Montessori Inspired Stories

The Fox

For more real world short stories, please check out my e-book on Amazon Natural World Meditation Stories for Children.

Relaxation Exercise

I want you to start by getting comfortable, either sitting or lying down. Take a big breath deep into your tummy and hold it for one, two, three. Let go and exhale, breathe all the way out. Hold for one, two, three.

Can you imagine what it is like to be a fox? Take another deep breath and feel your imagination take you into a deep, calm wood. Around you there is bird song, warm sunlight and a gentle breeze through the leaves.

You look down and see your paws and red-brown wiry hair. You feel your body is compact, strong and fast, built for speed. Your claws are sharp, black and hard. Can you feel the pads on your feet? They feel springy and tough but yet sensitive enough to feel the cool earth beneath and different vibrations.

You test your ears with interest, they can twitch and turn in all directions, and you realise how you can hear everything around you that you normally cannot. Amid the rustling of the leaves in the breeze you hear a rabbit digging its burrow, the distant tap tap of a woodpecker and the scurrying of a million insects busying along the woodland floor.

It is dawn, the sun is turning the fields gold and the shady woods are beginning to creep from black to grey to green.

Your sight is powerful and you can detect depth in shadows where creatures are hidden. You can see between branches and bushes, and can notice even the smallest movements.

Your nose is like a superpower, you can smell a million things you have never smelled before yet somehow you know what each smell is. You notice your own smell, a warm earthy dense fug of wild animal – a mix of dirt and blood and hair.

You know which smell indicates a water source, and which is food, which is for berries that taste good, and which is for poison. You can smell each of the creatures, each one has a distinct smell from the beetles to the birds to the mammals.

Your sharp eyes detect a flash in the long grass, a rabbit. It stops and stares at you, and you can smell a sudden sharp tang of fear coming from it. You feel your instinct rise up to chase but your stomach is full and you have no need to hunt. The rabbit thumps it’s back feet in warning to the others and quickly leaps and dives down into the warren.

You trot through the woods, the brush of your tail low behind you on the ground. and can smell all the different flowers and hear the worms underground. You stop to watch an adder zig zag through the ferns, and a mouse scampers away quickly

A hedgehog is snuffling through leaves, searching for insects. It sees you coming and curls up tightly into a prickly ball.

Now you are thirsty and can sense a stream trickling nearby. Smoothly sneaking through the undergrowth you stop by the edge of the stream, startling some small birds who are having a splash.

You drink deeply from the cool clear stream, lapping with your tongue. Fish dart away and a frog jumps onto a log and hides. Butterflies are fluttering around you and you start chasing one but it dances away higher and higher above you.

Now you hear a dog barking in the distance, and you flatten your body into the bracken. The hum of danger runs through your body, your hairs stand up. Tense and coiled, you listen, ready to spring & run.

There is Silence again, and detecting no more danger, you step back out from your place in the bracken and carry on exploring.

You hear the yip of foxes nearby and you know this is your family. The cubs run up to you nipping and nuzzling, you feel the urge to lick them, mark them as yours and keep them close and safe.

You know that tomorrow you will teach them how to hunt, how to tread silently, wait then pounce. But for now all of you are fed and ready to rest. You lead the cubs through a hole in the earth and down into your den below.

You feel the urge to circle in the den to make the earth soft and flat and finally curl up with your brush wrapped around you. The cubs clamber over you and finally hush, calmed by your warmth and your heart beat. You hear the woods erupt with more birdsong and the movement of the daytime creatures as they busy about their day. For you and your cubs it is time to sleep and recharge ready for the next day.

The den is warm and comfortable, you and the cubs are snuggled together like a cosy rust blanket, and you are safe and relaxed and ready to sleep.

For more real world short stories, please check out my e-book on Amazon Natural World Meditation Stories for Children.

Surviving the Montessori Course

Surviving the Montessori Course – Practical Placement

So you’ve grasped the theory, submitted hundreds of essays and now it’s time to begin your practical placement. Maybe you already work in an early years setting, or like me, children are something you have only read about in books.

Yikes! Children

It is the first day of school all over again. Nervously clutching your school bag and packed lunch, you wait for the teachers to tell you what to do.

You are brought into the classroom, where the children are asked to say hello to the new teacher.

You regard them warily. They regard you right back. Don’t look them in the eye, you think, or maybe that’s cats.

They are small, and cute with pigtails and dinosaur t-shirts. Kneeling down you smile hello and introduce yourself.

They sense weakness. They clamber over you and plant a flag on the top of your head.

The teachers take pity on you, or perhaps try to prevent your ineptitude from undoing years of hard work, and effortlessly dispatch them back to their work mats.

It’s a steep learning curve, wrangling the little ones. Learning how to gently prevent them from hanging off your leg and encourage them back to their cycles of activity.

Soon enough, the novelty of a new ‘teacher’ wears off and the calm, ordered Montessori classroom resumes.

It does get easier, though the children will continue to surprise you everyday. And astonish, baffle and outwit you too.

With the benefit of hindsight, here are twenty things that can help the first days go smoothly:

  1. Observe, observe, observe, and stay out of the way. This applies to both the teachers and the children.
  2. Locate your key points of contact. Meet with your mentor, the safeguarding officer, the first aid lead.
  3. Find out what to do in the event of an emergency. Learn who is the first aid lead, where the fire alarms are stationed, emergency exits, fire drill procedure, first aid kits, and epi-pens.
  4. Learn the names of all the staff. Note who is in charge each day, is there a rota of responsibilities, which days different staff work at the setting. Be friendly and offer to assist them however they would like. Bring in biscuits and offer to make the tea.
  5. Introduce yourself to the children. Be warm and friendly. Explain you are a new teacher and how excited you are to be in their classroom and to meet them all. Ask if they have any questions for you. You may not get much back from them to begin with, but as they become accustomed to you there will be A LOT of questions.
  6. Learn the names of all the children as quickly as you can. Don’t try to remember them by what they are wearing, like I did (i.e. Layla is the blonde girl in the pink dress). They change their clothes. And then you have to start all over again.
  7. Plan your objectives for the coming days. Your objectives to start with are to learn how the setting operates. Ask your mentor to show you around, show you where all the important documents are first aid equipment are. Learn which children have allergies and special requirements.
  8. Get copies of the setting’s policies and procedures. Read and re-read them until you can probably recite them verbatim. Your mistakes could get you dismissed, kicked off the course, or worse endanger the children, staff and business.
  9. Learn the safeguarding protocol straight away. Find out who is the safeguarding officer, who is the point of contact for reports, and what/when/how to report concerns, and what to look out for.
  10. Observe how the teachers set boundaries and say ‘No’. Saying ‘No’ to a child is hard to begin with, and takes effort to learn how to do well. They may show they are saying no by encouraging a child onto something else. They may remind the class of the ground rules. They may ask the children to reconsider and think about what they are doing or asking. There are countless ways of saying, and showing, ‘No’ – find out which approach your setting prefers.
  11. Observe how the teachers calm an upset child. This will be in accordance with the policies and procedures in the setting. Some settings may distract the child with a walk or take them aside for a chat. In others, the teacher may give the child a cuddle and take them to the book corner. Learn your setting’s approach.
  12. Help by maintaining the favourable environment. Check the toilets to see if they need flushing (probably), if the floor needs mopping (definitely), soaps are accessible, towels are clean etc. Don’t put activities back that are left out, the teachers will likely remind the children to tidy up and will be a work-in-progress to encourage self-discipline
  13. Avoid interference during the work cycles. Note down your thoughts and questions, and ask for a convenient time to discuss with your mentor.
  14. Be careful not to walk on work mats. I found this tricky to begin with, as there are lots of them to navigate.
  15. Preparation of the teacher – consider what to wear. Don’t wear heels, anything tight, or anything short. You will be down on the floor, bending over, walking around all day long. Be neat and tidy, hair tied back, no jewellery which will catch.
  16. Write up your notes immediately after the session. There will be an overwhelming about of information and stimulation, most of which you will promptly forget. You will need it all for your weekly reflections so get it done.
  17. Observe which Montessori principles you can see in action. It can be quite amazing to witness a child choosing an activity from the shelf, unprompted, roll out a mat, and work away totally engrossed. Look for examples of self-discipline, non-interference, the 3 period lesson, teachers following the child.
  18. Leave your phone in your bag. Never take it into the classroom. Taking photos will be forbidden, unless you are granted express permission from teachers and parents.
  19. Analyse what you have found hardest or most surprising. I anticipated I would be very extroverted in the classroom, and I was surprised to find I was shy and self-conscious for the first few sessions.
  20. Role model healthy eating habits. You will be eating where they are eating – in a Montessori classroom there is no staff room or area, you’re right there with the children at all times. So don’t bring a packet of quavers and a jam sandwich for lunch to wash down with a diet coke. Show the children you are eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and then mainline sugar when you get home.

I hope you have found this helpful, and do let me know in the comments if you have any other tips that can make those first few sessions go smoothly!

Smile, be friendly, stay back, and observe.

Montessori Inspired Stories Uncategorized

A little bit about the background to the Montessori inspired meditation stories for children…

Me & Am on a walk

A while ago I was hunting around for some new stories to read to Am. As always, I was looking for bedtime stories that would relax her and hopefully send her off to sleep so I could get on with some wine & trash tv. And as always, I was internally groaning at the rows and rows of books about unicorns, fairies and super-heroes. What I really wanted to read her, were stories about the real world.

Maria Montessori had a thing about fairy tales and any kind of magical realism. She believed our world was packed full to the brim with enough wonder to fascinate any child, and that fantasy only stunts a child’s understanding of the amazing place we live.

It is true that the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly is just as dazzling as any unicorn adventure, and the lion hunt on the savannah as fearsome as the most dastardly Disney villain.

Personally, I will never be against fairy tales, they weave our history and traditions through their stories, and show good triumph over evil in full pantomime glory. They incorporate diverse customs into their charm, and can allow us to step foot in a different culture, or time. They can provide insight into social mores, provide guidelines for behaviour, and allow for important conversations about outdated tropes and unacceptable stereotypes. I can, however, see where Maria Montessori was coming from; The world is incredible enough, there is no need to add what is literally unbelievable to spark a child’s interest.

I wanted to read her stories that were based on the world around her now, which would hopefully capture her interest and help her learn about her environment. There are of course many, many books that do this, and I list some of our favourites here. The ones I had found were not exactly what I was looking for, which a collection of short stories about the natural world in the form of a guided meditation for relaxation.

So I decided to write my own. At first they were little stories about animals that live in our part of the UK, in South East England, in the form of guided meditation to help her to relax for sleep. She mostly ignored them at the start, and pleaded for me to make up stories about Pocoyo and Peppa Pig instead. In turn I chose to ignore the maxim of ‘Follow The Child’ and kept at it. During the day I would make up as many ridiculous stories about cartoon characters as she wanted (‘Mummy, can you tell me a story about when Elly the elephant didn’t like eyes.’)

I would read her a mix of stories about real life (going to nursery, learning to use the potty etc) and flying unicorns or fairy princesses with talking frogs. But at bedtime, I would tell her one of my natural world stories. She began to engage with them more, and asked for her favourite ones to be repeated.

When I told friends what I was writing, they asked to read them, and said their children enjoyed them. I enjoyed writing them and started researching interesting animals, places, and things in nature I though might make a good story. I’m now adding ones about different periods of history, to enable her to step into the life of a child in the past. I hope these stories are helping her to grow her knowledge and understanding of the world, which is a fundamental principle of Montessori.