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Monday Message- Learning Together Blog

LT Week 8: Thank you!

November 19, 2018
By Jenny Jalack

Dear friends and families of Learning Together,

It has been such a pleasure getting to know all of you and your little ones over the last couple of months. Even for those who attended once weekly, I witnessed so much growth in our small group setting: they became used to our routines, made friends with one another, and mastered activities in a new setting with a loving caregiver (or several!).
 
I wish you all a happy holiday season and wish to impart one more bit of practical knowledge that I have found complements what we try to accomplish in a Montessori setting. Try to make the holiday season special with your children in ways that are substantial but not material: go out to see the lights, decorate and bake together, learn new songs, talk about family and the season of light. There are so many lovely holiday traditions to be shared both within our larger cultural contexts and within single families' practices.
 
As a parent, I've decided to limit my child's gift list to the old adage, "Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read." Just as we limit choices in the classroom to focus the child's mental activity and increase his/her independence, limiting what we gift to them both increases the value of what is given and encourages respect for the practice of gracious giving and receiving in the future.
 
May the next several weeks bring you feelings of peace and togetherness as you share them with your loved ones! We very much hope to see you back at The Walden School for the spring session of Learning Together, which I am told is full except for a few spots in the Monday session. Check in with Kathy Swierczek soon if you would like to enroll!
 
“We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.”  --Maria Montessori

LT Week 7: Movement (and Potty Training!)

November 12, 2018
By Jenny Jalack

Dear friends and families of Learning Together,

I spoke briefly on Friday about movement being of great importance in Montessori classrooms at every developmental stage, but never is it so important as in the first three years of life, wherever they are spent. The reason for this is abundantly clear when anyone reflects on the physical abilities of the newborn, who moves her limbs erratically and struggles to turn over, as compared to those of the three-year-old, who runs, jumps, catches, throws, and climbs with ease.

Where there is movement, there is mental activity. An infant’s development of large motor control starts with raising his head and ends with walking on his feet, at which point the brain and body are fully connected and communicational. For the next several years, the child will refine and perfect her movements only through practice and the feedback provided by her environment. This article published in the Atlantic a few years ago gives credence to educational philosophies, such as Montessori, which acknowledge the value of physical activity integrated with early academics: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/05/why-young-kids-learn-through-movement/483408/.

In Learning Together, the available work is designed to refine some variety of gross or fine motor coordination. The stairs, stools, rocking horse, and easel encourage the children to move their bodies through space and gain a better understanding of their own strength and dimensions. Likewise, the use of work mats and appropriately sized furniture encourage them to routinely manipulate larger, heavier items in the environment to suit their own needs. Their ability to move becomes both a function and a product of their independence.

Other activities and materials, like pouring, use of the knobbed puzzles, the shape sorter, and the lock board promote the use and dexterity of the hand and fingers. In toddlers and preschoolers, we wish to move them away from the full-fisted “monkey” grip (which an adult would use to do something like pull a rope) to the more refined two-fingered pincer grasp (to pick up the ends of a shoelace, for example) or the three-fingered key grip (as you would indeed use to grasp and insert a key). Montessori teachers take great care to slow down and demonstrate to children how to hold and handle materials to encourage the repetition and regular use of these movements, but you can also do this at home by slowly showing (not necessarily narrating) your child how to grip a crayon or marker, a cooking utensil, or the scoop for the laundry detergent. Any home activity provides an active learning experience for the child’s hand and body—the more variety, the better!

And to briefly address your questions about toilet training!…

I want to share this terrific video, which encapsulates not only that particular piece of toddler learning but also the larger idea of what constitutes a child’s “work” as it relates to his/her development: https://vimeo.com/121200116

Here is a great site for small training underwear: https://tinyundies.com. I put my daughter in the 12-24 month Under the Nile brand undies; they were surprisingly absorbent and allowed her to move much more freely. Gerber also makes this kind of underwear for in an 18M size, and it certainly trumps the others in terms of affordability.

For easily understood books for toddlers on the subject, there are many, but I like Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel. She published it back in the 1970s, and I actually remember my mother using it when I was 2 (it’s that good!). It comes in both boy and girl editions.

I think that’s enough for this week! Please consider joining us for the spring session of Learning Together; Kathy Swierczek has informed me that our Friday session is nearly full. There have been some technical difficulties with registration, so please contact her at kswierczek@thewaldenschool.org if you require assistance or would like her to hold a spot until the site is working properly. We would love to see you again!

Many thanks,

Jenny Jalack

 

-- 

Jenny Jalack
Preschool Teacher

LT Week 6: Social Development

November 05, 2018
By Jenny Jalack

Dear friends and families of Learning Together,

As a natural extension of last week’s discussion of language development, we are moving on to a conversation about the social curriculum in a Montessori classroom and how it aids the social development of the child. Although we tend to jump to expecting our little ones to share, get along with others, and cooperate, these are advanced social tasks that we cannot expect of our infants and toddlers. So we start with supporting them in the home by fostering a deep attachment to their primary caregivers (moms, dads, nannies, etc.) and their immediate family members to ensure they feel, first and foremost, that their world is a loving, predictable, and safe place.

During the first three years of life, the child develops a personality much like they developed physical structures in the womb. Through exposure to their home and/or care environments, they construct abilities in language, movement, memory, and will. The child, during this period, also absorbs the culture of their specific time and place—their family is the social nucleus from which they glean information about our civilization. A family’s preference for certain foods, flavors, rituals and routines, atmosphere, and general lifestyle guide the child, whose natural curiosity connects them to their family’s culture.

In Learning Together, we are taking a small step outside of that home culture to explore what life in a community of other toddlers and parents/caregivers feels like. It’s a wonderful stepping stone to utilize before enrolling in preschool: during our mornings together, we honor the power of your child’s attachment to you while also allowing them to explore materials and activities that may not necessarily be available at home. And, for you as caregivers, you get to experience what is coming next for your child whilst working alongside them (for now!). My hope is that their activity excites you!

Some of the tools we are using to build and reinforce our sense of social community are our group times, welcome and goodbye songs, using the children’s names and acknowledging (without necessarily praising) their efforts, taking turns with materials and returning them for another child’s use, and modeling grace and courtesy. It has been a pleasure to see the children absorb those imbedded lessons as the weeks have gone on.

I’m attaching a short video entitled “Everyday Food” from the same site as the previous video; of course, it hearkens back to food preparation, but I think it speaks very much to the quality of social interactions among toddlers in Montessori environments. There are also plenty of visuals to remind us of simple adjustments to make at home to foster our children’s independence.

https://vimeo.com/121311138

Toilet training and separation anxiety were two requested topics to address during our closing weeks, but I’d like to hear from anyone else who has any burning questions either in session or via email. Thank you!

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend and look forward to the coming week!

-- 

Jenny Jalack
Preschool Teacher

LT Week 5: Language Development

October 28, 2018
By Jenny Jalack

Dear parents and families of Learning Together,

We are speaking about some aspects of language development this week. The child’s linguistic leaps between the ages of one and three are of special interest because these acquisitions are made with such alacrity. The one-year-old goes from single words to two word phrases to three and four word phrases in a matter of months.

So, to support language learning at home, I defer first to a text used in Montessori toddler training courses (sometimes called Assistance to Infancy, or Birth to Three). It says, “If [caregivers] understand that there is a “sensitive period for naming things” and respond to the hunger for language in the appropriate way, they can give their children a richness and precision of language that will last a lifetime, and which represents a relevant, qualitative difference in their comprehension of reality” (Understanding the Human Being, p. 140).

In the spirit of naming things and giving the child the strongest link to the object or idea a word represents, we should try to expose them to real activities (like what we’ve talked about with food preparation) and pause to name items and tools as we go along. We should also take our children outside to name our garden plants, the trees in our yard, the birds we see at the feeder. And, sometimes, less talking is better; in the case of introducing a lot of new vocabulary, or a new activity, we distract the child less when we stick to using the necessary words as hooks the child can latch onto.

I should also emphasize here, as I did on Friday, what a wonderful aid a good book collection can be. Focusing on buying books with beautiful illustrations and realistic plot lines help children develop an understanding of sequence and logic. For our home collection, we tried to avoid too much fantasy, talking animals, and gendered characters; books with photographs of children, families, and people performing daily tasks are a great place to start for young toddlers. In those pictures, they can identify and relate to what has been captured and therefore begin a positive relationship with books and reading.

NPR released and excellent article last spring about the “Goldilocks” style balance that reading your child an illustrated storybook strikes. I encourage you to read it at: https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/05/24/611609366/whats-going-on-in-your-childs-brain-when-you-read-them-a-story

 
Please also read below for our Spring dates and a note about preschool enrollment at The Walden School:
The next session of Learning Together, the Spring session, will be held during the months of March, April and May.  

The Spring session of Learning Together will take place on:

Monday - March 18 & 25, April 1, 8, 22 & 29, May 6 & 13

Friday - March 22 & 29, April 5, 12 & 26, May 3, 17 & 24

Registration for returning students will open on November 1. By November 7, program registration will then be open to new students. Due to the program's popularity, prompt registration is encouraged.

The Walden School accepts little ones as young as 2.5 years of age in its preschool program.  If your child is at the age of preschool consideration for January 2019 or for September 2019, you are welcome to schedule a school visit/tour by contacting Kathy Swierczek, Admissions Director.  You can stop by the office, call 610.892.8000 or email kswierczek@thewaldenschool.org to schedule a day/time to gather information and to observe Montessori children at work!

I look forward to seeing you all again this week!

-- 

Jenny Jalack
Preschool Teacher

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