The Montessori Classroom, Part 1

Beauty

Scenes from Montessori Classrooms

Last week, I introduced The Absorbent Teacher and explained a little bit about what the term means to me. This week I thought I’d talk about another important aspect of the Montessori Method: The Classroom. Montessori classrooms are unique in many ways and, within each age group, there’s plenty of variation. Enough for me to split the subject into two posts. Today I’m tackling the commonalities across all Montessori classrooms; later in the week, I’ll get into some specifics of¬†the specifics unique to Elementary and Middle School rooms.

One thing all Montessori classrooms strive for is a¬†“Prepared Environment.” That is, we teachers design our¬†classrooms so they’re¬†suited to the children’s needs. The tables and chairs are child-sized. The work on the shelves is age-appropriate and neatly ordered. The material is realistic and made to fit in the children’s hands. This idea of a prepared environment–one that is both safe and age-appropriate–allows the children to move freely about the room. To some people, Montessori classrooms¬†look chaotic. To Montessorians, the structured environment is what allows children to develop autonomy and self-discipline.

So what is the structure of a Montessori classroom? Good question! I mentioned that the work on the shelves is age-appropriate. Material is also grouped by subject and, usually, by shelf. This way, the children know which area of the classroom to visit when they’re looking for math, language, geography, sensorial or practical life work. For younger, preschool-age children, the¬†emphasis is on¬†sensorial and practical life. (Sensorial¬†work focuses on developing the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Practical life work is just that: work to develop skills you use every day, like pouring, bow-tying or table-washing.) If you’ve visited an Early Childhood¬†classroom at a Montessori school, you’re probably familiar with a few of these materials:

Clockwise, from top left: Dry pouring, sound cylinders, Color Box 3, and Knobbed Cylinders

Clockwise, from top left: Dry scooping, Sound Cylinders, Color Box 3, and Knobbed Cylinders

Another thing you’ll notice about the Montessori classroom¬†is that the teacher is not the focal point. The teachers may have large, communal desks where they can work with students individually or in small groups, but they do not sit or stand at the front of the room. Students also have choices about where, when and how they do different works. If the child is more comfortable completing his work by standing, then by all means he should be allowed to do so. If he’s motivated by beginning the day with an inset, then that might just be the thing to get him started.

Mixed ages are also an integral part of the Montessori classroom. Allowing the older children a chance to mentor the younger students is important. It fosters learning and independence.¬†It’s equally important that younger children have the chance to observe their older peers. Young children¬†learn a lot by observing¬†and experimenting, both of which are maximized¬†by mixed age classrooms.

I couldn’t possibly cover every characteristic that makes up a Montessori classroom, but I tried to touch on those I consider essential. I’d love to hear from other Montessorians, especially any who think I missed anything crucial. In the meantime, please check back later this week for more on the Montessori classroom!

Note: This is a repost from 

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Snack in the Elementary Classroom

Snack in the Elementary Classroom

Sometimes I think my students come to school¬†completely hollow on the inside. It doesn’t matter what their parents fed them for breakfast. They may have had a six-egg omelette, nine pancakes or a gallon of oatmeal (or all three), but somehow they manage to burn off all calories by the time the bell rings. Other¬†children¬†simply don’t like to eat first thing in the morning. I have no problem with students eating breakfast in the classroom, since I firmly believe that properly nourished¬†students are functioning students. And, honestly, if I didn’t allow¬†students¬†to eat when they need to, I’d be shooting myself in the foot. Anyone who works with children can tell you that¬†it’s impossible to get them to focus on anything when their stomach is sending them “feed me” signals. I can also personally vouch for the bad things that happen¬†when one’s blood-sugar runs low.

from Etsy

Most parents send their children to school with snack. However. Sometimes they forget, sometimes it’s a battle between parent and child (i.e., the parent believes the child is old enough to pack his or her own snack, etc.), and sometimes whatever snack is packed somehow still¬†isn’t enough to get my students through to lunch. Whatever the reasons, hungry children have become prevalent in my classroom. This year I have decided to be proactive. This year, I’m bucking the system. This year, the¬†Upper Elementary classroom is offering snack. I feel like such a rebel!

Just because I’m doing snack, though, doesn’t mean I’m throwing a bag of Goldfish crackers at them and calling it a day. At least, not yet! (Check in with me later in the year; that might change.) I’m trying to tie snack into Practical Life. Things I’ve done:

Making bread in bread machine

  • We made bread in a bread machine. This, unfortunately, took too long to be snack for the day of. I recommend making the bread for the following day and having a different snack available for¬†the present¬†day.
  • They made¬†toast with butter and jam.
  • I’ve put out raisins, almonds, apple chips, sunflower seeds, banana chips and/or few other items so the students can assemble their own trail mix.
  • I put out apples and an apple slicer.

Things I plan to try:

Celery and peanut butter

  • Celery and almond butter (with raisins if they want to make ants on a log).
  • Apple sandwiches with almond butter, raisins and nuts.
  • Rice cakes with almond butter. Almond butter has a lot of vehicles! We use almond butter to avoid issues with peanut allergies.
  • Veggies with hummus or possibly a yogurt dip?
  • Fruit kabobs with fruit donated by the students.

The idea is to provide snacks that require a little bit of preparation and a minimum of adult supervision. I put out small instruction cards that say how many slices of bread or scoops of raisins, etc. If the students are unfamiliar with a tool (like the apple slicer), often the other students in the classroom are willing to help them. I do have a rule that there only be two people at the snack center at a time. Otherwise, chaos reigns!

Sometimes the students are so excited by the prospect of getting snack that they don’t realize they don’t want it (or don’t like apples). When this happens, they are invited to offer their snack to their classmates. If I have the time, I slice up that piece of toast into small pieces rather than let one person have the whole thing. There are few things cuter than students walking around asking, “Would you like a piece of toast?” The routine of snack is completed with each student washing his or her dishes.

So far, I think snack is a wonderful addition to my classroom.

Five Ways I Use Technology in the Classroom

SmartBoard Technology in the Middle School

Now¬†that we’re in the 21st Century, technology is a part of our everyday lives. As a teacher, I like to help my students explore the ways that technology can be useful and not just entertaining. Neither am I above taking advantage of¬†their enthusiasm for technology by¬†teaching them something new. Here are just a few of the ways that I use technology in my classroom:

  • ¬†Pinterest:

Absorbent Teacher Pinterest

Admittedly, there probably aren’t many teachers who don’t use Pinterest. I like to keep it as a repository for any teaching idea I’ve ever come across. Ever. It’s virtual clutter, to be sure, but extremely useful when I have an event coming up (a parent night, student showcase or art project for a fundraiser) and I don’t have the time to spend developing my own awesome idea.

  • Typing Instructor for Kids:

Typing Instructor for Kids Platinum Edition

After a fair amount of research, I chose Typing Instructor for Kids for my classroom’s typing instruction program. It teaches the basics, like home row and good typing posture (which I like) but it also has games (which the kids love). I also appreciate the way¬†it allows me to track my students’ progress. I don’t have to watch every keystroke to know if they’re improving on their wpm¬†or their accuracy.

  • Timez Attack:

Timez Attack is a program that I use to reinforce Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction facts. It’s ideal for fluency with times tables and, again, the kids love it. The website boasts some pretty impressive stats, but it wasn’t until I heard about from a fellow teacher that it got a mention at a Montessori conference that I encouraged my school to invest.

  • Montessori Apps for the iPad

Multiplication Tables App from Mobile Montessori

Montessorium, MontessoriTech¬†and Mobile Montessori (Rantek) have a number of Montessori apps that I’ve set my students to work on at different times. So far there’s an emphasis on Math and Geography, but I have one Compound Words app that makes me excited for¬†the future.

  • Research and Writing:

Research and writing are really what all that time spent working on touch typing is all about. As much as possible, I encourage my students to do their paragraph writing on computers. There’s nothing wrong with writing their work¬†longhand, but less and less¬†of¬†it¬†will be handwritten the older they get. Typing is also good for students who need to focus on the skill of crafting sentences instead of forming letters.

Technology is also really helpful with research, which goes hand-in-hand with Montessori Elementary classrooms. We start simple, avoid Wikipedia, and try to use websites devoted to students doing research (often created by teachers!). In this way, students can begin to learn the skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Read Naturally Live: A web-based program designed to increase reading fluency.
  • Schoolhouse Rock¬†on YouTube: Yes, I show them whenever I teach the parts of speech. Also subject and predicate!
  • Google Earth: Never fails to impress how it zooms in on a location.
  • Random, In the Moment Internet Searches:¬†You know the ones. When Bobby asks you a question you don’t know the answer to and¬†circumstances are such that you can turn the question into a learning moment. My best example is the time when a student asked me when his favorite author was going to release his next book. The query eventually¬†became a student-written¬†email¬†to the author. So awesome.

The Montessori Classroom, Part 2

Montessori Elementary Collage

Clockwise, from top left: The Bead Frame, Montessori on the iPad, the Checkerboard, Mortenson Math Material, Border Inset, Woodworking, Symbolic Grammar, Golden and Colored Beads.

Hello again! On Monday, I began a two-part series (does this make it a mini-series? A duology?) on the Montessori classroom. If you missed it, I encourage you to check it out. As promised, I’m back today to shift focus from Montessori classrooms in general to the Elementary ones in particular. It’s not that I want to leave out Infant and Early Childhood rooms (honest!), but since I’m an Upper El teacher, I can speak about Elementary rooms¬†in greater detail.

So. I’ll start by saying that Elementary and Middle School classrooms are a little different from rooms designed for younger children. (I’m sure you already knew this, but it bears repeating.) One of the major changes that Elementary students face, academically speaking, is that they¬†are shifting from the concrete to the abstract. They still can (and often do) work with material, but Elementary-age children work towards holding more information in their heads. Therefore,¬†you’ll see fewer materials in those rooms.

If the school has the funding, you’ll probably also find technology in Elementary¬†classrooms. (Note: Some schools use iPads in the younger rooms. Mine is one of them.) My Upper Elementary class is lucky enough to have¬†three computers and an iPad. This allows me¬†to teach computer skills. Students use the computers for everything from researching to typing to writing emails to authors they admire. Our Middle School classroom also has computers and iPads. Last year, they¬†even got a Smart Board! For many of our students, this is the first time they’ve used technology for anything more than entertainment, and those other uses are¬†the kind we emphasize.

Additionally, practical life in elementary classrooms tends to appear less on shelves and more in the form of projects, both in and out of doors. Gardening, cooking, sewing, budgeting, trip planning and woodworking are all great examples of Upper Elementary/Middle School practical life. These kinds of projects often incorporate a number of different skills. Cooking, for example, involves reading (and reading comprehension), following directions and math. Advanced practical life is also has multiple steps. Instead of sanding a block of wood in the manner of their younger counterparts, Upper El students will sand wood they’ll later paint and use as for the stage needed for the upcoming all-school musical.

I want to end by saying that the Montessori classroom is a shared space. It belongs to everyone–not just the teacher–with all that that entails. Putting work away improperly (or not at all), leaving work on the carpet¬†and chatting to your friend while others¬†are working are all things that affect everyone¬†in the room. The classroom is a community and communities require both compromise and tolerance. Sharing the classroom is a practical life work all its own! More than that, though, our classrooms are second homes. With that in mind, can you doubt the role they play in Montessori education?

The Montessori Classroom, Part 1

Beauty

Scenes from Montessori Classrooms

Last week, I introduced The Absorbent Teacher and explained a little bit about what the term means to me. This week I thought I’d talk about another important aspect of the Montessori Method: The Classroom. Montessori classrooms are unique in many ways and, within each age group, there’s plenty of variation. Enough for me to split the subject into two posts. Today I’m tackling the commonalities across all Montessori classrooms; later in the week, I’ll get into some specifics of¬†the specifics unique to Elementary and Middle School rooms.

One thing all Montessori classrooms strive for is a¬†“Prepared Environment.” That is, we teachers design our¬†classrooms so they’re¬†suited to the children’s needs. The tables and chairs are child-sized. The work on the shelves is age-appropriate and neatly ordered. The material is realistic and made to fit in the children’s hands. This idea of a prepared environment–one that is both safe and age-appropriate–allows the children to move freely about the room. To some people, Montessori classrooms¬†look chaotic. To Montessorians, the structured environment is what allows children to develop autonomy and self-discipline.

So what is the structure of a Montessori classroom? Good question! I mentioned that the work on the shelves is age-appropriate. Material is also grouped by subject and, usually, by shelf. This way, the children know which area of the classroom to visit when they’re looking for math, language, geography, sensorial or practical life work. For younger, preschool-age children, the¬†emphasis is on¬†sensorial and practical life. (Sensorial¬†work focuses on developing the five senses: touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. Practical life work is just that: work to develop skills you use every day, like pouring, bow-tying or table-washing.) If you’ve visited an Early Childhood¬†classroom at a Montessori school, you’re probably familiar with a few of these materials:

Clockwise, from top left: Dry pouring, sound cylinders, Color Box 3, and Knobbed Cylinders

Clockwise, from top left: Dry scooping, Sound Cylinders, Color Box 3, and Knobbed Cylinders

Another thing you’ll notice about the Montessori classroom¬†is that the teacher is not the focal point. The teachers may have large, communal desks where they can work with students individually or in small groups, but they do not sit or stand at the front of the room. Students also have choices about where, when and how they do different works. If the child is more comfortable completing his work by standing, then by all means he should be allowed to do so. If he’s motivated by beginning the day with an inset, then that might just be the thing to get him started.

Mixed ages are also an integral part of the Montessori classroom. Allowing the older children a chance to mentor the younger students is important. It fosters learning and independence.¬†It’s equally important that younger children have the chance to observe their older peers. Young children¬†learn a lot by observing¬†and experimenting, both of which are maximized¬†by mixed age classrooms.

I couldn’t possibly cover every characteristic that makes up a Montessori classroom, but I tried to touch on those I consider essential. I’d love to hear from other Montessorians, especially any who think I missed anything crucial. In the meantime, please check back later this week for more on the Montessori classroom!

Note: This is a repost from