“What Did You Do Wrong?”


It is always informative to have new folks observing my classroom. It’s like when you see your dining room table in the back of a picture: “When did all that stuff get there?” or that the view out of that window is stunning.

I recently had someone walk over to a child and ask him what he was doing. “Folding napkins”, he said.  “Oh!  What did you do wrong to have to do that?”

The child could make nothing of that comment, so didn’t try, and went back to folding, reflecting on the odd things that grownups say.  He was, in addition to folding, giving a lovely folding lesson to his 2 year old helper, who was riveted.

Of course, I know that work is dreadful, especially boring, repetitive work. Am I leaping up right now to put the clean sheets back on the guest bed?  No. They are lying in a sad heap on the bed, and will until an hour before the next guest arrives.  I couldn’t tell you the number of things in my house which are undone.  It would take months.

However, I also know that my attitude towards work of all kinds is learned.  I remember this when I see children invited to do something meaningful in the classroom, like folding the napkins (so that we can have snack) and teaching others to fold napkins (because it is cool to know stuff.)  No, they are not all singing “whistle while we work”, but they are not grumbling much, unless we teach them to.  They are often rather pleased and self-satisfied.  They often find the work relaxing or intriguing.

Recently a child was thrilled to be allowed to figure out how to shake the plastic bag so that it fit well in the trash can.  He has now taken it over as “his job”: “Allow me, please.”  Yes, maestro.

Things Your Grown Children Could Tell You About if You Knew to Ask

old+lady+at+computerOkay, that is a terrible title, but there it is.  This is obviously for old people like me, or those who are tech averse, or both.

Both of my sons have recently changed my life.  One came home and hacked every electronic device to make it run better/faster.  The other turned me on to podcasts.  P-O-D-C-A-S-T-S.  Wow.

I have been running again, and was bribing myself with books on Audible, on my Android.  (Had to go through two sets of earbuds- any tips on that, guys? I forgot to ask.)  Books are expensive, though.  And I got addicted to Terrible Fiction that was easy to listen to while gasping for breath.

Podcasts.  Of course, he mentioned it about 12 times.  Then he told me how to listen to podcasts.  I use Stitcher (http://www.stitcher.com/).  He also told me some podcasts to listen to.  A great one is Hardcore History (http://www.dancarlin.com/hardcore-history-series/).  NPR has a bunch of them.  I love Rachel Maddow (http://www.msnbc.com/now?campaign=msnbc_tve_2014&vendor=Google&medium=Search&creative=rachel_maddow), but then, I am an old liberal.

You can learn about organic gardening (http://whyy.org/cms/youbetyourgarden/) or spirituality (http://www.onbeing.org/podcast/help) or sexuality (http://www.savagelovecast.com/).

I have to say, I am an information junkie.  I just “cleaned off my desk” (I can see some of the wood), so I am very reluctant to throw any information away. The reality, of course, is that I have only so many hours in a day that I can motivate myself to read non-fiction.  So, I can listen to smart people while I am doing necessary evils.  This has changed my life while weeding the garden, cleaning the bathroom, folding laundry, raking leaves.

Why You Do What You Do


Julie and I have been teaching Positive Discipline for a few years now.  My (least) favorite activity is called “Top Card”.  I just did a Google search of this phrase, and it showed a link to the game “Magic, the Gathering” (my sons will be so pleased.)  In any case, I think Top Card refers to the “place” (in our minds) that we go to when stressed, our “home port”, to use another metaphor.  Lynn, feel free to correct me.

This is a personality inventory, like the Myers-Briggs, the colors, etc.  This is the simplest and most helpful, to me, and I have done them all.  I am, of course, the worst one: superior.  At our worst, we cause others to feel what we are working so hard to avoid feeling, like a toxic game of hot potato.  Ugh.

Anyway, I think this game is helpful for parents.  First of all, we can never be reminded too many times that not everyone sees the world as we do, and, by corollary, not all of our opinions are right.  Yes, that is not fun, but it is helpful, if you live with other people.  And parents, by definition, live with other people.  People with undeveloped frontal lobes, in fact.  So, the more insight we have, the better.

There are four types: pleasers, controllers, superiors and turtles (well, conflict-avoiders).  (They each have a helpful animal, check it out.) If you can explore this in a group, it can help to clarify where you are, as many of us share a bit of several “cards”.

Briefly, from the parenting angle, pleasers have trouble “not-pleasing” their children.  One parent said to me “I’m not the kind of person to make my child cry!”  Well, children cry.  A lot.  Our job is not to control their feelings, but to be kind, firm and empathetic.  And to teach them some skills.  Like dealing with disappointment.  (Sorry, got superior there for a moment.)  Pleasers are awesome people to be around, unless they have tried too hard to please you, in which case they might explode in your face.

Controllers have a strong sense of order, and are whacked out by disorder and chaos.  And children are a little chaos-making.  When controllers get stressed they order everything and everyone.  It helps to offer to help, and to remind them that things are perfect enough. And to go for a walk. These folks are the ones you want to fix your car, or your brain.

Superiors (like Gandhi and Hitler) are motivated by high (or low) ideals, and a vision of “better-ness.”  This can make them inspiring and visionary, or single minded and bitchy.  As parents, they need to be reminded that others may be motivated by different values, and to come down off the pedestal and hang out.

Conflict avoiders are wonderful peacemakers and can get along with anyone. They may need to be reminded to stand up for themselves before they feel too put upon, and that their input is needed as well.  “We need you, turtles!!!”

Remember, we all have gifts, as well as some crazy baggage that we bring along for the ride.  Being aware of both keeps us real, and helps us laugh.

Language is Important

ethnic-toddler-talking-on-a-toy-mobile-phone-1We all know that words matter.  One insight that you get when you listen to experienced teachers talk is that they are constantly evaluating and honing their use of language with children.

As I have said, during my various Montessori internships I literally followed Cheryl, Teri, Martha and Jerome around and wrote down the words that they used.

One example that stands out vividly: my five year old telling Martha that she wanted to hide all the color tablets around the classroom and have her (Martha) find them.  She stated it, demanded it.  I watched Martha, waiting for her to lose her temper, or threaten, like a normal person.  Instead she calmly stated, twice: “I am not willing for you to do that.”  She smiled pleasantly as she said it, as if she expected it to work.  Then she said: “Let’s find something wonderful to do together.”  And that was the end of that. Really.

Another incident also involved one of my children.  Clara had apparently experimented with painting on the wall, instead of the paper on the easel nearby.  When it was discovered, she was invited to wash the wall before she could go outside.  (For insight on logical or natural consequences, check out Positive Discipline, which has criteria of related, respectful, reasonable, helpful.  http://blog.positivediscipline.com/2013/05/logical-consequences.html)

Clara, oddly, did not enthusiastically applaud this notion.  When she protested, argued, stomped her foot, and rolled on the floor, Teri calmly stated, from her position washing dishes : “You are not available to go outside.”  And, a few times, sincerely, “I’m sorry. I hope you are ready soon.” There was no sarcasm involved, no passive aggressive eye rolls.  After a period of time, Clara washed the wall and went outside.  She was even proud of the job she’d done.  Amazing.

Going back to the “3 Rs plus 1 H” above, children pick up on your tone, so trying to use these words in a snarky way will not have the same result.  If it feels like punishment, that is, unrelated, (“Since you painted on the wall, you can’t watch “Barbie Gets Her Black Belt.”) disrespectful, (“That’s what you get for painting on the wall when I told you not to.”), unreasonable (“You cannot go outside for the rest of the week!”) or unhelpful (“I just can’t trust you!”) the result, even if the wall gets clean, will be a sneakier, resentful child.

As Ron Weasley said when his mother said “I’d better not catch you doing that again!”: “You won’t.”

Remember, changing behavior is one goal, maintaining the relationship is another.

More on Montessori and Play


This was recently posted on Facebook on the Montessori Research page. The point Angela was making is that the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) and Montessori are often not in alignment. This article gives a definition of “play”;  Angela points out that the Montessori philosophy would agree with this definition, but that we wouldn’t use the term “play”.  What word do we use?  You know it: “work”.

1. Children make their own decisions.
2. Children are intrinsically motivated.
3. Children become immersed in the moment.
4. Play is spontaneous, not scripted.
5. Play is enjoyable.

 (Angela Murrey, Montessori Research Interest Group).108679640_b3c51d50c1_z

Stop Talking


Almost everyone was home for Christmas, and my daughter remarked to her husband-to-be, “enjoying conversation” around the table for the first time with so many of us- “Now you see why I am so loud!  It takes work to get a word in edgewise!”  Apart from a comment about having two brothers, this is a commentary on being human, at least.

As a parent of young children, I did a lot of yelling.  The “Where are you?” kind, the “I’ve already called you to dinner twice!” kind, and the “My eyeballs will fill with blood soon” kind.  It certainly can be emotionally satisfying, like a good run or splitting wood, but side effects can include guilt and creating children who are adult-deaf.  Not so good.

As with many other parenting lessons, I learned much more about this in the classroom as an intern.  Keep in mind that I had been a parent for 5 years when by then, so, you might say it was a little late for me to be learning the basics.  However, I was also quite motivated.  When an adorable preschooler looked at one of my supervising teachers, hands on hips, and remarked : “You aren’t the boss of me!”, I was fascinated to see what would result. Threatening and yelling I had down.  Anything else (except a little bribing), was a mystery.

So one remarkable technique was shutting up.  Seems simple; is hard to do. One way “shutting up” was used was to close mouth and take child by the hand to what needed to happen.  There was sometimes a kind, empathetic smile, and a shrug.  No matter how many words came out of the child’s mouth, there was no talking.  There was mostly no looking.  The grownup might sit down and do some knitting nearby.  They might wash a dish or two. They definitely did not argue, cajole, implore, take away privileges, give reasons or look annoyed.  (Of course, remember that Montessori teachers never have to take children to a doctor’s appointment by a given time, or return a phone call in the classroom.  Or, if they did, they would have an assistant to help out.)

Another shutting up technique is to take upset child and hold them in lap. There might be back-rubbing involved.  There might be looking at a book, or singing (does not count as talking, unless you are singing a ditty like : “If you don’t stop screaming I will throw your My Little Pony out the window, tra la.”)

Yet another one was for adult to calmly start concentrating on something, which may turn out to be intriguing to child, like tracing an inset, or unloading the dishwasher.  This may allow child to switch gears while saving face.

A relative of shutting up is to talk very, very quietly and calmly.  This is also hard to do, but can be very intriguing to the child, who can’t figure out what the heck is going on.

The simplest shutting up is to pick up hysterical child and go home.  As a wise woman once told me, children are made small for this reason.  Any carry position which does not allow the child to kick you is allowed, except by hair.

This may seem manipulative, and, if we wanted to be manipulative, it is certainly at least as easy to shame children into submission.  Worked on me. However, shaming is bad.  Read Brene Brown and everything written about Attachment Theory (not “Attachment Parenting”, which is another issue entirely).

What shutting up actually does, as Laura Markham put it, is to give you a chance to stop seeing your child as the enemy.  My favorite form of the “shut up and hug” method is to get down or sit down on the floor.  As a Montessori teacher, I have to do this a lot, anyway (“Montessori teachers do it on the floor”), and so my floors are clean at school. As a wise parent once told me, it is hard to yell at a child when you are at eye level, and so respect must seep in.  Once you feel empathy and respect, it is hard to yell or shame. And that is good.

Because, ultimately, all your have is your relationship.  And that is what makes them want to come home at Christmas with their husband-to-be, or dog.  And their laundry.