Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success? Start Earlier!

Reading the January 1st online edition of the New York Times, I was struck by Alan Finder's article "Giving Disorganized Boys the Tools for Success" and the ages of the children in the article. If you haven't read it, the article is definitely worth a read. Even if your child is still a toddler or, perhaps, especially if your child is still a toddler, the article has some valuable points.

From a Montessori perspective, we'd say this is what happens when you do not foster independent activities and thought at an early age. For those of you who haven't read the article, there is a new business involving consultants who work with teen boys (and some girls) to get them organized in life. From helping them sort the materials in their backpacks to figuring out how to apply to colleges. The consultant's work sounds very solid and good, but why is it needed ...

Those of you who subscribe to our weekly curriculum guides will have already noted the importance Montessori places on independent action, whether for a toddler choosing a piece of equipment to handle or a third-grader deciding how to best choose an essay topic.

Many parents, teachers, and schools look for the perfect fix. That combination of curriculum and material that will yield the best results. Montessori teachers frequently find themselves in a bind. Why is it important for a three or five year old to learn how to guide his or her morning activities independently? Why don't we just direct them to finish the most projects the fastest way possible so they can move on to the next level?

What goes missing from the observation is that we are teaching the children. They are learning how to make solid choices independently (It's not as if a Montessori classroom gives playing in traffic as an option.... children make choices between such topics as math, sensorial development, fine motor skill exercises, language, reading, writing, physical exercises, music, and art)

A few tips to start:
  1. Streamline your home (or classroom) environment so your child can reach everything safely, work at a child-sized table or desk, and have a place for equipment, toys, and clothing. Your child should be able to use his or her belongings and then put them away easily (no jumping up to put them in the top of the closet or in an overstuffed toy chest).
  2. Is your child's room jam packed with toys and junk after the holidays? Work with your child to discard, give to charity, and organize. If your child's room is a disaster, he or she will not have a chance to get organized mentally.
  3. If you are homeschooling children under seven, set up an easy-to-follow schedule starting with getting up and getting dressed, meals and snacks, outdoor play, and quiet indoor activities and study. Leave three hour blocks for indoor work, do not break them up into 45 minute segments as schools are prone to do.
  4. Show your child how to prepare easy and healthy snacks such as sliced apples with cheese or celery with peanut butter. Once your kitchen is set up for children with low tables and child food on a low shelf in the fridge, let your child decide when he or she needs a snack. Let your child make the snacks instead of shoving the food in front of them and exhorting them to eat. Children adore being able to do things on their own and they'll be delighted to make snacks for everyone to share.
  5. Healthy food. If your child eats sugary breakfast cereal in the morning, you'll have to drug them with ritalin to get them to sit still. No, we're not advocating ritalin. Get rid of the "super chocolate chip frosted flakes" cereal. Same goes for snacks and other meals. No soda, either!

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Independent Work in the Montessori Classroom

When we speak of independent work for three year olds, many teachers in traditional classrooms look dismayed. They assume that our Montessori classrooms must be full of chaos and disaster. Nothing could be further from the truth!

In the Primary class (ages 2 1/2 to 5), children sit together in the morning circle to have brief discussions about their weekends and the coming day, and then go about their morning activities of choosing material with which they would like to work.

New material is presented to a single child or group of children, depending on the type of material. Once children see how the material is used, they will work with it independently on their own whenever they decide they want to do a particular exercise.

A point of fascination for visitors is often the fact that children choose to do serious work. Left to their own devices, they do not choose to finger paint all day! Rather, work with the Movable Alphabet (for writing leading to reading), long addition with the Golden Beads, or sensorial material such as the Red Rods prove most popular.

If you are working with your child at home on the weekends, homeschooling, or just want to add a bit of Montessori to your daily life, try introducing new things in a simple way and set material up so that it is child-friendly, and let your child take the lead in deciding what to do at home.

Child-friendly options can be as easy as making sure your child can reach everything he or she needs to make basic snacks in the kitchen or putting small sturdy steps up to the washing machine, so your child can put in a small load of things.

Questions? Send in a comment and let us know!

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