Pandora’s Socks

Who doesn’t love to try on a different persona? To be someone completely different, with a completely different personality, qualities, attitudes, capabilities and problems; to be funny, angry ridiculous, serious, sad or distraught. Every year, Upper Elementary students become someone else in a different time period, in a different setting, and with a unique set of circumstances through their involvement in a school play.

Preparation is a full team effort

Mrs. Beck chooses plays early in the school year according to what the students will be studying in Culture. After a final decision is made, Mrs. Cooper and I meet in October to brainstorm about a setting and props that need to be made, and in November, we do a read-through of the play. I then begin to prepare students for auditions. From that point to the final show, the Upper El classroom buzzes with excitement, anticipation and maybe a little bit of anxiety. Their heads spin with ideas about their character’s actions and words, phrases or the lines they want to add to make their scene more humorous. (We often go with their ideas, because they really are funny!)

Here is the story of Pandora’s Socks and Other Fractured Greek Myths. 

Exercises determine acting roles

In the past, students would prepare for a role by trying to memorize some lines or by simply reading from the play with inflection. This is often an unreliable way to predict a student’s performance as a character. So this year, I prepared made-up scenarios for students to role-play. Various scenarios were printed out, cut apart and placed in a basket for students to pick from, such as: You just got home and discovered that your little sister completely messed up your room while you were at school, and now you’re in trouble and YOU have to clean up your room before you can go out to play. OR, Your best friend let loose the news that you have a crush on someone.

There was only one stipulation in the exercise: the role-plays had to be convincing. Not surprisingly, we saw a range of reactions from each scenario. The exercise was voluntary, but eventually, even as shy students watched their classmates, they too wanted to give it a try. It was a lot of fun and a great way to practice “acting”!

Next, students signed up for their top three character choices in the play. They practiced monologues of each of these characters and were able to demonstrate their acting abilities. Once auditions were finished and roles were assigned, students received their scripts to take home over winter break. When everyone returned in January, teamwork was in action.

Rehearsals involved working on one scene at a time, often in small groups, to develop and hone the students’ characters. Students enjoyed getting to see their friends rehearse their scenes and provided positive feedback or ideas to help develop the scene. In music class, Mr. Sherick guided students with music for the play.

From research to set-making

In art class, Mrs. Cooper organized and rotated students in groups to work on props and the set backdrop. Since the play backdrop featured constellations, students researched Greek mythological characters and their constellations, and traced and painted them on the backdrop. More tech savvy students worked on designing the program and creating it on the computer.

From October through to the final dress rehearsal, Mrs. Struck and I designed, created costumes, and also recycled current costuming. There is always a need to have something newer and fresher, and we have learned to become very creative with improvising.

By late February, the stage, the sound system, mics and lights were all in place. Then began the process of “blocking” where we worked out entrances and exits, placement of props, who will be responsible for the props, and figuring out where the play needed better flow. We brainstormed ideas and even new dialogue where necessary. Students with natural “stage manager” abilities initiated guidelines to help smooth out behind-the-scenes disorganization. After each complete run-through of the play, we gathered as a group to evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. We took time to make sure everyone was acknowledged for what they did well.

It’s showtime!

And then . . . the magic happens, and the characters come to life before an enthused audience. The energy is high, but the students are confident in their abilities because of all the hard work put into rehearsing.

Bravo! Encore!

The whole process of preparing for the play develops a multitude of skills and enrichment for the students. Their creativity flows, their input is valued, their responsibility for their part of the play becomes heightened, and they become more mindful of how they communicate with others. They work as a team in a non athletic way, problem-solve, and design a performance around a script. They develop a character, and figure out effective character interaction with other characters in the play. The students get to know each other in completely different ways, and develop new, better or strengthened friendships through the process. But most of all, they get to have fun.

Dee Hosaisy, Director, Pandora’s Socks and Other Fractured Greek Myths

Pandora's Socks play prep
Pandora's Socks play prep
Prepping for UE play
Pandora's Socks Upper El

Problem Solving

Samuel Beckett once noted, “You’re on earth. There’s no cure for that.”

As educators we constantly work to help students develop problem solving skills. The freedom and responsibility as well as the social nature of the Montessori elementary classroom allows students to practice these skills on a daily basis. The children recognize that problem solving is a necessary life skill and understand that while at school, they always have the right and the responsibility to take steps to solve problems of all natures.

A spilled drink is taken care of with a towel and a mop, while interpersonal conflict is solved through conversation – many times it is discovered that a simple miscommunication is to blame! Class meetings serve to empower the children to notice and solve problems which affect the classroom community as a whole. The students meet to offer comments and possible solutions regarding the issue at hand.

The Elementary age child is building a life for himself outside of his family and home as he becomes increasingly independent. This means that while we as adults can offer support, we must allow the child the freedom to work towards solving his or her own problems.

The following article offers useful tips for what you as a parent can do to equip your children with the tools they will need to be successful problem solvers:

Problem solving blog

Solving Those Mealtime Blues

We have such high expectations for mealtimes! The ideal of a freshly prepared, hot, delicious and nutritious meal as a happy family sitting around a well-appointed and beautifully set table lingers in the back of our minds. The reality is a rushed and hectic breakfast or dinner that is microwaved and quickly handed off to hungry children as we struggle to feed their bodies and meet some of the emotional and physical needs they present to us as they clamor for our attention in their hungry and tired state after a long day at school. Add after school activities, late day meetings, travel schedules, illness . . . and the stress of a calm mealtime routine seems impossible!!

We are lucky to have time at school to present a calm lunch time for your children. We hope a few of our simple strategies will help you replace hectic for happier mealtimes.

Enlist your child’s help

Setting the table with a placemat and napkin for each person is a great start to making breakfast or dinner a more pleasant experience. Removing a paper napkin to the trash, or better yet a cloth napkin to the laundry, is part of the child’s after meal cleanup. Next, add the job of floor sweeping under each chair after dinner using a small whisk broom.

Remember

The goal is to meet the emotional needs of your child so that sitting down to actually eat is more pleasant. Your child wants to be with you. Giving him/her a job nearby your food prep meets that goal. In an effort to preserve real time connections with your child, please keep technology out of your mealtime experience.

Have a seat

Insist that all family members sit down together for the duration of the meal. Literally sit in a chair!! Everyone. Even if it’s only for 15 minutes. Your child sits for 30-45 minutes at lunch time at school. They are capable of great conversation and a calm, enjoyable few minutes with you. In the classroom, we often pick a topic for conversation at lunch, such as “What’s your favorite animal?” or “If you could travel far away, how would you get there?”. Pick a topic for the day, and take turns sharing your ideas. Listening is as important a skill as speaking is for children.

We hope these tidbits of success from our Children’s House school day can transfer to your homes and solve some of those mealtime woes! Good luck and keep us posted!

Mrs. Bakshi
Mrs. Janeczko
Mrs. Kelly

CH Meal blog
Children's House Meal Blog
Children's House Meal Blog
Children's House Meal blog
CH Meal blog1 (1)

10 Things

10 Things to do at home to support your child’s growth in self-discipline

  • Prepare your child’s environment with furniture and equipment that are her size. For example, when she wants to wash carrots or strawberries, she can sit on a chair by a table that are her size and use small kitchen tools that fit her hands. Show her clear ways to do tasks such as dusting a shelf, sweeping, washing socks, wiping the table after a meal, folding up and putting away clothes, setting the table, and more.
  • Let her learn from her own mistakes. She will not work as you work, quickly and efficiently. If she is learning how to use a mop, there may be soap and water on the floor when she is finished. The process is far more important to her inner growth than having clean floors. Help her to clean up by sharing the task with her rather than stepping in and doing it for her.
  • Use household items and toys for their intended purpose. If you child throws her shape-sorting toy, say, “Be gentle with your toys.” Young children sometimes throw on a whim, but it doesn’t mean they are destructive. If she throws the toy again, redirect her by saying, “Come outside and let’s throw the ball.”
  • When appropriate, offer real choices. Choices should be simple, such as peanut butter or cheese on her sandwich or buying red or green apples. Too many choices are overwhelming; a handful of choices a day are enough at this age.
  • Speak to her positively and sincerely. Your child will thrive with positive statements but does not need to be showered with empty praise. Instead of saying, “You’re such a good helper”, say, “Thank you for setting the table.” Instead of ordering, “Get off the table”, lift her off the table and say, “Feet on the floor.”
  • Do not feel the need to reward your child for doing what you want her to do. For children, the reward is in the work itself. Adults may consider “work” something we must do, but for children their work is their play.
  • Keep consistent routines. Children need regular sleep times, regular meals, time with family members, and opportunities to expend energy and play outside. When her days are predictable she knows better what to expect.
  • Set limits that work for your family, and make sure that everyone applies them. When you give in to your child’s demands, it is difficult for her to understand what is expected of her.
  • Evaluate each situation before reacting. If your child has lost control, ask yourself if she is hungry, tired, frustrated, or overstimulated. Each situation calls for a different response.
  • Realize that punishment doesn’t work. Punishment has limited value, as it causes the child to focus on what not to do rather than on what to do. Additionally, it often makes a small problem bigger. Young children can often remember the punishment, but may not connect the punishment to the behavior that triggered it.
Children cooking
Boy sweeping
Girl painting
Girl polishing

How is Montessori Different?

The Real Difference:

The formation of children’s fundamental capacities is hugely important during the first years of life – not just academic learning but the ability to concentrate, persevere and think for themselves as well as the ability to interact well with others. Children who have been given the right kind of support during these formative years grow into adults who are self-motivated and love learning, can think flexibly and creatively and who are not only conscious of the needs of others but actively foster harmony as they go through life.

Traditional Versus Montessori:

In traditional education adults decide what children need to learn and the ability to retain and reproduce information is used as a measure of academic success. The teacher is the active giver of information and children are passive receivers. In the Montessori approach it is all about the activity of the child. The teacher takes on a different role, that is, to provide the right kind of circumstances so that children can be guided to find what they need from what is on offer. Children then become active learners and are able to reach their own unique potential because they are learning at their own pace and rhythm focussing on their own particular developmental needs at that moment.

The Montessori approach provides:

  • An environment that serves the particular needs of each child’s stage of development
  • An adult who understands child development and acts as a guide to help children find their own natural path
  • Freedom for children to engage in their own development according to their own particular developmental timeline

Source: Aid to Life, aidtolife.org.

Montessori Moments

In a Montessori environment students are active participants in their own learning. They are given the freedom to explore their interests and at the elementary level often choose to work collaboratively. Our classrooms bear witness to countless “Montessori moments” each day and while we as educators never take them for granted, it is easy to overlook all that is being gifted to the children each day.

So what do active participants in their own learning, exercising their freedom to work collaboratively and exploring their own interests while using the Montessori didactic materials to aid conceptual understanding, look like?

It looks like this!

Students learning

Two Lower Elementary students who had recently been given a lesson on how to divide using a double digit divisor approached their guide one morning. They were working to complete their morning math warm up (known in Lower Elementary as “math vitamin”), and asked if they could try dividing with a triple digit divisor.

They decided to create the same triple digit division problem and work together, assuring the guide they could be responsible work partners. The students set about solving the problem using the “Stamp Game”, which they had previously used for double digit division. They completed their problem and checked their own work by multiplying their answer by their divisor. They discovered their answer was not correct and after checking with the guide to ensure this was the case they returned to the material to try again. There was discussion about counting more carefully and where the mistake possibly occurred. The students devised a plan to have one child do the exchanging of the stamps and the other to do the sharing, but the subsequent checking of their work showed their answer was still incorrect.

At this point in the morning the math warm up is usually complete and the students expressed concern about not being finished. The guide reassured them that it was fine to keep working and to take their time to work carefully. About ten minutes later the students bounded across the room proclaiming their success! They proudly read their correct answer to the guide, the smiles on their faces showing the confidence they had gained and their total delight.

The next morning the same two students approached their guide again….

Students solving a math problem

This time the students chose to work with a different material, the Racks and Tubes, and success was found on the first try!

Visit here for a glossary of Montessori vocabulary.

Positive Discipline

Blog: Positive Discipline Workshop

Positive disciplineThanks to generous support from the TMS Annual Fund, I was able to attend a two-day workshop last month in New York City on Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom. It was held at the Westside Montessori School and led by renowned facilitator, Chip DeLorenzo, along with other Montessorians around the country. We had the opportunity to participate in many discussion-based sessions from which I gained valuable knowledge and insight about effective teaching tools. These tools build responsibility, independence, motivation and empathy within classroom communities. I would like to share some of these with our TMS community (notes from the workshop have been used).

Positive Discipline is a program based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs (20th century psychiatrists and educators) who believed that children could become responsible, respectful and resourceful members of their community. Positive Discipline teaches adults to use both kindness and firmness that is neither punitive nor permissive.

Children who feel secure and trustworthy can learn to cooperate rather than be manipulative, especially when they know they can trust adults who mean what they say and who follow-through with respect.

Adults often use consequences to control or punish, which can be one reason why children see consequences as punishment. Follow-through is an effective and alternative way to avoid this dilemma. With younger children, non-verbal follow-through is more effective. This tool works best with repeated behaviors.

Steps for Follow-Through

  1. Find a time when you and the child can give the matter your full attention.
  2. Have a friendly discussion and share information about what is going on for both the parent/teacher and the child regarding the problem.
  3. Make a decision (with the child, if appropriate) about what you will do in the future.
  4. When the issue arises again, the parent/teacher simply follows through with a brief statement of fact, such as, “We had an agreement,” or “It’s time to go inside.”

Suggestions for Effective Follow-Through

  1. Agreed-upon solutions or consequences should be logical, respectful and helpful long-term.
  2. When appropriate, be specific about deadlines and consequences.
  3. Keep comments very concise. (“I notice you didn’t_______. Would you please do that now.”)
  4. In response to objections ask, “What was our agreement?”
  5. In response to further objections, be quiet and use nonverbal communication to follow through: point to the item that needs to be picked up; smile knowingly; take the child kindly by hand and lead them to/away from the issue.
  6. When the child concedes to the agreement, express honest appreciation. (“Thank you for keeping our agreement.”)

Traps that Defeat Follow-Through

  1. Wanting children or teens to have the same priorities as adults.
  2. Getting into judgements and criticism instead of sticking to the issue.
  3. Not getting agreements in advance (including specified time deadlines when applicable, for instance).
  4. Discussing the issue right after it happens. (The positive solution: Find a time to relax, and then discuss it with your child in order to come to an agreement.)

Follow-through simply means acting upon what you said, without using lecture, constant reminders (nagging) or punishment. By using this tool, in a kind and firm manner, parents/teachers find it possible to meet the needs of the situation while maintaining dignity and respect for all concerned, and for the situation.

Acting, rather than talking, helps students understand that for every opportunity or freedom they have, there is a responsibility attached. For example, a child has the opportunity to play with a toy or work with a material respectfully. If the child’s behavior is disrespectful then he/she would lose the privilege to use the toy or the material. This agreement is only effective if the consequence is enforced with kind and firm follow-through. The child will have another opportunity to use the toy or the material again upon demonstrating the responsible behavior needed to use it with respect.

For reading materials on Positive Discipline, please contact Mrs Sutapa Bakshi, TMS Children’s House Guide.

Power Struggles

It happens a lot at parent-teacher conferences. We are discussing the social and emotional development of a child at school, and a parent asks in despair, “Why does he listen at school and never listens at home? Why is it always a struggle?”

Oh, yes! The infamous power struggle!Power Struggle

First, we want for the parents to understand the developmental importance of a power struggle. A feeling of power is important to us all as a basic social and emotional need. Until the age of two the child has a little sense of self. In the child’s world the child and the parent are one. By the end of the second year, he begins to develop the concept of self as separate from a parent. Now a child learns how to make decisions for himself, exerting his power and will on people and situations, getting their own way, declaring ownership and authority.

And so the battle of wills begins that lasts throughout the childhood and into the teen years. The parents feel overpowered, overwhelmed, angry and determined to change their child’s behavior, that they perceive as “negative, frustrating, stubborn, headstrong and rebellious”. But you can turn these trying times into a rewarding growth period for both a parent and a child. Instead of viewing this kind of behavior as “bad”, look at it as a healthy sign of child’s development. Instead of trying to overpower your child, let’s try to empower him instead.

So, what exactly can you do? Happy you asked!

When your child misbehaves, decide how you are going to react. And this reaction should be the same every time. Every single time! Be calm, kind, but firm. Do not escalate your emotional response! You must respond like a broken record over and over again.

Side step the conflict (choose your battles). Your child doesn’t want to get out of the car. “Well, you can get out of the car by yourself or I will carry you.” Child’s response, “I want you to carry me upside down.” Fine! Carry him upside down! By side stepping the conflict, you are sending the message that you are not going to fight your child, but at the same time you are not giving in either.

Choices, not orders! When giving your child choices, you must make sure all choices are acceptable to you. Do not give your child a choice of sitting quietly at a restaurant or leaving, if you have no intention to do so. Choices should not include punishment as an alternative. And make sure they are not too narrow that the child senses no freedom at all.

You can find a useful way for your child to feel more powerful. Let’s say he doesn’t want to put his dishes away after dinner. Make him the “boss” of all dishes. He will then make sure everyone in the family cleans up after themselves.

Positive Discipline

Remember, the child’s need to gain control is a natural developmental stage.

These are just a few suggestions to help you. For further information, we strongly recommend the book, Positive Discipline, by Dr Jane Nelsen. This is also available as an audiobook.

Music and Montessori

Montessori musical bells

The natural urge to sing, dance, to make and listen to music wells up from the depths of each person, from birth to death. It can be stamped out at an early age or it can be fostered to enrich all of life. In this article you will find ways that music is important to us at every stage of life.  What is music? What words can accurately describe it? We might as easily try to capture all the most poignant sights, sounds, and smells of childhood holiday celebrations into a single black and white collection of letters on a piece of paper! We may not know how to fully describe music but we do know that we don’t want our children to miss out on it.

Read more about this phenomenon of music by artist, author and educator, Susan Mayclin Stephenson:

The Music Environment, from the Beginning to the End

Land and Water

A Montessori education is a spiraling curriculum – one where students see the same topics throughout their school career, with each encounter increasing in complexity and reinforcing previous learning. An example is found in the land and water forms that students study from Children’s House through Elementary.

Land and water forms
Students working with land and water cards

The youngest students study eight land and water forms that are opposites; lake (water surrounded by land) vs island (land surrounded by water), for instance. These are studied by filling plastic models with water and learning the language to define them. This meets the needs of three to five year old children for gross motor activity, control of movement (taking care to carry and pour water carefully) and their receptivity for language and acquisition.

Creating land shapes
Forming shapes

In Elementary, these eight forms are compared side by side to their two dimensional counterparts (painted cards) and students are now introduced to thirty additional land water forms.

Representation of exploding volcano
At the art table

They are told compelling stories about these features as they occur across the globe. The children model them, write definitions to accompany their sculptures, and research where they occur in the world. Third year students create land and water form systems sculpturally after sketching them on paper.

Working with shapes
Working on land and water forms

Eventually the cards are combined to represent a coastline and students design an imaginary island which involves locating their island on the globe with the appropriate latitude and longitude for their features. They create the topography of their island, and decide on the population (human, animal and plant), what the economy of the island will revolve around, and what kind of government there will be.

Putting the land and water shapes on a firm board

We make a “glacier”, dragging it through sand “mountains” to create a “valley”, and notice the deposition left when the “glacier” melts. A stream table shows how a “river”, making its way down a “mountain”, carves out a bed and ultimately deposits debris, creating a “delta”. Experimentation allows students to see how the velocity and volume of the “river” impacts erosion, transportation and deposition.

Representation of a glacier
Erosion by water

What happens in the fall?

In the vegetable garden, the tasks of the day are fun and great educational experiences for the children! In the woods, explorations take us from one end to the other, comparing the size of the stream and the direction of the flowing water to other locations. We discovered that two streams join together . . . who knew? If Sustainable Science is inside, the lesson might be exploring with nature items in Mrs Baumgarten’s collection, or making a contour map of the school and stream. Join us in our findings!

Dottie's fall blog
Fall science blog

We planted some cool weather seeds, and watched the radishes grow. The spinach and lettuce did not make it. Next time, maybe!

Dottie's fall blog
Fall science blog

Children are involved in all aspects of the garden work. First we removed weeds and planted a few seeds in September. At that time we also harvested tomatoes, green beans, zinnia, marigold flowers, and sage. Sage was able to dry in several classrooms.

Dottie's fall blog
Fall science blog

In the garden, Lower Elementary record some of their tasks and observations.

Dottie's fall blog

There is always the joy of finding bugs, or amazingly, a salamander and a toad! Millipedes, sow bugs (isopods, pill bugs, rolly-pollies), earthworms, grubs and garden spiders are regular finds, which the children enjoy. We can hold the sow bugs but, of course, not the spiders.

Fall science blog
Fall science blog

Here’s the toad!

Dottie's fall blog

Flowers need bees to make new seeds!

Fall science blog

As the fall progressed, the task in the garden changed to prepare the garden for winter. The wonderful compost provides nutrition for the garden, so we emptied the compost bin, sifted the compost and added it to the garden. Some of the sections we topped with shredded leaves from Mr. Bob, and some of the sections we planted with “winter crops” of oats and peas, which will not make edible seeds, but will be turned into the soil as fertilizer in the spring.

Fall science blog
Fall science blog

When the Sustainable Science Vegetable Garden was prepped enough for the fall, we headed into the woods. The first walk was to get the lay of the land: where is the stream? Which areas are higher elevation and lower elevation? We are always observing the changes in the seasons, and always looking for evidence of animals large and small. On occasion, the walk to the woods takes us past Mr Bob as he works. These children are wondering what he is up to! Mr Bob can be seen here lining up small brush and leaves for mowing over them and adding to the compost pile.

Fall science blog
Fall science blog

The Township is putting a lot of work into Pine Run Park! There is a whole section that had invasive species removed and native species of trees planted and protected. Deer eat the smaller native trees, so the new trees need to be protected with a fence. We don’t usually see deer, but we do find deer scat!

Fall science blog