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

“My child is only 3.” “No, your child is already 3.”

“My child is only 3 (or 4, 5, 6 . . .)!

“No, your child is already 3 (or 4, 5, 6 . . .)!”

“What an odd name for the blog,” one might think. Yes, but let me explain.

Often, there is a discrepancy between how the parents see their child and how we, the Children’s House Guides, view him. Sorry, not just him, but rather a capable, independent child. We frequently hear: My child can’t do this, my child is only . . . (you fill in the blank). And then we tell the parents about what it is their child does at school and behold: surprise, disbelief, awe and PRIDE!!

A young child is able to do a multitude of tasks independently when given the tools and the environment to do so. A three-year-old should be able to get dressed by himself, wash his face and hands, brush his teeth, get a snack and a drink, and much more. In Children’s House, the children prepare their food, set tables, bake, dust, sweep, wash mirrors and windows, polish silver, do laundry, and steadily grow in their self-confidence and independence. And if they can do it at school, then they can do it at home.

Of course, it takes planning ahead and setting up appropriate accommodations for your child.

For example, set up a small pitcher with water and glasses on a low shelf in the kitchen. Fruit, crackers and such could be placed in a low cabinet, so that the child can prepare his own snack. A stepstool in the kitchen will allow him to help you with cooking, and a stepstool in the bathroom can assist your child in washing up and brushing his teeth independently.

Clothes should be easy to put on and take off. Shoes with velcro closures are helpful for self-dressing. A five year old should be learning how to tie his shoelaces. To make it easier for a child to choose what to wear, group his clothes into sets. Of course, a clothes hamper helps establish a habit of putting dirty clothes away and not on the floor.

Our job as parents and teachers is to guide our children to independence. Step by step, day by day, we help our children develop the skills of everyday life and take on more responsibility until they can stand firmly on their own feet. Unfortunately, it is so much easier and faster to do it ourselves or hire someone, than to teach our children how to do it for themselves. But if we don’t teach skills, how can we expect our children to act with responsibility when needed or when opportunity presents itself?

Maria Montessori said: “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.” So next time your child is “taking forever” trying to zipper his coat, close your eyes, take a deep breath in and breathe out, in and out . . . and watch your child develop confidence to persevere through your patient example.

Slicing apples
Biscuit making
Slicing grapes
Flower arranging

Math Materials We Use

The use of the didactic math materials developed by Maria Montessori is one of the most recognizable hallmarks of a Montessori education.

This system in which a child is constantly moving objects with his hands and actively exercising his senses, also takes into account a child’s special aptitude for mathematics. When they leave the material, the children very easily reach the point where they wish to write out the operation. They thus carry out an abstract mental operation and acquire a kind of natural and spontaneous inclination for mental calculations. (Montessori, 1967, p. 279)

These materials are distinct in that they guide students to explore mathematical principles independently in a concrete and experiential way. This allows students to utilize all of their senses to internalize math concepts, and ultimately allow them to achieve abstraction. The materials are developmentally appropriate, carefully designed to meet the needs characteristic of the plane of development of the child intended to use them. The materials appear time and again, within the spiraling math curriculum. Upon each appearance, students revisit what they already know, and are provided a reference point for where the new information now ascertained from the material is to be organized.

Golden beads used for introductory lessons in the primary classroom, such as the introduction to place value, are later used by the upper elementary student to understand more complex lessons, such as the first square root lesson. The golden beads are familiar, isolating the difficulty to understanding the new, more advanced concept of what square root means.

The same holds true for the binomial cube; through use of this familiar material, difficulty is isolated when it is used to later demonstrate more complex concepts. In this way, work done at the primary level scaffolds the work done at the upper elementary level. “Children can create mental structures from previously learned material into which new carefully designed material can be assimilated” (Lillard, 2005, p. 236). This is the elegance of the use of the didactic math materials within the Montessori spiralling curriculum and the genius of its design.


Lillard, A.S. (2005). Montessori: The science behind the genius. New York: Oxford University Press.

Montessori, M. (1967). The discovery of the child. New York: Ballantine Books.

Math materials
Math materials
Math materials
Math materials
Math materials

Games, Words and PE

As a child in my school, PE was a once a week “special” that I absolutely LOVED! I couldn’t wait for my PE day in school, because I was a game loving, competitive, and physically active kid. I couldn’t relate to the kids who dreaded PE. However, in those days, PE was very competitive and Darwin-like . . . only the strongest survived! If you were not athletically inclined, you were the kid who stayed along the wall, avoided participating, usually the last one picked for a team, and who couldn’t wait for the class to end!

I reflect on those days and think about my students at TMS today. Some are athletes or budding athletes who just need some exposure to basic motor skills, while others are uncoordinated, uncomfortable and avoid participating. How can their skills improve if they don’t feel safe to try? I wanted to find a way to make PE a validating and fun experience for everyone.

An overarching goal in PE class is for the elementary-aged student to enjoy being active and recognize the importance of being active every day. In my lessons, I try to find a balance in activities that will engage student interest, allow them to develop gross motor skills, include some fitness, and practice working as a team while building cooperation strategies and sportsmanship skills. I emphasize teamwork, cooperation and sportsmanship to demonstrate the many different talents each child brings to class. It is easy for an athletic kid to dominate a game by taking charge or by just having strong gross motor skills. This kind of behavior pulls out the other athletic kids and contrasts with the uncertain kids, who are reluctant to take risks and simply fade into the background of the game.

Activities that build teamwork and strategies, and emphasize cooperation and strategy skills are the backbone of any sport and game. Most kids enjoy these activities as they are heavier on the critical thinking part than the actual physical part. These lessons can be particularly challenging for highly athletic students who are used to relying primarily on their athletic skills and not as much on a team plan. It can be challenging to learn to listen to others and develop a plan as a group. The child who likes to take charge discovers he or she is not the only one with a plausible idea and learns that sometimes his or her idea wasn’t the best plan. A coach of mine used to always say, “There Is no ‘I’ in TEAM”. With that said, I like to remind students that their team interactions have the ability to lift spirits or completely flatten them. Students are reminded to think about how their words make someone feel. Do they help or do they hurt? AND, to remember . . . it’s just a game!

During each PE class, students begin with an instant activity that lasts from two to five minutes. That activity could be fitness endurance such as walking and jogging, or skill building like throwing and catching or other forms of ball manipulation as a prerequisite for the skill building game. Then we stretch to develop flexibility and recognize our various muscle groups. Next, I introduce the game and review the rules. I remind the students before they create their teams how dependent the game is on cooperation and strategy skills.

At various times and always at the end of the game, I stop the children to evaluate and share what strategies are working, which ones are not, and why. Students feel good about sharing their insightful thinking and successes, and reflect on the obstacles that forced them to adjust their approach in the game.

Before the students are dismissed, I ask them to reflect on what kind of class they think they had. Some children voice out loud, some tap the image on the wall and others quietly reflect. This reflection engages the students to think about their behavior and efforts in class. The students are not only reflecting on their physical skills, but also on their responsibilities as a student to listen, participate, work within a team, have a positive attitude/sportsmanship, and to be respectful to their peers and school materials.

Together we’ve learned that when students have a steady routine, there is less time sitting or standing around in the gym, and all the students become engaged . . . even ones who would typically avoid being involved. It’s okay if some students don’t love PE, but I hope they all like it, have fun and are motivated to be more active.

PE instructions
PE Class
PE Wall

Language Development

Language is an intrinsic part of the human being; we all possess the innate possibility to develop language in our genes. The presence of the gene FoxP2, which is unique to human beings and aids in language and speech development, tells us that our linguistic ability is at least partially hard-wired. These genes are activated, or expressed, only through experiences the child has with spoken language during their formative years. Maria Montessori wrote that “The child has a mind able to absorb knowledge. He has the power to teach himself. A single observation is enough to prove this. The child grows up speaking his parent’s tongue, yet to grown-ups the learning of a language is a very great intellectual achievement. No one teaches the child, yet he comes to use nouns, verbs and adjectives to perfection.”

Toddler and GuideThe way in which adults and the child’s environment have a direct impact on language development is of great interest to Montessori educators, as well as how the structures of the child’s brain will be influenced by their experiences. From birth to three years old, children are in the sensitive period for language and the quality of their language environment is crucial to their brain development. In the Toddler Community, opportunities to support language development are offered not only through specific materials but in communication and conversations with the children consistently throughout the day. Children are learning not just words as vocabulary, but every single aspect of language and need to be spoken to like adults so that they can learn the complex version that they will be speaking.

The importance of conversation as a tool for language development is further explored in the article below:

Books We Read

We read many things in Lower El. Students and teachers read for information and entertainment. We also read to open conversations about topics that are relevant to our classroom life. Being read to is a great pleasure for children and the guides make opportunities for read-alouds that serve many purposes, including conversation starters about these topics. We read stories that open conversations about friendship, mistakes, fears, and timely things like–THUNDERSTORMS!

Wemberly Worried

Chrysanthemum and Wemberly Worried are by Kevin Henkes and are great conversation starters for talking about friendship and worries. Students in Lower El spend a lot of their time navigating friendship, kindness, compromise, and self advocacy. The author’s language in which he states, “Chrysanthemum wilted” to describe the characters hurt feelings lends itself perfectly to a classroom community building activity known as “Wrinkled Wanda”. A paper cut out of Wanda wilts and is wrinkled each time her feelings are hurt and then is smoothed back out as her feelings are considered and spirits are lifted. Our point in this activity is that while a person’s feelings can be lifted by compliments, they don’t completely forget things that hurt their feelings–much as “Paper Wanda’s wrinkles” are still visible. As we help these processes along, books that start conversations about these topics are part of our toolbox.

Photo 2
Wrinkled Wanda

Early in the school year we read Regina’s Big Mistake by Marissa Moss to talk about our expectation that students doing the right level of work will make mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn and are part of the process of stretching your knowledge and challenging yourself. The book also talks about copying someone else’s work. We use this as an opening to have a conversation about using someone’s good ideas and standing on their shoulders to improve upon or expand those ideas–it isn’t copying if you make it your own!

Child reading

Thunder Cake seemed like the perfect book to read last week as thunder rolled outside our classroom windows. Some children worry about thunder. The girl in this book by Patricia Polacco does, and she has to overcome several of her fears (with her grandmother offering encouragement) on the way to gathering the ingredients for, and baking a “thunder cake”. We were able to bake thunder cake the next day in our classroom–a great experience in separating eggs, measuring, mixing, and EATING!

Thunder Cake
Student cooking
Recipe for Thundercake