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    Why We Chose Montessori

    Today I'm writing at Natural Parents Network about Montessori Schooling. Here's an excerpt...    

    “…  Children learn through doing: working with their hands, washing, folding, buttoning, tying, building, stacking, filling, pouring. Each lesson builds on another – without a child knowing she’s learning about the cube root of numbers, she’s already learning the basic understanding of why and how to do those skills as she stacks, matches, and fills the binomial cube. As a child is taught to wash a table she’s not just learning how to wash a table (a valuable life skill in itself, of course), but learning about sequence, responsibility, concentration, and muscle action and coordination. Each lesson in Montessori builds on other, previous lessons, that mesh seamlessly with each other – children often don’t realize they are being “taught” something – they are fascinated with the presentation, and the ability to do and practice real skills. As they practice, they’re learning. Just as they do in “real life”.

    There is no grading, homework, or testing in Montessori, rather, observing, learning, and doing. When external motivators like test scores or grades are introduced to a child, children often work to achieve those external rewards (getting an A), or to avoid those external punishments (getting an F or being held back a grade). The natural love of learning is squashed when what matters most is the end result and how it will be judged, instead of encouragement and focus on the process. The end result (reward) of a job well done should be doing the job well, having enjoyed doing it, learning from it, and completing the task. Not how well you can replicate the task artificially in a testing situation or what someone else thinks it should be ranked.

    Montessori guides (teachers) believe that when we pay attention to what our children are saying and doing, we trust that children have an innate desire to learn, and we foster that desire through opportunity, they will choose to take the opportunity to learn more. In this way, I have found Montessori to be much like Attachment Parenting: trusting and believing that your child is an individual and should be honored as such, that she has important things to say (even if she can’t say them yet, like as a baby crying), and those things shouldn’t be ignored, but honored.

    People learn differently. Period. To expect that every child can be taught in the same way at the same time and come out with the same knowledge is a disservice to the child. It can result in frustration in school, and throughout life: feeling like they’re never “good enough” when really, it’s just that they may never have had the opportunity to learn at their own pace according to their own skills and desires, and without the pressure of external punishment or reward. I trust that through Montessori education, we’re giving our children the opportunity to learn at their own pace, to grow through their own experiences, and to direct their learning via their own interests. We’re fostering their natural love of learning, which will serve them throughout life in feeling like they can take on any goal they wish and accomplish it! “

    To read the entire post, please visit the Natural Parents Network site… and stay a while; there are some really amazing mothers writing about all aspects of gentle, intuitive, natural parenting. 

    For more things I've written on Montessori, have a look here.


    For more information on Montessori education:

    Michael Olaf.net: The Montessori Method of Educating & Raising Children to Develop Their Fullest Potential

    Montessori.edu: The International Montessori Index

    Montessori 101: Basic Information Every Montessori Parent Should Know

    Living Montessori Now: Information & Inspiration for Parents & Teachers (on Montessori Homeschooling)

    Posted: Aug 16 2012, 10:48 by kelly | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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    Montessori - Natural Life Learning

    Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing nothing but living and walking about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.

    ~Maria Montessori


    Children, people, love learning. It’s natural and innate, and happens whether we interfere or not. Why not encourage that natural love of learning? The essence of life is learning, growing, loving, interacting with our environment and people around us. Children need simply to experience life, to be honored and encouraged for their own gifts and love of learning from what and whomever is around them - regardless of age or achievement - and without rewards or punishment. When children are allowed to learn on their own, they find success through personal experience, and build self-esteem and internal motivation: an incentive more powerful than any external reward (i.e. grades). Learning IS the reward.  

    Just as with adults, the freedom to choose what is interesting and thus, what to learn, belongs to each child. As parents, we should foster that freedom by offering a calm, peaceful, and inspired environment in which they can make those choices without hindrance. I don't mean free-for-all chaos, but rather that we accept the understanding that our children to know what to do. We observe and honor our children's interests (even if they may not reflect our own expectations or desires) and support them, offering help and guidance as requested, and teaching only through example - trusting they'll learn at their own pace, in their own time, as they desire and need.  

    Imagine the possibilities if everyone could learn and explore their desires as they are naturally inclined to, without fear of failure, self-guided and internally motivated. It would be like having the world in your hands - limitless. 

    Posted: Jul 28 2012, 18:32 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Fostering Independence by Asking Instead of Telling

    We all want our children to become independent thinkers, to make their own decisions, and to think critically. When they are young, we still must guide them, as they don't yet have ALL the info they NEED to make the correct decisions. But sometimes I find the balance of imparting my own knowledge and wisdom while still encouraging my children to think for themselves and do what they already know, is often skewed towards my own knowledge. Maybe it's out of convenience: "If I just do it, it'll be done". Maybe it's ego: "I'm the Mom, I'll just tell them, and they'll do it". Maybe it's habit… when you have young children, you've only recently come out of the stage of having babies, who DID need you to - most of the time anyhow - instruct or DO instead of ask. But whatever the reason, I do find myself instructing my children on what to do, even while knowing they already have the information they need to make a decision.

    Example, bedtime routine: I get stuck many nights saying the same things: Okay guys! Please start teeth brushing then put on your jammies! In the midst of instruction, they usually have raced off into their bedroom, picked out books for reading, started building magformers, jumping on the bed, and… sometimes getting jammies on and brushing teeth in the meantime - but to the tune of SEVERAL "reminders". While I find myself getting a little annoyed, looking at the clock, realizing the time for books is getting short. I usually remind again: TEETH!!! This scenario plays out more nights then not. But… they DO know how to brush their teeth. And, they do ACTUALLY brush their teeth, they DO get their jammies on, they DO pick out a book and get into bed.

    So why am I still standing around telling them what to do?

    As with so many things, a simple change in approach does wonders. Instead of TELLING them what do to: "Time to brush your teeth!" or "Please get your jammies on now!", I have started ASKING them what THEY think needs to be done: "What needs to happen before we can read a book?" or "How do we make sure we have enough time before lights out to do what you want?" The answer, usually, is my kids getting RIGHT TO brushing teeth & putting on jammies. ASKING them (instead of dictating) what needs to be done - and then stepping out of the way while they figure it out - invites them to think, to make decisions in the moment, and start to develop their own sense of time management. Now, they may not do exactly what I wanted in exactly in the way I wanted it, but usually, things get done, on their own, and a great lesson in critical thinking and self-reliance has been taught (while saving my own sanity).

    It's not just bedtime for which this would work! I can think of many scenarios in which we parents may feel the need to just step in and DO or TELL our kids WHAT to do, when they are perfectly capable of figuring it out themselves. How about:

    GETTING WEATHER-APPROPRIATE CLOTHING ON: It's pretty wet outside. What do you think we should wear to stay dry?

    BICKERING SIBLINGS: I see you and your sister are fighting. How can you work together?

    TIME MANAGEMENT: Remember that you have piano lessons on Friday. What's your plan for practicing this week?

    GETTING READY TO GO: I don't like being late in the morning. What do you need to do to be ready to go on time?

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    So… Do you find yourself telling your kids what to do instead of asking them what they think they should do? Does switching from telling to asking work for you? Tell me about it!

    Posted: May 31 2012, 17:59 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Changing Education Paradigms

    I was visiting Montessori Matters a couple days ago, where Pilar had posted this amazing video animation to Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on changing education paradigms:

    Not only is the animation worth watching (so cool), but the message is extremely important.


    Here are a few highlights from the video, if you don’t have 12 minutes (though I really recommend you watch it – more than once – to get the full meaning. It’s worth your time, really.)


    On education reform:


    “Every country on earth is reforming education…

    ….the problem is they’re trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past and on the way they’re alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school… and they’re right (kids not thinking there’s a purpose to going to school) particularly not if the route to it (going to school, getting a college degree) marginalizes most of the things you think are important about yourself…”


    On outdated education models:


    “…This is deep in the gene pool of public education that there are really two types of people: academic & non academic, smart people & non- smart people and the consequence of that is that many brilliant people think they’re not because they’ve been judged against this particular view of the mind…”


    …this model has caused chaos in many people’s lives. Most people have not. Instead they suffer…


    On school being boring instead of exciting:


    “An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak… when you’re present in the current moment… when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing when you’re fully alive….

    An anesthetic is when you shut your senses off… we’re getting our children through education by anesthetizing them. And I think we should be doing the exact opposite, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves….”


    On school being like a factory:


    “…The system of education is modeled on the interests of industrialism & the in the image of it. Schools are still pretty much organized on factory lines: ringing bells, separate facilities, specialized subjects...still educate children by batches.  We put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? The most import thing about them is their date of manufacture?


    I know kids who are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines. Or at different times of the day. Or better in smaller groups than in large groups or sometimes they want to be on their own.

    If you’re interested in learning you don’t start from this production line mentality.... essentially about conformity and increasingly about that as you look at the growth of standardized testing and standardized curricula. It's about standardization, I believe we have to go in the exact opposite direction….”

    On humans’ capacity for learning and thinking:


    “… we all have a capacity (for divergent thinking)… [but] it mostly deterioriates…. [after kids] spend 10 years in school being told there’s ONE  answer, its at the back, and don’t look, and don’t copy. Because that’s cheating… outside of school that’s called collaboration, but inside schools [it’s cheating].


    We have to think differently about human capacity…. We have to get over old conception of academic vs. non-academic and see it for what it is: a myth.


    You have to recognize that most great learning happens in groups.  Collaboration is the stuff of growth….”

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    There is so much good information in this video, so much to think about; and much of it true to what I’ve experienced and believe about education.


    I believe that children can learn to LOVE learning, if they are given the opportunity to do so in a free, open, self-directed environment.  This may be a Montessori school, a homeschool, an unschooling environment, maybe even a public school (though this has not been my experience; if it has been yours, please share!). When children are able to be themselves, to follow what they are naturally interested in and not to not have to worry about homework, tests, or grades, they find that learning, just for the sake of learning – because we know our brains are capable of SO much, not just what a state or country determines we should be learning at a specific period of time in our life  – is amazing and awesome!


    When you get away from the idea that there is only one right answer, and are praised for “thinking outside the box”, children have the ability to come up with the MANY right answers that are out there.  I believe it is so important to foster independent thinkers who are taught how to use their minds, how to think through things – instead of specifically WHAT and HOW to think – because those children will become the adults that will direct change in this world.


    Hope you enjoyed the video!

    Posted: Oct 30 2010, 11:57 by kelly | Comments (7) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | Education

    Montessori Inspired Organization at Home

    We love the Montessori method, and while we don’t use Montessori materials in our home, I have strived, since they’ve been enrolled in school, to structure our house in a more Montessori-friendly fashion. Both to ease the transition between home & school – AND because I believe that good organization of your environment leads to good organization of your mind!

    Below, I’ve taken several before & after photos of the last few months of rearrangement/organization in our livingspace to help my children do their work (play) in an organized way. The most important things for me were that they know where things belong (so they know where to get whatever toy or craft or game they want and where put them away) AND that they’re able to get their materials & complete the tasks they want to complete as independently as possible.

    Enjoy! Note: these photos were taken over a few month time span, so you may see similar items in different locations – i.e. the globe! We’re always working towards the BEST arrangement! :)

    First, our entry way before (left) and after (right):

    Their coats were previously hung on adult-height hooks, so they couldn’t hang them themselves. Shoes were just in a line, and helmets, mittens, etc. were in a basket – so it wasn’t obvious where to put things, and stacks of shoes/gloves, etc. often developed. I installed a rack w/hooks & baskets at their height. Baskets are used for mittens & hats. And the shoe shelf was built for shoes & helmets.

    Next, our toy/game area before (top left & right) and after (below):



    Previous to the renovation, games were stacked and piled in bins and on the shelf – things that were under other things weren’t often played with – and how to get items back on the shelf, or to which shelf things belonged was not easy to figure out. I ended up putting things away/straightening a lot in the evening. Afterwards, I strived for a more Montessori-esque one item per shelf (NO STACKING!) and clear & accessible places to put items. In one photo below, you’ll see the rolled up “work mats” – and then at the bottom, the children using them while doing their work!



    I’m also including a few spaces where I didn’t take before photos – just wanted to share with you! I picked a few of our house plants to arrange in a child-accessible plant area with spray bottle & watering can (which can be filled at the fridge by them). The reading area has a child-sized couch & natural light by the window. And finally, the craft area with a distinct drawer or container for each material gives the children the opportunity to be more creative when they can find just what they’re looking for!



    Posted: Nov 19 2009, 18:47 by kelly | Comments (5) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | Education