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Montessori and Neuroscience

When I was teaching in Public Montessori School, I had to get my master's degree in order to maintain my teaching certification. I looked at options and discovered the Mind, Brain, Education program at Harvard. Harvard was a two hour drive away from me, I was teaching so I couldn't go full time, and, you know, it's Harvard so would I even get in? But, once I learned about the program, I couldn't bring myself to study anything else. So, I took introductory courses through Harvard Extension School, got totally hooked, and ultimately completed my master's degree with studies immersed on that topic.

What I found is that research is almost completely aligned with the Montessori teachings. When it is done authentically, there is nothing better for the developing child. Yes!

In this video, I highlight some key understandings we have about the brain and how they mesh with the Montessori pedagogy. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that Montessori actually means "scientific pedagogy." It's not a guru model. It is the scientific method applied to education.

Here are some of the key points.

July 01, 2021 by Julia Volkman

Spanking Research



Spanking is not a thing of the past. If you are working in a classroom, you most likely have direct experience of this reality. Most of us have students who are spanked.

Many of us also remember being spanked when we were children or have spanked our own children. In fact, about half of parents in the US report that they have spanked their child (under age 9) within the last year (Finkelhor et al., 2019).

In research terms, spanking is called corporal punishment. Corporal punishment happens when someone intentionally causes physical harm (even mild) to someone else in order to give them negative feedback (to punish them for bad behavior).

In the United States, "mild" corporal punishment is completely legal if it happens at home. In care settings like schools, it is against the law in only 31 states (Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment of Children, 2020).

While spanking is often seen as socially acceptable, new research suggests that even mild corporal punishment in childhood may have negative long-term consequences for brain development. Read on for details.

April 16, 2021 by Julia Volkman

Using the Movable Alphabet as a predictor of future literacy

For my graduate thesis at Harvard, I conducted a research study looking at the movable alphabet. I was frustrated by the literacy assessments we were required to give our students in public Montessori school. It just seemed completely inappropriate to ask a preschooler to try and spell words by writing them down. I mean, preschoolers are just learning how to hold a pencil and recognize what letters look like! It is a big leap to go from there to writing spelling quiz words.

So, I designed a research study to look at a different kind of assessment. One that could still reveal the young child's developing ability to build words but without stressing them out with the added difficulty of handwriting those words.

This short video gives you a little more detail about that research study. The full study can be found on the Harvard Digital Scholarship platform.

February 07, 2021 by Julia Volkman

Reopening Best Practices

Everyone is busy figuring out or enacting their pandemic reopening plan. I thought it would be helpful to post the things other early childhood schools are doing that work.

As I reached out to schools, I found a lot of ideas I hadn't thought of before; like using a hula hoop to help children maintain social distance when walking in line!

Thanks to Riverbend School in Natick, MA for letting us share their video of hula hoop distancing.

Of course, when you develop your own plan, you'll have to consider your licensing/state requirements. There is no one-size-fits-all way to 'pandemify' your school procedures. That's why we need a lot of ideas!

The following ideas are compiled from schools with an early childhood component in the US and France. Please add your own experiences in the comments below (including your location). Together we can compile the best practices that work in different situations (and with different licensing requirements). It takes a village!

July 21, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Face shields instead of masks for early childhood

This week, I have spoken with and heard from many teachers/school owners who are struggling with how to reopen school for fall (that's just a few weeks away in many states). Trying to sort through federal guidance from places like the CDC and State Education Departments is cumbersome, confusing, and leaves one with more questions than answers.

One big question is the use of face masks. Is it developmentally appropriate to use face masks in early childhood settings? Are face shields for young children and their caregivers a better option?


DuoKids face shield

Note: The photos are from Wish and DuoKids but many other child-size face shield vendors exist. According to the CDC, the face shield should extend from ear to ear and below the chin (CDC, June 28, 2020). You also want to test it yourself to make sure it doesn't create a visual challenge because of its curve.

July 10, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Developing the attention span via polishing

Parents often ask Montessori teachers why their children are cleaning the school. Children in Montessori early childhood classrooms are learning how to wash dishes, sweep the floor, dust, and even polish silver. Can't the school afford to hire their own cleaning staff?

The answer has nothing to do with keeping the classroom clean. In fact, teachers often have to go back after school and "re-clean" what the children have cleaned. The reason we teach them these "practical life" activities is all about aiding the child's development.

A mom I know on Instagram (big shout out to @montessoriinmotion) posted a video of her daughter that illustrates some of the benefits of practical life activities. It's just over one-minute long and is so rich in things to notice that I asked her permission to write about it here. Watch the video on your own first and then read on (and yes, she is sporting the matching Maitri Learning blue flower apron and mat).

June 30, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Developing Letter-Sound Knowledge: Montessori Sandpaper Letters

Learning the visual appearance of each letter in English and the sounds that each letter makes is an essential beginning step towards literacy. In the Montessori approach, we do a huge array of spoken language activities with the children to prepare them for writing and reading (see our many other blog posts on spoken language for more information). But we have one primary tool for teaching children the shapes of each letter and their individual sounds: the sandpaper letters.

Note: If you don’t own a set of sandpaper letters, you can make them yourself using our downloadable template.

The Presentation

As shown in the video, the general approach to the sandpaper letters is to choose 3 or 4 letters (depending on the interests and abilities of the child), show them how to trace a letter, say its sound, and then say a few words that feature that sound.

April 09, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Why are we staying home? A free e-book for children

ma stay at home book

Montessori teacher Angela Ma (Follow the Child Montessori, Raleigh, NC) has written a lovely picture book for you to share with your children. Ms. Ma offers a simple yet elegant explanation (with gorgeous illustrations) of why so many of us are home-bound during this pandemic. She has made it available free for anyone to download.

Here's what Ms. Ma has to say about her motivation for writing this story:

"I wrote this social story, complete with a drawing of my own adorable family, to offer a simple explanation for the reason we're all staying-at-home. Presenting a perspective of helpfulness and community empowers our young children to feel a sense of agency and connection. When we enter back into the community on the other side of this global experience, the opportunity to focus on social solidarity may likely have a more positive and protective impact on our children’s sense of security and well-being. I hope it is helpful to families who are looking for ways to support their children through this experience."

Print it out, bind it with ribbon, and read often! Then, inspire your children to make their own books about things that are important to them. Win-win!

March 30, 2020 by Julia Volkman

Language Activities for the Unexpected Homeschooler

If you are looking for ways to help guide your child in the Montessori method from home, here are some quick and simple activities you can try. These should be of interest to children from around ages 3 to 6 years. Adapt your pace to match your tongue twisterschild’s interest and abilities. Keep in mind that we always want the child to think that they are too smart for the work, not that the work is too hard for them. When they witness themselves succeeding, their self-confidence will grow.

Spoken Language Activities

Recite poems together, rhyming or otherwise. Start with shorter ones and encourage memorization (try to memorize them yourself before asking your child to). Sing songs together. Recite tongue twisters and try to say them fast!

March 26, 2020 by Julia Volkman

The Perfect Apron

Perfect Montessori Apron

matching placemats for montessori apronsWhen I visit classrooms, one of the common challenges the adult's face is finding or making the perfect apron. We want our aprons to be color-coded to match each of our ever-changing practical life activities. We want them to fit all of the children in our environment, from the petite 2.5 year-old to the towering 6 year-old, from the little heads to the rather large heads and/or hair styles. We want them to be washable and water-resistant. And we want them to have matching table/floor mats so that it is clear which items belong with which activity. In short, we want perfection!

But what about independence? Should the aprons be able to be used independently by everyone in the room or should they offer opportunities to practice different fastening techniques and/or solicit assistance from other children? What is the right level of fastener challenge? In short, how do we create an apron that is attractive, effective, a mode of activity (purposeful work in and of itself), and that the children can put-on properly (no arm elastics scrunched up on the shoulders or straps hanging off the sides)?

February 23, 2020 by Julia Volkman