FEBRUARY NOTES - 2018
The first important event of February is our celebration of Groundhog Day. As noted last month, at the end of January we talked about life underground and animal hibernation in preparation for the annual appearance of the groundhog. Groundhog Day highlights a legend which helps us all begin to focus on the coming of spring. On circle we present a dramatic rendering of the legend of the groundhog (complete with a large stuffed animal, flashlight, and ground cover) emerging from his winter sleep. He will either see his shadow or he will not. Great hilarity and excitement ensue no matter what happens. This year the local groundhog (Staten Island Chuck) did not see his shadow. The children were happy to see him stay above ground and begin to hunt for food instead running back down into his burrow, frightened by the sight of his own shadow. Therefore, thankfully, spring will come early, or so we hope.
Practical Life this month includes the very popular color mixing, first using a whisk and water, and then an eyedropper. Other fun activities include shoe polishing and celery cutting. Dishwashing will also be brought in. Two children set up basins of water, soap, and brushes to wash and dry real dishes and silverware. Not only do they enjoy the task, but it is an important exercise in cooperative learning. Sensorial activities include the more difficult shape exercises such as the multi-pieced hexagon and rectangle boxes. The third and fourth color boxes will be introduced which are challenging color shading activities. This month in Language we will bring in the picture/label exercise. We have taken pictures of each student and made them into 2 x 3 laminated cards. We have also made mini labels of their first name, just like the larger names on the banner. The object is to match the picture with the name. This is an exercise that usually involves the teacher (especially at first) and several children. They really love it, and while it takes a fair amount of time to complete the 20 or so pictures and labels, the children have great fun identifying themselves and their friends as well as the labels that match the photo.
February’s theme is Birds…perhaps another indication of all of us thinking ahead to spring. The children are still enjoying work with the dinosaurs, but in an effort to keep things new and interesting, we bring in our baskets of Audubon Society birds which are true to life in color, shape, and even the special calls that each bird makes. We discuss birds that migrate and those that stay. We learn about the robin, cardinal, blue jay, chickadee, sparrow, woodpecker, etc. We talk about their nesting, feeding, and flying habits, e.g the tiny hummingbird can fly backwards and the acrobatic chickadee who can hang upside down. In one game we play the children close their eyes and identify the bird by the sound that we make by squeezing the stuffed bird. It is amazing to us how quickly they learn the different bird calls, and also how they can identify the unique characteristics of the birds presented in our circle discussions. On the shelves there will be non-fiction colorful bird books, fictional bird storybooks, as well as bird puzzles, and matching and counting exercises.
In February, our favorite Parkside bird, the Robin, will begin his journey northward back to New Jersey after last fall’s migration to the warmer south for the winter. These lessons continue for about 6 weeks. With our large map and specific objects, we will track the robin’s journey from the warm south with its palm trees, flowers and green grass, through Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and finally New Jersey. The children will be making books at the art table to chronicle the long journey which should end with the onset of spring in March when our robin finally appears.
Also in February, we will be telling simple stories and reading books about our Presidents, particularly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. There will be matching exercises, puzzles and art projects related to this, and, as we talk about our Robin flying over Washington, DC, the children will be able to use miniature statues of the monuments in Washington that honor some of our presidents.
As we get ready to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the middle of the month, it seems like a good time to continue to focus on being kind, caring, and helpful to each other and to family members…the message of our ongoing Peace curriculum. Soon you will see labeled white bags outside each classroom which will hold Valentines for each student. Should you and your child decide to send in Valentines, please bring about two dozen in a zip-lock bag with your child’s name on it. Do not address the envelopes, but have your child sign or you sign the card inside. The teachers will distribute these to the bags of his or her classmates.
“Snack for Two” has been brought into both classrooms and, as usual, it is extremely popular. Throughout the year the children have been learning to take care of themselves and their environment, but it is equally important that they interact positively with classmates. Snack for Two greatly facilitates this. Each child has the opportunity to join a friend at a special little area we have set up in the room. The “host” (the one who invites) will set the table and serve the snack which is mini pretzels and water. When they have finished, both help clear and clean the table. We love to listen to the interesting and sometimes very adult conversations that take place at the table, and the children feel it is special and important for them to have the chance to choose when and with whom they are going to have snack. These little social interactions foster conversation and help in the practice of courtesy and turn-taking. What can sometimes happen, and this is a good thing, is that an invited friend may not be available to have snack with the host because he or she has already joined another earlier in the session. So the host will then turn to another child with whom he or she is not as close and invite that other child to join in the snack. This can encourage new friendships.
While February is a short month, it is a busy one for sure. We are enjoying watching our students work. play, and learn at school, and we continue to be surprised and gratified by all they have accomplished as we reach the mid-point of our school year.
“No bird soars too high
if he soars with his own wings.”
JANUARY NOTES - 2018
With the holidays behind us and winter truly here, we look forward to a productive and fun January after what we hope was a restful break for all. While January can be a somewhat dreary and quiet time, we are working hard to bring in lots of new activities for all to enjoy. We have been back for only a few days, but the children seem happy to return to the routine of school and are showing enthusiasm for the new exercises which have been placed on the shelves in each classroom area since they left us on December 19th.
As some of you may remember, January’s theme is Dinosaurs. The children really do love to learn about these ancient and interesting creatures, and, as each year passes, they seem to know more and more about them, perhaps because of television shows and the many dinosaur exhibits and museums in our area. As with most of our areas of study, we discuss detailed characteristics of each kind of dinosaur...not only whether they are carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores, but also the size, shape, physical markings, and colors of each. We have an entire set of the museum quality dinosaurs which will be available in baskets in each classroom, as well as many books, puzzles and art projects. These projects include dinosaur sponging, pinching and pulling, and dot art as well as crayon rubbing different dinosaur bodies and footprints. We will also be digging up dinosaur bones (fossils) in Practical Life, and we will discuss the meaning of fossils and how they are discovered through books and pictures.
January is a five week month and so there is plenty of time to add some challenging and enriching activities to each Montessori area. In Practical Life we will be bringing in one of the all time favorites...shaving cream. The children wet a table with a sponge and add a large dab of shaving cream. They then enjoy making shapes, letters, numbers, pictures, etc. with their fingers/hands. We will also add weaving, basting, mirror polishing and eye dropper work. Another favorite is whisking soapy water. Sensorial will feature more work with shapes including making designs by repeating shapes, and the introduction of both the triangle and large hexagon boxes. In January we bring in our skyline blocks which the children can use creatively to build their own city skyline. Many of them are familiar with the NYC skyline which is so much more visible in winter. There will be an art project and a discussion of city life vs country life in connection with this exercise. In Math we will be working on dino and snowman/snowflake counting.
In the second week of the month we will be talking about the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King. His message of peace, respect for all, and non- violence relates well to our ongoing peace curriculum. Also in January, during the last week of the month, we will be discussing animal hibernation and life underground, including talking about of what lies beneath the ground during the winter months, including of course our bulbs as well as animals and insects. This is in preparation for Groundhog Day on February 2. The children will be eagerly anticipating whether or not “Parkside Pete”, our own stuffed groundhog, will see his shadow, thereby forecasting an extended winter or an early spring.
We look forward to this new year of 2018 as we strive to provide a positive social environment and stimulating educational environment for your children. It all begins and ends with them. They bring their own unique personalities and individual learning styles to our classrooms, and we want to make sure that they have many opportunities for growth in their time with us. We truly learn more from them than they from us.
“A Montessori class values and encourages movement with many age-appropriate activities and the freedom to move for most of the day. It provides the security of order, structure, and dependability in both its physical and psychological environments. The love and belonging of social connection is facilitated by the warmth and respect of teachers, vertical grouping, communal ownership and responsibility, and positive approaches to problem solving.”
Turner, J.M. (1992). “Montessori Writings Vs. Montessori Practices” ,
Montessoriin Contemporary American Culture (p.44). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann
DECEMBER NOTES - 2017
During December, a short but busy month, we spend time preparing for the holidays. In Practical Life, we will continue clementine peeling, and we will also continue to make our beaded bracelets in holiday colors as well as candy canes made of pipe cleaners, great exercises to strengthen fine motor control. In our cutting area we will be introducing beaded garland cutting. We have spent lots of time cutting and fringing paper with the classroom scissors, and the garland cutting takes that skill to the next level. We will use the cut beads at the art table in our creative art bin. Sometimes when there isn’t a formal art project which addresses either a specific skill or a special classroom theme, we put on the art table our large sectioned plastic bin with lots of different materials such as feathers, pieces of fabric, sequins, plastic gemstones in assorted shapes, foam pieces, etc. for the children to choose and use to make a collage. The gluing of beads is particularly popular, and helps to enhance small motor control. Also at the art table this month, we will be making menorahs, trees, wreaths, candy canes, ornaments etc. As always the classroom songs, books and puzzles reflect holiday themes.
Last month we introduced both the Peace Flower and the Peace Stick into our classrooms, and placed them in the Peace Corner. We read a short story explaining how we use the Peace Flower. The book gives three different examples of children having a disagreement. In each case one child holds the flower and explains with teacher help why or she is upset with a classmate. Then the other child takes the flower and responds by explaining his or her own side of the story. At the end, both children finish the encounter by saying “Friend”.
In the older classroom we have brought in the Peace Stick. The story (or legend) we describe is how a long time ago many of the Native American tribes were fighting with each other. A very old and very wise chief of one of the tribes called a meeting, and they all gathered under an old oak tree. As the chief was suggesting ways to settle their differences other than fighting, a limb feel from the tree. All there took this as a sign that they should listen to the chief. They agreed from that time on to settle their arguments by holding a stick and talking and listening to one another. When we finish the story we take the large stick which was used in telling the story, and each child ties a piece of colored ribbon around it as their commitment to try to settle their arguments through talking and listening. Learning conflict resolution whether by the use of the peace flower or peace stick is often difficult for young children and takes time. There is dramatic play to illustrate examples. Most children are comfortable explaining why they are upset, but it is more challenging for them to listen as their friend explains his or her problem. So far we are having some success with both methods. Learning that there are ways to settle arguments without being physical is an invaluable lesson for all.
Just as important is the positive approach to peace (kindness and respect) which we explained in October’s notes. When a child shows even the smallest act of kindness, they are strongly encouraged to put a stone in our Peace Bowl…. also in the Peace Corner. Maria Montessori was always seeking ways to promote peace in the world, and she too lived in turbulent times. Her lessons about peace in the world are as important today as they were then.
Your children here at Parkside provide a wonderful distraction from some of the serious problems in our complicated world. We hope that you will find some quiet time this season to spend with them as we will with our own families. As parents you certainly know well what a source of joy they are for all of us.
“If we are to have peace in this world,
then we shall have to begin with the children.
We wish you all a joyous and peaceful holiday season, and a Happy New Year!
NOVEMBER NOTES 2017
We, teachers and students alike, are busy busy busy as we move into our third month of school. Materials are changing in the classroom, and the children are always excited to see which new activities will be placed on the shelves each week.
Learning about Thanksgiving takes up a good deal of our time this month. On circle we tell the story of that very first harvest celebration in Massachusetts back in 1621. The Pilgrims journeyed for months over rough seas, dealing with illness, hunger and homesickness. When they finally arrived on Plymouth Rock they realized that they had not come to an uninhabited land, but to a land most definitely inhabited by people who would help them survive. The Native Americans showed them what to plant and where to hunt and fish. At the beginning of their second winter, the harvest was abundant, and all came together to celebrate the bountiful harvest. This celebration became the first Thanksgiving. We have a Thanksgiving “set-up”, a realistic toy which includes the Mayflower and figures of Pilgrims, Indians, as well as tables, trees, cabins, etc. At the art table we will be making placemats, Pilgrim hats and Native American headdresses as well as horns of plenty. This is in preparation for our Parkside Thanksgiving feasts which will take place on Monday and Tuesday, November 21 and 22. In an effort to make it somewhat authentic we will be asking for donations for our feasts of harvest foods, like corn, apples, sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkin muffins or bread, turkey, grapes, cranberries, mashed potatoes, etc. There will be a sign up sheet in the hall a week or so before our celebrations. The Thanksgiving unit contains lessons in history and geography, as well as learning about the importance of pulling together for the good of all, a message still so relevant today and also not unlike the lessons in our Peace curriculum. We will also talk about the importance of gratitude, and when we ask the children to share the things that they are thankful for, we are sure to receive interesting ideas ranging from “my baby brother or sister” to “Spiderman” to “my light-up sneakers”.
This month in Practical Life as we prepare for the holidays we will be doing table setting, napkin folding, flower arranging, clementine peeling, bracelet making in fall colors. We will also bring in ladling, funneling, and some more difficult tweezing exercises. In Sensorial our Geometric Cabinet has been brought out. It is a large piece of equipment with many drawers, each one housing six of a certain kind of shape. There are also cards to match in solid, thick and thin lines. This cabinet holds many opportunities for extension of the initial recognition of and discrimination between basic shapes. Language contains lots of new matching exercises including Native American symbols and very detailed horns of plenty. We will be reading books about the Thanksgiving and its meaning. We will be counting feathers and pumpkins in Math.
We continue our discussions this month about trees, focusing on the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees. Last month we talked about the many deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves in fall) like maple, oak, sassafras, tulip, gingko, etc. Now we will be looking at the different types of evergreen trees such as the pine, holly, rhododendron, ilex, hemlock, etc. Many of these are right outside our doors here at school, and we will be pointing them out on our trips to the playground.
Now that we have planted our bulbs in there “cozy winter beds” and learned about all the different leaves/trees around us, we are struck by how much the children enjoy learning about the changes in nature that are taking place around them. Many have excitedly brought in leaves from their yards or the parks they frequent. It is both fun and gratifying for us, especially during the upcoming Thanksgiving season.
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life
It turns what we have into enough, and more. It
turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order,
confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast,
a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. “
OCTOBER NOTES - 2017
While we have just completed our first full month of school, our children have settled in well and are enjoying each other and the many activities and Montessori materials on our shelves. There are still a few hesitating at the door, and even a few tears, but overall it has been a peaceful start. We have been fortunate with the above average temperatures, and we have heard many stories of summer trips to the beach and aquariums. We aren’t quite ready to put away all of our sea creatures, as the children seem to be really enjoying learning about the busy, hungry sea gull, the shy octopus, the slow-moving manatee, the playful, friendly dolphin, and many others. As the temperatures turn cooler, though, we will be turning our attention to all things fall…apples, pumpkins, trees and leaves, and the changes that come with a new season.
In Practical Life this month baby and table washing will continue along with sponging. All of the children, including all our returning students, love these exercises. Pumpkin scrubbing and apple cutting will be introduced. In Sensorial we will have apple tasting. We have been bringing in several different kinds of apples to be identified and tasted. In Language, we will be looking at and sorting the different kinds of trees and the leaves that they produce such as oak, maple, sassafras, gingko, tulip, etc. On our walks to the playground the children are observing all the different kinds of trees and bushes and hearing their names. In math we will count tiny apples, pumpkins and leaves. Our art activities include leaf rubbing and painting, glitter and tissue pumpkins and apples, and several Halloween projects. And of course we will have lots of Fall and Halloween books and puzzles. Please note: The children do not wear their Halloween costumes to school on Halloween. This would make what is already a very exciting day a little too long for children who are so young. We do celebrate with games, songs and treats.
Another special project in October is our bulb planting which will take place later in the month. We will be planting crocuses, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths near the playground and our entrance. The children are fascinated by the fact that the bulbs are planted now, in fall when the ground is still soft, but will bloom months from now. We show them and they will see for themselves that the bulbs stay in their “cozy beds” all through the fall and the winter, and will emerge as beautiful colored flowers next spring. It’s a nice lesson in the natural changes each of the four seasons brings in temperature, on the ground, in trees, and in the sky. We plant the bulbs fairly deeply, using a special tool, and then cover them with pine straw in order to deter the always hungry squirrels looking for food in the winter.
Here at Parkside an important year-long theme is “Peace”. We tell the children that peace simply means caring about one another and showing kindness in the smallest of ways (helping a friend roll up a mat or put away work, giving up a seat next to the teacher to a friend who really seems to need to be there, helping a teacher clean up after snack or lunch, taking a friends hand who needs a partner, comforting a friend who is upset.) We do some play acting on circle to demonstrate different examples of being “peaceful” , and eventually we will show examples of how to be peaceful at home as well as school. We have set up our Peace Bowl in our Peace Corner in each classroom where the children may go and place a colored stone in the bowl following an act of kindness. In the beginning it is often the teacher who points out to the child that he or she has been a peaceful friend, even if they don’t realize it. We want to help them understand that being peaceful fosters a calmer, happier environment for all. Sometimes, at session’s end, we bring the Peace Bowl over to show the children how many stones (acts of kindness) are in the bowl. Eventually, the Peace Corner is used for conflict resolution. We will talk more about that next month.
“Peace is not something you wish for.
It is something you make, something you do,
something you are. And something you give away.”