The Magic of Systems and Routines

When I began my journey in education as a Montessori, Elementary teacher, I was so drawn to the materials and giving children inspiring lessons, that I overlooked the importance of establishing systems, routines and expectations that are predictable to the children.  Consistency, routine, order and predictability help children feel safe and lead to a calmer, more productive classroom work environment. 

After years of experience and years of making mistakes and failing when it came to prioritization, I finally saw the light!  Of course, my training with Jane Nelsen and Positive Discipline fostered some of this growth, as did observations and the wisdom that comes with time. 
Montessori proposes a philosophy of following the child.  Do not mistake this for the notion that children should be allowed to work on whatever they want to whenever they want to.  Maria Montessori was clear in her expectations of us as educators, referencing that it is a crime to allow children to graduate from our classrooms without being properly prepared.  It is, in fact, the delicate balance of structure and freedom that helps a child thrive.  As you prepare your classroom, think of the following:

Morning Routine:Children (for in person learning) should get to work when they arrive.  This is not the time for a class meeting as children are arriving, usually, within a 30 minute time span. Shawn Edwards.

Making Goals:Upon entering the classroom, the child should plan her day.  Isn’t that what we do as adults?  Yes, time management is part of the child’s practical life learning. The goals should come from a running list of lessons the child has received along with a date in which the follow up work is completed. A folder clearly defining a place for completed work to be stored and incomplete work to be stored also informs the child’s written goals for the day.  As the child’s ability to manage time improves, she will have more and more time to explore her passions. 

Weekly Meetings:15 minutes with a child on Friday, to plan for the following week is important.  Sit with the child, review the work record (where they record the names of lessons, date received, etc.) and talk about their plans for the following week.  Goals can be made for the following week during that meeting! 

Community Responsibilities:Each child should have a classroom job or responsibility assigned for the week or the month and the jobs should be posted somewhere in the classroom so the children can hold one another accountable.  Baskets clearly labeled and equipped with sponges, cleaning towels, etc. should be available to the children in a central location and ready each day so the jobs can be completed without frustration.

Classroom Meetings:Held daily for 15 minutes prior to a transition (right before lunch or playtime – whichever comes first in your schedule).  The children should have a voice in what is discussed, so create a central location for the children to add items to the agenda, whether it be a clipboard or a box in which small slips are added.  Children who are unable to write can seek help from the adults in the environment or other children. 

Work Cycles:Maintain a three hour work cycle in the morning – 8:30:- 11:30. A suggested schedule that has always worked for me: 8:30 – 11:30 – morning work cycle11:30 – 11:45 – clean up and prepare for class meeting11:45 – noon – class meetingnoon – 12:30 – lunch 12:30 – 1:00 – playtime1:00 – 1:30 – read aloud (children can engage in drawing, finger weaving or even cursive practice while you are reading)1:30 – 3:00 continued work cycle3:00 – 3:15 jobs and clean up3:30- dismissal. 

Communication and Organization:Divide the number of students you have by the days of the week.  If you have 15 students, you will have three Monday children, three Tuesday children, etc.  These are the children that will do grammar boxes, complete an SRA or a reading comprehension card or activity.  These are the children you will also be taking pictures of or planning for and sending some personalized communication to the parents. 

Drill Work:Assess your students at the beginning of the year and fold weekly math facts practice and spelling practice into the routines.  Quizzes can be given on Fridays.  I found that the scientific spelling approach really compliments the phonogram folder work:  I would introduce a phonogram sound each week and then the children would:- find words that had the sound/rule in them- alphabetize- write synonyms and antonyms- write sentences and symbolize them – take a quiz on Fridays. Math facts!  When a child can complete a math facts worksheet in five minutes, he can move to the next process.  The goal is for each child to memorize addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts by the end of third grade.

Your Assistant and Maintaining Your Environment:Develop a clear checklist of daily, weekly and monthly tasks for your assistant.  You may want to divide the tasks into morning and afternoon tasks.  Fold in a weekly deep deep cleaning of each classroom area (one area per day) as well as paper stocking, pencil sharpening, laundry, etc. 
With these systems and routines in place, you can now give lessons with minimal disruptions and joyful engagement.  Parents and homeschoolers, this applies to you too! 

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