Tag Archives: Toddler

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

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.

Toddler, Preschool and Kindergarten Spanish Classes Celebrate Spring

Toddlers take Spanish classes at Inly School

Toddlers in the Bridging class look at a book with Marisol, Spanish teacher at Inly School

Over the past few months, toddlers and younger preschoolers in our Montessori-based Toddler and Bridging classes have been immersed in language about the season. They have learned about la primavera (spring), las flores (flowers), las mariposas (butterflies), la mariquita (the ladybug) and la araña (the spider). Integrating music whenever they can, the children have also been learning a new song, la araña pequeñita (the little spider). It’s been fun watching them perform!

Learning Spanish in Preschool and Kindergarten

Three-, four- and five-year-old students in Inly’s preschool and kindergarten program have also been building their Spanish vocabularies this spring. Along with covering primavera (spring) and las flores (flowers), students have been reviewing colores, numeros and frutas.

Montessori Preschool Spanish class at Inly School in Scituate MA

Dr. Steve Hughes: Montessori and the Future of Education

Preschool Spanish class at Inly School:
Learning with the Hungry Caterpillar!

Watch this video of the “Hungry Caterpillar” sampling frutas in a Children’s House classroom at Inly to get a sense of how hands-on activities make learning languages fun.

Inly Spanish Curriculum in Toddler House, Children’s House Preschool and Kindergarten

Spanish language for toddlers and preschool at Inly School in Scituate MA

Spanish classes integrate music and movement

At Inly, the Spanish program is designed to enable students to speak and write their basic thoughts and questions in a second language. The curriculum utilizes a combination of speaking, writing, and activities that are often based on music, art or Total Physical Response. Students learn to express themselves in a second language environment that promotes confidence and creativity.

What is Total Physical Response (TPR)?

Developed by Dr. James Asher, TPR is based on the premise that the human brain has a biological program for acquiring any natural language on earth. Designed for use with languages as well as math and science, the teaching method uses hands-on, kinesthetic activities to make learning stick.

Dr. Asher based the TPR program on 30 years of laboratory research. He observed that many months before even speaking, the child develops a “language-body conversation” with the parent, internalizing the patterns and sounds of the target language—and imprinting a linguistic map of how the language works. Read more at What is Total Physical Response?

Spanish Curriculum for Toddlers through Kindergarten

Toddler and Bridging Classes: Spanish Curriculum

  • Numbers
  • Body parts
  • Songs
  • Animals

Preschool and Kindergarten Classes: Spanish Curriculum

  • Vocabulary
  • Numbers
  • Games and songs
  • Questions and answers

More Recommended Reading

Inside Inly: World Languages for Toddlers, Preschool and Beyond…

Mandarin Chinese at Inly: Global Citizenship from the Ground Up

Inside Inly: Epiphanies in Elementary Spanish Classes for First, Second and Third Grades

Inside Inly: Upper Elementary Students in Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Grades Present in Spanish About Their Pets

Montessori Kids at Home: Inly Parent Insight Event Wrap-Up

As part of our ongoing Montessori Education series, here’s a re-post of an article written in Fall 2011 by Jill Baxter, Parenting Learning Co-Coordinator of Inly’s Parent Steering Committee:

Practical life skills and Montessori principles—for preschool and beyond

Lauren Vitali, Children's House preschool and kindergarten teacher

At last week’s Parent Insight Event, Children’s House preschool and kindergarten teacher and Inly parent Lauren Vitali and Assistant Head of School and Inly alumni parent Julie Kelly-Detweiler led a conversation about implementing Montessori principles in the home. Parents from many different grade levels participated in a discussion that related topics including lunch choices, tantrums and chores to Montessori principles such as independence, responsibility, and the “prepared environment.”

Changing our mindset in connection with independence and responsibility is a tough one—whether it is setting the table, making a bed, or preparing part of a meal.  Often, it is easiest and most expedient for a parent to get it done alone. It takes time and thought to decide when it is appropriate and, then, allow children to undertake tasks, prepare the environment to help ensure their success (allowing for imperfection). Building extra time into your day to allow children to take on meaningful, age-appropriate tasks will pay dividends, however.

Montessori principles at home and at school

Many parents will be happy to learn that chores such as setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, or doing laundry actually bolster Montessori principles! As students in a Montessori classroom, all Inly students have weekly jobs they perform at school to help keep their community environment neat, safe, and healthy. Cutting fruit, cleaning tables, feeding classroom pets, recording attendance, or organizing snack are all jobs which encourage independence and help build and maintain a sense of community in the classroom. As Julie pointed out, giving children meaningful responsibility in their home also encourages them to think of themselves as part of a whole, and, in turn, identify the work they are doing as meaningful for themselves and others.

The link between independence and the Montessori “prepared environment”

Lauren offered sage advice on the link between independence and a prepared environment. While it may involve some extra time and thought in the short-term, a prepared environment can make giving your child responsibility and independence easier in the long run. Making your home a “prepared environment” can be as easy as moving the cereal bowls within reach, having a snack basket, or designating a work area with materials available for homework or book projects. Organizing clothes in a way your child understands can ease battles before school and allow you to more easily set boundaries for what is appropriate and what is not.

Montessori practical life materials

Montessori practical life materials for toddlers and preschool (source: montessori-n-such.com)

Of course, many of us know that encouraging our kids to take on additional responsibilities (even with a prepared environment) doesn’t rule out conflict. When there is conflict, using language that children are familiar with from school may help. Talk to your child’s teachers about language used in the classroom that you could implement at home, and ask about the jobs your child performs in the classroom to get ideas for age appropriate tasks your Montessori kid can take on at home.

I left that morning meeting resolved to figure out ways my boys can help around the house more and also with an “Independence Guide” handout that gave concrete examples of responsibility and independence at each stage of development. I think I can sort out some new responsibilities for my Montessori kids. I also walked away with a greater sense of community, happy my kids are in a school with a profound respect for children and family.

Montessori Links

Recommended resources on Montessori education and Montessori in the home:

Classroom Structure: The Prepared Environment and Mixed-Age Classes at Inly School

Montessori at Home: Practical Tips for Toddlers, Preschool Children and Parents (Inside Inly Blog)

Montessori Terminology: AMS Guide
All the Montessori terms you need to know—from Prepared Environment and Practical Life to Sensorial Exercises and Sensitive Periods

Montessori at Home: Practical Tips for Toddlers, Preschool Children and Parents


Establishing Continuity Between Home and School

Link: Montessori at Home

Bringing Montessori principles into your home can be a valuable bridge to what your child learns at school. Here are some tips from the American Montessori Society on ways to build that connection:

  • Create an ordered environment.
  • Teach real-life skills.
  • Promote concentration.
  • Nurture inner motivation.

Link: Montessori at Home: The Prepared Environment

Here’s more from the North American Montessori Center on ways to extend Montessori learning and principles into the home.

From the Inly Toddler Teachers: Teaching Practical Life Skills at Home and School

Each day in the Toddler and Bridging programs we work to teach our students self-help skills, confidence and independence. Here are a few suggestions you can do at home to support our work at school:

Allow your toddlers and young children to set the table at meal time, and allow them to help clean up. Purchase a small pitcher for pouring; move their plates, cups and bowls were they can get them; and, most of all, allow them time and opportunities to try things for themselves. We know there are often spills, but give them a sponge to help clean up.

Young children are so observant and absorb knowledge from around them. Following what we as adults do and allowing them opportunities to do things for themselves is another way of being part of a family. For toddlers, their work is all about real life!

Video: Montessori Toddler “Practical Life” Work at Inly | Pouring

Read more about the Inly Toddler House curriculum here. See the Practical Life section to learn how materials and exercises are designed to contribute to the development of both small and large motor skills and assist the child in becoming self-sufficient and independent.


Montessori Practical Life Learning in Toddler House

Inly students, even as young as one and two, are encouraged to learn by doing. Students in Toddler House engage in Montessori practical life work, in this case pouring, where they perform tasks themselves in order to gain independence.

Click the video to see the work come to life.

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The "Aha" Series: 'El conejo brinca' and Other Tales from the Preschool Specialists

This week, we asked our Toddler House and Children’s House specialists to share some of their favorite stories that illustrate those moments of joyful discovery when an idea really clicks for a student and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

Annemarie Whilton—Art

I was teaching in Children’s House and we were making Valentine’s Day “heart people.” One child, a five-year old, was carefully observing before jumping in. He is the sort of child who likes to do exactly what he sees. Anyway, I was encouraging the children to write their names on the back of their valentines. I showed the three-year-olds, who for the most part cannot write yet, how to make a short form of hugs and kisses by writing “o” and “x.”

This particular boy thought about this for a moment—and then he proceeded to make his own, turning the facial features on the front into a series of “OOOOOOO”s for the mouth, and a large “X” for the nose. This seems like a small moment, but for this particular boy it was wonderful to see him approach the project with a sense of creative ownership—and to witness his obvious pride in his uniquely different valentine.

Denni Edlund—Music

Children express their enthusiasm for music in so many different ways. There are some who seem to hang on every note, following instructions, marching when asked to march.  There are those who can’t help but play air guitar while I play, wiggling body parts in impossible ways, hair flying. And then there are the dreamers. They gaze out the window, scratch at the carpet, perfectly content to hang out and often not participate. One particular dreamer sits with his chin in his hands, elbows on knees. A shaft of light might catch his eye from time to time. He is respectful and follows along. I’d always assumed he didn’t care for music, or rather, music class—whether it was the selection of songs, me, the time of day…

At our winter concert for Children’s House this year I selected a song called “Peace Like a River.” It’s a traditional African-American spiritual song with lyrics like “I have peace like a river in my soul. I have joy like a fountain in my soul.” I taught the children some sign language to go along with the performance. At show time, I was facing a wall of roughly one hundred 3–6 year olds, so I physically couldn’t make eye contact with each one. I was mostly concerned with containing the edges of the mob, making sure that parents could get a good photo of their kids, and that the children were actually singing and not frozen like deer in headlights.

What I did catch was my dreamer, during “Peace Like a River.” His eyes were closed, squeezed tight. And he was singing and signing with more passion than his 99 peers combined. He was feeling it. At that moment, I got him. And I got that although kids may not show that they are engaged at all times, they are listening, sponging it up, and sometimes, just feeling it.

Colleen Quinn—Movement

Ah, the joy of skipping! Is there any motion more kid-like than skipping gleefully through an open space, a field of grass, down a straightaway sidewalk? Ah yes, the pure joy of skipping.

Except for those kids who can’t skip! Aargh, how frustrating!

Skipping is actually a rather difficult step to perform. One has to be coordinated enough to transfer weight from one foot to the other at just the right time with a hop in between…and have the strength to lift their whole body weight into the air from just one foot…and balance enough to land on that one foot without falling over before stepping onto the other foot to reverse the whole maneuver.

Every child can skip. However, individual children will learn to skip at different times in their development. So, how to teach the fine art of skipping?

My “aha moment” came when I was trying to explain how to skip to a student, trying to explain the transfer of weight, the hopping, the balancing. Another student, (an expert skipper), was observing the whole lesson when she interrupted and said, “Skipping is just marching with a jump into the air.”

AHA!!!! So simple, so succinct, so perfect! So much less technical.

And don’t you know, the student trying to learn to skip “got it!” An “aha moment” for her, too.

Kids…they’re the best teachers. Makes me want to skip through the Artsbarn!!

Ling Tang—Chinese

Teaching the kindergartners, I am amazed at how much they want to learn. I recently taught them a new word in Chinese – “love” – and wanted to use the word in sentences.  We started with “I love my father” and “I love my mother,” but when it came to brothers and sisters it got confusing. I explained that in Chinese it is very complicated, because you use different terms for each sibling. For instance, there is a term for younger sister, older sister, middle sister, etc. So I said that we would just use names, like “I love Susan” or “I love Sam.” Otherwise it would be too confusing.

They did this at first but then insisted we go back and learn all the different terms for brother and sister. I was so surprised that they wanted to do this. And then when I went over all the different terms, they immediately got it! They repeated the words, and were so proud when they said them correctly. Then they wanted to go on and on, figuring out the way to say everyone else’s brothers and sisters in the class. They are so smart, they impress me!


Beginning in the toddler house this year was a challenge for me. I had never taught Spanish to children so young and was a bit stumped early on for ideas. My first day, I walked into the room feeling slightly incompetent and decided to play things by ear, considering this was all so new.

The circle was filled with gorgeous cheeks, some apprehensive eyes, a few runny noses. And I began. “Uno, dos, tres,” etc. Nada. Nothing. One child got up and ran over to the slide. Yikes. Two more song attempts later and the entire classroom was on the slide and I was Adios-ing. I went back to the drawing board.

But soon, after getting to know the children and the classroom, I was hitting a stride. I still had a very young group, some who didn’t have a large English vocabulary yet, but I knew that exposure to Spanish sounds and songs was important, so I pushed on. At least I had them hooked on my puppet and a few of my songs and games. And then came my “Aha” moment.

I had most (okay, some were probably on the slide) of the group circling around the rug with me doing a game that we did every class.  I would say an animal and then we would walk, run, jump, etc. I had done the first two, “Como el perro? Camina!, Como el pajaro? Vuela!” And then I said “Como el conejo?” As I opened my mouth to answer myself as usual, I heard a small voice from behind me say, “Brinca!”

I couldn’t believe my ears. “YES!! El conejo brinca. The rabbit hops!! Si. Si. Si.” The association was made. By a two-year-old. Incredible.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on March 13, 2009.]

Inly School Toddler Demonstrates How to Put on a Coat Using the 'Montessori Coat Flip' Method

By Annika Voynow, Assistant Head of Inly School

“I do it!”

If you have had toddlers in your home you have surely heard this indignant cry come from the child as you attempt to help him or her with an everyday task. In the video clip below, Inly toddlers work on putting on their coats to go outdoors to play. All the required winter clothes are not an easy task for a little one, and in the Montessori classroom learning how to prepare for the outdoors is an important part of the practical life curriculum.

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The “Montessori Coat Flip” can be seen in Toddler and throughout the hallways of Children’s House. While most young children cannot put on their coats the traditional way without assistance, the coat flip makes it possible for them to do it by themselves. Teachers, or older children, model the method and children have many opportunities to practice. The children lay their coats on the floor and stand with their toes by the tag or the hood of their coat. They can then slide their arms into the sleeves, stand up, and flip the coat over their head. With a little help starting the zipper, the children close their coats and move on to hats and mittens.

“Help me to do it alone.”
—Dr. Maria Montessori

Dr. Montessori, through her observations of children, observed a set of similar tendencies and behaviors that she believed were found in all humans. These tendencies serve as a natural drive to help children adapt, grown and learn in the society and time into which they are born. Among these tendencies are a desire for independence, a need to concentrate on and repeat activities, and a drive to work toward mastery. These tendencies are part of humans during all stages of our lives, with some stronger during certain developmental periods. The classrooms at Inly are designed to work with the children’s natural tendencies. For toddlers, this means providing opportunities and lessons to help the children towards the independence they are so driven towards.

Inly toddlers, provided with an environment in which their desire to practice, grow, and learn is honored, flourish in amazing ways. Their ability to do for themselves astounds us, as does the concentration, hard work, joy, and desire to help others that we see in our Toddler classroom every day.

The "Aha" Series: Tales from Toddler House

This week, we asked our teachers in Toddler House to share their favorite stories that illustrate those moments of joyful discovery when an idea clicks for a student, the mental light bulb switches on, and the “aha!” epiphany brings new life to learning.

ahacolorToddler House

The toddler classroom is a beautiful, welcoming home away from home. A visit there on any day is filled with very busy and engaged children working together and working individually. Everything is new and exciting to the one-and two-year olds: pouring water for snack, putting on a coat, helping a friend, and laying out a rug for work. The children are thrilled to be able to do so much for themselves in an environment that is made just for them. Often, you will see children moving the toddler-sized chairs from place to place, simply because they are so thrilled that they can.

In the midst of all this are three very busy teachers, helping, leading, and modeling. The days are filled with dozens of “aha moments” of little ones discovering new skills, trying new works, and using new words. (Naturally, because of the age range, there are many aha moments pertaining to toilet training. We leave those to your imagination!) As we passed through the other day, Sarah Halkiotis and Lyn Shaughnessy shared a few notable moments with us.

Sarah’s Stories

Yesterday the children were painting and started experimenting and mixing paint. One boy mixed blue and yellow together and discovered that it made a new color—GREEN! This was a huge aha moment for him and also for the boys and girls around him.

We have just introduced the sandpaper letters in Toddler. Though some of the little ones are too young to recognize the names of the letters, they can see the shape drawn in the sand and see that it looks just like the shape of the sandpaper letter next to it. You can see in their faces that they are excited when they begin to recognize that the shapes are the same.

And just today, while we were having snack, a boy asked “Who made these banana muffins? They are delicious.” I told him to think about who made those this morning. He looked at me with big eyes, full of awe, and said “Oh, I did.”

Lyn’s Stories

This morning it was exciting to see a small group of toddlers all working together so cooperatively on a big floor puzzle—and then to see them jump up and down and cheer because they finished it! We love hearing kids exclaim, “I did it!” when they finish a work all by themselves.

I love watching the older toddlers helping the younger ones. After they’ve been here for a while, they’ll walk over and get a tissue if someone needs one. The older ones will often go fetch a diaper from a younger one’s cubby for them. They don’t need to be asked, they just sense when a younger one needs something. They have learned how our community works and want to be part of helping.

[This post originally appeared in Rhythm & News, the Inly School newsletter, on February 20, 2009.]