Monday, January 22, 2018

Festival celebrations an opportunity for multidimensional learning

Lohri was the twelfth festival celebration that was done at the school this year and we still have three more to follow. We normally get asked why so many festival celebrations and the reasons are plenty: 

Festivals help us understand the passage of time and seasons. For example Lohri marks the end of the winter season, it is the end of the small winter days and the beginning of long warm days. Moreover it is a harvest festival. Celebration of multiple harvest festivals over the year helps children understand that different crops need different conditions to grow. It helps to go beyond cold, warm and moderate weather requirements to explore the Geography, culture and traditions of the place if inquired by children.

Festival celebrations help children learn to embrace diversity, inclusion, peace and cultivate tolerance. It shows them how everyone and everything is connected. 

They are a trigger for curiosity. Lohri celebration can lead to discussions about how people in different places across the country even across the globe celebrate  harvest festivals. It can also lead to discussions about what happens when winter ends how is it important to mankind? Which are the other seasons? How do we know the onset of different seasons? Pushing it to know about the rotation and revolution of earth and so on.... All driven by the children. 

Imagine the joy of discovering knowledge instead of being dumped upon.

The children can relate to the festive mood in their surrounding, feel connected, contribute and even participate.

They understand the importance and respect the rituals and traditions followed at home as well in the society.

Festivals are our treasure house for moral teachings. The stories behind the festivals celebrated have a very strong message and communicating these messages early on in life leaves an impression of moral conduct in the children.

It is a time to introduce various art, crafts, hands on activities, puppet stories and expand their learning.

Above and beyond all the above reasons, at Peace festival celebrations are a time to polish life skills: wait patiently for our friends, give everyone their turn, be considerate and many more.

So we celebrate all festivals with zealousness year after year as repetition of the festivals retains memory, pushes learning and curiosity to the next level every year. It makes a connect to the rhythm of the society and builds memories.

Monday, December 18, 2017

"When trust meets responsibility what develops is independent action"

Our experiment with study in the park, saw its second version on 13th December.

Courtesy: Peace Montessori
After our first experience we were a little unsure as we had to abort the last visit owing to a small accident. But as most educators and psychologist will tell you, responsibility can be built only by giving trust a second chance....

Courtesy: Peace Montessori
We asked the children if they were interested in the outdoor study and all hands went up in unison. This was our cue and we grabbed the opportunity... We revived the memories from the last visit, revisited the episode and asked every child to explain what had gone wrong. Interestingly everyone remembered it vividly.... They even had their thoughts ready on how things can be done differently. What was striking was the responsibility they wanted to take for their behaviour.

The outdoors was a breeze this time - the older children took responsibility for the younger ones, everyone was conscious of their action, the green without the slides and swings was no longer boring, the trees had something interesting to offer.... and it was OBSERVATION. Beetles in the open were beautiful and worth stalking. The holes in the leaves opened up imagination and stories of caterpillars munching on them which initiated a hunt.

The smell was enticing and led us to the Eucalyptus trees. The excitement to smell the leaves and relate to 'Vicks' had everybody crushing the leaves and smelling them. Some of them even carried the leaves home to show to their parents.

Courtesy: Peace Montessori
 The activity of making a painting brush with twigs and leaves had everyone scampering in search of their material. Some collected grass, some had big and small leaves and some came back with roots... but one thing was for sure that all had dirtied their hands with happiness. The experiment of painting with natural brushes was a hit as was mud painting.

To our delight the walk back from the park was easier than the last time as few instructions did the magic.

Who came to the school were a bunch of satisfied and hungry kids....

Our learning for the day was "When trust meets responsibility what develops is independent action".

We are already looking forward to the next time.

Friday, November 17, 2017

At School after Diwali Break

It is almost two weeks after the Diwali break and so much has happened...

Before the break was over we kept mulling about surprising the children and still making it meaningful. This was very important as most of our children are new this year and a break resets even the most settled children. The thought was that we do something that will make the children fall in love with coming back to school.

Courtesy: Peace Montessori
Courtesy: Peace Montessori
We agreed to beautify the walk up to  school in a manner that will connect with both children and parents. To our delight the smiles that greeted us were way more stretched than we expected. The conversations rolled with laughter at the entrance itself. Any apprehensions that may have existed vanished and were replaced with clear eagerness. What met us inside the classroom was what we had truly desired. The children had been missing the school and their friends. On the first day the circle time, that was meant to be 10 minutes stretched to 45 minutes, with many hugs and stories galore, every child out doing the other. 

Courtesy: Peace Montessori
Courtesy: Peace Montessori
We began the session with introduction to fall season. The pleasant weather and the colours of the season fill both the adults and children with vibrancy alike. Both the seasons' exercise and the colourful spirals brought out excitement in children and kick started our measurements module with many and few.

Courtesy: Peace Montessori
Keeping the connect going with home, the show and tell on "My favourite memory of the Diwali break" brought out such a variety in children - paintings, Diwali activities, small collectibles, time spent with the parents are the few things they talked about.

Courtesy: Parent

We had just blinked our eyes and the week passed. The next week was followed by a day of outdoor learning. This was a dream come true… We have been trying to accomplish this for the last two years. A visit to a green patch of our busy suburb with no external motivation of slides, swings and more took children by a surprise. After an initial hitch in understanding the purpose of the visit they were at home and very excited with the dry barks of the trees, the fallen twigs, leaves, pebbles and ready to explore sounds and silence in the open – the learning had begun.
Courtesy: Peace Montessori

Courtesy: Peace Montessori
The outdoor learning had created enough excitement to experiment being gardners at school.

The class has been buzzing with activity with materials and otherwise - with drawings, with conversations, with observations - all culminating in a rhythmic experience on  Children’s day with Djembe and seasonal carol jingles ….
Courtesy: Peace Montessori
Courtesy: Peace Montessori
Courtesy: Peace Montessori

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"When the child goes out, it is the world itself that offers itself to him." - Maria Montessori

"Only through freedom and environmental experience it is practically possible for human development to occur." - Maria Montessori in The Absorbent Mind

Dr. Maria Montessori considered the outdoor environment an extension of the indoor classroom. 

Every Wednesday we have been trying to take the children out for a walk in the park. Sometimes we have had to skip owing to the rains but other times, when we have gone out, our focus has been to spot the creepy creatures... with rains working as the vantage point.

The months of July, August and September at school have been focused on self and life cycles of various insects and trees. Spotting these creepy crawlies becomes good food for our conversations in the classroom. The life cycle cards used in the classroom come alive with a lot of questions after experiences with new leaves, caterpillars and earthworms.
Courtesy Peace Montessori

The ability to spot something interesting in the natural surroundings fills the children with excitement. On one day the children got a caterpillar in the classroom on a leaf. The caterpillar was the new pet that everyone wanted to take home. When a parent explained to the children the natural surroundings are the home of the caterpillar we all trooped back to the park and laid the caterpillar in the same place we had picked it up from.

The other day all the children wanted to carry yellow leaves and half eaten almond seeds to their houses as they wanted to share with their parents how squirrels like eating almonds,carry the seeds with them and make the trees grow in different places.

On yet another day when waiting for a parent the children were hunting for centipedes..... and were awed by how a centipede was able to crawl into a spiral....the number of legs it had.... how fast it moved...

Tuesday 29th August, when Mumbai was pouring, we had to close the school for safety concerns on the following Wednesday and Thursday. We had lost our regular day in the park...

What we received from a parent surprised us: pictures from the outdoor. She and the child had explored the outdoors after the rains and was blessed to find quiet a few friends, the crawlies, who had come out to enjoy the beautiful weather after continuous rain.

This was followed by another parent sending a picture of a chameleon laying eggs in the wild.....

We had no words... Montessori is a holistic education, which sometimes begins at home and does a full circle at the school and on other occasions begins at the school and does a full circle at home.

The Montessori Method stresses connect with nature because of its effects on the growth of the whole child. By increasing a child’s interactions with the natural world, Montessori guides and Montessori parents are promoting development of an environmentally responsible child and an adult, as well.

The pictures were a silver lining in an otherwise cloudy week....
Courtesy Parent
Courtesy Parent
Courtesy Parent

Courtesy Parent

Courtesy Parent
Courtesy Parent

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Settling Blues

In my meetings with the principals of many pre-schools, I have heard them voice one major concern, the initial days of the school - the settling blues.

Courtesy Peace Montessori
"I dread the first few weeks, the children just don't stop crying. I wish I can do something about it."

"You know it is not the children at all. It is the parents, they don't want to let go off their children. If they don't trust us how will the children."

"In so many years I haven't figured how to solve this issue, I just let it be... it solves itself in few weeks."

Last year even Peace Montessori had a few incidences of anxious settling days. Crying is not only traumatizing for the child, the parent but everyone involved: the teachers and the helping staff as well. Since we are a Montessori we have admissions year long and these incidences of settling blues though teach empathy and compassion to our existing children, they emotionally drain the staff and the parent involved.

This year we decided to do things a little differently. The journey began with first putting into perspective and respecting the fact that it is not easy for anybody to adjust in a new surrounding then how can it be easy for 2 to 3 year old, who in most probability have their first encounter of the unknown surrounding at a preschool... how can it be easy for a parent who in spite of knowing the fact that it is important for the child to go to school is leaving the child in care of complete strangers.

Our source of research was of course the google, conversations with parents and reflection in our own pasts when our children were small...

We knew, the first thing that we had to do was to build an open communication channel of trust with the parents where the parents and the staff were at ease with each other in a non judgmental way with only one goal: the benefit of the child. So we ensured we answered all their concerns tirelessly. We invited the new parents to come to school with the child and spend a few days prior to starting of the school. This we think helped the most, as it put the parents at ease since they had an opportunity to explore the philosophy of the school hands on. Also the child formed a relationship with the staff and the caretaker at the school, which diminished the factor of unknown. Moreover seeing the parent at ease with the school and staff helped the child build trust in the new surrounding.

Come the first day of the school we still didn't know what to expect. To our surprise the children and parents who had accepted our invite were much at ease than those who had not. Though the first day of the school is always filled with anxiety it was much easier as for the child it was now about just making new friends and learning the ropes of play and work....

Courtesy Peace Montessori
In our zealousness we tried to implement our strategy after the school had begun with not the same results as the presence of a parent in the classroom does impact the other children and the operations of the classroom as well. But allowing for the same during after school hours has sealed the verdict - "It truly works..."

Some other things that the experts say and we have seen them work are:

  • Model the process of going to school with the child multiple times prior  going to school
  • Talk to the child about your school days. Show them your pictures, tell them about your friends, what you liked at the school...
  • Make your goodbyes short
  • Be consistent, don't give into to any desires of the child of missing the school unless it is an emergency.
  • Do your best in your understanding and don't expect great things. Keeping yourself in check keeps it easy on both you and the child.

In spite of your best efforts of the parent and the school remember each child is different, while some may settle in and participate right away, some children may just take their own time.


Monday, June 19, 2017

New Academic Year - A new birth of the child

As I awaited the re-opening of the school I started preparing myself mentally to receive children. I had my own pre-conceived notions... my experience with the children in the past and especially with the older children told me that children forget what they have learnt, which has always bothered me and coaxed me to think that there is something about how we teach that does not engage the senses of the children as anything learnt with senses cannot be easily forgettable.

With a Montessori my expectations were a little different but I was still wary of the two month break that would have replaced the love for the school environment with a void that will have to be re-filled. My thoughts were working and reworking scenarios to engage the children continuing from the previous year and manage the new children who would be filled with
anxiety in the new environment. Though we had ensured the new children had visited the school few times in the holidays to feel comfortable we knew beginning school for the first timers is always hard.
Courtesy Peace Montessori

Come the first day of the school we all arrived early. The entire team went over all the possible scenarios for a smooth day. 

When the children arrived all our worries vanished... The smiles on the continuing children told us that they had missed us equally as we had missed them. The new children though a little cautious were at ease.

What surprised us the most was their comfort with which they took to the environment. 

For a long time my mind has seeked clarification for a quote of Maria Montessori: 

"We await the successsive births in the soul of the child. We give all possible material, that nothing may lack to the groping soul, and then we watch for the perfect faculty to come, safeguarding the child from interruption so that it may carry its efforts through."

Courtesy Peace Montessori
Courtesy Peace Montessori
The first day of the new academic year and the answer to my puzzle was being enacted live in front of me. The children that I had thought would need to be re-calibrated were in the classroom as if from yesterday and were graduated to the next level. To my surprise the youngest of them all who had spent the year before observing the older children working was exploring new material, working with them relentlessly and solving without any presentations required. What amazed us all was the longing in the children to be in the classroom and working with the material.

We were simply happy as we knew we were ready to satisfy their curiosity and open up new avenues of thought.

Courtesy Peace Montessori
As we came to the end of the first week what was clear to me was my team's role....

We are not only eager but look forward to an amazing year ahead.

Courtesy Peace Montessori


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Happy New Beginnings

At the end of the 2016-17 academic year we were forced to move from our location of 8 years due to some unforeseen reasons. As always any change is difficult to accept… initially it broke our heart… but in a few days we reconciled positively and made it our mission to convert this situation in to an opportunity and fulfill our dream of building a Montessori home: a warm space that will provide for each child an individualized, creative, nurturing, diverse, joyful and challenging environment to develop a lifelong love of learning.

Montessori is based on the belief that children intuitively gravitate towards materials and activities that will help them learn at their own pace; children have an innate desire to learn and children find an immense amount of joy in “work”. The idea was to build a child friendly place which would engage children from the word “GO”.

The warmth of the place with natural light illuminating it, ventilation from three sides with windows opening up to interesting expanses of greens, blues and lot of curiosity; open work areas for children with green play spaces hop, skip and run away is truly a dream come true.

We are very excited with a place complementing the belief system of our team of passionate educationist and professionals that comfortable spaces enriched for exploration help build skills and a strong value system in the children. 

We are exhilarated with the new beginnings in this academic year of 2017-18 and believe our vision to cherish each child as an individual, who in the company of mindful and thoughtful mentors can polish oneself to radiate outwards and create positive influences, will bloom fully...