Montessori Matters: Mixed Age Classrooms

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A student of mine recently asked me which of the three ages in my class I liked best. I demurred. I like them all, just for different reasons! Which naturally led to her wanting to know my reasons for liking each age. My answer?


I like the first years because they bring new eyes and new energy to the classroom. They’re excited about everything. It’s not just the classroom that’s new to them, it’s the people, the work, the teacher and the rules. The learning curve is sharp, even if they’ve been at the school their whole lives. As much as we strive for consistency, I’m a new personality to them and they’re new to me. It’s grounding¬†for them to go from being the oldest in their previous classroom to being the youngest in their new one.


My second years know the routine. They’re glad not to be new to the classroom anymore, but nothing is old yet. There’s still a lot for them to learn and be curious about. They often enjoy attacking¬†assignments or projects they did the previous year because it allows them to see how far they’ve come. And now that they’re older they can act as peer tutors to their younger brethren. They’re feeling some of the responsibility and maturity that goes hand-in-hand with all the progress they’ve made.


The third years have¬†been through the trenches¬†with me. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them learn, grow and develop in amazing ways. Often times they walk a fine line between being ready to move on and notreadynowaynotnowthanksverymuch. What’s amazing about third years is their ability to put everything they’ve learned into practical application. They do some¬†really fun stuff and, if I’ve done my job correctly, they do it under their own steam. I get to sit back and offer a little guidance here and there, provide a tool when needed, and watch it happen.

The honest truth is, my classroom wouldn’t be the same if¬†any of the age groups went missing. They’re all pieces of the puzzle that makes our classroom unique. There’s value in a classroom where¬†a first year can look at a third year and see¬†what they’ll be doing in the future. Similarly, what better way to demonstrate to a ten¬†year old how far they’ve come than to put them in the same classroom as an eight year old?

So really, truly, Susie*. I like all the ages in our class the best.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent*

Montessori Matters: Observation in the Montessori Classroom

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Symbolic GrammarObservation is one of the most important tools in the Montessori teacher’s toolbox; in any teacher’s. We observe¬†without knowing we do it. In fact, I’d argue that observation is the human condition. It’s¬†impossible to be in relationship with others without observing those around us. It helps us determine how to¬†interact with the other beings in our environment; it helps us determine how to interact with our environment. Observation has become so integral to our survival that it has become second nature.

In the MBead Frameontessori classroom, Observation tends to be more deliberate. We observe individual students, pairs, small groups and large, entire classrooms, and the whole school. Even the relationship between the students and the environment comes under our scrutiny.¬†We’re even observing ourselves. Then we take our observations a step further: we use them to individualize curriculum, adapt the classroom environment, and stop conflict before it starts.

I don’t want to make it sound like every moment of a Montessori teacher’s day is spent on high alert, but we are constantly aware. ¬†I recently saw this quote on Pinterest and identified with it immediately:

Maria Montessori built her educational beliefs on observation. In The Montessori Method, she says,

To one whose attitude is right, little children soon reveal profound individual differences which call for very different kinds of help from the teacher. Some require almost no intervention on her part, while others demand actual teaching. (52)

The only way that we can determiMap Workne these “profound individual differences” is through observation. And the only way we can decide what kind of intervention is required? Yes, you guessed it. Observation¬†again. It is the backbone of our teaching method.

Here are a smattering of observations that a Montessori teacher might make:

  • James and Nick like to chat to each other during group time. Dropper WorkThey should probably¬†sit apart.
  • No one is using the rice pouring work. It may be time to switch it out with something else.
  • Kim is struggling¬†with the “sh” sound. It might be a good idea to review the “sh” phonogram before she reads next time.

Often our observations help us to prevent problems before they even start. That’s part of the beauty of a prepared environment. We take what we learn from your children every day and use it figure out¬†how to teach¬†them.¬†

Check out my other Montessori Matters posts!

Celebrating the Year of the Rooster with Room 8


Check out last year’s Lunar¬†New Year post!

Lately I’ve been reflecting on the awesomeness that is the multicultural curriculum in a Montessori school. To that end, I pretty much went all-out for Chinese New Year. (Side note: Generally speaking I try to call it “Lunar New Year”, as¬†there is a difference between the way Asian cultures celebrate the holiday. Our celebration, however, focused on Chinese traditions.) Holidays are a wonderful way to explore different cultures. Next year, we can focus on Tet and explore Vietnam, or Seollal and discover Korea. I can’t wait!

Chinese Zodiac Wheel

The first and most obvious way to get the students excited about Chinese New Year is to teach them about the Chinese Zodiac. Most of my students know from previous study what their animal is, but there are always a few learning for the first time. January 28 marked the end of the Year of the Monkey and the beginning of the Year of the Rooster. 

I have a few copies of the placemat that you can get at some Chinese restaurants. The students love discovering a little about their personalities. Many of them are dogs, so they were happy to learn they will make excellent secret agents.

Chinese and American New Year Venn Diagram

After brainstorming what we already knew and reading some books to add to our store of knowledge, we created a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting the Western/American New Year and the Chinese New Year. This activity was inspired by a lesson I found on Teachers Pay Teachers, and which happily came with some similarities and differences already typewritten. After the group came up with ideas together, I gave the younger students the option of cutting and pasting. The older students wrote down the information in their own Venn Diagrams so they could write their own paragraphs later.

Cleaning for Chinese New Year

About halfway through the morning, some of my students started spontaneously cleaning the classroom. Cleaning is one of the traditions of Chinese New Year–the Chinese sweep out the bad luck to make way for the new year. This was possibly my favorite moment in a morning of awesome moments.

Lunar New Year Map

I created a map for the students to explore Asia and the countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year and its variations. As usual, map work brought up lots of fun discussions, like why Hong Kong and Macao are autonomous territories despite being part of China.

Chinese New Year Display

Of course, I had all my books and decorations out and plenty of citrus, including my absolute favorite, the pomelo! Unless they’ve been with me for a few years, Chinese New year is the first time my students have ever tasted this traditional fruit. We shared these two yellow globes at the end of our day.

Chinese Lantern

I usually make the Chinese lanterns that you can make by folding and cutting paper, but this year I wanted to do something a little different. I watered down some gold paint and let them add some pizzazz to red construction paper. Then we went to town with brads and gold curly ribbon. They’re still hanging up in my room!

A couple of other activities we did:

And, of course, everybody wore red!:

Red for the New Year

With that image in mind, I’ll leave with you with these words:

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Happy New Year!

5 Ideas to Hold All Those Valentines

Valentine’s Boxes

While I’m not one of those people who prepares for Valentine’s Day the moment Christmas is over, I have noticed that preparations are underway for the most loving of holidays. It just so happens that, while I’m currently fixated on Chinese New Year, I have been keeping an eye out for potential Valentine’s Day crafts. What’s caught my eye this year isn’t so much projects as receptacles for taking¬†those Valentine’s home. Here are some ideas that caught my fancy.

Heart Valentine Holder from Buggy and Buddy

Heart Valentine Holder from Buggy and Buddy

If, like me, you live in California, you may have to pay for your brown paper bags. Or you may have access to brown butcher paper. I love the simplicity of these bags. Even if you skipped the painting these bags would still look great.

Valentine’s Mailboxes from Blue Cricket Design

These envelopes require a little more dressing, which is fine because they don’t ask you to do much assembly. Here they use scrapbooking paper, but it’s not necessary. Go simpler with red and pink construction paper, and a little crazier with the hearts.

Heart Printed Paper Bags from Teach Me Mommy

Three words: Toilet. Paper. Rolls.

Paper Plate Valentine Bag Crafty Morning

Paper Plate Valentine Bag Crafty Morning

I like any project that involves sewing, even if it is a simplified form. For some of my students, this is a no-brainer, but for others, I like to constantly reinforce this practical life skill. How do they attach two separate items together? By sewing, of course!

Felt Valentine Envelopes from Snap Creativity

Felt Valentine Envelopes from Snap Creativity

Speaking of sewing, this year I plan to put my large supply of felt to good use. We’ll be making envelopes for our Valentine’s. The pattern for the envelope above is small, so we’ll enlarge it to suit our purposes. I know my class of sewers will have a blast. Maybe they’ll even use the envelopes again next year!

Check out my previous Valentine’s Day post!

Decorating Your Classroom with Style: Educational Posters


You might have noticed that we live in an age of accessibility, and one of the great benefits of this is the affordability of printed images. This makes it possible for almost everyone to bring art into their home or work environment without breaking the bank. And for Montessori teachers, for whom aesthetics matter greatly, this could not be better news.

Lately I’ve been seeing some wonderful posters that please both visually and informationally. Other posters enhance the reading experience. Yet others draw the viewer into the subject more thoroughly than they ever knew possible. I hope you’ll find something that draws you in, too!

A Pop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech from Pop Chart Lab

A Pop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech from Pop Chart Lab

I recently discovered Pop Chart Lab on a trip to New York. They specialize in infographic-style images (a visual compendium of all the wands in Harry Potter! Every shoe that Carrie Bradshaw ever wore!), but some of their posters draw the viewer in so that you might never leave. Once you start exploring the Parts of Speech¬†on this poster, you may never stop reading! And if you’re looking for a way to make those Language lessons relevant to your students, look no further! From Darth Vader to Severus Snape, this Pop Culture Primer on Parts of Speech (also from Pop Chart Lab) has got you covered!

Setting-The Great Gatsby-Literary Poster

Setting-The Great Gatsby-Literary Poster

With striking visuals, this Elements of a Novel set helps to explain what makes great fiction. I love the moody visuals used in the set, and also the fact that each element uses a different work of fiction as an example. These posters feel like just the thing to pique the interest of a reader. Or, well, me.

Earth Science Collection from The Colossal Shop

Earth Science Collection from The Colossal Shop

These simplified Ocean, Earth, Atmosphere and Space posters are helpful for understanding those larger-than-life concepts, and also echo the universe’s tendency to repeat patterns.

20 Women Who Changed Science. And the World. by Hydrogene at Redbubble

20 Women Who Changed Science. And the World. by Hydrogene at Redbubble

Who doesn’t love a chance to celebrate Women in Science? Each of these images is¬†available as a separate poster, but I like the way they look as a group. Couple with some simple imagery to represent each woman’s scientific contribution, these posters do their job–invite the viewer in and engage their curiosity. Who was Rosalind Franklin and why does her poster have strand of DNA on it?

The World's Tallest Mountains by Rebel Unit Berlin at Etsy

The World’s Tallest Mountains by Rebel Unit Berlin at Etsy

I love the way this poster overlaps the world’s ten tallest mountains.¬†And if there’s anything that my students get impressed by, it’s superlatives.¬†This artist also does the world’s longest rivers.

Backyard Birds of California by Kate Dolamore

Backyard Birds of California by Kate Dolamore

These charming bird guides are available for the United States and Canada. I usually have a bird guide and binoculars in the classroom, but this poster is a nice alternative. The watercolor paintings are sweet, realistic and labelled. Students would love to spot their living counterparts.

Emerald City by Steve Thomas

Emerald City by Steve Thomas

As an avid reader, I’m a huge fan of the new trend in literary travel posters. These artworks allow viewers to travel to Narnia, Wonderland, Hobbiton, Neverland and Oz. I’m particularly partial to Steve Thomas, whose Lord of the Rings posters aren’t to be missed.

The best thing about each of these posters is that they would look equally as attractive in your classroom as in your home. And since your classroom is your second home, these posters are worth the investment!

For more about the Montessori Classroom Environment, check out these posts:

Holiday Gift Ideas: A Book and a Present


I’m a firm believer in books making the best presents. After all, they’re the gift that keeps on giving! However,¬†sometimes it’s nice to pair books with a little something extra, just to enrich the experience. That’s the purpose of this post. I’ve gathered together a shopping list of some charming book titles and some gifts you might give along with them to make both presents¬†more meaningful. I tried to span ages and interests, so I hope there’s something here for everyone!


World War I History Pack

Ages: 8 and up


Dinosaur Gift Pack

Age: Any!
  • Dinosaur vs. School by Bob Shea (any book in this series will appeal to fans of the Pigeon or Elephant and Piggie books)
  • Dinosaur! by Smithsonian (considered to be the most complete dinosaur reference–for the the older dinosaur lover)
  • Carnivorous Dinosaur TOOB¬†(I know from recent personal experience that this TOOB can provide hours of endless entertainment for the three-year-old dinosaur enthusiast. Plus–it comes with a handy carrying case. Score!)


Sewing Pack

Age: 7 and up
  • Kids Learn to Stitch by Lucinda Guy (easy-to-follow instructions, patterns and projects that will be attractive to children; I have a copy for my classroom)
  • Individual Sewing Basket from Montessori Services (Or it’s easy to assemble your own. I did.)
  • Throw in a couple of assorted colors of felt and embroidery floss for kids to start sewing right away! The sewing kit from Montessori Services has everything else they’ll need.


Comic Book Drawing Pack

Ages: 6 and up


Women in Science Pack

Age: Any


Movie Maker’s Pack

Age: 6 and up


Art Gift Pack

Age: 5 and up
  • Picture Pie by Ed Emberly (This is Ed Emberly’s book on how to make pictures with fractions of a circle. I just discovered it and I’m¬†so excited to explore it!)
  • Stabilio CarbOthello Pastel Pencils¬†(Pastel pencils are chalk pastels’ much neater cousins. I love them since they can be sharpened like pencils, but have the smudgy effect of chalk. They look especially vibrant on black paper.)
  • Glitter paint pens from Art District¬†(These glitter pens are a fun purchase for the art-minded child, but beware; the ink will run out fast.)
  • Canson Mixed Media Notebook¬†(Canson Mixed Media Notebooks are my current favorite art books. I like the weight of the paper and the price.)
  • Flora and Crystal Kaleidographs (these are made to be used to create kaleidoscope-91a8kmwjcvl-_sl1500_like images. I use them as stencils. It’s your choice!)
  • Faber-Castell Gel Crayons (pictured right) are amazing and lots of silky-smooth art fun. Grab a pack so you and your young artist can experience this new medium.

That’s it for me! I hope there’s something here to inspire you!

In Cursive’s Defense: Why We Still Teach Handwriting


At Parent-Teacher Conference time, we teachers are used to a few standbys: fathers always want to know about spelling and multiplication tables, for example, and we are often queried on the age-old question of “Yes, but how is he/she doing in¬†math?” This year, a fellow teacher and I noticed a number of parents asking about Cursive–and the fact that we still teach it. No one was criticizing, or even questioning, really, but just the fact that it was noteworthy came to our attention. You may¬†already know it was dropped from the Common Core in 2010, leaving¬†Alaska, Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, Minnesota, and Puerto Rico the only states (and territory) to decide cursive’s curricular fate for themselves. (Just a short note: Indiana may be the only state fighting to keep cursive on the curriculum). Many of those states have dropped Cursive from their curriculum independent from the Common Core–and some states following Common Core have allowed it back in, going so far as to include it as part of the art standards just to be able to teach it.

The question is why? What’s so important about Cursive? For supporters, it’s impossible to leave out the element of tradition. Our Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were, after all, written in beautifully decorative script. Closer to home, it’s the script that most of our parents and grandparents use when they write. If we lose Cursive, we lose a piece of our history…or so the argument goes.

One thing that occurred to me every time a parent mentioned that cursive was dropped in public schools at third grade was¬†that reading and writing in Cursive has¬†become another specialty skill that schools adopting the Common Core can’t offer. Cursive has¬†become another easy hallmark for private education. And here’s another thing to consider: while¬†Canada is following the U.S. in regards to Cursive, both England and Australia continue to teach penmanship in the upper grades.

I’m the first to admit that my belief that Cursive should be¬†included¬†in the curriculum is¬†entangled with feelings. I¬†do feel that it’s an important connection to the past, but more than that,¬†it’s an irreplaceable extension¬†of our personality. I so vividly remember perfecting my “signature” when I was in elementary school and¬†it tickles me to see my students doing the same thing in my classroom today. Furthermore, I can look at each of my students’ work and tell whose is whose just by the writing even if their name isn’t on it. (But don’t tell them because they still have to put their names on their work.) There’s so much you can communicate with a pen or pencil and your own hand that you can never, in a million years, communicate by typing on a computer or a mobile phone. At least until they finally invent the sarcasm emoji I’ve been saying we need¬†for, like, ever. And a text from mom will never be the same as a handwritten note in your lunchbox.

The truth is, people want more concrete reasons for teaching Cursive. Here are some more reasons we continue to teach handwriting:

  1. It helps with visual tracking and hand-eye coordination. Think fine motor (brain surgery), not gross motor (playing football).
  2. Studies indicate a link between retention and handwriting information versus typing. The physical act of putting pencil to paper helps students to remember the information they are taking in.
  3. Furthermore, students who write notes by hand are better at weeding out important (and relevant) information for note-taking. Students who type their notes, copy lectures verbatim and become overwhelmed by trying to remember unnecessary information.
  4. Although it is not necessarily faster for a student still in the process of mastering Cursive, it is faster once they have achieved it (which is why it needs to stay part of the curriculum).
  5. Learning Cursive builds confidence and allows the students to see the rewards of their effort:

    The feedback is immediate. The child sees in one eye fixation both the ideal and the child’s version. The child then tries again, and again sees immediately the comparison between the ideal and their current state of skill. With each attempt, the child learns without being told or scolded, how much improvement is occurring. Progress is all under the child’s control. The child knows it, and also knows that better results can occur with each thoughtful attempt. The child learns to pay more attention (which in itself is a crucial skill in this age of multi-tasking).

    Klemm, “Biological and Psychology¬†Benefits¬†of¬†Learning Cursive

  6. Handwriting is often used for students with dyslexia and dysgraphia, since there is less need to pick up the pen from the page.

I can’t close without bringing up NPR’s article¬†Does the Fight for A Cursive Comeback Miss the Point?¬† I encourage you all to read it because, in my opinion, it comes back to the heart of the issue of modern education, which is this: why did schools feel impelled to cut Cursive from the curriculum in the first place? How much of a role does the standardized testing play in decreasing the importance of quality penmanship? I think you can probably guess my opinion. I’ll leave you to form your own.

Case for Cursive from Montessorium

Case for Cursive from Montessorium