Relationship Matters: Saying Goodbye

On Isle of Palms, a bare grassy island among a sea of asphalt stands same as it ever was some thirty-five or so years ago when it was first brought to my attention.

Too small to house even a miniscule beach cottage and separated by the Intercoastal Waterway with barely enough room to squeeze in Palm Boulevard, it has been preserved- a tangible link to an acute childhood memory.

As often as I am able to visit this island today, only once did I do so as a little girl growing up on IOP.  I was six and my best friend in the entire world, Kathleen Emerson, was moving away.

We had just spent our last day together.

Being the gregarious, flexible child that she was, Kathleen joyfully thanked me for her departing gift- a tomahawk- and with a wave, climbed into the station wagon with her mom and drove out of my life.

Crushed, I clutched the journal she left me to my heart.

Finally, my dad coaxed me into our black Buick Bonneville with the automatic windows.  It was just the two of us, so I was able to ride shotgun.  Only now, as a parent, can I imagine how he might have felt looking over at me silent with tears running down my cheeks.  Actually, I really can’t imagine what a two tour Vietnam vet might have thought about his little girl thinking the world had ended with the move a childhood friend.  But here is what he did-

He pulled over to our island and we just sat in the car.

I’m not sure how much time passed by- it seemed like an hour- but I was six, so it was probably more like ten minutes.  But I do remember when our eyes met.  He said, “Look at that.”

When I glanced through the windshield, the sun was setting.  Silently we watched it go down together.  To this day, I have only witnessed one other sunset to rival the one we watched together that day.

My dad told me that in my life I would love and sometimes I would have to say goodbye.  Saying goodbye hurt and it hurt deeply- it should- because we love so deeply.

And each day the sun would rise.  At the end of the day, it would set.  As the days pass, my hurt would give way to the joys of remembering my childhood friend.

As with New Years past- the close of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 marks a time of change, growth and transition.  We wish our friends embarking on new journeys in new directions safe travels.  Know that you will always remain a part of our memory and that your relationship to our community matters. I’d rather not say goodbye, only trust that you will remember us as fondly as we do you.

The Empathetic Roots of Flower Arranging

Montessori Practical Life 101 invariably includes the outline for FLOWER ARRANGING.  This pivotal work links all cornerstones of the Montessori environment from toddlerhood through elementary- first as a sensorial experience and, later as an in-depth research into the functions and parts of flowers themselves.

The appeal of the arranging and the giving of flowers is universal- for centuries flowers have marked important milestones in our daily lives;  expressed feelings of love, gratitude or sadness; or been admired as an appreciation for natural beauty.

In the classroom, a vaseful of fragrant flowers provided an open invitation from which Dr. Maria Montessori took full advantage:

The process of flower arranging is predictably sequenced with precision and care- as are all of the practical life activities- to best support the development of coordination, concentration, order and independence. The child puts on an apron, selects a vase, fills it with water and chooses the perfect flower to cut and place inside the vase.  He then carries the vase and a small doily to a table in the room and lays down the vase carefully on the top corner of the table.  There is often another child at work sitting there at the table who looks up.  The two make eye contact and exchange a moment of silence.

Montessori Guides revel in the work’s ability to assist the child in control of movement, eye-hand coordination, and strengthening hand muscles.  The lesson also opens the door for extensions: labeling parts, estimating days of survival, dissecting ovaries, or integrating composting.

Flowers are a fragrant, colorful, and fragile enticement to insects and birds.  After all, this is how the process of pollination continues.  It’s easy to see how flowers lure children of all temperaments to come near and investigate their beauty by looking, touching and smelling.

But the flower arranging work has a more important indirect aim than simply admiring nature’s work of art.  It is an opportunity for little hands to contribute to the beautification of the environment.  It is a tender moment when a young heart lays down a symbol of friendship, love and peace on a table for someone else to enjoy. It is a brief yet integral step outside of oneself and one’s own needs.

Flower Arranging provides the mechanism from which the children in the classroom express their empathy and love for their community and its members.

I smelt the violets in her hand and asked, half in words,half in signs, a question which meant “Is love the sweetness of flowers?

–   Helen Keller

A Look at Homework the Montessori Way

Montessori of Mount Pleasant

Many authentic Montessori schools do not assign homework until upper elementary or middle school- and even then it is more individualized rather than rote style.  This is for several reasons including:

  • The school day is structured with longer work periods to allow for more in-depth concentration and completion of the work cycle rather than moving from subject to subject on a group schedule.
  • Time with family and friends is greatly valued to help cultivate a balanced individual.
  • Montessori follows the child’s timeline of readiness and interests to capitalize on sensitive periods of learning, natural enthusiasm and concentration.

Parts of a Pumpkin

“An interesting piece of work that has been freely chosen, has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue and adds to children’s energies and mental capacities, and leads them to self-mastery.”

-Maria Montessori

But don’t think you’re off the hook yet.

Most Montessori and RIE programs assume that parents ARE working with their children at home.  In fact, we rely on it.  Integrating home and school on a consistent basis ensures that your child reaches his full potential.

A parent’s HOMEWORK assignment is to prepare the home environment keeping in mind your child’s developing needs.   Once prepared, you can trust your child to navigate through seeking those areas which speak to her inner need.

For it to work, you will need to turn off the television AND the computer.

Here are some starting points:


  • Free movement on the floor
  • Access to the outside
  • Free choice of play objects
  • Fully present during physical care
  • Communication of physical care routine, giving time for processing and response
  • Opportunities for self-soothing
  • Opportunities for struggle and problem-solving
  • Minimal clothing for maximum safety and exploration


  • Choose clothes from drawer
  • Sort laundry
  • Fold and put clothes away in drawers
  • Get newspaper
  • Pour drink from small pitcher
  • Scrub veggies
  • Stir ingredients
  • Set table
  • Clean up toys
  • Feed the cat
  • Water plants

3-4 year old

  • Clean windows with small spray bottle
  • Dust
  • Prepare the bath
  • Fill a bird feeder
  • Put dirty clothes in washer
  • Peel & slice cucumbers
  • Make coffee/toast/salad
  • Bake bread
  • Sweep & mop
  • Dress self including buttons, snaps, zippers, buckles
  • Pack school bag and carry personal items
  • Plant seeds
  • Wash car
  • Clean up toys

Care of Plants5-6 year old

  • Tie shoes
  • Read face clock
  • Make breakfast for self and others
  • Write notes (thank you, to grandma, grocery list, to do, requests, etc.)
  • Fill soap pumps
  • Shred junk mail
  • Read to younger siblings
  • Change lightbulbs

Young children are capable of doing so much and naturally have the urge to interact with and imitate the world around them.  It is our job to prepare an environment that calls to them and meets their developmental needs.

What kinds of activities do you and your child share at home to foster a LIFE LONG LOVE OF LEARNING?  Hey- that’s not a bad homework assignment after all.

“My vision of the future is no longer of people taking exams and proceeding on that certificate from the secondary schools to the University, but of individuals passing from one stage of independence to a higher, by means of their own activity, through their own effort of will, which constitutes the inner evolutions of the individual.”

Dr. Maria Montessori

Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach Compliments the Montessori Experience

I’m a 3-6 Montessori certified Early Childhood specialist and, yet, I continue to be drawn  to the work of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) and the methods in infant care first introduced by its founder, Magda Gerber.

I’d like to say the interest results from our school beginning at infancy and continuing through the first developmental plane ending with Kindergarten graduation.  Knowing about infant care in addition to my Montessori 3-6 education allows me to more fully support the mission of our entire school program.

Which is true- but it’s not the whole story.

What I’ve found is that in integrating the key components of RIE at the 3-6 level, I am better able to implement the principles of the Montessori educational approach.

And I’m not alone in this discovery.

As interest in RIE grows within our own school community and as more certified Montessori faculty members at the 0-3 and 3-6 level choose to undertake RIE training in Theory and Observation, we find ourselves agreeing-  KNOWING RIE MAKES FOR A BETTER MONTESSORI GUIDE.

Upon re-reading Magda Gerber’s Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities- From the Very Start I am reminded of the approach’s basic principles and its congruency with my Montessori learning.

1. Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner

I personally love the story as told via The Clio Montessori Series Volume 7 entitled The Child, Society and the World: Unpublished Speeches and Writings when Dr. Maria Montessori spoke directly to parents in 1930.  Montessori writes:

If a foolish mother frog said to her little tadpoles in the pool, ‘Come out of the water, breath the fresh air, enjoy yourselves in the young grass, and you will all grow into healthy little frogs.  Come along now, mother knows best!’ and the little tadpoles tried to obey, it would certainly mean the end of the tadpoles.

Angeline Lillard’s research in Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius supports that people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.  Furthermore, rewarding children based on their activity can negatively impact motivation.

How important is BASIC TRUST?

Magda advises that basic trust is essential in the infant developing good judgement, trust and security.

2.  A physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing environment and Consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline

Many programs acknowledge the importance of physical safety when preparing child environments.  Few, however, can speak clearly on the implementation of cognitive and emotional safety to the extent of the RIE Approach.

Although Montessorians pay particular attention to order in the environment and its relationship to the child’s learning, (in her teachings, Dr. Montessori points out that for the child to be free to initiate, the environment’s physical order and that provided by the warm- yet authoritative adult’s consistency regarding discipline must remain intact) the individual nature of cognitive and emotional needs of each child in our care challenge the adult in the role of environment prep.

I find RIE’s approach in assessing, evaluating and implementing tools in providing not only a safe physical environment, but one that is emotionally and cognitively challenging critical in first establishing an intimate relationship with each of the children under my care and then in providing interesting objects to speak to his/her temperament, interest and development.

3.  Time for uninterrupted play

When telling the frog story, Montessori addressed the question, “shall we leave our children to do as they like?  How can they know what is best for them when they have had no experience?” with “Have you ever given your children a chance even for one day of doing what they like without interference?” In doing so, Montessori believed that the child would fall into concentration, develop perseverance, and teach himself the valuable lessons of life to his satisfaction.  Adult interference would result in dissatisfaction, disappointment and possible deliberate mischief.

Magda Gerber agreed that adults do not teach play, but rather allow for it to unfold.  During this “wants nothing time” the adult observes, smiles upon eye contact, or when graciously invited- participates in the child’s exploration and discovery.

4.  Freedom to explore and interact with other infants

Both RIE and Montessori believe that children learn not only from adults and the environment, but also from other children.  Socialization is multi-dimensional and works best when it involves relationships with individuals from infants through elders on a regular basis and throughout the child’s very first interactions with others.  Both, also, point out that this freedom comes under the guidance and expectation of certain “rules” respecting the needs and rights of others.

My understanding of RIE has enabled me professionally to raise my expectations at an earlier level regarding the infant’s ability to learn from each other.  This deepened understanding, respect and opportunity for both child and adult enables the children at Little Learner’s Lodge and Montessori of Mount Pleasant to engage earlier and form cohesion sooner- continually amazing us not only in their abilities as a group, but also at the onset of collaborative efforts.

5.  Involvement of the child in activities allowing for her to be an active participant rather than a passive recipient

This RIE principle is congruent with Angeline Lillard’s findings that learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives. Learning best takes place with the involvement and cooperation of the child.

Through my RIE training, I became more sensitized to my verbal and non-verbal cuing when engaging a child and to the TIME given for the child to process, internalize and respond to our relationship.  Over time, these engagements became emotionally refueling and pleasurable encounters for both me and my partner.  And I’ve found that my lesson for the child would reveal a more profound lesson for myself.


6.  Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand her needs

Both Gerber and Montessori relied on the information received during the adult observation of the environment when developing their approaches.  Observation continues to be an integral tool in assessing personal and child success on a daily basis within a Montessori or RIE program.  Parents, likewise, benefit from allocating a protected window of uninterrupted observation time to deepening their understanding of their child’s abilities, needs, interests and also in preventing problems before they develop.

Our school success depends so heavily on the information received during sensitive observations that we have developed monthly interactions to continue to develop these skills.  Each month, parents and caregivers meet before school opening with our babies, to socialize, discuss child development and what is going on in the classroom.  A ten minute window is built in during our gathering to silently observe the children which is followed by discussion.  It is an amazing tool with each morning ending in a new discovery!

7.  Consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline

With so much trust and freedom going on, it’s easy to overlook the underlying fabric of clearly defined limits and expectations which provides the means for RIE and Montessori children to develop discipline.

Through role playing, group lessons, and individual reminders I was able to manage my 3-6 environment. But I have to say- developing the skill set to support discipline at the infant level through consistency and routine has enabled me to arrive at a normalized 3-6 classroom almost effortlessly.  And well before my six week goal.

Think about it… if we were able to take what we know as a best practice in Montessori and develop the skill set to better integrate our knowledge and apply it an infant ability- how could we not become better guides regardless of the child’s age or ability?

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