Conversations about Montessori
Montessori and The Spiral Curriculum
In a Spiral curriculum, students revisit the same topics throughout their education. Learners benefit from a spiral curriculum because each repetition reinforces previous learning and builds complexity.
As complexity builds so too does the level of abstraction. Though not exclusively found in Montessori schools, Montessori students experience a spiraling curriculum with the added benefit of using similar or even the exact same materials they used while mastering previous concepts. A spiral curriculum is most easily seen in mathematics because most topics in math build off of each other with increasing complexity. This is even more dramatically demonstrated in the Montessori Math materials.
Let us take, for example, the simple, beautiful bead stair.
The bead stair is certainly not the first math material children have experience with. Early concrete experiences with math are everywhere, but arguably, the first structured, purposeful math concepts start with sensorial materials like the iconic Pink Tower: ten cubes, placed from largest to smallest. This is the first work that illustrates the concept of bigger and smaller; a very concrete lesson, where the child experiences biggest and smallest and then the associated vocabulary.
But let’s get back to the Bead Stair. A child in children’s house has spent months or years working with intro to number materials; counting the long and short number rods, tracing sandpaper numbers; they can identify 1-9; they have been counting each spindle, one at time; and they can place the numbers in order and lay out the correct number of red counters. They have mastered numbers 1-9.
Up until this point, all the numerals and all the objects to count have been the same color. The only differences are the shapes of the numerals and the corresponding quantities. This is by design; Montessori materials highlight one concept at a time. The bead stair, in its simplest presentation is reminiscent of the first lessons with the number rods. The child places the beads in order from 1 to 9. The bead stair is an opportunity to revisit and reinforce what the child has learned.
The bead stair is both a culmination of 1-9 work and a bridge to more abstract and complex number concepts. The bead stair does not teach the 1-9, the child works with and memorizes the bead stair because it will become a tool. Like the Pink Tower, the Bead Stair is a deceptively simple work that lays the ground work for amazing conceptual leaps.
Now the color of each quantity is different. Now 3 is pink and 4 is yellow and the idea of three, ●●●, and 3 are held together and remembered and the child can move 3 and add 3 without need to count 1,2,3. The student no longer needs to count 1-9.
The child uses the same bead stair to build teen numbers. The child lays a ten bar next to three bead bar and counts to 13.
The bead stair is used for addition, and again, when children start counting the square chains and cubed chains.
Multiplication bead boxes are full of the same bead bars. The student will use bead bars in the Subtraction snake game.
When elementary children use the Golden Mat or when they finally get to use the checker board to multiply large numbers, guess what they use to represent each amount? The bead bars. The student has combined his/her thorough understanding of place value and operations and now the humble three bead bar becomes 3,000.
Children continue to use these bead bars through Upper Elementary, when they create the decanomial. (for a great step by step photo demonstration of the deconimal click HERE).
Once they lay out the grid they exchange the bead bars until they create a diagonal line down the middle made of cubes. The child stacks the 9 cube onto the 1000 cube and continues to stack the next smallest until the one bead sits atop a tower.
The child who started the mathematical journey back in Children’s House many years ago, takes a trip to a 3-6 classroom in search of something that looks just like their Cube Tower. And they find this…
From a conceptually complex work all the way back to the very beginning of mathmatical work.
The rapidly decreasing temperature outside has brought many questions from our school community. We are happy to shed light on our policies and procedures. When a decision has been made to delay or close it has been made very carefully with the needs of all of The Glen’s community in mind. We understand the balance we must consider between keeping our community safe and honoring the commitment we have made to families to educate and care for their children, often while they are at work. We do take all of this to heart when making choices regarding closings and delays.
Are there temperature limits that determine whether or not children will play outside?
Yes. If the temperature outside (with the wind chill) is less than 25 degrees Fahrenheit then we will not play outside. This is a DHS regulation and Keystone STARS guideline.
Does The Glen follow any other schools or school districts when determining whether to delay or close school for the day?
The Glen does not follow any other school’s delay or closing schedule or policy.
The Glen is unique in that we do not have any students who walk to school, the majority of our students are transported by their parents and our hours of operation are longer than many other schools. Our biggest consideration when choosing to close or delay school is whether or not our students and our staff will be able to travel to and from school safely and whether our building and grounds will be ready to receive our students and staff. Unsafe road conditions are usually the reason for a delay school or closing. In the case of extreme cold or heat we rely on the recommendations of experts in our community. Those experts include pediatricians, facility experts and our own staff.
We also closely monitor the weather and communicate with leaders from surrounding school districts, in which many of our families live. We carefully consider the road conditions directly around the school, as well as the condition of the parking lot and the building.
When is the Decision Made to close?
If The Glen is delayed or closed for the day the decision is made by 5:45am. If it is possible to make a determination regarding closing or delaying sooner we will attempt to make the call earlier and provide families more time to make alternative plans.
How will families be informed about delays and closings?
Several systems are set in motion to alert families and staff. WPXI and KDKA are both alerted. The One Call Now system is activated to call families and staff. The website and social media are updated and the faculty teams are notified.
Why does The Glen use a 10:00am start rather than a two hour delay?
The Glen is open for more hours in a day than most schools, which use a 2 hour delay. For this reason students at The Glen have varied schedules. Designating a 10:00am start provides a consistent time and eliminates confusion for families and faculty.
What time does carline begin and end when the school has a 10:00am start?
Carline on 10:00am start days begins promptly at 10:00 and ends at 10:15.
When a 10:00am start is called does it change lunch, nap or pick up times?
The short answer is no. On a 10:00am start day the students and staff pick up in the middle of their morning work cycle and carry on for the remainder of the day as if there has been no change. Modifying meal, nap or pick up times would be too disruptive for the children.
If my child is a bus rider how does a delay or closing affect them?
Transportation via bus is coordinated with the school district of residence. Those districts determine whether or not bussing is available for the day and whether or not pick up times will be delayed. Please use the closing and delay information from your school district.
The Glen does not penalize students for tardiness or absences due to bussing issues.
At The Glen, we understand that each family must make the choice whether or not to bring their child to school when the road conditions or extreme temperatures, based on their best judgement. Students are not penalized for snow or extreme temperature absences.
A Word About Winter Coats and Car Seats
A final consideration as the temperature drops is the safety of children in car seats. Please remember that puffy coats should not be worn underneath a car seat harness. The filling in the child’s winter coat can leave the harness too loose rendering it ineffective in a crash.
Here are the steps to check your child’s harness fit in a puffy coat:
- Securely harness your child with the coat on. Make sure to tighten the harness until you can no longer pinch the webbing between two fingers.
- Without loosening the harness at all, unhook it and remove your child from the car seat. Have your child take the coat off and put the child back in the car seat and secure the harness without tightening the straps. If you can pinch any of the webbing of the harness between two fingers the coat is too puffy to be worn under a car seat harness.
If your child’s coat is too puffy what can you do instead?
With smaller children you can use blankets to keep children warm in the car. An option for older children is to turn the coat around and have the child put it on backwards with her arms in the sleeves so that the back of the coat serves as a blanket resting over the harness.
- Each person will pass through the planes of development in unique ways and at different rates.
- Each plane is 6 years long and is divided into 2 three year periods.
- These correspond to the to the Montessori multi-age groupings.
The First Plane
- Early Childhood
- 0-6 years of age
- Period of dramatic growth and transformation
- The concrete world and the construction of self is at the center of things
- The world is perceived through a sensory-motor, factual protected lens.
- The child is capable of taking in a great amount of knowledge through the senses.
- Learning is predominantly unconscious.
- 0-3 year old is more exploratory
- 3-6 year old is more ordered
The Second Plane
- 6-12 years old
- Period of relative stability, health and more growth
- Emphasis on intellectual growth, reasoning and independence
- Moves from concrete to abstract
- It is important to engage the imagination with work about culture
- Enjoys research
- Developing an understanding of right and wrong, good and evil and on seeing the self in relation to peers
- 6-9 is a more exploratory period
- 9-12 is a more stable and secure period
The Third Plane
- 12-18 years of age
- Period of instability, dramatic growth and transformation
- Social and economic growth
- Independence and interdependence
- Abstract reasoning
- Emotional development
- Seeing self in relation to society
- Learning focuses on larger society, community, service to others
- First part (12-15) more turbulent
- Second part (15-18) more stable
The Fourth Plane
- 18-24 years of age
- Period of stable health and less dramatic growth
- Emphasis on great potentials and possibilities that life has to offer
- Discovering one’s mission
- Relation to the whole of humanity
- Achieving aspirations
- Life planning
- Postsecondary education
- Beginning of a career
“Growth is not merely a harmonious increase in size, but a transformation. Man is a sculptor of himself, urged by a mysterious inner force to the attainment of an ideal determined form. Growth may be defined as a seeking after perfection given by an impulse of life.” -Dr. Maria Montessori, To Educate the Human Potential
Different Environments, Different Behaviors
Observing children in the Montessori Environment is an enlightening experience. Teachers and Parents alike reflect on the mysteries of children’s behaviors and choices. We often hear both parents and teachers marvel at how different a child will seem from one environment to the other.
But, why is that?
Why would a change of environment make such a difference?
The simple answer is that there are a lot more differences between home and school then just being in a different space. The Environment encompasses more than just a setting. The more complex answer to this question requires we compare how each component and the two environments, home and school, impact our children’s choices and behavior.
Difference #1: THE PEOPLE
The usual players: parents, siblings, maybe grandparents.
Number of people close by: 2-8
The usual players: classmates, teachers, teachers from other classrooms, specials teachers, administrators, classmates’ parents, special guests, classroom observers, student teachers and may vary from day to day.
Number of people around: 10-20 or more.
While the home environment contains consistent, familiar people, the school environment may feel a bit less predictable. There are also far more people around to talk to, watch, and play with. This can make school seem more exciting. This excitement may be enjoyable for part of the day, but having a calming place to unwind and spend time alone or with only a few people is a chance to recharge.
Difference #2 THE SETTING
At home, the rooms, furnishings and colors have all been thoughtfully arranged and maintained with the well-being of the specific group of people who live there and their favorite home activities in mind. Comfort is often an important consideration in a home environment with soft seating and lighting and areas of the home designated for time alone and time with others.
At school the environment is created to inspire interaction with the learning materials. In this space the plan is to stimulate children and draw their attention to new activities. Our Montessori classrooms are outfitted with wooden tables and chairs and bright overhead lighting. The classrooms have some variations in seating, but still have the group together in their classroom for the majority of the school day.
Difference #3 THE THINGS
At home a child has her own things, as do the other people in the home. These things are typically recognized to belong to her alone. There is sometimes a co-ownership with one or two siblings, but a feeling of ownership exists. Among a few people, taking turns or sharing can be negotiated relatively easily.
At school the materials in the classroom belong to the whole class. In Montessori, the notion of sharing exists as the responsibility of co-ownership of the classroom environment and materials. Children assist their community by caring for the materials respectfully and putting their work back carefully in its place, to restore the environment, when they are finished with a work. Only once a work is returned to the shelf is it available to be chosen by another student. Most of the materials in the classroom are used by just a single student at a time in order to foster concentration and perseverance in the work cycle (choosing a work, taking it to an appropriate space, completing the work, returning it to its proper place.)
Difference #4 THE RULES
At home routines, boundaries and guidelines may adjust depending on the other things going in the life of the family at the moment. Parents are able to be flexible and use all they know about their child as an individual to best meet their needs.
At school the rules and routines are rarely changed. With so many students in the class, and the need to be consistent and ensure equal opportunities and choices fair for all, adjustments to the rules are minimal. At school there are also peers who model behaviors and create a positive peer pressure for each other to stay the course and abide by the rules of the community.
Difference #5 THE CHOICES
At home children have the ability to move freely within the home environment, even choosing to spend time in their rooms alone. They can move seamlessly between activities and spaces without waiting for anyone.
At school children are required to be supervised during most or all of their day depending on their age and level of independence. They are often bound by the routine of their class and must practice patience while waiting for other children to move to the next space or activity.
WHAT THIS ALL MEANS
Our children are amazing people, capable of deciphering the complex rules and routines of different environments and groups of people. They move easily from one place to the other with little interruption and thrive within a variety of settings. This is an important life skill. As adults we move through many different places and expectations in the course of a single day. Each of these environments have different guidelines and sets of acceptable behaviors. At sporting events we learn to clap and cheer, at the symphony we learn to listen quietly, at a restaurant we learn to filter out the noise from other tables to give our dining companions all our attention.
Children sometimes need a little more time understanding unspoken rules of all the different settings of their life. During this time of exploration they will sometimes choose the most comfortable environments to let their guard down and/or test those limits and unspoken guidelines. This is totally normal and just one more way that children gather information about the world and how they fit into it.