5 Montessori Take Aways

I have officially wrapped up the school year as a Montessori assistant teacher. It was a wonderful way for me to toe-dip into the world of the Montessorian while maintaining a casual work schedule. I will not be returning to the Montessori classroom next year (although never say never to the future). I am going back to my comfortable “home” of High School and counseling, BUT I will be taking plenty of Montessori with me when I leave!

  1. A Focus on Brain Development: Montessori was a doctor and ahead of her time in brain science. We now know that her theories around brain development were incredibly accurate as seen in brain scans. I want to be an advocate in all arenas of education for developmentally appropriate expectations in both behavior and academics. This is an area where regardless of if the school is traditional or Montessori or something else this can be applied and advocated for.
  2. From Teacher to Guide: There is a reason that authentic Montessorians call themselves guides versus teachers the student is the center of learning in the classroom not the teacher. I plan to take this guide mentality with me. Too often as a young first or second year teacher I treated my classroom like a one woman show, parading about and making sure the focus was constantly on me. I now know that any classroom I enter will look much different even in a traditional setting. I will ensure that I am a trusted resource and setter of limits, but it is the students’ show not mine.
  3. Discipline with Dignity: I have always tried my best to treat my students with respect and working in a Montessori environment has only grown that desire. Working with adolescents in particular it is our job as parents and educators to model proper adult conflict resolution. I also plan to continue to ensure that I use logical and natural consequences and encourage my school to do the same.
  4. Promoting Joy: Being a “life-long learner” or promoting a “love of  learning” are education buzz words that are often attached to schools or initiatives that totally zap any joy for learning. I really appreciated my lead teacher’s focus and monitoring of the joy in our classroom this year. Whether or not the students are happy to be at school and happy in the classroom was a priority that I had honestly never seen before, as sad as that sounds. I, too, want my students to feel joy when they come to school and when learning and discovering. Joy is a developmental need for all people. 
  5. Completing the Cycle: My last take-away is as a parent. I was happy to see what staying in a Montessori environment for an entire educational career could produce and knowing I want my children to continue in Montessori for their entire pre-college education. We had three students that had been in Montessori since PreK 3, that’s 10 years of Montessori experience by middle school! While I learned from all the students I taught this year, there was something about these three that struck me. It wasn’t their academic abilities, but rather an intangible quality of self-assurance. The much sought after “non-cognitive” skills of resiliency and grit that educators all over are goo-goo over right now, these students have it just by virtue of having been in the Montessori environment. I was describing my observation to the principal and she described it as “wholeness”. I thought that was a lovely description. The thought that the students leave school as whole beings really resonated with me.

These five things will stay with me forever and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have grown and developed as an educator.

Montessori Ideas: Entering the 2nd Plane

My daughter is six and a half and entering  her last few weeks in her Children’s House classroom. By June 1st,  she will officially be a Lower Elementary student and fully in Montessori’s second plane of development. (For an overview of the planes, look here.) I have already begun to notice her interests, interactions, and personality change. She is no longer a first plane child trying to get command of her body; she is now far more interested in exploring her mind.

My first clue that I needed to look into what on earth a second plane child is all about came when I began to notice the changes in my children’s relationship with one another. Although the age gap remains two years and two weeks, the gap currently feels much larger. We had at least one full year of the kids enjoying similar things and playing in similar ways. Now they still enjoy spending time together and enjoy some of the same activities, but they approach them differently and my daughter is more interested in separating herself from her brother than she ever has before.

This is completely uncharted territory for me. As a parent I obviously have no experience with second plane children, but I also have no experience as an educator because I work solely with third plane adolescents! So the question burning in my mind is: how can I, as her parent, help her in this new plane?

First we should look at what she needs (from Merry Montessori):

Needs of the second plane:

• Security of home and family balanced by movement out into the world
• Social interaction within a peer group
• Opportunities to explore all aspects of the natural world
• Opportunities to explore human experience in the natural world
• Concrete materials as a basis for abstract studies
• Physical exercise tied to purposeful activity
• Collaborative work
• Opportunities to explore roles in a fixed society
• Opportunities to explore ethics and morality
• Ideal exemplars of behavior and achievement who are excellent and
trustworthy role models

What does this look like in our family’s lives?

  • The number one thing that will not change from plane to plane is our family’s stability and reliability for our children. Our goal is to ensure that we keep our family and home life as a “home base” for our children as their lives continue to change.
  • The approach to friends and friendship will change. My son will continue to explore friendships, but my daughter’s friendships will become even more important. We will need to have discussions on how to choose friends and what happens when someone who says they are your friend sure doesn’t act like it. This is also the time when I feel comfortable having her stay over at a friend’s house for an extended time or even overnight.
  • We will continue to explore the world outside our door, both the natural aspects and those that are man-made. My son will experience these adventures based on the “what” and my daughter on the “why”. As parents, my husband and I need to be aware how they may view a family outing differently and think of ways to accommodate them.
  • We need to encourage her to find her own answers to the “why” through independent research. We are taking a trip to Minnesota this summer to visit some friends. My daughter is very excited about this trip. She developed many questions about the trip and Minnesota. Instead of sitting her down to tell her about my own experience visiting, I directed her to a book we have on the states and she looked up the section on Minnesota. She learned all about the lakes and that it is very cold in winter. She then decided to write about it in her journal. This is such a Montessori thing to do and I know it is being taught at school. I am happy to continue to encourage the same research-minded learning at home.
  • There are many more things that will come up and change in this new phase of childhood. I will write about our experience in this plane as we experience it.

I am eager to continue to learn about this next phase in our lives. This is the beginning of a six year journey and all things don’t have to be implemented at once; but it is important for me as a parent to understand truly that my daughter’s needs are changing and will differ from the needs of my son for a few years.


Still a team despite a changing relationship.

Still a team despite a changing relationship.

4 Reasons to Love Montessori

This post is brought to you by another blog that got my mental wheels turning. The author was comparing costs of preschools for his son and contemplating sending said son to a private Montessori school. The author then posed the question, “Is Montessori worth it?”  The real question he was asking was, “Is private school worth it?” because the sad fact is that in most parts of the country Montessori = private school. He then goes on to conclude that it is not, in fact, fiscally reasonable or responsible. I agree with the premise and conclusion and also commend the author on dispelling the overstated benefits of private education…

BUT the question in the beginning of the post kept nagging at me, “Is Montessori worth it?” In Houston, we are lucky, and potentially overwhelmed, with all of the school options for our children. As a parent, you have private, public, charter, and magnet schools to explore, apply, and choose from. As a parent of two children in a public Montessori magnet school, I wanted to share 4 of the many reasons that I believe that Montessori is worth it (and almost none of them are academic). These reasons are based on my experience as a Montessori parent and teacher’s assistant:

1. No one is afraid to ask for help: One of the first things I noticed when working with the 7th graders this year is how willing everyone was to ask for help. Whether they were advanced or struggling to stay on grade level there was no stigma to asking for clarification or assistance from peers or teachers. This was very different from my experience working at traditional schools where it was like pulling teeth to get students, particularly the “smart” ones, to reach out for help!

2. Peace Education: Just imagine a classroom where two 5th grade boys were having an issue with one another that was leading to a lot of tension and could have easily spilled over into an argument or fight. Now imagine that before that tension got to the boiling point, one of the boys brought up the tension to the class and enlisted the help of a peer mediator or “peacemaker” to solve the tension problem. Then the three students spent, maybe, 10 minutes working it out and everyone was able to move on. I got to witness that bit of awesomeness last week while helping in an Upper Elementary classroom. And you know what was even more awesome, that was normal! That is what you do when you have a conflict. You work it out. You don’t tattle. You don’t need to involve adults to solve your issues. Talk about a life-long, marketable skill.

3. Approaches to Math and Literacy: I am confident that my children would learn and be academically successful in just about any school, but the Montessori approaches to math and literacy continue to impress me in both my children at the Children’s House level and with my students in the Adolescent program. The emphasis on the “why” in math no doubt would have changed my own relationship with the subject altogether.

4. Encouragement of Non-Academic Work: I get obsessed when I see a Montessori classroom humming along during a work period. Students might be hunched over on rug or desk plugging away at an academic pursuit and some might be sewing a pillow or knitting and someone is always engrossed in a book. Love it. Kids sitting in rows, listening to a teacher at the front of the room does not bring up the same emotions. I mean, c’mon, the level of patience and concentration it takes for a ten year old to hand stitch a pillow closed trumps a test prep worksheet any day. Also, if you have never seen an often “too-cool-for-school” thirteen year old boy tenderly pick up a hen and administer eye drops to her infected eye you should, it is quite epic.

These are just a few of the many, many reasons to love Montessori. To love public Montessori. Don’t you want to promote, expand, and protect it? Me too. You can do this by supporting wonderful organizations that are fighting to expand public Montessori access like Friends of Montessori and Montessori for All. You can also register for the Public Montessori Educators of Texas Conference taking place here in Houston on March 7-8 and hear me and a bunch of other awesome, passionate people present.

PMET2014_11x17poster_Early Bird Registration


Parenting: Staying on Offense

Last week I did the most Montessori thing I have ever done, but the actual Montessori-ness of it is secondary to the reason why I did it. You see, my children had to stay home from school for the second time in four days due to an “inclement weather” day. In Houston this just means:  “Dear God…we have NO IDEA how to handle rain that is slightly frozen.”

The first unexpected school closure was on a Friday, so we treated it like a lazy weekend day. We watched Batman cartoons, baked banana bread, stayed in PJs for a great deal of the day. It was great, but by the end of the day the kids were a little stir crazy and bickering about everything. When school was canceled the following Tuesday I knew we could not have a repeat performance for various reasons namely that a lazy day sandwiched between two school days would really mess up my kids’ routine. I knew I had to stay on the offense. I had to plan something concrete and productive to do for a few hours to give some structure to their day.

Since both children attend Montessori school it made the most sense to me to build in a morning work period. I created a very simple work plan that is not very authentic but I knew would be enough work for us to make it to lunch. We don’t have many authentic materials so we had to improvise!

I made this "work plan" on a half sheet of paper. I wanted to include all of the subjects she normally does plus some other things. Her practical life activity was doing her laundry and her reading was to read aloud a chapter of a book of her choice.

I made this “work plan” on a half sheet of paper. I wanted to include all of the subjects she normally does plus some other things. Her practical life activity was doing her laundry and her reading was to read aloud a chapter of a book of her choice.

My daughter, in her interesting free choice outfit, doing the one piece of Montessori work we actually have! It is an addition board.

My daughter, in her interesting free choice outfit, doing the one piece of Montessori work we actually have! It is an addition board.

This is my son doing his culture work. He is just trying to recreate the states puzzle.

This is my son doing his culture work. He is just trying to recreate the states puzzle.

So what was the result? The kids were much less “crazy” and grouchy than they were on the previous Friday. They didn’t ask me two hundred times “what are we doing next?”

While this plan worked for us and I will definitely being doing it again, the same principle can be applied to whatever you can dream up and feel confident about. Maybe it is a craft morning or a cooking morning or a mini-Olympics morning! I just know that when I play offense my day AND the kids’ day goes so much smoother.

Montessori Ideas: Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda

My husband and I knew from the time my daughter was about 2 years old that Montessori was the right educational choice for our family but it took almost two additional years to realize that Montessori was the right parenting choice for our family as well. In that time our two children moved quickly beyond anything resembling babyhood, so when I began to read, research, and put into practice practical Montessori strategies all of the sections on babies were just a little too late. The silver lining of sorts is that now that I am in my early thirties I am experiencing a baby boom through friends! This post is dedicated to all of my friends with babies.

I am still very inspired by the Montessori baby literature even if it doesn’t apply to me directly anymore. If I could go back in time to the birth of my oldest I would implement the following Montessori inspired ideas. *One caveat: I am not a Montessori purist, I believe in the philosophy, but like to apply it practically. If you are looking for a purist take on Montessori from infant-hood I highly recommend Kylie at How we Montessori*

  • The mobile: We did have a mobile when my daughter was born, it was brightly colored and played a pretty annoying song. I wish I had known enough about child development to find more appropriate or make my own mobile(s) like Sara at Feeding the Soil. I love how it gives the baby something to focus on which is serious hard work for an infant!
  • A “movement space”: Even when my daughter was born I understood the importance of “tummy time” and having space for the baby to move around and test out her growing strength. What I like about the Montessori approach to this same idea is that you dedicate a space in the child’s bedroom or family room for this practice. The movement space includes a mat, an acrylic mirror, and sometimes things to pull up on in front of the mirror. If you have ever been around a baby you know they love looking at the baby in the mirror. Tummy time was often an unpleasant experience for my oldest, but I think if we had put a mirror next to her she might have actually enjoyed it. Some examples of this movement space can be found at Montessori Moms.
  • From bottle (or breast) to cup: Down with the sippy cup! 🙂  Montessori advocates to cut out the middle man. Young children are capable of drinking from a cup so why don’t we let them? The cup is actually what made me fall in love with Montessori when I saw my then 18 month old drinking water from a cup.  The sippy cup is an unnecessary step in the weaning process. If you have ever witnessed a child move from sippy cup to regular cup you know they tip the cup too far and make lots of messes, which is why you use the sippy cup in the first place to avoid the spills so why prolong the inevitable learning curve. I also love how the cup forces the child to sit down (or at least stop running) to take a drink which is a healthy habit we pushed to instill later so why not break the habit before it becomes one. We still fell a little into the sippy cup trap even after seeing my daughter’s capabilities, remember how we were slow to connect school and home, but I do think Montessori schooling helped push us to move beyond the sippy cup earlier as both kids were fully in cups by 2 years old.
  • One last thing I would change: I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself.  Although every decision felt like the most important thing in the world, six years later it seems silly that I lost sleep over it.

Every day is a new day to try again for both child and parent.

Good luck!

Montessori Ideas: Preparing the New Home Environment

My family and I moved into our new-to-us home a few months ago. Although I don’ t miss our old starter home, I do miss that I had already done all the front work to make the home accessible to my kids. With this new house, there were many things I did right away to prepare the environment and there are a few things left to do to make all of our lives easier.

Completed Preparations:

-In the bedrooms, both kids have all of their clothes accessible to them in easy to manage baskets or hung as outfits. This means that they can get dressed without any adult intervention.

-In the kitchen the children can access the dish and silverware in low drawers, grab a snack or pack a lunch from either the pantry or fridge, or grab a glass of water when needed. This is a similar set-up to our old house (seen here) but the kids now only use the family porcelain dinnerware and glass cups.

-In the bathroom, the sink is much higher than our previous home, but a simple stool does the job and we continue to use our kid shower.

-In the den, we moved our backpack station to make sure that before and after school run smoothly.

What still needs to be done:

-In the bedroom and bathroom the light switches are too high! My son cannot turn his lights on and off or use the restroom at night without help turning on the light. This has caused frustration in my son and annoyance for me! So our solution, until my son grows more, is to install a light switch extender like this one from Montessori Services. It even comes in a two-pack so I think I will only need one set.

A simple tool that can make a big difference to my son's confidence.

A simple tool that can make a big difference to my son’s confidence.

-In the bathroom, the kids have a hard time turning the shower on and getting to a reasonable temperature as the 1940’s fixture and plumbing is fickle. We will solve this one by adding it to the list of home repairs that we are tackling this spring.

Overall, the house is a great space for all for us and I look forward to tackling these minor problems in the future.

Montessori Ideas: Adding Sign Language

I am a nag by nature. I talk too much and explain too much and lecture too much. My children at the ripe old ages of 4 and 6 already are quite adept at tuning me out. I chose to work on this issue in a slow and evolving way by adding a few sign language words into my parenting tool kit.

We did use baby sign language with both children starting at around 9 months and both used it up until around 18 months when both children took to verbal language and never looked back. I loved how baby sign language freed them up to express themselves when they could understand the problem or idea but could not verbalize it. We didn’t use too many signs in those days just the practical ones for our lives, such as: more, all done, up, milk, bath, sleepy, please, and thank you.

When adding new signs into our routine I wanted to be even more selective. I had to think.  What am nagging them about? What am even I tired of saying? The good news is that both children use some signs in their classrooms so I didn’t have to teach them too many signs!

The signs we chose were:

1. Yes

DSC_0049 DSC_0048 Yes

2. No

DSC_0050 DSC_0051

3. Stop!

DSC_0053 DSC_0052

4. Wait (Wiggle your fingers)


5. Calm Down

DSC_0055 DSC_0056

6. Sit


Result: For my daughter, the sign model age 6, these work quite well. She is responsive to the “mommy look” plus sign which I like to employ in public. I also like to use these signs in calm times. Example: Child: “Mommy, can I get a snack?” Me: *Sign for Yes* My son is hit or miss, honestly. If I tell him “No, stop” he is a big fan of replying with the sign for “Yes” and then doing whatever it was that he wasn’t supposed to do. So, as you can see it is not a magic parenting bullet or anything, but it does keep my words down which makes them count more when I do say them!