Friday, September 30, 2016

International Day of Peace: Collaborative Art

Each year, we take the opportunity to celebrate the International Day of Peace not only by talking about and discussing what 'peace' means, but also to create a collaborative art piece for our school.  This year's project is documented in the following photos:
Each child was able to add, mix, and create colors on the canvas which had been prepared with lines of tape.

After a couple of days, it was filled with color, design and fun details.

The children helped to peel away the tape...

...and we added their thoughts about what they think of when they hear the word,  'peace.'

A closer look.
It brings me much joy to know that for many of our students this is a new concept to think about, and they really have demonstrated the understanding of the key points.  We asked the children what they think about when they hear the word,  'peace.'  Their responses create a beautiful composition:

Taking care of nature,
Peaceful silence,
Being Happy,
Helping someone when they fall,
Being nice and smiling,
I love you,
A gentle dove,
Maria Montessori.

-Students of Dirgio Montessori School's
2016-2017 class 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Apple Sequencing

The children have been so successful with the following sequencing activity.  The lesson was shown at circle time, and then placed at table for the children to complete.  These types of lessons typically remain where they are until everyone who would like to complete the activity has had a chance to do so.  Usually, this means the lesson stays at its place for a couple of weeks.
We have been enjoying other apple themed activities in the classroom since the beginning of school in early September, so I wanted to be sure this lesson was presented as another apple-themed option in the language area.  Not only has it provided opportunities for practice using scissors and glue, but it also has been wonderful to see and hear how the children are able to articulate their reasonings for the sequencing.
Here, the materials are set up at a table.  First, children color and cut the page.  Then, they are to place the apples in sequence, gluing them on the folded, purple paper.  

What delight to see the children concentrating for long periods of time to complete this activity.  They have been very proud of their work - Some eager to bring it home and share with their families, others wanting to share it at circle time to show their friends!

Friday, September 23, 2016

Site Visit

One of our assistants is currently completing her internship through the Center for Guided Montessori Studies.  A requirement of completion includes several site visits from a field consultant over the course of the year.  This week, we had the privilege of one such consultant visiting our classroom.  Not only was the visit successful for our intern, but the consultant was sure to share with me how lovely our classroom was.  She mentioned how, "beautiful and lovely" our school was and how the children were "functioning so well."  She further exclaimed, "I can hardly believe you've only been in school for such a short while, the children are doing so well.  The tone you have set has definitely come through, and it has been a lovely visit."
What a valuable experience to have another set of eyes to observe the classroom, and receive such positive feedback.  Well done, everyone!

Tactile experience with number writing using Sandpaper Numerals.

Precision work with the Pink Tower.

Pairing primary colors with the First Color Tablet Box.

Counting the decimal system with the golden bead material.

Understanding quantity with introduction to the Montessori color system of the math materials  with the Short Bead Stair.

Building concentration, coordination, independence and order through the Practical Life Leather Polishing activity.

Letter writing practice with Rainbow Letters.

Action photo:  Switching vessels during a transfer lesson, and weaving ribbons.

Practicing number order with quantity using the Cards and Counters. 

An extension lesson with numbers 1-10.

Pre-reading material:  Matching cards.

Building independence by practicing snaps.

Introducing quantity with the Number Rods.

Carefully walking on the line, promoting gross-motor control.

Comparison of size with the Knobless Cylinders.  Notice the child in the background with hands behind her back - we encourage the children to 'watch with their eyes' and not to touch each lessons.  

Stretching out words and writing them with the Moveable Alphabet.

An extension of the Short Bead Stair - the Short Bead Hanger.

Carefully filling each cup with the dropper.

An Opening/Closing extension lesson - Practicing with lunch containers.

Understanding quantity and place value of teen numbers with the Teen Bead Hanger.

Using rhythm shakers to follow a steady beat with a seasonal chant about apples and apple trees.

Learning how to use a paintbrush.

Polishing Metal

Learning the names of the Parts of the Flower.

Peace Day matching.

Understanding the concept of zero with the Spindle Box lesson.

Experiencing how various triangles form new shapes when placed together with the Constructive Triangles.

Rock Painting - our classroom's ever-popular pre-writing activity.

Coloring the continents of the world - I especially like how this child has set up the booklet and globe to complete the activity!

Making a 'Sound Stamp Booklet.'  It's hard to see, but the child has stamped  'monkey,' 'milk,' and 'magnet ' for their 'm' sound booklet.

Shape identification and tracing, preparing the hand for writing.

More comparisons of size and height with the Knobless Cylinders.

Phonetic reading practice with labels and objects.

Practicing pouring from one container to another.
After reviewing the photos I was able to take over the past couple of weeks, we have definitely had a productive time in our classroom.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Basic Lessons for the Art Shelf

As the children become more acquainted with their classroom environment, it is important provide opportunities to learn basic procedures while building skills.  In these early days, the students are practicing finding an activity to work with, setting up the necessary materials, completing the lesson, cleaning it up, and leaving it ready for the next person in its place back on the shelf.  
In addition to the lessons using the Montessori materials in the various areas of the classroom, setting up art lessons promoting these same concepts aids in developing the skills children will need through out all areas.  Our new students need ways to practice utilizing various art materials, including the use of a paintbrush.  The following lessons show examples of simple lessons that are currently on the art shelf.  While I use the term 'simple,' there really are several steps and skills involved within each activity. 

Using Do-A-Dot Painters
Here, the child practices gathering necessary materials, setting up the workspace (sense of order), opening and closing containers, and numerous skills in building fine motor control and concentration.

The activity is not quite over yet - now the child practices replacing the materials and leaving it ready for another person to use!

Painting with One Color
As simple as it sounds, there is quite a lot happening here!  The child must make three trips to the shelf to set up this activity (movement is always promoted in a Montessori classroom!).  First, the child takes the tray with paint.  Then, the student returns for the art board and apron.  Once the apron is on, then, they go back for the paper and set it up at the workspace.

Now, onto learning how to use the paintbrush.  Part of the lesson includes naming the parts of the paintbrush, and pointing out how much paint to use.  In this photo, the child has been careful to use just enough paint on the bristles, and is delicately using the brush.  When finished, the child readies all materials for the next person, including rinsing the brush at the sink.  
As the children learn the steps and procedures using these types of materials and lessons, we will add more options to the activities.  This may include additional colors for painting or lessons that require more steps within in the process.  The children are doing wonderfully and taking great care in completing these art lessons.  I am looking forward to observing them practice their skills, and guiding them as they continue to grow.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Tolstoy's Montessori Intuition

War and Peace and Anna Karenina are famously penned by world renowned writer Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy.  While everyone knows of his literary contributions to society, many remain unaware of his theories of educational pedagogy and his attempt to reform education in mid-nineteenth century Russia.    “Tolstoy is widely known and adored as a novelist, but less so as a philosopher and preacher. Tolstoy the teacher is even more obscured by time, even though he created a new methodology of teaching literacy and basic knowledge” (Basinsky, 2013).  In 1859, Tolstoy opened an innovative school on his family’s estate at Yasnaya Polyana (Clear Glades).  At its core was an educational credo that encouraged children to explore their own interests through means that were beneficial for themselves while not forcing them to conform to a rigid curriculum (Basinsky, 2013).  Interestingly, almost fifty years later, Maria Montessori’s theories and work would express a similar philosophy.  While Montessori conducted her work independently from Tolstoy, one must consider the implications the Yasnaya Polyana Schools, or Tolstoy Schools as they would come to be known, would have in the future of Montessori schools in Russia.  Afterall, it was Tolstoy’s own daughter, Tatiana, a product of her father’s school, who visited Montessori’s Casa De Bambini in 1910 where she witnessed the “embodiment of her father’s ideas” (Hilturen, 2013).  

Tolstoy’s vision of a new type of education stemmed from his own experiences as a student.  Having been educated mainly by private tutors through his childhood, Tolstoy’s schooling could hardly be considered anything but bourgeoisie.  Nevertheless, he became disillusioned by the stifled system, eventually dropping out of Kazan University.  Souder writes, “Tolstoy stated, ‘My work on [Catherine the Great's] Instructions and [Montesquieu's] Espirit des lois opened up for me a new field of independent mental endeavors whereas the university with its demands...hindered me’” (2010).  While travelling across Europe to research educational methods prior to opening his school, “Tolstoy was disturbed by the educational systems that he viewed…  He abhorred the compulsory nature of schools and the intense amount of regimentation in nearly every facet of the West European scholastic system” (Souder, 2010).  Instead, Tolstoy’s vision of education was steadfast in promoting individual freedom in both educational growth and development of personality.  In fact, Tolstoy’s schools grew to be, “associated with the traditions of natural and free education, and the applied ideas of nature-based, non-violent, and humanistic pedagogy” (Boguslavsky, 2010). 
From these influences and his own didactic intuition, Tolstoy’s educational philosophy would anticipate the progressive twentieth century student-centered educational theories of Dewey, Nyesiyama, Steiner, and Montessori (Scheuerman, 2010).  Montessori educators will find wisdom and truth within Tolstoy’s instinctual pursuits in providing opportunities for autodidactic learning while supporting the spiritual nature of the child.  It brings to light Montessori’s own thoughts on education, which she highlighted in the preface of From Childhood to Adolescence:
My vision for the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certification to secondary school to University, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolution of the individual” (Montessori,1973).
Certainly, Montessori’s vision also reflects the educational ideals set forth by Tolstoy in his Yasnaya Polyana schools almost fifty years prior.
Tolstoy also maintained that access to education should be a right for all members of society, rather than an endeavor reserved only for the privileged or elite.  The Yasnaya Polyana School, offered free of charge, was not just for his own children, but for all children of the estate’s peasants.  Later, the school expanded and even grew to include children of surrounding towns.   A free education for all was a radical idea given that popular thought, as revealed by Catherine II, was that “too much education for the chern’ (plebes) was dangerous for the social order…” (Eklof, 1996).   As Tolstoy solidified his own opinions of education, he made clear his thoughts on public education:
I've been busy with a school for boys and girls...progress...has been quite unexpected. [The state-run academies] are useful but in the same way as dinner at the English Club would be useful if it were all eaten up by the steward and the cook. These things are produced by all 70,000,000 Russians, but are used by several thousand...The most vital need of the Russian people is Public education...[This] hasn't begun, and never will it begin as long as the government is in charge of it (Souder, 2010).
Tolstoy with the peasant children at Yasnaya Polyana. 
Photo retrieved from 
Tolstoy’s aspirations to offer a free, quality, public education to any one desiring it was in striking similarity to the historical beginnings of the Montessori movement.  In fact, the Casa de Bambini, “was created for children living in the slums of Rome as part of an attempt to improve conditions for the working class and counter the effects of poverty” (Hernandez, 2015).  Even now, Montessori’s wisdom of the impact of personalized learning for social change is a phenomenon that is currently growing in the national spotlight through the formation of public Montessori charter schools and organizations dedicated to promoting public Montessori education.  Sara Conter, founder of ‘Montessori For All’ further supports this notion in her view on equality in education, “We truly believe equity requires children from different backgrounds to be educated together” (Hernandez, 2015).  Undoubtedly, Tolstoy would have favored today’s movement of public Montessori charters that strive to become “drivers of innovation and social justice in public education” (Hernandez, 2015).
Tolstoy’s intuitive Montessori approach at the Yasnaya Polyana School can also be sensed through the methods of instruction and curriculum offerings.  A notable sign adorned the threshold of the classroom reading, ‘Enter and Leave Freely’ (Simmons, 1968).  Tolstoy believed freedom and originality were necessary to promote learning and progress in education.  This type of learning, based on student interest, was at the core of Tolstoy’s educational ideologies and can be identified in a description of a typical Yasnaya Polyana school day:
During the morning, elementary and advanced reading were taught, composition, penmanship, grammar, sacred history, Russian history, drawing, music, mathematics, natural sciences, and religion; in the afternoon there were experiments in physical sciences and lessons in singing, reading, and composition. No consistent order was followed, however, and lessons were lengthened or omitted according to the degree of interest manifested by the students (Simmons, 1968).
Montessori practice mirrors this principle not only in supporting children’s development through ‘sensitive periods’ in learning, but also in the right of students to participate in, decline, or quietly observe lessons.  Lillard (2007) states, “The Montessori materials and basic lessons ensure a core of learning across curriculum areas, but each child’s imagination is invested in the particular avenues of learning that the child pursues beyond that core” (p. 31).  Surely, Tolstoy’s educational movement displayed instincts with Montessori principles regarding student interest and involvement as catalysts in learning.

Tolstoy also believed in the ‘freedom within limits’ method of classroom instruction.  He understood that learning could only occur when clear limits, established by the teacher using “his knowledge and capacity to manage” had been recognized (Simmons, 1968). Only then would children, approached as responsible and respectable beings, discover the necessity of order and begin to govern themselves.  Montessori educators will recognize this as a component in process of normalization that occurs in our classrooms.  Tolstoy’s vision of freedom in education coincide with Montessori’s ideas:
When we speak of freedom in education we mean freedom for the creative energy which is the urge of life toward the development of the individual…  It has a guiding principle, a very fine, but unconscious directive, the aim of which is to develop a normal person.  When we speak of free children we are thinking of this energy which must be free in order to construct these children well (Montessori in Lillard, 2007, p. 106-107).

The notion of teacher preparation is understood by Montessori educators to be of paramount importance in establishing authentic learning environments for our students.  Tolstoy, motivated by his quest to provide a holistic education for the masses, also believed the teacher’s role and their own attitudes to be influential in children’s scholastic enterprises.  He knew from his own experiences at his School that, “children’s minds possess life experiences from which valid connections could be made to daily lessons, and that their imaginations and moral sensibilities can fully contribute to self-directed…endeavors” (Scheuerman, 2010).  The role of the adult, therefore, was to be that of a guide who supports learning rather than that of an authoritarian.  Moreover, Tolstoy believed that compulsory learning stifled student enthusiasm and that the best pedagogical practices should follow student interest.  He simplified this thought by frankly stating, “Find something which the students will be glad to learn” and that learning should “please the pupils, instead of the teacher” (Scheurerman, 2010).  Interestingly, these conclusions represent insightful precursors to Montessori’s later revelations in education.

Tolstoy, igniting interest through storytelling.
Photo retrieved from

Regrettably, Tolstoy’s attempts in reforming the educational system in Russia were never supported by the government.  Nonetheless, we can be inspired by his progressive vision and marvel at his intuition that came to be validated by science through Montessori’s later research.  In fact, one can conclude that Tolstoy and his Yasnaya Polyana School played foundational roles in establishing the worldwide Montessori movement.  Following the release of The Montessori Method, translated into Russian, and a personal visit to Rome to see the Montessori schools, Tolstoy’s daughter Tatiana, returned to Russia in full support of the new approach.  After her glowing “report in a Moscow educational journal, classes were begun in Vilna… with materials obtained from America following support from the physicist V.V. Lermontov.  [In fact, a] classroom was set up in the palace at St. Petersburg for the children of the Tsar and courtiers” (O’Donnell, 2007 p. 24).  Tatiana Tolstoy’s knowledge and full support of the Montessori method was undoubtedly influenced by her own pedagogical upbringing, which philosophically resembled Montessori’s approach.  Certainly, Tatiana’s support was instrumental in bringing Montessori education to Russia, helping to raise international awareness of the method.  Maria Montessori herself would have wholeheartedly supported Lev Tolstoy’s intuition that “if education is good, then the need for it will manifest itself like hunger” (Tolstoy in Simmons, 1968). 

Basinsky, Pavel.  2013.  How Tolstoy wanted to reform Russian education. Russia      Beyond the Headlines.  Retrieved from

Bogulslavsky, Mikhail.  2010.  Leo Tolstoy.  Russian-American Educational Forum: An Online Journal, 2(1).  Retrieved from

Eklof, Ben.  1986.   Russian peasant schools: officialdom, village culture, and popular pedagogy. Berkeley: University of California Press.  19-24.
Hernandez, Eric. 2015.  Montessori for all:  personalized learning for the people.      EdSurge.  Retrieved from

Hilturen, E.A.  (2013). Biography of Maria Montessori (Power Point Slides, trans).  Association of Montessori Teachers of Russia.  Retrieved from

Lillard, A.S. (2007). Montessori: The science behind the genius. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc.

Montessori, M. (1973). From childhood to adolescence: including Erdkinder and The function of the university. Schocken books.

O’Donnell, Marion. (2007). Maria Montessori. London, England:  Bloomsbury Academic.

Scheurman, Richard D.  2010.  Leo Tolstoy and the yasnaya polyana pedagogical institute.  Russian-American Educational Forum: An Online Journal, 2(1).  Retrieved from

Simmons, Ernest J.  (1968).  Writings on education.  In Introduction to Tolstoy’s writings (3).  Retrieved from

Souder, Eric M.  2010.  The pupil of the people: Lev Nickolaevich Tolstoy’s peasant schools at yasnaya polyana.  Vestnik: The School of Russian and Asian Studies.  Retrieved from

Friday, September 9, 2016

Small Steps to a Big Future

While we have yet to be in school a for a full week, we certainly have made steady progress with our majority, new-to-the-classroom group.  As one can imagine, there have been numerous Grace and Courtesy lessons as we learn and review procedures, and begin forming a distinct classroom culture.  As with all with all 'good' things, this will take time as the children begin adjusting to their environment, while building trust with each other and adults.
During this early stage of the school year, it always amazes me how clearly the returning students rise to the occasion of being the oldest members of the group.  Their memories of lessons and of general routines are so helpful as we begin anew.  Not only does this help to build their own confidence, but it also brings such valuable learning experiences for our newest class members.
Some photos from our first days together:
Apple stamping, using an apple-shaped sponge.

Enjoying an apple themed art activity.

Pre-writing lesson:  the ever popular, Rock Painting.

Counting the Short Bead Stair, associating quantity to color.

Careful pouring practice with green and red gems.

Exploring dimensions with a Knobbed Cylinder Block, while promoting the pincer grasp.

Associating quantity with number symbol using the Short Bead Hanger.

Attention to detail while rolling a mat.

Combining beginning sounds to letter symbols.

Transferring with a spoon while sorting by color.

Writing practice with the Metal Insets.

Pre-reading activity with an apple theme - finding the one that does not belong.

Building concentration, coordination, independence and order with the Opening and Closing bottles lessons.

Transferring with tweezers - encouraging fine motor development.

Number writing practice with Sandpaper Numbers.

Completing the Cards and Counters lesson to learn about odd and even numbers.

Developing the pincer grasp - transferring toothpicks into the shaker.
It's only the beginning of the journey, and I am looking forward to where these first steps will lead us.