And this is why I am a Montessori teacher.
Today is one of those days where I just feel so fortunate. We live in a special part of the city that has a small community feel to it. This afternoon, Oliver and I strolled around our neighborhood just to get some much needed fresh air.
The day was overcast and cool. There was a nice breeze in the air, and it was notably quiet outside. We strolled toward the nearby park. There were a few kids swinging, but the playground was otherwise vacant and still. I considered letting Oliver play at the park, but thought better of it. He missed his morning nap, so I knew he was tired. And to be honest–we had a bit of a traumatic experience last time we played at the park. Here's the story: I let Oliver climb his way up the small set of stairs leading to the toddler slide. His hand missed a stair as he crawled up, resulting in a bloody mouth and a chipped tooth!
Needless to say, I'm not quite ready just yet for another park adventure. Oliver is so capable and smart, that I sometimes forget that, at 16 months old, he's just barely a toddler. So today, on this calm and idyllic afternoon, I wanted us to take things slow. We passed by the park and strolled on over to the community garden.
I've taken Oliver to the visit the garden a few times before, but he's typically been carried around or pushed along in his stroller. This time, I let Oliver lead the way.
For such a little guy, the garden was like a maze. I let him roam and explore. He touched flowers and plants, stuck his hand in fresh soil, picked up rocks, and even watched the garden chickens peck at the ground. We practiced saying words like plant, flower, dirt, and fence. We practiced our colors: blue, yellow, green, and brown. Oliver wandered around the garden for a good half-an-hour.
And then we strolled back home. Oliver fell asleep, as I knew he would. Our simple playdate at the garden made me appreciate the flow and the slowness of the time we get to spend together, just us. It doesn't happen often enough.
Today, I'm soaking in the goodness.
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For the month of January, I read Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That's Transforming Education by Sir Ken Robinson and Lou Aronica.
If you don't already know who Sir Ken Robinson is, I highly recommend checking out his TED Talk, Do Schools Kills Creativity? (I'm pretty sure it's the most popular TED talk of all time.) AND the short video, Changing Education Paradigms. Both are a great introduction to his general outlook on education.
For a more in depth look, read this book.
What's the book about?
The basic premise of Creative Schools is about transforming the current education system. Robinson makes it clear that education reform is not enough. We don’t need to reform a system that was not created for the world that we now live in. We need to transform the system. We need a revolution. And all revolutions start from the ground up.
He notes that the current education system was created on the principal of mass production–to meet the labor needs of the Industrial Revolution. But today we have technologies that can aid our students in their learning in innovative ways; we also have an economic need for creative thinkers, whereas information regurgitation is no longer relevant (in the age of Google).
This book takes a look at the standards movement and its effect in the classroom (on teacher performance and student anxiety levels, for example). It also looks at the implications of the standards movement on a large scale, noting its effect on economic issues such as unemployment, underemployment, and student debt.
Robinson argues that change will not come about from government legislation, but that it must come from within the education system itself. He says that if you are involved in the education of young people in any form or fashion, then YOU are the system and YOU have the ability to be the change that we so desperately need.
Is it worth reading?
Sir Ken Robinson advocates for personalized, holistic, and creative approaches to learning. As a Montessori educator, this is the kind of education that I am passionate about. Let’s be honest: I kind of knew that I was going to love this book before I read it.
That being said, this book is filled with interesting and inspiring anecdotes describing educators from all over the world who have stepped outside of the box that is defined by the standards movement in order to educate students using more creative methods that have a lasting impact.
Furthermore, it offers practical advice on what changes need to be made and how to make them. He gives insight into what he believes makes a teacher exceptional, what an optimal curriculum looks like, and he even offers examples of alternative forms of assessment.
Did it challenge my views?
Robinson offered me a new perspective in regards to my methods of teaching in the classroom. He suggests that a balance of traditional and progressive approaches to education is essential in all subject areas in order to provide a dynamic education.
He points out that teachers should have a wide repertoire of approaches to education. Direct instruction is sometimes necessary, while at other times, facilitating group projects and exploratory activities are important.
As a Montessori educator, I lean toward progressive education. I see so much benefit from group work and collaboration, from giving students time and space to figure things out on their own, and from projects that engage students’ curiosity.
However, at times direct instruction and memorization are also necessary. It’s my job to know the appropriate times to use the appropriate techniques.
How did it inspire my work as an educator?
In Creative Schools, Robinson describes what he believes to be a well-balanced curriculum that would meet the educational needs of students in the 21st century. He says that a good curriculum should be interdisciplinary. It should include a balanced study of the arts, humanities, language arts, mathematics, physical education, and science.
He also expounds the importance of teaching our young people critical thinking skills:
If that doesn’t ring true, I don’t know what does.
All of this got me thinking about what I believe to be the most essential and valuable disciplines that should make up a curriculum for 21st century elementary students. It’s a work in progress, but here’s what I’m leaning to at the moment:
I use this term as an umbrella for conflict resolution, social-emotional learning (SEL), and mindfulness. Peace education will ensure the wellbeing of our children now and of humankind in the future.
Geography & Humanities
As our world becomes evermore connected, this is critical.
If we want our children to grow into adults who take care of our planet–our home– then we must teach them about it first. In addition to biology, botany, biomes, and physical geography studies, I believe this should include practical experience outside in the natural environment (gardening, scouting, bird watching, etc.)
Students need to be well versed in all aspects of literacy. They need to know how to properly, intelligently, and thoroughly communicate their thoughts and ideas to others. They should be fluent readers who are able to learn from others and be inspired just by picking up a good book.
Mathematics is a language that is common to all of humankind.
Computer programming, or “coding” is the language of our future. Our students must learn to be creators of digital technology, not just passive consumers.
I would definitely recommend Creative Schools: A Grassroots Revolution to Transforming Education to any educator who is interested in doing their part to change the education system and to move away from the standards movement.
Buy it. Read it. Absolutely.
I look forward to reading your thoughts about the book in the comments!
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.
If possible, I try to show multiple examples of a particular animal in order to reinforce what the images represent.
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.
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? Let me know in the comments. I'm always looking for new ideas!
Today, I want to introduce you to a great way to develop mindfulness in the classroom: 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!
For further work with Zentangles, students might try incorporating colored pencils, watercolors, or even ultra-fine point, colored Sharpies into their artwork. As 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:
For a complete, ready-to-go kit with quality materials, try the Zentangle Kit
For project ideas and inspiration for kids, try Zentangle for Kids
For a fun way for kids to focus on the process over the product, try Tangle Art and Drawing Games for Kids
For more focus on mindfulness, try Joy of Zentangle: Drawing Your Way to Increased Creativity, Focus, and Well-Being
Have you tried Zen Tangles with students in the classroom? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments!