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.

 

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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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