Kathy’s Insights

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

Children’s Literature Reflects and Opens Windows to the World

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All students deserve a school experience that mirrors themselves and their own lives. But school curriculum should also include the fresh look of windows to peer into the lives of others. Just as we work on inclusion within our school community, differences do exist and should be learned about and celebrated.

In 1996, Emily Style first wrote about “providing students with windows and mirrors. Curriculums can serve as a mirror when it reflects individuals and their experiences back to themselves. At the same time curriculum can serve as a window when it introduces and provides the opportunity to understand the experiences and perspectives of those who possess different identities.” Curriculum and literature should provide a balance of both. Style goes on to share an illustration using a Peanuts cartoon. Snoopy was pictured sitting at his typewriter, writing the cultural truth ‘Beauty is only skin deep.’ When the dog looked in the mirror, however, it made more sense (to the dog) to write ‘Beauty is only fur-deep.’”
Toddlers sharing a book with their teacherWhen children cannot find themselves in the books they read or the images that they do see are negative or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how society views them. They will get the message that they are not important. Books also serve as places for children to be introduced to people who are not like them and offer an alternate view of the world. Viewing literature as a window or mirror helps us understand that in addition to being a source of stories to enjoy, books are also tools of social justice. Multicultural children’s literature helps children see that despite our differences, people share common feelings of love, sadness, and fear and common goals like what they want to be when they grow up.

Disney and Thomas the Train books have tantalizing stories and beautiful illustrations, but do they have real stories about people? Children need an abundance of reality books rather than a diet of only fantasy books. Children begin to learn the difference between fantasy and reality between the ages of 3 and 5. They are still learning about the real world and can apply what they learn from a realistic story as opposed to a fantastical story.

In 2015, the Progressive Education Conference held in Brooklyn featured a conversation with several children’s book authors. Jacqueline Woodson, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and James Lecesne all shared their love of literature as children but the lack of mirrors in the books that were available to them. Whether they were looking for faces of color, gender neutral characters and clothing, the power of children, cultural or family experiences resembling their own, they didn’t find it, so each wrote about it. Their picture books and young adult fiction are great examples of outstanding children’s literature.

Children’s author, Grace Lin, was the only Asian child in her elementary school and was often excluded from activities with other classmates. She wanted to be just like the other curly-haired girls in her community. She ignored her heritage and didn’t want to speak her family’s native language. As an adult on a trip to Europe, she was asked about her parents and why they moved to the United States and realized that she did not know the answer. As a result, Grace began writing books about Asian children and families. Her award-winning books are a wonderful addition to any child’s library. Grace believes, “Books erase bias, they make the uncommon every day, and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.”

Grace Lin, author


During Twin Parks Montessori School’s professional development time with international speaker, Dr. Derrick Gay, we reviewed children’s picture books using a rubric to determine the book’s viability for inclusion into our library collection. In groups, we reviewed books in terms of the following:

  • distortions or omissions of history – were various perspectives represented?
  • evidence of stereotypical or loaded words containing negative or inaccurate representations of racial or ethnic group portrayed
  • lifestyle and dialogue accurately and genuinely represent the people in the story
  • the roles of females, elders, and family portrayed accurately for the culture
  • positive child self-image – does not contain embarrassing or offensive messages
  • standards of success are evident, characters are strong and independent
  • illustrations are of genuine individuals with a variety of physical attributes

Take a look at your child’s book selection. Is there a balance of reality-based books? Are there books with mirrors and windows? Is there a balance of both? Here is a selection of book sources for you to use. You will enjoy reading time as much as your child will.

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Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

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I was first introduced to Dr. Andrew Solomon in March 2014 when he was a keynote presenter at the American Montessori Society annual conference. It is not often that a speaker talks for over an hour without a teleprompter or notes. Dr. Solomon and his story telling style of sharing family challenges mesmerized me. He brought tears to our eyes, smiles to our faces, and to our feet for a standing ovation when he finished.

I heard Dr. Solomon speak again on November 1, 2016 as part of a Parent League Speaker series hosted by Trinity School in NYC. His book, Far From the Tree, tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also their profound love and meaning in doing so. He draws on 40,000 pages of interviews and with more than 300 families. Dr. Solomon’s research began with an assignment to write about the Deaf Culture. This started his journey in researching families with extreme challenges: dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple disabilities, children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape and who are transgender. One of his discoveries is that it is diversity that unites us all. Challenges within families are universal as are the struggles towards compassion and the triumphs of love. Solomon began a journey to accepting his own identity, which resulted in becoming a parent himself.

I highly recommend Far From the Tree. And I look forward to Dr. Solomon’s new book, Far and Away, essays about places undergoing seismic shifts – political, cultural and spiritual.

Watch the trailer from Far From the Tree by Dr. Andrew Solomon below:

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From a Family of Educators: One Teachers’ Story

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Here is another addition to my series of teacher interviews. Xixi Deng came to Twin Parks Montessori School during the 2015-16 school year. She completed her early childhood Montessori certification and is now a teacher at our Riverside campus. Xixi’s story is fascinating!

Xixi demonstrating an art project

Xixi demonstrating an art project

Where did your journey begin? 

I was born in the city of Nanning, Guangxi province in southern China but grew up in Hainan Island – the ‘Hawaii’ of China.  I originally moved to the US in 2012 and lived with my aunt who resides in Atlanta. I moved to New York in 2013, where I live today with my husband who is a film producer, activist and Internet entrepreneur.

What influenced you to become a Montessori teacher?

My earliest and fondest memories are of being with young children. When I was 2 years old, my mother and aunt started their own pre-kindergarten schools in China. Back then, some of the children would actually live at the school during the week and I would share a room with them at night; up to 10 of us, including some teachers, crammed into small but cozy rooms. Then in 2001, when I was 13, my mom and aunt were the first to introduce early childhood Montessori teaching methods to Hainan Island. Growing up I was immersed in every aspect of the school and I simply loved teaching and taking care of the children.

Being from a family of educators (my grandparents were elementary school teachers as well), I knew early on that I was destined to follow this path that is the teaching profession. While I ended up graduating from Tianjin University of Commerce with a major in Computer Science and Technology in 2011, my heart drew me back to Montessori studies here in the US, where I completed the AMS early-childhood teacher program at Westside Montessori School in June this year. I am so blessed to be able to work as a Montessori teacher here at the Riverside Montessori School. Young children are so pure of heart and have such an absorbent mind that it is truly a privilege to be able to help them flourish based on their unique talents and interests. Following my calling and passion is why I’ve become a Montessori teacher!

Xixi with a student and the World Puzzle Map

Who were your childhood heroes?

My childhood heroes were my extended family who looked after me – my grandparents and aunts and uncles who taught me about life and the importance of being kind to others. My father passed away suddenly when I was about 1 year old and my mother ended up needing to work in another city to make a living. I saw her infrequently but later on I realized how difficult it must’ve been for her and the heroic sacrifices she had to make given the circumstances.

Who do you consider your role models?

Throughout my adolescence I have always looked up to wise and kind teachers.  And of course Dr. Maria Montessori is no exception! Her lifelong dedication and pioneering work with regards to early childhood development is, and will continue to be, a source of great inspiration.

Do you find working with Early Childhood children rewarding? Why?

Yes! Working with young children is such a joy! They truly bring a smile to my face with their bubbly innocence. After completing my Montessori teacher education program training at Westside Montessori School, I can better apply what I have learned to my daily teaching. Giving children the appropriate guidance and helping them in their daily learning has been so gratifying. At the same time, seeing them literally grow up right before your eyes where they become independent and happy children, is most pleasing and satisfying for me.

What do you hope to share with your students?

I believe during the early childhood development phase, the most important thing we can impart on children is the cultivation of their sense of right or wrong. As an old Chinese saying goes, “one can see how his adulthood could be when he is still 3 years old, and how his old age could be when he is 7 years old.” My understanding is the critical years of early childhood should be focused on cultivating a child’s character, which will affect them for the rest of their lives. I hope that through my guidance I can not only inspire the children in my class to develop a love of learning, but also give them a good moral cultivation environment – one filled with kindness, compassion, honesty, patience and tolerance!

Anything else you would like to share?

I truly hope more and more people will learn about the Montessori Way. Let’s all work together to help spread the word!

Thank you, Xixi, for sharing your enlightening story! You have inspired me as well!

Xixi on a walk to Riverside Park with her class

Xixi on a walk to Riverside Park with her class

Xixi with a student and numerals and counters. "Is this odd or even?"

Xixi with a student and numerals and counters. “Is this odd or even?”

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New Year’s Resolutions

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Do people make New Year’s Resolutions anymore? Weight loss has been on the list of most popular resolutions, along with going back to school, getting a better job, and making a difference for someone or something else. Throughout the year we make appointments, set goals and do our best to correct our imperfections. There is something to be said about starting fresh during a new year.

Sometimes our resolutions are not realistic and most are broken by the end of March. One resolution that may be easier to continue is to spend more time parenting. Regular conversations with your children can go a long way to figuring out what they are thinking or curious about. Looking away from electronic devices and sharing a story on the subway ride is time well spent. A little time goes a long way. Adding 5 minutes to what you do now without trying to teach, correct or criticize will help develop a long lasting relationship with your children.

Creating and keeping resolutions can be a family affair. We can help keep each other accountable to our goals. A list of everyone’s goals can be hung in a prominent place as a reminder. Preschool age children can set realistic goals of cleaning up belongings more regularly, brushing teeth longer, being kind to siblings or work on listening and helping skills.

I was inspired to write this message after watching the video below. Please take a few minutes to see the message that a 4-year-old and her dad created.

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Ten Reasons to Choose Montessori Education

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  1. It has been a successful education model for over 100 years. The first Montessori children’s house was started in 1907 and the philosophy has spread to all continents and translated into many languages. Montessori is an international method of teaching and learning.
  2. Montessori is a philosophy meant for life. By promoting independence at a young age, children have the freedom to choose and develop into lifelong learners.
  3. There is a focus on learner outcomes including executive function skills such as: 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. There are beautiful, thoughtful, educational manipulative materials. Children learn through their senses first, and then with their hands and minds. Materials and lessons progress from the concrete to the abstract.
  5. Students are encouraged to focus on peace within themselves, with each other, in the classrooms, and in the world at large. When conflicts happen, children learn to process them and are able to problem solve by using appropriate verbal skills.
  6. The lessons in Practical Life allow children to do daily chores and learn to take care of themselves and their belongings. This produces long-lasting confidence.
  7. The global awareness and cosmic curriculum exposes children to the universe, community and their place in the world.
  8. Curiosity is encouraged and children learn to ask hard questions. They are encouraged to find their own answers and teachers and students often learn together. Children are joyful in Montessori education classrooms
  9. Children learn individually at their own pace in a non-competitive environment and are celebrated for who they are and what they have achieved.
  10. Parents are the child’s primary teachers. Montessori provides encouragement for the families to build systems based on respect, courtesy, and mutual responsibilities.

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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 4th. 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


 *This post was originally published on December 16, 2015


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A Match Made in Montessori

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In continuation of my series interviewing our teachers, I would like to introduce Elizabeth Powell. Elizabeth is one of our early childhood teachers at our Twin Parks Riverside Campus. Read on to learn more about Elizabeth.

In Elizabeth’s own words:

I was born and raised in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and up until just last week this was my parents’ home, until they moved.  I am the middle child, I have an older brother and younger sister. I spent all of my schooling and extracurricular in that town until I went to college.

For my undergraduate degree, I studied at Misericordia University, formally known as College Misericordia in Dallas, Pennsylvania. I graduated in December 2004 with a Bachelor’s degree in Professional Studies.

In July 2007, I graduated from Christopher Academy Teacher Education Program with my 2 1/2-6 training from the American Montessori Society.

My graduate studies were done at Chaminade University in Honolulu, Hawaii, I graduated in December 2008. I graduated with a Masters of Education specific to Montessori Education. In July 2015, I graduated from Princeton Montessori School’s Leadership Course.

I often feel like I have been in school for my entire life, which is probably why I love being a teacher so much. I remember growing up and always playing teacher with my friends when we had our play dates. Now being a teacher myself, I can see that everything my mom did for us growing up and preparing us for life was always the Montessori way.  She prepared our environment and we thrived.

I met my husband in Jersey City at the Montessori school where we both were teaching in 2011. We just got married in August, 2016, and we live in Jersey City with our pit bull, Blade. In our free time, you will find us volunteering for various organizations such as Liberty Humane Society and Rett Syndrome, Girl Power 2 Cure.

Elizabeth and Brendan

Elizabeth and Brendan

What influenced you to become a Montessori teacher?

My mom was a Montessori teacher and I remember going with her when I was little to take her classes. I also got to go to school sometimes in her classroom after I was done at my school, so I was able to see her teaching and working with her students. I remember my mom bringing home the tying frame so that I could learn how to tie my own shoes.

Who were your childhood heroes?

Definitely my big brother, he was always there to make sure I was safe, except for the time I had to get stitches when we were home alone and did not listen to the rules my parents left for us.

Who do you consider your role models?

My parents, they have just entered retirement and they are happy and healthy. They raised my brother, my sister and I and a lot of our successes can be attributed to what they did for us growing up.

Do you find working with Early Childhood children rewarding? Why?

Absolutely! Everyday is a new learning experience and being able to be a part of a child’s milestones in life is the best feeling in the world.

What do you hope to share with your students?

A love of learning and to always keep trying even if things are difficult.

Elizabeth with one of her students.

Elizabeth with one of her students.

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Emotional Agility

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When we face times of concern, or issues beyond our control, we feel emotionally drained. For the past many months we have all been exposed to a lack of kindness and humility due to the Presidential election cycle and its media coverage. For me it seemed to be a war between the states, with some friends and family members entirely disagreeing with my opinion of how the election should turn out.

For those of us with young children in our homes, or who work with young children, understand that children are listening even when you think they are not. They also read our non-verbal cues really well and they quickly pick up on our feelings. In all times of stress, upset, or anger, we need to be particularly careful with our interactions around our children. Sometimes we may be animatedly talking on the telephone and not realize that little ears are hearing every word!

If the election resulted with your preferred candidate winning, your family is probably gleeful and celebrating. But what do we tell our children after an election when the results are not what we expected and we feel unhappy and/or depressed?

Dr. Ali Michael, wrote a great article for the Huffington Post, titled, “What Do We Tell The Children?” Her first message is that we tell them that we will protect them. Children who feel safe from harm are emotionally ready for other challenges that the world has to offer. Sometimes we need that kind of emotional agility, too.

Just as we teach children to feel it, show it, label it and watch it go, we need reminders ourselves. Dr. Susan David wrote a book, Emotional Agility, which outlines ways for us to “get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life.” Dr. David draws on extensive research and decades of international consulting. Basically, we can all thrive in an uncertain world by becoming emotionally agile.

As I read the book, I can think of several people I want to share it with – including all of you!

Watch this video to see Dr. David talk about Emotional Agility.

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Encouragement vs. Praise

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When I was raising my children the go-to experts at the time said to accentuate the positive and go heavy on the praise. Of course we wanted our children to know that they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up. Too much praise didn’t exist. We thought we were demonstrating our 100% support and this enthusiastic, positive praise would not spoil our children.

I did notice that children quickly learned to expect praise. If clapping or exclamation did not follow their attempts to perform daily activities, they became anxious and sort of obnoxious doing it over and over again until an adult noticed. What message did this give to children about their self worth? Dr. Stephen Hughes shared that some children develop narcissistic tendencies when they were exposed to constant praise.*

After learning about Montessori and the difference between praise and encouragement, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, I had different thoughts about how to be my children’s best advocate. How do we give children credit for a job well done and help support a positive self-esteem if we don’t talk about what they are doing? This is where encouragement comes in.

Encouragement is the action of giving someone support, confidence and hope. Encouragement makes someone more determined, and is the act of making something more appealing. Encouraging statements are specific to the accomplishment to give focus to the exact behavior. You can offer support by noticing the details of children’s efforts and shows that you are paying attention.

For example:

Instead of saying “Awesome!” you can say something specific, such as, “You washed your hands without being told to.” Or “You did it yourself!” or “You listened very carefully.”

Instead of “Your painting is so beautiful, I like it” say “You used a lot of colors in your picture, tell me about it.”

Jane Nelson, of Positive Discipline has these guidelines for those who want to change from praise to encouragement. She suggest keeping these questions in mind.

  • Am I inspiring self-evaluation or dependence on the evaluation of others?
  • Am I being respectful or patronizing?
  • Am I seeing the child’s point of view or only my own?
  • Would I make this comment to a friend?

Giving children external physical rewards like stickers, toys or treats for doing well or meeting expectations only lasts for a few moments. Encouraging children for their efforts and being helpful develops intrinsic motivation. This is a gift that lasts a lifetime. Intrinsically motivated children are able to delay gratification, persist, and helps them to become life long learners.

Research by Carol Dweck, Ph.D. a professor at Columbia University, has now proven what Adler taught years ago. Praise is not good for children. Dweck found that praise can hamper risk taking. Children who were praised for being smart when they accomplished a task chose easier tasks in the future. They didn’t want to risk making mistakes. On the other hand, children who were “encouraged” for their efforts were willing to choose more challenging tasks when given a choice.Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets is fascinating. Please watch her video about the effects of praise.




* Dr. Stephen Hughes, November 2, 2016, presentation at Resurrection Episcopal School, New York, NY.

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Kathy’s Insights