Montessori Madmen

Advocating Montessori

We're an impatient, ragtag group of dads and advocates from around the world, united by a common zeal to bring the Montessori method to millions more. Our mission is simple: to advocate for Montessori education so that one day it's not called Montessori school; it's just called school.

May Newsletter

May Newsletter

From the Montessori Mad Men

By Aidan McAuley

The May Newsletter serves to announce the Montessori Mad Men’s alignment with the “Opt-Out” movement. The “Opt-Out” movement has become a chorus of voices over the last 12 months of those concerned about the reasons for and effects of standardized testing. We believe that these tests don’t measure how much one knows as much as they determine what one knows. We feel that what one knows should be determined by his or her deepest interests and unique talents and abilities. We will always support the idea that education should be based on discovery, relationships and personal interest and should never be about logistics and efficiencies (as seen in classrooms where students are segregated by age). Our public education system has become an institutionalized quagmire, designed for the benefit of adults (in the form of pensions for teachers and administrators, sources of revenue for standarized testing companies like Pearson, and are environments where our children are being shaped and molded into effective tools of the state as future “workers” instead of as future innovators and competitors to the established interests). It is time to make education about the child, once again. To become familiar with this dialogue, we encourage you to like two facebook pages, one began by our good friend Lisa Michelle Nielsen and the other by a group of students in Chicago who are bravely taking their education back from the adults. Those links are below:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Parents-Kids-Against-Standardized-Testing/117479641627357?hc_location=stream

https://www.facebook.com/csosos?fref=ts

So, that’s a heavy way to start off the May Newsletter, isn’t it? Well, we’re not done yet! The Montessori Mad Men will be your biggest fans as you pursue the creation of new Montessori schools with trained Montessori teachers. However, if you ask for our support and in our research we uncover that you are yet another “childcare” facility that uses the name “Montessori” and does not have trained Montessori Directors/ Directresses, we will become your worst nightmare (that is until you’ve seen the light). We will not stand idly by while your “childcare” facility gives authentic Montessori schools a bad reputation by association. Beware! There are many great Montessori Training Centers and since I live in St. Louis, I would encourage you or someone you know who is interested to look into the Montessori Training Center of St. Louis, led by the internationally renowned Dr. Annette Haines. If you are interested and coming in from out of town, contact the Montessori Mad Men and we’ll help you find an affordable apartment during your training in a safe, fun part of town!

Does your school have chickens? If not, you should consider it and here is a simple reason why:

In talking with another Dad at Villa di Maria Montessori, who happens to be 50 years old (I’m 37) we didn’t realize that chickens (I guess I should say Hens) lay eggs even without a rooster! The rooster of course fertilizes those eggs, but is not required for the Hens to produces eggs. Have we become so detached from nature that we don’t understand the fundamental truths that sustain us? It is time to get reacquainted with the earth, with the animals and the ecosystem of which we are all a part and depend on. Get started with your chicken coop this weekend!

Lastly, we’ve developed a number of designs for any authentic Montessori school (meaning AMS or AMI trained Montessori Directors/Directresses in every classroom) to use Free of Charge! Here is the link to those designs: http://montessorimadmen.com/designs If you like what you see, simply email us…and we’ll send you the files. Use ‘em on billboards, bus shelters, brochures. Get busy…children need to know about your school!

Montessori: coming to a home near you—or yours!

The MadMen recently came across the ebook "Montessori At Home!", by John Bowman, a gorgeous, almost encyclopedic, ebook with incredible visual detail and helpful tips for parents in how to bring Montessori principles into the home. As we are always interested in reaching more parents and inviting them to experience Montessori for themselves, we asked John to write a guest blog talking about the book and about Montessori in the home. Here is his post.

Montessori: coming to a home near you – or yours!

A worldwide movement is underway. Low shelves with cool learning materials are appearing in homes everywhere. Moms and Dads are educating themselves on the critical importance of their children’s early years. Viewing blogs and using new resources, parents everywhere are bringing Montessori into their homes. They are finding this proven approach to optimizing early childhood development to be accessible and easy to implement. Parents who do not have access to a Montessori preschool, or cannot afford one, are doing Montessori At Home!

Earlier in life, I found great joy in creating new Montessori preschools. I strongly encourage every parent who has a Montessori school for their 3-6 year old available near them, and can afford it, to check it out and place your child there if possible. The positive changes in young children when they have access to these environments are striking. If Montessori school is not an option, however, you can offer your child many of the same experiences right at home.

Dr. Maria Montessori was a visionary genius. She overhauled the way we view young children, and invented the field of early childhood education. Montessori created an enormous body of work in an incredibly productive life. Unlike many brilliant people, Montessori did more than write words that primarily offer intellectual stimulation. She developed an extremely practical approach to helping children develop to their true potential – the Montessori Prepared Environment. An unspoken ‘secret’ of Montessori is that a prepared environment works even if you don’t completely understand how and why. All you have to do is put things out there and let children choose and use them freely, with a few simple rules to guide their interactions. The rest happens on its own. It is a beautiful thing.

Parents who are not trained Montessori teachers can offer their children many of the experiences of a Montessori school, right at home. Montessori offers excellent, practical parenting ideas parents can implement before they ever make or buy a learning material. Once comfortable with the process, simple items can be used to create beautiful materials that engage children’s attention and develop their skills. A small table and chair gives a child a place to work. A simple set of low shelves displays a child’s home learning materials as special items deserving of respect. Parents are fully capable of understanding what they need to know, and of doing Montessori activities successfully at home.

Here’s an offer: download a copy of the Montessori At Home! eBook, read the early chapters, and follow the Quick Start Guide. If you are not able to create your first cool learning material and give it to your child to use in 2 days, let me know and I will refund the $10.95 purchase price. The very parent-friendly Montessori At Home! eBook has:

  • 575 full size, full color pages;

  • Clear early chapters on Maria Montessori & Early Childhood Education, the Neuroscience of Early Childhood Development, Using Montessori Principles in Parenting, Using Early Learning Materials at Home, and answers to FAQ’s;

  • Descriptions and photos of well over 300 early learning materials and activities, most of which can be made using common items, in the areas of Practical Life, Sensorial, Art & Music, Digital Life, Science, Math, and Reading & Writing;

  • Hundreds of links to blogs, sites, and videos expanding on the information in the eBook, creating a virtual course in early childhood education for parents and saving parents a hundreds of hours of research;

  • Recommendations for many commercial early learning materials, and over 225 digital tablet apps to support and extend a child’s learning and show parents how to use digital learning appropriately with preschoolers;

  • Complete reading and math sequences that enable parents to start at the beginning and, having fun all along the way, take their child from the first experiences all the way to reading and doing 2-3rd grade level math;

  • Many pages of free printables to use with the many of the activities;

  • A copy of the eBook, Mom Bloggers Talk Montessori: Favorite Activities and Ideas, to give you inspiration and support.

You can spend months educating yourself about Montessori, gathering and organizing ideas, and getting started. Or, you can get Montessori At Home!, get the picture quickly, and start right away. I have worked to distill all the essential information about Montessori in one eBook that will guide you every step of the way. Over 4000 parents all over the world are using this resource and working with their children. Check it out.

I encourage all parents of young children to use their preferred resources and help their children develop a positive self-image, a love of learning, and skills that translate into early success in school – the best way to ensure success all the way through.

John Bowman is the author of the Montessori At Home! eBook, the paperback, Help Your Preschooler Build a Better Brain, and on iBooks: Teach Your Preschooler to Read Using the iPad. He can be reached for comments, questions, and to support parents, at: jbowmanbooks@gmail.com

Standardized Testing, Common Core, and Montessori

Equally important as the debate of technology in Montessori classrooms is the debate on high stakes testing and the Common Core. While authentic private Montessori schools often limit or exclude standardized tests altogether, charter and public Montessori schools must administer them to demonstrate AYP (adequate yearly progress) and thus to retain their charter.

Standardized tests will be used to measure progress against the Common Core Standards, which is a government created and endorsed guideline for what children are expected to learn. We have many very knowledgeable, passionate Montessorians who are working together to identify and align specific Montessori lessons and materials with the Common Core Standards. The purpose of this is to demonstrate Montessori's effectiveness in achieving or exceeding the Common Core Standards. Public and Charter Montessori schools should benefit from this effort. Benefits include positive attention and press for Montessori in general and the inevitable expansion of it in the public sector. However, have we as Montessorians engaged in enough broad debate to understand how our alignment to the Common Core impacts our long-term mission and vision? By choosing to align to the Common Core Standards, the Montessori Community may be overlooking an opportunity to lead the debate on two very critical elements: 1) the role of government in education and 2) the validity and effects of standardized testing.

Role of government in education:

The first question I have is whether a government should create or even suggest what types of content curriculum should include. When a government determines curriculum it is inherently placing more value on some types of content and less on other types. There are two problems with this: 1) It assumes government somehow knows which content will provide the most return to its economic engine in the future (this is impossible to know) and 2) it creates an impersonal culture of education derived from logistics and efficiencies built on the false premise that all children learn in the same way and should know the same things by a certain age. A child is not a product to be manufactured by a government and should not be commoditized as such.

Validity of standardized testing:

Even assuming we can all agree on the role of government in education, that role being to determine what our children know and by when, have we expressed concerns about the validity of the method of assessing progress against the Common Core Standards? There are many reasons why standardized tests are not effective methods of assessment, beyond the obvious fact that they take away school time that could be used for experimentation and inquiry and devote that time instead to rote memorization. Among those reasons, here are five as reported by Phyllis Pottish-Lewis in the AMI/USA Journal, Winter 2013:

1) Standardized tests lack content validity. 2) They show a bias to certain cultural groups. 3) Standardized test results demonstrate a low correlation with actual classroom performance. 4) Standardized test results do not account for variance in the preparation and administration of the tests. 5) Standardized testing is subject to many variables that pollute the results including incentives, stress and anxiety, and whether or not children slept or even ate well before being tested.

By seeking to align to the Common Core, even though the short-term benefits would appear to be substantial, the Montessori community may be doing itself a disservice in the long run, since both the Common Core Standards themselves and the method of assessment used to measure progress against them are fundamentally misguided and flawed.

Dr. Maria Montessori modeled the behavior that we should emulate today. She was a ferocious defender of the child's spirit and his or her rights as a human being.

How are we serving the child by aligning Montessori to a pre-determined curriculum known as the Common Core Standards which are measured by a flawed assessment? Don't we, as Montessorians, owe children more, knowing what we know about their social, emotional and developmental needs? Instead of leading, or at least engaging in this much needed debate, some within the Montessori community instead have chosen to bypass it altogether, thereby indirectly, if inadvertently, endorsing an active role of big government in education as well as the use of standardized tests as if they were effective methods of assessment.

Missing this opportunity to expand the dialogue can only perpetuate the existence of these outdated and ineffective elements of traditional education: predetermined curriculum and standardized testing.

Aidan McAuley

Montessori and Day Care

Montessori and Day Care

A Guest Blog by David Ayer of The Montessori Observer

The New Republic has a grim piece up: The Hell of American Day Care, by Jonathon Cohn. The article centers on the story of Kendyll Mire, a toddler killed in a fire at an in-home day care in Houston in 2011, and you should know before you decide to click that it is pretty gut-wrenching.

But Cohn does a good job of filling in the social and historical context of how pre-kindergarten child care is provided and regulated in this country—in contrast to many other countries where child care is seen as a national priority.  From the article:

About 8.2 million children under five are in some kind of care.

In 2011, the median  salary for a child care worker was $19,430.
(For comparison, full-time work at $12/hour is about $24,000.)

Full-time licensed child care can cost as much as $15,000 a year.(National averages are $11,666 for infants and $8,800 for preschool)

Very poor families can get a tax credit worth up to $1,050 a year per child.

(There’s a wealth of detail at Child Care America’s National Report.)

Kendyll’s story is harrowing, but Cohn’s bleak picture of the U.S. chid care market is a reality we  Montessorians need to face if we are to bring our work to children and families who need it most. Many of us work in a different world, and we don’t really understand the scale of what’s  happening outside our (frankly) boutique niche. Here’s what the article makes clear:

Many households, often headed by single mothers, need child care so they can work.

Many child care choices are poorly regulated, don’t respond to child development, and can’t pay practitioners well or attract educated skilled workers.

Yet these programs are barely in reach of the families who need it most.

And here are some facts about Montessori:

Although elementary and adolescent work is thriving and expanding, most Montessori is taking place at the child care level, especially worldwide.

Montessori has a fantastic but little-known child-development based model of infant-toddler and preschool level care.

Our programs are not necessarily that expensive. You can look up your state here (pdf), on page 36. You may find your program  $1000 or so of the state average.

So? If schools can find a way to reach these families, and to bridge the affordability gap, with financial aid, tax credits, and state subsidies that may exist, we could serve a lot of children who really need it, and be a bigger part of the child development and child care conversation in society.  This is our growth opportunity.

Finally, some observations about child care programs in public life:

Kendyll’s world is the world our regulators see. It’s the reason for ratio and inspection rules we sometimes chafe against. As we join the ongoing conversations in many states about standards and practices—and we need to be there—this has to inform our message: We understand where you’re coming from, what you see.  Montessori is different.  Come see for yourselves.  We might even have something to offer.  Come see for yourselves.

High profile articles like Cohn’s don’t happen in a vacuum. Obama’s State of trhe Union put preschool and child care on the national agenda for the next few years.  The conversation is going to be about Quality of Care, High-Quality Preschool, and it’s happening already, in Oregon, in California, in Florida, and likely in your state as well.  And it’s not about better private preschools for families who can well afford it.  It’s about serving children and families who can’t. If we’re going to reach more children, we’re going to have to start reaching where the children who need us actually are.