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The beauty of Montessori materials

 

Maria Montessori had a view that education should prepare children for all aspects of life. She believed that each child is unique and must be free to learn at his or her own pace. To support her theory further, Dr. Montessori designed several materials and techniques that are an integral part of the Montessori prepared environment. Each set of materials focuses on concepts that compliment the curriculum.

Visit the prepared classrooms of Montessori Kids Universe Sugarland and you will see several different sets of materials on low shelves. This is because Maria Montessori emphasized giving children ‘freedom within limits.” The materials are easily accessible and children are free to choose one according to their interest. Once the students are finished with their material, they are encouraged to put everything back on shelves before moving on to the next activity.

The greatest advantage of the Montessori materials is that they are “self-correcting,” which means that students will notice their errors and don’t need adult supervision to rectify their mistakes. This improves their problem solving skills and makes them more confident and content with their accomplishments.

Parents who are new to Montessori often find it hard to understand the importance of these materials. To help you out, here is a list of some of the most popular Montessori materials and how they are used in the prepared environment.

  1. Moveable Alphabet

Montessori doesn’t teach the alphabet in the traditional way. Instead of A, B, C, the children are taught the phonetic sounds of these letters. Once they are familiar with the sounds, they are transitioned to the moveable alphabet that allows them to recognize the letters they are used to hearing. The main purpose of the moveable alphabet is not to teach children how to read, but to prepare them for writing.

  1. The Golden Beads

The Golden Bead material is included in the mathematical curriculum and introduces the children to the decimal system. Initially, children around the age of four use the golden beads as an introduction to counting. As the child progresses, the same set of material allows them to perform sums of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

  1. The Pink Tower

The Pink Tower may look like an ordinary set of blocks to any person who is not familiar with the Montessori curriculum. However, it is one of the most recognized Montessori materials and teaches children a variety of skills including coordination and dimension. Most importantly, the tower is self-correcting since the child is immediately able to grasp his or her mistakes when the tower is completely built.

  1. Brown stairs

Similar to the Pink Tower, the Brown Stairs is another sensorial material that teaches children the different dimensions. As the name suggests, the children use the blocks to build “stairs” starting from the broadest to the narrowest. This allows them to further enhance their learning of sizes and shape.

  1. The world map

The World Map puzzle instills geography knowledge and skills. The cutouts of different continents teach children the name of seven continents as well as the names of their countries, their capital cities, and their demographic location on the globe.

  1. The Checkerboard

An advanced mathematic material, the Checkerboard helps children learn multiplication. The checkerboard material contains colorful beads and a large painted board. However, unlike the traditional methods that force children to memorize the multiplications table, the Checkerboard teaches abstract mathematical skills that allow them to calculate large numbers without counting.

  1. Practical Life Materials

As discussed in previous blogs, Montessori emphasizes practical life skills that help children in their daily routine and make them more independent and resilient in the future.  The practical life materials are a norm in Montessori classrooms and include the basics such as broom, dustpan, mop, and duster. Each item is child-sized so the children can conveniently access the items without asking for adult’s assistance. Children are also assigned duties during the school hours such as cleaning the shelves, watering the plants, and giving food to the class pet. This makes the children more responsible and instills them with a sense of pride for their contribution.

 

Montessori materials, while seemingly simple, can be used in a complex manner and through every stage of a preschooler’s development. More importantly, the materials develop a love of learning, advanced critical thinking skills, and the ability to problem-solve, even at this young age.

 

December 7th, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education

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The Montessori Mat at Work

A few years ago while scouring for a Montessori for my son, I had the chance to visit several primary classrooms. Apart from the well-organized and attractive classroom environment, I was impressed with the different sets of materials that were being used effortlessly by the children. Another feature that appealed to me was the use of work mats. Although there were quite a few child-sized tables and chairs in the classroom, many children were utilizing the small mats for their individual activities.

At that time, I thought they were given to the children to minimize mess and make cleanup easy. However, I was wrong and cleaning had nothing to do with it. In fact, the lightweight work mats hold significant importance in the Montessori prepared environment.

The Montessori work mat is used to reinforce the primary principle of the Montessori prepared environment – freedom within limits. The mat defines a child’s personal space while other students are taught to respect the classmate’s work and privacy. The mat is considered a child’s sacred space and no one can interrupt the child unless they are willing to interact. Other children make sure to walk around the mat carefully and only join a classmate when given permission.

Another advantage of a Montessori mat is that the children can come back to their activity if they have to leave their work for any reason. For example, a child takes a bathroom break or has snack time. They can leave their belongings on the mat and return to find their work in the same place, undisturbed.

Each activity in a Montessori classroom starts with the mat. Children are trained to first unroll a mat on their desired space after which they can select an activity. Once they have completed their activity, each child rolls back his or her mat, being careful about keeping the edges even, and puts it along with the others in a basket. This not only teaches children order but also improves their practical life skills to help children become more independent and adaptable to society.

At Montessori Kids Sugarland, the work mats are the foundation of everything the children will learn. Visit us and see how the mats are integrated in every activity to create the perfect work space for each child.

November 16th, 2017

Posted In: About MKU, Montessori Education

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The unique Montessori classroom

A Montessori classroom is a child’s second home. In fact, it serves as the child’s first step into the new world. As the child slowly makes this transition, it is essential that he is provided with an environment that not only makes the shift easy but also facilitates learning to the maximum.

According to the Montessori Method, a Montessori classroom should be planned and equipped in such a way that children adapt easily to the environment without compromising their learning process.We are all familiar with the setting of the traditional classroom where young students are provided adult-sized furniture while the shelves and cupboards are placed so high that the child is always in need of an adult’s assistance. Additionally, in a traditional classroom, children are usually confined to their desks while the teacher dictates the same lesson to the whole class.

However, Maria Montessori was contrary to the traditional learning environment and believed that, “The child, making use of all that he finds around him, shapes himself for the future.” Her desire was to provide the children with a learning space where they had the freedom to explore, learn, and experience at their own pace and desire. This led her to create the Montessori Method which focuses on shaping the child as a whole being while making the learning process pleasant by equipping the classrooms with a variety of different materials.

The focus of the Montessori prepared environment remains on the six basic principles – Freedom, Structure and Order, Beauty, Nature and Reality, Social Environment, and Intellectual Environment. Here is a brief description about each of the principles and why they hold importance in the child’s learning and developmental process.

 Freedom

“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

-Maria Montessori

The prime principle of the Montessori prepared environment is freedom. Just imagine how you would feel if you had to take assistance for the smallest task or were limited to the same task daily without any challenges. Our children are the same way. They have the potential that we, as parents, oftentimes ignore.

The Montessori Method is based on the belief that children who are given freedom can learn with their own natural instinct. The prepared environment of the classroom allows children to choose the activity according to their own preference and pace while enhancing social interaction amongst peers.

Structure and Order

Parents of preschoolers will agree that a temper tantrum can be expected whenever their child’s routine is disrupted. This is because children between the ages of one and five pass through a sensitive stage. Montessori believed that during this phase, children should experience order, consistency, and familiarity in their environment. Since children of this age have limited verbal skills, any disorientation can create chaos which can be avoided by having a consistent schedule and ground rules.

The Montessori method meets the child’s need for order by providing a space that is organized and structured according to their needs. Materials are in the same place every day while lessons and activities are conducted at the same time. The school day ends with children placing all the materials and their completed work in the given space. This sense of order enhances children’s understanding of the world and allows them to organize their time and space efficiently.

Beauty

Visit the MKU classroom and at first glance you will notice how well-organized the environment is. Everything is beautifully displayed while the classrooms are neat, uncluttered, and orderly. Maria Montessori emphasized the aesthetic appeal of the Montessori classroom and always encouraged teachers to decorate classrooms in such a way that learners come eagerly to learn and work. The environment should reflect peace and tranquility while the arrangement should always be well-maintained.

Nature and Reality

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that 60 minutes of unstructured free play daily is essential for the child’s physical and mental well-being. Unfortunately, studies show that children are spending less time outdoors than they were 20 years ago. However, Dr. Montessori agreed with the benefits of outside play and always emphasized that educators should take children outside as much as possible. Children don’t like to sit inside, and keeping them confined in one room can make them cranky and sluggish. Giving them outside time daily enhances their cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development.

Social environment

In Montessori classrooms, children are grouped with different ages. This structure allows children to share and work cooperatively while enhancing empathy and respect towards each other. Multi-aged classrooms allow older children to develop leadership qualities and younger ones to learn to return the favor in the coming years by being in the same spot as the elders.

Intellectual environment

The last but the most important principle is the Intellectual environment. The Montessori Method claims that children develop a love of lifelong learning when they take responsibility for themselves and their education. The intellectual environment moves students from simple to complex and from concrete to abstract. Each Montessori material can be used in multiple ways to enhance learning, whether it be through language, sensorial, life skills, math, culture, or art.

When all the principles of the Montessori prepared environment are combined, the child develops independence, focus, adaptability, self-confidence, self-discipline, and patience. The freedom to fully learn not only helps the child succeed in academic endeavors but also in practical, everyday life.

October 24th, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education

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The role of the Montessori teacher

Most of us have a fixed mindset of a teacher’s role in a classroom. She stands in front of the room and dictates material while the children listen intently. The students, regardless of their pace and interest, are required to follow the lessons according to the teacher’s academic plan.

Although this method of learning has been practiced effectively for centuries, Dr. Maria Montessori had a different theory. She believed that the teacher, student, and the environment create a learning triangle. The classroom is prepared by the teacher with activities and materials according to the child’s learning abilities and interest. The students make use of the environment and develop various skills while taking guidance and support from the teachers when needed.

Her belief is that the focus should remain on the children’s learning and not on the teachers’ teaching. This is why Montessori teachers are not the center of attention in the classroom. In fact, it’s sometimes hard to spot the teacher in a Montessori classroom as she often steps back,allowing the children to learn from their own discoveries and draw conclusions. Rather than giving children answers to the many questions they ask in one day, the Montessori teacher asks them how they would solve the problem while actively engaging children in the learning process and enhancing critical thinking skills.

A prepared environment

Montessori teachers provide activities based on six areas of learning: practical life activities, sensorial activities, numeracy, literacy, understanding of the world, and creative abilities. The children are given the freedom within limits to choose the activity according to their interests and abilities.They are allowed to spend as much time as they need on one activity, and while the Montessori teacher will not interfere in their working, she will be readily available to guide them as needed.  By following this approach, children of Montessori become more confident about their ability to understand what they are learning. This also limits the necessity of coercion, which often increases feelings of stress and inferiority in children.

A Model, Mentor, and a Guide

In a traditional classroom, the teachers present the lesson to a large group of students who are expected to listen and take in all the information provided. However, in a Montessori environment, the teachers work with only one or two students at a time while the learning material is provided on the basis of children’s interest.

If a child is not interested or making an incorrect association, the Montessori teacher does not force the child to learn. Instead, she gives the child time to clear the air and continues the topic another day. The Montessori system believes that pushing a child to learn will only make them frustrated while allowing them to learn at their own pace with patience will empower them to learn more.

Observe students

The most important role of a Montessori teacher is of an observer. The Montessori teacher makes careful observations of each student while they work. The teacher does not interfere or disrupt the students while they work, nor do they give out punishment or rewards.This allows the teacher to understand when a child has mastered a specific skill or concept, thus moving them on to an advanced curriculum. Progress notes are shared frequently with parents and caregivers.

We at Montessori Kids Sugarland believe that children are full of curiosity. By giving them an environment to learn with freedom, they can grow up to be intelligent, independent, responsible, and contributing members of society.

As Maria Montessori would say,

“The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say: The children are now working as if I did not exist.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 3rd, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education

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Practical life skills at home

Today, let’s take a look behind the scenes in the classroom to give you some ideas for Montessori-style activities you can recreate at home. Montessori teachers refer to them as “practical life activities”

Practical life activities in the classroom

As the name suggests, practical life activities focus on skills children use on a daily basis. Children observe these activities in their own environment and gain knowledge through the practice of daily duties.

Some typical activities that are implemented in most Montessori classrooms include:

  •    Peeling and cutting bananas
  •    Squeezing orange juice
  •    Washing dishes
  •    Pouring water
  •    Watering flowers
  •    Caring for self by washing hands, brushing hair, etc.
  •    Cleaning up after playtime

Ideas for the home environment

It’s quite easy to incorporate any of the above activities at home for your child. Simply remember to keep child-sized objects ready for handling various tasks. For example, if your child is helping you butter toast, have a small amount of butter ready on a separate plate.

Other ways you can incorporate life skills at home are:

  •    Helping with laundry – taking clothes out of the washing machine, adding soap, sorting, and folding
  •     Getting dressed and undressing with little help
  •     Helping set up meals such as pouring milk and cereal, washing vegetables and fruits, setting the table, and cleaning up
  •    Getting ready for visitors – preparing beds, setting a flower arrangement, hanging towels, cleaning up toys
  •    Taking trips to the supermarket and helping in loading and unloading of grocery items
  •    Helping with baking and cooking

When applying practical life skills at home, always remember:

  •    To provide child-sized tools easily managed by small hands. For example, a child-sized mop for cleaning up, travel-sized bottles of dishwashing liquid, and even small gardening tools.
  •    Focus on the process and never on the results. Children take time to master the practical life skills and their end result may not look perfect. But they are learning and after they master the skills, you will have a lifelong helper at home.

Don’t allow your children to sit in front of the TV or play iPads while you perform various tasks around the house. Instead, encourage them to join you and help out. Children love to stay involved with their parents and with some simple activities, they can gain life skills at the same time.

Remember that the main reason we at Montessori Kids Universe teach practical life skills is that we value children and the contribution they can make to the family, and later, the world. We believe they are capable of doing so much more than what the media tells us. They can handle breakables if they’re taught how. They can take responsibility for themselves if we teach them how. In other words, they can learn, if we give them the room to grow.

 

September 20th, 2017

Posted In: Tips

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The value of art for preschoolers

art

Your preschooler is busy spreading different colored paint on paper. Trying to be encouraging, you ask her, “What are you making?” and she shrugs. Until you mentioned it, she hadn’t given any thought to what she was making or how it will end up.

Little kids are masters of the moment. They love the way different colors turn up on paper and unlike you and me, they are least bothered about the finished product.

Art – whether it’s in the form of drawing, painting, theatres, or music is a natural activity that allows free play in children. The unstructured play and the freedom to manipulate different materials give children lots of opportunity for exploration and experimentation.

These artistic activities are not only fun but educational for children as well. Apart from increasing their chances of becoming the next Picasso, children can benefit from art in a number of ways, including:-

Fine motor skills –

Grasping pencils, making dots, mixing colors, cutting with scissors, rolling playdough, tearing paper, and controlling a glue stick – all these tasks require a lot of dexterity and coordination. Yet these activities are fun and children usually wish to do them again and again and that too without your encouragement – hence improving their motor skills over time.

Writing skills –

Scribbling is the precursor to writing. The random scribbling your child does on paper will able them to control the crayon better and with time, the doodles will turn into shapes and eventually alphabets.

Math skills –

Art helps the children learn and understand different mathematical concepts like sizes, shapes, counting, and making comparison.

Vocabulary –

When children create something, they like to show it to everyone. As they describe their artwork, their vocabulary also increases. You can also encourage their language skill by asking open-ended questions in return.

Problem solving skills –

Which color should I use? How to make the color darker, should I press harder on the crayon? How to stick the legs on the clay figure?

When children are given different materials to work with, they learn to solve their own problems and make a choice – which thus enhances their problem solving abilities and enables them to gain more confidence.

Outlet for emotions –

Art allows children to express their emotions in a safe way. They learn to control their emotions and recognize that they can express both – sad and happy feelings through a positive medium.

How to motivate creativity?

These were just some of the benefits your child can gain from art. Here are some tips on how you can inspire creativity in children.

  • Prepare for a mess
  • Don’t give direction
  • Don’t draw with your child
  • Ask them lots of questions about their artwork
  • Appreciate the final piece and avoid giving suggestions or changes.

Remember, children learn through trial and error. So as long as your child is playing in a safe environment, let them explore by themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 2nd, 2017

Posted In: Tips

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Building Fine Motor Skills

fine motor skills

Fine motor skills involve using the smaller muscle of hands, finger, and thumb. Developing fine motor skills is essential for common activities such as writing, buttoning, using scissors, and zippering. These abilities gradually develop through experience and exposure to a variety of toys, materials, and even foods.

What skills do fine motor skills include?

  • Pencil skills (writing, scribbling, drawing, coloring)
  • Cutting using scissors
  • Construction skills with Lego and puzzles
  • Doll dress-up
  • Tying shoelaces
  • Closing/opening zips, buttons, belts
  • Opening lunch boxes
  • Using cutlery
  • Brushing teeth and hair

Why are fine motor skills important?

Fine motor skills are important for performing everyday tasks. Without the ability to complete these daily activities, children’s self-esteem can suffer along with their academic performance. They are also unable to develop appropriate independence in their life skills, such as dressing and feeding themselves.

How to encourage fine motor skill development

Children don’t need much prodding to seek new adventures but it takes time to master a new skill. With some encouragement, patience, and support from your side, children will be more confident about the tasks and eventually surprise you one day with their abilities.

So the next time you hear “Let me do it!” try to step back and let children try their hand at simple tasks like getting dressed or spreading jam on a toast. It will require some patience on your part, but it will be well worth the wait.

Squeeze the sponge:

Set up two separate bowls – one empty and the other filled with water. Let the child soak up the sponge with water and squeeze it out in the other bowl. The simple activity will strengthen the hands and forearms.

Make macaroni necklaces:

Stringing necklaces is a great way to improve children’s creativity and improve hand-eye coordination. To start, use a thick piece of string and large pieces of pasta. Over time, you can add different shaped dried pasta along with big, colorful beads to enhance children’s creative skills.

Finger painting:

The idea of finger painting might sound a bit messy to you, but for children, it’s an important aspect of development. Finger painting allows children to improve fine motor skills by strengthening finger and hand muscles while encouraging precision and varied levels of pressure. Additionally, children learn more about colors, shapes, and patterns while showcasing their creativity.

If you are concerned about children marring furniture or walls during the art activity, set up an easel or a thick piece of paper in the yard, garage, or any other area that can be washed easily.

Playdough:

Don’t underestimate the power of the old-fashioned playdough. Manipulating playdough helps strengthen the muscles of children’s hands, improves creative skills, and develops hand-eye coordination.  So let them squish, roll, and flatten it as much as you want to. But make sure you use a non-toxic form of playdough or better yet, extend the activity by making your own playdough. Recipes abound on the Internet and allow children to create their own colors, to boot!

Remember, the skills that children master today will help them gain a steady position once they advance towards formal learning in kindergarten and beyond. With some effort, children will gain one of the most important skills that will ultimately help them reach many more milestones in the future.

 

 

 

 

June 20th, 2017

Posted In: Tips

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Why Open Houses Are Worth Your Time

Open House

 

For many parents, choosing the right preschool for their child is as stressful as selecting the right college for a teen. There are so many schools out there with varying curriculum that it’s no surprise parents become overwhelmed.

Luckily, it’s a norm for most schools to hold open houses to give parents a glimpse of what to expect. Not just for new parents, these events are beneficial for parents whose children are already attending the particular school. By taking part in such events, you can see the children’s progress, meet up with teachers, and get a good look at the classrooms.

And of course, open houses are a great way to communicate with other parents. Regular school days are usually filled with the hustle and bustle of picking up and dropping off, but open houses provide a great opportunity to visit with fellow parents and share experiences.

To make the most of these events, follow these suggestions:

Go early: Try to reach the venue early so you have sufficient time to chat with other parents, teachers, and the leadership of the school. Sometimes, open houses follow a program and you don’t want to miss important introductions and information.

Talk to the teachers: Although these nights are not about individual children, they are perfect for getting to know the teachers, their expectations, and their personalities. This helps make future conversations more productive and pleasant.

Check out the curricula: The curriculum is a guide to what the children will be learning during the school year. Since different preschools follow different teaching philosophies, it may be a good idea to find out about them in advance.

Voice your concerns: Although an open house will not give you a chance to discuss specific issues your child is facing, you can still voice your concerns during the event. For example, if your child is complaining about not getting enough time to eat lunch, open house is the perfect place to get clarification on the duration of lunch time.

Volunteer: Most schools appreciate parent volunteers during trips, events, and with everyday classroom resources. As a parent, you might have your hands full, but remember, school is more than a pick-up, drop-off point. It’s a place where children spend most of their childhood. Seeing you there and helping out will go a long way in giving children a more meaningful school experience.

Always Remember:

An open house is neither the place nor a setting to discuss your child’s unique needs. If your child is attending the specific school and you have a concern about his development or behavior – schedule a meeting in the future where you and the teacher can talk about the problems at hand.

May 31st, 2017

Posted In: Montessori Education, Tips

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