Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Self-Discipline in the First Plane of Development: “Help me to be responsible by myself”

By Rhonda Lucas-Sabater

“We must help the child liberate himself from his defects without making him feel his weakness.” Maria Montessori

            For the child in the First Plane (0-6), discipline goes hand in hand with freedom and responsibility; and by discipline, we mean self-discipline. We prepare the environment in a way that gives the child the freedom to make choices within the limits that we set. When she is able to make choices, she develops the ability to act with responsibility. The more opportunity he has to make choices, the more he develops self-confidence and becomes more responsible with his actions. Self-discipline gradually develops as she learns the natural consequences of the choices that she makes. Being able to make choices allows him to learn first hand how his actions impact the people around him.

           Self-Discipline is a process that needs to be nurtured from birth and it begins when the child is born. Our job as parents and teachers is to help the child begin to control her impulses and understand what is expected in the variety of situations that she may encounter as she grows. A few basic things to remember as we consider self-discipline in the First Plane, is that your child wants to understand the world around him, the routines and rhythms of daily life. It would be helpful for him if we were able to make the routines consistent and clear to him. We want to also remember that movement is crucial to the development of bodily control. If his need for movement is met from the very beginning, then it becomes easier for him to restrain himself or follow your simple instructions when self-discipline is needed. In the Montessori classroom, the Grace and Courtesy lessons are the means that we use to convey what the limits and expectations are within the environment.

Our role as parents and teachers it to help the child develop self-discipline, and here are some important points to consider that will be helpful in this process:

Create an environment that fosters self-discipline with activities that appeal to your child

  • Provide activities that relate to looking after herself and caring for the environment because this is how she learns that the family is a place where everyone cooperates and takes responsibility.
  • This is how she builds relationships with the environment and the people around her.
  • Dusting, sweeping, folding and putting away clothes, preparing food, setting the table, washing and drying dishes, gardening, sweeping the walkway, raking leaves, shopping, carrying and putting away food, organizing cupboards
  • Remember that her focus is on the process, not the outcome.

Create an environment that fosters self-discipline with a friendly attitude towards mistakes

  • We need to remember that mistakes are part of the learning process and we want him to know that we love him unconditionally.
  • Responding to his mistakes without scolding or anger teaches him that love is not tied to accomplishments or behavior. 
  • In fact, she is learning that love is the bedrock and foundation for self-esteem and security. 
  • Letting her know that we all make mistakes in a very matter of fact way and then showing her how to clean up/put it to rights.

Create an environment that fosters self-discipline where inner motivation is nurtured

  • Two key ingredients in order for him to develop self-discipline: motivation and choice.
  • When you offer choice and notice his interests then that choice of activity is what helps him learn new skills.
  • Make sure the activities you offer have some degree of challenge and be sure to demonstrate the activity first, then offer it to him.

Create an environment that fosters self-discipline with clear and consistent limits.

  • Setting limits is what frees her and leads to his independence because you are teaching her a basic life lesson-- that we can’t have everything we want.
  • Find the balance between being overly demanding and not having limits at all.
  • Decide what limits fit your family and adjust the rules as the children grow.
  • Remember that he needs to feel your respect in order for the limit setting to be effective.
  • You want to encourage her to make the right choices and then you need to convey to her that she is on the right path when she makes that choice.
  • It’s always a good idea to make sure that the environment really supports the limits, so use household items and toys for their intended purpose and let her see this from the beginning.
  • Model, maintain and create order in the home (minimize the his choices and make sure you do as you want him to do--children learn what they see)
  • When you do have to discipline, use positive language to redirect her (say what you want her to do rather than order her to do something; keep the focus on what you’re are doing instead of what you’re are not doing; remove the item from her as calmly as possible, if it is being mishandled/misused and get her to help clean up).

Offer engaging activities

  • Show him the process before expecting him to do it. Be sure to demonstrate slowly and follow a clear sequence. 
  • Keep your actions separate from your words; you can’t expect him to listen to you and watch you at the same time. 
  • Use eye contact and smiles to keep him engaged. 
  • You will need to be involved in doing the activity with her at first until she chooses and is able to work without your assistance.

Offer choices when appropriate

  • Young children need opportunities to practice and develop the skill of making choices, working up to more and more difficult choices. 
  • Be very clear in your expectations. 
  • Offer choices only if you intend for him to have a real choice between two possibilities. Only offer choices with two positive alternatives. 
  • A handful of choices a day in the beginning is enough; too many choices can be overwhelming to him.

Limit inappropriate behavior

  • Try to be preventative by maintaining consistency with routines: regular sleep times, regular meals and time together, rest and proper nutrition.
  • Create transitions or signals to help ease him into the new activity and try not to switch between too many activities throughout the day.
  • Doing this provides a basic foundation which gives the child the opportunity to develop the ability to inhibit her impulses more and more but not if she is hungry, tired or overstimulated.
  • Attempt to control your own actions when you are angry because he is modeling his behavior on what he sees you do.
  • Setting and maintaining the limits for appropriate behavior is what helps her feel safe and secure and develop trust in the adults and the environment; she needs to know that you are in charge when it comes to safety; she can tell when you are serious about limits.

Offer encouragement, not empty praise

  • Helping him develop confidence and a positive self-image that comes from inside and not from external sources will go a long way.
  • Be sure that we are not being insincere, manipulative or critical when we speak to him
  • Focus on the action or the effort, not the person; nurture empathy in her (her actions, not feelings); quietly observe your child (they do not expect praise, but they can come to if that is the pattern that you create); express gratitude when she does something you like; observe her actions rather than evaluating them because an observation may build interest whereas a judgment can be discouraging, even if it is a positive comment.

Accept that rewards (and punishment) don’t work

  • If the activity is engaging enough, the reward for him is in the doing it. Research actually shows that when children are rewarded for doing an activity that they like, their motivation for the activity actually decreases.

“No one who has ever done anything really great or successful has ever done it simply because he was attracted by what we call a ‘reward’ or by fear of what we call a ‘punishment’…Every victory and every advance in human progress comes from an inner compulsion.” Maria Montessori
  • Punishment tells the child what not to do, and does not empower him or tell him what to do.
  • Oftentimes makes a small problem bigger.
  • The child may remember the punishment and may not connect it to the behavior that triggered it.
  • Need to help the child figure out what the appropriate behavior should be before they encounter the situation; make sure the limits are clear and that the child can follow them; try to prevent things before they happen—look for patterns, triggers, etc.
  • The moment you feel the child is sorry, be ready to forgive. Usually the child is seeking attention, or trying to avoid something or is trying to stimulate himself in some way. 

Aid to Life: Self-Discipline; edited by Louise Livingston and Barbara Kahn;
North American Montessori Teachers Association; 2011 AMI

Rhonda Lucas-Sabater is an AMI trained Primary (3-6 years old) guide and currently works as a Primary guide.  She is the mother of five Montessori children and the co-founder of a public charter Montessori school in Washington, DC.  She is also AMI trained at the Assistants to Infancy (O-3) and Elementary (6-12) levels and is an AMI certified Adolescent guide.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Meeting The Six Basic Needs of the Child in the NIDO

   *The NIDO (nest) is the Montessori prepared environment for the child from birth to around 12-15 months, typically when they start walking.

       Maria Montessori outlined human development as being across four planes, spanning the years from birth to age 24.  The First Plane covers the period of life from birth to 6; the Second Plane from 6-12; the Third Plane from 12-18; and the Fourth Plane from 18-24.  Each plane can be further subdivided: 0-3 and 3-6; 6-9 and 9-12; 12-15 and 15-18; 18-21 and 21-24.  Each plane is quite distinct from the other and actually correspond to the child's phases of physical growth (Montessori p. 17) See: Montessori Theory: How do Human Beings Develop (part 1) and Montessori Theory: How do Human Beings Develop (part 2)
 The Montessori classroom, or prepared environment, is designed to meet the needs of the child in each stage of development.  In the Montessori home, while the physical structure of the home may not change as the child progresses through each plane, the materials that are available to the child, the layout of the home and the interactions and relationships with the adults change as the child changes.  We parents adjust ourselves to meet the needs of the child as she grows.

There are many who hold as I do, that the most important period of life is not the age university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six.  For that is the time when man's intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed.  But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic [soul] powers. (Montessori p. 21)

       We will take a look at the child in the First Plane of development, who is continuing the process of self construction that began at conception.  The newborn's mind, during this time, is impervious to direct adult influence--a type of mind that the adult cannot approach (Montessori, p.18).  We are unable to make the baby do anything that we want--all activity is purely controlled by the child--the baby cries, sucks, and responds reflexively at first, to external stimuli.  As time passes, the baby is able to move himself from a supine to prone position; to bring her hands together, to sit up, slither, crawl and walk all and begin to babble all without our direct instruction.  In the second phase of this period (3-6), the child's mind remains pretty much the same, but the she is beginning to become more susceptible to adult influence in some areas (Montessori, p. 18).  The nature of the child during this period drives him to make certain acquisitions in order to ensure survival.  These acquisitions are what we call the needs of the child.

          In the publication, The Normalized Child by Kathleen Futrell, we encounter the six basic needs of children that the Montessori prepared environment seeks to fulfill beginning from birth. These needs are: Movement, Language/Communication, Independence, Love and Security, Discipline and Order.  Meeting these needs from birth to age 3 will help prepare your child for expanded development later on.  

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1. Movement--it is through movement that the child is able to explore, manipulate, absorb and store up all the sensory information to classify later on; movement impacts cognitive development, so freedom of movement is a key factor in your child's development. Preparing the environment so that your child can move freely is an important aspect of the NIDO.

2. Language/Communication-- the child needs to hear language spoken in order to adopt it as his own. Not only does she need to hear the elementary language that highlights her basic physical needs (eat, sleep, etc.), but also the precise language of every area of culture-- (maple tree-- not just 'tree';  tennis ball--not just 'ball'). The NIDO offers the child further expansion of vocabulary and opportunities for conversations.

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3. Independence-- We must remember to never do for a child that which he has learned or is trying to do for himself. Your child's drive for independence preserves her from becoming indolent if you keep doing things for her beyond the time that she needs or desires and also from developing despair that she will never learn to care for herself. So if your child can walk, you should let him walk and not put him in a stroller--show him how to do something instead of doing it for him. In the NIDO, your child develops independence by learning to feed himself, dress and undress and communicate desires through a gradual process that involves limited choices and freedom of movement.

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 4. Love and Security-- your child needs constant reassurance that his needs are valid and will be met. Keep in mind that your child perceives your love in the quality and quantity of time you spend with her and not in the things that you give her. Make it a point to spend some time everyday with your child without any distractions--put away the cell phone and turn off the TV. Remember that consistency in routines and schedules will also help him develop a sense of security and trust in the world. 
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5. Discipline--this is an internal process of self-regulation and self-control that will develop as the child is given the opportunity to practice, imitate and observe. In the NIDO, positive role models and consistent adherence to pre-established rules as well as setting clear limits will help your child develop self-control. And there is no reason why the same cannot be done in the home environment as well. 

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6. Order-- this refers to the development of internal order (thoughts, feelings, etc.) which 
occurs in the child when there is external order. Your child needs the internal order so that she can grow intellectually; and order in the external environment is crucial to the development of internal order. In the NIDO, everything has a place and your child  is encouraged to return items to their place when he is finished with them.


Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Clio Press Ltd. 1988. Oxford, England.
“The Normalized Child”  Kathleen Futrell, NAMTA 1998.

Rhonda Lucas-Sabater is an AMI trained Primary (3-6 years old) guide and currently works as a Primary guide.  She is the mother of five Montessori children and the co-founder of a public charter Montessori school in Washington, DC.  She is also AMI trained at the Assistants to Infancy (O-3) and Elementary (6-12) levels and is an AMI certified Adolescent guide.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

"Please" and "Thank-you": Why Grace and Courtesy Matters

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      The age old adage that "children learn what they live" is truly applicable in the Primary environment.  It goes without saying that it applies in the home environment as well.  After all, parents are the child's first teacher.  As we live and work together with children, we realize how important it is that we are mindful of our words and actions.  Our role with children this age (birth to six), is to model the behavior we want them to have and help them develop that sense of social responsibility that is necessary in order for there to be harmony--both within and without.  "Please" and "thank-you", and other such words and phrases, are crucial keys to aid the child in this stage of development.  If we want our children to become empathetic, compassionate, harmonious adults, then we have to start them on that journey from birth.
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       That’s why it’s important, when we greet the children in the mornings, to make sure that they make eye contact and respond appropriately.  It’s not okay for them to just walk off or not look at the person who is addressing them.  We have to take the time to teach them how to greet someone when they encounter them for the first time during their day; how to give a handshake; how to say goodbye; how to offer help; how to receive help; when to say please and thank- you and you’re welcome.  If we don’t teach them these things now, when and where will they learn them?  I just read an article entitled “Our kids Are Losing Their Empathy & Technology Has A Lot to Do With It” published in the online magazine Medium.  You can find it here:  As the author writes in his article, citing a study done by the University of Michigan, “…Borba and other experts say empathy may be the single most important skill for young adults to learn to thrive and get ahead in the 21st century.”
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       The Montessori prepared environments are great places for children to not only learn these important social graces, but also practice them on a daily basis.  Throughout the day, there are
 numerous opportunities for us to practice, some of which are: preparing snack for the classroom; offering to help someone with a task; politely refusing an offer of help if it is not needed; holding the door open for someone, and countless others.  The whole environment was designed to offer these wonderful opportunities for the children to learn how to communicate and practice being empathetic.  As guides, our role is to help guide the children, through our Grace and Courtesy lessons, to the point where they achieve true grace--harmony between mind and body-- and true courtesy--establishing and maintaining social relationships.  As parents, we are our child’s first entrĂ©e into the world of grace and courtesy, teaching them through our words and actions.  Taking the time now, to teach our children these graces and courtesies will lay a solid foundation for their future.

Rhonda Lucas-Sabater is an AMI trained Primary (3-6 years old) guide.  She is the mother of five Montessori children and the co-founder of a public charter Montessori school in Washington, DC.  She is also AMI trained at the Assistants to Infancy (O-3) and Elementary (6-12) levels and is an AMI certified Adolescent guide.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Keys to Reading: Language in the Montessori Primary (3-6) Environment

Sandpaper letters
          When the child enters the Primary at three years old, she is exposed to a rich spoken language experience--listening to stories and poems, singing songs and working with classified vocabulary cards that help develop her spoken language skills.   In addition, general conversations with peers are also beneficial and enriching because of the mixed-ages of the children.
     When it comes to reading, the most important thing to keep in mind is that we don't teach it.  That's not to say that the children don't learn to read--they do.  How they get to that point is what makes the Montessori approach to reading different. 

        In the beginning, there is a great deal of 'indirect preparation' for reading as work is done with the Practical Life and Sensorial materials.  These very important activities, like polishing, washing tables, folding cloths, sorting, matching, grading, etc. , along with a rich spoken language environment allow the child to eventually "explode into reading."
     What we do, is teach the child keys to reading which allow her to discover that she can read.  Believe me, this is not as easy as it sounds, which is why it is important for both home and school to be supporting the child through this journey of discovery.

        Some of the materials that we use to help your child explode into reading include the Sound Games (a box of assorted objects that are used to help the child identify beginning, ending and middle sounds), Sandpaper Letters(cursive or print letters cut out of sandpaper and mounted on a board) and the Moveable Alphabet (cut out letters in a box organized from a to z). 

         The Sandpaper Letters help her link individual sounds to their corresponding letter symbols and we begin working with them once she demonstrates an awareness of sounds and is able to link a particular sound to a given object.  For example, bat begins with 'b'

Moveable Alphabet
          As soon as he is able to consistently link the sound with the symbol, we begin working with the Moveable Alphabet, which helps him transition from analyzing individual sounds (like p, o, t) to synthesizing an unknown word (p, o, t says pot).  

       The expectation is not for him to be able to read the word, but just for him to synthesize words based on the sounds that he knows are in that word.  We spend a lot of time working with the Moveable Alphabet, starting with writing three letter words (fan), to four-letter words (stop), to more complex words (pumpkin, basket), to short phrases (hot pan, red box) and eventually to writing sentences and then stories.

           As we know, there is a huge difference between deciphering one word and reading a story book.  The point at which the child is able to synthesize words is where begin introducing the keys to reading.  These keys include the phonetic sounds (or the short vowel sounds and consonants--the alphabet); and the phonograms (or digraphs--two or more letters that combine to make one sound.)  For example, -oa makes the sound "o" (long vowel sound)
Phonetic Reading Cards
     The phonetic sounds (which are included in our Sandpaper Letters), along with the phonogram sounds, cover about 85% of the words in the English language; and we teach them very methodically to the children.  The remaining words belong in the category of words that do not follow any particular rules of pronunciation, which Montessori calls puzzle words, and these the child will memorize.
Sentences symbolized with Grammar Symbols
        Additional keys to reading that we teach include reading classification--materials that give the child lots of practice reading and include grammar and the grammar symbols and sentence analysisReading Classification activities call the child's attention to the fact that there are different functions that words play in different phrases.  For instance, the word sitting, in the phrase: the sitting cow, sitting functions as an adjective because it is describing the cow and differentiating it from among a group of cows.  Symbolizing the phrases helps the child identify the functions of the word and give meaning to what is being read: the word cow is a noun, the is an article and sitting is the adjective.
    Sentence analysis activities give the child practice with understanding the meaning of a sentence by looking at the relationship between the parts of a sentence.  For example, for the sentence: Mary chopped the lettuce, the child gains an understanding that Mary is the direct object because she performed the action; chopped is the action or the predicate/verb; and the lettuce is the indirect object because it was acted upon.
Sentence Analysis chart

       Armed with these keys, the child could mechanically read any word--we call this deciphering. However, there is more to reading than just deciphering the word.  This something more that we are looking for the child to demonstrate, is what Montessori calls, total reading.  By this, she means that the child understands all she reads and is developing a deep comprehension or awareness of the person behind the words--- conveyed through context or simply in the style of writing.  In any event, when she reads aloud with expression and feeling, we can say that she has arrived at the point of total reading.  From that point on, the sky is the limit!

        For a child, reading a story book is much more difficult than reading individual words, and each child gets to this place in their own time.  It is important that as adults, we try not to rush him through this process, nor skip any of the steps.

           As parents, we can support our children through this process by engaging them in fun activities that heighten their awareness of sounds and the relationships between sounds and letters.  We also need to model good reading, choosing books that have a rich and varied vocabulary, and using words the child does not hear everyday.  In addition, we should create an environment that fosters reading, providing books, games, movement activities, songs, rhymes and plenty of conversation to encourage his "explosion into reading."

Rhonda Lucas-Sabater is an AMI trained Primary (3-6 years old) guide.  She is the mother of five Montessori children and the co-founder of a public charter Montessori school in Washington, DC.  She is also AMI trained at the Assistants to Infancy (O-3) and Elementary (6-12) levels and is an AMI certified Adolescent guide.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Sensitive Periods and the Child, Part 1

When Maria Montessori discovered the secret of childhood more than 100 years ago, she revealed the child to the world as he had never been seen before.  She showed us that from birth, the child is in the process of self-construction, and wrote in The Secret of Childhood,

We can no longer remain blind to the psychic development of the child.  We must assist him from his earliest moments.  Such assistance will not consist in forming the child since this task belongs to nature herself, but in a delicate respect for the outward manifestations of this development and in providing those means necessary for his formation which he cannot obtain by his own efforts alone.” (p. 46)
This task of ‘forming the child’ involves several processes of nature, one of which she termed ‘sensitive periods’.  Borrowing the term from Dutch biologist Hugo DeVries, she applied it to her investigation of the development of the child.   Through his studies of the caterpillar stage of the Porthesia Butterfly’s life cycle, DeVries uncovered what he called “sensitive periods”.  He noticed that when the caterpillars hatched they crawled up the tree toward the light, looking for new tender leaves, which is what they could digest. Later when they were larger and could eat the older thicker leaves, they lost the sensitivity to light.

          The idea of the sensitive period for development of certain characteristics in nature was adopted by Dr. Montessori and applied by her to the development of the child.   She considered the sensitive periods to be a characteristic of the absorbent mind and believed that they are universal to all children.  Her scientific observations of children demonstrated that these Sensitive Periods act as inner guides in the child and they direct the absorbent mind in a specific sequence and manner of activities.    She wrote,

A sensitive period refers to a special sensibility which a creature acquires in its infantile state, while it is still in a process of evolution.  It is a transient disposition and limited to the acquisition of a particular trait.  Once this trait or characteristic, has been acquired, the special sensitivity disappears. (p.38)

          During this time, the child’s stimuli for development do not come from the external environment, but rather from within him.  The Sensitive Periods give the child powerful capacities for the attainment of specific characteristics, like language, for instance.  Once the characteristic has evolved, the corresponding sensitive period disappears.  The child now moves on to exercising conscious control of the function if she so desires.

           The child is attracted to certain aspects of his environment because of these sensitive periods, and because of this attraction—say the attraction to tiny things—his development can proceed according to natural timetables.  These sensitive periods are extremely strong and  he experiences an irresistible attraction. As a result of his interaction with the environment he gains a trait or characteristic that lays the foundation for future development.  Montessori stated that he becomes passionately involved with this element of his being and wrote,

Growth is therefore not to be attributed to a vague inherited predetermination but to efforts that are carefully guided by periodic, or transient, instincts.  These give direction by furnishing an impulse toward a determined kind of activity that can differ notably from that of the adult of the species. (p.38)

Montessori, Maria. The Secret of Childhood. Ballantine Publishing Group, New York, NY 1966.
 Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Clio Press, Oxford, England, 1988.

Rhonda Lucas-Sabater is an AMI trained Primary (3-6 years old) guide and currently works as a Primary guide.  She is the mother of five Montessori children and the co-founder of a public charter Montessori school in Washington, DC.  She is also AMI trained at the Assistants to Infancy (O-3) and Elementary (6-12) levels and is an AMI certified Adolescent guide.