Toddler Explorations: Garden Date with Mommy

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. 

Algorithms & Programs in the Elementary Classroom

In case you didn't already know, I love the Montessori approach to education. I love the beautiful materials, the hands-on work, and the mixed-age classrooms. Most of all, I love following the interests of the child.

 In fact, this year I've decided to step outside my comfort zone that is the typical Montessori curriculum in order to "follow the child." 

Several of my students have expressed a keen interest in learning to code. And admittedly, computer programming is not an area of expertise for me. However, I always want to do what I can to foster the interests and curiosities of my students. 

And so, earlier in the year I went to a code.org workshop to learn about their coding curriculum. I discovered that–in many ways–it works really well with the Montessori philosophy of education. You can read more of my thoughts on that here, but the gist of it is that the code.org curriculum includes quite a lot of hands-on activities that come before the more abstract computer work.

Thus far, we've done two hands-on, "unplugged" activities, both of which proved to be educational and engaging at the same time. My students are already asking for more coding lessons!

The first activity was called Graph Paper Programming. Much like a typical Montessori lesson, I started by introducing new vocabulary to the students:

  • algorithm- a list of steps you can follow to finish a task

  • program- an algorithm that has been coded into something that can be run by a machine

The students went on to create programs on graph paper grids that their friends could decipher by acting as the "machine." They started this process on small 4 x 4 graph paper grids.

At the end of the lesson, I challenged them to create their own design on a large piece of graph paper, write a code for it, and see if their friends could reproduce the design by following their code. They worked diligently on these designs & codes over the next week. Here are the results:

For the 2nd "unplugged" activity, Real Life Algorithms, I challenged them to write out algorithms (or a list of steps) for daily tasks such as making a PB&J sandwich, dusting the geography shelf in classroom, or planting a flower. The idea behind this activity is to understand that a program won't work properly–or at all–if the algorithm is not in logical order or if it missing a step in the process.

Then came the real fun. They cut out the pieces on this worksheet, put the steps in a logical order, and got to make & fly paper airplanes following the algorithms they pieced together.

These "unplugged" activities are great for exploring basic programming concepts. And now I am excited to try out our first coding lesson on the computer this week! Updates to follow!

If you'd like to try out one of the code.org courses in your classroom (or homeschool), their curriculum is available online here, and it's completely free!

I'd love to hear any feedback from others who have tried code.org OR any other coding curriculum. What works for your students? Let's share ideas!

A Botanic State of Mind

I was looking through pictures today, reminiscing about my weekend in DC last summer spent with some of my fellow Montessori teachers. We did the usual DC tour of museums and monuments. By far my favorite (and the one I am thinking about today as I sit on the opposite side of the country) is the United State Botanic Garden. We went early in the day when it first opened, so it wasn't crowded or loud. On the contrary, it was quite tranquil. I was able to walk through one ecosystem after another, quietly observing the varieties of plant-life in each. I took notice of the colors, patterns, shapes and beauty of plants I had never seen before. 

I imagine someday taking my own children to visit, carrying along a sketchbook & some colored pencils, and spending our morning getting lost in this jungle of diversity. What a beautiful way to connect with the natural world! This would be such a wonderful supplement to the classification of Kingdom Vegetalia work in the elementary classroom. 

Do you take your children or students to visit gardens? What are some of your favorites?

What Do You Do With An Idea?

Back in October, my sister sent me this book for my birthday­­–a particularly endearing gift to a first-year Montessori teacher trying to grow her collection of children’s books. It is now a treasured item on my shelf.

I have read this aloud to my students several times now. My class includes children ranging in age from 6 to 12 years old, but this is a story for all. The youngest children adore the charming illustrations, and the older ones are able to engage in thoughtful discussion about the book’s message.

In What Do You Do With an Idea?, author Kobi Yamada invites his reader to see an idea as something magical, beautiful, and fun. His story encourages you to be proud of your idea, and to give it your time & attention so that it will grow. A small idea has the potential to grow into a BIG idea that can make a positive impact in the world. 

Through her stunning illustrations, Mea Besom expressed this message in a very creative way.

Her images stimulate questions such as: 

“Why do you think the illustrator chose to draw an egg to represent an idea?”

"How would you draw an idea?"

“Why do you think the pictures were drawn in mostly black & white throughout the story until the end when the entire page is filled with a beautiful burst of color?”

Some of my students shared their own ideas—big and small. And we even discussed what it means to nurture an idea.

This is a lovely story and a well-loved gift! Thanks, Jenn!

What are some of your favorite children’s books? Please share in the comments! 

Positive Phrasing: Being Mindful of How We Speak to Children

During my time at Montessori Northwest, Primary Director of Training, Ginni Sackett, shared with us elementary teachers-to-be about the impact our words have on children. She spoke about the importance of Positive Phrasing, and as a first year teacher, I find it helpful to revisit this topic often.

It is so true that in the classroom, my words often set the tone for the day. The children feed off my energy—be it good or bad. This is why I try to greet my students with a kind smile and an excited demeanor every single morning. 

But being mindful of my words throughout the entire day (WHAT I say and HOW I say it) takes practice, to say the least.

Seriously, have you ever stopped to think about how many times in a single day adults say “no” or "don't" to children? These words are inherently negative, yet they sneak right into our words much more often than we intend. 

“Don't run in the classroom!”

“No talking in the hallway!”

“No dessert until you’ve eaten your vegetables!”

These are common examples of negative phrasing—telling children what we DON’T want.

Let’s just stop right here and try to imagine how we, as adults, would feel if we were told “no” so many times throughout the day.

“Don't talk so loudly.”

“Don't drive so fast!"

“You really shouldn't stay up so late checking emails."

How would you feel—frustrated? Uninspired? Insecure? Sure. All of the above.

Negativity begets negativity. Always. 

And, there really are nicer ways to make a point. If we are thoughtful enough not to speak to other adults in such a negative manner, shouldn't we offer that same respect to children?

Another approach? Let's not be ambiguous by telling children what we DON'T want. Instead, let's clearly & precisely set our expectations by telling children what we DO want. 

“We walk in the classroom. We can run when we are outside.”

“Let’s remember to walk quietly through the hallway.”

“After we eat our vegetables, we can have dessert.”

Positive phrasing reinforces positive behaviors. Simple, but affective.

Words are our most powerful tools of communication. And like any superhero knows, power can be used for good or for evil. Our words can be positive or they can be negative.

And our children learn from us! So let's model how to speak to others in a positive and encouraging manner.

As I said before, being mindful of how we speak to children (and to other adults) all day, every day takes practice. It is an art, developed over time. Consistency is key in developing a new & positive behavior. 

Many thanks to Ginni Sackett for introducing me to Positive Phrasing.

 For more on being mindful of how we speak to children check out: