Monday, November 12, 2012

Botany in the Montessori Learning Environment

Children “learn by doing” and that is a key element in the Montessori Method. 

Students learn about the different parts of a leaf. The lesson is first explained to the group by the Directress.  The next part of the lesson is for the students to “go out” into their environment and bring back what they have found into the classroom.

The use of beautiful materials within the Montessori classroom goes hand in hand with the overall learning process.   By using the “Botany Cabinet,” the child learns the shapes and names of the leaves by tracing their borders and matching them to those they actually found in their own environment.  This enables the child to actually see and touch and learn.  We refer to this as a sensorial experience.

The children absorb a limitless wealth of impressions, taking in all of the elements of the world around them.  This lays a foundation for the love of learning for years to come.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Day Out

Brother & sister experiencing a day out.
Parents often ask how they can extend their child’s learning from school to home. There are countless ways to do so, but perhaps the most important piece of advice I can provide is for them to do something as a family. Children learn by their experiences. This concept is at the cornerstone of the Montessori Method.

The experiences gained by a day out are immeasurable. Touching, feeling, smelling the world around heightens learning and provides children with lasting memories. A trip to the zoo or a museum offers the chance for a child to not only imagine being in a far off, exotic environment, but actually experiencing a close replica. It almost becomes an adventure.

Although a wonderful family event, it far too often becomes simply that...a singular event - a day out. Imagine the possibilities and the excitement that you could generate before and after your trip with just a little effort. Not only would this give your child a better experience during the day out, but also has the potential to turn your trip into a lifetime memory.

Here are a few simple ideas to do just that:
  1. Visit the local library or download some books related to the place you’ll be visiting. Read the books together. This will create excitement for your child but also help you understand your child’s perspective on where you are going. Make sure to read a good selection of both fiction and non-fiction books, to spark your child’s creativity while giving a foundation of knowledge.
  2. Make a scavenger hunt. Print out or download to your phone images that you expect to see on your trip. If your children have seen a painting or sculpture and know a little information about the artist, a trip to an art gallery becomes magical.
  3. Create a collage. Before your trip, use old magazines or print out photos of what you expect to see. During the trip, give your child a camera. I have yet to meet a child that did not love taking photographs. After the trip, have your child use their photographs to make a collage to display in their room.
  4. Go on a letter hunt. B is for Butterfly. During the day, have your child spot items that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Take a picture, upload your photos to one of the many online print services and create your own letter book from your trip.
  5. Cook a meal inspired by your trip. I saved the best for last (at least in my opinion). Nearly everything we do can have a connection to food. Cooking with your children is wonderful, so much can be learned and the experience in and of itself is simply fun.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Civics - The Montessori Way

Election Day has passed. I was amazed at how many students came to school yesterday proudly wearing an “I Voted” sticker. This badge of honor indicated how many of them had the opportunity to visit a polling station and begin to understand our country’s political process. However, as a school that embraces the Montessori philosophy of education, nothing teaches like doing.

Snack Election at The Boyd School - Reston
Children at a young age begin to understand cause and effect; or in this case, sow and reap. Early Childhood students at The Boyd School - Reston Campus were given a real-life and age-appropriate civics lesson. Yesterday, they were presented with two alternatives for the snack today; homemade ice cream or Rice Krispies treats. Votes were individually and privately cast. Today, the children will be making homemade ice cream as a result.

Students in the Upper Elementary School at The Boyd School - Westfields Campus participated in the Youth Leadership Initiative at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. After independent and shared research through the use of various media, the students were given the opportunity to form their own decisions based on each candidate’s platform. The culminating Mock Election yielded additional learning moments when their results clearly showed that personal preference and outside influence do impact the results when a blind vote of each candidate’s platform was far from in-line with the actual ballots cast.

Giving children the tools to make informed decisions and helping them understand the cause and effect of their actions will benefit them greatly throughout their lifetime.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Innovation on Display

As parents and educators, we are presented with the task of preparing our children for the future. A future that has become increasingly harder to comprehend, let alone predict. The world is changing at a pace far quicker than at any point in history. It often is said that this generation of children will be working in fields that don't even currently exist. So, how can we possibly prepare our children to succeed and thrive in a future that is beyond our understanding?

Montessori materials on exhibit at MoMA.
Photograph from Museum of Modern Art
Preparing young children for the future and truly embracing their development is a relatively recent concept. A current exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York entitled,Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900-2000’ showcases and examines this concept. The image of the child transformed during the 20th century from that of a small adult who should be put to work as soon as possible to that of a entirely different creature filled with potential. However, as Ken Johnson wrote in his review of the exhibit for the New York Times, the fundamental question became “What do children need to flourish and become proper members of society?” Johnson further writes that the exhibit examines, “How much freedom to allow and how much control to impose are questions not only about children but also about people everywhere in a time of declining traditional values and expanding possibilities for new ways of being and doing.”

The exhibit at MoMA features Montessori materials described as follows; “From systematic analysis, [Montessori] devised an activity-based teaching method that used material objects to stimulate their senses, and she believed that children should be allowed to explore these materials at their own pace.” Her method of observing and supporting the natural development of children helps them develop creativity, problem-solving, and time-management skills. 

Julia Child's kitchen at the Nat'l Museum of American History
Photograph from Smithsonian Institute
The skills developed and nurtured in a Montessori environment help children to “think outside of the box” and to innovate. Montessori schools across the world herald the technology industry as a prime example of the pioneering skills cultivated by this learning method with former students such as; the founders of Google - Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founder of - Jeff Bezos, and founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales. But the pioneering spirit can be traced back before these modern creative geniuses. August 15 marked what would have been the 100th birthday of Julia Child. Child credited her love of working with her hands to her own Montessori learning experience. She encouraged people to try new things, to experiment, to discover, and yes, even to fail. If you spend any time observing in a Montessori environment, you will see each one of these. As part of the National Museum of American History’s celebration of Julia Child’s 100th birthday, her kitchen will be on display through September 3.

Learn how to cook– try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have a good time.”
~ Julia Child

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Understanding the Montessori Infant Environment

by Mike Brown

As I prepare to welcome home a new family member who will eventually spend time in our infant room, I have begun the process to better understand his learning environment at school. I am accustomed to walking into a classroom and seeing distinct work areas such as tables, floor mats, pillows, etc. However, a traditional work area seems hardly appropriate for a developing infant who is learning to adapt to his new environment.

After birth, the development of movement is a child’s first major skill gained. The growth from being completely immobile at birth to involuntary and later voluntary movement is typically done in a rapid progression. This is a process that we all have experienced and witnessed but far fewer of us have an understanding of why. Lacie Russell, our infant teacher explained it to me in the following manner; “Infants have an internal need to move. Their movements first start as reflexes and then become more voluntary. As they begin to explore their surroundings and become more comfortable, they learn to trust the way their bodies move and begin to explore new things. The need to move drives them so quickly, they want to see and touch everything. From learning to lift their head to crawling on all fours, they get great pleasure from movement, and this pleasure keeps them wanting more.” Christie Stanford, founder of Aid to Life Education, a company based in Vancouver, British Columbia that provides Montessori services to children between zero and twelve years old, further explains the biological development; “This happens rapidly during the first year of life as the Myelin Sheath coats the neurons in the body, which is essential in the proper functioning of the nervous system. This Myelination moves from the head to the feet and from the center of the body to the fingertips. Due to this process, the first part of the infant’s body to be Myelinated is the throat and neck, then shoulders, arms, legs, etc. until lastly the child has control of his or her wrists and fingers (refined grasp), along with ankles and toes (child can now walk).” *

This brings me back to the infant environment. Infants require a safe, comforting area for movement. This movement area offers an assortment of materials; pillows of various shapes and objects of multiple textures and sizes. Objects such as mobiles are also suspended above the mat. The point of reference provided by the mat inherently offers reassurance and security to the child. The freedom to explore not only gives him the opportunity to develop muscles required for voluntary movement but also confidence and a sense of independence.
Much the same as in an early childhood classroom, the infant’s mat or work area is carefully prepared by his caregiver. For the youngest child, he is given both tummy time and the chance for sensorial development on his back. Mrs. Russell explains in her infant environment, children are placed on their backs to give them freedom to truly move as they wish. Some infant programs use bouncy chairs or other commercial movement devices, however, when a child is placed in one of these devices his freedom is taken away and his movement is restricted. Additionally, he may not want to be placed in the position forced by the confines of one of these devices. Once a child is ready to sit up, only one material is given for exploration at a time. When the child becomes increasingly more mobile, materials are placed on a low shelf. This encourages the child to move on his own to not only get the material, but also make a decision as to which material interests him. By allowing him these freedoms, Ms. Stanford concludes, “we offer him the greatest opportunity for natural growth in an unrestricted environment.” *

Mike Brown is part of The Boyd School's Support Staff. Mike has been with the school since October of 2004 and has served the school in a jack-of-all-trades capacity ranging from Art Teacher to Director of Admissions to his current role as Public Relations Coordinator.

* Excerpts from, “The Montessori Movement Mat - The Child’s First Working Table,” by Christie Stanford, January 2012

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Creative Play in a Montessori Environment

Experts acknowledge that the loss of creative play has negative consequences. Imagination and creativity; cornerstones of higher math and science are developed through creative play. David Elkind, author of The Power of Play, writes "Creativity and imagination are like muscles; if you don't use them, you lose them,"

Aldie Kindergarten student's collaborative extension.
It is a common misconception that the Montessori method of learning limits creative play. This is far from actuality. In the Montessori learning environment children are often presented with materials that lay the foundation to traditional areas of education, such as the basic understanding of area and volume learned by working with the brown stair materials. However, once a child begins to grasp the geometry of these objects, an extension of this exercise allows for children to explore the possibilities of construction limited only by their imagination but grounded in a far better understanding of plane geometry. Perhaps a simpler explanation would be a comparison of two approaches to music education. Would you consider it the best method for a person to develop musical skills or to understand musical composition by simply providing a person with a set of bells without guidance or would an introduction to the chromatic scale to develop a sense of tone before doing so lead to a better learning experience and honestly, more fun? When children have a basic understanding of skills or concepts it allows for a heightened learning experience and improves a child’s confidence while playing.
Herndon students using loose parts for outdoor building.
Children have a natural and intrinsic desire to play, explore, adapt and cooperate, especially in the outdoors. The benefits of outdoor play are easily identified and the development of large-motor skills and social interactions are well documented. Although traditional playground equipment such as slides, climbers, balls, etc. provide children a great deal of benefit and avenues for development, true creative activity is somewhat limited. Providing children with materials and equipment (loose parts) that can stimulate, facilitate and enhance children’s play leads to a high level of ownership which is a powerful ingredient in providing a positive play and learning experience for a child. Jeff Hill of the Childrens Scrapstore, a UK business providing children with these loose parts for playground use since 1982 states, “Giving children the opportunity to experience higher levels of creative activity during playtime, makes a difference to them, to their relationships with others and ultimately to the whole school environment.”

Westfields children on board the train climber.
At The Boyd School, we have enhanced our children’s outdoor experience through a number of playground extensions. Through the use of loose parts, children have the opportunity to construct on a larger scale than within the walls of the classroom using similar materials. Currently, children can build with custom designed, lightweight outdoor building blocks and small tires. The buildings, towers, and vehicles are only limited by their imagination. Additional and various loose parts are introduced to constantly provide children new materials in which to play. Children at the Aldie Campus have the opportunity to manipulate their playground experience through the use of a Snug Play system. The Snug Play system, generously donated by Van Metre to the school, is a series of lightweight, open-ended and moveable collection of play equipment. Children have the opportunity to create entirely new play environments and experiences through collaboration and the use of their imaginations. The Snug Play system at The Boyd School is one of the first installations in Virginia. Children at the Broadlands Campus have the opportunity to manipulate and build with natural materials creating paths, walls, and tunnels. The Boyd School - Westfields Campus offers children the opportunity to ‘travel’ as far as their imaginations allow on board an Amish built train climber.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Amazing Teacher

It takes an uniquely talented individual to be a teacher. They truly are the life-force of any institute of learning. We all are aware that these amazing people are tasked with educating the future, the proverbial next generation. We also understand they are responsible for developing in children social skills necessary for each child to become productive members of society.

Maria Montessori said of teachers, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher... is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’” Her statement requires some additional thought to fully comprehend the inherent meanings.

It is the teacher’s responsibility to create an environment in which each of her students feel comfortable and at ease. To create an environment conducive to discovering, to exploring, to learning. Each child needs to be guided towards independence and instilled with the confidence to learn on their own. Meaning, children have to be both willing to succeed and conversely willing to undergo failure and to use a set-back as a learning tool. Keen observation and interaction is required by teachers to understand the needs of each child in order for this concept to come to fruition.

In a classroom inspired by the research and educational philosophy of Montessori, children stay with the same teacher for three years. This developmental journey results in a tremendous bond between child and teacher not to mention teacher and family. Recently, we had the opportunity to enjoy the wide arrange of emotions as children cross or move up to the next level in our Montessori learning environments. From the shear joy and pride teachers feel as a child completes this stage of development to the heartfelt tears as they say goodbye, these incredible people we call teachers truly understand Montessori’s statement.

At The Boyd School we take great pride in our teachers and staff. We appreciate the tremendous effort and love that they share. Each year a few of our beloved Boyd family leave us as they pursue other personal or professional endeavors. We extend to each of these wonderful individuals sincere wishes for success and take it with great pride to know that so many members of the Montessori community truly learned the craft of teaching under our tutelage.

We are constantly looking for uniquely gifted individuals to become a part of our community. Being passionate, creative, joyful are required qualifications. If you are interested in becoming a part of the Boyd family and the extended Montessori community contact us (Email The Boyd School). CLICK HERE for current career openings.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Interactive School Tours

The Boyd School - Aldie Campus is the first school in the Washington DC Metro area and one of the first in the nation to participate in a new Google Photography program that allows people to take a virtual tour of the school and ‘walk through’ the classroom learning environments. This interactive tool will assist parents to better understand the progression of learning and the inclined spiral plane of integrated studies that are at the foundation of the Boyd School’s curriculum.

The stunning 360-degree, interactive tour of the school was created through Google’s Street View technology and captured by the artful eye of local Google Trusted Photographer, Will Marlow. Using sophisticated image stitching, HDR, image matching and other technologies, Mr. Marlow created the panoramic walkthroughs of The Boyd School - Aldie Campus.

View Larger Map
Click to navigate.

The Montessori method of education used at the Boyd School is a child-centered, hands-on approach to learning that uses research derived, multi-sensory materials carefully organized in a prepared learning environment. Explaining the proper use and purpose of these materials allows for parents to better understand their child’s academic growth and achievement. Through the use of the interactive, virtual classroom tour, teachers and administrators will be better equipped to share this information. Prospective parents also have the opportunity to explore the school’s learning environment to aid them when considering schooling options for their child.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Walk For Water

Students from The Boyd School are part of a rich, diverse community. We embrace the many heritages of our families and celebrate their cultures. As an extension of that community, children and families participate in events and outreach programs throughout the year that help us understand that we are all global citizens.

This Friday, our Elementary and Middle School students will take a symbolic journey of 3 miles through the paths of Ellanor Lawrence Park. A Walk for Water is a fundraising event that symbolizes the 35 mile trek children living in the Azawak sometimes travel to bring water home for their families. Our younger students participate through what is called, Amman-a-Thon. The Amman-a-thon is a fundraising event that unites fitness and philanthropy. Students gain athletic proficiency while raising awareness and funds to support sustainable sources of water in the Azawak Valley.

A vast plain approximately the size of Florida on the edge of the Sahara, the Azawak is one of the poorest regions in landlocked countries, Niger and Mali.  Climate change has shortened the rainy season to less than two months a year. The local outreach organization, Amman Imman works with schools and other groups throughout the world in an effort to bring awareness and support for the people of this region. The Boyd School families along with contributions from other Montessori schools have provided Amman Imman the resources to have successfully drilled borehole wells that provide water for up to 25,000 people and animals, and serve as a catalyst for community development.

For more information or to donate: CLICK HERE

Video from The Boyd School 2011 - A Walk For Water

Failure as a Learning Tool

Photo via (cc) Flickr user nicolasnova
'Failure is not an option' has become a mantra of sorts for parents as they push their children to reach their potential. However, new research in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Experimental Psychology: General concludes children might perform better in school if teachers and parents sent the message that failing is a normal part of learning.

"Acknowledging that difficulty is a crucial part of learning could stop a vicious circle in which difficulty creates feelings of incompetence that in turn disrupts learning," says Frederique Autin, one of the authors of the study. The findings challenge the cultural belief that achievement reflects students' academic ability. If we truly want students to excel, Autin says, teachers and parents must stop "focusing solely on grades and test scores" and emphasize progress instead.

The learning environment of a Montessori classroom and selected activities are prepared to interest and motivate the child and to protect him from unnecessary failure. Dr. Montessori said, "Never let a child risk failure until he has a reasonable chance of success." The Montessori materials develop basic problem solving and observational techniques. The child begins in the concrete with manipulative materials and gradually works toward the abstract. This provides children with the necessary tools to problem solve and actually think.

Will Wright, a former Montessori student and the developer of the computer simulation city building game SimCity was featured the New Yorker discussing the influence his early education had on his life.
Will Wright (Portrait by Julian Dufort)

"Wright flourished in the local Montessori school, with its emphasis on creativity, problem-solving, and self-motivation. ‘Montessori taught me the joy of discovery... It showed you can become interested in pretty complex theories, like Pythagorean theory, say, by playing with blocks. It’s all about learning on your terms, rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori—if you give people this model for building cities, they will abstract from it principles of urban design.’"

Wright then compares his experience in Montessori to traditional education: "The problem with our education system is we’ve taken this kind of narrow, reductionist, Aristotelian approach to what learning is.... It’s not designed for experimenting with complex systems and navigating your way through them in an intuitive way, which is what games teach. It’s not really designed for failure, which is also something games teach. I mean, I think that failure is a better teacher than success. Trial and error, reverse-engineering stuff in your mind—all the ways that kids interact with games—that’s the kind of thinking schools should be teaching. And I would argue that as the world becomes more complex, and as outcomes become less about success or failure, games are better at preparing you. The education system is going to realize this sooner or later."

SimCity game has arguably become the single most influential work of urban-design theory based on the shear volume of players that have become architects and designers.

As Maria Montessori expressed, to teach the child to say: “I am not perfect; I am not omnipotent; but this much I can do and know that I can make mistakes and correct myself, thus finding my way.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tracing Our Roots to Germany

Friedrich Fröbel
As I was working on the school’s Facebook Timeline, I quickly came to realize that the creation of The Boyd School began long before the actual founding of The Boyd School in 1994. As a fully accredited Montessori school, one would think perhaps the natural start of our timeline would begin in 1907 with the opening of Dr. Maria Montessori’s first Casa dei Bambini (Children's House) in Rome, Italy or maybe with her birth in 1870. But rather, I trace our roots back to Friedrich Fröbel in 1837. This was the year that Fröbel created a play and activity institute as a social experience for children for their transition from home to school. His goal was that children should be taken care of and nourished in "children's gardens" like plants in a garden. Fröbel’s Kindergarten was the birth of early childhood education.

Kindergarten long was considered a child’s introduction to formal learning and consisted of periods of play and social development. However, a dramatic increased emphasis on early academics has risen in the past few decades and 5 year old children do indeed have learning expectations far exceeding those of yesteryear. Research indicates that children learn more in the earliest stages of their life than at any other time and the movement to better capture a child’s massive brain growth does have warrant. But careful consideration needs to be given to how children learn and what is developmentally appropriate. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an early childhood expert or a Kindergarten teacher that would advocate for a classroom of 5 year olds sitting at desks working on worksheet after worksheet. In fact Dr. John Medina, director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University has said, "If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you would probably design something like a classroom."

There are a great many benefits of a Montessori learning environment for young children and the beginning of their formal education. The individualized curriculum of a Montessori environment where children truly learn and discover at their own pace allows for children across the entire developmental spectrum to maximize their personal achievement. It is fundamentally understood and research affirmed, ‘learning-by-doing’ lays the foundation for higher learning. Dr. Adele Diamond, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia found and published, “motor development and cognitive development may be much more interrelated than has been previously appreciated. Indeed, they may be fundamentally intertwined.” The learning materials in a Montessori classroom allow for children to touch, explore, and discover. This tactile learning allows for children to experience their environment which is the essence of the natural process of education. The multi-age classroom environment enhances a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem -- two qualities paramount to attempting new things later in life. Our students are encouraged to work at an individual pace and work with others who are at a similar level of academic development regardless of age. Additionally, older children are encouraged to share their knowledge with their classmates and serve as mentors or role models for the younger members of their class. Our Kindergarten students also have an extended work period in a small group environment often with a student to teacher ratio around 6:1.  This intimate learning environment allows students to experience learning and encourages thinking. Our Kindergarten work period teems with creative and collaborative learning, fostering problem-solving techniques and building a foundation to achieve.

While working on this entry, I came across a great line by Dr. Amanda Moreno in the Huffington Post - "Somehow I don't think Robert Fulghum's list of essential lessons learned in kindergarten would have the same ring to it if among "share everything" and "play fair" appeared "100 sight words," "command of capitalization and punctuation," and "compose and decompose numbers 11-19." The idea that children 5 years of age are required to meet certain academic benchmarks is a bit misguided, however children this age (and younger) when properly guided can accomplish amazing results. Montessori education is a preparation for life, not a search for intellectual skills. The children have one intuitive aim in their self-development; they want to develop their inner resources and ability to cope with a strange and complex world. The child who accomplishes this, moves into harmony with this world and becomes a whole person. Montessori as an educational approach is not designed simply to teach children basic skills and information. Children need to learn to trust their own ability to think and solve problems independently. Montessori encourages students to do their own research, analyze what they found, and come to their own conclusions. The goal is to lead students to think for themselves and become actively engaged in the learning process.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Inspiration Courtesy of NASA

Space Shuttle Discovery on final approach
I just returned from watching Space Shuttle Discovery fly overhead on her final flight from Kennedy Space Center to Dulles International Airport. I had the privilege of viewing the historic flyover with students from our Westfields Campus. I’m sure that I could have captured better photos from other places in the area, but then I would not have been witness to what this event truly encapsulated. Words fail to do justice to the shear excitement and joy that spread across each student’s face as Discovery and the Space Carrier made their first fly by. I watched as children and teachers alike started cheering. They ran to our playground’s fence hoping to get a final glimpse of the behemoth jet and her precious cargo. Simply put, there was an energy in the air. Every person, parent, child, and teacher had a smile on their face. Parents hugged their children, teachers hugged each other. I watched children giddy with happiness sharing their photos with each other and their teachers. Pure magic.
Children running for a final glimpse

Moved by the moment.
Discovery made two more majestic flyovers before landing at Dulles, each leaving me with goosebumps and filled with awe. Now several hours after the event I am still moved by the inspiration that the flyover provided to us all. The test of time will provide us the truth, but my best guess is that today’s historic experience has inspired more than one of our students to aspire to become an astronaut.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Beyond the Walls

Students at National Gallery of Art
With school locations in Northern Virginia and in such close proximity to our nation’s Capital, our students have the opportunity for some amazing experiences. Our Kindergarten students as well as our Elementary and Middle School frequently take trips to see world class performances at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Our students have toured the White House, Library of Congress, National Gallery of Art, Phillips Collection, and National Building Museum to name but a few recent trips. Our students don’t only travel into D.C. but also take advantage of the beautiful parks and nature centers right down the road from our campuses.

At the end of the month, as a school community, Boyd families and staff will meet for lunch at the USA Science & Engineering Festival. The event will be a great opportunity for families to spend the day together learning, discovering and getting to know other Boyd families. The experiences gained beyond the walls of our classrooms and with teachers, parents, and friends allow for children to more readily understand our vast and interesting world. These experiences provide a hands-on, practical, and unique learning opportunity.

Next week students will have the opportunity to observe one such experience as the Space Shuttle Discovery will fly overhead one last time before landing in our backyard at Dulles International Airport en route to its final destination at the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. With all of our campuses located so close to Dulles International Airport, we should have ideal vantage points during the flyover (scheduled for Tuesday, April 17) so students can spot Discovery and the Shuttle Carrier.

As the Shuttle passes, we’ll be taking plenty of photos which will be incorporated into an art installation piece. The centerpiece of the art installation will be a painting done by Broadlands’ After School art students inspired by the artwork of former astronaut and fourth man to walk on the moon, Alan Bean. Commander Bean's painting, "Hopes and Dreams" (see below) was created to commemorate the historic return to space flight of Space Shuttle Discovery following the Challenger accident.  For more information on the fascinating life and for examples of Alan Bean’s artwork:

"Hopes & Dreams" - Alan Bean c. 1987
The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is planning a festival of activities -- Welcome Discovery -- to celebrate the acquisition of the Space Shuttle Discovery.  The festival will begin when the orbiter arrives in the D.C. area on April 17 and will feature four days of space-related activities, performances, appearances by space pioneers, films, and displays at the shuttle's new home, in Chantilly, Va. Activities at the Center will kick off on April 19 when Discovery will be officially transferred by NASA into the Smithsonian's collection in an outdoor ceremony open to the public. For full list of activities -

Monday, March 19, 2012

Pedagogy of Worthiness: Cultivating Curiosity & Hope in the Montessori Classroom

Brené Brown, PhD, was one of the keynote addressees at the 2012 American Montessori Society Conference. Montessori teachers are committed to helping ground children in a deep sense of purpose. This feeling of worthiness is an essential trait in our increasingly anxious world. Dr. Brown discussed strategies that teachers and administrators can utilize to help children cultivate a spirit of hope, gratitude, and curiosity. She shared the latest research on hope as a cognitive behavioral process, the relationship between joy and gratitude, and how children develop curiosity, creativity, and a tolerance for disappointment.* Below is her TED Talk.

 * Source: American Montessori Society: Dr. Brené Brown Biography from

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Example of Art in the Montessori Classroom.

 “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
~ Pablo Picasso

Children are naturally inclined to create art. They are drawn to the process and are curious to explore and work with different media.

Working with Third Box of Color Tablets
Art is integrated into the Montessori learning environment using various methods. Geometric and Metal Insets introduce children to shapes and invite them to create designs. Geography work, such as Puzzle Maps, and Biology work, like Botany Puzzles, are traced and colored. Children mix colors as part of their Practical Life work. Color theory and relationships are explored through the use of Color Boxes. These are but a few examples of the integration of fine art within the classroom. Children are exposed to the work of famous artists and their contributions through a number of means. Matching, categorizing, and identifying artwork is done using art cards. Artists are also introduced through individual and group projects, such as the example below of projects inspired by the German artist Gerhard Richter.

Richter was introduced to children through a brief life overview lesson and through examples of his work. The children discovered how Richter’s style has continued to change and evolve throughout his life. The children created two collaborative pieces inspired by his work.

Abstract Smear Painting
One of Richter’s abstract styles uses a process of smearing and manipulating paint to achieve or build flowing layers of color. The children created a piece inspired by this style of Richter’s work. Each child selected three colors and placed a glob of paint directly on the canvas. Using a plastic paint scraper, the children smeared the colors. This process was repeated until the children achieved the color combination they agreed appeared the best.

After viewing examples of Richter’s Colour Chart series, the children created a collage using paint swatches generously donated by Home Depot. The children decided it would be better to overlap the colors rather than arrange them in rows and columns when they discovered that each swatch was not cut exactly the same.
Gluing swatches

Color Swatch Collage

Monday, March 12, 2012

Developing Healthy Lifestyles

By: Mike Brown

CBS This Morning featured a segment, “Too fat to serve: Military wages war on obesity” last week. The statistics in the piece are staggering, “Among 17- to 24-year-olds, 27 percent are too overweight for military service. Over the past 50 years, the number of women considered ineligible due to weight has tripled, and the number of men has doubled.” This lead me to research similar statistics for children and I was hardly surprised to see the results mirrored those from the CBS segment. Today, nearly 1 in 3 American children are considered overweight or obese, triple the obesity rate of three decades ago. (

It doesn’t take a doctor, nutritionist, or celebrity chef to explain how our culture has reached this point. The lifestyle of today is vastly different than it was when we were children. It is easier and cheaper to head to the drive through for dinner than to prepare a home-cooked meal. It is commonplace for children to have several snacks each day, often consisting of processed foods high in fats and oils as well as sugar and sweeteners. Our high paced, technical lifestyles inhibit outside time and reduce our levels of physical activity.

Toddlers Preparing Snack to Share
Recently, I posted a link to an article promoting cooking with young children (Children cooking: How young can they be?). Cooking together provides family time. Time to enjoy each other, prepare healthy food and an opportunity to teach children practical, lifetime skills. These skills are integrated into the Montessori learning environment and help children grow in the motor skills, cognitive development, self-confidence, and independence. Practical life skills are certainly not limited to the kitchen. Any controlled movement helps children achieve independence and helps with concentration.

Learning Basic Balance Skills
It is important that physical activity be a regular part of family life. Studies by the American Academy of Pediatrics have shown that lifestyles learned as children are much more likely to stay with a person into adulthood. Simple childhood activities such as balancing, hopscotch, and tumbling provide a path for children to develop a love for a lifetime sport such as jogging, swimming, or even skiing. Recent publications in Australia concluded, “The value of physical activity for young children is beyond doubt, and lack of adequate physical activity is viewed as a major contributing factor to overweight and obesity, which can track into adulthood and pose many other cardiovascular and health risks.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Twelve Points of the Montessori Method

Taken from The Montessori Revolution in Education by E. M. Standing

1. It is based on years of patient observation of the child nature.

2. It has proved itself of universal application. Within a single generation it has been tried with complete success with children of almost every civilized nation. Race, color, climate, nationality, social rank, type of civilization – all these make no difference to its successful application.

3. It has revealed the small child as a lover of work, intellectual work, spontaneously chosen and carried out with profound joy.

4. It is based on the child’s imperious need to learn by doing. At each stage in the child’s mental growth, corresponding occupations are proved by means of which he develops his faculties.

5. While it offers the child a maximum of spontaneity, it never-the less enables him to reach the same, or even a higher, level of scholastic attainment as under the old systems.

6. Though it does away with the necessity of coercion by means of rewards and punishments, it achieves a higher discipline than formerly. It is an active discipline which originates within the child and it is not imposed from without.

7. It is based on a profound respect for the child’s personality and removes from him the preponderating influence of the adult, thus leaving him room to grow in biological independence. Hence the child is allowed a large measure of liberty (not license) which forms the basis of real discipline.

8. It enables the teacher to deal with each child individually in each subject, and thus guide him according to his individual requirements.

9. Each child works at his own pace. Hence the quick child is not held back by the slow, nor is the latter, in trying to keep up with the former, obliged to flounder along hopelessly out of his depth. Each stone in mental edifice is “well and truly laid” before the next is added.

10. It does away with the competitive spirit of its train of baneful results. More than this, at every turn it presents endless opportunities among the children for mutual help – which is joyfully given and gratefully received.

11. Since the child works from his own free choice, without competition and coercion, he is freed from danger of overstrain, feelings of inferiority, and other experiences which are apt to be the unconscious cause of profound mental disturbances in later life.

12. Finally, the Montessori Method develops the whole personality of the child, not merely his intellectual faculties but also his powers of deliberation, initiative and independent choice, with their emotional complements. By living as a free member of a real social community, the child is trained in those fundamental social qualities which form the basis of good citizenship.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Prepared Environment, Montessori Method and Brain Development

By: Rigel Whytsell

Having a prepared environment for children may be more necessary than previously thought. Recent research now suggests that in order for children to have the optimal opportunity to reach their full potential that they need an environment specifically tailored to their developmental needs. The environment should stimulate the children emotionally, socially, cognitively, and physically as well as provide a rich sensory experience. This was Maria Montessori’s vision of a space that meets the needs of the child and coincidentally promotes brain development.

Marian Diamond and her colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley pioneered research showing that the structures of the brain are modified by one’s environment (Diamond & Hopson, 1998). Her research is the foundation for the concept of neural plasticity—the brain's ability to change its structure and respond to external experiences. According to Diamond and Hopson, the best environment is one that “includes a steady source of environmental support, nutritious diet, stimulates all senses, atmosphere free from stress and enjoyable, challenging, allows social interaction, promotes development, and gives the child a chance to assess the results of their actions, all in all allows the child to be an active participant rather than a passive observer”. After years of observation in the classroom, Paula Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen stated “In order to achieve this full potential a human being needs interaction with the immediate environment and sensorial awareness. This is evident with the child’s growing independence, coordinated movements, language and developed will” (Lillard and Jensen, 2003). So it is necessary, in order to afford children the best opportunity to thrive, to have a prepared environment that meets these needs.

This description, founded on research is congruent with the Montessori Philosophy of the Prepared Environment. Montessori believed that children are given the best chance to learn when they are free to move about the classroom, choose activities or “work” that interests them and have the option of working with their peers. She also believes that the materials used in the classroom should have a built in “control of error”, meaning that it should be obvious to the child when the activity is done incorrectly, rather than the child being dependent on the adult for confirmation. She also believed in offering the children a rich sensory experience and even dedicated an entire part of the curriculum to refining all five senses.

It is clear then that the Montessori Philosophy and current research point to the same type of prepared and stimulating environment, but how does this promote brain development? Since the Montessori Method promotes movement in the classroom, then a classroom where children are free to move about is one that promotes brain development. Neurophysiologist Carla Hannaford explains “Movement is now realized to be helpful and even essential for increasing learning, develop creative thought and a high level of reasoning.” Dr. Judy Herr, professor of early childhood at the University of Wisconsin - Stout points out that it is also known and accepted that “a wide variety of visual, auditory, and sensory experiences will help promote brain connections,” and therefore having sensorial activities and materials in a classroom is ideal for promoting brain development.

It should be clear then that a properly prepared environment such as the ones found in a Montessori classroom is advantageous for proper children’s brain development. The science is clear, children require a prepared environment that is rich in sensory experiences, offers movement and is appealing to the child.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fill the Chair

"Fill the Chair!" is a campaign to grow Montessori awareness by inviting parents, relatives, neighbors, senators, congressmen, county officials, doctors, teachers, yard guy, pool guy, cable guy, business owners, college students, bloggers, military men and women, architects, truck drivers, aviators, athletes, the President (yes, we actually extended an invitation to the President) to see an authentic Montessori classroom in action.

We hope you will join us in our effort by inviting someone you know to spend 20 minutes observing a Montessori learning environment.

The Boyd School is proud to participate in this project with schools throughout the country in an effort to bring awareness to the Montessori method of education.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Montessori Education Week

February 26 - March 3

It has been 104 years since Dr. Maria Montessori first introduced her approach to education. Her methodology has helped provide countless children with a solid academic foundation and guided them towards to lifetime love for knowledge.

Anyone who has spent time around a Montessori learning environment has witnessed the shear joy that children exhibit when they discover a new concept or complete a task purely on their own. Just last week as I was taking some photographs of children during their extended work period, I heard a cry of "I did it!" As I turned to see what caused this shout of joy, a primary student was standing by himself with his arms held high, grinning from ear to ear at his accomplishment. There was no adult working with him, no gold star on his paper, just a child thrilled with his own success. Talk about a love for learning...

During the same work period, I observed a young girl carefully at work with practical life materials. As she finished her work, she neatly placed the materials back on the shelf and began her next task - cleaning the windows of the door to the playground. I watched as she sprayed the windows, put down the spray bottle and wiped every drop off of the window (and even the couple of drops that accidentally spilled onto the floor). Her attention and focus on her task were absolutely amazing. She displayed such a deep care for the appearance of her classroom, her environment.

We always enjoy hearing your Montessori stories, but this week especially we ask that you take a moment to share a story as part of our celebration of Montessori Education Week. We encourage you to post your experiences in the comments section here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why Montessori?

A short introduction video we put together on the undeniable link between creativity and Montessori education.