Posts tagged Montessori
I’m Sorry, But It’s Just Not Montessori

The internet is a treasure trove of Montessori goodness.

Finally, after years and years of obscurity in the education field, our little niche is POPULAR. I love it! My goal has always been to make Montessori mainstream, and it’s happening!

But as everyone knows, popularity has its drawbacks. What is popular is not necessarily authentic.

“Montesomething” products are all the rage. Toy-makers and online stores know well that if you put the word “Montessori” in front of your product, it’s likely to have a certain appeal for parents.

And what appeal is that?

Smart. Sophisticated. High quality. Trendy. I can’t blame them for doing it!

In my work as a parent coach, I work hard to help Montessori-loving parents distinguish the genuine Montessori materials from the not-so-Montessori products and activities. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Here I’ve written down a few of the items I commonly see advertised to parents as “Montessori” that are not actually Montessori items.

Sensory Bins

A big bowl of beans is an invitation to the senses! I had one in my classroom long ago with some hidden objects inside. Oh, how good it feels to me even as an adult! I still stand by this activity for children of all ages.

However, whether a sensory bin is a Montessori thing or not depends on its intended use.

Many sensory bins are intentional combinations of textures, colors, sounds, and smells. You might see a bin suggestion online full of nature items like pinecones sprinkled with cinnamon, pom-pom balls, plastic animals, and a handful of rainbow rice thrown in for good measure.

This is the opposite of the Montessori approach because it easily overwhelms the child.

A tip from me to you: If you offer a bin of...stuff...try to isolate the senses.

Play Kitchens

Cabinets to open and close and tiny utensils to sort and bang together and put objects (like play food) into offers many opportunities for the child’s natural development.

But if you ask us Montessorians, we will tell you that those opportunities all exist in your regular kitchen space if you simply allow your child to cook with you and get items out of your cabinets.

Making food preparation skill development consistently available to your child satiates the need to play more than any play kitchen ever could.

Play Sinks

A few years back the Montessori internet communities blew up with excited photos of this plastic play sink from big box stores that recycles water from the “drain” back up to the spout and down again.

It seems Montessori because we obviously love it when children are offered more ways to be independent. Washing hands can be tough at a big sink way up high for little hands. The plastic sink seems to encourage this kind of independence, and yet I have some big concerns.

First, the re-used water does not offer children a truly sanitary washing experience. Beware of the potential bacteria colonies hanging out at the bottom and being recycled up to the top.

Second, children can have a world of fun in their own bathtubs, playing in a real sink by using a stool or learning tower, or simply with a plain, cheap plastic tub filled with water.

There is no need to buy a child a toy that looks like the real thing yet does not perform as well as the real thing. Want to do it the Montessori way? Just use the real thing!

Busy Boards

In order to teach children certain practical life skills, we often isolate them and allow children to practice repeatedly. We offer dressing frames so that children can learn how to button, tie, and zip. We offer screwdrivers and screws so that children can learn how to use this tool. We give a child a flashlight and encourage the batteries to be taken out and put back in.

These Montessori-aligned activites also benefit the child by strengthening the hand and refining the pincer grip. It’s lovely.

Sometimes online (and in products) I see this practical life emphasis taken to an extreme. Instead of a carefully constructed, focused skill-based toy, like the “lock box”, I see a big wooden board with a million things to ding, crank, zip, shake, fasten, and the like.

It’s probably not terrible for a child, and I can definitely imagine how much fun it would be for an adult to make, but it’s simply not how we would present these skills in Montessori.

Busy Books

Often made of fabric and other crafty scraps, busy books invite children to practice their fine motor skills while in a car or on a long plane ride.

There’s really nothing wrong with them if appropriately constructed, but in Montessori, we generally prefer that these fine motor skills be practiced in a more direct, separate way that leads the child to doing real work in real life.

We also resent the idea that children need to be “kept busy”. Let them find their own fun!

Random Stuff Made of Wood

Is it made of wood? That’s good! We like natural materials.

Wood can feel good in the hand and mouth (if teething). It can also often be environmentally sustainable (unlike plastic). But just because something is made of wood doesn’t mean it’s Montessori!

I’d personally choose a plastic toy that is beautiful, appeals to the child’s sense of order, and isolates a certain quality over a wooden toy that confuses the eye, “teaches” many concepts at one time, and is made with questionable paint that chips off easily. That’s the way we look at toys from the Montessori perspective.

Rainbows

Hey, we love a good rainbow like everyone else!

In my home, you’ll see a prism hanging by the window and a rainbow stacker on the shelf to play with...but that doesn’t mean that a pretty, rainbow-colored toy is a Montessori “thing”.

It might add to the aesthetic nature of the “prepared environment”, and it might be a high-quality toy itself that is Montessori compatible, but don’t fixate on those rainbows as an essential. They aren’t!

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Teepee Tents

I don’t know why these took the early childhood product market by storm, but I’m going to be very clear here. There is nothing specifically “Montessori” about a teepee tent. They are a decorative item sold online and in local stores for children’s bedrooms.

Do you have one already? Listen up. The Native Peoples / indigenous community online have been extremely vocal that this is cultural appropriation.

It is my personal opinion and high hope that most parents do not know this (otherwise they would not be purchasing them). Please do your research on this topic.

Reading nooks, home-made forts, pop-up tents and other ways to give children a little space of their own are all Montessori compatible as a part of the “prepared environment”.

Waldorf Crafts

When my children were little and I decided to stay at home with them, I found myself needing to be crafty. Enter: Waldorf.

I did it all, friends. The peg dolls, the rainbows, the gnomes, the beeswax, the wet-on-wet watercoloring, the homemade playsilks, and even the wool needle felting.

It was really good for me, and it was fun for my child to participate with me, so it was part of our lives, but...that crafty stuff isn’t “Montessori”. It can be very well aligned, but again, it depends heavily on your purpose for including it.

Educational Posters

If there were a big red-flag that screamed “not Montessori”, it would be in the form of an educational poster!

Donate these or recycle them and go for some pretty artwork hung down low so your child can see them, okay?

There is no need to hang something on the wall. If you want to teach your child a specific skill or developmentally appropriate abstract idea, use the three period lesson with some real objects.

House Floorbeds

The adorable “house” floor bed is a great example of a Montessori principle (floor beds) that went bananas on Pinterest and Instagram. Instead of simply putting a mattress on the floor like I did, parents are trying to one-up each other with the cuteness factor.

I cannot deny that they are cute! Montessori, they are not.

Want a Montessori floor bed? Go simple. Either put the mattress on the floor directly, or, if you are concerned about mold/mildew, on a very low platform frame that takes it just barely off the ground.

I know it seems like less fun, and you will not win the extra likes on IG, but your child will be super happy to be able to get in and out of bed independently, and that is the Montessori point.

Pikler Triangles

Gross motor skill equipment is wonderful for children of all ages! Small ladders, slides, stairs, big pieces of foam to crawl up and roll down…you might find any of these in a Montessori environment prepared for babies and toddlers.

The pikler triangle is one such piece of equipment that may nurture a child’s physical development.

It’s on this list because while cool, the origin is not from the Maria Montessori legacy: it’s from the Emmi Pikler legacy, who was the inspiration for Magda Gerber’s work. Gerber is the founder of the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) organization. Many Montessorians find RIE compatible with the Montessori approach to working with infants and toddlers.

So let’s give credit where credit is due, eh?

Alphabet Toys for Children Under Two

As we mentioned earlier, adding “educational value” to a toy in an obvious way gets more sales. There is absolutely no reason why children under the age of two need the letters of the alphabet or numbers randomly placed on their toys.

In fact, it’s unnecessarily distracting from what your little baby or toddler is trying to learn right now. The alphabet can come later. Right now, life is all about those gross and fine motor skills. Don’t clutter it up with letters.

Later, when your child is ready to learn to read (typically age 3 at the earliest), I strongly suggest you invest in or make a set of tactile “sandpaper” letters, a sand tray, and a moveable alphabet.

That’s the real way to teach reading in Montessori.

Want to teach Montessori math? Wait until they’re four!

Now You Know

If some of the toys or products are your child’s favorites (or your favorites) just because they aren’t technically Montessori does not mean that they cannot have a place in your Montessori-inspired home.

As your child’s guide, you can make decisions about what aids development and what doesn’t! Trust your instincts.

I hope this post has been insightful and interesting if you’re new to Montessori! Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about Montessori parenting.


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Download the free reference guide.

  1. Download the guide. You’ll get the guide, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home with Montessori.

  2. Print it out for yourself, share it with a friend, or get it out to discuss with your family members.

  3. Keep learning about real, genuine Montessori!

    Your Child Can LOVE Learning to Write…Just Start With Sand!

    Soft to the fingertips, not many can resist the temptation of playing with a pile of sand. Whether on the beach, in a box, or on a tray, sand provides an unforgettable tactile experience for all ages.

    This Montessori sand tray letter-writing activity is best for children older than age three. It comes after your child has been introduced to a few tactile, or sandpaper, letters, although the delight of drawing freeform in and generally playing with sand can be introduced in toddlerhood.

    What You Need

    • A medium-sized tray (the size of a piece of printer paper works well)

    • A good handful or two of sand or salt - enough to thoroughly coat the bottom of the tray

    What You’ll Do

    1. Immediately after reviewing the tactile or sandpaper letter you have already introduced, tell your child that you have prepared a special activity for the two of you.

    2. Sit in front of  the tray of sand and say, “This is sand.” Then, set clear expectations for use by telling your child, “The sand stays in the tray. It is not for the table or for the floor. It stays in the tray.”

    3. Now draw your child’s attention to your hands by rubbing them together and then extending only your index finger.

    4. Silently and slowly draw the letter in the sand as your child watches. Say the sound (not the name) of the letter.

    5. After a few seconds of gazing at the letter, shake the tray gently back and forth with both hands to smooth the sand.

    6. Say, “Now it’s your turn to draw the ______ [sound of the letter, such as /b/].


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    Tips for Success

    Make sure that your child can be trusted not to eat the sand and always provide adequate supervision. If you’re using salt, please note that ingesting too much salt can be toxic to children.

    Try This, Too

    Encourage your child to write in the sand at the beach or in her sandbox. You can also write letters, or even her own name for her to “read”. For another variation on this activity, try a dollop of shaving cream on a table.

    What Your Child is Learning

    When your child is learning how to write, her fingertips softly pressing and sliding into a tray of sand will bolster her muscle memory of letter formation. This activity also provides a pleasant sensory experience and aids fine motor skill development.

     
    Love Learning To Write Pin 1
     

    Print this free Montessori lesson

    Download the printable version of this lesson and add it to your homeschooling binder or share with a friend.

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    Download your free printable lesson.

    1. Download the lesson. You’ll get the lesson, plus gentle, compassionate parenting tips and information about educating your child at home.

    2. Print and add this lesson to your binder, share it with a friend, or use it with your Montessori homeschooling planner.

    3. Try this activity with your child! It’s a winner!


      I've Got 5 Minutes. Explain Montessori to Me.

      As Montessori teachers and parents...

      1. We follow the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori (1870-1952). She was a medical doctor, a teacher, a philosopher, and an anthropologist. Her progressive view of children was way beyond her time, and her writing is still very relevant today. Interested in reading some of her work yourself? You should! Try The Secret of Childhood for starters. Read more about her life and take the Montessori challenge for fun.

      2. We understand that children of different ages have different needs and abilities. We study child development theory (for example, sensitive periods) and make sure that our classrooms and homes have developmentally appropriate activities and expectations. When something new is discovered about the growing brain, we are taking notes, ready to back it up with our educational practice. (More often than not, the research simply confirms the Montessori method!)

      3. We observe our children. The child has so much to teach us about learning. By watching closely, we can modify our lessons and materials to best suit the child's interests and growth. We try to anticipate what the child will need next and make sure that this experience is available for when the child is ready to explore the subject or skill. We call this "following the child".

      4. We believe that the environment itself is the best teacher, and we prepare it like a mama bird would craft a proper nest for her babies. Rather than dictating what a child should learn and when, we design the classroom or home to fit the needs of the child, rich experiences balanced by beauty and order. This takes a great amount of effort, but we are rewarded when a child enters and is inspired to learn. In a typical Montessori classroom, you would see objects in baskets, trays, or boxes arranged on a shelf attractively. Each work contains a purposeful work that is designed to teach a specific concept. (Pssst: We don't randomly select concepts to teach, remember? We base them on our observations of the child.)

      5. We model grace and courtesy (good manners), treating our children as we wish ourselves to be treated. We use calm voices when teaching and speak with respect in regard to the children's feelings. We carry ourselves with poise and handle objects with care. We believe that the children are acutely observing us even when we aren't aware of it, and they will mimic our behaviors and attitudes. We know that humans aren't perfect, but we really try to bring out the best in ourselves.

      6. We recognize that children are unique individuals who are not likely to master the exact same concepts or have the same interests at the same time. We celebrate this uniqueness and allow each child to develop at his or her pace. We believe that learning is a natural process that develops spontaneously. When we place our trust in the child, we are often surprised at the immense amount of learning that takes place through the child's interaction with his or her world.

      7. We do not use rewards and punishments to force children to comply with rules or to combat ill behavior. We believe that each child is on the way to developing self discipline and that the rewards should be intrinsic (within oneself) rather than externally imposed. When a child misbehaves, we first examine the reasons why the child is exhibiting those behaviors (hungry? tired? overstimulated? testing boundaries?) and then we contemplate whether a change in the prepared environment would help or if we need to teach certain problem-solving skills to prevent another occurrence. Never do we use shame or humiliation. We try to help the child understand appropriate behavior in a social context in a gentle, firm manner.

      8. We believe that children learn best when they are free to move their bodies throughout the day. Children have physical rights. They should not be constrained to desks. They should be allowed to move around in their environment, visit the bathroom as often as they like, and work in a variety of sitting or standing positions. We want to teach our children to respect their bodies and control their movements, and by allowing this freedom, we feel that this helps the growing brain learn more effectively. We encourage this independence, but also teach respect for others. No one's freedom should infringe upon another's right to concentrate.

      9. We believe that the materials a child works with (one could just as easily call them "toys") should be carefully chosen to support the current developmental stage. With few exceptions, natural materials are preferred, and the works themselves should be arranged attractively on the shelf. Concrete experiences are always offered first and abstract thinking presented later, when the child has a firm grasp on the concept. Maria Montessori herself developed and sanctioned specific materials for learning that are considered classic and essential to a Montessori classroom.  You might want to take a look at the pink tower, the moveable alphabet, or the golden beads. Oh, and yes, we call it work and not play. Really it's just semantics, so don't let it bother you.

      10. To Montessori teachers, presenting a lesson to a child is an art form. For example, for the 3-6 age child, we captivate the child's attention by talking very little during the lesson and instead making our movements slow and deliberate. This allows the child to focus on our actions and remember the little details that may be forgotten if we were speaking at the same time. One of the classic Montessori lesson techniques you might want to investigate is called The Three Period Lesson.

      11. We believe that education can change the world for the better. We are advocates for peace. The children themselves represent a "bright, new hope for mankind". We feel that the work we do as educators, guiding children toward self reliance and compassion, is incredibly important in the grand scheme of future life on Earth. How our children are treated as babies is going to impact our entire civilization when they are all grown up and making decisions that affect others. We are humbled by the great possibilities that exist within the tiniest of humans, and we respect their inner wisdom.

      Still confused? It's okay. Montessori philosophy is as vast and deep as the ocean. Start by going to the beach. Feel the wind on your cheeks and listen to the waves crash. It's okay that you don't get it all at once. Then pick something to study. Starfish. Dolphins. Jellyfish. It doesn't matter what you begin with because the animals inside the ocean are interdependent. As you do your research, you will begin to understand the power of the entire system.

      Welcome to Montessori!

      Surprising Ways to Encourage Cooperation

      At one point or another, we all feel the terrible aftertaste of envy in our social relationships. We see the venal colleague who gets ahead or the layabout relative who repeatedly falls into success.

      The resulting envy and jealousy is all too human, as Shakespeare well understood. Still, we don't have to reinforce the traits in children.  

      Consider the classic parental headache - sibling rivalry. Siblings get jealous of the attention the other receives. They become intensely concerned with equity. They fight. This is all natural.

      But we parents all too readily add fuel to the fire. We pit the children against each other and declare one the winner. We visibly reward the child who is on "good behavior" and punish the child who is "acting out." We allow them to fight with each other without intervention. We may even ask them, "Why can't you be more like your brother?"

      Want two children who hate each other? Do these things.

      (Need more evidence? Read Alfie Kohn's excellent No Contest: The Case Against Competition.)

      No Simple Solution

      Here's the really tricky part. We may not even be aware we're setting kids up for failed relationships. Imagine a parent who, with the purest of intentions, regularly praises her oldest child for his math skills.

      Does the always alert younger brother understand that the intention is to build the older brother's confidence and sense of accomplishment or does he interpret the message to be "you're never going to be as good as your brother"?

      And what if it is the latter? Should the parent forgo the praise? Doesn't the older child deserve the kudos? 

      To praise or not to praise, that is the question -- a simple question without a simple "yes/no" answer. Ironically, our culture is rife with social rules, linguistic queues, non-verbal tics, and more emphasizing duality as the norm. It's either victory or defeat, right or wrong, good or bad. We learn this as kids and live by it as adults

      Musical Chairs Isn't Fun

      Teaching kids that there are winners and losers is so deeply engrained in our culture, it feels nearly impossible to root out. Think about that most benign of children's birthday party games -- musical chairs.

      The very thought that musical chairs could be harmful may feel absolutely ridiculous -- the kind of hippy dippy nonsense destroying our world. And, true enough, to an adult observer, the game is a kind of old timey fun. 

      But let's imagine you're not an adult watching the amusing, chaotic scramble. Instead, you are a five years old playing the game.

      You're feeling a bit awkward as you nervously walk to the music. With each step, you steel your nerves. Suddenly, the music stops. You lurch toward the closest chair and crash into the seat, edging your best friend out.

      Everyone laughs and yells your friend's name. You laugh too, but it's fake. You're a bit sorry your friend didn't get a chair, but gosh you are so much more thankful it isn't you!

      A chair is removed. The music begins again. The anticipation builds. You get the hang of the game and intentionally hesitate with each step so that you are always in front of a chair, never in the middle.

      More chairs are removed as your friends join the crowd of losers. You realize suddenly that there are only a few chairs left. You're starting to think about winning. Your confidence is high.

      The music stops again, and you lurch for the nearest empty seat only to find that there isn't one. Everyone is laughing, and your face burns in humiliation as everyone is pointing at you and yelling.

      You smile good naturedly, but inside your stomach is churning. You join the group of losers, and once you sit down, you are immeasurably relieved in the solidarity. Your best friend sits beside you, and you are equal again. You are both losers.

      The positive skills taught through the game must outweigh the other, especially in their interactions with each other.

      The Lessons We Teach

      So is musical chairs destroying our children? Should we toss it and other competitive games out because it might hurt someone's feelings?

      Not at all. Competition is natural and has pushed humanity to great heights -- funding the space race and Renaissance -- and great horrors -- fueling war and exploitation. 

      By exposing children to healthy competition, we can arm them with the social skills they need to handle victory and defeat with grace and courtesy and guide them away from internalizing -- or worse yet, replicating -- its darker side.

      But teaching healthy competition means being aware of the implicit lessons the game or competition is teaching. The positive skills taught through the game must outweigh the other, especially in their interactions with each other.

      Consider what is learned from musical chairs.

      • It's okay to put winning above friendship.

      • Rooting for others to lose is socially acceptable.

      • Losing is humiliating.

      The answer isn't necessarily to toss musical chairs, but we may want to do it differently. We want children to value their human bonds! We want them to root for each other! We want them to feel good about themselves! What would a version of the game look like that fostered those lessons?

      We Make the Rules

      The other day, our family got out a bingo-style game the kids had received for Christmas. The kids were excited to play it, but instead of reading the rules for determining a winner, they made up their own rules, making it a cooperative game.

      We each used more than one bingo card so we would have lots of pictures to look at. We enjoyed matching the picture cards to the pictures on our bingo cards. We stacked them up when we got extra pieces.

      When another player needed a piece, we noticed. It was the perfect opportunity to practice skills like generosity and what Montessori called "grace and courtesy" like this: "My brother needs a bat! I have this extra bat. Would you like to have it?"

      Competition was alive and well in that moment -- the drive to complete the puzzle. But so was the cooperation. Not long after the game ended, the boys were back at it - arguing about who got the bigger apple.

      The game didn't end the sibling rivalry, but it did reinforce a critical lesson. People may disagree, but when one wins, we all win.

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      Good Teaching Is Student Centered. Stop Depicting It Otherwise.

      The first Tuesday of May is National Teacher Day, a factoid once known mostly by pedants and calendar completist, but thanks to Google's doodle celebrating the day of appreciation, the word may be getting out. 

      Too bad they botched it.

      Google Doodles have a long history of controversy, which says something about the company's brand and influence. The company has long insisted that the doodles are apolitical -- meant for fun and a way for staffers to express their passions. This may be true but being featured as a doodle is no small thing.

      Literally. According to internet live stats, Google processes about 40,000 searches a second, or about 3.5 billion searches a day.

      Even if you discount the people who won't see a particular doodle (Google varies them by nation), the number of impressions (or times Google shows it to a person) is huge.

      An "A" in Good Intentions

      So many, many people will see the doodle, and isn't that a good thing? Aren't teachers worthy of praise? Besides, how controversial could a teacher appreciation doodle really be?

      Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation Day (May 9, 2017)

      Google Doodle for Teacher Appreciation Day (May 9, 2017)

      Because this is the Internet, I'm not ready to discount the likelihood that someone, somewhere will find a way to make it controversial, but the doodle itself isn't particularly inviting of controversy; we're not talking Pepsi-level tone deafness.

      Rather, it is skillfully designed if not somewhat banal and obvious. And therein lies the rub.

      Google needs to create an image that catches the user's eye while conveying the idea pictorially. This means it has to be simple to understand. Enter the visual shorthand.

      To wit, the doodle features six figures in front of a screen that flips through representations of various math and science subjects. The largest figure is the teacher. We know this because... well... it's teaching. Or at least teaching in the way we generally think about teaching.

      Notice that it's much larger than the other figures (teachers work with children!); it has a book and glasses (teachers are academics!). And, most importantly, it has a pointer and half open mouth (teachers love pontificating on important things.)

      Break the Stereotype

      Aubrey and David Discuss the Whys and Hows of Student Centered Learning

      None of these things are necessarily slams, but they SHOULD NOT BE shorthand for "teacher," especially the pontificator in chief. That they are says much about our profession and how people think of it... the sage on the stage, the professor spouting knowledge like a font.

      It is exactly the kind of thing Maria Montessori warned against when she talked about treating children as though they were empty vessels to be filled. That was nearly a century ago. The image - and practice - persists.

      Owning Our Narrative

      Ultimately, this isn't Google's fault. They wanted to celebrate educators. Rather, the fault is ours as educators. We own it.

      But always it is done collaboratively, with the emphasis on the learner’s journey, not the teacher’s knowledge

      We have to flip the narrative so that when people think of teaching, they imagine a place dominated by students. The teacher guides, watches, helps, supports. But he does not only or always teach. 

      Sometimes, the students teach; sometimes, the teacher learns. But always it is done collaboratively, with the emphasis on the learner's journey, not the teacher's knowledge.

      This is the image we want to come to mind when people think of teaching. Teachable moments come in many forms. Google is creating one. Let's take the lesson to heart.

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      Five Ways to Respect Newborns

      It's not just you. Science confirms it - babies smell delicious. They also look like angels when sleeping. And nothing is as soft as a baby's bum.

      Little wonder that we think of babies as small and helpless creatures, which is too bad, really. Babies actually have immense power. No adult could accomplish anywhere near the task the baby has taken on in the past nine months of growth. 

      But more than that, our tendency to underestimate babies makes us it harder for us to respect them.

      We love them. We protect them. But respect? Respect In the way we respect a mentor or person who persevered? The concept is too often foreign even though babies both have much to teach us and have undoubtedly persevered. 

      Respect for children -- not just protection but actual respect for them and their work -- should be a central tenant of our social contract. It is one of the surest ways to social growth. 

      The baby is biologically driven toward becoming a great adult human being. If we give him the respect he deserves as an infant, he will grow into an adult who treats other adults with respect -- creating a stronger, more civilized, peace-seeking society in the future.

      Developing human potential

      As Dr. Silvana Montanaro writes in Understanding the Human Being, a newborn has "a strong drive to develop all the components of his human potential harmoniously." Here are five ways to foster this development through respect.

      1. Snuggle and Nurse Your Baby Often

      Give your baby direct, physical contact -- and lots of it. Skin-to-skin cuddles, babywearing, and cosleeping are all great ways to facilitate close contact. Human babies are born with the instinct to be close to their mothers, as they seek round-the-clock nourishment, comfort, and protection. Rather than trying to keep up with the usual household duties, take time to nurse and snuggle. You cannot give a newborn too much physical affection.

      2. Allow sleeping and eating on your baby's schedule, not yours

      The treatment of children should really be considered a matter of social importance.
      — The Absorbent Mind

      Newborns are gifted with a biological rhythm that tells them exactly how much nourishment and sleep they need. Allow them to regulate these needs themselves by making both milk and a calm place to rest available. Trust in your baby's instincts.

      3. Provide Consistent Routines

      Children have a natural sensitivity to order, and routines remain a great comfort throughout childhood. Your baby will naturally come to understand the difference between day and night and will be comforted by daily, repetitive experiences. By changing baby's diaper in the same place often enough, he will come to know and expect what is about to happen. By singing the same lullaby to your baby, he will soon internalize the music, so the first few lines soothe him right away.

      4. Let them look around and move their bodies

      Newborns are notoriously nearsighted at birth for a reason. Their ability to focus on objects is the exact distance between your breast and your face. Allow your baby to gaze on you while you nurse, and give him lots of eye contact and smiles. Newborns also need to be able to move their bodies. Laying on a lap in a rocking chair or on a soft blanket on the floor is perfect for stretching muscles and nearby focusing. Conversely, bouncers, play yards, swaddling blankets, and other common baby products can restrict both the baby's view and ability to move freely (and may contribute to problems like plagiocephaly).

      5. Stimulate their senses

      Babies thrive in environments rich in sensory contact, and you don't need to work hard to create one for them. Bring your baby into the thick of life, and rich sensory experiences will take care of themselves. Eat nutritious food, and you'll give your nursing baby a taste sensation (breastmilk takes on the flavor of what the mother eats). Let your baby listen in on adult conversations, and softly speak to him directly about what you're experiencing. Go outside and feel the wind softly blow. Stand under a branch and look at the leaves as long as his gaze remains focused. 

      Montessori Education in the Internet Age

      Walk into any quality Montessori school in the world, and you will see some of the most beautifully prepared learning environments imaginable. Wooden materials, carefully arranged shelves, observant teachers.

      Chart: Pew Research Center

      Chart: Pew Research Center

      What you won't find, by and large, is a tech-heavy curriculum.

      Though nearly every adult American owns a cellphone (see Pew Research chart), rare is the Montessori school where smartphones, tablets, or computers play a major role.

      A Strained Relationship

      The lack of computer-based assignments might surprise public school teachers given how gung-ho traditional schools are about technology.

      Montessorians, by comparison, have a somewhat less enthusiastic opinion with technology - especially in the early years. In Montessori schools, the amount of technology integration depends on the educational philosophy of the teachers.

      Some schools ban all technology, believing that children need to learn with their own eyes and hands and absolutely not while watching a screen. Some schools have a computer in the classroom but only allow it for teachers. Some classrooms have computers in the classroom and allow students to use them for internet research and to practice typing skills.

      Occasionally you will find a Montessori classroom that embraces more than that in the elementary years, but at least in the Montessori 0-6 year old scene, you will find a near-absence of the digital. If you are a parent at home exploring apps on your tablet or smartphone, you may see apps for something like "Montessori Math" or "The Pink Tower" (a quintessential Montessori material). 

      Don't fool yourself into thinking that if you download this app for your child, he is doing the activity that Montessori developed and adopted into her method. There's a reason for all those beautiful wooden materials.

      What Changes, What Doesn't

      Aubrey and David Discuss Healthy Technology Use

      Maria Montessori was not aware of the enormous technological changes that would occur in the years after her death (1952), but she was adamant that the learning of abstract ideas begin with the child's own hands using concrete objects.

      I suspect that Dr. Montessori would approve of some careful and limited use of technology were she alive today. How could she not be amazed by the global social connections? Today, a grandparent might video chat with a faraway grandchild. A parent-to-be might search for tips on preparing the home for a new baby. A student might research the Galapagos Islands not only by reading books but also by watching a video of a family on vacation describing what they see and feel. There are lots of interesting opportunities for us to use technology in a way that enhances our exploration of and connection to the world that most of us see as positive additions to a learning environment.

      There is not An App for That

      The problem arises when we attempt to replace a valuable hands-on experience with an abstract one too early. Take the pink tower, for example. To an inexperienced eye, the child simply stacks a set of ten cubes of varying sizes into a tower, with the largest on the bottom and the tiniest on the top. An app on a tablet could presumably replace this activity with a virtual representation of pink squares that can be dragged and dropped into position.

      A child of preschool age can certainly learn to order these squares by size, but so much is lost in value! When the child carefully lifts each cube, its size is known by a myriad of sensory cues that go far beyond the visual. The shape and size of each smooth side is fully explored by little hands; the weight of each is compared to the next. A misplacement of the next-smallest cube is easily recognizable when the heavier cube on top causes the tower to wobble or fall.

      Even the tower itself is subconsciously compared to the child's own body size and the mathematics of cubing in increments of 1 cm each is internalized in order to develop future algebraic thinking. Swiping the pink blocks on an app is about as realistic as a flight simulator is to flying an actual airplane.  

      So How Do We Know What's Appropriate? 

      No doubt, we have a ton of intriguing technological inventions at our disposal for use with kids, and as parents and teachers, it is up to us to decide how they may or may not fit in with our philosophy of education. We must be especially careful when simply regurgitating tried and true teaching techniques and manipulatives in a virtual format. What looks like the same activity may not actually nurture the child's full engagement of the senses, which is a non-negotiable in any quality material designed for early childhood.

      Our children deserve for us to constantly question the educational validity of any of the techy stuff in their environment. There is only one path to collective knowledge of what is helpful or a hinder to a child's development, and that is through continued observation of the children themselves.

      Five Tips for the Montessori Beginner

      So you want to do Montessori in the home but aren't sure where to start. Maybe you follow those Instagram feeds filled with achingly beautiful photos of some fantastical Montessori home and think "if only I knew the secret, my house, too, could look like that." Perhaps you've toured a Montessori classroom, beautifully prepared with neat shelves of learning materials and thought, "if they can do it with 17 kids, certainly I can do it with just one!"

      Well, I have some bad news and some good news. The bad news is you can't replicate the Photoshopped fantasy nor the carefully managed classroom. The good news is you aren't supposed to. Montessori is much more a philosophy of child development than a set of things to do. Plus, you're doing it in your home -- under real world conditions. Expect the mess. 

      So where does that leave the aspiring Montessorian?

      Mastering the philosophy can be a life's pursuit, but there are a few tips you can incorporate right away to help you along the way. You might now 

      #1. Follow your child 

      This is number one for a reason. Learning new skills will not occur without your child's interest. Following your child means seriously observing your child's stage of development.

      What toys does your child keep coming back to over and over? What is he/she trying to do? Learning to crawl? Pouring and spilling water everywhere? Spending hours turning the pages of a book? Going to the potty to (ahem) play in it? Catching bugs constantly? Picking out a shirt to wear, discarding it, only to put on another shirt?

      I can't tell you what activities to focus on in your Montessori home because that's your child's job. Many classroom teachers will tell you that they can't truly design the shelves without meeting the children and observing them. This is even more important for you, Montessori parent, because unlike a classroom filled with child centered, ready made curricula, you are incorporating your child into a family-centric environment.

      You most likely have limited resources and space, so focus on your child's interests. You can (and will!) change the environment as your child grows older and has different needs. Write down a list of your child's current obsessions, whether it be banging pots, throwing blocks, or matching colors, and ask yourself, "What is he/she trying to learn from this behavior?"

      #2. Invest in shelves and baskets

      While you're not likely to achieve immaculate, you do want to make your Montessori environment as organized and peaceful as reasonable. It also keeps your house from becoming too cluttered with random kid stuff because you can't stuff everything on a few shelves like you can in, say, a toy chest or some bins.

      Unlike toy chests, shelves naturally encourage you to limit quantity.

      Shelves are cheaply found at stores like IKEA and Target plus garage sales and thrift stores. You can find excellent baskets at Goodwill for less than a dollar. If you can afford it, invest in several shelves and LOTS of baskets and trays. Check out our Montessori shopping list to get a better idea of what to look for at a thrift store.

      Remember, you don't have to get everything at once. Start with baskets and shelves. You won't be disappointed.

      #3. Choose some of your child's nicest toys 

      Toys are fine when the quality and quantity is appropriate. If adding toys, pick ones your child loves; that inspire and nurture; and (if at all possible) are beautiful and made of natural materials. Likewise, steer clear of flashy, noisy, battery-operated toys as much as possible and focus on toys that spark your child's imagination.

      And the toys that you aren't choosing to put on your beautiful shelves? You don't have to throw the rest away, but do keep them away from your child's shelves, hidden wherever you have available. A closet? The basement? The laundry room? Giant plastic storage tubs are great for this, as are heavy-duty black garbage bags, as long as you have them labeled "not trash"!

      And if you find yourself acquiring a massive amount of toys, it's a great idea to donate them in batches regularly.

      #4. Limit quantity

      If you have a toddler, you probably won't be needing all 286 blocks that came with the set. You might need about 20. Just enough to stack into towers and topple down. Put those in a basket and store the rest. You also don't want to crowd your shelves. Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

      Space the baskets on the shelves so that it is obvious where the work should be returned.

      Are you wondering how many toys to put out at a time? I can't tell you that, but your child will. If you have a toddler who is into "dumping" making a big awful mess for you to clean up every time, or if you have a four year old who is having a hard time putting things away, you probably have too many toys.

      You also might want to select one type of toy and rotate within the category. For example, if you have a lot of puzzles or different sets of building blocks, consider displaying one or two and put the rest away for now.

      #5. Get Support

      You can't make this journey alone. You need help! Start with spouses, partners, or others who are actively participating in raising your child, such as grandparents. The goal is to have a shared vision for what Montessori in your home looks like. This may require you to have some hard, deep conversations -- especially if your partner isn't totally onboard -- but it's critical.

      Go further, though, and reach out to friends and other parents. Talk to them about what you're doing, even if you aren't completely confident in it. In fact, talking about it will help you better understand your own perspective and dissolve the feeling of isolation so common in parenting. 

      Lastly, look for mentors in other places. The Internet is filled with wonderful resources for parents at any stage of their Montessori journey, including our own Montessori 101 Facebook group. Join the conversation! 

      Human Development is Messy. Montessori's Four Planes Helps.

      Have you ever raised a litter of kittens? It's pretty amazing. Kittens are only kittens for a short time, little nothings with sharp claws and silky fur. Within just six months, they have changed into long, sleek, almost-adults capable of having litters of their own. 

      Watching kittens grow -- or plants sprout -- makes development seem so orderly and straight. We ingest calories; we grow bigger. We acquire information; we get smarter. Inputs and outputs.

      Not a Line But a Wave

      The truth is that growth happens not in a steady trickle but in waves of passion, long periods of lethargy, occasional bouts of depression and changed interests. Growing is push-pull, grab and release, ache and exaltation.

      To us, the cat is the miracle of life in miniature. In July, it's a kitten. By Christmas, it's having kittens. But to the cat, the journey is long and hard and begins before it takes a breath. The time spent in the womb and the effort made in his own birth are intense and miraculous.

      We forget that when our kitten's eyes were sealed shut, it must have felt like he was seeking nourishment out of the darkness for ages.

      We overlook the energy it required to learn the physical skills needed to hunt for food -- to try and lift his entire body into the air and - for the first time - pounce.

      It is the same with humans, but since our childhoods are so much longer, so, too, the journey. By adulthood, we've lost our memories of the darkness of the womb, the ache in our muscles from learning to stand upright and walk. Even the long, painful years we spend yearning for independence yet subject to the whims of adults fade in time.

      But these events shape us -- whether in our conscious minds or not -- and when we take it all in, from conception to maturity, we see it is a long road worthy of our admiration. Growing up should be celebrated.

      The Four Planes of Development

      Still, our drive to find linear order in growth is strong. To counter, we find guidance in Maria Montessori's work. She described human development as occurring in a series of four planes, or periods, and in 1951 developed a graphic to help explain the concept. Here's a version:

      Planes-of-Development-triangle-chart1.jpg

       

      The flame at birth represents the beginning of life: the spark of existence. As the child grows up and passes into and out of each plane, different characteristics emerge. They are surprisingly consistent across all of humanity regardless of culture.

      The graphic is powerful because it lets us see that development is not as a single, smooth line but rather like waves. It very clearly distinguishes the different planes of development from one another yet shows their balance and unity. Notice, for example, how infancy and adolescence mirror each other, as does the elementary child and the college age almost-adult.

      Moreover, it captures the journey within each plane itself -- for example, the change at age 3 from toddler to preschooler. Growth and development become like waves within waves, a turbulent ebb and flow that captures the truth of the matter. Growing up is hard.

      The Story Continues

      For all it's strengths, no single image can really capture the complexity of development. The sharp points of the triangles and the heavy lines convey too much rigidity or structure. Growth is more like the gradual lift and decline of a hill, not the stiff peak of a mountain. (Maria must have felt the same hesitation because she later developed a more organic visualization).

      None-the-less, thinking of child development in this way is truly powerful, for it simultaneously recognizes the ebb and flow of development while giving it an understandable structure. Like the kitten that seems to age before our eyes, the chart makes tangible what is abstract. The miracle of life in miniature.

      The Journey to Adulthood: Birth to Age 6

      This is part of a series about the four planes of development. Each plane corresponds to a significant period of human development, running from birth through early adulthood. 

      Unlike many of our mammalian cousins, newborn humans arrive essentially helpless -- half blind, completely reliant on others for food, no ability to escape danger. Some even consider the first few months of life more an extension of the pre-natal journey (a fourth trimester). 

      Still, in the grand scheme of things, that early period of extreme helplessness is brief. Within months, baby has gone from an eating and sleeping machine with few communication tools to a curious toddler navigating the world.

      A few years later, the toddler is a child running, playing, speaking, reading, doing math, telling jokes, and otherwise well on her way to becoming a regular, old human being. 

      A Time Like No Other

      Early human development may seem a snail's pace when compared to horses, who all but walk out of the womb, but don't let looks deceive you. While gross and fine motor skills may be crude (or non-existent) at first, there is a raging fire of growth and development inside that most complex of machines -- the human brain.

      Consider - "Research has shown that half of a person's intelligence potential is developed by age four" and that the brain reaches "half its mature weight by about six months and 90 percent of its final weight by age eight." 

      The First Plane: Birth to Age 6

      While humans never stop developing, what happens in those very early years is unique, remarkable, and greatly responsible for shaping a person's entire life. The scientist and educational pioneer Maria Montessori defined this period as the first plane.  

      Montessori work stems from an era when our understanding about how the brain works reached new heights (both Freud and Jung were contemporaries). A physician by training, Montessori applied her skills of observation and diagnosis to her studies of childhood development and learning. From this work, she was able to define and describe the qualities four distinct planes (or phases) of human development. 

      The Absorbent Mind

      During the first plane (birth to age six), the mind is like a sponge, greedily soaking up information and experiences primarily. Montessori describes the mind of a young child as "absorbent" with good reason.

      Just how absorbent is the mind? Consider the gulf between what a one week old and a six year old knows and can do.

      We can make sense of this epic journey if we think of it as a move from unconscious to conscious thought.

      In the early years, the child absorbs information fairly unconsciously, primarily through the senses. At around age three, the child enters the second half of the plane, becoming increasingly susceptible to direct adult influence and instruction. Still, the two halves of the journey remain bound by the supreme absorbency of the mind.

      Adult Mindfulness

      Because first plane children are so absorbent and ready to learn, adult interactions require a high-level of mindfulness. What an adult says or does will have a lasting, perhaps permanent, effect on the child.

      That said, the human brain is also incredibly malleable and never stops growing and developing. In other words - "Parents and teachers, you WILL make mistakes. The child WILL survive. Relax!"

      The key to success with a first plane child is to follow the child's lead. If you provide the child enrichment, let her naturally curiosity drive the learning, and model with regularity (not perfection) the characteristics and behaviors you hope to foster, you will succeed. The child will learn and explore with a ferocity we adults only wish we could replicate.

      Babies -- we could learn a lot from them.

      Do Children Work or Play?

      Never has a term so confused a traditional teacher or a parent just learning about Montessori. The common phrase "choose your work" used in the Montessori classroom has caused a massive myth surrounding the playful nature of the classroom.

      Some seem to think that all Montessori children do is wander around choosing not to learn anything  (because what else would children choose?). Others seem certain that the Montessori classroom is an academic factory, pushing three year olds to learn skills with a disdain for any kind of playful spirit.

      Do children "work"...or "play" in Montessori?

      Work is to Play is to Learn

      Current educational theory holds that children learn through play, a common phrase that by semantics alone seems to put it at odds with Montessori philosophy.

      Clearly, the answer to this confusion lies in Maria Montessori's own words. We cannot help but notice that despite vastly different cultures and lifestyles, Nature's children all grow in their own ways, in their own time. .

      Montessori loved the word she used to describe the learning process - work. She believed that the word "work" correctly conveyed the amount of effort the children put into expanding their minds and strengthening their bodies and nourishing their spirits. The word "play" by comparison seemed dismissive of this greatness. She writes:

      "It is certain that the child's attitude towards work represents a vital instinct; for without work his personality cannot organise itself and deviates from the normal lines of its construction. Man builds himself through working. Nothing can take the place of work, neither physical well-being nor affection, and, on the other hand, deviations cannot be corrected by either punishment or example."

      With these words, the word "work" takes on a new meaning. The child is in a state of becoming. The adult that will emerge is a mystery, but we know that it will take a lot of energy to get there. We acknowledge this great effort on the part of the child.

      Change and Consistency

      Things may have changed in the past one hundred years, but not this. We may choose to call it work, or we may choose to call it play. Maria makes no distinction between the two. We have respect for the child's nature, and that is all.

      The child’s instinct confirms the fact that work is an inherent tendency in human nature; it is the characteristic instinct of the human race.
      — Maria Montessori
      How to Give a Fabulous Lesson Like a Montessori Teacher

      Before giving a work to a child aged 2 to 6, a Montessori teacher almost always gives a “lesson” to demonstrate the activity while the child watches. Montessori believed strongly in the importance of good modeling, writing:

      “The lessons, then, are individual, and brevity must be one of their chief characteristics. Dante gives excellent advice to teachers when he says, ‘Let thy words be counted.’ The more carefully we cut away useless words, the more perfect will become the lesson.” (from The Montessori Method)

      Five Rules of the Road

      1. Remember to sit side by side next to the child rather than across the table. This allows the child to see the work from your point of view. We often recommend that you sit on the child's left side if the child is right-handed.

      2. Let your fingers do most of the talking. By speaking very quietly and only when necessary, you will be directing your child’s attention to your hands and how they are interacting with the materials.

      3. Model activities from left to right. This is intentional. It prepares a child for reading and writing, which is also oriented from left to right.

      4. Exaggerate your movements especially regarding care of the materials. If you want your child to care for the work and not be careless, make sure that you also model this. Hug the materials if you like as you get them out. They are special.

      5. Note that formal lessons are not always necessary. Use your own instincts for when to cut a lesson short or allow a child to work even without a lesson at all. If the child is engaged, draw it out a bit. If you are quickly losing interest, encourage the child to take a turn. Toddlers especially often cannot sit through long formal lessons. For a toddler, the modeling should be very brief.

      Keep Attention on the Child

      Maria cautions us to do our best to remove our own egos and personalities from the lesson. When the focus remains on engaging the child in the material, the formal lesson will be most effective. However, as an experienced teacher, I can tell you that it is also important to establish a very real, physical human connection with the child...otherwise, a robot might as well be giving the lessons!

      Children who receive more eye contact and verbalization from their parents develop better interpersonal skills and have higher vocabularies.

      For example, current research tells us that lower student-teacher ratios are all around better for children in the classroom because there is more adult-child personal interaction and attention.

      We also know that children who receive more eye contact and verbalization from their parents develop better interpersonal skills and have higher vocabularies.

      You might note that a typical Montessori classroom has a fairly high student-teacher ratio, and this is because we are not providing a teacher-directed environment but a child-led environment.

      The Child Leads

      In an authentic Montessori classroom, you would see a lot of student-to-student interaction. We believe that even more important than the proper lesson is the role that the children play in their interactions with each other as role models who learn from each other. The way the entire classroom functions is dependent upon these human connections.

      As with anything, it's a balance. Don't let these lesson-giving "rules" deter you from having a deep conversation with your child about the work, and keep your formal lessons strictly to a minimum when working directly with concrete materials to teach a very specific skill.

       
      Lessons like a Montessori Teacher.png
       
      21 Montessori Water Activities For Your Practical Life Shelf

      Let's get some Montessori water activities on your practical life shelf! Don't have space for a shelf? Don't worry! Just keep some of these object handy for when kids seem ready for a bit of water play.

      1. Pour water from two tiny pitchers back and forth. Any glass or ceramic creamer-style will work for the Pre-K crowd, but for toddlers, tiny metal creamer pitchers are best.

      2. Spoon water with a ladle from a big bowl to another big bowl.

      3. Spoon little floating objects (corks?) from one bowl into another bowl.

      4. Spoon little sinking toys (marbles?) from one bowl into another bowl.

      5. Try tongs instead of spoons for #'s 3 and 4!

      6. Use a baster to transfer water from one bowl to another.

      7. Use a funnel to fill small vases with water from a pitcher. Then dumping the water back into the pitcher. This is is preparatory work for the flower arranging work.

      9. Squeeze a sponge from one bowl to the other to transfer the water.

      10. Gather small objects from around the house (that won't be hurt by water). Find out which ones float and which ones sink.

      11. Experiment with color mixing. Three small glasses of colored water (red, yellow, blue food coloring) and several small empty bowls. Use an eye dropper or a pipette to make different colors in the bowls.

      12. Whisk one drop of dishwashing liquid in a big bowl of water.

      13. Try an eggbeater in #12 instead of a whisk!

      14. Try grating some bar soap into #12 instead of using dishwashing liquid. (Supervise this one closely.)

      Keep a towel and a nice, sturdy tray handy to catch any spills.

      15. Fill two bowls with water, one hot and one cold. Add one piece of ice into each. Which melts faster?

      16. Use a medicine syringe to transfer tiny amounts of water from one glass to another.

      17. An outside game: Fill a giant plastic pitcher or watering can. Pour the water into a large bucket. Haul the bucket to a kiddie swimming pool and fill it up. Then play!

      18. Have a tea party with real tea (rooibos or berry tea are caffeine-free options.) 

      19.  Scrub a section of the kitchen floor with a small bowl of soapy water and a sponge cut in half.

      20. Put a water-safe baby doll into a large bowl or tub. Add a small pitcher of water, one pump of liquid soap, and a small washcloth.

      21. Mustard/ketchup bottle squeezing. Fill an old squeeze bottle with water and squeeze directly into a bowl.

      What You Need to Know About Montessori Albums

      When you find out that Montessori exists and how amazing it is for children, you want it, and you want it now! I completely understand. Even growing up Montessori with all of my mother's knowledge, books, and notes at my fingertips, when I first started teaching I felt desperate for more access to the information offered in Montessori teacher certification programs, and I'd have paid for it. Unfortunately, I didn't feel that it was possible to take the training at the time. I had just spent the last five years in college accruing a massive amount of debt, a degree in Elementary Education and I was still shelling out money for thesis hours to complete my Master's!  I was committed to teaching a class of fourth grade ESL students, but I wanted - no, needed, to know more Montessori. For my own sake. For the sake of my students who were in my class.

      The internet was a baby, but I went online and searched and searched. I came up empty handed. There was little to nothing on the web about Montessori at the time, and I was incredibly frustrated. I talked to as many Montessori elementary teachers as I could, and I read all the books on Montessori I could get my hands on. And then one day I stumbled across a free, printable Montessori album. It was loaded with typos, and each lesson contained a bare-bones description of the Montessori materials. But I felt that I had discovered a treasure. I printed out every page and plopped it into a binder. And then I periodically studied it for insight on teaching children.

      Despite my interest and devotion, the album was surprisingly unhelpful. The needs of the children in my class were so great and so emotionally consuming that I found myself obsessing day and night about how to help each and every child. Soon, the album made its way into the back of my file cabinet. I stopped looking at the papers and began truly observing the children. I took a yoga class and learned to meditate. I fell in love with Jonathan Kozal, who wrote beautifully about the plight of low income students in public schools. I brought nutritious snacks, lit candles in the classroom, and read poetry to my students in the darkened room after school. I peppered their desks with love notes and cried myself to sleep at night because I knew that none of them would pass the state mandated standardized test. I grew up. But was I growing up further away from Montessori? I thought maybe so. What Montessori approved or disapproved of didn't matter in my world. It was my students and my relationship with them that mattered.

      Years later, it dawned on me what Maria Montessori was trying to convey to us in every word of The Absorbent Mind. She says it herself pretty clearly.

      The real preparation for education is the study of one’s self. The training of the teacher is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character; it is a preparation of the spirit.

      — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind

      So there you go. The secrets to effective teaching practices are not found in albums.

      Let's talk now about what albums really are. Albums are, in the most simple terms, the notes a Montessori teacher takes when he/she takes classes that lead to Montessori certification. These notes may contain bits of wisdom passed on from the teacher trainer, drawings of Montessori materials, and tips for giving effective lessons with these materials. The notes would be written in the student's own words so that he/she may remember it personally and retain the information. Through the process of taking notes and deciphering what information is most meaningful - the literal act of doing this - the information becomes meaningful to the student. Sometimes teacher trainers compile this information for students and photocopy them so that everyone has the same copy. When the student is certified as a Montessori teacher, he/she will always have these special notes to refer to if needed but most likely will not refer to them constantly. You see, by then the Montessori know-how is inside the teacher.

      In recent years, some Montessori trained teachers have been publishing their albums on the internet. In one sense, this seems like a great idea. Believe me when I say that more than anything I want Montessori demystified. I want homeschoolers to follow their children. I want public school teachers to incorporate practical life lessons into their classrooms right along with the academics. I want Montessori teachers to collaborate and exchange ideas. I want teachers in countries far away who are unable to take training to be able to learn what Montessori is and even more importantly what it is not so that they know they are offering quality, developmentally appropriate programs. I believe in blogging about one's own experiences, writing (and publishing!) books, teaching strategies, hosting discussion groups on Facebook, connecting with the larger community, taking photos of children and materials and describing the learning process, and designing Montessori-inspired curriculum resources for parents to use at home with their children. All of these are helpful to the Montessori movement.

      What is not helpful to the Montessori movement is typing up one's albums to sell for profit, and this is (to my utter dismay) what I see happening online all too often these days. I am very concerned, and here's why:

      1. It is misleading to the consumer. Albums were never meant to stand alone.

      They were certainly never meant to be sold without the heavy philosophy component. The theory behind the lessons is so much more important than the lessons themselves! Outside of the context of the training, the albums offer mere reminders to the teachers who created them. Not to downplay this aspect too much - some albums can be deeply personal - treasures to the teacher who created them. It's just that they represent just one tiny piece of the big picture. While a set of albums may be organized in a particular order, the well trained Montessori teacher will know that every child is different and will understand through experience how to modify the lessons. Depending on how the album is written, it may also give a skewed view of the scope and sequence.

      2. It could be plagiarism. Unless you have express permission.

      Say you want to take a class from Dr. Nell, a reknown physicist and college professor, whose family has been contributing to the field for generations. You have to fight hard to get into the class because it is an honor to be able to take a class from Dr. Nell. His teaching style is so dynamic that the class is always full. It's also expensive to take this class, but you've taken out a student loan that you'll pay back later, and as soon as registration opens, you plug in your course number, and you are accepted into the class! You begin taking detailed notes of every lecture. After the class, you decide that Dr. Nell's theories are so powerful that you'd like to share them. And then you think - wait - to pay back your student loans, maybe you can SELL your notes from the class to recoup the cost of taking the class! You create a website around the whole brilliant idea. You're making so much money now that you've been selling Dr. Nell's lectures to the entire internet, and Paypal makes this incredibly easy. The only question is...how does Dr. Nell feel about this? Would he approve? Did you even ask?

      3. It is unethical. I see several albums (for cheap!) being sold as AMI-style or AMS-style albums. Let me be very clear. This is hogwash. 

      High quality, in-person Montessori training, such as AMI or AMS offers, is very intense. It often involves over a year of coursework and possibly an entire year as an intern under a trained Montessori guide who acts as a full time mentor, not to mention the continual self reflective assignments and formal evaluations! The teacher trainers are also paid for their work guiding their students, and thus completing a quality Montessori training program, not unlike a college degree, is not generally cheap. If you see (as I have) a Montessori "expert" online offering to sell you AMI or AMS style albums and "train" you in the style of AMI or AMS, you need to know that this is wrong on so many levels. You are, unfortunately, going to get exactly what you pay for, and I can pretty much guarantee that what you are getting is NOT equivalent to a what an AMI or AMS affiliated Teacher Education Program offers its students. Only AMI or AMS can sell AMI or AMS affiliated resources to the public. Please be skeptical of these Montessori fakes out there on the web pretending to be something they are not. I know that affordable Montessori training can be difficult to find, and I am certainly not opposed to distance learning, but you will never see me advocating for snake oil, and nor will I ever be selling it. 

      4. It is disrespectful to the teaching profession. 

      By claiming that one can become a fully certified Montessori teacher by downloading a set of albums, answering some true/false questions, and chatting in an online forum, we are sending the wrong message to the world. Let me make an analogy here. One of our favorite family animated films is Ratatouille. Have you seen it? It's the story of an unlikely hero: a rat named Remy who does not desire to eat garbage with the rest of his family. No, he has the inclination to learn to become a great chef. He follows his instincts when it comes to combining foods and also applies himself to learning technique. He greatly admires Gusteau, a now deceased chef and author of a famous cookbook. Although he knows it must be a product of his imagination, the likeness of Gusteau himself appears in order to offer Remy encouragement to follow his dreams. In the words of Gusteau, "anyone can cook!" Even a rat can learn to cook in Ratatouille, it's true. But as we find out in the end, it takes more than following a recipe to become a true chef and create a remarkable meal. It also takes patience, determination, experience, and raw talent.

      It is the same with teaching children. Anyone can follow a lesson plan. If simple lesson plans and materials (which is what is inside most albums) led directly to the Montessori method, we would not need teacher training at all. Becoming an effective Montessori guide is more art than science, and one can only truly experience authentic Montessori through intense studies, mentorship, and experience. Let's value the work that goes into preparing to become a guide. It is for this reason that I am a fierce advocate of quality Montessori training.

      5. Purchased teacher albums can make parents teaching Montessori at home feel inadequate.

      Here on one side is the child at home in the context of a family, alight with the natural disposition to learn in the unique environment which surrounds him! And here on the other side is an album, which we now know are notes from someone else's coursework, possibly organized in a rigid list of materials and how-tos designed for the use of 30 children in a single classroom. These two rarely make sense together. I know some very determined and energized homeschooling parents who take an extensive curriculum within an album sold online and make sure that every Montessori material is acquired and presented at the designated age in the order which the album prescribes. The structure that the album provides comforts them.

      I know many, many more homeschooling parents who give up because the materials are expensive, the lessons stilted, and their children engaged in a battle of wills. This is where many parents leave Montessori in the dust. It's just too hard to follow a prescriptive approach, keeping your children from mixing up your freshly designed shelves while you take five minutes to wash the dirty dishes in the sink. I agree, and what's more, I don't believe that it's healthy for a child. It's silly to even try when the child is right there in front of us showing us what he/she is interested in learning - if only we will observe and support this natural process! I believe that homeschooling Montessori must look fundamentally different from teaching in a large classroom setting, and the resources available to homeschooling parents must work to take the pressure off so that the environment is a healthy and nurturing one for the child.

      In the words of my dear friend Andrea Lulka....

      "You can't follow an album and follow a child at the same time. Quality training courses show us how to focus on the child, while keeping the potentiality represented by each piece of work in mind."

      I couldn't agree more. Maintaining the integrity of our profession while making authentic resources available to those who are interested in learning more about Montessori is a very tricky balance. The cat, so to speak, is already out of the bag, and it is up to us to inspire the next generation of Montessori teachers. If you are considering becoming a certified Montessori teacher, I urge you to find the most highly respected training center that is accessible to you.

      I also want to be very clear about this: the parents and teachers who are downloading these online albums are not at fault for wanting to learn more about Montessori and pursuing help online! Let's give them some alternative resources that make sense. I would like to encourage parents using Montessori at home to make their own meaningful albums. There are so many wonderful, legitimate resources for information on Montessori that I truly think it can be done! After all, it is in the process of preparing the albums - not owning them - that is the key to their usefulness.

       
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      Your Montessori Book List

      Quite a lot has been written ABOUT Montessori in the past century, but any Montessori teacher worth her salt will tell you that reading straight from the source is invaluable. It is the glue that binds us as Montessorians, regardless of how we manage our classrooms, what projects we choose take on, or how we interpret the curriculum. It unites us.

      Here are my top recommendations for books written by Maria Montessori herself. Keep in mind that these books were all written before 1950, many are composites of her lectures, and they are all translated into English from Italian.

      Whatever they lack in contemporary style is made up for in poetic eloquence. Think of these works as a sort of Montessori time capsule. Montessori approached the education of children with the view of a scientist.

      These books are not "how-tos" on the Montessori method. In fact, it is said that Montessori herself did not like the word "method" but preferred that her ideas be thought of as an approach to living a fulfilling life, helping children reach their own potential on their own terms.

      These books lead you into Montessori's psyche as she evaluates each stage of a child's development (yes, from conception), explores various hands-on materials for teaching, and ponders on what it means to be human. For those of you who are looking for a clear explanation of Montessori curriculum, you will without a doubt be disappointed. For those of you who are willing to go deeper and read Montessori's own words as a guidebook to studying and pondering the meaning of life for today's children, there are rich intellectual rewards here!

      The Essentials

      If you are going to read just one book on the subject, you can't go wrong with either of these choices. In fact, read both!

      Secret of Childhood

      Published in 1936, this book is one of my favorites for newbies looking to start exploring Montessori philosophy. In the Montessori 101 Facebook forum, I chose this book for a long-term book study because I feel that it offers such a good introduction to Maria's theories. This passionately written book, from start to finish, is a call to action - urging all adults to advocate for the rights of the child.

      The Absorbent Mind

      This book was published fairly late in Maria's life and is one of my favorites for those who are looking to go deeper into Montessori's theories as she had fully developed them. Grab a highlighter and a bit of peace and quiet for a few minutes because there are golden words of wisdom as it applies to all of humanity. My recommendation is to read slowly and meditate.

      Going Deeper

      Still hungry for more? Check out these two books.

      Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook

      This is one the earliest books Montessori wrote about her method. Because many of the theories she discusses aren't quite fleshed out yet, the book is a wonderful peak into how her mind worked. 

      Discovery of the Child

      This is the most up-to-date version of The Montessori Method. It's a great source of information about pedagogy, materials, the flow of the classroom, and other foundational principles.