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Tuesday Message

February 07, 2018
By Jennifer Heness

Hello Learning Together friends,

Well, when the Eagles win the Super Bowl, your Monday Message goes out on Tuesday. 

As I sat down to write yesterday, I kept thinking about one word - resilience. Obviously because of the win, but also because I kept hearing that theme in everyone's commentary after the game. Nick Foles said it perfectly, "Don't be afraid to fail. I wouldn't be here if I hadn't failed a million times." Of course I can't help but relate this to teaching and parenting. 

One of the most important lessons we can teach our children is how to handle failure, mistakes, disappointment, etc. It REALLY matters. It's character building and an important lesson because it's absolutely inevitable. Everyone makes mistakes. No one can nail it all the time, not even the pros. I often remind my oldest son that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Did he quit? Nope. He went on to become a legend at doing exactly what he was once deemed not very good at…Resilience. 

We can all agree this is important, but how do we teach resilience to children? We show them. Effort, perseverance and determination are practiced regularly in a Montessori setting in several ways. (Much of this can translate to home as well.)

The environment - 

The classroom is a safe place to make mistakes. They're actually expected. Often a child learns more from a mistake than when things go well. This is particularly true for young children who are in the process of gaining control over themselves. Things spill, break, and fall over. No big deal. Those instances become lessons on how to clean up or fix it. Zippers and buckles get stuck, snaps and shoes can be tricky. Those instances become lessons on practice and perseverance. The Montessori environment is designed for children to be independent, and with that comes the expectation that mistakes happen as part of the learning process. 

The way a mistake is handled is huge at this age. When we accept them and turn them into teachable moments, we foster resilience. If a child drops a plate and it breaks, we simply say, "Let's go get the dustpan and clean it up." We teach by showing, not necessarily by correcting. By taking a positive approach we show that we understand it was not intended and more importantly, this is how to handle it and move forward. This approach encourages children to keep trying, keep practicing, and keep attempting new things; whereas a negative reaction actually deters them from trying out of fear of a mistake. When children are afraid to make mistakes, they become afraid to try new or challenging things. 

The materials - 

Montessori materials are designed to be self-correcting. Working with self-correcting materials helps children recognize, correct, and learn from their mistakes. Having a "control of error" in the materials encourages children to own their learning and not rely on adult judgment. It also boosts independence, self-esteem and motivation. Rather than being reluctant to try something new and fear not knowing how to do it, children feel free to take risks, knowing they can figure it out. 

This control of error is visible in many materials - practical life trays include sponges and small dust pans for a reason. Many sensorial materials, such as the Cylinder Blocks, Brown Stair, and Pink Tower etc, just do not ‘fit’ if they are built incorrectly. Many matching, sorting and 'go-together' materials rely on one-to-one correspondence to check the work. Mistakes are visually obvious and correctable without much intervention. Once they are shown how to use something, they are free to work with it and figure it out on their own. 

As children learn to read, write, and do more advanced work, the control of error may be answer keys, visual guides or working with a partner. By allowing them to self-correct and learn from mistakes, we teach them that the purpose of work is not just about getting the answers right all the time. It is about the process of learning to learn. 

The role model - 

As an adult around children, we model it. We keep in mind that children pay more attention to what we do than what we say. We admit when don't know the answer to something and we show them how to look it up. We model how to communicate, handle conflicts, make peace with friends, and apologize if needed. We address things diplomatically. We talk things through and encourage children to consider what could be done differently. When slip-ups or challenges arise, we treat them like a lesson. 

When your child has a setback, some good questions to keep in mind to talk them through it: 

⁃ What can be done differently?

⁃ What did you learn from that mistake? 

⁃ How can you adjust and try again? 

Remember, mistakes are the portals of discovery. If interested, check out "Mindset" by Carol Dweck. There are a few chapters specifically on parenting that compliment Montessori and have really influenced my approach towards my own children. 

As always, feel free to bring up any questions or comments. And, YAY Eagles!! 

⁃ Jen 
Learning Together

Monday Message - Independence

January 23, 2018
By Jennifer Heness

Hello Learning Together Friends,

One of my favorite aspects of Montessori is the way in which we foster independence. Children are as independent as we expect them to be. They naturally seek independence from a very young age. It's partly what makes the toddler years so challenging! My toddler’s favorite words are, "Me!" and, "I do!"  So how do we, as parents or caregivers, aid them in their quest to, “Do it all by themselves?"

To start with, I always ask myself these questions before stepping in to help:

1.) Do they actually NEED help?

2.) Do they just WANT help?

3.) Do they EXPECT help because it is always present?

By pausing our adult reaction to swoop in and do it all, we give a child the chance to accomplish a task on their own. Of course, it is a natural reaction to help. However, for their confidence and independence to develop, we try to pause before stepping in. We observe if they are truly struggling, or are they just working on developing a new skill and need some practice. A child is capable of learning to do many things for themselves, but not if someone automatically does everything for them.

Sometimes though, a job is just too big and overwhelming. In this case, we ask the child "how" we can help them. We don’t swoop in and “save the day,” sending the message that they are not capable, but we also don’t want to leave them overwhelmed. For example: If your child is tired but needs to put her Legos away, all of those pieces can be overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Try dividing the job, “Which color would you like me to put away?”or “I’ll put away the yellow pieces and you put away the blue,” to show that you’re in it together, but still giving her some responsibility. 

I also find these phrases very helpful:

1. "You did it all by yourself!"

So simple, yet so powerful. “You did it!” gives a child ownership over their accomplishment. They are able to step back and say, “I did do it, didn’t I?” and gain confidence in their abilities. Even the simplest task done independently feels very satisfying.

2. "Go ahead, you can do it! I’m right here."

Sometimes we know a child is capable of doing something on their own, but perhaps that day they are feeling unsure or extra needy. Reassuring them that you’re nearby to help if needed often gives them the encouragement to try independently once more.

3. "Would you like to try?"

Children are keen observers and are always watching. Notice your child as they watch you go about everyday tasks. The next time your child is watching you sweep the floor or put laundry in the dryer, ask them, “Would you like to try?” This is an open invitation to be just you. They love copying our everyday tasks.

Words of support and opportunities to practice are often all a child needs to keep working on a new skill. As their mastery grows, so does their confidence and independence. We also foster independence in the way we speak to children. Rather than asking yes/no questions, offering limited choices gives them a say. Allowing simple, age appropriate decisions not only helps toddlers develop their independence, it also helps reduce tantrums because they feel heard and included.

Young children ask a lot of questions, which is great because they create teachable moments. However, instead of answering every single one, we encourage them to problem solve. While it's usually easier to simply answer a question about where something is, or how to do something, we try answering with another question such as, “Where could you look for that?” or “How do you think we can find the answer?” or "What do you think you could try first?"   

An example from home: If my son is looking for his shoe and I see it peeking out from under the bed, instead of saying it's right there, or handing it to him, I would ask a few leading questions. “Where were you when you took your shoes off? Have you checked around your room?” etc. This may take a little more time, but its worth it when he starts taking more initiative and solving problems on his own.

In Walden's Montessori preschool classrooms these concepts are in full swing. Children, starting as young as 2.5 years old, are given the chance to do things independently, the time to practice skills, a space to make mistakes and learn from them, as well as the opportunity to make decisions and use their voice. If you'd like to see this in action, please contact Kathy at info@thewaldenschool or stop by the office to schedule a tour.

I am happy to discuss, give examples, or answer any questions you may have. Looking forward to seeing you this week. - Jen 

"Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed."
Maria Montessori

Connecting Through Meaningful Conversation

November 21, 2017
By Jennifer Heness

With this being Thanksgiving week, I thought I'd share a little dinnertime tradition I have in my house. We call it "Happy, Sad, and Silly" and it occurs so regularly it's as important to our day as dinner itself. It's how we check in with each other and connect as a family. 

This little tradition started when my oldest was in preschool. He's currently in 5th grade, so it's stuck for a while now. It's a little dinnertime practice of reflection and gratitude that continued, even years later as each new sibling joined the table. Every night when we sit to eat together, someone always shouts out, "Let's do happy, sad and silly!" We go around the table and everyone takes a turn sharing one happy, one sad, and one silly thing about their day. Its pretty simple. 

While it is a good opportunity to sneak in some practice with manners, as we try to listen politely and not cut anyone off, it's also a great way to start meaningful conversation. The best part is that our kids have become enthusiastic to tell us about their day. We hear about recess, school, friends, playground interactions, new ideas, anything on their mind. We hear how their day went from their point of view. It's very telling. In turn, they are enthusiastic to hear about our day, too. They hear about work deadlines, traffic, hobbies, or whatever stress or joys we've had in our adult lives. It shows them that even adults have ups and downs, just like them.

As a family, it helps us all know more and care more about each other. It helps us reflect on all of the things we're grateful for, and discuss or learn from any negatives that may have come up. And in those minutes of sharing the energy completely resets in the room. It's like we all breathe a deep sigh of relief and mentally say, “Ok, that was our day, but we’re over it now. We're all here together, it’s time to enjoy this moment and this dinner..." 

Hearing about someone else's day, the ups and downs, is a nice way to teach empathy and to help children realize everyone- their friends, their siblings, even their parents, have good and bad things happen each day. Children care. They are curious and very much interested in learning about you as well as from you. Try telling your kids one thing that made you happy today, one thing that may have made you sad, and don't forget to add in the silly, because it reminds us to not take everything so seriously. As adults, especially, if by dinner time nothing silly has happened yet, perhaps it's time for an impromptu family dance party?! It's important to remember to have a little fun. 

Do you have any family traditions to practice gratitude and connect with each other? Around the dinner table or before bed are good times to create a little routine of reflecting. 

I hope you enjoy some time with family and friends this week. Happy Thanksgiving - Jen 

Food Prep with Kids

November 13, 2017
By Jennifer Heness

Hello Learning Together Friends, 

The holiday season is approaching and that usually means spending more time in the kitchen. Family gatherings often revolve around family recipes and traditions. Food brings people together. It's also a powerful memory trigger as certain smells and tastes can transport you to a particular time or place. What was your favorite meal as a child? Does a flavor or smell remind you of someone? How do you think your child would answer?

Getting children into the kitchen to help prepare and serve food is one of the best ways to build important practical life skills. Food preparation is a form of self care. Learning how to handle kitchen tools further develops motor skills. Learning step-by-step processes aids in independence. And of course, spending time together in the kitchen is a great way to bond as a family and create memories.

Food preparation is a daily occurrence in a Montessori classroom. It is as common to see a child focused on peeling a clementine as it is focused on a math or language lesson. It's valuable and satisfying work. "The apples taste better when I cut them myself," my son came home from school saying, at age 3. With proper lessons and guidance, children are given the opportunity to prepare many things themselves at school.

Food preparation activities start simple and gain in complexity. Children may start with washing an apple or scrubbing a potato and then explore peeling clementines or shelling edamame. They are introduced to chopping with soft foods like a banana, a slice of bread, or cheese. Children learn how to measure, stir, and mash, how to make toast, spread jam, juice an orange, and eventually make more complicated, multi-step snacks. By doing these activities they focus on a task, follow a sequence of steps, and gain much confidence. In addition to preparing food, they also enjoy serving it to their classmates. This adds a social component, gives them a chance to practice using manners and contribute to their community.

The practical life and food prep lessons from the classroom can carry home as well. For my family, most of the learning that happens at home happens in our kitchen. Here are a few tips to get your children busy in the kitchen.


-- Explore the senses. Exploring foods sensorially is a great introduction for even the youngest child. Think about feeling interesting skins, like a pineapple or kiwi, and comparing smells like fresh citrus or ground cinnamon. A child can use their hands to explore the texture of cooked spaghetti in a big bowl. Or practice pouring, scooping and enjoy the sound raw beans or corn kernels make in different containers. 

-- Start simple. I started introducing food prep at home by allowing my toddler to wash produce. Either at a stool in front of the sink, or a big punch bowl on the floor with some water and a sponge, my youngest would happily wash all of our produce. Take it a step further and show them how to dry it and where it's stored. 

-- Get them some tools. My toddler loves going down the kitchen isle of any store to look at utensils. Try letting your child pick out their own spatula, mini whisk, or set of measuring cups. Let them have a bin or drawer in the kitchen where they keep their own tools. Of course there are play kitchens and pretend tools, but children want to learn with the real deal as well. Letting them pick out their own gives them an added sense of pride when they get to use it. 

-- Nifty gadgets. Children love learning how to use little gadgets. Keep an eye out for things that safely let your child have fun exploring a kitchen task. For example, my toddler loves to slice strawberries with an egg slicer. Or use a mortar and pestle to mash up fresh herbs. I recently got a grape slicer that dices a grape four ways. It's fun for them and keeps them busy while I'm busy making dinner. He's proud when he can contribute an ingredient that he prepared with his little gadget. 

-- Off load a manageable task. When making any meal, offload something manageable. For example, your toddler can dump and mix ingredients in a bowl. They can peel things, mash things, and set the table. A toddler favorite in our house is prepping roasted veggies. With a simple setup - a small bowl of olive oil, a small bowl of seasonings, a paint brush and a tray, and he's good to go. My youngest will lay all of the chopped vegetables on a baking sheet, paint them with olive oil, pinch and sprinkle some seasonings, and they're ready for the oven. What are the chances he enjoys eating them? Very high because he enjoyed making them. By getting them involved you increase the likelihood they'll enjoy the meal. 

-- Embrace the mess: Cooking is messy. Welcoming a young child into the process requires the adult to let go a little, or a lot! Remember it's about learning, exploring, and bonding. It's not going to be fast or perfect. Take your time and expect things to spill, it's okay. Give them a lesson on cleaning up when you're done. The more they practice, the more comfortable and competent they become with it. 


The child's desire to participate in everyday family life is a powerful force. Preparing meals and snacks, baking, helping, even just hanging with you are all satisfying activities that directly support their well-being. Confidence follows naturally when they see their efforts make a meaningful contribution. With your help, your children can manage so much in the kitchen. Have fun with it and create some new traditions. 

I could talk about cooking and kids all day, so if you have any questions or want more examples, just let me know. See you this week  - Jen 

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