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December 21, 2017

Mind in the Making: A Meaningful Experience

Editor’s Note: Saleha Hafiz works with 3-6-year-old children at Center Montessori School. She is a Positive Discipline Educator and a Mind in The Making Facilitator. Connect with her at

Over a century ago, Maria Montessori, a fascinating social reformer, anthropologist and physician, devoted decades of her life toward the discovery of, and advocacy for, the child. Her extensive research on child development and pedagogical theories of her time paved the way to forming her own educational philosophy, distinguishing her from others by putting her theory into a comprehensive practice leading to its successful implementation worldwide. Supported by her application of the scientific method in observing children, Dr. Montessori’s findings and pedagogical practices were so innovative that many of today’s researchers in child development and cognitive neuroscience attest to the effectiveness of Montessori education.

It may come as a surprise to many that some of what one considers a given in today’s early childhood practices originates from Maria Montessori’s influence: adapting an environment to match the young child’s physical needs by providing child-sized furniture, accessibility, open shelving, and focusing on hands-on learning are examples of that. However, what is even less known to many is how strikingly aligned Montessori practices are with the development of what today’s researchers refer to as Executive Functions which they consider crucial to success.

Striving to always seek knowledge of best practices and findings in the early childhood field, I was led to acquiring a better understanding of executive functioning, electing to participate in an intensive facilitator’s program based on Ellen Galinsky’s book, Mind in The Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. This professional development opportunity has provided me with compatible tools to use in my Montessori practice, a better awareness of these emergent skills in the children under my care as well as an added argument for Montessori education.

Because the Mind in the Making (MITM) program has been intentionally made accessible to the general public, I was eager to co-facilitate the workshop and share its valuable information with families and educators alike. Last spring, our school hosted its first four-week workshop open to the public. Thanks to the generous support of The Patterson Foundation all related fees were waived.

Parents and educators joined together Saturday mornings to explore each of the seven skills in depth and through the use of principles of facilitated learning. The group learned multiple strategies to better help foster these skills in their children.

A meaningful experience was also offered to the children who were in childcare. They were presented with activities related to the topic their parents were introduced to in the MITM workshop. As parents were learning about the importance of Focus and Self-Control, their children next door were painting their own terracotta pots to use for planting a little seed with the goal of nurturing it and watching it grow. All participants left with a copy of the beloved children’s book The Carrot Seed and an accompanying MITM tip sheet to help them guide a discussion with their child around delayed gratification.

When the skill of Perspective Taking was introduced to the parents, a discussion about emotions was initiated in the childcare group, and everyone was encouraged to identify and draw about the different feelings they get at times. They enjoyed playing Friends & Neighbors, a game that focuses on helping others and identifying emotions. All children left with a personalized picture frame they decorated with emoji stickers for fun. The week Critical Thinking and Making Connections were presented, a variety of building, card, and board games were offered to the children to play. For the skill of Taking on Challenges, the children made mindfulness jars with glitter glue and colored water to take home and demonstrate how these jars can be used to help us find our calm when faced with adversity.

I very much enjoyed planning the activities for the children as well as co-facilitating this class. It was very rewarding to see how this series left participants more empowered to help the children in their lives, and I look forward to embarking on another learning experience in January with a new cohort.

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