Uncategorized

BOTW: The Story of Money

Is your child afraid of math?  I know many who are.  I also know that one of the most effective ways to help them overcome their fear of math is to give them an allowance.  In addition to teaching your child patience, opportunity cost, and the value of things, money is a hands-on way to work through many math skills!

My son got hooked on math through his allowance.  At the age of four, he wanted to save up for a LEGO kit. On a piece of graph paper, I marked one square for each dollar he would have to save.  Whenever he got his allowance, he would color in the associated squares and we would count how many more squares – or dollars – he needed to reach his goal.  By the age of five, he was using addition to calculate his goals, and by six he was multiplying.  Now that he’s seven, he has a money journal, where he writes down his debits, credits, and current balance.

His interest in money, and his age, led to the question: “Why do we use paper money?  Why don’t we use gold or computers?”

I’m glad we had The Story of Money in our home library!  This lovely book, written by an elementary teacher, traces the fascinating history of world currencies from the time of the very earliest humans. The engaging illustrations and clear text will take you and your child on a journey through ancient civilizations like Sumer and China.  You’ll then make your way to colonial America and discover how the dollar came to be. storymoney

The Story of Money is written in the style of Montessori’s Cosmic Stories, which helps children stay engaged from start to finish.  My son loved looking at all the different ancient coins, all carefully illustrated to actual size.  This book can inspire many avenues of research for elementary students, from timelines to coin collections.

So, the next time your child feels scared of math, connect math to money, and money to human history with The Story of Money, and watch their fear turn to enthusiasm!

(This post contains an affiliate link.  Purchasing through this link helps support the quality work you enjoy, at no cost to you. Thanks!)

Favorite Books, Language Development, Montessori Theory

BOTW: Kingdom of the Sun

The only thing I like more than discovering good children’s books is sharing them with others.  I’m starting these “Book of the Week” (BOTW) posts to spread the joy of quality children’s literature and will try to post a new book every weekend. (This post contains an affiliate link.)

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“Where do the names of the planets come from?”, asked 7-year-old Zachary.  I knew they were first named after Greek gods and then were changed to the equivalent Roman gods, but didn’t know much else.  Then I found Kingdom of the Sun, where we learned that Aristotle, the astronomer who originally gave the planets the names of Greek gods, “did his best to match the character the gods were supposed to have with what he knew about the planets – their speed, brightness, and color.”

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This sets the stage for the rest of the book, in which the author beautifully personifies each planet.  Thus, Mercury is “forced to lurk unseen in the dazzle of [the Sun’s] brilliance” while Venus “blazes like a brilliant diamond”.  Personification gives way to scientific facts, but the inspiring prose is maintained throughout the book.  The planet Jupiter, whose god persona used thunder and lightning to indicate anger, informs us that “immense electric sparks inject [his] clouds with jagged lightning.”

The Sun and Moon also make an appearance, the former reminding us that his “daily sky-ride is only an illusion” and the latter describing itself as a “somber rock… transformed into beautiful shimmering silver.”

The gorgeous full-color illustrations of the gods and planets have gold-foil accents and include the astrological symbols for each heavenly body.  The author’s use of descriptive language is ideal for expanding the vocabulary of young elementary children (whom Dr. Montessori described as being “lovers of words”).

We had a few minutes to spare before leaving for Zachary’s swim practice, so I offered to read two entries.  He became so smitten with the book that we ended up reading six planet stories before getting in the car; he then begged me to take the book with us so I could read him a couple more while we waited for practice to start!

I loved the combination of mythology, science, and lyrical prose – a true collection of cosmic tales that can inspire much research and creativity.  I hope you enjoy Kingdom of the Sun as much as we have!

Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory

When Help Is A Hindrance

Few clean-ups seem as overwhelming as that of the Montessori fractions.  The halves through sevenths are easy enough for most children, but the 27 hard-to-distinguish red wedges that make up the eighths, ninths, and tenths can leave even Elementary children feeling stuck and discouraged. Screen Shot 2019-02-16 at 7.03.31 AMI’ve inherited Montessori fractions in several of my classrooms, and I’ve often found that a well-meaning predecessor had written the corresponding value on the underside of each fraction piece.  At first glance, this might seem helpful.  It sure makes cleaning up those pesky fractions a lot quicker!

So, why did Dr. Montessori design the fraction pieces without labels?  Did she harbor some evil desire to torment children and their over-worked adult guides?  Or did she observe that leaving the fractions unlabeled led to the development of problem-solving skills through creative use of the child’s knowledge?

The answer becomes clear when we consider Dr. Montessori’s advice: “Every unnecessary help is a hindrance to the child’s development.”

Is writing the values on the underside of the fraction pieces really necessary?  Or, by doing so, are we preventing the child from developing essential skills?  If we don’t want to be a hindrance to their development, but we need them to eventually clean up, what can we do to guide a child who’s feeling discouraged by this overwhelming task? IMG_0573

When a child is faced with sorting a pile of unlabeled slim red wedges, it’s enough to help him recall that two eighths are equivalent to – or take up the same space as – one fourth.  Depending on the child’s prior knowledge, you can ask, “What do you know about equivalences?” or “What do you know about the relationship between fourths and eighths?”

If the child is younger and doesn’t know this information, simply guide him in a sensorial exploration.  Invite the child to bring out the fourths inset, ask him to remove one fourth, and show how the space within the inset serves as an objective control of error.  When fractions other than two eighths are placed within the space vacated by the fourth, you will see a gap.  Only two eighths will fit perfectly within the space of the missing fourth.

The monumental clean-up now becomes a fun puzzle that satisfies the child’s love of precision and bolsters his self-confidence.  You can back away, returning only if he needs guidance to find the relationship between fifths and tenths, or thirds and ninths (children familiar with equivalences will likely make the connections on their own).IMG_0577Take a moment to observe the child’s concentration, enjoy his smile of accomplishment, and know that you helped him move one step closer towards reaching his full potential as a creative problem-solver.

 

 

 

Uncategorized

The Valentine’s Day Story

Zachary, age 7, asked me how Valentine’s Day started.  I told him we could research that at the library, but later that night I got curious and went online.  I found conflicting information, so I decided to put together a Cosmic Education story to tell him the tale of the origins of Valentine’s day.  I shared it with him and it inspired us to make care packages for the people experiencing homelessness in our area.  I hope it can inspire acts of kindness, or at least get some conversations started, among the children in your life.

Note: I don’t follow any religion, and I’ve tried to make the story as secular as possible so it can be used widely.  I use the lower-case “g” in all instances of the word “god”, but if that bothers you, feel free to copy/paste and edit at will.  This story is meant to be told orally, as are all Cosmic Education stories, so you can adapt it to fit your audience and/or beliefs.

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The Story of the Origin of Valentine’s Day

Have you ever wondered where people got the idea to celebrate Valentine’s day?  Historians don’t have much information to go on, so I’m going to tell you one of their theories.  For this story, we’re going to go back in time, almost 2,000 years ago, to a country in Europe called Italy.

Italy was the home of the Ancient Romans.  The Roman Empire was very powerful, with a large army and a series of emperors that controlled land from Northern Africa to Western Asia and a large part of Europe.  The Ancient Romans believed in many gods. You’ve probably heard of Saturn, Jupiter and Neptune… Before they were the names of planets, they were just three of the hundreds of gods the Romans worshipped! Keeping the gods happy was of utmost importance to the Ancient Romans, and the Emperor would throw in jail anyone who didn’t believe in these gods or who refused to make sacrifices to them.

One of the groups of people at risk of being jailed were the Christians.  This small group believed in only one god – a god very different from the Roman gods – and felt their mission in life was to help people who were poor, sick or hurt.  After receiving help from the Christians, these people would often convert – they’d stop believing in the Roman gods and start worshipping the Christian god.  As you can imagine, this made the Roman Emperor very, very angry!

One of these Christians was a priest named Valentinus.  He helped the poor and the sick, and many of those he helped were so grateful that they decided to convert.  When the Emperor heard what Valentinus was doing, he locked him in jail to stop him from helping and converting any more Romans to Christianity.  However, Valentinus did not forget about those he’d helped.  He wrote letters to them from jail and signed them “From your Valentinus.”

Valentinus died in jail on February 14th, which was around the time of the Ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia.  This rowdy party celebrated love, and when the Christians became more powerful than the Romans, they replaced this raucous festival with a day to remember the work of St. Valentinus.  And thus, Valentine’s day was born! You can research how the holiday evolved to include chocolates and love poems; it’s quite an interesting story that will take you to Medieval England.

I look forward to hearing what you discover.  But for now, when we celebrate Valentine’s day, let’s take a moment to think about how we – like Valentinus – can make the world a better place by helping those who are poor, sick or hurt.  Because that’s the true spirit of Valentine’s day!

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Montessori Theory, On Parenting

A Village: Its Value and Values

A Montessori learning community is a dynamic village, whose success – defined not in financial terms but by the growth and joy of the children – depends on the collaboration and shared values of all its members.  What role do you play?

The Montessori Guide

Each environment (classroom) is steered by a well-trained and experienced Montessori guide.  She needs to have a profound love for children and a vision of their immense potential;  keep herself immersed in Montessori theory and continuously educate herself on aspects of human development; and be receptive to respectful feedback. But no matter how passionate, qualified and dedicated the Montessori guide be, she cannot fulfill the mission alone.

Administration

Administrators are the torchbearers of the school’s Montessori values.  They serve as a sounding board for the guide’s ideas and challenges; help parents and guides understand each other; and uphold the practice of Montessori philosophy (to the exclusion of all others) through comprehensive parent education, effective professional development, and consistent observation/feedback in the classroom.

Parents (at home)

Parents who choose a Montessori education for their child need to understand the impact their home life has on the functioning of the classroom community.  When the values of the home align with the values of the chosen school, the child transitions smoothly between his two environments.  This continuity of values and expectations allows him to feel safe, accepted and successful.  Parents who offer clear limits and hold their children (and themselves) accountable; provide a loving home environment rife with opportunities for connection; and model a growth mindset have children who come to school ready to reap the benefits of a truly transformational education.

The Parent Community (at school)

A parent community provides the “village” that allows families to successfully navigate the pressures of modern society and stay true to their core values.  The village upholds the school’s values and uses them as a guide for how they treat the children, staff and each other.  They volunteer their time and talents towards the upkeep and improvement of the school.  Children see their parents’ commitment towards school and begin to understand its value.

Stronger Together

In a society that tries to outsource or outwit the most challenging aspects of child-rearing, it takes commitment and vision to be a member of this type of community.  Only when we each understand and embrace our role – and find the humility to admit that we need each other – will we begin to be of service to the children.  It truly does take a village.

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On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

Entitlement: Been There, Done That

Few things trigger me more than interacting with a child who has an entitled attitude.  rich-kidWhy?  Because I was one of them.  I grew up in a traditional Mexican upper-middle-class family, with a stay-at-home mom and two maids who did all the housework so we didn’t have to.  I never did my laundry, tidied my room, or set a table.  Those things just happened!

When I was 18, my mom went back to school and decided that I needed to learn how to run a home.  One night, my dad was coming home a bit later than usual, my mom had class, and the maids were gone, so I was tasked with re-heating my dad’s dinner.  With the burner on high, I stirred the tomato sauce and thought, How will I know when it’s ready?  It eventually burned and my dad had to eat charred tomato sauce on his pasta.  I remember the feelings of shame and incompetence that washed over me as I watched him pick through the blackened bits on his plate.

The irony is that I ended up in hotel management school in Switzerland, which is like Practical Life boot camp for rich kids.  Within weeks I went from not knowing how to boil water to cooking coq au vin; from not knowing how to make my bed to mastering hospital corners; from not knowing how to set a table to prepping a banquet room for 350 people.  My teachers were kind, but they also had high expectations and only a few short months to prepare us for demanding industry internships.

After 12-hour shifts scrubbing pots and pans, I would drag myself to my dorm, body aching but self-confidence bolstered by what I had accomplished.  During my three six-month internships, I sometimes cried in the bathroom after getting chewed out by the head chef, but then I’d wash my face, put on my apron, and continue plucking thousands of chicken feathers or slicing tray after tray of tomatoes.

The resilience, growth mindset and grit that define my adult personality were not developed in my posh private high school or in my comfortable childhood home.  They came from three bone-crushing and character-building years of meaningful work, high expectations, and caring guidance.

Meaningful work.  High expectations.  Caring guidance.  These are the three cornerstones for the development of true self-worth.  They’re also inherent in the work children do in Montessori environments (both in school and at home).  When we do things for our children that they can do for themselves, we rob them of the experiences that will help them forge strength of character, develop autonomy, and lead fearless lives.

PS: About a decade ago, my father lost his business in one of Mexico’s financial crises, and my mom had to go into the workforce to support them.  She works long hours and doesn’t have time to cook, so my father was forced to prepare the meals.  He’s now a passionate home chef who pours over elaborate recipes and has found self-worth through cooking amazing meals.  It’s never too late to transform your life through meaningful work.

On Parenting, Practical Life

Boundaries

On a brisk and sunny Sunday three weeks ago, prior to heading out to a Christmas concert, I made my family a healthy and tasty lunch.  Both of my kids (ages 6 and 3) scoffed at it and my husband had to beg them to take their (mostly full) plates to the kitchen.  I cleaned the kitchen by myself while my husband and the kids played, and then we headed out, leaving behind a living room covered in toys and puzzles that I didn’t have the energy to fight about.

On the way to the concert, both kids began to whine that they were hungry and wanted to go to a restaurant.  My husband told them that we’d go to one after the concert. We arrived early, so my husband and the kids played on the lawn while I sat in the sunlight, too exhausted from making breakfast, cleaning the kitchen, folding the laundry, doing the groceries, putting them away, cleaning out the fridge, unloading the dishwasher, making lunch and cleaning the kitchen again (plus putting in a 50-hour workweek at school, commuting, and making daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners).

A mixture of anger and sadness welled up inside me.  Where had it all gone wrong?!  Here I was, Ms. Full Montessori, with all my degrees, certifications, research and experience… And my kids were acting like entitled little brats!  Furious thoughts whirled through my mind as we entered the chapel where the concert was being held.  I tried to breathe out the negative thoughts and enjoy the music, but then my son began whining because I wouldn’t buy him a cookie from the concession stand and my daughter started melting down (because, no lunch, remember?).  Something inside of me snapped, and the tears began streaming down my cheeks.

We left the concert at intermission (see: pre-schooler and mommy meltdowns) and quietly piled back into the car.  We drove home in silence, and as soon as we got there I grabbed notebook and pen and fled the scene.  I needed to think, to reassess our lives.

I sat at a coffee shop and furiously made a list of all the responsibilities I shouldered in our home.  It was two pages long.  Then I marked those tasks that could be done by either my husband or my children, and sorted them into lists under their names.  As I crossed out chores from my list, I felt a considerable weight lifting off my shoulders.  I wrote out a “Who Does What” plan for mornings, evenings and weekends.  Then I headed home.

That evening, I called a family meeting and explained that I was feeling overwhelmed by all the responsibilities I had chosen to undertake.  I apologized for failing to give them opportunities to contribute to the household, and pointed out how capable they had become in just a few short years.  I shared all of the tasks I knew they were capable of doing, and showed them the plan that outlined all the family contributions.

I also talked about lifestyle changes: no eating between meals; restaurant dinners were limited to Friday evenings or special occasions; and my husband and I would leave the kids with the babysitter and go on date nights every other Saturday.  At the bottom of the list I wrote: “No moaning/groaning/whining.”

My kids seemed excited by most of the changes.  My husband, not so much…

Stay tuned to find out how our lives have evolved in the past three weeks since I set these new boundaries and expectations, and what tools I’ve been using to shift us towards more gratitude and less entitlement!

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On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

You’re Not Alone

As children, we learned to deal with our big emotions by seeing how our parents handled theirs.  My mom chose the “nothing’s wrong so put on a happy face” route, while my dad preferred the “slam a door and punch a hole in the wall” approach.

After trying out both strategies, I gravitated towards my dad’s method.  Not surprisingly, I married a lovely man who followed the approach my mom had modeled.

During the first years of both my children’s lives, I fought a long and lonely battle with postpartum depression.  When life as a new parent became scary or imperfect (which was often), I protected myself by getting angry.

From infancy, my son saw me slam doors and throw things as I tried in vain to discharge the pain, confusion and loneliness I felt inside.  By the time he was 18 months old, he was throwing toys when he got angry.  Door-slamming soon followed.

For the first five years of my son’s life I refused to accept that I – with all my knowledge of child development – was responsible for how my child was reacting to his own pain.  Then one day it finally dawned on me that avoiding responsibility was making both of us slaves to the behavior.

I knew I had to start with my own life, so I took on the challenge of forgiving my parents and myself for my lack of effective emotional coping skills.  Then, I began to study the sources of perfectionism and shame that were causing my pain and driving my reactions.  I started meditating when I could, quit spending time on social media, learned how to set effective boundaries, read all I could about self-regulation and vulnerability, and began taking better care of myself.

As my toolkit grew, I knew I was now ready to help my son.  I didn’t have to wait long for an opportunity.  One night, my six-year-old boy got angry with his dad because it was bedtime and he wouldn’t read him another chapter of “James and the Giant Peach”.  I was downstairs cleaning the kitchen when I heard the bedroom door slam shut.

In the past, my son’s outbursts had angered me because they highlighted my imperfect parenting skills.  I had convinced myself that every thrown toy or slammed door was an indication of just how miserably I was failing as a parent.  However, armed with my new skills and perspective, I knew things could end differently.

I still felt triggered as I walked up the stairs, but I breathed out the anxiety and a question emerged in my mind: “How would I want someone to act towards me if I were feeling rejected and guilty?”  As Brené Brown says, “Empathy is a choice, and it’s a vulnerable choice.  In order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling.” 

I found my son sulking on the floor outside his bedroom.  I sat down and gently said, “I heard a door slam.  What’s going on?”

He looked at me with the eyes of a wounded animal.  “Daddy won’t read me another chapter,” he moaned.

I took a breath, then gently recapped: “It’s time for bed and daddy stopped reading, so you got angry and slammed the door.”  He nodded and looked at the floor in shame, bracing for my lecture.  But instead I said, “You know, I’ve done that too.”

He looked up, wide-eyed.  I continued, “I’ve gotten angry, really REALLY angry.  I’ve slammed a lot of doors hoping it would help me feel better.  But then… I still feel angry.”  He nodded and I went on, “And on top of that I feel guilty for slamming the door.”

He didn’t move, but as I put my hand on his back and gently stroked him, I felt the anger leaving his body.  We sat together for a minute, and then I asked, “How do you think you might make things better?”  He shrugged, so I said, “Can I suggest something?”  He nodded.  “Well, maybe you can go back inside, apologize to daddy for slamming the door, and ask him to wake you up extra-early.  That way you have time to read another chapter together before school.  Do you think that can work?”

He thought about it for a bit, nodded and got up.  I hugged him and he bravely walked back into the room.  I heard him apologize and offer the early wake-up suggestion.  I prayed my husband wouldn’t go into lecture mode, and he thankfully responded by agreeing with my son’s idea.

I’ve since had several more opportunities with my son to witness the power of saying “Me too.”  Every time I use the phrase, I see connection overcoming shame. It reminds both of us that we’re all imperfect and it lets him know that he’s never, ever alone.

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On Parenting

Full Bloom

When you’re pregnant, it’s as if you’re handed a seed of unknown origin. You put it in the soil, water it, and give it light. The first seed leaves emerge, and you feel so proud! As the first set of true leaves unfurl, you begin to imagine the possibilities. You’re sure your plant will be a hydrangea, because those are your favorite plants and surely nobody would give you a seed of a plant you don’t like!

But then, much to your surprise, your hydrangea begins to look more and more like a tomato plant. Oh no, tomatoes were never part of your plan! You can choose to be frustrated by your tomato plant; move it into one pot and then another and another, feed it chemical fertilizers, stake it, place it among other hydrangeas in a partly shady area, and pinch off its flowers, all in hopes that it will somehow turn into a hydrangea.

Or, you can observe it. You can notice its delicate yellow flowers, the tiny hairs on its stems, its jagged leaves. You can marvel at the first tiny green tomatoes, and leave it undisturbed where it gets the best sunlight. You can feed it the best organic soil, learn what time of day it likes to be watered, and surround it with other companion plants that attract helpful insects. And you can rejoice when your little tomato plant puts forth luscious, juicy, red fruit. Just as it was meant to do all along.

We don’t get to choose the seed, but we do get to choose how we tend it. What does your seed need in order to blossom? Observe it. It knows.

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Montessori Theory

Help and Salvation

When Dr. Montessori spoke of “following the child”, I often wonder if she was talking about following their development or following their example…

In the elementary community of thirty 6-12 year-olds where I spend my days, four boys ages 9 to 11 decided to set a new world record for the longest crochet chain.  They launched daily crocheting sessions while taking turns reading aloud from “The Odyssey”.  After a week, they decided to measure their progress.  The strategy they came up with was to measure the width of our soccer field, then lay out the chain back and forth across the field and multiply the width by the number of spans of crochet chain. chain

Inspired by this project, a group of boys ages 7 and 8 decided that they, too, wanted to crochet a massive chain.  They set to work, and after three days they showed their progress to the older boys.  James, the oldest of the bunch, nodded his approval and offered two words of encouragement: “Not bad”.  The younger boys beamed.

The next day, two members of the younger group came to tell me they were ready to measure their chain.  As I asked them to explain their measurement plan, another member of their team showed up with four yardsticks under one arm, a tape measure in one hand and a fistful of rulers in the other.  They set off for the soccer field, giddy with excitement.

After a while, they came back looking bewildered.  “That was a lot harder than we thought,” one of them confessed.  An hour later, one of the 8-year-olds came to me and said, “We’ve thought about a different way of measuring our chain.  We’re going to do it like James’s team.”

As they said this, 11-year-old James walked by and overheard him.  He stopped and said, “The width of the field is 20 feet.  Maybe that can help you.  Good luck.”  Then he walked away.

In our ruthlessly competitive American culture, one would expect the older boys to be resentful of the younger ones for copying their idea. They could’ve guarded their measurement strategy and data as proprietary information.  After all, we’re talking about setting a world record!  Yet the older boys not only offered words of encouragement, but also gave advice to ensure the younger boys’ success.

As Montessori adults, we’re called to model the collaborative behaviors we want future generations to embody.  And yet, in the words of AMI-USA President Gretchen Hall, we often fall prey to the pettiness of “a culture of ‘them’ vs ‘us’, [where] we…measure others on how ‘Montessori’ they are and we [use] the term ‘Montesomething’ to discredit and devalue others… We boast that our pedagogy lays the foundation for social cohesion, yet we have failed to achieve cohesion in our own community.”

The children know that collaboration is the key to society’s survival, for when we share knowledge, we all win. My students remind me daily that they are our true guides, leading us back towards the essence and truth of human nature.  We have only to follow.

“If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for children are the makers of men.” – Maria Montessori