Twin Parks Montessori Schools - Preschool Manhattan, Upper West Side, New York City (NYC)

Kathy’s Insights

Insights on the Montessori method and Early Childhood Education from Dr. Kathy Roemer

Kathy’s Insights

Ten Reasons to Choose Montessori Education

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  • 1. Successful education for over 100 years. The first Montessori children’s house was started in 1907 and the philosophy has spread to all continents and many languages. Montessori is an international method of teaching and learning.
  • 2. Montessori is a philosophy for life. Through promoting independence as a young age, children have freedom to choose and develop into life long learners. Children are joyful in Montessori classrooms.
  • 3. Focus on learner outcomes including executive function skills: working memory, planning, sequencing, delayed gratification, grit, organizing and other capabilities that enable a person to engage successfully in independent, purposive, self-serving behavior.
  • 4. Beautiful, thoughtful, educational manipulative materials. Children learn through their senses first and with their hands and minds. Materials and lessons move from concrete to abstract.
  • 5. Focus on Peace within yourself, with each other, in the classrooms and in the world at large. When conflict happens children learn to process with one another and are able to problem solve using appropriate verbal skills.
  • 6. Lessons in Practical Life that allow children to do daily chores and learn to take care of themselves and their belongings. This produces confidence that is long lasting.
  • 7. Global awareness and cosmic curriculum that exposes children to the universe, community and his place within the world in which they live.
  • 8. Curiosity is encouraged and children learn to ask hard questions. Children are encouraged to find their own answers and teachers and students often learn together.
  • 9. Learning individually at the children’s own pace in an non-competitive environment and they are celebrated for who they are and what they have achieved.
  • 10. Belief that parents are the child’s primary teachers. Provides encouragement for the families to build systems based on respect, courtesy and mutual responsibilities.

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Montessori is More than a Childhood Education

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For many years, Montessori has been incorporated in programs for all ages of society – Montessori is more than a childhood education. One of my fondest memories of working with elementary students was when we had friends that we visited in a local nursing home. The sheer joy that flowed between the children and the residents was palpable. They shared stories, read to one another, crafted together, and even played wheel chair volleyball.

Montessori friends of mine are working with our elder citizens in several cities. Watch this video on how Montessori environments are helping bring new life to our often forgotten generation!

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Montessori Classroom Communities

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At this time of year, it is a pleasure to walk the halls of Twin Parks Montessori Schools. The classrooms emit a quiet hum of activity. Children are working on large projects like the Thousand Bead Chain, writing stories, building cities with blocks or inventing new ways to work with all of the sensorial materials at once. Toddlers are cooking, taking longer walks, completing work cycles and having conversations with one another. Our infants are no longer babies. They are walking, talking, engaging toddlers!

Let's have a conversation while we have our snack!

Let’s have a conversation while we have our snack!

Our Montessori classroom communities are normalized - a Montessori term that does not refer to “typical” or “average”. Normalization in observed when children are allowed freedom in an environment suited to their needs allowing them to blossom. After a period of great concentration - engaged with materials matching their development – children are refreshed and content.

Toddlers sharing work on a mat.

Toddlers sharing work on a mat.

This is also the time when executive function skills are at their peak. Children are problem-solving with one another, negotiating, and voicing their opinions. They are experimenting, searching for solutions, planning, preparing and executing their plans. They are delaying gratification, taking turns and inviting others to join their work. They are using their memory for understanding. They are working as a community.

Toddlers working on their dressing frames.

Toddlers working on their dressing frames.

 

Author, artist and book designer, Deng Ming-Dao talked about community that matches Montessori classroom communities:

Everyone understands that burning wood produces fire. But when fire feeds on fire, that is a rare condition that yields the greatest illumination. Two flames come together and yield light more magnificent than either could have given forth alone. In the case of community activity, this means that when one cooperates with others, the accomplishments are greater than what the individuals can do on their own. Such a situation requires a harmony that will generate ideas, inspiration, as well as momentum for growth and action. If the combinations occur properly, the results will be like fire feeding upon fire and will illuminate the world.

Ming-Dao, Deng. 365 Tao Daily Meditations. New York:  Harper-Collins, 1992.

 

Early childhood cleaning up after enrichment.

Early childhood cleaning up after enrichment.

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The Great Outdoors – Are we experiencing it?

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r1032209_11818803Long ago in another galaxy - I mean generation – children played outside until lunch and then again until it got dark. Children built forts and learned skills of problem solving and negotiating. Today, in New York City and many other metro cities, children have supervised play in the park and if they are fortunate enough to have a country place, limited freedom outdoors.

Richard Louv, has been writing about The Nature Principal and The Nature Deficit Disorder for many years. Louv tells us that research indicates that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for physical and emotional health of children and adults. His books provide clear examples of ways to include nature in everyday life.


Twin Parks Montessori Schools are so fortunate to have an abundance of nature in our front yards. Both Central Park and Riverside influenced our schools’ names.

Listen to this NPR story, “Out of the Classroom and Into the Woods” on All Things Considered. Perhaps your family can plan a whole day outside.

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Motivation, Recognition and Montessori

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Recognition is a valuable motivator. For centuries, money was the number one motivator in the workplace. Today with five generations often sharing work places with a variety of roles, we have numerous kinds of recognition that motivates people. Recognizing someone’s input to a plan or follow through with a project helps her feel valued as a member of the community. Children are also motivated to learn new concepts, social interactions and behavioral expectations in our Montessori classrooms.

Montessori education contributes to how children learn and feel valued and recognized. Education is a way of looking at and interacting with the world, and for Montessori-ans it is a lifelong journey. The Montessori method of education offers several components that promote executive function skills such as perseverance, self-motivation, and understanding delayed gratification - very important skills for human growth and development. These skills have a direct bearing on a person becoming thoughtful about what constitutes “recognition,” both as an individual and within social and work groups.

The Montessori method is an internationally recognized educational method developed over 100 years ago by Dr. Maria Montessori, a 19th century Renaissance woman. Montessori method is more than a curriculum. It is a professional movement whose practitioners typically feel passionate about its advocacy, and it emphasizes collaborative environments without grades or tests; multi-aged classrooms as well as self-directed learning; and students’ discovery within extended blocks of time. Originally developed for early childhood-aged students (ages 3-6 years typically), Montessori educational programs today have an age range of birth to 18 years of age. There are approximately 20,000 Montessori schools worldwide and 4,500 in the United States of America (NAMTA, 2015). Of the 4,500 Montessori schools in the USA, about 10% are in the public sector.

Montessori Child PaintingMontessori in not just a curriculum for teaching it is a philosophy of life. Being educated is not a destination but rather a journey for life. It is a way of looking at and interacting with the world. This view of education is more in sync what is happening in the workplace and the marketplace, which is good news. Firms and companies want people who are life long learners. (Denning).

One major contribution of the Montessori method is focus on a carefully prepared work environment. In order for children to take academic and social learning risks, they require an environment where mistakes are viewed positively as opportunities for learning to take place. Through scientific observations of the level of knowledge of each individual, Montessori teachers adjust the concept and skill-based activities sequentially in a classroom, achieving a balance of both comfort and challenge for the student.

Another universal tenant of the Montessori approach is to allow a large uninterrupted block of work time. Generally for children under 6 years, a 3-hour block of time is necessary. For children over age 6, the work time could be such as from the time they enter the classroom until they break for lunch. The term “uninterrupted” means that children are not pulled out of class for extra-curricular activities, nor are they interrupted if they are actively engaged in an activity. Similar to a constructive model, children make choices, repeat activities, participate in lessons, have a snack, read a book, look out of the window, etc. Research indicates that in order for people to be creative in the modern workplace, uninterrupted work time is essential.

Montessori classrooms encourage children to explore, discover, engage, share, and live within appropriately designed space. Montessori teachers carefully choose their words and communications to encourage rather than praise children for attempts to work a given task, experience trial and error, and gain successful completion of an activity. Encouraging, positive phrases are voiced by the teacher, such as “you worked hard on that (activity)”, or “you concentrated for a long time” or “ your tried again and again until your figured it out“. Recognition is focused on the child and his/her efforts. The teacher does not praise with “I” messages, or place judgment on work products such as expressions via art activities.

Much like an emergent curriculum model, Montessori children are permitted to follow their interests. Another byline of Montessori method is the concepts of “follow the child”. Through observation, teachers discern the interests of the children by noting the activities they are drawn to. Activities incorporating these interests are integrated into the curriculum areas such as language arts, math, science and geography. This type of evolving classroom and curriculum means that children have freedom within both external and self-actuated limits. The prepared classroom, consistent schedule, and respectful ground rules all contribute to what defines these limits.

Intrinsic motivation is another important tenant of Montessori education. Extrinsic rewards from adults in a traditional education setting, in the form of praise, stickers, trinkets, gifts, promises, etc., cause the child to feel good briefly and superficially, i.e., as long as the treat lasts. Intrinsic motivation on the other hand brings long-term pride, confidence, and self-worth to begin a meaningful life journey. Life-long learners are motivated from within.

Many of you probably understand that some of these educational approaches I’ve mentioned have counterparts in modern work place culture for adults. However you may not be aware that business leaders have gained benefits directly from the Montessori method. In 2011, Peter Sims wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Montessori Mafia.” In it he writes,

Ironically, the Montessori educational approach might be the surest route to joining the creative elite, which are so overrepresented by the school’s alumni that one might suspect a Montessori Mafia: Google’s founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, video game pioneer Will Wright, and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, not to mention Julia Child and rapper Sean “P.Diddy” Combs.

Is there something going on here?  Is there something about the Montessori approach that nurtures creativity and inventiveness that we can all learn from?

Interesting correlations between how creative business executives think was presented in a survey of 3,000 executives by Brigham Young University. Hal Gregersen, of the Institut Euopeen d’Administration des Affairs (INSEAD) business school said

“A number of the innovative entrepreneurs also went to Montessori schools, where they learned to follow their curiosity,” Mr. Gregersen said. “To paraphrase the famous Apple ad campaign, innovators not only learned early on to think different, they act different (and even talk different).”

Another confirming moment in Montessori education came when Sergei Brin and Larry Page told Barbara Walters on her USA-televised program that they did not attribute their out-of-the-box thinking to their Stanford University parents but rather “We both went to Montessori school,” Mr. Page said, “and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the world, doing things a little bit differently.”

The Economist blog, named after Joseph Schumpeter, states:

Montessori management has plenty of supporters in the higher reaches of business. The bosses of Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin), Amazon (Jeff Bezos) and Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales) were all educated in Montessori schools. So was Will Wright, a video-game pioneer. Messrs Page and Brin credit their Montessori education with their enthusiasm for thinking differently. Mr. Bezos thanks it for his enthusiasm for experimentation—for “planting seeds” and “going down blind alleys,” as he puts it. Mr. Wright says SimCity “comes right out of Montessori”. (Schumpeter, 2013)

Those who work with Mr. Bezos, for example, find his ability to ask “why not?” or “what if?,” as much as “why?” to be one of his most advantageous qualities. Questions are the new answers.

Simon Sinek, optimist, ethnographer, and inspirational speaker for leaders, tells us to “Start with Why” in everything you do to discover the purpose, cause, belief or passion that inspires you. Likewise, the Montessori method encourages children to discover their interests and passions throughout their formative years.

So today many companies are mixing such progressive ideas with more traditional ones like encouraging competition and measuring performance. Companies encouraging Montessori concepts are facilitating free-flowing creativity, collaboration and open-plan work spaces. Although the interpretation of open work spaces is not necessarily Montessori in origins, a Montessori classroom has discernible work areas providing children the tools to define their work spaces so that they can make choices of where they want to be, or feel comfortable, working – collaborating or not, quiet space for an individual, or at a group area.

Mu Sigma, a decision science and analytics services firm in Chicago, modeled their promotion and motivation practices on Montessori principals like independence, freedom with limits, and respect for natural development with their workforce. Instead of promoting the top 10 percent, they promoted new hires as a group and gave them a new job title. During the first 18 months, managers met with employees one-on-one to provide feedback and discuss areas for improvement and growth. Instead of using monetary or status promotions as “carrots,” they are now giving workers interesting projects, guidance and encouragement. In other words, Mu Sigma has learned that this approach brings greater loyalty from their workers, and that intrinsic motivation is better than money and promotion for retention.

Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity, like money for reading or high grade for tests negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn (La Fabbrica Della Realta). In Montessori classrooms the challenging activity, time to explore and understand the solution is reward enough. Most young people do not choose start up jobs just for the money, of course they have to pay the rent and contribute to their hobbies, but for them the reward is the act of creation and innovation.

For all Generation X and Millennials we are hiring, the work has to be challenging, with autonomy and thus more enjoyable for everyone in the work environment.

Start-ups and large companies can benefit from the principals of Montessori education. A work environment that is thoughtfully prepared, allowing for movement within a variety of conditions and participation in challenging projects, that fosters collaborating with others allows for higher job satisfaction. Workers who pursue their interests within meaningful context have a deeper commitment to the work being done, which in turn provides for a greater positive “recognition” in their total life experience.

 

Sources:

Cassese, M. (2015). The Montessori startup and the dream of a Montessori workplace. April 5, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.lafabbricadellarealta.com/2013/11/01/the-montessori-startup-and-the-dream-of-a-montessori-workplace/

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (2008). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Denning, Steve. (2011). Is Montessori the origin of Google & Amazon? Forbes: August 2, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/stevedenning/2011/08/02/is-montessori-the-origin-of-google-amazon/

Dhiraj, M. (2012). Develop leaders the Montessori way. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/01/develop-leaders-the-montessori

Montessori, Maria. (2008). The Montessori method. Virginia, Wilder Publications, LLC.

National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector (NCMPS). (2015b) retrieved from http://www.public-montessori.org/growth-public-montessori-united-states-1975-2014 on 2/6/15.

Pink, Daniel. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York: Riverhead Books.

Schumpeter. (2013). Montessori management. The Economist: September 7, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/news/business/21584947-backlash-against-running-firms-progressive-schools-has-begun-montessori-management

Sims, Peter. (2011). The Montessori mafia. The Wall Street Journal, February 25, 2011. Retrieved from http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/04/05/the-montessori-mafia/

Sinek, Simon. (2009). Start with why. New York: Penguin Group.

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Montessori Life

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The phrase Montessori Life has many meanings for me. One is the way that families incorporate Montessori into their homes. This can be developed by placing children’s belongings on organized low shelves, having healthy self-serve snacks available and creating activities children can do independently. Montessori Life also refers to how Montessori teachers approach their work with children by carefully preparing their classroom environments, teaching with respect, joy and wonder.

In addition, Montessori Life is the award-winning magazine of the American Montessori Society. It is filled with articles and helpful information for teachers and parents. This spring’s issue has one of Twin Parks Montessori School’s students on the cover. The photograph was taken by John Roemer, classroom assistant.

I made the cover of Montessori Life!

I made the cover of Montessori Life!

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Assembly Required: Healthy Children

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This year the TEDxUNC talks featured Kathleen Gallagher‘s presentation on The Healthy Child.  It is an excellent talk about the history and research on developing healthy children. There is assembly required. Much of it can come from children being in high-quality early childcare programs like Twin Parks Montessori Schools’ classrooms. Here we help children develop their executive function skills like problem solving, delayed gratification, perseverance and empathy for others. We provide warm, nurturing environments for children to learn and grow.

Children need an abundance of love and care from many adults.  Of course, parents are a tremendous influence over the person the child will develop into. Parents are children’s first teachers and role models.  Language development is also extremely important. Parents should be a source of truth and information for the children to learn about their world, and about the values and traditions of their family. We have the instructions and tools, but overall, assembly is required in raising children.

Check out Kathleen’s talk!

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Exquisite Montessori Math Materials

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I did not understand that math formulas had a visual or concrete form as a high school student taking classes in algebra and trigonometry. I did have an ah-ha moment when  I was taking a Montessori Math class during training to become an Early Childhood teacher.

The Montessori Math materials evolve out of concepts taught with the Montessori Sensorial materials. Children learn to discriminate by size and form. The red rods are followed by the red and blue rods which teach the hierarchical property of quantity. One is part of two, one and two are part of three, etc. These perfect materials allow the smallest hands to feel the difference in quantity – the lessons incorporate movement. The ten rod is carried to the work mat,  held end to end in small hands and is a stretch for the young body.

 

Holding a 2 rod in two hands - imagine the stretch to do the same with the 10 rod

Holding a 2 rod in two hands – imagine the stretch to do the same with the 10 rod!

Red and Blue Rod layout for symbol and quantity.

Red and Blue Rod layout for symbol and quantity.

To me, the most exquisite of all the Montessori Math material is the Trinomial Cube. In high school, I could memorize the formula of (a+b)³. But I never had an image in my mind that the result would be a larger cube!  Our Early Childhood children ages 3-6 years work with a Trinomial Cube that is made up of cubes, rectangular prisms, each of which represent the components of the formulas’ answer. This material helps build a foundation for later mathematical instruction. When a Montessori educated child takes algebra and is introduced to the Trinomial Cube, I hope that s/he is reminded of the puzzle box of the same name that s/he worked with in preschool. The visual image will come to mind and the process of solving the equation will be understood.
Sorting the cubes and rectangular prisms of the Trinomial Cube.

Sorting the cubes and rectangular prisms of the Trinomial Cube.

images derivation_cube_of_a_binomial

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Creativity in Montessori Education

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Earlier this week, I served as a graduate committee member for a former Twin Parks Montessori School teacher who finished her doctorate at William and Mary College (Alkhudhair). The topic of the dissertation was early childhood approaches to the development of young children’s creativity. The study examined the beliefs, values and perceptions of early childhood teachers in Montessori and Reggio Emilia-inspired schools. We know that 21st century skills require higher-level cognitive skills and innovation because teachers are preparing children for future careers that haven’t even been invented yet.

A few years ago, as a representative of the American Montessori Society, I visited Beijing. I was impressed by the rapidly increasing number of Montessori schools educating young students in that metropolis - one of the largest and most complex on Earth. It was fascinating for me to see students performing the same math, practical life and sensorial lessons experienced by American Montessori school students. On the other hand, I witnessed some of the language and cultural activities in the classrooms unique to Chinese arts and culture. The intricate sewing especially impressed me. What is it about Montessori that is inspiring this prevalence I witnessed?

Montessori Child

Photo Credit: John Roemer

Montessori schools are rapidly opening in China to help promote creativity in education. Dr. Yong Zhao, a forerunner in global education from the University of Oregon, expressed to the audience at the 2011 AMS Annual conference in Chicago that there are many things “right” with American education and that China and other “Asian nations are actually reforming their systems to be more like their American counterparts.” Dr. Zhao stated, “No other country comes close to the U.S. when it comes to exports of intellectual property/knowledge (patents, royalties, copyrights, and licensing fees). Diversity of talents, creativity, entrepreneurship, and passion are what allow nations to thrive.” (Zhao, 2011)

Divergent thinking skills are considered to be at the heart of creativity and creative thinkers use both divergent and convergent thinking. Many of us have heard Sir Ken Robinson talk about the decline of divergent thinking in schools where students are taught to know one correct answer. “Divergent thinking isn’t a synonym, but is an essential capacity for creativity. It’s the ability to see lots of possible answers to a question, lots of possible ways to interpret a question, to think laterally, to think not just in linear or convergent ways, to see multiple answers, not one” (Robinson, 2009). The Montessori method encourages divergent thinking.

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, has similar thoughts on creativity. “It is easier to enhance creativity by changing conditions in the environment than by trying to make people think more creatively.  . . . a creative accomplishment is almost never the result of sudden insight, a light bulb flashing on in the dark, but comes after years of hard work” (Csikszentmihalyi, p. 1). We know that many of the jobs that our students will be engaged in as adults have not yet been invented. As educators we must allow for and support creativity as we prepare our classroom environments.

If we examine the lives of some well-known creative individuals, perhaps we can better know how their learningenvironments influenced them. According to Marissa Mayer*, “You can’t understand Google unless you know that both Larry [Page] and Sergey [Brin] were Montessori kids. To do something that makes sense, not because some authority figure told you. In a Montessori school you go paint because you have something to express or you just want to do it that afternoon, not because the teacher said so. This is baked into how Larry and Sergey approach problems. They’re always asking, ‘Why should it be done like that?’ It is the way their brains were programmed early on” (Levy, p. 122).

The Google founders also provide this same Montessori-like environment for their employees. It is referred to as the 20 percent Work Plan. Just as it was crucial to Montessori that nothing a teacher does destroys a child’s creative innocence, Brin and Page felt that Google’s leaders should not annihilate an engineer’s impulse to change the world (Levy, p 124).

Creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. “Most of the things that are interesting and important and human are the results of creativity.” (Csikszentmihalyi, p. 1) When people are engaged in creative activities, many feel they are living their lives more fully than at other times.

 

Photo Credit: John Roemer

Photo Credit: John Roemer

How does the Montessori method encourage creativity?

Montessori classrooms offer:

• Ground rules, and a framework that is built on values and honesty

• Include well trained teachers who are role models and know when to step in or stand back

• Opportunities for students to work cooperatively in groups and/or individually

• A place where mistakes are opportunities for learning to take place and possibility thinking is encouraged

• Schedules that allow for large blocks of uninterrupted work time for students to concentrate on their work and to make choices

• Observation and attention that allows us to prepare the environments with student’s interests in mind

• Respect for individuals, their choices and their work and fostering intrinsic motivation

• A balance between skill development and challenges

• A belief that all students can be successful

• Support and encouragement for students from all social, ethnic, economic and emotional backgrounds

 

The Montessori method offers many ways to encourage creativity in our classrooms. During uninterrupted work periods many students experience what Csikszentmihalyi refers to as “flow”. This is the state or feeling of well being when things are going very well, almost automatic, effortless and in a highly focused state of consciousness (Csikszentmihalyi, p. 110). Maria Montessori definitely understood the need for this same “flow” to happen in our prepared classrooms.

* Marissa Mayer is now the current president and CEO of Yahoo. Previously she was a long-time executive, and key spokesperson for Google, the first female hired at Google, and one of the first 20 Google employees.

 

References

Alkhudhair, D. (2015). Early childhood teachers’ approaches to the development of young children’s creativity. A dissertation presented to the faculty of the school of education at The College of William and Mary in Virginia. Unpublished.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1996). Creativity: flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New York:   HarperCollins

Levy, S. (2011). In the plex: how Google thinks, works, and shapes our lives. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Robinson, K. (2009). Divergent thinking. Talk presented at Royal Society of the Arts. You Tube online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U

Zhao, Y. (2011). Catching up or leading the way: American education in the age of globalization. Keynote address American Montessori Society Annual Conference, March 25, 2011.

 

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Children and Food: Picky Eaters or Budding Taste Buds?

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On a rainy Wednesday night, Twin Parks Parents participated in a workshop about helping children develop a positive outlook on food. Eric Luongo and Jenna Tomiello, both experienced farmers and educators, presented “Picky Eaters or Budding Taste Buds?” Parents learned about foods that are important for healthy growth, portion sizes, and that it takes some children 15 to 20 times of tasting before they like a particular food. The important act is that they try!

Parents also were able to try some fun tools including the Spiralizer and Apple Machine.

Parents made and ate Green Spaghetti with pesto, Cabbage Cole Slaw, and Green Goddess dip. Take a look at this great list of resources provided by Eric and Jenna: List of Resources Picky Eaters.

Parents Learn to Make Green Spaghetti

Parents making Green Spaghetti

Parents Eating Green Spaghetti

Eating Green Spaghetti

Guest demonstrates a clever method for children to smash garlic. Simply place a can on top and press down!

Clever method for children to smash garlic – place a can on top and press down!

 

Green Spaghetti

The kids took on the challenge of making their own green spaghetti.

Eating Green Spaghetti

Eating Green Spaghetti

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