Sunday, September 19, 2010

Guiding the Players

I once heard or read somewhere that your followers are at least one notch more anxious than you are as a leader, so the key to effective leadership is to be as calm as possible. That thought was in my head this morning as I guided my first class of Godly Play.

I chose to be a Godly Play guide this Sunday school season because I am so in love with the Montessori method of learning. I know Sean has benefitted from all of the Sunday school classes so far, but I was really happy when our church started Godly Play last year. I'm teaching the 9 a.m. 3-6 age class.
Last year we had Godly Play and regular classes at the same time. We now have another class of Godly Explorers for the older elementary aged children.  We have Godly Play and Godly Explorers for both services this year.

I arrived pretty well prepared for the story, and had a vision of how I would like the class to unfold. I was a little nervous, but not much. I was excited. I had practiced the story a few times here at home, but without the materials. I was telling the creation story today, so I used a blanket and some photos and pretended those were the real materials while I practiced here at home.

Once I was in the room this morning I looked on the shelf for the basket to make sure the cards were in order for the story, and I couldn't find them. (I arrived early so I could be sure to be prepared.) I looked several times on each shelf--nothing.
I asked the doorkeeper, Mr. Joe, if he saw it and he didn't see it either. We both searched the room, couldn't find it.

Luckily we do have the extra classroom, so there was a second set for our story. (We didn't have as many children in the class this week, so we kept them all in the same room.)

Despite that little snag with the missing basket, I remained calm. After so many years attending parent information sessions at Sean's old Montessori school I've absorbed a little bit of it. I know that most adults talk and demonstrate things much too fast for children. It is best to be very deliberate and slow in speaking and demonstrating materials or anything really. Even how we put on a hat or button a shirt--everything should be shown slowly. Our fear is that if we don't go fast we won't hold their attention. It is really not the case.

I was very slow this morning. I admit I was thrown a little because of the missing materials and because the clock kept ticking as I waited for the children to arrive. They stay in service for about 20 mins. before coming to Sunday school. It really cuts the time, but it's OK.

I don't know if it was beginner's luck, just the perfect number of children in the room to adult ratio, or maybe it was a combination of that and the right dynamics, but it went really smoothly. I had a door keeper and an extra adult in the room to help. We only had about 10 mins. to do work cycle or art, then it was time for the feast.

I've taught Sunday school before and I know I learned so much. I came away from that experience believing I learned more from the kids than they did from me. It is humbling to be a part of their lives, and to guide them on a spiritual journey. I know they have no idea how meaningful it is right now, but I hope someday they will.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Open House

We had a great time at the Open House and Book Fair at Sean's school on Thursday. The book fair was a bit small, and in a small room, so the crowd was packed in. I think they should have had it in a different room, but that's just my opinion.
We spent quite a bit of time in his classroom, and by the time I got to the gym to check out the PTA and Golden, etc. PTA was gone and I ended up just taking an order form for Golden Beads.
(Golden Beads supports local public Montessori education by selling fun Montessori shirts, notecards, and reusable sandwich bags. I hope to get more involved with them.)
It was the first time I've really been in the classroom to look around at what they have there. It's a complete lower elementary classroom with Neinhuis materials. His teacher has the room decorated with some large pieces of art along the back wall, and one batik piece that hangs above the math area.
Sean is content at this school, but his class is heavy with first graders, and not many of them have had Montessori before. His pervious school's lower elementary classroom was at least double the size.
I do have a few concerns, but I know that no school or situation is perfect. These aren't deal breakers for me, just things I think they could improve upon.
My personal opinion is that they should eat lunch in their classrooms. I don't see why they can't get someone to deliver trays for the kids who buy lunch, and I believe it should be part of the curriculum. You should learn how to sit at a table and use a napkin, etc.
In talking with some other parents, I don't think all of the staff are embracing Montessori methods. I realize the older students are still in regular public instruction, but it is concerning when a parent introduces their 3 year old and 5 year old children to a staff person on the playground and is greeted with, "I'm in charge here, and what I say goes."
I do love Sean's teacher, and have good communication with her. I have emailed her on several occasions and she is very open to anything I am willing to share with her. I've already sent her some links to blogs, and some information I've found online.
I took pictures at the Open House, but they didn't turn out good at all. I'll try again when I get a chance.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Public impressions

So let me begin by saying that I love Sean's classroom, his teacher, and the whole idea of making Montessori more available to more children. I've felt for years that it is unfair that only those with money, or one of those chosen few to get a scholarship, are able to benefit from Montessori education. Since I started Sean in a private Montessori school and watched with awe the way those children behaved and learned, I've wanted the same option for all children.

Finally the time must be right for the public system in our neck of the woods to see that the system has to be changed. Luckily there are people out there who believe it, and on a federal level there are grants for alternative education models to try to turn things around for the children in the United States.

Because we live out of district I have to transport him to and from school. This is not a problem for me. I have been doing it since he was 4. It is a bit farther, and there is a little cost involved, but I'm willing to do it if he can get a peaceful Montessori education and I can get a few hours to purely focus on my job.
My job is somewhat flexible a couple of weeks in the month. I set my own hours, sort of, so I offered to help in the classroom yesterday, or make materials, or whatever was needed.

I walked Sean to his room, he shook the teacher's hand and was ready for his day. His teacher, Ms. Diamond, introduced me to an assistant who led me to the staff room to put together journals for students in all three lower elementary Montessori classes.

I'll preface here by saying a new school is being built on the same property, above the current school building. The guy who designed the new school has a Master's Degree in Montessori school construction, and the model that sits in the lobby looks absolutely impressive. But the current school building is very old. I see this as both a good thing and a bad thing. Obviously it was built well because it has withstood some earthquake action and lots of storms, etc. and it's still standing. Bad because it's REALLY old and some parts of it are not handicap accessible.

All of that said, I believe a building can be really old and still be beautiful. Parts of it are nice, but that staff room is pitiful. The blinds in that room are probably as old as the building. I'm not kidding. The cabinets are old, the paint on the walls is old. There are relatively new tables and chairs, and a microwave.
The stapler I was using to bind those journals was probably just as old as the blinds, and wasn't totally functional. I had to ask for a different stapler, so the assistant borrowed one from the office and a sticker on the top if it said, "For Office Use Only."

I don't know what it takes to get a new stapler for the staff room, but looking at the blinds I'd say it takes some kind of miracle, some begging and a lot of time.

I used the newer, prettier, stapler and got all of those journals put together. I think I did roughly 75, but I can't remember the exact number. (I really preferred the way the old stapler stapled, but the spring was gone inside so with each staple I had to open it and adjust the staples. It finally just wouldn't do anything. Probably just needed a rest ;))

I took that fancy new stapler back to the office immediately when I was finished, and thought of having someone sign something saying that I had returned it. (Just kidding, but really I did want to have the main office lady at the front desk to acknowledge that she saw me put it on the front counter.) I did mention to the assistant that I would be willing to purchase one of those and gift it to the school for the staff room. She just looked at me and said it's the district, it's just not good.

Next on the list of tasks: Sandpaper numbers.
Why sandpaper numbers for a lower elementary class you ask? Well, actually they were for all three classes, and I guess there are children in 1st and 2nd grades there who don't know their numbers, or still need a little help with that. Honestly, Sean still transposes sometimes and I've thought of getting them for him. Now I guess he'll have a set in his classroom.

The school has these cool letters and numbers blocks that when used with a roller it cuts through to make a die cut. Not sure if these are new for the Montessori transition or if the school has always had them.
So I cut three of each number. The sandpaper felt really rough to me, and the assistant (who is not Montessori trained, BTW--not dissing her, just pointing out that this school is really in transition) said to glue the numbers onto 3x5 cards. The cards were really thin and I could see that it wouldn't really work.
I asked the teacher about this and she agreed and suggested card stock. It was probably the sturdiest thing they had to work with. Ideally they would have had sets of  them, but at least there were materials to make some.

So off I went with a stack of card stock to another work room where the big cutter sat on a table. It was really nice and seemed pretty new. Probably purchased specifically for the Montessori stuff. I cut the card stock into quarters and used tacky glue to put the sandpaper numbers on it. I pressed them with the unused stack of card stock to try to get them to stop curling.

I'll try to post pictures next time around. I forgot my camera this time.

Ms. Diamond mentioned a couple of times that she wanted to laminate the sandpaper numbers, and then remembered she couldn't. I think the laminator was not working. It would have made the cards much nicer and given the sandpaper a nicer feel, I think. The grade seemed really rough, but with a layer of laminate it would have been good.

I worked for six hours. I was able to eat lunch with Sean, and I'll save that for another post. Believe me, I have a lot to say about the lunchroom.

I was happy to help, and I look forward to the PTA meeting and becoming more involved. I don't know much about the district, but I believe a district is made up of people and one person at a time it can change. The superintendent has had some criticism, but I applaud his dedication to open a second public Montessori school.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The First Days

Sean's first days of public Montessori school have been good ones. He seems happy, and likes his teacher.
I am glad he's enjoying it so far, and I'm going to spend my first day there tomorrow. I offered to volunteer as a classroom helper to help make materials or whatever she might need.
At his private school there were three teachers in the room and each family was required to volunteer 20 hours per year. Parents helped copy, cut, laminate and organize materials for the classrooms.
Last year I was wishing I had just one person to help me with all of that cutting and organizing as a homeschooling mom. It's a huge job.
Sean has made some friends, and I hope to meet more parents and teachers. PTA meets this month, and I'm putting in my order for the logo wear.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Montessori in a new place

Tomorrow Sean will embark on a new journey. He will attend a public Montessori school.
I was torn with this decision, but try as I might to make a schedule work for us, I just felt like I was letting him down.
He stayed home for a year and I did my best to present materials and do what I could to keep him working on Montessori. I don't regret it at all. I think we both learned a TON this year.
But I know that my anxiety level gets higher when my work deadline arrives. I don't think he suffered really, but I kept wishing I could do more and that he had other children to collaborate with on projects. I wanted him to have the Montessori experience, and I worried that he was lonely most of the day.
I was prepared to continue doing what we had been doing into this year, but knew I was feeling a lot of guilt.
When someone mentioned a new public Montessori school in our area I decided to look into it. I spent a few weeks making this decision. We visited the school, talked to the staff, came home and thought some more. I decided we had to give it a try. I'm going to keep a close eye on the situation, and if it looks like he isn't gaining anything from being there, I'll just bring him home again.
I'm really excited about it though. I am thrilled that we are so blessed to live here and that he has the opportunity to be part of it. I am going into this with a positive outlook and expect this year to be an adjustment for everyone. For us, because we're used to a relaxed schedule, and for him especially because he has become so comfortable just staying home.
It will be an adjustment for the staff of the school also. A LOT of the teachers opted out and moved on to other schools, but Sean's teacher is new and is embracing Montessori. We met her last night, and she is happy that he has so much Montessori under his belt. I think he is the only one who has only been educated with Montessori philosophy and materials. The others have had some public school.
The teacher was eager to have me help in the classroom and offered for me to come in as often as I would like. I will do as much as possible, because I think it will help all the way around. It will make me feel connected to what Sean is doing, it will no doubt help her, and it will help Sean. I know the statistics  show the more involved the parents are in the school the better the children adjust.
Right now the school is a public school in transition. They offer the Children's House for 3-6 year olds, and the first and second grade students are together and will have Montessori guides and materials. The school goes through fifth grade, but Montessori is only offered through second grade this year. Next year they will add third grade, and the next year fourth, and so on. They will begin construction on a brand new school next year, and I hope it will be through eighth grade.
If you're interested in public Montessori, and passionate about the idea of making Montessori available to everyone, take a look at this site.
The notecards are so cool, and I plan on buying some of the reuzies and some sweatshirts soon.

Art Camp

Things got really busy this month and I haven't had a chance to post about the Art Camp Sean attended this summer. I also had some technical difficulties with some photos, so here it goes.
Art Camp focused on creating art with natural materials. Sean enjoys art, and I was excited for him to participate.
About mid-week there was a little bit of drama with another child at camp, and I won't go into details, but it was a good learning experience.
It was a great example for me of how we must learn to handle ourselves in all types of situations and with all sorts of people. This particular child was one that Sean has known for a few years now, but has always had some problems dealing with. I know that Sean is not the only one who has had problems with him, but I also know that in order to learn how to handle our anxiety and anger we have to be in real-life situations. At age 7 we aren't going to handle it gracefully, and Sean didn't. Neither did the other child. What came out of that was a long conversation between us (much later when things were calm and he had a chance to come home and decompress and have dinner) about how to recognize anger and how to handle it in a healthy way.
No one was physically harmed, in case you're wondering.
For almost a full year Sean has had selective exposure to other children. I wanted more, but it just wasn't something we could work into the schedule on a daily basis. So he got very comfortable here, and we had some field trips with a friend or two and we met with a homeschool group a few times.
Being comfortable is a good thing, but no amount of reading scenarios in a book will prepare a child for the real-life of dealing with a situation in the moment. I firmly believe these things must be practiced, and the best teacher is life.
Back to art.
He created some fun things that week. He had some great creatures made from pine cones and feathers, and one with what we always called helicopters (seeds from a tree) that looks like a big bee. They painted rocks and he made some drawings. Each child created their favorite animal with an Eric Carle technique and the teacher copied them and made a book for each one to take home. Their works are so great! Sean's is a snake;o)