Wheaton Montessori News
Mrs. Mayhugh recently hosted a CommuniTEA, a monthly event in which teachers and staff present a topic for discussion with parents. For this meeting, Suzanna Mayhugh addressed your “Frequently Asked Questions,” or “FAQs.” Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing Suzanna’s notes from the CommuniTEA. This week’s portion covers day-to-day activities and daily “logistics.”
Why does a tiny human need such a huge bag?
Primary students, even through the Kindergarten year, need at least one full change of clothes (including socks!) in their backpacks every day. Elementary students also need a change of clothes. It’s not all “accident” related; if a student is painting, spending a lot of time working with water, or has a lunch spill, they will want to change to not be wet. Elementary students who want to work in the wetlands MUST have a change of clothes with them or they won’t be partaking in that activity.
It’s also much easier for your children to keep their things together if they can physically contain them in the same space! If mittens, boots, hats, etc. don’t fit in the backpack, there’s a pretty high chance that they’re going home with one of everything. If they all fit, there’s a pretty high chance you’re going to get home with everything you sent to school that morning.
I was asked several times in backpack-adjacent questions: “Why can’t I leave ______ at school?” Most importantly, preparing yourself for school and making sure you have all of your belongings is a great habit to learn early on in life. The daily practice of checking to be sure you have what you need will serve each child well in later years. On a practical level, we need the emergency outfits and extra supplies to be seasonally appropriate and the correct size. If it’s left at school, the likelihood that it’s seasonally appropriate or the right size is really low. There’s not much worse than trying to help a child change their clothes in January and only find a pair of shorts that would have fit 3 years ago. Also, the stuff in the backpack? We use that stuff! Please check the backpack regularly at home. If it’s not in there, we’ve used it. Also, we send work home in your child’s backpack.
I was also asked often, “What if I forget the backpack?” Let’s get this straight right away: you (the parent) didn’t forget it! At least not all by yourself. Your child forgot it in at least an equal amount 😊 Just in case your student-parent combo arrives at school without the necessary items for the daily business, don’t fret. WE WILL NOT LET YOUR CHILD FREEZE, STARVE, GO NAKED, OR SIT IN SOILED CLOTHING. We have emergency back-ups here at school for most items. Yes, your children will feel the consequences of not having “their” preferred stuff or their regular lunch. But they will also learn from the experience as well.
“How does lunchtime work?” “Do they have assigned seats at lunch?” “Do I need to send silverware?”
The lunchtime experience at Wheaton Montessori School changes a little bit depending on whether your child is in Primary, Elementary, or the Adolescent Community. In all cases, students are encouraged to be as self-sufficient as possible, clean up after themselves, converse with their table mates, and practice good table manners. In all cases, we have utensils, plates, glasses, placemats, and cloth napkins.
Here’s a little bit about lunch at each level:
Primary: Students unpack their lunches onto real dishes, use silverware and glasses, and are assigned seats to help them meet everyone in their class. While there is an effort to have this age group consume their “main course” first, such as eating protein and “the good stuff” before desserts, it doesn’t always work out that way!
In Elementary, students have a larger role in setting up and cleaning up for lunch. We continue the practice of using real dishes, utensils, and glassware. In addition to helping set up lunch tables, clearing and cleaning up after lunch is a community responsibility. “Lunch Team” is a monthly job that rotates through the Jobs Teams. There’s a bit less oversight as to what your student eats and when. If they dive headfirst into a cookie before resigning themselves to a sandwich, so be it! In Elementary, students are assigned lunch table spaces on a monthly basis, with students in Grades 1 through 6 sitting together.
During Pizza Lunch days, Elementary students also serve their fellow students in each Primary classroom, dishing out pizza and distributing side dishes. It’s really neat to see “alumni” of a particular classroom returning to serve in their previous class. When this happens, the older child frequently expresses how proud he or she is to be returning to where they first began. Kindergarten students in the Primary classrooms start saying, “Next year, I’m going to serve in this classroom.” I love seeing the younger children picturing themselves in the older role of Pizza-Giver.
Lunch in the Adolescent Community is one of my favorite things about our school. Around 11:15 on any given day, our campus smells like an amazing restaurant. (There’s a lot of garlic going on in that kitchen!) I also love that in this classroom, lunch is ALL on them! It’s an enormous part of the curriculum. They submit recipes that must meet a particular criteria. Menus are voted upon and planned weekly. The students consult their monthly budget and pantry stores to shop for necessary groceries and equipment. If it’s your recipe, you’re the “head chef,” in charge of a team of sous chefs, responsible for feeding 15 students and 2 adults.
We had a few questions submitted about the Adolescent Lunch: What if they’re picky? Vegetarian? Have an allergy? Or don’t like the menu for that day? If it’s a matter of taste, they can make yourself and sandwich or heat up leftovers from another day. If it’s a dietary or allergy restriction, the class takes that into account when submitting recipes. In the past, we’ve had students whose families adhered to a Halal diet, so the grocery shopping was done at a local Halal store to be sure that the lunches were able to be shared by the entire community.
This is everyone’s favorite topic, right? It was the most submitted topic for me to bring up during the CommuniTEA. We didn’t have many carpool questions submitted in advance, but many requests for me to “talk about carpool.” We all have in our minds the “perfect case scenario” for drop-off and pick up. For me, it’s a beautiful line of cars pulling as far forward as possible, students buckled until the last minute, when they then exit the car, turn to their parents and say, “Thanks for everything you do for me, Mom and Dad!” That’s my carpool dream.
Mostly, carpool comes down to being patient and shifting our focus to safety, rather than speed. I know that we’re all in a rush and we all want to get in and out quickly. Our focus at school is always going to be getting your children into the building safely. That may mean asking you to walk the additional steps with your child right up to the door. Or asking you to keep your child buckled in, even if you’re just inching forward a few more spaces. It absolutely means asking parents to put away cell phones, hang up on a hands-free call, and be a little more “present” for those 6 minutes. (Fun fact: we timed it a few times over last year. Most cars are in and out at drop-off in less than 6 minutes.)
If you’re in doubt of your own carpool compliance, just go with my wonderful carpool dream: Pull up. Pull all the way up. And then pull up some more. All while having your child buckled in and listening to an educational podcast or audiobook, while you have your full attention on the situation around you, until the moment of disembarkation when your child turns to you and says, “Thanks for everything!”
Let’s dream that dream together!
Simple! Just call the office or email and we’ll get the message to the teacher. At around 8:50 a.m., the phone in the office starts ringing with classroom teachers asking, “Have you heard from _____’s parents? Are they feeling okay?” We worry when we don’t see your children! The classroom teachers asked me to relay: just because a sibling is sick, that doesn’t mean the other child has a day off. Try to get them here, please!
A note on PARENT absences: If you’re going to be gone, it really helps our teachers to know. There are times that a teacher calls down and says, “So-and-so is just having a tough week. Have you heard from Mom and Dad about anything going on?” only to find out that Mom and Dad have been gone since the Thursday before. You are your children’s world; it can really impact their days here if you’re traveling. We can help your child on our end; knowing WHAT we need to help with is a huge hurdle overcome.
How will I know if she’s really sleeping? How will I know if he’s finished crying? How will I know if...? (You can sing everyone of these questions to the song in that link. Which makes for a fun moment during a CommuniTEA.)
The short, and highly unsatisfactory, answer is: You don’t really know.
The longer, and slightly more satisfactory, answer is: We will let you know if there is a persistent issue. In the meantime, have faith in your child that they can rise to the occasion (they do!), and trust that your teacher will call you immediately (they will!) if there is anything out of the norm for your child. As parents, it is so hard not to see the resolution. Our child’s pain is SO difficult to bear; we want to take it away or have the teacher take it away immediately. We take that mental picture of them at the door with us for the remainder of the day. Your children recover quickly when they enter the classroom, I promise! They begin work, they seek out a friend, they seek out a teacher, they continue to choose work. They move on. We feel like we can’t, but they do.
We’re frequently asked on tours and by parents new to the school, “Why don’t I get a handout that tells me everything they did today?” On my first Parent Discovery Night at Wheaton Montessori School (I started at the school as a parent before joining the staff), my daughter’s teacher addressed this topic. That night she told us, “Your child deserves more of my time than a bulk email or a mass-produced handout. The time it would take to write the handout during the day is taken away from being present with your child, providing additional lessons or care. ” Your child is worth more than a generalized handout for 25 different children. Your child is unique. His or her day is unique. Your child’s teacher is available any time that you want to talk and get an update about your child’s work, role in the classroom, emerging personality, strengths, interests, and capabilities. I’m happy to help set up phone calls, face-to-face check-ins, and additional meetings.
Next week we’ll share the CommuniTEA notes that address your questions about celebrations and holidays celebrated at school. Be sure the check it out!