Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Catch in my Throat

Today I went to visit the school where I have worked for 18 years.  It will not be the last time I visit it.  But it will be the last time I see some of my students.  I got there a little later than I had planned so I only saw a few of my students.  I have always been of the opinion that once they have been in my class, they will always be my students.

There is a love that teachers have for their job, their environment and their charges.  I find this especially true of students who have been with me for the complete three year cycle.  I have written about the connection and relationship with these young individuals.  I am proud of each and every one of them.

It is true that there are students who are really good at "school".  Lessons and accomplishments come easy to them.  These are students who leave a good impression wherever they go.  I have had many students like this.  It is always a pleasure to remember these students and hear about their accomplishments throughout life.

Another group of students are the ones that try to slide under the radar.  They do not want the teachers' attention and manage to do just enough to get by.  The teacher finds it necessary to seek these students out, to help them discover their gifts and their passions, and to help them accomplish goals.  When we see these shy children blossom into successful young adults our hearts beat a little faster knowing we had a hand in helping them on their way.

Then there are the students who require our constant attention.  The ones we work diligently with to help settle them down, build them up, focus their attention, and cheer them on.  These are the students that crawl slowly into your heart and stay there forever.  You worry when they move to a new class or a new school that they will have a teacher who recognizes their spark and encourages it into a flame.

When these children accomplish a goal, receive positive accolades and move to a higher level you get a catch in your throat, tears prick at your eyes and you say a silent prayer that somehow they will remember the progress they made with you and will continue to grow in a positive light.

Each and every child affects a teacher.  We put our hearts into our work and always feel a little sentimental at the end of each year as our students march forward.

Saying good bye is never easy.  I wonder whether the students and parents know how touched we are by each child.

So to all the students out there, be kind, be safe, and do your best.  That would make any teacher proud.

Friday, June 22, 2012

A Bigger Stage

There is no doubt about it, I have always loved being on stage.  From the little stage in the elementary school I attended to high school, college, New York stages and the stage where I encourage young actors and actresses to trust their instincts and take flight, the stage is where I belong.

I have decided to move to a bigger stage.  As a Montessori educator I have loved being in the classroom environment in the small private school where I felt at peace.  Setting the stage (known as the environment), introducing students to concepts and mentoring children have become my calling.  I have had a change of heart however and am now feeling the tug of taking this show to a bigger audience.

 I have come to believe that all children deserve a Montessori education, not just the ones who can pay for it.

I will continue to be a Montessori educator but will move from a private school to a public charter school.  There is a need to spread Maria Montessori's work to everyone, not just those who can pay for it.

So I am off on a new adventure.

Here are a few ideas I hope to share with the public through this blog and through the children and families I will come into contact with.
  • We all need a mentor to guide us.  Education should be based on a system where students have mentors who are in their corner for life.  
  • Maria Montessori worked with the poorest students, so her methods are not only for the privileged.
  • Practical life skills need to be taught in schools as we become a society where both parents are working.
  • Being kind, being safe and doing your best can take you a long way in life.
  • Students can become confident in any situation, they can have poise, grace and good manners.
  • The students of today are the leaders of tomorrow so let's prepare them thoughtfully.  Give them conflict resolution skills and the ability to take an idea and make it a reality.
Those of you who believe in the Montessori Method can help spread the joy and the beauty of this type of education by supporting any and all Montessori schools both private and public.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Individual Peach Cobblers

Here is an easy and delicious summer dessert.  I decided to try it in muffin tins.  I baked at 350 for 45 minutes, but I may try 325 for one hour as the outside browned very quickly.

1Cup self rising flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
1 or 2 tsp cinnamon

Mix all ingredients and pour into buttered muffin tin.
Peel and dice peaches or you can use berries or a mix of both.
Put fruit on top of the batter in the tins.
Sprinkle with sugar

This is based on The Pioneer Woman's recipe.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Activities

Well, we have waited for it all year long and it is finally here!
I have such happy memories of summer.  Long days of sun and fun, camp, swimming, playing softball in the street, ice cream,beach adventures, theme parks, running in and out of the house all day long, and just enjoying the feeling of freedom.

Do you remember that feeling?  How do we allow our children to have that freedom?  It's a different world.  Children always do well when they are in a consistent routine, how do we promote a feeling of freedom and independence while providing the framework of a routine?

In the summer it is a good idea to change the routine.  Many of us still have to go to work so we need to get the children to camp or another supervised activity.  You can still relax the "school" routine a bit.

One thing that makes summer memorable is the sun, it stays up later than any other time in the year.  Find an outdoor activity to do after dinner.  Swimming, walks through the neighborhood, kickball in the street (if you live in a neighborhood where this is possible), bike riding are all active and fun.  This is the perfect family memory to create.

The summer is also the perfect time to take a trip to the local library.  Allowing your child to choose books to read and have read to him is a powerful step to independence.  Borrowing books from the library teaches us to be responsible.  Gettting the books returned on time, taking care of them, and keeping track of them are all valuable lessons.  The library has something for everyone.  It is a great "rainy day" activity.  It promotes reading and listening skills.  I love the idea of introducing the public library to your children.

Give your child a budget.  If your child earns an allowance for chores or responsibilities (pet care, room cleaning, laundry, kitchen chores etc.) summer is a great time to teach how to plan a budget and how to save for "big ticket" items.  Giving your child a notebook to record income and add it up will help your child with math skills and with seeing their finances grow.  Teach them how to subtract their expenses.  I like the idea of having 3 jars so children can actually see the money.  One jar is marked SAVING, one is marked SPENDING and one is marked DONATIONS.  The money is then divided into the jars, but some must go into each jar.  Children can choose a charity in which they have an interest, such as animal rescue, homeless children or feeding the hungry, and make a donation when they have accumulated money in the donation jar.

Children will always enjoy summer, it is a time for growing, exploring, and yes, learning.  Most of all it is a time for fun.  So make great memories this summer.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Focus and Attention

We hear these words, focus and attention, when evaluating the students in our class.  Can she focus?  What is his attention span?  

As parents you have probably heard these words as well.  Your child does well when he/she is focused.

How can we help children develop focus and attention.

It starts when they are very young.  Very early in life babies possess an "absorbent mind".  They absorb their environment through the senses.  It is important to prepare the child's environment so there is beauty and natural materials wherever the child looks and experiences.  Beautiful toys made of wood and other natural products, delightful and colorful mobiles, soft voices, lovely music, fragrant flowers all will attract a very young child's attention and hold their focus.

As the child becomes more independent around age 2, it is important to be consistent.  Attractive books and toys can be arranged on open shelving so that the child can reach for them without help.  Natural materials are best, try to avoid plastic.  An open space in which a child can work (play).  Chairs and a table that is the right size for the child.  Letting the child take the lead on what he or she wants to use and then letting the child focus on it until he or she decides to change the activity.  Outdoor activities, water play, music, story time are all important activities.  Children do not necessarily interact with other children at a young age, they can play side by side, each absorbed in his or her own activity.

I have observed many parents who want to hurry their children from one activity to another, this disrupts the natural development of focus and concentration.

As the child grows so should his or her attention span.  Be judicious about the activities you schedule for your child.  Running from one activity to the next does not help the development of focus and concentration.

I have observed children who come to school and have clear issues with maintaining their focus and concentration.  I will often find a time to observe the parent interacting with the child.  When I see the parent frequently redirecting the child as they work together, I can tell that the child has underdeveloped concentration skills.  When parents say to me, he can concentrate for hours at home, there must be too many distractions in the classroom.  I find it necessary to point out that as I was observing the child lost focus X number of times, or every so many seconds.  He changed the subject, distracting himself until you (the parent) redirected him.

So how do we develop focus in a child who has missed developing it while very young?  That is the question.
It sounds counter productive but we give time limits.  For example, a child who takes an inordinate amount of time to eat meals.  Set a time limit, say 15 minutes.  Let the child know that he can have his plate for 15 minutes and then take it away.  No matter how much he has actually eaten.  After a few times he will focus more on eating and less on distracting himself.

Give a time limit for bedtime routines.  Lights out in 20 minutes, put on your pjs, brush your teeth, get in bed and the rest of the time you can read or I will read a story to you.  Stick to the 20 minutes so the reading time is lengthened if the other steps are done.

Find activities in which your child loses track of time.  This does not include computer or TV time.  Your child should be actively engaged in the activity.  Art work, building, Legos, Play Doh, putting on a show or concert, biking, skating, reading...all good choices.  These activities engage your child and allow them to "entertain" themselves and allow them to maintain their focus for long periods of time.

A word of advice, try to avoid "bullying" your child into maintaining focus.  By this I mean sitting with them so that they stay on task.  This does nothing to help the child.  Give them a time limit and then walk away.  If the task is not completed, let the child know that you are surprised that it could not be finished.  Talk to the child about how proud they would feel if they were able to accomplish a task on their own.  Help the child develop a feeling of responsibility for maintaining focus.