Unfolding Education

“To stimulate life, leaving it free, however, to unfold itself–that is the first duty of the educator.” ― Maria Montessori



8 Great Gifts You Can Give Your Child’s Teacher to Celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week – and they won’t cost you a penny


  1. Treat Her Like A Professional

Teachers are a passionate and well-educated group, but they have chosen to work in a field where they are paid almost 30% less than comparably educated professionals. In a culture where we place value on high earners, teachers often fall to the bottom of the totem pole of respect. Your child’s teacher deserves to be treated as a professional. Her passion for education means she earns less than the rest of her college pals, but it shouldn’t mean that she’s treated as though she IS less than her college pals. Let her teach.

  1. Lose His Cell Phone Number

Teachers may, from time to time, share their cell phone number with parents. When this happens, please be thoughtful about how you use it. Sending them texts during school hours creates the pressure of an immediate response and teachers shouldn’t feel like they need to be attached to their phones during the school day. Sending them texts outside of school hours, intrudes on their personal time; something that they already sacrifice much of to benefit their students.

  1. Consider That She’s an Advocate for ALL the Children in Her Class

Teachers develop relationships with all the children in their class and want the best school experience for each and every one of them. Your child is her child. And that child who is constantly bothering your child – that’s her child too. Please consider that she is constantly working to meet the needs of all the individuals in her classroom in balance with the needs of the community.

  1. Remember That You Only Hear One Perspective

You are your child’s best advocate, and teachers understand that. However, it’s always good to remember that you are only hearing one perspective when your child tells you something that happened at school. Please bear this in mind when you approach your child’s teacher about something your child has reported. Don’t state things as absolutes but, rather, say, “Here’s what I heard. Do you have any input on that?”. Quite often your child’s teacher will be able to add other details to give a more rounded picture.

  1. Realize That Your Child Has A Responsibility in His Learning

All the great lessons in the world won’t help your child to learn, if your child won’t engage in the process. Remember that while a great teacher is a good predictor of student success, all failures in learning do not solely lie with the teacher. Students have a responsibility too.

  1. Understand His Workload

Teachers are expected to pack about ten hours of work into an eight-hour day. Not only that, but they often assume responsibilities that exceed that of educating and reach more into the realm of parenting – feeding, outfitting and attending to the emotional needs of the children in their charge. Be patient in your dealings with teachers. They may not be the quickest to answer your emails and phone calls, and it’s unlikely to be due to inefficiency or lack of care.

  1. Remember That You’re All on The Same Team

Your goals are aligned; both you and your child’s teacher want this to be a successful school year for your child. Working with the teacher from that perspective helps increase the chances of that happening.

  1. Let Her Know You Appreciate Her All Year Long

Teacher Appreciation Week is a wonderful way to show your gratitude for your child’s teacher. Teachers rarely hear from parents until there is a problem. Try to send a little note, or email, every now and again, throughout the school year, to let your child’s teacher know that you appreciate her. The gift of a few kind words can go a very long way towards turning a tough day into a good one.

10 Very Montessori Gifts You Can Give Your Children This Christmas

Here are some ways that you can incorporate Montessori principles into your family’s celebration of the Christmas season. These are gifts that will have a lasting impact.

  1. The Gift of Work

Help grow your children’s fine motor skills, concentration and sense of being a contributing member of your family by engaging them in making holiday decorations for your home. String popcorn for the tree, make salt dough decorations, cut and glue paper chains, pour Christmas candles. While, in Montessori, we put more emphasis on the process than the product, there are so many great internet articles out there on eco-friendly Christmas crafts, that you will easily be able to transcend tackiness and hit hipster levels of cool with your homemade décor.

  1. The Gift of Environmental Awareness

Keep Mother Nature in mind when drawing up the Santa List. Avoid the urge to splurge on countless trinkets and tchotchkes that are quickly discarded by your children and end up sitting in a landfill for decades. Model environmental responsibility in your purchases by choosing toys made of natural materials when possible. Take the time to explain to your children why this is important.

  1. The Gift of Creativity

Buy toys that encourage open ended explorative play. Some examples are wooden blocks, Lego sets, Magna tiles, puppets, kinetic sand, science sets, and art and craft sets. If choosing video games, ensure they are creatively geared rather than destructive or violent.

  1. The Gift of Cultural Awareness

Encourage your children’s sense of connection to people all over the world. Spend time with your children learning how Christmas is celebrated in other countries, as well as learning about the holidays people of other religions celebrate around this time of year. Head to the local library to borrow some books or DVDs on the topic.

  1. The Gift of Responsibility

Children should always participate in doing what needs to be done for the family and home. Give your children age appropriate responsibilities that contribute to the common good – preparing food, doing housework, serving guests, tidying up after gift exchanges. Christmas should be enjoyed by all the family, and your children can still have a magical experience while also being allowed to feel like their efforts helped make the season better for everyone involved.

  1. The Gift of Personal Boundaries

Christmas is a time when rarely seen relatives and friends descend demanding hugs and kisses from children with the vaguest memories of them. Allow your children to set physical boundaries and give your family members and friends a heads up in advance that this is a practice in your home. Family members may certainly ask if your children would like a hug, but they should also be prepared to hear, “Not right now, thank you”, if your child feels uncomfortable. Think about how often we parents expect our children to grin and bear unwanted physical interactions, and think about the message that sends them. In the same vein, if you have a child who is absolutely is horrified at the thought of sitting on Santa’s lap for a photo, have a good think about that too.

  1. The Gift of Good Manners

Grace and courtesy are important. While you are empowering your children to set personal boundaries, be sure and set an expectation of good manners with them too. If they deny a hug, teach them how to extend an arm for a handshake instead (and make it a nice firm one). Teach your children the importance of eye contact when speaking to anyone (this may be an inappropriate expectation of children on the Autism spectrum, though). When an adult asks your children how they are, teach them to answer and then ask the question back. Teach graciousness around receiving gifts. Have a conversation about the importance of the intent of a gift (kindness, generosity, love) well in advance of gifts being received. That way, even if the content of the gift is a dud, your child will be able to interact with well-intentioned, but gifting challenged, Aunt Sheila, in a way that doesn’t leave her distraught or disgruntled.

  1. The Gift of Self Reflection

Santa Claus is coming to town, and if you don’t get your act together it will be a lump of coal for you! Many parents look forward to the month of December as a chance to use Jolly Saint Nick, and his dreaded sidekick, the Elf of the Shelf, to manipulate their children’s behavior.  In Montessori, we aim to avoid extrinsic motivators (both the carrots and the sticks), preferring instead to encourage children to see the direct relationship between their good choices and the resultant good outcomes. Rather than spending the weeks in the run up to Christmas dangling the Santa threat over your children’s heads, how about making the Christmas season a time for reflection on good choices? Make it a nightly practice in the month of December to have a conversation with your children about the things they have done that day that they feel proud about. Remember, what you focus on grows.

  1. The Gift of Kindness

Make it a family tradition to spend at least a few hours every Christmas season, volunteering to benefit the less fortunate in your community. This is a gift that extends with great length and breadth into your children’s lives. Not only does it make them realize how much they have to be grateful for, it also teaches them the joy of doing good deeds. Have conversations about those feelings at the end of your time volunteering. Don’t say, “Good boy. Well done”, say, “You really helped. How does that make you feel?”. Connect your child with the great feeling of giving.

  1. The Gift of You

More than any material gift you can give your children this Christmas, the gift of spending time with you, when you are fully present, is the best gift possible. It is the gift that will endure, long after that Must Have toy is a distant memory. Put down your phone, get your children to put down theirs (if they’re at that age) and engage. Many of the activities mentioned above will help you to accomplish this – making crafts, prepping food, volunteering, having conversations about good choices together. This gift is a gift for you too, of course. In this very hectic time of year, it makes you stop, and it makes you appreciate. There’s a long term gain too, because the traditions you establish with your children, are likely to become, in time, the traditions they share with theirs.

I wish you and your family a very happy holiday season.

Cathy Tobin, 2017.

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