October 3, 2023
Archive for Montessori programming
You wake up to the soft chirping of birds in the forest outside your tent. The morning is chilly and crisp, but later on, the sun beats down on you as your tired arms paddle down the river. Then the night is cool again as you huddle near the campfire, roasting marshmallows while the sun dips down and the shining stars come out. This is a day on the Odyssey Trip, a week-long wilderness canoe trip at the beginning of our Montessori Middle School year. This trip is an amazing and priceless experience that we will remember all our lives and one that every Middle School student should have the chance to experience.
In school we read about nature, but students do not usually get to experience it, and learn from looking, touching and observing the real thing. On the Odyssey Trip, we saw many different types of plants, animals, and insects. We saw massive Eastern White Pines, the tallest tree in Eastern Canada, watched dragonflies buzz around and land on our arms, and heard the call of the loon in the evening, the same ones we saw dive under the water earlier that day.
We learned about various types of trees and how to identify them. We observed animals, such as beavers and bald eagles, in their natural habitat. As a result, we realized that we needed to respect the flora and fauna, to not make an impact on them, and to watch out for things that could be harmful, such as poison ivy.
We visited a few old-growth forests, and saw how tall the trees were and how long they had been there, longer than any of us could ever live. There were many massive trees, towering above us, and we would sometimes stop to give one a hug. We even measured how many people it would take to reach around the trunk! The trees were amazing. Old-growth forests are forests that have been there for anywhere from 100 to 400 years. We learned that despite the many attempts to preserve them from the logging industry, we are slowly losing them, and now only 1-2% of the world’s red and white pine old-growth forests are left.
Our trip helped us understand that as we do not have much of nature left, we must take care of it or we will lose it soon. On the trip, we had a seminar on forest conservation around the campfire, as well as many designated times to sit and think on our own. The trip really helped us learn about and connect with nature, and inspired us to conserve it.
In addition, the Odyssey Trip built our practical skills, and our character as well. We learned how to make a fire and cook tasty meals over it, how to paddle and steer a canoe, and how to properly pack our dry sacks. Not only did it teach us wilderness skills, but something more important, life skills.
One value we practiced was perseverance, because we faced many obstacles, and had to know how to keep going and how to work hard to achieve success. Activities like portaging and canoeing were tough, but we knew to keep going, bear the weight of the pack a little while longer during the portages, and paddle a little harder through the waves on a windy day to make it to our campsite. We also discovered how to trust ourselves and push ourselves further.
In addition, we learned to be responsible and independent. One of our duties was to pack the barrels that carried our dry sacks, and another was to be responsible for all of our belongings. We were also taught to be independent and not to ask for help all the time, but to try to solve problems ourselves.
Another benefit of the trip is the feeling of gratitude that it inspired. We could imagine how it might be to live in poverty, because we lived with fewer resources, and had to make do without many supplies. When we get older and move forward in life, we will be happy that the Odyssey Trip gave us a chance to build our characters.
One of the most important life skills the Odyssey Trip has taught us is how to work as a team. The Odyssey Trip takes place at the beginning of the year so that we can learn to work as a group for the rest of the school year. During the trip, there were many times where we learned to support one another. For example, during a portage there would be a few people to carry one canoe, and we would all have to communicate really well in order to get the heavy canoe across the rocky terrain. There were some hurdles, but we made it through, making suggestions, taking the role as a leader, and giving support and cheering each other on to keep going.
Every single day in the morning we had to load the canoes, and pack the bags, and in the afternoon, we had to make it to our campsite, lift all the canoes out of the water, grab all the packs, set up camp, and collect firewood. No one could relax, even if they were really tired, until the whole set-up was done. It required a lot of team effort, and we improved a lot, so by the end of the trip, we were a much faster and more efficient team.
Not only did we work as one group, we became closer as individuals. We got to know about each of our friends better, because we spent every minute of the week together, solving problems and having fun. We would regularly switch partners and canoe groups, so that everybody would learn about everyone, and know about their hobbies, family, and personality. We also got to know the teachers well, and they discovered our strengths, preferences, personalities, and goals.
Throughout the trip, we had so much fun: laughing at inside jokes, swimming in the icy water, exploring the forest, and snuggling together near the campfire, singing and sharing stories. The Odyssey Trip gave us a perfect opportunity to work together as a team, bond with one another, and have a fantastic time.
All Middle Schoolers should have the chance to go on the Odyssey Trip, not just Montessori students. On the trip, we had an enjoyable week of canoeing, learning about nature, discussing conservation, building character, and laughing with friends. After that, we came home as a team. This trip is a one-of-a-kind experience that has taught us many lessons. We made so many memories, and we will treasure them all our lives.
While toddlers begin to explore beyond the home environment and casa students begin to explore the school environment in its entirety, it is the elementary children who take exploration, curiosity and drive to a whole new level in the Montessori going out program. Discover how the teachers in partnership with their students guide them on this journey.
Intellectual choice and independence are goals for the children in the Elementary program. They are life skills; keys to the universe. The children need to explore beyond the classroom and to aid in this construction, we must provide opportunities for them to go out into society and experience it.
Going out provides the opportunity to make choices in a safe manner as they are still under the protection of the family and the school. It provides further intellectual stimulation and contributes to the children’s growth and self-control. Going out begins at Clanmore by going to the library or to the art studio. The students then build on this foundation as they gain more responsibility outside of the classroom.
“It has to do with the psychological characteristics and the human tendencies of the elementary children”… “one of the needs of this aged child is to be prepared to eventually take his/her place in society”. “It is more than acquiring knowledge it is about experiencing society.” CH
‘Going Out’ is not a field trip that is organized by the teacher; it is part of the Elementary curriculum and has to do with the work and activities of the children in an elementary class. It is a small group of children who have done some work and have planned an outing to retrieve more information.
We cannot bring all elements of society into the classroom. The children need to explore geography, history, biology, cultural activities of society, language, social awareness and retrieve impressions that will inspire them for future work. It’s more than just acquiring knowledge, it’s about the experience and how it will launch them forward and manifest itself in ways that we can’t predict.
“They will explore the interdependencies that exist; the interdependencies of the environment, but also the interdependencies of human beings. When you take public transportation you have more appreciation of the job that these people are doing. So they begin to understand the Cosmic Plan which underlies the interrelatedness, the universe, the world and societies.” CH
The children in this plane of development are in the process of developing their moral sense.
“We are helping the children come into contact with the moral sense of existence. What is the role of humans and how we affect the cosmos”… “one assumes that people are skilled at decision making but this is not always the case. If you are not shown as a young child how to choose wisely and understand that, ‘I can choose all by myself,’ then as an adult you may have an underdeveloped Will. To develop this Will children need a chance to make meaningful choices.” RO
We speak of the prepared environment and the work that begins in the classroom as their imagination gets fired up and their intellect begins to question what else there is to find out. Essentially, two environments are prepared as now the teachers prepare the children to go out. They prepare for any particular rules they may encounter, anticipate what is expected and things specific to that outing like how to interview a person, listen to a response and ask a follow-up question.
An Interview with some Upper Elementary students about their ‘Going Out’ experience.
Recently you went to the Oakville Humane Society, can you tell me why you decided to go there?
We were doing a fundraiser and needed more background information on how they do things. We wanted to see the animals that we were fundraising for, these animals are sick, they have diabetes and asthma and use puffers the same way humans do. We hope to donate money and supplies.
How did you prepare for this outing?
We spoke to our teachers, called the Humane Society and scheduled a tour. Then we needed to figure out who was going to drive us and what we needed to do so we prepared questions.
What did you gain from this experience?
F- Responsibility – knowing all these abandoned animals makes me more responsible for the pets I have. I felt proud when we were there and I gained more love for animals. Other classmates have done fundraisers for PETA and it got me thinking and makes me want to help in my own way.
B- I gained more information about animals, love for animals and how to organise an outing.
N- I gained an ability to understand animals, they have different emotions and different moods. I gained more knowledge of the Oakville Humane Society and the knowledge of how to set up balance between my time on the fundraiser and my schoolwork. It helped me organise my time, time management.
What does ‘going out’ mean to you?
N- It means to venture out of the boundaries of our school environment and into the world exploring while doing our school work.
B- Leaving school and experiencing the world, learning new things and trying to help the world.
F- Going out and learning new things, venturing out of daily life to get to sprout out into something new. New experiences in unfamiliar places and it’s not a field trip, somewhere we’ve been before or where we go every month, it’s like a DIY (do it yourself) day!
“The fun thing about it is, you have an idea and you begin to feel that it’s getting bigger and there are no boundaries and then N passed by and wanted to help and I felt this relief. Then B heard about it and asked if he could help and then we started to get organised. Everyone comes with special qualities and we all have different roles… drawing, organising, writing and describing. What I really liked, we did it by ourselves.” F – Upper Elementary Student
The Transition from Clanmore Middle School To High School Through The Eyes of Our Parents and Graduates
How well do you feel Clanmore Middle School prepared your child/prepared you for high school?
- (parent) My child left with strong essay writing skills and the ability to use a rubric. In high school “a rubric was handed out and classmates paid no attention to it and some lost it.” My child on the other hand saw it as a tool, a gift. There is a maturity there.
- (parent) “A lot of children excel due to fear and pressure from parents. They are fearful of consequences if they do not do well. Montessori kids want to succeed for their own personal goals, leading to a higher work ethic.”
- (parent) Clanmore “was a social experience, a social lesson…this is not taught in public school….and this is where it is needed as it is expected in high school.”
- (student) “I think it really prepared me as I find I’m ahead in a lot of things. Some things are new, but it’s mostly review, for example, in English we are learning how to write paragraphs while at Clanmore we learned that in grade 4. I think Clanmore really helped my work ethic. Middle School taught me time management…In high school the teachers don’t check it you’ve done the work. The standards are higher at Clanmore. “
Do you feel the social curriculum at Clanmore helped the transition or gave your child the foundation needed for high school?
- (parent) “It goes back to confidence, starting with the elementary years where she stood up for herself…where she learned to ‘fix it’. Clanmore was the safest environment to learn to deal with conflict. When entering high school there were girls who played games and she decided she did not want to be a part of that. She walked away and found friends with like minds. And that’s the confidence.”
- (parent) “Yes. Absolutely. Not just for high school but for life in general. [My child] is able to pick who is not genuine. No difficulty making friends [coming] from a small class to a large high school.” “The Middle School students are able to talk to people. They go out into the community to the historical society, for example, and conduct interviews.” “When I hear ‘welcome to the real world’ directed at Clanmore graduates I feel that Clanmore prepares them for the real world and is a microcosm of it because this is how the real world works”.
- (parent) “… her ability to self-advocate for her learning disability [dysgraphia/dyslexia]. She introduced herself to all the teachers and spoke of it. It goes back to the ability to speak up for yourself.”
- (student) “I think it helped in general. People can be mean, judgmental. It helped me understand where people are coming from, their norm. My goal was not to be the most popular, it was just to be liked. Not to give people a reason to dislike me.” It “helped me understand what people are looking for. It made me know the qualities that I want in friends. The fab 5, no blame. A lot of people don’t get that. Listening to people, so much blame is laid. People have ‘beefs’ without talking first. There are a lot of misunderstandings.”
Is there anything from your Middle School experience that, in hindsight, you would have wished your child had experienced or been taught?
- (parent) Some may focus on the relatively small class size but for us “Cons? No cons. It was about a healthy environment to grow and develop. The teachers were her friends, they were close and there was no hierarchy. There was trust.”
- (parent) Cost is a consideration but “where are you going to invest the money. They need it when they need it to acquire the skills. The teachers are always available. There was no concern if they were going to be available for anything he wanted or needed.”
- (parent) “I can’t really think of anything. She has everything she has needed. Her geography teacher said to me she just seems to know a lot about the world.”
What has been the hardest part of grade 9 so far?
- (parent) The high school facility is much larger. “She got lost but it became routine after 2 weeks. There’s an adjustment period.”
- (parent) Making friends. “Kids will make it what they want. My advice is to get involved and they’ll figure it out. It takes time to adapt and I try to be there to help find the goodness in situations.”
- (parent) “Not very academically challenging, she challenges herself. She satisfies herself through sports and after-school clubs. She doesn’t spend a lot of time on homework.”
- (student) “Getting around and communicating with teachers. I’m used to a different relationship with my teachers, getting through to teachers, taking to them about my disability. They have been accommodating but it is something they are not used to [student self-advocacy].”
How do you feel Clanmore prepared your child academically?
- “The academics were covered. He’s ahead in the game.”
- “It over-prepared her. The maturity they have; it’s the work ethic….Kids have such a different view of learning. She doesn’t feel it’s work. In high school she has to seek out challenges. They don’t just give them to you. She sought out challenges physically through sports and academically through applying to specialty programs.”
- “In grade 9 English, the class was asked how many of you have read Romeo and Juliet? She was the only one, and she read it twice. It comes easy, they have the creativity and the confidence.”
- One parent commented on a school assignment in which her child drew upon many of her experiences at Clanmore from art to humanities to reading comprehension. Her finished project stood out from all others. All her experiences, all the components of Clanmore were accessed. “Everything came together.”
- “She wants more from her teachers because there are lower standards. The teachers don’t see the potential. They see adolescence in a different way. There is no insight to find potential and creativity…She came from such a rich environment.”
What advice would you give a student in grade 6, 7, or 8?
- “Don’t be shy on the first day…Be yourself. Just smile. Be open to say hi to people and try to be outgoing. Talk to people. If you see someone you think is nice, talk to them. It’s the first week when you make friends. People don’t come to you. “
Many schools start the year with orientation days or weeks for new students. Ice breaker activities, leadership workshops and fun games are all included to help new students feel like a part of their new class and to get to know their new classmates. In the Middle School, we do something a little different. We go on an Odyssey.
Odysseys are a key component of the Montessori Adolescent philosophy. It’s not just a school trip. An Odyssey is a long, eventful and adventurous journey. Perhaps not as long or eventful as Homer’s hero Odysseus in the ancient Greek epic poem but we hope our Odysseys embody the same spirit. This year, the Middle School students are embarking on an eight day wilderness canoe journey through the rivers and lakes of Temagami.
Spending eights days away in the beautiful scenery of Temagami, immersed in the natural world and the Middle School community, is a transformative experience. While on Odyssey, students will face and overcome physical, mental and emotional challenges. Some will experience satisfaction from effort and communal contribution that it take to carry equipment and supplies over a 900 m portage. Others might uncover newfound depths of mental fortitude on a lake while steering a canoe for the first time. They will all practise a generosity of spirit and patience towards others as we live in close quarters with minimal personal grooming products.
The trip will be full of adventures and events that will reveal new strengths and capabilities to the adolescents that will change how they see themselves and their classmates.
Just like Odysseus, the adolescent’s experiences will have effected them. When they return to Clanmore on the 18th of September, see if you notice the difference. Do they stand a little taller? Are their muscles a little more defined? Will they do more for themselves than before? We hope so, but we do know for sure that our fifteen students will come off the water no longer as individuals but as a tightly bonded group–the Clanmore Middle School class of 2016.
Our first blog post in this series focused on independence and the child’s work in constructing him/herself in order to become a contributing member of the Casa community. We will now delve a little deeper into the areas of language and the importance of what Montessori termed practical life.
The Toddler child acquires language by taking in that which his/her surrounding environment provides. Upon this foundation, the Casa child explodes into the spoken, and then written word. Vocabulary previously taken in is now used, and used with a greater understanding of both meaning and context. Vocabulary becomes notably more precise as a consequence of a more refined awareness of the world. The desire to acquire new and more expansive vocabulary is insatiable.
Casa children become consciously aware that language is a tool to express not just concrete objects but also emotions and thoughts. It has grammatical structure and the same word used in a different context or placement can take on a completely different meaning. Language for this child becomes something more than just an ability to name his/her world. It is something to play with, to explore and to take great delight in.
The Practical Life activities, those activities performed in daily living, help to foster independence. In the preschool environment they are very much an extension of the home. Practical Life activities, at both the Toddler and Casa levels aid the children in adapting to the environment with ease, while the role modeling of the adults furthers the children in their physical and social independence. The Casa child then is able to take these tools to further him/herself personally (fix one’s shoes when they don’t feel quite right, pour a drink when thirsty), and also ultimately contribute to the community for the benefit of the group (set the table for lunch for example). Independence allowing for interdependence.
It is interesting to note that recent neuroscience research strongly supports the importance of practical life activities in executive brain function. Brain development, as we know, is experienced based, and executive functions are the processes within the brain responsible for mental control and self-regulation.1
1 “The seeds of self-control begin in learning to control one’s own body. … Practical Life is the first step for each child in building a foundation for a better brain, in the Montessori environment and beyond.” Dr. Steve Hughes, PhD, LP, ABPdN For a fascinating look at Montessori and brain development we highly recommend: http://www.goodatdoingthings.com and http://www.BuildingBetterBrains.com (https://vimeo.com/stevehughes)
Who is the Casa child?
Casa children are working towards becoming even more independent. One of their tasks is to gain social independence among peers and ultimately become a contributing member of their community. They observe and imitate to construct themselves in order to transition from being an individual within the community towards being an integral part of that community. With this comes a fulfilled sense of belonging and purpose.
Like the Toddler child, they are still in a sensitive period for order (internalizing patterns and connections from the impressions of their environment). Having now entered the second half of what Montessori coined the first plane of development (0-6 years of age), they are moving from being the observer who takes in all impressions from the environment indiscriminately, to the child who can direct his/her attention towards specific interests and aspects of the environment.
They take in patterns of language and mathematical concepts, refine the impressions their senses receive (colour may now be perceived in shades for example), note how human beings conduct themselves socially and absorb many other components of their world. A child of this age is constantly striving towards mastery of his/her environment. This is an extension and further development of their will.
There are more materials in the Casa classroom in response to developmental necessity. Their senses are becoming more refined, new psychological characteristics emerge, they become more mindful and like their toddler peers are capable of great developmental work.
Anna recently moved to Canada from Venezuela and last year completed a 9 week Preschool level placement at Clanmore. Anna was a practicing paediatrician in Venezuela, and is also a mother of two. Our youngest students definitely found their way into her heart.
What follows are Anna’s thoughts on Clanmore – the toddler room, and her first experience of a Montessori environment.
“First of all, thanks to the Clanmore community for giving me the opportunity to be a part of your family for a couple of weeks. In a few words, I will try my best to describe my impressions of this lovely experience.
Two weeks observing the Toddler environment and interactions, being able to catch the idea of the general way they conduct their routine and also getting to know each and every child and their own way to handle a day at school, has been a fantastic experience. There are many things that have impressed me about the daily routine, the space, the building, the light, the behaviour of the children and the way the teachers lead them throughout the day.
I would like to start with the environment, simple I would say is a word that best describes it, less is more would also fit. Child size furniture that allows every child to work comfortably, to feel it is their world. Every set of work material is designed to be used and get advantage of. Few elements to work with in every set, like for example four dogs in a basket, not more, so the child can manage the information and absorb it as they should. One colour to paint with or five tools in a tool box. Knowing every element, every name or function makes them feel secure.
Most of the work is done independently, sometimes the children get together around an activity, but most of the time every child chooses a separate work to do and focuses on it usually with little distraction. How teachers communicate with children is delighting to observe. They are constantly showing love and respect to them. They speak slowly and articulate every word repetitively to assure comprehension. Always please and thank you and constantly in an adequate tone of voice, loving, but yet firm.
The children are always encouraged to perform daily duties by themselves, such as putting on their outdoor outfit, cleaning after something has been spilled, helping at the table during snack time or folding laundry. Every task is performed in a smooth way, they have the time they need to do so, with no hurry.
Every child teaches you something valuable and everyone has a huge potential and develops their progress at their own pace.
The children look happy! And that shows success by itself. At Clanmore the community makes sure children feel at home, with family. Being able to observe has been a privilege and for that I am grateful. Thanks to everyone involved.”
Anna Ossott, 2014