Professional Development for TNCS Preschool Teachers: It’s All About Nature and Nurture!

One of the most important tenets of The New Century School is that the emotional, social, and physical development of very young children directly affects their overall development throughout their lifespan. That is why careful, thoughtful approaches to their education is so critical—this education must maximize their future well-being. TNCS preschool is not considered preparation for “real school”; TNCS preschoolers are very much students in their own right. It’s never too early to start cultivating the intrinsic qualities that make us conscientious, kind human beings.

Head of Lower School/Dean of Students Alicia Danyali upholds this vital tenet every day, and it is particularly evident during staff professional development (PD) days. At the end of March, in fact, Mrs. Danyali arranged for some very meaningful, rejuvenating PD for TNCS preprimary and primary teachers. This enrichment was well timed, as teachers entered their classrooms in the fourth quarter with a renewed sense of purpose, ready to share the fruits of their experiences with their eager students.

Reconnecting with the Natural World

“On Friday, March 22nd, we did a beautiful workshop with child psychologist Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish in the morning with all lead staff, and then I took the preprimary teachers Laura Noletto (Señora Lala), Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (Señora Salas), and Donghui Song (Song Laoshi) as well as primary teacher Lisa Reynolds to the Irvine Nature Center,” said Mrs. Danyali. “Montessori has such a deep connection to the natural world, and Irvine is a museum for preservation of land and plants and animals native to Maryland, so it seemed like a good fit.”

Irvine has a preschool for ages 3, 4, and 5, two classes of 14 students each. They also have family programming such as Mommy and Me classes and school programming as well as evening programming for adults. They offer field trips at their site, and they can even come to a school’s site. In fact, TNCS older students visited in the first quarter of this school year. Said Mrs. Danyali:

I did a survey for teachers at the beginning of the year and asked them, ‘What do you want to learn more about? What do you want to expand on? Where do you want to grow as a school?’, and everything pointed to nature—outdoor education, how we can be more connected, and what our possibilities are. So, I thought, ‘let’s call the experts,’ and I reached out to the director at Irvine and set it up. They are even having a nature preschool conference in April. They are big believers in planting those seeds early. I’m also looking to talk to them about an in-service volunteer opportunity either here at TNCS or at their site.

Because Irvine is a Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE)-accredited school, any TNCS teachers who attend the April conference would get 9 1/2 hours of continuing education credits. During their March visit, teachers explored the exhibits and classrooms and met and networked with other educators. Heavy rain prohibited trail-walking (the site is on 17 forested acres), but they had plenty to keep them occupied. “Irvine has a little something for everybody,” said Mrs. Danyali. “I think it’s going to be a great partnership and resource.”

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Reconnecting with Montessori Roots

While preprimary teachers and Mrs. Reynolds were getting back to nature, primary teachers Elizabeth Bowling and Maria Mosby went to The Montessori Event by the American Montessori Society in Washington, D.C. to learn more about, among many other things, second-language learning in a Montessori environment.

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This annual event moves all around the country and is attended by thousands from all over the world, but, when it’s nearby, both teachers try to attend. Ms. Mosby went to one held in Philadelphia 5 years ago, and Mrs. Bowling attended in New York City for Montessori’s 100th anniversary several years ago.

This year was notable for having an app available with scheduling functionality (the conference is divided into sessions) and downloadable presentations from world-renowned education specialists and speakers like Daniel Goleman.

Mrs. Bowling says she came away with a renewed sense of why she is a Montessori teacher:

You’re talking to so many people who want to know what you teach and where you teach. It’s really inspiring. At a talk between sessions, the Executive Director asked, if you love Montessori, please stand up. And the whole room—which was already standing room only—laughed and cheered. It was so encouraging; we’re all in this together. You don’t get to see that on a day-to-day basis in the classroom.

I also enjoyed being reminded of the basics, some of the concrete parts of the philosophy such as the importance of taking care of yourself. You take care of everybody else, and you give so much of yourself—you have to remember that even Maria Montessori said the teacher must also care for herself.

tncs-preschool-teacher-professional-developmentOne of the sessions Mrs. Bowling attended was “Self-Reflection as a Means to Evaluate Practice.” “This session covered the basics of preparing ourselves as teachers and stepping back and reevaluating our class or approaches as well as what’s going on within our own spirits so that we are able to give our best to our class and to one another as colleagues. It’s things we’ve learned and that we know, but this served as a great reminder. I could relate to so much of what this speaker described about her own teaching experiences, which was very comforting,” said Mrs. Bowling.

She also attended “Furthering Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom.” “This one talked about different types of behavior you might see in the classroom, and what that behavior really means. What is the child really saying with the behavior?” This involves taking a step back and looking at the wider context. When a child is being challenging, maybe he or she just needs a little extra love and attention, or maybe a task or a leadership opportunity. The need is coming out in a negative way, but the response, if positive, can completely redirect the child. The speakers demonstrated how a negative response (e.g., expressing aggravation) versus a positive response might affect the child during a role-playing session. Said Mrs. Bowling, “We really need to ask, ‘How can we help this student?'”

“How to Have Difficult Conversations” was a third session Mrs. Bowling attended. “It emphasized how to avoid putting your own biases on a conversation, which can minimize the other person—his or her culture or beliefs. We often do not realize that we’re being insensitive, so being careful and thinking through a response can help keep us more aware—just being careful of who people are and where they might be coming from,” she explained. If that sounds like mindfulness, it’s no accident. “Mindfulness is interwoven through Montessori and is part of the training up of the teacher. It helps you to really see your student,” she said.

tncs-preschool-teacher-professional-developmentMs. Mosby attended “Learning to Read in a Montessori Context.” “It turns out that our brains are not wired to read,” she said. “After explaining the science behind why learning to read can be really quite hard for some students, this session broke down how Montessori reading is taught at various levels and showed vocabulary games and ways to expand vocabulary. Words are taught with hand gestures so that every time the word is spoken, a hand gesture accompanies it.”

Ms. Mosby also attended “Integrating Best Practices with Art.” “This one talked about not only how art is being swept aside but also how it is so important in other classroom disciplines, like science and math—for example, tessellations are art/math hybrids that have 3D effects. The thing is, art is important in its own right. It’s great just because it’s art; it doesn’t require justification. Fortunately for us, it’s very much a part of the Montessori curriculum because it helps to develop a child’s fine motor skills and also helps him or her make sense of the world,” she said.

“Creating Bilingual Language Pathways,” was a third session Ms. Mosby attended. “This one talked about how to take advantage of brain plasticity and get those grooves created in the motor cortex. The speaker uses the five Cs we also incorporate here. Children need to hear sounds all the time to learn to link words to meaning. They also need sensory input. They should be exposed to a second language by age 4 for optimization—but any age can work,” explained Ms. Mosby.

One primary theme was peace. “Montessori is well known for promoting peace and being involved in social justice, so the speakers were called peacemakers,” said Ms. Mosby. Thrice-nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Scilla Elworthy, in “Empowering Young People To Be Agents of Change,” spoke about how important it is to work to make small changes in the classroom, like bullying prevention, for global impacts. “The peace curriculum is woven throughout the Montessori curriculum from the tiny ones through high schoolers,” said Ms. Mosby. “There was even this huge peace table where you could go to do yoga or take a moment for yourself.”

True Montessorians, both Mrs. Bowling and Ms. Mosby seemed very reflective after their experience. “We serve the child all of the time. That’s a place we hold, and that is a humbling place,” said Mrs. Bowling. Ms. Mosby agreed. “We have to let go of the ego. Adults have to get used that in the Montessori environment, she said. “It’s definitely a paradigm shift. You have to look at it with a different eye—that these students are not vessels to be filled; they are people.”

“I left very inspired,” said Ms. Mosby. “It was so good to see so many people who just love children be there to lift each other up.”

“It really brings you together with others in your field, and you feel so encouraged. You leave with your bucket filled,” said Mrs. Bowling. “We’re reminded about why we’re so passionate and plug away it day after day. It’s because we believe in this approach to early childhood education. I needed that encouragement at this point in my career. And stories were so relatable, and, to me, that was the best part of it, that coming together and the camaraderie. If you’re in Montessori, it’s because you think it’s the be-all, end-all.”

“It’s a choice,” echoed Ms. Mosby. “You do it because you love it, and you love what it means.”

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And, of course, at this particular conference, nobody was rude! Need more Montessori? Check out Maria Montessori: The Musical!

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Catch Up with the Teacher: Lisa Reynolds!

Immersed is thrilled to announce a new series happening for the 2018–2019 school year! Similar to how we interview new teachers who join The New Century School in the “Meet the Teacher” series, starting with this very post, we will be circling back to profile long-standing veteran faculty members, who also deserve this chance to tell readers a little more about who they are. Let’s call this long overdue series, “Catch-Up with the Teacher”!

Getting to Know Lisa Reynolds

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Lisa Reynolds with the latest addition to her family!

The thing that anyone who encounters Lisa Reynolds immediately notices is that she always seems happy to be where she is, which is in a classroom brimming with the adorable energy of preschool-age children. Ms. Reynolds joined TNCS in 2013 as a primary teacher. After a stint with the preprimary students, she is now back up on the second floor of building south—that is, in primary, and many would say that’s precisely where she belongs. She’s a natural with the 3- to 5-year-old set!

A lifelong Maryland native from Baltimore County, she received her Montessori certification in 2013 from the Maryland Center for Montessori Studies. Calm, patient, and loving, she exemplifies the Montessori teacher.

Inside Ms. Reynolds’ Classroom

tncs-teacher-lisa-reynoldsHer class comprises 19 students, and Xiu (“Nina”) Laoshi is an in-class intern teacher. Their shared goal is to instill a sense of community in their students, to socialize them. “I concentrate on the social aspect of the group,” explained Ms. Reynolds. “I’m seeing how they respond to one another during group activities. I want them to feel like a family—to see themselves as individuals as part of a family, a larger group.”

Such group activities usually involve making things, and, even apart from her innate creativity, there’s a very good reason why, according to Ms. Reynolds. “We do a lot of fun cooking, for example. One of my instructors used to say that the steps in the process really are not the work, but the conversation is, the cooperation. Being able to communicate with one another and work together, that’s the work.” They started with potatoes and plan to make some very communicative, cooperative muffins next quarter.

As appropriate for the Montessori method, her 19 students are a mix of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. Ms. Reynolds says the mixed ages is going very well. “The children I’ve had for 3 years are really big helpers so they help the younger children a lot. The younger students really appreciate that, and some bonds have become very strong.”

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As reported in a recent post, it’s important that the mixed-age dynamic is bidirectional, so the older students who mentor their younger classmates also get the chance to be mentored, such as when students from upper divisions pay the class a visit to read together.

As mentioned, Ms. Reynolds loves to be creative and finds lots of ways to incorporate art into class time. For special occasions, like the recent Thanksgiving Feast, students make decorations and place settings. And, teaser, mothers of children in her class may see some other beautiful decorations and more this coming May!

Language Learning

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Students have the benefit of a native-speaking Mandarin assistant teacher. Xiu Laoshi is quiet and soft spoken and prefers teaching one to one or in small groups of students. Chen Laoshi also comes in to assist, and she likes larger-group activities, like making carrot and spinach noodles from scratch.

For Spanish, the class has one-on-one teaching and large-group instruction twice a week. “In the larger groups, they might read a story, sing a song, and have a large group lesson. Then we break down into smaller groups, and they do little individualized lessons based on where the child is at,” explained Ms. Reynolds.

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Señora Sanzana leads the students in a song and dance around the classroom.

Primary Workshop

At the fall parent workshop, Ms. Reynolds’ topic specialty was the outdoors. She said:

I was basically giving parents ideas about what they can do outdoors. How to focus more on their gross motor skills and letting them explore, for example. Having certain boundaries but not hovering over them and letting them experience the fresh air, the smell of the grass, the sound of the leaves. Being able to absorb all of those sensory aspects of the outdoors and the importance of connecting with nature.

One terrific suggestion she has is going on a scavenger hunt. Collect paint swatches from a building or hardware store and then ask your children to find something in nature that matches the color. Try it during different seasons to show them the spectrum of natural colors and how they shift through the year.

Takeaway Thoughts

“I love my job!,” said Ms, Reynolds. “I love being with the children. It is the best part of my day. I have so much passion for the Montessori philosophy and the care of the children.”

TNCS is so glad to have you as a teacher!

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MD Secretary of State Visits TNCS!

On Wednesday, October 17th, The New Century School welcomed some very illustrious guests. Maryland’s Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, Director of International Affairs Mary E. Nitsch, and intern Rosanna Mantova (Intern, International Division, Maryland Office of the Secretary of State) visited the TNCS campus to see the Mandarin Chinese program firsthand. Secretary Wobensmith met TNCS Co-Founder/Co-Executive Director Roberta Faux earlier this year, who told him about TNCS. Based on her description of how Mandarin Chinese is taught at TNCS, he was eager to see it for himself. As part of the Maryland Sister States Program, Secretary Wobensmith and his team find ways to promote the connection between Maryland and Anhui Province of China, and education is a key area.

Ms. Nitsch explains:

Anhui Province, China, is one of 20 Sister States that Maryland has around the world. It is also the state’s oldest Sister State partnership, having been established in 1980. The program was established to provide a forum for the promotion of international cooperation and understanding. Through broad-based citizen participation in a wide variety of exchanges in areas of mutual interest, like education, arts, and culture, and economic development, the Sister States Program offers countless opportunities to develop partnerships around the world.

Mandarin Chinese Program at TNCS

It was easy to showcase TNCS’s program, owing to the amazing teachers and students who participate. The members of the Office were met at reception by Ms. Faux, TNCS Head of School Shara Khon Duncan, TNCS Dean of Students Alicia Danyali, and staff member Monica Li. After a brief welcome, the group began a tour of the school, starting from the ground up with Donghui Song’s preprimary classroom of 2- and 3-year-old students. Song Laoshi’s class is immersive; students are spoken to in Mandarin Chinese throughout the day. They are expected to understand and respond with the appropriate action to instructions given in Mandarin—and they do so beautifully. Not long after entering the classroom for the first time, they begin speaking a few words and singing songs.

The group next visited Lisa Reynolds’ primary classroom on the second floor. At ages 3 through 5 years, primary students are no longer in an immersion environment but are taught both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish (in addition to the Montessori curriculum representative of the primary program) and have native-speaking assistant teachers rotating through the classrooms and conversing with and instructing students in their native languages. At these ages, students are not just responding to instructions but are rapidly increasing their verbal skills. They demonstrate perfect intonation and pronunciation. They begin to recognize Chinese characters.

They charmed the visitors, saying “hello” and “welcome” in Mandarin.

Hope to see you again!

The group continued their climb through building south, headed next to Pei Ge’s kindergarten/1st-grade classroom on the third floor. The members of the Office of Secretary of State were very impressed by what they witnessed here. The entire classroom was bubbling with eagerness, a testament to Ge Laoshi’s teaching skills, and their Mandarin is nothing short of amazing.

Throughout the tour, Ms. Faux explained details about the school and its approach. “It’s less about being a linguist,” she said, “and really more about becoming a global citizen.” Thus, culture is an important emphasis and taught alongside the target language. So the visitors could get the full picture, the group also visited Barbara Sanchez’s 2nd-/3rd-grade Spanish classroom. These students also learn Mandarin, but, at the mid-to-upper elementary level, core subjects are partially taught in the target language, so, in addition to Spanish Language Arts, Sra. Sanchez integrates Spanish into her Math and Global Studies lessons.

Ms. Faux gave a quick powerpoint overview of the school, including the background, history, and overall ethos, and then the group finished up their classroom tour in Wei Li’s middle school lesson. Li Laoshi led the 6th- through 8th-graders in a conversation in Mandarin, then had them write sentences using Chinese characters and finish by making a presentation.

The group wrapped up the tour in TNCS’s beautiful Union Box space inside building North, which provided a chance to talk about the history of St. Stanislaus Cathedral and the Mother Seton Academy, and how they became part of TNCS’s campus.

Said Ms. Nitsch in a follow-up email: “One of the nicest parts of my job is having the opportunity to personally experience so many of the wonderful international programs and projects that are taking place around the state. As a former ESL teacher, I truly appreciate how important multilingualism and multiculturalism are to our state and country’s future success. And, as a Baltimore resident, it’s inspiring to know we have such wonderful resources like TNCS here in the city.”

For his part, Secretary Wobensmith declared himself “totally smitten” with TNCS. “Your enterprise. . .  is a remarkable effort, and it struck me that you have done it exactly right in all aspects. Congratulations!” he said. When he asked Ms. Faux about the possibility of expanding to other locations, she thought for a moment and then replied, “We have built a very strong community here, and that might be hard to replicate somewhere else.” It’s true—that foundation of families, teachers, students, staff, and everyone else who is part of the TNCS community is integral to the school’s continued success.

The visit by the members of the Office of the Secretary of State will not soon be forgotten. TNCS will cherish the memory of this great honor!

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TNCS’s Second Biannual Primary Workshop for 2017–2018!

At The New Century School, Montessori instruction not only defines the primary classroom for students ages 3- to 5-years old, but Montessori principles are the bedrock on which TNCS was founded. Although only the primary classrooms are classically Montessori, its importance at TNCS cannot be overstated. Students who start at TNCS in their primary years and progress through the upper divisions find that their elementary and middle school classrooms retain much of the Montessori character in terms of mixed-age classes; an inquiry-driven, student-led approach, and an emphasis on courage, compassion, respect, and service to and for schoolmates and staff.

Because there’s a lot to the Montessori method, TNCS hosts two workshops annually to allow parents to get the full picture of how it works. Last fall, primary teachers Lisa Reynolds, Elizabeth Bowling, Maria Mosby, and Yanyang Li hosted the first of these annual workshops, covering many areas of the Montessori classroom, including  the Work Cycle, Practical Life, the Montessori Skillset, and other broader concepts.

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This current workshop focused on the tools and lessons that Montessori students use to learn Geography and Science, Math, and Language as well as their primary vehicle for learning—their five senses: “The senses, being explorers of our world, open the way to knowledge,” wrote Maria Montessori.

20180118_141103Accordingly, the Sensorial component of the Montessori method is purposeful and orderly. It “refines the senses,” “orders the mind,” and facilitates “appreciation of the world.” There are visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory (and sometimes even gustatory!) materials for children to work with, all designed to establish fundamental precepts for learning. Each material is beautifully designed and appropriate for children during their sensitive periods of learning. They provide the necessary stimulation for children to learn science and geography, math, and language concepts more readily.

In a Science and Geography activity (known as a “work”), for example, a student might put together a globe puzzle, calling on his or her sensorial training to understand sequence, order, and beauty to successfully complete it (with complete absorption, no less), or match Ancient Egyptian names with figures. Cultural awareness also begins to develop here; in Montessori, concepts begin very concretely to enable to child to fully grasp them before being naturally drawn to extrapolate them to more abstract ideas.

This is nowhere more true than in Math: “Process is taught first, and facts come later. Order, coordination, concentration, and independence are experienced by the child using [Montessori math] materials.” The materials are organized into five groups:

  • Group 1 introduces sets of 1 through 10, which prepares the child for counting and teaches the value of quantity. Children begin to associate numeral and quantity with number rods and number cards and will gain a growing understanding of sequence. To reinforce the 1 through 10 concept, a teacher may add spindle boxes, cards and counters, the short bead stair, and other 1-to-10 counting activities.
  • Group 2 involves the decimal system using the golden bead material. Children become familiar with the names of the decimal categories: units of 10s, 100s, 1,000s, and so on. A  concrete experience with each category is represented by beads, and quantity will be followed by symbol and association.
  • Group 3 deals with the operations using the golden bead material. The concept and process of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are presented. Children work with each other and benefit from these exercises using the bank game. Progression then continues using operations with the stamp game.
  • Group 4 consists of linear counting. Quantity is presented using the teen and 10 boards, followed by symbol and association. The 100 board and bead chains develop number concepts and recognition of numbers 1 through 100. The bead chains also introduce the child to skip-counting—5, 10, 15, 20, etc., for example.
  • Group 5 contains activities such as strip boards, the snake game, and memorization of facts. Fractions are also a part of this group. Fraction skittles and insets serve this purpose.

The activities in the math area are not to be implemented at a set pace. Providing students with the materials at precisely the right challenge level will enable them to demonstrate their development to the teacher through their progress. A child who is able to grasp such math concepts as addition and subtraction demonstrates a successful use of the math materials.

“The only language men ever speak perfectly,” Maria Montessori wrote, “is the one they learned in babyhood, when no one can teach them anything!” Thus, language is possibly the area of the Montessori classroom accorded the most space, focusing first on oral language and vocabulary, then writing, and finally reading. From birth to age 6, children are in an exquisitely sensitive period for language development. They absorb multiple languages effortlessly and without direct instruction. The latter half of this plane of development is when they exhibit a strong interest in words.

  • The oral language curriculum focuses on activities that enrich the child’s vocabulary and ability to isolate phonetic sounds, such as having conversations, telling and reading stories, playing sound games, and working with vocabulary cards.
  • Children are typically interested in the practice of writing and often learn to write before they can read. The writing curriculum focuses on preparing the mind and the hand for writing activities through sensorial exercises and manipulatives.
  • A child prepared to begin reading will demonstrate this by first blending phonetic sounds. After much work in this area, the child will begin to work with phonograms, digraphs, and finally puzzle words (sight words). All of this work is done using sensorial objects that the child can manipulate and relate to words.
The primary teachers did a beautiful job explaining and demonstrating the brilliance of the Montessori classroom during the workshop, and they also shared their presentation in digital form for anyone unable to attend. To learn more, go to: TNCS 2017–2018 Parents Workshop.

 

Meet the Teacher: Elizabeth Bowling Joins TNCS Primary!

The New Century School follows a classic Montessori structure and approach in its primary division for children ages 3 to 5 years old. For the 2017–2018 school year, Elizabeth Bowling, who is from Carroll County here in Maryland and lives there now with her husband and their three children, joined the primary Montessori team. Although new to the school, she was already well known to her current colleagues!

Journey to Montessori

Having now been in a Montessori classroom environment for the last 14 years, she began her present career as an assistant at Bethesda Montessori School. After assisting for 4 years, she decided to take the training herself. Her route to that decision, however, had some twists and turns along the way:

I was an education major in college initially, and then I changed my major to law and became a paralegal. But, in the back of my mind, I wondered if I had made a mistake. When I told a former high school teacher of mine, he said, ‘You’ll regret it, and you’re going to end up a teacher. You think that you want something more exciting now because you’re young. But you’ll end up a teacher.’ So I kind of always kept that in the back of my mind.

Although Mrs. Bowling did not set out to become a teacher, let alone a Montessori-certified one, once she started, she knew she had found her calling. “After I graduated from college and in the legal field, I was not really very happy. I just sort of looked around one day and thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ and wondered what would be a better fit for me,” she recounted. Still in her 20s, she felt it was an ideal time to explore options and happened to see a job opening for an assistant at a Montessori school. “I knew nothing about Montessori, but I thought, just to be in a school setting, let me see if I like that. I had the interview, and the head of school had a good feeling about me. So, even though I had no experience, I worked there for a couple of years.”

When asked to elaborate more on how and why she chose the path of Montessori with no prior familiarity with it, she explains that having only been inside a traditional classroom was actually a benefit. “Although I had some adjusting to do, coming in with a clean slate meant that I didn’t have any preconceived notions and was very open and very trainable that way.”

Although she enjoyed her colleagues and the administration, she went back into law for financial reasons but was soon once again miserable. She says, “I had hit some crossroads in life and knew I needed to change my course. That’s when I went back and I took the Montessori training.” She had been encouraged by her colleagues (as well as students who wanted their in-class lessons from her) to do so and had felt such a strong connection in the Montessori classroom that this next step felt right and natural to her.

Once certified, she began teaching as classroom lead at what was then called the Montessori School in Lutherville, MD (and also where she completed her training) and is now known as Greenspring Montessori. She reports having a truly wonderful experience there and an amazing mentor, who has since retired from teaching. “She taught me everything that I know. I was her student teacher, and we were still extremely close and very good friends,” said Mrs. Bowling.

Welcome to TNCS!

In that reciprocity intrinsic to Montessori, Mrs. Bowling was later able to become a mentor in her own right. TNCS’s own Lisa Reynolds was once her assistant and mentee! Mrs. Bowling enjoys being back together and also with Ms. Mosby and the rest of the team. She feels they all work together incredibly harmoniously. (See TNCS Primary Workshop 2017 that demonstrates how each lead teacher on the Montessori team plays to her strength and contributes to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.)

Her current classroom here at TNCS comprises 19 3- and 4-year-olds. She is assisted by Yanely Pozo, who is in her first year as assistant and who Mrs. Bowling is thrilled to be working with and finds a “perfect match.” “Im really enjoying it here,” she said. “The administration is very kind and very supportive, so I feel very calm, joyful, and accepted here. I feel like what I bring to the table is is always considered and respected, which is lovely.”

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And then there’s her established connection with the other teachers:

Ms. Mosby, Mrs. Reynolds, and I all worked together earlier on, so we already knew each other quite well. But it’s nice to kind of come full circle and be back together. And Yangyang is fantastic—extremely supportive and so kind—so it’s just so nice to feel like you can easily go to a colleague for an idea or to share work or whatever the case may be. We have that kind of support among us, which is really nice and not always the case. We powwow and brainstorm together, and that’s usually how we handle our division. At the primary workshop, for example, we worked out how to convey what we feel is important and what we feel that the parents should know and would be helpful to understand. I happen to like the work cycle, so explaining that was my part of my contribution. We just share the love.

She says of her students: “My children are precious. At this age, they are a work in progress, but they enjoy each other and they have a great amount of potential.” She says her classroom functions quite smoothly. “This a good fit for my personality and the things that I believe in,” she said.

TNCS Primary Workshop 2017

Last month, The New Century School hosted a Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education. Unlike Open Houses and Information Nights that are general question-and-answer forums, a workshop’s purpose is to show you specifically what your children are learning and doing during their daily class time. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the primary workshop is a marvel—both eye-opening and fun. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori materials based on her extensive observation of children ages 2 1/2 through 6 years. Her goal was to put academic success within their reach by setting realizable achievement milestones, so to do that, she tailored materials to be used the way she saw children interacting with their world. Primary students use these materials nearly exclusively, and seeing how the materials are actually used and learning what each does for the child’s development was the focus of the workshop.

There are four lead Montessori teachers this year: Lisa Reynolds, Elizabeth Bowling, Maria Mosby, and Yangyang Li, and each presented an aspect of the primary curriculum.

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Work Cycle

Mrs. Bowling went first, introducing the foundational concept of the work cycle. “This is so incredibly important and something we are always looking for in the children,” she began. “The classroom environment focuses on independence, sense of order, concentration, and coordination. This takes time not only to develop within a child but it takes time in the day as well, so we do our best to provide an uninterrupted work time, usually 3 hours, in the morning.” She explained that, as Montessori educators, they are closely observing what materials that the students opt to work with because it demonstrates where their interests lie and also shows the student’s mindset. “You want them to practice lessons you’ve given them, but you also want them to be able to go back to works that they’ve mastered as well.”

The work cycle has three parts: preparation, working, completing (putting away). To prepare, the student spreads out a throw rug and lays out the components of the “work*” in an orderly fashion. Next the student does the work, following the steps as the teacher has previously shown them. Finally, they clean up the work, put it away on the shelf, and choose a new work. “That’s a lot when you’re 3, or 4, or even 5 and 6,” said Mrs. Bowling. “So, again, that takes some time to develop but it’s what we’re working on every day with your child, that complete follow through. This consistency aids the development of care and respect for their belongings and the environment. It also shows their ability to follow directions. It even introduces the basics for plot structure, which will aid them in reading comprehension. A lot goes into everything your child is doing in a day,” she said.

Montessori Skillset

Ms. Mosby spoke next, to talk about the theme of independence, confidence, and risk-taking within safe parameters. “From the time the child is born, he is working on little things that develop his independence,” she explained. “Before he learns to walk he has to learn to crawl. The child continuously seeks opportunities to increase his independence through a series of natural developments and milestones. The adult’s role, the parents role, the teacher’s role—-especially in this environment—is to foster it.” It’s a well-known Montessori tenet that we should never let a child risk failure until he has a reasonable chance of success. One way this bears out in the classroom is that everything is child-sized, from all furniture to the tools and materials, and the environment is prepared by the teacher.

“Everything we set up for the child to do helps them successfully do each work. The child is allowed to manipulate all of the things we have set up.” And here is where the risk-taking can come into play. The child may not be ready for a particular work or may need another lesson on how to complete it. But the important thing is, mistakes are okay. “We don’t correct the child,” said Ms. Mosby. “We let him discover his mistake and then we’ll go back and assess it later, we don’t interrupt his concentration. What we’re working on in this stage is developing that concentration and really helping him to focus on one thing at a time, isolating one concept and then adding more and more.”

This will help get them ready for elementary, where they’ll be doing new things, encountering additional challenges, and collaborating with other children. “At this stage, she said, “they’re working with just one thing at one time by themselves. That’s why you’ll see mostly one or two seats at a table. We don’t want too many children working together because they tend to distract one another. So, allowing a child to develop skills unhindered by an adult helps to develop independence, confidence, and appropriate risk assessment. We’re watching to make sure they’re safe while at the same time giving them that ability to assess risk for themselves, make mistakes, and learn from them.”

Practical Life

Newly certified Yangyang Li spoke about the Practical Life component of the Montessori curriculum, which, she explained, comprises four areas: care of self, care of the environment, grace and courtesy, and movement of objects. She said that, “practical life connects the child to the world, to the environment. It’s also indirect preparation for math and other academics.” If a child is interested in something, she explained, “the child will concentrate on it.” She also said that children at this age want real experiences, which also cultivates concentration as well as self-motivation. “Please help me to do the work by myself,” said Li Laoshi, is the attitude they convey. All of this also develops emotional independence.

Importantly, the child uses all of the senses when engaged in a practical life work, which could be cleaning tables, sweeping, arranging flowers, or anything else that is a part of daily chores. When the instructor demonstrates a practical life lesson, as you can see in the video below, she moves slowly and deliberately, taking care to experience all of the tactile sensations, sounds, smells, and so on, and follows an orderly sequence of steps. Thanks to the parent volunteer who now understands the correct way to do some washing up!

Interconnections

Mrs. Reynolds explored how the Montessori curriculum is interconnected, from practical life to science and geography, math, and language. “The materials build upon one another, making the progression important,” she explained. “Some works isolate one skill and focus on it while others may be educating the child in multiple ways. Many of the materials are self-correcting, which also promotes independence and problem solving.”

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Questions and Answers

A Q&Q followed, and parents were given the chance to inquire about specific aspects. Two that brought home a lot of the concepts are reproduced here.

Parent: What are some examples of work that the child is doing on a daily basis?

Instructors: The children are all working on different things. An example might be a group of 3-year-olds having a lesson on sounding where we would go around the room have them try to pick out something that starts with a certain sound. There is a lot of preliminary work so they might be doing pouring work, cleaning work and then you might take those things away and they might start pouring their own snack or working with some food preparation. They have started making coffee for us (laughter). It’s such a caring, loving thing for them. So they’re all working on different things in all different levels. You might see a teacher on the rug giving a lesson and the other teacher will be observing other children working independently on their lessons.

Parent: One question related to independence, where do you strike a balance between letting them explore on their own and then finding out it’s not working to putting them on the right track? At what point do you reorient them?

Instructors: First of all, we’re looking at, did they choose a work they’ve actually had a lesson on because you want to make sure they have. If they haven’t had a lesson on something then we intervene and redirect. If you have given this child a lesson and they’re picking up this work and it’s becoming too playful and not purposeful work then that might be a time we might come along side them and redirect them. We are watching that. There’s a purpose for the work. Of course, if they are trying and having difficulty, that is just part of the process. If they’re throwing things or being disruptive, that’s a different story. So we have to use our judgment to determine which direction to take.

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*Searching with the keywords “work cycle” in the search bar of this blog will bring up past years’ posts about primary workshops. They all have slightly different perspectives and are worth checking out if you are interested in learning more about Montessori education at TNCS.

Montessori Language Arts, Math, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS

On January 26th, The New Century School hosted a Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education for students ages 3, 4, and 5 years. This information-filled evening was the second such Primary Workshop of the 2016–2017 school year and covered the second half of the Montessori curriculum—Language Arts, Math, Science, and Global Studies. The Practical Life and Sensorial aspects were covered in the fall workshop.

The workshop’s purpose is to show parents specifically what their children are learning and doing during their daily class time. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the Primary Workshop is a marvel—both eye-opening and fun. For those who did grow up in a Montessori environment, the chance to reacquaint themselves with the materials must evoke the most delicious nostalgia. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori materials based on her extensive observation of children ages 2 1/2 through 6 years. Her goal was to put academic success within their reach by setting realizable achievement milestones, so, to do that, she tailored materials to be used the way she saw children interacting with their world. Primary students use these materials nearly exclusively, and seeing how the materials are actually used and learning what each does for the child’s development was the focus of the workshop.

Each primary lead teacher provided an overview of the discipline she was representing, but all four teachers cover all disciplines in their respective classrooms. They began by demonstrating how they present a “lesson” on a given material (a “work”): Movements are controlled and orderly; the pace is decidedly unhurried. Thus, the student is given ample time to absorb all aspects of what is happening. The overriding theme of the evening was that all lessons begin with the simplest concepts and move to increasingly complex ones. The student builds on and deepens understanding this way, rather than merely mimicking or memorizing.

Language Arts

Catherine Lawson presented the Language portion of the Workshop. The Montessori philosophy describes kids’ language acquisition as occurring over three major “explosions.” The first happens at age 12–18 months when babies start naming the elements of their surroundings. At around age 2 years, they begin to use sentences and describe how they feel. The final burst is at age 4–5 years when they begin to acquire reading and writing skills. Thus, they start with very concrete terms and make a series of abstractions to achieve literacy. How this translates to the Montessori classroom involves first making the student aware of the different sounds in a word, progressing to phonetics, and finally to spelling and beyond. (You may have even noticed that your primary-age student identifies the letter “a,” not by its name but by its sound. This is intentional, and Mrs. Lawson encouraged parents to do so as well. It’s less important for the child to know the name of the letter than to grasp its function.)

These “stepping stones into reading” demonstrate why this approach is so effective. Over the course of the 3-year primary cycle, a child starts with sandpaper letters—tracing a form and saying the sound with eyes first open, then closed. From there, the child learns to associate objects that start with a particular letter with the sound. The moveable alphabet, a later step, allows them to assemble letters to make words that correspond to certain objects laid next to the tray of letters.

Consonant sounds         Matching letters and objects       Moveable alphabet

Letter Mrs. Lawson says that language acquisition is perhaps the most important facet of child development, enhancing every other aspect. Communication also inherently conveys order—there’s a beginning, middle, and end, which underpins the Montessori approach as well.

She also recommended some handy tips for how to continue language development at home. The best we can do for our kids is to read and/or tell stories to them. (This advice is not exclusive to Montessori kids, of course, but it’s still nice to be reminded that our bedtime efforts are going to yield future dividends!) Another important at-home activity is to enrich kids’ vocabulary by identifying things that may be unfamiliar to them, such as kitchen tools. As you explain new words, adds Mrs. Lawson, make sure you emphasize the sounds within each words so the child learns correct articulation and enunciation.

Language and communication are integral to thought; giving the child the tools to express him or herself will build his or her confidence to communicate—and therefore to think—more effectively.

The primary classroom is also multilingual: Students benefit from having an assistant teacher who is a native speaker of either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese, and these teachers rotate through the four primary classrooms so that all students are regularly exposed to both languages. For more on TNCS’s philosophy on multilingualism, please search the Immersed archives for many posts on the topic, such as TNCS’s Foreign Language Program Embraces the 5 Cs and Multilingual Media for Kids: Explore Beyond Dora; Bid Kai-Lan Farewell!. This article on multilingualism and enhanced learning is also informative.

Math

Number Rods

Students start to understand that numbers are symbolic of quantity with these number rods.

Bead units

They next begin to think in terms of units.

Montessori math is likewise a progression of lessons from concrete/discrete to abstract. Michelle Hackshaw presented the math materials and described teaching math as “starting with concrete knowledge of numbers and quantity and leading to ever more complex operations like multiplication and division.” She repeatedly emphasized the importance of understanding what the numeric symbols represent.

Thousand blocks

To count units, students start with successively larger quantities of beads. Once they have truly made the leap from concrete to abstract, they move to the 1,000 blocks and eventually the alluring “bead frame.”

Kids first learn to count from 1-10 and are taught the concept that those numbers represent a specific amount. They make this connection with the number rods and with numeral cards. They sequentially progress through counting with beads to learn units of 10, 100, and 1,000, which teaches them the decimal system in the bargain. By combining the physical materials with these higher-order abstractions, the child will learn addition, subtraction, and on up, yet will have truly absorbed the deeper sense of such operations rather than simply memorizing a set of, say, multiplication tables.

Science

reptilesamphibiansMaria Mosby handled the Science portion of the workshop. Just as with the other Montessori categories, the scientific disciplines are taught from simple to complex, but here the progression can be less linear, as students are strongly encouraged to discover the natural world, rather than simply be told about it, explained Ms. Mosby. Science tends toward botany and biology, with kids exploring, for example, life cycles and habitats or getting a tactile boost from perusing the sundry contents of the “nature basket.” Ms. Mosby says she uses every opportunity to get kids out of their “comfort zones” by asking questions like, “What is this made of?” to launch various lines of inquiry and expand student’s views of their worlds.

sink-and-floatProbably the favorite activity among the younger primary crowd is the Sink and Float work, in which kids get to pour water (what?) into a vessel and then systematically dunk items (what?) into the vessel to see which will float and which will sink. Montessori is nothing if not kid-friendly!

Global Studies

tncs-primary-workshopLisa Reynolds introduced the group to Global Studies. “These lessons, she says, “give students the opportunity to learn about other cultures.” Primary teachers also display objects from around the world in their classrooms to have a physical representation of a particular locale always on hand.

landwater-formsA typical activity here might be doing puzzle maps to promote visual recognition of the names and topography of the seven continents and their relationship to each other. Students also develop manual control with manipulation of the puzzle pieces. From here, kids advance to push-pinning the outlines of the various land masses and creating their own “maps.” Another popular Global Studies activity is learning about the relationships between various types of land masses and water.

The main reason to begin teaching these topics so young, according to Dr. Montessori, is to help kids develop spatial orientation including the vocabulary to express it (i.e., “up,” “over,” “through,” etc.) because they have such an overwhelming  need for order in their environment. Putting the need together with the tool to fulfill it empowers young kids and gives them the confidence to be students, learners.

Putting It All Together

One takeaway from the four-part workshop was how beautifully all of the materials work together to provide a very complete and absorbing experience. Each one, though developed for a particular discipline, nevertheless encourages the child to use skills and senses from other areas. For example, the water and land mass trays also hone practical life skills (pouring the water from big pitcher to small and to the tray itself) and tune the stereognostic sense (kids touch the land masses and trace the waterway, feeling each form and storing that information away) while teaching fundamental geography. In later school years, a Montessori-educated child confronting the word, “isthmus,” for example, calls forth an immediate and multilayered concept of what that word represents that includes the physical relationship of the land to the water rather than just a memorized definition.

landwatersinkfloat

Emerging research has demonstrated the numerous and far-reaching benefits of preschool Montessori education (see “Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education”). Seeing the true genius of the Montessori materials so intimately, it’s really no surprise that children derive a very full, well-rounded education by using them. They are, after all, really made for kids.

For more on the Montessori Method in TNCS primary classrooms, view primary-workshop_january-26-2017.

Finally, Head of School Alicia Danyali, who also introduced and opened the workshop, closed by illuminating another unifying thread of the Montessori curriculum and, indeed, TNCS as a whole: tolerance, kindness, respect. These qualities inform what Mrs. Danyali calls TNCS’s “invisible curriculum,” which, despite the lack of rubrics to measure individual progress by, is felt in every part of TNCS operations. If it’s hard to visualize young children exemplifying these traits deliberately, come watch a TNCS primary classroom in real time, where you’ll see students seamlessly migrating from work station to work station, helping one another, and above all respecting the space they are in as well as the other members of their harmonious community.