Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grace and Courtesy ( by Peter Davidson)

After observing in toddlers or primary, prospective parents invariably comment upon how civilized it is, how the children get along so well and are so respectful of each other and their teachers.  “How do Montessori children know how to wait for a turn, respect someone else’s space, walk in the classroom instead of run, ask politely for help or offer to help someone else?” they want to know.  “It’s not magic,” I respond.  “They have learned each of these skills, and many more, in the lessons of Grace and Courtesy.”
These lessons are a regular feature of the toddler or primary classroom, especially at this time of year when new children are being introduced to the classroom.  In primary, these often happen at a group time, first thing in the morning.  On of the first skills introduced is simply “How to walk around a rug.”  The teacher will unroll a small rug on the floor in the middle of the circle of children, and invite them to watch.  With elaborate care she will place her foot just beside the rug with every step she takes.  Each time she comes to a corner, she will accentuate going all the way around and not cutting the corner by stepping over it.  She will then announce, “Now you know how to walk around a rug,” and invite several children, one at a time, to have a turn.
When the group time is over and children are excused to move about the classroom and choose their own activities, she can observe the results of her handiwork, as the children pay special attention to walking around each rug they encounter.  If anyone forgets and steps on someone else’s rug, she has only to remind them:  “Do you remember when I showed you how to walk around a rug?”
It seems so simple, doesn’t it?  And yet, consider this — without this one skill, children who knew no better would blunder into and across each other’s spaces, causing disturbance and hurt feelings.
Another early lesson is “How to watch someone’s work.”  Again the teacher will role play this important skill, emphasizing her closed mouth and the placement of her hands by her sides or behind her back.
With the introduction of just these two skills alone, the teacher has eliminated a large percentage of the frictional elements that plague the average “preschool.”  In this same way we teach each of the social skills that allow a group of children to function independently but also respectfully:  how to excuse yourself when stepping in front of another; what to do when you come to the water pitcher and someone else is already there getting a drink; how to serve the carrots that you have just peeled and sliced;  how to blow your nose;  how to walk in a line;  how to wait rather than interrupt.  The list goes on and on.
Last year as I was substituting in a primary class, I noticed a social skill that the children lacked.  In one area of the classroom two shelves jutted out, creating a narrow passage between.  Children coming from opposite directions would bump into each other coming through.  Rather than admonishing these children for their lack of social awareness, I made a mental note instead.  The next morning I gathered the whole group around the space in question.  The assistant and I role-played what to do in this situation.  We each picked up a tray and entered the narrow space from opposite directions.  I made a deliberate show of stopping, stepping back, and inviting her to go first.  Following this group time, as children went about their independent activities, I noticed any number of them looking for an opportunity to pass through this same narrow space.  If someone was coming from the opposite direction one of them would stop, move back, and in a little piping voice say, “Oh, excuse me.  Please go through first.”
In this way the children gradually build the social skills of a polite society.  As they find activities that meet their inner need for self-development and as their space and autonomy are respected, a sense of calm and purposefulness settles over the classroom.  Perhaps it is magic, after all.

Peter Davidson was the founding Head at the Montessori School of Beaverton, an AMI school in Portland and currently serves as consultant for Montessori in Redlands, an AMI school in Southern California.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The School Year is now in Full Swing

I haven't written for awhile due to the fact that I have been assessing, planning, listening, exploring, creating, tracking, adjusting, accomodating, discussing, reviewing, cajoling, consoling,nurturing, refereeing, guiding, helping, and countless other "ings" that go into "teaching".

But I am happy to say progress is evident in our classroom.  Students are gaining confidence, acquiring new skills, and forming new friendships.  I predict that it will be a successful year with a few little bumps in the road, but that's what keeps it interesting.

When i was studying to become a teacher, one of my professors told us a story about a cocktail party she had attended.  It was filled with high powered attorneys, doctors, CEO's and other go-getters.  She was introduced to a gentleman who said, "And what do you do?"  She replied, "I have the most amazing and important job."  She slipped off and joined another conversation and inevitably was asked what she did?  (It is amazing how many people define their whole lives by their job,  the question we should be asking children is, "What qualities do you want to possess?"  not "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  But that is a topic for another day.)

But I digress, back to the story....
 Eventually, she ran into the first man later in the party.  He said,  What is this amazing and important job that you have?" 
The party is a buzz with laughter and chatter but at just that moment there was a drop in the noise level and she said, "I am a teacher!"  Everyone turned to look at her as she was the loudest in the room (and she had told everyone what an amazing and important job she had.) 
The gentleman said, "Teaching? how can that be amazing and important?"
 My professor asked, "May I ask what your job is?"
The man replied, "I am a brain surgeon."
My professor said, "Well, I think it would be important for you to have had amazing teachers."
And she left the party.

The point of this is to let you know how seriously the teachers in your children's lives take their jobs.  Teachers don't do things lightly, they often agonize over reporting information that may be uncomfortable for parents to hear, they try to find different ways to reach every child in their class, they read, plan, (well, you saw the list at the beginning of this piece.)

Every child is a gift, every child is important, every child is beautiful.  Teachers know this and hold these lives in their hands for a short time.  They are not always appreciated, respected, and treated fairly, but they will work hard to find the spark in your children and help them develop the tools needed to pursue their passions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Healthy Fruit Pies

This recipe comes from the chef at The White House.  These pies are delicious and easy to make.  Enjoy!
Healthy Fruit Pies
Whole wheat white bread
Unsweetened applesauce
Canola oil
2 tbsp. sugar

Put a spoonful of apple sauce and some berries in the middle of a slice of bread.
Add another slice of bread on top.
Cut off the crusts
Use a fork to seal the edges by pressing the tines of the fork down around the edges of the bread.
Brush with canola oil
Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar
Bake at 350 for 18 minutes.