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Resilient Roots: Celebrating Wildflower Seedlings

WF Seedlings Banner Image

Every year, a new group of Wildflower schools peeks through the soil for the first time. But what a year this has been. In the best of times, the challenges, uncertainty, and personal growth of designing and launching a new school are immensely demanding. Yet Wildflower Teacher Leaders rose to meet the storm of challenges this year with resiliency, grounded in purpose, experience, and love for the families they serve.

 

For the first time, Wildflower is celebrating the achievements of these education entrepreneurs throughout their opening year with the inaugural edition of Wildflower Seedlings – a special publication highlighting the first year of our newest class of Wildflower schools. Please join Wildflower in welcoming the 14 new schools that opened their doors to families this year and their founding Teacher Leaders who transformed their lifetimes of learning and dreaming into their schools in their own communities.

 

Download Wildflower Seedlings

 

In these pages, you will meet the exceptional Teacher Leaders behind these schools and see what they have to say about what inspires and motivates their work as educators. To read more about their stories, backgrounds, and the beautiful schools they have created, please check out our first edition of Wildflower Seedlings.

Hub Spotlight: Wildflowers Grow in New Jersey

infants smiling working with sensorial materials
Despite a challenging year for childcare centers overall, and certainly new obstacles created by the global pandemic in the creation of new programs, Wildflower’s budding New Jersey hub has continued to plant and tend to its seeds.

 

We started off this year with the exciting news that Dr. Erika McDowell agreed to come on as our new New Jersey state Site Entrepreneur. Before joining Wildflower, Erika served as an Executive Director and Director of PBIS (positive behavior intervention and supports) and Youth Court for The School District of Philadelphia. She has also been an assistant principal and teacher. Her in-depth experience includes restorative practices, equity, positive behavioral supports, conflict resolution, classroom management, bullying prevention, and behavioral data support. She has a Superintendent’s credential, a EdD in from Drexel University in Educational Leadership and Management, and began her career as a drama teacher in Paterson, NJ, which is where she grew up. Erika will now be supporting New Jersey’s new and existing teacher leaders, as well as developing strategy and funding relationships to support Wildflower’s growth across the state.

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Montessori: Authentic or Keepin’ it real?

“Nobody’s life is safe…we are in mortal danger…people have to take to shelters…humanity itself is vanquished and enslaved.”

The Formation of Man, Maria Montessori 

This quote, written by a great teacher over one hundred years ago, rings true today. To say that we are in the midst of a humanitarian crisis might be an understatement to some. Many of us are waking up overwhelmed by the toxins in our world right now and are not sure what we are going to perish from first. Currently, we are not only besieged by viral biological toxins we are also besieged by oppressive societal toxins such as racism that compromises our humanity and our sense of human dignity. 

While we are tasked as a society to reconstruct how we eat, work, gather and meet our fundamental needs collectively, we are also tasked with an opportunity to reconstruct how we live in service to these needs, the needs of humanity.  How will we stand up for our own rights and those of others? How do educators work with children to ensure that our future is a humane one? So many of us Montessori educators are concerned about how to implement an authentic Montessori method that ties us tightly to just where our pink tower will land, however it is times like these that we must remember that authentic Montessori is about leaning into the age old Montessori philosophy that was created for the renewal and revitalization of our humanity.

Maria Montessori understood that education was the channel in which a new type of person could be formed- a channel in which moral character and humanity could be preserved. She birthed a way of learning, a pedagogy that was designed to meet our fundamental needs. She took on the task of reforming our service to humanity through the introduction of a way of learning that she hoped would not only salvage humanity but would help in the construction of a new type of person—moral enough in character to assist in that effort. 

Maria said, “The new school, indeed, must not be created for the service of a science, but for the service of living Humanity; and teachers will be able to rejoice in the contemplation of the lives unfolding under their eyes.” (The Advanced Montessori Method 1 Chapter 4.)

Maria’s charge today is bigger than ever. We are the shapers of our future during a humanitarian crisis that is marked by the death and murder of black people, corporate greed and a global pandemic. The most relevant and authentic aspects of the Montessori pedagogy are those that can be used today as tools for our liberation.  My mentor Asa Hilliard, Black psychologist and Montessorian writes, “Montessori is a metaphor for humanity because it is a pedagogy that helps humans receive what they naturally need,” in his work entitled Maintaining the Montessori Metaphor: What every child wants and needs (The NAMTA Journal Vol. 21. No 2 Spring 1996, Asa Hilliard). 

The aspects of the Montessori philosophy that provide us with the tools for liberation we need are the defining features of an authentic Montessori practice. These features which include self reflection through anti-bias spiritual preparation, empowerment through the development of critical consciousness and a process of normalization that leads to self actualization are described in Authentic Montessori and Contemporary Considerations written by Koren Clark, Margaret J. Kelly, Angeline Lillard, and Virginia McHugh (pgs 30-38).

When Montessori educators lean into an authentic Montessori philosophy they are likely to design a practice that guides them towards human transformation. The inner work of self-reflection that the Montessori teacher is implored to do is also expected from the Montessori student whose identity is strengthened and dignified as they reflect daily on the choices they make with work and in community. The opportunity children have in the classroom to autonomously solve problems, and build the muscles of critical consciousness will ultimately be needed to solve problems outside of the classroom and in the world. Currently, we are living out one of the biggest practical problems that life has to offer and there is real work for children to do. As we adapt to our new “normal” and lament the ways in which Montessori children will not become normalized in our classrooms let us lean into the philosophical implications of normalization in Montessori. Montessori said,  “All we have to do is set the child’s energy free. When we speak of freedom in education we mean freedom for the creative energy which is the urge of life towards the development of the individual…”(Maria Montessori, 1989). This development of the individual,  their internal motivation and their unique self-expression can be called the process of self-actualization (Authentic Montessori and Contemporary Considerations, by Koren Clark, Margaret J. Kelly, Angeline Lillard and Virginia McHugh).

Self-actualization for all is the ultimate liberatory end we want to reach and it is the end that any pedagogy that honors education in its truest form will generate. Education from its root means, “to unleash that which is within.”  

In this day and time, the most relevant authentic aspects of Montessori are those that we need to keep real. We can keep it real by making sure that we are allowing children to unleash the most essential aspects of who they are and ensure that we are not becoming nor forming the next Karen’s and Becky’s, that we are becoming anti-racist activist and that we are raising the next generation to do the same. So although we may be mourning the loss of the Montessori method as we know it, staring at lifeless materials, empty peace tables and etc, we have a new opportunity to reenergize the static and unwavering philosophy. The Montessori philosophy is dynamic and it should be used as the force of liberation. 

Maria says, “Either education contributes to a movement of universal liberation by showing the way to defend and raise humanity or it becomes like one of those organs which have shriveled up by not being used during the evolution of the organism.” (The Formation of Man, Maria Montessori.)

We are ripe with a new opportunity to mobilize a movement towards liberation through a future generation fortified with the critical consciousness and empathetic drive to activate, honor and preserve the humanity in us all. We can do this through Montessori if we keep it real!

Wildflower Statement: Justice for George Floyd

Four days went by with no arrests as our city burned. No arrests, after the public murder of George Floyd only a half mile from one of our schools. Words have been hard to come by to describe our anguish. How many black and brown men, women and children sit in jail awaiting justice with far less evidence – for minor infractions, for just living – while the police officers who killed George Floyd sat free, in the comfort of their homes? 

And while our city burns, how many of us sit free in the comfort of our homes? Feeling sad, yes, but with the freedom to turn the channel, scroll down the feed. Selective outrage is not enough. We must cry out today and every day until there is justice. Justice for George Floyd and for every Black man, woman, and child that has died at the hands of state-sanctioned police brutality in our country. 

Each of us has the responsibility to act. And we know we haven’t done enough. But the shame of having not done enough must not stop us from doing everything we can now and moving forward. Are you a parent of a white child? Talk to your child about the ways racism plagues our country. Are you the parent of a black, brown or bi-racial child? Communities of color are grieving, for our collective loss and for the impact this has on every child. The Wildflower community is here to support you. Are you a teacher? Learn about your own racial identity, build your consciousness of how this impacts your practice, and teach your students to be anti-racist. Are you an organizational leader? Make space for healing in the midst of the constant traumas endured by our black and brown brothers and sisters in this country. Are you an employee? Speak up when you see subtle and not so subtle acts of racism.  

Take action today, then set a recurring reminder for yourself to take action again tomorrow, next week, next month, and the month after that. When that reminder goes off, ask yourself if you are doing all you can, and then do more. So many don’t have the choice to opt out. Please don’t. 

Teachers and other Wildflower partners are taking action in a number of ways as we grieve. Join us: 

While the Wildflower network of schools comprises many communities around the U.S., four Wildflower Schools as well as the organization that supports our network are based in Minneapolis. The injustice anguishing our Minneapolis partners is the latest diminishment of Black lives in America. We work and hope for the day when no Wildflower community–or any community–experiences such injustices.

The Three-year-old’s Dilemma: The Search for Order Amidst Chaos

Plastered across the virtual pages of social media are parents’ laments of three-year-old behavior gone awry. Parents and caregivers across the globe are fighting to maintain normalcy at home. What was once a daunting task of balancing a routine of school, work and play has now doubled in complexity. Families are charged with the task of working full time and providing child care full time. Families are striving to create a structure and routine amidst the backdrop of a drastically changed society. For the many who shelter in place, one time of day morphs into the other. Among the meetings, the newly organized pantries, the laundry and the dishes, stands the three-year-old. The child that every parent and caretaker is trying to protect, teach and love. The child who is challenging us. The child who is faced with a dilemma.

 

Children all over the world have been thrown into a uniquely stupefying situation. Children had schedules they could depend on. They had dates and events that gave them a sense of time. They knew going outside and being with people was safe and joyful. What was familiar is now foreign. What was cyclical is now halted. What was benign is now injurious. The ordered events of our days have unraveled. We attempt to remain grounded as the landscape of our daily lives shifts beneath our feet. But the three-year-old has a uniquely grand task at hand.

 

The mind of the three-year-old child is inherently sensitive to order. Staircases need to be repeatedly climbed, socks need to fit just right, and the same story often needs to be read six times (in a row). Dr. Maria Montessori’s work documents the child’s need for consistency, repetition, order and routine. Predictability gives a sense of security.

 

With social distancing, children have lost a sense of predictability, and in turn, they have lost some sense of security. Right now, they cannot go back to their routines. Schools and parks are closed. Playdates are paused. So much of what they knew to be true has temporarily shifted. Adults can understand that this situation is transient, albeit challenging. Asking a three-year-old to understand the complexity of this situation is an arduous request. This lack of choice and predictability not only disrupts their sense of order and routine, but also directly contradicts their sense of independence. One of the favorite phrases of the developing toddler is, “I do it myself”. With the lack of independence and choice, myriad tantrums erupt. Simply put, it’s hard. And thus, we have the three-year-old’s dilemma: a search for order amidst a disordered time.

 

So what can we do? We hold space. We give freedom within limits. We set up home environments where the child can succeed and feel independent. Acknowledge big feelings in a factual way. Give choices when you can, while also holding limits. When your child screams because they don’t want the cereal you set out this morning (even though they eat that cereal every single day) remember it’s not about the cereal. In the classroom, children start suddenly reacting strongly to normal routines when something in their home life feels out of control. Now that home and school are melded together, it’s not surprising that children are testing limits- the world currently feels out of control. Children are trying to figure out what still has order and what does not. They might push back on a common routine like eating cereal for breakfast just to see where the limits are.

 

Involve your child so that they feel empowered. You can give back independence by offering two choices for your child to eat in the morning, or create a menu for the week with them. Let them choose between two outfits and when they get stuck, offer to help with one pant leg while they do the other. The child wants to know we are holding some boundaries and are there for support. Imagine driving on a highway. We want lanes on a highway – we want the freedom to change lanes, but need guidance as to where those lanes are. Children want the freedom of “choice” in their day, but the adults can help guide them by giving choices, routines and support. Create spaces in your home where children can access materials, toys and snacks independently. Pause to observe your child throughout the day. Observe again.

 

Remember, in this seemingly endless period of uncertainty, it’s not about the cereal. Rather, it is a call to recreate a sense of order for the child. The sense of order we all so deeply crave.

Join the Wildflower Medical Masks Project

Our rapidly changing new world is uncovering new challenges every day – as well as new opportunities to help and support one another in our neighborhoods and communities.

 

Over the last week, it has become clear that we’re experiencing a shortage of protective gear for medical professionals across the country. Most health care institutions and hospitals are rationing the use of N95 masks and in some cases, are prioritizing the use of an N95 mask only for the most ill patients and/or sterile procedures (i.e. surgeries). As hospitals run out of supplies, employees and residents at elder care facilities, group homes, shelters, and civic/nonprofit organizations that help vulnerable people are also left unprotected from the spread of COVID-19, as well as other illnesses. This reality hit home for me personally 4 days ago: one of my dearest friends is a nurse in a metro area Emergency Room and shared that she and her colleagues were using just one N95 mask per day and supplies are rapidly running out. Today, another nurse shared that she has been using the same mask for the last 3 days.

 

This reality is dire. Thankfully, we are not passive consumers – we are makers of our world! In the last week, the #MillionMaskMayday movement in which regular people, young and old, making homemade fabric masks* for health care and emergency workers at home has begun to sweep across the world.

 

My mom taught me how to sew. As long as I can remember, she has made things – when I was little, it was matching dresses for me and my sister; for the last 10 years, we’ve been making quilts together. I spend most of my time outside of Wildflower making soft beautiful things out of fabric for people I love to mark momentous moments in their lives – marriages, babies being born, new homes, birthdays. This moment we’re in now is also momentous, though for all of us at once. And when makers around the world heard the call to dedicate their sewing skills to support health care workers, I started to organize with other volunteer makers in my neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis to share supplies and make as many homemade masks as we could. This opportunity to help out resonated also with Wildflower parents, children, and teachers across the country who have sewing machines at the ready – and so now, I’m inviting you all – Wildflower children, family members and friends – to join us in this volunteer effort.

 

If you have a sewing machine at home and know how to use it, you can make masks for emergency workers in need in your community. Fill out this form to request a kit. Or, use materials you already have at home – Instructions are available here. The pattern is perfect for beginners, and this would be a great project for children and parents to work on together. If sewing isn’t your thing but you’d like to help, we’re also accepting material donations and funding donations for this effort.

Request a Kit!

Thank you for your help and support. Stay safe and well!

 

* Although a homemade fabric mask cannot provide the same level of particle filtration as an N95 medical mask and are untested against COVID-19, the CDC has approved their use as a last resort. Research demonstrates that wearing a homemade fabric mask provides significantly more protection than wearing no mask at all.

Burning Toast is Learning

burnt toast in a bed of leaves with flowers

In homes around the world, parents are being asked to think about their children’s education in a new way – at home.  Parents, with plenty of other things to be stressed about, are feeling overwhelmed. On the home education front, a helpful shift could be to let go of the idea of recreating school and to instead think about what it means to hold space for learning at home.

What would this look like?  It could look like giving your children lots of opportunities for problem-solving and within that, giving them both freedom and responsibility. Some goals for this learning space could be:

  • Doing your best to help your children feel as safe and as happy as possible given the situation.  Safe means feeling loved and that the adults in their life, although stressed, are competent and in charge. We often think of happy children running around being wild and loud but happy can also look like a child deeply immersed in a book, proudly serving the snack they made for the family or finally figuring out how to finger-knit.
  • We’d also feel good if we saw some learning happening.  What does learning look like? If your child is occupied, concentrating, working at something over and over again until they get it right, your child is learning.  This could be figuring out how to zip their coat, rearranging their room, digging a hole in the backyard or teaching you how to play a game. All of these things involve problem solving, coordination, focus, planning and patience; if a teacher wrote a lesson plan that included all of these skills, she’d be very satisfied.
  • Siblings arguing and working through a disagreement are learning.  Not interrupting while parents are working is learning, staying positive while really missing friends is learning and understanding what it means to work together as a family to get through this is learning.  It’s still learning when it’s accompanied by grumbling, slammed doors and high emotions.
  • Making toast 3 times because you burned the first two pieces is learning, talking politely and enthusiastically to your grandmother on the phone is learning, thinking about the needs of your community and figuring out how you can safely share resources is learning.
  • Worksheets and flashcards are ways to practice or demonstrate what you’ve learned.  Real learning comes from interacting with real things – people and problems that need solving or developing a new skill because you’re interested and it will improve your life. Real learning leaves you feeling capable and competent and gives us the confidence needed to tackle new problems or situations, especially the hard ones.

Throughout human history, this is how children have learned.  On family farms and in family businesses, children have learned that the adults have things that they need to do in order for the family to succeed and that they have things that they need to do – both to support the family and to develop the skills that they’ll need to do the things they want to do as adults.

Your children can do this.  They’ll need some space. Some children are transitioning from schools where they’re told what to do and how to do it every minute of the day. They’ll need some time to revel in their freedom, to get bored, to complain, to accept their current reality and gradually they’ll find themselves drawn to and choosing activities that feel important and where they have a lot of autonomy.  You can support this by trusting that your children are capable, not being critical or giving unasked for advice and by understanding that trying and messing up is a key component of learning.

Parents also need to hold on to the idea that within this freedom, they’re in charge – they get to kindly but firmly veto ideas that are unsafe or unworkable and can set boundaries around children’s great ideas.  A six year old might suggest that, while the parents are working, they would like to create an obstacle course to meet the family’s need for exercise and fun. Parents can say – great idea, can’t wait and outline any objects or spaces that can’t be a part of the course and come to an agreement that everyone will work together to put away the obstacle course after several run-throughs.  It’s much better to set up the boundaries during the planning stage than to have a fun project end in tears because the child hadn’t thought through the clean-up process. If it takes a long time to clean up the very elaborate obstacle course, you don’t need to point this out. Your very intelligent child is probably thinking that they’ll create a much less complicated course tomorrow. This is learning.

A Care Package for Wildflowers

Meditations you can listen to or read

Daily Practices

  • Working with Fear and Uncertainty – Tools and practices to better understand your response to fear and move through it with intention
  • Poetry Unbound – short episodes (<10min), each featuring a poem and thoughts about the poem from Padraig O Tuama. Listen or read (though Padraig’s accent is wonderful, so I recommend a listen). Also available through podcast apps.

Writing and/or videos to inspire you

Podcasts to settle the heart

  • What We Nurture 
    • Sylvia Boorstein says spirituality doesn’t have to look like sitting down and meditating. A Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, Boorstein says spirituality can be as simple as “folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in [your] family even though you’ve had a long day.” And she insists that nurturing our inner lives in this way is not a luxury but something we can do in the service of others — from our children to strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store. Also available podcast apps.
  • Tending Joy and Practicing Delight
    • There is a question floating around the world right now: “How can we be joyful in a moment like this?” To which writer Ross Gay responds: “How can we not be joyful, especially in a moment like this?” He says joy has nothing to do with ease and “everything to do with the fact that we’re all going to die.” The ephemeral nature of our being allows him to find delight in all sorts of places (especially his community garden). To be with Ross Gay is to train your gaze to see the wonderful alongside the terrible, to attend to and meditate on what you love, even in the work of justice. Also available through podcast apps.