Spark Insight Journal – Page 11- Work Highlight – Flower Arrangement

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!

Spark Insight Journal – Page 10 – Spring and Change in Seasons

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.”

 

Spark Insight Journal – Page 9 – Relationships and Empathy

“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.”
Maria Montessori.

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.

Spark Insight Journal – Page 8 – Rituals, Processes and Traditions

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’.

  • Processes 
    • The Inside and outside charts (for in-studio and spark play)
    • Clock book
    • Calendar
    • 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.

The outside works chart

The outside works chart

Monthly Calendar with important dates and days

Folders for their works

Helper chart for “care of the studio”

Thursday Mindful Walk

Halloween inspired bat activity

Tree mural with pumpkins, bats, and ghosts closer to Halloween

 

Spark Insight Journal – Spark Play Flow -Page 7- Part 2

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. 

 

 

 

Spark Insight Journal – Page 6 – Spark Play Flow – Part 1

Spark Play at Ascent is a loose parts-play model that consists of unprescribed parts such as wooden blocks, large tubes, barrels, tires, planks, tarps, scarves, milk crates, wooden stumps, sandpit tools, sandbags, and much more. Landscaping components such as the hills, tunnels, the A-frame, the gaga ball pit, sandpit, water tank, and pumps are used regularly to facilitate play.

Post lunch, the learners head outdoors and start Play which is usually around 12 noon. They choose to play amongst these many areas available to them, often also hopping from one to another, or choosing to stay immersed in one with their group of friends or by themselves. They still follow their inner rhythms, seasons, and calls, just as the self-driven morning work cycle. They get over an hour (about 1.40 hours) of Play every afternoon. 

 A great benefit of Spark Play is that it gives learners daily opportunities to practice building the muscle of cooperative play (shifting out from co-play).  This often breeds conflict as the young heroes practice communicating their ideas and plans, practice sharing, and navigate interpersonal disagreements. At Spark Play, guides continuously model and facilitate conflict resolution with the children who in turn practice using powerful and empowering language repeatedly. 

This post will be followed by Part 2 of the flow to dive deeper and get more insight into this part of the day of the learners. Until then, enjoy the pictures and this quote from Dr. Maria Montessori –

Play is the work of the child.

 

 

 

 

Spark Insight Journal – Page 5 – The Beauty of Mixed Age Group

Observing our mix of kind helpers and keen observers on a daily is a heartwarming experience. Witnessing an older child (often a veteran) showing a younger one how to complete an activity, as the younger child is fascinated by watching his older friend accomplish what s/he can’t yet do.

Older learners having a sense of studio ownership, find opportunities to become mentors to their younger friends, while learning and practicing important leadership skills. A young learner watching an older learner exploring and focusing on their work, builds the growth mindset muscle, thinking to him/herself, “If they can do that, someday I will as well!” They find many incredible chances to absorb new information around them. 

More so, spending three years in the same environment also helps the learners to not rush through the process of learning, as, this setting perfectly provides the learners more time to follow their growth trajectory in the studio before moving onto the next adventure in their journey; the Discovery studio, which only furthers this experience by providing a realistic representation of the world beyond the studio walls. A mixed-aged environment truly offers so many wonderful moments of growth, learning, and change.

 

Spark Insight Journal – Page 4 – Mindfulness Area

Mindfulness definitely needs no introduction with it being such a buzzword this decade. So many of you were also intrigued by the ‘how and what’ of our Spark Mindfulness Area, so let’s jump straight into what mindfulness looks like for the Spark Learners. 

Mindfulness for us is to find our calm, reset our bodies, take a step back, and pause. It can be a break or a calming strategy outlet. It looks like all of the below. 

  • Reading a book in the library to take a pause. 
  • Using the tangible breathing prompts – Star, Box, and Palm Breathing when BIG feelings visit us, when we are tired, or when we just need to pause. Oh! and also Blow on the Pinwheel for an elongated exhale that is ever so calming…
  • Using the calming strategies jar- to help us choose a strategy and take a brain break. Some of these include- counting to 10, looking outside, taking a walk, drawing a picture, taking 3 belly breaths, etc. 
  • Paint a picture in the painting area- to bring us back to the present moment and also see the interplay of colors and let loose our imagination. Switching to our left brain for a bit.
  • Using the meditation pillow to close our eyes and find stillness. 
  • Using the mindfulness desk to look at the Grace and Courtesy book, to stare at a candle or at the hourglass to bring us back at the moment. 
  • Relevant books, circle time discussions, and In-studio & Spark Play experiences also add to this area on a daily.

 

We know that habits formed early in life will inform behaviors in adulthood, and with mindfulness, we have the opportunity to give our learners the tools for being peaceful, kind, and accepting. We also speak of how our tiny neurons help our brain grow and learn to integrate a growth mindset and tie it into mindfulness even further. Our mindfulness area has visitors by the minute, and all we know is it truly completes our experience in the studio. 

 

Spark Insight Journal – Page 3 – Circle Time Discussions

Circle time in the studio is a crucial time for our young learners to develop their listening skills, learn new vocabulary, practice language skills, practice following directions, build self-confidence, learn group and grace and courtesy lessons, and learn about being a member of a community, often indirectly through discussions, stories, play, and practice.

This is done differently in different environments and at different times. Most guides begin their day with a circle, some end their day with a circle, some do it during transitions- between work cycle and lunch, lunch and play, etc. In our current schedule at Ascent Spark, we have a full-studio circle at 8 a.m. and a small circle time to transition into lunch at 11.30 a.m. We play games, practice mindful breathing, practice grace and courtesy lessons, read books, sing songs, have discussions, and more. In the afternoon, Mr. Tom leads an end-of-day circle whereupon he socratically discusses the learners’ experiences outdoors and their reflections from their play journal, which they write/draw in, post-Spark Playtime.  

With today’s post, we want to share reflections from a discussion we had during our morning circle time focused on the question, “What does it mean to be a part of a community?” The brief discussion included what a community means, what different communities look like, and that we are indeed part of so many communities. As the culmination of the discussion, the learners shared their answers to the anchor question. Please enjoy their responses: 

  • Samantha -“If people were hurt and wanted to go to the hospital, I can help.”
  • Grace- “Help mom, clean the house, my brother too. And help our neighbor to clean up her house with her so that the rats don’t come.”
  • Max- “Be kind to the little person so they don’t get sad and be nice to them. You can hurt your feelings if someone hits you. If the person doesn’t want to play, he can hit you and that’s not very nice”. 
  • Dezmond- “Being nice to my dad, because he is working really hard.”
  • Ruben- “Being nice around others.”
  • Anay- “Being kind around each other.” 
  • Colin- “Picking litter to be a good member of the Earth.”
  • Sawyer- “Ask if people need help.” 
  • Koa- “Ask if they were okay if they got hurt.”
  • Aero- “I will be nice to my sister.”
  • Ayla- “Being nice to people and helping them when they are sad.”
  • Saylor- “Being nice to everyone.”
  • Remy- “Picking trash from the ground to be a community member of the Earth.”
  • Zinnia- “Help when they are hurt.”
  • Abby- “Being nice to my mom because she has a lot of work, so help with the house and help with the chores list.”

These discussions from these sprouting minds will turn into larger discussions upon their foray into the Discovery Studio, and the world at large; as they evolve into the various roles they play and eventually become a part of the community-Earth. 

 

Spark Insight Journal – Page 2 – Spark Play Highlight – Sand Pit Area

With today’s post, we share a peek into our Spark Playtime of the day. Spark Play is an integral part of our learners’ time in their space. They choose from small loose parts play, large parts (think- large planks, blocks, ladders), sandpit area, other in-built structures like the stumps, swinging ropes, tunnels, hills, and the orchard. Each area comes with a particular focus in mind in that they are more and less conducive to different types of play.  We often think of that in reference to play that encourages ‘feet on the floor’ vs ‘feet off the floor’, gross motor vs fine motor movement, etc. Today we highlight – the Sand Pit Area!

Since the introduction of the sandpit this year, it has definitely been a place of action and learning. Guides are strategically placing themselves outside the sandpit to hear and note the great growth in communication that happens while learners communicate critical thoughts.  The water from the pipe runs down on the hill course until it reaches the sandpit, allowing gravity to create another fascinating object for the children’s observations… On most days, on average, there are around four-five parallel plays going on in the sandpit area, with four-five different groups. Some days the members within the groups change and some groups have had the same members for weeks. We’ve not only witnessed some interesting decision-making, conversations, and conflicts but also, so much of creative-thinking and strategizing. Learners have banded together in various ways for their creations; From building dams and digging tunnels to making canals for the gushing water. They make sand-castles and dig until they reach the bottom of the pit. They are experimenting with using the white strips you see below as pipes and making courses for the water. Their experiences have ranged from wanting the same equipment to not wanting water in their section, to, also wanting water in their section!  They bring in the math and the science, engineering, and technology, language, and love all at once, all so powerfully through hands-on learning. They make sure to fill this daily experience with some heated moments, heartbreaks, tough conversations, and buckets and buckets of fun. This is why, they flock there again the next day, and the next, and every day, without a doubt.



With grateful hearts, 

Spark Guides.