Montessori Theory, On Parenting, Social and Emotional Learning, Theory and Practice

The Puzzle-Child

Over the years of working in Montessori classrooms I’ve met many children who are eager to attend lessons, engage in follow-up work, and share their new knowledge.  And then there are the occasional “puzzles” (as my son’s Primary guide once referred to him).  How do you know if you live or work with a puzzle-child?

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Puzzle-children are those for whom learning comes easily but who see most teaching as a hindrance to their own learning agenda. On a good day, they grumpily humor your agenda for a short while and then stealthily slink away to pursue their own interests.  But most days, your invitation will send them into fight/flight/freeze mode: they either become argumentative (fight), run away from you (flight), or shut down (freeze), refusing to speak or make eye contact.

I used to think puzzle-children felt intimidated by the work or lacked the desire to learn.  But these children aren’t insecure or apathetic – quite the contrary!  I started taking the time to connect with puzzle-children to understand why they rejected lessons, and the phrase they said again and again was: “I already know that.”  Upon gentle prodding, it became clear that indeed, they did understand the concepts I was trying to present.

Puzzle children don’t care about your ego. In fact, in a battle of egos, theirs will always win.  They don’t care about sitting politely through your carefully planned presentation or showing you what they know.  They don’t care about your album sequence, the state standards, or your lesson plan.  They know what they want to learn, and they know they can use you as a resource to overcome any gaps in knowledge that pop up as they pursue their own explorations.

And that right there is the key to engaging successfully with a puzzle-child.  You have to be like a floor lamp: present but unobtrusive, and willing to shed light on whatever topic the puzzle-child approaches you about.  The puzzle-child will often be found with his nose in a book; tinkering with random objects; or using Montessori materials in ways that might seem sacrilegious at first but that, upon closer inspection, constitute legitimate intellectual explorations.

Conversations are essential for connecting with the puzzle-child.  But you have to watch your tone of voice: puzzle-children detect the moment you switch to a “teacher” voice, and in that instant you’ve lost them.  They also detect when you’re trying to quiz them.  You’re better off assuming they’re already experts. Use precise terminology when chatting with them; rest assured they’ll pepper you with questions if they don’t know what you’re talking about!

Puzzle-children love stories and experiments, and they are cosmic thinkers (meaning they’re able to effortlessly make connections among seemingly unrelated topics).  They’re autodidacts who focus on a topic until they have filled their cup. And then, just as quickly as the interest blossomed, it seems to disappear (but rest assured that the knowledge remains).

For puzzle-children and their adults, the most difficult times are those when the puzzle-child is between interests.  They’re often restless and irritable, flitting from one activity to another.  This is an important time for puzzle-children, and one should not jump in to fill the void with busy work or adult teaching agendas.  For it is precisely the space and boredom of their aimless roaming that will help them find their next “big thing”.

Puzzle-children don’t need to be taught how to learn.  If anything, they need to be protected from well-meaning adults who want to impose their teaching methods at the expense of the puzzle-child’s creativity and resourcefulness.  It’s a blow to the adult’s ego not to be needed, especially when your entire identity rests on being a transmitter of knowledge.

For teachers and parents of puzzle-children, it’s time to change that identity and protect these powerful and eccentric learners.  Help the puzzle-child learn how to communicate their needs and let them know you’re there as a resource.  Prepare their environment with quality books and essential Montessori materials. Provide open-ended tinkering, building, crafting and drafting materials.  Go outside together and explore nature through their eyes.  Listen, observe, document, trust, and wait.  Be flexible, creative, and honest, and above all, be genuine.  Follow the child.

“Our care of the children should be governed, not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep burning within him that light which is called intelligence.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

 

6 - 12, Cosmic Education, Favorite Books, Montessori Materials, Montessori Theory, Science, Theory and Practice

Moon-tessori (haha, couldn’t resist)

“You’re great at this homeschooling thing because you’re a teacher… I don’t think I could do it because I don’t know much about anything.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this phrase since we started homeschooling two months ago, coming from the most capable and well-prepared mothers in my circle of friends.  So here’s a little secret… I don’t know everything.  Heck, I don’t know most things!  But I don’t let that hold me back from learning and sharing with my children.  Here’s an example of how I facilitate learning, and how you can, too!

The moon is a topic that seems to keep coming up in the Full Montessori household.  Over the past few months we’ve read several fiction and non-fiction books about the moon (links at the bottom of this post) and we play games trying to find different shapes (a rabbit, and old man) on its surface.  Seven-year-old Zachary had been asking why the moon changes through the month, so I knew it was prime time for a moon lesson.

Truth be told, even after 12 years as a Montessori guide, I could never quite grasp HOW the moon moved in relationship with the Earth, why the lighted part changed throughout the month, or how to tell when the lighted part was growing or shrinking.  But the beauty of being a guide is that you don’t have to know everything, you just have to “learn ahead of your children” (I love that Charlotte Mason phrase).

So, I found these two extremely helpful videos and FINALLY understood how it all works (thank you, Google)!

Then I dragged my kids to the craft store to buy a foam sphere (without telling them what it would be for); printed, cut, and laminated these free Moon Phases cards; and practiced the Moon/Earth/Sun demonstration when my kids weren’t around.  Yes, sometimes it takes That. Much. Work.

But, you know what?  It was so worth it!  I invited my son to sit down and told him his head was the Earth (my three-year-old daughter wasn’t interested, because, hello concrete thinker!).  I then began slowly moving the moon around his head, and he saw how the lighted part of the white sphere grew from waxing crescent to first quarter.  His eyes widened and his mouth stretched into a knowing smile.  I continued moving the moon around his head and I could tell he was enjoying the discovery process as much as I had.  When we were done and I had casually sprinkled the terms for the moon phases into the demonstration, he got up and went downstairs to play with his sister.

I waited for a lull in their play and pulled out the moon phases cards.  I told him we were going to play a moon game and put the “New Moon” card on the rug.  I lined up the other cards randomly on the edge of the rug and said, “Hmm, which card might go next?”  Eager to apply his knowledge, he quickly fished out the Waxing Crescent card and completed the entire cycle on his own.  He mixed up Waning Crescent and Waning Gibbous, but I didn’t say anything.  I just offered the control chart and he caught his mistake on his own.

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If you’re a Montessorian, you might be wondering why I used the control cards for the lesson (heresy!!).  If you must know, my son has little tolerance for three-part cards.  They just don’t resonate with how he learns.  If he knows the information, he isn’t the type of child who will humor you with busy work just to show you what he knows.  And if he doesn’t know something, he wants to get straight to the knowledge and understanding part right away – and three-part cards just don’t give him that.  I knew (from experience) that if I went through the whole rigamarole of having him lay out the picture cards, finding the corresponding labels, and then using the control cards to check, I’d lose him for sure.

There are about a thousand different ways to help your child solidify their knowledge of the moon phases, or any other concept they’re curious about.  My intention here was to illustrate how I go about preparing myself to facilitate my children’s learning – and often, my own!

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Favorite moon books:

Fiction: Luna and the Moon Rabbit, Kitten’s First Full Moon

Non-fiction: Jump Into Science: Moon, The Moon Book

The books mentioned above are affiliate links.  Purchasing through these links helps support the quality work you enjoy on this blog, at no cost to you.  Thank you!

Montessori Theory

The “Annoying” Seven-Year-Old

Seven-year-old Zachary learned how to build a popscicle-stick catapult at a free library workshop last week.  Over dinner that night, I “casually” asked my engineer husband if he knew the difference between a catapult and a trebuchet.  A brief but interesting discussion ensued, and my son hung on to every word.

Sitting around the kitchen table after breakfast Monday morning, I asked Zachary: “What would you like to explore today?”

He pouted and crossed his arms.  “Nothing.”

I tried again.  “Your pen pal is waiting to hear back from you.  Or I could give you ideas for that letter you’ve been meaning to write to Papa.  You could also practice the ukulele.”

“That’s dumb.” He walked upstairs and threw his lanky body on the floor of his LEGO-strewn room.  I followed him.  He mumbled, “I’m not doing anything today.”

Then I casually pointed out, “I’m going to be building a trebuchet downstairs.” (Because all moms need a trebuchet.)  “I would love your help.”

His head popped up.  He tried to look nonchalant as he followed me downstairs.  Five minutes later, he was reading instructions, gathering materials, and pondering physics.  He worked with joy and determination for almost two hours, through fingers scalded by hot glue and countless design adjustments. IMG_1008

We discussed potential and kinetic energy; used fractions and measuring; identified angles and defined new words.  He beamed with satisfaction when his creation was complete.  He then spent thirty minutes flinging projectiles onto a cardboard castle with his catapult and trebuchet, comparing the tactical advantages and destructive power of both weapons. IMG_1016

Second plane children want need to think for themselves.  For many children (and their parents) it can be a time of massive struggle.  Dr. Montessori wrote that the seven-year-old “starts to express judgements” and observed that “the adult finds [the seven-year-old] a bit annoying.”

“Without a new pedagogic directive, a new battle between the adult and this new child arises… [The adult] must be sure of what he ought to do, of what he ought to say, and of the extent to which he must reply to questions… It is indispensable to the child to feel the security the adult can and must give.”

Dr. Montessori observed that, “his thoughts could… have the tendency to lose themselves in abstraction by reasonings without end.” Pushing away or shutting down are the second-plane child’s ways of saying:  I’m feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the world and I need a concrete activity to ground my imagination. 

She reminds us to connect the child to “an external activity to which he will give all his potential.”  You can start anywhere, with any activity that requires the use of the hands and the imagination.  But the art of Montessori in the second plane is to help the child connect that one detail to the whole of the Universe.  “Each detail holds the child’s interest by reason of its strict relation to the others,” Dr. Montessori wrote.  Therefore, “it is sufficient to choose any one detail which will then become a point of departure in the study of the whole.” IMG_1015

You don’t need to have a vast depth of knowledge to engage a second plane child.  You  just need to know enough to get an activity going, and subtly point out a few connections through simple stories.  Spend some time today noticing how everything connects to everything else, and think about the little stories you can tell to bring those connections to life.  Learning will never look the same again to you or your child.

 

 

Montessori Theory, On Parenting

What Montessori is Not

Montessori is not a curriculum – not a series of boxes to check off.  It’s a guide for understanding how humans grow. It’s a way of supporting how humans learn.  It’s a means for finding joy and purpose in life.

Montessori is not dogma – not a script to follow blindly.  It’s a conversation about priorities.  It’s a toolbox for navigating parenthood with grace.  It’s a dance with the imperfect realities of life.

Montessori is not just for the wealthy – not a ticket to career success.  It’s for the homeschooling family.  It’s for the public school family.  It’s for the refugee, the migrant, the orphan, the elderly.

Montessori is a way of seeing and being.  It’s a new understanding of the adult’s role and a window into the child’s soul.  It’s a path that leads to trust; a path that leads to peace; a path that leads to life.

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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!)

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.

 

 

 

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

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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