Never before have we had so many food choices and never before have we eaten so poorly!
Healthy eating habits are inculcated in the child’s youngest years.
Eating nutritious food together as a family, including children in the preparation of meals, allowing a child to follow her natural appetite in terms of the quantity of food she eats and saying NO to junk food are some of the ways we can inculcate lifelong healthy eating habits.
One way we are trying to encourage healthy eating habits at school is by having the elementary children try their hand at cooking nutritious snacks.
According to studies conducted overseas, children are more prone to eating fresh vegetables and fruit, after a cooking session.
I do not not know if our cooking sessions at school have resulted in children making better food choices in their daily lives, YET. However, what it has definitely done, is generate a conversation of what is healthy and what is not.
In the past few weeks we have made a beetroot and mushroom salad, a carrot cake (with whole wheat flour) and a healthy version of aloo chaat (Indian potato salad).
The food is served to the entire school.
Besides being a wonderful exercise of practical life, it also provides opportunities to build community.
It is a time when we make our way out into the neighbourhood to do our grocery shopping. We have become well known faces at the push cart of our neighbourhood vegetable vendor and at the corner store.
The children spontaneously apply the grace and courtesy presentations received. From the “please’s” and “thank you’s” when buying something, to how to serve courteously; how to politely decline a snack and how to respect the declining child’s wishes.
The older children love being the bearers of these gifts of food and the younger children enjoy being the recipients of these gifts.
One never knows how and when a seed will germinate. To follow Dr. Montessori’s advice – let us sow as many seeds as possible and let the rest be the child’s work!
We are a month into the new academic year and the children who have recently joined our elementary environment have received their first great lesson – THE STORY OF THE UNIVERSE. The story is accompanied by many experiments, including a show stopper – blasting a volcano! This year around, we used ammonium di chromate in the volcano for some real BANG, instead of the tame baking powder and vinegar routine. Needless to say it was all very exciting.
Along with the younger children, the older children too had the benefit of receiving the story again and like every year, it has sparked off great work!
Today, one of the many projects undertaken by the children after the telling of the story was completed.
After reading the awe inspiring book, ‘Born With A Bang – The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story‘ by Jennifer Morgan and Dana Lynne Anderson, two boys decided to make a timeline depicting some of the major events in the Universe’s history. There is a concise page at the back of the book that lists some of these major events and was just the right morsel for the boys.
Here is the long and short of their timeline.
They did some finger knitting and converted its length into a timeline. Each foot on the length of their finger knitting accounted for 1 billion years.
A brass bell signals each major event. With it is a card that explains what happened at that point in time. The first two events are so close together that they have been strung one on top of the other – but – true to the need for precision that characterizes the elementary child, they are just ever – so – slightly, askew.
1 billion years after the Big Bang galaxies formed. Mother stars were born. After stars die their stardust makes new stars that have complicated elements …
7 billion years after the Big Bang our mother star might have exploded. There might have been more than one mother star that might have created our solar system …
8 1/2 billion years after the Big Bang the planets formed. One planet was perfect – not too hot, not too cold.
For the sake of convenience the timeline has now moved to a new location – above the science material.
“let us give him a vision of the whole universe. The universe is an imposing reality and an answer to all questions. We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” ~ Maria Montessori (To Educate The Human Potential)
It’s three days to the start of a new academic year.
To wrap up the last academic year, we sat down today to a meeting of reflection. We usually do our reflection soon after we close for the summer break, but this time around it got postponed. Last year was a difficult one on several levels and by the end of March all of us were burnt-out. Centered again, we were now ready to re-visit the year past.
There was a lot of sharing and some insights arrived at. One point especially was brought into focus that I thought more deeply about.
My dear friend and colleague mentioned that she had realized that besides the environment belonging to the children, it was her environment as well and she was hoping to enjoy it more in the coming year. Occasionally, she would sit down in moments of quiet and do the things she loved doing, while in class. She was going to enjoy the space just like the children do.
Towards the end of the last academic year, the environment that I work in was so settled that I had many opportunities for this. The low hum of activity, the materials all at my disposal, the music in the background and the flood of natural light, all called to me and I found myself wanting to experience the day the way the children did.
At those times I put down my observation sheets and joined them. I drew, embroidered, symbolized poems, did design work with the equivalency insets, practiced some math presentations and made material in class. It was something that happened spontaneously. Initially, the children were curious about what I was doing. After a couple of occasions, they started saying things like, “I did some symbol work yesterday” or “After you, I think I’ll work with the long division”. I remember a parent who had come in to observe the environment, later tell me that her child had mentioned that she should observe my work as well – because I had finally started working too! 🙂
There were some changes I observed in class. The children had started becoming more careful with the material and their movements around others working, they started re-visiting some presentations that I had worked with, they were eager for the materials they saw me making to be put on the shelves so that they could have a go at them…
Montessori has spoken about indirect presentations and any Montessori guide will tell you how powerful they are. Presentations that you give by doing certain things and being a certain way, yourself. They aren’t overt presentations to individual children, but rather subtle ones to the group.
The most valuable indirect presentation I think the children received here was the joy of work! It is different from the teacher enjoying what she is presenting to the child, or verbally expressing enthusiasm for an activity – it was the quiet, personal joy felt when one loves what one is doing.
So here it is folks – do what you love in front of your children. Follow your bliss and let them witness your joy at work!
Until recently I had only heard about minimalism connected to design, architecture and art … and then some weeks ago I chanced upon a blog post about minimalism as a lifestyle. It peaked my curiosity.
The past month we have been getting some major repairs done at our home, for which we had to pack away ALL our possessions down to the teeniest-tiniest pin. Sitting in a sea of bubble wrap and cartons I wondered how we came to have so many things. What I had read about minimalism became very appealing.
As I read some more on the topic, I learnt that people interpret and practice minimalism to different degrees. Like so many things it had even become a form of ‘identity’ for some. But getting to the core of it all, to the the essence of minimalism it became apparent that minimalism was about prioritising what is important and enriching. Throw out the clutter and bring in clarity. Be mindful of your material possessions, thoughts and actions.
The connection between minimalism and montessori was hard to miss.
The montessori principle of what is ‘necessary and sufficient’ that guides the teacher at all times is minimalism in pedagogy.
The principle guides us in preparing the physical environment, in the content, words and actions that we include in a presentation and in the help that we render the child. It constantly challenges us to do away with the superfluous and retain the essential.
Now more than ever we are faced with astonishing amounts of information, materials, ideas, books and opinions. Now more than ever we have to be mindful to stay true to the principle of ‘what is necessary and sufficient’.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
The boy wanted to give a gift to a little 4 year old who was celebrating his birthday at school. We usually gift poems to each other in the elementary and he had been a recipient of such presents.
It was only logical then, for the boy to copy write a poem as a present.
But he disliked writing – it was difficult and held no pleasure for him.
Today though, something stirred inside of him. Maybe his desire to be the bearer of gifts was far greater than his disinclination to write … maybe it was something else …
The boy painstakingly wrote out a poem, but it didn’t stop there. He copy wrote and illustrated poems for the next three hours!
He came in the next day and went straight to work. By the end of our morning work cycle he had reams of paper with poems running through them, like ants on a sidewalk.
The boy did this again on the third day.
He rummaged through even more poetry books. He marked in the parts of speech in the poems he copy wrote.
He commented on the ‘beautiful language’ made by Valerie Worth in her poem, ‘Tiger’ and finally, he wrote his own poem! …”Cars are like dragons flying through a desert“
The boy declared, “You know, I just LOVE poetry’
This coming from someone who evidently disliked our story reading sessions, resisted putting pencil to paper for the simplest of tasks, did not borrow books from our library unless it was suggested and never voluntarily chose work from our language shelves.
How did the shift occur? How did the boy, who a year ago found it formidable to articulate his thoughts in complete sentences, find contact with the words:
a black sun.
In his cold
carries it still.
Black rays roar
from the centers
of his eyes.
~ by Valerie Worth
And then it struck me – it was the gift of TIME!
Time to interact with others and to talk about things that interested him thereby practicing his oral language skills, time to pursue interests that called to him, time to receive precise help and practice skills and most of all, time to build confidence – now something that was difficult and new was no longer daunting but challenging!
This, my friends, is the poetry of Montessori environments. The child has TIME – a right in a Montessori environment, but a luxury in more mainstream learning environments.
The child is not being hurried along according to an agenda laid down by people who have never heard his name, or falling into a struggle with a harried teacher who needs to get things done. Nor is he learning each day that he is not good enough and cannot do something.
Instead, he follows himself, stays true to who he is and loves what he does!
The boy will be leaving us to join a more mainstream school for the next academic year.
My wish for you my dear boy is that you always hold true that deserts there may be, but dragons can fly through them!
Two days ago a boy was busy sliding and counting beads to help him subtract numbers in millions. Each time he borrowed or exchanged a bead, I observed him stare at the subtraction problem on his paper and mutter, mutter, mutter.
He came to me saying, “I think I’m doing this without material … just with my mind”, so I suggested that he put the material away and check.
He brought over his paper. Neat rows of numbers with a precise difference recorded.
The boy had abstracted subtraction!
“I want to do another subtraction problem. A l-o-n-g one in quadrillo’s”
Now, quadrillo happens to be a number name invented by one of the children in class, for a hierarchy after googol (10100).
I asked if he wouldn’t mind starting with a number belonging to the quadrillion hierarchy (1015 ) first and then moving on to one in ‘quadrillo’ and he agreed.
He did two precise subtraction problems. The strips of paper he had used, inspired him to make a flag out of them.
He went outside and found a stick and stuck his subtraction problems, front and back to make a ‘subtraction’ flag.
Incidents similar to this occur in every montessori environment and ours is no different. I can picture the other montessori teachers who are reading this nodding their heads in agreement.
Often I am asked the question if abstraction really happens so naturally –how and when and indeed if at all, children leave the material behind and work mentally, without being explicitly taught?
To answer how and if at all the child moves from the concrete to the abstract, we need to look at the materials presented to the child.
The montessori materials that children work with are ‘materialized abstractions‘.
The materials are the concrete forms of an abstract concept. Through hands-on work with material, the child internalizes the concept or abstraction that it houses.
Working in ‘abstract’occurs as a result of an internalization of the concept embedded in a material, and repetition of many parallel activities that serve as ‘passages to abstraction’.
It isn’t just one long vertical line, but also a horizontal one, where the child discovers the connections between things. For example, the connection between addition and subtraction or addition and multiplication and so on. (mathematics overflows with patterns and the list is endless)
To answer when will a child reach absraction, we must bear in mind that this takes time. It comes after much work and and each child has her own timetable. Rather than push a child, the Montesori guide protects the freedom of each child to reach the abstraction on her own. Aah! to witness the delight expressed at the discovery of a connection!
But most important of all, is to remember that the materials are not presented with the sole intention of having a child internalize a concept. This is not just a ‘different’ way of ‘‘teaching’. Their purpose is far greater than that … it is one of development. The materials satisfy a need of not just what is still to come but what is NOW! Through active involvement and freedom of choice, the child builds upon her ability to concentrate, self-direct and gain successive levels of independence.
But now I am digressing, let’s go back to the boy we spoke about earlier.
Looking at the paper on which he did the subtraction problems, I was struck by the neatness. There were no strokes and loops showing the borrowing and changing of quantities, like this:
Instead his paper looked like this: 826 , 251 , 450 , 622 , 368 , 274
– 673 , 529, 046 , 241 , 111 , 647
152 , 722 , 404 , 381 , 256 , 627
And I remembered my school days.
If I had shown up with subtraction problems completed like the one above, the teacher would have assumed only one thing – that I had copied it from a friend. If it had been on a test, I would have been knee deep in trouble!
The very same thing that we are celebrating in this post, would have been the source of ridicule and shame.
The boy deciding to convert his work into a flag brought to mind Montessori’s words. In one of her books she spoke about a child being anchored to his age. Though he might be working on something that we would consider beyond his years, when he goes out to play he is just like every other child his age.
The boy may subtract in ‘quadrillo’s’ but in the end he wants a flag! 🙂
We LOVE our books at school and it only makes sense that I dedicate a few posts to them.
Here is the first in a series of posts on our favorite books.
The books that children are most drawn to are those with a simple layout and beautiful language and pictures.
Montessori spoke a lot about keeping things ‘real’ for the young child. Young children are still distinguishing between reality and fantasy and it is best to offer them realistic stories, so as to not confuse them. This means no talking cats and other fantastic tales till they are about 5 years old.
Here are two books loved by the youngest member of our school, who we shall call ‘Missy’. She is a month shy of being 2 years old.
FROG ON HIS OWN by MERCER MAYER
This is just one in a series of books on a boy and his frog.
The illustrations are wonderful pen and ink drawings and ‘Missy’ loves to tell the story as the pages are turned.
BUS STOP by TARO GOMI
Young children will pick out the smallest things from their environment…a tiny ant crawling on the concrete, a little bead on the floor, a teeny spider hidden under the chair!
BUS STOPS caters to the young child’s love of small things.
The book has many details and is a burst of colour without being overwhelming.
Here are some books loved by the children between the ages of 2 1/2 years to 6 years.
PONNI – THE FLOWER SELLER by SIRISH RAO
BABU – THE WAITER by SIRISH RAO
Both books are as ‘real’ as they get.
The books are about a day in the life of a flower seller and a waiter.
Children love their simple narrative and the everyday images of life in urban India ( including a hungry calf eating Ponni’s flowers! :))
I FEEL THE SAME WAY by LILLIAN MOORE; illustrations by ROBERT QUACKENBUSH
A delightful little book of poems by Lillian Moore, who is a very popular figure at our school. One little 5 year old, loved her poems so much that she started calling herself Moore … she turned 8 years last month and still pens her name as … you guessed it, ‘ Moore’!
EVERYONE POOPS by TARO GOMI
Another book by Taro Gomi and an all time favourite. Children quietly appreciate that the topic of poop is out in the open, and love the whimsy of “a one-humped camel makes a one-humped poop and a two humped camel makes a two humped poop! … just kidding”
BRINGING DOWN THE MOON by JONATHAN EMMETT; illustrated by VANESSA CABBON
A sweet story about a mole who loves the moon and wants to have it for himself. The illustrations are soft, beautiful water colours.
FREDRICK by LEO LEONNI
Fredrick is a wonderful, unusual morality tale. I’m not a big fan of morality tales myself, but this one is fine by me …. and the children too, it seems.
Fredrick, the field mouse doesn’t join the others to work through the summer months gathering seeds, wheat and straw. Instead he gathers sun rays, colours-a-plenty and words for the long, dark winter months.
Finally, in the cold of the winter the other field mice applauded…”But Fredrick”, they said, “you are a poet!”
“So please, oh PLEASE, we beg, we pray, Go throw your TV set away, And in its place you can install, A lovely bookshelf on the wall.”
Last evening I met a little girl who use to come to our school.
She was with us for one short year in the elementary and now goes to a mainstream ‘chalk and talk’ school.
She has adjusted well, made friends and is doing fine in class.
After the customary greetings of a 6 and half year old which include, pointing out all missing teeth and information about tooth fairies, she asked, “Please can you give me a presentation on the stars? Now? Please!”
We were in the middle of a busy restaurant and Miss K wanted a presentation on the stars!
We are a small school deeply committed to following the child.
We are mindful to present to the child opportunities with which to understand and build faith in themselves, develop their potentialities, engage in true community life, internalize the inter-connection of all things and self learn, so that they are able to abstract from their greatest teacher, LIFE!
There are many philosophies that strive to do the same thing, albeit with differing practices. We have chosen the montessori philosophy to guide us, and it does so with a greater intuition and science than we could have ever imagined.
This is our world that we live in daily and nightly. Our work occupies our lives. It is what we are and who we are becoming.
But we are surrounded by a sea of perceptions about the child, the adult, education and the roles that all these play, which more often than not, do not align with what we are doing.
… sometimes the two worlds collide … and it can get lonely … very, very lonely.
So, today I have a message for parents who have chosen another way to educate their most precious, important responsibility.
You have chosen an alternative way to educate your child, because you have seen value in it.
Notice the difference between fear and love. All of us get fearful of the future and want to live in security. But there is no absolute security and action based on fear, is no action at all.
Re-visit deeply what world view you wish to present to your child. To quote Krishnamurthy, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
After you, it is us, who have your child’s best interests at heart.
We spend hours upon hours observing your child. We make meticulous records of these observations. We have the opportunity to observe and engage with your children, as individuals. We are with them at play and at work. We observe their moods, their struggles and joys. We observe when they have learnt a difficult life lesson or successfully conquered something.
We have all come together because of a common factor, your child. We are partners striving for the same things.
Not in the service of any political or social creed should the teacher work, but in the service of the complete human being, able to exercise in freedom a self-disciplined will and judgement, unperverted by prejudice and undistorted by fear. ~ Maria Montessori