“Fasten your seatbelts. This twenty-two hour Quantas Airline flight to
Melbourne, Australia is about to take off!”
Thus began the Elementary class’s multidisciplinary study of Australia. For the past few weeks, our Elementary students have been surfing near Bondi Beach, touring Tasmania, studying Australian cartography and landforms, speaking in Aussie slang, creating Aboriginal-styled artwork, eating Vegemite, pumpkins scones and Brisbane oranges, and avoiding (and studying) large Australian insects. Children have been so busy they haven’t had time to snorkel around the Great Barrier Reef, listen to the didgeridoo or observing the crocodiles at Crocosaurus Cove yet. All while developing reading, writing, math and social studies skills.
This amazing unit was designed and implimented by our awesome Elementary teachers, Mrs. Hannon and Mrs. Hatziyannis, whose creativity, enthusiasm and passion for their classroom make their program unrivaled.
Why are children so enthusiastic? This type of multidisciplinary, integrated continent study brings all forms of intelligence—linguistic, emotions, musical, movement and spatial reasoning, and logical mathematic together to create rigorous, relevant, and engaging learning. The ‘virtual’ field trip provides the context for our students to make connections across disciplines in a meaningful way. Students see a purpose to their learning, even though Australian is on the other side of the globe.
So if you see an Elementary student this week, be sure to say, “G’day, Mate! Have a ripper of a trip!”
Why do we celebrate Winter Festival?
Winter is the darkest season. But the darkness of winter draws our attention to light. At Winter Festival we celebrate the light that each of us brings to our family, our classrooms, our school and our community.
Winter is the darkest season. Winter is also the coldest season. But the coldness of winter draws attention to the warmth in our hearts. With this warmth, each of us has the power to thaw bigotry, intolerance and ignorance. At Winter Festival we celebrate the love inside each of us.
As Maria Montessori said, “Love is the most potent.” Love is the most powerful.
And just as the song goes, “As long as you love me so, Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
The Montessori approach to educating children is based on what we understand about children’s cognitive, neurological, and emotional development as shown to us through years of research. Some of the key aspects of our program include:
- Montessori is focused on teaching for understanding. The Montessori materials give the child concrete sensorial impressions of abstract concepts.
- The approach promotes organization and focus as being just as important as the academics.
- The mentor/mentee is a critical feature. The mixed-age class allows older children to be leaders and teach the younger children.
- In Montessori schools, children from different neighborhoods who share common values have come together to create the school community. Children who grow up in a Montessori environment often speak of close-knit relationships with classmates and their families.
- Montessori supports personalized learning. Children learn at-their-own pace without unhealthy stress or artificial competition. The child can move as slowly or quickly as needed to understand a concept.
- Montessori students study other cultures creating the foundation for global citizenship.
- Children are treated with a deep respect as unique individuals. The school is keenly focused on the child’s intellectual, social, and emotional development.
- Montessori teaches kindness, peacefulness, grace, and courtesy.
- Montessori children learn through their five senses. Materials are hands-on, allowing children to explore, investigate and research. They become actively engaged in their studies rather than being spoon-fed information.
- Montessori addresses different learning styles and helps children learn how to study.
- Montessori challenges children and sets high expectations. Children develop self-discipline and an internal sense of purpose and motivation.
Montessori children are typically engaged, and curious learners who look forward to going to school. They have a high level of self-confidence and independence, a lifelong love of learning, and feel close bonds with friends and teachers.
Much has been made of multi-tasking. It’s a busy world, we know. So the more you can do at once, the better off you are, right?
Take a moment (if you have one) to consider the power of concentration. In Montessori education, concentrated effort is essential. Once children have begun to concentrate they become completely transformed… calmer, more intelligent and more expansive.
In a Montessori classroom, children can pursue a single line of self-focused work. The goal is full absorption. When the work is absorbing, challenging and self-directed, young children engage in deep and sustained concentration.
Have a look at concentration in a classroom… can you imagine anything deeper?
Special thanks to Dr. Angeline Lilliard for her work on Montessori and Mindfulness.
It must be spring time.
Schools like ours love to dig into big questions about Mission and Identity. Who are we? What do we value? and What sets us apart?
Beneath some school’s verbose Mission statements and punchy belief statements, deeper than their platitudes and clichés, lies their vision of The Good Life. What does it mean to live well? How do we prepare our children to do so?
You will not be surprised that Evergreen believes the Good Life requires core academic skills: reading, calculating, problem solving, analysis, inference and synthesis.
But more, the Good Life is filled with loving relationships with the people who surround us and endow our lives with meaning. The Good Life is about people and purpose. What can we do today to make it likely that our children will become compassionate husbands and wives, moms and dads, neighbors and friends?
For us, cooperation-based, multi-aged Montessori classrooms are the best place to develop self-assured and self-actualized young people. With our emphasis on developing confidence and competence, children view themselves as capable of doing hard, meaningful things. They become secure with their identity in a stress-free, supportive classroom community rather than a socially competitive one.
To lead the Good Life, according to the Evergreen formula, one must have unquenchable curiosity, an appreciation of beauty, a sense of duty to others, engagement with the world we live in and a vision for a better one. It starts with knowing and loving ourselves.
A key aspect of Montessori education is the concept of the peaceful classroom. When I first learned of the concept, I was skeptical. Isn’t learning supposed to be active?
Over hundreds of visits to Montessori classrooms, I have learned that ‘peaceful’ and ‘active’ are not opposites. There is a flow to children’s engaged energy when learning.
Evergreen is a peaceful place because it is an active place. Children are absorbed in the present moment– not in the next one. In the words of Tara Brach, a leader in the Mindfulness Movement, adults struggle to achieve what children do naturally: “When we look closely, we find that [adults] pass a great deal of time within the mental frame of being “on our way to the next thing”—completing a task that has been hanging over us, getting to our next meal, disengaging from a phone conversation.”
In a classroom, children can be fully engaged and present in the ‘doing of learning’. It’s something I am striving to for myself.
The first thing you notice is the quiet. What you can’t hear is the sound of children discovering their capacity to learn.
Stepping into our Elementary classroom invites you to whisper. Why is it so quiet? It takes a few seconds to register that this isn’t perfect silence; there are sotto voce conversations all around the room. These discussions are serious, focused and calm. Standing in one of the out-of-the-way niches, I hear two children talking about multiplication. Two others talk about a frog’s anatomy. And I hear Mrs. Sesko giving a lesson about nouns. Mrs. Hatziyannis soundlessly reviews a child’s addition work. Other children are working alone, mostly in silence. One hums. It is clear, these children are using what we call their indoor voice.
The learning here is more that cataloging facts or acquiring data. In this mostly quiet, self-directed classroom, affective learning—the kind that fundamentally shapes the way children view themselves and their capacity to learn—is taking place. If I could think of a better place to learn, I’d tell you.
There is a peaceful buzz in the Elementary classroom because children are engaged in activities that are meaningful, motivating and personal. Affective learning has been described as the fuel that students bring to the classroom. (**) It connects them to the “why” of learning. Mrs. Sesko and Hatziyannis understand that motivation is as important as acquiring facts. Affect goes beyond simple enjoyment, and it plays a part in the development of persistence and deep interest in a subject. Teachers who emphasize skills and knowledge to the exclusion of emotion, turn off students and create adversarial relations with their students.
As you watch these Elementary students working, you will see that something extraordinary is happening. This just isn’t like other classrooms. Trevor Eissler, author and Montessori advocate wrote about his experience in a traditional classroom, “I remember two noise levels in [my] elementary school: very loud and very quiet. When the teacher’s back was turned, or she was out of the room, pandemonium broke out. As soon as she turned around or came back in the room and shouted, “Quiet! NOW!” there was a terrified hush. The noise bounced from one to the other: loud, quiet, loud, quiet, loud, quiet—punctuated by the teacher’s occasional shout.”
Why is our Elementary classroom different? Simply put: it is because the classroom culture is different. Mrs. Sesko and Mrs. Hatziyannis believe that their students are naturally interested in learning. Their role is to build upon their interest or at least preserve it. The teachers have filled the room with age-appropriate challenges that their students want to master. And rather than demanding that children submit to their will, the teachers have set up an environment that respects the child’s and channels it. The class culture builds each child’s self-concept of a person who is competent, capable, and self-directed. Being a multi-age classroom, of course, supports the idea that each child isn’t in a race or competition with each other, but is learning upon a path that is as customized and individualized as it is interesting and motivating. This is respecting the child.
The notion of respect turns the typical teacher/student relationship on its head. Mrs. Hatziyannis and Mrs. Sesko do not rule the classroom like authoritarian dictators. They are facilitators. Children have to ‘do the thinking’ to get the learning. As teachers, their goal is to create the opportunity for the children to think. There is not cat-and-mouse game of rule setting/rule breaking. There is a team mentality and a sense of community and cooperation. As Eissler describes a Montessori classroom that contracts the one he grew up with, “The [Montessori] teacher was like a chess grand master. A grand master is one of only a handful of elite chess players so accomplished they can play five, even ten chess matches simultaneously. They stroll around a room of tables, each with a chess board and a determined challenger, glance at each board in turn, make a move, and stroll to the next board. This teacher reminded me of that type of demonstration. She had keen skills of observation and quick analysis. She glided about the room giving a nod here, a whisper there, a glance, a suggestion. Then she would sit on a chair and observe the room, taking notes.”
Ask yourself: what are the most important goals I have for my child in his or her elementary years? Chances are your list will include the following: I want my child to…
- Be inquisitive
- Enjoy learning
- Have a positive self-image
- Have confidence about his or her capacity to learn
- Acquire the skills and facts necessary for academic success
As I observe the quiet buzz of our Elementary classroom, I am delighted to see our children fulfilling our hopes. It is worth a look yourself. Just use your indoor voice.
**Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning (2001) Chapter 6
David H. Rose & Anne Meyer