Easing Separation Anxiety

Easing Separation Anxiety

Beginning a new school year is a time of excitement and uncertainty for many new children. For some, it is their first time being away from home for a stretch of time. It is common for students (and parents) to experience feelings of anxiety, which is perfectly normal. These feelings are often caused by a fear of the unknown, as the child has no point of reference to draw upon when they are faced with a new environment or experience.

Separation anxiety can also be attributed to a child’s stage of development. Separation anxiety is a normal part of development, and most common for children aged eight months to two years; however, it can affect children of all ages.The first day of preschool, in a new room or class, can bring on a reoccurrence of separation anxiety in children who were previously settled. It takes time for young children to build relationships and establish a sense of trust with their new educators, so that they come to understand that their new environment is a safe and happy place. This is not uncommon, and is likely to settle once a new routine and relationships have been established.




Below you will find a number of strategies published by the Montessori Academy to help Montessori parents settle their children into preschool. Remember separation anxiety is a phase, it is perfectly normal, and will pass in time.

Positive Behaviors and Attitudes

Modeling positive behaviors and attitudes plays an important role in the success of the first day of school, and the weeks thereafter. Keep discussions about school positive, and focus on things that your child is likely to enjoy. Children pick up on parent’s feelings, behaviors, and emotions, and are likely to emulate them if you are feeling upset or uncertain.

Morning Routines

Establish a positive and happy morning routine for preschool days. For children over two, this may include encouraging your child to pack their own school bag or sing a happy ‘school day’ themed song. Always give yourself plenty of time to get ready and arrive on time. Feeling late or rushed can cause children to feel additional anxiety.

Acknowledge your Child’s Feelings

It is important to accept that your child’s unhappiness at being separated from you is real, very normal, and temporary. Reinforce that you understand that leaving your child makes them unhappy, but that it is important that you leave, and they will have a good time. Avoid offering your child bribes for good behavior or not crying as this is only a temporary solution. Learning to cope with sadness is an important part of your child’s development and learning about emotions.

Positive and Prompt Goodbyes

When you drop your child off, don’t linger outside the classroom or stay for “just one more minute.” As a parent, the best thing you can do is give your child a hug and a kiss as they get out of the car, let them know you love them, and reassure them that you will be back soon. It is important for your child that you do not delay the inevitable.

Establish a Goodbye Routine

Montessori parents who establish a consistent goodbye routine typically have better luck with successful goodbyes. Take a special moment with your child to say goodbye, and do it the same way, every day. This may be as simple as a kiss and a cuddle, giving your child a thumbs up, or establishing a ‘secret’ hand shake. A special goodbye is a great way for your child to start their day feeling happy and reassured.

Encourage Friendships

Make a point of getting to know your child’s friends or play mates at preschool, and encourage class-mate friendships outside of school. These friendships will help make your child’s transition to the new Montessori environment easier.

Pick Up Routines

It is important to be punctual when picking up your child. It easy to lose track of time, but no matter who is picking your child up, always be on time. If you are late, it can cause your child to feel more anxiety, and makes drop off the next time much harder.

Positive Daily Reflections

On the way home, establish a routine where you talk to your child about their school day. Focus on the positive aspects of their day, such as their favorite activity, or playing with their best friend. By consistently reinforcing the positive aspects of their school day, your child will learn that their new environment is a fun and happy place, and their feelings of anxiety will decrease over time.


Grace & Courtesy is All About Respect

Grace & Courtesy is All About Respect

“A child who becomes a master of his acts through repeated exercises [of grace and courtesy]…is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

Have you ever entered a Montessori classroom and noticed that the children are naturally respectful of each other and often helpful? An older child may help a younger child zip his jacket zipper. A child might accidentally spill beans on the floor and two children stop what they are doing to help her clean up. Two students having a disagreement decide to go over to the peace table to work it out. These are manifestations of tGrace and Courtesy in the Montessori classroom, which is built upon 1) treating the child with respect, 2) teaching the child to respect herself, 3) teaching the child to treat others with respect, and 4) teaching the child to treat her environment with respect. Grace and Courtesy remains a focus at every level of Montessori education.

When we respect a young learner’s dignity by teaching the basic rules of etiquette, it fills a need in them. Dr. Montessori once taught a small group of children how to politely blow their noses; she explained every step in detail and showed them how to do it quietly and respectfully. After this presentation, the children erupted into spontaneous applause. They were delighted to know how to do something, that to adults would seem so basic. However, to these young learners, their teacher had shown them something they were longing to know how to do.

What does this look like in our classrooms? Treating the child with respect means that we speak to the children with soft voices and at eye level. We give the children freedom to choose their work and decide where they want to work. Yet the guidelines and limits of the environment are understood by all. For example, a lesson should be put back where it came from before moving on to something new. Children are free to choose their work, but are not free to disturb the work of others. We call this “freedom with responsibility.”


There are specific Grace and Courtesy lessons that demonstrate how to respect and care for oneself, such as blowing one’s nose, washing hands, getting in and out of a chair, putting on shoes, hanging up or putting on a jacket, etc.


Lessons on respecting others include how to greet a visitor, walking around a rug, how to ask for help, using soft voices, inviting others to work, how to solve a conflict with a classmate, etc.


Lessons on respecting the environment include carrying and rolling up a rug, setting the table, how to take materials off of shelves, washing a plant, washing a table or mirror, etc. We are working daily on cultivating a sense of gratitude and nurturing wonder.

One of the main goals of a Montessori education is to prepare students to be contributing and valued members of society. This starts with lessons of Grace and Courtesy, which are key to modeling peace, learning how to act in social situations, showing respect for each other. These are tools our children will use their entire lives!


2019 Carseat Safety Guidelines

2019 Carseat Safety Guidelines

2019 Carseat Safety Guidelines

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently changed their safety recommendations to remove the age limit on rear-facing car seats. They now suggest keeping children rear-facing until they reach the highest weight and height allowed by the manufacturer of the seat. You can read a full overview of the guidelines at this link or read the summary below.

The AAP recommends:

  • Infants and toddlers should ride in a rear-facing car safety seat as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their seat. Most convertible seats have limits that will allow children to ride rear-facing well beyond the age of 2.
  • Once they are facing forward, children should use a forward-facing car safety seat with a harness for as long as possible, until they reach the height and weight limits for their seats. Many seats can accommodate children up to 65 pounds or more.
  • When children exceed these limits, they should use a belt-positioning booster seat until the vehicle’s lap and shoulder seat belt fits properly. This is often when they have reached at least 4 feet 9 inches in height and are 8 to 12 years old.
  • When children are old enough and large enough to use the vehicle seat belt alone, they should always use lap and shoulder seat belts for optimal protection.
  • All children younger than 13 years should be restrained in the rear seats of vehicles for optimal protection.

Winter Clothing Recommendations:
Bulky clothing, including winter coats and snowsuits, should not be worn underneath the harness of a car seat. In a car crash, fluffy padding immediately flattens out from the force, leaving extra space under the harness. A child can then slip through the straps and be thrown from the seat. 
Instead, use a coat or blanket over the straps. You can add a blanket over the top of the harness straps or put your child’s winter coat on backwards (over the buckled harness straps) after he or she is buckled up.

You can read more Winter Car Seat Safety Tips from the AAP here.

Introducing your Family to the Idea of Independence

Introducing your Family to the Idea of Independence

“Never help a child at a task which he feels can succeed.” -Dr. Maria Montessori

If you are lucky, your family members – especially those proud grandparents! – are excited and eager to learn more about your child’s Montessori journey. While we can’t expect our extended family to completely rearrange their homes or lifestyles, there are some simple ways that they can support your child in building independence.

Simple ways for family members to help your child’s growing independence

Allow the child to make decisions with limited choices
You can allow a child opportunities to make decisions without giving up all control. Consider offering two choices – both of which you are happy with. “Would you like a grilled cheese sandwich or chicken noodle soup for lunch?”

Allow the child to do things for herself
It is the natural instinct of a loving family member to make life “easier” for a child. But when we take away opportunities to overcome worthy challenges, we inhibit them from learning new skills and building self-esteem. For example, it may take much longer for a young child to zip up her own coat, but when time allows, give her the opportunity to try. If she begins to get frustrated, provide the minimal amount of help needed (such as holding the bottom of the coat to create tension, while the child pulls up the zipper).

Prepare the environment for independence 
Allowing a child to do things for herself may require some support. Consider providing a stool at the bathroom sink so the child can reach the faucet to wash her hands. Consider putting out a small pitcher of water and a small glass so she can help herself when she is thirsty. If dishes, napkins, and silverware are placed in a lower cabinet, the child can help set the table for a meal.

Involve the child in activities of daily life
Not every visit with Grandma and Grandpa needs to involve a trip to the zoo. Children want to do what you do! Invite them to join you peeling vegetables, feeding pets, watering the flowers, etc. You may need to provide child-size tools for some of these activities, such as a small watering can or acrylic knife, so that your child can participate fully.

Create order in the environment
Instead of piling toys in a basket, consider setting up a small open bookshelf where only a few toys are accessible. This helps the child make independent choices and give more focused attention to the chosen activity. (Toys can be rotated in and out to keep the child’s interest.) A minimal, organized toy area will also help the child clean up independently because there is a clear place for everything.

Be careful of praise
Dr. Montessori found that praise can inhibit children from gaining independence because they begin to rely on the judgement of others. As an alternative, encouragement can be empowering. So instead of “Good job!” “Good girl,” or “You are so smart,” you can try, “You did it!” “Thank you for your help,” or “I can tell you worked really hard on this.”

How to help family members get on board

Model rather than preach!
Most family members won’t appreciate being given a list of rules about how to behave around your child. But you can provide a powerful example by modeling these approaches in front of your family.

Gentle reminders
Feel free to give family members gentle reminders, such as “Please don’t help him; he can do it himself” You can also make it clear what the child is capable of, such as “Lila likes to choose her own clothing. She can get dressed herself but she might need help if her arms get stuck. Please don’t worry if she puts things on the wrong way.”

Provide resources
If a family member seems receptive, you might share an article with a brief introduction to Montessori at Home, such as this one. For those who wish to know more, a nice introductory book is How to Raise an Amazing Kid the Montessori Way by Tim Seldin. Though not all of it will apply to extended family, it’s a quick read with lots of beautiful photos that provides a nice overview of Montessori for families. If you would like to help family members find child-size tools or suggest gifts that would be appreciated, you can give them a copy of the For Small Hands catalog or share a link to their website. You may also consider creating an Amazon wish list.

“The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” -Dr. Maria Montessori

With a little help from family, we can create even more consistency between school and home and provide more opportunities for the child to build independence.


January Enrichment Update – Spanish

Spanish Enrichment 

Sandra Decombel                                      Marcela Daley                                              Martha Chaux
Toddler Dual Language Assistant            Spanish Enrichment Guide (CH, EL, AC)      Lower El Dual Language Assistant
Toddler Spanish Support Guide               Dual Language Support Specialist (CH)      Dual Language Support

Older Toddlers (Non Dual-Language classrooms, Sra. Sandra)
Short Spanish language lessons given weekly in the Older Toddler communities provide the young children exposure to the Spanish language while at the same time supporting the Montessori method used in the classroom. We start and end the lessons with a short song during which we replicate the grace and courtesy of the classroom. By modeling greetings and farewells, the children are learning the customary way to interact with people in a respectfully and appropriately in our society.

Once everyone has been properly greeted and acknowledged, we explore some everyday objects. Just as in the language lessons of the classroom, we select a collection of objects with which the children have had extensive experience. We use this selection in a modified three period lesson: first providing the name and the object to the child, and then providing the name and the child provides the object. These lessons not only expose the children to the names of objects in Spanish, but they also continue the work of classification and conceptualization of the world around them. In time, the child will move beyond the world of the concrete towards abstract thought.

We also sing simple Spanish songs with gestures. These give the children a cultural aspect of the Spanish language. They also expose the children to rhythms and distinct musical phrasing, while at the same time developing their understanding of letter sounds and word composition. Children are drawn to repeat the songs and thus develop a sense of the phonology of the Spanish language.

Older Toddlers (Dual-Language classroom, Sra. Sandra)

In our Older Toddler Dual Language classroom both languages come together in service of the child, providing cultural expansion where possible. The language section of the classroom, which is one of the two main foci of Toddler Communities, is offered in both languages. The children are acquainted with Spanish words from their everyday environment and are encouraged to share their own world with the classroom by bringing pictures and familiar real objects from home.

Spanish is also used in daily interactions, giving the children experience being addressed in a different language. The children hear how to greet, ask for assistance, use proper table manners, etc. in Spanish. With time, the child’s ears become receptive to Spanish as a spoken language, even if comprehension might not always be present. Some children might even start to use some Spanish words spontaneously in appropriate situations.

Finally, through music, we open the children’s world to Hispanic culture little by little. We sing songs together and recite poems. The children also receive lessons in music appreciation, exploring the sounds of different instruments and listen to compositions of famous Hispanic composers.

Children’s House (Non Dual-Language classrooms, Sra. Marcela)

In the Children’s House we continue practicing how to be patient and wait to be invited to join the circle. It seems like the children understand more now when the lesson is just for the third years.

Practicing how to greet one each other with expressions like hola, ¿como estas?, and buenos días has become a routine and it is common to hear the children greeting me all the time (not just in the classroom) with some of these expressions.

We are singing the Buenos dias song, including the morning, afternoon and night (días, tardes y noches), and some feelings like feeling good, happy, sad, and tired (bien, felíz, triste, cansado o cansada) and some cards are presented to illustrate the time of the day that the song is referring to.

Singing continues being an important part of our circle. Some of the songs are, Hola, para ti y para mi (Hello for you and for me), Coco en la Cueva (Coco in the cave), El sapito (Little frog), la ronda de los Conejos (The rabbit song).

Children’s House (Dual Language classrooms, Sra. Marcela)

These months the children have been working on expanding their Spanish vocabulary with words that have just one vowel sound at the time. And we are working right now with modes of transportation.

A few of the third years have finished all their vowels sounds and their combination and they have started to work with the sounds “ll” and “rr.” The students have been also working with opposites, such as grande and pequeño (big and small), and grueso and Delgado (thick and thin).

We are singing the Buenos dias song, including the morning, afternoon and night (días, tardes y noches), and some feelings like feeling good, happy, sad, and tired (bien, felíz, triste, cansado o cansada) and some cards are presented to illustrate the time of the day that the song is referring to.

We have read different books related to what the children have been practicing. Some of the books are Percebe esta aburrido, El transporte, Mi Atlas Larousse de los animales (with emphasis on South America’s animals), and some poems and fables from Rafael Pombo.

Singing continues being an important part of our circle. Some of the songs are, Hola, para ti y para mi (Hello for you and for me), Coco en la Cueva (Coco in the cave), El sapito (Little frog), la ronda de los Conejos (The rabbit song).

Lower Elementary (Non Dual-Language classroom, Sra. Marcela)

During Spanish Enrichment, the students continue working following acted instructions in Spanish. The sky is the limit. They are understanding when asked to open the door, close the door, bring the pencil, and give the book to a peer… It is just amazing!

In the morning, during the work cycle, small groups have been working on getting more and more comfortable with the different letter sounds and working on how to split words in syllables and how similar it can be to English or French.

Lower Elementary (Dual-Language classroom, Sra. Martha)

The Elementary dual-language students use Spanish in everyday classroom conversation. They practice greetings and taking leave with expressions such as Buenos dias (good morning) Como estas? (How are you?) Bien y tu? (Good and you?), among others. Students also understand basic instructions such as Levantate (stand up), Sientate (sit down), Vamos afuera (let’s go out), etc. They make requests with expressions such as puedo tener un papel? (Can I have a paper?) and Puedo estar en La Mesa de Espanol? (May I join the Spanish table?). They also practice exchanging personal information with expressions such as Cual es tu comida favorita? (What is your favorite food?) and Que te gusta hacer despues de la Escuala? (What do you like to do after School?). Spontaneous conversations in Spanish about likes and dislikes, routines, and daily activities are happening on a regular basis during lessons and lunch time.

Students work on research projects in Spanish on topics such as transportation and parts of the body. They also incorporate Spanish into their mathematics work by counting (and skip counting) in Spanish. Students are greatly enjoying reading Spanish, especially when reading to the little ones in Children House classrooms. The students are making wonderful progress!

Upper Elementary (Sra. Marcela)

The main goal at this level is to have the students being able to participate in conversations where they can create sentences while, at the same time, being able to ask and answer a variety of questions.

During this time of the year, the students have started to work on a project. Some of them have chosen a coffee shop (and they are really interested on the story of coffee as well as the different ways of brewing coffee and why they are so different), others, have chosen a music shop or a pet shop.

Adolescent Community (Sra. Marcela) 

I love how each one of my group lessons with the AC ends in a mini community meeting. I never thought that the work on “La Mejor Familia del Mundo” based on the book with the same name by Susana Lopez will become such an interesting project. The project consists on Identifying the members of the family that they want to describe. Using positive adjectives, they have to list 3 physical and 3 personality characteristics of each one of the family members chosen and include themselves. Express what makes each one of the members of your family the best one on his/her/its role? And then, put together a video, poster, graph, book, or cartoon to present the “Best family in the world.”
Why do you teach letter sounds rather than letter names? (And other good questions about language acquisition…)

Why do you teach letter sounds rather than letter names? (And other good questions about language acquisition…)

Stages of Language Development:
Step 1: Spoken Language: create an internal dictionary and practice using the words in it
Step 2: Phonemic Awareness: learn the sounds within words and the sounds/symbols of our alphabet
Step 3: Creating Words (Writing): learn to put those sounds/symbols together to make words
Step 4: Reading: Learn to decode those sounds/symbols to decipher words

Questions and Answers

Why do you teach letter sounds rather than letter names?

What does a child need to learn to be able to write or read? That the letter “a” has a name, pronounced “aye,” or that it makes a sound, “æ” in the international phonetic alphabet, like in “apple” or “cat”? From a literacy perspective, the answer is clear: to write and read, children need to learn the sounds letters make, not their names. “Cee-aye-tee”, no matter how fast you say it, never blends together to make the sound “cat.” Yet most commercial products and educational television programs focus on teaching letter names. At best, they introduce sounds and names simultaneously, with emphasis on the name of the letters. In Montessori, in contrast, we start literacy by teaching sounds exclusively. (Download a list of Phonetic Letter Sounds here.) Because we don’t focus on letter names, the process is much less confusing for children, and it enables them to more quickly begin to write and read.

Why do you present only lowercase letters at first?

Most commercial materials and much public school instruction starts with capital print letters. This is contrary to what a child actually needs: 93% of what we read and write is written in lowercase letters, as is most of the writing they’ll do. That’s why in Montessori classrooms, we introduce lower-case letters first, and introduce capitals only later. Children in Montessori learn to associate letter sounds with letter shapes using a material called the Montessori Sandpaper Letters.


Children begin learning the letter sounds using sandpaper letters, which incorporate the sense of touch to further reinforce learning. They trace the letter with their fingers on a textured sandpaper inscription of the letter, learning the strokes used eventually to write that letter on paper.

Why do you present the letters out of (alphabetical) order?

When giving these lessons, Montessori guides present no more than three letter sounds at a time. There is no specified order of introduction, other than making sure that the letters don’t look and/or sound alike. One example of a presentation order is:
First set: c  m a t
Second set: s  r i p
Third set: b  f o g
Fourth set: h  j u l
Fifth set: d  w e n
Sixth set: k  q v x y z
Some Montessorians first introduce the first letter of the child’s name as a point of interest.

Why does writing precede reading?

The process and connection to writing will always precede that of reading. Cognitively, writing is just an analytical process that involves breaking down a word into its sounds. Reading is a more advanced mental process, requiring both analysis AND synthesis (putting the parts together).

Usually, children begins reading about six months after they start writing (composing words). Why? When you are writing, you are expressing your own thoughts. You are coupling sounds together to express your own intended meaning. Reading, on the other hand, involves putting sounds together and analyzing their meaning and order to comprehend an unknown meaning.

Why do you use hands-on materials to teach writing and reading?

Separate handwriting from word-building. For a child to write a word, he needs to combine two separate skills: he needs to segment the word into sounds, represented by letters—and he needs to have the motor skills to write these letters on a piece of paper. Often, children can associate sounds with letters long before they can easily form the letters: their conceptual understanding of language is more advanced than their motor skills. That’s why in the Montessori program, children first “write” by building words with the Montessori Moveable Alphabet, a set of wooden letters that a child can arrange in different orders. They make words by placing the letters on a rug. This enables them to practice putting sounds together to make words—separated from the more challenging task of forming the letters with a pencil.


Children in Montessori classrooms also prepare the hand for writing with physical exercises, such as those found in our Practical Life and Sensorial areas. Children need to cut with scissors; they need to paint, to sew, to peel eggs, to wash tables; they need to build towers, hold puzzles by little knobs and carry big materials. These indirect preparatory materials strengthen shoulder, arm, wrist and finger muscles!  The Montessori Metal Insets then help children joyfully master full pencil control: as they trace the inside and outside of the shapes, and color them in with careful, parallel lines, they have fun creating art and are imperceptibly and steadily improving their pencil control.

Why do you teach cursive first?

While cursive letters seem intimidating to most adults, they actually prove to be easier to learn than print letters: while writing in cursive, you don’t have to continuously lift the pencil off the page. This makes the act of writing fluid and continuous, without the extra stops and starts associated with print letters. In addition, letters that are easy to confuse in print are distinct in cursive, so children are less likely to reverse these letters.


Fascinating new research points out the benefits of cursive writing for cognitive development. A recent article in Psychology Today cited research which shows that:

  • Students “wrote more words, faster, and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.” This study included second, fourth, and sixth graders.
  • “Cursive writing helps train the brain to integrate visual (and) tactile information, and fine motor dexterity.”
  • The regions of the brain that are activated during reading were “activated during handwriting, but not during typing.”

How can parents help at home?

You can help by:

  • Articulating slowly and carefully
  • Encouraging the children to speak and pronounce words
  • Repeating new words
  • Singing songs
  • Reading books
  • Reciting poetry
  • Playing sound games like “I Spy” (see below)
  • Please do not teach your child to memorize the names of the letters! Instead, emphasize the sound that each letter makes.
  • Write in cursive when writing with your child
  • Use lowercase letters when writing with your child
  • Enjoy activities that build the muscles needed for writing (cutting, painting, etc.)

The “I Spy” Game

Here’s a great way to start on letter sounds, suitable for children of about 2 ½ years or older: Play a sound “I spy” game. Collect a few items with different beginning sounds (a fork, a cup, a napkin, for example). Place each item in your hand, and focus your child’s interest on the sound at the beginning of the word: “I spy something in my hand that starts with fffff: a f f f fork.” Once your child has mastered the sounds, you can advance to playing real “I spy”, asking them to look around and find items in their environment that start with the letter sound you mention. You can play this game at home, while on a walk, or in the car!


An important note: When making letter sounds with your child, be careful not to add the sound “uh” to the end. Letter sounds should be clipped to include only the consonant itself, such as “c” as in “cat” – and not “cuh.” You can download a list of Phonetic Letter Sounds here.