Thursday, November 21, 2013

What I Learned From My Montessori School Experience

All the posts I have done in my Montessori Experience series have been leading up to this one -

What I Learned From My Montessori Experience


THE CLASSROOM



The classroom must, MUST meet my needs. A great piece of advice that the primary teacher gave me was this: "Do what works for YOU - not necessarily what works in the classroom here." As profoundly simple as that sounds, it's so easy to compare your own personal surroundings to those that you have seen, both in a classroom and in other homeschool rooms! This is also possibly the worst mistake you can make. You see - what works for a mother of 2 children, ages 3 and 5, isn't going to work for a mother of 5 or 6 children, especially those who span all grade levels! While it may be possible for that mother of 2 young children to fill her shelves with every practical life and sensory work possible, that's impossible for a mother who must share her shelves with all grades. While some have entire rooms dedicated to their school space, some have a shelf in the dining room or living room, and that's it. You have to work with what you have, not worry about what you don't have. If that means leaving off pinterest until you have found a way to make your space work with what you are happy with, then do it! Don't get bogged down by the things you don't have. I was able to use this personally, because I had to learn that if I focus too much on any one area, I will not be able to fulfill the needs of my others. I learned that it doesn't take every work possible to make sure your children have what they need, and no more or less room is going to cause normalization in your child - it's NOT something you do - it's something that happens! Use space wisely, cut corners if necessary. Although every material and presentation surely has it's place, you may have to observe your children and find out what they enjoy doing or what helps them understand the most, and use it. Sometimes you may have to stretch the imagination, and use other non-authentic ways/materials to concretely teach the lesson. What works is what is important - not what you don't have!


THE STUDENTS



Ahh..... this one is easy. I have five of the cutest little students you will ever lay eyes on - and that is a completely bias opinion, thank you very much! In my little group, I have the semi-normalized, the MOSTLY normalized, and the not-at-all normalized! I will be honest here and say that this is the part I struggle with the most - not my  own children, but not comparing them to what I think they should be, or what they aren't. I am not proud to say that often, I expect more than I should and find myself having to slow down and take things as they come. I explained in my post, The Romance Of Montessori, that I expected this drastic change to take place just because I changed the way I taught school at home. What I didn't take in to account is that they are starting at the same level as a primary 3 year old, sort of. Not necessarily in what they know, but in how they adjust to the method. Which is fine - for the younger two. But the older three - especially the older two - were used to something very different. We had a very much teacher-led school routine up until last year. I didn't know any different, and neither did they. Don't get me wrong - I ENJOY teaching them and being right there with them as they learn. This would be just fine if I only had one or two. However, I don't - I have five. Five very different children, at five different levels. I needed them to be able to work through some things on their own, especially the older ones, so that I could take the extra time needed for the younger ones.

Where I found my problem was keeping that all going on at the same time. One statement, more than any other, reassured me this in itself was not just due to me not having any formal Montessori training, or even having had gone through a course. When I told the L.E. teacher that one of my focuses for my last trip was to see how she was able to keep everyone busy, she said (with a smile) "That's the hard part!" With that, I learned that I wasn't the only one who had to work hard to make sure they all stayed busy.

When I watched the other children, both in Primary and L.E., I realized that the 'newbies' were very much like my Bug - especially the Primary newbies - she needs a lot of direction right now and she figures out how to find her own work and complete it without needing me right there with her. She is still very dependent on me to direct her, and the Primary teacher said she has some like that and just has to encourage them until they figure it out. I learned that it's normal - it's not just a problem that I have. I know that may seem like something easy to figure out to someone else, but it was a real concern for me.

When I talked with the U.E. teacher, and looked at the environment they have in their classroom, I realized it was set up to be very conducive to personal research, and following a child's interest in whatever they may want to learn about on any given day. I saw the decline in concrete materials as the abstract learning has started to develop in L.E. . I saw how she was able to still teach them what they needed to know in the core areas, but through projects, book reports, etc.,  give them room to learn about something they found exciting. I learned how that could work first hand when Little Mama became deeply interested in all things Native American - she read about them, wrote about them, made miniature homes, buildings, people out of paper that showed what she knew. She immersed herself in it, and through that learned more than I do about early Native Americans, their needs, how they met them, and early American History as seen through their eyes and stories. Which led to even more interest in early American History itself. All this done by her - I had no part in it, other than allowing access through the library, and opportunity by providing little things she needed as she came up with her own ideas of how to use her knowledge.

I saw the boy in L.E. who had made it through 3 years of Primary and was probably in his second year of L.E., and yet that tended to be a little more loud and not so graceful through the classroom. I saw the problem that could create, and yet how the teacher observed from afar but as long as the child was completing his work, and not keeping others from working, she left him to work. Maybe he wasn't the quietest in the room, and maybe normalization didn't set with him the way it did with others, but he got his work done. He was able to help the first year students with things they didn't know or when they needed something. He was able to complete a work cycle and concentrate in the middle of it. I learned that normalization may not look exactly the same in every child - I firmly believe the personality of the child is bound to play a big part in how they interact and move about the classroom. This helps me to realize that I need to take my children's personalities into account before deciding if they are 'getting it' or not.

I could go on and on in this category, but I'll spare you every little detail - although, if you have any questions about a particular concern of yours - feel free to ask! If I can't answer, I know how to get a hold of someone who can!

Last, but once again - not at all least -

THE TEACHER


I learned to observe - and observe - and observe. I learned that I should try with every fiber of my being to be patient, patient, patient! I learned to keep a close eye, but sometimes purpose to do so from afar. Think past what I see first (the talking between each other, the completion of a work in totally the opposite way from what it was intended) and see what my children might be doing. I learned to allow for as much opportunity to create their own assignments as possible. 
Little Mama is a writing/drawing addict! She still 'practices her cursive' - which doesn't need to be practiced anymore - by writing stories or short essays about different aspects of the Native American culture. When she does word studies about antonyms, homonyms, etc. she writes a story using the words she is working on, then illustrates it with a picture. This was all her own idea, and she loves it! 
Bug recently 'created her own work' with beads and pipe cleaners, and she was so happy with herself. I still enjoy being right in there in the lesson with the kids, talking with them and watching them learn. I am always working on improving what I am doing or what I have available, but I have also learned to try and not overwhelm myself, because then nothing gets finished. I will admit, I didn't learn all of that through just my visits to the Montessori school - my lessons on being a good teacher to my children have come from the teachers at the school AND the other amazing homeschool mamas!

Some of my favorite homeschool blogs, although definitely not conclusive, are:

Living Montessori Now
What Did We Do All Day
Discovery Moments
The Kavanaugh Report

These I keep up with very regularly, although there are more that I try to check now and then! If I tried to keep up with all the great blogs I've read, I would be sitting way too long at a computer! I would strongly suggest you find your favorites, ones that not only give good ideas, but encourage you to be a better homeschool mama, and don't overwhelm yourself with every great idea out there. There are many of them, but one person can only keep up with so much. Find what your children like, and what works for them, and don't try to keep up with everyone out there - you won't be able to, it won't happen, and you and your children will suffer for it!

There is so much to be learned, and I have seen over the years that each year there is slight changes according to what your child needs, and that is for Montessori and non-Montessori families. Always determine to improve and make that your prayer - it is mine - and you will not go wrong. I will end with a quote from the U.E. teacher, something she said to me the first time I ever went to tour the Montessori school - "The fact that you are HERE (at the school) is proof that you care and that you are doing a good job." The fact that you, as mothers, are trying to do better all the time - that's what is needed for a great homeschool!!!

Keep on. mothers. keep on!

*To find all the articles in this series, check out these links below*

My Experience in the Montessori Primary Classroom

My Experience in the Lower Elementary Classroom

My Experience in the Montessori Upper Elementary Classroom

4 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on how Montessori works for you. Sounds like you're doing a great job!

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    1. Oh, I don't know about the great job, but I am enjoying trying! :) Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Wow--I really needed to read this. What a shot in the arm and inspiration! Thank you for your insight :)

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    1. I am so glad to be a help! :) I have to remind myself of these things, sometimes over and over again! Thank you so much for stopping by - and keep on, keeping on!

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