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

Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Practical Life, Social and Emotional Learning

A Deep Understanding

When I became a mom, I realized that it takes a parent to understand a parent.  I have been blessed to have a worldwide community of Montessori-trained friends who are navigating the same beautiful, yet often turbulent, waters of parenthood with me.

One of my wisest friends is Junnifa Uzodike, the founder of the Nduoma Montessori blog.  She contacted me through my blog some years ago, when she was beginning her Montessori journey, and we have shared countless conversations about motherhood and Montessori.

What sets Junnifa apart is her adherence to the Montessori philosophy against all odds.  Through two international moves, several summers of intense training, and three pregnancies she remains steadfast in her study and application of Montessori.  If she can do it, you can too!  That’s why I’m proud to share Junnifa’s newest e-course, Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler.

Junnifa has agreed to share some of her deep wisdom in this interview.  Enjoy!

*****

Please tell us about yourself and your family.

My name is Junnifa Uzodike. I live in Nigeria with my husband and we have 3 children: Solu, aged 3.5; Metu, aged 2;  and a baby who will be here in a few weeks. Our parenting has been guided by the Montessori philosophy and we have implemented as much as we can, from conception, with each of our children.

junni-bikes

Can you share your Montessori journey with us?

I discovered Montessori rather serendipitously. My mother, who is an educator and school owner, was visiting the U.S. and wanted to observe some schools in the area where I lived. One of the schools was a Montessori school and I happened to have accompanied her. Observing the children has such an immense impact on me. I was amazed at the beauty and order of the environment as well as the independence and the concentration of the children. It was literally life-changing for me. I went home and ordered all the Montessori books available in my local library. I also signed up for an “Introduction to Montessori” course which only increased my interest and admiration for the philosophy.

 My desire to learn more led me to quit my management job at Fortune 500 company and enroll in the AMI 0-3 training. My first son was born soon after and seeing the effect of our parenting choices on his development only made me want more. I have gone on to complete the AMI 3-6 training as well as the RIE (Resource for Infant Educarers) Foundations course. Since giving birth to my children, I have mostly stayed home with them. I have also consulted for schools, worked with parents, run parent- child classes and briefly led a toddler class. My training and experience so far have shown me the importance of the first three years in laying the foundation for the rest of the child’s life and so I get the most joy from supporting parents as they guide their children through these crucial years.
junni-cooking
What are the three most important pieces of advice that have helped you in your parenting journey?
Observe before you react.
I have found that when I pause before reacting to my children’s actions, it gives me a chance to see, to understand, to evaluate and most especially to compose myself. It allows me to respond respectfully with understanding instead of reacting and a lot of times, it allows me realize I don’t even have to respond or react.
Model instead of teaching.
I grew up with a lot of verbal admonishing and lecturing and I sometimes catch myself defaulting to that but my children have confirmed to me that children absorb what we model and not what we say. They do what they see me doing, talk how they see me talking, and respond the way I respond. When I notice negative behaviors, I can usually reflect to see who has been modeling that to them. We talk a lot about preparing the environment and I think the adult is a very important part of the environment so we must prepare ourselves so that we are modeling what we want the child to be.
“This too shall pass!”
Sometimes children go through stages that just make no sense and we try everything and it’s just not working. It is important to not overreact because our negative reaction might stay with the child consciously or unconsciously even longer that whatever stage he is going through. I have found that taking deep breaths and just chanting “this too shall pass” in my head helps me until it passes because it always does!
junni-plane
Why did you decide to create the “Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler” e-course?
I created the course to share this gift that I have been given. The AMI Montessori training courses cost a lot financially and otherwise ( I had to move to two different countries and be separated from my husband). I realize that not everyone can take the courses and really, not everyone needs to. So I wanted to provide access to the information that is useful to parents.
I also created the course because I found that a lot of the information and resources that were available focused on the periphery of the philosophy and did not really go into the core or the essence. Parenting the Montessori way is not about Pinterest-worthy rooms or wooden toys. It’s about understanding the child’s true needs and supporting them as best we can. This can be done regardless of where you are and what you have. This is what I really want to communicate in the course. I think that a deep understanding of the child gives us new eyes and that allow us to see the child for who he truly is…
junni-table
*****
Junnifa, thank you for taking the time to share your journey with us!  If you’re ready to embark on your own Montessori journey to help guide your child’s development, sign up now for Understanding and Supporting Your Toddler.  Just click the link and change your life, because the “terrible two’s” don’t have to be so terrible!
This post contains affiliate links.
On Parenting, Uncategorized

One Day

For more than 12 months, Zachary threw stuff when he was tired, or angry, or couldn’t find the words to communicate how he felt or what he wanted.  Toys, food, china and silverware; it all flew across the house.  And then one day, it stopped.  Limits helped.  Consistency helped.  But what was the magic bullet?  Time.

I practiced elimination communication with Zachary.  By the time he was one, he was diaper-free all day.  By two, he was diaper-free at night.  Then, when he was 3 1/2, his sister was born  and he had an insensitive teacher, and it all went into the crapper. (Figuratively, of course, because actually NOTHING was making it into the crapper.)  He had the mother of all toileting regressions.  For almost a year we struggled, first with wetting and then with soiling.  And then one day, it stopped.  Limits helped. Consistency helped.  But what was the magic bullet?  Time.

For a long time, Zachary has been singularly uninterested in being helpful around the house.  Pick up his toys?  Nope.  Clear the table?  Never.  Put away his laundry?  Unthinkable.  And then one day, it all changed.  “Mommy, how can I help?”  and “Mommy, am I being helpful?” are now the most uttered phrases in our home.  Limits helped.  Consistency helped.  But what was the magic bullet?  Time.

So, whatever you’re going through with your child right now, put it into perspective.  Limits help.  Consistency helps.  But what’s the magic bullet?  Time.

thumb_IMG_7393_1024

Social and Emotional Learning

Safe Haven

42b184a3fb6c5289381a41e3824e1aa3

A recent visitor from Russia gifted our classroom with a truly exquisite set of nesting dolls, the smallest of which was no larger than the fingernail on my pinky.  All the children were curious about the dolls, but Annie, a nine-year-old who was new to our classroom, was truly enamored by the set.  Between academic activities, she would spend time lining up the dolls and then nesting them again.

I was absent for a few hours on Tuesday morning, and by Wednesday three boys made the discovery that the six smallest dolls had disappeared.  Accusatory fingers immediately pointed towards Annie and indignant voices clamored for justice.  I quickly gathered the nearly two dozen 6-to-12-year-olds into a circle, took a breath to steady my emotions, and with a peaceful and positive attitude said:

“As most of you know, our generous visitor from Russia recently gave us a beautiful set of nesting dolls.  They are really charming, aren’t they?  I can see that many of you are attracted to them!  It has been brought to my attention that several dolls are missing.  I understand how someone could fall in love with those pretty little dolls and want them all to themselves.  And you see, those dolls belong to the classroom. They are a precious addition to our treasures.  So, if someone borrowed them, I’m going to ask that you please bring them back so that we can all enjoy their beauty.  In order to ensure that the person who has them can return them anonymously, I’m going to ask that he or she put them inside the cabinet under the sink while we’re all outside at recess.”

“Why?’ asked one child.  “Why don’t you just tell them to give them back right now?”

“That person might be feeling a bit embarrassed by their choice,” I replied.  “And some people are feeling very emotional by the absence of the dolls.  We want the person who has them to feel safe returning them, and we want him or her to know that nobody is going to say things in anger that they would later regret.”

A seven-year-old boy piped up in solidarity, “OK!  Everyone stay outside during recess!  Nobody should be watching the room!”

Suddenly, I heard a little voice say, “I’m really embarrassed.”  I turned to where the voice was originating and saw Annie grinning sheepishly, her knees curled up to her chest.

“Why, Annie?” I asked.

“I’m really embarrassed because I took them just for a day but I accidentally left them in my therapist’s office.  I’m sorry, I’ll bring them back next week when I go to therapy again.”

Her cheeks were flushed.  The children were dead silent.

“Annie, I appreciate your honesty,” I said with a smile.  “I’m glad the dolls are safe and I know we’ll all be happy to have them back in the classroom.”  Annie smiled back with a mixture of relief and gratitude. I felt the entire group relax, secure in the notion that where one child is safe to make mistakes, all are safe.

With my heart singing, I brought out our read-aloud book and transitioned the class towards a new activity, knowing that many profound and powerful lessons had been learned by us all.

Favorite Books, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning

Making Peace with Star Wars

My husband and I put a lot of effort into keeping our home free from violent media influences.  It’s an uphill battle that we’re committed to fighting, and one that sometimes requires a little creative thinking.

Zachary’s male classmates (ages 3 and 4) are fascinated by Star Wars.  Yes, you read right: ages 3 and 4, not 13 and 14.  They know all the characters, all the spaceships, and, of course, all the violence that goes with it.  Zach would come home every day, his head a jumble of confusion: Who is Star Wars?  Is he a good guy or a bad guy?  Does Luke Skywalker walk on the sky?  What does a light saber do?  Can it kill you?  If it kills you, are you dead?  Is Darth Vader a bad guy or a good guy?

We were very frustrated by this turn of events and found it difficult to answer his questions without confusing him even more.  We told him Star Wars was a “once-upon-a-time” story, explained that what his friends called “bad guys” are really people who were feeling sad or angry and didn’t know what to do with their feelings, and allowed him to buy a plastic light saber (with his own money, of course!) so he could see that it was just a harmless toy.  But still, the confusion reigned supreme and overshadowed all his other interests.

I kept wishing there were a book that summarized the basics of the Star Wars story without the violence inherent to the plot.  I searched fruitlessly for weeks, until – just before Father’s Day – I came across Darth Vader and Son.  Stroke. Of. Genius.

darthIt features 4-year-old Luke Skywalker (the same age as Zachary) engaging with his sometimes clueless and exasperated dad, Darth Vader, in many of the same scenarios that my son and his dad experience week to week.  The “I-don’t-have-to-pee” dance; the “I-won’t-pick-up-my-toys” battle… You get the idea.

It’s gentle enough for my very innocent 4-year-old to enjoy, and yet it has lots of references to the movie series, which my Star Wars-loving hubby really appreciated!

The mystique of Star Wars quickly faded from Zachary’s mind once he and his dad had read the book a few times.  Now, they quote bits from the book when the real-life situation mirrors what Luke and Darth experienced, and they share a laugh.

We might not always win the battle against mainstream media influences, but in this case, the force was with us!!

*This post includes an affiliate link.

 

Language Development, Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory

Tricks of the Three-Period Lesson

3plIn an earlier article we discussed the basics of using the Three-Period Lesson to introduce vocabulary. Did you try it with your child? How did it go?

Veteran Montessori guides will tell you that when you give a child a lesson, things don’t always go the way you expect them to. You might have noticed this when you tried doing the Three-Period Lesson with your child. If things didn’t go exactly as you planned, don’t fret! Click here to read a helpful article and watch the video to learn great tips that will guide you and your child towards success!

Montessori Materials

Simple Is Better

egg-and-cupMost commercial toys try to cram a lot of “bang for their buck”. Imagine, with just one toy, your child will be able to learn colors, numbers and shapes! She’ll practice sorting and stacking while listening to classical music, and each time she does it right, the toy will light up and shout out “Good job!”

This sounds like a great toy, right? Wrong! The best toys are the simplest ones… Click here to find out why and watch a short video!

Favorite Books, Montessori Materials, On Parenting, Practical Life, Science, Social and Emotional Learning

Food for Thought

I’m reading an excellent book called Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, published in 1978. The author is not a scientist, and never claims to be. He doesn’t have answers, just observations and questions that most of us have never even thought to ponder.
 
There’s a section that talks about how television messes with your senses.
 
Think about it: On your screen, you’re watching a shot of two people walking on a distant hillside, yet you can clearly hear what they’re saying (when in reality you shouldn’t). But what you can’t hear are the ambient sounds that your brain would normally expect to hear if you were standing where the scene is being shot. Meanwhile, you’re “smelling some chicken roasting in the kitchen and you’re drinking a beer.”
 
The author points out that, “Television has attached two of your sensory modes to a distant spot, altered their natural arrangement to each other, but left other aspects of your sensory apparatus at home in present time… [This] takes on importance when we understand that the average person submits to this condition for four hours every day [it’s currently five for adults, 4.5 for kids], and while in this state is receiving important information about life. All of the information is narrowed to fit the sensory transmission limits of the medium and distorted by the sensory disconnections in the human.
 
“One can imagine the emergence of a new psychological syndrome: ‘sensory schizophrenia.’ The cure will involve exercises to resynchronize wildly confused senses with each other, with the mind, and with the world.”
 
The author’s 1978 description of “sensory schizophrenia” immediately made me think of Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), defined in the book The Out-Of-Sync Child as “a common problem in which the central nervous system misinterprets messages from the senses.” So, I tried seeing if any studies had been done on the relationship between TV and SPD. None. Yay science.
 
What I DID find were several forum threads where parents discuss their SPD child’s relationship with TV. In every single thread, over and over, parents mentioned how, from the time their kids were babies, they fed them while the child watched TV. They also mention how at home they have the TV on ALL THE TIME because the adult likes (needs?) background noise.
 
The author’s suggested cure, “exercises to resynchronize wildly confused senses” made me think of Montessori’s beautiful Practical Life and Sensorial materials, which engage all of the senses and help re-center (or indeed, “normalize”) the child.
 
Food for thought… (Just don’t eat it in front of the TV.)
This post contains affiliate links.
Montessori Materials, Practical Life

The Five Keys to Making Montessori Materials

banana2Last week we talked about preparing our home to help our children be successful. This week, let’s focus on Montessori materials. How hard is it to make them? What should you keep in mind?

Click here to learn more and watch a short video!

Uncategorized

Wait and Connect

You know when your child does something – like throw his toys on the floor – to show his frustration over a perceived injustice, and you tell him to clean it up, and he refuses, and you insist, and he digs in his heels, and your ego is insulted and says “How dare he?!”, so you resort to punishment because you feel powerless, and then he gets angry at you because “You’re so mean!” and sees himself as the victim, and you lose the opportunity to teach a lesson about dealing with frustration?

It would be great if our kids would snap to attention the moment we demand they fix what they’ve done wrong.  But most of the time they won’t… Because they CAN’T.  When a big emotion takes over, it floods their rational brain with stress hormones, so their instinctual brain takes over.  It’s the “fight, flight, or freeze” brain, which is why most children will either run away, become aggressive, or totally shut down when confronted with an overwhelming frustration.

Here’s an experience we recently had that shows the importance of waiting until the rational mind has a chance to recover, what happens when you don’t, and how you can support the process.

Zachary (4yrs 3mo) has recently been having a hard time leaving places where he’s having fun (like the park or a friend’s house).  We’ve tried empathizing, sharing our feelings, setting alarms, giving 5-minute warnings, acknowledging his helpful choices… You name it.  Yesterday was no exception; I picked him up from a friend’s house and he flipped out.

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

When we got home, he dumped a box of PVC piping joints all over the living room (he uses them to build).  I told him to pick them up (yay, me!) but he yelled “No!” and ran upstairs. When I went to look for him to try to acknowledge his feelings and work through them, I saw he had dumped the neatly folded contents of two large laundry baskets all over the floor.  Well, I wasn’t in much of a mood to empathize then!!!

I felt anger bubbling up inside me, and I said, “You need to put those clothes back in the baskets right now!” (I know, *facepalm*)  He yelled, “No!” and I didn’t know what else to do; I felt so powerless.  So I did the only thing I could do (and the first thing that made sense): I closed the door and left him there.

I ran downstairs and flipped open my computer.  I pulled up this article from Dr. Laura and quickly re-read it (for the fifth time).  When I got to point #1, I was SO GLAD I had closed the door when I did!  I had to move myself from anger to empathy before I could help him do the same.

Reading the article calmed me down a great deal, because I felt like I had a game plan that would work.  Just then, my husband came home.  I quickly told him what happened and asked that he not try to punish him or shame him into cleaning up.  He looked confused but agreed.  I called everyone down to dinner and we had our normal “How was your day?” conversation during the meal.

After dinner, Zachary gets to play with his dad for 30 minutes before bedtime, so I said: “Before you start playing, I’d like you to please pick up the PVC joints you threw on the floor.”  He refused, so my husband said: “What if mommy times you to see how quickly you can pick them up?”  No four-year-old can resist a one-person race!  He jumped up and began flinging joints into the box with a goofy smile on his face.

They then played and did the rest of their bedtime routine while I put the baby to bed.  When I came out of the baby’s room, Zach and my husband were reading a book a friend lent to us, called “I Love You Because You’re You“.  The book’s message is simple but profound: no matter how you behave, we’ll always love you.  I think it was exactly what Zachary needed to hear, because when I walked in to kiss him good-night, he asked me to read the book to him.  When he climbed into bed, I stroked his hair and said, “Tomorrow we can talk about what happened and then you and I can work together to put the clothes away.”

Before going to bed, I re-read Dr. Laura’s article.  Game on!  This morning, I asked my husband to stay with the baby when Zach woke up.  I went to his room and read him the book again.  That put a big smile on his face.  Then I said, “Can you tell me how you were feeling yesterday?”  He told me he didn’t want to leave his friend’s house and asked if he could return.  I pointed out that he had refused to clean up when his friend’s mom asked him to, and he had started yelling and crying when it was time to leave, which he knows frightens his friend.  I explained that he’d have to talk with his friend’s mom to see if they’d be willing to invite him back, and asked him what he was going to have to do differently if he wanted to be welcomed at their house.  He said he was going to clean up when asked and leave without crying.  We practiced how he would talk with his friend and his mom.

Then I said, “Do you know what we need to do now?”  He replied, “Clean up the clothes.”  He hopped out of bed and we walked into my bedroom.  I explained that I would pass the clothes to him one by one and he would stack them neatly in the baskets.  About a third of the way through, he complained that it was a lot of work.  I said, “I know!  That’s why I felt really frustrated when I saw that you had dumped them out.  I work very hard during the day so that you all have clean clothes.”  He kept working quietly and didn’t complain again.

While we worked, I asked him how I could help him feel less frustrated when it was time to leave his friend’s house.  He said, “I just want to stay there all the time.”  So I asked, “If you knew that you were going to visit your friend’s house every Thursday, would it make it easier to leave?”  He said yes, so I suggested we talk with his friend’s mom and try to set up a regular visit once a week.

I felt so proud of both of us!  He had been cooperative and communicative, while I had once again proven to myself (and my husband) how important it was to Wait and Connect.

To learn more about how your child’s brain is wired and what specific techniques you can use to discipline effectively, I highly recommend reading “No-Drama Discipline” by Daniel Siegel.

This post contains affiliate links.