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Sunday, September 22, 2013

At the beginning is a good place to be

"To assist a child we must provide him with an environment 
which will enable him to develop freely."  
Maria Montessori

At the beginning is a good place to be.
What will each day bring for you and me?
New life, new friends, new things to do....
At the beginning is a good place to be.

"At the Beginning" is one of our beloved and familiar Sanford Jones songs - always true, because every day is a new beginning, and especially true in September.  We've been singing this song a lot in these first weeks.

In this top photo, Evangeline is practicing squeezing a sponge, by moving water from one bowl to another with the sponge.  This is a classic "at the beginning" exercise.  Sponges are in constant use in our environment, from the clean-up buckets to the paint trays, from the water-pouring works to food prep.  At the beginning of their Montessori life, every child learns how to use a sponge.

And here we are at the beginning of a new "school year."  For Chickadee, it's an artificial boundary in a way, because we are open year round, and the children really do not know such distinctions.   Ant yet, at the same time, September is also a time of beginnings and renewal:  
  • We have three brand new children, Cherry, Joey, and Eleanor, and two who joined us earlier in the summer, Evangeline and Logan, plus several beloved friends are no longer here.   Relationships are in new beginnings, shifting, renewing, and awakening.  
  • The weather is changing too, the shadows and sunlight shifting, the chickadees coming back, the summer veggies finishing.  We all sense that without a doubt we are at the beginning of a new season.
  • Routines are beginning again -  improved, reviewed, practiced - as we all explore how to live together more successfully and peacefully.  
  • Each child is at the beginning of some new learning or new ability, or a new urge to explore something that had seemed so challenging.  All kinds of beginnings are happening!
So what have the children been doing here in these weeks of September?   Some have been repeating familiar, beloved activities, some have been trying out new skills for the first time.  Some have chosen new and challenging materials, some are working right at the "cutting edge" of their development. Every child has been given a number of lessons in these first weeks - Erin and I track them in our record-keeping binder.  And most wonderful of all, at the beginning of each day, we do not know what each child will do, who will discover something new, who will master an often-practiced activity, who will wander, or what challenges will arise. "New life, new friends, new things to do....At the beginning is a good place to be."

So here is a set of photos for you, chosen out of so many possibilities, our new beginnings in practical life, art, sensorial, math, and language.

First some Practical Life.
Isabel is arranging flowers, as she has many times before, with the added summer delight of choosing and picking them outside, dahlia and cosmos and marigold.

Julian is slicing bananas to serve to his friends.  He's starting his second year with us, 3 1/2 now, and I have never seen him do this work so carefully.  He reconnected with his friends by offering them pieces of bananas.

Eleanor is doing the sink-and-float work.  She is our new youngest, and is revealing herself to be careful and competent.  "I can do it myself."  She has gotten sink-and-float out at least 3 times already - I need to change the objects!

Ethan is "scrubbing an object."   Many supplies are laid out - apron and underlay, peppermint soap in a dropper bottle, a scrub brush, water and sponge and towel. He scrubbed this red car until every bit of dirt was gone. (And then it went back to the forest to get dirty again.)

Collin was the first to try our renewed sweeping work.  Learning to hold a broom properly and to sweep effectively is quite a challenge for the 4-and-5-year-olds.   So on the shelf now the kids will find a box which holds wood chips to scatter, and this wooden sweeping guide which gives them a target, a place to make their pile. Collin did a great job sweeping up every single wood chip.

Now some Sensorial.
Joey is exploring the pink tower, one of the first lessons we give every new child. All over the world, Montessori children are working with the pink tower, every day.
We have asked our "old timers" to hold off on their elaborate marble run creations using the pink tower and brown stair, so that our new kids have some good, simple modeling to witness. 

Colors!  Lots of color work at the beginning of the year, in Sensorial and in art.   In this classic lesson, Evangeline matched up all eleven pairs of color tablets, and while working with her, I discovered how many colors she could name.

Cherry's family just moved here from South Korea; she has been with us for just one week.  In her first days she tried one work after another, and quickly showed us how many wonderful things she could do without speaking English.  Here she has just completed putting all these constructive triangles into one large triangle.  And then she proceeded to make her own design.  I was quite astonished.

We started the year with color mixing, using both colored water and paint as separate works. Logan is mixing colors with the dropper bottles of yellow, red, and blue.  He just lit up as he saw the green and orange appear.  All the kids love this bright and lovely activity.

Then we put out a special, first painting project, drawing an abstract design with black pen, and filling it using only the primary colors of paint.  We emphasized to not let the colors touch or mix together. Ethan drew his own lines, they all did, and you can see how intent he is on keeping that yellow inside the black lines.  Every child's design was freely drawn, spontaneous, and different.

Late last week we introduced the next step, mixing primary colors of paint to create the secondary colors.  Seamus was the first to do it, and once he mixed them, he used the colors he had created to paint a rainbow for the very first time. 

Meanwhile, in the second week there was a rather sudden explosion in math for some of the older children - again, a new beginning.   Rex looked at the Hundred Board one day and said to me, "I think I can do that now."  Over two days, he proceeded to lay out all the numerals from 1 to 100.

Charlotte did something similar.  She walked by the hanging bead chains, as she has hundreds of times. She stood there running her fingers over them, and said, "I want to do these now!"  These are the square chains;  we use them for skip counting.  Erin gave her the initial lesson and sat with her as she worked - Charlotte carefully and proudly counted them up through the 7 chain (7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49) in one sitting.

Brady caught wind of all this math and announced that he was ready to practice the golden beads some more.  He got out the tray of beads, showed me he remembered the layout and understood the one's, ten's, hundred's, and thousand's, and so we played some "bring-me" with the beads.    "Bring me six tens.  Yes, six tens is 60" and so on.  Soon he will add the actual numerals to the beads.

And then there's handwriting happening, both letters and numbers.  Left-handed Noah was doing some addition pegs, easy to add but still tricky to write the numerals.   So he practiced writing "rainbow numbers," using multiple colors of chalk,  on the big chalkboard.

Cara hasn't dived back into math yet; she's been busy doing various reading and writing works. Here she is reading longer, phonetic word cards.  When she came to 'milkman,' she looked up puzzled, and asked, "what's a 'milkman'?"  I laughed and told her about milkmen "in the old days," and then I threw the card away.  It's an anachronism now.

And so these beginning days have flowed one to another, and as I write this, we are only 14 school days into the new year.   " New life, new friends, new things to do...."   And all of it happens, inside and outside, one day at a time.