Thursday, 4 August 2016

Sensitive Periods

Maria Montessori used the term Sensitive Periods to describe periods of a child's life when he/she is sensitive to specific types of knowledge or skills. This sounds very scientific and it is, but it is also an incredible thing to witness. One of the most often missed periods is the one for written language. This is when the child is fascinated by letters and is excited to learn to write.Surprisingly this occurs at around four years old, much younger than most children learn to write in traditional schools. This period is clear to see. I witnessed it first hand this week. A young girl of nearly four started to find letters all around her. She wanted to write her name so I showed her how; then she started decorating her pictures with letters. She found letters all around the classroom and was so thrilled to be able to recognise them. It was like she had sunglasses on and she has just taken them off to see the letters in neon lights. It was amazing. This child had not shown much interest in letters previously but now her whole world had opened up. I jumped on the opportunity and we worked on writing letters; she was so enthusiastic that she just wanted to carry on and do more letters. She didn't get tired of all the hard work but seemed energised by the excitement of learning. All due to her entry into a sensitive period. It is amazing to be able to capture this energy and excitement to guide the child's learning.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Exam Moments

I have had an amazing last week of school. It is incredible to sit back and realise what these wonderful children have learnt. I decided to give the children 'exams' at the end of this term. This was just to practice exam writing and to show them that exams are not scary; not for grading. We did the whole set up with getting pencils ready, drinking beforehand etc. They were so excited that they nagged me for days before about when it would be finally time for their exams. These children range from 6 - 9 years so I had prepared exams based on their levels. On the day of the exam, I had four 5 and a half-year-olds also beg for an exam so I had to quickly write one for them as well. They were so enthusiastic. I had offered that they could go spend time in the pre-primary and do 'easy' work but they were so keen for the exam, I had to give them a chance. The exam went amazingly well. The children were all so well behaved and eager to do their best. They also did incredibly well and achieved good marks (not the point but still good to see). After the exam, they were all so proud and eager to share their experience. The next morning when they arrived at school, they ALL asked me for another exam. It sounds crazy but it's true. They are so excited about learning that even exams are fun. What amazing kids.

I love those books with funny exam answers so I have to share a few of my favourites from these exams:

Question: Draw a food chain - Answer: He drew all different food holding hands in a chain
5-year-old boy

Question: How many shapes are there - Answer: Lots
7-year-old girl

Question: Write 'th' words - Answer: think, that, thousand - I loved this moment in the exam - this six-year-old boy was trying to remember his 'th' phonogram words and suddenly I saw his face light up. He looked around at me and quickly went back to his paper - I knew something was up so I went over to check his work, He looked up at me, looked down at his paper, looked up at the poster we have on the wall of the decimal system and then quickly back at me. He had copied the word thousand from the poster. I know a lot of teachers would correct this as a cheat but I just admired his innovative thinking. He sat looking at me with a guilty grin, waiting for the hammer to fall, but I just smiled and walked away. The fact that he could find a 'th' word in a big poster in the classroom was enough for me, especially as he is only six. We encourage the children to think for themselves, I will not discourage them when they do so.

The whole point of the exam was to realise that exams are not scary, they are a life skill: the children all achieved that and I am so proud of them.

Friday, 17 June 2016

We all have those moments, when it feels like you are banging your head against a concrete wall full of metal spikes. When it doesn't seem to matter how many times you speak, there is no one out there to listen.
This is true in everyday life but especially in the classroom. We all have those moments when we wonder where we have gone wrong and why these sweet children have suddenly turned into deaf monsters? I had this experience this week. It is nearly the end of term and we have had a very rainy miserable week. The children were fed up being indoors and I was fed up with having to talk ten times. It was a moment when it felt like there has been a mass memory wipe of all the rules and beautiful routines being established. Where has all the Montessori magic of an ordered class gone? I remember visiting a Montessori school when I was first qualified and it resembled this chaos. There were children choosing the simplest work or just wondering around with no visible purpose, the noise level was headache inducing and the classroom just looked a mess. I remember thinking 'how can this be a Montessori class with normalised children and an ordered environment?' What I didn't realise at the time, when I judged the school far too harshly in my mind, was that life happens. Montessori has ideals that we strive for but every classroom in the world has days like mine. I stood amongst the chaos in my class and took a deep breath and instead of blaming myself, I decided to forgive myself. These are young children and it is okay to have days like this sometimes. So instead of trying to force these full of unused energy bouncing beans to sit and work; I asked everyone who wanted to use some energy to stand up. I put my CD player on and we danced for about twenty minutes. Did this help our math lesson plan or teach us a new grammar symbol? No. Did it help the sanity of everyone involved, I think so. I think we need moments like this. We need to get over ourselves and our perfect ideals. We are not perfect and neither is life. Some moments we just have to go with the flow and be happy in our imperfection.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Moments of Wonder...
There are moments when you are working with children, that you just have to step back and wonder. Those moments when you are completely amazed by what is going on around you. It is too easy to get caught up with lesson plans and presentations that you forget the wonder of teaching. The fact that these children are learning so much from you.
This happened to me today.
I was doing a group lesson on soil erosion. I had just finished explaining that soil takes a long time to form and we need to respect it. Then two of the younger children in the group had comments that just made me smile and marvel at how incredible children can be. One child exclaimed "Yes, the soil is important, it has nutrients for the plants' and the other followed this with "And if there were no plants then there would be no oxygen for us to breathe". These were both five and a half-year-olds. I was stunned. I had to just sit quietly for a moment and marvel at their knowledge and understanding.
These are the moments that make being a teacher so worthwhile. I love it.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

What is Montessori to me?

What is Montessori? Is it a dinosaur? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it an expensive school down the road from you?
Montessori means many things to different people. To me, Montessori is a way of life. I have lived Montessori, even before I knew the name.
To be technical: Montessori is a method of education developed by Maria Montessori over a hundred years ago. Yet it is so much more.
Montessori is being able to marvel at the miracle of life, even when your miracle is throwing a tantrum that could wake sleeping beauty. Montessori is taking the chance to explain the difference between a moth and a butterfly while you are cooking a complicated dinner. Montessori is doing a happy dance when a child finally understands personification. Montessori is making the time for the little moments: the walks in the garden, the real-get-down-to-their-level-listening (even if only to hear the exciting news that they have a banana in their lunchbox) and yes, laughing at the knock-knock jokes you have heard a million and one times. Montessori is feeling refreshed after a complex lesson because you know the children enjoyed it. Montessori is science experiments (even if they don't work the way they were supposed to), playing in the dirt to learn about rocks, using 'pretty' beads to find square roots, making volcanoes just because we have vinegar and bicarb in the cupboard, being excited to go to school because you have a new phonogram to teach and just enjoying the learning process. Montessori is learning for life. It is not in a classroom or textbook. It is not even confined to children. I am a Montessori adult. Everyday I learn something new and I am excited by my life of learning. Today I learnt how to create a blog. Who knows what I will learn tomorrow...