1. Jan

    What is the Prepared Environment for a Toddler Classroom?

    by Joe Franchere

    “The environment itself will teach the child, if every little error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher who should remain a quiet observer of all that happens.”
    –Maria Montessori


    Prepared environment


    The Montessori environment or classroom works as Montessori herself describes above because it is a prepared environment.  Whether a teacher is working with infants or toddlers, her attention to not only preparing the classroom for the children, but also her attention to maintaining and adjusting the environment after seeing the children in it are primary aspects of establishing a successful Montessori classroom.
    In order to create and maintain such an environment, the teacher must have knowledge of child development in general, and knowledge and understanding of each child in his or her care.  The first comes through study.  The second can only come through—again, as Montessori points out above—careful, well-practiced observation.  With observation and understanding of how a child is developing, the Montessori teacher can prepare and maintain (or hone) the classroom so that it always meets the ever-changing needs of the developing child.  Since the teacher’s observations must be on-going through-out the course of her work with the child, the prepared environment must be a dynamic one.
    From the beginning of establishing such an environment, the teacher must ask herself for whom is she setting up this classroom.  What is the age group?  How many will there be?  Who are these particular children?  And once the room has been set up, subsequent questions about the room itself (especially regarding safety and how the children are experiencing the room sensorially) might be along the lines of the following:  What are the children seeing here?  What are they hearing?  What’s going to go in the children’s mouths? (The answer to the last one is everything!)  Once one begins asking these questions, one begins to see not only the number of characteristics that make up the Montessori environment, but also the complexity or nuances of those characteristics.
    For starters, the environment should be safe and inviting.  Materials, furnishings, and decorations should be simple, appropriately sized for those using them, clean, and in good repair.  The environment should be orderly and logical, certainly to accommodate and support the child’s burgeoning sense of order, but also to make the environment a more sensible and enjoyable place for the adults to work.  Curriculum is grouped by areas (gross motor, fine motor, sensorial, language, art, practical life, math).  There should be access to nature.  Time outdoors is essential, and care of plants and animals in the classroom are invaluable as well.
    Finally, the classroom is an open space where freedom of movement and self-direction for the child are tantamount.  The Montessori teacher is a model of how to move and work within the environment.  She respects all forms of “reasonable activity” (Montessori) with the materials and supports all manner of purposeful interaction within the environment (only intervening or interrupting in matters of safety or destructive misuse).  In this way, through intense involvement with one another (through preparation, observation, and real human connection) the teacher, the child, and the environment come together to realize and make manifest the rich and rewarding (for all involved) Montessori experience.
    To hear more about this topic, please come to “All Things Toddler Educational Fair,” Saturday, January 24 from 9am to 11:30am.

    Joe Franchere

    Head Teacher, Toddler Full Day

  2. Jan

    Social Emotional Development of the Toddler

    by Rosana Amato

    “All that we ourselves are has been made by the child, by the child we were in the first two years of our lives”
    Maria Montessori — The Absorbent Mind

    Young children develop a sense of safety, security and confidence in loving relationships with the adults in their lives. It is a way for the Toddler to develop friendships, to learn how to have their feelings known and to face challenges. It is through these supportive relationships that the Toddler develops empathy, trust and a sense of self.

    The Toddler is realizing that he is separated from his primary caregiver, he is moving from infancy (dependence) to childhood (independence) discovering that others have wants and needs different from his.

    The Toddler is becoming more interested in the world outside himself.

    The adults in the life of Toddlers can support them to develop the skills they need to be successful. Toddlers need to move, play, explore and learn how to problem solve. They develop new skills when given just enough help to master a challenge without becoming overly frustrated. Be observant of the environment and how it is set in a way to facilitate independence, movement, exploration and consequently success. Focus and acknowledge the process with the goal of having the Toddler feeling good about his efforts, much more than the outcome.

    Toddlers are developing self-control and self-awareness and it is difficult for them not to act on their desires in such a self-centered phase of development. Help the Toddler learn to resolve conflict in appropriate ways by modeling, practicing and supporting positive interactions.

    Create a safe and secure environment by providing support and reassurance, consistent routines and clear boundaries which will help the Toddler to develop confidence, independence, a good sense of self and the ability to navigate in his social and emotional world.

    SATURDAY, JANUARY 24, 2015

  3. Jan

    Language Development 0-3

    by Karrie Jeffris

    “If it be true that he hears, and if it be true that he only learns the language of human beings, then it must be that the sounds of human speech make on him a deeper impression than any other sounds. These impressions must be so strong, and cause such an intensity of emotion—so deep an enthusiasm as to set in motion invisible fibers of his body, fibers which start vibrating in the effort to reproduce those sounds.” (Maria Montessori – The Absorbent Mind Pb.24)

    The sensitive period for language is from birth to 6 years of age. At this time the child learns the primary language spoken at home. Language begins in infancy when a baby makes sounds. The infant is fascinated with the human voice and will intently watch the face and focus on the mouth of the person talking to her. Soon she will start cooing and respond to the human voice. Around six months of age she will start babbling using definite syllables. By the age of one, she can repeat sounds and words, usually one at a time, and also understand them. Between 18 months to 3 years children’s speech develops rapidly. It is at the end of the second year that Maria Montessori refers to the explosion of language. “Every child, at a particular period of his life, bursts out with a number of words all perfectly pronounced.”¹  By the age of three, her speech will be more intelligible and with her continually expanding vocabulary and comprehension she can suddenly and without effort, use hundreds of words including nouns, verbs, and other parts of speech correctly and in proper form. The more she is exposed to language during the first years of life, the more her language abilities will be able to develop. Taking time to read aloud, sing songs, read poetry and tell stories will help to develop a strong language foundation for years to come.

    1 The Absorbent Mind pg. 114


    The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori
    Speech Development by Elizabeth Skarakis-Doyle, Ph.D.
    Expressive Language Development by Sharon Hendrickson-Pfeil, M.S., M.A., CCC

    For more information come to the:

    All Things Toddler Education Fair, Saturday January 24, 2015, 9:30 – 11:30 am
    Chiaravalle Montessori, 425 Dempster Street, Evanston, Il 60201
    Come for information, environment tours and refreshments
    Children are welcome
    Please RSVP: 847-864-2190

  4. Jan


    by Caitlin Hibdon
    Working on walking up and down stairs in Parent/Child

    Working on walking up and down stairs in Parent/Child

    Child carrying a cube from the pink tower in the Toddler program

    Child carrying a cube from the pink tower in the Toddler program

    Working on fine motor by spooning in the Toddler program

    Working on fine motor by spooning in the Toddler program

    “Movement or physical activity, is thus an essential facator in intellectual growth, which depends upon the impressions received from outside.  through movement we come in contact with external reality, and it is through these contacts that we eventually acquire even abstract ideas.” Maria Montessori The Secret of Childhood

    In Montessori movement is very important and is implemented in every work that is in the classroom. Whether it is fine motor or gross motor.  Fine motor is the use of small muscles such as picking up small objects using a spoon and tongs.  Gross motor is the use of large muscles such as rolling over, sitting up, running and jumping .

    Fine Motor
    In the classroom we provide many opportunities for children to practice their fine motor skills.  Children move from using whole hand to pincer grasp which helps with pre-writing skills.  For a Parent/Infant class you might see big objects to put in and out, hand transfer, and simple big knob puzzles.  In Parent/Child you might see hand transfer, big tongs, scooping, and knobbed puzzles big and small.  In a Toddler class you might see small spoons and tongs and smaller knobbed puzzles, which then move into jigsaw puzzles.  at each level you can see how we are slowly refining the child’s pincer grasp.

    Gross Motor
    Gross motor is provided in every classroom.  it might be a specific work in the classroom such as stair bridge, yoga cards, or big scrubbing work.  it could also be something that is done at a specific time of the day such as line time, gross motor time in the gym or outside, or anytime we see that children need to move their bodies more.  Montessori believed that moving the body is important to learning and she made that clear in the materials that she provided.  For example, you might see a child in a toddler class roll out a rug on one side of the room and walk over to the other side to get a work and carry it over to their rug.  this could be done by either bringing the whole work to the rug or each piece individually.

    For more information please join us at our All Things Toddler Educational Fair Saturday January 24 from 9:30-11:30.



  5. May

    In Defense of Preschool

    by Nancy Myers

    5-12 preschool

    Every Spring, I find myself defending the role of preschool in a child’s life. As parents plan for the next fall, I am making the case for starting or continuing the experience of preschool.

    Somewhere between 18 months and two years, a child develops into a more autonomous human being, moving from the safe, symbiotic relationship with parent to form a sense of self. As the world opens up for this tiny person, there is much to explore and much to fear. Simultaneously the young toddler is beginning to “order” their world and the information they are taking in. While often undetected by our adult standards — have you ever seen a toddler dump everything in the dishwasher out, bring it to the cupboard and put it all into the nearest pot or pan — they are defining the concrete objects in their world with their limited sense of purpose. The more they are allowed to experience these seemingly random acts of ritual, the more they will begin to form a more recognizable sense of order.

    A good preschool can provide a safe, model environment for the toddler to experiment with purpose and order as well as to be exposed to other methods of order by observing peers. These early interactions are the “seeds” of socialization. They provide a base layer for other experiences. Can I tolerate the child next to me crying? What do I do when they unexpectedly grab my toy or worse, hit me? What do the adults do in the environment I am exploring? How do I define my space? What is mine? What is yours? This is the work of a two year old.

    One of the strongest arguments for early schooling comes from current brain research. This research shows that infants are born with more brain cells than are needed. As the child grows, he retains cells depending on exposure to stimuli and information around him. The economy of the brain is such that it will slough off what is not necessary. Through targeted stimuli provided in a fully sensorial environment, children retain motor memory. As the hand (and the mouth!) is allowed to absorb information, the brain stores and categorizes. Exposure in a planned, well–thought-out environment produces optimum brain retention.

    Parents today are concerned about providing for their child’s education, but often feel they need to “cut back” on preschool costs in order to save for “college.” Because the first three years are the prime time to provide exposure to information, I would argue that nothing could be more counter-productive. By the college years, the brain is almost fully formed. At this point, students are able to take in only that which they have been previously exposed to or can hinge information on in deep storage. It’s pretty much a done deal at 18. But, the curious, exploring mind of a toddler is ripe and malleable – ready to be engaged.

    Learning from repetition, struggles, observation of others and attempts at communication in all of its forms – the toddler starts to form a resilient sense of self. Preschool can be the breeding ground for future successful relationships. By steering the pathways and setting up the “whole” child for patterns of healthy interactions both physically and socially, the child is ready to retain necessary curiosity and resilience to continue on the path to higher learning.

  6. Oct

    The Magic of Sleep

    by Kathy Noone


    As the school year finally takes on a dependable rhythm  —  going to school every day, playing weekend soccer games, going to swim lessons/ballet/karate/gymnastics after school or on the weekend, doing homework after dinner — we relax into our fall schedule and hope to get enough sleep to get us through the next day of organized events and responsibilities. The lazy days of summer are really over and Indian Summer just gave us a last hurrah. Now for the seriously busy part of the year! And as fortune would have it the sun sets earlier and it is easier to get our children to bed at a decent hour and hopefully ourselves as well. We need a good night’s sleep to get through our busy schedules, right?

    Well not really…a common theme, as the year moves forward, is that most of us are NOT getting enough sleep. Parents are exhausted, children are exhausted, and everyone’s successful functioning on a daily basis begins to suffer.

    As a teacher it is evident which children are getting enough sleep to sustain the activity level that the school day requires, not to mention sustaining the energy needed to have busy afterschool events and weekend activities. We often think of children and adults who are not getting enough sleep as being lethargic and having little or no energy, which is easy to spot in a classroom or at home. Yet children will often become overly active, depressed, unable to manage their behavior, and possibly become aggressive because they are not getting adequate rest.

    Parents in my classroom are very familiar with my questions about their child’s bedtime, how much sleep they get at night (or within 24 hours) and what their bedtime routine looks like. I have always been a big supporter of early bedtimes for children. As a mother I was aware of how much importance I placed on bedtime when all 3 of my children’s first words were “nigh, nigh!” It was indisputable…sleep was important in my household.

    So when I found an opinion piece in the New York Times in April by Vatsal Thakkar entitled Diagnosing the Wrong Deficit,” I was curious. This article, as it turns out, lays out extensive research about children (and adults) being misdiagnosed as having ADHD/ADD when their issue was actually sleep deprivation. As I read the article and looked at the research described I felt thrilled that my personal opinion was…well…right, or at least vindicated. I was on the right track with scientific study supporting my position.

    I would encourage every parent to read this very interesting piece on sleep and the effects of adults and children having too little of it. I only know, with quite a few years of teaching behind me, that sleep can be the simplest solution to a child’s behavior and/or learning difficulties. It is such an easy fix. Obviously not all issues are solved by sleep but the reality is that many issues are created by too few hours of shut-eye. Twelve hours of sleep (in a 24 hour period) for children in preschool is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and only a few less per night as children get older. Adults? We really do need 7 to 8 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. I would encourage every family to make sleep a priority for your family.  You may be surprised how much more smoothly your days unfold.

  7. Apr

    Talking to our Babies

    by Kathy Noone

    Spring break brought me to New York City and to many, many walks through Central Park on our way to museums or restaurants or to simply walk. People watching is, by far, one of my favorite “sports” and NYC is maybe one of the best people watching cities in the entire world. Opportunities abound to jump into snippets of other people’s lives…and I can take that snippet and create a story that can keep ME entertained until the next snippet interrupts the flow.

    One of the most familiar sights in this parade of “stories” were the young moms and nannies walking their babies in strollers, either on the move to do chores or just to give the baby and adult some fresh air. At some point I began to take note of the number of nannies and mothers on their cell phones. It became a focal point for me…something that I started noticing everywhere…all the time. All of these adults taking care of their babies were talking on their cell phones. It was kind of crazy. Did I do that with my children, I wondered? Well, no, we didn’t HAVE cell phones….temptation averted. So indeed I did have to talk to and listen to my children chattering at me about all sorts of inane things. My daughter used to say “Mmmooomm, I can tell…you aren’t LISTENing” as my mind drifted to the grocery list or work or something I needed to attend to in the next day or so. So I would take a deep breath and lie…”No, I WAS listening”, and then try to listen again and actually respond.

    My generation just didn’t have the myriad of technology to use that you, the 21st century generation of parents, have available. But with this great technology comes new responsibilities and emerging awareness that may require some “rules.” Possibly these rules would help us all manage these intoxicating “toys” that have been made so indispensible and addictive. I really do believe that being on a cell phone chatting with friends when we are with our children or having children sit in front of an iPad while out to dinner or waiting at the doctor’s office is valuable parenting time totally lost. And believe me, between birth and about 12 years of age is about all the time you really have to be with your children when they are not only willing to talk to you, but are wanting to talk to you and tell you everything and actually CARE about what you have to say about it. Our children then move into the GRUNT stage or monosyllabic stage. You will yearn for a whole sentence, once a week, believe me.

    Then Sunday morning, as I worked my way through the New York Times, I came upon an article entitled “The Power of Talking to Baby” by Tina Rosenberg in the Sunday Review section. The article is certainly not just about our need to talk to our youngest offspring, and talk a lot. It is actually an article that describes children raised in poverty, that had few adults who actually talked to them very much when they were really little, which had significant and dire effect on these babies when they became school age. “…..the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school.  TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.”

    I am not suggesting that the actual number of words children hear is the only critical issue in IQ…too many other studies have been done about connection, eye contact, physical contact, and on and on.  But the studies cited in this article were fascinating to anyone interested in research, and one of the simple messages, apart from all the research protocol, was….put down the phone….limit the iPad and please, TALK…to your children.

  8. Sep

    Foundations of a Montessori Education

    by Kathy Noone

    Chiaravalle Montessori School strives to help parents understand the beauty of the Montessori classroom, the pedagogy that drives the education, as well as the basic philosophy that is truly the “engine” of a Montessori way of life, at school and at home.

    It was wonderful to have so many parents new to Chiaravalle attend our Foundations in Montessori presentation last Thursday evening. I was asked many excellent questions about Montessori. Foundations informs parents of the different ways that we as faculty practice this pedagogy in our classrooms and opens the conversation to the many ways parents can bring the philosophy and Theory of Development into their homes on a day-to-day basis.

    Our work as Montessorians is described so well in the eight principles—or core beliefs— of a Montessori education:  movement and learning, choice, interest, intrinsic motivation, peer learning and teaching, whole learning, freedom within limits with earned responsibility, and a prepared environment. These principles encompass the essential ingredients of any environment that can be called “Montessori”, at school or at home. These principles are the primary guide to how we, as teachers, arrange our materials and furniture, choose our activities, set up our classroom ground rules and create a specific plan for each child to move forward toward more independence and a greater understanding of the world.

    Movement and learning: Every individual, throughout their life of learning, needs to be free to explore and manipulate their environment.  All children needed to move freely through their environment and feel comfortable taking risks by “playing” with materials or exploring new ideas.

    Choice: All people, of any age, must have control of their learning and control over their choice of what is important to them at that moment. Their work must be freely chosen so they can be excited and moved by the opportunities inherent in their choices.

    Interest: If an individual, child or adult, is interested in a topic, in a new possibility of learning a new skill or understand a new idea, they will repeat and practice this new knowledge or skill over and over until they achieve mastery. The activities and ideas that we choose are the ones that we have a great motivation and interest in acquiring.

    Intrinsic motivation: Human beings strive for exactness…they want to succeed in a given task through an internal drive that does not need reward or extrinsic motivation. Too much praise rings hollow. Self-satisfaction for a job well done or a skill honestly practiced is the ultimate reward.

    Peer learning and teaching: Sharing knowledge, communicating with our peers about the exciting things that interest us, and teaching others what we find exciting will empower the individual child or adult and drive us to continue learning. Humans speak, we have language, and we yearn to share and communicate our view of the world with those around us.

    Whole learning and making connections: When we are comfortable and oriented to our environment we make connections among the myriad of ideas and thoughts and new thinking, which comes into our brains every day. Putting together new connections will occur naturally when the learning is in a context familiar to the individual child or adult. Again, when we are comfortable, when we are oriented to our space, we will risk. When we risk “entertaining” new ideas or manipulating new activities…we learn and connect our new learning to what we already know, expanding our understanding of our world.

    Freedom within limits and earned responsibility: Setting clear boundaries in any situation provides safety for those in the environment and then….freedom to move about and explore that environment. All humans crave limits and rules that define their environment but these limits must be, within the context of Montessori philosophy, sensitive to the individual’s needs in the environment. There must be an authority that defines our environment but it must not be “authoritarian.” Individuals work naturally toward self-perfection yet thrive on high expectations.

    Prepared Environment: Finally, order in any environment encourages exploration and creates a calm and respectful space that can be understood and feel safe. It is in this environment that we all feel free and able to learn, relax, explore and be creative.

    Maria Montessori said, “Our care of the child should be governed not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.”

    Our care of ourselves, as well, is to continue that desire to learn and change and become richer in our own thinking about our world. We will bring our children along as we attend to these 8 Principles in our own lives….and be assured the classrooms at Chiaravalle, which your children have the pleasure of exploring every day, always endeavor to encompass these 8 Principles and create that place where we make every effort to “keep burning within (each child) that light which is called intelligence.”

  9. Feb

    The Montessori Journey From Many Perspectives

    by Kathy Noone



    Over the past few weeks a number of Chiaravalle Montessori School faculty and staff members have been looking at our parent education programming, reflecting on the wonderful tools and programs we already have in place for our parents as well as considering new ideas for informing parents about what we are doing in our classrooms. As we explored the various programming we stopped to look, once again, at the inspiring short films available on our web site. We were amazed and struck with the depth of Chiaravalle’s commitment to Montessori philosophy and a Montessori education that is expressed in these films.

    Often current parents are busy looking at the upcoming events, living the day to day Montessori experience with their children and attending programs that they feel would be beneficial to them as parents. We realized that many families do not think to take advantage of information already available on our web site for a quick, inspiring look at how this Montessori education is playing out with the children as they experience their classrooms, classmates and teachers every day.

    On our home page there is a section on the right side labeled Spotlight. Just a click away you will find 5 short films under the title “Montessori Journey” that takes you on a  virtual tour of the principles of a Montessori education that are put into action every single day at Chiaravalle. It is a simple and delightful reminder of just exactly what it means to be a part of this wonderful educational process but to be embraced by a community that is so committed to children and their journey through school in a way that gives each child the greatest opportunity to build an independent and meaningful future.

    Give yourself the time to see these amazing little films, whether for the first time or as a repeat viewing. They truly affirm why this Montessori Method is extraordinary from the view of teachers, administrators, parents, children and graduates.

  10. Nov

    Parent Conference: It’s a Conversation!

    by Kathy Noone

    What do parents expect from a parent/teacher conference? Most often parents imagine being listeners, believing that the teacher is going to talk to them about their child and how they are doing in school. The reality is that a good conference is, and MUST be, a conversation. This conversation is the beginning of a new understanding about who the child is at that moment in school and who that child is in that moment at home. The goal must be for everyone to learn something about the child…something that they didn’t know before this most important conversation.

    Preparation is key to this meeting. A teacher will most likely prepare a written report that is shared with parents to establish a guideline for the discussion. This report is really a skeletal overview of what the teacher and child are experiencing on a day-to-day basis and is often a very narrow view of the complex relationship they share. The teacher must be open to learning about the student from a completely different perspective…from the “home” perspective…to allow for new perspectives and perceptions, which in turn create a more complete picture of this unique individual.

    Parents need to prepare for the conversation, as well. Think about questions, have in mind home experiences to share and, most importantly, be open to new insights and reflections about their child. Teachers need to know if the child they describe is the “child you know”. They need to know if the child is happy, concerned, or stressed at home or about school. They cannot know this unless you share with them your experiences and understanding of your child.

    Academic progress is only a small portion of what teachers want to share in this conversation. Yet, academic success can be completely dependent on the child’s perceptions of self in this school setting. Does stress cause difficulty in academic performance or does academic performance cause the stress? It is the quintessential “which comes first, the chicken or the egg” conundrum for the parent and teacher.  Sorting this out can be critical.

    In the end, this is what parents can do:

    • Help your child’s teacher know your child.
    • Be collaborative. The teacher is a part of your team and is a trained professional who knows children at your child’s age and developmental level.
    • Open communication is critical. Let the teacher know that you welcome emails or calls when the teacher needs help or needs your perspective. Sooner is much better than later…
    • Write down important issues discussed at the conference and expect follow up on problems with a stated timeframe.
    • Be calm and open and learn something about your child from another perspective.
    • ENJOY the conversation!