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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“Real” Montessori

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I had a prospective parent ask me, very nicely, if it were true that my program is not a “real” Montessori program.  Just curious.

My first reaction: “Sigh.”  There is the Montessori version of the mommy wars, and this is how it is expressed.  “Oh, that program is not a real Montessori program.”  Is this an extension of “Mean Girls”, since so many of us Montessorians are women?

Well, I am a real as it gets, girls.

This is sometimes skirted around in online Montessori forums, trying not to “go there”: “Well, if you had that training, you aren’t really a Montessori teacher; just sayin’.  No offense.”

Short answer, I am a real, real Montessori teacher, and my school is a real Montessori school.  Training and internship through the American Montessori Society.  20 years in.  Those of us who go to the trouble to get Montessori training after getting our degree are pretty passionate, or kinda nuts, depending on how you look at it, so, I say, hat’s off to those of us who have done it, and let’s leave the “Montessori wars” on the playground, please.

If you want to read on, you can.

Montessori came to the US in 1918, and had a very successful exhibit at the World’s Fair that year, called the Glass Classroom (a classroom set up so that adults could walk around and look in, like a store display; very cool!)

Everyone thought she was wonderful, and, in our American, can-do way, people started setting up “Montessori schools” all over, based on hearing one lecture or so.

Montessori was appalled, and did not back any of these American schools.  All training was then in Europe.  A few folks went to Europe for training and came back.

In the 60s, a few intrepid American women got training in Europe, and came back, attempting to get an approved Montessori society in America from Montessori’s son.  After a lot of haggling, they just went ahead and made the American Montessori Society, which has over 4000 member schools, and has trained hundreds of thousands of teachers through AMS certification programs.  Teacher education programs are handled through colleges and universities, and in free-standing programs, which are usually tied to a Montessori school. AMS teacher training is 1 academic year and a 1 year internship with a Montessori school, beyond a bachelor’s degree.  I did my training with the Center for Montessori Teacher Education, North Carolina, in 1995. http://www.teachmontessori.org/ Before that, my teacher trainer was trained in Italy.  My internship was in 1994-5 at Mountain Pathways School, under Cheryl Smith, who trained at Xavier in Cincinnati.

Needless to say, there is still a disconnect between the Association Montessori International (AMI) and AMS, although most of us are trying to work together for the good of the children. (For more information on “what makes a Montessori school”, try this: http://amshq.org/Montessori-Education/Introduction-to-Montessori?gclid=CjwKEAiAy7SzBRD_lv7quOnr6XUSJAAOLkW6eUpH7h3ug64y9Q5s9HtwsyGQaidG0Ih-2So12QavwRoCD5Tw_wcB)

I am sure this is more than anyone wanted to know! 🙂 And this is some more.  The international training often, as I understand, is set up to have classes in the morning, and your internship in the afternoon, so that you can immediately apply what you have learned. That would have been lovely!  But I had 2 children and three jobs in my training year, so spending a year of weekends worked best for me. My teacher trainers were some of the most insightful and committed people I have ever met, as are all of the Montessorians I have met, as well, even the crazy ones.

P.S. The international training limits(for the most part) materials in the classroom to those that were designed in Montessori’s lifetime.  AMS allows the teachers to choose which materials may foster concentration and interest for the children, in addition to the traditional math, language and sensorial materials, and the practical life activities.  There are very few AMI training programs in the US, and several AMS programs, or at least one, in each state.  AMI schools require a very high student /teacher ratio, which are not allowed in most states, under licensing.  Until preschool teachers in the US make more than any other service workers, it will be hard to justify having a year of training after your undergrad degree, with no guarantee of more pay.  (Kind of like what is happening with teachers in North Carolina who get no additional pay for a Master’s.)

P.P.S.  If you wonder about a program, go and visit.  Go often (ask first).  Ask a lot of questions.  If they talk your ear off, they are passionate.  See if you like what they do and say.  See if you think your child would do well there.  Ask more questions. Follow your gut and your mind.

 

 

 

Video of the Day: Transformation Tuesday, Handwashing

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This handwashing set up obviously harkens back to the early days of Montessori. However, the popularity of this work will tell you that 1) children love to do multi-step activities (the stretch their minds and bodies, so feel great) and 2) handwashing can truly be an enjoyable, sensorial activity, with warm water, nice sounds, nice smells (soap!), and so can be taught to be enjoyable. This is lovely, as we know that handwashing is a life skill which we want children to gladly do many times a day!

Healthy Beginnings Montessori

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A little non-traditional education joke…

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Update, from Lysa De Thomas, who has both Montessori and Waldorf training: ” Sadly, a lot of people here have been taken in by Waldorf spin machine. As a teacher trained in both Waldorf and Montessori education I can assure you that you can’t truly combine both. You can take aspects of one and use them in the other’s classroom, but you cannot combine the two. That is because Waldorf isn’t the integration of art, music, movement, and story telling into the core curriculum, no matter how much their propaganda infers that it is. The two philosophies are often diametrically opposed.

Here are just a few examples:
Waldorf philosophy believes states that children need to be protected from the evil forces of the world. Everything in their environment must be controlled down to the colors they use, the materials they use, the songs they sing, and the knowledge they learn. Montessori philosophy believes in following the child and giving them control and choice in the things that they do.

Modern knowledge that differs from the late 1800 pseudoscience that Steiner embraced or “channeled” is evil (arhimanic). Montessori embraces new scientific information.

Waldorf states that the teacher is the ultimate authority figure in the classroom and makes all the decisions- a child’s choice is seen as allowing the will of the devil. While a Montessori teacher is a guide, helping the child work their way through learning in their own way at their own pace,”

No comment from me, but interesting.

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.”

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