I want to share a few tips on starting out that have helped ease us into a good school year. These are things I approach in varying degrees after any long break as well.
It's easy to get so excited about putting materials on the shelves that they end up packed with more work than a child could complete in a year. What looks beautiful and inviting on the surface may seem overwhelming to a child new to this style of learning. You want to avoid the "kid in the candy store" syndrome where everything is so enticing that nothing is chosen.
Depending on the personality of your child, you may find they flourish best if you start with only one or two options initially. This will give them a chance to master basics, which we'll talk more about in the next point. In fact, this "going minimal" approach is common in a number of Montessori schools at the beginning of the new year. And don't worry, you'll be able to slowly add new works soon enough.
Review the Basics
While we understand that children need lessons on mathematics, language, and various practical life tasks, we often forget that they need lessons to acclimate to a Montessori style environment. I find this becomes all the more necessary when you are dealing with multiple children.
So what should you review? Many of my favorite lessons are covered in the preliminary exercises often found in a traditional Montessori scope and sequence.
Here are the four that I review every single time:
- Carrying a tray
- For this I demonstrate how to remove a tray from the shelf, carrying it with both hands. I also demonstrate returning it when finished. Begin initially with an empty tray. You can increase the difficulty by adding more items to the tray.
- Rollling/Unrolling a Mat
- I show how to remove a mat from the stand and carry it with both hands to an empty place on the floor. Ensure that when you demonstrate unrolling or rolling that you go very slowly and deliberately.
- Walk Around a Rug (vs stepping over)
- I show how I can walk carefully around the rug without stepping on it or crossing over the work area. I switch it up by trying to walk on tippy toes or walking as quietly as possible. Sometimes I combine carrying a tray with walk around a mat.
- How to Observe Someone Working
- This begins with asking permission to observe. I then demonstrate kneeling quietly next to the individual working and place my hands folded in my lap.
I generally present these lessons to all my children as a group. I tend to give an initial example and we take turns practicing and role playing with each other. Keep in mind that depending on the age, these tasks will take time to master. It will most likely take gentle reminders as well.
You know your children and your setup best. Take time to anticipate which basic skills and preliminary exercises would help promote a peaceful environment in your circumstances. You can see more examples here.
Grant Ownership of Expectations
Whether you have a fully outfitted classroom or a simple set of shelves in the corner, our learning environment is a gift to our children. To promote this idea, I allow them to shape the guidelines that govern acceptable behavior in our learning space. We accomplish this through a guided group discussion.
I begin by asking them how they like to work, which often requires some guidance on my part. For the youngest child, you may have to be fairly direct. "Do you prefer to work when it is quiet or loud?" Once they say they prefer quiet I will ask them how they think we could accomplish this. I will then usually get the usual answers of not yelling and working quietly. Then I simply ask them if they think that should be a rule. Then I write it down, and we all agree on it. You can use this for all anticipated challenges, such as taking turns, returning materials, cleaning up messes, etc. Once they feel the environment is theirs, they will have a far more vested interest in the upkeep.
On occasion, a detrimental behavior will develop that wasn't addressed initially. If it becomes an issue, I will simply have a meeting to present the problem and ask them what we should do about it. It really is amazing to see how perceptive children are. They are better problem solvers than we realize!
Those are some of the steps we try to run through each year to help keep an orderly learning space. Always keep in mind, no matter how much you plan and prepare, your children will throw the occasional curve ball. Simply stand back, observe, `and try to get to the root of it. You CAN do it.
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