Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Outcomes of Montessori Education by Dr. Stephen Hughes

Check  out this video on the outcomes of Montessori Education by Dr. Stephen Hughes in 2006.

Tellin' Our Story Reading and Book Signing

Sunday September 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Brightwood Park United Methodist Church

744 Jefferson Street, NW DC

Join Ayize Sabater, father of five, for a reading from his book "Tellin' Children Our Story"-- outlining a simple process for creatively studying/teaching history and the life stories of everyday, ordinary people who are overcomers and who were able to achieve the extraordinary--in a fun, interactive way with children and youth.  Hosted by Pastor Gerald Elston!

Monday, August 18, 2014

"Help me to Communicate by Myself"

              Let’s first begin with a basic definition of what communication is.  Webster’s Dictionary defines communication as:  the imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions or information by speech, writing or signs.  When we talk about communication in the Montessori context, we are looking at how the young child in the First Plane of Development (birth to 6) strives to satisfy the cry of his soul to “help me communicate by myself.” 

            Maria Montessori considered communication to be a basic human tendency present in all human beings from birth.  She defined human tendencies as being part of the system of natural guides that are essential to our survival and self-fulfillment.  Unlike animals, with their instincts, these human tendencies, she said, guide the process of human development from birth.  Montessori called attention to the fact that humans are social beings with a strong need and desire to communicate.  Humans have a unique spiritual connection which gives the ability to convey our thoughts and emotions as well as take in those of others.

          Since the communication exchange does not need to be simultaneous, humans have been able to use art, music, writing and other symbols to help them communicate over long distances and even through time.  Language is the main way that humans pass on information and ideas.  This allows us to organize, cooperate and work towards common goals.  Language also gives us endless possibilities of conveying our thoughts and new technologies allow for instant communication.

        When it comes to the young child, that need is just and present and equally strong, something that we as adults tend to overlook.  She writes that,

“The time in which the mind has many ideas which it would like to communicate to others, but cannot express them for lack of language, is a very dramatic one in the child’s life, and brings him his first disappointments.”      
           Thus it is important for us as parents and adults, to be attuned to the needs of the child as she tries to satisfy this urge to communicate and provide the necessary opportunities for her to do so.  The need to communicate is apparent in young children from birth—we see newborns turn toward the sound of the mother’s voice or react when they hear a story or piece of music that they listened to while in utero.  Montessori highlighted the fact that young children are in what she called ‘a sensitive period for language’ which peaks around 2 years old.  She notes that,

“At four months the baby becomes aware that this mysterious music which surrounds him and touches him so deeply, comes from the human mouth….It is not merely music.  When we talk to him fondly, the baby realizes that these words are meant for him, and he begins to grasp that we are saying them intentionally.”
        The role that the adult plays in aiding the development of communication is an essential one.  It is the adults in the child’s environment who model communication and the language that the child hears spoken in the environment enables the child to develop his own ability to communicate.  As parents, we need to be mindful that the child needs to be given the freedom to communicate as well as the opportunity.  From birth, babies are able to distinguish phonemes in the speech they hear around them.  The newborn is attracted to the sound of the mother’s voice and cries to communicate.  It is important that the adult responds to the cries of the newborn and that mom and dad spend time just talking to the baby.

The Role of the Adult  As the adults in the child's life, whether we are parents, grandparents or simply caregivers, we must remember to give her the freedom to communicate.  That means we provide the time and opportunity for her to share her thoughts with us.  And we need to make sure that we are demonstrating active listening as we engage with her.  We also need to give her the tools for effective communication, how to listen, how to respond, etc.  In addition, we need to ensure that she has opportunities for the enrichment of her vocabulary--helping her acquire the names of all the fascinating objects in the environment, parts of the body, foods, sensations and feelings, and so on.  When we model the appropriate methods of communication, she learns how to do so as well.  Remember, children learn what they see; so what she sees you doing, is what she will do.  We need to remember that she is absorbing all aspects of communication from birth and that the foundation for the child’s language is laid in the first years of life.  So we want to make sure that we give her all the best that language has to offer as well as model the use of the appropriate tools and skills that she will need as she grows.  

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.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Montessori Theory: How do Human Beings Develop? (part 2)

The First Plane (birth to 6 years)

…if a child can go to school, find his way about and understand the ideas put before him, this means that his mind has undergone a great development, for at birth he could do none of these things.  
              ---Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori discovered that this is the time that the child forms his personality and therefore is a self-centered time of life. Guided by the absorbent mind and other sensitivities, the child is driven to interact with the environment through exploration. He is directly experiencing the process of adaptation and development depends greatly upon the people interacting with him and the activities in the environment.

Physical Characteristics

Physically, the child in the first plane will experience the greatest changes of any stage in life. The body proportions in particular undergo a huge amount of change—consider the newborn baby growing into a toddler and the toddler becoming a six year-old and how physically different their bodies are. She is also very susceptible to illness due to body vulnerability, so care needs to be taken with personal hygiene.  

The newborn is also very helpless and at first, responds reflexively to external stimuli.  Gradually, as the nerve cells in her brain get coated with fat (a process called myelinization), she begins to gain more control of her body and movements become more conscious.  This process of myelinization moves from the head down and from the center to the out to the extremities.  By the time she is around one year old, she is able to walk, the signal that myelization has finally reached the nerve cells that control the muscles necessary for walking.  The need for unrestricted movement is crucial to this process and it is important that your baby moves through all the developmental stages--rolling over, sitting up, slithering, creeping, crawling and walking--without skipping any steps and without being rushed from one stage to the next.

Intellectual Characteristics

Intellectually, she is passionately interested in everything that she sees. The sense organs are at their most powerful and the impressions she gains are the foundations for intelligence. She learns through sensorial exploration and through manipulating objects and the experiences allow her to classify impressions and deepen her understanding of the environment.

Thus, order in the environment is essential to the young child and it’s important to set routines and be consistent in your activities as this will be helpful to your child. The  external order allows him to get a clear impression of the facts of the world, assisting in the process of classification leading to an internal order. This internalized order lays the foundation for a self-directed environment in the next plane. 

Now, his main task at this time is to construct the personality, so he prefers individual activities and he is attracted to working alone (no sharing or group activities here).  She is too young to attend to or be conscious of the needs of others—so don’t expect your two year old to empathize. And although she likes company, she also likes to have her own activity.

Emotional Characteristics

Emotionally, your child has a great need for love and security, especially from birth to three and the love of the immediate family is the first and most important. She needs to feel it consistently. This is the period in which your child finds her place or role in the family structure and starts to become conscious of the family’s feelings, outlook and customs.  The home, is of course, the best place for the newborn, and there setting up your home environment in a way that meets the needs of your child at each stage of development is the ideal.  

If your family situation does not allow you to be at home with your child, then finding a good Montessori environment where your child can have the opportunities to develop in an environment that offers freedom of movement and enriching language, is essential.  Around age three, she has gained enough confidence of the role in family structure and is ready to take on another role as a person in the community of the classroom. In this context, she still needs to feel loved, but now is now able and ready to experience this love in a different manner than in the home.

Social Characteristics 

Socially, even though he is self-centered, he is still social being and is especially interested in social manners. At first, the newborn responds reflexively to external stimuli--turning immediately towards the sound of mother's voice.  Gradually, as his eyesight develops and he grows, he begins to look intently at people's faces, sometimes imitating expressions and sounds and makes deep, emotional connections with the people in the environment.  

Around age three, as his actions become more consciously directed, you see him playing house, school etc. because he is very interested in how people act. The home environment is the first place where he learns how to interact with others and these interactions lay the foundation for future interactions. In the classroom environment, the child’s social development involves interactions with peers. The interactions are very rich and varied with ample opportunity for growth it lasts over the course of three years, allowing the child many opportunities to interact in a variety of ways.

Spiritual Characteristics

Spiritually, your child has a natural generosity and trusting nature and it is important that she has the opportunity to express these sentiments. She wants to know what’s right and wrong and what’s good and bad and is completely dependent on the adult for a moral code because she has no way of doing that herself. The adult’s responsibility is to let her know what is right and wrong, not by talking but by doing and give her the opportunity to develop her own unique relationship with God.  This is also the time to teach the stories and rituals connected to the family's religious or spiritual practices and beliefs.  She will act the way the people around her act and moral inconsistencies, particularly in the family setting, lead to her being insecure or anxious.

The quality of the environment will determine to a great extent whether or not she will realize their full potential. It is important that she has opportunities for quiet time and being alone, as this will help her strengthen her inner qualities--so turn off the radio and the TV and get rid of the phones and electronic devices and encourage her to sit in silence.  Have crayons or paints or chalk and paper available for her to draw if she wants.  

Your child's freedom to move and interact with her environment and her freedom to make choices about what activities she wants to engage in have a huge impact on her development and are therefore essential ingredients in her environment. Beginning at birth, you can prepare your environment in such a way that allows a harmonious collaboration between you and your child that encourages the development of independence and aids in her self-construction.  Now is the time for you to sow the seeds of her future development and anything that you can do to encourage the natural unfolding of your child's unique potential will make a difference.

…the most important period of life is not the age of 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.   --Maria Montessori

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.

Montessori Theory: How do Human Beings Develop? (part 1)

The Planes of Development 

We must, then, constantly bear in mind this fact that the growth of the child, from birth to maturity, is not like that of an oak tree which grows by simply getting bigger, but is rather to be compared with that of the butterfly; for we have to do with different types of mind at different periods.                                                             --Standing, E.M. Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work, p. 108

Young child (0-3)
Image taken from: http://pacificriminternationalschool.org


                 Through her extensive research and work with children, Maria Montessori discovered that there are different behaviors, characteristics and sensitivities apparent in each stage in life that reflects the changing needs of the individual. She saw development as having four stages, each very distinct, and these she called the Four Planes of Development. As her work evolved, she became focused on helping the human personality in children take form and then strengthen. Her tireless hours of observation and her work with young children gives us guidance about the way we can offer the appropriate help that the children need in the different stages in life.   Montessori schools are typically designed with these planes of development in mind and the Montessori prepared environment (the classroom) provides the opportunity for those needs to be met. Each plane of development is characterized by different psychological and physical characteristics. Each plane lasts about six years. 

Primary children (3-6) working on a Puzzle Map of Asia

              She also drew attention to the fact that development is not an even process—sometimes it moves quickly, sometimes it stagnates. The nature of development changes and the way a person experiences each plane depends on the foundation of the earlier plane. For example, if a child has his needs met at a given plane, he has a strong foundation on which to take advantage of the new experiences on the next plane. If a child does not get what she needs in a particular plane, the results can be seen in the next plane. If the needs are not met at the proper time, this impacts the whole life of the person.

Elementary (6-12) children working on the Timeline of Life
              Each of the planes can be further divided into two sub planes. Generally, the greatest changes take place in the first half of the plane and the second half is spent trying to strengthen and crystallize the experiences of the first half. The first and third planes have a lot in common in that they are both times of dramatic transformation. The human being goes from a fragile, helpless newborn to a walking, talking self-sufficient toddler in the space of three years. Children in both the first and third planes have a lot of sensitivities and are extremely fragile—they need lots of rest and get sick very easily. Similarly, the second and fourth planes are also closely related as they are periods of relative calm and stability.

Adolescents (12-15) at work
Image taken from: https://www.privateschoolreview.com/
             As a result, the prepared environments need to take into consideration the child’s capabilities at each stage. The planes of development suggest that we group children together according to their characteristics—which is why Montessori classrooms are multi-age classrooms. The Montessori prepared environments are designed for the child in each plane of development. The Montessori classroom is a place that accommodates the child by acknowledging the way the tendencies are manifest and recognizing each child’s unique way of learning. (To be continued)

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.