We hear over and over again the same thing from TMS parents, and it is probably the number one reason why parents enroll their children:
“My child is happy and learning in-person at TMS.”
Why is this so? A plethora of factors create the happiness and love of learning that children experience at TMS every day. What is the magic formula that is so unique to TMS? Let’s explore why!
At TMS, a child is with the same teacher for three years. The child is known and appreciated thoroughly both as a person and a learner, benefiting from a trusting, supportive and enduring relationship with his/her teacher.
The child becomes a confident learner first as a novice in the 3-year classroom, who is actively mentored by older children in the classroom. The same child grows as a model and mentor to younger children, both academically and socially/emotionally, giving them greater personal confidence in their own abilities.
The child learns to navigate social relationships with children of different ages, guided by the same caring adult, thus developing more mature social skills.
Are you unsure whether your child should stay at home or go to school? If so, here’s a handy rule of thumb to keep in mind: A child who is not well and cannot participate in recess or physical education should remain at home.
Click on the link below for more advice from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP).
As Montessori educators we value the importance of hands on, real life experiences for your children – both during the school day and at home. So where does technology use fit in?
The following article, published in the New York Times, discusses the importance of finding a balanced relationship with technology, watching for warning signs of the negative impact technology can have on children and provides guidelines for recommended usage by age. Well worth the read!
Lettuce, radishes, peas, and beans . . . mealworms, centipedes, earthworms, garden spiders . . . catbirds, red tailed hawks, fox, deer . . . seashell sets, whale baleen, emu egg, making paper . . . what a year it has been!
The highlight of sustainable science always seems to be the work we are doing now. So the garden is currently exciting, but wait! We are in the woods today! Each week, Children’s House and Lower Elementary students are outside exploring one or the other when the weather cooperates.
If we look at the long-range picture, I must mention the new deer fence that was built by Eagle Scout, Marc Zamora, and his Boy Scout troop. As you’ve probably seen, we have groundhogs on the property. Between the groundhogs and the deer, peas have not survived the last couple of planting seasons here at TMS. This year, because of the deer fence, we are growing peas! The first flowers are presenting themselves, so I’m hopeful that children can eat peas before the last day of school. Summer camp will likely have peas and beans. Next fall, we will enjoy tomatoes, zinnia flowers, and hopefully carrots, kale, beans, and peppers.
The scout troop worked hard and long on Saturday, March 30. I knew this would be demanding, but I had no idea how demanding it was going to be! Post holes were dug three feet into the ground for a very sturdy fence structure. It is working, too. Stop by the garden to see the vegetables that are growing! Today, May 23, we will eat lettuce, kale, radishes and spinach.
Each year, the goal of sustainable science is to embed the knowledge that the students have in their extremely strong science Montessori curriculum into the immediate world around us. What season are we in, and what are we seeing in the garden and woods? Exactly what live critters are in the soil? Which ones can I safely hold (earthworms, mealworms, sow bugs) and which ones do we leave alone (spiders, centipedes)? Applying knowledge to the here and now is exhilarating.
Each year, TMS students rotate through directly handling science resources that are brought to school from my “gatherings”: sets of seashells, fossils and rocks, a nature set, magnifiers, and paper-making supplies. Earlier this year, we increased our understanding of recycling. We now have a papier-mâché map of TMS showing sea level elevation of TMS and the woods. We also made craft paper from discarded “recycled” paper. Some of the paper was used in spectacular art with Mrs. Cooper!
So, highlights? All those teachable moments that children experience in the garden, woods, making their own piece of paper, matching the fossil in hand with the timeline of life, and more.
And the big picture? Woods/garden/rain garden/rain barrel/nature inside and out/making paper and a new deer fence.
In accordance with Montessori philosophy, an important function of an Elementary Montessori educator is to give students explicit lessons in practical life. Practical life lessons encompass what we do each day to sustain our own health and to maintain a positive relationship with our immediate community and society at large. Practical life work is important and beneficial for the elementary Montessori student, as it meets the needs of a child in the second plane of development and it develops the skills necessary for defining and finding one’s own unique, specific role in society.
Upper Elementary students routinely go outside of the classroom to extend their studies. Procedures for going out as well as expected behavior while outside of the classroom are explained to Upper Elementary students. Topics may include Grace and Courtesy while planning a going out (phone manners), how to speak to a docent or guide, how to behave at a museum etc., how to read a map, how to ask for directions, how to behave on public transportation, how to order food at a restaurant, and how to follow up your visit with a thank you note to your expert guide or docent.
Children in the second plane of development differ from first plane children in a number of ways, and the practical life curriculum speaks to these differences. The second plane is “a period for the acquisition of culture, just as the former was for the absorption of the environment” (Montessori, 1989, p. 3). The practical life curriculum delivers lessons in the acquisition of culture that are now of great interest to the child.
Practical life work develops real life skills that can be used immediately and routinely during real life experiences in an effective way. This empowering experience of mastering real life skills builds confidence in the second plane child. This development of social confidence provides a very effective model to the child for their developing academic skills and confidence. The sense of responsibility developed in practical life easily translates to academic responsibility. Students who make and follow a weekly work plan clearly know that what they plan and what they do is important and effective. Other academic skills developed through work in practical life include increased focus, lengthened attention span, improved problem-solving and critical thinking.
Practical Life work develops skills necessary for establishing and maintaining a positive relationship with the community and with society. The delivery of the Montessori curriculum, including the practical life curriculum, serves a critical social need.
An extremely important social task lies before us: activating man’s value, allowing him to attain the maximum development of his energies, truly preparing him to bring about a different form of human society on a higher plane. (Montessori, 1992, p. xiii)
The practical life curriculum effectively contributes to activating the self-value of the second plane child. Lessons in going out afford him authentic, real world experiences, validating the importance of his role within society.
Montessori, M. (1989). To educate the human potential. Oxford: ABC-Clio Ltd.
Montessori, M. (1992). Education and peace. Oxford: ABC-Clio Ltd.
I often hear beautiful and excited voices in the hallway at TMS, “Today is art, Ms. Cooper!” There is magic, freedom and play in art. Art helps children develop many fundamental skills such as creativity, problem-solving, confidence, visual learning, motor movement and coordination, focus, collaboration and perseverance, just to name a few. These skills are extremely important to develop as they are needed for all of their academic work and life skills.
In art class there are two different types of experiences. The first one is a process art experience where the child engages in art by exploring the materials, thinking about how to put these together and expressing him/herself to create art. This encourages exploration and imagination. In this case, no two pieces of artwork in the class will be similar as children internalize and focus on expressing who they are within those materials. There is a magical flow between the child and the materials in use.
The second is a product art experience where the child follows directions given to create a predetermined end product such as a color wheel. This art experience is important because it balances the creative process with the technical process of different techniques available for them to express freely. I like to compare this process to learning a language. The more words (“techniques”) you learn, the better you will express (“create”) and communicate what you want to say. In this case, the result of the artwork is similar to one another for there is no room for the creative process and imagination to engage.
These two art experiences support children’s development in different ways. One triggers and sustains their natural freedom of imagination and creativity, and the other develops the discipline of following instructions and developing motor skills necessary for any variety of art form such as printmaking, painting, moulding, etc.
At TMS, art class is a time to express, explore, imagine, think outside the box, socialize, collaborate, and learn from observation. Keeping the child’s imagination and creative natural instinct alive is fundamental for their development now and into the future.
Who doesn’t love to try on a different persona? To be someone completely different, with a completely different personality, qualities, attitudes, capabilities and problems; to be funny, angry ridiculous, serious, sad or distraught. Every year, Upper Elementary students become someone else in a different time period, in a different setting, and with a unique set of circumstances through their involvement in a school play.
PREPARATION IS A FULL TEAM EFFORT
Mrs. Beck chooses plays early in the school year according to what the students will be studying in Culture. After a final decision is made, Ms. Cooper and I meet in October to brainstorm about a setting and props that need to be made, and in November, we do a read-through of the play. I then begin to prepare students for auditions. From that point to the final show, the Upper El classroom buzzes with excitement, anticipation and maybe a little bit of anxiety. Their heads spin with ideas about their character’s actions and words, phrases or the lines they want to add to make their scene more humorous. (We often go with their ideas, because they really are funny!)
Here is the story of Pandora’s Socks and Other Fractured Greek Myths:
EXERCISES DETERMINE ACTING ROLES
In the past, students would prepare for a role by trying to memorize some lines or by simply reading from the play with inflection. This is often an unreliable way to predict a student’s performance as a character. So this year, I prepared made-up scenarios for students to role-play. Various scenarios were printed out, cut apart and placed in a basket for students to pick from, such as: You just got home and discovered that your little sister completely messed up your room while you were at school, and now you’re in trouble and YOU have to clean up your room before you can go out to play. OR, Your best friend let loose the news that you have a crush on someone.
There was only one stipulation in the exercise: the role-plays had to be convincing. Not surprisingly, we saw a range of reactions from each scenario. The exercise was voluntary, but eventually, even as shy students watched their classmates, they too wanted to give it a try. It was a lot of fun and a great way to practice “acting”!
Next, students signed up for their top three character choices in the play. They practiced monologues of each of these characters and were able to demonstrate their acting abilities. Once auditions were finished and roles were assigned, students received their scripts to take home over winter break. When everyone returned in January, teamwork was in action.
Rehearsals involved working on one scene at a time, often in small groups, to develop and hone the students’ characters. Students enjoyed getting to see their friends rehearse their scenes and provided positive feedback or ideas to help develop the scene. In music class, Mr. Sherick guided students with music for the play.
FROM RESEARCH TO SET-MAKING
In art class, Mrs. Cooper organized and rotated students in groups to work on props and the set backdrop. Since the play backdrop featured constellations, students researched Greek mythological characters and their constellations, and traced and painted them on the backdrop. More tech savvy students worked on designing the program and creating it on the computer.
From October through to the final dress rehearsal, Mrs. Struck and I designed, created costumes, and also recycled current costuming. There is always a need to have something newer and fresher, and we have learned to become very creative with improvising.
By late February, the stage, the sound system, mics and lights were all in place. Then began the process of “blocking” where we worked out entrances and exits, placement of props, who will be responsible for the props, and figuring out where the play needed better flow. We brainstormed ideas and even new dialogue where necessary. Students with natural “stage manager” abilities initiated guidelines to help smooth out behind-the-scenes disorganization. After each complete run-through of the play, we gathered as a group to evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. We took time to make sure everyone was acknowledged for what they did well.
And then . . . the magic happens, and the characters come to life before an enthused audience. The energy is high, but the students are confident in their abilities because of all the hard work put into rehearsing.
The whole process of preparing for the play develops a multitude of skills and enrichment for the students. Their creativity flows, their input is valued, their responsibility for their part of the play becomes heightened, and they become more mindful of how they communicate with others. They work as a team in a non athletic way, problem-solve, and design a performance around a script. They develop a character, and figure out effective character interaction with other characters in the play. The students get to know each other in completely different ways, and develop new, better or strengthened friendships through the process. But most of all, they get to have fun.
Samuel Beckett once noted, “You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that.”
As educators we constantly work to help students develop problem solving skills. The freedom and responsibility as well as the social nature of the Montessori elementary classroom allows students to practice these skills on a daily basis. The children recognize that problem solving is a necessary life skill and understand that while at school, they always have the right and the responsibility to take steps to solve problems of all natures.
A spilled drink is taken care of with a towel and a mop, while interpersonal conflict is solved through conversation – many times it is discovered that a simple miscommunication is to blame! Class meetings serve to empower the children to notice and solve problems which affect the classroom community as a whole. The students meet to offer comments and possible solutions regarding the issue at hand.
The Elementary age child is building a life for himself outside of his family and home as he becomes increasingly independent. This means that while we as adults can offer support, we must allow the child the freedom to work towards solving his or her own problems.
The following article offers useful tips for what you as a parent can do to equip your children with the tools they will need to be successful problem solvers:
We have such high expectations for mealtimes! The ideal of a freshly prepared, hot, delicious and nutritious meal as a happy family sitting around a well-appointed and beautifully set table lingers in the back of our minds. The reality is a rushed and hectic breakfast or dinner that is microwaved and quickly handed off to hungry children as we struggle to feed their bodies and meet some of the emotional and physical needs they present to us as they clamor for our attention in their hungry and tired state after a long day at school. Add after school activities, late day meetings, travel schedules, illness . . . and the stress of a calm mealtime routine seems impossible!!
We are lucky to have time at school to present a calm lunch time for your children. We hope a few of our simple strategies will help you replace hectic for happier mealtimes.
ENLIST YOUR CHILD’S HELP
Setting the table with a placemat and napkin for each person is a great start to making breakfast or dinner a more pleasant experience. Removing a paper napkin to the trash, or better yet a cloth napkin to the laundry, is part of the child’s after meal cleanup. Next, add the job of floor sweeping under each chair after dinner using a small whisk broom.
The goal is to meet the emotional needs of your child so that sitting down to actually eat is more pleasant. Your child wants to be with you. Giving him/her a job nearby your food prep meets that goal. In an effort to preserve real time connections with your child, please keep technology out of your mealtime experience.
HAVE A SEAT
Insist that all family members sit down together for the duration of the meal. Literally sit in a chair!! Everyone. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Your child sits for 30-45 minutes at lunchtime at school. They are capable of great conversation and a calm, enjoyable few minutes with you. In the classroom, we often pick a topic for conversation at lunch, such as “What’s your favorite animal?” or “If you could travel far away, how would you get there?”. Pick a topic for the day, and take turns sharing your ideas. Listening is as important a skill as speaking is for children.
You may find out more about your child’s day during general conversation rather than asking, “What did you do today?”.
We hope these tidbits of success from our Children’s House school day can transfer to your homes and solve some of those mealtime woes! Good luck and keep us posted!
The Children's House Guides