At the beginning

“To assist a child we must provide him with an environment which will enable him to develop freely.”
                                                     ~Maria Montessori

At the beginning is a good place to be.
What will each day bring for you and me?
New life, new friends, new things to do….
At the beginning is a good place to be.

“At the Beginning” is one of our beloved and familiar Sanford Jones songs – always true, because every day is a new beginning, and especially true in September. We’ve been singing this song a lot in these first weeks.

In this top photo, this little girl is practicing squeezing a sponge, by moving water from one bowl to another with the sponge. This is a classic “at the beginning” exercise. Sponges are in constant use in our environment, from the clean-up buckets to the paint trays, from the water-pouring works to food prep. At the beginning of their Montessori life, every child learns how to use a sponge.

This piece is a glimpse of the beginning of a new “school year.” For Chickadee, it’s an artificial boundary in a way, because we are open year round, and the children really do not know such distinctions. And yet, at the same time, September is also a time of beginnings and renewal:

  • We had three brand new children,  and two who joined us earlier in the summer, plus several beloved friends were no longer here. Relationships were in new beginnings, shifting, renewing, and awakening.
  • The weather was changing too, the shadows and sunlight shifting, the chickadees coming back, the summer veggies finishing. We all sensed that without a doubt we are at the beginning of a new season.
  • Routines were beginning again – improved, reviewed, practiced – as we all explored how to live together more successfully and peacefully.
  • Each child was at the beginning of some new learning or new ability, or a new urge to explore something that had seemed so challenging. All kinds of beginnings were happening!

So what were the children doing in these weeks of September? Some were repeating familiar, beloved activities, some were trying out new skills for the first time. Some chose new and challenging materials, some were working right at the “cutting edge” of their development. Every child was given a number of lessons in these first weeks – we track them in our record-keeping binder. And most wonderful of all, at the beginning of each day, we never know what each child will do, who will discover something new, who will master an often-practiced activity, who will wander, or what challenges will arise. “New life, new friends, new things to do….At the beginning is a good place to be.” So here is a set of photos for you, chosen out of so many possibilities, some new beginnings in practical life, art, sensorial, math, and language.

First some Practical Life.

Flower arranging, with the added summer delight of choosing and picking them outside, dahlia and cosmos and marigold.

Slicing bananas to serve to his friends. This boy was starting his second year with us, 3 1/2 now, and he had never done this work so carefully. He reconnected with his friends by offering them pieces of bananas.

This child not yet 3 is doing the sink-and-float work. She was our new youngest, and revealing herself to be careful and competent. “I can do it myself.”

Another 3-year-old is “scrubbing an object.” Many supplies are laid out – apron and underlay, peppermint soap in a dropper bottle, a scrub brush, water and sponge and towel. He scrubbed this red car until every bit of dirt was gone. (And then it went back to the forest to get dirty again.)

This boy was the first to try our renewed sweeping work. Learning to hold a broom properly and to sweep effectively is quite a challenge for the 4-and-5-year-olds. So new on the shelf, the kids found a box which holds wood chips to scatter, and this wooden sweeping guide which gives them a target, a place to make their pile. He did a great job sweeping up every single wood chip.

Now some Sensorial.

This boy was exploring the pink tower, one of the first lessons we give every new child. All over the world, Montessori children are working with the pink tower, every day.

Colors! Lots of color work at the beginning of the year, in Sensorial and in art. In this classic lesson, a 3-year-old girl matched up all eleven pairs of color tablets, and while working with her, I discovered how many colors she could name.

This childhad just joined us, her family having just moved here from Korea.   In her first days she tried one work after another, and quickly showed us how many wonderful things she could do without speaking English. Here she had just completed putting all these constructive triangles into one large triangle. And then she proceeded to make her own design. I was quite astonished.



We started the year with color mixing, using both colored water and paint as separate works. This boy mixed colors with the dropper bottles of yellow, red, and blue. He just lit up as he saw the green and orange appear. All the kids love this bright and lovely activity.


Then we put out a special, first painting project, drawing an abstract design with black pen, and filling it using only the primary colors of paint. We emphasized to not let the colors touch or mix together.They all drew their own lines, and you can see how intent he was on keeping that yellow inside the black lines. Every child’s design was freely drawn, spontaneous, and different.


Following that activity, we introduced the next step, mixing primary colors of paint to create the secondary colors. This boy was the first to do it, and once he mixed them, he used the colors he had created to paint a rainbow for the very first time.


Meanwhile, in the second week there was a rather sudden explosion in math for some of the older children – again, a new beginning. This boy is 4 1/2; he looked at the Hundred Board one day and said to me, “I think I can do that now.” Over two days, he proceeded to lay out all the numerals from 1 to 100.

This child walked by the hanging bead chains, as she has hundreds of times. She stood there running her fingers over them, and said, “I want to do these now!” These are the square chains; we use them for skip counting. I gave her the initial lesson and sat with her as she worked – she carefully and proudly counted them up through the 7 chain (7, 14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49) in one sitting.

Another boy who was almost 5 caught wind of all this math and announced that he was ready to practice the golden beads some more. He got out the tray of beads, showed me he remembered the layout and understood the one’s, ten’s, hundred’s, and thousand’s, and so we played some “bring-me” with the beads. “Bring me six tens. Yes, six tens is 60” and so on.

And then there’s handwriting happening, both letters and numbers. This left-handed boy was doing some addition pegs, easy to add but still tricky to write the numerals. So he practiced writing “rainbow numbers,” using multiple colors of chalk, on the big chalkboard.


Our oldest girl hadn’t dived back into math yet; shed been busy doing various reading and writing works in the first weeks of September. Here she is reading longer, phonetic word cards. When she came to ‘milkman,’ she looked up puzzled, and asked, “what’s a ‘milkman’?” I laughed and told her about milkmen “in the old days,” and then I threw the card away. It’s an anachronism now.

And so these beginning days flowed one to another; when I wrote this, we were only 14 school days into September. ” New life, new friends, new things to do….” And all of it happens, every day, inside and outside, one day at a time.