The beauty of boredom :)


(I love memes; have you noticed?:)

I was lucky that one of my first jobs was an afterschool program here in Boone (1982) with a very supportive boss, and a very supportive supervisor at the Board of Ed. We got there at 1:30, and set up an environment in our designated (unshared) space. We were a motley crew of motivated and flakey folks, happy to make $5.25 an hour (well above minimum wage).

Since I didn’t know much, I just tried to set up some open-ended activities to see what the children would do. We would set up a table with assorted “stuff” (paper plates, toilet paper rolls, meat trays, tape, glue, string) and a table for sewing, some board games and sit back and watch. The things that engaged the children, we did more of, the things that did not, we did not. We had the New Games book (Smaug’s Jewels was a favorite), did a lot of singing, and read aloud chapter books. No one under 6th grade had much homework to worry about. We went outside, or to the gym, every day. We borrowed cross country skis and let them ski in the back of the school. We baked, and had a bake sale to raise money for children in Nicaragua. We had conversations about what rules we should have. (I recently taught a class for adults. One of them came up during the break and asked : “What other jobs have you had?” ??? He finally let me know that he remembered me from that afterschool program. He is an adult with 2 kids. He has the same smile.)

Anyway, all of this is to say that I believe that children learn from an enriched environment but a boring life. I am an only child, and I promise you that entertaining myself was my life’s work. I was, of course, one of the “free range” era who were allowed (forced?) to wander the neighborhood in search of entertainment. In the suburbs, vacant lots and dead end streets next to creeks are heaven. I think of this as “benign neglect.” if my parents had been too interested in what I did, I may not have found it so intriguing.

Then, with other people’s children, and then my own, I watched this happen again. The most powerful learning often happens with no words, and alone. Or maybe with a friend, and a shared look.

Montessori said, and wrote, that the experience comes before the understanding. I am thinking of my children listening about the snow storms in “The Little House on the Prairie”, after digging tunnels in the snow in our yard. I did not “set up” the snow. Thank god, nature provides so much of a “prepared environment.” However, adult “help” can be a deterrent. Tread lightly, and embrace “benign neglect”, however you can!

Children have been learning through boredom since before we moved out of the trees 🙂

What you can learn when you watch and listen….

Ah, she is so wise!3526-child_s-hair-brush_1

(I love this image; this looks like “doing something with” as opposed to “doing something to”, to me.)

Kissable Zebra Lips and Other Things

I have always had abundant support at home with cooking, cleaning and all things domestic. I had the luxury of working undisturbed, reflecting, planning, preparing for class. I woke up every morning raring to get to school.

But as the early rays of the sun poured in through the windows, shifting visibly through solstice and equinox, Abhimanyu, my younger son, and I went through our daily tussle – he hated to brush and I loved to nag.
Why won’t you just brush your teeth, Abhimanyu?
How many times do I have to tell you to brush your teeth?
Gosh, that mouth smells like the ______!
You’re going to be toothless by the time you turn 10.
Why do I have to remind you every day!

And then one morning I surprised him and myself with a soft and simple, almost in passing, “Abhimanyu, brush your teeth.”

He brushed with no resistance, still wondering what…

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Changing thinking is hard

effort-invest-time-like-antI am in a wonderful Montessori teacher facebook group with other teachers from around the world. We all are passionate about Montessori education, have training and some, or a lot of experience, and our training is very similar. We can say “pink tower” and we all instantly know what that means- how nerdy and esoteric is that?

But they are more tech savvy than I, and they may, through circumstance, or experience, or the laws or benefits within their countries, see thing differently.

This is fascinating, like meeting your twin separated at birth who grew up in Austria, or India, or Norway, and so eats and looks at and talks about and walks through very different things.

It is also uncomfortable. This morning, reading about using MailChimp to handle email, I felt that my brain was being turned 90 degrees inside my skull, and I didn’t like it. I wanted to say: “That is of no use to me!” However, I have learned, that there is no benefit in throwing everything new away, as there is no benefit to trying everything new without consideration.

Did you know this is actually about parenting????

New parenting ideas are uncomfortable. They are more deeply disturbing, because they make us question our own childhoods, our own beliefs about what families are, what moms are, what dads and siblings are. Ouch. It is like being poked in the tender places.

And the risks are so great! These children are are very soul, our “heart on our sleeve” as one writer put it.

All I can do is support you in slowing down, trying to detach from emotional buttons (left over from your childhood, perhaps), and just see/observe your child. It is very true, that they probably need no more from you than your attentive presence and some teaching. And that can happen for small periods of time. And some joyful appreciation for who they are in the process of constructing. Because, as Montessori said, that is their job.

Montessori birthday celebration

Lyla's 3rd bday2

Some wonderful Montessori teacher invented this, an extension of the sensorial lesson about the solar system (the earth goes around the sun…).

It is a real celebration of the child. In my class, the family comes and tells a story (or two, or three) about the day of their birth (what the weather was like, who was there, who came during and after, how they felt, what they said….), and then a story (at least) for each year after. The child celebrates each year by carrying the globe around a pretend sun (candle) one time, for one year (the earth goes around the sun…) The parent often brings pictures, or, now an ipad, and the other children are riveted with the stories and the pictures. You can see them thinking: “He/she has a little brother/was born in a hospital/has a gramma/knows how to ride his bike/she likes the beach, too!”

by Sally Rogers
Babies are born in the circle of the Sun
Circle of the Sun on the birthin’ day
Babies are born in the circle of the sun
Circle of the sun on the birthin’ day.
Clouds to the east, clouds to the west
Wind and rain to the north and south
Babies are born in the circle of the sun
Circle of the sun on the birthin’ day.
Children take their first step in a circle of the sun
Circle of the Sun on their walkin’ day
Children take their first step in a circle of the sun
Circle of the sun on their walkin’ day.
Clouds to the east, clouds to the west
Wind and rain to the north and south
Children take their first step in a circle of the sun
Circle of the sun on their walkin’ day.

IMG_6010“In September I was observing in a primary class and happened to be present as the teacher gave a lesson to a three-year-old girl on cleaning a chalkboard. They were both wearing aprons, carried a bucket, sponge, towel and underlay to a table, and then brought a small, and very dusty, student-size chalkboard to the table, as well. The little girl watched with rapt attention as the teacher dipped the sponge in the bucket of water, squeezed it out and then began to wipe. As she wiped from left to right across the surface of the chalkboard, it changed from chalky white to a dark, shiny green before the child’s eyes.

Once the teacher finished washing and had dried the chalkboard, she turned it over and revealed that the other side was equally chalky. Of course the little girl could hardly wait to get her hands on the sponge and have a turn. She carefully rinsed the sponge, and wiped the chalkboard, and was rewarded with the sight of clean and shiny chalkboard. Then she dried it and returned it to the shelf for use in writing numbers or letters.
But she wasn’t done. She noticed other chalkboards in need of washing! She repeated the process, washing both sides of three more chalkboards, working and concentrating in total for some 35 minutes. Then she rinsed and squeezed the sponge one more time before returning it to the tray, emptying the bucket into the sink and drying it out, hanging the towel up to dry and replacing it with a dry towel, then returning all of the items to their place on the shelf. She folded her apron, placed it by the tray on the shelf, and with a satisfied smile toddled off to have her snack.

After observing, I knew what I would talk about at the next parent coffee. I borrowed the set-up for washing a chalkboard from one of the primary classrooms, and gave the parents a demonstration of its use. I asked one of the parents to count the steps involved, and he noted 21. The parents agreed, that’s a lot of steps for a 3-year-old to execute in sequence! But they still wondered, what is the point of all this?

It is three-fold. First, it’s hard to get out of sequence in practical activities and it is immediately apparent if you do – you can’t dry the chalkboard before you wipe it, can you? This is one reason we give so many practical life activities to the toddler and primary children, so they can learn to pay attention to and carry out an elaborate sequence of steps successfully, because in later math and language work the sequence of steps can be even more elaborate, but not at all obvious. It’s an important skill to have already developed before one does multiplication with the bead frame or long division with the racks and tubes!

Secondly, because of the obvious change in the surface of the chalkboard itself as the child is wiping it, a practical life activity such as washing a chalkboard calls forth the intense focus that the little girl exhibited, perhaps for the first time. It is often in the exercises of practical life that the child’s attention is captured, and in which the ability to focus, concentrate and repeat is first developed.

The satisfied smile on the little girl’s face as she completed her self-appointed task, was an indication of the third benefit of practical life activities: they contribute marvelously to a child’s sense of responsibility and accomplishment, thus building self-confidence and self-esteem.

So far I had only talked about practical life in toddlers and primary, but what about the elementary children? It’s in elementary that the children really take on the day-to-day responsibility for the care of the classroom environment, develop and care for vegetable gardens, and provide practical service to the younger classes in the school. It is elementary children who put out the nap mats daily in the toddler classes. It is elementary children who purchase and distribute the crickets, grain, mealworms and food pellets that feed the fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals that live in the cages, terrariums and aquariums of the younger classes. It is elementary children who order and distribute the pizza that all of the children can choose every Wednesday!
Elementary students also take responsibility for the planning and execution of any number of trips for small group research at zoos, museums, libraries and commercial enterprises in the local area that we call “going outs.” This important aspect of practical life in elementary culminates in the planning and execution of a trip to Washington D.C. in their final year. And what is more practical than the various fundraisers – breakfast burritos, spaghetti dinners, and garage sales — that pay for that trip?

According to Dr. Adele Diamond, Professor of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience at University of British Columbia, all of these skills — the discipline to stay focused, seeing tasks through to completion, concentrating, planning and practical problem-solving – are referred to as “executive functions.” It is no wonder that in a study comparing children chosen by lottery to enter a Montessori public school to those also in the lottery but not chosen, the Montessori children showed significantly better executive function skills at the end of sixth grade.

To quote again from Dr. Diamond, “executive functions are more important for school readiness than IQ, continue to predict math and reading competence throughout all school years, and remain critical for success throughout life including career and marriage, and for positive mental and physical health.” Wow! Career and marriage? Positive mental and physical health? From the humble beginnings of washing a chalkboard come some really great things!

Peter Davidson was the founding Head at the Montessori School of Beaverton, in Portland and currently serves as consultant for Montessori in Redlands, Southern California.”

Reposting. Lovely explanation of why we value “practical life” and what is learned by it. Mary

Reading, Executive Function — and Montessori


The Montessori Observer

An interesting piece by New Yorker science and psychology blogger Maria Konnikova How Children Learn to Read, doesn’t mention Montessori, but it should!

Here’s the gist: UC San Francisco researchers published a three-year longitudinal study (paywall) of the neuroscience of reading development. They followed 5 and 6 year olds from kindergarten through third grade, measuring phonological and reading skills, cognitive and expressive ability, direction-following, family behavior patterns including reading at home and screen time, and brain growth. Konnikova talks to researcher Fumiko Hoeft about the findings, which aren’t what you might expect (emphasis added):

When Hoeft took into account all of the explanatory factors that had been linked to reading difficulty in the past—genetic risk, environmental factors, pre-literate language ability, and over-all cognitive capacity—she found that only one thing consistently predicted how well a child would learn to read. That was the growth of white matter in…

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A new twist on natural consequences…

N11Aa“My sons are 24 and 27 and that is definitely the way I disciplined them…there are lots of opportunities for them to learn their own consequences…I used to make them “watch” the clock and tell Mummy when it was time to drive them to school, got them to tell Mummy when it was time to do the laundry because the basket was full – all this seemed to make them more aware and share the responsibility of being a family.” (Oh2bhuman, on

I love this so much. Of course, don’t start abruptly and throw yourself under a bus (“tell Mummy when she needs to send the mortgage payment.”)

Another poster asked: “What do you do when one gets ready, and the other doesn’t?” Well, we have Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline ( (based on Adler and Dreikurs) who says: “put them in the same boat.”* (Hence the graphic. I’m sure they should be wearing life preservers, but it is a metaphor.:)

This goes along with what my newest hero, Brene Brown says (I am paraphrasing); that siblings know each other’s biggest weaknesses, so that they must be taught that they are always on the same team: no teasing and no shaming. Ever. (We all know that the biggest shaming comes in families.:(

So, to avoid having rivalry (“Look how quickly Poirot got ready!”), they are in the same boat, as the whole family is in the same boat. Let’s all row together, toward community goals (so to speak.)

These are lessons that will serve children for their whole lives

* This is part of the “4Bs of sibling rivalry” from Jane Nelson’s work: “beat it” (don’t be an audience for it), “boot em out” (get them out of your space, like, outside), “bear it” (as in, ignore), or put them “in the same boat”. (One way to use this is: “it is not safe for me to drive while you are fighting; I will pull over and (knit, read my book, sing with my cd, play on my phone) until you both tell me that you are done.” This is really boring. If you can try one or more of these, you may find that this is all for your “benefit” or that, without someone’s attention to compete for, there is no fun in fighting.