Toddler Friends…


November 17, 2011. Uncategorized, Classroom life. No Comments.

French at Westside - Quel Avantage!

“Can I have some more fromage s’il vous plait?”
“Hey! That’s my travail.”
“How do you say antelope in Francais?”
“Do you want to do “Qu’est-ce que Lindsay porte” with me?”

Yes, bilingualism is alive and well here at Westside. This is the kind of “frenglish” that has become the norm for our Casa community. The children may think nothing of it, in fact that’s the idea, but we still cheer a little inside with every new word, and every appropriate response. We know what we are doing here is working.

At Westside we have set ourselves apart from other schools. French is not an “elective” or a “specialty class” or just a person in the class who says everything in French. It is part of our school’s culture. It is not uncommon to here two Anglophone staff speaking in French to each other, or a non French Speaking staff member tuning in and making sense of a French conversation with a child so that communication between all staff and children is seamless and consistent. Despite the fact that we have 1 official Francophone in the school, our daily operations depend almost equally as much on French as on English.

We also create our own materials. In true Montessori style we feed off the children and adapt the materials to their interests and needs. After the children have been shown the work they have access to it as they do any piece of work, which means they can take the responsibility for their own language learning. What better way to master a language than to teach and practice with their friends, all while having fun.
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For the children the benefits are exponential. As Erica Westly writes in an article for Scientific American Mind “In recent years, scientists have found that being raised bilingual facilitates in children certain aptitudes such as mental flexibility, abstract thinking and working memory which is associated with both reading and math skills…they found that the region of the inferior frontal cortex, which involves both language and abstract thinking, showed more activity in bilingual children.” How should bilingualism be integrated? Well according to her article “Researchers have found that the best way to become bilingual is to start young and practice everyday. ‘Being exposed to a multilingual environment is ideal.’ ” That’s good news for us!

What is great about our approach to second language learning is that it is not about reaching benchmarks in proficiency, it is about igniting a curiosity and promoting learning of all kinds. Every child has different aptitudes and develops different interests so whether or not they develop the interest to continue mastering French, they will have undoubtedly reaped the cognitive advantages, ability to adapt and an openness to other cultures. Quel avantage!

To read the full article “The Bilingual Advantage” go to:
and click on the link to the original article.

-Nadia and Natasha

November 16, 2011. Classroom life. No Comments.

The Second Year of a New Classroom - Casa North

There were days last year when Casa North first opened where I felt like I was in Munchkin land. This feeling would only grow when I was told, “Melanie, you’re bigger than a cow AND an elephant.” Picture it, one adult, with 8 children all 3 years and under. I won’t deny that there were some challenges. There were also many amazing moments. Those children who had begun their time at Westside in Yonina’s class astounded me with their abilities to dress themselves, select their own work and return it when finished (although in the fall months I had to play the game of hunt the activities on a daily basis, since they were not necessarily returned to the correct spot). Those children who were new to Montessori seemed to catch onto the daily routine and classroom expectations quickly. We became a little like a family, especially over lunches (which in the beginning were usually silent, as the children couldn’t do two things at a time, such as eat and carry on a conversation).

Over the year as more children joined the class and the social and communication skills that we worked on daily began to take root, lunches became more dynamic, we shared stories about our daily lives and got to know one another better. During our Montessori work cycle there were even the occasional moments of silence, a sure sign to a Montessori teacher that good work and complete focus is going on.

Still, by the end of the year I wondered how solid was the foundation I had been laying all year long?

I got my answer this September, as the Casa North crew filtered in on the first day of school. Like old friends they chatted with one another, catching up on what each one had been doing for the summer, and then, what to my wondering eyes did they do? They each strolled over to the shelves and without hesitation they each selected an activity.
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It was almost as though they couldn’t wait to get back to work! That was the moment I knew I had laid a good, solid foundation. It has been so incredible to see the older children assisting the younger ones with zippers and snaps, observing the growing peer interdependence, as they come to recognize each other’s strengths and skills.

Another amazing milestone has been seeing Casa North students lead Westside to our Friday’s at the park, something which would have been impossible a year ago (I have even noticed a few of the older Casa South students react in surprise when they notice who is in the lead). Our little family has grown to include 14 children along with Natasha who brings sunny smiles as well as French into our little family environment. I no longer feel like a visitor in Munckinland, in fact there are many moments when my presence does not seem to be felt by the class at all. I am truly a Guide to these children on their journey through life, accessible when needed. Exactly where I want to be!

- Melanie

November 3, 2011. Classroom life. No Comments.

A Little taste of Cirque for the Children at Westside

When approached by one of our parents and asked if we would be interested in having one of the Cirque du Soleil artists from the Totem show do our own special little performance in the park do you think we said no??? Obviously we jumped at this opportunity and anxiously awaited the phone call. Now having 45 children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years ‘on call’ for the performance was a bit of a challenge but we were definitely up for it! The call came and I ran into the school to let the teachers know that they could head over to the park.
Nakotah Larance was discovered by Cirque du Soleil through a video posted on YouTube by his father. He began hoop dancing at the tender age of four. Now he was giving a special show to the children at Westside, many of them the age he was when he began.

The Totem show explores the evolution of the human species going back and forth through time and space, exploring the dawn of creation, humanity’s amphibian origins and “its ultimate desire to fly,” unfolding on a stage “evoking a giant turtle” — undoubtedly inspired by the Iroquois creation myth, among several other tales that depict a world propped up by a giant tortoise.

If you did have the chance to catch it you may have heard one of the children from Westside Montessori in the audience shouting “Nakota! Nakota!” Nakota, you were a hit here at Westside and also an inspiration. Thanks for coming to share your talent with us. And Adria, thanks for making it happen!

November 1, 2011. Field Trips. No Comments.