1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.”

  5. 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.

  6. 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!


  7. Sep

    Let Mistakes Lead to Success

    by Kathy Noone

    Every year, for the past 8 years, Chiaravalle has offered a presentation called Foundations in Montessori for families new to the school. This presentation describes in very broad strokes many of Maria Montessori‘s ideas about family, individual growth and change, and describes the developmental theory that is the basis for the amazing pedagogy we act upon every day in our classrooms.

    There are so many ideas in this presentation but probably the most important ones involve a parent’s understanding of the specific developmental changes that their child is experiencing and their preparation of themselves. This understanding helps each of us become stronger advocates for our children as they move through each developmental phase.

    Maria Montessori stated, “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.”  We are the caregivers. Our job is to prepare our selves to support their natural drive to learn and allow them the opportunities to explore and discover their world. Our job is to allow them to make mistakes as a way to learn and to allow for their imperfection. Our job is to support their efforts as they strive to be better at walking, talking, making friends, reading, playing soccer, dancing, learning math facts, writing, riding a bike — whatever it is — at whatever age.

    Our job is really, really hard. We want to protect them from their hurt, their failure. But it is in that “failure”, it is in that imperfection, it is in those mistakes that children learn. They learn the lesson of a lifetime, which is that each mistake takes them one step closer to finding success. It is easier to watch our 1-year-old struggle to balance and walk than it is to see our 6-year-old struggle with reading. Yet, in a way, it is all the same. If we provide a safety net throughout their lives, love and support them through every difficulty, yet refrain from solving their problems…they will learn that they are powerful, strong, and independent. They will find answers to their own questions and resolve their own difficulties. Our love and support will always be evident and present in their lives. Our children learn that the mistake is a gift, which will lead them to a solution that they can discover through their own resources. They will become resilient and strong and believe in themselves and the power of trying.

    There is a wonderful Guidance Creed, written by Cam Gordon in his book Together With Montessori. This creed is truly describes the essence of the Foundations presentation – and can be used throughout life in every relationship, to truly respect and honor each individual.

    At the annual guest lecture, co-sponsored by Chiaravalle and Rogers Park Montessori Schools, Aaron Cooper, Ph.D. from the Family Institute of Northwestern University, will be touching upon some of these ideas. Please join us at St. Scholastica Academy on October 18 for another evening of thought provoking parenting suggestions that help us continue on this journey of parenthood with as many tools as we can to help our children move toward independence and confidence in their future explorations.

  8. Aug

    Necessary Risk

    by Kathy Noone

    When you are teacher, a parent, and a grandparent you live your life hoping and wishing for all good things to come to those children you love and are responsible for….as well as weighing all the possible dangers that could sidetrack the health and well being of those little people. My mantra (as spoken by my husband) is “no danger is too remote.” I have made a career out of worry about anything that can be worried about. I’m not proud of this really, but I know it is me … as well as many, many other parents, grandparents and teachers the world over.

    Yet we all, as the adults that love, have to be measured and careful about when we put limits on behavior, movement, risks that our children want to take so that they have a reasonable chance of benefitting from the experiences and risks they crave. Our culture has become absorbed with all things safe…a good thing…but it can be, as well, limiting when our children are spared from all risk. When children always have decisions made for them about what is safe and what is not they can develop an unrealistic expectation that the world is always safe, or possibly believe that they always need others to tell them that the world or a situation is safe or not without trusting their own thinking. Developing a “sixth sense” about what we are capable of doing is all about experience…and making decisions to take a risk…or NOT take a risk…but at least THINKING about it before we go ahead or abandon our plan, is a part of the life lessons we need to be sure our children are getting.

    There is a great little article in the New York Times, Tuesday, July 19, 2011 titled “Grasping Risk in Life’s Classroom, the Ever-Safer Playground” by John Tierney. He quoted a professor of psychology at Queen Maud University in Norway who stated “Children approach thrills and risks in a progressive manner, and very few children would try to climb to the highest point for the first time they climb. The best thing is to let children encounter these challenges from an early age, and they will then progressively learn to master them through their play over the years.” This made perfect sense to me when I read this article but I realized that as the teacher and now the grandma I find myself always erring on the safest side of the decision about risk  – the “no danger is too remote” side of the story. Playground equipment is not about how you can have fun, but it is about how you can get hurt! These are not my children. They are my “charges” to keep safe (and happy). Do I allow risk in my classroom? Absolutely, but the risk factors are spilled water, a broken pitcher, spilled paint, a dropped work, a chair tipped backward…I can deal with those risks. But the play ground? Not so much.

    John Tierney brought into perspective the concept of “risk” and how necessary it is for children to experience the thrill, fear, and uncertainty of taking physical chances. But have we made our playgrounds too safe? Are we making the world so safe for our children that they won’t learn that things can really go wrong when you don’t make measured decisions about what you are capable of?

    I have no answers but was “given pause”….and want to think about it…as I struggle to be sure those children I am responsible for as a teacher or a grandma…are safe and will NEVER get hurt on my watch.

  9. Aug

    Transitioning to a New Program

    by Karen Laner

    or, What I Learned on My Kindergarten Vacation

    This summer I transitioned to a new program. After three joyful decades with children 6 and older, I had the opportunity of teaching kindergarteners making their way towards first grade. I was scared. I was worried. I was nervous. What if my lesson plans weren’t interesting? What if I didn’t click with younger children? What if I didn’t know what to say to them? What if . . . ?

    Variations of these also occupied the minds of the students. To help process these concerns, I offered time for questions about next year. We toured the third floor classrooms. We identified older children in class photos. Even so, one student repeatedly told the group, “I hate first grade.” The “hate” of course, was really a “what if …”  All it took to change this viewpoint was a short one-on-one conversation with factual information: The job of a Chiaravalle teacher is to help each child find work that is not too hard or easy, but just the right amount of challenge. Afterwards the group practiced how (and when) to explain to a teacher when a work doesn’t feel right. Just one tiny step towards a smooth transition to elementary.

    Parents can be an influential part of a child’s move to a new program. With a neutral statement such as “Let’s ask questions about next year,” the door opens for understanding what is on your child’s mind. And actual practice in how to ask for help is a powerful tool for comfort in the classroom.

    When adults start conversations with “don’t be afraid of . . . “ we signal something worrisome. Instead, we might try, “When you come home from school, see if you can remember two things that surprised you.” “Did you observe an older child helping someone today?” “Did you have any joyful learning struggles during work time?”

    And if you are playing the “What if  . . .” game in your own mind, remember that your child’s teacher has experienced years of supporting children in their transitional steps. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. No, scratch that.  Ask us for help. It’s our job.

  10. Jul

    Deeper Understanding through Multiple Senses

    by Robyn McCloud-Springer

    Daniel Tammet is a self-described high-functioning autistic savant. In this clip, he talks about his unique way of perceiving words, numbers and other input. His “synethesia” allows him to experience multiple sensations while perceiving that many typical learners may not experience. Tammet attaches color, emotion, texture, shape, numerics, intuition and pictures to input. The result is that he understands things deeply. He may see a multiplication problem as squares of numbers or a line of a poem as a complete picture.

    What struck me about this synesthesia approach to knowing is that it is very Montessori. We regularly present concepts in multi sensory ways. We introduce children to the colors, pictures, stories and shapes that may be attached to information. Now when I revisit the red verb ball, the pink 3 bead bar, the greedy green division goblins or the trinomial cube- these objects take on new meaning. It may be imposed synteshesia, but Montessori students are using multiple senses to gain deeper understanding.

    I can only imagine how a lifetime of this kind of learning can open up students’ capacity for creativity, understanding and knowledge.