An Amazing Moment in the Maud Street Playground

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March 28, 2011. Uncategorized, Classroom life. No Comments.

Halloween at Westside

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Have you ever noticed the large cinder block house directly east of the Community Garden on Richmond? Richard and Dianne live and work there. They are active members of the community, administering and caring for the community garden, helping to head up the initiative of the Farmer’s Market while also housing an award winning design firm (http://studioinnova.com/) and Ninutik Maple Sugar (https://ninutik.com), presenting maple syrup with design, art and sugarmaking in their beautiful building.

Richard and Dianne are also dear to the children at Westside. It has officially become a tradition at WMS that every Halloween we take a walk down and across the street to Trick-o-Treat at Richard and Dianne’s. They are very generous to provide each of the children and staff with one of their delicious Maple Sugar lollypops! Thank you Richard and Dianne.

And Halloween would not be complete without a pumpkin carving session with Nadia,

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or just a good book,

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and time together!
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All in all, a wonderful day!

November 2, 2010. Classroom life, Field Trips. No Comments.

Choice + freedom + limits + concentration + interest = reaching the fullest potential

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“These children have free choice all day long. Life is based on choice, so they learn to make their own decisions. They must decide and choose for themselves all the time…they cannot learn through obedience to the commands of another.” Maria Montessori, taken from Angeline Lillard’s, Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius.

Choice is what comprises a Montessori classroom. The children walk into the community and go about their daily work. This daily work is devised by the choices they make themselves. One child could enter the community and choose to start their day with the Pink Tower where another could walk in and choose to start with the Addition Strip Board. A third child could choose painting at the easel with a friend. The young one in the community could need guidance so the teacher could offer them a choice of two different pieces of work, still empowering the child to make the choice. It is through this choice that several positive consequences result. “[Psychological] research clearly shows that restriction of choice and control are not optimal for human learning and well-being.” People learn and remember better, solve tasks better, and opt to engage in tasks more and longer when they think they have more control.” Angeline Lillard, Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius. Wow! Not only does choice allow for all of this it also has positive consequences for both emotional and cognitive functioning. So if giving children control over their environments that includes choice allows them to ultimately grow to their fullest potential why are all educational models not based on these theories?

Yes, this does go against what most of us perceive as the educational model. How cans this work? How is it that a child can be in an environment, a community, all day long and make their own choices and actually learn? We as a society need to give children more credit. We need to step back and observe their actions. They are purposeful. They are driven by their minds. We need to trust that they are on a path that is going to take them where they need to go.

The key is the prepared learning environment. In the Montessori community countless hours are devoted to this prepared environment. In order for the children to make productive choices the environment has to stimulate constructive activity. These are three keys to creating this environment.

The first is order. Every aspect of the classroom has an order. The materials have specific places on the shelves. Each material has an order in which the work is carried out. The community runs in with a daily routine.

The second is that everything is within the child’s reach. The shelves where the materials are housed are at the children’s level. The materials are displayed so that the children can easily reach them. The materials are also displayed when the children are working on tables or mats, easily visible for others to see, watch and learn from.

Thirdly, the furniture in the classroom must be a comfortable size for the children. It must also be easy for the children to move. “And this freedom is not only an external sign of liberty, but a means of education. [Through such furnishings, the] child has learned to command his movements.” Maria Montessori, take from Angeline Lillard, Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius.

Now upon imaging the typical Montessori community and the abundance of choices given to the children it can be imagined that this can be over-whelming and may directly curtail constructive activity. It is to be remembered that each one child is not given all of these choices all at once. There are limitations, and freedom within these limits is where the optimal balance lies. Imagine being in a restaurant. You know, one of those restaurants that has anything and everything you can imagine on the menu. Daunting? Yes. Overwhelming? Yes. Does it take you a longer time to choose? Yes. And do you often second guess your choice or wish that you chose something else? I do. In the classroom choices are limited by the amount of materials. There is only one of each piece of work. The children have to share. They have to take turns. This is giving the children the skills they need to work together as a society. Learning to share limited resources is part of that. They also may choose to sit and watch their friend while waiting for their turn. Here is the opportunity to learn from each other, or to even be inspired by each other. The children are also limited with what they have been shown to use by the teacher. They teacher strategically presents pieces of work to the children. If the teacher or another friend has not given the child a formal lesson with a piece of work then they are not able to choose that piece of work. This is also important as it ensures that a child is not frustrated by a concept that they are not ready for. The child is finally expected to be constructive and responsible. These are the limits that are imposed by living in society. Yes, Dr. Montessori felt that children need to have freedom, but this freedom only comes with responsibility. If the choices made are not constructive then the freedom becomes restricted.

Angeline Lillard goes on to discuss deadlines and how they can inhibit productivity, concentration and normalization and finally interest in human learning.

“The secret of success [in education] is found to lie in the right to use imagination in awakening interest, and the stimulation of seeds of interest already sown.” Maria Montessori, 1948/1967.

If you are intrigued and want to learn more please join us on Thursday, October 14th where author of the book Montessori, The Science Behind the Genius, Angeline Lillard will discuss her research. Tickets can be purchased in the school office or through CCMA.

October 12, 2010. Classroom life. No Comments.

Drumming Workshop

This past Friday Westside welcomed Rick Monaco, drummer into the school for his ‘Magic of Rhythm’ workshop. The energy and excitement in all of the children was felt as soon as they came into the school that morning. Some of the children even remembered Rick from the last time he came.

A conversation at my dinner table that evening went like this:
“Dad, so this is how you drum.”
While my two children were hitting the table they chanted in unison “…low, low, low, high!”
My daughter then reminded her brother while informing us at the same time, “And you have to shake your head when you are drumming!”

Thank you Rick for your amazing workshop! We cannot wait to have you back!

Here are a few shots from the morning.

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Rick Monaco Percussionist/Drummer

Rick graduated from Brock University with a B.A. in Theatre. It was through theatre that Rick cultivated an interest in drumming and percussion. Over the last twenty years Rick has performed for the National Ballet of Canada, the Just for Laughs festival, Cirque du Soleil opening night gala, the grand reopening of the AGO, and the Hudson Bay Companies annual meeting where his group involved all 1,500 people in an interactive celebration where each person played an instrument. He has facilitated his ‘Magic of Rhythm’ workshop for The Walt Disney Corporation in New York and L.A., BMG (British Music Group), The Living Arts Centre World Rhythms workshop series, the Association for Native Development in the Performing and Visual Arts as well as 4,000 displaced children throughout war torn Bosnia. For the last six years he has been working with The Royal Conservatory of Music’s Learning Through the Arts program. He has released three musical recordings; Magic, Circle and Shadows Dance, and has provided music for TVO’s Stuff, CBC’s The National, Instinct (an award winning short animation), as well as performing live for Cliffhangers Dora award winning production of Bluffers Moon. Rick is also an accomplished drum maker making drums from a variety of cultures.

September 27, 2010. Classroom life. No Comments.

Mark the Magician!

These pictures definitely say it all! The children had an absolute blast with Mark yesterday!
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July 13, 2010. Classroom life. No Comments.

Rooftop Playground - Yay!!

We’re thrilled to share the news of our playground expansion with you. The Casa children are now enjoying our new 2000 square foot rooftop playground. The space is incredible; it includes a 10 foot square sandbox, three playhouses, a climber with a “super fast yellow slide” and a spacious washroom, not to mention a fabulous view of Toronto’s skyline.
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October 1, 2009. Classroom life. No Comments.

Back to School

Welcome back to our returning families and welcome to all of the new families who have joined us this year. We’re having a fantastic start to the 2009-2010 school year. There were a few tears the first few days, but by Friday morning, the children were happily working in both the Toddler and Casa classrooms and we all sensed a joyful buzz about the school. Both classrooms have fresh layouts for the new school year and the children are delightedly discovering new materials on the shelves.

Thursday after school we held our Orientation Evening for all parents. Thanks to all of you who attended and listened to Yonina and Liz talk about the children’s days at Westside Montessori. The turnout was great and we hope you all enjoyed yourselves. Look forward to seeing you all at our Curriculum Evening in October!

September 13, 2009. Classroom life. No Comments.

A day in our life

Today’s Globe and Mail featured an article on how a five-year-old may spend their days in a variety of settings, one of which being Westside Montessori School’s Casa classroom. We’d like to expand on what was written about time spent in our school.

Ellery is dropped off at 8:30 am and, following her morning greeting with her peers and teachers, spends five minutes riding the bicycle. Her classmate, Cameron, asks for a turn, she tells him, “in two minutes” and races off. Three minutes later, she happily hands over the helmet and bicycle and runs to find a watering can. After watering the herb garden and commenting on how “yummy the mint smells today!”, she sees her buddy, Owen, arriving. “Owen, Owen!! Let’s play monster trucks!” Owen gives his mom a quick kiss goodbye and races over to hop on the tricycle, revving up his engine.

Ellery grabs the dump truck and lines up, ready for action. Young Rowan quickly scans the playground in search of something to use as her “monster truck”; she chooses a yellow bucket, a resourceful and creative choice. Cameron, still on the bicycle, races over to join the other monster trucks as they gear up for their race. The four children run over to me and ask, “Lizzie, Lizzie, can you please be our monster truck coordinator?” (Upon completing my Montessori Teacher Training, I had no idea I’d one day be able to add “monster truck coordinator” to my resume!) “Sure!” I respond and we all take our positions.

We begin the game by counting how many monster trucks are on the track today. “Four!” the children exclaim. Myron hears his friends counting, grabs a truck and joins his pals. Now there are five. The “monster trucks” and I discuss the weather and any obstacles on the track (baseballs, hockey sticks, classmates, etc…) before they head off on their way. After round one, Jones and Ally want to join in the excitement. They leave the sandbox, where they’ve been busily baking birthday cakes together and join the crew of trucks. We hold a recount and the seven trucks race away. Around and around the playground they go, stopping each round to catch their breath, note the obstacles and count the trucks. Since the children invented this game last month, it’s become a daily ritual for the Casa class. It’s incredible to see them cheer on their friends, take turns on the vehicles and happily await the other monster trucks for the next round.

At two minutes to nine, we hold the last run around the track and then everyone parks their “truck” and together we tidy up the playground. When all the toys have been put away, the children line up at the entrance to the school and we quietly enter the classroom to hang up our coats, change into our indoor shoes and wash our hands.

Next, the children choose their work. Myron decides to wash the classroom windows. He loves to use the spray bottle and says the “window cleaner” (water and vinegar), smells “really, really clean”. This work helps him learn to take care of his environment, while building up his ability to concentrate, as well as the strength in his hand in preparation for writing.

Jones heads to the classroom library, a cozy little nook with baskets of books and comfy seating. He’s thrilled to discover I’ve put out some new books. One about a train ride catches his eye and after turning a few pages, he’s completely captivated. The children love to curl up in the library and read story after story.

Ellery heads to the snack table, where she is delighted to discover that Real Food for Real Kids (our catering company), has provided us with “marble cheese, my favourite!” and whole-wheat crackers for today’s snack.

Cameron chooses the Large Moveable Alphabet, an activity involving cut out wooden letters, which are all kept in separate compartments of a very large box. He uses this material to build words. He sounds out c-a-t and chooses the letters to make his word. Next, he moves on to the word f-o-x. I know that before too long, he will be using this material, one of his favourite pieces of work, to write wonderful stories about monster trucks. Ellery finishes her snack, washes her dishes, and asks Cam if she may join him. As partners, they discuss which words to build next. They encourage and motivate one another as they work.

Rowan and Ally, the two youngest children in the classroom, decide they’re going to build the Pink Tower together. Rowan gets a mat, upon which they’ll lay out their material and Ally carefully begins to carry the pink cubes one at a time to the work mat. They happily build the tower together, gently take it down and start over, repeating it several times. The children master new concepts through their repetition with the Montessori materials. A new lesson is generally quite challenging when first introduced, but over time, the children master the concepts and are then ready to move onto greater challenges.

I scan the classroom, notice the children happily engaged in their work, and approach Owen, who has just finished putting away his painting and cleaning the paintbrush. I tell him that I’d like to do some new numbers with him today. We get our Sandpaper Numbers from the Math area of the classroom and sit down together at a table for an individual lesson. “Owen, this is three”, I say, tracing the number, which is cut out of sandpaper and glued to a piece of wood, giving the child both a tactile and visual representation of the numeric symbol. “Three? I’m three now!”

So starts our day in the Casa classroom at Westside Montessori School. If you’d like to see more of how we spend our time here, please give us a call; we’d love to have you visit.

June 16, 2009. Classroom life. No Comments.

A Lot of Rhythm and A Lot of Fun

On Thursday we were lucky to welcome Rick Monaco into our school for a drumming workshop.
Rick is an accomplished drummer/percussionist with Primal Productions, The Subtonic Monks, Agoya and also works on many projects of his own, one of which is teaching workshops to children of all ages. Rick is dynamic, energetic, and wonderfully captivating. He read the group with ease and took them on a spectacular drumming adventure for well over an hour! The children thoroughly enjoyed Rick and his drumming art, to the point where one child was chanting at the end ‘No all done! No all done!’
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April 13, 2009. Classroom life. No Comments.

Spring Cleaning at it Finest

It seems as though the Spring has arrived and everyone in the toddler room has the fever! Recently Yonina and I have noticed that many of the children are quite focused on and excited about cleaning their environment, whether it be folding the laundry,
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sweeping the floor,
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washing tables, or chairs,
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or even cleaning the windows!,
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Practical Life is a key component to any Montessori classroom. Practical Life exercises are highly valued in the Montessori method due to the importance that they have in teaching the children useful life skills. These activities also have a strong fine motor component and so are valuable in developing and extending children’s fine motor abilities as well as their cognitive development. The basic aims of all Practical Life activities are to assist in the development of coordination, concentration, independence, and order.

Montessori said it best:
“But the children seemed to demand some conclusion of the exercises, which had already developed them intellectually in a most surprising way. They knew how to dress and undress, and to bathe, themselves; they knew how to sweep the floors, dust the furniture, put the room in order, to open and close boxes, to manage the keys in the various locks; they could replace the objects in the cupboards in perfect order, could care for the plants; they knew how to observe things, and how to see objects with their hands. A number of them came to us and frankly demanded to be taught to read and write. Even in the face of our refusal several children came to school and [Page 268] proudly showed us that they knew how to make an O on the blackboard.”
Taken from the Montessori Method by Maria Montessori.

April 5, 2009. Classroom life. No Comments.

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