Family Camping...Montessori Style


If you were to ask any of our alumni families what they loved about the Children's House Montessori School of Reston, an overwhelming majority of them would tell you, among other things, that they loved the school community - the families, the friendships, the staff. What sets us apart from other schools truly is this community that we've built over the years - and that sense of community wouldn't be the same without our annual family camping trip.  It's on this trip that friendships begin between families, where bonds are strengthened between our students, and where alumni siblings get reaquainted with old friends and remember what it feels like to be a part of CHMS.

Each year we bring back old favorites like singing around the camp fire, sending the kids on a scavenger hunt, coming up with fun family cheers, the "store" run by the big kids, s'mores and banana boats (bananas stuffed with chocolate chips and marshmallows) over the camp fire, and lots of time to relax and enjoy the kids being kids without any of the distrations of everyday life. We rent a collection of cabins and have a community area to gather where the kids do many crafts, play soccer, play with bubbles, toy airplanes, and trucks. We enjoy delicious homemade meals and snack together in the dining hall complete with a full kitchen and tons of tables where we sit and watch the kids play with each other.

We often find something new that everyone loves - this year's favorite was the "Great Big Moose" song. And we almost always have something unexected and memorable happen like the bald eagle flying overhead this year, which was a truly amazing sight.

Please take a look at the video of some of the highlights from this year.



Montessori Music: CHMS 2015 World Music Tour

“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” - Plato

Plato’s words are oh-so-appropriate as an introduction to our music program here at CHMS. That’s exactly what we are hoping for our children each time we offer them an opportunity to listen to and learn about music - wings for their minds, flight for their imaginations, and to give them a little context for which they can begin their exploration of the world through music.

Beethoven, Mozart, orchestra, jazz, pitch, tempo, dynamics - these are all words that our preschool, pre-k, and kindergarten children learn during Friday music class.  They use these words every day in our classrooms as we listen to music and talk about what they hear to further expand their musical vocabulary and appreciation for all types of music. These words mean something to them.  Expanding musical vocabulary helps children learn to talk with their friends about what they hear and to enjoy and appreciate it more.

We explore a new musical unit in the fall, winter, and spring, where we focus on a theme during music class.  The children learn all about composers, instrument families, identify specific instruments in songs, talk about and listen to a wide variety of types of music, and get an opportunity to play several instruments through the year as well.  For our holiday program, the children play the bells as well as several other percussion instruments in addition to singing and dancing. 

We recently completed our 2015 CHMS World Music Tour, and it was a blast!  Over several weeks this spring, we explored types of music and learned about specific instruments from each continent. Your child recently brought home his/her passport and an explanation of the unit so you can talk more with them about their experiences.  We used our iPad to explore the sounds and songs and see the instruments using YouTube. We learned about the fiddle, guitar, and trumpet when talking about North America.  For South America, we learned about the panpipe and piano.  When discussing African music, Ms. Marierose brought her djembe drums and we listed to the balafon as well. During European music week we learned about the harp and trombone. Instruments from Asia included biwa, bansuri, and tabla.  And last week was Australia, where we talked about clapsticks and Ms. Keturah brought in her didgeridoo for the children to see and listen to.  

In addition to the children thoroughly enjoying the music classes, we often hear them talking with one another during lunch while we listen to classical music.  They talk about the instruments they hear in the music as well as the composers they are listening to while enjoying their lunch. Kwame Alexander, Newberry award winning author and alumni parent of CHMS, paid us a special visit later year to read his book, Acoustic Rooster, to the children and we were all pleasantly surprised to hear the children actively participate in conversations about jazz music - they knew instruments, artists, and could relate to what the music would sound like because they had heard it during several times during music class. 

We have heard so many inspiring conversations and we’ve seen the children’s interest in music be lifted to new heights in the past few years of our new music program.  Specials are nearly over for this year, and we can’t wait to see how the children respond to next year’s music units as well!


Parent Day 2015: The Top 10 Parent Observations


A hug for mom or dad at the door and a handshake greeting from the teachers is how the children routinely start each day here at Children's House Montessori School (CHMS) of Reston. They come in excited and independently choose the challenging work they want to tackle. But Parent Day at Children’s House is truly a special treat for all. Your children work for weeks in advance of Parent Day to select the work they will demonstrate for you, practice their favorite songs over and over during circle time, and learn new skills like sign language to share on that special day.  

On Parent Day, we love that you are excited to walk through the door with your child and shake hands with the teachers as you explore our classrooms.  Parent Day is special to moms and dads because you have the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time with your child, to watch them happily engaged in meaningful work, to see their thought processes as they approach each new challenge, to experience the true effort that goes into a four year old solving multiplication and division problems, and to wonder how in the world their child knows how to put together the trinomial cube or the puzzle map of Africa. New parents aren’t quite prepared for circle time, but are delightfully reminded of life as a three year old as they sing silly songs with us and dance with their child in front of 30+ adults, all anxiously awaiting their turn to partake in the fun.  We are so glad that you enjoy learning new things from your children as they beam with excitement when they get to sing their favorite song and show you the signs they know.  On this day, you get to enjoy the fun of being a child, while observing the meaningfulness of the work that happens here every day. It's so wonderful to take the time to see how peaceful and happy your child is to be working and learning in our Montessori classrooms.

As Montessori teachers we are also excited for Parent Day because we get to watch the children completely engaged in activities as you explore our classrooms together.  We are so glad you get to see and are appreciative of all the hard work that goes into the day to day preparation of our Montessori environment.  And we kind of get a kick out of watching as you realize you are about to actively participate in our silly circle time.  We love each and every day we spend with the children, guiding and helping them to become independent, life long learners.  But especially on Parent Day, we love the opportunity to share our daily joys with our families.

As a little token of thanks to each mom and dad who helped make the day a success...



Top 10 Favorite Parent Observations from our Parent Day 2015…

10. Everything in the classrooms has a purpose….everything!

9. The children are working together and enjoying one another’s company without disturbing one another.  That doesn’t even happen in my office!

8. This is harder than what I get paid to do! How does this cube work?

7. There is such a wide variety of activities to choose from…no wonder she loves to come here!

6. It’s time for lunch already?  

5. Grandma would love to see you working so hard - we’ll send her some pictures.

4. They (the children) are so engrossed that they don’t even notice what’s going on around them. They are so very focused.

3. I wish my work was this fun!

2. It is such a joy to see (my child) happily working - I wish next Friday was Parent Day too. 

1. They (the children) are so independent and confident in their own abilities - it’s absolutely amazing!



Spring Gardening with Children: Our Six Week Montessori Approach 


Gardening with preschool to kindergarten-aged children can be a relaxing and enjoyable learning experience for all. At our Montessori school in Northern VA, Children's House Montessori School of Reston, we have fall and spring gardening time broken down into one simple task each week so that it is fun and even our youngest helpers feel successful.  The children love learning all about the worms and their castings, how to create compost and ensure the soil is rich with nutrients for their plants, and they take pride in caring for their plants and animals living in our garden.

If you've thought about getting your children involved in gardening, we've provided some information about what they learn at school each week during spring gardening to help you extend what they've learned into your own gardening experiences and to help any new readers of our blog learn a little about how you can bring some Montessori ideas into your own garden:

Week 1 - CLEANING/PRUNING:  Clean out the garden and do any required trimming.

  1. Trim plants and remove any plants that may not have survived.
  2. Once the flowering bulbs have bloomed by early April, we remove the bulbs and dry and store them for next fall to make room in our small garden. You can also leave the bulbs if you have a large garden. 
  3. Cuttings are added to the spring compost bin, which was started with fallen leaves just a few months ago.

Week 2 - COMPOST: Composting is a great example of how recycling makes things new again. It teaches the children about the lifecycle and they become more aware of the fact that things have more than one use.

  1. We loosen the soil prior to having the children mix the compost into the soil in the garden area. The garden is now ready for spring plantings. 
  2. A favorite activity is making new compost. Leaves form the base of our new compost by emptying them into the compost bin, filling the bin to the brim.  They quickly disintegrate to make room for new contents. 
  3. Lots of water in the compost bin is good at this stage, as it speeds up the decomposition process. 
  4. Any cuttings, annuals, and lunch leftovers such as bits of fruits and vegetables are collected daily and added to the bin.
  5. We also add a bag of soil to the bin to help with decomposition, and a few worms are added as well.

Week 3 - PLANTING:  We include plant seedlings, vegetables, and herbs.  Child-sized gardening tools are provided to each child to promote independence and reduce accidents.  These tools can be found at Target or any local store in the early spring. 

  1. Purposefully show the children how to hold the tools and to dig a place for their plant in the soil. 
  2. Earthworms are essential in our garden – their waste (called castings) are a form of fertilizer. We have a container for making castings and then add it to our garden each year.  The children are fascinated by this process.  Castings are added to the soil after the hole has been dug, then we place the plant on top of the castings and gently cover the roots with soil.
  3. We teach the children how to water their plants gently with a beaker or small watering can, near the base of the plant as to protect their leaves and flowers.

Week 4 - MULCHING:  We begin mulching by explaining to the children that mulch is made from old trees that have died and been chopped up.  We use old trees because the nutrients that were part of the tree when it was living are used to feed the new plants. Mulch acts as a blanket in the winter and as a filter for the spring rain so that the nutrients get to the roots of the plants. 

Small buckets are used for this activity (margarine tub sized). A wheel barrow is used to hold the mulch and the children fill their buckets with the mulch.  The mulch is gently emptied out and spread around the base of the plants by hand.  The children often repeat this process several times.

Week 5 - WATER…water…water…and water some more: 

Use small watering cans or beakers to help the children learn to control where they are pouring, keeping the water around the base of the plants rather than pouring it on top of the plants or flowers.  At CHMS, the children can water the plants while they are outside for playtime as well.  If the watering activity is available during playtime, we fill a large bucket with water and the children know that they can use the beakers to transport water around the garden to the areas that need it.

Week 6 - FEEDING:  While working in the garden each week, we encourage responsibility by having the children to help take care of their habitat garden by rinsing out the water bowls, humming bird feeder, and completely emptying the bird food containers.

  1. Seed is poured into the bird feeder. 
  2. Fresh hummingbird water is poured into the hummingbird feeders. 
  3. Suet is places into the suet holders. 
  4. Water bowls are filled with fresh water. 
  5. The butterfly dish is filled with fresh sand and stones and filled to the sand level with water to provide a place for butterflies to rest and drink water without drowning. Grapes can be added, but that can also attract bees.

So now you are ready to let your little ones get their hands dirty! We have additional information in our Gardening Curriculum guide in the office if you're interested.


Habitat Gardening with Children: A Montessori Approach

If you've ever assisted Ms. Ursula during gardening time with the children, you've had the opportunity to see their faces light up with anticipation wondering what they'll get to do this week. They enjoy learning all about the castings we use in the soil when planting flowers, and our Kindergarten friends love sharing how they have helped with the worms who make the castings. The children feel important wearing their child-sized gardening gloves or contributing to the compost bin with lunch scraps. They feel a sense of ownership over our garden because they get to water the plants that they just placed in the soil, spread mulch, and work as a team to sweep the stairs and walkways.

The gardening curriculum that Ms. Ursula created teaches your children to nurture with patience and pride, and can be witnessed daily throughout our school. Our beautiful, thriving habitat garden is evidence that Ms. Ursula has at least TWO green thumbs. She also has some wonderful ideas to help you when gardening with your children at home. In fact, she has so many great tips that we'll just start with a few and link the blogs together over the next few weeks.

We have created a habitat garden in order to draw back natural wildlife that modern living has chased away. Our habitat garden has all of the elements of a good home for butterflies, birds, hummingbirds, chipmunks, squirrels and other wildlife: food, water, shelter, and a place to raise young. Our habitat garden is free from chemicals and fertilizers, of course to protect the children, but also animals feed on the bugs that visit the garden.

We often hear from parents that their children want to create a similar environment at home so here's what you can do to create your own child-friendly habitat garden and a whole season of learning opportunities for your children, as well:

  • Provide Food for Animals: When natural food sources are not available, the animals will either eat the flowers, vegetables, and herbs we plant or the food we provide for them in more than a half dozen bird feeders and suet around the garden, hummingbird feeders, and nuts for squirrels and chipmunks. The children look forward to helping to replenish the nuts and seeds. The containers should be cleaned several times each season as animals prefer containers free from residue and decomposing old seeds.

  • Water Sources: Wildlife needs fresh clean water for drinking, bathing, and reproduction. Birdbaths, water gardens, rain gardens, or puddling areas for butterflies would be excellent choices. The water needs to be changed 2-3 times each week. Toads, chipmunks, and deer prefer larger bodies of water.

  • Provide Shelter: Animals need shelter to hide and feel safe and to raise their young. Dense shrubs, tree stumps, vegetation, and nesting boxes are all good options. You can also create hiding places for animals using logs, brush, rock piles, birdhouses specifically created for the types of birds you'd like to attract, and roosting boxes for bats so they have a place to rest or raise their young. A toad abode is an easy one - just place a planter pot overturned between some shrubs and near some water. When creating these structures with your children, remind them that they are more likely to get animal visitors if these items are left undisturbed.

  • Places to Raise Young: Where you create undisturbed shelter (such as rock piles, birdhouses, etc.) you will find small animals willing to raise their young. It is common, even in newly formed environments, to find birds, chipmunks, salamanders, and butterflies producing new young in your habitat garden.


Next up - Tips for Spring Gardening with Children

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