12 Books for an Educator's Growth & Development

As the new year is upon us, I'm taking advantage of this gray and rainy Sunday, to reflect on my role as an educator. What am I doing well? What could I do better?

I began by referring back to my Montessori Theory and Foundations albums. The educator plays an integral part in the holistic development of the child. I was reminded that we, therefore, must also prepare and transform ourselves in a holistic way. We must consistently examine the physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of our work.

The physical aspect includes our activities and our behavior. 

The mental aspect includes our knowledge, discernment, and experience. 

The spiritual aspect includes the beliefs, attitudes, and prejudices we hold about children. 

I have chosen 12 books relating to education, to read and study over the course of the year, that touch on each of these aspects. I've tried to choose a variety of books which consider education in many different forms, from public education, to private education, to homeschooling. Many of them are written by industry experts and people who are passionate about education and education reform. My goal is to transform myself as an educator in a holistic way in order to better serve the children in my care (my son included). 

I will read and write a review of one book each month, in the order listed below. (Affiliate links included).

  1. Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Changing Education by Sir Ken Robinson & Lou Aronica
  2. Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People That Will Change the World by Tony Wagner
  3. Education and Peace by Maria Montessori
  4. Home Grown: Adventures in Parenting off the Beaten Path, Unschooling, and Reconnecting with the Natural World by Ben Hewitt  
  5. The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda Ripley
  6. Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, & Karen Morrison
  7. Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland? by Pasi Sahlberg
  8. Essential Questions: Opening Doors to Student Understanding by Jay McTighe & Grant Wiggins
  9. Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning by Peter H. Johnston
  10. How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough
  11. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas & John Seely Brown
  12. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

I hope you will join me on this journey! I would love to engage in thoughtful discussion and to hear other perspectives as I work on my personal growth and development as an educator.

The whole family is snuggling up with a good book today.

The whole family is snuggling up with a good book today.

Language Development with a One-Year-Old

Today I want to share an activity on our shelves that my one-year old absolutely LOVES and is perfect for language development. For his 1st birthday, I bought Oliver a set of wooden animal magnets. I love this particular set–made by French toy maker, Vilac and beautifully designed by Nathalie Lété–because they are painted to look realistic instead of cartoonish. This is an important part of the Montessori philosophy–children need to first be introduced to realistic images instead of cartoon images in order to have a good understanding of what the image actually represents. There is a great post about the reasons for using beautiful and realistic images over at How We Montessori. The fun cartoon images can come later!

I found a large, galvanized tray to keep the magnets on. Another great thing about this work is that we don't lose the pieces very often. They stay put on the tray! When I first put this together, I had no idea that it would become one of Oliver's most used and loved "toys."

In the beginning, he loved manipulating the magnets on the tray. I would point and name the animals. One day, my sweet boy repeated the word "donkey." I was awestruck! "He can say donkey! Oliver can say donkey!" It wasn't long before I could say, "Bring me the donkey," and he would do just that. 

Naturally, I then wanted to see what would happen if I asked him to bring me other animals. In no time at all, this animal magnet distance game was a household favorite! 

Sometimes, he still confuses some of the animals. When this happens, I will isolate three animals at a time–pointing at and naming them. I think it's also important to note (and you might have noticed in the video), that anytime Oliver brings the wrong animal, I don't make a big deal about him being wrong. Instead, I name the animal that he did bring me, and we continue playing. It's important that he learns that it's okay to make mistakes and that we learn from them.

Isolating three animals at a time–bunny rabbit, iguana, ladybug.

Isolating three animals at a time–bunny rabbit, iguana, ladybug.

If possible, I try to show multiple examples of a particular animal in order to reinforce what the images represent. 

This Painting with Picasso board book from the Mini-Masters series has another realistic image of a donkey. 

This Painting with Picasso board book from the Mini-Masters series has another realistic image of a donkey. 

Once Oliver seems to know all the animals in this set, I plan to change them out for a new set of animals. l also want to try fruits, veggies, shapes, vehicles, etc.

MagnaFun is another brand that makes several great sets of magnets. These Melissa & Doug shape magnets are nice, too.

And of course, it's super important for children to have real-life experiences with animals (or fruits, veggies, etc.) in addition to activities like this. Petting zoos are educational and always great fun with the littles!

What language development activities have you tried? I'm always looking for new ideas! 



Here's to another year. Let us start fresh. Let us set goals, dream big, and work hard. Let us be the change we want to see in the world. Let us play to learn and learn to play. Let us be filled with gratitude, focus on the important things, and soak in each moment so that we may experience life to it's fullest. Here's to 2017. Let's do this.

Developing Mindfulness in the Classroom with Zentangles

Today, I want to tell you about Zentangles. 

What is a Zentangle, you ask? Only my new favorite pastime!

In short, it is an artform that is created by combining different patterns and designs to create unique images. 

No two Zentangles are the same, but each is beautiful in its own way. I have known about Zentangles for a while now and have been itching to try it out for myself.

So, I finally ordered the most basic supplies on Amazon to get started. I used the Studio Series Art Tiles and a Sakura Micron Pen set in black ink. I got started with One Zentangle a Day, a book with step-by-step pattern instructions and lots of inspiration.

After completing my own Zentangles, I knew I had to incorporate them into the classroom! This work is perfect for elementary-aged students. It is not only fun, but it develops mindfulness. You may or may not know this about me, but I am always on the lookout for new ways to promote mindfulness in the classroom! 

Why? Because mindfulness is a practical life skill. It allows us to be aware of our surroundings; it allows us to enjoy the present moment; it allows us to acknowledge our feelings and emotions. Practicing mindfulness increases focus and reduces stress. In the classroom, mindfulness can help students concentrate on their work and enjoy their learning! If you haven't already, I encourage you to read more about mindfulness in the classroom. There is some promising research in the works!

As Zentangles are drawn in pen, there is no erasing. This should be a quiet and meditative work, because concentration and focus are encouraged when drawing the intricate and detailed designs. Zentangles also teach students that it's okay to make mistakes. Something beautiful can always come from mistakes made along the way! 

On top of that, Zentangles can combine the Elements of Art. Most notably, lines, but also color, space, perspective, and even form. This makes Zentangles the perfect follow-up work to your art lessons!

For an elementary Montessori prepared environment, this work could be placed on the art shelf or on the peace shelf, depending on how you intend it to be used. Your set-up would include a tray that holds a limited number of tiles, a few micron pens to choose from, and three or four simple step-by-step pattern examples. You could also include photos of Zentangles done by others for inspiration!

A lovely mix of student work and my own.

A lovely mix of student work and my own.

For further work with Zentangles, students might try incorporating colored pencils, watercolors, or even ultra-fine point, colored Sharpies into their artworkAs students learn new patterns and designs, they begin to feel more confident in including Zentangles into other artforms as well. I've seen a student draw a self-portrait with a background of Zentangles. I've had students make Zentangle magnets. I've even seen Zentangle bookmarks! The creativity and possibilities are truly boundless. 

If you are interested in making your own Zentangles or introducing them to your students, here are some other great resources to get you started:

Peace Education

Today I am brainstorming and prepping for the coming school year. I'm feeling like peace education is more important than ever...

Please share any thoughts or ideas on how you incorporate peace education into your classroom or home! I'll share more of my own as they come together.