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

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.

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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

https://soundcloud.com/onbeing/brene-brown-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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Transition from Summer to a New School Year – Are You Ready?

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Do you know people who over-commit their 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? Being busy has become a status symbol. As we make a change from summer and vacation to a new school year beginning we all have to make adjustments in our sleep and active schedules. On top of that, there are several holidays throughout the fall and winter that adds stress to our daily lives. I have already seen Halloween decorations in stores.

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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 next year. (I think I will save the topic of holidays for another post!) 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.

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back-to-school-parents-celebrate-vanPrepare your children for any upcoming event by talking about it beforehand, whether it is starting school, a shopping trip, a visit with friends, or travel out of town. Explanations can be brief with opportunities for your child to ask questions if s/he wants to know more. Your child may surprise you with feedback that lets you know what works for her/him. Review your expectations prior to social situations such as a dinner party. This will help children know the rules in advance. This can be as simple as letting them know they will be sitting at the table with others to eat and then will be able to play afterwards. Remind them to use their indoor voices and to be careful of breakable items. Always leave extra time to get ready so everyone is not rushed. Allowing for plenty of down time helps enormously. Be aware that constantly changing plans or making last minute decisions will increase the potential for stress. Also, take care in making promises you may not be able to keep.

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Children crave routine and consistency. While a new routine is being established, it is important to be consistent with mealtimes and bedtimes as much as possible. Before leaving the house to go in the morning, make sure everyone has a substantial breakfast – including parents. Also, carry small healthy snacks and bottled water along with you.

Take breaks during the day before things get out of control. Expect young children to become cranky or display inappropriate behaviors occasionally. Remember that they have shorter attentions spans than you do and they tire easily. What happens if your child does start crying, running away from you, begins twirling or pulling, has accidents, or is not able to sleep? This maybe a good time to teach relaxation techniques – for you and your child. Sit down, take deep breaths, have a snack together, play with play-dough, draw a picture, or go to a quiet place and read a book together.

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Slow down next week and spend time at home with your children. Rest and relaxation before a schedule change is paramount to a successful transition. We are all able to handle new things when our minds and bodies are well rested and nourished. Take walks with your family. Walk past your child’s school to see how long it takes.

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Remember to Play! Build with blocks, have a tea party under a sheet-covered table, have a pajama party. Sing in the car, at home, or any time at all. Reading to your child and singing songs are two fantastic ways that you can promote early literacy. Take walks in the parks to find hidden nooks and crannies to play hide and go seek. These intimate times with your children will have lasting benefits and create memories that can carry on to the next generation.

Be proactive- if we are paying attention, we can redirect our children’s extra energy before a situation gets out of control. Sometimes the situation requires our thoughts and actions to be about our children rather than our own expectations. After all, your greatest gift to your child is you – your time and your undivided attention. Everything else is just trimmings.

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A Montessori School’s Community

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Education is enormously impacted by our global society and technology’s influence on the ways we communicate. These changes directly affect the learning that takes place in our schools.

Do you wonder what you can expect from a school’s community?

School communities include families who are returning and those that are new, teachers, staff and administration, caregivers, grandparents, and building maintenance crews. Everyone is contributing to provide a safe environment that is both educational and enjoyable for its members. Your family, the school, and the location of the school (urban, suburban, rural) are three major contexts in which children live and grow. These overlapping spheres of influence are important because they have a direct impact on children’s learning and development. One of Twin Parks Montessori School’s (TPMS) beliefs is that we form a partnership with parents during this journey of learning for children.

Our community shares common values: children are precious beings in our care; family time is important and protected; excellent education and expectations are vital; creativity, independence and intrinsic motivation are important life skills; and, we rely on one another to help our children experience success. The location of TPMS in New York City also provides a globally diverse experience for our community of learners of all ages.

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We also strive to continue the work of Maria Montessori by following her tenants of respect for all, fostering independence, and enabling large blocks of uninterrupted work time for students to discover and learn. We have common goals of developing executive function skills with our students: planning, organizing, collaborating, remaining flexible, using memory, patience, persevering, and demonstrating empathy for others.

At TPMS, we strive for cordial, collegial and encouraging communication with parents. We use multiple tools for communicating news from the classrooms, articles on parenting and education and general announcements from the school administration. Each classroom has an email account and teachers are available during the day to make and receive telephone calls.

Parents are also invited to participate in a variety of parent education events at school. Our classroom orientations are an opportunity to learn more about your child’s classroom and meet the other parents who will share the year with you. Parents use our web-based Google calendars to sync with theirs as a reminder of these invaluable learning opportunities.

The first decade of life is the time when children are developing their personalities and moral compasses. At no other time is overall growth so pronounced and rapidly changing. Perhaps the most influential teachers are those that a child experiences during his/her first 10 years. These first teachers assist the child and his/her family as they negotiate their physical, behavioral, cognitive and social development. Your decision to enroll in a Montessori school enables your child to experience and excel in an environment tailored to his/her developmental needs with materials that will provide comfort and challenges.

The search for a vibrant school community must be on your checklist of essential ingredients for the education of your child. Your school community, its values and commitment to education are essential for the success of your child in joining the dynamic society in which they live.

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Starting School: Your First Separation from Your Child

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Adults have experienced many separations throughout their lives: from parents at the start of a new school year, or joining a child care group, our grandparents as they age, our siblings when they go off to college or start their own family, or losing beloved pets that we spent joyous hours playing with. Consciously or not, we carry the feelings that we experienced in our past to our current separations from our children when they start school for the first time. It is important that we do relay anxiety or hesitation when our children are entering the classroom, and here we’ll guide you through your first separation from your child.

Mothers and babies at school

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“Phase-in” refers to the initial time period of transition for children as they begin to attend school. During this time children become familiar with the new environment, new people and new routines. The key to a successful phase-in process is that it’s done gradually. It may begin with you and your child spending an hour in the classroom and gradually work up to the full work cycle, lunch, rest and then the full day. Teacher will observe the children carefully to see what interests they have and remind them of the activity the next day. Building connections early is essential.

Toddlers at schoolDepending on the age of the child, the phase-in process will differ. Babies sense the warmth and caring emanating from other adults and feel content when their needs are met. Young toddlers are experiencing a new found sense of independence and are learning that they are not a physical part of their parents. Object permanence is a lesson that is not fully mastered at this age. Toddler do not have a sense of time to know their parent will come back after rest or at the end of the workday. Children who are in the 3-5-age range are eager to try new things, meet new friends and discover how things work. Their acclimation often takes a short amount of time.

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At Twin Parks Montessori School, we phase in children slowly and follow the child’s lead and comfort level. Parents are notified that phase in may take two weeks or longer. Teachers make home visits for babies and toddlers to become familiar with the physical space the child lives in. Attention is paid to noise level, feeding schedule, lighting in the room when the child sleeps. It is also helpful for the child to see the teachers for the first time in their own home with their parents and get the sense that teachers are friends.

For all children, returning and new, we email a picture of the teaching team. It helps to learn names and faces before school begins. One parent shared that they framed the teachers’ picture and each night the child said goodnight to teachers before going to sleep.Working with the Pink Tower

 

A few key tips for successful separation:

• Walk by the school before the school year starts so your child become familiar with the route and hears the words, “your school”.

• Schedule some down time before school begins, family time to be together taking walks, reading books, playing together will help ensure your child is well-rested and ready for a new beginning.

• Tell a personal, positive story about your experience in school.

• Be positive; your child can sense your own separation anxieties; if you’re enthusiastic,

your child will be too.

• Read books about school when you’re home.

• If your child cries, remain calm. Instead of saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or,

“There’s no reason to cry.” It’s best to address your child in a positive way: “It’s okay to be afraid. Your teachers will take care of you.”

• Never sneak out or “slip away.” Tell your child that you’re leaving the classroom. Be consistent and give one quick goodbye, each time you leave.

• When you leave, tell your child where you’re going, when you’ll be coming back, and what you’ll be doing. Please follow the teacher’s instructions on when to come back, when to leave, etc.

• Do not ask your child for permission to leave the classroom. For example, “Is it okay if I go now?” This can be confusing to your child. Be matter of fact instead.

• Please trust that we will comfort your child when you leave and that your child is in good hands.

You and your child are not alone in experiencing some trepidation. The first days of school are exciting and full of unknowns for everyone, children, parents, teachers, and administration. Teachers have told me they pick out their clothes the night before, have their bag all ready to go, and still they loose sleep thinking about the first day of school! You are in great company!

 

We love Twin Parks Montessori School!

 

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Childhood Traits That Predict Adult Success

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This morning I had a humorous conversation about childhood traits that predict adult success. Is it yearning to be someone you are not? Is it wishing your family had the financial ability to host a birthday party in a private jet? Is it wearing the name-brand clothing and sneakers? Or is it being able to delay gratification, finding joy in small things, reading for pleasure or being a good friend?

Over the past 10 years, more research has been conducted and written about the traits that predict adult success for a well-rounded, productive life. The term executive function has become the buzz word to describe the personal growth and development of a person from birth to late-twenties in terms of judgement, planning, organizing, using working memory and flexibility in thinking. This development happens in the frontal cortex and is added by the emotional centers of the brain.

Executive functions cover a variety of skills that allow one to organize behavior in a purposeful, coordinated manner and to reflect on or analyze the success of the strategies employed (Banich, 2004). Executive functions include processes such as goal selection, planning, monitoring, sequencing, and other supervisory processes which permit the individual to impose organization and structure upon his/or her environment (Foster, Black and Bronskill, 1997).

Maria Montessori understood child development and wrote about these important skills in 1912. She understood that environment influences “spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others.: Executive function skills are encouraged in a Montessori classroom where a love of order and work, concentration and the power to act from real choice exists and leads one to self mastery. “For it is from the completed cycle of an activity from methodical concentration, that the child develops equilibrium, elasticity, adaptability, and the resulting power to perform the higher actions, such as those which are termed acts of obedience.” (Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, 1914).

A longitudinal study, conducted by Pennsylvania State University that included 753 Kindergarten aged students followed into adulthood suggested that children’s emotional intelligence could set the stage for professional and interpersonal success throughout life. Montessori educators agree with these findings.

For additional suggestions of ways you can increase your child’s executive function capacity. Download Harvard University’s activities guide Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence.

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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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Kathy’s Insights