Thursday, April 25, 2019

Differentiation in a Montessori Classroom

I’d like to introduce you to two of my students:

"Look! It's isosceles!"
4-year-old Thea* excitedly points to the isosceles triangle she created with wood blocks.
When Thea joined our classroom last year as a 3-year-old, she spoke no conversational English, but she could identify most print letters and numbers by name. She had an exceptional ability to absorb and remember new vocabulary and concepts. As she gradually developed conversational English, she rapidly mastered identifying the cursive lowercase letters and letter sounds, as well as phonograms (sh, oy, ee), etc. 
Forming quadrilaterals with the
Rectangle Box of Constructive Triangles
As a 4-year-old, she worked with more advanced language materials and began to sound out phonetic words. Likewise enchanted with numbers, she loves to write the numerals we've introduced on chalkboard, exclaiming, "Look, I make 1,000!" She loves blocks and shapes, so while working with the constructive triangles, I started introducing some of the triangle vocabulary, and within two days, she could identify equilateral, isosceles, and scalene triangles.

"Joey*, what color is your shirt today?"
"Yes, it's red! Let's go find some other things that are red."
Many children know their basic colors by age 3, but Joey struggled. I knew that he could see the difference between the colors - he consistently could match the pairs of red, yellow and blue in Color Box 1. He was familiar that "red" "yellow" and "blue" were words associated with colors, but he really struggled to connect the name with the concept. 
In addition to helping children learn new concepts, most Montessori materials  also provide the teacher with diagnostic information about how a child is learning, what they understand, and what might be barriers. If a child cannot accurately match the color tablets, that indicates a difficulty with visually differentiating the colors. When the child can match the colors, but not consistently associate the name with the color, that suggests to me that the challenge is in connecting the language to the concept.

By age 4, when the color names still were a struggle, and the typical level of reinforcement and practice wasn't sufficient, we began a new morning ritual. After our usual good mornings, I would comment, "Joey, you have on a red shirt today.... what color is your shirt?" (They wear red polo shirts as their uniform every day). Giving him the vocabulary before asking him to reproduce it helped him feel successful and confident - it was a fun, playful interaction. Eventually, I started just asking him the color of his shirt without stating it first, and then asking him to name the color of other red things in the room. Once he had mastered that red things are "red," that anchor seemed to help him more quickly master other color names.

Differentiation – adapting instruction to meet the needs of the individual students in the class – is an imperative for effective teaching. While differentiation is one of the greatest challenges for teachers to implement in a traditional single-age classroom, it is one of the greatest assets of the Montessori model. Our classrooms are inherently differentiated because each child is moving through the curriculum at their own pace. 
We see the wide range of skill levels in a classroom as an asset, and intentionally have mixed age classrooms (most Montessori schools group children in 3 year age spans - 3-6yr olds, 6-9, 9-12). Because the children are simultaneously working with different materials in all curriculum areas, there is little direct comparison between peers. I know that every child has the capacity to learn and grow, and I love how the Montessori approach helps me to give each child an individualized classroom experience. 

*Names changed

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Science Fair - What's inside a seed?

Our class shared a favorite seed exploration activity at the school's science fair this week.

"Do you know what these are?"

"Rocks?" was a frequent guess from students.
We discuss that they do look like rocks... and they're hard like a rock... but these are something else! They're lima beans, and that means they are seeds.

"We want to see if we can find what is hiding inside the seed. Would you like to see? "(Always a unanimous "yes!")

It's difficult to open a hard, dry seed, so we soaked them in water for a day (and added some food coloring to make them easier to see) 
Look how much they changed!

Soaking loosens the tough seed coat. Peel it off gently, starting at the side that is curved out 

Look! Do you see something poking out?!

Now gently separate the two halves... and there is the baby plant! The thicker part becomes the root and you can see the tiny little leaves 

In the classroom, we first explore the seeds as a group time activity. 

Then we have seed dissection available as an independent work choice on the botany shelf. 
Now we are waiting for spring so we can start our garden... 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Montessori Language curriculum

I love the depth and breadth of the Montessori language curriculum!


Here's a quick overview of how our children learn & grow through the 4 layers of language learning:
spoken language --> phonemic awareness --> writing --> reading

1. Spoken language

The daily classroom learning environment is steeped with opportunities to enrich spoken language, including:

-  frequent informal conversations with teachers and classmates, 
-  poems, songs, tongue twisters, stories
- read-aloud books
- many different spoken word games
- classroom materials that teach vocabulary

2. Phonemic Awareness 

Phonemic awareness is the ability to isolate and identify the different sounds (phonemes) that make up words. Examples: c-a-t and sh-ee-p - both those words are made up of 3 phonemes. 
We begin with sound games to practice identifying the beginning sounds of words (e.g. "mommy" starts with 'mmmm'). 
Playing the "I Spy" sound game with objects (Teacher says, "I spy something that starts with d-d-d" ... and the child identifies the dog) 

Matching pictures with the same beginning sound

Older students working together to decide if the two pictures on each card have the same or different middle vowel sounds - very challenging!

Once a child can identify most of the sounds in the alphabet, they are ready to start connecting those sounds to the letter symbol, which we introduce with sandpaper letters
We begin with teaching the letter sound rather than the letter name, because the sound is what they need to know to write and read
We provide a variety of activities for practicing and reinforcing the letter sounds. In presenting new letter sounds, we often create experiential connections that help the children remember (here feeling the hhhhot air of the 'hhh' sound)
We also introduce some of the key phonograms (double letters that make one sound)

3. Writing

There are two aspects to writing - 
1) the cognitive task of identifying the sounds in a word and knowing the letter symbols to represent each sound
2) the mechanical/physical task of using a writing utensil to form the letters and words

In keeping with the Montessori principle of "isolation of difficulty," we work on each of these aspects separately, bringing them together when the child has mastered both components.

Cognitive Writing
Many children have a grasp of letter sounds before they have the strength and coordination to write well with a pencil. The movable alphabet lets children practice the mental task of sounding out words.

Once a child knows some of the phonograms, we incorporate a phonogram movable alphabet. In this photo, the children are seeing how many words they can think of that have the 'ar' sound in them

Mechanical Writing
We simultaneously prepare children for the physical task of writing both indirectly (through materials that build the strength and coordination needed to write), and directly through a variety of handwriting practice materials
Indirect preparation - Cylinder blocks (picking up each knobbed cylinder uses the same fingers needed for writing) 

Indirect preparation - metal insets
Indirect preparation - perforation work

Direct preparation - handwriting extensions

4. Reading 

Phonetic Reading
We begin with phonetic reading - words that can be sounded out. First simple 3 letter words, then longer words that include blends (two consonants together - st, bl-, pl-, -nd) and phonograms (sh, ee, oy. ...)
 A child's first introduction to reading with the phonetic object box. A teacher writes familiar letter sounds on a slip of paper, and the child discovers they can fuse the sounds together and know just which object the teacher is thinking of. They often enjoy making their own written labels for the objects too.

 Phonetic 3-part reading cards

 We have many sets of 3-part cards in the classroom to practice reading, as well as introduce new vocabulary and concepts (to pre-readers too). These are animals that live in the arctic, one of our winter themes.
 Illustrated booklets to practice phonetic reading

 Reading application - labeling components of the Backyard Biome mat
 More advanced reading work includes a systematic approach to introducing the multiple ways of spelling key phonograms (example: the 'long a" / "ai" sound can also be spelled a_e, ay, eigh, ey -- such as in rain, made, day, weigh, they. English is tricky!)
Function of Words (Grammar!)
The Montessori language curriculum includes an innovative set of grammar activities - designed to give early readers more practice through fun, engaging materials that introduce the function of different types of words (article, adjective, noun, conjunction, prepositions, verbs, adverbs)
Introducing definite and indefinite articles

After an interactive introduction to adjectives with a teacher, children are ready for the Logical Adjective game - finding adjective-noun pairs that make sense
After the Logical adjective game, a variation is the Adjective Chain game - how many of the adjectives can be used to describe one of the nouns? (We also introduce symbols to represent each part of speech)

Another activity with adjectives
The Detective Adjective Game - adjectives for color, size, angle, and sides let the child use their sleuthing skills to gradually narrow down the 63 possible triangles to one perfect match for the description

Verbs! So much fun to act out with a friend!
Sight Words
Once a child has a strong foundation in phonetic reading, we start to introduce all the crazy words in English that don't follow the rules! "Sight words" (or "puzzle words") are frequently used words that must be memorized (learned by sight), because they usually don't follow the phonetic rules of our language.

If you want more details about the Montessori approach to Language development, I recommend Julia Volkman's thorough description of the Montessori Language Program on the Maitri Learning website

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Come learn about Montessori education

What’s so special about
Montessori Preschool?
Join us -
Saturday, Jan. 19th
Ferry Ave Library
Light refreshments provided

how Montessori education builds:
Independence & confidence 
Kindness & social skills 
Creativity & problem-solving 
- Academic skills & love of learning

about the Montessori Program at Sacred Heart School, a South Camden school for 3-year-olds thru 8th grade
(FREE for 3-5 year olds with NJ Childcare Subsidy)

Ask questions...
of Montessori teachers & parents who chose Montessori education for their kids

See more information for prospective parents, or email 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Enrolling for 2019-20

Give your child a strong foundation for success with

Apply now for September 2019
Space is limited! Apply by February 15th for priority consideration.

Sacred Heart School Montessori Program
(near Broadway and Ferry Ave) 

Enrolling 3- and 4-year-old children

Five full days
Aftercare available until 5:30 p.m.

Breakfast, snacks, and lunch provided

Cost: FREE for families that qualify for the NJ child care subsidy program
(for parents working or in school)

Affordable tuition & financial aid for other families

What is Montessori education?

- active, hands-on learning

- individualized lessons - teachers guide each child through the curriculum at their own pace

- respect for each child as a unique, capable, & intelligent individual

- mixed ages in a family-like atmosphere

- children learn academic skills as well as problem-solving skills, confidence,  responsibility, and kindness

To apply:
Apply online
Request an application in person at
Sacred Heart School 
4th & Jasper St, Camden 
(856) 963-1341

To learn more: