Transition to Second Plane and Social Behavior

Around six, children start to transition to what Montessori calls the 2nd Plane of Development. Current brain research says the child’s brain makes huge changes between 5-7 and this is what Montessori was observing as well. At this age, children just begin to become truly social creatures - forming consistent friendships, solid friend groups, and caring much more deeply about their social standing. As peers and socializing suddenly open up to them, they go through a period of exploration, with one main goal: How can I belong? From birth to five (ish) they were interested in how they could belong within the family; now it’s “how can I belong with my peers?” These explorations are normal and healthy, and as with everything we want to guide them in a positive direction, without stealing their discoveries from them.

What they’re trying to figure out:

If I’m not with my friends what am I missing out on? What’s more important the adults’ opinion, or my friends’? Will rule breaking and boundary crossing earn me a place among my friends? Is there room for everyone? How many best friends can you have? Should I secure my spot by excluding others? Is it okay to disagree with your friends? Do I have to do everything my friends say or do?

What adults can do to help at home:

Solidify their belonging at home. If kids are feeling distant from family, they’re more likely to disproportionally seek acceptance among their friends.

Spend special time together; give new responsibilities and privileges; ask for their help.

Talk frankly about what friendship means and give examples from your life. They really have no clue how to be friends with someone - sharing examples of how you disagreed with a friend, or a time you felt left out and what you did about it can help a lot.

Brainstorm concrete ways to help their friends out and be kind to one another. Children especially love written lists, these lists feel very official and important to them. We often use abstract terms with young children, such as kindness, without taking time to be concrete. If someone is practicing kindness, she might…(give a hug, say good morning, help clean up, etc.)

Encourage positive socialization by:

• Having play dates with good friends

• Playing games with a set of rules to give a clear-cut structure for how to play together • Work together on a defined project, like baking or a craft • Attend outside lesson with peers of the same age

How do adults support socialization in the classroom?

As teachers, we are holding two beliefs: 1) that humans learn by exploration, and they need hands-on chances to try, fail, and try again, and 2) our responsibility is to protect their physical and emotional safety. In all our interactions we are trying to balance letting them explore with keeping them safe. In this balance we:

1) Observe - we need to see what’s really going on, and why. What are they doing, when does it happen, what outside factors are present, what skills are missing? What is a one-time occurrence and what is a pattern?

2) Interrupt them as little as possible in the moment - this lets them try things on their own, and try things in front of us. We find that when adults step in and correct all behavior immediately children stop trying things around us. For example, a child may experiment with calling his friend a name and the his friend may ignore them. If we come in at that moment and start lecturing on what the kind thing to do would have been we are very unlikely to make a difference in that child’s behavior and it is very likely that this child will continue his exploration, only next time in a whisper, without us being able to know how we can support either child. We will however note the support that both children need and give this support through teaching them what TO do (see section below).

Additionally, if it is an emotional moment, children, and all humans, are not able to learn at that time. They need to be calm before they can learn something new. We always ensure that, once they are both calm, children get a chance to talk about their conflicts before they move onto other activities

There are two moments that we always step in: 1) with any physical violence, or 2) when one child is upset by what another child has done or said, in order to facilitate the child talking to the person who upset her, see below for more details.

3) Empower - teach children what to do if their feelings are hurt. If someone was just called stupid and we observe that they are upset, we’re not going to leave them on their own. We are going to help them have a peace stone conversation and express how sad or mad they are feeling and why they are feeling that way. We find these messages are much more powerful coming from a peer than from an adult, and help the children learn the impact of their words. Additionally, it builds skills in standing up for one’s self. The reality is that an adult will not always be there, and we want our children to be able to stand up for themselves in appropriate ways, especially as they get ready for elementary school.

4) Teach them what TO do - rather than telling them what not to do, we look for what need is going unmet, and then teach them a better way to meet it. We respond to patterns of behavior and individual social needs through grace and courtesies, one on one help with all staff members, and involving parents.

For example, if someone is often calling her friends stupid when she is mad we will give lessons on “what to do when you’re mad at a friend”, which is to get a teacher’s help and have a peace stone conversation. We will have groups to demonstrate how words can hurt us just like someone pushing us can hurt us. We may help her write a letter to a particular peer, if the issue seems to be focused mostly on interacting with one person. If a certain friendship isn’t aiding her best, the adults will guide her toward different friendships.

At school we encourage positive social interactions by focusing on group academic work with kindergarteners. We don’t want to set up a false dichotomy between “academics” and “socialization” - we want them to happen together. We also actively groom kindergarteners to be leaders in the classroom, pairing them with younger students for certain activities, asking for their help setting up lunch, and sending younger children to them to ask for their help.

Celebrating a Milestone:

Ultimately, socialization is a huge milestone worth celebrating, just like learning to walk! And, like walking, at the beginning they don’t quite know how to be safe and effective with their new skill. We aim to guide and inspire without stifling.

Peace and Violence in the Classroom

Ideals with Realities:

Lighthouse Montessori’s school vision is a more peaceful world, and striving for peace is why each and every teacher in the classroom shows up every morning. At the same time, we are working with very young children who are just beginning to develop self-control and empathy. If we are truly going to help our children succeed, we have to meet them where they are with age- appropriate expectations for their behavior. Here are two important qualities of young children to keep in mind with regard to peace and violence:

1) They possess very little self-control. Self-control is managed in the prefrontal cortex, the most recently evolved part of our brains. The prefrontal cortex is just beginning to develop in young children, and isn’t complete until age 25! Even in adults, when the brain is flooded with fear or anger, communication from the prefrontal cortex shuts down. So even though they know that hitting is “wrong”, in the heat of the moment that message can’t get through.

2) They are egocentric (and that’s a good thing!). It is easy for us to forget how little time these children have been alive – they are still desperately trying to figure out their emotions, their bodies, and their place in the world. Everything is about them, and it needs to be for them to have a firm foundation and sense of self. This means that they are always zoomed in to their own experience, and empathy is not reliably on-line until about age six. It is a huge challenge for them to imagine how someone else feels, and sometimes it is impossible.

We know that hitting and pushing, rough and tumble play, and even the occasional bite will happen. We would be worried if the children did not try out these methods! What we want is to minimize the harm done, give them the skills they are lacking, and respond by increasing our connection.

Our response to violence:

To start, supervision is our most useful tool with this age group. We know they are not yet peaceful, and so we are watching for when a conflict will occur. While we want to give children the space to solve their own conflicts, when we notice a conflict brewing a teacher will move nearby, ready to step in if necessary.

Unfortunately, adults are not able to prevent all violence. When violence does occur, we:

  1. Separate and assess: Stop the hurt, and check to see if anyone is injured. If they need first aid we will respond accordingly.

  2. Help the children check on each other: When both parties are calm (this could be after taking space), they will check on anyone who was injured. They always ask in this same way:

a. “Are you hurt?” b. “Where are you hurt?” c. “What can I do for you?” They can then help in taking care of each other by getting band-aids or ice packs.

  1. Peace stone conversation: Each child holds a physical stone and has a turn to tell his/her story, then the other child repeats what he/she heard. The adult also encourages children to share their emotions and to say what they do not like or do not want to have happen again. At the end of the conversation, the adult helps the children come to a decision about how to deal with this type of situation in the future.

Why do we use the Peace Stone?

• Understanding & Amends > Punishment: Instead of a focus on punishment, the peace stone conversation is a focus on understanding the harm done and then making amends. As a leader of the restorative justice movement writes, “those who have caused harm should begin to understand the consequences of their behavior. Moreover, it means they have a responsibility to repair the harm [. . . .] This is not only the ‘right’ thing to do but is more likely than punishment to deter future offending.” So, rather than the adult handing down a punishment, this conversation allows the children to understand how they impacted each other, which is how they will build empathy, and gives them a chance to make it right.

• Empower the harmed person: This approach empowers the harmed person to tell his/her story and express that it was not okay. It helps the person heal, and is far more of a deterrent for the other child than an adult reminding them of a rule.

• Healing for all: Both children are given a chance to talk, and we listen without judgment. In most cases, the child who is violent is missing a skill. Giving them a chance to tell their story helps build a skill right then – using their words – and helps the adults realize what they need to practice in the future.

How will they learn something new?

Practice!! Repeated practice with using words, getting help, and hearing their friends’ experiences is the only way they will learn something new. If we want them to override the instinct to lash out when they are emotional, they must practice these new skills so much that they become second nature; muscle memory.

Role play is the best way to gain this muscle memory. We will often replay a situation right after the peace stone conversation, practicing the peaceful option, and often practice that skill with the children over the next few weeks as well. Grace and Courtesies are a way to practice these skills at neutral times, and in a fun manner, so that they become enmeshed in their neural pathways. In a Grace & Courtesy lesson an adult shows a skit and then give the children a chance to practice what was show. For example, “What to do when you are mad at someone” (Tell them, I’m mad at you!)

How can you help at home?

Have peace stone conversations at home! We are happy to give you more training and answer questions to get you started out in your household.

When your child shares a story with you at home, ask about his/her feelings from it and validate those feelings. Ask about what she/he might do next time a friend does ___ (calls them a name, hurts their feelings, pushes them, etc.) and always encourage them to come get teachers for help at school.

The Classroom as a Labratory

In the laboratory, researchers dream of the situation: every possible variable in their experiment is the same, except the one they wish to measure. That is how they are able to draw accurate conclusions. The Montessori materials provide that laboratory for the child, isolating a different variable in each materiel and controlling all other possibilities. A child can conduct experiment after experiment on a material, such as the pink tower, eventually discovering for him or herself the concept of larger and smaller.

This could not be a true experiment if someone had told the child before hand that each cube was larger than the next, or if the child needed to go ask a teacher if they had gotten the “right” answer when finished. Instead, the materials are specifically designed so that they fit together in only one way, offering a neutral control for the child’s experiment. This control of error makes the child’s work truly experimentation, and his or her understanding a true discovery.

Control of error is important, because research shows that discovery learning is more successful than traditional methods, when the child is prepared for discovery (Alfieri, Brooks, Aldrich, & Tenenbaum, 2011). A recent analysis of 164 studies on discovery learning found that, to be successful, there is a “general need for learners to be redirected, to some extent, when they are mis-constructing”. Montessori agrees, stating that “the power to make progress comes in large measure from having freedom and an assured path on which to go; but to this must also be added some way of knowing if, and when, we have left the path” (Montessori, 1995, p. 248). The control of error in the Montessori materials provides the feedback, seamlessly redirecting the child to the correct path. This allows the child to be truly successful at discovering for him or herself.

Control of error offers something else, as well. It offers neutral feedback. Too often, feedback, correction and education in general are mixed with messages about self-worth and self-esteem. This blurring of lines is worrisome, because a great deal of research has found that is damaging to shame a child for getting wrong answers, and only slightly less damaging to praise for correct answers. If we want children to feel free to try, fail, and try again on their path to discovery, we need their failures to be free of judgements. Yet it is nearly impossible for a human to provide truly neutral feedback. A wooden set of blocks and cylinders, however, can be more neutral than a poker champion. The materials offer the feedback the child needs to be successful, without the dangerous implications for the child’s self-worth.

The control of error in the Montessori materials provides the child with a perfect laboratory. Montessori points out that the carefully designed classroom “makes a child use his reason, critical faculty, and his ever increasing capacity for drawing distinctions” (Montessori, 1967, p. 103). Here, learning can be what it should be – experimentation, observation, feedback, more experimentation, and eventually discoveries. The child is freed from fear of mistakes and allowed to simply learn.

References

Alfieri, L.; Brooks, P. J.; Aldrich, N. J.; Tenenbaum, H. R. (2011). Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103 (1), 1-18. doi: 10.1037/a0021017

Montessori, M. (1995). The Absorbent Mind. New York: Holt.

Montessori, M. (1967). The Discovery of the Child. New York: Random House.

Week of 11/14

The Chinook Book sale, For Small Hands credit program, and Fare Trade fundraiser are all still happening.

Karissa will be out Monday (Nov. 17th) and Brecca will be taking the lead and Koe will be filling in as an assistant.

There is a Gardening Volunteer Day on Saturday the 22nd. We will be winterizing our gardens, building garden boxes, laying new wood-chips, and doing some indoor cleaning for those who would like to help in a non-landscaping way. It starts at 10! Please RSVP if you’d like to join in.

There is a Parent Ed event being put on by NW Montessori. It will be about Continuing in Montessori Education. There will be two Montessori elementary teachers talking to parents who are considering having their children continue in Montessori education. It will be next Thursday, Nov. 20th at NW Montessori’s Woodland Park Location. Please RSVP by next Monday so we can give them a heads up on how many to expect.

Week of 11/7

Hello Parents,

The Chinook Book sale, For Small Hands credit program, and Fare Trade fundraiser are all still happening.

Jason will be in the classroom this week continuing his training. Carrie will be out on Friday and I will be subbing for her. Karissa will be out the next Monday (Nov. 17th) and Brecca will be taking the lead and Koe will be filling in as an assistant.

There is a Parent Volunteer Event on Saturday the 15th. More details on that to come.

There is a Parent Ed on Thursday the 13th, being hosted by Pacific Crest. It starts at 7pm! I’ve attached the flyer below.

Week of 11/3

Hello Parents,

Sorry for the late email. The Chinook Book sale and For Small Hands are still going on. This week the Fare Trade fundraiser starts. This Wednesday is the Pint$ with Purpo$e at Ballard Beer Company.

Jason will be in the classroom this week continuing his training. On Wednesday morning Brecca will be out of the classroom and I will be subbing for her. On Wednesday afternoon our dishwasher is being repaired and a repair person will be in the kitchen.

Week of 10/26

Hello Parents!

The Chinook Book sale and For Small Hands fundraisers are still going on.

Brecca will be out of the classroom on Friday and I will be subbing for her.

Help Support the School

The school has recently registered for the Amazon Associate and Amazon Smile programs. By using the link below to make purchases, the school can receive up to 6.5% of the total purchase!

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Please help support the school by shopping through the Lighthouse Montessori Amazon link.