Category Archives: Social/Emotional Development

Thoughts on Sports, Teamwork and Montessori Education

What does a former NFL football player have to do with Montessori education? Head of School Donna Milani Luther recently shared her thoughts and explained why national sports educator Joe Ehrmann was selected to kick off the 2013–14 Nelson ♦ Omran Speaker Series on October 23rd.

How does Joe’s message fit with the Inly ethos and philosophy?
He’s actually very Inly-esque in his approach to coaching, and I think it aligns perfectly with who we are as a school. We share the understanding that students learn well when there’s a sense of happiness and friendship and teamwork and love. As someone who extends that onto the coaching field, Joe presents a really interesting view.

Joe talks a lot about teamwork and collaboration and the importance of helping each other succeed… and I see a lot of similarities in our approach at Inly. Because our classrooms are multi-age, the older students are taught how to be role models and to help the younger ones. And because we’re a preK–8 school, this happens at all levels — from middle school down to preschool — as older students model kindness and leadership, teach skills and inspire younger students. The whole educational model at Inly is set up to help us all become the best we can be.

What about the role of competition in sports? Is this at odds with the Montessori-based approach at Inly?
I’ve always been one to think that you compete with yourself. If I’m doing math, I want to do math myself better the next time; I don’t need to beat the person beside me. At Inly we teach children to make personal goals and then to work hard within that framework to achieve them. Our approach is “we’re all in this together” rather than competing against one another — which leads to cooperative learning and to the kind of teamwork that I think kids need in this century.

Joe’s philosophy is that teamwork, not competition, is what it takes to succeed — both on the sports field and in life. That’s our philosophy at Inly as well.

Joe talks a lot about gender issues and the sports culture in our country. What is this all about?
He touches on this a lot — particularly in his “Be a Man” TEDx talk. It all has to do with healthy child and adolescent development, and knowing one’s true self. Joe comes from a traditional macho place and knows that the mentality is set from a young age. The “here’s what guys do in sports” message is all around us — they drink a bit too much, they act a certain way, and there’s that kind of bravado. It applies to boys in particular but all kids when they don’t have another way to identify themselves and fit in. Sometimes when kids don’t have another angle in they use sports as a shell around themselves as opposed to finding their authentic selves.

Joe’s message is about the need to transform the culture of sports, and it starts with parents and teachers and coaches sending the right message—the earlier, the better.

What do you hope parents take from this talk?
Joe presents a much more holistic approach to sports. It’s not about winning this particular game, it’s about winning your long-term personal race in life. It’s about ‘how am I going to be the best person I can be?’ and viewing sports as one vehicle to get there. I hope parents see that this kind of approach can lead to happier, healthier humans and that they help their own children get there.

What about teachers and coaches? What do you hope they take away?
We’re actually doing a pre-talk workshop for Inly teachers and coaches as well as YMCA coaches. Each teacher and coach will write a personal mission statement on how they pledge to help boys grow to men and girls grow to women and to help each child be the best they can be. Their individual statements will detail how they plan to help facilitate this back in their classrooms, gyms or out on the sports fields.

Is this a brand new collaboration with the YMCA?
Yes and no. The Joe Ehrmann talk is co-sponsored by the South Shore YMCA. But since the Y now owns the South Shore Natural Science Center, last year’s talk with Richard Louv could technically be considered our first collaboration.

As for sports programs, we’ve been lucky to be involved with the South Shore YMCA for several years. Our Upper Elementary students regularly travel to the YMCA in Hanover to do a physical fitness and life skills program; Upper Elementary and Middle School students also play in the Y’s flag football league as part of Inly’s After-School Program. It all makes for a healthy, well-rounded and developmentally-appropriate physical education and sports curriculum—both during and after school.

Read more:

Transforming the Culture of Sports: Former NFL player, named the “Greatest Coach in America,” speaks at Inly School

Inly Parent Education Talk: Joe Ehrmann on “Transforming the Culture of Sports”

Be A Man: Joe Ehrmann at TEDxBaltimore 2013

Who’s sports educator Joe Ehrmann and what’s he all about? Watch this video clip to hear his compelling message at a recent TED talk. Then read the following news story to learn more about his upcoming talk for parents, teachers and coaches:

Transforming the Culture of Sports: Former NFL player, named “The Most Important Coach in America,” speaks at Inly School Oct 23

Co-sponsored by the South Shore YMCA, this talk is open to the public. Tickets are $20 and available online at the Inly Speaker Series page. Bring your friends and spread the word!

Positive Discipline is Key Tool in Building Internally Motivated Children

By Julie Kelly-Detwiler, Assistant Head of School

positive discipline pyramid

Through her years of careful scientific observation, Maria Montessori created a system of educating children that was revolutionary at the time. At the heart of this new direction in education was her understanding that children want to learn, and that a happy, engaged child, is a well-behaved child. Montessori turned the standard approach to discipline on its head when she instructed that in order to respond to a child who was “misbehaving,” we first must look to the environment, then to the teacher, and only then to the child to understand the roots of the problem.

Say, for example, a child is having trouble settling into the morning work cycle or a home routine. One might consider first the environment: Is the environment distracting or not engaging enough? Is there some obstacle in the way of the child’s work? At home, it could be that the snack is just out of reach in the kitchen. At school, it could be that another student is using a material that the child wants to work with.

It is important to make as many observations as possible about the space around the child. Once all environmental observations have been made, one might next consider the teacher or parent: Do they feel prepared for the day? Are they stressed and is it obvious? Are they communicating choices clearly?

Finally, only after all of the above are exhausted would one would consider the child: Is the child upset? Did the child have a tough morning? Is there a learning or sensorial issue to consider? Does the child have needs that aren’t being met?

Montessori did not see children as blank slates to be molded, but rather, as spiritual embryos in need of careful nurturing to grow. If we start with the belief that the child wants to do good, and needs our support to do so, rather than the prevailing idea that the child wants to disrupt and it is our job to stop this, our role as disciplinarian changes dramatically. No longer do we seek to control and incentivize behavior through rewards and punishments, we now seek to partner with the child to support their strong urge to develop into their best selves. A prepared environment, and discipline, in the form of fair and firm boundaries, connection, and encouragement, is essential for this healthy growth to occur.

 The Positive Discipline Model

Alfred Adler, a contemporary of Montessori, held the same fundamental beliefs about discipline as Montessori. Together with Rudolph Dreikers, they created an approach to discipline, which is now referred to as “positive discipline.”

Adler and Dreikers identified the following five criteria for effective discipline:

  1. It helps children feel a sense of connection.

  2. (Belonging and significance)

  3. It is mutually respectful and encouraging.

  4. (Kind and firm at the same time.)

  5. It is effective long-term.

  6. (Considers what the child is thinking, feeling, learning, and deciding about himself and his world – and what to do in the future to survive or to thrive.)

  7. It teaches important social and life skills.

  8. (Respect, concern for others, problem solving, and cooperation as well as the skills to contribute to the home, school or larger community.)

  9. It invites children to discover how capable they are.

  10. (Encourages the constructive use of personal power and autonomy.)

 Practicing Positive Discipline at Inly

This past August, more than 20 Inly faculty members from all levels attended a two-day training on positive discipline. Recently, we chose the book Positive Discipline in the Classroom, for our fall faculty book group discussions, to help us more deeply embed and apply the many principles and strategies this approach has to offer.

Montessori and the positive discipline approach are perfectly complimentary. Jane Nelson, author of the positive discipline book series says, “It is always such a joy for me to work with Montessori teachers and parents because I don’t have to convince them of the importance of treating children with dignity and respect.

“As Maria Montessori said, ‘Discipline must come through liberty. We do not consider an individual disciplined only when he has been rendered as artificially silent as a mute and as immovable as a paralytic. He is an individual annihilated, not disciplined.’

“Would that everyone could visit a Montessori school where teachers ‘follow the child,’ and children are engaged in the love of learning. Montessori provides a light of sanity in the world of education.”

Further Resources

If you’d like to learn more about extending this approach into your home, you can read Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson, or visit

The Montessori Approach to Discipline” via The Montessori Foundation

Exploring The Benefits of Montessori Early Education



“Knowledge can best be given where there is eagerness to learn, so this is the period when the seed of everything can be sown, the child’s mind being like a fertile field, ready to receive what will germinate into knowledge.”
Maria Montessori

I am often asked the question, “Why Montessori?” by prospective families curious about early education. Parents want to understand the difference between the Montessori experience and other early education programs like daycare and nurseries. The answer to this lies at the intersection of responsibility and independence.

Early Education, Child Development and the Montessori Method

At Inly, the Montessori experience begins in Toddler House. At the core of Montessori philosophy is a deep respect for the child and a regard for him or her as a fully capable person. To support this, Inly’s Toddler House consists of a dedicated team of warm and nurturing teachers trained in early childhood development of toddlers and Montessori education. The classroom contains spacious, well designed areas where toddlers are free to explore with all their senses. In addition, everything is toddler-sized. Enticing work materials are displayed on low shelves within easy reach of curious hands. It always makes me smile to witness a toddler walk over to a shelf, select a work and bring it to a work space all on their own.

The Montessori Classroom: A Prepared Environment

In a Montessori classroom environment, activities are set up for children that nurture their intrinsic motivation. The “works” we provide for the children are accomplishable. A student can engage with each work until they have reached a place of mastery and then move on to the next work, which builds on the previous skill and is challenging and educational in a different way. The opportunity for mastery is different in a Montessori classroom. So often, in an ordinary classroom or daycare center, a child will be asked to abandon their work before they have finished. But rushing children and interrupting their work cycle results in an incomplete learning experience. In a Montessori classroom, a child is given more time and opportunity to master a work. Consequently, the student develops their ability to focus, hone fine and gross motor control, and problem-solve independently. Work is approached in a gentle and nurturing way that allows children to advance at their own pace.

Toddler House: Preparation for Preschool and Kindergarten

The Toddler House program prepares children for preschool work by exposing them to each area of Inly’s preschool and kindergarten curriculum in Children’s House. It also supports the physical, cognitive, social and emotional development of each child. The toddlers learn concentration, coordination, language skills, responsibility, and respect—all of which prepare them well for a successful transition into preschool in Children’s House.

Children’s House is the formal name for the Montessori preschool and kindergarten program for children age three years through six years old. It is carefully designed to respond to the evolving developmental needs and interests (See Preschool Child Development: The Preschool and Kindergarten Age Child ).

Those who are part of the Montessori tradition have long valued a child’s natural affinity for exploration and understand how that sparks their desire to learn. Very often, daycare centers are teacher-driven and teacher-focused. In a teacher-centric program, the education is geared toward what the teacher is most interested in versus what the students are interested in. A teacher will say, “Ok kids, we’re all going to do this now.” While there’s definitely value in doing things together, not every moment needs to be orchestrated this way.

Dr. Montessori revolutionized the practice of education by shifting the paradigm of a teacher-centered system to a learner-centered one. Her belief was that the goal of a school should be to cultivate a child’s natural desire to learn, not to simply fill the child with facts. She felt that the discipline in a classroom should be self-discipline, and that children need the opportunity to develop it.

Misconceptions About Montessori Education

One of the most common misconceptions about Montessori is that the student is allowed too much freedom and that they may take advantage of that freedom. The beauty of a Montessori classroom, however, is that the student has choices within a discreetly controlled environment. Just as a parent would most likely not allow their child to eat dessert for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, in a Montessori environment, a child is encouraged to try different things and is encouraged to do different works, all under the careful guidance of a trained teacher. In addition, the multi-age classrooms allow for children to take on the roles of mentor and mentee at various times, which further enhances their learning experiences.

Inly’s Montessori curriculum is designed at every developmental level to further independence and responsibility. “What am I responsible for?” and “How do I apply what I’ve learned?” are questions that our students ask themselves each and every day. In doing so, our students develop a strong sense of purpose that helps them look beyond themselves and to the greater community. At the same time, they also cultivate a strong sense of self and self-reliance. When we hear a child say, “I can do that myself,” we are delighted because that is our goal. We want our children to learn from the very beginning who they are and how they fit into the world.

At Inly, we have a vision for our students. Starting in Toddler and Children’s House Preschool and building all the way through Middle School, our students play an important role in their own education. They learn to initiate and complete work independent of constant teacher direction, accept responsibility for their actions within a community, take responsibility for themselves and for each other, and develop a sense of mastery and accomplishment as they learn. The Montessori model at Inly provides children with a strong foundation for learning that they take with them for the rest of their lives. It also helps empower them as individuals and prepare them for their roles as global citizens. In conclusion, perhaps the question is not “Why Montessori?” but rather, “Why not?”

Further Reading on the Benefits of Montessori Early Education:

Why Montessori for Toddlers?

The Montessori Philosophy Behind Children’s House Preschool and Kindergarten

The Benefits of a Montessori Education at Inly School

Montessori Philosophy and Inly School Mission

Internship & Project Week in the Middle School

During the first week of November, the Middle School students at Inly School participated in Internship and Project Week. The Eighth graders spent this week off campus at a diverse array of internship host sites which included everything from an organic farm to the technology department of a hospital.

While the 8th graders were off campus interning, the seventh graders participated in Project Week, a week on campus designed to prepare the students for future off campus internships. During this week, the students completed the Myers-Briggs personality inventory, wrote  their resumes, and began planning for their internships in the spring. Part of each day involved participating in projects that were facilitated by members of the Inly community.  This year, projects included set-building, photography, creative problem-solving, and self-defense.

Middle School aged children are fascinated with their roles in the larger society and eager to explore these roles through their own participation. An important part of their exploration of the world is that they have authentic work experiences. Inly School’s Internship Program was created to give students the opportunity to experience this key aspect of adolescent exploration and development.

The Montessori educational program leads each student naturally to the world of work that they will experience during their internship. From the youngest age, the child’s activities in the classroom are referred to as “work,” and students are given substantial independence and initiative is encouraged. They are also taught that they are accountable for thorough completion of what they set out to do. Relatedly, at school, they have developed many productive relationships with adults, including their teachers, the school administrators, and many parents, most of whom they are comfortable addressing by their first names. The Internship Program is designated to give our Middle School students further experience being supervised by adults, accomplishing important work, and meeting adults’ expectations.

Toddlers, Kindergarteners, Third and Sixth Graders Find Their Wings

Toddlers get ready for Montessori preschool at Inly.

Toddlers "fly up" to their new classes at Inly School

The “Flying Up” Ceremony: Celebrating transitions and soaring to new levels at Inly

On the last day of school each year, Inly honors children who are moving up to a new level: from Toddler to Preschool, from Kindergarten to Lower Elementary, from Lower to Upper Elementary and on up to Middle School. The entire preK-8 school community, including teachers, staff, family and friends, gathers in the Inly Artsbarn for the annual event.

“The ceremony is a tangible representation of their growth as they move on to the next step in their education,” explains Liz Knox, director of admission. “It’s a way for older children to practice leadership and welcome these new members into their community.”

It’s also a bit of a tear-jerker. Note for next year: Bring your hankies.

Marking growth, development… and transformation

In Toddler House, teachers “raise” butterflies in the classrooms each spring so that toddlers can observe their transformation up close. The children are fascinated as each chrysalis slowly changes and finally breaks out into the world as a magnificent butterfly. During the Flying Up ceremony, in an especially poignant moment, the butterflies are released and flutter out into the world.

Transitions ceremony for toddlers going to preschool at Inly School

Montessori student "flying up" from Toddler House to Children's House preschool at Inly School

Toddlers and Bridging students proudly don butterfly wings as they cross from one side of the room to the other, holding hands with older preschool students who welcome them to Children’s House with big hugs and handshakes.

First graders escort kindergartners next, welcoming them to their mixed-age classrooms (comprising grades 1, 2 and 3) in Lower Elementary. On the following day, kindergarten students also take part in the Inly graduation ceremony.

At Inly, Montessori students “fly up” to the following levels:

Montessori kindergarten student moves to first grade

Kindergarten student escorted by her brother and another Lower Elementary classmate

“The most amazing thing to me is the Middle School students flapping their wings,” remarked Lisa Crist, head of parent and alumni relations. “I expect it from the preschool kids, but to see 7th and 8th grade students — teenagers — flapping their wings as they bring the 6th graders up into their world… that just gets me every time.”

See Life and Events for more about Inly School traditions.

Student Leadership Summit 2011

While many schools may not look at kindergarten students as leaders, Inly provides five-year-olds with a unique opportunity to be leaders and explore what that it means to them. On the day before school begins, Inly invites incoming kindergarten students to join the incoming third, sixth, and eighth graders for a Student Leadership Summit. This year, approximately 50 students attended the September 6 event, where the oldest students in each level come together to learn and discuss what it means to be a good leader, both inside and outside the classroom.

The mix of students is a critical piece of the Summit’s success. Younger students not only get the chance to spend time with older counterparts, but they gain confidence from being in a peer group together. Older students have a chance to flex their leadership muscles and mentor the younger ones. This type of multi-age learning is a foundation of the Montessori philosophy and an important aspect of Inly’s community.

The Summit began with a pizza lunch in the Meehan Family Artsbarn. Head of School Donna Milani Luther welcomed the group and explained, “Many of you have been in your classrooms for quite a while. We are expecting you to be leaders and to help the other children in your classroom. We are expecting that you are going to help them in a respectful way.”

Students worked in multi-age groups to discuss what makes a good leader. Each group outlined one of its members on a large piece of paper, and then wrote or drew their interpretation of the qualities of a good leader on the inside of the body outline. Common qualities were responsibility, caring, and listening. Other traits included: reliability, honor, empathy, compassion, and creativity.

Later, students worked in groups split by age level with a focus on more practical, day-to-day scenarios. The kindergarteners talked about how they would work together in different situations, like when other students are disruptive in class, and then they acted out how they would deal with the situations. Third graders used role plays and discussion to explore the “right” and “wrong” situations and how to manage different personalities. The sixth and eighth graders worked in teams to determine, by consensus, the most important items they would need if they were stranded in a desert. At the end of the day, everyone came back together and shared insight on their small group work.

Valery Billings, a Children’s House teacher who helped lead the Summit, was impressed with the student interaction. One participant told her that being a good leader needs “to listen, to listen to what the other person has said to you, and not to respond right away…but to listen to their ideas, and to take those ideas into consideration and build on them.”

Defining and practicing leadership skills now is an important step Inly students take in their educational journeys toward becoming “global citizens” who are responsible, caring, and creative.