There is no question that the best gifts for teachers are items that supplement, augment, or replace outworn classroom materials the teacher truly needs. But what do you do when time is running short and you have to choose a gift without specific feedback from your child's teacher? We asked an experienced Montessorian (see below) and parent of "two Montessori angels" to share her ideas for types of materials that would be welcome in any classroom.
Music! Recordings can be key materials for Cultural Geography lessons—choose any recording that accurately represents the traditional music of one or many cultures. Simply ask at your local music store. If the selections are weighted toward traditional songs played on traditional instruments, you have a winner. Children enjoy simple xylophone-style instruments and rhythm instruments of all kinds.
Inspiration! A gift that recognizes the teacher's personal passion is sure to inspire your child's teacher. Ask the teacher or take your cues from the classroom... Compost, seeds, or potting supplies for a plant-lover, for example, or concert tickets for a musician. Consider a book that offers a fresh perspective on teaching in general or affirmation of the Montessori method. A book that needn't be read cover-to-cover is especially thoughtful.
Budget-busters! Classroom budgets can't always be stretched enough to cover the "extras" that help keep the classroom fresh and exciting. Consider getting together with several families and pitching in for a big ticket item. Be sure to check with your child's teacher (or another teacher at the school) to make sure the purchase is appropriate.
Books! Before choosing a book for the children, find out if there is a library "wish list, " or simply ask the teacher for a recommendation. For the teacher, activity and other resource books help teachers find new ways to present beloved ideas. How-to and project-oriented resources expand the teacher's toolbox and can be consulted as the need arises; a good index is a blessing.
Tried & True! Classroom-tested items that are used by virtually all Montessori teachers are a sure thing. Child-size tools for the exercises of Practical Life are welcome in any Montessori Primary or Early Elementary classroom. The best approach is consulting the teacher or head of school—chances are a list of best-loved items will be found.
A big thank you to Kelly Griffith Mannion, M. Ed., who graciously added a teacher's perspective to this subject. Kelly's credentials include a Montessori Primary and a Lower Elementary Credential, as well as a Master's of Education in Early Childhood, Montessori Education. Kelly has worn many Montessori hats, acting at various times as a teacher, administrator, teacher trainer, and board member. Her current passion is the creation of a public Montessori Elementary Charter School in Petaluma, CA.
In Dr. Montessori's Own Handbook (1914) Maria tells of a father in Milan who, impressed with hearing his child name the shapes of cut bread at home, told the teacher "If I had been educated in that way I should not be now just an ordinary workman." This father single-handedly convinced the other fathers to find a way to show support for the school. "They ended by presenting the teacher with a parchment they had painted themselves, and on it, between the pictures of little children, they had introduced every kind of geometrical form."
Their classroom gift was warmly welcomed, because it appealed to the children, because it honored the teacher's work, and because it satisfied a developmental need. Classroom gifts need not be expensive (or handmade!). Today, parents have many resources for choosing just the right item.
Find the Giving Tree. Your school may have a Giving Tree or other Wish List already set up in the school office or other common area. If not, suggest one for next year! The teacher notes specific items needed for the classroom; parents take the tag and bring back the item.
Ask the teacher. You will receive the best answer when you ask the teacher directly. This is a little riskier than a Giving Tree because the teacher may have given several parents the same choices. So long as you keep the receipt for your purchase, duplicate items can usually be returned or exchanged by the teacher if needed.
Ask other parents. Every school has a handful of "veteran" Montessori parents, who are intimately familiar with the school, as well as the method. An invaluable resource, these parents may be happy to help you choose the perfect classroom or teacher gift. A parent who volunteers in the classroom frequently is likely to know what's needed.
Ask other teachers. Especially if you'd like to offer a gift for the teacher to use outside the classroom! Most likely, a colleague will be pleased to share what they know about the teacher's personal passions and hobbies. Remember that teachers are very busy, so allow time for a call back at the teacher's convenience.
Ask the head-of-school. This is especially important for big-ticket group gifts. The head of school will know if a particular item is needed for a particular classroom and, more importantly, if it is already in the budget or already on order. The head of school can also steer you to appropriate curriculum materials. Again, allow time for a call back.
When all else fails, a gift certificate allows the teacher to choose exactly what is needed. The amount given with a Gift Certificate need not be large—plenty of key classroom items are relatively inexpensive. If your choices are a coffee mug or a gift certificate, you can be sure the teacher would rather receive the gift certificate!
—Originally Published 2007