Parent Education

Parent education is a vital part of a schools work. It benefits the child, the school community and Montessori education in general.

There are many layers that we have to touch upon.

There’s the understanding of child development and how it relates to the physical and psychological aspects of the child’s environment. Then there’s the whole curriculum side of things and how that connects to the characteristics of the child it seeks to serve. The shallow, popular notions of child rearing that an irresponsible media constantly bombards parents with serves to add fuzz, and another layer that we have to reckon with.

In the past we have had book readings and a silent journey of discovery. We have paid home visits and care is taken that very individual meeting with a parent touches upon these points. We also regularly send out articles and have a parent library at school.

The times when I feel we have been most successful in our efforts is when there are opportunities for the parents to actually ‘work’ with their hands.

Recently we had an orientation for the parents of our elementary children. We focused on ‘Cosmic Education’

Cosmic Education is an all-inclusive six-year curriculum for elementary age children.

It demonstrates the interconnection and interdependence of all things, both animate and inanimate and relates all academic subjects to each other.

Most importantly it answers the questions typically asked by elementary age children and places the child’s primary orientation to life, firmly in the universe.

How do you make apparent so many nuances?

Therein lies the beauty of Montessori. All of it has been made so concrete and accessible.

We started the session by briefly talking about the characteristics of the 6 to 12 year old child.

We then related 2 of the 5 great lessons that elementary children receive.

First was The Story of the Universe. It is about how our universe came into existance, the formation of stars and planets, ending with the formation of our very own earth.

Next up was The Coming of Life . It starts off from where we left off in The Story of the Universe, and charts the evolution of life on earth.

After the Great lessons, we moved into 3 groups and the parents received small group lessons. They then did an hour of follow up work, just like our children do in class.

One group got a story about an animal – the sponge. It was the very same story we give the children, full of the ‘strangeness’ of the sponge.

examining picture cards to arrive at common characteristics of sponges

clay model of a colony of sponges

referencing the sponge

Another group received a story about the life and death of stars. Besides the sequence of the life cycle of a star, the amazing fact that we are all star stuff  was highlighted in the story.

testing elements forged in the bellies of dying stars

referencing supernovas

referencing stars

The third group received a presentation with 3D Solids. They ran the shapes in sand to find the paths made by the different faces. They then traced these paths to make nets for the solids. After that they moved onto platonic solids.

tracing the paths of 3D solids

collaborating to make a dodecahedron while sitting under an icosahedron

making a dodecahedron out of paper

After this work, we gathered in a group and shared our experiences.

We laid out labels with the names of different subject areas.

Each time a parent saw a connection between two areas, we connected them with yarn.

building a web of connections

We ended by revisiting the characteristics of the elementary child and asking the question “Did the curriculum serve these characteristics?”

The parents left with the article ‘Montessori Community Values: Sowing the Seeds of Morality’ by Greg MacDonald.

All in all it was a good session. I know that we have to build on what we’ve laid here, but like they say, “little drops of water make the mighty ocean!”

The Secret To Happiness

Girl Reading ~ Alfred Emlie Stevens

Montessori said that the first essential for the child’s development is concentration, that the child who concentrates is immensely happy.

As Montessori guides our greatest satisfaction is when we observe a child deeply absorbed in work.

We spend hours upon hours arranging our environments, perfecting our presentations, observing and introspecting so that our spaces have ample opportunities for the children to make contact with a work which will bring this about.

We also know that children who have experienced deep concentration repeatedly, are able to choose it for themselves after a while.

So, it came as no surprise when I read about the findings of  a group of Harvard researchers, looking to find the secret ingredient of happiness. They found that a wandering mind is an unhappy one and on the flip-side, a mental presence – the matching of thought to action was a much better predictor of happiness.

Here is the article – A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy One

“When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

The Key

work by Tom Lantane

I have been reading a lot about schedules in the Montessori elementary environment. Children given work plans for the day or week, to ensure that all areas are covered, especially in literacy and mathematics.

Nowhere in Montessori’s words have I encountered this recommendation.

I understand the tremendous pressure exerted by society that we direct, teach and quantify, but we work for bigger and better things. Our hope is that our children find their ‘key’ which they can use for the rest of their lives.

The key is always within reach in our environments. It is acquired slowly, by living in a community and engaging in self-chosen work. To acquire the key, the child needs to be left free.

It makes me think of all the little glimpses of connections that I have seen the children make this week. Many-a-time unconsciously with the youngest elementary child.

A child who is in the ‘romance’ period for mathematics, is mesmerized by numbers – the larger, the better.

For months now, he has stayed away from culture. He has received the presentations with interest, but has done little or no follow up work with them.

Then, quite out of the blue, he got the dinosaur cards from the shelf. Related them to the Mesozoic era folders we have in the environment and started exploring their weights and sizes. True to the characteristics of the elementary child, he kept making comparisons with the numbers, “I am the same weight as the Velociraptor”. For three day he worked on this – He measured the dinosaurs out in string, he drew them, he classified them.

via the Great Cretaceous Walk

Upon finishing, I was curious to see how his transition would go. I observed him sitting near his locker for a while. I was called away and when I came back I saw him with the reptile characteristic cards (Chinese boxes), a material that helps with the basics of zoology classification. He worked with this for a day.

The next day, he came in and went straight to the library for books on snakes. Again, the next three days he worked on nothing but snakes.

19th Century Ink and Watercolour

One experience led to the seeking of another.

I wonder if this free flow would have been possible if he had been given a daily plan.

The thread weaving these experiences is very visible in the anecdote I have just shared.

The love of numbers saw the boy explore dinosaurs. While exploring them, reptiles in general called to him, for dinosaurs are after all, reptiles.

He went from a small detail to a bigger picture.

While working on reptiles, just one type, snakes, caught his attention. Some were l-o-n-g and it is their lengths that spurred him into work.

From the bigger picture of reptiles, he came back to a detail!

In other cases the thread might be hazy, making it difficult for us to ‘see’ what is being connected.

It makes me think of some of the children that I have worked with – Children who had not yet started self-directing when they came into the elementary environment. They have taken such different routes to acquiring the skills for self-direction.

Today, these same children express joy at work, choose ever increasing levels of challenge for themselves and are frequently called upon to help others.

Had we lost faith in the child and directed their day, I wonder if the children would have found their ‘key’.

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori

parallel play

After a lesson on making shades with paint, the child was engrossed for the next 2 days…painstakingly adding measured drops of black paint to carefully counted pools of the base colour…going from the lightest of greens to a dark, dark green, from the palest of blues to a prussian.

Colour Tablets via NAMC Montessori Teacher Training Blog

In the afternoon, the child received a lesson on compound words. Two words come together and from them grows a ‘new’ word …’pin’ + ‘wheel’ = pinwheel

Pin Wheel via Runner Duck

The next day we sat together sharing stories, thoughts, observations. The child was pensive and said, “I learnt that you don’t need to work with words to make things ‘compound’, you can do that with paint’.

In wikipedia, lateral thinking is defined as “Lateral thinking is more concerned with the movement value of statements and ideas. A person would use lateral thinking when they want to move from one known idea to creating new ideas.”

COSMIC EDUCATION

After a story on the evolution of cells, the lower elementary children were enamoured with all things bacterial and cellular.

The coming together of bacteria to make a cell really touched their imaginations.

They enacted the evolution of the cell, they drew pictures, made models, wrote reports …

When 2 children found an amicable solution to a problem, requiring both of them to be accommodating, a third child who had observed this, commented as he passed by, “you have co-operated just like the bacteria who came together and made the cell”

That afternoon as we sat outdoors for lunch, one of the boy rested against a flower pot. He was asked to move by a few children who he ignored, until, one of his friends anxiously said, “V please move, you are hurting the plant cells!”

He shot up and changed his seat to a less intrusive spot.

Thyme-moss under a light microscope via fybiology

So, I present to you a teeny-tiny glimpse of cosmic education at work.

Living and working in a Montessori environment, our children have the light in their eyes and hearts, shining bright.

“Let us give the child a vision of the whole universe. . . for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” ~ Dr. Maria Montessori (To Educate the Human Potential)

ENIVORNMENT

These are exciting times.

Having recently moved school to a new location, we are enjoying setting up our environments.

There are small tweakings done everyday as a response to what we observe.

There is nothing like a new perspective to shake things up and re-arrange those neural pathways.

Suddenly I ‘see’ things, I was otherwise walking right past.

Here are some pictures of the elementary environment.

All photo’s were taken by a dear friend and colleague, Anupama Hejaji.

Before you enter the elementary environment, you have a little patch of green. Children often take their work out, especially when viewing slides under the microscope and painting.  The little brown path at the far left is where we will cultivate our own vegetables.

As you enter you have the children’s lockers and stationary shelves.

On the left are the bins (small for inorganic waste and large for organic waste) and a bin for blank chart papers. On the top left there is a peep hole to the kitchen … (2 coffees and 1 aloo bonda, please!!!)

The teal and cane stools are the waiting spot and adult’s place, respectively. The shelves behind the cane stool house zoology, botany and language material.

As you glance to your right, you see a part of the library against the stone wall, the microscope table, art shelf and curiosity table. In the foreground is the stone table that we got made ourselves. I usually put an interesting book or books on it. Shortly after this photo was taken, it carried the book, ‘Art forms in Nature’ by Ernst Haeckel.

Close up of the microscope. The table was made by a friend of the school and gifted to us on our move.

Here are the math shelves.

History and geography areas. On the right, under the painting is a lightbox.

In the kitchen we have the physics and chemistry material.

On the other side of the kitchen is the cooking area.

The elementary children cook twice a month for the entire school. We find recipes for healthy food,  hoping that this will help inculcate healthy eating habits. Since moving we’ve made, garlicy green beans and carrots (we found the recipe here) and melon juice.

OPEN ENDED

A prepared child often chooses a rigour no reasonable adult would ever think of imposing. The child concentrates like one in meditation.

The little girl who has just started to read, will devour everything in the reading corner.

The boy conducting an experiment on electricity will test everything that he can get his hands on.

photo by anupama hejaji

The child enamoured with the story of how the number googol was named, will invent his own number name for a hierarchy larger than googol, write the number out … and then … with strip of paper glued to strip of paper, follow the hierarchies in sequence.

He smiles when I say, “You have birthed several nouns today!”

photo by anupama hejaji

Why then, do we lose faith in the child and subject them to mind-numbing, sloth-inducing, close-ended work?

“This is the first duty of an educator; stir up life, but leave it free to develop” (Montessori, 1985).

HELLO

image by roy sinai

For years now I have felt the need to engage with other teachers and parents of Montessori children. To share my point of view and to receive the views of others.

Having started a school myself, (with a dear friend and committed Montessorian) I have come in contact with ideas, people and situations with an added dimension of intensity.

People sometimes ask me, “what is YOUR vision for the school?”. At times like these, I realize how alien it is to most people that a school cannot be a vision of a few people. It is like a living organism. Every child, parent, teacher, staff member, well wisher, not-so-well-a-wisher, EVERYONE that comes in contact with it, determines what a school is becoming.

Here is my attempt to share with you our journey.

To end, here’s a quote from Montessori:

children have demonstrated that their joy is found in the continuous work necessary to achieve self perfection. this is also true of the adult. there must be some special way of  moving towards perfection and in this alone will happiness be found. ~ Dr. Maria Montessori (Creative Development of the Child)