Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Typical Morning at Redland Montessori

REDLAND MONTESSORI
About a month ago, I had the privilege of observing for a morning at Redland Montessori where Ruby goes to school four days a week.  My mom is a Montessori preschool teacher, and I've worked at Montessori summer camps, so I knew some of what to expect; still, it was absolutely awesome to see my own daughter as one of the students who is learning so much!

For those not familiar with the Montessori philosophy, it was founded by Maria Montessori, who did much of her work at the beginning of the 20th century in Italy.  She was a doctor and initially worked with populations of children that were considered impossible to educate (due to disabilities or delinquency).  Many of them went on to be as successful in school (or more successful!) as many of their "normal" peers who were in "normal" schools.   She formulated a pedagogy and method which proved to be very successful for all children.

One main distinctive of a Montessori classroom is that nearly everything is appropriately sized for children, or else modified to allow children to use it independently.  Montessori believed that children could be capable of great skill, care, and concentration if given appropriate materials. Children are also allowed to choose what they would like to work with and spend as long as they want with it.  Montessori noticed that even very young children were able to remain highly focused for long periods of time on tasks which aroused their interest.

I won't go into more detail about the philosophy now, because tomorrow I'm going to be posting an interview with the founder and lead guide (teacher) of Ruby's school, Betsy Black.  She's much more of an expert than I am!

Allow me to walk you through a typical Montessori day, as I observed it:

The first order of business in the day is coming in and greeting Betsy.  Betsy sat on a low stool by the door and welcomed Ruby and shook her hand.  Ruby then hung up her coat in her cubby and went to wash her hands.


Before the main "work time" (where the pupils choose what works they'd like to do), both Ruby and London (currently the only other student, and Betsy's daughter) chose a few chores from the "Helping Hands" jar.  These are things that they must do to keep the classroom environment nice and well-maintained.  It was great to see the girls doing chores without even a hint of complaint or dawdling (as sometimes happens with chores at our house!)

One of Ruby's chores was folding the clean laundry and putting it away.
After chores were done, it was time to choose works.  Students can choose a work after they've had a lesson on it.  Betsy gives lessons individually and in groups.  Today, all of the works that Ruby chose were ones that she had previously done, so she did not need any new lessons that day.

Ruby does a matching work
Occasionally, when she notices that children are in the "in between" time of finishing one work and looking for another to choose, Betsy will call them over to play a game or to teach them a new work.  Here she is with London playing a letter game.  She showed London a letter, asked London to trace it with her finger and repeat the sound the letter stands for, and think of a word that starts with that sound.

Meanwhile, Ruby had finished her matching work and moved on to something else.  It was wonderful to see her complete the full "cycle of activity" that Montessori teaching emphasizes:  she took the work out, sat down to do it, and then put it away when she was done and came back to push in her chair.  She did not leave the work out or leave it half-finished.  

Next she tried the weaving work:


After that she did work with pinning clothespins around the edge of the tin.  Betsy told me that not too long ago she was unable to do the fine motor skills required for that work, but this time she whipped through it like a pro. 

You may be wondering what the point is of putting clothespins on an tin.  It is an exercise in strengthening the fingers and the motions needed later for proper pencil grip, and it is a time to perfect fine motor skills which are so crucial for the rest of life.  


I was struck by how quiet the classroom was.  Even though Ruby is three and London is four, and both of them can be VERY chatty, there was not a sound besides the soft music playing and the quiet burbling of the fish tank's filter.  

It was so peaceful. Ruby and London moved calmly and purposefully through the room and sat without fidgeting.  It was a little hard to believe that a three year old could sustain such concentration, but I'm here to tell you that she did!

Next, Ruby chose a work which involved squeezing water out of little squares of sponge with what looked like a garlic press.  It was a fairly complex work and had several steps (one of which was filling up a pitcher with water at the sink, carrying it to the table, and pouring it into the bowl.  Ruby managed all of this without spilling.  



Then she was supposed to use tweezers to grasp the sponge squares (again strengthening the fingers for proper pencil grip), immerse them in water, transfer them to the press, squeeze out the water, and place the wrung out sponge in the ice cube tray compartments.



Ruby, whether through forgetting or by design, used her fingers instead of the tweezers.  Betsy was watching.  After seeing that Ruby was not going to self-correct, Betsy quietly reminded her to use the tweezers.  Ruby had the rather mulish look in her eyes and set jaw that I've seen many times when she wants to do something HER way.  She persisted in using her fingers and even started splashing a little.  Betsy calmly asked her to stop and clean up the mess made by using the work improperly.

I wondered if Ruby was going to argue, but she complied right away.  After she had cleaned it, Betsy asked if Ruby wanted to a reminder of how to do the work, but Ruby said she was "too tired to do it," and agreeably moved on to do another work (after putting the sponge work away).

She chose a work of grinding oats with a stone mortar and pestle next.



London was doing a pouring work, pouring black beans into cups.  She spilled a few beans and cleaned them up without being prompted to do so.  She poured a large amount of beans into one cup, a medium amount in the next, and a small amount in the third, and lined them up accordingly.



Ruby chose another multi-step work: hand washing with a small basin.  I noted that every part is instructive, even putting on an apron!  Ruby was quite eager to skip to the last step (applying hand lotion) but Betsy helped her stay on track.

Preparing the basin

Scrubbing her nails with the nail brush
Finally, the lotion!  Just one pump, though!
During this time, London had finished her pouring work and helped herself to snack.  Snack is set up in such a way that the students can have it whenever they would like.  Betsy puts out just enough of snack for each of them to have their allotted portion and serving themselves snack is as much a work as anything else.
Here's the snack supply area (after the snacks were depleted!)
Real ceramic dishes for the kids to use



Snack today was apple slices, cheese slices, and crackers.
In addition to snack work, there is sometimes a food preparation work.  Today there was quesadilla making.  Ruby grated the cheese for her quesadilla, arranged it between two pre-cut triangles of quesadilla, and brought it to Betsy to microwave.
Yes, that is a real metal grater!  
Bon Appetit!

Because London is a year older, she is doing some more advanced works than Ruby, including the "teens board" that you see here.  My mom raves about Montessori math materials and I can see why.  They really help the kids understand concepts like place value in a very physical way.  Each slot says 10 and then the ones column places are replaced with the appropriate numeral.  

Next to that, bead rods are placed.  First there is a ten rod (ten beads pre strung) and next to it the appropriate amount of unit beads.  It is so orderly, so clean and aesthetically pleasing.  I can't help but wonder if I'd have been a more able mathematician if I had had the benefit of a Montessori start to my education.  My little sister (who is graduating high school this year) has had Montessori schooling from preschool through third grade and NOT coincidentally (in my opinion) she's been the best at the maths and sciences in our whole family.  


Here's a picture of one of the shelves of works.  A big Montessori principle is "A place for everything, and everything in its place.  



London chose a button sewing work.  She used a real needle and thread.  Maria Montessori believed that children were capable of using real (if sometimes miniaturized) materials and ought not be held back just because of their age. If they don't use them properly, they are taken away and set aside for a time when the child has matured to the point of being able to use it safely and correctly.





By now it was about 11 (the school day started at 8:30).  Betsy called the girls over for a group lesson on soap making.  She gave a lesson mostly using demonstration and only using words to explain when necessary.  As you can see, she gave the lesson at their height level, not what would be comfortable for her.




Then, because it happened to be sharing day, it was time for sharing.  The theme for sharing that week was "something flat."  Ruby had brought a book, which Betsy read aloud for them.


She had time to read another story, and Ruby requested, "Our Peaceful Classroom," which is a book about (and written and illustrated by) a Montessori classroom.  


Then it time for outside play.  Betsy has a lovely big fenced area to play in (and one of her dogs, Daisy, joined us for this part!)  London and Ruby played happily outside.  


Apparently that tiger xylophone is their "puppy."
Animals are very important in a Montessori classroom.  Maria Montessori stated that every classroom ought to have at least one mammal, one bird, one reptile, one amphibian, and one fish so that children could see the full range of the animal kingdom.  Ruby's classroom has fish, a bunny, and this sweet guy:
Meet Hemi, the world's most mellow dog
There are also chickens outside, but due to state regulations the kids are not allowed to pet them.  They do throw food to them occasionally, though.

The resident chickens: Henrietta, Daphne, and Gertrude.  
After twenty minutes or so of outdoor play, it was time to come in and end the day with "Thankful Circle."  Betsy gets out a little candle and lights it.  Everyone takes a turn saying something they are thankful for.  Sometimes there are songs or poems to sing or recite.  Then one of the students snuffs out the candle (they take turns, of course, since it is a very coveted job!)
Apparently, Ruby is usually thankful for Hemi!

Today was London's turn to snuff the candle.

Then the school day was over at noon.  When I was working full time, Ruby stayed all day, so she would have gone on to eat lunch, have a nap, and then do afternoon work and play.  But now she's just there half day, which is great for us.  She gets to come home and lunch with us.

Ruby loves her school, and we're so happy she's there.  Right now there are only two students, so there are room for more!  If you live in the Oregon City/Beavercreek/Clackamas/Happy Valley/Mulino area and you're thinking about what you'd like to do for your 3-6 year old, you should come check it out!  There is an open house next weekend:

Saturday March 8th from 10:30-12
Sunday March 9th from 1-2:30

The address is 19281 S. Sprague Lane, Oregon City, OR 97045.  It is a bright, bright yellow house and the school is located at the top of the house, up the wooden stairs.  

We will be there on Saturday and I'm sure Ruby will be more than happy to show you around :)

Tomorrow I'll feature an interview with Betsy where she can say more about how she started the school, her own background as a Montessori educator, and what she loves about it.

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