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: Michele Hackshaw Joins TNCS Primary Division

michele-hackshaw-joins-tncs-primaryMichele Hackshaw joined The New Century School at the beginning of the 2016–2017 school year as a Montessori Lead Teacher with Gloria Jimenez assisting. A native Spanish speaker from Caracas, Venezuela, she moved to Baltimore with her husband in 2000.

In her home country, she pursued a macroeconomics degree but decided to come to the United States to immerse herself in English while earning a Master’s in business. She spent a few years working in the business field, and then, Señora Hackshaw says, the recession of 2008 hit. She began volunteering in her children’s school and found to her surprise that she really enjoyed that type of work. She liked childhood education so much, in fact, that she went for Montessori training. Once certified as a Montessori teacher, she worked at Bridges Montessori School in Towson for about 5 years. “I definitely prefer teaching to business, to my initial surprise. Then, even after the economy got better I told my husband that business is something I don’t want to go back to. I really love what I’m doing right now. I really love to get up and go to my work. This [gesturing to her classroom] is my vocation.”

The switch in careers from business to teaching might seem like quite an about-face, but Sra. Hackshaw believes that the work has greater significance for society. “We have such a a big impact on these children. How they turn out depends on what we do for them, show them, expose them to.” Besides her humanitarian reasons, teaching is also a lot more fun for her than working in an office was, where interactions with irate clients were often less than pleasant. “Here, it’s not like that. Somebody might be crying because I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do, and 10 minutes later, he’s got a huge smile. There are no bad work days,” she says.

Her children, a girl and a boy, are now 9 and 10 years old, respectively and have the good fortune to be growing up bilingual. The same can be said of Sra. Hackshaw’s 10 3- to 5-year-old primary students who are in a Spanish-immersion Montessori classroom. “In the beginning, teaching in Spanish was a bit challenging because it was a new language for my students, who were all new to the school. But they learned so fast, and now it’s just great,” she smiles.

About being at TNCS now, she says it’s not only a wonderful experience, but she is learning a lot, professionally. “This is a different environment,” she explains, “because I never worked in a full Spanish immersion classroom, although it was Montessori. But I have never taught Montessori in Spanish or given a Montessori lesson in Spanish. And, unlike teaching Spanish, for example, at an after-school program, which is mostly teaching vocabulary, here it’s different. I speak Spanish the whole time. It has been a valuable process of learning and discovery.” (Please see Montessori Language Arts, Match, Science, and Global Studies at TNCS to learn more about how Sra. Hackshaw and other TNCS primary teachers give Montessori lessons.)

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For now, Sra. Hackshaw’s “business” is nurturing her students within her warm and peace-loving classrom. “There’s so much that you can give to them, and they will learn from you. If you keep empowering them and model how to be good people, they learn that.”

Welcome to TNCS, Sra Hackshaw!

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Transitioning from Preprimary to Primary at TNCS

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These preprimary students are very excited to be working with Montessori materials at age 2!

Accommodating children from ages 2 years through 10 years (and soon to be 12 years) and ultimately comprising four programs, including preprimary, primary, elementary, and middle school, The New Century School has always focused on how to make the transition from program to program as smooth as possible for students. Continuity is built into the school’s approach, arising as a very natural consequence from its philosophy and mission. No matter what point a TNCS student starts from, he or she is headed toward the same basic goals of self-motivated inquiry and discovery as well as how to be a nice person along the way.

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This tiny TNCS tot is exploring multiple dimensions with the Graduated Cylinder Blocks.

Perhaps the most challenging transition that TNCS students (and their parents) face is moving from the preprimary program up to the primary program when the child turns at least 3 years old. At age 2, they might well still be in diapers—still babies, practically—then, a year later, they enter a completely new milieu, with new teachers, new classmates (most of whom are older), and a whole new set of expectations. They become, in short, tiny students.

Historically, this shift has always been more difficult for the parents. The toddlers, meanwhile, accept these changes more or less in stride, even eagerly. It’s safe to say that the children’s ability to adapt so quickly and so well has a lot to do with TNCS’s very well-considered transitional process. On Thursday, February 5th, Head of School Alicia Danyali and the three preprimary teachers, Mrs. Reynolds, Lin Laoshi, and Señora Ramos held a Preprimary Workshop to walk parents through what this process entails. It was a full house; preprimary parents are clearly curious, if not anxious, about what lies ahead for their kids. Rest assured, Mrs. Danyali’s and the teachers’ presentations allayed all concerns!

The talk focused on three key aspects of the move to the primary program: 1) the differences between the two programs, 2) the necessary milestones each child must have met in order to move up, and 3) how each child is placed in one of the four primary classrooms. All of these themes are interrelated, as will become clear.

Differences Between TNCS Preprimary and Primary Programs

The two biggest differences between the programs is that the primary classroom is not a language immersion environment, and it is a classic Montessori environment. These differences start to become less striking, however, when you consider that the children are introduced to the Montessori materials as well as the Montessori teaching style of nurturing guidance the moment they step foot into the TNCS preprimary classroom. Thus, 3-year-olds will enter the primary classroom with a good deal of familiarity with their surroundings and with the manipulative materials they will be working with. And, as with the preprimary classroom, the primary classroom is specially engineered and furnished to accommodate their size. For more on how the Montessori classroom functions at TNCS, please read previous Immersed posts “Language, Math, and Science—Montessori Style!,” “Inside the Montessori Classroom,” and “Preschool Conundrum Solved: Research Demonstrates Benefits of Montessori Education.” The main point here is that Maria Montessori knew that kids need, above all else, to feel secure for optimal development; therefore, in the TNCS Montessori primary classroom, new skills are introduced when the child is ready for them, not when the calendar arbitrarily dictates.

Regarding the shift away from language immersion, that, too, is really only a partial shift. Although the class is “led” by a Montessori-trained teacher, a second teacher who speaks exclusively to the children in either Spanish or Mandarin Chinese is also always on hand. Even better, these teachers switch back and forth among the classrooms on alternating days to ensure that the primary students are now receiving exposure to and instruction in both languages.

Milestones Demonstrating that a Child is Ready for the Primary Classroom

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This TNCS preprimary student practices her fastening skills on the Montessori Button Frame. She is well on her way to independent dressing!

Some of the current preprimary students have only just turned 2. Their parents might be wondering how conceivable it really is that their child might be sharing a classroom with kids who are starting to read and write in under a year from now. In diapers in May but using the bathroom by late August? Able to don outdoor clothing independently? Able to articulate daily needs? Those are some of so many hurdles jumped for lots of kids, towering obstacles for others. These are, however, prerequisites for moving up to primary. No matter where your child falls along that continuum, the overriding message that emerged from Mrs. Danyali’s presentation was that the child will be supported and nurtured along the way to readiness. These benchmarks are not in place for ranking or comparing student achievement, by any means. They are simply necessary from an operational standpoint. The primary teacher cannot sacrifice time away from giving the very specific Montessori lessons or helping a student master a task to change diapers, for example. The primary student is able to use the bathroom and get dressed to go outdoors more or less independently (assistance and guidance are always readily forthcoming, of course, and supervision is a constant).

This might sound rather stark at first. In fact, however, the first steps toward such independence have already been taken in the preprimary classroom, where independence and competence are very tenderly fostered. The TNCS student has become a fairly autonomous classroom resident even at age 2, as Mrs. Reynold’s gorgeous photos attest (also see slideshow below). Their ability to pursue their own interests will serve them very well, academically. They are internalizing/honing the four pillars of Montessori: Concentration, Coordination, Independence, and Order. Order? Indeed. Primary students are not only expected to select an activity that they want to work with, but they are also expected to complete that work as well as put it away correctly upon completion—it’s the Montessori “Work Cycle,” and it teaches accountability and a sense of accomplishment in addition to the importance of maintaining order. All “works” are designed to absorb the child (concentration) and also to develop both large and fine motor movements (coordination).

Parents are encouraged to reinforce the expectation of independence at home as well. Children can be allowed to pour their own drinks and zip up their own outerwear, for instance. Pants with elastic waists and shoes that fasten with velcro straps can facilitate their ability to get dressed by themselves and develop their confidence with such processes. Another way parents can aid such transitioning is by considering a TNCS summer camp for primary-age students rather than a preprimary camp to give them a taste of the fun in store.

Placement in a Primary Classroom

Although not an exact science, this aspect of the transition out of preprimary is very thoughtfully undertaken. Many factors are weighed in the decision-making: your child’s proclivities, the prospective teachers’ proclivities, and the ages and genders of the current students in the class. Each Montessori classroom should have a well-rounded mix of ages 3, 4, and 5 in order to function optimally. (Please see above links for the rationale behind the mixed ages of Montessori classrooms. In short, they promote incredibly fruitful mentor–mentee relationships that continuously evolve.) The child will remain in the primary classroom for 3 years, so a “good fit” is critical. TNCS may not be able to honor specific requests in all circumstances, but your child will always be placed in a classroom environment fully devoted to addressing each student’s needs.

And Finally . . . 

Even though the advance to the primary program is made as smooth as possible, TNCS students do face transitions and changes, as all students do. The important difference at TNCS is in the thoughtful, child-appropriate way these transitions are managed. As always, parents, you are encouraged to see how it all comes together for yourself—you’ll be amazed, gratified, and reassured. Here are four great ways you can do so:

  1. Attend an Admissions Fridays event held most Fridays through the end of the school year (register here).
  2. Attend the Primary Workshop, “Four Areas of the Montessori Classroom that Unleash Your Child’s Potential” being held February 12th, 2015 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm. (Childcare is available; sign up here by February 9th.)
  3. Read any of the related Immersed posts linked above, or simply search with keyword “Montessori” in the Immersed archives.
  4. Read Mrs. Danyali’s recommended books Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius (Angeline Lillard) and A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom (Aline Wolf).

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