3 - 6, 6 - 12, On Parenting, Siblings, Social and Emotional Learning

Raising Creative Problem-Solvers

Do you constantly referee children’s disagreements?  Do you tend to side with one child, frustrating the other?  Or do you offer solutions, only to be ignored?  If you’re nodding in response to any of these questions, this will help…

The scenario:

My 4.5-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son share a room.  It’s the only place in the house where they’re allowed to play LEGOs, so the plastic pieces don’t take over ourBLW_Two_Bacchic_Putti_Fighting living room/homeschool area. Both kids love LEGOs, but my older son likes to listen to audiobooks while he builds, and my younger daughter prefers to work in a quiet space.  This causes quite a few arguments and screaming matches. They both came to me frustrated and in need of help to share their living space.  It was the perfect opportunity to engage in problem-solving through brainstorming!

Step 1: State the problem

I asked them a few guided questions to come up with a statement defining the problem.  We determined the problem was “Difficulty building LEGOs at the same time in the same room with different noise preferences.”  Try to state the problem as clearly and precisely as possible, to encourage effective brainstorming.

Step 2: Brainstorm solutions

I told them they were both creative problem-solvers and we’d use their skills to find a solution that works for everyone.  During brainstorming, possible solutions are written down without being evaluated.  Anything goes, even the craziest solutions.  You might have to remind children (and yourself) of this because our brains are wired to immediately weigh solutions for their effectiveness, and it can be hard to sit with the discomfort of what are clearly implausible answers.

If you’re worried that the children will waste your time coming up with useless harebrained solutions, remember that they are motivated to solve their problem.  If you don’t react and just write down their ideas, they’ll eventually refocus on tangible solutions.  Plus, some of those crazy solutions are a great way to let them exercise their imagination (and who knows, they just might work)!  Resist the temptation to offer suggestions, even though you can probably see a clear path towards an amicable solution if they just did what you think is best.  This is their problem, and they have to own the solution by coming up with it.  You can act as the scribe so they can focus on finding solutions.

My children’s brainstorming list included:

  • wear wireless headphones;
  • be allowed to play LEGOs downstairs;
  • lower the volume of the audiobook;
  • take turns using the room (while the other person plays non-LEGO games downstairs);
  • no more audiobooks;
  • put up with the noise;
  • read books downstairs;
  • play in the room together listening to audiobooks part of the time and without audiobooks the other part.

Step 3: Eliminate implausible solutions

Once they’ve exhausted their ideas, review the list with them and tell them that they get to cross out any ideas that don’t meet the following criteria:

  • Respectful (to all involved, including bystanders),
  • Realistic (ideas you can execute within the boundaries of your environment),
  • Related (the solution must attempt to solve the problem)
  • Helpful (improves the lives of all involved)

Keep the process objective by focusing the four criteria.  If a child says, “That idea is dumb,” you can invite them to elaborate by asking, “Is it respectful? Realistic? Related?  Helpful?”  Here you CAN give your opinion, but only after your children have had their turn nixing ideas.  In our situation:

  • They realized that their ideas to “put up with the noise” and “ban audiobooks” weren’t respectful, so they crossed those out.
  • The suggestion to “read books downstairs” wasn’t related to the problem.
  • They’d tried “lowering the volume” in the past, but my daughter was still able to hear it and it meant that my son had to have one ear glued to the device, so that wasn’t realistic.
  • I wasn’t comfortable with my son walking around with wireless headphones all day for several reasons (health, safety, disconnection, etc.), so I mentioned this and we crossed that one out.
  • “Playing LEGOs downstairs” isn’t realistic or respectful because we know from experience that the little plastic pieces quickly overtake our common living/learning area. It goes against the boundaries of our environment, so it was eliminated.

Step 4: Choose one solution from the ones remaining

By the end of this process, the children were down to two solutions: “play in the room together listening to audiobooks part of the time and without audiobooks the other part” and “take turns using the room and playing something else downstairs.”  They chose the latter, and we discussed the details of how that would look (the younger one plays downstairs from wake-up to lunch, and then they switch in the afternoon).  Then I told them that we’d try the solution for one week, and revisit it to make adjustments if necessary.

Step 5: Set them up for success

This is where YOU come in.  Your role is to help them adapt their routine, environment, and expectations so they can stick to the solution for the week.  Without a solid plan, it’s very easy to fall back into old habits (and arguments).  You are there to hold boundaries, remind them of their solution, and empathize if things aren’t working out the way they envisioned.

Solutions are rarely perfect at first, and require fine-tuning.  Observe what’s working and what isn’t, so you can guide their follow-up session.  For example, two days into the trial period, my daughter approached me with a different solution.  I acknowledged her viewpoint, reminded her of our agreement, and told her we would revisit the solution in five more days.

I’ve used this Positive Discipline approach with children in my Montessori environments for years, and after a few guided sessions, the children begin to use it on their own.  It’s a fantastic way to empower them, raise creative critical thinkers, and remove yourself from the middle.  Let me know if you try it, I’d love to hear how it goes.

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Theory and Practice

Montessori Red Flags

Some parents choose a private school based on location, ratio, or test results.  But if your child is in a Montessori school specifically because you want them to reap the benefits of a Montessori education, I have some disconcerting news: The burden is on YOU to ensure the school is following authentic Montessori practices.

The name “Montessori” is not trademarked, so anyone can use it and steal the educational philosophy’s reputation (and your hard-earned money).  And many so-called “Montessori schools” pick and choose to which principles, if any, they adhere.

You may be wondering, isn’t a little Montessori better than nothing?  Not really.  Imagine the Montessori approach as a finely tuned instrument, whose parts work together to bring out the musician’s full potential.  If the strings are too loose, the sound is warped and uninspiring; tighten them too much and they’ll snap.  Similarly, out-of-tune Montessori programs are either:

  • Too loose: They let students do whatever they want, resulting in children who don’t develop self-discipline, accountability, and social responsibility; or
  • Too tight: They drastically restrict students’ freedom, producing anxious children who lose their curiosity, creativity, and love of learning.

Lucky for you, here’s a list of six red flags that will let you know whether or not a school follows authentic Montessori practices.

RED FLAGS

Short work period with pull-outs or other interruptions: Authentic Montessori schools give children (ages 3+) three solid hours of uninterrupted work time in the morning and two in the afternoon.  Uninterrupted means NO pull-outs for art and music; NO break for whole-group snack; and NO mandatory circle time.

Age groups that don’t span at least three years: Authentic Montessori schools group children by developmental stage (Primary is ages 3-6; Elementary is 6-9 and 9-12 or 6-12; Adolescents are 12-15).  Schools with a “transition classroom” for kindergartners; those that group kindergartners and first-graders together; or those that only have a two-year age range from Primary onwards are denying children the powerful benefits of the mixed-age group.

Co-teachers that split subjects: Authentic Montessori classrooms are directed by ONE adult who’s trained and certified to work with that particular age range. One or two assistants serve as support staff for safety and to satisfy state ratio laws.  Co-teachers that divvy up subjects (where one only teaches math and sciences, while the other focuses on humanities) are not following an authentic Montessori model.

Elementary expectations in the third year of Primary: Authentic Montessori schools protect the right of five- and six-year-old Primary students to put into practice the skills they developed in the prior two years (independence, self-regulation, collaboration, leadership, etc).  Schools that claim to be preparing third-year Primary children for Elementary by mandating daily math and writing, requiring they only work on paper, giving them checklists and work plans, or limiting positive social interactions are impairing the very abilities the children worked so hard to develop.

Traditional education techniques: In authentic Primary and Elementary Montessori classrooms, children learn through the hands-on exploration of Montessori materials.  If you visit a classroom and see the materials gathering dust on the shelves or being used to solve worksheets, you can be sure you’re not in an authentic Montessori environment.  Other red flags include mandatory spelling tests (or tests of any kind) and grade-level lesson groups, which segregate children by age and effectively eliminate most mixed-age interactions in a mixed-age classroom.

Rewards and punishments: Authentic Montessori schools see challenging behaviors as opportunities to practice and teach empathy; they celebrate growth by acknowledging effort and progress.  Classrooms with a “thinking chair” or a time-out corner, where a child is sent when their behavior is deemed inappropriate, are not following Montessori principles.  Neither are those where the children are rewarded with stickers or phrases like “good job” or “you’re so smart.”

So, what can you do if you’ve just discovered that your child’s school needs some fine-tuning?  Take action!  Choose one red flag, educate other parents, and talk with school leaders.  Then choose the next one, and the next.  Schools often stray from Montessori because they think parents want a more traditional educational approach.  Prove them wrong! Your return on investment from a Montessori school should be an education that respects and supports your child’s development.

 

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Language Development, Math and Geometry

Cosmic Calendar

Connecting math, language, history and other academic subjects to your child’s real-life experiences makes learning relevant, increases participation, and supports development.  A hands-on home calendar is an ideal tool to learn and practice a variety of skills (whether you homeschool or not!).  It also provides many opportunities for cultural explorations.  Here’s how we use it in our home…

MATH: The first day of each month, I take down the calendar numbers, divide them into three piles (1-10, 11-20, 21-31), mix them up within their piles, and invite my four-year-old to order them and insert them into the calendar slots (I tell her on which day of the week to start).  We also calculate how many days are left until a particular event by counting linearly.

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LANGUAGE: We read the month card together when we re-set the calendar, as well as the days-of-the-week cards when the numbers are being arranged.  We also talk about yesterday, today, tomorrow and next week (to crystallize past, present and future language).

HISTORY: My seven-year-old son recently wanted to know where the names of the week come from, so with the help of these cards we explored the origins of these words and then substituted the control cards for the calendar’s original days-of-the-week cards so we could have a daily reminder of the celestial body and mythological god from which our days of the week originate.  Our calendar also comes with cards for all the federal holidays and the major religious holidays from Christianity, Judaism and Islam.  We label holidays accordingly on the calendar and sometimes research their origin or how they’re celebrated.

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SENSE OF ORDER: Most children thrive on consistency and routine.  I made a daily slip that sits behind each number and helps my children know what is happening each day (e.g. ballet each Thursday, allowance each Friday, etc.).  We also use small sticky notes to color-code their “show night” (they each have one night a week where they get to pick one episode of one cartoon).  The calendar also comes with special “field trip” and “birthday” cards for special events.

The exploration of time can start sensorially years before a child can grasp it abstractly.  This simple and engaging tool provides countless learning opportunities and is a mainstay in our Montessori homeschooling environment.  Let me know if it works for you!

*This post contains affiliate links.

 

3 - 6, 6 - 12, Math and Geometry, Montessori Materials, Uncategorized

Long Live the Short Chains

The Montessori Short Chains and Arrows pack a big learning punch and are often under-utilized.IMG_4716  They’re great for a homeschool environment because they don’t take up any shelf space.  Their initial purpose is to help the child first count linearly and then skip-count.  But when your child is comfortable with these two concepts, you can use the chains for much more!  Here are four ideas…

IMG_4657Find the number: Ask the child to set out the hundred chain with the corresponding arrows, while you cut up a few blank paper arrows (cut little rectangles and trim the corners to make arrows).  Write a number on the arrow (any number between 1 and 99) and have the child place the arrow on the corresponding bead.  If you notice mistakes, you can either let it be for now (and encourage more practice) or invite the child to count from the nearest tens-arrow (e.g. if the paper arrow says “26” and it’s in the wrong spot, invite the child to count linearly from the “20” arrow).

When they get comfortable with this activity, you can place blank arrows on random beads along the chain and ask the child to write down the numbers on the arrows. Later the child can do the same activities but without the tens arrows as guides.  You can ask questions like, “What number would you reach if you added 10 beads to 26?” or “What number would you reach if you counted backwards 8 beads from 45?”  You can do all these activities from around the age of 5 if counting skills are solid.

Find the missing number in a sequence: When a child knows how to skip-count, youIMG_4500 can present a new challenge by having them find the missing number in a number sequence.  The first few times you do this, you can use the regular arrows for any chain and hide one behind your back.  Ask the child to lay out the arrows and tell you which one is missing. (e.g. The child lays out 5, 10, 20, 25 and tells you that 15 is missing.)

Later, with the ten-chain, you write sequence numbers on paper arrows and the child has to use addition and subtraction to figure out the sequence and which numbers are missing. (e.g. Make arrows for the numbers 2, 19, 36, and 70 and the child has to lay them out and then figure out the pattern in the sequence and what number arrows are missing).  Help the child verbalize the process he’s using in order to solidify the concept and extend it to any number sequence without the material.  The first part of this work is great from the age of five, and the sequence activity is great from six onwards, increasing in complexity.

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Rounding to the nearest ten: The concept of rounding is not presented in isolation in the Montessori elementary, but is instead part of an ongoing conversation when working with money, estimating, etc.  However, if a child isn’t understanding the concept, you can use the hundred chain to support their comprehension.  Have the child match the tens arrows to the bead chain, and then talk about how the tens are numbers that we can work with easily. Give examples of when we might want to work with numbers rounded to ten instead of exact numbers.

Write the number 62 on a paper arrow and ask the child to place it on the corresponding bead on the chain.  Then ask him what “ten” the arrow is closest to, and explain that 62 can be rounded down to 60 (or is closest to 60).  Do the same with a couple of numbers with the units under 5.  Then make an arrow with a number that has the units higher than 5 (e.g. 68).  Ask the child what “ten” that number is closest to and point out that 68 rounds up to 70.  Then write a number with 5 in the units (e.g. 65) and tell the child that our rule is that if a number has a 5 or above in the units, you round UP to the nearest ten.  Give a couple of examples for the child and then encourage him to make his own examples.  The book “Sir Cumference and the Roundabout Battle” has a lovely story that fits well with this activity.

IMG_4719Polygons: The chains provide a fun exploration of shapes, from triangle to decagon.  Have the child carry all the chains on a tray to a large rug and ask her to make a closed shape with each chain imagining that the center was pressing out evenly on all sides.  Then ask her how many sides each shape has.  If you have a Geometry Cabinet, ask her to find the corresponding shape from the cabinet and put it inside or next to the bead shapes.  The child can write on a slip of paper the number of sides each shape has, and then you can give the names.  You can do a three-period lesson with a Primary child, and you can make an etymology chart with an Elementary child.  The child can also build the shapes around each other, with the square surrounding the triangle, the pentagon surrounding the square, etc.

I hope these fun chain activities bring new life to your bead cabinet!

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3 - 6, 6 - 12, Favorite Books, On Parenting, Siblings, Sleep, Social and Emotional Learning

BOTW: Good-Night Yoga

good night yogaOn a recent date night at a local bookstore (exciting, I know), my husband came across Good-Night Yoga: A Pose-By-Pose Bedtime Story.  Neither of us practice yoga, but we’d been trying to find activities we can do as a family in the evenings that will engage both a three-year-old and a seven-year-old AND that will help us transition peacefully into the bedtime routine.

We’ve been reading and yoga-ing with this book a couple of evenings a week for the past month, and it’s become on of our favorite evening activities!  The kids love the illustrations and poses, and my husband and I love that it’s fun but not over-stimulating.  The kids have a great time watching their dad wobble through the balance poses, and I can see their body awareness improving with consistent practice.

If you’re looking for a family-friendly way to wind down after a busy day, then I encourage you to find a place on your bookshelf for Good-Night Yoga!

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