Author Archives: Smart Start Montessori

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On Friday, 26 February 2016, we had a Parent & Child Open House, which provided the parents the opportunity to see how, and what, their children learn in their Casa Montessori classrooms. The children were very excited, not just to show their parents the activities they learned, know and enjoyed doing, but also to “host” their parents.

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As one child told her father when he arrived to pick her up on the eve of the open house, “Daddy, I will first show you some easy activities and then show you the difficult ones”!  Yes, this young child had been thinking, planning, and preparing for this event, as had all the Casa children at Smart Start Montessori School.

Here are the observations of the class teachers (or as we refer to them in Montessori, the class directress).

  • “It was fascinating and heartwarming to see the children showing their parents the different Montessori activities. Their eyes lit up upon seeing their moms and dads enter the classroom.  We were witnessing a magical moment, watching them do, and show, activity after activity without needing the teachers”.

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  • “The children were preparing themselves all week, anxiously awaiting the “big day”.  I let the children become the guides to their parents.  It was fascinating seeing how independent the children were, and I just loved seeing the expressions on the faces of the parents as they watched their children confidently demonstrate their activities”.

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  • “It was interesting to see the children confidently presenting their knowledge and mastery of the various Montessori activities.  The parents had a great opportunity to understand the workings of the Montessori classroom, and see the activities the children engage in, learning to take care of themselves and the environment.  They witnessed how the children start reading, writing, and counting, and practice to master these activities.  This takes them on to reading books, engage in creative writing, counting up to 1000, and performing simple maths (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division)”.

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  • “What are you doing? asks the mother of her child, as she observes her child working with colourful wooden blocks.  Her son was working with the Trinomial Cube, which develops the child’s sense of shape, concentration, order, coordination and independence, enjoying the beauty of form in three dimensions.  This activity prepares the child for learning algebra”.

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The Open House was a great success, and we are indeed glad that many parents were able to make the time to attend and see for themselves the progress their children have made.  Most certainly, the children were excited and eager to show what they had learned to the curious parents.

 

Celebrating Valentine’s Day 2016 @ SSMS

Valentine craft made by the students.

Valentine craft made by the students.

“Whenever we touch the child, we touch love.  It is a difficult love to define; we all feel it, but no one can describe its roots or evaluate the immense consequences which flow from it, or gather up its potency for union between men.  Despite our differences of race or religion, and of social position, we have felt, during our discussions of the child a fraternal union growing up between us… Love, like that which we feel for the child, must exist potentially between man and man because human unity does exist, and there is no unity without love”.  – Maria Montessori.

Valentine cards made by the students.

Valentine cards made by the students.

Valentine’s Day isn’t all about romantic love.  It is about friendship.  It is about the love we share with those around us.  It is about teaching children to care about those around them.  This is how we celebrated Valentine’s Day 2016 at Smart Start Montessori School – with Montessori friendship and love.

Gifts for exchange - made by the students.

Gifts for exchange – made by the students.

Chocolate coated strawberries - for the Valentine's Day celebrations.

Chocolate coated strawberries – for the Valentine’s Day celebrations.

 

Parents often have questions about transferring their children from a Montessori environment to Kindergarten, and rightly so.  We understand how tempting it is for parents to switch to Kindergarten, to avoid paying tuition fees.  However, having invested in Montessori thus far, the long-term benefits of completing the Montessori 3-year cycle cannot be stressed enough.  So, let us take you through some frequently asked questions.  If you have any other pressing questions that you would like addressed, please let us know, and we’ll do our best to enhance your understanding.

Why spend precious family resources on one more year of Montessori, when we can enroll our child in the local school for free?

This is a question many Montessori parents of four-year-olds ask themselves, understandably.  Each family’s circumstances are different, and it all comes down to a question of priorities, not necessarily finances.  We can cite examples of how families of modest means go to extraordinary lengths to keep their children in Montessori.

What is the most important short-term disadvantage of sending my five-year-old to the local school?

When a Montessori child transfers into such a program, there is a period of adjustment.  Most kindergartens have very different expectations of five-year-olds than Montessori programs.  The kindergarten year in Montessori is a critical component of the three-year cycle. It is a year when their earlier experiences are internalized and reinforced.  When children leave Montessori before the kindergarten year, many of their learning experiences may be lost because they are not reinforced  or completely understood.

Since my child will eventually end up in a neighbourhood school, isn’t it better to make that transition when the child is five years old?

By the end of the kindergarten year, Montessori students will often have developed academic skills that may be beyond those of children enrolled in public schools.  However, parents should remember that academic progress is not our ultimate goal – our real hope is that children have an incredible sense of self-confidence, enthusiasm for learning, and feelings of close bonding with their teachers and classmates.  Once these children have developed these internal skills, they adapt well to all sorts of new situations.  They will also fit into their new school with confidence and ease.  The kindergarten year at Montessori is an important element in this learning process.

What is the most important advantage of keeping my five-year-old in Montessori?

Montessori at every level excels at teaching children to learn how to learn.  It is a system focused on teaching for understanding, using concrete materials to prepare children for future abstract academic skills.  These sensorial impressions become the foundation of a lifetime of understanding.  This important year for the five and six-year-old at Montessori has come to be known as the “time to blossom“.

Please do feel free to talk to us if you need more information, or would like to see longer articles on this topic.

That’s it from me for today.  Until next time, then, be well, keep healthy, and keep smiling!

Montessori – the First-Hand Experience of a Father.

We came across a presentation by Mario Valle of the Swiss National Supercomputing Centre.  Entitled “Montessori, Why Not?”, it is the first-hand experience of a father, who happens to be a scientist, and provides the perspectives of both a father and a scientist.  Here is a summary.

  • He chose a kindergarten school, two minutes walking distance from home, but his son soon started crying, and didn’t want to go to school after a short stint at the school. “Destroyed my son’s self-esteem”, and “not respecting his needs as a child” are the words he uses to describe the traditional kindergarten school.
  • He decided to try a Montessori school 10 km from home.  This decision was an act of faith on his part, he says, as in the beginning, Montessori, to him, was small chairs and coloured beads!  His wife was a traditional school teacher, where the Montessori method “betrayed” her training.
  • In his words, he felt “the decision was right, because almost immediately he [his child] flourished!  We regained the child we knew”.
  • Almost daily, his son returned home with “Today, I worked with mathematics”, or “Today, I discovered this or that”.  His son was happy to go to school, learned a lot, and regained confidence in himself.
  • While he [Mario Valle] was happy as a father, the scientist in him was seeking answers – he wanted to understand why this school was so different from the public school.  Could it be the teachers?  The cost?  Why are these students so happy, and able to concentrate?  How can coloured pearls teach arithmetic?  How can they work without computers?  Thus began his research.
  • He met people who had absorbed the Montessori spirit and the ideas.  He also met teachers who had Montessori only on their diploma! “Poor children”, he writes [referring to the children in their class].
  • He talks briefly about his research in his presentation (which you should read), but what really convinced him as a scientist was the “perfect match” between the Montessori ideas and the functioning of the brain!  “Montessori works because that is how the brain works” is a very strong argument to choose Montessori.
  • Concentration is something that shocks those who visit a Montessori school for the first time”, he writes.  “They see children completely immersed in what they are doing” – “the child who concentrates is immensely happy”.
  • Montessori provides the child with clear rules to enable work flow.  It provides clear and immediate feedback so the child sees at a glance where he is in his work.  Most importantly, Montessori challenges the child, just above the child’s skills.  If the task is too simple, it becomes boring.  If it is too complex, it generates anxiety.  Montessori establishes the correct balance, creating the happiness.
  • Finally, he goes on to provide his perspectives to the question “will the Montessori school make my child a genius?” with a quote from Maria Montessori: “The primary goal of Montessori education is to prepare the whole child to reach his full potential in all areas of life”.

We urge you to read the full presentation, http://mariovalle.name/montessori/why-not.html, complete with pictures to illustrate the points he makes.  It is quite fascinating.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us – we would love to help you better understand the Montessori method.

Parents have asked us for ways to support, in a “Montessori way”, what is happening at school. Here are a few ideas. You are probably already doing helpful things without realizing it. Please do let us know what Montessori things you do at home.

  • Count items, such as how many kernels of corn are left on the child’s plate. He eats one and now count how many there are.
  • When divvying up candies (for example), count how many for an absent parent or sibling or grandparent first, then the present parent, then the child. In this way, the child learns to consider others before self which is valuable for grace and courtesy.
  • Instead of saying the alphabet letter names, say the sounds. So instead of A, B, C, D… Say /a/ (as in Apple) and /b/ (as in Banana) and /k/ (as in Cat) and /d/ (as in Dog). Use the short vowel sounds for now: Apple, Elephant, Igloo, Octopus, Umbrella. It sounds funny but saying sounds helps with reading and writing.
  • Put your child’s dishes and cutlery in a drawer or on a shelf that she can easily reach. Let her get her own dishes for a meal and set the items on her placemat on the table.
  • Let him put his fork and spoon in the dishwasher basket (or sink). Eventually, he’ll be able to put his bowl and plate in the right spots as well saving you some clean up time. Teaching control when opening and closing the door and sliding the bottom and upper trays help develop inner self control as well. Explain and demonstrate calmly. Expect a few loud bangs as the learning process happens using “uh oh” and other expressions to try and reinforce self-control.
  • If it’s possible, have a small bar fridge in the kitchen or eating area which your child can open. Put some cut fruit and vegetables in jars with loosened closed lids, a small half-filled pitcher of milk or water, some slices of bread, and a spread (ex: jam, nut butter, cream cheese). Now your youngster can help herself to a nutritious snack.
    Start with one item in the fridge and show her how to open the door, remove the item, serve herself (she may need to get a plate or cup or fork from her dish collection) and clean up. It’ll take a few tries, there will be some spills, but she’ll feel more confident in her independence and you’ll gain a few more minutes in your day.
  • Let him put on his own shoes even if it takes forever. Teach him Tongue, Toe, Heel, Tongue, Attach.
    Tongue: pull out the tongue of the shoe and lift it up away from the opening of the shoe.
    Toe: slide toes into shoe opening (possibly holding on to the tongue if it keeps sliding back).
    Heel: push heel into shoe using finger to keep back of shoe in place if necessary.
    Tongue: readjust the tongue for comfort.
    Attach: attach the Velcro, tie laces or other closure.
    Done!
    A few practices may be necessary but the time taken at first will save you much time later.
  • When turning left or right in the car, voice it so your child gets the feel of left and right.
  • When reading stories, use expression and voices. Point out items in the pictures and ask your child what they might be doing. Review colours, counting and observations in this way. Keep it enjoyable for both of you.
  • Spend at least a half hour a day outdoors with your child, every day. Take a deep breath and notice the scents. Listen for birds, insects, airplanes and cars. Notice the changing features of the trees with each season. Play “I spy” on the porch if it’s raining, or better yet, suit up and go taste a raindrop or snowflake. This type of activity builds relationship with your child and helps him learn to observe in different ways. It’s fun too!
  • Laugh with your child at humourous situations. After Mommy’s milk, laughter is the strongest bonding experience. No kidding…
  • Make the sleeping area as dark as possible. Any light can disrupt sleep and the important work the brain does during sleep. A good night’s rest is vital for moods, appetite, learning and health.

Do you have any to add to this list?  Do let us know, and we will update this list as we go along.

IMG_20140917_112514Dr. Maria Montessori discovered that experiential learning opportunities involving as many senses as possible made the most impact on youngsters memories. Current research in brain theory confirms her observations. Smart Start put it into practice in mid-September with a trip to Willowgrove orchards.

IMG_20140917_112229The “banana” bus bounced slightly as it slowly drove up the driveway to the farm. Leaders greeted the children. The wagon ride brought us to the 1,000 tree orchard. Each tree low enough that the children could pick the apples without adult assistance. After a brief explanation about the variety of apples and how to pick them (eye to the sky), the children successfully picked two Cortlands each: one for school, one for them. N. twisted and removed her apple while, K. quickly polished his to a bright shine. Later, A. and V. savoured the tangy sweet taste of their apples at snack time.

IMG_20140917_105829In a separate location, the leaders explained about the life cycle of an apple tree, described various apple products, and shared a poem and story involving, you guessed it, apples!

IMG_20140917_105539Switching to a new location, the children learned that apples would not form without the help of an insect: honey bees! Here enlarged images of the creatures were posted on the wall. The leader invited the children to come forward to play the roles of queen, nurse, guards and workers. What an experience!

Sight, scent, sound, touch and taste rounded out this fully sensorial event for the youngsters of Smart Start Montessori.

IMG_20140917_113526Moooo. Baaaa. Bleeeeeeat. Snort. Giggle. Wait. What? Giggle? Yep, the youngsters from Smart Start Montessori enjoyed an adventure on the farm. A horse-drawn wagon ride bounced around the fields. A play area with slides and climbing apparatus occupied the children as a few friends mounted a small pony and went for a ride. The morning in the fresh air was completely sensorial: sights, sounds, scents, movement, tastes and experiences awaited. It’s good for city folk to spend time on the farm.

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We live in Toronto. Toronto is blessed to have people of many ethnic backgrounds living together. Smart Start Montessori reflects the varied heritages of our city. Learning about the IMG_20141010_110119festivals associated with our own and our friends’ cultures help us to understand each other better. This month certainly highlighted multiculturalism.

 

 

IMG_20141010_124720At the beginning if the month, we learned the traditional greeting of Eid: “Eid Mubarak”. Later, the children explored Thanksgiving. “I’m thankful for Mommy and Daddy” was a frequent comment. “I’m thankful for laughing” was a unique one. Miss Elaine brought a beautiful flower cake made of mango. The children cut fruit and filled wafer cones to make cornucopias celebrating the harvest bounty. Food for Tots, our lunch caterer also prepared a special meal.

IMG_20141022_114634Later in the month, the Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali, was experienced. Two of our students’ parents joined us for an information session. We enjoyed some tradition food, listened to bouncy music, and saw some fancy outfits. The children learned the greeting “Happy Diwali”.

IMG_20141031_111054At the end of the month, the youngsters celebrated Hallowe’en with a costume parade. Pumpkin carving, themed songs, and crafts were also part of the week.

 

The children certainly enjoyed this month of colourful, reflective, and international festivals.

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IMG_20140725_150722“Under tIMG_20140725_150813he sea,” sang S., N., and K. as they danced around the carpet. The starfish, octopus, clams, and various sea creatures dangled from above to give the impression that the children really were under the waves. With P.’s help, J. scrutinized the large plastic clownfish as he determined what each of the parts of the fish were called. In addition to guiding the youngsters with Montessori activities, Miss Alicia also coordinated them in putting together a large floor puzzle of an underwater scene.

The craft this IMG_20140725_145951week included glitter glue blob coral and seaweed on a blue background with chenille seahorse and colourful foam fish. Miss Theresa and Mme Michelle assisted the tots in twisting, gluing, arranging and proudly presenting their aquariums. Glub! Glub!

IMG_20140722_113505In mid-July, children at Smart Start Montessori experienced a little taste of the farm. From animal songs, to making a barnyard rubbing with sandpaper and crayons, the youngsters became familiar with the traditional fauna found on the farm.

 

 

IMG_20140718_112617Another day, the garden was prepared to grow vegetables. Children used small shovels to dig holes for the lettuce bunch, the tomato plants, green pepper plants, sunflowers, and kale. The peas planted the previous week were starting to peek through the soil. Using small watering cans, each child watered the soil around the newly planted vegetables. Since harvest comes at different times, there will be opportunities to include home grown produce with lunch and snacks at Casa. Our herb garden is starting to take shape. Youngsters are learning the scents of basil, chives, mint and parsley. A true mini farming experience!

IMG_20140722_113551The outing to Wittamore’s Berry Farm proved enriching. E. wanted to milk a cow and she got her wish at the “milking” stations. The wagon ride around the farm gave the tots a sense of how large the space is. N. and A. laughed with delight at the animatronic chickens display. Our morning on the farm was a fantastic way to end Farming Week at Smart Start Montessori.