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!


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.

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Prepare to be Amazed

prep-bananaMany parents like to help feed or dress their children, even when the children become capable of doing it on their own, because they feel it’s a way of showing love. While parents who follow the Montessori philosophy understand that it’s important to support their child’s budding independence, they sometimes don’t know how to channel their affection in a way that’s helpful to their child’s development!

You’ll be happy to know that in the Montessori philosophy, you – the parent – play a very important role… Click here to find out what this role is and watch a short video.

Mealtime with Baby

placematTable manners… Healthy eating habits… Self-control. We all want our children to develop these abilities, but it’s hard for parents to know how and when to start! Did you know that children have the potential to develop these qualities from the time they start showing interest in solid food?

While you might think it’s impossible to instill these qualities in your baby or toddler, it’s really not that hard if you have the right expectations and tools.  Click here to learn more about Montessori mealtimes and then watch a short video!



Manic Brain

When I decided that screen time would no longer be a part of my 4-year-old’s life, I knew I would have to deal with screen detox.  The first day of Spring Break was also the first day of the “No More Screens” rule.  Almost immediately after waking up, Zach asked to watch videos.  I said no and reminded him of the new rule.  He got very angry and cried.  I acknowledged his feelings and stood my ground firmly and with love.  When he calmed down, we had breakfast and played trains while the baby napped.

When his play was winding down, he again asked for videos.  I said no.  He cried but seemed less frustrated.  We had lunch and read some books while the baby again napped.  Later that afternoon, he asked for videos again.  I said no.  He didn’t cry.  At that point, I knew he was ready to listen.

I said, “You know that inside your head you have something called your brain, and that’s what you use to think, learn, and solve problems.  When you watch vgiphyideos, your brain is like this…” I made quick panting noises while shaking my head manically from side to side.  He smiled.

I continued, “When we turn off the videos, your brain is still going like this…” I again made the manic gestures, and he laughed.  “The problem is that the rest of the world doesn’t move as quickly as the videos, so your brain makes you feel angry because it wants things to move quickly again.  You have a wonderful brain; it’s a brain that can learn a lot and can solve problems.  My job is to help you keep your brain healthy and calm so that it can think and make good decisions.  And that’s why I decided that you can’t watch videos anymore.”  He thought about what I said but didn’t have any questions.

The rest of our Spring Break week passed without a single request for videos, and with lots of wonderful work and play.  I had my gentle, sweet, and mostly cooperative son back.

Today was the first day of school, and I knew he’d ask to watch videos because screen time had been a part of his after-school routine.  He came through the door after school and videos were the first thing on his mind.  I said no.  He asked why.  I repeated my “manic brain” explanation and offered an audiobook and a trip to the park as alternatives.  He happily accepted, and we had a fun afternoon.

During dinner, my husband asked Zach if he’d felt excited today about seeing his friends again after the break.  Zach said, “When I saw my friends this morning, my brain felt like when I watched videos.”  And that’s when I knew he understood.  Metacognition at four years of age.  Never underestimate a child.

The Medium is the Message

Screen time update: A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about screen time at our house. I wrote about how Zachary was frustrated when it came time to turn off the computer after his daily 15-minute screen time allotment, and how he had found a healthy outlet in crying.

I wish I could report that he had either developed the ability to turn off the screen without getting upset, or had at least continued to cry without escalating to anger. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), after a few days of harmless crying, he became aggressive at the end of screen time. After three days of dealing with his behavior, I explained my decision and my reasoning, and pulled the plug.

Today is day #1 of no screen time, and it happens to coincide with the first day of Spring break. He had a huge fit in the morning when he asked to watch a video and I reminded him of the decision. He got angry and tried to throw things, so Tom, my husband, stopped him and moved him to his room so he wouldn’t break anything (all he has there are clothes).

A few minutes later, Tom asked me to take over because he wasn’t feeling capable of handling the situation. I hugged Zachary and rocked him in my lap as he cried. It took him a while to get his anger out, but he did. He’s asked to watch a video three times, and all three times I’ve stood my ground firmly and with lots of love. His anger has diminished almost to zero, so now we’re ready to talk about what screen time can do to the brain and how the brain responds.

I’ve made a special space high up in a kitchen cabinet for ALL electronics, and that’s where they’ll stay any time the children are around. A friend and fellow Montessori guide told me that she and her husband treat their cell phones like old-fashioned land lines and keep them stationary when they are home. If the phone rings, they walk over, answer it, and then return it to its place. We’re going to do the same.

I thought limited screen time would work at our house. It doesn’t. Screen time is convenient, let’s not kid ourselves. Many shows are cute and seem harmless – even educational! But when it comes to children (and even adults), the medium is the message. And from now on, I’m thinking a lot more carefully about what message my children are receiving.

Three Steps to Academic Success

3-period-fruitThirty thousand. 30,000! That’s the number of words scientists say you should be speaking to your child daily to increase his chances of academic success. Most parents reach and exceed this magic number, but how do you know if your child is really benefiting from your efforts? Do you feel you might be choosing the wrong words or confusing your child by rambling?

I’m about to share with you a simple but powerful Montessori technique that will put your worries to rest.  To find out what it is, and to watch a short instructional video about it, click here!

Communication for Peace

So many struggles with our children stem from conflicting goals: you need to go grocery shopping and they want to stay home; you need them to sit down for dinner and they want to keep playing.  Imagine if there could be a way of communicating with your child that allowed you to achieve your goals while respecting their priorities. Well, there is.

The practice of Nonviolent Communication recently came into my life.  NVC is a way of expressing “what we are observing, what emotions we are feeling, what values we want to live by, and what we want to ask of ourselves and others,” (NVC site) through the development of compassion, without using anger, manipulation, or fear.  Here’s a diagram of how NVC looks in practice:


When I started reading the book Nonviolent Communication (aff link), it dawned on me that it can be a powerful tool in our Montessori work of educating for peace, creating critical thinkers, and enhancing emotional intelligence.  I don’t know why it’s not part of the suggested reading in all AMI Montessori training centers, but I’m glad I discovered it and can share it with others.

Here’s the thing about NVC: it’s easy to learn, difficult to master, and once you use it, you’re hooked!

So, how does NVC work?  There are several books about it (and hours of videos on YouTube), so instead of going into details, I’ll give you a beautiful example that happened in our home this weekend. While not all conflicts are solved this fluidly in our home (because I’m still learning), NVC has made a profound difference in my ability to communicate compassionately with my son and husband, while getting my needs met!  I’m going to label the different elements of NVC throughout the conversation, so you can see how it flows.

Zachary (4 years old) normally goes to bed by 6:30pm, but this day he’d taken a nap in the car, so it was almost 8pm and he was still happily playing trains with his dad.  My husband and I had had a long week: he had faced many challenges at work and I had been up several times each night with the baby.  We told Zachary it was time to get ready for bed, but he objected.

Me: I see that you still have a lot of energy in your body, don’t you? (observation)

Zach: Yes, and I don’t want to go to bed.  I want to bring my bed downstairs and sleep next to my trains.

Me: Ah, you want to be close to your trains.  That makes sense.  You know, you don’t have to sleep right away.  You can take a couple of engines to bed with you and play with them there.

Zach: I still don’t want to go to bed.

Me: I understand you don’t feel tired yet. Here’s the problem: Your dad and I feel really tired and want to go to bed soon. (identify feeling) We had a long week.  Do you remember how daddy told you about the frustrating meeting he had with the man who was not being very helpful?  And do you remember how I said I was tired because Nadia was crying at night?

Zach: Yes.

Me: OK, well, we need to go to bed soon so we can have energy to go to the beach tomorrow. (our need)  We want to have time to read you a book and sing some songs (his need) before we have to go to sleep.  How can we solve this problem so that we have time to read a book and sing songs, and so mommy and daddy can go to bed on time? (request)

Zach (thinks for a moment): OK, first pajamas, then brush teeth, then go to the bathroom, then bed.

Me: Great, let us know if you need help along the way!

And wouldn’t you know it, he was fast asleep by the end of the second song.



Share Your Floor Bed Story!

If you have a floor bed success story and would like to share it with other parents and Montessori enthusiasts, please send a brief (3-4 paragraph) description of your experience to  thefullmontessori @ gmail . com

Thank you for your help (and thanks again to those of you who’ve already shared their floor bed journey)!

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