On the day I wrote this blog post, in the spring of 2013, we had just finished The Indian in the Cupboard. In classic Jude fashion, I read the last pages with a lump in my throat. I had stopped the previous day, just before the closing pages of the last chapter, and we took it in slowly, imagining these two boys coming to terms with an ethical decision, and bravely saying good-bye to Little Bear and Boone and Bright Star. I tried to capture the magic in this photo, their eyes big and round, their bodies still, but didn’t quite get it, because of course their attention shifted when I grabbed the camera.
I read from our current book almost every day in the early afternoon, for ten or fifteen minutes. This was the fourth chapter book we did last year. We started in September with Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Land of the Blue Flower, then Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach; before Christmas we read Beverly Cleary’s Runaway Ralph, and then this fine little novel. It’s a very special part of our day. As soon as we finished, they started asking what we would read next. I needed a few days to think about it.
Reading aloud is just one aspect of our extended day group. The term “extended day” is really an outmoded American Montessori expression, which refers to a second work cycle in the early afternoon. I find myself still using it, for lack of a better word. The classic Montessori model was a 3-hour morning class for all the children, then the 3’s and 4’s would go home with mommy or daddy, and the 5’s and 6’s would stay into the afternoon (an extended day) with their smaller group of older peers. No one stayed all day. This is still the model at a program like Montessori School of Beaverton. But of course, Chickadee is an all-day Children’s House, with just a few children leaving before nap.
For our first two years here, both bedroom and office were filled with nappers and nap pads every day, and only an occasional few children rested without sleeping. Now this afternoon group has really come together. And even now, on any day, one of these kids might say he wants to rest, and get out a nap pad; it’s their choice; and once in a while, one of them might actually fall asleep.
So we have an intimate second work cycle with this smaller group of older children. We read our chapter book, and then most days the children make their individual choices for an interesting afternoon work. It might be sensorial, language, or math, some activity or material in our cultural area, or some other special project. They can work collaboratively or alone. They can spread out their work on the tables or the floor in a way that is difficult in the mornings. They can complete one work in an hour, or do several, or save something to continue the next day. I can give more individual, advanced lessons. It’s a fluid, dynamic time, with lots of engaged activity, lots of learning happening.
Here are a few examples of afternoon work. This girl started her afternoon by mopping the boot area, a concrete and meaningful practical-life job. This boy has been writing with the movable alphabet; now he’s putting it on paper: “saber tooth tigers wer anchint cats with sooper long teeth and sharp …..” It wasn’t many months ago that he was practicing simple three-letter phonetic words, and now he can compose sentences.
The two girls below shared their first big golden bead lesson a few weeks ago, and they did the decimal lay-out together. Lots of math practice will happen over the next months and year, as they begin to assimilate the concepts here: the power of zero’s, the consistency of numbers, the logic of manipulating them with addition and subtraction. Although the children could choose this work in the morning, it’s much more likely to happen in the afternoon – look how much room it takes!
Every older child has a 3-prong folder to collect and save their drawings and writings – we call them “story pages.” We keep the folders here all year, and they become wonderful histories of the child’s interests and development. The child draws a picture and writes as best she can; most of the time we do not help with spelling, because children learn to read and write the way they learn to speak – with lots and lots of free practice.
This child drew an elephant, and she wrote “eLfit.” At this writing, she had 40 pages in her folder. We celebrated by sending it home and starting a new folder soon after this day.
We also consider art to be so important, and we emphasize creative expression here, more than many Montessori schools do. (Maria Montessori herself never developed an art curriculum – so she wasn’t perfect after all!) Every week or two, I initiate a special art project in the afternoon, perhaps doing it all together, perhaps a few at a time. These older children have been developing their basic skills over the last two years or so, cutting and painting and drawing extensively. Now they revel in creating meaningful art projects that we can first display, and then they can take home and celebrate. When I wrote this blog post, it was reptiles – these chalk pastels are treasures, aren’t they?
So, extended day. These “big kids” have the full, rich experience of their classroom community in the morning, with all the dynamics inherent in a busy, mixed-age group, and then they have their special small group time in the early afternoon. In the morning they pursue their own interests, their own work, and their own friendships. They set the example and support the younger children, and every time they help a child with a simpler work, they further cement their own learning, and build their own self-esteem. They are constantly learning with all their senses engaged. They experience an ebb and flow from morning to afternoon to morning again, and they modulate their own development. It’s a remarkably rich experience.
I unabashedly advocate for every child to stay here for their kindergarten year, which is again the classic Montessori model, for deep and good reasons. It’s the culmination of the whole first plane of development, neurologically the last year of the “absorbent mind,” and emotionally a critical period for the child’s developing sense of self. It completes the cycle of being one of the youngest in the classroom community, to being a middle child, to being a leader. Unless a child goes on to elementary Montessori, it’s probably their last chance to be in such a multi-age group. Our 5- and 6-year-old kindergartners have an experience of love, connection, growth, and purpose that will always stay with them. It’s a beautiful and critical part of this most amazing process of each child creating him- or herself, one precious day at a time.