Thursday, January 20, 2011

Test Anxiety

Wow, I really didn't see this one coming.
Everything I've read about Montessori is non-testing, but there is some kind of district-wide testing this week. I know it isn't unique to the public Montessori, because one of the parents of a first grade student at the the private school Sean attended told me there were timed math tests for the Lower El.
I'm not a fan of testing. I won't go into all of the reasons because I think I'd be preaching to the choir. I also don't like grades, and I've made that more than clear during our site council meetings and in talking with teachers at the school.

So I knew these tests were coming, but it didn't occur to me that they would be a big deal to Sean. Boy, was I wrong. I forgot they were this week, and he was out of school Monday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and also on Tuesday for a teacher work day.

Yesterday he had tumbling at 8 a.m., so the day started an hour earlier than normal. I picked him up from school and he mentioned that he had tests and several times said his teacher said she couldn't repeat, so they had to get it on the first time.

We came home and he played with his friend. Chuck came for dinner before he had to go to a meeting and we all ate dinner together. Sean's friend stayed late and I was working and kept thinking someone would come over to get him soon. I looked up and it was 8 p.m. Wow. So I made the friend go home and quickly shuffled Sean off to bed. We read some poetry together from Shel Silverstein's "Falling Up" and then I tucked him in. He was restless. I sat with him for a while and then said goodnight.

Chuck came back after his meeting and Sean was still restless. He was in and out of bed many times before Chuck arrived, and said he couldn't sleep. "I hate tests!" he yelled. I tried to talk to him about the test and encourage him to just do his best and not worry about it. After several times of putting him back to bed and attempting to calm him, Chuck took over. He is so patient and kind and gentle. He's a Godsend.

Chuck came out of Sean's room and told me he tried to explain that sometimes tests are the way teachers figure out what they are supposed to teach. He wasn't sure it helped. It probably did a little, but Sean was wound up.

I think it was probably 11 or later when he finally fell asleep.

I walked in with Sean to class this morning so I could talk to his teacher and let her know this is a big problem for him. She is great too, and asked him what they could do to make it easier for him to get through the testing. I think just having her validate his feelings about the test, and her willingness to help him find a way to calm down did wonders.

When I picked him up this afternoon she said they put a Star Wars book beside him while he took the test so he could look at something that made him feel happy if he got too anxious or worried during the test. She said he also seemed to realize he was very prepared for the test and it wasn't as big of a deal as he originally thought.

 When I asked about it on the way to the car he said it wasn't bad, and some of it was really easy. He admitted some words he just didn't get so he drew whatever he thought should be there.

He hasn't mentioned it since we've been home, but he usually opens up with his feelings at bath or bedtime.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Godly Play: The Holy Family

When we change colors in the church we tell the story of the Holy Family in Godly Play.
This Sunday was the Sunday to tell this story because we were off from Sunday school the first Sunday after Christmas.

Unfortunately the donkey and cow are MIA, but for the first time I had no children in my class on Sunday. I don't know what the later service Sunday school teachers did for the cow and donkey. I hope we can find them soon. There were  a few things amiss when I came into the room, so I tried to put things back the way they were, but I'm really still learning where things go myself.

There was a major mishap a couple months ago in the late class. The desert box has residual stuff left over from that day. Styrofoam. Our whale that goes with the story of Jonah has something in the belly, and I can't remember what the teacher said got stuffed in there.

I am so thankful that my class has been very calm and the kids have been great. One Sunday I had 12 kids and one of those was special needs. I have a few who show up with various special needs, and I'm glad I always have at least one door keeper to help.

Here is where we are in our church year: The star at the top is Christmas. We're heading for Lent!
I love teaching Godly Play. It is such a treat to journey with them as they explore their faith. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The art of compromise

In the spring construction will begin on the new Montessori school building. The architects brought in some samples of color schemes for the site council to look over and decide upon on Thursday afternoon, and then that information was given to the PTSA later that evening.

At first it looked like we were evenly split on the choices. The two boards were displayed and explained, and I took issue with the use of the color red in the first choice, but the second choice was way too gray and cold to me.

We live in a part of the country that is gray for most of the school year, so I felt that the school needed some warmth and color. I stuck with the first choice, even though I didn't want the red. I've seen research that suggests that red is not a good color for ADD and ADHD kids, and in general I think it is a distracting color in a learning environment. We tried to make it a deeper rust, but the swatches didn't have that as an option.
Then one of the architects who was clearly facilitating asked if we could make suggestions of how to improve the second choice. I couldn't think of anything, I just wanted the first color scheme without the red.

But another parent asked if we could change the gray of the second choice to brown used in the first one, and use the warmer wood tone and outside colors from the first one. Suddenly one of the other architects pulled some pieces off of the first board and made those changes and it made all the difference. We all compromised.

I haven't heard how the PTSA meeting went, but hopefully they were all as pleased with it as we were. It was painless and I think everyone got a little bit of what they wanted. No matter what, that school is going to be BEAUTIFUL. The architect has some special degree in Montessori school design, and he incorporated the trinomial cube into the entry and the lighting. It is going to be soooo cool. There will be lots of wood and wood accents, and even the lockers will be wood. I'm so excited about this new building.

BTW, the school now has a waiting list for K, 1, 2 for next year. The only new students accepted in the Montessori classes will be Children's House and 3rd graders for next year. There will be 6 new lower elementary classrooms next year to accommodate all of the current Kindergarten students who will move up to first grade, and there will be some kids shifting classrooms to make sure the 3-year age groups are balanced. So many people want Montessori education for their children. I can't wait to see how the district responds to this clear preference by parents both in the district and outside.
Oh, and we're still waiting to hear about our math waiver. I'll post about that when we get the word.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Tour of the firehouse

Before we left on vacation my boyfriend invited us to tour the fire station. He is a division chief, and Sean has always loved everything about fire stations. Sean toured one when he was really little and in preschool, but I don't think he remembers a lot about it. We also stopped by a fire station not long ago and took a little walk through in Tacoma, but it was a really old station and we didn't get to see much of the equipment.
So when Chuck invited us we said yes, and I asked if we could bring Sean's friend along.
I don't think Kyle had ever toured a station and he was super excited.
Here's a little story in photos:
Asking questions and listening intently inside the Medic One unit.

Exploring the big truck.
Some of the gear.
This fireman was super nice and helped the kids try on some of the fire gear.
They had a blast and we stayed for well over an hour. They explored every truck and even got to see the jaws of life and some other heavy equipment used for rescue. Then we went inside to the workout room to look around.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A tour of the Miocene age

We spent Christmas in Tennessee with family and we had a blast! While we were there we were busy doing all sorts of activities, and we squeezed in an educational opportunity.
In Gray, Tenn. there is a fossil site. It was discovered by accident when a major highway was under construction and some dirt was moved, and someone found bones.

Here's the guy that started it all. Without this skull the highway construction likely would have moved forward.
A paleontologist was called from East Tennessee State University to come over and take a look. At first they thought the bones were from the ice age, but it turns out they found the bones of an alligator, and date to the Miocene age. That put a halt to all construction and scientists descended on the site to dig for more clues.
They found all sorts of bones and one of them was a camel!

There is a saber toothed tiger, and pot bellied rhino, and they recently found a red panda and badger. You can read more about the site and the museum here:
It isn't a very large museum, but I'm sure it will expand and grow. They are already planning an expansion for more classrooms.
One of our favorite parts of the tour was a dig for bones. We had a tray of various sea creature bones, tweezers and a magnifying glass and a control chart. Jewel found five shark teeth (tiny) and I found one. Sean found some things too, but I can't remember what they were. Something from a Manta Ray.
They are still digging on the site and find new things all the time. So neat.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Including the outsiders

As parents we all have to make decisions for the welfare of our children. In some cases I know it is truly better for some children to be homeschooled, but I just read the book, "Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful," and it validated my decision to send Sean back into a Montessori classroom.

Before reading this book I didn't see the positive side of having eccentric children in the classroom. By eccentric I mean those who fall way outside the lines of "normal" behavior. I was focused on the academics and believed it would be detrimental to the academic flow to have disruption in the room. Those who couldn't assimilate quickly would sort of mess it up for the others is what I thought.

I even spoke with Sean's teacher about one child and how long the school could tolerate the behavior. I suggested maybe this education model wasn't working for that child.
She admitted maybe it wasn't working, and that a move to a traditional classroom could be the solution, but said the children have rallied around that child and have said, "She just needs more time, and she's a lot better than she was when the year started."
That spoke to me, and I loosened a little on my belief that she didn't belong there. If anything, I've learned that children are profound and much better at assessing a situation than adults in a lot of cases.
And she said she had been reading the book, and offered to loan it to me when she was finished. I read it over the Christmas break.

Now I see that a big part of a Montessori education is learning how to function in a society filled with all types of people, and how to communicate with total honesty. I knew that, but for some reason it didn't resonate that the best way to learn how to do that is by being surrounded by all types of people. By bringing them into the fold, speaking out loud about the struggles of each and including everyone in the environment to help each other with those struggles, I can see that the veil of shame is pulled away and children feel empowered and safe to grow at their own pace both emotionally and intellectually.

Donna Bryant Goertz illustrates chapter after chapter how the classroom can become a training ground for every child to realize their potential and gain an understanding of how to fully function in society. By including the "problem" children, all of the children learn to recognize their own struggles and each one plays an important role in helping one another.

In Sean's class there are several children who have extreme struggles. Each has a different struggle for different reasons. One girl is very aggressive and uses language that is rude and abrasive. She strikes before she is struck type of thing.

One boy is struggling with some anger and aggression that is directed both outward and toward himself. He destroys his papers, tries to stab himself with pencils, and hits and kicks other children.
I think both of these children have also stolen things and were sent home for that.

The beauty is that Sean's teacher is so in tune with Montessori principals and so eager to be the best she can possibly be. The book has an example of a Montessori guide who really didn't seem to embrace the ideas. I'm happy Sean has a teacher who strives to be her best.

I can see that it has been good for Sean to be with these children, crazy as that may sound to some parents. In a traditional classroom it wouldn't be good for any of them. The "problem" child would be excluded, ridiculed, called out, sent to special classes, medicated and seen as the outsider. The "normal" children would feel superior and would not effectively deal with and process their own struggles. In Sean's room they are all included, and their struggles are just that, struggles. And every child has struggles.

Here's an example of how I know this is working for Sean:
A week ago his friend across the street who attends the local school came over to play. (BTW, he has quite a few struggles, and they are different from Sean's.) He was talking about some kids at school, and he asked Sean, "Wouldn't you want to get them back if they did that to you?" Sean said, "Oh, I don't know." The boy said, "If they said that kind of stuff to you wouldn't you want to say it back to them? I'd want to get them back good, even worse than they did to me." Sean said, "Well, I don't like to hurt people. I might want to teach them a lesson, but I wouldn't want to hurt them."
And I smiled, knowing that for Sean those words "teach them a lesson" really mean teaching them a lesson in how to get along, not some kind of vindictive action.