Thank You for Trusting Us
As this very unique year comes to an end, we are sealing it with trust and gratitude, just as we started this journey. Thank you for being on this journey with us as our fellow travelers, and trusting us with your child. Thank you for the support, partnership, and community. We are deeply honored to be a witness and guide in your child’s growth and learnings, and wish you and your families the very best in everything that is to come!
We can’t wait to see what the future holds in all of our Hero Journeys together.
So much love and gratitude,
Ascent’s approach to freedom and boundaries at the Spark level, inspired by Maria Montessori, is an approach blended with compassion, observation, and clarity. Freedom is experienced through great choice within the prepared environment; boundaries come into introduction and practice via the grace and courtesy lessons which lay a clear foundation for respect for the studio space, respect for each living being, and the larger environment. When introducing a boundary, a guide’s goal is to be concise, clear, consistent, and bring in reason and safety for the whole group in our words and actions.
Some quick examples to explain the above would be –
- We use gentle hands to keep ourselves and others safe,
- We use walking feet in the studio; our hands are for helping, caring, working, and playing
- I see that you are upset but I can’t let you hit me.
- I am going to put this material away for now and you can try again tomorrow with gentle hands.
“The task of the adult then is not to inject or teach discipline, but to offer the child suitable forms by means of which he can individually and socially follow and express the dictates of his inner discipline.” (Joosten, p. 58).
The Spark environment draws its inspiration from the Montessori prepared environment. The Montessori prepared environment encourages learners to develop agency and to seek out opportunities and resources. This freedom helps young people develop positive relationships with “work,” which leads to motivated, independent learners. Freedom and boundaries in the studio have a direct relationship with the prepared environment. The environment is prepared on six basic principles. They are-
- Freedom – The freedom for movement and choice.
- Structure and Order – Each area, as well as each material, has a meticulous order and structure for the child’s eyes and mind. The materials are scientific and step-by-step. Their scope and sequence are of utmost importance during the introduction of a lesson.
- Beauty – There is beauty in the way we present materials on a shelf, or even as a lesson. We use natural materials to house these works.
- Nature and Reality– We use natural material to connect the child to Nature and the environment is very real in the way it works. Everything that the child would see and experience in their daily life is also what they see in their prepared environment.
- Social Environment – The mixed-age group, and the individuality combined with the cohesiveness of this environment, form the social environment.
- Intellectual Environment – If the above aspects are not recognized, the intellectual environment will not reach its purpose. The purpose of the Montessori environment is to develop the whole personality of the child, not merely their intellect. By guiding the child through the five areas of the Montessori curriculum (Practical Life, Sensorial, Language, Mathematics, and Cultural subjects), the child has the structure which is at the forefront of the creative work in a Montessori classroom.
A lot of thought and intention is involved in creating a prepared Montessori studio that is designed to meet the individual needs of all children. Through developmentally appropriate, sensorial material that moves hierarchically from simple to complex and concrete to abstract, children are given the freedom to fully develop their unique potential through a carefully prepared learning environment. Modern research shows that a prepared environment works wonders not just for the children, but also, for adults with regards to daily habits and the use of precious mental energy each day. It ultimately all ties to identity and character, and we are so grateful to Dr. Maria Montessori for leaving us with a gem in this principle decades ago.
The bead chain cabinet has visitors on a daily. These colorful-looking chains draw the attention of the learners old and new. The older ones find joy each time they can count further than the previous time, and the younger ones await a lesson earnestly. This visually appealing work requires both manual dexterity and persistence. Like any math or sensorial work, this lesson creates a sensorial impression of bigger concepts in their brain. This material illustrates the squares and cubes of numbers from 1 to 10. The chains sitting on the shelves illustrate the squares of numbers while the hanging chains illustrate the cubes of numbers. This material takes children from the concrete to the abstract. At the simplest level, it is a counting exercise to practice the order of numbers -that after 39 comes 40, etc. At the next level, this material illustrates skip counting, counting by ones, twos, threes, etc. all the way up to counting by tens. Towards the end of the Spark program and in the lower elementary, this material serves as indirect preparation for the memorization of the multiplication tables. This material also illustrates the squares and cubes of these numbers and their relationships with each other.
One of the beloved activities from the Spark Studio is Flower Arrangement, a powerful piece of the Practical Life learning design. Along with imparting the attribute of ‘care of the environment as its direct focus, it also caters to the important skills of order, concentration, coordination, independence, and appreciation of beauty as an indirect focus of the lesson.
Montessori practical life activities can be adapted to be as simple or as complex as needed. We can increase the number of steps and skills involved in an activity like flower arranging. Enjoy some photos from the studio!
In the Spark studio, the guides take great care in making and switching out works as the seasons’ change, using Equinoxes and breaks to surprise the learners with new works on the shelf. Through the prepared environment, guides create opportunities for the children to connect with Nature and to observe and absorb the inevitable temporariness and the cyclical nature of Nature and all the beauty it brings with itself. The hope being that the young learners embrace the greater interrelatedness, and see themselves as a part, as well as, a contributor, to this very harmony that sustains us all.
An example of a ‘multiple-step experience’ that the guides introduced to the learners included observations of science and art. The learners dyed flowers with food coloring as part of a science experiment. Once dried for 2-3 days, the flowers were further dried in a flower press for 3 weeks. As a culmination to this, the learners made their own masterpieces using the dried flowers and were able to take home their framed art.
Another example of a season-based activity is embracing planting and gardening – The learners began planting and sowing herbs, flowers, succulents in the Spark Courtyard. First, the learners checked the pH levels of the soil, after which they prepared the soil for planting. They shoveled soil for a few days and then planted saplings/seeds. During this multi-step process, unboxing planters was also on the learners’ plate. They are learning that processes have steps and span over days. Seasons bring important lessons of patience, love for and understanding of Nature, and so much more.
We end this post with quotes from Maria Montessori and pictures from our courtyard and the end of the session project the learners took several weeks to work on.
May the season of Spring bring sprouts and blossoms of peace and harmony to all!
“When the children come in contact with Nature, they reveal their strength.”
“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature; to understand and appreciate the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature.”
“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence. The land is where our roots are. The children must be taught to feel and live in harmony with the Earth.”
“Joy, feeling one’s own value, being appreciated and loved by others, feeling useful and capable of production are all factors of enormous value for the human soul.”
Social-emotional growth in relation to relationships in a studio environment is a process that we witness and guide, but not control, just as much as their academic development. As children grow and mature they learn what relationships are all about and in their time they learn how to make, include and exclude others in their circle.
Through extensive observation, Montessori discerned that children within the first plane, birth to age six are working on the development of their entire being. As guides, we use this opportunity to help them learn how to move through this phase effectively and guide them through life skills on how to develop inclusive and meaningful relationships through the use of books, mindfulness exercises, discussions, Socratic questions, and oftentimes by simply witnessing a challenging situation work itself out with the courage to be vulnerable and sharing of feelings by using of words and calming strategies they were introduced to during those very moments. Sometimes, we hear them saying “are you being a peace-maker, a problem solver, or, remember we are filling buckets and not dipping from them (the analogy being that we all carry an invisible bucket that we can fill with kindness or dip from with unkindness- from the book Have You Filled A Bucket Today? which we read multiple times to bring in thought, insight, and language).
The blessing of a multi-aged studio is also that the children are able to forge relations that last longer. Older children are thrilled that they are able to mentor the younger children of their studio and the little ones look up in awe at their confident and knowledgeable older fellow travelers.
These skills are an in-built life lesson in their day and life and we watch them unfold just as is.
Rituals, processes, and traditions help define a family and community. They make our lives feel meaningful. You can probably remember something in your own life that feels so distinctive you might be able to smell, taste, or see it right now.
In the lives of the children at the Spark Studio, there are a few systems and traditions that the learners look forward to every day/week/season. They bond the learners together as they remember these special events year after year, laughing about funny stories, and wondering what next year may bring. Learners also perform daily and weekly rituals such as the ‘Good Morning Song’ that is sung in English, Spanish, French, and Hindi, and the ‘Gratitude Lunch Song’ that is sung every afternoon followed by “Bon Appetit, enjoy your lunch!” with so much excitement, or having community meetings to discuss studio guardrails and grace and courtesy.
Maria Montessori knew the importance of the child understanding their place in the universe. She said that the child from 0-6 makes the sense and order of the world around him and placed emphasis on the Tendencies and Sensitive Periods to give us more insight. She knew the impression that a daily routine or tradition can leave on a child’s heart is very special and said, “The things he sees are not just remembered; they are part of his soul.” The rituals and traditions we begin with young children are more than future memories; they are like seeds that grow into our deepest understanding of ourselves.
We are sharing a list of some systems and traditions that we have in the Studio. This list will evolve as we will observe the learners and continue to ‘follow the child’.
- The Inside and outside charts (for in-studio and spark play)
- Clock book
- Helper’s Chart
- File folders for works and paintings
- Mindfulness activities (refer to the relevant post here).
- Rituals and Traditions
- Birthdays- where we rotate around the sun and make wishes
- Thursday Mindful Walks
- Friday Movement Day
- Art and Crafts activities- leaves and bats works during fall; snowflakes and Aurora Borealis works for winter; we decorated our own kites; we wrote our wishes for the new year prior to the new year and added them to the fire during winter solstice celebrations and so many more!
- Group snack/lunch during Thanksgiving,
- Discussing the spirit of giving- (this year we made and sent bookmarks to the children at the Dell Hospital, for the guides, our campus neighborhood, and our parents),
Enjoy some relevant studio pics on this topic below.
Diving into the Spark Play further in this journal entry, we introduce you to the tail end of Spark Play, when everything comes together.
- Clean Up- The children are notified with a bell five minutes prior to clean-up to signal them that they have 5 more minutes of playtime. The second bell then helps them get into the cleaning mode. The children, at the beginning of each week, have designated areas that they are in charge of. During the process, the guides play the freeze game, throwing in a “freeze” as they are cleaning up to make clean-up fun. Once the areas are clean and ready; they wash their hands and go into the studio.
- Play Stories- In the studio, the children find their play journals and bring their outdoor experiences on paper. They illustrate and use words to share their experiences from the outside onto paper. They also draw emotions on faces – like a smile, frown, pointing down eyebrows (for anger). This “journaling” works allows the learners to practice communicating their thoughts and feelings on paper.
- Reflection Circle- This is the last part of their Spark Play experience and brings everything together. Led Socratically, the questions posed help them narrate their play stories and expand on their experiences and is also the only time in their day when technology is used. Their play journals and photos/videos of their Play activities taken outside are screen-shared on the television as the basis of reflection. Aside from building vocabulary and narration/storytelling skills, they also learn to share their biggest feelings and ideas and solutions to their experiences outdoors.
In addition to complimenting our Montessori environment, Spark Play prepares our learners for the next stage of our learners’ journey in the Discovery Studio.
The Spark Play learning design involves communication development through reflection. Looking ahead to Discovery for a moment, our aim through our Writers’ Workshops is for learners to see themselves as writers and to be confident getting their thoughts on paper. The precursor to this stage is for learners to develop the confidence to simply get their thoughts out and be confident in their communication. This practice is built into the Spark Play model, as guides take photos and videos of the children at play, to be reflected upon after clean-up to end the day together. Play-stories and play-reflections, and sometimes play-plans created with drawings and writing help the learners begin to piece together the sequence of their choices, supporting their communication development.