Resident Artists Enrich Aster’s Classroom

A Montessori classroom welcomes the child to a symphony of sensorial experiences. One child’s small fingers trace the rough edges of a sandpaper letter, while another child uses a quiet hand to grade 10 pink cubes into a tower. The child not only sees and hears what “h” is, but feels the curves of the letter. The child not only sees the shift of the size in cubes from largest to smallest, but feels the weight of 10 pink cubes progressively changing in volume. The classroom, a living organism, moves in harmony when the children can see, hear and feel along their pathway of learning. Maria Montessori designed all of the materials to encompass aspects of experiential learning: they are beautiful, sensorial and didactic in nature.

Dr. Montessori said, “It is exactly in the repetition of the exercises that the education of the senses exists; not that the child shall know colors, forms or qualities, but that he refine his senses through an exercise of attention, comparison and judgment.” The sandpaper letters and pink tower are classic examples of the myriad pedagogic materials that exist within the classroom to sharpen and hone this exact development of the senses to which Dr. Montessori refers. At Aster Montessori, we seek to further the refinement of the senses by cultivating a deep sense of artistic expression in our culture, design, daily works, partnerships and more.

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Navigating the Complex Early Childhood Funding Ecosystem

Public K-12 funding is far from simple, with its reliance on federal title programs and special education funds, state appropriations, local tax levies and more. Despite the complexity, district innovation programs and charter school laws have opened up standardized ways for new schools to access public funds, and we’ve seen an explosion over the last 20 years of new public schools.

The context is very different in preschool — in some ways more open, due to the prevalence of a mixed public/private delivery system, and in some ways more closed. In particular, the challenges of accessing public funding and the administrative obstacles that come along with many funding sources pose barriers to creating more accessible high-quality early childhood education options, even amid growing demand.

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Profiling (the original) Wildflower: ‘A great place to be a teacher-leader’

(1/30/18: This article has been updated.)

A Montessori teacher for 25 years, Mary Rockett, like many educators before her, had resigned herself to the fact that becoming an administrator was the only way to progress in her career. But five years into the “soul-crushing” administrator life, a chance meeting with a prospective parent changed everything.

Sep Kamvar, a former Google computer scientist who was running the Social Computing Lab at the MIT Media Lab at the time, met Mary during an admissions open house. Several months later, she received an email from Sep saying he wanted to open a Montessori school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and wondered if Mary would like to have coffee with him. Eager to help a fellow Montessori believer, she agreed.

Over coffee, Sep started telling Mary about his dreams for a network of Montessori Schools he called Wildflower. He told her about the kind of education that he wanted not only for his son, but for every child.

“He’s a very gentle, disarming, kind, thoughtful person, but in listening to him, I thought, ‘This guy is really grandiose; I hope he’s not out of his mind!’” Mary remembered. “He was talking about changing the world, changing the face of education. I was intrigued. Totally blown away.” Continue Reading

Finding the Sun, Preparing the Soil: A Look Back at The Wildflower Foundation’s Year

As a new year approaches, we wanted to share the achievements and learnings over the last year of our growing network of teacher-led, micro Montessori schools. The report we’ve prepared for you reflects on the Wildflower Foundation’s first year as an independent organization.

With 13 schools across two states and Puerto Rico, plus schools developing in several more places, we’ve observed that Wildflowers grow and thrive very much like wildflowers. They spread organically, but only under the right conditions. You and our many supporters have helped create those conditions, along with Wildflower’s teacher-leaders, parents and students, and for that we are so grateful.

Montessori entered my life, thankfully, when I was seven years old, after two bumpy years in a traditional school where my struggles to sit at my desk led to a lot of missed recess. Today, both of my own children attend public Montessori schools, and I get to work with a brilliant group of Montessorians and other passionate visionaries every day.

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Learning from Our Sensor Technology

In a previous blog post, we described our plans to pilot emerging technology to support our teachers in enhancing their existing Montessori classroom observation and record-keeping. If you’re unfamiliar, observation is a key component of Montessori education. Teachers observe students as they go about their work, take careful notes, maintain meticulous records about student engagement and progress, and regularly reflect on all of the above in order to build their understanding of each student’s unique development path and plan their actions in the classroom.

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Wildflower Grows in Minnesota

Minnesota has a long history of innovation in education, rooted in our citizens’ commitment to expanding opportunity to all and empowering teachers and families to create new educational options that meet the needs of the children they love. Thirty five years ago, the Minnesota Miracle expanded funding to communities in need, and importantly, it did so through a state-level formula that protected local control of educational decisions. Twenty five years ago, Minnesota passed the first charter law in the nation, which gave school-level educators a pathway to create innovative schools within the public system. Minnesota offers post-secondary enrollment options, a network of support for home schools, interdistrict choice and countless other initiatives and programs designed to make it possible for every child to access a strong, personalized, relevant education.

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Opening Doors to Montessori Teachers of Color

Six people eagerly approached a door last month with a bright yellow sign reading “Welcome Montessori Teachers of Color.” Their entrance marked the kickoff of a pilot program to develop and support a cohort of teachers of color.

Through this diversity initiative, Wildflower partners with promising current and future Montessori teachers from historically underrepresented or disadvantaged backgrounds on the journey towards creating and leading their own school. This includes supporting participants in acquiring Montessori credentials, developing their capabilities as lead guides, learning the specific work of administering a Wildflower school, and, depending on their goals and capacity, helping them plan and prepare to launch their own dream school. Continue Reading

How We Can Help Wildflower Schools in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria devastated the infrastructure of Puerto Rico – including many schools. On the main island, there are three Wildflower schools within the commonwealth’s public education system: Alheli, Flamboyan and Girasol. From our school leaders there, we have learned that our schools, teachers and families, like so many other Puerto Ricans, are without roofs, electricity, food and fresh water.

We’ve been looking for ways to support our team, and so far have shipped three generators, fans, water filtration systems, batteries and lanterns. We are now starting to send non-perishable food for students to have at school.

Our Wildflower community, which connects to Puerto Rico from our schools and offices in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota and elsewhere on the mainland, is eager to support our schools directly. We have been inspired by our teacher leaders who – in the face of near-complete destruction – have shared that they are eager to provide a safe place for students and families to learn and be together as many of them are currently without homes.

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The Montessori Classroom as Artists’ Studio

Erin McKay is co-head of school at Wildflower Montessori in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the first Wildflower school. Erin attended a Montessori school from age 3 to 12.

For Montessori’s art-filled classrooms, back-to-school means also going back to the studio. We view our materials and presentations less as a curriculum and more as a way to cultivate the most aesthetically pleasing space that will invite the child to tap into her innate curiosity and work with her hands. Doing so leads to discoveries that define us a civilization, as Dr. Montessori wrote in The Absorbent Mind: “If we try to think back to the dim and distant past…what is it that helps us reconstruct those times, and to picture the lives of those who lived in them? It is their art… it is thanks to the hand, the companion of the mind, that civilization has arisen.”

Much as an artist enters their studio, a child walks into the Montessori environment in the morning, the whole day a blank canvas. In the span of our three-hour work cycle in the morning, the children have an open-ended invitation to create, manipulate and explore the materials that have been presented to them.
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