over the precious hours you can spend engaged with your child. This is your chance to make memories together—it’s worth the extra effort!  

(If you do want to use an electronic device, read on here for our thoughts on how to go about selecting games for your child. And don’t forget that chapter books work well on electronic devices, as do audio books!)

Heike Larson

Balance Bikes and Montessori

It never ceases to amaze us how joyfully Montessori preschool children learn advanced skills, and at such early ages. In our preschool classes, we often see 4-year-olds writing in cursive, 5-year-olds reading chapter books, and 6-year-old doing arithmetic into the thousands.

We know the reason: a prepared environment. When a preschool child is able to explore and experience materials designed to meet his particular capacities, he learns naturally and easily.

There’s no reason these same Montessori principles cannot be extended to the home environment. As parents, we can be on the lookout for materials that help our preschool-aged children learn other skills just as joyfully and early as they do in their preschool classroom.

A great example is bike riding. When my daughter was 3 ½ years old, she was able to ride a bike without training wheels. This is not because she has innately superior motor skills, but because she had the right materials. Instead of relying on training wheels to have her first biking experience, she learned with a balance bike (also called a running bike or striding bike, or pedal-less bike.)

A balance bike is a very small frame bicycle without pedals and without training wheels. A child as young as age two can sit on the saddle, and push off with his feet to move forward. Initially, children may just walk slowly, standing over the saddle, but as they gain confidence, they sit down, pushing faster and faster. Ultimately, they gain enough speed to lift up their feet and coast along, balancing on the bike. They breeze down hills, leaning into curves. They use the handbrake to slow themselves down, and put their feet up on foot pegs whizzing down hills. They learn all the skills for riding a bike (other than pedaling), effortlessly and playfully.

Balance bikes make learning to ride a bike effortless and fun, the same way Montessori preschool does for other skills:

  • Isolating the challenge. In Montessori preschool, we separate out component skills and teach them separately, in a way that makes learning each skill motivating. For example, the Metal Insets allow preschoolers to practice pencil control with an activity the child enjoys. Similarly, the balance bike isolates the challenge of learning to balance a bike, and makes it easy to master, in a step-by-step progression.
  • Establishing correct habits, from the get-go. Undoing bad habits is hard work, unnecessary hard work. That’s why Montessori preschoolers learn key skills correctly from the beginning, whether it is holding a pitcher correctly when pouring, completing a work cycle by returning the activity to the proper place on the shelf, or learning to write in cursive in preschool. Learning to bike with training wheels teaches bad habits: children learn to expect the bike to stay upright when not moving, as the training wheels allow the bike to do that. But real bikes actually require movement to stay upright! So when you take the training wheels away from a 5-year-old, he has to unlearn the bad habit of stopping with his feet on the pedals. That’s in part why it is often a struggle to get children to give up their training wheels!
  • Making learning fun: the “follow the child” approach. We all learn best when the learning process itself is fun. We like to try things independently, figure them out by ourselves, without constant corrections by well-meaning teachers. That’s why, in Montessori preschool, materials are designed so that they draw the children in, with a “control of error” built into the materials. The same is true with a balance bike: riding these little bikes is lots of fun for the children, and they can slowly, on their own, progress from just walking with the bike, to running with it, to ultimately lifting up their feet for longer and longer periods. No adult coaching or intervention is needed: the child is in charge, and he basically teaches himself the skill of balancing, in a fun, effortless, self-correcting way.
  • Learning skills during sensitive periods. In Montessori, we believe that children have specific sensitive periods, during which learning happens naturally and effortlessly. For instance, we see every day that learning beautiful handwriting is much easier done at ages 4-5, then in 3rd grade. The same is true for learning to ride a bike: with a balance bike, learning to balance on a bike is as natural for a 3-year-old as learning to walk; as many parents witness, learning to ride a bike later on can be much more of a struggle!

This summer, when you think about fun activities with your preschool aged child (for the time she’s not at Montessori summer camp!), consider buying her a balance bike. Take her to the park, and let her go. Watch, and see her skills develop: it’s great fun for the children, and so wonderful as a mother or father to see them proudly and confidently applying their growing skills in the park and on family bike rides!

(There’s a great video here of a 4 ½ year old boy learning to ride a balance bike, showing him progressing over 2 ½ weeks from walking to really riding!)

Creative Play and Montessori Principles

Several recent articles in major newspapers discussed the demise of creativity in kids, and linked it to a lack of “unstructured, messy play.” For example, The New York Times reports:

For several years, studies and statistics have been mounting that suggest the culture of play in the United States is vanishing. Children spend far too much time in front of a screen, educators and parents lament — 7 hours 38 minutes a day on average, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year. And only one in five children live within walking distance (a half-mile) of a park or playground, according to a 2010 report by the federal Centers for Disease Control, making them even less inclined to frolic outdoors.

Behind the numbers is adult behavior as well as children’s: Parents furiously tapping on their BlackBerrys in the living room, too stressed by work demands to tolerate noisy games in the background. Weekends consumed by soccer, lacrosse and other sports leagues, all organized and directed by parents. The full slate of lessons (chess, tae kwon do, Chinese, you name it) and homework beginning in the earliest grades.

We’d agree with many of the issues these articles highlight, such as the deplorable amount of time US kids spend in front of TVs and computer screens each day, or the creativity-stifling impact of teaching that focuses on improving standardized, multiple-choice test scores.

At the same time, we don’t agree with the view of creative development underlying these articles. They pieces intermix valid criticisms of forced parental structure or too much computer time with a lot of talk about encouraging messiness, putting up with chaos, clutter and uncertainty, and fostering the child’s imagination by letting fantasy run wild. The implicit assumption, which we dispute, is that creativity is borne out of disorder and impulsivity. Polemics against too much forced structure are important and valuable. But more important is the answer to the question of why play is so important to children, of how, fundamentally, creativity comes about—and what the connection is to a child’s intellectual development.

Notice that descriptors such as “clutter” and “noisiness” evoke a picture of an environment quite different from a Montessori classroom, which seems to suggest that the structure of Montessori—the sequential materials, the orderliness, the purposefulness, the calm—are in some way undercutting a child’s creative development.  If this were true, then why are Montessori educated children renowned for their curiosity, their creative problem solving, their ability to think outside of the box? Put differently, does a Montessori education stifle imagination and rob children of the essential play of childhood, as these articles suggest?

In our view, nothing could be further from the truth. The superficial messiness of play, the focus on imagination and chaos, obscures a more fundamental difference between play and many other activities. The New York Times authors get close to this essential attribute when they discuss a need for “unstructured, child-led and child-created” activities, such as building a fort out of sofa cushions, making up elaborate pretend stories to act out, or drawing creative pictures, and contrast them with adult-led, pre-structured pursuits, such as organized soccer leagues, step-by-step adult-led crafts sessions, or foreign language classes.

In our view, what is really missing from many children’s experiences is not a license to engage in impulsivity per se, but rather an environment which enables children to independently choose to develop and pursue their own interests, and which equips them with the skills and knowledge to do so competently and successfully. Let’s look at these three elements in turn: choice, pursuit of interests, and knowledge and skills.

First, to engage in creativity, a person’s mind has to be voluntarily engaged in an activity. Whether it is drawing a painting, writing an article, or solving a challenging puzzle, a mind works best when it wants to do something, not for external rewards (stickers, grades, trophies, praise), but for the satisfaction of the activity itself. When children play, they by definition do so by their own choice: no-one forces a child to pretend to sail off to adventures on the living room sofa, and no stars are handed out for arriving at the pretend destination.

Second, creative people actively pursue a goal. While you can passively default to sitting in front of the TV, you cannot passively play, or passively achieve any worthwhile goal in life, whether it is building friendships, achieving success in a career, or mastering a hobby. Play is goal-directed activity, even though it might appear unstructured from the outside. It also typically involves problem-solving in the broadest sense. When 3-year-olds builds a sofa-cushion fort, they have to figure out how to place the cushions, where to get that sheet they need for the roof, how to gain an adults’ help if they can’t get up to the shelf where the sheet is hiding. It’s their goal—and they solve whatever problems arise in their pursuit of that goal.

Third, creative people have to have skills and knowledge to actually achieve their ends. No matter how inspired a writer may be, how creative his story idea may sound, he needs to have mastered grammar, acquired a strong vocabulary, and have learned the personal skills, such as organization and time management, which will enable him to successfully pursue such a long-range, challenging goal. Especially in today’s advanced civilization, ignorance makes creativity impossible. Worthwhile achievements of any type require a plan, and the ability to execute on it. Play, at its best, is skill and knowledge building, in a wide variety of forms. The toddler who stacks Legos is working on fine motor skills; the 4-year-olds who pretend-play at shopping are practicing language skills and daily processes they’ll need to master to become successful adults. Even video games derive a lot of their appeal from building skills—albeit often very limited skills only applicable in the video game’s own world.

Montessori education fully embraces these three principles. In Montessori classrooms, children have 2-3 hour periods of unstructured work time, each morning and afternoon. Each child chooses what activity to take from the shelves and work with. He actively engages with the material, he keeps at it until he masters it. It is his choice, his goal, his effort that will bring him the satisfaction of mastering a new material. Every activity offered to children in a Montessori classroom is carefully designed to help the child develop a critical skill, whether it is learning to pour without spilling, or learning the letter sounds. In fact, Dr. Montessori was convinced that a child has to know about reality first, before he can be truly creative, so she created a well-rounded collection of materials, one that gives children a balanced exposure to the basic elements of the world and human knowledge. This balanced education ranges from basic life skills to simple arts activities; from training the senses to observe carefully, to categorizing observations systematically so they can be easily retrieved later; from math and language, to geography, science and music. Dr. Montessori saw this rounded education as the foundation from which an individual can develop true creativity, in the sense of doing new things with real materials and ideas. Every item in the Montessori classroom is carefully chosen to give each child the “keys” to the world that may serve to spark his interest in discovery and creativity.

Montessori students, from the earliest age, learn that they are in charge—they choose, they pursue, they build skills and learn how to use their time and resources effectively. (And, by the way, they also learn to clean up their own messes, and acquire the habits of mental and physical order that are, in fact, another prerequisite of real creativity!) By daily experience, they become active explorers who enjoy tackling and mastering new challenges, rather than passive consumers reluctant to move off the couch, or to open any book beyond required homework.

The crucial difference is that Montessori education develops the capacity for creative effort, rather than mere impulsivity. It is this, the ability to apply oneself joyously to the task of pursuing or creating something personally meaningful, that is the hallmark of creativity. This is why the child who is allowed to uncritically “do what he wants,” without developing a capacity for discipline in pursuing what he really wants, inevitably ends up passive. Buy your child a new toy every time he gets bored, without giving him the opportunity to use his mind to find something interesting to do with the toys he has, and the result will be that he simply becomes less willing to do the work of escaping his own boredom.

So if your children want to build castles in the yard and have a princess picnic with a friend, or engage in messy arts projects, as Montessorians we say that by all means you should encourage them to do so. We just encourage you to keep in mind that creativity is the ability to apply effort in uniquely interesting ways. And because of this, we hold that a pro-effort, child-led classroom environment such as is found in a well-run Montessori school, helps rather than hinders the development of creativity. And as the icing on the cake, it will also help your youngsters learn to clean up the messes they make in their daily play!

– Heike Larson

Praise Effort, not Smarts

With the New Year upon us, it is the time for New Years Resolutions. Here’s one that may strike you as odd, but that you may want to consider for your family: praise your children less.

Odd as it sounds, this is a key insight by researcher Carol Dweck, as reported in the recent book “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children”, by Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman.

While many parents and teachers believe they can strengthen children’s confidence and help them achieve more by praising them for their intelligence and achievements, Dr. Dweck’s team of researchers has discovered that praising smarts can lead to an avoidance of challenges. Read more

I can do it all by myself!

With the new school year, we have a lot of new little friends who have joined our toddler classrooms. Naturally, this can be an anxious time for children and parents alike. Many of these children may be leaving mom or dad for the first time, and even for experienced daycare children, a Montessori classroom is an entirely new experience. They are taking a step in growing up, in becoming independent young people, and we do our best to make it a great experience for them.

That’s why we are so excited when we receive reports like this from Judi Chimits at our Mission Viejo Campus:

Parent Marcie U. said that her son, Dylan, who just started in Pre-primary (our toddler program) last week, is already starting to do things for himself at home. He’s pushing in chairs, putting things away, and he tried to put his cup in the sink (he’s too short and it spilled everywhere, but he tried to do it himself)!

I particularly love these stories of budding independence with our youngest students; they exemplify what’s at the core of the Montessori preschool philosophy of education. As Dr. Montessori explains:

If teaching is to be effective with young children, it must assist them to advance on the way to independence. It must initiate them to those kinds of activities which they can perform themselves and which keep them from being a burden to others because of their inabilities. We must help them to learn how to … go up and down stairs, to wash themselves, to express their needs in a way that is clearly understood, and to attempt to satisfy their desires through their own efforts. All this is part of an education for independence.

Everyone knows that it requires much more time and patience to teach a child how to eat, wash and clothe himself than it does to feed, bathe and clothe him by oneself.

The one who does the former is an educator…

Tomorrow, I’ll be giving a Parent Education Seminar at our Yorba Linda campus titled: “Help Me Help Myself—Montessori Techniques for Fostering Independence”. It’s all about how we as parents can help toddlers and preschoolers do more for themselves.

It’s truly wonderful to see all these children coming into our school,  eagerly learning these important life skills and even more importantly, developing a confidence in their ability to deal independently with the world that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. Welcome, young friends: we love to have you with us!

Heike Larson