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Thursday, February 21, 2013

What's "extended day"?

"The things he sees are not just remembered;
they form a part of his soul."
Maria Montessori

We finished The Indian in the Cupboard today.  In classic Jude fashion, I read the last pages with a lump in my throat.   Yesterday I stopped before the closing pages of the last chapter, and we took it in slowly, imagining these two boys coming to terms with an ethical decision, and bravely saying good-bye to Little Bear and Boone and Bright Star.  I tried to capture the magic in this photo, their eyes big and round, their bodies still, but didn't quite get it, because of course their attention shifted when I grabbed the camera.

I read from our current book almost every day in the early afternoon, for ten or fifteen moments.  This was the fourth chapter book we've read this year.  We started in September with Francis Hodgson Burnett's The Land of the Blue Flower, then Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach; before Christmas we read Beverly Cleary's Runaway Ralph, and now this fine little novel.   It's a very special part of our day.  As soon as we finished, they started asking what we would read next.  I need a few days to think about it.

Reading aloud is just one aspect of our extended day group.  As I told the parents of these children last fall, the term "extended day" is really an outmoded American Montessori expression, which refers to a second work cycle in the early afternoon.  I find myself still using it, for lack of a better word.  The classic Montessori model was a 3-hour morning class for all the children, then the 3's and 4's would go home with mommy or daddy, and the 5's and 6's would stay into the afternoon (an extended day) with their smaller group of older peers.  No one stayed all day.  This is still the model at a place like Montessori School of Beaverton.  But of course, Chickadee is an all-day Children's House, with just three children leaving before nap.

For our first two years here, both bedroom and office were filled with nappers and nap pads every day, and only an occasional few children rested without sleeping. Terra, our first kindergartner, was still a napper last year.  So it's only this year that this afternoon group has really come together.    And even now, on any day, one of these kids can tell Erin he wants to rest, and together they get out a nap pad.  Lucy still naps more than half the time, the others rest once in a while.

So we have an intimate second work cycle with this smaller group of older children.  We read our chapter book, and then most days the children make their individual choices for what I often call "thinking" work.  It might be sensorial, language, or math, some activity or material in our cultural area, or some other special project.  They can work collaboratively or alone.  They  can spread out their work on the tables or the floor in a way that is difficult in the mornings.  They can complete one work in an hour, or save it to continue the next day.  I can give more individual, advanced lessons.  It's a fluid, dynamic time, with lots of engaged activity, lots of learning happening!

Once the nappers have headed to the office, we shift to the art room.  Helping hands usually comes first, like this cleaning of the boot area.  Almost every day, one of the kids moves all the boots and mops that strip.  It's a satisfying project, just big enough, and definitely needed.  While one mops, the other children straighten shelves or roll rugs or find some other small way to help, or they get out their first work. It's a way to pull our energy together and settle into the afternoon, before the chapter book ritual.

Here are a few other examples of afternoon work. Lucas has been writing with the movable alphabet; now he's putting it on paper:  "saber tooth tigers wer anchint cats with sooper long teeth and sharp ....."  It wasn't many months ago that he was practicing simple three-letter phonetic words, and now he can compose sentences.

Cara and Morgan shared their first big golden bead lesson a few weeks ago, and they did the decimal lay-out together.   Lots of math practice will happen over the next months and year, as they begin to assimilate the concepts here: the power of zero's, the consistency of numbers, the logic of manipulating them with addition and subtraction.   Although the children could choose this work in the morning, it's much more likely to happen in the afternoon - look how much room it takes!

Every older child has a 3-prong folder to collect and save their drawings and writings - we call them "story pages."  We keep the folders here all year, and they become wonderful histories of the child's interests and development.  The child draws a picture and writes as best she can; most of the time we do not help with spelling, because children learn to read and write the way they learn to speak - with lots and lots of free practice.

On this page Ava drew an elephant, and she wrote "eLfit."  I just got out her folder -  she has 40 pages in it, from January 2012 to now.  We will celebrate by sending it home and starting a new folder, any day now.

When time allows, we close our time together with a group lesson in music.  I've been using a great set of cards and music to introduce the instruments of the orchestra, called "Music Maestro Parade."  You will probably cringe:  it's a cassette tape, 20 years old, out of print, no CD available (I know, I simply must get it converted.)   When you have some extra time, perhaps some day when picking up, ask your child to lay it out and play some for you.  You need to hear it to appreciate it.  So even before Music Together begins, in this way as well as singing, the children are definitely experiencing music.

Of course, art is so important, and we do emphasize creative expression here, more than many Montessori schools do.  (Maria Montessori herself never emphasized art nor developed an art curriculum - so she wasn't perfect after all!) Every week or two, I initiate a special art project in the afternoon, perhaps doing it all together, perhaps a few at a time.  These older children have been developing their basic skills over the last two years or so, cutting and painting and drawing extensively.  Now they revel in creating meaningful art projects that we can first display, and then they can take home and celebrate.    Right now it's reptiles - these chalk pastels are treasures, aren't they?

So, extended day.  These "big kids" have the full, rich experience of their classroom community in the morning, with all the dynamics inherent in a busy, mixed-age group, and then they have their special small group time in the early afternoon.  In the morning they pursue their own interests, their own work, and their own friendships.  They set the example and support the younger children, and every time they help a child with a simpler work, they further cement their own learning, and build their own self-esteem.  They are constantly learning with all their senses engaged.   They experience an ebb and flow from morning to afternoon to morning again, and they modulate their own development.   It's a remarkably rich experience.

I unabashedly advocate for every child to stay here for their kindergarten year, which is again the classic Montessori model, for deep and good reasons.  It's the culmination of the whole first plane of development,  neurologically the last year of the "absorbent mind," and emotionally a critical period for the child's developing sense of self.  It completes the cycle of being one of the youngest in the classroom community, to being a middle child, to being a leader.  Unless a child goes on to elementary Montessori, it's probably their last chance to be in such a multi-age group.  Our 5- and 6-year-old kindergartners have an experience of love, connection, growth, and purpose that will always stay with them.  It's a beautiful and critical part of this most amazing process of each child creating him- or herself, one precious day at a time.