Greensboro Montessori School's Upper School students took a leading role in Friday's Earth Day celebration. Upper Elementary students kicked off the morning with readings of original poetry and Spanish. After the program (which we shared live on Facebook), Junior High students hosted Lower and Upper Elementary students at eight different different stations set up on the Athletic Field. Each station featured an activity to to raise awareness for Earth Day, including ideas for recycling, composting, and even limiting our waste. Primary students enjoyed a lesson with our environmental educators, Chelsi Crawford and Sara Stratton. Toddler students took everything in from their shaded mats under the trees, just steps away from their play yards.
The original poetry shared by our Upper Elementary students highlights our integrated curriculum. Students combine their skills in English, Spanish, creative writing, science, environmental education, public speaking, and leadership all at once. We are honored to publish their work for all to experience.
Redbud Tree Lydia, Sixth Grade The Eastern redbud tree, purple blossoms in early spring. Small beacons of colour adorn the dull, monochromatic landscape. Bursts that spring is just around the corner. As the blossoms begin to fade, they get swept away by the gusts of wind that spring brings. Petite purple petals pressed onto the ground as they get trampled by tiny feet. But not all is lost, leaves that are a deep crimson, like garnet, or a sharp, zesty lime the size of a hand unfurl. The leaves are shaped like spades. Desperately trying to hold onto their branches by their paper-thin stems. Through treacherous storms they hold on, not falling yet, for the leaves have roots of their own. The redbud tree is eternally stretching, reaching its roots through the mycelium and soil, while the branches are competing for the warm rays of sunlight. The uneasy cottontail rests by the roots of the tree, protected by the lush canopy from the hungry hawks’ view. During autumn, the leaves of the redbud tree glow orange, like a campfire. Only turning into a bonfire as the chorus of the other deciduous trees chime in in the early November. Then, the redbud tree goes to sleep as the long, cold winter days begin.
Día de la Tierra Upper Elementary Group A
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque es el único planeta que temenos.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque es nuestra casa y nuestro hogar.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque vivimos en ella.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque hay animales, árboles, océanos y más.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque es la casa para todos los tipos de vidas.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque nos da comida.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque es la casa de todos.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque es muy bonita. Los humanos debemos comprender que no se debe hacer daño a la Tierra.
- Debemos cuidar la Tierra porque o si no nos extinguieremos.
- Debemos cuidar la tierra porque es nuestra protectora y nuestro hogar.
sphagnum Tanner, Fourth Grade The sphagnums dance in the rain like an umbrella being twirled. The sphagnums dance in the rain on the mother tree. The sphagnums dance in the rain in the rainforest. The sphagnums dance in the rain under the shade. The sphagnums dance in the rain and the damp mother tree is playing her music. The sphagnums dance in the rain, their spore capsules open up and the spores fly away. The sphagnums dance in the rain as the 10,000 ancestors watch them. The sphagnum dances in the rain, the calm green color is shimmering on as the rain falls on them, the sphagnums dance in the rain; they have no roots, stems, leaves or seeds. The sphagnums dance in the rain, they can grow until they run out of room. The sphagnums dance in the rain in their fuzzy soft coats. The sphagnums dance in the rain. They are used for medicine to save peoples lives. The sphagnums dance in the rain; they get picked and re-planted to make a garden look nicer. The sphagnums dance in the rain.
Greensboro Montessori School partners with the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) to use Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) Growth assessments. MAP Growth is a computer-adaptive test for measuring individual student achievement and growth in math, reading, and language usage.
We've chosen MAP Growth because it is a student-centric approach to standardized testing. Unlike paper and pencil tests, where all students are asked the same questions and spend a fixed amount of time taking the test, MAP Growth is an adaptive test. That means every student gets a unique set of test questions based on responses to previous questions. At the end of each test, teachers are able to determine what individual students know and are ready to learn next.
Unlike traditional standardized tests, MAP Growth testing is administered twice a year, enabling us to measure our students' individual growth over time. Teachers may also use test results to further inform instruction, personalize learning, and monitor student growth.
While we are not a test-driven school, we know test taking is a practical life skill students need in preparation for high school and college. MAP Growth tests are one form of assessment we use, in conjunction with other methodologies of formative and summative assessment given throughout the school year.
About MAP Growth
No. As a computer-adaptive assessment, MAP Growth will provide questions to test the upper limits of your child's skills. Every student will miss questions. The MAP Growth guides suggest that students should expect to miss 40-60% of their questions.
There is no particular score for which students should aim. Instead, your child's individual MAP Growth Report will contain a RIT score. This score represents their achievement level at the time they took the test. As a partner in your child's education, we are less concerned one-time scores and will focus more attention on students' growth measures between assessments.
During MAP Growth
After MAP Growth
Preparing for MAP Growth Assessments
There is nothing families need "to do" in preparation for a MAP Growth test. We encourage families to follow the child – provide the level of support they need to feel successful. This could vary between treating an assessment day like any normal school day to practicing questions on a sample to get comfortable with the format, to talking with your child about the practical life skill of testing (i.e., tests are part of education and you should do your best, and you should not worry or stress over tests).
If you'd like to provide a strong framework for your child before and during a test, we have these tips:
The Night Before
- Relax and have fun.
- Enjoy a healthy snack an hour before bedtime.
- Get a good night's sleep.
The Morning of the Test
- Fill up on healthy, complex carbs and protein.
- Arrive at school on time.
- Connect with a friend or teacher if you have pretest jitters.
During the Test
- Take three deep breaths.
- If you don't know the answer, give your best guess and move on.
Maria Montessori believed that “establishing lasting peace is the work of education...”
While many of us are focused on the end of a school year, on how the pandemic will affect our family and our jobs, and on working to support the emotional needs of our children, as we should be, I felt it appropriate to also take a moment to remind ourselves of what Maria Montessori writes about peace education. For our attention should also be focused on what is happening all around the country and world this week in response to the events in Minnesota.
Greensboro Montessori School welcomes and embraces diversity by providing a safe and supportive environment that is open and inclusive. Our community is enhanced by people from many different cultures, races, nationalities, faiths, learning and physical abilities, political backgrounds, sexual orientations and identities, ages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and family constellations.
We work together to empower all of our families to share and grow in their confidence and ability to raise responsible young citizens. And, the recent tragic events in Minnesota with the death of George Floyd must serve as a reminder that we still have much work to do. Being non-racist is not the same thing as being anti-racist. As peace educators, we have a responsibility to make sure we are doing our part to foster empathy and kindness in all of our students.
Our school has always proudly had the following policies for admissions and hiring, respectively,
- Greensboro Montessori School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school-administered programs.
- Greensboro Montessori School does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, national origin, marital status, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status with respect to recruitment, hiring, compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
We are proud that we do not discriminate. We are proud that we actively teach our students to be just and inclusive. These are at the heart of the foundations of Maria Montessori’s peace education. And sometimes this is not enough. Sometimes we must move beyond awareness of discrimination, acts of aggression, and bigotry wherever they are and at whomever they are aimed. We must also engage. How we each choose to engage these challenging times and challenging events will vary from home to home, and we all stand together with our shared value and commitment to peace education.
We hope that everyone can engage injustice when we see it, actively see our privilege where it lies, and promote equity and peace with not only our mind, but also our resources and actions. And especially to all our African American students, staff, and community members: you matter. Black Lives Matter. We see you, and we support you.
The president of the board of our accrediting body, the American Montessori Society, recently shared part of this reflection to our 16,000 members:
AMS recognizes that institutional change is required to make an impact in the larger Montessori community. Ensuring environments where everyone feels welcomed, valued, and respected is our most important charge as a membership organization. Serving as the largest Montessori membership organization does not exclude us from the institutional racism that is pervasive in associations, schools, and training programs throughout the United States. We hope that you continue to engage with us as our organization strives to be anti-racist. – Amira Mogaji, President, AMS Board of Directors
We hope that everyone can join us as we work to intentionally move from awareness to engagement.
In peace, and on behalf of the Greensboro Montessori School Team,
Dr. Kevin Navarro
Head of School
As they do every spring, Greensboro Montessori School's Junior High students recently engaged in their final Great Debate of the year in history. Students addressed and argued both sides of two debates. The first questioned whether the purposes of government are best served by an authoritarian approach. The second questioned whether the primary role of a government should be to meet the needs of its people. The debates provide Junior High students the opportunity to argue in a logical and clearly defined manner.
While The Great Debates are usually hosted in the classroom, this year's final debates were argued virtually through Google Hangouts. 57 participants, including students from both Junior High and Upper Elementary, attended the event, deepening their understanding of many forms of government and economic systems, including authoritarian, capitalist, communist, and socialist.
How the Debates Work
Teams of two or three students are given their topic in advance, but they do not learn which side they are on, for or against, until the morning of the debate. As a result, they must analyze and evaluate both sides and research and compile points and examples supporting both arguments. Each student writes two formal position papers, one for each side of the argument. This helps them broaden their thinking and mental flexibility.
The debates follow a modified version of standard debate procedure, with an opening argument, sometimes shared by two teammates; time for preparation of rebuttal; and then closing arguments and rebuttal, by the remaining member of the team. Faculty members observe, discuss and provide extensive oral feedback to the teams about the debate.
How Topics are Selected
The topics of the debates are drawn from subject matter the students have discussed in history classes during the preceding several weeks. Students are encouraged to go beyond the class discussions in gathering information and building their arguments.
The process allows students to go beyond what they have learned and apply it to larger questions, to develop their reasoning and ability to build and support logical arguments, and to gain confidence and develop greater precision in presenting their thoughts persuasively.
How We Learn
As Junior High students move into and through adolescence, it’s imperative they receive authentic support for their burgeoning philosophical questioning, curiosity in the world around them, and deep desire for belonging within their peer group. Greensboro Montessori School honors these needs through the concept of valorization, which is a pillar of our Junior High curriculum.
Valorization is the process of understanding you are a strong and worthy person. It is the process of self-actualization and fulfillment. It is not about surviving hours of arbitrary homework or memorizing facts for the next test. It’s about completing meaningful work, unleashing academic excellence, and solving real-world problems.
The Great Debates are just one example of how Greensboro Montessori School students experience valorization by developing self-worth, skills, and courage through purpose-filled work. Learn more about how we build valorization through our science curriculum in our recent blog about Trout in the (Indoor, Outdoor, and Virtual) Classroom.
If you are interested in learning more about Greensboro Montessori School's student-centered Upper School serving motivated learners in fourth to ninth grades, we encourage you to schedule a virtual information session. We welcome an opportunity to meet you, learn more about your family, and explore Greensboro Montessori School could partner with your family.
Greensboro Montessori School's Junior High students just culminated one of their project based learning assignments – hatching, growing, and releasing brown trout.
Junior High science teacher, Tim Goetz, released the trout in a cold water tributary of the Smith River near Bassett, Virginia. It was a Friday morning in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, our Junior High students would have been stream-side with Tim, and it would have been their job — not their teacher's — to complete the final step of their semester-long project. Instead, students joined Tim virtually to watch the trout meet their natural habitat.
As the trout grow, they will make their way up river into the Smith River. Along the way, they will eat land and water insects, zooplankton, worms and other aquatic creatures. They will also search for hiding places from predators, including birds and other fish. Tim Key, a member of the Nat Green Fly Fishers Club, who was present at the release said "these are some of the best fish I have every seen."
The fish were hatched at Greensboro Montessori School as a part of the nationwide Trout in the Classroom program, with support from the Dan River Basin Association, and Tim Key of the Nat Greene Fly Fishers Club. Over 250 eggs were given to the School on December 5, 2019 and the first hatch was December 10.
The fish were raised in a 45-gallon, cold-water aquarium at 50 degrees Fahrenheit in Greensboro Montessori's Upper School. To quickly prepare the correct growing environment, students mixed five gallons of water from the School's pond with 40 gallons of tap water. Students tended to the fish daily, including feeding, changing water, and water testing. Daily water tests included pH, ammonia, and nitrites with the goal of recreating a natural, cold-water trout habitat. This attention to detail resulted in the science room smelling more like an outdoor classroom next to a river than a traditional classroom.
Eighth grade student, Nina, was the head aquarium tender and her classmate, Ava, provided the backdrop art for the aquarium.
Prior to COVID-19, Junior High students were scheduled to travel to Virginia to release the trout themselves. Their expedition would have been part of their April Land Week, one of several weeks a year when they learn at Greensboro Montessori School's 37-acre satellite campus in Oak Ridge, N.C. With schools throughout the state suspending in-person learning, the students' land week and field trip was cancelled, but not their learning. Students participated in the trout release through a Live Lesson via Google Hangouts. Tim also documented the release on GoPro cameras so he could share the experience with the entire school community, Toddler through Junior High. After all, Greensboro Montessori School students learn everywhere, whether its the indoor, outdoor, or virtual classroom.
Learning through purpose-filled, project-based learning — like hatching, raising, and releasing brown trout into their natural habitat — is not the exception to the rule at Greensboro Montessori School. It is the rule. Our students learn through completing meaningful work, which often results in real-world benefits to the community. Through the multistep process of researching, designing, implementing, refining, analyzing, and presenting their projects, our students gain real-world skills such as resiliency, creativity, curiosity, time management, and public speaking. They also develop a sense of self-worth by understanding the value of their contributions to society and experiencing personal fulfillment.
Click here to read about about another real-world project our Junior High students are leading: inoculating, growing, harvesting, and selling shiitake mushrooms.
In addition to Trout in the Classroom, Dan River Basin Association, and Nat Greene Fly Fishers Club, Greensboro Montessori School would like to thank Oliver Rouch from K2 Productions for lending us GoPro cameras and editing our release footage. We also want to thank Tim Key for his work behind the camera.
Another trip to the restroom. That all-important fourth cup of water. Just one more snack to sustain them until daybreak. Isn’t it amazing how young children become such ardent advocates for self-care as the evening hours roll on? Bedtime struggles are a timeless, and trying, rite of parenthood. Just as we’re ready to wrap up the work of the day and enjoy a fleeting moment of grown-up time, our little ones get a second wind, armed with a million urgent reasons to leave their beds. Are afternoon naps to blame for these late-night revivals?
Toward the end of the first Primary year or middle of the second, some parents begin to wonder if eliminating their child’s naps will ease evening bedtime struggles. In some cases, less sleep during the day can indeed help children nod off earlier at night. However, before dropping naps cold turkey, there are some important factors to consider.
The American Academy of Pediatrics supports the American Academy of Sleep Medicine's recommendation that “children 3 to 5 years of age sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps) on a regular basis to promote optimal health.” With families’ busy lives, this goal can be difficult to attain without the added rest time an afternoon nap provides. Children who have recurring issues with falling asleep at night may not fill their sleep tanks by the time they need to wake for school the next day, leaving them to navigate their mornings foggy and fatigued. Adjusting this pattern by abruptly eliminating a midday rest may result in emotional and behavioral repercussions later in the day, which can put a real damper on family time.
Napping at Greensboro Montessori School
In the Primary napping room at Greensboro Montessori School, we carefully monitor how long and often children sleep at school. When we notice a child is moving away from napping, we communicate with parents to make a transition plan for gradually eliminating afternoon sleep. Depending on the unique needs of each child, we may begin by abbreviating a child’s nap, waking them after a specified period of time. The duration of sleep is decreased little by little, until the child is ready to forego their snooze altogether. When they wake, we offer quiet, engaging activities until it’s time to transition to the car line or our after-school program. For many children, this opportunity to wake slowly and refresh themselves is much less jarring than an abrupt transition to the active Encore classroom or outdoor play spaces.
In other cases, children may outgrow sleeping on their own, while continuing to benefit from remaining in the nap room for a quiet rest and calming activities such as reading, drawing, or listening to music. When the child shows signs of readiness for more stimulation and movement, we work with the family to plan a transition to our Encore classroom (for first-year Primary students), or for the child to remain in their Primary classroom (second-year year Primary students) through the afternoon.
Is it Time?
If you’re uncertain about whether to begin phasing out your child’s naps, please reach out and let us know. Each child is unique, and requires their own individual approach to this transition. We are happy to keep you posted on your child’s sleeping habits at school, and to partner with you to craft a plan that is responsive to your child’s - and your family’s - needs. We can also provide helpful information on other challenges you may be experiencing while getting your little ones to settle in for the night. Though bedtime battles can seem insurmountable, there are effective strategies for giving and getting the rest we all need. Rest assured that your dreams of bedtime independence will eventually come true, and we are here to help you find your way to a truly good night!
Brooke Juneau is the director of CASA at Greensboro Montessori School. In this role, Brooke oversees the School's before- and after-school programming, along with all summer camps. Brooke first joined Greensboro Montessori School as a Toddler teacher in 2013 and served as an anchor for our Toddler students, families, and faculty for six years. She transitioned into her current role in 2019. Brooke holds her Montessori teaching credential in Infant & Toddler Education. She also holds a Bachelor of Arts in education and human development from Hampshire College.
After a long day away from our children, we parents are eager to hear all the details about how they have spent their time. However, so often our queries of “What did you do today?” are met with the same predictable response: “Nothing.” For children, distilling the many details and experiences of a full day at school into an anecdote or two is a tall order. What tools can we use to get them talking about their learning?
Through the Vidigami private photo sharing platform, you get to see moments of your child’s day at school. Viewing photos of your child engaged with Montessori materials can inspire great conversations. Children, especially those younger than five, are not yet able to summarize and describe the many things they experience over the course of a full and stimulating school day. However, photos offer visual cues that trigger a child’s memories and invite them to comment on specific materials and activities. There are many different ways to talk about these photos with your child, and we've provided some suggestions, which focus on your child's intrinsic motivation. Enjoy these special conversations as you allow them to teach you what they are learning at school.
- Ask your child to tell you about the photo. You may learn what they see in the classroom, or what they remember about the moment, and it may be much more than meets the eye.
- Say what you see without judgement. “I notice you are in the classroom.” “Do you know the name of that work?” “There are a lot of colors in your drawing.”
- Speak about their efforts instead of praising their product. “You really look like you are concentrating.” “Is that the first time you have done that work?” “I see your smile. What did you like about that work?” “Are you building with those blocks?”
Listening to your child talk about the photos and speaking without judgement encourages your child's intrinsic motivation – it allows them to continue to work for their own sake, rather than for any praise from adults. As Montessori teachers, we get to witness this intrinsic motivation every day. It looks different at each age grouping and is a critical element to Montessori education. Many elements of the method foster intrinsic motivation without reward and judgement, such as control of error in the materials, allowing for repetition, assessment through observation, and relying on peers as sources of feedback and inspiration. Teachers try never to interrupt a concentrating child or judge their work. Instead, they seek opportunities for meaningful conversations before or after a student's work cycle.
As Montessori observed children, she saw time and time again the intrinsic motivation in the child to work through repetition for long, uninterrupted periods of time. In a book that examines Montessori’s relevance to today’s educational practices, "The Science Behind the Genius," Angeline Lillard refers to several current research studies confirming that rewards and punishments not only negatively impact intrinsic motivation, but also how a student performs on the task. Traditional reward methods used in most schools may actually hinder a child’s performance. Given the opportunity, children are capable of learning to take personal responsibility for their actions.
“Like others I had believed that it was necessary to encourage a child by means of some exterior reward that would flatter his baser sentiments … in order to foster in him a spirit of work and of peace. And I was astonished when I learned that a child who is permitted to educate himself really gives up these lower instincts.” – Dr. Maria Montessori
As a Montessori school, we believe deeply in educating the whole child: their academic, psychological, critical-thinking, moral, and social-emotional selves. In addition to the academic lessons and works your children are engaged in daily, our teachers and staff are also guiding your child through other very important lessons to help them with their moral and social-emotional development. For example, teachers give explicit lessons related to grace and courtesy, facilitate discussions at the peace table, and encourage collaborative work and play daily.
And, it turns out, research from our School confirms that we are doing this pretty well …
The Gratitude Project
We recently worked with Professor Jonathan Tudge and his team from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro ("UNCG") to study the development of gratitude as a virtue. As a virtue, gratitude goes beyond a positive feeling when something good happens. Virtuous gratitude is a disposition to act gratefully when someone else does something nice for you. Dr. Tudge explained it to me this way: “Saying 'thank you' is polite, but hardly a virtue. What makes gratitude a virtue is when beneficiaries of good deeds or significant help want to do something back for their benefactor if they have the chance to do so. That first act of generosity, followed by grateful reciprocity, leads to building or strengthening connections among people.”
In previous cross-cultural research, Dr. Tudge and his team found that most children develop this type of gratitude between the ages of 9 and 13, although the age differed depending on the cultural context. In their study, children in the United States developed virtuous gratitude at later ages than other cultures. Keeping this in mind, Dr. Tudge decided to target a new intervention designed to encourage the development of gratitude within adolescents.
Dr. Tudge and his team came to our School to explore this intervention. After working with our Upper School students, they stumbled upon a ‘good’ problem with their research: far more Greensboro Montessori School students exhibited virtuous gratitude than they expected. Our Upper Elementary and Junior High students expressed gratitude at much higher rates (67%) than did children in non-Montessori settings in the United States (46%). In addition, our students were almost twice as likely to express autonomous moral obligation (79%) than were children in non-Montessori schools (44%). Defined originally by Jean Piaget, autonomous moral obligation is a decision-making framework whereby moral decisions are made based on intrinsic motivations to do the right thing.
Dr. Tudge and his team were puzzled by these anomalous findings. Why did our students score higher than other American children, even when compared to other well-regarded private schools in the Greensboro area? And how are these findings related to Montessori pedagogy and culture?
Gratitude in the Montessori Classroom
In our discussions with Dr. Tudge, we discussed the way Montessori teachers prepare the environment to communicate honor, respect, and gratitude to the child. We also described the ways in which our teachers model gratitude and respect when they speak and interact with their students. In time, this becomes our students' definition of "how it's supposed to be.” In addition, we delineated how our grace and courtesy curriculum creates both a framework for community interactions and a schoolwide culture of character.
In collaboration with Dr. Tudge and his team, I presented the results from our Upper School students’ involvement with Dr. Tudge's gratitude study at the Association for Moral Education’s annual conference in Seattle, Washington.
In the presentation, we hypothesized that our students' high rates of gratitude could be due to several specific tenets of Montessori philosophy:
- Specific lessons about grace and courtesy provide explicit guidance on character development from a young age.
- Daily practice of grace and courtesy increase opportunities for proximal processes related to virtue development.
- Mixed age groupings of children may expose younger children to older children are further along in virtue development.
- Peer interactions encouraged from toddlerhood may increase opportunities for the development of mutual respect.
Dr. Tudge and his team also did some work with our Lower Elementary students. Tudge’s team again noted that so many of even these younger children (aged 6 to 9) expressed virtuous gratitude. Dr. Tudge reflected: “We think that this must say something about the character-based focus of the general Montessori curriculum, because a far greater proportion of Greensboro Montessori School children expressed gratitude than elsewhere.”
Character Education at Greensboro Montessori School
Overall, the results suggest that a Montessori environment is conducive to developing virtuous gratitude and autonomous moral obligation. These results – while surprising and interesting to the UNCG team and other researchers and educators at the Association for Moral Education conference – are not really that surprising to us. Focusing on strong character education is a key tenet of Greensboro Montessori School. A deep respect towards classmates and other people is so integral to our culture that it's not that surprising our Elementary and Junior High students authentically take their sense of gratitude to a level beyond just saying “thank you.”
My very first year at Greensboro Montessori School, I worked alongside a wise and wonderful teacher, who is also my Montessori mentor. As our year together progressed into late spring, she suggested we teach a unit on the life cycle of the monarch butterfly and sent me afield to pick up a caterpillar tent from a local butterfly farm. It was a curious-looking contraption: a flowering milkweed plant with a gauzy covering. A week into our journey with this kit, my mentor had a family emergency that took her on an unexpected trip overseas ... for four weeks. At a moment’s notice, I found myself entrusted with the care of 12 children; one gerbil (my mentor knew I didn’t do rodents); a ragtag tray of fava beans sprouting in paper cups; and this milkweed plant, the presumed setting for the miracle of metamorphosis. That is, if I could keep it alive. It didn’t take long for me to realize that with this lowly plant came some extraordinary lessons in faith, respect, awe, tenderness, and trust.
For those uninitiated in the art art of raising caterpillars: they take a while to become visible. A long while. Though we’d been promised that our plant came with a pair of Monarch eggs, those first two weeks rolled by with nary a sighting of the little beasts. Every day we checked for them, and every day I saw the skepticism grow in my students' eyes as I described the wondrous sight we were going to behold. Probably. Eventually. The morning we finally noticed wormholes in the leaves — evidence that our charges were indeed hatched and hungry — felt like waking up to breakfast in bed on your birthday.
Once our caterpillars became visible, they grew at a blazing speed, delighting the toddlers with their impossibly lovely stripes and ravenous eating habits. The students relished the idea that these creatures never, ever accepted any food but milkweed. “Wouldn’t you like some pizza, dears?,” I’d ask the worms. “Maybe a nice cup of coffee?” The children would squeal, “NO WAY!,” perhaps reminded of their own choosy appetites. An assortment of suggested names were bandied about, ranging from Lexy to Tiger to Dobo to Burp. (The caterpillars didn’t seem to have a preference.)
One sunny morning, we found the caterpillars hanging from the leaves in their mysterious “J” formation, the behavior that immediately precedes the formation of the chrysalis. Within hours, they were caterpillars no more. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I could never have imagined the reverence and care the students extended once this transformation had taken place. They seemed to instinctively know their tiny pets now needed silence and space. Each morning, the toddlers took turns standing guard by the milkweed plant, gazing solemnly at the astonishing beauty of the chrysalises, misting them gently with a spray bottle. Many days of inaction followed ... yet, having awaited their friends’ first emergence, the students now had unwavering patience and faith. Some miracles, they’d learned, are worth waiting for.
When the butterflies emerged during the last week of school, we carried them to the playground and prepared to set them free. Before they departed, they allowed each and every toddler to hold them awhile and sing them a send-off song (the choice was painfully obvious: “Let it Go”). When the monarchs finally took to the sky and fluttered toward the Primary garden, I knew the students and I were feeling the exact same mix of elation and heartache. After all, many of our toddlers themselves would soon be flying to the other side of the playground fence, away from the nest of our classroom and our many loving days together.
Six years later, having raised monarchs with every single toddler class I’ve taught since that first year, it’s time for my own metamorphosis. I am so excited for the new challenges and relationships that await me as I transition into the director of CASA role at Greensboro Montessori School. Yet there’s something about teaching that simply can’t be matched by any other profession. Year after year, I’ve witnessed the beautiful metaphor of little children caring tenderly for the tiny, fragile caterpillars whose lives begin in our classroom. I hope that’s in small part because they, too, have felt tenderly cared for here; that they understand the reverence and awe a teacher experiences as they watch their students grow, and the bittersweet pride they feel when it’s time to set their students free.
This year, when our current crop of monarchs depart for the great big world outside, we’ll all be ready to spread our wings and join them, together, in flight.
About the Author
Brooke Juneau joined Greensboro Montessori School's Toddler faculty in 2013. She holds her Infant & Toddler (bith to 3 years old) Montessori teaching credential and graduated from Hampshire College with a Bachelor of Arts in education and human development. Brooke is the mother of three boys. Her middle son, Hayden, graduated from Greensboro Montessori School in 2017. Brooke plays the guitar and loves singing with her students. Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, Brooke will be the School's director of CASA.
“Turn it, and turn it, and turn it, and turn it, and turn it, and turn it, Compost Cake!”
“Pile it high, pile it high, pile it high, Compost Cake!”
If you’ve heard this song about compost all around campus this fall and winter, it’s because we got new compost bins in the Primary and Lower Elementary gardens! Why did we get new bins, you might ask? Two reasons:
- We needed more space for the volume of organic waste we produce (a combination of garden waste and food scraps from the students' lunches and snack preparation)
- We wanted to try a more interactive, faster, and developmentally appropriate compost model for our younger students.
So what did we get? If you visit the Primary and Lower Elementary gardens, you’ll see some giant green cylinders sitting on a rotating axis. These compost bins are called tumblers. Tumbler compost models allow students of all ages to spin the compost (working those gross motor skills), in addition to speeding up the composting process. In our old bins, it took at least a year for our food waste and garden scraps to decompose fully, we'll make finished compost in as little as two weeks. Cheers to that!
What is Compost?
Compost is the product that’s left after organic matter has fully decomposed. It’s also called humus. Human-made compost comes from carefully mixing food and garden waste materials — ingredients high in either nitrogen or carbon — and placing them in an environment where they can decay. When the decaying process has gone well, we put the finished compost, or humus, back into the garden soil and grow healthier plants by improving soil fertility.
Why do we compost at Greensboro Montessori School?
For starters, compost has a longer ground-life than other fertilizers. It lasts longer in soil than crop residues or animal manures that degrade rapidly here in the humid Southeast. This longevity makes for healthier plants and food crops. Composting also reduces our waste throughout campus. By diverting organic matter from the landfill and into a closed-loop cycle, we transform our “waste” into a fertilizer for our gardens and food for the microorganisms that live in the soil beneath us. We also save money by eliminating the need and associated cost of additional soil fertility inputs. And let's not forget, composting is just plain fun!
Can you think of any other reasons to compost? Maybe, that by doing it, we are feeding the worms our Toddlers so adore? That it’s a responsible use of resources? That it's a project-based way to teach science? Share your thoughts with us! And, if you want to learn more, please join us at our next Community Garden Workday for more composting tips and tricks with our environmental education faculty. We’d love to have you.
If you're interested in learning more about the science of composting, read this article from Live Science.
About the Author
Eliza Hudson is Greensboro Montessori School's lead environmental educator. Eliza holds her bachelor's degree in biology from Earlham College in Richmond, Ind. She has built and tended school gardens, taught hands-on cooking lessons and connected local farms to school programs working for FoodCorps. Prior to joining Greensboro Montessori School in 2014, Eliza was a classroom and after-school assistant at the Richmond Friends School, a farm intern at a family-owned farm in Ohio, and served as assistant director at a summer day camp in an urban community garden in Durham.
Greensboro Montessori School has taught environmental education since 1995 and has been permaculture gardening on its campus since 1997.