“Sensory issues”

1-children-huggingI have been teaching a long time, but I first heard of “sensory integration” concerns in Montessori training, not from one of my teachers, but from a fellow intern and mom.  Her daughter was dealing with “tactile defensiveness” and was going to a pediatric occupational therapist.  Wow, what???  Tactile defensiveness is feeling unexpected touch as pain, and a pediatric occupational therapist can help children learn to tolerate/integrate some sensory input that is lacking/needed/unwanted/uncomfortable.  Who knew?

I am writing this in part because I have found that sensory integration issues are hard to see, there is no blood test for them, and yet they affect many children.  Also, if you Google “sensory integration” you will get “Autism”, which is terrifying.  Yes, most children with autism have SID, many/most children  with SID do NOT have Autism.  In my classroom, I currently see about 4 children a year who seem to be effected by sensory irritations. (OTs can also help with many other issues, such a problems with core-strength- children who have trouble holding themselves upright- hand strength and dexterity, and many other things.)

That next week, after that conversation with Isabelle about her daughter, I was pondering a child in my class who would regularly get called out for punching someone randomly.  When I asked him, he responded : “They hurt me!”, even though they were generally only standing behind him in line.  Bingo!  Tactile defensiveness!  He described it as needing people “this far” (a full arm’s length) away from him, or “it hurt.”  His parents never bought into such a notion, but it was helpful for the class and for him.  As soon as he could articulate what was bothering him, there was no more random punching.

This is a pretty simple story; much of sensory integration sensitivity is much harder to see or address.  For one thing, a child can be both sensory “seeking” (wanting more sensation in some areas) and “sensory avoiding”.  A child who is sensitive to sound can yell (?).  As one OT explained it, “at least they are in charge of the noise.”  And, remember, we are talking about children, who are trying to deal as best they can.  And, why would they think that we do not feel the same things that they do?

If you or someone you know is sensitive to clothing, wrinkles in sheets, smells, sounds, certain kinds of lights, needs to move alot before they can relax to sleep, is always on the go, avoids certain textures of food or things on their hands, paints glue on their fingers, likes to wedge themselves into tight places, hates crowds, seeks out certain textures, rocks or jiggles their leg, fiddles, covers ears a lot, gets really revved up in large open spaces, moves away from others in a group, avoids hugs, seeks out hugs, doesn’t like to get hugs but wants to hug others….see, it is very complex!

Why does it matter?  Because it can be annoying/disruptive/painful, and so can affect learning and/or relationships.  And they/we don’t know how to describe, or what to do, so they/we may need help.

My learning about this is long and slow, as I am NOT a pediatric occupational therapist, nor do I play one on TV.  My own son banged into people he loved and jumped down stairs, and around.  So I yelled at him.  He wore his boots on the wrong feet because they “felt better that way.”  My stepson broke all the pencils, unbent all the paperclips and took Ritalin.  I, of course, am completely normal when I jiggle my leg to keep myself on task, want to cry in florescent lights and sleep under a heavy blanket, even in the summer.  My husband’s ears “hurt” in crowded restaurants, and he, too, cannot bear to stand in a line.

Wouldn’t it have been nice to have some help at some point for each of us, or at least someone who was willing to try to help us explain what we need/avoid?  Yes, I wish I had not fussed at my children so much, and had not been fussed at.

So, if someone mentions that your child be evaluated by an OT, you might be getting some interesting data.  This is not obscure, arcane gobbledey-gook, but real factors that affect real people, and can get “in the way”.  One of our jobs, as parents and teachers, is to remove obstacles.1-children-hugging1-children-hugging1-children-hugging

 

“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.

 

 

 

The “Freakanomics” of Montessori!

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Hello, all!

i have been talking to new/prospective parents about their children and what they want for them. It is very inspiring to me, and hopeful, and wonderful.  I love this every year.

This is good, as it is also the time of year when we get ready for the rising Kinders to leave.  They are such a mix: perfect in their ability to know what needs to happen in the classroom, chaotic, inspired, messy, kind, loud, pushing all the boundaries.  I also am sad to say goodbye to families; some of whom I have served for many years, with multiple children.

But, what I am excited about today is what I am calling “The Freakanomics of Montessori”!  Now, I can’t begin to explain what “Freakanomics” is, really.  It is a book about something called “functional economics” which is, to me “what people actually do instead of what you think they ought to do.”  The book is great, along with the 3 other ones Levitt and Dubner have written, and the blog, if you want to check it out.  It will push you right out of some boxes in which you are thinking.

The “Freakanomics of Montessori” is my way to describe what she (Maria Montessori) saw and what we “guides” (as she called us) attempt to do, every day.

Montessori was not a teacher, she was a medical doctor.  She was hired to take care of the physical/medical needs of a group of “at risk” students.  (We don’t know much about them; they were below average in some ways: cognitively, physically, socially, economically, we don’t know; It was between 1896 and 1901.)

As it was, she, as a doctor, watched the children.  Watching, she noticed that the children seemed “interested in learning.”  So, she set about to offer them instruments, materials, to help them to learn.  She thought that they should be tactile, and sought out those throughout Europe who were trying to work with children who were deaf, or blind, or had other handicapping conditions.

She used some of these devices (we call them “manipulatives”, and are now an educational catchphrase), and made some others (she made the first movable alphabet, famously, from a fruit crate).  The she sat back and watched.  She had no idea that these children needed to learn the way she had been taught, or that they would learn at all.  She took away some things, including reward systems, large tables, expecting children to sit still, to work alone, to work on what she chose instead of what they chose.  She added other things, like small furniture, allowing children to work on the floor, with others, alone, for a long time or a short time on something, with time to repeat things that they loved.  She thought children should go outside every day.  She noticed that children like to use real things, and to learn how to use real tools.

She noticed a lot, and we are still using her way of seeing children in schools all over the world, as best we can.  We base what we do on what works, not on what worked with us, or what should work, or even, what worked with another child.  We are always expected and, hopefully, willing to modify what we do, and how we do it,  to fit what we see as the needs of a particular child, and the way(s) in which they seem to learn best.  We also get to do this for three years, so that we truly get to know children deeply.

This “outside the box” way of seeing children is endlessly interesting.  The children appreciate being participants in their learning process, and forgive us when we make poor calls on what to do and how to do it, as they see we are trying, often, to meet them where they are, both in abilities and interests.  They appreciate the ability to pursue what they like, with whom they like, for how long they like, and reward us (so to speak) by dipping deeply, at times, into learning.  They also like to rest, and play, and return to things which are easy and meet a creative need.  We have sewing, painting, drawing, composing stories, making books, singing, and all kinds of movement going on.

Go check out what Montessori kids are doing!

Warmly,

Mary