Summer Outdoor Time

As Oregonians, we are blessed with ample rainfall in the fall-winter-spring months.  Enjoying our warm, temperate summers is a highlight of the year. Hands down, spending unstructured time outdoors is one of the best possible way to use the extra time that our summer break affords.  Offering children fresh air, exercise, and time to just look and be, enjoying one's neighborhood community with time to play on the street, biking, swimming, hiking, camping and the time honored traditions of tree climbing and fort building, nature and the outdoor environment right outside the front door provides endless opportunities for creative play and reflection.  Younger children are often more drawn to exploration while older students are ready for the challenge of planning longer hikes or bike rides.  

Whether staying closer to home or ranging on vacations, using open-ended time to imagine and play can make summertime magical.  Out of the inevitable ‘I’m bored’ comes the creative spark of creating an original game or making a new social connection. Though my children are older now, one of my favorite activities is still to take a walk with a 1-year old who will stop every two feet to examine a rock, a tree, a panel in the fence; such experiences help my hurried adult brain to take notice of these small, wonderful details in the world.

In addition to the pure joy of time outdoors, research tells us that this time is critically important to human development.  There has been a lot of discussion about childhood obesity recently but there are many other reasons to prioritize time outdoors.
Some documented benefits of outdoor and unstructured time for children:
  • Helps children grow lean and strong
  • Enhances observation skills, imagination and attention spans
  • Decreases aggression
  • Improves classroom performance
  • Children who spend time in nature become adults who are better stewards of the environment.
  • 60 minutes of daily, unstructured free play is essential to children’s mental and physical health.
  • Nature alleviates the impact of life stress on children and helps them deal with adversity. The greater the amount of nature exposure, the greater the benefits.
  • Children who play together in nature have more positive feelings about each other.
Current numbers about children and time outdoors paint a discouraging picture.  Some facts:
  • Children spend 50% less time outdoors than they did 20 years ago.
  • Children ages 8-18 spend an average of 7 to 8 hours per DAY using entertainment media.
  • In a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own.
  • Children’s unfounded fears and misconceptions about the natural environment develop when they have very little actual contact with living things and obtain most of their attitudes through the electronic media.
  • Increased vitamin D deficiency in children. 
We are blessed to live in a geographically rich state.  We count temperate forests, high desert, coastal environments, the magnificent Columbia River and Gorge, and majestic waterfalls as just a few of our many jewels.  Closer to home, Forest Park and Tryon Creek State park offer an easy escape from the city and endless trails for walking.  Smith and Bybee Lakes gives a glimpse into wetland habitat and Kelley Point Park an opportunity to see the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers.  We’ve all likely experienced the quiet fulfillment of spending a family day on a beach where the only agenda seems to be moving sand and water, skipping rocks or kicking a ball or the fun of sitting around a campfire after a day full of exploring a new environment.

Whether it’s a three-day camping trip or just a 45 minute walk at the end of the day, these activities allow us to slow down, unplug and really be present with one another, recharge our individual and collective spirits, move our bodies, marvel and give thanks for the beautiful lands and oceans we share.  I wish your family a restorative summer break.  

Dawn Cowan, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School

The Essential Triangle

From the very beginning of her work, Maria Montessori attributed the success of her approach to the relationship between the child, the parents and the teacher and described it as The Essential Triangle. In providing a homelike environment for children, she recognized the value of social life and included parents in all that she did and taught regarding an environment for optimum growth and success. In the early years of the 20th century, Americans flocked to Italy to watch and learn about the “revolutionary” system of working with children. A consistent message brought back to the US, primarily to parents at that time, was about turning the tables on how we think about our children’s achievements and progress and how to use the Montessori techniques in child rearing. At a time when trends took months and years to develop rather than in minutes (and seconds) as is the case on the internet, parents were fascinated by how they could look differently at raising children. Three books were written at the time by Americans who took the trek to Italy and returned with advice for American parents:

In 1912 Dr. T. L. Smith, an early advocate of Montessori focused his message on changing our “reward approach” to child rearing: “Reward comes in the child’s own sense of mastery. Failure is a negation showing that the child is not yet ready for that particular exercise.”

Dorothy Canfield Fisher wrote in 1913: “Not only does every child differ from every other child but, not being a fixed and inanimate object, he is in a constant state of flux, and differs from himself, from day to day, as he grows. Everyone who wishes to adopt her (Montessori’s) system, or to train children according to her method, must learn constantly to repeat to himself and to act upon, at every moment, this maxim, ‘All growth must come from a voluntary action of the child himself’.”

Carolyn Sherwin Bailey wrote in 1915: “Not commands, but freedom; not teaching, but observation Dr. Montessori begs of mothers.”

And here we are a century later, still marveling in how you, as parents, are intrigued by this Montessori system. You spend hours at parent nights, in conferences, on email and with books at your bedside in an effort to be in alignment with your child and the Montessori approach. It is not always intuitive for us as Guides and staff to do things in a way that fits the child’s needs and I am sure that is true for parents. But as we come to the end of another year, I want to celebrate your efforts to understand and build community and simply wrap your mind around being a parent and doing it well.

During our All Guide meeting last Wednesday, I asked for memories of great parent moments during the year and the result was a collage of appreciation from our staff—here a few:

  • So many of my parents just give me the message: “I have got you covered.” When I need their time or something for the class, they step up and seem to feel pride in their contribution, just like their children do in their work.
  • During my first camp experience as a Guide I was awestruck by the parent chaperones. Even when they were out of their comfort zone in the cabins or on the trail, they modeled a “can do” attitude with an infectious spirit.
  • At our Open Classroom I love to watch as a parent respectfully follows the child’s lead even when the activity isn’t something very impressive—squeezing a sponge or folding a cloth.
  • I have a parent who cleans the guinea pig cage twice a week! If they only knew how grateful I am with the gift of time that offers me.
  • Very simply, I had a parent who was struggling with their child at home, asked me for a conference and shared that my words, thoughts and ideas gave them courage to figure out who their child really is.
  • I want to thank the knitting lady who floats in on a quiet cloud, offering the most amazing opportunity for my students to relax and use their hands and minds together. She always seems to be there just at that moment a particular child needs that outlet. Her generosity is amazing.
We celebrate you, who pay the tuition, and then come back for more! We do (though it may not always seem like it) appreciate you helping to keep us clear and honest and sharing your ideas and opinions so that we all can work together to support the future that is your children.

Sue Pritzker, Head of School
Childpeace Montessori School

Uncovering the Stigma of Diagnostic Labels

A common discussion in education research, in schools, and in parent communities is the concept of “labels.” Diagnostic labels have widely been debated as to whether they are more helpful or more detrimental for a child’s education. Especially in the public school system, there are distinct advantages and disadvantages. For example, a child has to qualify for a diagnostic label in order to access support from Special Education. Without that label, they may continue to fall behind and not get the help they need. On the other hand, people worry that labels can define children too narrowly, can be stigmatizing, can stick with them for their entire education, and can lower teachers’ expectations for the children.

While Montessori schools traditionally respect individual differences and individual timelines for learning and are not prone to labeling, at Childpeace, we are also aware that our school, like every other school, has children with distinct learning challenges. Learning disabilities do not discriminate based on education or socio-economic status. For example, 10-20% of people in the country have Dyslexia, or a Learning Disability in Reading, and therefore it is likely that in each classroom at Childpeace, 3-7 children have this disorder. These children need remediation, and the earlier we uncover this, the more successful the remediation can be.

The main advantage of educational diagnoses is that diagnoses direct intervention. When a guide reads an educational evaluation that includes relative diagnoses, a description of strengths and challenges, and a list of tailored recommendations, the guide is more equipped to help the child. Without that information, they have to make a guess and use trial and error to find out what will help a child rather than quickly adjusting their methods to the “best practice” recommendation for a child’s specific challenge. For example, if a guide knows a child has a learning disability in writing but also is a visual learner, she will come up with a different set of recommendations than for  a child who has a learning disability in reading and is an auditory learner. In the same way, for a child who has difficulty paying attention in class due to an anxiety disorder and not an attention disorder, the guide and family’s approach will be very different.

The second major advantage to a diagnosis is that uncovering a diagnosis can pinpoint the cause of a child’s learning challenge rather than causing the child, parents, or guide to guess or make larger assumptions about a child’s overall abilities. Children know when they are behind their peers, and unfortunately they tend to make sweeping negative judgments about themselves. When they find out that they, like others with their diagnosis, have brains that learn to read or do math in a different way, it provides normalization for them as well as great relief. They no longer feel alone and they gain confidence that they too will learn how to read and do math even if it takes them longer.

The disadvantages of diagnostic labeling can still exist in our environment. Finding out their child has a learning disability or other challenge is difficult on parents and can cause guilt or worry, and it can even bring up memories of their own negative educational experiences. A diagnostic label can sometimes make a child feel different, although I would argue it makes them feel less different than if the problem is never found. (Note that young children are never told the diagnosis but rather their learning style and strengths and challenges are often shared with them). Because we are separate from the public schools, families at Childpeace do not have to worry about a label sticking with their child for the long-term. Assessment records are private and are not sent on to other schools. Parents at Childpeace also do not have to worry about their child not being in the mainstream classroom. Even children who receive outside tutoring are not isolated or left out of the group. Finally, the way the guides at Childpeace handle the information in educational evaluations is with the utmost respect for children as individual learners with individual needs. There is little risk of it lowering the guides’ expectations for the child. Rather, it just provides an even more individualized approach to the child’s education.

We are each born with our own unique wiring and our own way of learning. The more we know about a students unique wiring, the better we know how to support their learning.

Elizabeth Schwarz, Ph.D, School Psychologist
Childpeace Montessori School

Quality ZZZZs

When I was a younger adult I was reticent to go to bed until I felt fully tired —especially those evenings when the time after the children were asleep was so precious, before I collapsed on my bed. Now that I have an empty nest, I’m trying to get the sleep I need —but it’s hard to change gears. The world is still as beautifully faceted as ever, enticing me to read one more chapter, write one more page, cook one more dish, click on one more post.

How do our children feel about sleep? Is sleep a friend or foe, embraced or resisted? Like most things, their attitude toward sleep is greatly affected by what we model. And in common culture these days, adults often voice pride in doing more and sleeping less. We fill our bedrooms with things that distract us from sleep. We structure our lives with more activities and possessions (that take time to attend to) than ever before. It’s no wonder that children are sleeping an hour less than a century ago! Sleep is a complex mix of individual biology, cultural expectations and family dynamics—about two-thirds of the equation is something we have some control over.

To truly get enough rest, and to truly be alert when awake, doesn’t that sound delicious? I opened my Runner’s World magazine in May to find a focus story on sleep as a critical part of training. 

I read, Night after night of restricted (or interrupted) sleep—where you rest some, but not enough—sets off a cascade of hormonal shifts with harmful biological effects. Within a week or two, you'll have higher levels of the inflammatory marker C-reactive protein and the stress hormone cortisol, keeping your heart rate higher and your nervous system on constant alert.

Sleep also serves as a time for memory consolidation, Dr. Edlund explains—and not just for cognitive skills, like math or Spanish. "Running is a very big learning experience," he says. As you train, your brain takes in information about the world around you, the way muscles and nerves must work together to power each stride, and the way your body position shifts in space (proprioception), he explains. It's during sleep that you process, synthesize, and catalog these details, and skimping means the memory-related areas of your brain don't file away as much as they should.

If sleep does all that for adults, just imagine how important it is for our developing children. Sure, we all want to avoid the disagreeable and short-tempered mood of a sleep-deprived child. But even more important is avoiding the longer-term effects that research has connected to poor sleep such as hormonal shifts, stress levels, memory consolidation, growth retardation, issues with attention, weight gain, and lack of alertness. THAT is some powerful incentive to create a solid sleep routine!

How much sleep does your child need these days? This is one doctor’s suggestion to figure it out, for child or adult: when you have a week-long vacation, don’t use an alarm clock, wake up naturally, and document your sleep. The first three nights account for sleep debt, and then nights 4-7 will be a good gauge of how much sleep the body wants. From there, you schedule bedtime the right number of hours from when you need to awaken.

There are basic ingredients to establishing good sleep habits such as maintaining a consistent bed time, teaching your child how to relax, and using light-cancelling shades during these seasons of longer light. Nurturing a positive sleep experience might also require some very counter-culture moves in our homes. A few key suggestions: no screen technology in the bedrooms, including cell phones; having the children’s toys be in a different room than their sleeping space; getting ample exercise during the day; slowing down the pace of the evening so that it’s easier to unwind.

If you or your child are not getting good sleep, you can continue with life as it is … but research is certainly building for the importance of taking it very seriously. Search the internet for “sleep your way to the top” for some inspiration for yourself. Talk with parents in the community who are having success with their child getting good sleep and see if their tricks might work for you. Let’s join together in celebrating the great opportunity that sleep brings for our children’s health and happiness, and for our own.

Merri Baehr Whipps, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School

Reflections from MMM Parents

11 Years of Montessori Musings
by Dina Glassman

This June, our son Noah graduates from MMM. It seems impossible that we are about to become parents of a high school student who, just the other day, was scooting on his bum. This Montessori education has nurtured the fiercely conscientious, brave and sensitive young man he has become. In honor of the journey, here are four musings, from Children’s House to MMM.

The Gift of Being Seen
I distinctly remember our first parent teacher conference with Stephanie (Maple Room Guide). She described our boy in ways I thought only we as parents could. She saw him for the unique little person he was; way beyond his superficial presentation. Could she possibly have tuned into all of the children this way? I now realize that her ability to see each individual child is a hallmark of a gifted guide. We have been honored by so many.

Embracing the Quiet
Noah is a fast talker and exudes tremendous energy. On first glance, it is easy to miss his deep love of order and quiet. Thoughtfulness and love of structure have become defining qualities, each seeded and cultivated over the last eleven years of Montessori education. Years of encouraging time with himself, in quiet, has bred Noah’s self-reliance and confidence, which manifest themselves every time he opens his busy little mouth.

Nurturing the Love for Children
Noah is an only child. While he may not have siblings, he has had countless opportunities to guide and be guided by his peers. He tells us that he knows the name of virtually every child in the community. Really?!? His face lights up when he sees one of the elementary Spanish students he works with on Thursdays, or one of the toddlers he read to years ago. And then there is Poppy (aka Penelope). Poppy, Teacher Andrea’s remarkable little girl, rocked Noah’s world (“the coolest baby ever”). If he should become a dad one day, she will have been his first guide. These gifts he will carry with him for the rest of his life.

Empowering Boldness
As a parent, buying into the Montessori method required some letting go of standard operating procedures. Noah has been primarily guided by his curiosity, rather than some fixed external curriculum. In the Juniper and Larch Rooms, he chose a steady diet of geography work. His interest in far-off places was fed, and seamlessly integrated into other more standard subjects. Noah was empowered to follow his own unique learning arc. As he gets ready for Lincoln High School, there is a sense of boldness about him. He feels ready to test his wings out there, and they are strong on the inside because they are uniquely his.

Growth and Evolution 
by Peggy and Tessa Taylor

As the end of the school year is drawing near, I have taken time to reflect on our daughter, Dana, and her journey with MMM. I have had the privilege to watch her as she has blossomed in this wonderful community.

With the encouragement and leadership of the guides, she developed new skills and explored the urban environment. MMM also provided the students with numerous opportunities to be involved with the surrounding community—anything from cleaning up the river bank or Forest Park, to spending time socializing with residents in the Alzheimer's unit, or working in the garden. These were all experiences Dana valued and enjoyed.

She was able to express her opinions in a safe environment even when they differed from the majority. This supportive community, being an undeniable impetus in her growth as a person, fostered her desires to try new endeavors and reach for her dreams. She has grown into an outgoing adventurer, always welcoming more responsibility. Dana, who began her journey quietly taking it all in, now finds herself on the other side, ending with confidence, compassion, and love of leadership, encouraging others to try new things alongside her.

Metro Montessori Middle School: A Year of Journeys

We began our year with a move into a brand new, beautiful space which, with the help of our entire Childpeace/MMM community, quickly became home to MMM. Over the course of the year, we have seen this space become our workplace, the place where guides and students work side by side, and where many journeys, both physical and intellectual, have been born. We are fortunate enough to have five guides for our thirty students, a ratio that allows for big, in-depth works and lots of behavior modeling. We have traveled to the Indus Valley, Alexandria, Mesopotamia, and explored the tremendous fountains of our creativity through art, science, writing, math and Spanish. We’ve made short trips around our urban environment to measure slope and other times to fulfill our shopping lists for Odyssey or Spring Trip. Sometimes, we’ve traveled just across the room to engage in conversation with a peer, working out some difficult social happening. Often, those are the most difficult trips. Each journey is an opportunity to gather data and our adolescents become more aware of the world and their place in it.

As this school year draws near the end, we at MMM reflect upon our students and their journeys, individual and collective, academic and personal. We remind ourselves that our young people are not only students engaged in academic learning, but social/emotional beings developing into adults, gaining maturity as they move through their middle school years with us. How will these journeys serve those transitioning to high school?

Laurie Ewert-Krocker (faculty at Hershey Montessori’s Adolescent Program), suggests this:

We find that graduates of Montessori programs worldwide share similar characteristics, suggesting that Montessori truly is a universal approach that supports human development, not just cultural value systems.

What do [we see]?
  • An awareness of one’s own needs and a sense of one’s potential
  • An awareness of the needs of others
  • A willingness to work hard and take on challenges for the good of the community
  • An expectation that work is necessary and noble, and that life can be difficult without being disappointing
  • A willingness to consider different points of view
  • An ability and willingness to problem-solve; a penchant for creative thinking
  • Healthy emotional independence (healthy independence from parents, healthy independence in the context of peer relationships)
  • Healthy emotional attachments
  • The ability to love others—both personally and in the abstract love of humankind
  • The ability to see joy in the world and good in others, despite hardship
  • An awareness of the nature of humans beings and of humanity’s history—good and bad
  • A sense that everyone has a role to play in the human story
  • An awareness of the conditions and circumstances created by one’s time and culture
  • Healthy economic responsibility
  • A desire to contribute positively to society and to work toward positive change
  • A respect for and understanding of the natural world
  • An ability to maintain faith in the human endeavor and in the human potential for cooperation and peace, despite knowledge of atrocities and struggle
Do we see these traits in our MMM graduates, those who have journeyed with us in fun and in hardships? Those who have explored the world with us through microscopes and written word?

Yes. Absolutely.

If you want to see and hear the voices of these students who will be moving on to high school, please join us at the MMM graduation on Wednesday, June 11th, 1:30 pm in the Childpeace play room.

Nancy Coronado, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School

Camping Adventures

As we find ourselves in the full swing of springtime, our Elementary and Middle School students are busily preparing themselves for outdoor learning experiences in the form of camping trips.

The reasons for including this programming in our EL and MMM programs are many. It is well documented that time in nature and hands-on outdoor learning are immensely rewarding and important for children. As Montessorians, we always value the concrete experience and the chance to encounter much of the biology and geography concepts presented in the classroom and to foster a deep respect and appreciation for the natural environment and ecosystems. We all know that standing in the midst of a majestic old growth forest is much different from reading about it. It’s also a chance to expand the child’s sphere of independence and learn, first hand, that they are ready for more responsibility and personal space. Finally, camp is just plain fun. It’s joyful to sing the songs around the campfire, go somewhere new, enjoy the camaraderie of one’s friends, and spend the day outdoors. Even when there are unexpected challenges such as mosquitoes or heavy rain, students will recall these stories fondly and dub certain years with humorous monikers such as ‘mud camp.’

For younger students, the camping trip engages with the characteristic elementary-age desire to separate a bit more from their family. LE children often navigate what can feel like conflicting impulses: their natural developmental desire for increased independence and separation from their family with their feelings of uncertainty about how to handle this separation. The spring camping trip offers these young students an opportunity to separate from their parents for two nights and three days but in a very structured and organized way. Meals and lodging are organized by the camp and parent chaperones and staff are on hand to support the students. The children are responsible for packing their belongings and participating in pre-camp research and classroom work. What we know from our years of experience is that these younger children return standing a little taller, transformed by the confidence of their success. 

The family of the LE child, in partnership with the school, engages in the big work of supporting this next step of independence. Sometimes, the work is on the parenting side of trusting their child and our faculty enough to let go of the naturally protective impulses. For many children, the excitement of attending camp outweighs any apprehension. For others, there is an understandable amount of anxiety. We encourage the children to voice their specific worries to their parents or teacher and help strategize around their concerns. It may be important for a child to practice having sleepovers with trusted friends or extended family if they have not done this before. The rest of the class often shares in one of the before-camp-gatherings whether they were nervous on their first trip and how they found, once they were there, that they had a great time – helping to normalize these feelings. The Guide will share information and tell stories about the camp and show photos from past years to help young students feel oriented and connected to what can be a worrisome unknown. Often small details such as where the bathrooms are located can provide some comfort. Parent chaperones make a point of calling the families in their cabins before camp to make sure they have all the information to best support the children while at camp.

Upper Elementary and Middle School students are more comfortable with separation and enjoy longer trips to more wide ranging locations. These students are at a place to really make the most of their experiences and they dive into the curriculum experiences of the camp. UE/MMM students are often seasoned campers skilled at packing their bags with little assistance from their parents. MMM students are even ready to leave the cabins behind and try their hand at backpacking which includes planning meals and meeting their other basic needs as part of their outdoor curriculum. The adolescents begin their year with a 10-day Odyssey trip which, for the first time, includes no parent chaperones as it becomes developmentally necessary for these young adults to feel truly independent of their families. What a journey from that first nervous camp experience as a six-year-old to the heartily adventurous young adult

Dawn Cowan, Assistant Program Director
Childpeace Montessori School