Happy Pi Day!

In honor of Pi Day, Zachary and I made a quiche following this tried-and-true recipe.  While not the speediest quiche to make, it was perfect for keeping us entertained on an otherwise lazy afternoon.   Here are some pictures of Zach working, to give you an idea of what a toddler can help with.  Please pardon the shades; he’s 100% three years old and 100% determined to assert his will.  And that includes cooking with sunglasses.

Transferring chopped chard from a bowl to the pan with tongs.

Transferring chopped chard from a bowl to the pan with tongs.

Rolling out the pie dough.

Rolling out the pie dough.

Buttering the "Pi" dish.

Buttering the “Pi” dish.

Grating cheese.

Grating cheese.

He would’ve gladly beaten the eggs and helped to assemble everything, but he had an unfortunate incident that involved forgetting to use the bathroom.  Which then led to him needing a shower.  Which made him tired and grumpy.  And eventually he took a nap and I finished making the quiche by myself.  Such is the reality of Montessori in the home.  Bon appetit!!!

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Bursting the Montessori Bubble

“At what point do you burst the Montessori bubble?” a friend recently asked.  She has two young children in Montessori, but is considering enrolling them in a traditional private school after they finish Primary.

My first thought (as a Montessori child, parent, and teacher) was, Why would you want to burst it?

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But my friend is not alone in her concern: many parents feel that Montessori shelters children from tests, grades, and competition.  Based on their own background, they believe that only a conventional approach to education can provide the tough experiences that will prepare children to be successful when faced with the hardships of real life.

Finding myself at a loss for a coherent answer, I posed the question to Dr. Steve Hughes during his recent visit to our city.  He looked at me from behind his glasses for a moment, and then asked:

“Which is the real bubble?”

His question was all the answer I needed.

Because the truth is, success in life is not built on a foundation of standardized tests, but on the freedom to make difficult choices and experience their consequences.

Success in life is not built on grades and percentages, but on self-awareness and self-improvement.

Success in life is not built on artificial competition among same-aged peers, but on genuine collaboration between generations.

Success in life is not built on cheating the system, but on having the wisdom and courage to transform it.

In Dr. Maria Montessori’s words…

“If education is always to be conceived along the same antiquated lines of a mere transmission of knowledge, there is little to be hoped from it in the bettering of man’s future. For what is the use of transmitting knowledge if the individual’s total development lags behind?… The child is endowed with unknown powers, which can guide us to a radiant future.  If what we really want is a new world, then education must take as its aim the development of these hidden possibilities.” 

Absolutely the World’s Best One-Bowl Toddler-Friendly Banana Bread Muffin Recipe Ever Invented… Ever!

You might be able to tell by this post’s title how excited I am about this recipe.  It was given to me six years ago by a Toddler classroom assistant on a small piece of scrap paper.  Now, it’s time to share it and record it on the interwebs for all posterity.

World’s Best One-Bowl Banana Bread Muffins (can be made dairy-free!!!)

(makes 18 muffins)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of melted butter (or melted coconut oil)
  • 2/3 cup of brown sugar (or 1+ cups if you have a sweet tooth, but honestly 2/3 cup is plenty for kids)
  • 4 room temperature eggs (you can put them in lukewarm water for a few minutes to warm up)
  • 5 very ripe bananas (the riper, the better!)
  • 3 tbsp milk (or milk substitute)
  • 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour (the “pastry” part is really important!!)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup of crumbled nuts (or slivered almonds) – optional
  • 1 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips – optional (but oh so yummy!!!)

Remember, you ONLY need one mixing bowl!!!

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350F and line muffin tins with muffin wrappers.IMG_2397
  2. Measure out the butter (or oil) into the mixing bowl and pop it in the microwave for 30-45 seconds to melt.
  3. Add the eggs and whisk until combined.
  4. Add the sugar.
  5. Add the bananas and mash very thoroughly.
  6. Add the milk and mix all the wet ingredients together.
  7. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda.  Fold into the wet ingredients.
  8. Add the optional nuts and chocolate chips and fold in.
  9. Spoon into muffin wrappers about 2/3 full.
  10. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.  Allow to cool in the muffin tins for 10 minutes before removing.
  11. Enjoy the gooey deliciousness!!!

Note: You an also make a loaf with the same mixture, just bake for 1hr 15min.

Letting the Child Lead the Way

You might be familiar with the idea that children learn best when they are following their interests.  But you might not know that by “following the child”, you’re also helping them develop executive functions: skills like impulse control, delayed gratification, problem-solving, strategizing and concentrating, which are much bigger determinants for success in life than IQ.

I recently attended a talk by Dr. Steven Hughes, where he focused on the development in childhood of executive functions.  I learned that when a person engages in work that challenges them, satisfies them, and gives them a sense of purpose, their brain produces just the right amount of a hormone called dopamine, which is responsible for managing drive and motivation, and regulating executive functions.  This explains why children rarely misbehave or make bad decisions while doing productive self-chosen work.

I did a little more research after his talk and discovered that boredom is related to a lowered production of dopamine, which explains why most children have to be bribed to do uninspiring school work (receiving bribes increase dopamine, but also leads to a bribe addiction because the motivation isn’t coming from within the child).  It also explains why children act out when they’re bored at school; they are not producing enough dopamine to remain in control of their behavior!!

Meanwhile, even low levels of stress (like those caused by threats, assessments, and externally-imposed deadlines) lead to a dopamine flood that shuts down the prefrontal cortex – the rational part of the brain that regulates executive functions.

In other words, when we pull the child away from his self-chosen explorations and force him to do the work that WE thinks is beneficial for him, along with killing his love of learning, we are also impairing the development of his executive functions. 

So, please, it’s time to start listening to Dr. Montessori and to modern science.  Let’s stop thinking we know what’s best for the children and start allowing their creative and productive energies to lead the way.  Are you ready to follow the child?  I know I am.

Cursive Cards

For the past few weeks, Zach has shown a strong interest in sounds and letters.  He’s constantly pointing out letters and asking what sound they make, and then thinking of words that start with that sound.  However, he’s not keen on tracing the sandpaper letters.  I can’t say I blame him; ours are pretty rough (because they’re new) and his index and middle fingers are very sensitive because he sucks them!

It irritates me that he doesn’t see cursive letters anywhere except in school (most signs that he sees are in upper-case print and books are in lower-case print), so I made some cards to spark a conversation on sounds and hopefully help him associate the cursive letter with the sound while his interest is strong.  I chose pictures of objects that he’s interested in and found a great font that is almost exactly like the one used in the Montessori sandpaper letter and large moveable alphabet materials.  Please note that these are not an AMI-approved material, but simply an extension to support my son’s burgeoning interest.

I’m sharing them with you but ask that you don’t use them as flash cards to drill your child.  They’re only intended to start a conversation that then leads to the child thinking of more words on his own, and that sparks interest in and awareness of cursive letters.  Also, please don’t use them with young toddlers.  The images are not to scale, and it’s important to provide accurate scale for children younger than 2 1/2.

To make them, simply print them out in color on white card stock, cut, and then laminate (or print on regular paper, mount on colored card stock, and laminate).

Have fun and let me know how they worked for you!

PS: the letter “x” doesn’t have any images because its phonetic sound is not used at the beginning of any word.  But, this in itself is an interesting point to discuss with the child!

PPS: There are only four cards in each PDF because the alignment would get all funky if I tried to put more cards in the same document.

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Turning Picky Into Practical

Toddlers are famous for their food fixations.  I’m blessed to be raising a very adventurous eater, but even Zach has some toddler quirks that would drive me insane if I chose to let them bother me.

This morning, I pulled out a container with a few strawberries from the fridge.  I asked Zach if he’d like some with his breakfast and he said yes.  I told him I had to rinse them first, and he flipped out.  While he screamed, I washed the strawberries, put them in a bowl, and took them to the table.

(Yes, I know I should’ve acknowledged his upset, asked questions to clarify his discontent, blah blah.  Honestly, this was pre-caffeine and I’d been up since 2am with a kicking fetus and a coughing toddler who hogs the bed and puts his feet in my face.  He’s lucky I didn’t eat the strawberries myself.)

He sat down, pushed the strawberries away, and said: “I don’t want them.”  I was genuinely puzzled, as they are one of his favorite foods.  I almost said, “That’s fine, you don’t have to eat them,” but fortunately my husband (who doesn’t have a kicking fetus in his belly nor toddler feet in his face, and could probably sleep through both) stepped in first.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

“They’re wet,” Zach answered.  “I don’t like wet strawberries.” (Mind you, he’s happily devoured mountains of wet strawberries all his life.)

Now, I am NOT the kind of mom who will bend over backwards to make the food look just right for her picky toddler.  I had a million things to do, and I wasn’t about to hand-dry each strawberry.  But his quirk gave me an idea.  I took a paper towel, placed it next to his bowl, and showed him how to dry his own strawberries.

Problem solved!!  He was incredibly focused and productive, and even gave my husband a lesson on how to dry strawberries.

I wonder how many food quirks could be nipped in the bud if, instead of taking it personally or labeling the child as picky, we could empower him to to be an active participant in his own need for order.

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Pom-Poms vs. Broccoli

Practical Life activities should be, above all else, practical: real activities that have a purpose and a goal. Practical Life IMG_0309should never, EVER be busy work. Busy work is insulting to the child’s intelligence and developmental drives.

So, let’s say you want to introduce transferring with tongs. Instead of the ubiquitous pom-poms you see all over Pinterest, how about using broccoli?

Here’s what I did with Zach (who just turned 3), when he asked if he could help in the kitchen:

I had already chopped some broccoli (before he asked to help), so I put it in a bowl and had him transfer it piece by piece from the bowl to the hot buttered pan with a pair of long tongs (he has small ones but I didn’t want him to burn himself by getting his hand too close to the pan).

Then, I showed him how to use the tongs to toss the broccoli so it would cook evenly. When the it was ready, I invited him to transfer it back to the IMG_0306bowl.

He’s been cooking over a hot stove for over a year now, so I only had to remind him at the beginning to work carefully and not touch the pan or the heat source. When he was transferring the cooked broccoli back to the bowl, he dropped one stalk.  He picked it up with his hand, and immediately dropped it again.  It was hot!  Good learning experience…

He was so proud of his contribution to our meal, and he learned so much in that short amount of time.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll take broccoli over pom-poms any day.