All good things are wild and free: The end of our Nature Days

This is a hard post to write and it’s hard to know where to start and so perhaps I’ll start at the beginning. Not my beginning or Quentin’s but perhaps at school’s beginning.

Early on in Quentin’s Montessori 3-6 classroom time, we decided that he should remain home one day a week. There were many reasons. He was a preemie and still tired easily napping long periods (even now at 6!). He was bright and needed some focused one on one time to give him the attention he craved to fuel his insatiable appetite for knowledge especially in language and culture. But, truth be told the real reason is I loved it and I’m grateful and ever mindful that we are privileged enough to choose not only how much we work outside the home but we also choose his schooling.

Early on Quentin identified it as our Nature Day. One day a week (Mondays) that we followed the child completely. Not having to be anywhere. A whole day of “yes”.

There soon followed what was to be for us a natural rhythm that we have kept until today:

  • Breakfast
  • Get dressed
  • Choose a home material off the shelves in his work space in a sort of loose Montessori work period
  • Choose an outing, pack up and head out
  • Home for lunch
  • Sleep/rest/read in the early afternoon
  • Baking in the late afternoon
  • Back downstairs to choose an independent activity (often a board game, art, Lego) until dinner

You can read about our Montessori day at age four here. Not much has changed routine wise except that in the last part of this year at 6.5 years old, Quentin has finally given up his afternoon nap. We now read on the couch with cups of tea and a blanket instead of him going to his room to nap.

There have been enough memories in these few short years to last a lifetime.

Trips to the ocean.

Trips into the rainforest.

And trips to all the local museums and art galleries. Every Monday we would pack a bag and go. And along the way there was work mat after work mat of child chosen activities, fantastic games and pages being poured over.

For two years we followed an absolutely fabulous Nature Study based on the book “Nature Anatomy”. You can find our first monthly post here and the rest of the monthly studies in our website category Montessori Nature Study and Outdoor Activities. It really helped us find our way and gave us ideas that were easily doable where we live.

As Quentin transitioned to the 6-9 classroom however our Nature Days have become more customized. He is able to really formulate research ideas now (check out our Instagram feed for his latest child led project) and gathers the materials himself. He finds a multitude of ideas on our nature hikes instead of preferring to stick to a solid theme.

So why the formal end to it all?

We are on the verge of a very big change.

The Montessori 6-9 classroom in a small local Montessori school Quentin currently attends has been lacking and has regrettably not lived up to our standards. And so last month when his waitlist papers were pulled at one of the Montessori schools in our area that goes from the 3-6 classroom right through high school we jumped at the chance and took the spot. It will be a world of positive difference for him. And it means he will be able to stay in an authentic school Montessori environment until he graduates high school.

And, it will mean, he attends five full days a week.

The decision was an easy one. The school has (among many other positive features) a strong nature component. It is the right choice for him.

Because of this as we prepare for him to start at the new school next Monday, today was our last official Nature Day. Of course it poured rain. And so we didn’t let that stop us, instead using our seasons passes to visit one of our favourite indoor paradises.

The warm air filled with hundreds of butterflies was the perfect thing to take our minds off the rain and the upcoming transition.

There was also a morning filled with the busy hum of a child who loves learning.

So what does all this mean for us? Well for most of our days it will be very much the same. The school morning routine that sees us through the rest of the week will now start for Quentin on Monday. I will continue to consult with families and school and teach in my 3-6 classroom.

It’s the little things that will change.

We will need to be mindful of how even just one day can add to the overall load on a child and shift our expectations and observations to be sure to catch that.

We will need to find time on the weekends to steal ourselves away into the woods and the shoreline and all of his favourite little hideaways.

And above all, we will need to ensure that he has the time to keep that fire lit outside of school. To give him the opportunity to share his joy of learning whether it’s baking a new recipe or sitting down to trudge through the differences between Newton’s Law of Gravitation and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity when talking about things that are really big and very fast (because yes, he’s that six year old kid).

I will also need to be prepared for him to miss it, this closeness we share on Mondays, but I also need to be prepared for him to not. And that perhaps is the most wonderful and most stinging part of it all. That wonderfully painful part of seeing your children grow up.

“The things he sees are not just remembered. They form a part of his soul.”

– Dr. Maria Montessori

October: The goings on inside the classroom and out

The Autumn months seem to fly by so quickly with everyone in school mode. This is usually around the time when everyone is feeling a bit burnt out by the return to school and it is also the time when classrooms are finally settling in.

We often use this time to slow down and reconnect at home. This includes snuggling up with a good stack of books together on the couch.

Our October/November bookshelf consists of seasonal favourites and some new additions. The Dog That Ate the World is a gorgeous new fable from Sandra Dieckman that talks about the darkness spreading across the earth and how despite it, one small village banded together to keep the fire burning and the music playing. It’s absolutely excellent for starting big conversations with children 6+.

We also make extra time for being in some of our most favourite natural spots. There isn’t a set learning agenda here. Just a chance to get away from it all. Long school days become balanced by our time spent watching the waves roll in or staring up at the rainforest canopy or simply the Milky Way from our own back yard.

Inside the classroom, small themes are slowly making their way in. It’s pumpkin season where we live and so our 3-6 Montessori classroom shelves reflect that with some gorgeous wooden anatomy puzzles and 3 Part Nomenclature Cards from Puzzle Heads Educational Products.

The frenzied pace of the new year is also starting to settle. Children are beginning to choose age appropriate work that piques their interest independently and there is less of a need for a teacher to constantly be hovering.

In many schools this is also the time of year when the first parent/teacher meetings are happening. These can be an exciting time for families as they may not have had a chance to be in their child’s classroom yet this year and parents are often eager to check in with the teacher and ask their questions.

I wrote a piece for Milkweed Montessori a few years ago and I’ve included my words here as I feel they are incredibly important for parents going into meeting season.

“I have had the incredible privilege to sit on both sides of the table for this. First as an over eager slightly paranoid Mother and then as a patient and slightly paranoid Casa teacher. First, before going to the meeting, think about and then write down your 3 most burning questions. Just 3. Each school sets the times for their meetings differently but one thing is certain. They have not reserved your time spot and the following 3 spots for you to empty out your questions list. Usually meetings last under 20 mins. Be prepared to leave when your time is up and make your time count.

That being said, a good Montessori school will have also properly prepared some very key points that are important to your child’s day. If your child is 3-4 you may hear lots about Practical Life. If your child is 4-5 you may hear lots about the Language or Culture areas and if your child is 5-6 you may hear lots about Math. Or not. The Montessori classroom is a vast one with many options.

What you are listening for is: “Your child loves (this)”. Or “Your child has recently really been interested in (this).” This shows that your teachers are really observing your child. If you don’t hear these statements, make sure they are one of your 3 important questions to ask. You are looking for signs that your child is loving the environment. That they are connecting with the materials. This should be evident regardless of age.

This is a first meeting and you may not get a lot of progression statements unless your child is a returning child. If they are a returning child one of your teachers points should be a progression statement. A statement about how your child has made progress with a particular area of the classroom. This may be as general as “Your child has gained independence in our transition times” (gets ready for home by themselves). It may be specific such as “Your child has made huge strides with the Language area.” Each of these statements are equally important in the eyes of a teacher.

The Parent Teacher meetings can be nerve racking, but they are incredibly insightful. You enter the world of the child. Listen with truly open ears and an open minded heart. Ask your 3 questions that are important to you gaining a better understanding of how your child’s day looks or what is in the future for your child.

More often than not, you will find yourself feeling just like the teacher. Absolutely amazed.”

We hope your Autumn has been a safe and happy one. We’d love to hear how you mark the changing of the seasons and how you are coping with back to school.

Taking Montessori Back to School

My ever kind and talented Montessori cohort Meghan at Milkweed Montessori asked me the other day how Quentin’s concentration had changed since he started school. And that got me thinking.

Everything has changed since Quentin started school.

IMG_0923.PNG

He started in September in an all day 3-6 class. He is the youngest, but he holds his own. There was some separation anxiety after the first few days, but he quickly adjusted.
Quentin had been going to a daycare for quite some time, so we knew he was capable of the days. However, we had no idea what we were in store for.
Everyday he comes home with new songs. He’ll just be sitting at the dinner table and out will pop something. Last week he was sitting on the couch with us during our pre-bedtime routine and he started naming off the months of the year. Correctly.
We realized early on in the school year that his little body (and huge brain) were working hard during the day, and that we wanted to be mindful of this.

As Montessorians we have had activities that hold Quentin’s interest on his shelves since he was 9 months old and before that on his movement mat. However we have never had any of the classic Montessori classroom materials here because we knew he would one day go to a Montessori school. It’s important to us that his home not exactly match his classroom, but instead compliment each other. With Quentin going to school however it made us even more aware that when he got home he should be given the opportunity to rest if he chose. And for the first month he did.

IMG_0924-0.PNG
For the first month he didn’t touch his shelves. He was only interested in his “opened ended” toys such as his basket of blocks and machines.

IMG_0926-0.PNG
The train set also allowed him to sit quietly and concentrate. He also would get out his farm. These toys allowed him to peacefully transition from school to home and just “come down” from the day. We “Followed the Child”. I would put new activities out on his shelves and he would sometimes stop and look but it was usually only for a moment.
We also took advantage of the last of the summer light and got outside in the evening.

IMG_0925.PNG
That was September and early October. Now in November he has returned to working with his materials on his shelves. He will come and get me and say “Will you please work with me Mamma?” His concentration has slightly increased perhaps, but what has changed is his self confidence. He is definitely no longer a baby. He is a boy who knows what he wants and how to get it. Usually while singing. There has been a surge of “No Mamma, that’s my job.” His eyes piercing, his small voice never faltering.

We dreamed of this. The day when our journey to bring Montessori from the classroom into our home with the birth of our second child, would turn full circle, and see that child take Montessori back to school. And so he does, singing the days of the week in French as he goes.