Kathy’s Insights

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

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: 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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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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What is an Inclusive Community?

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slide_tapestry-program-cropped At Twin Parks Montessori Schools we are working to change the conversation from “diversity,” which is looking at differences, to “inclusion” and helping to make everyone feel a part of something larger – the Twin Parks Montessori School Community (TPMSC). We are preparing our students to be part of a global society. We are creating a safe space that is welcoming, supportive and safe for every unique individual within our school. This space will be safe for people regardless of color, ethnicity, gender or other unique abilities and characteristics.

“… Raising students to live in a bubble — a white bubble, a black bubble, a Latino bubble, whatever type of bubble you want to call it — is not to your benefit in a global society.” — Derrick Gay, New York Times

Our students make sense of their environments by sorting the objects, people and experiences in their world. For instance infants go through phases of stranger anxiety. They meet a new person who does not fit into family member, caregiver, or teacher category, and turn away or become upset. Toddlers and Early Childhood children sort by shape, color, texture, sound, taste and appearance. For example, children may sort their classmates by length of hair, gender, or by skin tone. Yes, they do see the differences. It is our job as adults to help them see the similarities of all human beings. We all have hair, we all have eyes, ears and noses. We are all fabulously unique and similar in so many ways. Children learn prejudice from prejudice, not from learning about human diversity (Sparks and Edwards, p.4) From the moment we are born we are inundated with messages, verbal and non-verbal about different types of people. Children learn about stereotypes without realizing it. Adults’ tone and behaviors help children to be inclusive in their interactions with others.


Children learn to be proud of themselves and their families, and to respect human differences. Many of our classrooms display pictures of students’ families. They are a reminder of loved ones and they offer comfort for children acclimating to a new school experience. It is important for children to see themselves and their families reflected in our school. TPMSC’ families are all unique just like our students. Some families have more than one child or an adopted child, some have one parent or two and they may be the same gender, some are multi-generational with grandparents in the home, some may have family members who have a physical difference or use a wheelchair.

Our social and emotional curriculum allows for children to express how they feel to one another. This can be as basic as “I don’t like that, please stop” or, “You hurt my feelings when. . . ” Our goal is for students to increasingly recognize unfairness, and have language to describe it and understand that it can be hurtful for themselves and others. Our teachers observe behaviors and listen to conversations to help facilitate learning new words to use and actions to take.

Our first steps began at the start of the year during a full day workshop with Derrick Gay. We collaborated with Derrick to better understand our own perceptions and deepened our commitment to having an inclusive and empathetic community. Self-reflection to deeply understand our own lives is crucial to assisting children in developing to their fullest potential.


Sparks, L.D. and Edwards, J.O. 2010. Anti-Bias Education for Young Children and Ourselves. Washington, DC: NAEYC.

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Collaboration – Montessori Style!

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One form of collaboration is related to education. Collaboration happens when a group of students are working together to solve a problem, complete a task or create a product. We encourage collaboration in the Montessori classrooms at Twin Parks Montessori of NYC by having multi-aged groups, offering opportunities to explore and discover, to use their divergent and creative thinking,  to invite others to share work, inspiring children to talk during work time, and to consider other students as sources of knowledge.

Children collaborating with Montessori Sensorial materials.

Children collaborating with Montessori Sensorial materials.

The Montessori Movement is experiencing an historic thrust of collaboration. The Montessori Public Policy Initiative, supported by the Trust for Learning, hosted a retreat for Montessori leaders from the Association Montessori International/USA and the American Montessori Society, October 25-27, 2015 in Washington, D.C. This event was truly collaboration at the highest level of cognitive function to benefit children and Montessori education. I was honored to be included in this group of individuals and represented New York City and the state of New York.

Richard Ungerer, Executive Director of the American Montessori Society and Bonnie Beste, Executive Director of Association Montessori International/USA said the final words at the Montessori Public Policy Initiative Retreat in Washington, D.C. today. It was a historic event that brought educators and policy makers from 26 states together to address issues Montessori schools and teachers are grappling with. Everyone participated in fantastic networking and problem solving - all Montessorians working together.

Richard Ungerer, Executive Director of the American Montessori Society and Bonnie Beste, Executive Director of Association Montessori International/USA said the final words at the Montessori Public Policy Initiative Retreat in Washington, D.C. today. It was a historic event that brought educators and policy makers from 26 states together to address issues Montessori schools and teachers are grappling with. Everyone participated in fantastic networking and problem solving – all Montessorians working together.

Attendees from charter, private and public schools shared their states successes and areas that they need additional help. Topics discussed included: national trends in education policy, advancing Montessori in the face of changing trends, messaging and advocacy, teacher certification, and state action planning. We all gained incredible knowledge about next steps for our own states and promoting Montessori as a choice for all students. Added bonuses were the incredible networking and the opportunity to make new friends. This meeting of the Montessori minds was an exquisite example of the meaning of collaboration in a Montessori setting. The attendees’ focus on shared work was a joy to experience and I wish all of their students could have witnessed.

 Montessori is on the Rise! Montessori Rocks!

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Dealing with Death: When a Loved One Isn’t Coming Back

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I have a 55 gallon fish aquarium at Park West Montessori School. Many fish can live it in at one time. I have had my share of types of fish including  African Cichlids that were constantly reproducing, to community fish of Gouramis and Loaches. There is one lone survivor, a 6″ long Plecostomous, who survived a pH imbalance, multiple water changes and many different neighbors.


Many children and families gaze at the aquarium when they visit the school’s admissions office for the first time. Some children remember the fish and come back to visit them when they enroll. Each year a few children come to say hello to the fish when they arrive in the morning and say goodbye when they leave for the day – everyday they attend.

Children notice when a fish is missing. They ask, “where is the silly fish?”, “is it hiding”? What do we say when the fish has died and isn’t coming back?

Child development experts believe that it is good for children to have pets and learn about life cycles so they have some experience with death and dying on a smaller level before a human loved one dies.

Young children go through stages of understanding of learning when a love one is there, gone, and coming back. The term object permanence refers to the ability to know that objects and people continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard. Babies and toddlers do not understand that when adults leave the room that they will return.

As children mature physically and cognitively, they learn to anticipate when a parent or care giver will return. They learn to predict the schedule of the day. Rest comes after lunch and then I go home after snack. Although early childhood aged children seem to have a better understanding about death and appear to take the news of Grammy’s death as a natural occurrence they are just beginning to understand what it means when someone is never coming back. Conversations will continue to occur long after the loved one dies. A child will ask a month later when Grammy is coming to visit, or ask to call her on the telephone.

Explaining about death is a difficult and daunting task that you hope you are prepared to do when the time comes so you are not caught like a “deer in headlights” and say the first thing that comes to mind. Here are a few things to consider when discussing death.

1.  Keep the language you use age-appropriate. Answer questions simply without a long explanation or cause of disease and death.

2. Be honest. Spinning a softer, more comfortable story may lead you further down the rabbit hole. Better to be brief and truthful.

3.  Never tell a child that some one who died is asleep. For some children this can cause fears of going to sleep themselves.

4.  Keep it true to your family’s values and beliefs.

5. Leave it open for discussion. Answer the questions as they occur including what other people may believe.


Books are a wonderful lead into life’s difficulties. Here are a few titles on the topic of death for 3-5 year old children:

• The Fall of Freddie the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia

• The Two of Them by Aliki

• I Had a Friend Named Peter by Janice Cohn

• I Miss You by Pat Thomas

• The Tenth Good Thing about Barney by Judith Viorst

• Nana Upstairs and Nana Downstairs by Tomie De Paola

• Jasper’s Day by Marjorie Blain Parker

• I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm

• Lifetimes: the beautiful way to explain death to children by Bryan Mellonie


Which leads me back to the aquarium and life under water. What is the lifespan of tropical fish? Will the Clown Loach who died be missed? Where did he go?


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Introducing Brené Brown – Shame and Vunerability

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Brené Brown is an American scholar, author and public speaker who is currently a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. Within the last 15 years, Dr. Brown has been researching a range of topics including vulnerability, courage, worthiness, empathy and shame. Dr. Brown says that “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Her latest book, “Rising Strong:  The reckoning, the rumble and revolution” is available to read now.


As a keynote speaker at the 2012 American Montessori Society’s annual conference, Dr. Brown told the audience that Montessorians are committed to helping ground children in a deep sense of purpose. Montessori provides feelings of worthiness which is an essential train in our increasingly anxious word.

Listen to Dr. Brown talk about the courage to be vulnerable


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What does it take to help students become life long learners?

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board-812129_1280In Montessori schools we offer opportunities for students to develop life long learner skills in the following ways:

• Respect for all

• Choice in activity and work selections to develop interests and passions

• Opportunities to share and listen and ask questions

• Creating classrooms with a balance of challenge and caring

• Classrooms where mistakes are opportunities for learning

• Teachers who are guides and role models

• Multi-aged groups where students find their place naturally

• Uninterrupted blocks of work time

• Opportunities to collaborate with other students

• Reliance on intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivators

• Encouragement for efforts and multiple attempts on the path to success

• Partnership with parents and understanding of the importance of family time

• A sense of humor

In the Mind/Shift article about teaching strategies it states that when educators make space for play, and passion, students develop purpose.

Watch Tony Wagner’s TED talk for more on helping students become life long learners!

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Kathy’s Insights