Gardening at Foothills Montessori

Over the years, FMS has had many green thumbs planting flowers, herbs, and plants on campus including the greenhouse. Ms Val manages in the primary outdoor classroom.  Last year, there was a concerted effort, led by Ms. Kerri(E6), to partner with Green Our Planet and create a sustainable gardening program.  The fruits of her labor are coming to fruition as we see the plants thriving in the new brick planters located in the campus courtyard.  Every classroom is represented on the gardening committee and exciting results are starting to bloom.

There are essentially four areas on campus that are dedicated to growing plants: the center courtyard, the east side behind the lower elementary classrooms, the green house in the primary outdoor classroom, and the pollinator garden found outside E6 (upper elementary) on the west side.  Each area has its purpose and the students, teachers, and parent volunteers are involved with the maintenance and growth of the areas. In addition, primary classes are focused on creating a sensory garden with plants which feel, taste and smell amazing. We are even considering starting a seed library.

As stated by the committee, The FMS garden is a learning garden. Maria Montessori observed, “When children come into contact with nature, they reveal their strength.” Our garden encourages students to experience the natural world, gain insight into how all living things work together, demonstrate respect, adopt peaceful practices and develop an awareness of personal responsibility for contributing in a positive way to the world. Teachers and staff utilize the garden to facilitate outdoor learning across all domains and school subjects, and to nurture self-reflection, mindfulness, and family engagement. Garden lessons increase opportunities for outdoor learning, support healthy eating, and inspire students to protect, conserve and improve the natural environment around the world. “Education is not something which a teacher does, but that it is a natural process which develops spontaneously in the human being. It is not acquired by listening to words, but in virtue of experiences in which the child acts on his environment.” (Maria Montessori)

As the garden grows, elementary students will participate in professional chef demonstrations using produce from our harvest. Also, be on the lookout for notification of upcoming farmers’ markets where students will be selling items from the garden.

Ambassador Leaders

Ambassador Leaders

Leadership is a complex and useful skill that may lay dormant in a young person until they are actually called upon to use it. This summer, six FMS middle school students were invited to attend a week-long leadership training program sponsored by the Ambassador Leaders program.  Some of our students attended the training at Harvard Law School and others went to UCLA.  Each student was nominated by their teachers and then submitted an application to be chosen to attend the training.

Their week was filled with seminars on team building, communications, and learning how to identify their own leadership styles. Successful business people presented during the week modeling many of the leadership traits the students had learned about.  Our students were challenged with creating a community service project and figuring out its motto, purpose, and a strategy for implementing the idea.  Some of our students came up with an idea focused on water; preserving it and providing clean water supplies to communities which they called “One Drop.”

When asked, “What did you learn about yourself through this experience?” One student commented that the experience “opened her up,” another had to “step out of her comfort zone and engage in conversations with people she had just met.”  A student also commented that his group had to speak about their community project idea in front of an audience of over 100 people, and he was “pleased with his performance.”  The experience certainly provided opportunities for students to become more confident in public speaking and collaborating with peers.

A Blended Montessori Approach

FMS is a blended Montessori program.  Montessori materials for teaching Math, Language, Reading, Science and Cultural lessons are the foundation for lesson giving at the primary level and are used in varying degrees in the upper grades.  We follow the tenet of presenting the concrete material first, such as using a single red bead to represent “one” and the green bead bar to represent “two.”  Then, as the student becomes more familiar with the process of handling the concrete materials and their knowledge solidifies, they are introduced to more abstract representations, such as writing the number 1 and then eventually learning the functions of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Sounds are presented first when teaching language to 3 and 4 year olds so that when letter recognition is developed, a young student begins to see the letters put in a pattern to form words, which eventually leads to pre-k students reading simple books.

The Montessori method is one that is “hands on” and process driven.  This methodology is used throughout each of the ascending grades at FMS.  Much of the teaching is done in small groups, where again, specific needs and abilities of the students are addressed.   Once a student is in lower elementary (first through third grade), Montessori materials are still used in the classroom, but traditional learning materials are used to solidify a students knowledge, preparing them to function effectively in any school setting.  For example, “Words Their Way” is a spelling and comprehension tool used to develop writing skills, as well. This starts in first grade and carries through sixth grade. Middle school students focus on etymology, while learning the deeper connections of how words were created and applying their meaning in their writing.

Starting in third grade, each student is given the Stanford 10 Achievement Test rating the student’s reading, comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, math and listening skills.  A record of these scores is posted on our website under the ABOUT category then under TEST SCORES.  For over ten years, FMS Montessori students have consistently demonstrated above grade level  mastery as a mean population. These results are measurable indicators that FMS students are standing on solid academic ground and can compete effectively when measured against traditional school standards. Chrome notebooks are introduced to upper elementary (fourth through sixth) students as a tool for researching and writing papers.  Middle school students continue to use Chrome notebooks for research and Google classroom.

All of the “non-Montessori” tools are used to solidify and refine the education process at FMS.  We are committed to helping each student develop to the best of their abilities, both on an academic and social/emotional basis.  Learning “how to be with other people” is just as vital as learning the sounds of the alphabet, or composing a well written paper.  FMS is an institution that feels warm and inviting. Children, parents, teachers, and administrators take an active role in our learning community, contributing to the collective experience we share during the school year.  FMS is a community of learners, inspired by the Montessori philosophy to do our very best every day.

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Cooking projects in the FMS kitchen happen on a regular basis, filling the office with delicious scents and actively involving students in the preparation of food.  Sometimes, the food that is being made is to celebrate birthdays for the month.  Often there is an opportunity for our students to experience an academic lesson represented in a food item.  Last week, P2 students entered the kitchen and found that the entire solar system was laid out on the table in front of them.

The task was to paint a plate with yogurt signifying the atmosphere and the boundless space around us.  The sun was represented by an orange slice, with Earth showing up as a slice of kiwi.  The asteroid belt was laid out by using raisins.  Each piece of fruit was proportional in size, representing the scale of the planets in space. This visual and tactile lesson was further enhanced when the students were able to eat the fruit and use their sense of taste.  Space was explored, a lesson imparted, and a memory made when the fruit was eaten…a true Montessori experience.

 

Training the Mind

The FMS teaching staff began the new year with a training in mindfulness.  It was given by Tessa Stephenson, MS MFT, and Regional Director for the Endeavor network.  Mindfulness is an old idea getting new traction in our fast paced world.   As per Ms. Stephenson, mindfulness is a perspective that cultivates “an attitude of openness and curiosity no matter the circumstances, including situations that are unwanted or unpleasant.” Mindfulness offers tools for regulating emotions in order for a person to stay present and focused in the moment they are in, instead of reacting automatically to their own emotional states.

Simply taking a deep breath can calm the mind long enough to integrate the right and left sides of the brain so a person can think clearer about the situation at hand. Many studies have shown that teaching young children mindfulness techniques gives them life skills for coping with frustrations and disappointments.  The studies have also shown that as young children are taught mindfulness techniques, they begin to experience themselves moving from a reactive to a receptive state.  Not only does this help them in the immediate moment where they feel challenged, but this simple training can facilitate long term positive brain development.

Integrating the left and right sides of the brain is the ideal state of mind. The right side of the brain controls senses, emotions, nonverbal communications, and gives the whole picture context. Studies demonstrate connecting with the right side of the brain where emotions are generated is critical to effectively redirecting behavior.   Once the emotions are addressed, then conversation can proceed to utilizing the left side of the brain. The left side of the brain is the logical, linear, literal, and linguistic driver. Solutions can be offered and boundaries reinstated.

One of the mindful techniques brought to the classroom was a simple hand gesture. For example: holding a hand up, then folding the thumb into the palm, followed by letting the four fingers move rapidly, the child takes a breath and then slowly folds the four fingers over the thumb in a closed fist position.  As the breath is being exhaled and the fingers are moving slowly over the thumb, “pull it together” is repeated silently.  “Pull it together” is a verbal cue for integrating both sides of the brain. As a recent example: a primary class (ages 3-6) taught this technique to the students during a whole group circle.

During lunch that same day, a kindergartener looked at a younger peer who was having difficulty controlling their body while eating and simply held up her hand, folded her fingers over her thumb, and the other child redirected their behavior. This action was unprompted by a teacher and demonstrates the power of mindfulness.

Mindfulness and Middle School

Mindfulness is a modern term for an ancient concept of quieting the mind, intentionally.  Ms. Erica introduced this concept to her middle school students this year by adding “mindfulness” as a daily part of the curriculum.  She introduced mindfulness to her students by drawing their attention to their natural breathing patterns. Often, by simply putting focused attention upon the inhaling and exhaling of the breath, students began to notice a slight difference in their postures, their own breathing, and how calm they felt.  A breathing ball was used to demonstrate this process.

Research done by Northwestern Medicine confirms that “nasal breathing plays a pivotal role in coordinating electrical brain signals in the olfactory “smell” cortex-the brain regions that directly receive input from our nose-which then coordinates the amygdala (which processes emotions) and the hippocampus (responsible for memory and emotions).  During nasal inhalation, the fast electrical rhythms in both the amygdala and the hippocampus become stronger.  The in-breath specifically alters your cognition, improving both emotional and memory processing – any slow, steady breathing like the kind employed in meditation and yoga activates the calming part of the nervous system, and slows heart rate, reducing feelings of anxiety and stress. The act of slow, deep breathing, whether the inhalation or exhalation, is beneficial for your nervous system when you wish to be more still.”1

Every midmorning, middle school students are called together to practice the art of mindfulness.  Breath is always a key component to this process and is used to teach students how to tune into their mind/body connection. Ms. Erica has also found a way to reveal to her students that there is a direct link between the mind and the hands. When the mind is always active and on the go, sometimes thoughts can be tamed simply by engaging the hands in small, peaceful moments. A special shelf in the room hosts 55 different mindfulness jobs, including watching oil and water mixing in a container, tracing sand in a tray, and even trying their hands at solving the Rubik’s Cube. Students are encouraged to ground their thoughts before beginning the tasks. They are also encouraged to try various mindfulness jobs to expand their own experiences and to give others a chance to do the works.  Unlike other assignments, there is no goal in mind other than to experience the process of doing the work.

Once a week, a guided meditation is done giving students the opportunity to experience the power of “being,” opposed to “doing.”  Observation of the breath is the foundation of the mindfulness curriculum and is used on a daily basis. Tuning into and expanding the awareness of the five senses will take up much of the school year, with mindfulness, emotions, and the inner experience rounding out the curriculum.

During a recent class, students spent class time outside, just listening, trying to expand the reach of their sense of hearing.  They were amazed to discover the variety of sounds found outside when they were quiet enough to open up their perception to the natural world.  A recent survey conducted by Ms. Erica revealed the vast majority felt the class was helpful and they were enjoying it.

Mindfulness is a life skill that teaches the difference between being mindful (actively engaged in the present moment with mind, body and breath) and having a mind full of thoughts, each one racing to gain momentum over the other.  With practice and awareness, students are learning to quiet their minds, balance emotions, and harness the power of their thoughts.  A leading mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat-Zinn, postulates “learning mindfulness practices in school would put people on the road to a much more healthy relationship to their body and their emotions.”2 We are seeing the truth of this statement with our middle school students. Finally, as reported by Time Special Edition, “mindfulness has been shown to increase kindness, sleep quality, behavioural control, concentration, and even math scores.”3

 

Mindfulness Magazine (10/2017)

1: pg. 12

2: pg. 18

Time Special Edition “The Science of Childhood” – Inside the Minds of our Younger Selves.

  1. Pg. 62

The Power of Observation

Observation is a foundational skill for an effective Montessori teacher.  The ability to watch, listen and not interfere with a student’s learning process is essential for creating a Montessori experience.  From the very beginning, Dr. Montessori (a trained physician) took the approach that teaching was not about filling a student up with facts and figures. The goal was to create an environment that was interesting and engaging while teachers introduced subject matter from the most concrete perspective, and then by extension to the abstract.

As the teacher creates and delivers specific lessons to a student, it becomes clear what parts of the lesson make sense to the student and is absorbed by them. It can be equally obvious which parts of the lesson did not resonate with the child.  The skill to watch the reactions of a student and determine where the breakdown in understanding occurs is the hallmark of a Montessori educational experience.

Watching with clarity and purpose is a refined skill for a Montessori teacher.  In this day of instant answers and very quick adjustments to the constant flow of information, it is tempting to step in too quickly with a student and give them the “right way of doing the lesson.”  Instead, a more measured and patient approach can actually net better results.  The more a student internalizes the lessons and experiences the process of manipulating the materials, or practicing more abstract skills, the greater the impact of the lesson.

Observing a student over time is also extremely helpful.  Since most of the students stay in a classroom for three-year cycles, it gives the teachers a wealth of history to draw upon and to apply useful comparisons to earlier observations.  Teachers’ abilities to quietly focus their listening and visual skills are the key to delivering an effective Montessori educational experience to their students.

 

Peace Rose

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The gift of the yellow rose is a concept  that comes out of the Montessori peace curriculum where a silk, yellow rose is used in the classroom much like a talking stick for the students to take turns sharing their feelings and resolving their differences.  Dr. Maria Montessori put her educational philosophy forward during the throes of WWI and it remained relevant through the second World War.  Part of her drive was to instill the concept that each one of her students had the potential to be a peacemaker.  In the classroom today, we carry on her legacy.  It is our belief that children in a classroom are no different than people interacting with others in society.  There will be stretches of peaceful interactions and then differences of opinions will arise naturally in time. It is natural to feel the full range of emotions from happy to sad, and to feel the frustration of not getting their way. It’s during that time, when we guide the students to verbalize their disappointment and find their voice in an exchange that is respectful and on point.

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Dr. Montessori had such respect for the intelligence and latent independence buried in the soul of a child that she was determined to create a learning environment that supported her inspiration.  Early on, she shifted the common view that children were undeveloped adults to that each student was an individual child responding to the stimulus of their environment and directly affected by the quality of relationships of the pertinent people in their lives.  The power of the Montessori method today is that we collectively are modeling a way of existing in the world.  We are sensitive and committed to living the values of respect, trust and honesty.  Not only do we offer a pathway for developing intellectual acuity, but the structure and context of interacting with other people is engaged and nurtured daily.

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In the classroom today when differences arise, the Montessori teacher is listening very carefully for the child’s perspective and the human tendency to blame others for their discomfort.  It is encouraged that a student seek a teacher’s assistance if they feel like they are stuck, and there is little or no response from the other child.  However, even then the teacher is there to help facilitate conversation between the children, not to solve the conflict for them. As the children learn to identify their emotions and verbalize their discontent, they learn to see the other child as someone very much like them trying to make their way in the classroom.  An inner strength begins to emerge when children experiment with compassion, and open communication.  They feel the power of expressing needs and then listening to one another. Conflict resolution arises naturally in an environment where peace is cherished and the power of verbal exchange is experienced successfully.

Confederate Instructional Training

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The Civil War lept off the pages of the history books and landed squarely on the backs of our Middle School students as they found themselves working in army regiments, just like soldiers did during the Civil War. Confederate Instructional Training (CIT) was held at the local park with Ms. Erica as the Sergeant, supported by sixteen parents acting as Corporals. Each of the Recruits (our Middle School students), were randomly assigned their regiments. When one student was out of step, a shoe not tied, some other task not completed; the entire regiment was obligated to do 10-15 pushups. Students who may had never worked together before during the school year, found themselves depending upon everyone in their regiment to pull their own weight.

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Five stations of training were set up including erecting a Sibley tent, building a stretcher, administering first aid, making and eating hardtack (a staple of the war made by mixing flour and water), and running with a thirty pound pack (simulating the hardship of carrying a pack for 20-40 miles a day during the Civil War).

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As each of the regiments completed their tasks, the communications between the students increased as they saw the benefit of everyone doing well, and the hardship imposed on the whole regiment when one person failed.  The CIT was the culmination of the study of the Civil War for the Middle School students.  Not only did it bring to life some of the difficulties the soldiers faced, it inspired a deeper understanding of the complexities of the Civil War and the human cost of the conflict.

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The underlying reaction by the Middle School students from participating in the CIT, was a deeper respect for the soldiers and the hardships they endured for the sake of their beliefs.  After eating the hardtack during their simulation, Mary observed “how horrible the food must have been during the war.”  She also was moved at how important it was to “move as one in their regiments” and to quickly bond with all of the students in her regiment.

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Keji felt a deeper appreciation for the complexity of the Confederate’s side and how that many of the soldiers were not slave owners, but were simple farmers trying to preserve their sovereignty and felt compelled to push against the North, who they felt were threatening to take over their farms.

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Kameron was impressed with the number of soldiers who were killed during the Civil War, but after doing the CIT, he felt more kindred to their stress’ and challenges.  He said, “Before the CIT, I just looked as the dead soldiers as a number, now I have a much better understanding of how they might have felt.”

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Participating in the regiments taught Hank, that multiple things were going on at the same time, and the “more we communicated among ourselves, the better we did.”  He discovered that there was a need for the regiment to act cohesively, but at the same time he also experienced the “need for individuals to share their leadership skills and to initiate action, especially when they were erecting the Sibley tent.  A-Sam also stressed the need for his regiment to work cohesively, as one misstep by an individual affected the whole group.

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A common response to the CIT by all of the students,  was the revelation that it was really hard to be a soldier during the Civil War, and the absolute agony our country endured when brothers fought against brothers.  Abolishment of slavery was a hard fought change in the United States that emerged from the blood that was shed during the Civil War, but it came at a steep price, and now our Middle School students have a deeper appreciation for what that price was.

Montessori Primary Classroom Work

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Many of the Montessori works in a Primary classroom are truly hands on, with no paperwork trail to reflect the effort required to do the work. This is especially true in many of the math jobs, sensorial, and in the practical life areas of the classroom. On the other hand, you may see small strips of paper with letters traced on it, pin punched papers, and even math papers referencing the color bead stair coming home, not knowing the source of this work.

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Early letter recognition is practiced using the “blue stepboard.”  A strip of four letters is placed in the board and the student is asked to match the letter from the board to the strip.  When they  are correct, the letter fits; when it is not the right match, the letter will not fit.  The tracing paper is inserted into the board and the letters are copied.

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As the child progresses in their recognition of letters, more demanding strips will be used and the student will be given the chance to fill in with the beginning sound of a word, then ending sounds of a word.  Finally, a simple picture is found on the strip and the student spells the entire word.

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Pin punching looks deceptively easy when the work is brought home, but the labor and fine motor skills required are noteworthy.  Whether the child is pin punching a metal insert design (triangle or  square), or they are pin punching a seasonal shape (pumpkin or turkey), the level of concentration is immense.  The child is holding a push pin with the pincer grip (between the thumb and the first and second fingers) and is literally punching out consecutive holes around the perimeter of the shape.  If a student is deliberate in their work, the shape is easily extracted from the page.  If they have not sufficiently punched in enough holes, it is harder to remove it from its original page.  Often, a teacher will hold up the pin punching work to the window to check the quantity of holes before they attempt to tear it out effectively.  The child can then see if they have pin punched enough holes to tear it out easily.

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Finally, you may have seen paperwork showing a progression of 1-10 where the numbers are traced and the corresponding beads are colored with their specific color.  For instance, the one bead is always red, the two beads are green.

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You are looking at a foundational Montessori math work.  One of Dr. Montessori’s chief insights into educating children was to recognize that a child will likely learn better and retain the information longer, if they are taught from the concrete (holding a one bead in their hands) then introducing the abstract (this is the number one).  The one to one correspondence begins to take hold, where the child realizes that they are holding “one” and that the name of that concept is the number one.  You will see papers reflecting this work when bead stair papers are coming home.

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