Wychwood Green Barn field trip

Last Spring, WMS partnered with White Squirrel Coffee (whitesquirrelcoffee.com) to raise money for The STOP Community Food Centre, a local organization that works to increase access to food in a manner that maintains dignity, builds health and community and challenges inequality. Every Friday, WMS parents purchase White Squirrel coffee and/or baked goods prepared by our students. The parents have a wonderful time chatting and sipping their coffee; it’s a great way to wind down the workweek.

We often discuss with the children the importance of eating healthy foods. They know good food is necessary to be healthy and strong. In learning The STOP’s role in our community, the children were sorry to learn that healthy foods cost a lot of money and not everyone can afford to eat as well as we do. They were pleased to hear that they are helping people to eat healthy by hosting Coffee Fridays and that the baked goods they’ve made for the parents has brought in money that they will give to The STOP so more people can eat healthy food.

Last Friday, Casa South took a field trip to the Wychwood Green Barn. We visited the Greenhouse and had a plant scavenger hunt, learned how to make a worm compost, and played in the playground.
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We also brought our donation of $320. Thanks to all of the parents who participate in Coffee Friday. The children were so happy to know that they are helping people eat healthier foods.

October 24, 2010. 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.

Angeline Stoll Lillard Series: Part 1: Movement and Basic Developmental Processes

This is the first of the series we plan to post on “The Science Behind the Genius”, the ground breaking book written by Angeline Stoll Lillard and published by Oxford University Press. (Let’s hope time permits me to do it!)
It is our quest as a school to get more parents out on October 14th to a special evening to hear Angeline speak about her research.

In her book she breaks down Montessori education into 8 principles. The first being “that movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning”.

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“Until now, almost all educators have thought of movement and the muscular system as aids to respiration, or to circulation, or as a means for building up physical strength. But in our new conception the view is taken that movement has great importance in mental development itself, provided that the action which occurs is connected with the mental activity going on…Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes about through movements…Mind and movement are parts of the same entity. - Maria Montessori, as quoted in Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard

Upon observing in a Montessori classroom it is quickly noted that movement is all around you. I will never forget my first year of teaching, and the discussion I had with a parent following an observation she had. Her daughter was in my class. She said “Jody, it was like I was sitting in a bee hive and the bees were buzzing all around me!” That is it! Parents often find it hard to know what to look at or look for when observing their child’s class but this parent had done it! She had hit the nail right on the head. She had sat in the classroom, as still as a statue and observed the entire class. She had not just watched her child. She had not tried to interact or engage the children. She let herself be immersed into the room and blend in and she had seen it! She had seen what we as trained educators, trained in observation, do each and every day. She had seen the movement, the purposeful movement.
Movement is at the core of Montessori education. She observed over and over again that children need to use their hands. For example, the Practical Life exercises in the classroom. These exercises were developed on the basis that children are motivated and capable of caring for their environment if they are given the means necessary to do so. Montessori also believed that young children are motivated by precision. They can see a sequence of steps and take pride in using that sequence. But there has to be a logical purpose to the action. “…the action that occurs must be connected with the mental activity going on. Only real goals truly engage the mind in the movement.” – Maria Montessori, as quoted in Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard. “When one moves with a purpose, there is a sense in which one’s body is aligned with one’s thoughts.” Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard
There it is. That movement. That purposeful movement. That concentration that comes with it. Then the cognition and the concrete embodiment of abstract concepts. That bee hive analogy!

To find out more about movement and basic developmental processes please join us on October 14th, where Angeline Lillard will talk about her research and her book. And, get the book! For information on the talk please contact the school office.

And the next time your child comes home telling you that they washed chairs, be happy they did, because they are happy!

Stay tuned for principle number two and three, “that learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives” and “that people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning”.

October 4, 2010. Parent Events. No Comments.