Positive Discipline – Non-Verbal Cues

As adults, sometimes we talk too much.

Many times, we find ourselves making a point and then continuing to speak, hoping that our reminders, coaxing, and explanations will inspire a child to cooperate and adhere to community guidelines.

Dr. Montessori advocated for the use of minimal words when delivering lessons. She recognized that by speaking less and taking more action, the child’s focus would remain on the message rather than the messenger.

A big part of Positive Discipline is using non-verbal signals as a measure of Kindness and Firmness. Whether you are parenting your children or a teacher in a classroom, using nonverbal cues enables you to address students discreetly without drawing unwarranted attention to them. 

This approach works well for students who may require frequent prompting. In the classroom, especially with UE and MS students, the teacher and the student, together, can agree on a private signal (e.g., the teacher tugs her ear) to remind the student to stay on task.

You may have heard the saying that 90% of communication is non-verbal. While that’s an exaggeration, non-verbal communication does hold significant weight.

If you know me, you know I love my research.

Research by Albert Mehrabian revealed that communication is 55% non-verbal, 38% vocal (tone of voice, pauses, etc.), and only 7% verbal. Studies have also shown that teachers’ non-verbal communication is correlated with student academic success.

Our actions really do often speak louder than our words. Teachers recognize this truth, and instead of incessantly reminding, coaxing, or nagging, we often use non-verbal communication to convey kindness and firmness. In response, we find that students treated with dignity and respect cooperate more readily.

Non-Verbal Signals (ages three and older):

Using signals is an effective method for interacting with children while establishing connections. Rather than verbally instructing a child to tidy up their mat left on the floor, a teacher might gently touch the child’s shoulder and offer a warm smile while pointing to the mat. When noticing a lunchbox left on the floor, an adult might pick it up and hand it to the child, prompting them to put it away.

Here are some other examples of signals for use with children:

  • A hand on the teacher’s shoulder indicates a student’s desire to speak.
  • A personalized signal between the child and the teacher to guide the child in centering themselves or taking a break from a group activity.
  • Using the hand peace sign to signal the need for quiet and attention from a group.
  • Extending an open palm indicates that children in conflict should place the disputed object in the adult’s hand.
  • A walking motion with fingers on the palm to encourage a child to walk.
  • Pointing to the foot instructs a child to put on their indoor shoes.
  • The use of simple sign language is taught to all children.
  • These signals are quiet, personal, and respectful. If the adult models kind and firm behavior, the use of signals can be empowering for the children and foster a connection, especially when accompanied by a warm, understanding smile.

Use a Note (ages six and older):

  • Short, personalized notes can also be a discreet way to set limits and strengthen connections. Notes can be particularly effective for upper elementary and adolescent students.
  • Notes can also be a powerful way to show appreciation and let students know they are seen and noticed and their contributions matter.

One of the core principles of Positive Discipline is that effective discipline is both kind and firm simultaneously. Children feel secure and develop cooperative relationships when they know that adults are on their side, even when it’s time to enforce boundaries. Non-verbal communication is one of the most potent ways to maintain relationships while upholding limits at school and home.

Gina Tryforos

Assistant Head of School and Student Support Coordinator

November Family Connection Newsletter

“There are many who hold, as I do, that the most important period of life is not the age of university studies, but the first one, the period from birth to the age of six. For that is the time when man’s intelligence itself, his greatest implement, is being formed. But not only his intelligence; the full totality of his psychic powers.” –Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p.21

Dear Families,

This month’s edition of the Family Connection Newsletter by the American Montessori Society focuses on the sensitive periods identified by Maria Montessori during her years of studying and observing children. Sensitive periods are phases during which we acquire specific skills or knowledge easily. In this newsletter, the age group highlighted is birth to age six. During this first phase, Dr. Montessori identified six sensitive periods, including language, order, movement, refinement of the senses/sensorial exploration, small objects/tiny details, and social behaviors. Our toddler and primary programs are designed to promote the development of our students’ skills in these areas. I hope you find this article informative and valuable.

On Veteran’s Day and every day, we express gratitude to all the Veterans in our community who have served.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend,

Karen Sankey
Director of Montessori Education

Setting the Table for Independence. Pause, Connect, Partner

By David Newman, Head of School

I recently read an article sent in the Family and Student Newsletter from my daughter’s college that resonated with me both as a parent and an educator. The article was directed toward parents of freshmen, and while we have a junior in college, my wife and I are certainly not experts and thus benefitted from its wisdom.

The intent of the article was to provide guidance for parents on how to support their students in realizing their own path to independence – effectively allowing them to struggle, emphasizing that we should support this process through listening and offering empathy without trying to solve every problem. After all, their solution might be different than ours. The college suggested the following advice to us: Stop, Drop, and Roll.

Stop = Take a deep breath. Are they truly asking me to fix the problem? More likely, they want me to listen and allow them to talk through it. Don’t panic.

Drop = Don’t take action or give in-depth advice. Ask productive questions that might help them come to a solution on their own, and acknowledge that struggling is a part of life’s journey.

Roll = Be a cheerleader. Stay informed. Make them feel like they can do this.

As a parent, this made perfect sense and served as a good reminder. As an educator, it struck a chord as it is advice I have often given to parents throughout the years – albeit not as succinctly.  

It got me thinking about the work we do at FWM, and the times when students struggle. How do our parents handle these situations, and in what ways do we promote actions that are in the best interest of the child’s learning journey? In college, the stakes may be quantifiably more consequential, but that does not mean that a 6-year-old’s challenges are any less anxiety-producing to both the student and the parent. A college student is more self-aware and more able to problem solve simply because of the “tools” they have in their kit from life experience. A 6-year-old does not have a tool kit. Yet, the goal is still the same. Therefore, while the concept applies, the execution needs adjusting for school-aged children because we are setting the table for future independence. To apply this thinking to the FWM community, I reframed my thinking of Stop, Drop, and Roll this way: Pause, Connect, and Partner.

Pause: When your child comes home and shares something about their day that caused them to be upset, was challenging, or simply doesn’t seem right, take a moment to absorb what they are telling you. Does this sound possible? In what context might this have taken place? Is it possible that this is developmentally appropriate? Listen to your child and try to provide context that reassures them they are safe.

Connect: Reach out to their teacher to establish a line of communication. Explain what your child shared with you and allow the teacher to acknowledge and then provide their perspective of what they saw…or are seeing. Often, children at these ages have trouble seeing beyond themselves. Reaching out for more context from the school can often answer questions that you may have as a parent and enable you to better support your child.

Partner: We often talk of the partnership between the school and our families formed when you send your child to FWM. When your child faces a challenging situation, the school can be an excellent partner. We have seen many students face challenges along their journey and have engaged with them to help them navigate difficult times. Each child is unique in how they react to and meet their challenges, but there are few situations we have not experienced.

It is important to remember that the school and our families share the most important goal, and that is to do what is best for our children. We may not always face challenges with the same perspective, but if we commit to a thoughtful partnership, we will more than likely set the table for our children’s future independence and a successful and meaningful learning journey.

Parent Education Events at School- Why Are They Important?

Because we care for our children, parents, grandparents, and teachers, we strive to make the connection between home and school an ongoing conversation. By setting aside time for interacting and working together, we (parents and teachers) learn the language and share in our beliefs of the Montessori child.

Positive Discipline and its many components have been our topics of choice for parent education. We had our second parent education event this past Thursday, October 19th, highlighting Dysregulation in Children. We talked about how understanding how to support and address a child who is not able to control their emotional responses is important for their success in school. We also talked about how the brain works when children become dysregulated and how to help them develop the skills to self-regulate.

We learned about “Flipping Our Lid.” When we feel really mad, upset, or scared, our brain goes into autopilot mode, making it hard to control our feelings. The limbic system reacts when it thinks something is wrong or scary. This automatic reaction can happen even if the threat isn’t real. When the limbic system gets activated, it releases hormones in our brain. These hormones shake things up, so we can’t use the rational thinking part of the brain. The prefrontal cortex helps us make sense of things, manage our feelings, and solve problems. So, when we can’t use the prefrontal cortex, we can’t think or act calmly. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to get back to normal, cool down, and let us think clearly again. 

Things we can do to help children develop the skills to self-regulate:

  1. Connect
  2. “Positive Time-Out” is a special spot where kids can go when upset. (We do not advocate using Time Out as a consequence.) We have a designated area in our classrooms for positive time out.
    • The Quiet Area
    • The Peace Table
    • The Peace Corner
    • The Peace Area
  3. Naming Emotions
  4. Deep Breathing
  5. Mindfulness Practices
  6. Reflective Listening
  7. Let Routines be the Boss
  8. Show Faith


  • Self-regulation is something all children go through. 
  • Some children might need more time to learn it than others. 
  • When the adults grasp the issue and assist the children during challenging moments, what could have caused a gap in the relationship becomes a chance for deeper connection and helps children feel like they truly belong and matter.

The Positive Discipline model helps us (parents and teachers) develop mutually respectful relationships with the children in our lives.

Karen Sankey and I attended a two-day training —The Practitioner’s Class: Positive Discipline in the Montessori Classroom, at Westside Montessori School and Teacher Education Program in Manhattan.

We have compiled a calendar of Parent Education events to share what we learned. More information to come!

Our next installment will be in November, on Thursday, the 16th.

The topic will be Positive Discipline- Kind and Firm Parenting: What is your Parenting Style?

Starting the New School Year Strong

This past summer, I had the opportunity to attend a presentation by Phyllis L. Fagell, LCPC. Phyllis Fagell is a school counselor in Washington, DC, a therapist who works with children and teens in private practice, and an author and journalist. 

Her most recent book, Middle School SuperPowers, Raising Resilient Tweens in Turbulent Times, is recommended for parents and educators of upper elementary-age children and up. 

Amazon’s review of Phyllis Fagell’s book:

“Middle School Superpowers is an indispensable, engaging, and reassuring resource for anyone raising or educating tweens in today’s complicated world.” 

The webinar was hosted by The Social Institute (TSI). TSI is dedicated to equipping educators with a valuable learning platform designed to help students effectively navigate their social environments, including the realm of social media and technology. Their mission is to promote students’ well-being and future success by reinforcing essential character traits such as empathy, integrity, and teamwork.

Phyllis Fagell introduces the concept of 12 Middle School Superpowers that empower young minds to manage disappointment, regulate their emotions, take healthy risks, and bounce back from setbacks. 

These superpowers are:

  1. Flexibility
  2. Belonging
  3. Sight
  4. Bounce
  5. Agency
  6. Forcefield
  7. Security
  8. Healing
  9. Vulnerability
  10. Daring
  11. Optimism
  12. Balance

Some takeaways from Fagell’s talk to help us build their superpowers:

  • Social Media and Technology are prominent topics in students’ lives. Adults talk negatively about social media and technology, creating a disconnect with kids.
  • Disappointment is something kids can get through. We must help them understand what it means to be optimistic and feel validated without toxic positivity.
  • As educators, we must communicate respect for students’ needs and understand the developmental phase. Example: At that moment, when you overhear something mean or something that goes against the values of the classroom, the adults need to address it right away, not in a punitive way, but in a calm manner. The kids must know that we also are taking responsibility for preserving our community’s culture.
  • We do not talk down to children, we do not talk at them, and we need to be mindful not to use friendly sarcasm because you don’t know how that will land.
  • When a child comes to you on a Thursday and mentions that they have a track meet that weekend, or they’re excited because they’re visiting a grandparent, or maybe they have an exciting sleepover that they’re looking forward to, Fagell suggests that we write it down on a post-it note so that the following week or the next time you see them which might be several days later, you can circle back and ask them about those experiences. Those small gestures make a big difference. 

An interesting fact Fagell shared: 

Did you know that a significant 79% of students attribute their motivation to pursue their dreams to the guidance of their teachers? Educators play an indispensable role in shaping the path to student success. 

As we prepare for the upcoming school year, my fellow educators and I intentionally work to contribute to the well-being, happiness, and future achievements of all our students every day.  

Here is to the start of a wonderful school year!

Family Connection – September 2023

Dear Families,

Welcome to a new school year! It was so wonderful to have children back in the building this week. Everyone is settling in nicely and becoming acquainted or re-acquainted with classroom and school routines.

Each month, in the Parent Corner, I will send you the American Montessori Society’s Family Connection Newsletter. These newsletters contain valuable and educational information about the Montessori method and philosophy. This month’s newsletter includes two articles. The first concerns Practical Life activities at the Primary (Early Childhood), Elementary, and Middle School levels. The second addresses Geography at the Primary and Elementary levels.

I hope you find this information valuable and informative!

Have a great weekend,

Karen Sankey
Director of Montessori Education & Upper Elementary Teacher

Roll Out Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer…

As this is the last installment of the Parent Corner for this year, we would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude for your continued support, participation, and collaboration in your child’s educational journey at FWM.

Summer is a time for relaxation and enjoyment; however, maintaining structure and engaging in educational activities can significantly benefit your child’s development. Therefore, it is essential to emphasize the significance of establishing a summer routine and encouraging summer learning.

A consistent summer routine provides stability and helps children maintain a healthy balance between leisure and productive activities. A schedule incorporating regular sleep patterns, meal times, physical activity, and designated learning periods can contribute to their overall well-being. In addition, it allows them to maintain a sense of discipline and prepares them for the routines they will resume when the new school year begins.

Summer learning plays a vital role in preventing the “summer slide,” a phenomenon where students may experience a decline in academic skills during the extended break. By encouraging your child to participate in educational activities, such as reading, puzzles, and educational games, or even enrolling them in summer enrichment programs, you can help them retain the knowledge they acquired throughout the school year. 

Take advantage of the warmer weather and the longer days to engage in outdoor activities that promote learning. For example, visiting museums, exploring nature, embarking on educational field trips, or organizing family discussions about current events can foster critical thinking, curiosity, and a broader understanding of the world.

Your involvement and support motivate your child to embrace summer learning. Please encourage your child’s efforts, celebrate their achievements, and actively engage in their summer learning. 

Summer also offers valuable opportunities for relaxation, family bonding, and exploring other interests. It is essential to balance structured learning activities and unstructured playtime. Allowing your child to engage in activities they enjoy and allowing them to explore their interests will foster creativity and a sense of independence.

Looking ahead in the coming weeks to help you plan:

  • FWM teachers will send Summer Learning Resources appropriate for your child’s level (LE-MS).
  • A Suggested Summer Reading List will be made available to all families.
    • Please encourage your children to read daily over the summer. Summer vacation allows us to relax, but it is also a critical time to ensure students keep learning.
  • Later in the summer, you will receive new school year instructions and supplies lists for the upcoming school year.  

Thank you for your ongoing support, and we wish you and your family a wonderful and enriching summer.

Our FWM Community

Building a strong school community is essential for creating a positive and supportive learning environment. Students, teachers, staff, parents, and extended family, work together to create a safe and inclusive space for everyone to learn and grow to their utmost potential.

There are several ways in which a school community can be built: through communication, a sense of belonging, collaboration, support, creating a safe space for children to learn and grow, and finally, through celebration.

As a Montessori school, we recognize one of the most critical aspects of building a school community is involving parents and families in the education process. FWM encourages parents to play an active role in their child’s education, and by doing so, parents can reinforce the principles taught in the classroom.

Our FWM school community thrives because of the collaborative effort from all stakeholders. By establishing a clear vision and set of values, fostering a culture of collaboration and inclusivity, involving parents and families, nurturing positive relationships between students, and promoting self-discovery and self-expression, we have an environment where students thrive and ultimately grow to become engaged, motivated, and successful learners who are well-prepared, compassionate, confident, joyful citizens of the world.

We hope you join us as we celebrate the Fraser Woods community at our two upcoming events: Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ Day on Friday, April 28, and FWM’s HERE WE GROW Gala and Auction on Saturday, April 29.