Sunday, September 2, 2018

Montessori and Restorative Justice


Restorative Justice is a form of reconciliation that relies on restoration rather than punishment. It has been practiced in many forms throughout history all around the world. At its core, it involves a facilitator to help both parties to present their experience and arrive at an acceptable solution. The person who has committed the harm, is held accountable and the person who has been harmed is given a voice about how the event affected them as well, influencing possible restitution or future actions. Restorative Justice not only helps the person who has been harmed feel heard and valued, but helps the person who committed the harm to see the full impact of their actions. This in turn, often helps motivate them to change their behavior because people who are simply punished for their actions often feel like they are the victims of a punitive system.
Montessori schools follow a system of conflict resolution that is very similar to Restorative Justice. We regularly teach skills to help children deal with conflict. For example, we teach children how to give an “I-message”, where the child who has been bothered or hurt in some way by another, communicates their feelings following the template of “I feel ____ when you do ____” All parties are expected to treat the other person with respect and value their feelings. The response to the “I-message” can include an apology but usually focuses on what will set the situation right.  For example, if one child tells another that he is bothered by another child bumping into his table every time he walks by, the other child can respond “I hear you and will make sure to walk carefully around your table next time.” Facilitators will often ask both parties if they are satisfied by this outcome and if they are, then the discussion is complete. If an issue becomes repeated, then a longer conference may involve exploring why the child continues to do the behavior and what can be done to help prevent it or any alternatives that can be found.
Most Montessori classrooms also have a Peace area where children can have a space to begin the process themselves. The Peace area is usually a table or tray where there are a few objects to help facilitate the process. It usually contains a “talking stick” or a fabric rose, and a small book that has been read in class about restoring peace. This area might also contain items to help children calm down such as a gel timer with colorful drops slowly falling down, or a finger labyrinth that a child can slowly trace a path with the finger. The child who feels wronged in some way can invite the other child to talk with them in the Peace area. They use the talking stick/rose to take turns telling their side of the event and what they can do to restore peace between them. If they are not able to find an acceptable solution, then they can invite the teacher or even another child to help facilitate.
This kind of conflict resolution cannot be simply a “band-aid” but must be a part of the fabric of everyday activities. Children must first learn how to identify their feelings and develop a language to express that. Everyone must be held accountable to listen to others. It’s not OK to dismiss someone’s concern and walk away without making some kind of amends or future action plan. The goal is to give children the tools to begin to resolve their own disputes, but it requires a facilitator for quite a while in order to become a developed skill. The teacher or adult must facilitate this process until it becomes natural for the children to do on their own.
Maria Montessori viewed education as a means for creating future generations. Her vision was that when Montessori children become adults, they will carry this model of interaction with them into the world, changing the societies they live in, making our future a better place!

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, Georgia USA 


Sunday, July 2, 2017

How to Be a Friend - Taking Care of Feelings

Many children struggle with the skills needed to learn how to be a good friend. Learning how to balance one’s own desires with that of others can be tricky. One way that helps is to explore two skills that promote friendship. The first skill involves learning how to take care of your own feelings, and the second skill involves learning how to show others that you value their thoughts and feelings. Parents and other adults can support these skills in their children through modeling, discussions, and encouragement. 

Take Care of Your Own Feelings

Before we can really be a friend to others, we need to learn how to take care of ourselves and that includes learning how to take care of one’s own feelings. This includes several areas, namely:

1. How to express one’s feelings appropriately
2. How to find appropriate outlets for “big” emotions
3. How to self-soothe

Each of these takes a bit of practice and experimentation with various methods to find what gives the best success.    

1. How to express one’s feelings appropriately: Learning how to express one’s feelings appropriately starts with first learning how to identify and name some basic emotions. Parents can help children identify emotions by introducing some of the vocabulary of emotions. For example, a parent could say “You look very frustrated when you can’t find your missing shoe.” Parents can also read books about emotions such as “The Way I Feel.” These types of books link situations to a particular emotion and expand vocabulary. 

Once children have a basic vocabulary about emotions then they need help learning how to express those emotions appropriately. In the Montessori classroom, we use a format called an “I-message” that is expressed as “I feel ___ when you do ___.” For example, “I feel angry when you grab the pencil from me. Please give it back.”  The I-message expresses a feeling and can also include a request in it as well. This is a polite way to let others know the impact of their actions on you.  One idea behind the I-message is that no matter what one wants to say to another, there is a kind/polite way to say it. Learning to inhibit the desire to yell or hit in anger at another is part of learning how to express feelings appropriately for children, and is a part of basic self-mastery.  It’s also important with the I-message format to set some realistic expectations. The I-message format isn’t meant to be a way to gripe about every possible perceived transgression. So children should also be encouraged to use it wisely. 

2. How to find appropriate outlets: Along with the ability to express emotions to others, it is important for children to learn appropriate outlets when they can’t deal with a strong emotion. This includes rehearsing strategies about what to do if one is angry, for example, can be very helpful. Some options could include hitting a pillow, doing vigorous exercises such as jumping jacks or pushups, taking slow, deep breaths, pushing on a wall/tree, or even walking away to take a break are all possibilities.  It can be helpful for parents to rehearse with a child what to do in various situations, so that once a child is in that situation; they have some possible tools to draw upon to help them. 

3. How to self-soothe: While it’s always good for children to turn to adults for help in dealing with strong emotions, it’s also good for them to begin to learn some small steps in how to manage their own emotions by themselves, including self-soothing. Children can learn to turn to art, music, dance or play to soothe themselves. They could pet or play with a dog (or friends) to uplift their mood.  There are many possibilities and parents can help children find what helps them shift their mood. 

Show Others You Value Their Feelings 

The second very important part of learning how to be a good friend involves showing others you value their feelings (and thoughts).  For example, children can learn to show others that they care if they get hurt, both physically or emotionally. If they see a friend fall down and begin to cry, they can show their friend that they care by asking them if they are ok or how they feel. The second part of the I-message is for the child receiving the message. It’s important for that child to acknowledge that they value the other child’s feelings.  It’s not appropriate to walk away or scoff when receiving an I-message. Children aren’t required to apologize, but it is suggested as an option as a way to show they care.  Children are encouraged to see if they can help their friend feel better. Minimally, they are expected to at least acknowledge they heard their friend’s message. Children can learn to be a friend by offering to listen and support, asking them what they need. These skills do not always come naturally and so parents and adults should support their development by coaching and encouraging behaviors that show care towards another person’s feelings. 

Another part of showing others that you value their feelings involves a 2-way flow of power of give and take.  Learning to take turns or share in who leads or decides a game is a way to allow a natural balance between friends. 

This isn’t about making anyone responsible for other’s feelings. Often, another person may feel angry or upset over something we cannot change or wouldn’t want to change. We can respect differences and show that we value the other person by demonstrating we value their feelings. We don’t even have to “fix” the problem. Being a friend is a mindset where we take responsibility for our own emotions and show other’s that we care about theirs. 

Childhood is the starting point in life of hopefully many friendships. When we help our children navigate through some of these basic skills, it enriches their lives, now and for many years to come. It’s not an easy task, but one with many rewards. 

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The High Energy Child in the Montessori Environment

Scrubbing a Table
In the Montessori environment, movement is an essential and integral part of learning. The child learns through first-hand experience primarily by doing and secondarily by observing. Every activity in the classroom involves movement and engages as many senses as possible. All the work in the Practical Life area and the Sensorial area involve many trips to retrieve all the parts of a given work and then the steps to clean up at the end. Even in areas that may seem abstract, there is always something to engage the body. Children also work in a variety of places and positions – at a table or on the floor which gives the body opportunities to move from one area to another. There are no assigned desks or places in the classroom. 

In the Montessori classroom, the child is groomed to engage in purposeful and controlled movement. There are many breakable objects and this is intentional to give the child feedback about his/her movements.  Children learn to work toward goal oriented activities.  Many high energy children find adequate outlets for their energy in a Montessori classroom and have no issues. However, issues arise when movement is uncontrolled, destructive or disturbing to others. Uncontrolled movements include flopping around, falling down and running indoors. Destructive movements include rough handling of materials, bashing and repeated dropping of materials. It can also include direct harmful movements of hitting, pushing or grabbing others. Disturbing movement can include loud/repetitive noises or touching other’s work. The overarching goal of Montessori education to that each child learns how to conduct him/herself, to pursue his/her own individual work within the structure and responsibility of the group. Each child is expected to respect other’s space, body and work. 

Within the classroom itself, there are some specific activities that children can choose to burn off extra energy. They can do “push hands” which involves pushing on the wall. They can jump in a designated area followed by a few deep breathing exercises. There is also an exercise to blow through a straw to move pompoms as well as crawling with a rolling pin along a line. Children can even run laps for a few minutes outside if the above activities are not enough to help them be calm during the morning work time, until it is time to play outside. These activities give the child an opportunity to regain a controlled level of energy whenever the need arises and hopefully by his/her own conscious self-awareness and choice. 

Support from home is essential for high energy children. They often need a very high and consistent level of exercise outside of school. Parents of high energy children need to commit to a regular exercise regimen for their child. This could include regular lessons in dance, gymnastics, martial arts and swimming. But there must be a daily routine in place for  enough exercise that involves full body movement and weight bearing activities such as calisthenics. The diet should avoid refined and processed foods including sugar, white flour, artificial colors and junk food. Proper sleep and rest are also essential for high energy children to regulate their energy and mood. Children under the age of 5 need at least 10 – 13 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Electronic media and television should be very limited and none should occur the last 2 hours before bed. Many high energy children are sensitive to violence in media and should be shielded from it on television and video games. 

High energy children need help to develop a vocabulary of emotions and find acceptable ways to express them. For example, parents can read books to children about emotions and how to name them. They can help each child to find an activity that works for them to express that feeling such as dance, art, music, running, hitting or even screaming into a pillow. Each outlet should have an acceptable time and place. High energy children need to know what is acceptable and where and when. 

High energy children need firm and consistent boundaries and limits that are clearly set in advance with appropriate and logical consequences. High energy children can be very persistent and so parents may be tempted to give in and not consistently follow through with consequences. It’s important for parents to choose rules and logical consequences very carefully. Rude, destructive or harmful behavior should never be tolerated in the name of “high energy.” Setting healthy boundaries and expectations for a high energy child helps avoid some very anti-social behavior among peers as well as with teachers and other adults.  

So with the right support from home and school, high energy children thrive in Montessori environments! Energy is neither good nor bad in itself – it is a force, that when harnessed properly becomes and ally rather than a hindrance. Movement is essential to the development of the child’s brain and to strengthen the neural pathways of learning. If your child is a high energy child then be sure to elicit information and guidance from your child’s Montessori teacher and follow the suggestions given above. Together, you can help your child succeed at home and school. 

 “The task of the educator lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity” Maria Montessori

“Respect all reasonable forms of activity in which the child engages and try to understand them.” Maria Montessori


Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Conflict Resolution: A Path to Peace

The purpose of Conflict Resolution in the Montessori classroom is to promote acceptance of a variety of people and to learn how to get along with others in a respectful and peaceful way. It is an integral and everyday part of the work in the classroom.

To promote conflict resolution skills, we introduce the following general steps often referred to as an "I-message":

  1. Communicate. The first step is to communicate with the other party if something is bothering or irritating you. A suggested pattern to follow is to say “I feel ____ when you (choose to) do __________. Please stop.” For example, “I feel angry when you choose to bump into my table. Please stop.” The word “choose” can be included or left out depending on if the action appears intentional or accidental.
  2. Response. The other person needs to respond "I hear that you feel _____ when I chose to do ___,  so  I will stop.”  For example, "I hear that you feel angry when I bump into your table. I will stop."
  3. Seek Help. If not resolved, seek the help of the teacher or other responsible adult.

The underpinnings of this method involve that first everyone's feelings must be accepted and honored. It’s not acceptable to dismiss the feelings/opinion of another as invalid. Secondly, if someone asks you to stop doing something, you must stop doing it. It is not acceptable to continue doing something that is irritating or distracting just because you enjoy it. The Montessori classroom is an environment promoting respect and value for each other. Personal space and boundaries should be observed. Basic classroom rules must be observed.

The Montessori classroom is not a vigilante, “Wild West”, “Eye For An Eye”, “Every Man For Himself” kind of environment. It is a community striving to work in harmony while respecting the rights of the individual. If negotiations fail, children are expected to ask for help from the teacher. There is a structure for justice that must be followed and it's not acceptable to take justice into one’s own hands if negotiations fail. Retribution isn't appropriate in this setting because we follow the principle that “two wrongs don't make a right.”  Just because someone else broke the rules first doesn't make it acceptable for the child to break the rules, too.

This advice might be quite different from what some parents are used to telling their children. Some parents tell their children that it's acceptable to hit back if someone hit you first. This attitude assumes that there is no framework for justice that the child must work within. It gives permission to sidestep the whole structure of fairness in place at school.

This process requires a lot of adult support in the beginning to introduce and facilitate for quite some time. The adult coaches the children through the steps for many days/months. Eventually the children begin to internalize the process themselves and the adult begins to step back and observe, invited in when asked by the children. There is an expectation that eventually the children will begin to attempt to resolve issues themselves before involving the teacher/adult.

It helps to also rehearse what to do in some common situations that children encounter and the recommended response by the child. The teacher/adult can act out a scenario and how to respond. The children can be led through a reenactment. Of course, the teacher only mimics/pretends these actions.

  1.  If another child grabs something from them they should hold out their hand and firmly say “Please give that back.” They should not grab it back. 
  2.   If another child grabs them, they should firmly tell them “Let me go.” They should not attempt to wrench free or push the other person off.
  3.   If another child is actively attempting to hit them, they can certainly raise their arm in self-defense to block the attack but they should not strike back and need to immediately involve the teacher.

After each of these initial responses, the child should attempt to negotiate and get the teacher involved if needed. These responses are not comprehensive and are meant for young children ages 3 and up. They are meant for the most common types of conflict that children will encounter in everyday situations. They assume an adult is nearby and can intervene. They do not cover extreme situations where a child is being actively attacked in a brutal manner by another child that could cause injury. Those situations require immediate adult intervention. Most of the time, basic conflict resolution skills are all that are needed to work through everyday frictions and disagreements.

It takes time for children to develop conflict resolution skills and so it takes patience and time on the part of adults to support the process. Once children gain these important social skills, their confidence and ability to work peacefully with others increases dramatically. Hopefully the ideas presented here will give parents some ideas and guidelines about how conflict resolution is facilitated in the Montessori classroom and work to support this at home.

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Center of the Universe

We live in a very different time of parenting than a generation or two ago. Parents tend to have fewer children and tend to have less extended family around them. This tends to create more anxiety in new parents and sometimes they overcompensate by making their child the center of their world.

Of course parents should spend lots of quality time with their children but the job of a parent is to prepare a child to grow up to be an independent adult within society - an adult who can support him/herself and contribute back to society as well in a positive manner.

Children who are treated too much as the “center” often experience difficulties and are often not prepared for future social life. They commonly experience the following issues at school and other places:

  1. They are often not team players – they haven’t learned how to take turns and play their role in the group. They always want to be the center of attention or always the leader in a group – taking over and making decisions for others. They are often unwilling to share leadership with others and give others a chance to perform that role.
  2. Instead of leading, they can also take on a helpless role.  They are not independent within a group – they seem to always need the others to support them most of the time. They will stand on the sidelines and expect others to do their work for them. Ultimately, this kind of child is not pulling his/her own weight in a group.
  3. They are often individuals who always seem to need accommodations. They seem to need accommodations for perceived differences and not any real disability. They just don't expect to play by the rules and seem to always expect exceptional treatment.


When parents are too involved in every aspect of their child’s life, they tend to micromanage too much. This action undermines self-confidence because the child feels that the adult isn’t willing to trust his ability to figure some things out on his own. The child loses opportunities to develop many skills for self-reliance. These vital skills are so important because they promote a “can-do” attitude and build self-confidence.

So what can parents do at home? Parents can work to support their child’s independence within an environment of responsibility. Start by no longer doing things for the child that he/she can already do for himself. If your child can put on his/her clothes by himself, then stop dressing your child. Of course we must  teach the foundational skills for any new activity, but once the child has mastered that skill then step back more frequently and expect a child it to do it  on his or her own. Be friendly with “error.” Don’t make a big deal about mistakes - simply see them as an opportunity to do it again. See it as a learning experience to refine and strengthen skill.

Don't be too quick to rescue.  Allow children to struggle a little bit. If children don't have the chance to manage the small ups and downs of childhood, how will they manage the larger ups and downs of adulthood? Have faith in your child's ability to grow and to be independent. Give your child the chance to learn how to work through frustration, to persevere in spite of frustration. Of course you should step in and help out if the frustration becomes overwhelming. Your child needs to know that he/she can depend on you if a situation becomes too much to handle.

Whatever rules you have at home, be firm in expecting your child to follow them. Allow natural consequences to take care of some issues. Make sure all other consequences are logical and relevant to the issue at hand.  Promote social skills of politeness such as waiting ones turn, speaking politely to others, learning basic table manners, etc. These skills set a strong foundation of social skills that will smooth your child’s interactions with other people.

While of course you play and have fun with your child, be cautious about being your child’s “friend.” You are the parent and thus must do things and make decisions that your child won’t like. Avoid placating your child or giving in to demands. Make it clear that adults get to do things and make certain decisions that children don’t. Many children confuse the role of the adult and child and thus when they get to school they don’t perceive the teacher as an authority figure. Giving your child control over too many choices can lead to this confusion. It’s not up to your child what you will cook for dinner or what time to go to bed. Be cautious in how often you let your child choose what the entire family will do. Teach your child it’s OK to be the center sometimes but that other people also need the chance to be the center of attention as well.

It’s an ongoing challenge to parents to work with all of these issues. It’s helpful to once a month, take some time to review the issues of the past month and set a few short term goals for the next month. It’s also OK to change your mind and change some rules and practices that aren’t serving everyone as family. Keep it simple and don’t try to make too many changes at once.

If you devote your energy into helping your child learn how to be independent and responsible, your child will have the skills and attitudes so vital to learning and growth in a social environment. Your child will be a joy to be around for both children and adults. And he/she will have many skills that will serve him/her throughout life.

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Table Manners - A Dying Art


Many families no longer eat at the table together and so many children do not have the opportunity to develop basic table manners. I’m not talking formal table manners; I’m referring to the very basic manners of social/civilized eating. Children over the age of 3 are definitely able to learn the basic courtesies needed for eating with others. 

Parents are an important role model and opportunities to practice are essential. Table manners are a skill that benefits a child's social interactions and makes eating out or eating with others a much more pleasurable experience. 


By being expected to learn some basic table manners, children learn self-control and restraint which are great life skills. They learn how to act politely within a group. Learning these skills takes time and so try to dedicate at least 3 times a week as a family to sit at the table and eat as a group. Create a positive mood and put some effort into the aesthetics of the experience.  Conversation topics should be pleasant. There should be no discussions of upsetting or distressing subjects. Meals should be TV free with perhaps some music playing in the background if everyone likes that. No cell phones or gaming devices should be at the table. Children need to learn how to interact with others and not expect a constant stream of entertainment all the time. Part of the lesson of eating together is to gain some patience. Everyone should share in setting the table as well as clearing the table at the end of the meal. 


So let’s dive right into the nitty-gritty details of the most common expectations. Most children age 3 and up should be able to do the following during meals:


  1. Stay seated for at least 20 – 30 minutes
  2. Sit relatively straight and calm in the chair with their legs kept under the table
  3. Chew food with their mouth shut
  4. Eat relatively quietly without excessive noises of slurping, smacking or chewing
  5. Use utensils properly and only for eating
  6. Take proper size bites of food without excessive smashing/tearing or disfiguring food
  7. Keep food on the plate, keep eating area relatively clean

Things to work to avoid or minimize:

  1. Bashing/drumming anything at the table
  2. Getting up unnecessarily multiple times. There should be a clear cut expectation of how long children are expected to sit at the table and when/if they can leave the table
  3. Touching other’s food
  4. Throwing or flicking food
  5. Twisting around in the chair
  6. Yelling or any loud behavior
  7. Putting head down or under the table.
  8. Making a huge mess of food off the plate or on the floor
  9. Play or fantasy play with food at the table
  10. “Bathroom talk” or talk about anything “gross”  or disturbing should not be allowed at the table during meals.

While this list is not exhaustive, it should give you an idea of what you can expect your child to learn how to do. It takes time, repetition and patience to learn all of these skills. Start small and work your way toward better manners. Everyone wins when your child is able to exhibit the control needed for common table manners either with family members, friends or eating out at restaurants. 

Bon Appetit!



Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fashionably Late?

While it may be acceptable to be late to parties or social engagements, is this something appropriate for school? Some parents bring their children consistently late to school, 30 minutes or even an hour or more. Since Montessori focuses on individual learning, what impact can this chronic tardiness have on the child and on the class as a whole? Parents of preschool children often don’t see their child’s time at school as academic and so they see no harm in dropping their child off at whatever time they wish in the morning. It’s just playtime, right? In my experience, these are the impacts I consistently see among children who arrive 30 or more minutes late almost every day.

  1. Children who enter late disrupt the focus of the children who have already settled in to work.
  2. The child who is chronically late keeps the other children waiting to start their day because some children cannot settle in to work until they know everyone is at school and will wait until everyone arrives.
  3. Children who enter late disrupt their interactions with peers – they miss the morning greeting time before children settle in to work. Thus they often seek attention when they enter rather than quietly beginning work.
  4. Children who enter late do not participate in morning classroom set up responsibilities. They do not act as full members of the group, sharing in preparing the classroom for the day.
  5. Chronic tardiness can translate into a large number of missed hours of learning. Children who enter late risk falling behind their peers and missing out on their own potential learning.
  6. Children who enter late disrupt the plans of the teacher and the schedule of the classroom. They may miss morning greeting time and special projects planned by the teacher.
  7. Children who enter late disrupt the 3-hour work cycle. They don’t experience a full 3-hour  uninterrupted work cycle and thus don’t have the full time needed to develop important skills such as focus, concentration, self-direction and more. They do not acquire the full set of skills like the children who arrive on time each day. Their path toward Normalization takes longer.
  8. Being chronically tardy to school is a poor preparation for future school, social and work life.

These reasons should hopefully be enough to motivate parents to bring their children on time each morning. Plan ahead the night before to make sure the morning goes smoothly. Lay out clothes; have breakfast items ready; have lunch made or the items easy to assemble. Have a place near the door to keep all items needed for school ready and easy to find.  Get to bed on time (or early) to ensure everyone is well rested and ready to face the day. Turn off all electronic screens such as the TV, video games and iPad, cell phone or Kindles for at least an hour before bed. Develop a consistent routine and everything will fall into place. Life happens and so it is unavoidable to sometimes be late. As the adult, the child depends on you to organize and keep things running smoothly. If chronic lateness has been a problem for you, resolve to take small but real steps to reduce tardiness to help your child reach his/her full potential in school and life.

Marla Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta.