“We need the tonic of wildness… At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
-Henry David Thoreau
While the Lower Elementary children were gearing up for their on campus overnight, Villa di Maria’s Upper Elementary class planned and executed an off campus camping trip. This year they returned to an area near Onondaga Cave State Park. Having chosen the destination and the activities they wanted to try this year, the class divided into committees to make their trip a reality. And what an adventure it was!
Our perspective shifts every time our vantage point changes. Standing knee deep in water or sitting astride a horse offers the opportunity to see our world anew. The camping trip affords the children a multitude of experiences to expand their world. The shifts in perspective assist the children in placing themselves in the cosmos.
After weeks of thoughtful planning, last weekend the night finally arrived for the Lower Elementary Overnight.
The planning work for this event cannot be understated. The children took on every aspect of preparation. Based on self-identified interests, they were divided into committees: Communications, Games, Breakfast, Campfire, Music, Story Telling, Tent Assembly and Random Tent Distribution.
From Lower Elementary Guide Ms. Megan’s description of committee meetings, it’s easy to see how many social (read: life!) skills the children gain from this experience. She shares, “If you were to sit and observe a committee meeting, you would see charts, maps, surveys and graphs. You would not only hear the children’s thoughts and ideas, but persuasive arguments, disputes, negotiations and compromises. You would get a sense of how deeply responsible the children feel about their individual tasks and how eager they are to contribute to their small society. Watching the community come together through this activity is inspiring!”
Montessori offers such a full and complete education to children. One prime example of what Montessori offers children can be seen in that the pedagogy naturally supports the development of executive functions. In this post, we’ll take a look at executive functions, touching lightly on some of the ways Montessori classrooms support their development. More to come on executive functions and the classroom as well as how you can bolster the development of executive functions at home.
Executive function is generally thought of as being comprised of three core functions: inhibitory control, working memory and cognitive flexibility.
Inhibitory control can be broken down into self-control and selective attention. Self-control is a person’s ability to intentionally refrain from doing something. Selective attention is the ability to choose to focus on one thing (e.g., talking to one person at a party without being distracted by the other conversations around you).
Working memory refers to holding information in your mind and doing something with it. This ability is vital for understanding change over time, following direction, reading and doing mental math.
Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch from task to task or to take in new information and reformulate your thinking based on the integration of new information (e.g., admit to making mistakes or to being mistaken!). What a great skill to have as an adult! And how we long for our children to have this ability.
From these three core functions grow the more complex functions of problem solving, reasoning and planning. It’s easy to see why executive functions are so important not just for success in school but also in life. More to come…
If you haven’t already come up with your favorite way to answer those questions about what Montessori is and what makes Montessori unique, here’s a great way to answer: observation.
Dr. Montessori did not impose a method which happened to work. Rather, her pedagogy arose from her continued observation of children. She noticed which materials the children were drawn to and what type of work they wanted to do. The brilliance she gifted us with is a result of her skilled observation.
Observation remains the foundational piece of implementing Montessori in the classroom. Through observation the guide gets to know the child and determines how best to link them with the environment. Through purposeful and conscientious noticing, the guide is able to offer the right lesson at just the right time. This in turn leads to repetition, concentration, and true learning.
As the school year progresses and the children are settling into their environments, parents are invited to get in on the magic by observing in the classroom. This opportunity is an essential part of parent education and a great avenue toward understanding your child’s classroom experience. Observing is also the best way to prepare yourself for parent-teacher conferences!
Here are some things to look for and/or keep in mind when you observe:
Notice the class at large. How does it function? What is the noise level?
Are the children working together or separately? How do they interact with each other?
Sometimes to get a feel for how the classroom functions, it helps to spend part of your time observing a child other than your own.
Observe the role of the teacher, not as the focal point of the classroom, but as a link between the children and their environment with its carefully designed materials.
Bring a pen and take some notes. Guides are not available to talk during or immediately after observations, so jot down your thoughts and questions to share at a later point.
Take it with a grain of salt. Especially for younger children, having an extra person in the classroom (particularly their own parent!) can disrupt their normal morning flow. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t observe, just know that if something doesn’t look quite the right, there’s probably a reason. (We have all had guests over and wanted to say to them, “I’m so glad you came, but I want you to know that life isn’t exactly like the little snippet you just witnessed.”)
Observation is what allows Montessori to come alive. Please come and join us in the classroom!
(Isn’t Melinda Smith just amazing with her camera? Thank you Melinda!)
While not a new face to the Villa di Maria community, Stefan Baiocchi has taken on a new role this year as VdM’s Facilities Manager. Stefan is super responsive and highly organized as well as being a creative problem solver. The staff could not be happier to have him on the team!
Describe your educational background.
BS in Management Information Systems and BS in Nursing. I worked in the IT industry and decided to go back to school and become a Registered Nurse. I worked for Cardinal Glennon in the PICU and on the Neonatal/Pediatric Transport Team. My last position was with Mid-America Transplant working on the donor side of organ transplants.
How/when did you become interested in Montessori education?
I was not aware of Montessori until my wife Sarah introduced me to it. Sarah had been in a Primary class while growing up and when our oldest son needed to start school while I was working on my RN degree, he started at Villa.
What has been the BEST part of your Montessori experience so far?
I will answer this from the parent perspective. The thing that I like best is that my boys have always enjoyed/wanted to go to school each day and on top of that they have a desire to learn. This desire to learn is something that I did not have when I was growing up, so it is exciting to see what they will be able to do with that foundation.
What do you enjoy doing outside of your time at VdM?
I enjoy watching movies and generally just spending time doing mindless tasks, like mowing the lawn, so that I can listen to podcasts. I have recently started getting my oldest son to run long distances with me and it is a good time for us to be together.
If you were to plan a most perfect, relaxing weekend day, what would it entail?
Reading a book on the couch with the family while watching a sporting event in the fall/winter with a fire going.
What is something you look forward to this school year?
I will enjoy getting to see the differences in the children. I have always noticed changes in my own children but getting to see what the school is doing for multiple/all the children will be exciting.
Book: Ready Player One
Holiday: Thanksgiving (everything great without strings)
Type of music: Currently listening to the Apple Chill station
Song: “September” by Earth Wind and Fire
Restaurant in St. Louis: The Tavern
Vacation: Grand Teton National Park
Game: 7 wonders
Fruit: Apple (Pink Lady)
If you had to choose ONE:
Rain or Snow: Snow
Coffee or Tea: Tea (never liked coffee)
Morning or Night: Night
Ocean or Lake: Ocean
Dog or Cat: Dog (the bigger the better)
Talk or Listen: Talk (trying to work on this)
Walk or Run: Run
Save or Spend: Save
Bike or Swim: Bike
Salt or Pepper: Salt
Realistic Fiction or Fantasy: Fantasy
Summer or Winter: Winter
New York or California: California, it has every climate in less than 100 miles
Cook or Dine Out: Dine out which contradicts the save mentality