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Learning Together Letters

New Routines!

October 04, 2021
By Jenny Jalack

Dear families and friends of Learning Together, 

What a pleasant start we’ve enjoyed so far! Each Monday you can expect an email from me to touch on a topic. The goal is to share some child development information and/or explain the Montessori approach. 

Some of the values promoted in a Montessori classroom are the freedom of choice (within reasonable limits), respect of the individual child, and the practice of routine and order. As you saw for yourself, there is a lot to explore in the classroom. The goal for week one was simply for the children to be comfortable coming into the classroom and to notice the variety of materials available. It was really lovely to see both occur. As we move forward, routines will become important. 

Young children crave predictability. It allows them to feel safe. When they know what to expect, and what's expected of them, they are more likely to cooperate, enjoy themselves, and thrive. Following regular routines is a great way to give toddlers a sense of security and reasonable responsibilities. Things like greeting each other, washing hands, using the learning materials, and what to do when I hum a certain song, will all become routine. At school and at home, routines help things run smoothly. In the classroom we'll work on a few goals through our established routines. 

Creating a community of friends is certainly one of our goals. Singing each other's names, clapping together, talking and listening to each other, and sharing a snack, are all activities where we can model good manners and practice social skills. Friendships naturally occur in a warm classroom community where everyone feels seen and heard.

Another goal is to begin to establish a work cycle, which helps ensure a peaceful and productive morning. We will work towards this by guiding the children to do one activity at a time; to choose the material, explore it, and then return it back to its spot on the shelf before moving on to the next thing. With practice and repetition this becomes routine. Toddlers naturally want to touch, explore, and then be on the move. However, guiding them to follow through with a few simple steps sets the stage to handle more complex activities later and promotes their independence. 

This can translate to home as well, for example, putting a toy away when finished, placing shoes where they belong, or tossing clothes in the laundry basket. Having a place and purpose for everything helps them orient themselves to their environment and participate in family life. Little hands can absolutely handle little responsibilities!

I am happy to speak with you more about any of this information or any other questions or comments you may have about our sessions this week. I look forward to seeing all of you again soon!




April 15, 2020
By Jenny Jalack

Dear parents and families of Learning Together,

I hope you all felt how the children are beginning to become better acquainted and more comfortable with the routines of this new environment. Routines and predictability provide the  structure necessary for toddlers to become increasingly independent. The ability to predict what comes next based on previous experience allows them to adapt and orient to their environment and to find purpose within it.

As adults, we often do our little children a disservice: we watch them struggle or work deliberately with a task and assume s/he cannot actually do it So we “remedy” the situation by taking over. As a mother and Montessorian, I challenge you to let them try anything within the realm of relative safety! A small toddler, given the time, freedom, and proper encouragement to figure it out, can help prepare food, sort trash and recycling, dress with little assistance, and clean up an activity after completing it. The result is rarely perfect, but it is the fruit of their own labor, and thus more satisfactory to them than having an adult take charge.

From birth on, the child’s trajectory is one towards complete independence. They crawl, walk, wean, toilet train, and eventually begin participating in a social life outside of the home. Meeting in a space like Learning Together is an opportunity for parents, caregivers, and the school to interface, but it is also an opportunity for us to challenge one another to see what the children are capable of in a structured setting. It is my sincere hope that with some time and practice, they will begin to choose and replace activities on their own, respond to the ring of the chime on their own, and serve themselves snack on their own. And that’s just where we’ll start!

So, as a quick list for parents and caregivers, try to be mindful of these items during the time you spend with your child (both in and out of the home):

Sit on your hands as your child works through a task—try to guide with a few well-chosen words instead of touch, offering assistance only right before they encounter frustration.

Notice when your child is quietly concentrating and protect that concentration by observing them instead of interrupting or praising them.

Model movements and behaviors you would want your child to replicate—you are the source of what s/he considers to be correct and acceptable behavior, and your actions give them a sense of how to behave out in the larger world.

Include your child in the tasks and routines of your household—since infancy they have been watching you cook, clean, fold laundry, and care for the yard. Find appropriately sized tasks and ways in which they can participate in these activities. (My daughter loved helping load the dishwasher and washing machine before her first birthday!)

Try thinking of yourself as your child’s guide instead of their caretaker. You provide the materials for life and activity, and you show them how to use them. Taking a step back when they don’t need you is just as instrumental as being right there when they do.

SLOW down!—toddlers work at a much slower pace then we do; matching that pace allows them to see, process, and practice.

Best wishes to all of you until we meet again next time!

The First Three Years

April 15, 2020
By Jenny Jalack

Dear friends and families of Learning Together,

Did you know the majority of your child’s brain growth and development occurs before the age of three? It may not be all that surprising, especially when you consider the incredible differences between a newborn and a child preparing to enter preschool for the first time. Human children are born helpless but become masters of language, basic social sensitivities, and self care in a few short years.

As parents and caregivers, this information can be both exhilarating and daunting! We will never be so responsible for the care, keeping, and intellectual growth of a person as we are at this very moment! It is for this reason that I want to proceed with offering information about how to support our children with Montessori concepts in the home throughout our second session of Learning Together.

Many of the children in our group are fortunate enough to be spending their first few years largely at home: I personally believe in the home’s efficacy as a first learning environment. It is a microcosm of your child’s culture, time, and place, all of which s/he must adapt to to feel safe and secure out in the larger world. But, and this is personal experience speaking, life at home is also not idyllic! Laundry piles up, dishes occasionally line the counter, parents get distracted and stressed, and there just aren’t enough hours in the day to tease out the details of how to offer your child myriad opportunities for independence and discovery!

So, to honor how overwhelming it can all be, we are going to start slow. Here is  a link to a wonderfully descriptive (and brief) talk on how to support our babies’ and toddlers’ growth at home. The speaker founded the Montessori toy subscription company Montikids. I highly recommend perusing the site and checking out the blog as well.

I also have a short list of tips for “following the child” to try in your parenting in the next week if you don’t already:

If your child’s hands are on an activity/toy, yours stay off.

Get down on your child’s level when you speak to them.

Give them moments of peace and concentration when they are engrossed in an activity—these allow them to develop their attention span. (A piece on alternatives to “good job” soon to follow!)

Aim for a life rich in experiences, instead of things—nature walks, trips to the zoo, afternoons watching a construction site are favorites at this age.

Be kind to yourself (the most challenging for me!)—modeling to your child that you can accept yourself and the imperfectness of life nurtures strength and resilience.

Wishing you all a peaceful weekend!

Encouraging Cooperation

April 15, 2020
By Jenny Jalack

Dear friends and families of Learning Together,

Although I always find myself in a rush to adjust and design my home and school environment to suit children’s needs, sometimes it helps me to take a step back and remember what I believe to be that one thing that makes the Montessori approach truly unique: the way we address and respect our children.

Part of what Maria Montessori aimed to rectify when she set about her work in education was the common belief that children were “incomplete” little people, who needed to be fed information in order to learn and, one day, contribute to society. What she found through observation (wink, wink) was, in fact, almost completely at odds with this long held assumption. She saw in young child a whole nexus of possibilities, which goes through a process of tuning and adjustment as the child grows and collects experiences from infancy through early adulthood.

So it follows when we too often resort to saying, “no!”, “stop!”, or other discouraging phrases to our children, we risk them thinking the equivalent of “I’m not capable,” “This space isn’t safe for me,” or “I won’t try doing things for myself.” We want our children to blossom and grow with feelings of confidence and security—to see the opportunity in each day instead of focusing on the obstacles.

Here are some (quick!) examples of how to encourage cooperation at home with our children without resorting to the above:

Describe a problem and give them a full, silent count to 10 to take action: “Hmmmm….there are crumbs on the floor and table where you had snack.”

Give information: “I keep the table wipes down in the cabinet where you can reach them.”

Say it with one word (sometimes we talk too much!): “Crumbs.”

Talk about your feelings using “I” statements: “I become discouraged when I see more crumbs after I finished cleaning the kitchen.”

Write a note: I’ll digress from the crumb example for this one. Some of you may have noticed the note I’ve written and taped on the calendar in the corner of our classroom. Some of my 3-day preschool students were making a habit of touching and rearranging the calendar throughout the morning, which problematized the “today’s date” activity. One day during group time, I told them I had an important message I needed to write down. I wrote it in front of them and read aloud, “The calendar is for group time” and stuck it on the top. It has barely been touched since.

I should note that NO has its place. Reserved for moments of emergency and safety concerns, it is powerful and halting, but only if we can keep it to a minimum in other scenarios. And I am really only scratching the surface of how to communicate with children, here. I just find that with toddlers and preschoolers in particular, the cooperation piece is, for lack of a more eloquent word, big.

Home Set-Up

April 15, 2020
By Jenny Jalack

Dear friends and families of Learning Together,

This week I am sharing some photos from my own home of some of the spaces we've tailored specifically to our one-year-old and four-year-old. In many cases, the spaces we have in the classroom can be duplicated at home: it usually just takes a little time, creativity, and willingness to patiently watch your child adapt to the spaces. As always, the goal is the child's autonomy of activity and self care.

I should also mention that we all live together in a house of less than 1500 square feet (!), so you can incorporate these spaces even when you don't have the luxury of an expansive open floor plan.

1. The Low Table

Children enjoy having a small table to use for activities, art, and snacks. The chair should be low enough for their feet to touch the floor to allow for them to sit and scoot in independently. Paz has been eating her afternoon snack here while I read to her.

2. The Toy Shelf

As in class, rotating toys on a low, open shelf at home engages your child's attention and also limits the amount of cleaning up you have to do at the end of the day! When Paz has lost interest in a toy, we simply replace it with another based on what she's been gravitating toward. Big sis's drawing supplies are atop the shelf for now with paper and other open art supplies stowed away neatly in the buffet to the left. We found this shelf awaiting trash pickup at a neighbor's house!

Right around the corner in our living room, we have more shelves that lend themselves nicely to books and a larger toy.

3. The Functional "Play" Kitchen

This is our newest addition for the girls. We have had this Ikea play kitchen for two years, and though it has received both love and use as a play kitchen, this post convinced me that it could be used even more joyfully as a functional toddler kitchen. Paz is learning how to use the water dispenser and has been fetching her own dishes (and "setting the table"). The washcloth on top is for spills, and eventually we will add some simple food preparation tools to the cabinet as she is able to prepare snacks. My eldest has been chopping fruit on the surface as well.

4. The Kitchen Helper

These glorified stools are called by many names, but the purpose is the same. We bought this one three years ago for our first child, but, since then, several other manufacturers have designed better ones (this one is my favorite). Paz is still mostly observing cooking and cleaning at the stage but will help by wiping a spill, washing her hands or a dish, or handing me items from across the counter.

5. The Entryway

This one is simple and straightforward: some low hooks, a basket for seasonal items (hats, mittens, sunscreen, etc.), perhaps a stool or bench, and a mirror. Children can take care of their items and their appearance before leaving and upon returning.

6. Where to Shop

Ideally, you can find some of these items secondhand (Goodwill, thrift shops), free (re: trash pickup), or simply adjust what you already have in your home.

If you want to spring for something ready-made and beautiful, I recommend Sprout. The furniture is American made and snaps together for fast, easy assembly. We were gifted a beautiful book display for Paz's room from them.

If you want to go for something economical and don't mind the more intensive allen wrench assembly, IKEA has a number of items to us as-is or modified. Our house is full of stools, storage items, and children's furniture from IKEA.

I hope this email inspires you or at least makes you feel good about what you've already set up for your child(ren) at home!

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