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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

the Horseshoe Nail of the Montessori Classroom

The Hand Washing Exercise

For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For the want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For the want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For the want of a rider, the battle was lost.
For the want of the battle, the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.

In an early book outlining Montessori education for Americans, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, the suffragette and Montessori enthusiast, wrote of petitioning Dr. Montessori to include water work in her classroom*. It is difficult to believe that the Doctoressa had not already required hand washing of her institutionalized original students. But perhaps in the midst of her perceptual sense training, she had neglected to consider formal training in water exercises. The practical life water exercises Dr. Montessori has left for us far exceed anything that Mrs. Fisher had suggested. And the hand washing exercise—far from being trivial —is the horseshoe nail of the Montessori classroom.

Why do Montessori classrooms work where others for young children seem at best to hobble along? Small children often have been considered incapable of learning because they couldn't learn the way six year olds do. Montessori saw that these three, four and five year old children actually had an incredible learning capacity. They learned from everything they saw, touched, tasted, smelled, and heard. We parents in the fear for their safety, or less forgivably because of our poor understanding of our children's needs, find their forays into sensorial experience inconvenient. We are a busy bunch and rarely does it occur to us to replace this missed opportunity for our child with a richer or safer one. Montessori classrooms do this. And while many children are sent parental messages to stifle sensory inquiry, Montessori children are given a classroom rich in sensory materials to expand theirs.

The Hand Washing Exercise
a small table or stand about thirty inches high with three hooks on the right side
a quart-size flat-bottom bowl or basin
a pint pitcher
a small terry towel (fingertip size)
a washcloth
a soap dish with a bar of soap
a small nail brush
a half gallon bucket
a sponge

Take the apron from its hook on the stand and put it on.
Pick up the pitcher and take it to a water source (like a sink or a large water container) to fill it.
Return and pour the water into the bowl. (This may take two trips.)
Place your hands in the bowl to wet them.
Pick up the soap and rub it on the palms of both hands, one at a time.
Put the soap back in its soap dish and rub your soapy palms together.
One at a time, use the opposite palm to rub the back of each hand.
Rinse your hands in the water bowl.
Pick up the soap and rub it on the palm of the right hand.
Put the soap back in its dish.
With your soapy right hand encircle your left thumb and rotate your hand to distribute soap.
Continue with each left finger until all are soapy.
Rinse your hands in the water bowl.
Pick up the soap again, this time rubbing it on the palm of the left hand.
Repeat the previous steps, washing the right fingers, then rinsing your hands.
Take towel from hook on stand and one at a time carefully dry both hands; rehang towel.
Place bucket on floor beneath bowl.
Pick up bowl, place its rim so that its edge touches just within the edge of the bucket.
Pour water into bucket.
Using sponge wipe out bowl and wipe off stand. Replace sponge
Carry bucket to sink (or waste water container) and pour out water.
Return bucket to exercise and remove and hang up apron.

*This is likely true since Dr. Momtessori herself penned the forward to Canfield Fisher's book.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Montessori Home Schooling?

Montessori classrooms open doors of the mind
That even voice and books together cannot find.

Montessori primary education begins when the child is three. If your child is an old four year old (more than four and a half), it is likely too late to begin to home school an individual child with Montessori materials. Most people who have not worked in a fully functioning Montessori class do not realize that an important component to its success are its thirty or so children. A four year old without other children as models may not be drawn to use those expensive materials you have just purchased. Another common idea is that home schooling is inexpensive. Not initially. Maybe over time.

The first thing you must do if you are a patient reader is to purchase and read The Montessori Method, Centennial Edition, by Maria Montessori. It is available now at Amazon for $12.95. To understand Montessori, it is all worth reading even though she is not easy to read. If you are bogged down by a section which does not seem pertinent, then skip over it to one that does. On the advice of my mentors, I avoided reading the Doctoressa herself for years. When finally I did read this book, many many puzzle pieces fell into place. So try it and good luck. This may be a test of your dedication.

Do you have enough space for the classroom materials? A corner of the living room probably will not work. The sensorial and math materials require space. And these materials even from the least expensive supply houses are expensive. Often established schools buy the most expensive materials because so many children will be using them and the materials need to be super durable. Look at what is offered online and ask around for best suppliers if you can. And for your newly invented classroom look at what the suppliers suggest for all the major areas of the classroom. An inexpensive substitution may occur to you. Many of the materials especially those of practical living can be bought or made inexpensively.

Here are the materials that I would buy if I were going to teach children ages three to six years. These are the much loved materials that would be difficult to make yourself.:

Sensorial materials:
pink tower, red rods, brown (broad) stair, 4 cylinder blocks, 4 knobless cylinders, and geometric solids

Math materials:
red and blue rods, spindle box with spindles, hundred board, colored bead bars in a box, golden bead bar box, hundred square & chain, thousand cube & chain, binomial and trinomial cubes, and the subtraction snake game (which doubles as an addition snake game.)

Language materials:
sandpaper letters, moveable alphabet, metal insets

Geography materials:
world puzzle map, North America map, if possible all continent maps and the U.S. Map,
Montessori Material Suppliers:
Although there are many others as well as the established Gonzargarredi and Nienhuis, here also are two less expensive Montessori material suppliers that I just now have found online:

Adena: brown stair $82.50

Alison's Montessori: Thailand: brown stair $68.00

Nienhuis: brown stair $162.20

Juliana Group (Gonzargarredi): broad stair $163.12

___________________________________________________________________________________ Montessori Home School Support (?) Sites
Here are some good Montessori people of various sorts: maybe some will inspire you, some will have a good idea or two, some are stuck in traditional education, and some would like to sell you something.




http://www.montessoriforlearning.com/ l




Some words of caution: Montessori children do not work from pre-made work sheets. They make their own problem, solve it, and then if they desire, they write the whole problem and the solution down. And then they may do it again-or not. It comes from them. Not just math but language too. Worksheets are a symptom of what is wrong with traditional education. Children need to own their work from beginning to end. Montessori education is about intellectually empowering children.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Saving Suzy and the Lesson in Centrifugal Force

As cute as Suzy was as a five year old who had the height and chubby physique of a three year old, there was a titan within. And a comedienne. Our classroom's bathroom door was but a few feet from the hall door, an architectural snafu which made this (gratefully) unique performance possible, especially since we never saw it coming!
Not unusually that day there were two women visitors walking down the hall, peering curiously into the classrooms they passed. As usual the children seemed to pay no attention to them and continued with whatever they had been doing. Not Suzy. As soon as she saw them, she hurried to the bathroom, and unbeknown to us, removed all her clothes, then streaked out both the bathroom door and the class door, and down the hall after the women. Much too fast for us ignorant of her intentions to stop her. As I reached the doorway, the women were bringing her back.
“Oh, we found this little one down the hall,” they told me. “Looks like she needs some help.” Suzy was grinning ear to ear. But other than looking up as Suzy entered nude, the children went right on working. Even I was surprised at their complacent acceptance of her behavior. After all, it was outrageous and funny. No one laughed.

I think Suzy liked our table scrubbing exercise second only to painting at the easel. On this particular morning, she was working on a large blue landscape to which she had decided to carefully add some people. Painting the people was not going too well, and when one of them wound up with three legs, she decided to pack it in. She went to the sink for clean up water, but forgot first to dump the paint water. So now walking carefully, struggling a bit, she returned to the easel with a much heavier bucket. First she tried wiping down her easel with water from the bucket. Not having much luck with that, she cleaned the paintbrush by stirring it in the bucket. and became fascinated by the blue swirls the brush was making in the water. She decided to enhance the effect by adding the blue paint remaining in the paint jar. Now there was quite a contrast within the swirls. Suddenly she realized that some of the children were putting their work away. The end of the work period had arrived. Too much blue and no clean water. She picked up the bucket, frustrated, and did a quick turn. Too heavy! Whoops. Water spill. Blue paint! Don't look! Just keep whirling!
“Oh! No!” “Suzy! No!” “Stop!” the cries came from all over the classroom as blue splatters hit other children and whatever they were doing. When she stopped, there was very little left in her bucket and blue was everywhere. Nothing more was said. I came to help Suzy clean up her easel work. Quietly, all available children grabbed sponges, buckets and anything appropriate they could find to clean the blue paint from the classroom. Karin was wiping down the walls using a clean up bucket and a sponge. Tommy was washing the windows with the spray bottle and a rubber scraper. Tracy with the mop and mop bucket was working on the largest puddle nearest the easel. Nearby. on hands and knees Stacy was helping to sop up paint water using a large floor sponge and a bucket. Tommy was passing amongst those peeling wet work papers off their tables, carrying the wastebasket for paper work lost to centrifuged paint. Kit, Sol and Mel were scrubbing the bluest tables. And Mercedes in her wisdom was helping the youngest children, struck immobile by the enormity of the situation, with their coats.

Children in Montessori classrooms become the kind of people you would want nearby if there was a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. And more than a few understand centrifugal force.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Child is Father to the Man

Parents, our children are forming the adults they will become. That is not our task. Our task as parents is to find a way to give them opportunity to safely try their wings when sparks of interest fly about them. This requires discipline on our part because although we may have an exciting prospect for our child, if the child isn't interested, we must drop it and follow his lead. But do not lose heart, because at some different stage in his development, he may love what you are hoping he will love. Or not. Your critical input to your child's being is hardwired into her or him at conception. After that your job is mainly custodial: to watch, safeguard, marvel and encourage. And sometimes to teach.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, both went to Montessori schools. And although they met at Stanford, they credit Montessori education for giving them the opportunity to be innovators. Here is a link where they explain:


This next story has no similar Montessori connection. It is a true story so amazing that no script like this has yet been written for a motion picture. It is a true story that puts “Slumdog Millionaire” to shame. Here is Montessori's example of the child being the creator of the man. I borrow these excerpts from the Internet Website Medscape. The author of the original article is based in France, Dr. Marc Goslan who interviewed Mario Capecci in 2007. It was published online October 17, 2007.

Dr. Marc Gozlan: Can you describe your early childhood?
Mario Capecci: I was born in Verona, Italy, on October 6, 1937. My mother grew up in Florence. Her mother was actually American, from Oregon. She was a painter and went to Florence to paint. She married a German archaeologist. My mother was both a poet and a linguist, and she worked at the Sorbonne, in Paris, as a lecturer. Then she joined a group of poets known as the Bohemians, who did a lot of writing against Fascism as well as Nazism. My father, Luciano Capecchi, was an Italian air force pilot. He and my mother had a love affair, but my mother did not want to marry him. And so she had me. She moved with another poet friend up to Bolzano, which is up in the north in the Italian Tyrol, not too far from Verona. She moved there just before I was born, and they lived in a small chalet. I was born actually in Verona and I lived in Bolzano, I think, for about 3 and one-half years. But, meanwhile, because of her writing, she anticipated that she would be picked up [by the Gestapo]. Meanwhile both her parents died. She sold part of her possessions and gave the money to a farming family in the Tyrol to take care of me, in case she would be picked up by the Gestapo. That happened in the spring of 1941. I was then about 3 and one-half years old. She was taken to Dachau. Then I went to live with this Tyrolean farming family.

What was your first direct experience with war?
M.C.: This was in 1942. I think it was because there was a railroad line not too far from the farm, which served for the transportation of munitions. And so the American planes strafed them. They also strafed the population of farmers that were in the fields, and then everybody ran. I did get hit in the right leg by a bullet. It was fortunate that I did not have very much bone damage, but I have a scar.

How long did you stay with the Tyrolean peasant family? M.C.: After a year, the money that my mother had given the family disappeared for some reason, I am not sure why, and they could not afford to take care of me. They had also their own kids. Then I was put out on the street at the age of 4 and one-half years old. I travelled to the south. I was picked up and put into an orphanage; there, things were even worse and so I ran away to live in the streets again.

Were you picked up by the Balilla, Mussolini's youth army?
M.C.: Well, I belonged with the Balilla for I think at most about a month, and that didn't go very well. So for a very short period of time. Enough to get a uniform and learn a little bit about shooting guns. It was just training with them. Then I ran away and continued living on my own. So I lived pretty much on my own until around the age of 8. Then I was put into a hospital, mainly because of malnutrition and typhoid.

How did you manage to survive?
M.C.: The food was mostly by stealing from open markets. All the shops always had things in the front. Either alone or in combination with other kids, somebody distracted somebody, and then another one picked up some fruits and ran off. I also used to go into the countryside and see what I could find there. Then, once the Americans came, a good source of food was their garbage cans, because they threw out a lot of food!

You have probably seen terrible things as a kid on your own in the streets during war, maybe even atrocities: M.C.: Well, yes. I found shelter either in houses that were bombed out or in houses that were given up by other people. One of the places that we stayed was actually a house that the Germans were using for torturing people. When you went in there, all the body parts were just left there on the floor. So I saw all sorts of body parts that were just cut off: fingers, noses, ears, and so on. This would be between the ages of 5 and 8.

What happened to your mother?
M.C.: On my ninth birthday a woman that I did not know was my mother went to the hospital where I was confined because I suffered from malnutrition. In this hospital, they had very little food. The same thing was actually true at the orphanages -- they also had no food. A normal meal was a little bowl of chicory coffee and a small piece of bread that must have been several weeks old. It was hard as a rock. You could hardly chew it. I used to be naked on my bed because they did not want you to run away.

So your mother took you on a boat to America and you arrived at Ellis Island:
M.C.: Yes, we lived with her brother in Pennsylvania. He sent the money to Italy for the trip. He actually had to send it twice because the first time the money never arrived. So he sent money again for the boat tickets, and then I think in a period of a week and a half, I was on the boat.

Where did you live?
M.C.: Not far from Philadelphia, in a Quaker area full of Chinese, Blacks, and Jewish people. What they set up was a commune, a series of families that bought a large farm together. My uncle belonged to that commune and we went to live there with him.

Like any other kid, you went to school, but without knowing a word of English:
M.C.: I did go to school the very next day after I arrived in America. I could not calculate or read. I had had no schooling up to that. The pupils were actually studying about Holland. The teacher gave me enormous rolls of paper and asked me to make a mural. So I painted large murals about Holland. That is what I spent the first month doing, as well as learning the language.

Did you lose all of your Italian?
M.C.: Pretty much, yes. I can go to a movie and follow it, but I cannot speak it, really, and I have not spent any long periods of time in Italy. I think if I did I might be able to recapture some of the language, at least.

Did you manage at school and were you social? M.C.: I was a bit physically aggressive. I was streetwise at that point, so I became essentially the champion to beat up other kids that were in other classes. In high school, I was actually very good in wrestling

The time finally arrived to go to college, and you chose Antioch College, in Ohio. Why did you choose that college, and how does your interest in biology begin?
M.C.: It is a fairly old college, a small liberal arts college. What they did was unique. There was a period of study of about 10 weeks and then after that you worked for a quarter. It continued that way for the whole year. The jobs were all over the country; I worked in California, Chicago, New York, Boston, and so on. Initially you started working in different areas just to get a feeling, and once you settled into what you thought you wanted to work in, then the job was related to that. I worked at the Sloan-Kettering Foundation and the Kettering Foundation and then Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- all essentially in laboratory jobs. I really learned how to do science as an undergraduate. At Antioch, I was a physics and chemistry student, but through the jobs I got exposed to molecular biology.

One day, you had an interview with Jim Watson, who discovered the structure of DNA. During this interview at Harvard University, you decided to stay in his laboratory:
M.C.: That's right. One of the questions that I asked him was, "Where should I go?" I had the choice between Caltech, Berkeley, MIT, and Harvard, and Jim said: "You would be f---ing crazy to go anywhere else!" That seemed fairly persuasive, and so I ended up in his lab. It was 1961. We worked out one of the first systems that synthesized proteins in a cell-free system.

How long did you stay at Harvard before going to the University of Utah, and why did you choose to move there?
M.C.:From 1961 to 1967, I was in Jim Watson's lab. After that I got a job at Harvard Medical School in the department of biochemistry. So that was until 1973, and then I decided to go to Utah.
Mario Capecchi, this Italian-born scientist who began life as street kid during World War II, who is now professor of human genetics and biology at the University of Utah's Eccles Institute of Human Genetics and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, was awarded

the 2007 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

Capecchi, 70, shares the prize with Oliver Smithies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and with Sir Martin Evans of Cardiff University in Wales. The three scientists have shared information but worked independently to develop a "gene targeting" technique that makes it possible to "knock out" specific genes in mice, which reveals the gene's function and its role in disease.