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.

 

Helping form “deciders” :)

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Why is this so hard? I found myself doing this to my grown daughter the other day: “I will just interrupt you now and tell you the right answer.” Guess what? I wasn’t helpful, or even right! Damn.

I deal with young decider interns all the time, aged 2-5. There is a time to teach: “this is how to hold a hammer, please wear these goggles to protect your eyes. Friends, please move back while he uses the hammer.” and a time to ask wondering questions. “I wonder what you can use to do that?”

They will respect your input more if you respect their process more.

And, if you really wonder, you might see something that will tell you a lot about a child, or that may help you see a gap in their understanding. In fact, you may learn something!

Game of Thrones :)

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I hate to take this on, but this is one area where nice, normal people go crazy, so I might as well join in. The craziness seems to be most acute in America. Not to pick on anyone, but here is a lovely blog post that describes, and pictures a wonderful “prepared environment” for self-toileting: http://midwestmontessori.tumblr.com/post/108937575341/toilet-learning-phase-2

Really, it could not be better set up! My concern is that the procedure is very adult dependent. Has anyone noticed how oppositional toddlers can be?  Of course, the main pit that all adults fall into is that of providing too much, or not “helpful” help to children. I certainly did this with mine. I would give you more details, except that my adult children probably would not appreciate this over-sharing.

“Montessori” is about prepared environment, teaching skills, and allowing independence to develop…independently.

That is, what skills are needed in self-toileting? Undressing, dressing, reaching the toilet, how to sit on toilet (boys), where to put soiled clothing, how to “wipe” effectively, how to wash hands, how to reach sink. These can all be taught: the rest is internal: when do I need to “go”?

We want the “when” to be in the child’s control. If not, there are two directions that can lead to great distress: #1 the child is convinced that they cannot know when and how to “go”, so they remain dependent on an adult to tell them “when”, and, perhaps, go with them. (I cannot begin to tell you how many horror stories: the child will not poop unless his head is on mom’s lap, the child will prefer to poop in pants than to attempt to wipe, the child will not go to bathroom alone, the child who will not use toilet unless mom sets an alarm on her watch to remind her, the child who will pee in toilet but must poop in diaper…)

OR #2 so to speak: child is in power struggle with reminding/cajoling/reminding/helping/ well-meaning adult. (More horror stories: child who holds urine until adult arrives, and pees on adult, child who pees in anger on toys, child who stays non-independent for years and years, impacted feces…)

So, prepare the environment, and prepare the child. Children can participate in undressing , and dressing from well before they can sit up. http://www.janetlansbury.com/2010/05/how-to-love-a-diaper-change/ As soon as they can stand, they stand and help in changing. Then, when you feel they are ready, and they have all the skills needed, let it be their learning. That is all you CAN do, in reality. We cannot make children eat, sleep or eliminate.

Here are some words from Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline: http://blog.positivediscipline.com/2008/03/potty-training.html

Oh, and, equally important: believe that they can!

Warmly,
Mary

“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 Montessori

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.

What we want

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What we want, as teachers, is to facilitate children loving to read. LOVING it. Life long readers. I, for one, don’t even care what they, as adults, read: Jane Austin, or 50 Shades of Grey. Motorcycle magazines, or the sports pages. READING (and learning), yea!!!!

But how do we help that to happen. As parents, your job is kinda easy. Read, enjoy reading, and read to your children things that you enjoy reading to them. That’s it, really.

As teachers and schools and school systems, there is a lot of politics involved. This is partly, of course, because there is a lot of money involved.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2015/01/13/report-requiring-kindergartners-to-read-as-common-core-does-may-harm-some/

Ahhhh, the politics of learning. Who knew? This article cites a “report”. Sounds great. The report is partially funded by the association of Waldorf schools. Waldorf schools do not think that children should be exposed to letters until around age 7. They have apparently found a way to attempt to influence the conversation in this way. Sigh.

No, I don’t think Kindergartens should expect everyone to read in Kinder. My son did not read until he was 9, and any attempt to speed up the process, even with Montessori materials, just did not work. I’m sure that, as we continue to learn more about how we learn and how to teach, we may understand more about the processes that impede learning. I’m sure there are many. But Kindergarten teachers should not feel that pressure, children should not feel that pressure. Do any of us learn well under pressure????

And there is this bullshit about “play based preschools”. I’m sorry, I am so tired of this. Children have been learning alongside other people since the Dawn of Time. Do primitive people put their toddlers in rooms full of plastic crap to “play with” until they are “old enough to learn”? What model are we using here?

Montessori teachers, RIE educators, and many other people feel that children learn alongside others with whom they have a relationship. This school of thought is called social constructivism (Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge that applies the general philosophical constructivism into social settings, wherein groups construct knowledge for one another, collaboratively creating a small culture of shared artifacts with shared meanings.) and includes not only Montessori but include Dewey, Bruner, Piaget and Vygotsky (http://www.ucdoer.ie/index.php/Education_Theory/Constructivism_and_Social_Constructivism)

This is not new stuff. It is not radical stuff. It is supported by what we now understand about learning, and best practices about teaching.

So, should we demand that all Kindergarten teachers in the US, who have learners of all types and stripes (non-native English speakers, at-risk children of all types, like homeless children and children who have a variety of special needs, diagnosed and not), teach all children to read by June of the Kinder year? Hell no!

Should we “protect” children from being expected to learn anything until age 7, so that they can joyfully “play”? Hell, no, either. Children want to learn what people know and do. That is why they learn to walk and talk. They are hard-wired for this. To deny them this is to tell them that they are incapable, and need “special service”, creating dependency and helplessness. For some, the extended time in “pretend play” causes them to lose a grasp on the reality of what is going on around them, and what the other children/people are doing and saying.

Yes, this is not a complete rant. I am not saying that children need to sit and look at flash cards, either. Of course not. Most of them cannot sit at all! Children learn through movement, relationships and relevance.

But please do not fight an absurd assumption (all children can and should learn to read by age 6) with an equally absurd one (no one should have to learn anything until age 7).

Adult problems

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Megan and I were on the playground together this week. She filled up the water table and several other containers, as the children love both water and ice. It is winter in the Northern Hemisphere where we live. Within ten minutes, there was great enthusiasm AND most of the water had been poured out to make a “river” and a “lake”. We clutched each other and said: “adult problems!”

Ugh. It is a real pain to get out the hose and fill up the water table, always. It is messy and you get wet, and you have to wind it back on the holder and ugh. Adults do not enjoy this (unless they are completely enlightened and can Be Here Now.). And then all of the water is gone. This also happens with sand. The children are SO excited by New Sand. It is white and clean and dry and wonderful. They go and tell their parents: “There was New Sand on the playground today!” And then they throw and carry it all over, in buckets, wheelbarrows, in spoons and bowls. They cook and mix and carry and spread it all over, and then it is GONE. Adult problem.

We obviously add water and sand to the playground because the children enjoy it. They also learn a ton about physics, and social interactions. It is the currency of the playground. So, we deal with it.

Lots of things that children do are a pain. It is a pain when someone, learning to self-toilet, poops on the floor. It is a pain when someone vomits in your lap. It is a pain when they whack the ice with a shovel and look shocked when it breaks. It is a pain when 2 year olds dump everything out. It is a pain when a 5 year old, very carefully carrying the movable alphabet, trips and spills all 208 letters, and they must be put away. However, this is what is needed. Sometimes we can teach around it, and sometimes it will just take time and experience to learn that pouring water towards yourself makes you wet, or that throwing sand gets in someone’s eyes, or that pouring out all the water makes no water, or that making a lake in the sandbox will be temporary.

AND, we believe that this learning is very important. It might be the most important things that we do, or that we set up for them to do, or that we allow. We are observers, so that there is more safety, or less danger, but we are there to “create the environment”, as Montessori said. Setting up an environment for children means allowing them to make mistakes and explore, so that they can have their own insights, which, as we know, are the most valuable ones, because they are truly ours.

If we allow children not to wear mittens and so feel how cold their hands are, they can reflect on that another day. And that is learning for a lifetime. So many of these things are.