Archive for May 2010

Doing Hello and Goodbye Right

May 31, 2010

“Our care of the children should be governed not by the desire to ‘make them learn things’, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within them the light which is called intelligence.” –Maria Montessori

Ms. Holovaty at the farm with children

Tomorrow is our annual end of year celebration with a “Blessing and Sending.” The third year students will be recognized by the sixth year students, as they are “moving up” to upper elementary. The sixth year students will be recognized by the junior high students, as they are “moving up” to junior high. And, of course, we will all say goodbye to our eighth year students, sending them into the world with our blessing.

There will be a slide show and a song sung by the lower elementary children, along with songs sung by the whole assembly. We will have a pot luck supper afterward, with some games being played outside.

Tradition is important. It tells our story and frames our community. We know that beginnings and endings carry special meaning, so we try to do beginnings and endings well, whether the beginnings happen every day as the child enters the classroom environment or if the ending only happens once every eight years as the child is handed off to the world. Each beginning and ending matters, as each child in the environment, each teacher on staff, and each parent matters.

So I look forward to our eighth annual end of year celebration. It is important to do goodbye right.


Multi-age classroom

May 18, 2010

“The environment must be rich in motives which lend interest to activity and invite the child to conduct his own experiences.” –Maria Montessori

Dr. Maria Montessori

Our upper elementary guide asked a sixth-year student to show me his work today. He was working on the Pythagorean Theorem. She wanted me to see his work because she knows I show the Pythagorean Theorem material to almost everyone I tour through upper elementary, because I really love that material. It makes concrete the phrase “the sum of the square of the two sides equals the square of the hypotenuse.”

The sixth year students had asked for this presentation because when they were still in fourth grade they all witnessed the then-sixth year students do this advanced work. As fourth graders, they were presented the Pythagorean Theorem, and they noticed that the sixth graders “got to” do it in a more complex, advanced fashion. Two years later, before they leave for their sixth grade trip and end their three years in upper elementary, they wanted that presentation.

The multi-age classroom places the child in the midst of a three year curriculum. The child is constantly watching the opportunities that will come as he or she advances along that curriculum. So fourth graders notice what sixth graders do, and they don’t want to leave without asking for the lessons.

The multi-age setting is a natural setting, the way we live our lives. It’s the way we learn language in a family, and it is often the way we learn how to do our jobs as we seek out the more experienced people as mentors. The multi-age classroom creates an environment that is rich and compelling, and it feels like home.

No Asperger’s policy?

May 15, 2010

“Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole which has roots in the most distant past and climbs toward the infinite future.” –Maria Montessori

My eldest, Paddy

One year ago, I had called The Montessori High School at University Circle late in the week, and Felicia and I were driving to Rochester, New York for a wedding that weekend. While on the road, MHS called me back. I quickly began explaining the circumstances: my son, Paddy, would enter 8th grade in the fall. He had been a Montessori kid all his life, but was just finishing seventh grade in a conventional school, since our school didn’t have a junior high at that time (we now do, and Paddy is finishing his eighth grade year). I had recently discovered that someone in my area was sending her daughter to the Montessori High School (in Cleveland), so I thought I’d check it out. Never had I imagined I would send a child away to boarding school, but this seemed worth exploring.

So on the Ohio Turnpike, on my cell phone, I had my first glimpse at the culture of this school. I quickly told the person at the other end that my son has Asperger’s, a form of autism. “Do you have a policy regarding accepting Asperger’s children?” I asked. “Mr. Driscoll, this is a Montessori school,” was the response. In other words, “Our policy is to take each child in front of us and see what we can accomplish together.” I had wanted to be as honest and up front as possible, because I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time if they weren’t equipped for Asperger’s. His response continued: “Let’s see, Paddy’s entering eighth grade? So that would put him here in Fall 2010, we have a part time person here who works with us on issues like this, and he’ll be full time by then, so yes, I think we’ll be ready for Paddy.”

The message was clear. Paddy mattered. And Paddy didn’t have to be told to conform to the needs of the institution, but the institution was working to be worthy of Paddy. What a message.

Donna Goertz, author of Children Who Are Not Yet Peaceful: Preventing Exclusion in the Early Elementary Classroom writes about the value of including children who are struggling, or different, in our classrooms not only so that the struggling child can be successful, but so that the other children can thrive as well. Her book is a type of guidebook our faculty relies on. Our focus on community in our classrooms is essential to the learning that goes on. We teach compassion by practicing it. We recognize the giftedness of each child, and we highlight those gifts and make them known so others can rely on them. My son can define pretty much any English word for you in a way that is clear, concise, and easier to understand than the Dictionary explanation. But he doesn’t always know how to interact in social situations. His classmates have always recognized that and have shown him appreciation because of it. They understand his quirkiness and social difficulties, and they appreciate his intellect. If there were a no-difficult-or-complicated-child policy, then not only would Paddy have missed out on an incredible education, but his classmates would have also.

Yes, it gets hard sometimes, and the classroom is not always as quiet as we’d like it to be. But everyone is learning, everyone is practicing, and some of the interactions might be teaching things that can only be learned in a struggle.

I really liked the answer I was given when I was afraid my son would be too challenging for the high school: “Mr. Driscoll, this is a Montessori school.” In fact, I not only liked the answer, I have committed myself and my career to it, and I believe that answer can change the way we do education in this country.

Montessori research

May 14, 2010

If we could say, “We are respectful and courteous in our dealing with children, we treat them as we should like to be treated ourselves,” we should have mastered a great educational principle and be setting an example of good education. –Maria Montessori

Lower El presentation

Research is supporting the kind of learning that happens in a Montessori classroom. One website highlights some of that research. I encourage you to explore the site:

One study on Montessori middle school (found on that website) described the following:

“The results showed that the Montessori students reported a significantly better quality of experience in academic work than the traditional students. There were strong differences suggesting that Montessori students were feeling more active, strong, excited, happy, relaxed, sociable, and proud while engaged in academic work. They were also enjoying themselves more, they were more interested in what they were doing, and they wanted to be doing academic work more than the traditional students.”

“… Results also showed clear differences in the social environments of the two types of schools. Montessori students reported more favorable impressions of their schools and teachers. Teachers were seen as more supportive, classrooms were seen as more orderly, and the overall environment was safer from the slings and arrows of putdowns from teachers and students. In addition, various time use estimates suggested that the Montessori students had more positive perceptions of their classmates, more often perceiving them as friends as well as classmates. Finally, other time use estimates showed that Montessori students spent less time in class listening to lectures and watching media and more time working in collaborative and self-directed ways.”

Delight and drudgery

May 11, 2010

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future.” –Maria Montessori

Advent Lessons and Carols

lighting the candle

Why is it that we presume school is supposed to be miserable? I remember watching a street performer once with my children, all of whom were in Montessori since age three. The performer started telling typical “I hate school” jokes, presuming that his audience would be right there with him. My children honestly didn’t understand the jokes. I have children ages 3 to 14, and not one of them has complained of being bored with school, or hating the work, or feeling like school is the adversary.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Here is a link to another blog (“Blue Monster”) where the author quotes an email that I had sent to parents. So here I am, quoting him quoting me, but I just think school needs to be a place where the child thrives and experiences wonder delight, not drudgery.

“Child Centered” and the Montessori method

May 10, 2010

I just toured a potential parent, and found myself describing “child centered environment” to her. Somehow that term can sound like we are perhaps overly indulgent (i.e., not tough enough on them), but I am grateful that this is the environment my own children have been in. Here are some examples of “child centeredness:”

Prairie Winds Farm

Children spend one afternoon a week at the farm

Advanced children are not told to wait until the others catch up, nor are the children who are a bit delayed told to hurry and catch up because everyone is waiting.

Systems are never put in place for the adult’s convenience, but they are put into place for the child’s learning.

We expect that children are here to practice; they practice Math, Language, Cultural Studies, etc., and that they are not expected to be done learning everything there is to know. Likewise, they are practicing the way they interact with others, so our sense of “discipline” is respectful of the child and recognizes that this is all about practice. “Because I am the adult and I said so, and therefore you will obey” is not on our list of ways to help children learn how to be with each other in a manner that is just and compassionate.

The child chooses work. Guided by trained adults who are familiar with the scope and sequence of our three-year curriculum, the child is presented materials and then chooses when he or she will do the work. Research supports this approach (humans learn best when they are giving the opportunity to choose), and it is, indeed, child centered–respectful of the child’s unique needs and abilities.

Establishing a true sense of community is central to what we do, and every member of that community matters, adult and child.

Learning methods, deadlines, and ground rules all consider not only the immediate need of the moment, but the long range development of the child. It is easier to get them quiet and compliant for my immediate satisfaction than it is to treat them in a manner by which they are learning important academic and developmental principles that will move with them as they grow.

Being child-centered is a basic tenet of a Montessori education; it is challenging and enlivening, and creates a vibrant and rich environment for the child.

lower elementary classroom enviornment

Children work in the lower elementary environment

Montessori learning: forming children who are “Good at Doing Things”

May 7, 2010

For those of you who have seen my Facebook posts, you will recognize this talk. It’s by Steve Hughes, a Pediatric Neuropsychologist who saw first hand the impact Montessori was having on the brain of his daughter.