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Crystal Lake Montessori School
Crystal Lake Montessori School19 hours ago
"The influence of sacred and deep things..."
By: Catherine McTamaney

“It requires the influence of sacred and deep things to move the spirit, and the new children of civilized humanity must be given a profound emotion and enthusiasm for the holy cause of humanity.”
Maria Montessori


A note on the history of Montessori: Dr. Montessori didn’t intend to create a new system of education. Nor did she begin her observations of children looking for ways to place their development within some larger, spiritual framework. She was primarily a scientist, trained to observe objectively. The Montessori Method reflects what she observed when she studied children. It is not a retrofitting to align a pedagogy to a religious lens or to defend a foregone conclusion about the nature of children. Quite the opposite. She studied the nature of children, and then she developed guidelines for how we might best preserve it.

This is important to remember, when we feel challenged to make sure we check off every standard on the curricular checklists, when we are tempted to fill up our children’s time instead of inspire their spirits. When Montessori urges us to understand the “new children,” she is not proposing a way to make them better. She’s describing who they already are, and begging us to stop trying to change that.

“A profound emotion and enthusiasm for the holy cause of humanity.” We are in unprecedented times, in a world-wide crisis that has forced us to rethink all of the presumptions we made so blindly before. The securities which we were confident are suddenly up for renegotiation. The expectations we have for ourselves and for others are redefining themselves moment by moment.

When a natural disaster hits a community, one of the first things people will do afterward is to try to take their bearings. A tornado has come through. Where is the steeple I am used to seeing on the horizon? Where is that old oak that my children liked to hide behind when they were small. Emerging from the storm, we look around to find the things that look familiar. We look for guideposts to give us some sense that the world, even in its devastation, is still a place we understand, a place within which we have some control. These days, families at home are looking for the same reassurance, that we have some normality and some control, that we can replicate the world that existed before this crisis so that maybe the crisis itself isn’t so overwhelming.

And so we try to “do school.” We print out handouts and worksheets and schedules and checklists. We tell our children to sit down at the table and work their way through a “day’s worth” of school, to look like they look when they’re in their rows of desks, when they’re paying attention, when they’re being schooled. So afraid that our children might fall behind, we push them along a track of busy-ness and regurgitation, instead of emotion and enthusiasm.

But what if the guideposts that we looked for, the ones we know we need to feel safe and in some control, the ones we need to remind us that there is a normality coming on the other side of this, were relationships instead of paperwork? What if we stopped trying to “do school” at home and focused instead on “the holy cause of humanity,” on looking at our children as new children, whose nature is good, whose curiosity is ours to preserve?

What would you do differently today if you were genuinely curious about the nature of children, not just of children in general but of the specific children in front of you. What would you do differently if you wanted to end the day knowing more about your child than you do now? Would you sit them down do fill out handouts or plough their way through workbooks? Would you set them up in front of a computer to finish endless loops of memorized facts?

Or would you watch them for a while, to see what they chose when you didn’t choose for them? Would you listen without rushing, to hear what they were most curious to know instead of jumping to the “right answer?” Would you make eye contact, and space beside you, and time, to be with them without expectation? Would you try to understand their fears, or what makes them laugh, or what they want to know most about you?

There are endless ways to “do school.” But just like those street signs or landmarks we look for after a storm, they’re temporary and not so exciting. You’ve had some time now to make sure the ground has stopped shaking. If you could choose what you built from the debris, would you rebuild it all exactly the same, with the same pressure and the same gerbil wheels, the same crazed pace and the same keeeping-up-with-the-? Or would you build something new? Something more connected? Something more joyful? Something more holy? Find the sacred and deep things, the enthusiasm for the holy cause of humanity. We are more than the sum of our worksheets and, if we are to emerge from this stronger, it will be because we have chosen to build something new, something enduring and authentic and profound. It will be because we have begun with the child.

* a response to To Educate the Human Potential Chapter 11: Nomad v. Settler, M. Montessori
Visit our website at clms.org.
Crystal Lake Montessori School
Crystal Lake Montessori School2 days ago
BETTER AN OOPS THAN A WHAT IF
By: Rachelle

A chalkboard frame hangs on the TinkerLab studio wall that says “Better an oops than a what if,” a message that’s been our mantra for the last few months.

My hope is that when kids and their families come into the space, they’ll recognize that it’s a safe place to experiment, try new things, and play.

Sometimes we hold our best ideas back because we’re afraid to take a scary leap. Here are some “what ifs” that come up for a lot of us:

“What if the painting looks nothing like my idea?”

“What if my story is too weird?”

“What if people can’t tell what I was trying to make? What if it looks terrible?”

When making art or creating, it’s important to encourage our kids (and even ourselves) to be open to mistakes because really, without that willingness nothing wonderful would happen.

John Maxwell, author of Failing Forward, said:

“The more you do, the more you fail. The more you fail, the more you learn. The more you learn, the better you get.”

It’s through practice, trial and error, and ongoing learning that our best ideas have a chance to emerge!
Visit our website at clms.org!
Crystal Lake Montessori School
Crystal Lake Montessori School3 days ago
“The child is not an empty being who owes whatever he knows to us who have filled him up with it. No, the child is the builder of man. There is no man existing who has not been formed by the child he once was.”
Maria Montessori
Crystal Lake Montessori School
Crystal Lake Montessori School4 days ago
"...more time or less.."
By: Catherine McTamaney

“Some may not be interested at all, and others take more time or less to assimilate what they want.”
M. Montessori

Think of all the fears teachers and parents carry for their children’s progress through school. Are they “off track?” Have they “fallen behind?” If a child misses a day or two of school, will they be able to “catch up?” The language we hear so often reminds us of a premise many of us hold in education: that there is a linear path, and a timeline for progression along it, that children are supposed to follow.

But think about your own life. Has it unfolded in an exact and predictable, linear, scheduled path? Have you made adequate yearly progress? Or, in less grand imagination, think about your day, or even a single problem you’ve had to resolve in it? Problems of machines may be solved by following specific, inflexible routes. But people are not machines and learning is not about arriving at a predetermined outcome.

We’ve developed these schedules over generations, and with good intent, in societal-wide efforts to provide a better quality education to more children more equitably. But somewhere along the line, we’ve defined “quality” as “reproducibility” and “equitable” and “the same.” And in doing so, in these efforts to take education “to scale,” we’ve come to think of children and learning as machines, moving steadily along production lines, year by year, with formulated inputs and measurable outputs. We’ve come to prioritize movement along the line over craftsmanship along the way, and in doing, we’ve lost sight of the forest. We get so stuck on schedules developed far away from the children in front of us, and we fret over the child whose development follows a different pace.

Teaching is both art and craft. As teachers, we need both the technical skills to organize content, to understand objective observations of children, to provide accurate stimuli in child-appropriate models. We are certainly craftspeople there. But we are artists, too, influencing the aesthetic of the environment, interpreting what each child presents to us to uncover more of the mystery of that child’s unfolding, charming the child and inspiring their imaginations. Some days we are more skilled at the craft. Some days we are more profound artists. Thank goodness we are not measured by the day.

And while teaching is certainly both art and craft, learning is, too. Children as learners need the craft of accurate content, refined tools and a capacity to use them well. But children as learners are artists, combining together Ideas in new ways, solving problems from new directions, driven by perspectives that only they can see. We want them to become adults who are innovative, resilient, flexible agents of change. We want them to be prepared to create a society we can only imagine. Unless we want them to arrive at the same destination we have, we have to expect them to forge new paths away from the tracks we’ve laid. The new paths they forge will be directed by their interest, not by our timetables.

When we pay more attention to the schedule than to the child, we reinforce two fallacies about learning. First, that it is predictable, regular or standardized. And second, that we already know what the child will need to know.

We know the first to be false: while there are certainly trends in general development, those trajectories are much more diverse within the life of any one of us. Within your school experience, you can identify teachers who were able to help you understand new ideas you’d struggled with before, who could show you something differently or present a problem in a way you could finally understand. Within your life now, you can identify friends or loved ones who solve problems differently than you do, who communicate differently, who have their own strengths. Their perspective enriches yours. Your experience is more complicated, more complete because of the diversity of ways of thinking around you. Your own learning has probably not followed a standardized path, even though you may have persisted through a standardized model. Montessori offers us an alternative to that, a model that honors the distinct and personal development of each child, that offers consistent content, but does not limit the means by which children can access that content, taking “more time or less to assimilate what they want.” We prepare environments within which the content is accessible, but leave the means of access to the child.

And in doing so, we protect the child from the second fallacy: that we already know what they will need to know. We can offer our best guess about what content children will need as a foundation to their futures, but we cannot predict what those futures will hold. If we are to prepare them for an unknown horizon, we need to protect in them the qualities that will help them to create it, among them imagination, resilience, collaboration, and curiosity. Those are not traits mastered on a timetable, but through authentic experiences in settings that allow for their use. Montessori doesn’t throw the content out; instead, she suggests models that allow children to explore it on their own pace and from differing directions. There is no “off track” here.

When a child’s day is structured around predetermined checklists and mandates, there is little room for their own interest or initiative. The child as an individual is separated from the purpose of school, and the school becomes a factory to replicate existing systems. When learning begins from the child’s interest and unfolds at the child’s pace, the child’s curiosity and engagement are protected, and the school (or home) becomes a studio to inspire new understandings. We need to have the tools available for children to develop the craft of learning, but we equally need, in their lives and our own, to make space for what has not yet been discovered, to make time for what is yet unknown.
Visit our website at clms.org.
Crystal Lake Montessori School
Crystal Lake Montessori School5 days ago
"To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself..."
By: Catherine McTamaney

If you’ve visited your child in their Montessori classroom, you may have noticed them working independently, sitting quietly at a table by themselves engrossed in a seemingly simple activity like pouring sparkling water or lying on the floor spread out across a mat filled with complicated combinations of beads and blocks. Or maybe you watched your child prepare snack for a friend, to joyfully sit together in playful conversation, or smiled yourself as your child collaborated with a small group of friends over a construction or an art experience. And, if you’re like many parents observing their children in the classroom, you probably asked yourself,

“Where in the world are the teachers?”

At first, maybe this caused some concern. Shouldn’t the teachers be teaching something? And doesn’t that look like one big adult talking about whatever it is they’re talking about, surrounded by many children quietly staring at them? And maybe you came to value the independence and self-direction of the Montessori classroom. Maybe you came to understand the self-correcting nature of the materials and the role of the teacher to present new lessons before “observing unobtrusively” while the children explore on their own. And, if you’re like many parents observing their children in the classroom, you probably then asked yourself,

“How did they DO that?”

We’ve all seen our children in the classroom: independent agents of their own days, putting on their own shoes and cleaning up their own work, sometimes quiet, sometimes engaged, and compared them to our children at home: standing a little too close when we’re trying to get something done on the laptop, asking questions at the most inopportune times about things that seem to have nothing to do with what we’re doing, seemingly incapable of being alone for any time at all, demanding our attention. all. the. time.

And here’s one more way you’re probably like many other Montessori parents right now: you’re wondering how in the world to get your children at home to play on their own.

Spoiler alert: it’s easier at school, because of the teachers and because of the classroom design. Your child has (and should have) a different relationship with their teacher than they do with you. They know their teachers well, but they know you much better. Their teachers have practiced their teaching responses. They’re prepared to respond to children in each moment in a way that supports the child’s developing independence, concentration, coordination and order. The children can’t interrupt the teacher’s work, because the teacher’s work is the children. Don’t aspire to that relationship: it’s limited and, even in the three-year-cycle, it’s going to end and be replaced by others. It’s lovely, but it’s finite.

You can take some cues, though, from the classroom design, to help your child to find the same joy in independent activity at home that they have discovered at school. At school, the classroom is designed to be emotionally responsive, intellectually engaging, self-directed and self-correcting.

Care first for your child’s emotions: This is a challenging time for most of us, and your child is likely experiencing more fear and more stress than usual. Their regular routines are upended.They’ve been separated from their friends, their communities, their normality. Just like us. But unlike us, they don’t have the perspective to place this crisis on a longer timeline, or the language to communicate their most complicated emotions, or the life experience to feel safe in the midst of so much chaos. If your child seems more needy than usual right now, that’s to be expected. Go slow.
Think about front-loading uninterrupted time with your child at the beginning of the day. Ask yourself what morning routines you can prepare for the night before, so that you’re available to give your child your complete attention for the first few hours of the day? Can you flip your work responsibilities or adult demands to allow uninterrupted time with your child as the day begins? How we start our days together can determine how they unfold.
Prepare and serve breakfast together. Let your child set the table, whisk the eggs, spread jam on toast or mix fruit into the oatmeal. Time in the kitchen is both practical and attentive. Sit down together for breakfast and make sure the conversation includes children at the table as contributors, rather than just observers to adult chatter.
Plan time in the morning to use your bodies together. Take a parent-child yoga class together online, or enjoy an exploration walk in your backyard or in your home. Kick a soccer ball between you. Take a hike. Plan an art activity together, from simple activities that require you to bend, kneel or crawl, like sidewalk art, to long-term activities that allow you to cuddle together while you create, like fingerpainting, embroidery or cross-latch. And then get involved with your child- participate as your child’s companion.
Think about the needs of the household that you can share. Wash and dry dishes together. Do the morning laundry and let your child carry the laundry basket or load the machines. Make the beds. Fold towels and blankets. Wash the windows. Think about activities that help to care for the environment you share, and that do so with all the muscles in your bodies involved.
Prepare, if possible, the ability to be attentive for yourself, too: turn off your phone and step away from your computer. If you need to attend to morning business, try to do so before your child wakes up, or to block out an hour or two when other adults know you’re unavailable. Think about starting the day with a combination of things you can do together, some for the benefit of the household community and some for the benefit of your private time with your child. Meet your child’s need for attention and affection first, before you ask them to be alone.

Prepare self-directed, self-correcting, intellectually engaging activities for alone-time, and schedule when those are available: That doesn’t mean handouts and workbooks, which may look “academic” but which lead your child to a single, predetermined experience. Instead, let their independent open-ended play time be with activities that engage their problem solving skills, that let them explore their own interests, and that are challenging but within their ability to complete on their own.
Hold some special materials for when you know you’ll need time alone. You might have a basket of activities that are only available when you need to attend to other tasks. Think about things your child can do with their hands, but without too much reliance on adults, like Lego blocks, stitching on plastic canvas, coloring with colored pencils or smaller styluses, drawing the details they observe around them in a nature journal, or following along to an audio recording of a favorite book they can hold. Keep a box of cardboard for building forts or ramps for toy cars, or a basket with flashlights, nuts and bolts, or other household tools for exploring their environment on their own.
Consider challenge prompts that you can make available for your child to transition into these times. You can offer verbal cues, like, “Can you build the most complicated tower you can imagine, in the next fourteen minutes?” Or prepare a series of direction cards with simple drawings or, if you have a reader, written prompts on them from which they can choose to complete meaningful activities, like preparing a tossed salad for the family to enjoy or assembling a new batch of home-made creative dough. Children can prepare meals on their own for the family to enjoy later or complete household chores independently. In doing so, they develop the ability to problem solve across multiple domains while asserting their importance as a member of the household.
Ask your child to create their own list of activities they can do “all by themselves,” and plan together for increasingly longer windows of independent activity. Start with shorter windows of independent play, to help your child to understand that they are safe and that their needs will be met, even when they’re playing independently. In the classroom, children have twenty other people they can ask for help if a teacher is not available: it’s going to take a little time for your child to rely solely on their own resources
Be available, but uninvolved. The concentration you see in the classroom evolves over time. At first, some children attend to their work in short bursts, but over time and with the right lessons, they discover work that enchants them. Be nearby to your child at first, reading a book or engaging in an activity that can be interrupted. If your child asks you for help, look for ways to turn the solution back to them. Offer only the assistance that they cannot do themselves, like threading a needle or reaching something from the highest shelf, but think about questions you can ask them to help them to solve their own problems first.
Be present, but not omnipresent, and let them work through problems, even if their solutions take more time than yours might. Practice language like, “What solutions can you think of?” Or “ What are some tools you have that might make that possible?” so you’re comfortable with language that turns solution-making back to your child. The more you behave as though you are the only one who can fix a problem, the more your child will be dependent on you for all the issues that arise while they’re alone. Focus on providing only the support your child needs (like holding the clasps of a zipper closed while your child zips, rather than zipping their jacket for them) so that your child can do as much independently as possible.
Make sure your child has the tools available to clean up after themselves and a physical environment that they can manage. In the classroom, we use small mats because, in part, it limits the area for which a child must be responsible. If your child is playing independently with an activity that could get bigger than they can manage on their own, give them a designated area before the activity begins. Make sure they have the tools to clean up if something goes awry, like a spray bottle with just enough water to wipe down their table top or a dust pan and broom should something need to be swept up. And then let them clean up after themselves, even if it’s not to your standard. You can always model wiping a counter later for them.
If you have times when you absolutely cannot be disturbed, make these as short as possible and talk through the expectations on your household with your child. Give your child concrete parameters to help them understand. Present these lovingly. If, for example, you need to rely on a kitchen timer for your child to check in to see how much time is left before they can interrupt you, remember that these are short-term tools that are helping your child to understand the passage of time and to be aware of the limits in your household right now, not measures by which they might get “in trouble.” Give your child something they can do if they want your attention, like writing you a note in a book you’ll read later, or drawing a picture to place in a special box you’ll open when your uninterrupted time is over. You’ll want to keep enough attention there to know if your child is at risk or if their independent activity is growing beyond their own ability to manage, but think about it in the same way teachers in the classroom do, to “observe unobstrusively,” and let the child come to you if they need you instead of interrupting them when they are engaged.

And finally, remember that this is going to take time. Your children will need time to adjust and feel confident in new expectations. In the classroom, we have, by design, activities that can be completed independently by children with shorter attention spans and the model of children who are completing longer, more engaged work. It won’t be the same at home, and it may take many days of reliably, lovingly stepping back from your child’s activities to remind them (and yourself) that they are capable of being alone. Indeed, they need to be. Meet their emotional need to be with you first, then support them in building the practical, physical and cognitive skills to be independent of you. Be patient with yourself and your child as you both learn to be with each other in a new way.
Check out our website at clms.org.
Crystal Lake Montessori School
Crystal Lake Montessori School6 days ago
"A new energy called love..."
By: Catherine McTamaney

Montessori’s original writings aren’t so reliable for their science, but they remain inspirational to read. In presenting these stories about the early development of life on earth, she reminds us of two critical needs in the chid.

Children need to inspire and to be inspired.

Children need to love and to be loved.

She helps us to accomplish the former by modeling stories that place the wonder of the evolution of life into a mythic frame. Whether the science still holds, we can learn from how she relays it. Good teaching, good parenting, good nurture, is not about simply presenting facts and details for the child to memorize or regurgitate. We are endowed with imaginations. Inspired learning breathes life into those details with illustrations and language that engage our imaginations. In early childhood, we need to be able to act upon new ideas, to move them around in our hands and see how they hold up against stimuli we already understand. With older learners, we need to be able to envision new ideas in our imagination, to place ourselves inside the narrative and relate these new scenes to how we understand the world that preceded them.

They want to inspire us: to engage us in their social causes, to contribute it visible ways to social change, to enlist the support and enthusiasm of their peers. They need opportunities to make their interests inspirational to others, and the attention of at least a few, focused people who will give them an audience to their platforms, who will follow them even against their windmills. They know enough to know the world needs changing, and they want to inspire you to change it with them.

But they need to feel a part of that themselves, too. When we’re trying to teach older children, then, we need to understand how to inspire them. In the second plane of development, the child is driven to noble action, to contributing to a world beyond their own experience, to social justice and community and engagement. Why would we think such minds would be satisfied with handouts or memorization? If the work is not made noble, it will not satisfy the need for inspiration in these heroes. When we present new information or entice new action, we need to support the child in understanding the ways in which their contribution matters. Children, like adults, want to know that their work has impact, that they are influential and that their efforts create change. When there are “have-tos” it is our responsibility, as teachers and adults, to inspire the child to their completion, without punishment or a reliance on power, but through inspiration.

And yet it still won’t be enough.

Montessori reminds us of a more foundational need for our spirits, even as she describes it in scientific terms. Children need to love and to be loved. When Montessori describes the evolution of the earth, she takes care to note what happens to life when it begins to prioritize love over size, when a creature’s likelihood of survival is linked to its relationship with others rather than simply its dominance.Children understand this. They know they are small. They know they are vulnerable, and they need a world in which, despite the authority that could be conveyed by strength and dominance, they are nonetheless safe because they are loved.

It’s easy enough, when we are looking for reassurance that we’re doing this work well, to look for indications that we are in control. And when so much is out of our control, it’s easier still to resort to our size, our strength, our dominance to establish order again. But we, too, want to be inspired. We, too, want to be loved. And we know, if we take a moment to breathe through the baser, more crude reliance on power and force, to connect to our own imaginations, we will not imagine a future for our children in which they do what they’re told simply because they’re told. We will not imagine a future for them of compliance through fear. We want for them what we want for ourselves: to love and to be loved.

Children, Montessori tells us, become like the things they love. When we imagine the world we want for them, it is not one mastered by dominance and fear, but led by inspiration and love. We can only help them to create that in their own futures by offering it to them now. If we want them to respond lovingly, we need to offer them love. If we want them to lead gently, we need to be gentle with them. If we want them to inspire rather than to control, we need to show them what that looks like. This may be the hardest part of our work, because it demands us to model behavior that we may not have had modeled in our own lives, to put aside our immediate need for control to act on behalf of a future we may not ourselves see. Montessori reminds us, when we are stuck in the stresses and the fear and the feeling of being out of control today, that we are on an evolutionary path toward something more, paved through a new energy called love.
Please visit our website at clms.org.

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Crystal Lake Montessori School

3013 S. Country Club Rd

Woodstock, IL 60098

(815) 338-0013