Monday, August 25, 2008

lessons in montessori, part two

I almost don't know how to write this. There were so many really beautiful insights I had while learning the Montessori philosophy (and you should know, this is the true Montessori philosophy, done right-- there are MANY institutions operating under the name "Montessori," but in reality are far from the true application Dr. Montessori intended. You have to find a school that is certified and accredited to get it done right), and there are so many things I want to share, but I can't decide how to organize all of my thoughts. Hopefully this doesn't just come out in a jumble.

Probably the key "lightbulb" moment for me came as we discussed the idea of nurturing a child's spirit in the classroom. This is a concept that resonates with me so strongly, and as we talked about it I became emotional just thinking about the beauty of truly seeking to meet a child's spiritual needs in the classroom. It is important to point out that this is NOT teaching a specific religion or doctrine. Spirituality, in this sense, is the notion of exemplifying the highest of human qualities, things that our "spirits" are born with, like love, compassion, forgiveness, empathy, etc. In this sense, the Montessori philosophy seeks to foster spirituality through educational practice. I think that in traditional education we have had to so strictly separate church and state that we have neglected to teach spirituality in this broad sense. It is almost taboo to mention a child's "spiritual" development at school. The Montessori philosophy, however, teaches ..."what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual's total development lags behind?" That quote is from the book Nurturing the Spirit in Non-sectarian Classrooms, by Aline D. Wolf. I love that I was required to read a book called Nurturing the Spirit! I got my degree in Special Education at BYU, which is a religious university. But I honestly think I got more training in fostering spiritual growth in my students in my one week Montessori training than I did in two years at BYU. I love that the spirits of the students we teach are so important to the educational philosophy in a Montessori classroom! Of course spiritual growth would also be important to the teacher education department at BYU, but it wasn't something that was explicitly taught. I think it should be. I have never before been so motivated to teach to a child's spirit-- to teach ABCs and numbers, but to do it with the student's glorious potential in my mind. Another quote from the same book: "Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities." I love that, and how much better would we be as teachers if we saw each student as a spiritual being with incredible potential, not only to learn, but also to bring about much good in the world?

One of the things I LOVE about special education is that the teaching/learning are INDIVIDUALIZED based on the child's needs. I have always gotten a pit in my stomach when I think about how general educators teach a concept to the whole class, and then have to move on, regardless of if all the students have mastered that concept. In Montessori, children have very individualized learning-- they move at their own pace and they can practice a concept for as long as it takes them to fully understand it. All different learning styles are accomodated, and the teacher takes time to re-teach and re-teach (in a one-on-one setting) if necessary.

In that same vein, as each child moves at his own pace, choosing what to work on for that day, he becomes a self-directed learner. It is amazing to look into a classroom and see students staying on task, working hard, and not being forced to do it! And isn't that what they will ultimately have to do once they enter college and the work-force anyway? Why not start giving them that earned freedom to make choices while they are young? Of course this all has to be monitored because there are some students who will take advantage, but if it is done correctly, I really believe this is the best way for teaching and learning to happen.

During the work periods in a Montessori classroom there is freedom of movement. Children move around, choosing works as they please (obviously there are some ground rules here-- like they cannot distract others and cannot get too close to another student who is working without permission). Why on earth did it not occur to me sooner that this would be necessary?? What are we thinking when we expect little children to sit still in their desks for looong stretches of time? And then we want them to pay attention, too? We must be crazy. It just makes sense that kids would need to move around more than they are typically allowed in a general education setting.

Silence is taught and cultivated in the Montessori classroom. It is NOT used as a punishment (the way it is typically used in general education). Children are taught the concept of self-control, and silence is used to stretch their capacities. How beautiful is it to cultivate a health desire for quiet in our children?! I want my son to grow up with the ability to just be still with himself, and spend time pondering and focused. I love that that is taught in the Montessori classroom.

Children have sensitive periods for learning specific skills, and will gravitate toward whatever it is they are sensitive to learn at a particular time. That is one of the reasons that children are allowed to choose their own works in a Montessori classroom. I knew this before, but hadn't ever spent a lot of time thinking about it. And I have seen it in action with my Baby G over and over ever since I became more aware of it. He discovered stairs about a month ago, and one day at my parents' house he was desperately wanting to go up and down the stairs over and over again. I thought to myself "Ah! This must be a sensitive period for him with this!" So I followed him up and down those stairs dozens of times. Oh how I don't want to squelch his innate desire to learn and try new things, and if that means climbing up step after step behind him, I will do that. I am more committed to doing what is best for him, not what is convenient for me.

There are no rewards systems in a Montessori classroom. Kids are taught to work hard for the sake of working hard and for the feeling they get when they do a good job. The focus is on intrinsic motivation: doing the right things for the right reasons-- not because someone will see you and give you a reward, but because doing the right thing feels good. Kids are taught to pat themselves on the back, to recognize when they have done a good job, and find satisfaction in that-- they don't need to go show the teacher for praise, they can feel it for themselves. Again, this is a skill that is so vital for a child's healthy development, and I think it is getting left behind in most classrooms with rewards systems and token economies (special ed. is a whole different thing, friends, and sometimes--maybe even often-- rewards are necessary in that setting).

Oh, that was a lot. There are probably some other things I am forgetting at the moment, but I think I touched on most of the big lessons. Obviously, there are exceptions to everything, and to make this philosophy work in the special education setting we are going to be doing a lot of modifying. But I really love the general concepts. I honestly can say that I felt spiritual confirmations of the truthfulness of the basic philosophies (if done correctly), and they are all things that I plan to implement in my home with my children.

So tell me, what do you think?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Things I have been doing:
  • putting the finishing touches on the addition to our bedroom (we are moved in! There are still details to wrap up, but it is so close, and has been SO much work).
  • celebrating my birthday.
  • taking care of my sick boy-- he's had a fever for 3 days now.
  • cleaning out my Grandma's crawl space and garage-- I am not exaggerating when I say that we took no less than 9 (n.i.n.e.!) huge garbage sacks of stuffed animals alone to the D.I.. We also found some incredible treasures.
  • watching the Olympics until WAY past my bedtime.
  • going out to ice cream with my favorite sister-in-law.

Things I have NOT been doing:

  • writing a post about part two of my montessori lessons.

Things I am planning on doing:

  • writing a post about part two of my montessori lessons.

***hopefully soon!***

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

lessons in montessori, part one

Apparently Michael Phelps was more exciting than blogging last night. Baby G has been napping for about 47 minutes (but who's counting?), so we will see how many of my thoughts I can crank out before he wakes up.

I need to preface this post with a disclaimer: it will most likely be long, with lots of text and zero pictures. If you hate that kind of blogging you can stop reading now. Also, it will be about education and will include my unfiltered thoughts about the education system in our society. I think my special ed girls will find it interesting, people with children may want to read it, but everyone else might be bored. Just so you know.

So I have adored and loved this past year of being a stay-at-home mama. Nothing has been more rewarding or brought me more fulfillment. I would be happy forever to just get to stay home with my children. I understand that not everyone feels that way. Some women need the outlet of work on the side. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I just don't happen to be one of those women. So when Gail called me up and offered me a teaching job I was REALLY not planning on taking it. Even thought we really could've used the money, we were making things work, and both J and I were committed to me being home with Baby G.

Then Gail started telling me the details. She is starting a school called the Elizabeth Academey. It will be a private school for kids with disabilites who will be intermingled in class with typical students. This first year it will just be for 4 and 5 year olds (my favorite ages to teach). It will be VERY part-time: 4 days a week, 3 hours a day. It will be a mixture of different teaching philosophies, including Montessori (which I wasn't familiar with, but will get to in a minute-- that's actually the whole point of this post). There will be one regular education teacher, two special education teachers (that's me!), one speech therapist, and one paraprofessional all dedicated solely to one class of 16 children (where no more than 4 will have disabilities). Oh, and the pay is triple what I made teaching diagnostic kindergarten for a district. Sounds pretty dreamy, right?

Well, I still wasn't sold. I would have to leave my baby. It almost made me sick thinking about it. But I knew that it could be an incredible opportunity that I might not want to pass up. And I knew how much we could use the money, and I knew how much it would take the pressure off of my incredibly hard-working husband (working two jobs-- one that starts at 3:30 AM-- and going to school is A LOT). My mom immediately offered to watch Baby G. She said it would be silly of me to not at least consider the opportunity, adding that she would have "so much fun" taking care of my baby for a couple of hours a day. J looked at his school schedule and realized that he would be able to be with Baby G until 10:00 AM every day, so that my mom would just have him until I got done at 11:45 AM. Things were falling into place.

So I prayed and prayed. I wanted to take the job because I knew that it really might be the best thing for our family. But I also didn't want to take it and then end up resentful and hating going to work every day. So I prayed, determined to do whatever the Lord instructed me. I felt frustrated though, because I wasn't really getting any instructions. I finally asked for a priesthood blessing so I could get a little clarity. In the blessing, the answer came to me: there wasn't a bad choice. I could do either (stay home with Baby G, or leave to work for a couple of hours), and both choices would be acceptable to the Lord. So I made my decision: I was going to sacrifice what I wanted (staying home, free to do whatever I please whenever I please-- seriously, it really is the life), for what I felt was perhaps a little bit better for my family in the long run (taking some of the pressure off of J, adding some income), and what might end up being an incredible personal learning & growing opportunity for me.

But I still felt uneasy. I was required to attend a week-long training to become certified in the Montessori teaching philosophy. Up until the moment I got to the training I questioned my decision and wondered if I was doing the right thing. I hated the uncertainty I was feeling. Leaving my baby with my mom for that first morning of training was hard. When I introduced myself to everyone at the training I started to cry and had to embarrassingly explain that that was the first time in his life that I hadn't been with my boy all day. The other people in the room seemed to understand. As the other women introduced themselves a feeling of peace and calm came over me. I had the feeling that I was in the right place.

That week-long training was hard (8:00 AM-5:00 PM, more homework and reading each day than I had daily in college, not enough time to get it all done because now I have a one-year-old who doesn't like to be ignored, and the stresses of not being with Baby G all day), but I can honestly say that it changed my life. I know that I was supposed to be there. It has changed the way that I will teach, and has also changed some of the ways that I will mother. It felt good to be back in the educational groove again, and it recommitted me to being a lifelong learner. My education did not stop just because I got my degree. I needed that reminder. So, let me tell you about some of the things I learned and some of the ways my thought patterns shifted.

But let me do it in another post. This is getting mighty long already. Perhaps later today, but most likely tomorrow. Unless this is boring (which it very may well be, and that won't hurt my feelings, honest)-- let me know if you would like me to share more because if no one cares I won't waste my time typing it all out (I already have many of my thoughts recorded for myself in a journal).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

he's not two yet

get any closer and he'll whack you in the face

Aside from the fact that my once very well-behaved and sweet baby boy decided that when he turned one it would be a good time to start in on the terrible-twos (seriously, why the demanding screams and sporadic hitting, little one?), we have had such a lovely (but oh so very busy) last couple of weeks. I have been meaning to post about the things I've learned, and I think I will have time to sit down and get to it all tonight after a certain one-year-old goes to bed. That is, unless watching the Olympics takes over all my brain power. We'll keep our fingers crossed.

In the meantime, what is your best advice to teach a 13 month old not to hit? I don't want to incessantly say "no!" to him, so we mostly just immediately practice being "soft" over and over again if he hits, while I firmly tell him that we do not hit and we need to be soft. He doesn't seem to be hitting to be mean, just mostly to get someone's face out of his face if he doesn't want it there. Okay, maybe that is to be mean :). Hopefully it is just a (short) phase that will pass once his communication skills increase.
Or maybe I am just raising a mean child.