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LePort 2014 Book List

Colder days are upon us, and the outdoors is 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. Or check out our reading blog post series: start with Reading for Happiness, which will, we hope, get you excited to read every day.

 

Picture books for infants and toddlers

 busy-chickens

Busy Chickens – by John Schindel

Beautiful color photographs in this board book will help children learn about chickens – both familiar and fancy – and their behaviors: squawking, perching, leaping, and more.  Lots of feathery fun for the whole family!

 carrie-and-carl-play1

Carrie and Carl Play – by Lois T. Smith

Carrie and her brother Carl love playing games together and with their parents.  Little ones will have a great time peeking behind the flaps and finding ways to have fun with objects around the house.

 carry-me

Carry Me (Babies Everywhere) – by Rena D. Grossman

Rhyming text and cheery color photographs introduce children to the ways in which babies travel – in baskets, blankets, and in a parent’s arms, while highlighting the parent-child bond across cultures.   Available in multiple languages.

 i-am-a-little-giraffe

I Am a Little Giraffe – by Francois Crozat

You and your child can explore the lives of giraffes in their natural habitat, in this volume from the “I Am a Little Animal” series.  The realistic artwork and endearing first-person text will help your child develop a life-long respect for these magnificent animals.  Worth exploring all the titles in the series!

 roadwork1

Roadwork – by Sally Sutton

Lovers of construction vehicles will be delighted by this story of the machines and people who work together to build a road. Clever rhyming with onomatopoeic words will have your child asking for this book again and again! (Spanish and English versions available)

 grandpa-and-me1

Grandpa and Me – by Karen Katz

It’s so much fun to make a pizza with grandpa when all the ingredients are hidden behind flaps!  Karen Katz’ adorable illustrations in bright, vibrant colors keep even the youngest children engaged.

 sleepy-time1

Sleepy Time – by Gyo Fujikawa

The bedtime routines of children are contrasted with the sleeping habits of animals through lulling text and endearing artwork.  A calming book for winding down after an exciting day.

 tubby1

Tubby – by Leslie Patricelli

A young toddler enjoys bath time with the help of mom and dad (who end up soaked!) in this sweet little book with cheerful pictures and simple text.  Be prepared for lots of giggles and repeated readings!

 how-artists-see1

How Artists See Jr. (Horses) – by Colleen Carroll

Young children love artwork, especially when introduced as part of a theme.  “Horses” is part of a series that also explores works of art featuring dogs, trains, and babies.  Each book includes a “Parent Guide” with questions that mom and dad can ask to encourage conversation.

Picture books for early preschool

 off-we-go-to-mexico

Off We Go to Mexico – by Laurie Krebs

A family of five travels through Mexico, discovering its rich customs.  Barefoot Books offers both Spanish and English versions, with rhythmic text and colorful illustrations. The English version has Spanish/English vocabulary on each page so everyone can learn new words!

 the-animal-in-me1

The Animal in Me (is very plain to see) – by Laurie C. Tye

Full-color photographs by renowned wildlife photographer Thomas Mangelsen and intelligent text help children imagine what animal they most resemble when they feel tired, hungry, sleepy or playful.  A great way for little ones to explore their emotions while they learn about nature.

 one-monday-morning

One Monday Morning – by Uri Shulevitz

A little boy is stuck inside on a rainy day, and makes up a whimsical story about being visited by an ever-growing royal court.  The repetitive nature of the text will enchant children, as will the delightful pictures and charming characters.

 what-do-you-do-with-a-tail

What Do You Do With a Tail Like This? – by Steve Jenkins

This interactive book helps children learn about the many amazing things animals can do with their body parts, including legs, mouths, and of course, tails!  The illustrations in cut-paper collage helped the book earn a Caldecott Honor.

 five-trucks

Five Trucks – by Brian Floca

Sparse text and beautifully rendered artwork allow much room for conversation in this book about the important work of airport vehicles and their drivers.  Featuring ordinal numbers (first, second, etc.) counted forwards and backwards, unlike most counting books.

 hes-got-the-whole-world

He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands – by Kadir Nelson

A young boy and his interracial family celebrate diversity and community in an inspiring picture book that highlights the interconnectedness of people and nature.  One of America’s most-loved songs, interpreted through a child’s world-view.

 the-snowy-day

The Snowy Day – by Ezra Jack Keats

The wonder and possibility of that first snowfall is seen through the eyes of a child in this classic of children’s literature.  It was the first children’s book to feature an African-American child as the lead character, and is delightfully illustrated in collage form.

 ill-follow-the-moon

I’ll Follow the Moon – by Stephanie Lisa Tara

On a serene, quiet sandy beach a baby sea turtle breaks free from its egg and begins the journey to find its home and its mother.  Simple words, gentle rhythm and calming illustrations make this a wonderful bedtime story.

 adele-and-simon

Adele & Simon – by Barbara McClintock

Set in early 20th century Paris, this engaging “I Spy”-style book follows Adele and her forgetful little brother, who loses all his belongings on the way home from school.  Children will pour over the intricate pen-ink-and-watercolor images in search of Simon’s missing gloves, scarf, crayons, and knapsack!

 the-colors-of-us

The Colors of Us – by Karen Katz

Celebrate the differences and similarities that connect all people, as seen through the eyes of a little girl who begins to view her familiar world in a new way. Seven-year-old Lena and her mother observe the variations in the color of their friends’ skin, viewed in terms of foods and objects found in nature.

Picture books for later preschool and early elementary

 the-boy-who-drew-birds

The Boy Who Drew Birds—by Jacqueline Davies

Young John Audubon came to America alone, expected to help manage his father’s farm. His love, however, was birds. This is the story of a boy scientist and artist who asked questions and persisted at his craft until he discovered the answers to the riddle of where birds spend their winters.

 gregor-mendel

Gregor Mendel: The Friar Who Grew Peas—by Cheryl Bardoe

Mendel is the largely unacknowledged founder of modern genetics. This is his story—the story of a poor boy who was curious about how traits get passed on from parents to children, and who became a scientist. A great introduction to science based on careful observation and experimentation, accessible to elementary children.

 when-jesse-came-across-the-sea

When Jesse Came Across the Sea—by Amy Hest

A heartwarming story of a Jewish orphan from Poland who gets sent off to the US as a young teen. A great introduction to America’s immigrant history—and to pursuing your values in the face of obstacles.

 the-brooklyn-bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge—by Elizabeth Mann

A wonderful story of dreams being made reality through persistence over many years. A father, a son, a mother and wife all play a role in this inspiring story, which will also expose budding engineers to the power of this fascinating profession.

 thunderbirds

Thunderbirds—by Jim Arnosky

A wonderful book of inspiring paintings of birds large and small, along with short text that captures the author and scientist’s fascination with these amazing animals. A good introduction to birding and nature observation.

 erika-san

Erika-san—by Allen Say

A Japanese-American girl graduates from high school and lives her dream of teaching English in Japan. Beautiful illustrations and a wonderful way of bringing out the fascination of cultural differences make this book special (like all of Allen Say’s works, which are very worth exploring!).

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Mailing May—by Michael O. Tunnel

This is an incredible but true story of a five-year-old girl who gest shipped as a parcel on a train to visit her grandma. A great introduction to history!

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Wilma Unlimited—by Kathleen Krull

A sickly, premature African-American child whom nobody even expected to live achieves the impossible. After her leg is deformed by polio, she persistently works at strengthening it, and ultimately wins three Olympic gold medals for the United States. A true, inspiring story of courage and spunk!

 dandelions

Dandelions—by Eve Bunting

A sweet, beautifully illustrated story of pioneer life on the prairie—and a sweet gesture with which a young girl brightens her mother’s day.

Chapter books for read aloud in primary and independent reading in elementary

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The Secret Garden—by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A spoiled orphan must live with her distant uncle in a Scottish castle. The castle harbors many mysteries—a hidden garden, disquieting sounds. When the girl finds out the secret, she gains friendship, and matures out of her spoiled past. A benevolent old-time best-seller.

 a-mouse-called-wolf

A Mouse Called Wolf—by Dick King-Smith

A young mouse discovers his musical talent, and with it helps the elderly lady in whose house he lives. This sweet story succeeds at interweaving musical terms—and at exposing children to the world of an elderly person living alone.

 the-bfg

The BFG—by Roald Dahl

A rollicking, fantastic adventure with lots of language play, sure to be a favorite with elementary students. Expect a lot of laughing out loud!

 little-horse

Little Horse—by Betsy Byars

A great very first chapter book for readers who have mastered all their phonograms and are ready to tackle a chapter-level read. It’s a sweet story of a horse who gets lost, and experiences quite a different world on her journey.

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The Knight at Dawn—by Mary Pope Osborn

This is book #2 of the Magic Treehouse series—a great set of early chapter books. In each book, siblings Jack and Annie explore a different place, in a different time. A great way to enjoy reading, build background knowledge and become curious about faraway places and distant times.

 lafcadio

Lafcadio – by Shel Silverstein

Follow the adventures of Lafcadio, a comical lion who becomes an expert marksman but loses his true identity in the process.  Shel Silverstein’s mastery of language and witty style (get ready for puns!), humorously introduce life lessons while stretching imaginations.  Best as a read-aloud book!

 the-cricket-in-times-square

The Cricket in Times Square – by George Selden

Chester Cricket arrives in Times Square and meets Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat.  Together, they embark on many adventures and make friends with a boy, who gives Chester a new life.  As suspenseful as it is heartwarming, this book will enthrall both children and adults!

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Masterpiece – by Elise Broach

Eleven-year old James and his buddy, an artistic roach named Marvin, get caught up in a staged art heist at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  This dynamic mystery will have readers cheering for both boy and beetle!  Black & white pencil drawings add to this novel’s charm.

 pippi-longstocking

Pippi Longstocking – by Astrid Lindgren

Pippi is an irrepressible, irreverent, and thoroughly delightful girl who lives alone (with a monkey) in her wacky house, Villa Villekulla.  Pippi’s high-spirited, good-natured hijinks cause as much trouble as fun, while her generosity has made her a hero to children for generations.

 a-pizza-the-size-of-the-sun

A Pizza the Size of the Sun – by Jack Prelutzky

Discover a poem that’s read backwards, a never-ending poem, and a collection of funny characters who don’t take themselves too seriously.  A humorous and creative collection of poetry that appeals to children’s love of all things outlandish.

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.

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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Three Wonderful Videos, One Central Idea (Part 2 of 2)

Part Two: One (of Many) Integrating Principles

What words came to mind when you watched the three videos we linked to in Part One of this post?

Here’s some common answers:

  • Persistence
  • Independence
  • Autonomy
  • Drive
  • Mastery
  • Competence
  • Achievement
  • Confidence
  • Joy

All of these describe what you see, in all three of these videos—and all of these are what children in Montessori experience every day.

video1When Ruby reaches for the toy, and her mother lets her struggle for it, instead of handing it to her, Ruby learns to be persistent, to work at what she wants. She learns if she works at something, she can get it. She learns that her mother trusts her to succeed, rather than bailing her out at the first sign of struggle. She gains the confidence that comes from slowly mastering her own body.

video3When Jackson walks into his classroom, he has the freedom to choose his activities. When he feels trusted, he will, over time, make good choices—empowered by the environment that enables him to complete his chosen activities successfully. When he gets to choose where to work, with whom, for how long, he experiences autonomy, a powerful motivator. When he can repeat an activity until he is done, without interruptions for mandatory group activities, he discovers the thrill of mastery.

video2When the little girl in the FastDraw video expands her division problem until it reaches from the ceiling to the floor, she experiences that the sky is the limit. She gets to know herself as someone who, with effort and persistence, can tackle touch challenges. She acquires a growth mindset (in addition to great math skills).

 

 

In all these examples, the common thread, the unifying principle that makes all others possible, is what Montessori educators call “freedom within limits.”

In Montessori, children at every level—infant, primary or elementary—spend their time in a carefully prepared environment. In that environment, they have a big say in what they want to do. They are free to act as they see fit, to make choices and experience the consequences. And yet, it is naturally healthy behavior, not anarchy, that reigns. Because the environment is prepared, a child’s spontaneous choices end up being directed towards productive, meaningful ends. The environment (and the teacher) provide a framework that guides and clearly delimits the exploration. The child is not abandoned or neglected; instead, she’s empowered and supported in her natural quest for learning.

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Take Ruby. Her mother created a safe space, and equipped it with appropriate toys. She was there, next to Ruby, a presence in her daughter’s day. She also had the discipline of observing without interfering, a task that must not have been easy when Ruby struggled so much! Ruby was free to move, free to explore, within the safe environment her mother had set up, and within a safe emotional environment by virtue of her mother being there with her.

Jackson’s freedom is much wider than Ruby’s. He has the freedom to walk within the classroom at will, and even walk to other classrooms or maybe the yard without constant direction by a teacher. The limits aren’t that visible in the video—but that’s only because he has internalized them. He’s learned to walk around his peers’ mats. He’s probably using a calm inside voice. He knows to place his materials back on the shelf when he is done. And he knows, in accordance with the “ground rules” of the Montessori classroom, that materials which haven’t yet been demonstrated to him are off-limits until he is ready for them and the teacher gives him a lesson. He’s not tempted to grab a material from another child who has it, because he has internalized the simple rule that materials may only be taken from the shelves, never from another child.

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The Montessori elementary child’s freedom to move about the classroom, to work with peers, to progress to whatever challenge she feels ready for (like ceiling-to-floor long division) is in sharp contrast to the adult-directed learning typically found in traditional schools. That freedom, again, takes place in a carefully designed environment. The young girl wasn’t able to just jump into long division on day one in first grade, because she wanted to touch the colorful materials. Instead, her teacher introduced her to materials by means of carefully sequenced lessons, each of which optimally challenged her, and then gave her space to explore and practice. Over time, through voluntary engagement, she became comfortable with numbers. The passion and confidence to tackle big problems also similarly grew in her over time, instead of being extinguished by handing out gold stars for minor achievements. The result was that she was both capable and eager to take on a big challenge, within a framework of inner and environmental limits.

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“Freedom within limits” is a cornerstone concept within Montessori. It distinguishes Montessori from the two most common educational approaches. In contrast to traditional or classical education, which is largely determined by the teachers and adult led, Montessori allows true freedom and supports the child’s autonomy. In contrast to progressive education or the unschooling movement, which often lack clear limits or curricular structure, Montessori autonomy operates within the limits and guidance of a carefully prepared learning environment—an environment with clear rules, a carefully structured curriculum and deliberate coaching and guidance by a highly-trained teacher.

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“Freedom within limits” is one of those hidden, beautiful ideas that make the Montessori magic happen. Look for it the next time you observe in a good Montessori classroom. I bet you’ll be surprised by how much it helps you understand just how different authentic Montessori at LePort is from the other educational alternatives you might consider.

Three Wonderful Videos, One Central Idea (Part 1 of 2)

Part One: The Three Videos Challenge

During the past year, I’ve come back to three videos that, in different ways, brought to life a central Montessori concept. This concept, often hard to understand, is one I believe to be at the very core of Montessori education.

I want to invite you to “play detective,” and to watch these three short videos and see if you can identify the concept I think unifies them. As you watch each video, ask yourself:

  • What words come to my mind as I watch?
  • What are the children you see in each of these videos learning (beyond the content of a given lesson)?
  • How do you think they feel about what they learn?
  • How does the experience depicted help the child grow into the adult he or she will be one day?
  • Is there a principle, a central idea that is common in these very different videos?

(By the way, this type of mental “detective work is one of the ways we get our students engaged in learning—but that’s the topic of another blog post!)

Video One: “Ruby Reaches for a Toy”


An infant, a toy and a rug.

 

Video Two: “A Montessori Morning”

A four-year-old and his uninterrupted Montessori Work Period: three hours sped up to fit into four minutes.

 

Video Three: “Montessori Madness”

A comic depiction of Montessori elementary, by Trevor Eissler, a Montessori parent and advocate.

We hope you’ll watch each video, before you click to Part Two, where we discuss a central idea that connects all three. (There are many connections, for sure—but I’ve picked one that really jumped out to me.) Feel free to share your answers and reactions in the comments—then click on Part Two to read about the central Montessori idea that stood out as I watched these three videos.

Have fun!

 

Discipline in the Montessori Classroom (2 of 2)

Part Two of Two— Lack of Skill or Unmet Needs, not Badness: How We Handle Discipline Problems in Montessori

IMG_7400In part one of this post, we argued that discipline in Montessori is about helping the child to achieve mastery of his mind and body, so he is capable to willingly conform with (reasonable) rules of life.

This raises the question about what we do when a child does not act in a self-disciplined manner. In other words, how do we handle discipline problems?

As always within Montessori, our answer is individualized to the child and situation before of us. If the child is new to Montessori, we frankly expect her to not be able to be disciplined! As we outlined in part one, discipline grows through practice, not by command. With a new child, our goal is to help her acquire mental and bodily control by connecting her to interesting work in the environment.

A true discipline challenge arises when a child either isn’t able to connect with materials and thus doesn’t achieve self-discipline after an extended time in the Montessori environment, or when a child who previously was behaving well suddenly starts to hurt others or to violate our community rules.

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In both cases, our core assumption is that the child has some unmet needs, whether physical or mental. In effect, we view a lack of discipline as an illness, rather than evidence that the child is bad—and our treatment reflects this perspective. We don’t cajole, punish or shame. We don’t administer punitive time-outs or withdraw love and affection. Instead, we try to diagnose and treat the underlying problems. This can take many forms, depending on the child, the classroom setting and the family. Here are a few examples:

  • A young toddler who bites.
    Biting is a very common issue with young children. To manage it, we try to observe carefully and identify the root cause. Is the child teething and just needs his gums stimulated? In that case, providing sturdy food (bagels, carrots, apples) to chew on or a teether (if very young) can help him feel better. Is he upset by another child who is intruding in his space, and unable to express his needs with words? In that case, we may need to supervise him more closely, keep him apart from the other child, and work on providing words to signal his needs: “I see you are upset that Max took your toy. You can say ‘stop that’ to let him know, then come find me to help you.”
  • IMG_7247A new three-year-old who runs in the classroom or yells loudly.
    If the child is new to the class, we may need to give him a more productive outlet for his big movements and loud activities, while he learns to better control his body. We may just take him and a few friends out on the playground, and encourage them to get their needs for rowdy activity out of their systems outside—fully realizing that acquiring self-discipline isn’t instantaneous!
  • A child who keeps interrupting his peers and annoys them.
    Often, this type of behavior happens when the child hasn’t yet found work he finds engaging. So our first thought will be to offer him some choices that we think will meet his need for mental nourishment. If that doesn’t work, we may separate him from his peers—not in a punitive time out way, but to give him a chance to observe them engaged in the many fun activities available in our classrooms. Often, we find that after some time of watching, the child will be eager to try an activity, and he’ll be able to focus on his own work.
  • IMG_7145A new child who won’t settle down to any activity, despite the guide’s best efforts to introduce her to a wide range of interesting activities.
    Sometimes, a child just can’t seem to get herself settled into our classroom routines. It may be that the child joined at age 4 ½ and just is beyond the activities we normally offer to a new child: this fall at one of our campuses, we had an older boy who was restless, until his experienced teacher introduced him to the Stamp Game, and advance math activity usually introduced to children who have had several years in the Montessori classroom. This boy, who was unable to sit still for anything, latched onto the big numbers, and quickly mastered them, then went back happily to many of the foundational, easier activities.

Sometimes, we may need to call a meeting with the parents to diagnose the problem. Issues at home can show up in behavior problems at school. Maybe the child is hungry when she arrives in the morning, and needs a breakfast with more protein, rather than quickly digested simple carbs. Maybe her bedtime is too late, and she needs more rest to arrive fresh and able to tackle her day with enthusiasm. Or maybe there was a change in the family—the death of a beloved pet, the arrival of a new baby—and she needs to work through her emotions to regain her balance.

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If we identify a challenge at home, we count on the parents to work in partnership with us to help the child thrive. We recognize that it may not be easy to change the family dynamic—to serve dinner earlier to ensure sufficient sleep when dad comes home late, or to make time for a nutritious breakfast before heading out for the day. Sometimes, we need to ask parents to get children outside help—for instance, if a child acts aggressively because a speech delay prevents him from communicating his needs verbally. We understand that facing challenges like these can be tough for parents. Yet time after time, we have observed that it requires close cooperation between school and home to help children move beyond such behavior problems and flourish.

A child who misbehaves is a child who needs our love and understanding. We will not let her get away with her destructive behavior (that would be abandoning her) nor intimidate her into submission (which would only lead to the problem resurfacing later and probably in a more violent form). Instead, we will work with you as the parents to diagnose and fix the root problem so she can once again participate joyfully in our classroom community.

 

Discipline in the Montessori Classroom (1 of 2)

Part One of Two— The Theory: What is Discipline and How Do Children Achieve It

“The undisciplined child enters into discipline by working in the company of others; not being told he is naughty … Discipline is, therefore, primarily a learning experience and less a punitive experience if appropriately dealt with.”
—Maria Montessori

When you bring to mind the word “discipline,” what type of image do you see? If you’ve grown up in a traditional educational environment, you might think of sitting quietly at a desk, listening attentively. You’ll probably associate being un-disciplined with negative consequences—being put in time-out, or sent to the principal’s office, or a note being sent home.

In general, when we think of discipline, we view it as something imposed upon us by others. The Oxford English dictionary defines discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.”

If that’s the definition of discipline, as Montessorians we want nothing to do with it!

Our conception of discipline is not one of passive, adult-imposed obedience, but one of active, purposeful self-mastery. As Dr. Montessori put it,

In our system, we obviously have a different concept of discipline. The discipline we are looking for is active. We do not believe that one is disciplined only when he is artificially made as silent as a mute and as motionless as a paralytic. Such a one is not disciplined but annihilated. We claim that an individual is disciplined when he is the master of himself and when he can, as a consequence, control himself when he must follow a rule of life. (The Discovery of the Child, p. 50)

Our goal, in Montessori, is not obedience but self-discipline. That’s why we do not use time out chairs, color-coded behavior charts, demerits, treasure chests, or other rewards and punishments to control our students’ behaviors. Yet, when parents peer into our Montessori classrooms, what they see are students who are working calmly, peacefully, and diligently.

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In this environment, it’s usually easy to recognize a new child: he’s the one who wanders about, going from this to that, interrupting his classmates, talking noisily, bumping into shelves and sending materials flying.  Yet in a matter of a few months, when his parents come to visit during our “Watch Me Work Wednesdays,” they see him sitting at a table, focused on his work. They see him walking about with new-found poise. They notice how he willingly and without cajoling complies with classrooms rules, such as walking instead of running, lining up quickly with his hands behind his back when it’s time to go out to the playground, and using a low, quiet voice in talking to his peers.

The big question is how do Montessori children achieve this very visible change of behavior, in a matter of weeks or months?

Fundamentally, we view self-discipline as a set of skills that children master through repeated, deliberate practice, in a carefully prepared environment. To become self-disciplined, a child must master his mind and body, and understand and be willing to follow classroom rules that respect his needs as a young child. He does so by acting actively in his environment—not by being told to behave himself!

In this blog post, you’ll read about the main principles we use in our Montessori primary classrooms to help students achieve self-discipline; Part 2 of this series then offers up specific examples of how we deal with discipline issues.

Achieving Concentration: The Mastery of Mental Control

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The first and most important task a Montessori primary guide tackles with a new student is to help him find an activity that calls to him, something that engages his hand and mind and allows him to lose himself in joyful concentration. Often, the activity is something simple—pouring water from one pitcher into another, or solving a puzzle where he sets ten knobbed cylinders that vary in width into their proper holes. Always, it is an activity that engages the hand and the mind, something that allows the child to repeat a physical movement and to bring it under his volitional control.

Dr. Montessori observed that self-discipline and better behavior (what she called “normalization”) always

… comes about through “concentration” on a piece of work. For this we must provide “motives of activity” so well adapted to the child’s interest that they provoke his deep attention. … The essential thing is for the task to arouse such an interest that it engages the child’s whole personality.

When we see a new child connect with a material, and repeat an activity a dozen times, we know he’s well on the way to the transformation that so astounds parents! That’s why we ensure children receive many individual lessons—so they can discover materials that call to them. It’s why we jealously protect long, uninterrupted periods for child-chosen work—instead of interrupting children’s concentration to join adult-led specialist classes like art or music. It’s why we work hard to help children choose work, instead of assigning it—because only something the child herself finds engaging will enable her to repeat an activity and achieve mastery.

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In contrast to traditional education, which exhorts the child to just will himself to pay attention, as Montessorians we recognize that purposeful attention—“concentration” in Montessori terminology—needs come from within. It needs to start with something the child himself finds engaging! Only after the child has practiced directing his mind toward something he finds fascinating is he then able to direct his attention volitionally toward something someone else wants him to focus on, such as a teacher’s presentation in elementary school.

Purposeful Movement: The Mastery of the Body

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In addition to directing and focusing her mind, to become disciplined the child also has to learn to control her body. Here again, what must be done is not to tell her to “sit still” or “don’t bump into things,” but to give her activities she finds interesting that allow her to gain control over her movements.

The Montessori guide supports this development of self-control by showing the child precisely how to conduct each daily activity. Writes Dr. Montessori:

If we showed [children] exactly how to do something, this precision itself seemed to hold their interest. To have a real purpose to which the action was directed, this was the first condition, but the exact way of doing it acted like a support which rendered the child stable in his efforts, and therefore brought him to make progress in his development. Order and precision, we found, were the key to spontaneous work in the school. (The Absorbent Mind, p. 186)

In our classrooms, we thus provide purposeful activities that encourage the child to control and refine his bodily movements. When a child places the heavy knobbed cylinder block slowly down on the table, trying to make no sound, she’s engaging her core muscles and balance. When she carries a pitcher of water while walking around shelves and rugs, she controls her impulse to run. When she spoons beans from one ceramic bowl into another, she enhances her ability to carefully control her hands. Thus it goes with dozens of activities, practiced spontaneously every day.

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Our teachers support this process by constant modeling: They slow down their movements when giving lessons, so the child can see each careful step and is able to imitate it. They speak less, and show more, so the child can focus on the movement, and not be distracted by the words. They give what we call “Grace and Courtesy” lessons, such as showing a child how to walk around a friend’s rug so as to not disturb his work, or asking a child to show his skills: “Susan, can you show me how you carry a chair?” so the child takes ownership and pride in walking carefully and not bumping into others with the chair she carries.

With this constant practice, we see the child’s movement become more graceful, the clumsiness of early childhood disappearing. We can watch as her mind assumes effortless control over her body!

Practicing Discipline in the Community

Only after a child is able to purposefully control his mind and body can we expect him to act in accordance with our community rules. As Dr. Montessori so succinctly put it,

How can we expect them to do their work carefully and patiently, if care and patience are among their missing gifts? It is like saying “walk nicely!” to a person without legs. Qualities like these can only be given by practice, never by commands. (The Absorbent Mind, p. 209)

Once children have achieved self-mastery of this type, they become quite eager to follow legitimate community rules. By legitimate we mean rules that protect the rights of others, and that do not place undue limits on the child.

While in many situation the child’s natural needs—to move, to touch things, to work with his hands, to explore with all senses—put him in opposition with adults, in a Montessori classroom, the environment and rules are designed precisely around his needs.

Observes Dr. Montessori:

The tendencies which we stigmatize as evil in little children of three to six years of age are often merely those which cause annoyance to us adults when, not understanding their needs, we try to prevent their every movement, their every attempt to gain experience in the world (by touching everything, etc.). The child, however, through this natural tendency, is led to coordinate his movements and to collect impressions, especially sensations of touch, so that when prevented, he rebels, and this rebellion forms almost the whole of his “naughtiness.”

What wonder is it that the evil disappears when, if we give the right means for development and leave full liberty to use them, rebellion has no more reason for existence? (Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, p. 88)

Of course, a Montessori classroom is not an environment where anything goes. What rules we have are there to allow freedom within an active community. We expect children to speak in low voices—so others can concentrate. We require them to walk around work rugs, rather than over them—so they do not destroy another child’s work. We allow each child to only have one activity out at a time—so everyone can have a turn.

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This active discipline is the point of arrival. It grows out of a child’s increased mastery over his mind and body—and his eagerness to put this mastery into practice.

It is our object to train the child for activity, for work, for doing good, and not for immobility or passivity. It would seem to me that children are very well disciplined indeed when they can move about a room in a useful, intelligent and free fashion, without doing anything rude or unmannerly. (The Discovery of the Child, p. 54)

We hope you agree!

 

Delighting in the Doing

Aileen, 5th grader at LePort

Aileen, 5th grader at LePort

History class as dry recitals of names and dates for a test, and English class as pointless worksheets and writings to satisfy a teacher or parent. Sound familiar? Sad that this is the “history” and “English” so many of us adults remember, and so many of our children experience today.

At LePort, however, history is the exciting story of humanity’s monumental struggles and successes, and English is the impassioned communication of ideas worth knowing. The result of this educational approach is children who delight in the learning process and take pride in their creative product. For example, below is a speech written and later delivered by ten-year-old Aileen, who offers her audience (me and her fifth-grade peers) a memorable view of an ancient Athenian general speaking to his soldiers during a protracted war:

Aileen and Pericles

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When education is done right — e.g., clearly presented content and thoughtfully motivated assignments — Aileen’s is the understanding and passionate achievement that is possible. And her success is not an anomaly.

Regularly at LePort, for instance, rather than teachers hearing unmotivated questions like, “How many paragraphs do we need for this assignment?” and “Will this be on the test?”, we instead (literally) hear sincere questions like: “Can I do the paper from the perspective of a *Spartan* general?” “How many soldiers had died at this point, Mr. McCarthy? I want to address the exact number!” “While I give my speech in class, can I play sad music in the background? It seems only fitting.”

In life, we write to communicate, not to get good grades. Thus in class, we present students with effective tools so they can write clearly and exciting content so they have something to write about. In brief, we offer children that which they (and adults) deserve: the opportunity to delight in the doing.

A Visual Tour of the Parent & Child Montessori Infant Experience

When you enroll with your baby in LePort’s Infant Parent & Child class (programs typically known as Mommy & Me class–but we often say parent, so that moms and dads know they are welcome!), together, you enter a beautiful, peaceful environment we call a “Nido,” the Italian word for “nest”, with which Dr. Montessori described the infant classroom environment. Here, you will find a room carefully prepared just for babies. All activities are placed low to the floor on sturdy wooden furniture sized just right for babies. Very young babies will be offered mirrors, mobiles and rattles, while older babies can move about freely exploring the room, the materials and other babies.

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During each Mommy and Me class, a mom, dad, grandparent or nanny and their baby jointly explore this exciting, new environment. Your baby can enjoy belly time on the padded floor. She can carry the fun, natural materials to a table or the floor to play with to her heart’s content. The babies love all the freedom and are encouraged to examine their classroom environment at their own pace, without being hurried along by adults.  Sometimes infants will watch each other work, learning through observation, while parents, in turn, observe and wonder.

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Because babies crave movement, our classrooms are equipped with durable, safe climbing structures, such as pull-up bars, a step bridge for crawling babies, and a carpeted stairs with railing for children already walking. Your infant can practice climbing up and down as long as he likes until he has satisfied his need to explore his body’s amazing powers–and you get to watch and enjoy with him or her!

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When slightly older babies (those able to sit up independently) become hungry in class, they come to our low “weaning tables” to feed themselves snack provided by parents. A low table (instead of a high chair) allows them to start on self-feeding at an early age. Together, we set up snack with placemats, small open glasses and plates or napkins. This is a great time for parents or other caregivers attending the Mommy and Me class to talk with the Montessori guide about independence skills for babies, and how to set up your home to foster independence!

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Each Parent & Child class includes a short circle time, in which parents and babies may choose to participate (or not!). Circle time often includes a song or a few, depending on the group and the day. During circle, or during snack and free exploration, the Montessori guide will introduce a short topic of the week (e.g., self-feeding or responsive language development), and provide you with a handout full of ideas on how to implement Montessori at home.

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In addition to indoor exploration, our Mommy and Me class offers outdoor time each day on our specially designed playgrounds made just for babies. Parents use this time to ask questions, get to know each other better, and enjoy watching their children move about outdoors before singing a “good-bye” song.

The Importance of a Five-Day School Program

P1130966Watching your young child grow up so quickly can be bittersweet—one minute you’re celebrating his first steps and his first words, then you blink and—gasp!—your child is ready for his first day of school!

When the time comes for a child to start preschool, parents often wonder: May it be best if I enrolled my child part-time? He’s still so young; there’s plenty of time for school! Does he really need to go five days a week? Isn’t it better to let him stay home a few days during the week? I’d love to still have him with me, too!

We understand that it may be hard to let your three- or four-year-old child go, especially if you have the luxury of being able to be home with her a day or two a week! Many of us at LePort are parents ourselves, and we totally get how precious it is to be able to enjoy time with your child. It would be much easier for us to offer three- and two-day schedules, like many of our competitors do, and avoid this questions altogether.

So why do we insist on a five-day schedule for three-year-olds? The answer is simple: In our experience, preschoolers need the consistency of attending school every day to benefit optimally from their Montessori experience.

RKU_0220Part-time students don’t derive the full benefit from the Montessori environment as they never really get settled down in a consistent routine. I once worked at a Montessori school where primary students were given the option of attending school part-time for just three days a week. After a while, I began to observe a great difference between the part-time students and the full-time students who came to school five days a week: The part-time students appeared to spend much of their time aimlessly wandering around the classroom, while the full-time students were actively engaged in lessons on the floor or at a table, working independently, working with a classmate, or working with a teacher.

In Montessori, we empower children to choose work on their own and to concentrate on their work. This voluntary choice, this child-initiated concentration is at the heart of the amazing academic achievements that astound adults, and one of the key aspects of motivation in Montessori. However, the part-time students I observed rarely had this drive; they didn’t seem to know what to do, or which lessons or materials to select. Their days often went by without even one episode of concentration.

IMG_7269Young children thrive when their daily lives are full of consistent routines. They do best when they can predict what is going to happen next. This kind of consistency happens when a child goes to school for five consecutive days in a row each week versus attending school for only two or three days a week. It is hard for a child to figure out their routine when they go to school every other day or for just a few days in a row!

Part-time students have a harder time transitioning to school, and often need to re-adjust after three or four days away. Part-time students, who attended for three consecutive days, then took four days off, often struggled at the beginning of each week—almost like being new to school again. And, of course, once they were finally settled after a few days, it was time again for them to have another long break before returning back to class. (Ask any teacher what the first days of school are like after a long break such as winter break or spring break. Chances are, teachers will tell you that those first days back to school the students have to be given time to get back into their classroom routine. Unfortunately, part-time students face that kind of transition every week.)

IMG_7338Part-time students feel left out of the full-timers close classroom communities. The part-time students in my class also appeared to be less likely to have strong bonds with their classmates. Why? They were missing out on important events or lessons that were given on the days they were off. Their full-time peers tended to gravitate toward other children who were there each day, children they could rely on to be there to play and work with. Disconnected from the rhythm of the classroom, and implicitly perceived as being less reliable (because often absent) playmates, the part-timers sadly lived at the edges of our solid classroom community—despite my best efforts to integrate them anew each week.

In contrast with these struggles faced by part-time students, after an initial adjustment period full-time students transition into their school routine every morning with no further separation anxiety. They are able to come into class confidently; they are more likely to be motivated and to be able to choose work on their own, and more prepared to work throughout the day independently. Because they felt at home at school, because they knew the routine, because they quickly became an integral part of the classroom community, full-time students usually are more self-sufficient and need less adult approval or assistance. They more actively socialize with friends during lunch and recess and move about their day with confidence and joy.

The worry and anxiety that sometimes occur when a young child starts attending school for the first time will dissipate once they are able to establish a routine and come to the realization that school is an enjoyable place where learning and friendships occur. The five-day-a-week schedule enables students to feel safe and relaxed in the classroom and aids them in forming strong bonds with their teachers and friends. We realize that it may be challenging for you to let your child attend school every day, yet we hope that you are willing support him in this new phase of his life by sending him at least five mornings a week, giving him the consistency and community he needs to flourish.

 

A sneak-peak into the Parent & Child Toddler Class

RKU_8900When you enroll with your child in LePort’s Toddler Parent & Child class, you enter a beautiful room where everything has a place and a purpose. It’s an environment carefully prepared to enable toddlers to fulfill their urgent need to act independently and to explore with all their senses. Everything is at the child’s level, on wooden furniture sized just right for toddlers. Your child will be excited to take the many interesting materials from the shelves and explore them with you. Parent & Child classes are held in the same Montessori toddler environments that our 18 to 36 month old students enjoy in our drop-off Montessori programs.
As you arrive to class with your child, your guide may invite you to a short get-to-know-you circle time. Then, your child and you are free to explore the many fun activities! Many children choose to walk around, or observe other children; others jump right in and pick materials from the shelves. Follow your child’s lead: as Montessori guides, we believe that children have a keen sense of what they need to learn, and that our role is to support their chosen explorations!

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As your child begins to explore materials, from puzzles to arts and crafts and practical activities, like watering a flower, take the time to observe and wonder at your child’s curiosity and creativity. Your Montessori guide will circle around the room, give mini-lessons to children, and explain to you the relevance of what your child is doing: what she is learning and how you can support similar learning experiences at home.
Children get to choose anything that interests them, from a wide range of items accessible on low shelves.  Try to step back, and let your child be the leader! The process is the purpose here, not perfect results and wall-worthy art: it’s ok if things get a little messy, if paint splatters. We have cleaning supplies in the room because toddlers delight in working with us to clean things up.
Since toddlers are sensorial learners, we offer a variety of mediums to explore, such as play dough, easel painting with tempera paint, water color paints and and water tubs, nature baskets to discover, plants to take care of, as well as many seasonal items to explore.

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At some point during the Parent & Child class, either at the beginning or toward the end, your guide will invite you and your child to join her for a short circle time experience. She may quickly explain a Montessori idea, provide you with a weekly hand out that provides guidance on how to apply Montessori ideas at home, read a short story or sing a song or two . . . or more if the children wish. As in our full-day classes, circle time is voluntary: don’t worry if your child is deeply engaged in an activity and not ready to transition since it’s totally ok for him to complete his work and join circle time later or not at all!
After exploring the room and optional circle time, the children are, of course, hungry! The Montessori guide will invite your child to have a very social snack experience at one of our low tables. Just like in our drop-off Montessori program, we encourage the children to be active participants in getting the snack ready by putting plates on the table, serving food and pouring water. They delight in the feeling of competence and independence that this active participation gives them!
Outdoor play time is an important part of each class where children get to climb, swing, play house, dig in sand and ride on wheeled vehicles while parents get a chance to get to know each other better. Your Montessori guide is also available during outside time, as well as throughout the class, for you to ask questions. Use that time: whether you want to know about fostering independence in eating, or toilet learning, or how to prevent and manage tantrums or sibling rivalries, your guide is there to be your parenting resource, full of experience and Montessori-inspired ideas to add to your toolkit!

Understanding Your Child – Individualization “Behind the Scenes”

Most private schools are focused on either “academics” or “personal development”. That forces parents to choose only one type of education for their children. The academic-only schools push children to learn the same public school curriculum at an accelerated pace with the promise of smaller class sizes. Those schools are not mindful of the important emotional and psychological growth of their students, which we know is a critical factor in life-long success. The schools that focus on the personal development of children with nurturing, supportive environments that encourage exploration and curiosity, do not prioritize academics.

behind-the-scenes-uejh-2At LePort we combined the best of both and are excited to offer parents a school that will give their child a truly well-rounded education. Our unique programs are designed to give students a rich, intellectually demanding academic experience (based on our own advanced curriculum) – in a child-centered environment that encourages a healthy curiosity, a love of learning, and an overall emotional wellbeing. Now, in our fourteenth year of existence – with eight thriving schools and a current enrollment of over 900 students – our dream of “getting education right” is a successful reality. As a result, LePort Schools look and operate very differently from everything else out there.

One key aspect of our programs is the extent to which we individualize our entire approach based on the needs of every unique student. Parents, seeing this, sometimes ask how we seem to know their child so well. The answer is: a lot of work!

To offer you a glimpse of that work, here is a general tour of what we do in our upper elementary and junior high programs to understand and cater to individual student needs, followed by an example of that approach in action.

A General Tour

How do we get to know your child?

  • behind-the-scenes-uejh-3It starts before our school year even begins. Every August, we have an all-teacher meeting during which we go over our entire student body, focusing especially on students who might need accommodations, whether remedial work, enrichment, social-emotional development. We have this meeting so teachers can begin their classes with a big picture understanding of the children with whom they will be working so closely. This helps us to start the year off right, to create a caring, supportive learning environment for each and every unique child, from day one.
  • This is followed by intensive monitoring right out of the gate. Over the first month of school we work as a team to gather and discuss our experiences with each new and returning student, making a full assessment of every child. We identify where each child can improve (whether struggling or bored), what strategies seem to work or fail for his/her personality, and where more assistance or enrichment might be needed. We then communicate with you, the parents, to gain insight and offer updates where fitting.
  • behind-the-scenes-uejh-7Our classrooms have a maximum size of 16 students, and teachers have manageable course loads (approximately 15 hours of class time a week, as compared to 25+ in other schools). This allows teachers a lot of time to study their students and really understand each child’s motivations. They also have time to follow up on important “little things” that matter to students, discuss and collaborate with colleagues, communicate with parents, and find solutions that help address concerns and challenges.
  • Each campus has a central team of experts that oversees student development on an ongoing basis. Select teachers at each campus form this “Student Issues team”, which actively collects information from the rest of the staff and meets weekly to discuss at length the few students who need to be more closely observed for concerns in and/or out of the classroom. The insights and suggestions of the student issues experts take into account the entire student body (including dynamics that a single teacher may miss) and are offered daily to the entire staff.
  • To properly investigate every issue and ensure strong internal two-way communication, we have lots of collaborated meetings.
    • For the whole school year, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday before school starts our entire staff has a brief meeting with the teachers to discuss immediate, relevant academic and social issues on hand.
    • Our teachers meet regularly with the Head of School and teachers in other departments (math, language arts, history, science) to strategize about particular concerns, challenges and opportunities.
    • In addition to formal conferences and meetings, we have phone and email conversations with parents to ensure that we are seeing the whole picture, and that school and home are aligned.

This individualized attention is purposefully given so we can know our students, and make sure they are appropriately challenged and happily engaged academically as well as thriving personally and socially.

Now on to an example of what all of this work looks like in practice.

An Example of LePort’s Approach to Individualization

(Names of students and staff have been changed to protect their privacy.)

One day in 5th-grade math, Alex flicks another student’s ear. Ms. Smith, his math teacher, sees this occur. In some schools such behavior is the norm, the minor that goes unquestioned, the poor choice that is overlooked. Not at LePort.

The next period is recess. Ms. Smith has Alex stay back instead of going outside to play. Not because ear flicking itself is a serious concern, but because she has learned that the “small things” can at times be significant. Ms. Smith asks Alex why he did it. In frustration, but with sincerity, Alex responds that he doesn’t know. “He [the other student] just really bothers me, I guess.” For now Ms. Smith leaves it at that, but asks Alex to take a few minutes to think about why he flicked Michael’s ear.

During her break an hour later, Ms. Smith writes the occurrence to the Student Issues (SI) team. SI is made up of teachers, and in this case one of them (Alex’s history teacher) notes that similar incidents with Alex have also occurred in his class. So it’s a trend. The team decides to take a look at notes Alex’s mom had made upon enrolling at LePort. It looks like at his previous school, Alex had occasional conflicts with a couple of boys there too. Mrs. Chang, LePort’s Head of School and a member of SI, then pulls up past LePort email threads relating to Alex, and gathers relevant information from all teachers on campus.

Fast forward to end of day. Ms. Smith receives a call from Mrs. Chang, who offers her experienced and well thought-out feedback, tips, and suggestions. Now Ms. Smith can intelligently decide on a plan of action for tomorrow.

Tomorrow comes, and Ms. Smith heads to Alex’s homeroom to chat with him. Because she didn’t hastily confront Alex in the moment the day before – when his emotions were running high – she can now have a calm, constructive conversation with him. Alone, just the two of them, Alex opens up, saying that a few of the boys can be annoying at times, “acting all arrogant whenever they get an answer correct.” But he also notes, “I’m pretty competitive, and it makes me angry inside when others always get questions right …but I never do” – he says with visible tears in his eyes. At this point, the conversation naturally moves away from his peers to what is truly at root: his academic anxiety. After a few moments, Alex reveals that he is always comparing himself to others and never feels “good enough”. For, underneath it all, Alex believes he is stupid.

From here, the path is clear for Alex to work on truly understanding his underlying emotions and what drives him to make poor choices, which if gone unrecognized or considered unimportant, could have grown into further academic anxiety and poor behavior for years to come.

Now this process – i.e., Alex’s personal growth – will not occur overnight. As adults, we all know real change takes time. But here at LePort, because we are experienced educators who care about each unique child as an individual, we make the time.

————–

behind-the-scenes-uejh-6That’s a quick tour of some of the general and specific “behind the scenes” work in our upper elementary/junior high division. We deeply care about the individualized work that makes a huge impact on understanding your child, and, even more importantly, in his understanding himself – a precondition to success in the unique adventure he will confidently create of his life.

How to help your four-year-old transition into Montessori

BP Transitions - 02Some parents who discover Montessori when their child is four years old are concerned about joining the mixed-age primary room mid-stream. “Will my child be playing catch-up? Some of the other four-year-olds are already reading ”, you might wonder. “I’ve just learned about Montessori, and I see how wonderful this environment could be for my child. She’s already four, though. Did we miss the boat?”

The short answer: Four is not too late! We’ve seen many four-year-olds blossom in our schools, just taking off in their personal development after joining our classrooms, and your child can, too.

BP Transitions - 03It is true that younger is better when it comes to joining a Montessori program. Starting as a toddler or a young three-year-old gives children the best opportunity to benefit from the enriched, carefully prepared classroom environment. As Montessori educators, we understand that the time between birth and age six is the most critical in a human being’s development. During this stage of growth, children go through rapid changes and develop the most important aspects of their personality and intellect.

Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that much of this change occurs through active experiences children have with their environment — at home, outside, or at school. Children between the ages of three and six go through what Dr. Montessori called “sensitive periods,” periods where they are naturally primed to absorb skills and knowledge in a wide range of areas. During these sensitive periods children can, for example, effortlessly acquire language skills (including learning to write and read), develop what is now called “executive function skills”(such as sustaining concentration, learning self-control, and strengthen their working memory), learn to interact graciously with others, and refine all their senses.

BP Transitions - 04While some of these sensitive periods begin at birth, four-year-old children are still in the midst of this amazing time. We regularly see four-year-olds join our class and become drawn to the materials on our shelves; they quickly begin “working” and become acclimated to their new environment. With the right support at home and at school, you’ll be surprised by how much joy both you and your child will get from his Montessori experience!

How to help your four-year-old transition joyfully into the Montessori environment

1. Enroll your child for five full days per week

By the time your child reaches four and is no longer napping, she is ready to attend school for five full days per week. A child who attends school for five days each week has the greatest opportunity for consistent spontaneous learning and will feel safe and relaxed in the classroom. The full day schedule (8:30 am to 3:00 pm) also allows the child to have more time to work through the materials during the morning and afternoon work cycles, and to receive many lessons from her teacher.

BP Transitions - 05This consistent time is especially important for your four-year-old who is new to Montessori. Dr. Montessori observed that many issues that children struggle with, from temper tantrums to uncoordinated movement, from disobedience to physical aggression, disappeared when children are allowed freedom in an environment suited to their needs. Often, a child would find some activity that spoke to him, become immersed in it, and repeat it over and over again. Once a child connected to an engaging activity, he became happier, more curious to explore more learning materials in class, and even became kinder and more benevolent to his peers.

For an older child, this process may take some time; he may need to wander, try different activities, and observe his peers, before he discovers something that would like to work with.  By enrolling your child for five full days, you can give him that luxury of time, and help him get the most out of his two Montessori primary years.

2. Be open to keeping your child in Montessori through the 3rd year of Primary

BP Transitions - 09The third year in Montessori Primary (the equivalent of traditional kindergarten) is the year when much of the foundational skill development solidifies, and many children suddenly experience huge growth spurts in writing, reading, math and  overall confidence.

Since your child would be joining during the second year of Montessori Primary, it is even more important for him to get to experience the third year.  From age four to five, he’ll be working hard on many foundational skills, from fine motor control to concentration, from learning to observe carefully to mastering multi-step processes. If you keep him in Montessori for only one year, he’ll never get to experience the astounding mastery he will attain from his hard work.  He’ll likely be just at the cusp of reading, just about ready to tackle the fun advanced math materials, and eager to move from being the rookie to becoming a classroom leader.

Parents are often amazed at what they see  during the kindergarten year. Please do consider giving your child this experience! While we do not, of course, require you to sign on for two years now, we do want to caution you against viewing Montessori as a one-year, pre-k experience aimed at getting your child ready for traditional kindergarten. That’s not how Montessori works, and we wouldn’t want you to sign on with wrong expectations!

3. Learn about Montessori

BP Transitions - 07The best way to help your child thrive in a Montessori environment is to better understand Montessori yourself. We make this easy for you: When your child joins our program, you’ll receive eight short, one-page handouts explaining key aspects of Montessori, and suggesting simple ways you can align what you do at home with what your child experiences at school. Throughout the school year, we offer Parent Education Events, where we discuss a wide range of topics: from how to support independence to learning math in preschool. Our blog also offers plenty of helpful articles. Your child’s teacher is also a great resource: Our trained head teachers are available via email or in person after school to answer all kinds of Montessori-related questions you may have and to help you understand how you can best support your child.

4. Support independence at home

“Never help the child do something that he thinks he can do for himself” — this is one of Dr. Montessori’s most famous quotes! Our classrooms and activities are set up so your four-year-old child will quickly learn to take care of his own needs such as getting dressed without help, pouring his own drink, and preparing snacks. Children love this new-found independence, and you can help your child feel just as empowered at home. Here is a blog post that describes some simple changes you can make to support your child’s budding independence at home.

5. Don’t compare your child with other children in the classroom

BP Transitions - 06One of the beauties of Montessori is the profound respect for the individuality we give each child. Montessori teachers do not compare their students with each other. We know that your four-year-old may need some time to get used to his new school, and that it would not help at all to compare him to other four-year-olds who had started before him.  Each Montessori teacher allows her students to develop at their own pace, and she trusts that the Montessori classroom will enable her students to reach their individual potential at their own unique pace.

We encourage you to take the same long-term perspective: Be patient and do not rush your child. Don’t put performance pressure on her by comparing her, even subtly, to the other children in the class. Yes, it can be hard to see other four-year-olds reading, while your new Montessori child may be preparing snack or working with the color tablets instead. Just know that by stepping back and letting her discover and explore her surroundings, you are enabling her to do very important foundational work. Once she’s ready, she may just surprise you with how quickly she “explodes” into writing and reading!

6. Do not introduce other academics at home

With today’s competitive environment, it’s easy to feel that your four-year-old needs to learn her letters or start to work on addition facts. Some parents become anxious and to want to accelerate their child’s learning by providing extra academics. Often, well-meaning, conscientious parents buy workbooks for their children to complete or enroll their preschoolers in structured academic programs, such as Kumon. We strongly advise against this!

Trust that your child’s teacher is introducing your child to academic skills that are developmentally appropriate for her. Support what your child is doing at school and do not introduce other academics at home that are contrary to what your child is learning at school. Enrolling in Kumon, making children complete worksheets, teaching letter names, writing letters and counting on fingers will only confuse your child! If you want to do more to foster literacy, this blog post provides some Montessori-consistent ideas you can follow at home.

7. Read, read, read at home

BP Transitions - 08If you want to support your child’s academic development, the best way to do this is to read with your child. Read a lot! Read a variety of books, discuss what you read, ask her questions about what you’ve read, follow along with your finger under text as you read, and explain vocabulary. That way, when she does finally master her letter sounds, she’ll be able to move along much faster. You can read more about how to apply Montessori ideas to reading here, find suggestions for setting up an environment that fosters literacy here, and view our thoughts on selecting books (and actual book lists), in this blog post.

We hope these points helped you understand how giving your child a Montessori education is a true gift that will last her a lifetime, and that with your enthusiastic support, your four-year-old will thrive in her new Montessori environment.

Five Montessori Secrets for Literacy

“The child’s explosion into writing is closely connected with his special sensitivity for language, and this was operative at the time when he began to speak. By the age of five and a half or six, this sensitivity has ceased to exist; so it is clear that writing can be learned with joy and enthusiasm only before that age. Children older than this have lost the special opportunity which nature grants them of learning to write without making special and conscious efforts of application and will.”—Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 173

BP Literacy - #1

Parents today are bombarded with educational toys and resources intended to help children learn to read. There are toy computers that talk about letters and let children trace letters; letters to put on the fridge that say their names; pull-along toys with a toe for each letter. There are workbooks for preschoolers, early readers, and, of course, the trusted alphabet song. Many agencies, from NAEYC to not-for-profits like Ready-to-Read, offer in-depth advice on early reading.

I bought some of these types of toys, and received others as gifts when my children were young. I was eager to help my children learn to read: I am a passionate reader myself, and write frequently as part of my work at LePort. Yet now that my children have been in a Montessori environment for several years, and have benefited from the Montessori way of teaching writing and reading, I’ve come to doubt the approach embodied in the popular approaches to literacy, and see that there’s a lot of added baggage that can sometimes even delay reading and writing development. If I could go back, I’d approach toys in particular very differently (and save a lot of money in the process!)

BP Literacy - #2

The Montessori literacy program is carefully designed to help children acquire the component skills of writing and reading. While the program is intended for a classroom environment, the underlying principles apply equally to nurturing literacy at home. (Note: if your child already attends our Montessori program, he’ll be learning most of this at school. Your time at home may be better spend on other activities that lay the groundwork for reading and writing—such as excursions, cooking and story-time together! In fact, we recommend against buying Montessori language materials for your home, if your child is in our Montessori program.)

  1. Focus literacy games on sounds, not letter names. What does a child need to learn to be able to write or read: that the letter “a” has a name, pronounced “aye”, or that it makes a sound, “æ” in the international phonetic alphabet, like in “apple” or “cat”?From a literacy perspective, the answer is obvious: to write and read, children need to learn the sounds letters make, not their names. BP Literacy - #3 Cee-aye-tee”, no matter how fast you say it, never blends together to make the sound “cat”. Yet most commercial products focus on teaching letter names. At best, they introduce sounds and names simultaneously, with emphasis on the name of the letters.In Montessori, in contrast, we start literacy by teaching sounds exclusively. ecause we don’t focus on letter names, the process is much less confusing for children, and it enables them to more quickly begin to write and read.Here’s a great way to start on letter sounds, suitable for children of about 2 ½ years or older: Play a sound “I spy” game. Collect a few items with different beginning sounds (a fork, a cup, a napkin, for example). Place each item in your hand, and focus your child’s interest on the sound at the beginning of the word: “I spy something in my hand that starts with fffff: a f f f fork.” Once your child has mastered the sounds, you can advance to playing real “I spy”, asking them to look around and find items in their environment that start with the letter sound you mention. This activity is great, because it teaches phonemic awareness in a playful way—and you can do it anywhere, not toys required!
  2. BP Literacy - #4Teach lower-case letters—and engage hand and mind at the same time. Most commercial materials and much public school instruction starts with capital print letters. This is contrary to what a child actually needs: most print children will encounter is in lower case, as is most of the writing they’ll do (just look at this blog post!) That’s why, in our preschool program, we introduce lower-case letters first, and transition to capitals only later.Children in Montessori learn to associate letter sounds with letter shapes using a material called the Montessori Sandpaper Letters. Here’s how this lesson works: a teacher takes three letters with varying shapes – like a, t, and s – and introduces them with what’s called a Montessori Three-Period Lesson.
    1. Naming Period: “This is ‘a’.” The teacher slowly traces the letter as she says the sound. She then gives the child the chance to do the same: he traces the letter with his two writing fingers, as he says the sound. By tracing, looking and saying the sound, we engage all senses in learning—and in addition to visually recognizing the letter, his hand learns the movement to form it, something he won’t get from just manipulating magnetic letters or even cutting out newsprint.
    2. Recognition and Association: “Give me ‘a’.” To check the child’s understanding, the teacher will play a game of asking for a letter by its sound, guiding the child to hand it to her, place it on his head, put it at the edge of the table, and so on.
    3. Recall: “What sound is this?” Only after the child has shown he can identify the letter, does the teacher ask her to say its sound.

    BP Literacy - #5If your child cannot attend Montessori school, then buying a set of Montessori Sandpaper Letters may be a great investment. I know of no better way of integrating the learning of sounds with letters symbol, through multiple sense modalities in unison (touch, sight, sound).

    If your child is in our Montessori primary program, we strongly recommend against having materials like the Sandpaper Letters at home: our teachers are trained to give the lessons at optimal stages of development, and by keeping the materials exclusive to school, we keep them special and help heighten your child’s motivation. What you can do at home, though, is provide materials for them to practice writing—such as an unlined chalkboard where they can practice writing letters, and lots of paper to draw and write on, including, for older children, story writing paper.

  3. BP Literacy - #6Separate handwriting from word-building. For a child to write a word, he needs to combine two separate skills: he needs to segment the word into sounds, represented by letters—and he needs to have the motor skills to write these letters on a piece of paper.Often, children can associate sounds with letters long before they can easily form the letters: their conceptual understanding of language is more advanced than their motor skills.That’s why in the Montessori program, children first “write” by building words with the Montessori Moveable Alphabet, a set of wooden letters that a child can arrange in different orders. They make words by placing the letters on a rug. This enables them to practice putting sounds together to make words—separated from the more challenging task of forming the letters with a pencil.If your child will not attend a Montessori program (e.g., if you are planning on homeschooling, or if he attends a play-based preschool program), a Moveable Alphabet may also be a good investment for home. You can also buy pdf versions of a number of good Montessori language materials at Montessori for Everyone.
  4. Prepare the hand for writing with physical exercises. Often, children who enter kindergarten struggle with handwriting because they lack the fine motor skills needed to properly control a pencil. That’s why, in Montessori, we are so passionate about all the motor activities in our Practical Life and Sensorial areas: Children need to cut with scissors; they need to paint, to sew, to peel eggs, to wash tables; they need to build towers, hold puzzles by little knobs and carry big materials. These indirect preparatory materials strengthen shoulder, arm, wrist and finger muscles! BP Literacy - #7The Montessori Metal Insets then help children joyfully master full pencil control: as they trace the inside and outside of the shapes, and color them in with careful, parallel lines, they have fun creating art, and are imperceptibly and steadily improving their pencil control.At home, you can help by making sure your child spends a lot of time physically active. Limit screen time (or eliminate it entirely!) Instead, have your child work with you in the kitchen, in the garden or in the garage. Offer free-form art materials; Mandalas are also a good proxy for metal insets for slightly older children, as they offer a creative way to trace and then color shapes. Invest in unstructured building materials (Legos, Citiblocs, Zoobs) that require finger dexterity.
  5. Select appealing, phonetic reading materials, not sight-word books.  Most commercially available reading programs are sight-word based: they include many words with phonograms—multi-letter combinations to represent sounds such as “oo”, “ea”, “igh” or “ch”. hildren who have just learned to read phonetically are stumped by these words, unless they are “pre-taught” as memorized sight words. In Montessori, we don’t use such books, and neither should you at homeBP Literacy - #8Instead, start reading by making it a game to read and act out what we call “command cards”: write small action instructions on a piece of paper, and have your child do the action—such as “hop”, “jump”, “run”, “skip” and so on. e careful to use only words that are phonetic—i.e., words you can sound out with just short vowel and regular consonant sounds. When your child is ready to progress to books, invest in early readers that are phonetic. The best series we have found is published by Flyleaf Publishing. It includes very short, purely phonetic books for emergent readers, as well as the decodable literature library, which deliberately introduce one or two phonograms at a time. In our Montessori programs, we introduce children to these books when they demonstrate readiness—usually by about age five, sometimes even sooner. We practice phonograms with the Montessori materials (such as phonogram Sandpaper Letters, the phonogram Moveable Alphabets, and the Phonogram Object Box), then provide children with the matching Books to Remember book.

BP Literacy - #9With this careful approach, most of our Montessori students are strong readers by the time they graduate from the third year of our Montessori program (the equivalent of traditional kindergarten.) They read real stories; they write multi-sentence compositions in cursive; most importantly, they see themselves as readers and writers, and love to learn.

If you are working with your child at home, you may find more details on these and similar ideas in Montessori Read and Write, a well-written book about Montessori-inspired language activities for children from toddler age to early elementary; it is out of print, but you can usually find used copies on Amazon.

Teaching Math Conceptually

For many people, children and adults alike, mathematics is a bane to be avoided. “Math anxiety” or even “math phobia” is on the rise in elementary and high schools across the country, and perhaps as a consequence, U.S. students notoriously score very low among developed nations on international math tests.

And yet, mathematics is not an optional activity. Handling numbers is a fundamental and necessary life skill, and a prerequisite for many careers, including those in engineering, the sciences and business.

So in relation to your own child’s education, what can and should you do about the distressed state of modern mathematics? The best thing you can do is to find a math program that works. If you want your child to be comfortable with numbers, and thrive in mathematics, you need to find him or her a curriculum capable of achieving these results.

At LePort, we believe that our approach, from preschool through 8th grade, enables students to not only master crucial math skills and concepts, but to develop into young people who are confident in their ability to tackle even the most challenging mathematical problems. 

In this newsletter, we give you three highlights of our math approach. For a fuller description of our math programs, please visit the relevant pages of our web site:

The “secret” of our approach is teaching math conceptually, first starting with a sequential, targeted introduction to concrete manipulatives, then enabling mastery through deliberate, focused, motivated practice, and then allowing the experience of efficacy through the application of skills in increasingly complex, real-life problems. How does this work? And how is it different from the approaches used in other schools?

In this newsletter, I’d like to share with you three important aspects of our approach:

  • We develop real understanding by using carefully structured manipulatives, and, more generally, by always progressing from concrete to abstract in a deliberate sequence.
  • We enable each child to attain mastery of math facts, at his or own pace,before we expect him or her to apply those skills to more complex problems.
  • Once a skill is learned, we explicitly teach mathematical problem solving, and advance, rapidly, to applying the skills learned to complex, real-life, meaningful math problems.

For each of these three principles, we’ll provide an example from our program, and compare it to the program used by the Irvine Unified School District (“Math Expressions”, by Houghton Mifflin publishers.) We’ll conclude by summarizing the value our students gain from this program: an advanced conceptual knowledge of mathematics, an earned confidence in their ability to handle mathematical problems, and enjoyment, rather than dread, of math class.

  1. Building understanding using carefully structured manipulatives, with a deliberate progression from concrete materials to abstract operations. Math is the science of quantitative measurement. It enables us to deal with quantities in all aspects of our lives. At LePort, our goal is to enable our students to really get the connection between real quantities on the one hand, and mathematical symbols and processes on the other.For example, consider the topic of place value and multi-digit addition. In our preschool classes, students learn place value into the thousands, using a material that concretely demonstrates this concept. This Golden Bead material includes individual beads or single “units,” strings of ten beads or “ten bars,” ten ten-bars combined into a “hundred square,” and ten hundred squares combined into a “thousand cube.” Number cards go along with these beads, with units printed in green, tens in blue, hundreds in red, and thousands in green.

    Using these cards and beads, 4 ½ and 5-year-old children build large numbers. For instance, a teacher may create a number with the cards, such as 3,574, and ask the child to bring her the corresponding number of beads: 4 Units, 7 Ten Bars, 5 Hundred Squares and 3 Thousand Cubes. After repeated exercises of this kind, students never confuse “1,006” with “1,060” or “1,600.” They clearly understand what each number stands for, and that a “zero” stands for no number in that category, i.e., no tens or no hundreds!

    With this specially-designed material, our students go on to explore addition and subtraction into the thousands, by Kindergarten. They simply “make” two large numbers with the bead materials, and combine them, exchanging units for tens, tens for hundreds and so on. For example, when they add 3,574 and 4,267, they first take the 4 units and the 7 units, and count them up, to get 11 units. They exchange 10 of those units for a ten bar, leaving them with one unit. Next, they add the 7 ten-bars, 6 ten-bars, and the “carried” ten-bar, to get 14 ten-bars. They exchange 10 ten bars for a hundred square, leaving them with 4 ten bars.

    Thus, “carrying” (and, later, “borrowing”) are more than mere abstract process steps to be memorized. In our students’ minds, these operations are real, forever tied to the Golden Beads they learned them with.

    In contrast, local public school systems introduce 3-digit addition in 2nd grade, using a purely “paper-and-pencil” approach, representing units, tens and hundreds with drawn circles, lines and squares, rather than actual quantities.

    The Irvine School District’s Math Expressions program encourages “children [to] do this with methods they invent themselves, or they [can] extend the drawings they did for 2-digit addition.” Then, students are introduced to different methods, such as “New Groups Below” and “Show All Totals,” and then encouraged to use “use any method they understand, can explain and do fairly quickly.” (Quoted from the family letter on Unit 6, 2nd grade Student Activity Book Volume 2 of the Math Expressions Program, which you can find here. You can also read about this paper-and-pencil approach to representing place value on Houghton Mifflin’s web site.)

    The problem with this method is that it expects students to learn about place value purely abstractly, with paper and pencil, without the benefit of experiencing the actual quantities that are represented by the symbols the students learn. Some children are, by second grade, able to learn this abstract progression, but many others understandably struggle. Also observe that by teaching this potentially concrete mathematical lesson in such an abstract way, the public schools are forced unnecessarily to delay this more abstract material to the higher grades, rather than teaching at a younger, more developmentally appropriate age.

    In contrast, our students readily learn the mechanics of multi-digit addition and subtraction in Kindergarten–which leaves them free to advance to multi-digit multiplication by 2nd grade. (Such multiplication lessons are learned through a series of unique materials that you can read about here.)

  2. Progressing at an individual pace, students achieve mastery of math facts before using those facts to solve advanced math problems. Whether in preschool or in middle school, our math program enables students to progress at their own pace, and to master what they learn before they move on to the next step. Take, for example, our elementary math program. With 24 students in her class of 6 to 9-year-olds, our teacher may give 10 or more distinct math lessons in any given week. Because Montessori consists primarily of small-group instruction, she may sit down with an advanced 7-year-old and two 8-year-olds to work on multi-digit long multiplication. She may introduce the process using a material such as the “Large Bead Frame” or “Checker Board” (see our web site, as linked to above, for more detail on these materials.)Once the students get the idea, they each go off to practice on their own for however long it takes them to master this new concept. (The teacher and/or assistant teacher are available to offer reinforcement, support, and oversight as necessary.) One student may get really intrigued, and spend several hours practicing with a given material, each day, for many days, until she has fully internalized how long multiplication works; another student may spread her work out over several weeks, revisiting the same concept and reinforcing it more deeply every time. Each child progresses at his own pace, practicing until he achieves mastery, and only then moving on. Notice also that an advanced first grader may work with second graders or third graders: in this respect, there is no leveling to the common denominator in our classrooms!

    The contrast to public education couldn’t be more pronounced. However dedicated a public school teacher may be to meeting the needs of her different students, by necessity she follows a one-size-fits-all approach.Here, for instance, is the introductory text, printed in red, bold, and underlined, on the Irvine Unified School District web site where the Math Expression student materials for grades K-5 are located:

    The links on this page are intended to support the classroom instruction that your child receives from his/her teacher. It is not appropriate to go ahead of the classroom instruction or to use this site to have your child work on math that is intended for use in subsequent grade levels.

    Your child’s math instruction and placement will not change as a result of working ahead in these materials. This means that your child will continue to work in the grade level appropriate math materials regardless of any work that is done from these materials and submitted to his/her teacher.

    The school district is understandably trying to ensure that parents conform to their system. The problem is not that they are doing so, given their system, the problem is the system itself. In this type of program, no matter how skilled (or challenged) your child may be in math, he must work on exactly the same problems as his classmates. Unfortunately, this means that children who complete a Montessori Kindergarten program, and have already mastered addition and subtraction into the thousands, will have to bide their time until 3rd grade, to again encounter such challenging work. By that time, their interest and excitement for math may have long atrophied and turned to boredom.

  3. Explicit instruction in problem-solving skills, which means the application of already-mastered computational skills to solve complex, real-life problems. Once our students have become familiar with basic operations and have automatized their math facts, we help them acquire a conceptual approach to math problems. For instance, we teach them how to diagram a word problem question. We start with problems with easy computations, and then, very quickly, move on to more sophisticated questions.As an example, our 3rd grade students, who have already mastered basic multiplication facts, may get this question from our Singapore Math workbook for 3rd grade:
    Singapore math, 3rd grade: A farmer has seven ducks. He has five times as many chickens as ducks. How many chickens does he have?

    We teach the student to represent this problem graphically, by drawing a box representing the seven ducks, and underneath it drawing a line of five equivalent boxes representing the chickens. Through this method, the student sees that there are 35 chickens.

    More importantly, the student learns a method of visually representing such a problem–a method that he may not even need for this question but that he will later apply to solve much more complex problems. For example, by 5th grade, they may encounter this problem:
    Singapore math, 5th grade: Sam had $85 and John had $220. They were each given an equal amount of money, and then John had twice as much money as Sam. How much money did each boy receive?

    This problem requires students to solve an equation with one unknown, in this case,
    2*(85+x) = 220 + x.

    Not having learned algebra yet, a student cannot just “intuit” the answer. He needs to diagram the problem, and then solve it, a process he has been taught and has practiced since his lower elementary years, and with which he is quite comfortable by the time he encounters such a question.

    It is important to note that when teaching problem solving skills, we start with simple computations first, because the focus is on teaching the method of diagramming problems, which the students can then apply generally. Students are expected to be able to multiply 7×5, for example, long before they are given the 3rd grade problem. The reason for involving a computation they have mastered is that it allows the child to isolate the problem solving skill being presented.

    In contrast, the Math Expressions program used in the Irvine public schools does not distinguish between teaching the computational facts, and teaching a problem solving approach involving the use of those facts. The program does try to push a conceptual perspective, for example by emphasizing diagrams and word problems. But it does so at the same time as teaching the basic facts. As a result, the word problems have to be very simple, which in turn means they don’t actually promote a conceptual approach. Instead, they risk teaching students to mechanistically apply memorized processes to solving math problems, leaving students stumped when they are expected to deal with more complex problems in the higher grades.

    Compare the Singapore Math 3rd grade problem, above, with this problem, from the IUSD’s Math Expressions in 3rd grade:

    Math Expressions, 3rd grade: The Fuzzy Friends pet store has 3 rabbit cages. There are 5 rabbits in each cage. How many rabbits does the store have in all?

    This problem, in essence, is the equation 3×5, with some words thrown in. The purpose here is unclear–is it to teach the computation 3×5, or to teach problem solving involving that computation? If the former, then the story problem does not add much of value; if the latter, then the problem is too simple to be effective. (In fact, it is probably the former.)

    Because multiplication is introduced to students so late, and with such simplified applications, public school students are essentially two full grade levels behind students participating in a well-executed Montessori program. Witness this example problem from Math Expressions in 5th grade (Activity Book 1, Unit 1, Lesson 5), which is, structurally, exactly the same problem that our 3rd graders solve:

    Math Expressions, 5th grade: There are 3 times as many deer as moose in the forest. If there are 5 moose, how many deer are there?

    Math is a challenging subject. But because it is challenging, it is also immensely satisfying to master. Our students, whether they come up through our own Montessori program, or join us from the outside, invariably come to like math, and develop a joyous confidence in their ability to solve quantitative programs. The reason is that we make it a point to ensure that students not only learn the skills they need to learn, but that they experience the pleasure, pride, and efficacy of applying those skills.
    The proof that our method works? You probably have seen it in your own children, if they have been with us for any length of time, and can share observations like these:

    My son, who loves math, gets to advance at his own pace. Last spring, when he was in 2nd grade, at “watch me work” day, he was using the Montessori Checkerboard to multiply a 4-digit number with a 3-digit number. He was moving all these bead bars around in this complicated operation, and I couldn’t even follow. But he had mastered it: his result matched the control sheet when he turned it around. It was crazy to see how such a complicated operation can be broken down into concrete materials. My son is now in the fall of 3rd grade, and he is multiplying and dividing fractions! He has already done addition, subtraction, multiplication and division for decimals.

    Jan S., parent of a 3rd grade student

    At her old school, my daughter worked really hard in math, and it just didn’t work. She told her math teacher that math is now one of her favorite subjects–and you have no idea what that means: this came as a total shock to me and her dad, because she used to cry doing math. It’s a total turn-around from what it was before. Two of her least-favorite subjects, math and science, are now her favorites!

    Lina S., parent of a 6th grade student

    We hope that this blog post helped you gain a better understanding of our math program. We believe that by combining Montessori math and Singapore Math into a thoughtfully-structured, conceptual approach to teaching mathematics from preschool through 8th grade, we have found the preventative medicine for math anxiety. We hope you will see the results in your child’s enjoyment of and confidence in his math abilities.

    We know that paying for a private education is a difficult investment to evaluate, especially when the difference to the public school system is not always evident. Whatever the important non-academic considerations you might be weighing, I hope that by seeing exactly what your child can gain in mathematics, and by contrasting LePort’s math curriculum with the public alternative, you will become better able to judge the ways in which the academic difference might add up for your child.










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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Celebrating Birthdays, the Montessori Way

As a mother, I always find myself reliving the wonder of my children on their birthdays. It’s amazing to see how they’ve grown, how suddenly they are two or four years old, and can walk, hold their end in a conversation, and begin to take care of their own needs.

In our Montessori preschool classrooms, we make birthdays into very special occasions, which celebrate the child’s development, and at the same time teach some meaningful lessons to our student. Families are invited to share this special ceremony, and to contribute to it.

For the Montessori birthday celebration, our students gather in a circle, and the birthday boy or girl sits next to the teacher. In the middle of the circle, there’s a candle or another light source, representing the sun; some teachers may display the months of the year around the candle.

In front of the child there may be a Number Rod, of three units, if it’s the child’s third birthday, and the sandpaper numeral “3”. We also ask the child to bring with him a series of photos of himself at birth, and at ages one, two, and three (or four or five, depending on the birthday.)

After the teacher lights the candle, we ask the child to walk around the circle and share his baby photo with his friends. We talk about what happened when he was a baby, what he could do and couldn’t do. Then, we may sing the song “the earth goes around the sun”, as the birthday child walks slowly around the candle, carrying a small globe in his hands, symbolizing the passage of time during this first year in this world.

Now he’s one, and we share the one-year-old photo, and talk about what he was able to do as a one-year old. Often, the family contributes some anecdotes about this year: was there a new sibling? Did a pet join the family? Did the family move?

In such way, we contemplate and celebrate the child’s unique life experiences, and tie them to the passage of time, the movement of the earth around the sun throughout each year.

It’s an exciting time for the child, who sees himself celebrated by the two groups of people he’s closest to: his family, and his friends at school. And it’s a very moving experience for those families who have the opportunity to join us on their child’s special day: it so nicely captures the wonder we feel as our children grow, and is a special moment to reflect on how delightful it is to see them develop from helpless babies, into the unique, wonderful little people they become under our care.

Starting preschool in a foreign language: How the Montessori environment helps children transition when they don’t speak the classroom language.

Every year in our toddler and preschool rooms, we welcome children who do not speak the classroom language. Mostly, we’ve welcomed non-English speakers into our English-language rooms. Now, with our new Spanish and Mandarin immersion programs, we are also helping English-speakers to transition into classrooms with a new language for them—a very similar transition, as both teachers speak only Spanish/Mandarin, all day long!

Parents often ask how children who do not speak the classroom language handle the transition. After all, it’s already a new environment—and now they need to enter it without understanding the language the teachers and many of their peers speak!

To help you address these concerns for your child, this blog post discusses how the Montessori environment is optimally set up to support the learning of a second language, how we help children transition, and what you, as the parent, can do to help your child make a successful start in his new environment.

How the Montessori environment supports learning a new language

  • An environment that is largely accessible without language. The Montessori classroom is a very hands-on environment. Most materials are readily usable without any language skills: children can take a puzzle, blocks or play dough, and enjoy themselves even if they cannot speak the language. There are few all-group, language-heavy activities. What group activities there are—read-aloud, song time, small-group lessons—tend to be voluntary, so that a child who doesn’t have the language skills (or just isn’t interested!) has the option of doing something else.
  • Individual demonstrations, with materials, not purely verbal lessons. In Montessori for toddlers and preschoolers, most of the instruction is one-on-one. A child sits down with a teacher who demonstrates, in slow, careful movement, how a certain activity works. The child can follow along and learn how to do it, even if he initially doesn’t understand the words the teacher offers.
  • A multitude of materials and experiences to support language acquisition in response to a child’s interests. Research has shown that language learning happens optimally when the words provided tie to an activity in which the child is engaged. In his Montessori classroom, your child will work with a wide range of activities, which enable the teachers to provide never-ending responsive language. Here are just a few examples:
    • Practical Life activities lend themselves for teaching the names of common things, as well as lots of verbs and adverbs. A teacher may show your child how to paint at an easel. There are all the words for the material in use (easel, brush, color, water cup, apron, sponge and so on); all the words for the activity (hang up the paper, paint, clean, dry); and, of course, the words to describe the end product (clear, colorful, bright).
    • Sensorial materials are great for teaching adjectives of all kinds. Many activities in the sensorial area are designed to isolate a certain attribute—the sound something makes (loud, quiet, high tone/low tone), the color (dark blue, light pink), the texture (coarse, fine, soft, hard), the smell, the taste, the shape, the size, and so on. All of these are wonderful activities for teaching language skills!
    • Grace and Courtesy lessons help the child learn to express his needs and feelings with words. A key skill all children need to learn—even in their native language—is to use words to communicate needs and emotions. We actively model respectful, kind interactions: “May I please have this block back? Jack is working with it!” We describe what we see, calling children’s attention to the emotions of others: “Sam’s face shows me he is sad. See the tears in his eyes? See his eyebrows: they’re in a frown!”
  • An explicit language curriculum. Montessori guides are experts at giving children new words. We use a very simple but effective approach called the Three Period Lesson:
    • Naming Period: “This is a cow.” The teacher may show an object, or a picture, and provide the child with the name, then pause to allow the child to repeat the name.
    • Recognition and Association: “Point to the cow.” To check the child’s understanding, the teacher will play a game of asking for an object or a picture, guiding the child to hand it to her, put it at the edge of the table, back in the basket, and so on.
    • Recall: “What is this?” Only after the child has shown he can identify the object, does the teacher ask her to name it un-aided.

    This Three Period Lesson gets used all over the classroom: we have many language cards with common objects, such as things from around the house to clothing, from vehicles to animals and so on. We also use this approach to, later, teach more advanced concepts—such as the names of countries, the parts of animals, or types of rocks.

  • A clear, repetitive structure to support independence. Consistency and predictability are a great help to a child who enters any new setting. This is especially true when a child enters a classroom without speaking its language. Our Montessori toddler and preschool rooms combine freedom for individual activities with a very clear structure and routine. Children learn that they can choose any activity from the shelves, and work with it for as long as they want. They learn that the teacher rings a bell when it is clean-up time, and that they may either put their activity away, or, for older children, mark them as theirs to come back to after lunch.
  • An ability to observe and learn from peer modeling. Much learning in our classroom happens when children observe other children do activities. A child who joins at age three without language skills can watch as another child builds the Pink Tower, or punches out the shape of a continent, or uses scissors to cut along lines. She can see how children return activities to the shelf, how they clean an easel after using it, or how they sit down at the snack table when a spot is free. Because much of the learning happens at a perceptual, non-verbal level, even children who do not speak the language can easily model after others.
  • A community where older children are eager to help. Our Montessori classrooms are mixed-age, family-like environments. Just like younger children in a family learn much language from the older children, younger students who enter a Montessori environment learn much language from their older peers. Older students often naturally act as translators for younger peers who speak their language!
  • A focus on polite, gracious interactions between children. Some parents fear that children who do not speak the language may suffer socially. We don’t see that happening in our classrooms! Instead, our students all receive lessons in “Grace and Courtesy”: they learn how to greet a child, how to offer help, how to express their feelings and needs using words. As a result, our students tend to be quite empathetic, and willing to help a new child find her way around class.

Special support for those new to the classroom language

  • Teachers add gestures and hand signals to spoken language. Our teachers are experts at using gestures and body movements to help children understand them and, in short order, learn to recognize key words and phrases in their new language. We may point to a jacket and pantomime taking it off. We may pull out a chair and point to the child, then the chair, to show the child where to sit down. We may point to the toilet to suggest it’s time for a child to use it. Basically, we do what you did when your child first learned to speak: we slow down, we point, we repeat—so your child can learn his second language by absorbing it from his surroundings, just like he did with his first.
  • Pairing up of new students with language-skilled peers. Since we have mixed-age classrooms, we are often able to pair a new child with an older child who speaks her language. This is especially true in places like Irvine, where we have a many children who come to us speaking Chinese, Korean or Japanese. Feel free to ask your Head of School if there are classrooms with other children who speak your native language; while we can’t guarantee a match-up all the time, we will do our best to accommodate your child’s language needs. (In our immersion classrooms, we may pair-up English-speaking students with those who already know Mandarin or Spanish.)
  • Frequent updates and check-ins with parents. While we encourage all parents of new students to check in with us regularly, we place a special emphasis on frequent updates for those children who come to us without speaking English. Please do share any concerns you have, and help us by letting us know any needs your child may have that he cannot yet reliably communicate in English or the immersion language.

What parents can do to help

  • Explain school routines to your child. Before your child starts, review the flow of the school day with him. You may find it helpful to watch some of our videos, and explain to your child in your native language what will happen during the day as you watch these videos. You can also access your campus’ photo gallery, and use the photos as prompts to talk about school with your child. Feel free to ask your teacher or Head of School for a detailed schedule of your child’s classroom, so you can share all the details with her. Finally, it will be helpful if you can explain a few basic classroom rules to your child before she starts—such as having only one activity out at a time, putting it back on the shelves when done, and not stepping on the rugs children place on the floor to delineate work areas. We can help you with explaining these rules when you come in for your Meet and Greet with your child’s teacher.
  • Teach your child a few key words in English. It’s very helpful if your child comes to school knowing a few key words in English to make his needs known. Some words to consider teaching: (I’m) hungry, thirsty, tired, hurt; pee, poop; (I need) help, water, food, bathroom. (We don’t need children to learn these words in Spanish or Mandarin Chinese in our immersion classrooms, as our immersion teachers speak English in addition to Spanish or Chinese.)
  • Provide the teacher with a few words in your language. We’d love it if you provided us with the same list of words in your language, so we could better meet your child’s needs during the initial transition.
  • Help your child toward independence (especially if he’s three and above). Our Montessori curriculum places a strong emphasis on helping children become functionally independent—on learning to dress themselves, eating by themselves, using the toilet independently, completing a work cycle on their own. If you, a relative or a nanny have been helping your child with many of these everyday tasks, you can help with the transition to school by slowly introducing more independence at home as well. This article offers some good ideas on how to get started.

One more thing: if you speak a language other than English at home, and are enrolling your child in one of our English-speaking classrooms, we’d encourage you to continue speaking your native language at home. Living in America, and being in an English-speaking setting all day long, your child will learn English well—so well that, unless you consistently speak your native language at home, it will disappear from his life. Growing up bilingual is such a gift, it’s worth the hard work that goes into making it happen!

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montessori preschool

 

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montessori preschool

 

montessori preschool

 

montessori preschool

 

montessori preschool

 

montessori preschool

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

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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.

LePort Blog: Temper Tantrum Prevention

Ah, the temper tantrum: read any parenting list, and you’ll find many requests for advice on how to manage children’s temper tantrums. Tantrums seem like a force of nature, something we just have to deal with as parents of toddlers and preschoolers.

To some extent, that’s certainly true: young children are learning what it means to feel upset, and many times, there is nothing we can do to prevent their frustration. Yet when I observe in Montessori toddler classrooms, I am struck by how rare tantrums are; after an initial transition period, ongoing bouts of intense, heart-wrenching crying are all but absent from a Montessori environment. Of course, there are conflicts, and of course, children experience negative emotions—these experiences are a natural part of life, and something a child learns to manage, not eliminate. What’s rare in a good Montessori program is the type of rage we as parents may encounter at home.

What are Montessori teachers doing to create such a peaceful, happy environment—and can we as non-Montessori trained parents apply some of their secrets at home?

    1. Supporting your child’s sense of order.
      Maria Montessori observed that young children often get agitated when even little things in their lives are out of place. If we always start the bath by washing our baby’s body first, and head second, and then absent-mindedly reverse the order one day, we may find our toddler inconsolable. Whether or not we can identify it, the source of frustration is very often a broken routine. A snack in a new container; a different seat at the table; a toy that cannot be found; an interruption in play to head to an appointment: these all may be so minor to us that we don’t even notice them, but for a toddler, these small things can set off a major reaction, a seemingly “causeless” tantrum that in fact is caused by a disruption of our child’s developing sense of order.I recently observed one of LePort’s Parent & Child Montessori classes, and witnessed just such a tantrum. It was clean-up time, and the parents and teachers were moving about the room, putting materials back on the shelves. While one mother was cleaning up a forgotten toy, her two-year-old son had discovered a fun puzzle, and carried it to a table. He walked away to get another piece when the teacher, unaware that the boy was actively playing, took the puzzle and put it back on the shelf. When this little boy returned to his table, he flew into a rage—which neither his mother, who was busy putting other things away, nor the teacher could understand. (As soon as we replaced the puzzle on the table and invited the boy to finish it, he calmed down.) It’s easy to see how mother and teacher might have viewed this as a causeless tantrum!

      In a Montessori classroom, teachers deliberately accommodate a young child’s need for order. Materials are displayed on low shelves, and each has its special spot. The day follows a clear, consistent routine: outside time, then coming back inside, washing hands, having snack, then work period, and so on. Writes Dr. Montessori:

      Order is one of the needs of life which, when it is satisfied, produces a real happiness. In fact, in our schools, even older children, those three- or four-years old, after finishing an exercise will put the things they have used back in place. … Order consists in recognizing the place for each object in relation to its environment and in remembering where each thing should be. This implies that one is able to orient one’s self within one’s environment and to dominate it in all its details.

      Children are just discovering their world. It is largely a mysterious place, where things are wondrous and at times scary. Being able to have a space that is safe, where things are predictable and in their control, is essential for their mental well-being, and helps prevent many tantrums.

      • Have clear, consistent routines—for getting up and getting dressed, for eating, for playtime, for transitions, for getting in and out of the car. Follow these routines, particularly when there are other upheavals in life (a new baby, a relative visiting, the start of school).
      • Simplify the play area. Invest in some open shelves (Ikea has cheap, good ones), and display only a small number of items, each in its proper spot.
      • Take time to observe your child. Be on the lookout for violations of order that might have caused a tantrum—like a toy put away prematurely, or a step in a routine that was omitted in haste.
      • Prepare your child for changes in routine. If you’re going to have dinner outside in the yard rather than at the table, mention that in advance, and if possible involve your child in a transitional activity such as helping to take placemats outside.

      [Of course, our toddlers will experience big emotions no matter what we do. If that happens, our role is to be an empathetic listener, to help them name their emotions and to provide reassurance that we are not rattled by the behavior. This blog provides good pointers!]

  1. Fostering independence, fostering family peace.
    Toddlers are often in conflict with themselves and others: they want to do things on their own, like pouring a drink or putting on their socks, but they just cannot (yet) do it. Many tantrums are due to this frustration, this urgent wanting to be capable, be big, but finding it’s not possible.In a Montessori classroom, we help toddlers become competent by taking the time to teach key skills in small, manageable steps. For example, we use dressing frames to help children learn how to zip a zipper or button a coat. We practice pouring solids (like lentils) with small containers as a preparation for ultimately pouring one’s own drink.You can help your toddler feel more capable and confident at home, too, by setting up your home for independence, and teaching skills step-by-step.

    When your child is able to put on his own coat with the “Montessori throw”, when he can get his own drink or snack, instead of needing your help every step of the way, he’s going to be a happier child, less frustrated and more joyful to live with!

  2. The work rug secret.
    Many conflicts between children arise over the sharing of toys. Susie has a toy, and Max wants it. Someone is going to be frustrated; often, an adult intervenes and encourages “sharing”.In a Montessori classroom, we have a simple rule that prevents many of these conflicts: children may only work with one activity at a time, and need to put it back in its proper place on the shelf when done. No child may grab a toy from another child, but as soon as an item is back on a shelf, the waiting child may take it. Children can work on small tables, or they can roll out a rug on the floor to designate their workspace. Through active modeling, we teach children to respect each other’s personal space, to walk around (not over) rugs, and to watch others working by standing at a respectful distance, hands behind their backs.A similar approach can also work at home. When my daughter was three and my son one, we introduced different colored rugs for each child. My son quickly learned that things on my daughter’s red rug were hers to play with until she was done, and that he could not grab them—and my daughter learned that I would protect her space and play from her brother. My son learned impulse control and respect; my daughter never had to fear that her brother might barge in and destroy her play in the name of “sharing”.

    When consistently applied, these types of simple rules ensure each child’s personal space is respected. An established, predictable right to uninterrupted play goes a long way toward fostering a respectful, benevolent atmosphere when multiple children play in the same space, whether at home or at school.

Being a toddler is hard work! Even with these approaches in place, children will experience challenging emotions: they may be frustrated at the need to wait for a toy, or face an unavoidable break in their routine. We can help them weather the storm by proactively offering words to identify their big feelings: “You really want to have the blocks right now, and it’s making you angry that Suzie has them”, or “You’d love to put your coat on all by yourself, but the sleeve is stuck. Here, let’s pull out the sleeve, and you can try again.”

When we respect our toddler’s need for order, independence, and personal space, when we help him name and express their big feelings, we can make huge strides in making toddler time less tantrum prone and more enjoyable for the entire family.

Do You Know How Excessive Screen Time May Harm Your Child’s Brain?

montessori preschool

I recently talked with two well-meaning mothers who proudly explained how they use electronic toys and tools to give their children the "best start on learning." "I make sure my son watches educational TV shows", one mother reported, adding eagerly that "we even use dinner time as learning time, by watching shows like Blues Clues and Dora while we eat." Another mother proudly told me that she bought her 20-month-old "only educational toys, like children’s computers that teach colors, sounds and letter names. He loves my iPad, and can already use some of the apps I uploaded for him!"

It was clear to me that both of these mothers wanted the absolute best for their children: They spoke of them lovingly, were articulate about the importance of education, and either had selected or were researching quality Montessori preschool programs.

At the same time, it surprised me that they were largely unfamiliar with the idea that screen experiences—even so-called educational apps—might in fact harm children. They didn’t seem to be considering the possibility that the very technology-based activities they embraced could make their children susceptible to cognitive challenges in later life.

My conversations with these mothers got me thinking in general about attitudes towards screen time for young children. Most parents encounter the idea that TV and computer games are bad for young children. Many are even familiar with the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that children under the age of two not spend any time with screens, and that older children spend no more than one or two hours a day with any type of screen-based entertainment.

But encountering an idea is not the same thing as understanding it. The lack of a clear understanding of the underlying why behind limiting screen time may be one factor leading to well-meaning, thoughtful parents falling for the lure of "edu-tainment" apps and toys.

Why is excessive screen time so bad? Why might educational apps actually harm rather than help a child’s developing mind?  What is the precise impact on a child’s cognitive growth?

montessori preschool

Two Underlying Premises

In exploring the "why" behind the argument to limit screen time, we start with two underlying premises. The first is simple: a child’s environment impacts the development of his mind. If we put a child in a language-rich environment, in general he’ll acquire greater verbal skills; if a child plays sports earlier, he’ll acquire gross motor skills more quickly. The mind’s development occurs in an environmental framework, and the nature of the environment impacts the nature of that development.

The second key premise is that the differences in cognitive development manifest as physical differences in the brain. If we blindfold a child’s eyes for an extended period, his brain will show the effects of that deprivation; if we instead provide rich visual stimulation, his brain will show the results of that enrichment.  

Recent neurological studies on human beings, using sophisticated methods like fMRIs, as well as numerous animal studies, have demonstrated this "plasticity" of the brain, evincing that the specific environmental experiences a developing child encounters can dramatically impact the way his brain develops. Dr. Marian Diamond, a professor of neuroanatomy at the University of California at Berkeley, puts the point this way: "There is absolutely no doubt that culture changes brains, and there’s no doubt in my mind that children’s brains are changing. Whatever they’re learning, as those nerve cells are getting input, they are sending out dendritic branches. As long as stimuli come in to a certain area, you get more branching; if you lose the stimuli, they stop branching."

These two straightforward ideas—that environment impacts cognitive development, and that the cognitive impact manifests itself in the wiring of the brain—are the basis of evaluating the effect of TV and video on young minds. But the question remains: what is the specific impact of excessive screen time?

The Impact of Screen Time on Cognitive Development

In her book Endangered Minds, Dr. Jane Healy argues that the problem with excessive screen time is that undermines a child’s ability to think conceptually. According to Healy, the extensive use of TV and video games by ever-younger children is making harder for children to excel at the slow, deliberate, focused tasks necessary for success in school and in many 21st century careers, and this deficit is evident in the impact on a child’s brain development.  

Young children who spend significant time in front of screens risk being negatively impacted in two fundamental ways:

montessori preschool

  1. Children acquire bad "habits" in response to the screen experiences—especially shortened attention spans and a need for highly-stimulating content. Watch any current children’s TV shows or video games today, and you’ll notice their fast-paced, attention-grabbing nature: shows are dominated by sudden close-ups, pans and zoom; there are lots of bright colors, quick movements and sudden noises, which, as Dr. Healy points out, are no accident: these features arrest the brain’s attention, and keep children literally glued to the screen.

    Just as a terrible food diet will have a structural impact on the body, this over-stimulating cognitive diet has a structural effect on the brain, and decreases the all-critical capacity to sustain attention on a task. Dr. Jennings Bryant of the University of Alabama, who served on the advisory panel for Sesame Street’s sibling, The Electric Company, now believes that it was a mistake to choose such a fast-paced format for these shows: "It reduces what we call vigilance [the ability to remain actively focused on a task]. If they watch lots of fast-paced programs, and then we give them things to do afterward, such as reading or solving complex puzzles, their stick-to-it-iveness is diminished; they’re not willing to stay with the tasks. Over time, with lots of viewing, you’re going to have less vigilant children. This is especially critical with very young children—about three to five years seem to be particularly vulnerable times."

  2. As real-life, enriching experiences are crowded out by screen time, young children miss out on opportunities to form important neural connections—such as those underlying motor and language skills—during key sensitive periods.

    Research shows that brain areas mature and become ready to learn at different times. If the appropriate stimuli are not received during these sensitive periods, learning becomes much harder.  Especially early in a child’s life, the learning experiences must be active and self-directed to lead to lasting, beneficial brain changes. Dr. William Greenough, in a seminal experiment with rats, found that those rats acting within an enriched environment increased their synapses by 20-25%, but rats who merely observed other rats in the same environment received no benefit: "It appears that active interaction with the environment is necessary for the animal to extract very much appropriate information. Merely making visual experience of a complex environment available to animals unable to interact with it has little behavioral effect."

    Screen time, especially watching any type of TV, no matter how educational, is merely visual.  To the extent that the study on rats extends to human beings (and there many reasons to believe it does), then every hour of passive screen time is an hour lost to the all-important, active, self-driven exploration of the world that produces actual learning. For the average three- to five-year-old in the US, who consumes twenty-eight hours of screen time per week, that’s a lot of active learning not happening!

    Even in the case of more active video games and apps, the screen time is still crowding out other types of self-initiated engagement with the world. For instance, it reduces the amount of high-quality language experiences—conversations with adults, who use elaborate, detailed language, time to listen to stories, or to read books. Spoken and written language is largely symbolic: children need to actively engage to make meaning; they need to visualize, to re-create a scene in their minds as they listen to a story; they need to concentrate to interpret and connect words in a sequence as the action unfolds. In short, they need to use higher-order, integrative brain processes. TV watching in particular is primarily visual, immediate, holistic activity. Time spent watching TV crowds out both the direct ability to learn more sophisticated grammatical structures and vocabulary (which are largely absent on screens), and the very higher-order thinking processes children will need to succeed in school and in life!

Screen Time and Montessori

Long before fMRIs and modern neuroscience, Dr. Montessori observed that children have sensitive periods—for language, for fine motor skills, for order. She designed an educational environment that enables children to freely choose from a range of active, multi-sensorial materials that correspond to the sensitive periods—and with which students engage for extended periods of time, exhibiting astounding attention spans, and rapid progression in skills heretofore thought impossible.

montessori preschool

Excessive screen time is anathema to the careful, sequential, active learning a toddler or preschooler experiences in a good Montessori environment. Children who are fed a daily diet of hours of TV shows and video games at home, who miss out on reading time and meaningful conversations with adults, are at a clear disadvantage when they enter their Montessori environments: they find it harder to concentrate, because their brains have become addicted to the artificially fast-paced world of TV; they are behind in oral language skills, as they have never learned to listen carefully, and thus find it harder to learn to read and write; they lack creativity and imagination, as their brains have been conditioned to passively consume visual content, rather than to actively play with ideas and engaging in what-if scenarios.

Often, parents ask us how they can best support their children’s Montessori education at home. A great place to start is by turning off all screens (or at least limiting them to a few hours per week, preferable as shared parent-child watching experience). Instead, speak with your children, read stories, and engage them in real-world experiences.

Sometimes, what is best for children isn’t obvious, and even well-meaning, educated parents, like the mothers I spoke with, can fall prey to the seemingly innovative appeal of modern gadgets and screen-based edu-tainment. It may be counter-intuitive, and at odds with our love for gadgets as adults (I like my Kindle and iPhone as much as the next person!), but if this research is right, our children gain more from shopping for and preparing dinner with us, from talking with us while eating, and from jointly cleaning up afterwards, than they could from any TV show or gadget, no matter how well-regarded, entertaining or "educational" it may be.


Key photo: child with iPad. By Intel Free Press [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons