Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year's Resolutions, Past year's ruminations

I haven't posted a blog for an entire season - Illness, family schedules and a class with a high percentage of new young students seemed to make it all go by in a blur... Now as I prepare for my favorite time of year I look back with fond memories, and ahead with new ambitions for this very active, strong bunch!

Our ten third year students are without a doubt, the most active, verbal and silly people  I have dealt with in a long time.  If asked to use a word to describe them I might say, "maddening' or I might say, "charming" depending on the day. They are creative, busy, verbal, controlling, happy, intense,  and loud.  It is these characteristics that make them tiring to deal with on some days. It is also what makes them so very special, and why I have learned to listen to them, watch them closely, and cherish their many insightful moments.

One of my boys has learned to be a quiet leader, helping young students with  enduring patience. One puts his uncommonly deep insights into carefully crafted remarks that sound odd from one so young. One little girl is really an angel, beneath the singing, dancing, joking exterior is a lovely thoughtful person so full of love for everyone that she practically glows.  Another little girl has become a support for the community with her fair and clear observations.  I could go on and on.  There is something deeply special about each and every one of them, and it has taken me three years to peel back the layers of each personality to find the exquisite spirit within.

I could look back at the past years with these kids and say, "This has been an exhausting run, these kids are difficult to control, and very demanding!"   But because I've had three whole years, and many very long days with all of them, instead I think, "What special and astonishing people these children are evolving into! What a gift to have experienced the joy and humor and love these kids bring to our house every day"  How I will miss them, and how I wish I could pin a note to each child's back when they leave!

This child raked a pile of leaves and then brought everyone over to see how it looked just like South America:  This child found a turkey feather on a nature hike and because another student loved it so much he made a gift of it. This child is very rough on the outside, but he asked if his kindergarten teacher made it to her mother's bedside before she died because he knew it would have meant everything to her to be there. ( I was struck speechless by the enormity of that moment - and I had to take his hand and look in his eyes and say, no.  No she didn't honey.)

This child rubs people's backs and gently massages them if she senses they are tired:  This child will include everyone in his game so that no one will feel left out:  This child will clean up the tired child's work because she is never tired:  This child will catch your eye and smile when you are at your busiest.

I want every future teacher to see the beauty within each as they move on. When they leave, they take a big part of me with them and it leaves a hole that is never filled. I am full of holes.  But I know that the upcoming children will be special and unique in their own ways.  I am already seeing where first impressions of my new students were off, and delighted by the things I have learned.  I can see what a great time we will have as the next few years go by, and we spend hours, days , weeks and months heads together, working out problems, learning new things, laughing, talking, and playing.

 I love January. I know everyone and they know me.  We had a grand time celebrating the fall holidays in all their fun and splendor, and now we have all had a much needed break. The classroom is fresh, new activities that I know will thrill them because now I know what they need.  We will all come back energetic, comfortable, and ready to work.  I want to do my best every day, and I want to give them the gift of a classroom that inspires them to become all that they have the potential to be.  We just spent a nine hour day conjuring up such a place - it happens that way in January...

Is there anything more we can ask from our jobs?  We hope that our parents can see what we mean. We want to make sure that this guided journey is educational and enlightening for all.  We want you to know that we do this work with joy and enthusiasm, and that we see your child. We see the best. We celebrate the best in them in all the obscure, off hand moments as well as the intense, focused times we spend with them.  We thank you for giving us the gift of  your children, and we hope you realize that they stay with us forever in our hearts, every individual, every year. And so we take flight in January - the next time we come up for air it will be spring.  And time to say goodbye. And time to hold tight to those who are staying.  The cycle of Montessori life!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ponies, Puppies and People - thoughts about school

As those of you who know me realize, I spend most of my off time working with  animals.  It's what I love, it instills peace (sometimes)  it is fruitful, and I am always learning more about the spirit of life.  Many people I know acquired new pets this summer so there has been much discussion about training and the success or failure of various methods.  My good friend who works tirelessly for rescue organizations and humanitarian pursuits is fostering, two other friends got their first puppies,  my daughter brought her fiery young show horse home for the summer and I have both a new, untrained horse and a puppy in residence.

As I walked the dogs in the woods this morning, I was trying to formulate some advice for the new puppy owners, and my daughter, who are struggling with what is so second nature to me I rarely analyze it. How do you get from a point of crazy, impulsive, high maintenance, frustrating and dangerous co-habitation to that peaceful, respectful, intelligent life with animals that looks so easy when it's at someone else's house?

I began to think about my philosophy of education. I realized that at the core of all young beings' development are the same basic premises.  Everyone needs discipline, everyone needs control, everyone needs an education. This pertains to horses, dogs, and children.  So much of what I apply to horses and dogs is what I have struggled to give to the children in my care.  So much of what I have learned from children, I now apply to my horses and dogs.

Freedom without license.  There it is, right from Maria Montessori, simple philosophy originated over 100 years ago and applied to the development of sound, respectful, self educating and pro-active beings.

The typical school model is one of control. Control where the kids sit, how long they work, what facts are given, how often they speak and how to be still and listen. It is the same in puppy school. On a leash they all learn to sit, stay, come and don't play.  A horse goes into training in an arena with aides to make him give to the rider.  Trussed up in bits and all kinds of gear, he will learn gaits, balance, and commands. They all learn to wait and to ' behave'.   All of these models are successful for the most part. Everyone needs some kind of formal training. However, this is just one small piece of the whole.  A living being needs so much more than training and control.

Puppies and horses need to be educated to freedom.  Long rambling hikes where dogs can use their noses, acquire physical prowess, and learn to keep an eye on the pack leader so they don't get lost are key. The joy of the air, the freedom of movement, the engaging of all senses to realize their 'dogness' is vital.  The horse needs to be worked with on ground level, played with, handled with games that employ herd behavior to help them relax  - and of course, turned out to run and play freely. In other words, they need to learn to use their brains,  to think.  If we choose to have animals, we must make time for these experiences and learn patience to cope with the process.

The same is true for children.  In our school, we believe education is a holistic experience.  We believe in freedom - to work with a material as long as we need to, to choose how much movement we need, to play with many friends or just a few. To sit in a quiet corner, to repeat an activity until we have mastered it. To be outside if we are too constrained. To make choices which have both positive and negative outcomes, and feel the result.  To be a cog in the wheel of life.  Our prepared environment is designed specifically to facilitate this natural experience.  Our teachers are patient and thoughtful, analyzing at all times the possible lesson in  what we observe, finding the teachable moment.  Applauding the good choices, sympathizing with the bad.

Do we teach facts? Sure!  Do we have children sit and wait?  Of course.  Do we  set limits? You bet.  Education must be multi faceted.  It is learning to manage freedom without license.  You can make your choices within a safe environment, while taking the consequences of the choices you make. And without infringing on the rights of others. A horse in the wild who infringes on another's space, gets a warning, then a good hard bite. A wolf puppy gets the same.  They are free, but never have license to go beyond the boundaries of their group. Everyone carries responsibility for the success of their specie's existence.

  If you aren't careful with glass, it breaks. If you lose a piece of your work, we no longer have it to use. If you are unkind, you will lose a friend.  You will have a more interesting day when you  develop the control to sit at group and watch a lesson.  But you need to respect that group and will not be invited to join until you choose to do the work of listening. You choose. You have the freedom to make that choice but not the license to abuse the situation. Simple. And ridiculously hard at the same time. This is not having the child sit at a desk and respond with a raised hand, or complete papers.  This is life.

So take that puppy to dog class, put that horse in training for the winter, send that child to school!  But do not for one second, let yourself fall in to the trap of thinking it is enough.  Think of what a spirit needs to thrive, a being to become whole.  Quiet your own self to the point where you can  understand how to meet the needs for those in your care.  Observe. Learn. Provide.  Give of yourself to help those who are learning to grow.  This is the gift of true education.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Note From Mom of Three

This thank you note came to us at graduation this year, from a Mom of three boys who came through the ranks of our school. Afer 8 years with this family running in and out, watching them grow, sharing triumphs and tribulations with all of them, it is terribly hard to see them go.  But the note means so much.  It reads as follows:
"Eight years ago when our boys started at Montessori, I wanted them to be happy, caring and kind, while learning academics, making friends and discovering the world beyond our home.  I am so thankful because those goals were met, and so many more as well.  Only you as experienced Montessori teachers could tackle it all.

As a result, our boys are more independent, responsible, compassionate, and curious. They realize they are part of a bigger world and what they do can make a difference.  In the past few months, several friends have commented on how friendly, patient and kind our boys are with other children, especially those younger.  I know in my heart that you are responsible for this. Having the opportunity to be role models in the classroom has helped shape them.

Thank you so very much for following your hearts and passion while teaching our children. It is so demanding to always be 'on'!  You do make a difference."

Well, this woman is right. It is a lot of work and demanding of all of us, staff, parents, everyone.  We are being showered with praise and we appreciate it. What we do, though, is provide the place where all of these great qualities, begun at home, encouraged here,  can flourish.  Where kids can practice what they are being taught on all fronts, with self discovery,  self interests, academics, friendships, responsibility...all of what they take in is thoroughly explored and honed here.  So while we take a bow, we also want these wonderful parents to do the same. Because it truly "takes a village", and the partnership works! None of us would be as influential without the others' hard work.

We love you K, D, J, J and C!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Graduation - how does it feel?

This time of year is always fraught with mixed feelings. Part of me wants the year to draw to an end and summer to come, with it's relaxed play, fun projects and extended outdoor time.  Dogs, goats, chickens, gardens, woods, water ...all good!

The other part of me is caught by the heartbreak of loss. I can feel tears well up at odd moments when it occurs to me that things will be very different next fall.  All of my dearest, most familiar classroom friends will be gone.

 We have spent three years, day in and day out, with these children. They came to us just out of toddlerhood, barely speaking, running on chubby legs, full of hugs, laughter and tears.  They leave us as tall, slender, well spoken, competent six year olds, independent, compassionate, helpful, trustworthy, defining our little society.  Each carries their own gift of self.  One is watchful, a helpful activist. One is highly motivated, driven by inner goals.  One is thoughtful, considering the big questions of our world, deep and philosophical.  One is sarcastic and sees the humor in every situation - casting a knowing eye at me often during the day.  One is a merry soul, full of imaginative dreams and song.  All of them have become so very precious.

Who in this next group will be the thinker, the lover, the worker, the dramatist?  We don't yet know.  After all these years, we do know that the next group will be every bit as wonderful as the last, but in a different way.  We know that parents will become friends, but we will miss old friends.  The bottom line is that everything will be fine, but nothing will ever be the same.

This is painful. There is little comfort in keeping in touch, kids do come back and we love to see them  but there is always a hollow feeling that we have lost them to the great big world.  We stay and they go.  It's as it should be, and we have all done our jobs.  There is nothing more to say, and like you, we rejoice in their growth and accomplishment. But this month, it's hard. This month we will wipe away tears at odd moments.  Because we love our kids and our families.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Open House Parent Information Meeting Friday 4/16

A growing concern for parents today is the behavior of children toward one another in schools. Every parent worries that their child will be singled out for teasing, their posessions are being taken, and inappropriate language is common.  Fast forward to high school where bullying has become terrorizing with devastating effects for those targeted.   Fast forward again to corporate America where "business" is synonymous with " lying and cheating ". The better you are at some of these  behaviors the more successful you seem to be.  Most of us have no idea what can be done. 

Developmentally, children learn appropriate social behavior between the ages of three and nine years old.  This is when feelings are understood, moral codes are formed, and communication skills honed.  Those of us in education are seeing a real need for a social curriculum to be put in place early on, well before middle and high school years.

In Montessori schools, this has always been a priority, and a natural process that takes place within the three year age span, in a responsible and self directed environment.  In the past ten years, we have taken this concept to the next level and begun developing specific social curriculums that include care of self, others, and the environment.  We are all responsible for our  friends, school, community and  ultimately our planet.

Local author and Montessori teacher, Kim Paquette developed one such curriculum which she outlines in her book Pathways to Peace, a handbook for teachers and parents.  She spent several years here at Auburn Montessori, where the bulk of her curriculum originated.  We are pleased to announce that Kim will be the guest speaker at our open house this month, Friday, April 16th at 7 PM.  We will be serving refreshments from 7 - 7:30, and an informational DVD and talk with Kim from 7:30 - 8:30.  Public welcome!  Please RSVP to or through this blog!  Hope to see you all here.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Need some summer care or structure? Read on!

Many of you have begun asking about dates for summer camp so you can make your plans for the season.  Here is a bare bones version of how we plan to implement themes into the ongoing things we do such as outdoor art, water play, hiking, and theme rooms, such as fire house or grocery store.  I'm thinking there may be an Asian room this year, and maybe some other new ideas.  This is not complete yet, more will be coming out in the next few weeks, but hopefully it will answer some questions and give you enough to start your planning. We would love a response as to when you might be joining us so we can finalize details such as staffing and in depth activities. For hours and details go to and click on summer camp info  under the About Us link.  I have attached this for your convenience if you would like a hard copy.

                                                                         Summer Camp 2010

Auburn Montessori summer camp is designed for fun , relaxation and flexibility for working parents, or non working parents who just want some structure and entertainment for their kids a few hours a week.  Our curriculum this summer will be a combination of new themes and old favorites to meet everyone’s interests.

Our calendar this year will run from June 14th to August 20th,  our options include 3 and 5 day, half or full day options.  Three day options are T, W, Th to accommodate the best of the curriculum being offered, and facilitate consistency for young children. Mondays and Fridays will incorporate more flexible outdoor activities including wading pools and outdoor art.

We are roughing out the schedule at this time, and asking for your input as to when you would like to be here. We will complete the itinerary in the coming weeks as we see what the enrollment looks like, as staffing, activities and materials will all depend on attendance.  Final enrollment commitment will be requested as of April 1st.

 6/ 14 and  21:   Two week session of  Gardening and Nature; Big favorite and so much fun in the late spring/early summer. Our relaxation garden grows more beautiful every year, and we will be populating it with home grown butterflies and worms.  Science and nature activities and specialists will be ongoing through out the two weeks.

6/28 :  One week session featuring Movement and Asian culture, including the animal based exercises found in Tai Chi, games, music, Asian cuisine, relaxation and high drama movement.

7/5  Summer camp closed, day care available if needed – contact us EARLY if you want to do a small day care group with a staff member which may include off site activities.

7/12 –and  19: Music and Drama – exploration of different musical instruments, parades, singing and games, music that inspires drama, creating props and costumes to put on a musical story.

7/26: Wildlife in our woods, hiking, beaver dams, habitats, and visiting specialists to  unlock the secrets of our woodlands. Nature inspired art.

8/2 and 9: Two week session focusing on the arts!  Famous artists, practicing different techniques and masterpieces galore.

8/16:  DOGS!  Mary Doane of Project Nature and a recent graduate of Humane Education Certificate Program is joining forces with our school to address the problem of canine overpopulation and homelessness with children. Art, music, puppetry and visiting handlers will combine to give the children a sense of empowerment in moving ahead to help solve a crisis of epic proportion.  Many shelters and rehab centers are already running camps, and the response has been huge.  Factor in the entertainment and dramatic skills of Miss Mary and it will be one of the highest impact weeks we have ever offered! Students up through age 10 will be accepted, limit of 8.  Younger students will participate in many, but not all activities.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Parents come in all packages

I always wait until something inspires me to post a new blog and sometimes  I worry that it won't happen in a timely manner. The great thing about this work though, is that it is constantly inspiring.

This morning I am excited by a short e-mail sent to me by the parent of one of our kindergarten students. At re-enrollment time, when parents are being asked to make another huge financial commitment, and a leap of faith in the face of free public kindergarten, this is a particularly poignant note.  It brought to me a fresh awareness of how we never know when people first join us, whether they will be the parents who see it, who get it, who feel it and come to love it, or the parents who walk though the doors and leave unchanged.  Either parent is fine, wonderful, valuable, and a joy to work with.  But sometimes in this exhausting job, filled with hours of hard work both in and out of the classroom, to hear the story of how a parent has come to see what her child has become under our care and her parenting  is a much needed medicine!

We spend our 30 - 40 hours a week in the classroom teaching to the individual and the group.  We keep our notes, our records, our thoughts, our ideas and our hopes for each and every child every day.  Then we clean, organize and manufacture the endless materials and activities, two to three a day, to keep the dream ongoing.  We meet and talk strategies, how to walk the line between accomplishment and growth, entertainment and fun.  We figure out how to modify ourselves, our expectations, and our environment to maximize everyone's well being.  We talk to parents, we seek out specialists, we come up with programs.  We keep up with the endless paperwork and documentation required to exist (well, kinda).  We shop, we build, we get sick, and we work.  We smile. No matter what.  Not because we want to fool people into thinking we are angels, but because the bottom line is, our families and  our kids deserve it.  We are asking them to trust us, to believe in what we do, even when the fruits of our labor aren't always immediately evident.

The truth is, the three year Montessori cycle is an enigma.  It is a mystery and miracle unto itself.  The third year reveals, finally, everything that has happened up to that point.  It is like a phoenix  rising out of ashes.  It really does happen that way.  We all see the little increments of capability over the first two years, the odd skill gained, the friends made, the independence won.  But is it worth thousands of dollars, couldn't this have happened anyway?  The answer is yes, if you look at each event individually.  And really, in the light of eternity, what do those skills even mean?

In the third year, these skills come together over the course of the winter to reveal the true gift. The child who looks at himself and sees a competent being. Who realizes his power over himself and others. Who finally gets that all the work he has done has meant freedom to build his true self.  Whether he is a reader, an artist, a builder, or a teacher. He relaxes into a confident, competent person who is now truly, a self taught learner.  It is great when the academics are impressive, but the real gift is the inner knowledge of how to feed oneself, to know how to build what is important, and to trust in that ability.  Academics ebb and flow, with time and experience, but who you are inside will always be there.

So we secretly watch and hope, and rejoice when we see the birth of this knowledge.  We hope that parents are aware enough to see it too. There are lawyers, doctors, housewives and cleaning ladies, builders, landscapers, musicians and  plumbers. There is no way of knowing which of these parents will be the ones who keep the faith, and listen to the inner music of their children's lives.  There is no way of knowing which children will be most affected by the experience, and so we don't  screen.  We take everyone.  The earth is peopled with all kinds, all deserving, all of value.  We all enter on a level playing field, and we all emerge changed for the better by the experiences we share here every year.  But to those who stay, and watch, and learn and support and SEE, thanks.

And, thanks for telling us what you saw, because it reinforces us, makes our lives legitimate.   Thank you Erica.