Consciously skilled

Julie Neal and I teach Positive Discipline (from Adler, Dreikurs and Jane Nelson).  In the parent educator training, we are given a fat book of experiential exercises to help participants feel the way children feel when we act certain ways.  There are also exercises to help adults examine why and how we do what we do, and feel what we feel.  All fascinating!

At the end, we often do an activity called : The Continuum of Change (Positive Discipline Association).  In this, we are invited to remember a hard learning that involved brain and body.  The point of the exercise is to help us forgive ourselves for not knowing everything, and for feeling uncomfortable during the learning.  It has been so long since we learned something completely new, of COURSE it feels awful, like stalling out in the middle of heavy traffic, or making a turn onto gravel and flying over the handlebars!  One can think of riding a bike, driving a car, using manual transmission, or learning to knit.  Remember that mind-blowing struggle at the beginning?

The continuum goes something like this: first, you are unconsciously unskilled.  You don’t even know what you don’t know (maybe how your preschooler sees you driving; just turning the wheel- la dah!)  Then, you are consciously unskilled: “oh, I will NEVER get this!  What do I do now???? Oh, %$^&.”

Next, you get to be consciously skilled: “I can do this, if I concentrate and stick out my tongue, and don’t breathe, and now my brain is fried.  I need a break!!”

After a long time, some say 10,000 hours, you get to be unconsciously skilled.  That is when you can drive the car, eat a sandwich, talk to your kids in the back, and decide what to have for dinner, all without missing a beat.

And, how do we get to Carnagie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.  For adults, this process is terribly uncomfortable, perhaps because we have perfected so many skills, that it feels AWFUL to go back to incompetence.  So hats off to those who take up a new instrument, or a new language, as adults!

On to children.  As you can imagine, they live a lot of the time between unconsciously unskilled and consciously unskilled.  They are not good at much, especially the first time.  And, if they live with mostly adults, then it is discouraging that everyone else is good at EVERYTHING!  Why bother?

Fortunately, children seem to be hard wired to learn hard stuff.  Like walking and speaking a language, with grammar and all.  So, that’s what they are good at.   Montessori saw, however, that, if we gave children a lot of opportunities to become consciously, then unconsciously skilled, from a very young age, they felt good, and learned skills and confidence that allowed them to consider learning more and more things.  The movement from consciously unskilled to consciously skilled did not feel so impossible.  In fact, it might even be fun, and definitely worth the risks.

So, she created a lot of self-corrected learning materials, that intrigued hands and minds.  She also placed importance on something she called: Practical Life (or Grace and Courtesy).  This is the process of actively teaching self-care and life skills, in a fun, accepting way, from blowing your nose and wiping your own bottom, to how to ask for help or tell someone to leave you alone.  It also can include dressing yourself, folding clothes, hanging up your coat so that you can find it again, cooking, cleaning…anything that is “practical” to “life” in your culture, would be useful.  And, of course, at home, things that your family and your child value: washing the car, gardening, taking care of pets, making art, playing music….

So, we take the time to break down many tasks into small parts, and give many, many stress free opportunities to practice, with as much help as needed, so that children will have many, many abilities at a young age, and feel competent in many things, before they interact with much that is “academic.”

Think of the intense satisfaction you feel as you have mastered something.  Don’t all people, including  children deserve the opportunity to feel that they are masters in many things?  They can do so, if they are given opportunity, time, instruction (if needed) and support.

 

A child at work

dsc_0220_41(I often learn what I think when answering a question :). This is an answer to a prospective parent who asked: “Why do you call it “work?” (what the children do.) Such a great question!)
While I am wide awake, I will answer about “work”: Montessori was a medical doctor, not a “teacher” and worked at first, as a doctor, with children who were not expected to learn; this was around the turn of the century and we don’t know much about what diagnoses they had, but they were lumped together as “idiot children.” She noticed that, not only could they learn, they seemed to want very much to learn. “Education is a natural process carried out by the child and is not acquired by listening to words but by experiences in the environment. We call this process the work of the child.” She noted that concentrated “work” (purposeful activity, self-chosen) seemed to allow deep contentment. As these children had a variety of disabilities, she found (from doctors in France who were working with the deaf) and made what we call “materials” which were self teaching and sensorial in nature. Much of what is in the classroom was designed by Montessori over the years as didactic materials for children to explore (the movable alphabet, the sandpaper letters and the math materials are some of the most wonderful of these, I think).

She found, after observing children with a variety of these “materials” (many of which she would try and discard) was that they seemed willing and eager to practice many skills with a suitable materials (tracing, buttoning, counting), and, again, seemed to get great satisfaction from perfecting skills, especially when the activities were self-chosen.

It is not a free for all, though, and we limit those who are what I call “messing about” because they are obviously bored. Our goal is for the children to find something engaging.

I also often note that adults think that children are not doing “anything important”, and so tend to interrupt them. I think this is another use of the word “work”, to imply that, if a child is sitting and watching a cricket, or drawing a line, or pouring water, to watch and see if it is “work”; i.e., something deserving respect and not interruption.

Of course, “play”, as in “play an instrument, or sport” is something that takes a lot of “work”, but, in our culture, “play” with children usually connotes “not much”: “just playing”!

If the room was “quiet” which I can’t imagine, it was because, at this time of year, everyone has generally learned how to come in, find something intriguing, and get to it, at least for a little bit at a time. I do think that there is a hum, a bit like a beehive! I think you asked about ages; we started with a brand new 2 up to a brand new 5, and our goal is about 6 2s, 6 3s, and rising Kinders. The classroom is multi-aged so that there are all abilities together (everyone is good at something, and learning something) and, mostly, so that the oldest children can be mentors to the youngest children. Over the three year cycle, everyone gets to go from being mostly a learner to being often a teacher. Oh, so, yes, the point is to commit, if you can, to three years, so that each child can end up as a triumphant teacher!

Anyway, I am off to bed, and I am quite sure that this is more than you ever wanted to know about anything, ever; I do love thinking about this stuff so!

Warmly,
Mary

Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius

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http://www.montessori-science.org/Montessori-Genius/Lillard_Montessori_Science_Genius_Ch1.pdf

The first chapter of the book by 2nd generation Montessorian, Angeline Lillard. She takes research on learning and compares them to the tenants of Montessori education. ” Modern research in psychology suggests the Montessori system is much more suited to how children learn and develop than the traditional system is.”

“The empty-vessel and factory models have many implications for schooling,
which are discussed in the chapters to come. To preview, when the child is seen as an empty vessel into which one pours knowledge and then creates bonds, there is no need to involve the child actively in the learning process: empty vessels are passive by nature. Yet people learn best when they are actively engaged. Good teachers try to keep children active by asking lots of questions during lectures, but the physical structure of the classroom is designed for passivity: the child sits and listens to the teacher, who
stands at the blackboard and delivers knowledge. There is no need to consider the child’s interests in the prevailing model because empty vessels have nothing in them from which interests could stem. When interests do arise, since all vessels have been filled with the same stuff, all vessels should share interests. Empty vessels certainly cannot make choices, and so teachers or school administrators choose what should be learned, down to the micro-details tested on statewide examinations.

The factory model also has certain implications for schooling. Factories at the turn of the century were efficient because all raw materials were treated alike. Factory workers operated on material, and material was passive. The material was moved from one place to another, assembled on a set schedule. Based on the factory model, all children in a class are given the same information simultaneously and are often moved from one place to
another at the ring of a bell. It is a significant strike against the factory model that even true factories are changing practices to improve long-term productivity, by allowing teams of workers to develop products from start to finish rather than having the product moved from place to place (Wompack, 1996). Yet schools still operate like the factories of yore.”

“We are scientists observing nature. No scientist goes into the jungle, sees a monkey the scientist thinks is not ready to climb trees, then chains the monkey to the root of the tree.” Matt Bronsil

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Matt is a Montessori teacher raised by Montessori teachers:) Matt’s quote is in response to all the teachers and all the parents who say, sometimes: “S/he is not ready for that work/material/idea.”

We are all human, but we must remember that, although children almost always need for us to slow down, they are also often leaping ahead.

Building Vocabulary with Language Objects and Cards

Wonderful toddler activities!

Nduoma

My son has been very interested in several things recently. He thirsts for words. He points to items and names them or asks for us to name the ones that he doesn’t know. He also brings us some of the pictures of family members that we have around the house and wants us to name each person as he points to them. Finally, he is interested in dressing himself and tries multiple times during the day to put on or take off his clothes. Taking these three interests into consideration, I put out a language activity for him and he loves it and uses it several times a day so I thought I’d share.

Clothes and cards

He takes it to the coffee table. The cards are quite big and don't fit on his table. He also prefers to do it standing. He takes it to the coffee table. The cards are quite big and don’t fit on his table. He also prefers to do it standing.

Take out the basket with the clothes Take out the basket with the clothes

Ideally, the child should…

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It’s all what you’re used to

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(This really is about parentingl bear with me!)

Recently, our very fancy dryer died. It has a fatal computer error. It needs a new computer, which costs $200. Talk about First World problems! My dryer is not happy without its own computer! I am old enough that I know that one does not need a computer to run a heating element and a turny thing. I am contemplating a dumber dryer, for sure. My husband wonders why this is aggravating me so much; what’s the big deal?

In the meantime, I am enjoying my drying rack. It is better (vinyl covered) than my old one, the wooden one I had for years when the kids were younger. (The mildew on the wooden one was off-putting. Otherwise they are identical; great designs are hard to beat.)

Before my children were born, we had no washer or dryer. I went to the laundry mat, and brought the clean clothes home to hang them up. Nice weather: outside; bad weather: inside. Then, after child #1, my mother bought us a washer! I still hung up all laundry, even cloth diapers. After child #2, we got a dryer.

With the dryer demise, I have revived the drying rack. As I said, I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy every minute of it: not the scratchy towels, or the lint issue, or what to do when your favorite shirt is hanging damply when you want to wear it, or the wrinkle issue, or the get-up-and-hang-something-up issue. But I enjoy it nevertheless. And I think I enjoy it because I am used to it. That is, I did it every day, for years, even if that was 30 years ago.

We also have a drying rack at school. I am now contemplating bringing wet napkins and towels from home to hang up. Talk about inconvenient! However, when we have done this, inside and out, the children LOVE it. They love, love, love it. They fight over who can hang things up, and who can take them down. They do this with all “practical life”, but, I will admit, they have more interest in the novel jobs. However, if we did this every day, there would always be a child who did not mind helping. Unlike adults, who know that it is silly to hang things up if you can dry them in a dryer. (I am not arguing the energy efficiency issue here.)

That is to say, children enjoy tasks which involve their bodies, a bit of skill learning, that are obviously useful and needed, and that you (adult person) will do with them, at least initially. They really do. They will sharpen pencils, fold napkins, sort socks, squeeze orange juice, grind peanut butter or flour, any old boring thing that needs doing.

And, if they are used to doing them, these chores become habit, and can even be enjoyable. They can space out a bit, socialize, and do these boring old jobs with some satisfaction, like me with the drying rack.

Please take time to teach and allow your child to learn to do the needed, boring jobs that make your household work, whatever they are. They will value learning a skill, being part of the family, contributing, and will have more boring things to enjoy as adults.