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Keeping It Real… Montessori-style!

16 Dec

Ever wonder why fantasy is not a part of the Montessori approach?  Read all about it in my new article in!




Define “Good Teacher”

11 Dec

One of my classmates found this article in the Washington Post.  Here’s the summary:

“While debate rages in the education world about how to measure effective teaching – or whether it is even possible to do so – research funded by a prominent advocate of data-driven analysis [the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation] has found that growth in annual student test scores is a reliable sign of a good teacher… The foundation in the past year has collaborated with local teachers’ unions on reshaping teacher pay and evaluation in several major school systems.”

Guess who was paid $45 million to do the research?  Educational Testing Services.  Because nothing says “impartial research results” like hiring the country’s largest test-producer to point out the importance of testing to evaluate both children and teachers!

Basically, here’s how I imagine the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation would define a good teacher:

Good teacher: (n.) 1. One who bribes, threatens, punishes, and in many other ways manipulates children to reach arbitrary markers set by moronic politicians. 2. One who robs children of the joy of learning in order to procure a bonus and pension.

Here’s my definition of what they consider a “good teacher”:

Good teacher: (n.) 1. One who is bribed, threatened, punished, and in many other ways manipulated to reach arbitrary markers set by moronic politicians.  2. One who is robbed of the joy of teaching in order to finance a broken and corrupt system.

I’m seeing a pattern…

Author’s note: Shortly after posting this, Alexa pointed out that the New York Times had also written about this study, although they give a somewhat different take on the methodology and results.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores, according to a progress report on the research.”

I still have major issues with equating “students who learn the most” with “gains on standardized test scores” and pegging the blame or glory on the teacher…

What Is Indirect Preparation? How Does It Work?

3 Nov

Just about every activity in a Montessori classroom has two purposes: one direct and the other indirect.  While the direct goal aims at providing the child with a skill he can use in the present, the indirect goal focuses on abilities he will put to good use later in life.   This is one of the geniuses of the Montessori method: Use the child’s current interests to help him develop future abilities in a way that respects his psychological needs and physiological abilities.

My new article on follows three-year old Wyatt and his parents as they experience one of the myriad benefits of a quality Montessori education.  Enjoy!

Tomorrow’s Child Magazine

18 Oct

How does a Montessori teacher maintain order and harmony in the classroom without the use of rewards and punishments?  How do 25 or 30 young children manage to spend their days together in an environment of respect and community?  How can little tykes develop so much self-discipline and self-control at such a young age?

Find out by reading the November issue of Tomorrow’s Child magazine (published by The Montessori Foundation), where I write about all this and more!  You can subscribe to a digital version of the magazine or get the hard copy delivered in or outside the U.S. by going here!  It’s a great resource for home schooling parents, teachers, and anyone who’s curious about Montessori education and the role it can play in the lives of families.

Happy reading!

I heart Montessori

16 Oct

Originally posted on on Sept. 29th, 2010

At my mom’s acupuncture clinic in Mexico City, I struck up a conversation with a patient in the waiting room.  She was a fashionable and wealthy 40-something woman, and when she found out I was the doctor’s daughter, she asked me what I did for a living.

“I’m a Montessori guide,” I replied, well aware of the misconceptions surrounding the type of work I do.  I expected her to ask, ‘What’s Montessori?’ or to disdainfully say something like, ‘Oh, isn’t Montessori where children do whatever they want?’

Instead, she almost jumped out of her chair and exclaimed: “Oh my goodness, I LOVE MONTESSORI!!!”

Before I could get a word in, she began to tell me her story:

“I have two daughters,” she began.  “My eldest was in a great pre-school when we lived in another state, but then we moved to Mexico City and I didn’t know where to enroll her (in Mexico, all middle-class children attend private fee-based schools chosen by their parents).  I visited the school that was across the street from my house, but they told me that they used the Montessori method through kindergarten and that since my daughter was six years old, she would not be able to start first grade until the following year.

“It saddens me now to think that I didn’t know what Montessori was and believed all the misconceptions that float around.  No way would I enroll my child in a hippy New Age school where children do whatever they want.  All kids want to do is play!  How were they ever going to learn?  What kind of education didn’t use homework, tests, or grades?  Heck, my husband and I are both products of traditional education, and we turned out just fine!”

She laughed, rolled her eyes, and continued…

“Some friends highly recommended a traditional all-girl school that had been around for generations, and although it didn’t align exactly with my spiritual beliefs, I went along with their suggestion and enrolled her there.  The school told me they would accept her into the first grade, which thrilled me because she would be exposed to more academic subjects!

“By the middle of the school year, my daughter was a wreck.  She had developed gastritis, refused to eat, was having trouble sleeping, and would cry every day on the way to school.  Her grades were mediocre at best, so of course I took it upon myself to help her improve, and I became her teacher in the afternoons.  I bought a chalkboard and a stool and would sit with my daughter, going over her homework and reviewing what she had learned at school.  I would drill her for hours: ‘Two plus two is four, four plus two is six, now it’s your turn!’ Let’s go!’

“When final exams came around, I was so stressed by her lack of progress that I… I…”  She looked down at this point, and when her eyes met mine again, they were filled with tears.  “I hit my daughter over the head with a book and yelled, ‘Why aren’t you getting it?’ You see, her performance validated my success as a parent.  We were turning in the homework.  We were getting a C – on a test.  We were writing a book report.”

I was taken aback by her honesty and openness.  This is a very typical phenomenon among middle-class families around the world, yet very few parents have the courage to look within themselves and realize the implications of their choices.  The woman continued…

“During Summer vacation, I laid off the academics and watched my daughter blossom.  She played the piano by ear, did pencil sketches and worked with watercolors, and organized her bedroom impeccably.  I couldn’t understand why at school she had such a hard time remembering her books, organizing her calendar, and following the teacher’s instructions!

“When second grade began, my daughter became a mess again.  A few months into the school year, her teacher, the principal, and the school’s psychologist called me in for a meeting.  ‘Your child has A.D.D. and you’re going to need to medicate her,’ they declared.

“That one sentence triggered the maternal protective instinct that had lain dormant inside me.  I took my child to a private psychologist, who spent several weeks getting to know my daughter.  She then asked me: ‘You’re her mother and you know her better than anyone else.  Do you think she has A.D.D.?’  I thought back to the Summer and answered from my heart: No.

“That same afternoon, halfway through the school year, I went looking for a new school for my daughter.  The psychologist recommended the school across the street from my house, the very same one I had dismissed because of their Montessori program.  I went to them and begged them to accept my daughter mid-year.  They told me they would have to move her back to the first grade, which was no longer Montessori but still respected several tenets of the method, including group work and research-based learning.  I told them to do whatever they had to do, I was that desperate.

“At that time, my younger daughter was almost three and seemed ready to start pre-school.  The director of the school asked if I would be interested in enrolling my little one in their Montessori program.  I told them: ‘Sure, whatever, I don’t care, I’m just worried about saving my older one at this point!’

“They gave me some brochures about the method, and that’s where I learned who Maria Montessori was, where the method originated, and how things really worked in the classroom.  I was invited to observe a class in progress, and I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Everywhere I looked, tiny little children were working with so much purpose and determination!  One watered the plants, another made orange juice, a third was building a tower, while another one formed sentences with plastic letters on a rug.  There were probably 30 children, each one doing something different, and the teacher was off in a corner giving a lesson.  Nobody was running or yelling or breaking things!  I finally realized that this is what education should look like.

“That was seven years ago.  Today, my older daughter still struggles with school, although she is more comfortable in this new learning environment.  She gets by with a C-average, although I know she’s very brilliant.  She has a hard time keeping her school work organized and needs my help to get through homework, although at home she’s very detail-oriented and continues to excel in music and art.  Meanwhile, my younger daughter, who is now in fourth grade, is the flip-side of the coin.  She is extremely responsible and loves to learn, not only from books but from everything and everyone around her.  I never have to ask her about her homework and she is always challenging herself.  For one child, learning is a struggle; for the other, it’s a joy.

“I often wonder what life would have been like for my older daughter if I had found Montessori when she was young.  I can’t change what happened to her, but I can help parents avoid the mistakes I made.  Now, every time I meet someone with a young child, I tell them to enroll their child in a Montessori school.  You’d be surprised at how many parents tell me they don’t like their child’s school but are afraid that the transition to another school will be difficult.  I tell them that nothing is more difficult than seeing your child systematically lose their joy for learning.


Our care of the children should be governed not by the desire to ‘make them learn things’, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within them the light which is called intelligence.

— Maria Montessori

Leading Principles of the Montessori Approach, part I

28 Sep

Whew, blogging while getting the Elementary certification is a little like birthing a child while cooking a seven-course meal (or something like that…).  At any rate, I wanted to share these great principles that can help you make the right decision for your child or your students during your Montessori journey.  They’ll be posted in four parts for ease of reading.  I hope you enjoy them!


When faced with an uncertain situation in the classroom, it is always advisable to go “back to the basics”.  What follows are reference points/yardsticks that will allow us to make decisions that are aligned with the Montessori approach and are in the best interest of the child’s development.

The True Purpose of the Materials
Dr. Montessori’s focus was not the teaching of subjects; she was intrigued by the child’s development and how he learns.  Therefore, the subject area should never become more important than the children.  She offered materials as a means of development, not as an end in themselves.

We should not offer a material – be it table washing or the stamp game – with the goal of getting the child to learn how to wash tables or to obtain the right result for an addition.  We should guide children towards materials that will provide them with the developmental opportunities they require at that precise time.   We can know what their needs are by observing them and educating ourselves regarding the different sensitivities children exhibit at different stages (that’s a post for another day).

A child who washes a table will be refining his movements and developing the ability to follow a sequence of steps, regardless of how clean he leaves the table.  Similarly, a child who works with the stamp game will come to understand the fundamental concepts of arithmetic operations, regardless of whether he gets the correct answer every time or is able to add in his head.

The characteristics of the materials must be such that they prepare the child for something in the future (indirect preparation), while allowing him to reach awareness in the present (direct preparation).  Only the adult can develop an idea of what happens in the future; the child is not conscious of the preparation that is going on while he works.

Reaching Abstraction
The repetitive use of the Montessori materials is what allows the child to reach abstractions.  Dr. Montessori deemed a material valid and useful if it was able to hold the child’s concentration and if it permitted him to pass from the material to the mental world (from the concrete to the abstract).

It’s important to remember that abstractions take time.  The child must use materials that will allow him to reach abstraction by himself on his own timetable; this is the real meaning of freedom, growth, and self-construction.  When a child reaches abstraction depends on the individual, but if it is to be meaningful it will be based on individual experiences and not on someone else’s knowledge.

Thirty hours of lectures per week, anyone?

20 Sep

Hello dear readers (if I have anyone left at this point, since I’ve been away for forever)… Elementary training has been beyond amazing, but has also taken a toll on the amount of time or energy I have for writing anything other than Montessori essays and presentations for school.  Today our trainer busted out the most amazing set of principles that all adults should keep in mind when guiding children (be it in school or at home).  My goal is to get them on this blog this week.  Baby steps towards writing this blog again on a regular basis…

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you a beautiful experience I had the first few days in Italy.  I went to a concert atop a bell tower.  Inside the bell tower, a young man – probably not more than 14 years old – used a centuries-old tradition to play the bells… The actual church bells that sit atop the bell tower!!!  Notice his concentration… How often we under-estimate the abilities of our young!