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

Quantity or Quality – How do you spend time with your children?

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Are you confused? A recent study in the Journal of Marriage and the Family (Volume 77, Issue 2) that focuses on whether you are an intensive or distant parent stated that there is not a correlation with either type of parent and positive outcomes for children (Wolfers, New York Times, April 1, 2015). Or if you follow Ariel Kalil, University of Chicago’s developmental psychologist, you know that high-quality studies of parenting focuses on how often you read to your children, play with them or do homework, over a long period of time is best.


The good news is that parents are spending more time with their children than parents in the past, father’s time has tripled since 1965 (KJ Dell’Antonia, New York Times, March 31, 2015). Mother’s time with their children has increased as well, however, it does not help to alleviate the quilt they feel.

Rainbow-DadsMy opinion is that quality time is most important. Quality time, not special events and “make-up” treats. Children need your presence, not presents. Time to have dinner together, reading at bed time, singing and dancing while cooking dinner together, chats on the way to school, listening on the way home are examples of quality time. Watching TV together maybe educational, but it is not considered quality time.

I don’t remember my parents reading to me, I think my older siblings did. I do remember that when I was in elementary school I would walk to and from the bus stop from our house. When I returned in the late afternoon, I would come in the back door and shout, “Mom”. She would answer my call from wherever she was, “I’m here”. I didn’t need her, I just liked that she was there. Sometimes she would be hurrying back from an afternoon coffee with a neighbor to get into the house before I arrived. She knew it was important to be there.

It’s the little daily, consistent things that have meaning and lasting effects. It is also  the traditions your family participates in, like walking to a weekly religious gathering, getting bagels on Saturdays, watching for animals on the ride to grandparent’s house, apple picking, snuggling under a blanket while reading books together, or like me, trying to roll my dad off of the couch with my siblings on Sunday after our midday meal.


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Montessori and Peace

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Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of educators. –Maria Montessori imgres-1 An interesting fact about Dr. Maria Montessori is that she lived through two wars. She was living in Italy at the beginning Mussolini’s reign. In 1924 Maria met with Mussolini, and he agreed that the Italian government should support Montessori schools, however, he closed all Montessori schools in 1931 because teachers would not pledge loyalty to Fascism. At that time Montessori relocated to Spain. In 1932, while in Spain, she wrote the book, Peace and Education. Montessori and Peace: Peace education is one of the basic tenets of Maria Montessori. Her vision and goal was the reconstruction of society and the establishment of world peace through education. Montessori classrooms contain puzzle maps of the world and continent maps with political boundaries. Families are invited to share their traditions and customs with the classroom. Children study the basic needs of people:  food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc. Children learn that all humans require similar things  and depending on the biome of the area in which they live, these things may change. In Twin Parks Montessori School classrooms, our social skills curriculum teaches children to use their words with each other when conflict arises. Learning how to negotiate, compromise, share a point of view, collaborate and problem solve helps to develop skills necessary to be a global human being.

 If we are to teach real peace in this world. . .

we shall have to begin with the children.

Mahatma Gandhi

Visitors to a Montessori classroom observe the quiet “hum” of a group of children working. Visitors remark on the peaceful, relaxed and happy children. It doesn’t happen magically. Montessori schools operate under an umbrella of respect for:  teachers, materials and each other. They learn to watch, wait, delay gratification, how to walk around someone’s work as to not disturb it, and how to interrupt politely. Montessorians call these lessons Grace and Courtesy. Using these lessons Montessori teachers are able to teach children to be proactive rather than reactive. Children practice respectful communications and they are given tools to respond to others. Angeline Lillard, in her book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, wrote that the lessons of Grace and Courtesy “are on a par with lessons in math, music, and language.” (2007, 198-99) There are no physical material on the shelf to remind us of the importance of Grace and Courtesy; these activities cannot be seen, but they mustn’t be forgotten. These lessons frame the foundation of peace education in Montessori classrooms. Just as in Maria Montessori’s life in 1930s and now in the 21st Century, we need to teach children to be respectful and peaceful, which is something we at Twin Parks Montessori Schools pride ourselves on.


If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men. – Maria Montessori

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Dealing with Meltdowns: Strike while the Iron is COLD!

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I grew up with the saying “strike while the iron is hot.” Which means to do something immediately when the opportunity presents itself. It comes from the late 1300s in reference to a blacksmith’s forge. Iron is more pliable when it is glowing red hot and struck with a mallet or other tool. It is one of those idiomatic sayings like “make hay while the sun shines.”

Sometimes children may have the appearance of glowing red-hot in a full out tantrum, but we would never literally strike them, or use that time to discuss their behaviors. We have more success when we approach children when their mood is neutral or cool. Additionally, we need to be cool or neutral ourselves when we approach a child. Generally, after an incident, we are all feeling sorry and helpless in ways that do not help us focus on the situation. Even adults need a time out sometimes!

He is upset because I would not buy him a suit of armor.

“He is upset because I would not buy him a suit of armor.”

Rage is one of those core emotional systems that kicks in when we feel like we are being physically or mentally restrained. Frustration is part of our core emotional system, as is anger. We have the ability to rage from birth as it as a type of energizer to get us to safety. - Maren Schmidt

These emotional states are signals that there is a problem. Children do not yet have the ability to soothe themselves like adults do. We can use self-talk, change our situation, call a friend, or eat some chocolate. Children on the other hand, have all of these emotions without knowing exactly what to do about them.

He is crying because he cannot find his rubber ducky

“He is crying because he cannot find his rubber ducky.”

After a short time, when children return to themselves and are ready to listen, it is helpful to find a quiet space to talk about the situation. Asking a “why” question doesn’t result in a reasonable answer for children under 6 years of age. Children really don’t know why they threw themselves on the ground and kicked and screamed, or threw a block across the room. A better approach would be to state the emotion you witnessed, “You seemed very angry (frustrated) when you threw the block across the room and started crying.” This puts a name to the feeling and helps develop language skills for the future.

She is upset because I told her that I have another name besides "mom".

“She is upset because I told her that I have another name besides ‘Mom.’”

One of our jobs as the adult is to offer options, or suggestions of what the child could have done differently. Things like using their words, asking for help, or waiting for a turn. Another suggestion is to tell a story about a fictional child (or about you when you were little) in the same situation and describing what that child did to rectify the situation – always with the choice that is win-win for everyone. In this way you are teaching lessons about appropriate behavior and giving examples of what to do in a similar situation.

He is upset because the microwave ate his lunch.

“He is upset because the microwave ate his lunch.”

Another helpful, proactive role-playing scenario of “What if?” questions is to start a conversation like “What if your friend took the toy you were playing with? How would you feel? What would you do?” One of the solutions would be to get adult help if you were having trouble solving the problem.

Striking while the iron is cool encourages children to learn from mistakes with help from a calm, understanding adult. Our goal at Twin Parks Montessori Schools is to teach children to name their feelings and to express them in appropriate ways. We want our children to feel safe, talk about their situation, and reduce their feelings of helplessness and meltdowns.

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Work Life Balance

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This phrase refers to the concept of prioritizing between work (career, need for a paycheck and ambition) and lifestyle (family, health, pleasure, leisure, spiritual development). I always have an image of keeping balloons in the air. These balloons that are labeled:  family, health, reading, professional development, work, rest, etc. You can’t keep them all in the air, so which one are you going to drop?


There has been a tremendous increase in media reporting about how to achieve work life balance. It was easier before technology made workers accessible around the clock. Most of us are working way more than 40 hours a week, putting out fires and giving attention to the squeaky wheels while staying up too late and not taking the best care of ourselves. Does this sound familiar? Here are some pointers that may work for you:

Balance- Identify what is important in your life. This list will change as your life challenges change. Set boundaries for yourself and give your time to the priorities. Some people struggle with work and family time. Teach yourself  to say “no” to opportunities that conflict with family and leisure time. Self-reflect. Look at what’s working and what is not.

- Unplug. Studies are validating that sleep is affected by late night screen time. In addition, it defeats the quality time you have with your family if you are reading texts when you are with them. Most emails and texts are not emergencies and can wait to be answered. After all, people were successful and communicated without immediate replies before the internet in the 90′s. Embrace the “off” button.

- Cut yourself some slack. Many people who work long hours have perfectionist tendencies that can lead to burnout. Better to strive for excellence and delegate tasks, chores to others at work and at home. Things may not get done according to your standards and control, but they will get done and you have to be okay with it.

- Exercise. We know exercise is good for us and relieves stress. It also can lift your mood and help you achieve a meditative state. You can start slow by walking as much as possible and taking deep breaths. Pace yourself.

- Respect your private time. Take a vacation. Relax!

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Color Blind or Color Brave?

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Twin Parks Montessori Schools faculty and staff continued their work with Derrick Gay, an international speaker on issues of diversity, inclusion and global citizenship. We worked together on case studies about gender and race.


Teachers from all Twin Parks Montessori School campuses learn togehter

Teachers from all Twin Parks Montessori School campuses learn together

One of the key concepts we talked about is that children are not color blind. Research clearly shows that children not only recognize race from a very young age, but also develop racial biases by ages three to five years! (Winkler, 2009). Developmentally, we know children learn to make sense of their world by examining and comparing attributes of new things to others they already know. For instance while sorting items, they look at shape, size, color, density, etc. When they meet new people, they categorize the same way. They may assume that they should avoid or dislike people with who look different than their family or have different skin colors than their own – a cognitive puzzle for children to solve (Bigler & Liben, 2007).

In order to address issues of racial bias and prejudice with children and help them understand our society, we must first self-reflect on our own socialization and culture perceptions that we have been exposed to. Educating children “requires that we rethink our ideas about several dimensions of everyday life, including the nature of racial and ethnic oppression, the intellectual capacity of children, our willingness to effect changes in oppressive social conditions, and the extent of children’s social skills” (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). This important work can be difficult and parents and early childhood educators play a crucial role in the development of young minds, perceptions, and attitudes.

Mellody Hobson gave a thoughtful talk on this topic about being Color Brave, not color Blind. Mellody states “it is time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race. If we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, we need to have real conversations about this issue. We can’t be color blind, we have to be color brave.” It is the smart thing to do because our next generations need role models in order for children to thing about possibilities and to dream big.

Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L.S. (2007). Developmental intergroup theory: Explaining and reducing children’s social stereotyping and prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 162–166.

Van Ausdale, D., & Feagin, J. R. (2001). The first R: How children learn race and racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Winkler, E.N. (2009). Children are not colorblind: how young children learn race. Pace vol.3, no. 3.

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Montessori Education and Creativity

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Maria Montessori believed that beauty could be found in nature and that nature offers an infinite source of creative imagination. She encouraged teachers to develop children’s connections to the world through the use of their senses and to use nature to foster creativity. Although Montessori did not see the value in telling or reading fairly tales or in children’s abstract art, she did believe children should have opportunities to draw from life and nature if they were inspired to do so.

“The sensory education which prepares for the accurate perception of all the differential details in the qualities of things, is therefore the foundation of the observation of things… it helps us to collect from the external world the material for the imagination.” – Maria Montessori

A few years ago, I visited Beijing as a representative of the American Montessori Society. I was impressed by the rapidly increasing number of Montessori schools that are 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 culture activities in the classrooms that are unique to Chinese culture and arts. The intricate sewing and watercolor painting especially impressed me. What is it about Montessori that is inspiring this prevalence I witnessed?

Constellations sewn on fabric in a Montessori school in Beijing, China.

Constellations sewn on fabric in a Montessori school in Beijing, China.

Watercolor painting by a Montessori student in Beijing, China.

Watercolor painting by a Montessori student in Beijing, China.

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, license fees). Diversity of talents, creativity, entrepreneurship, and passion are what allow nations to thrive.” The New York State Association of Independent Schools is sponsoring a trip for educators in conjunction with Dr. Zhao in April of 2016.

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 learning environments 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% 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.


How do the Montessori methods encourage creativity?

Montessori classrooms offer:

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

• 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 talk 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 spokes person for Google, the first female hired at Google, and one of the first 20 Google employees.

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:

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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Time: The Most Valuable Gift

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Do you know anyone who over-commits his/her time and energy? Sure you do. I just have to look in the mirror! Can you remember how we organized our time before we had cell phones, laptops and iPads? Actually, some of you were born after all of these devices became our life organizers! Being busy has become a status symbol. On top of that, your child will be out of school for two weeks and your daily routines are about to change. For some, that also means the added stress of holidays thrown into the mixture. The decorations have been in the stores for months reminding us of all of the things we have to do to create the perfect holiday experiences for family and friends. It is hard to determine what is important. And yet it is important to share traditions that are your childhood roots of adult happiness.

We could write a book about our experiences with our children and holidays. What is expected to be an exciting visit with extended family and might include shopping and gift giving often has unexpected results. Our children often behave out of character and the adults wind up exhausted or suffering from migraines that can last from now until the children return back to school on January 6th. Instead of trying to please everyone – including your children, now is the time to evaluate what worked last year and what you might consider changing. How can you maintain a schedule that is as close to normal as possible? How can you take care of yourself, your family and have fun?

A while ago I read an article written for Wired online, by Jonathan Liu, a self-described stay-at-home dad, Etch-a-Sketch artist, community agitator, board game geek and a voracious reader. Doesn’t he sound like a person you would like to get to know, one that would be fun at a party? He sounds like a great Montessori Dad! Jonathan shared his insights about the five best toys for children knowing that many are of us are on a tight budget. These toys are time tested, and appeal to children within a wide range of ages.


Two Montessori children with homemade space equipment. Hours of fun!

Two Montessori children with homemade space equipment. Hours of fun!

The 5 Best Toys

# 1.  A Stick, comes in various sizes, grows on trees, and yes – could poke an eye out

# 2.  A Box, comes in a variety of sizes and shapes, can be converted into anything from a playhouse to robots, store or time machine (I’ve been watching Dr. Who!)

#3.  String, comes in various textures and lengths, use to hang things, tie things together, Cat’s Cradle, heavier kinds for jumping, climbing, swinging.  My son’s favorite was to create “power lines” from every attachable high and low surface in the living room that objects would traverse across and down.

#4.  Cardboard Tubes, free with paper towels, wrapping paper, or super sized from a carpet, used as a telescope, binoculars, whacker, although may not hold up to enthusiastic play so you need extras.

#5.  Dirt, been around a long time, you have to eat a peck of it before you die, may help build immune systems, great for digging, piling, burying things, mud pies, facials, etc.

To Jonathan’s list I would like to add The Greatest Gift:

#6. Time, most precious, not always free, must be uninterrupted, in the moment, spent genuinely with children.

Children require both quantity and quality time with parents; time when we are not looking at the Internet, talking on the phone or watching TV (although with older children, watching shows together and discussing issues is a great way to stay in touch with one another). Time to stay at home in our PJ’s building forts with blankets over tables and using all the pillows. Time to cook, bake and be silly. Time to walk or ride bikes in the park with no destination in mind.  Time to do crazy dress up and dance to oldies – yours and theirs. Time to sing together, play board games, play hide and seek, and create art projects.

After all, the most valuable gift to your child is YOU– your time and undivided attention. Everything else is just the trimmings.

“Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.”— Horace Mann




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Divergent Thinking and Montessori

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I was watching a YouTube video that Sir Ken Robinson, a keynote speaker at the American Montessori Society’s Annual Conference, authored regarding education reform and/or changing education paradigms. The United States went through a reform in education during the intellectual culture of the enlightenment and the economic conditions of the industrial revolution (1840-1900). There was another blip of a reformation after Sputnik in the 1950s but not much has happened since then. Our education paradigm is stuck in the high stakes test scores mentality.

What struck me about Sir Ken Robinson’s message was the need to encourage divergent thinking in our children. Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate many creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. Divergent thinking typically occurs in a spontaneous, free -flowing manner and many ideas are explored in a short amount of time. After the process of divergent thinking has been completed, ideas and information are organized and structured into convergent thinking, which follows logical steps to come up with one solution. We sometimes refer to this as brainstorming. Do we do this enough with our children?

According to psychologists, Carole Wad and Carol Travris, a high IQ alone does not guarantee creativity. Instead, personality traits that promote divergent thinking are more important for the development of this type of thinking. Divergent thinking patterns are found among people with personality traits such as nonconformity, curiosity, willingness to take risks, and persistence. In addition, in Breakpoint and Beyond, a book by George Land and Beth Jarman (1998), 1,500 5-year-old children were tested and 98% scored genius level at divergent thinking or their ability to see multiple uses and solutions or items or problems. This was a longitudinal study – when the same children were 8-10 years old, their score dropped in half and continued to decline as they got older. So what happened to make it deteriorate? Robinson thinks one of the reasons is because they became “educated”.

In one of his State of the Union addresses, President Obama pointed out that economic competitiveness and a path to the American Dream depend on providing every child with an education for success in a global economy. His principles of education emphasize that success is predicated upon knowledge and innovation beginning in early childhood education. Collaboration, a productive social activity long advocated by the Montessori approach, is finally being recognized as an essential element of our children’s future successes and well being.

Doesn’t the above sound like Montessori philosophy and practice?

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Being Thankful

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Yesterday, I witnessed children walking to the school office while carrying their contributions to our growing collection of food to support our local philanthropy project – City Harvest.  One child commented that his box of oatmeal was “soooo heavy”.  When asked why he was bringing it to the office to join the hundreds of other boxes and cans of food, he replied, “to give to children who do not have any food”. Role modeling the act of giving to others empowers very young children to make a difference in other people’s lives.


This year, more than ever, I have seen evidence of people giving thanks for all of the wonders in their lives.  In this time of increased security and fear that our city has been targeting, we need to reflect on the little things that make us smile and be thankful.  This is truly the time we set aside for counting our blessings.  When I think about the thing I am most thankful for it is the opportunity to be with my immediate family and friends for a long weekend.  I am anticipating a lot of baking, eating, movies, games and conversations together.  Next, I am thankful for the community of Twin Parks Montessori Schools – the teachers and staff who are my colleagues, the parents who are our partners in development of the most precious children in our care, and for the children themselves who are making a difference in the lives of others.  Thank you for being a part of my life!



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Parent and Teacher Relationships

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I once heard a parent say, “I will believe half of what my child tells me about you, if you promise to believe half of what my child tells you about me.” I think this is a fair statement to begin a relationship, don’t you?

fdd518aed4d4b1ccfa840f3121081b6bFor many of our children, the relationship with a teacher may be the first adult relationship the child develops outside of family members. Allowing a bond to form between teacher and child without interference is powerful and contributes to successful relationships in the future.

Twin Parks Montessori Schools just hosted its first Parent/Teacher Conferences for this year. The focus of our first conference of the year includes reflecting on expectations, establishing a baseline of ability, sharing Montessori philosophy and strengthening the newly formed bonds between parents and teachers. As the year progresses, the meetings together are focused more on the growth and development of the child with reference to the progress reports prepared by the teachers.

A positive relationship between parents and teachers contributes to the child’s success in school. It is important that the parent-teacher-child relationship functions under an umbrella of respect. This collaborative relationship has the development and well-being of the child in the forefront. Problem solving is more pro-active than assuming the worst before the facts are known.

Child Playing in Classroom

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Conversations between teachers and parents can include academic progress, social and emotional development and anecdotal observations of a child putting learning into practice. Active listening is extremely important for great dialogue to take place. Scheduling time for parents and teachers to be together insures less distraction.

Together, parents and teachers guide children on their journey into the world. Before a 3-year old enters an early childhood classroom the child has already had about 20,000 hours of action-research happening. Challenges occur every day and the child’s brain adapts and changes as it addresses each new opportunity for learning.

Positive parent and teacher relationships are part of our core beliefs at Twin Parks Montessori Schools. We appreciate all of the parents who have selected our school to partner with them to facilitate the growth of their most precious child. We believe that our community is strengthened when our people come together in celebration.

Autumn-harvest-basketWe look forward to welcoming our parents to our first in class social of the year during the week of November 23.

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Kathy’s Insights