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.

———

*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.

Guest Blog: Stop and Smell the Roses!

This Immersed post comes to you from guest blogger Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, who recently presented a workshop on mindfulness practices to The New Century School staff and writes about this experience. Dr. Perry-Parrish is Director of Training, Child Clinical & Pediatric Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins as well as a TNCS parent. As part of Johns Hopkins Expert Team in Pediatric Medical Psychology, “[she] specializes in improving emotion regulation in children and adolescents. Her clinical interests emphasize practicing and promoting evidence-based care, including parent management training for childhood noncompliance and ADHD, cognitive-behavioral therapy for youth anxiety/depression, and acceptance and mindfulness-based interventions to improve self-regulation.”

Stop and Smell the Roses!

Last spring, I was asked to give a parent workshop on mindfulness in parenting. A great group of parents attended and it was a good experience. Several teachers were interested in the topic as well, and this year I was invited back to provide a teacher workshop on mindfulness. Our teachers and staff were another lovely group, very engaged in learning about meditation and mindfulness.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, so I shared one of my favorite pictures of Dr. King and Thich Nhat Hanh (mindfulness author and monk), engaged at a conference back in the 1960s. Gauging from how many recognized this favorite author of mine, it was clear that several in the group were already engaged in mindfulness in various forms. So what is mindfulness?

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). As L.A. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson put it, “when [basketball] players practice what is known as mindfulness…not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned to each other.” In essence, mindfulness is the complete awareness in what is happening right now. Therefore, mindfulness instruction is intended to enhance an individual’s innate ability to be aware.

Formal mindfulness instruction entails a range of techniques that help foster an intentional focusing of attention on one’s present-moment experience while letting go of negative, self-critical judgments. As detailed explicitly in many mindfulness programs, this type of training aims to help individuals accept unpleasant and painful experiences without reactively attempting to change the experience. However, as most of us would prefer to reduce or eliminate pain and discomfort as much as possible, some mindfulness-based programs additionally adopt a dialectical position of balancing desire for change alongside intentional acceptance of the inevitability of suffering. As moment-to-moment awareness through the day is the ultimate goal of mindfulness programs, there is also instruction of informal techniques that can be used at any time.

The recent teacher workshop provided an introduction to mindfulness and some suggestions for how to weave contemplative practices to support our children’s development of focused attention. Given the range of daily hassles and life stress we all experience, activities that foster our children’s focused attention are theorized to help them regulate their emotional reactions.

For those of you who have observed in our children’s classrooms, you have probably seen several teachers engage in mindfulness activities—whether or not the teacher had identified the activity as such. You have likely witnessed your own child become absorbed in a favorite activity, whether it was engineering a LEGO construction, collecting wildflowers, or watching the clouds pass by. Awareness training is quite complementary to a central tenet of Montessori philosophy, which is to develop the innate ability to become absorbed in learning. As Maria Montessori stated, “The first essential for the child’s development is concentration” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 202).

tncs-mindfulness-in-the-classroom

Mind full, or mindful?

Portions excerpted from Perry-Parrish, C., & Sibinga, E.M.S. (2014). Mindfulness meditation. Functional Symptoms in Pediatrics (ed. R. Anbar). Springer.

—Carisa Perry-Parrish

. . . And stay tuned, readers, for teacher reactions to the workshop as well as some of Dr. Perry-Parrish’s very helpful, evidence-based tips on how to (and why we should) mindfully interact with children, whether at home or in the classroom.

TNCS Primary Workshop: Connecting Montessori to Home

A few weeks ago, The New Century School Montessori teachers gave their bi-annual Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education. But this time, they also added a new twist—how to support Montessori principles in the home.

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Our illustrious panel of Montessori teachers.

Joining teachers Catherine Lawson, Martellies Warren, Lisa Reynolds, and Maria Mosby, Head of School Alicia Danyali introduced the workshop and was quick to reassure parents that they needn’t run out and “remodel the home with Montessori materials”; rather, “this presentation is to show ways that Montessori can be connected naturally to what you already do in the home.”

Although previous workshops, including in the fall of this academic year, have demonstrated specifically what students are learning and doing during their daily class time, this one did not cover teacher and learning with Montessori materials per se. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the materials are 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 prior Primary Workshops.

As such, the Montessori classroom is a very deliberately “prepared environment.” Every nook and cranny is optimized for both the child’s size and the child’s development (accommodating a range of both, of course). Similar child-optimization can also be accomplished with a little careful tweaking of the existing environment, such as in the home, as the TNCS Montessori teachers went on to demonstrate.

To make the home–school connection, they covered the following four areas.

Part 1

Up first, Mrs. Lawson described how to prepare the interior and exterior of the home and the car, joking that “we aren’t going to force anyone to set up this way. No one is coming to your home to check on you! But we’re trying to teach independence, and here are some ways you can further this at home.”

Entryway

  • Install low hooks for children to hang up their own coats or use child-sized hangers so they can hang their coats with everyone else’s (Mrs. Lawson showed an old, well-loved hanger one of her daughters had decorated for this use).
  • Create a place to put wet boots and dirty shoes.
  • Designate a place to keep lunch boxes, backpacks, and other regularly used gear.

Living Room and Family Room

  • Make these areas child friendly so children feel welcome—said Mrs. Lawson: “Children like to be where their parents are, but they need their things handy also.”
  • Make books available in every room, if possible, with a bookshelf or basket to hold them.
  • Keep some toys available for use in an organized way, which encourages easy clean up:
    • Use low bookshelves or the bottom shelf of a television cart to hold toys.
    • Give each particular toy a place on the shelf. Place activities with many pieces in dedicated holders (e.g., shoe boxes, baskets, etc.).
    • Offer limited choices of activities that fit on the shelves provided, and rotate the toys when interest wanes.
    • Use a bathmat, throw rug, or bath towel for the child’s designated activity area, à la Montessori.
  • Although these might be hard habits to break, try to avoid:
    • Using a toy box or big basket that holds many toys because children can get overstimulated with too many choices.
    • Allowing the child to play with many toys and then doing a big clean-up. Instead, encourage playing with one toy and putting it away before moving onto the next.

Bedroom

  • Make books available in every room, if possible, with a bookshelf or basket to hold them.
  • Use low shelves for children’s toys and activities:
    • Each toy should have its own place, and rotate toys as necessary.
    • Only have bedroom-appropriate toys in the bedroom because you will not always be present to supervise. Markers, for example, are not a good choice!
  • Keep a laundry basket handy that allows the child to dispose of his or her own dirty clothes each night.
  • If possible, install in the closet an easy-to-reach rod and child-sized hangers.
  • In the dresser, place season-appropriate clothes in the lower drawers so the child can choose the clothing and dress him or herself.
  • Install a bulletin board at the child’s eye level to display pictures of family members, artwork, postcards, etc.:
    • When they are reading, post reminders about things or just love notes.
    • Add a calendar to mark off days.
  • Consider using a comforter instead of a bedspread on the bed. Let it be the child’s job or to help pull up the comforter each morning.

    tncs-primary-workshop-connecting-montessori-to-home

    “It hides the wrinkles and looks tidy even if it isn’t perfect,” demonstrated Mrs. Lawson.

Outside

  • Make a place for outdoor toys (not just a big plastic tub for everything), such as a laundry basket.
  • Have opportunities for gardening (i.e., digging in the dirt) available.

Car

  • The car is an extension of home for many commuting families. Make it a happy environment with car-appropriate activities:
    • Books
    • CD of music or stories
    • DVDs
    • Activity books (avoid crayons, which melt)
  • Keep a supply of snacks and drinks on hand. Make a snack bag that allows the child to decide when and how much to eat (this encourages responsible decision making and avoids a power struggle).
  • For longer trips, consider making a goodie bag filled with tissue paper–wrapped activities or toys (they can be new things or things from around the house, e.g., rubber ducks, trucks, sticker books).

Part 2

Mr. Warren spoke next. “My part of today’s presentation is on allowing for mistakes. A huge part of Montessori and overall development is making mistakes.” He read essential parts from “Mistakes and Freedom,” an article published by The Center for Guided Montessori Studies and starting with this famous quote by Dr. Maria Montessori:

“It is a commonplace that the child must be free. But what kind
of freedom has he been given? The only true freedom for an
individual is to have the opportunity to act independently. That
is the condition sine qua non of individuality. There is no such
thing as an individual until a person can act by himself. The
instinct guiding the child to seek his independence thus leads us
to realize what the whole of nature demonstrates – that any sort
of association is composed of separate individuals. Otherwise
there would be no such thing as societies, but only colonies.
Education must foster both the development of individuality
and that of society. Society cannot develop unless the
individual develops, as we learn from observing the child, who
immediately uses his newly won independence to act on a social
environment.”

Read the article in its entirety here: http://www.guidedstudies.com/2011/04/mistakes-and-freedom/.

tncs-primary-workshop-connecting-montessori-to-homeMr. Warren ended with his own classroom tenets of allowing for mistakes:

  • Prepare the environment and step back.
  • Give the child time for reflection, problem-solving, and coming to their own conclusions.
  • Don’t swoop in!
  • Encourage the desired behavior, but understand and accept that mistakes are necessary for growth and development!

Part 3

Next up, tying into Mr. Warren’s theme, Mrs. Reynolds discussed the difference between praise and encouragement and how to allow children to cultivate the courage to be imperfect. “I like praise,” she joked, “it’s like candy.” Audience laughter ensued. “But what is the long-term effect,” she asked? “Children who are praised choose less challenging work.” That might seem counterintuitive—it’s why we praise our kids, after all, to ostensibly build up their self-esteem—but studies are unequivocal in demonstrating that our good intentions are having deleterious effects.

Mrs. Reynolds brought up the example of kids’ art, which parents can tend to gush over, even when what is depicted is basically a scribble. Not only does this signal to the child on some level that he or she doesn’t need to really try hard to make something praiseworthy, but the praise itself also becomes less meaningful.

The upside is, said Mrs. Reynolds, “Children who are encouraged for their efforts are willing to choose more challenging tasks on their own.” Encourage the deed, rather than praising the outcome. “Show respect for and interest in the child’s point of view.” Also, make sure to provide opportunities for the child to develop his or her life skills, such as making the bed. (Recall from Part 1, though, that the idea is to set the child up for success by “preparing the environment.”  See above.) This will help the child develop self-confidence and independence, as well as independence from the negative opinions of others.

“Who doesn’t want that for their children?” she concluded.

Part 4

Ms. Mosby then took up the thread of independence by presenting specific ways that parents can give children these opportunities at home. “Have you ever been approached by your children while your cleaning the house because they want to help?” she asked. Our tendency can be to brush aside these offers as sweet, but not really very helpful because we want an actually clean outcome for our efforts. But, this is exactly the time, explained Ms. Mosby, to tap into that natural excitement and teach them how to tackle some of these household tasks before they become too jaded to want to help. Sure, the results might not be perfect, but the ultimate reward of cultivating independence and a fundamental helpfulness in your child will outweigh this temporary downside.

She went on to tell parents how eager her students are to help clean the classroom and how she seizes those opportunities to both accept the help as well as teach the correct methods. “All of the materials I’m showing you are things you’ll already have around the house, such as dust cloths, dustpans, and plastic bins to wash dishes or other items ‘the old-fashioned way’.” (She gave parents the helpful tip that her students love polishing tables and will rub the polish practically off in their zeal for this task.)

Kids are also natural sous chefs—they love to help make their lunches, for example, such as by spreading ingredients on bread and peeling vegetables. Learning to use kitchen implements also helps them develop their fine motor skills. They can also be recruited to put dishes away. “Let them know you trust them,” said Ms. Mosby, ” and start with unbreakable pots and pans in a low cabinet, progressing as the child is ready to more fragile dishes.”

They can also help with pets. “They love to have another little someone to care for,” said Ms. Mosby. Let them brush the cat or dog and help put out the food and water. They can even help with younger siblings and get practice with gentle care in the classroom with babydoll models.

The garden or backyard is another area where kids can be a huge help, whether with cleaning up or actual gardening. A “pooper scooper,” she pointed out, makes a great child-sized leaf picker-upper.

Resources

Head of School Alicia Danyali offers the following resources “to support your family’s educational journey” with a young learner.

Books

  • The Child in the Family, by Dr. Maria Montessori
  • Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, by Jane Nelson
  • Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, by Susan Mayclin Stephenson
  • How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, by Tim Seldin
  • The Whole-Brain Child, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish

Websites

TNCS Elementary Information Night Rounds Out a Great 2014!

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

Refreshments were thoughtfully provided by Chef Emma Novashinski.

The New Century School‘s fifth year has been undeniably amazing. Rounding out 2014 with yet another breakthrough, Admissions Director Robin Munro announced Thursday that TNCS received a record number of K–5th applications by the 12/17/14 due date. That TNCS’s elementary program has earned its bragging rights—and is attracting hordes of new enrollees—was made clear at the Kindergarten/Elementary Information Night held 12/11/14.

The event was well organized, informative, and fun. Yummy refreshments were provided by Chef Emma Novashinski (who also gave away lovely little jars of homemade pickles), and free childcare including dinner was also offered. Recognizing that parent involvement is vital to student success, TNCS makes it so easy—no, appealing—to participate in school functions.

Elementary Program Overview

Mrs. Munro sent out an agenda before the event to help parents make the most of their time there. The schedule started with her Welcome speech, followed by a program overview by Head of School Alicia Danyali and a brief question-and-answer session. The elementary program—“where traditional and progressive education meet”—provides a solid foundation in the liberal arts by incorporating the following elements:
  • Small class size: Keeping classes to no more than 16 students allows for individualized, differentiated instruction. 
  • Daily language classes in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish: Younger students begin with conversation and vocabulary building. As their written English language skills progress, they begin to work on reading and writing in Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. Introductory character work in Chinese begins immediately. 
  • Specialty classes: Students have music, art, and physical education classes twice every week. Creativity is encouraged through music and art, while body awareness and health is taught in phys ed class. 
  • Inquiry- and skill-based curricula: We provide a solid foundation in the core subjects of language arts and mathematics, and our teachers develop auxiliary science and global studies lessons based upon student questions and interest. This approach encourages critical thinking and allows children to work to their fullest potential. 
  • Field trips: Teachers take students on weekly trips to our on-site greenhouse and into the school’s extended classroom, lower Fell’s Point. Students take a full-day trip at least once each quarter. Past field trips have included the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the Confucius Institute at University of Maryland College Park, the National Aquarium, and more. 
  • Emphasis on values: Students learn to treat others and themselves with respect. 
  • Mixed-age classrooms: Students to work to their skill level, not just their grade level and benefit both from mentoring and being mentored. 
  • Enhanced learning via technology: Students use children use multiple apps and programs, learn proper keyboarding skills, and begin to learn basic programming.

After the initial gathering, parents were asked to “self-sort” (love that new term coinage!) into three groups and rotate among the three elementary classrooms. In his classroom, Dan McGonigal, the upper elementary mathematics and science teacher, demonstrated a unit on bridge construction in the science curriculum, Engineering is Elementary (scroll below for photos of the students executing this project). Adriana DuPrau, the upper elementary English language arts and social students teacher showcased the English, Chinese, and Spanish curricula. Teresa Jacoby, the K/1st generalist teacher discussed integrating traditional Montessori materials with more progressive curricula and how she differentiates to the various levels in her class. Mrs. Danyali and Mrs. Munro circulated throughout to answer questions.

Elementary Program Philosophy and Approach

As an independent private school, TNCS does not follow the Common Core standards. Individual grade standards set forth by the Maryland State Department of Education are met—and in most cases surpassed—through the use of carefully selected curricula which best supports our mission to challenge students to realize their richest individual potential through progressive, multilingual education and meaningful participation in the world community.
Students are placed according to their birthday into one of three mixed-age classes: K/1st, 2nd/3rd, and 4th/5th. As the student body matures, upper grades will be added (through 8th) each year, accordingly. Mixing ages is part of the school’s Montessori-inspired vision. Research continues to prove what Maria Montessori observed over 100 years ago, which is that children learn best from their peers. By mixing ages, students can work to their own skill level and not be boxed in by grade-level expectations. TNCS students learn to be friends with everyone and to solve social problems without aggression.
A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

A day in the life of a TNCS elementary student. Looks pretty engaging!

The TNCS format of mixed-age, skill-based classrooms allows our teachers to truly teach and inspire students to reach, or more typically exceed, grade expectations. Through inquiry-based lessons, TNCS teachers can educate the whole child and are not limited by the constraints of a standardized test.

Tools they use to help accomplish these goals include the following.
In Language Arts:
  • The Daily 5 consists of reading to self, reading to someone else, listening to reading, writing, and doing word work.
  • Junior Great Books brings high quality literature and student-centered discussions to the classroom.
  • Wordly Wise 3000 improves student vocabulary.

In Mathematics:

  • Singapore Math is the backbone of the mathematics program.
  • Montessori math materials are used in the K/1st classroom to provide a solid foundation for the transition into Singapore Math in upper elementary.
  • The Daily 3 consists of doing math individually, math writing, and doing math with someone else.

In Science and Technology:

  • Engineering is Elementary allows for learning scientific principles through hands on experiments. The photos below show an example of one project in the bridge design unit.
  • SuccessMaker software is aligned with national grade standards and

Now that’s something to brag about, kids! And keep up the great work, TNCS!

Happy Birthday, Immersed!

Dear Readers, this is a proud day, marking the end of Year 1 of The New Century School‘s blog. That’s right, 52 posts later, here we are (this is #53). To celebrate, let’s take a look back at what your favorite posts have been—after all, we’re here for you.

Top 10 Most Popular Posts

  1. Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education  (224 views so far)
  2. Achieving Balance in Education at TNCS  (215 views so far)
  3. Sustainable School Lunch: Garden Tuck Shop Program Part I  (199 views so far)
  4. Elementary Science Fair!   (175 views so far)
  5. Top 10 Reasons to Attend Montessori Kindergarten  (171 views so far)
  6. Inside the Montessori Classroom  (156 views so far)
  7. Exercising That Mind–Body Connection  (146 views so far)
  8. Elementary Program Merges Montessori and Progressive Education at The New Century School  (130 views so far)
  9. A TNCS Original  (128 views so far)
  10. Language, Math, and Science—Montessori Style!  (125 views so far)

Because a little analysis is just irresistible, let’s draw some conclusions. It’s pretty clear that Montessori and Elementary are the  commonest themes on this list, which is entirely appropriate. TNCS is achieving something entirely unique in education in meshing a progressive, rigorous curriculum with the gentleness and humanity of the Montessori approach. TNCS students learn the standard academics but also get a firm grounding in foreign language and an abundance of the arts, movement, and technology. Perhaps most important and often overlooked in conventional schools is the attention to social relationships and building mutually respectful interactions with peers and with the administration.

So thank you, readers, for your following and your support. What would you like to read more about in future?

TNCS Back-to-School Night

The New Century School‘s annual back-to-school night is a chance for parents to meet teachers, get a peek inside their kids’ school day, and reconnect with and meet other parents. Last night’s was no exception. Teachers report that although the school year has just begun, so far things are going extremely well among the group of mixed returning and new students. True to the Montessori model, the older children have done a beautiful job of welcoming their younger schoolmates and showing them the ropes. TNCS has reached a milestone: it has now existed long enough to have graduated a kindergarten class, meaning there are now half returning and half new students.

During the hour and a half session, teachers explained any changes for the 2013–2014 school year, described a day in the life of a TNCS student, and fielded questions. Specific curriculum points were not handled here; this event was more of an overview. Curriculum discussions will be held during Parent Workshops to take place in October and February (see school calendar here).

Ch-ch-ch-changes

The biggest adaptation so far this year has been with the language program—which is TNCS’s hallmark. Last year, “pull-outs” were implemented, in which students left their home classroom to attend formal language instruction in another classroom. After careful consideration, TNCS administration decided to more fully embrace an immersion style of language learning, school-wide. This move has two huge advantages: 1) research shows that language acquisition happens more organically and therefore more readily and completely via immersion, and 2) this model stays true to Maria Montessori’s conviction that students will learn best if they are given a full morning in their “work zone,” (i.e., their classroom). They develop autonomy, self-confidence, and skill when they can move and work at their own individual paces. So far, this change seems to be having very positive results. Parents report hearing more and more Spanish and Mandarin being casually spoken at home, and one new student who arrived to Mr. Seller’s class speaking neither English, nor Spanish, nor Mandarin is picking up Spanish rapidly enough to be able to adequately communicate his needs.

The immersion is effected by employing native-speaking teaching assistants, Spanish in some classes, Mandarin in others. In Mr. Seller’s class, the assistant, Señora Gonzalez, is a native Spanish speaker, and she speaks exclusively Spanish in class. Students are expected to respond to her in kind and are gently reminded to do so, when necessary. Assistants not only assist the lead teacher, but they also lead certain lessons as well, so that students are learning a given lesson in the foreign language—not just vocabulary, actually learning about a topic in something other than English. Mr. Sellers’ students also get exposure to Mandarin when a Chinese assistant from another class “trades time” with Sra. Gonzalez. Again, the students get the benefit of staying put and not having to interrupt whatever work they are doing to switch gears. The Mandarin teacher comes to them (or the Spanish teacher if they are in a classroom with a Chinese assistant).

Behind the scenes, Xie Laoshi (a.k.a., Jewel) and Señora Capriles orchestrate this “shuffle” of assistants to ensure that all students get sufficient exposure to both foreign languages. They also drive the foreign language curriculum. With their language expertise as well as thorough Montessori training, they are well suited to this role, making class materials and overseeing the framework.

A Day in the Life

These bins hold students' indoor shoes and any paper work they accumulate throughout the week.

These bins hold students’ indoor shoes and any paper work they accumulate throughout the week. They visit this shelf first thing on entering the classroom.

A typical primary student day starts with exchanging outdoor shoes for slippers to signal to students that it’s time for work to begin. “Circle time” comes next, during which the class sings, greets each other, and goes over daily topics such as the calendar. Circle time might also contain a group lesson on the monthly theme. Currently, primary students are learning about fruits and vegetables, among other topics. Next, teachers invite their students to find some individual work. Mr. Sellers delved a bit into the Montessori concept of work, explaining that “work” in the Montessori classroom is not supposed to be an unpleasant or difficult task. Rather, it’s a desired undertaking, intended to empower the student by offering productive and meaningful activity. “Their work prepares their brains for growth and development,” he said. “Even Practical Life work is preparing them for language and reading, for instance, by instilling that left-to-right progression” (see picture below).

This kid-sized sink represents Mr. Sellers' Practical Life area.

This kid-sized sink represents Mr. Sellers’ Practical Life area.

Parents had lots of questions about how work “works.” At TNCS, there are really only two work rules, say teachers. First is that the students treat all materials with respect, which includes respecting the “work cycle” of choosing an activity, completing it, and putting it away when finished. The second is that students work with only what they are developmentally ready for. So, for instance, 3-year-olds might be naturally drawn to the very pretty bead cabinet, but because they are probably not ready for “skip-counting” (counting by 5s, 10s, 100s, etc.),  they are encouraged to choose something more suitable.

Bead frame

The bead frame is particularly fascinating . . . but hands off until you’re ready :)!

Where does the teacher come in, amidst all of this lovely independent work? When the teacher sees that a student has fully engaged with a particular exploration, the teacher might come along and demonstrate the next step with a material, or introduce a new material altogether. The teacher guides the student to make additional discoveries. The teacher might also guide an older student to mentor a younger one. With a 3-year age range (age ~3 years to age ~5 years) in the primary classroom, many such opportunities arise. The younger kids are eager to please their slightly older peers, and the older kids develop self-confidence by sharing their knowledge. This lovely dynamic pervades school wide, in fact, among classrooms, not just within them.

After a lengthy work period (that will have included snack at some point), primary kids go to lunch, play on the playground, and then enter their afternoon period. For kindergartners, this means instruction with Mrs. Lawson and Mrs. Lazarony. For the 4+-year-olds, otherwise known as the “resters,” this means 20 minutes of quiet time followed by continued work. For the littlest ones, it’s naptime, a legal requirement in the state of Maryland. So-called “specials” also take place in the afternoons and include music, art, and gym.

It was clear that several parents in attendance were recalling their own early education less than fondly and wishing TNCS had been available to them. Mrs. Lawson (also a primary teacher) summed up TNCS’s specialness best: “I love Montessori because children really learn with hands-on materials instead of just by rote. They can tell you why things are the way they are.”

We’re back to school, and the kids are alright.

Inside the Montessori Classroom

Many of us have at least a vague idea of what Montessori education is about and that Maria Montessori was an expert in child development and education, but some of us—even parents of Montessori-educated kids—still have questions. Or, maybe you have tried to explain Montessori education to curious friends and family members and have been met with blank stares or frank puzzlement in return.

colorful materials and inviting tableaux comprise a TNCS class layout

The Montessori classroom invites and inspires

In this post, we’ll compare a Montessori classroom to a traditional one to characterize The New Century School educational experience and gain some insight into how the classroom works, why Montessori students love learning, and why the Montessori method is so wonderful for our kids. In fact, despite obstacles (e.g., budgetary, legislative), the U.S. public educational system has begun to show the Montessori influence here and there, as educators wake up to the fact that students graduate from school and are at loose ends for how to live enriched, fulfilling lives. The traditional model has certain shortcomings that the Montessori education inherently prevents. (However, this discussion is not intended to belittle traditional education, only to investigate how Montessori can enhance learning for many by virtue of a radically different approach.)

children work independently and in groups in the smoothly functioning primary Montessori classroom

Children working independently and in groups in the smoothly functioning Montessori classroom

At TNCS, pre-primary classes (ages 2–3 years) follow the classic Montessori model; primary and elementary classrooms (ages 3–5 years and 5 years and up, respectively) use a Montessori-based approach. Classes comprise mixed age groups quite deliberately, and this is the first big difference between Montessori and traditional classrooms, in which each grade level corresponds to a single age. A vital element in Montessori education is that older children assist younger ones and that younger children not only learn from their mentors but also develop better social skills through this interaction. The older children also benefit greatly; another key element in Montessori education is consideration for others. Practicing compassion and kindness for their younger classmates teaches the older children how to conduct themselves graciously in any social milieu. Yet another advantage to mixing ages in this way is that students remain with the same teacher and many of the same children for 3 years, developing trusting, long-term bonds. The teacher also comes to know each child very well and gains an intimate knowledge of how each child best learns.

practical life materials teach kids everything from proper handwashing to garment buttoning

Practical Life materials

Another difference an observer would note immediately on entering a Montessori classroom is the room itself. Students are not seated in rows facing a teacher who is lecturing at a chalkboard as in a traditional classroom. Rather, individuals or small groups either completely independently or with the aid of the teacher are each engaged in separate activities that they have voluntarily chosen. They might be seated at small work tables or kneeling on rugs as they go about their tasks, which vary from sensorial (such as tracing sandpaper letters with their fingers) and practical-life activities (such as practicing folding towels) in the pre-primary and primary classrooms to working at computer stations at the elementary level. The point here is that students be inspired to learn by engaging in what draws them instead of required to sit passively and be lectured to. Not only will the consequent learning be deeper and richer, but the student will look forward to learning as the natural extension of his or her innate curiosity. School should not be something our kids dread, after all!

having completed work with the number rods, this child surveys his work before putting away the materials

A child in the Primary classroom works intently on the number rods

More importantly, this room for individual concentration and focus is the hallmark of Montessori education. It fulfills the child and allows him or her to become the person who intrinsically wants to help others and to make a difference in the world. Although it’s easy to imagine that a classroom full of kids each doing what he or she individually wants would be chaotic and noisy (a very common misconception), the complete opposite is true. TNCS classrooms are warm and peaceful places. The children are engaged in their work, and the atmosphere is one of pleasant, purposeful exploration. It goes without saying that passive, rote memorization–based learning has no place here. Learning is a dynamic, absorbing experience. It’s truly a marvel to see the self-discipline TNCS kids exhibit as they go about their daily work.

Yet another difference is the breadth of the classroom. TNCS extends the classroom to encompass the surrounding neighborhoods, fostering a sense of community and instilling the importance of community involvement—“our extended campus is the city.” And, for that matter, the world. TNCS has a very diverse student body, and students are encouraged to share their culture, promoting mutual respect and a broad, global perspective. Getting outside and seeing what’s going on around the school is a regular part of TNCS curriculum.

A final difference to be discussed here (though there are many more) is in the approach to “success.” AT TNCS, the product of the work done is not the focus; rather, the doing of the work is what’s important. Making mistakes and having another try is all part of the process. Students learn to relish the endeavor, of trying over and over, instead of being afraid to make those mistakes: “They welcome a challenge, and they do the work that’s required to meet that challenge. They are willing to take risks because they understand that often the most valuable learning comes when you try, fall, get up, and try again.” (This hearkens back to an earlier post on “grit”; see “Getting the Education Nitty Gritty” in Recent Posts, top right.) This also touches on another concept fundamental to the Montessori classroom—work cycles. Although Montessori methods are often criticized for not allowing imaginative “play” and focusing all on “work,” children do not make this distinction. If they are doing what they themselves have chosen to be doing, it follows that they will be enjoying it. The work cycle, though, by having a beginning (choose work), a middle (do the work), and an end (put away the work), additionally teaches them commitment, focus, and persistence. The rhythm of the work cycle has applications in all areas of daily life, not just in the classroom.

In The Absorbent Mind, Dr. Montessori wrote, “The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future. If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities.” And this sums up the difference between a Montessori and a traditional classroom best. All too commonly, the traditional classroom, even at its pinnacle, can do no better than produce test-takers, albeit skillful ones; the Montessori classroom, by contrast, yields happy, inquisitive, well-rounded citizens of humanity.*

playing on the geodome on a beautiful, sunny fall dayplaying on the geodome on a beautiful, sunny fall dayplaying on the geodome on a beautiful, sunny fall day

For more information, including articles and videos, visit The Montessori Foundation’s website. And, find some hard data on the learning experience delivered by traditional versus Montessori approaches here.

*You want proof, you say? Consider this illustrious list of well-known folks, from silicon valley entrepreneurs to great chefs to princes, who were either Montessori educated or educators, and see for yourself!