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.

Enjoy a laugh and ponder….

This is so wonderful. Have a good laugh, and wouldn’t it be wonderful to have this available to play when you are losing your ish, as a friend says, to take the edge off? Unless you sing along, your children probably will take a while to learn the words.:)

Notice how much of the singing rant is made up of questions. Questions (What are you doing? What did I do to deserve this? Again?) are gratifying to us and our sense of being overwhelmed, outraged, or incredulous, and provide a bit of emotional relief. However, they are not helpful to the child, or, in a larger way, to you.

Remember, even The Virgin Mary tried this on Jesus: “When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”’ The answer annoyed the heck out of them. (Enjoy this snotty blue-eyed Jesus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trePi2pBtdM)

First, your child either cannot answer (” I have no idea why I have my pants on my head.”), the answer is obvious (“What am I doing? You can see that I have covered the cat in shaving cream”), or the question reflects an adult problem, which, like “first world problems” are really a personal issue. This is what happened to Mary and Joseph: he did it because he was a snotty 12 year old. Your child does not know what you have done to deserve this, although your parents and spouse might. There is a factual answer that has to do with human reproduction, which probably would not help you to hear, either.

RIE (Resources for Infant Educators) http://www.janetlansbury.com/2013/04/5-benefits-of-sportscasting-your-childs-struggles/ describes a technique called sportscasting
. Sportscasting is describing what is happening, including, perhaps, how it is affecting you: “I see a cat covered in shaving cream. She is really angry, and so am I! We have a problem! We cannot go to the park until this is solved. How are we going to fix it?” This describes the problem, tells how it is affecting those involved, and includes the child(ren) in coming up with a solution. You also get veto power over solutions, as well as whether to let anyone off the hook for participation: “No, you are holding the cat.” or “I don’t want you in the kitchen until I have mopped this up!”

So, with sportscasting instead of ranting, you get to state the problem, which, sometimes gets the problem solved on its own. You get to say how it is affecting everyone, and you probably get a solution, one in which your child will be a (possibly) constructive participant. The child gets to actually learn something, which is largely the point of parenting, is it not?

How to talk to children about how to talk to people

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This might be me. Prickly and cute, or cute and prickly. It might be me at my best, maybe. I don’t see myself objectively, but I just reflected on this as I responded all judgey to a post on Facebook. To another Montessori teacher, how ironic. My apolocy: “G & C fail.”

That is, “grace and courtesy fail.” That is, sorry, I should know better.

Montessori created the only educational system that I know of that contains “how to talk to people” as part of the curriculum. That’s what she called it “grace and courtesy”, very 19th century of her. It is part of the curriculum area: “Practical life” (also called “everyday living”). How practical, that it would be helpful to teach young humans things that will help them live, like how to blow their noses, how to greet people, and how to ask for help.

Some days in the classroom, I feel that this is 80% of what I do, to give those words: “You could say: ‘Will you come get me when you are done with that?'” “I might want to say: ‘Leave my work’ if someone did that to me.” “You could say: ‘I don’t want to be wet!'”

And then, of course, I am reminded of how I am supposed to talk to people. Good reminders. I need them every day.

Inspiration

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I just read a Facebook post from a friend who was crediting her sister (wonderful picture of the two of them!) for inspiring her in her work.

I immediately thought of Martha. Martha MacDermott. She was a consultant at the school where I did my internship. Our director had trained at Xavier in Cincinnati, where she was on faculty.

You can see Martha above, laughing. This is how I remember her. This is a celebration of her, so in the larger picture below, you can see the bagpiper celebrating her Scottish upbringing. Her speaking was even more intriguing because of her lovely accent.

Montessori herself was an intimidating, inflexible person, it seems. You had to be, to be a woman with a powerful international presence at the turn of the century. Look at Margaret Thatcher, 50 years later! And Martha was also tough, but it was always clear that she was only telling you what she knew to be true, and that she was always on the side of clarity for the children. She wanted children to understand, and to love what they were learning, as she did. This was so obvious.

In the above video, Martha tells that she started her training in London, in 1958. This was just at the beginning of the Montessori “revival” in the US, so, soon after, she came here to mentor many new schools.
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I have many “Martha stories”, and I love telling them. It is wonderful to have a new place to tell them:) My staff and children will be so pleased, that I am not telling them, again!

1) Martha comes, and it is her 60th birthday. She does the “walk around the sun”, and does it by decades, after giving a lovely lesson on counting by 10s with the bead materials. Then, instead of telling us a story for each year, or decade, she sat and told us (3-6 class) about a birthday she spent in an air-raid shelter during the London Blitz. Not a sound was heard, as all the children watched her face.

2) All the teachers are watching Martha give a variation of the checkerboard (Montessori multiplication lesson). The boy, with whom she is working (aged 7 or so), is intrigued by being the center of attention, and starts to make himself belch on command. Fascinating! What will Martha do? She stops, and puts her hands in her lap until he is brought up short and looks at her. She asks, quietly: “Do you know who I am?” He stammers: “Well, yes, you are Martha!” She answers, with delight: “Yes! And I am also someone who very much wants to do this lesson with you today. Will you do it with me?” Lesson continues from there, with great appreciation from both participants.

3) Martha comes, and tells the children (3-6) all the stages of her trip, from leaving her apartment to getting on plane to fly to Charlotte, to driving to Boone, with all the stops on the way. The children are riveted.

4) A 3 year old watches Martha and an older child do the entire 50 piece US puzzle map. She obviously loves it, and, when it is put back, goes and gets it, and falls, scattering all the pieces. Instead of telling her that it is too big for her, and that she has made a mess (reading out of my own script), Martha looks in the face of crying Lou and says: “We can fix this together.” The she helps Lou match the pieces to the control map by color: “Which color shall we do next?” This all takes about an hour, during which Martha does not look annoyed, or like she would rather be doing more important work. When I asked her later why she did not name the states as they put them in the puzzle (cramming in information was always in the back of my mind), she answered: “That was not what drew her to the work, and she has plenty of time to learn them. She was having a sensorial experience with the shapes of the pieces.”

5) My daughter adored Martha, and wanted to write her letters. As a 5 year old, they were brief, and had invented spelling. Martha answered each one, with stories from her day.

Martha said, “Maria started a new conversation on the planet for the possibility of children and it will never be completed.” Thus, the Montessorian’s job continues.

I am striving every day to see children as Martha did.

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We all know that it’s important to listen, but….

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http://creativewithkids.com/its-not-just-about-the-legos/

Great blog post on the importance of listening to your kids when they are excited to tell you something.

But what do you do when it is boring, or off topic, or they are interrupting Gramma, or you are trying to get them to put their shoes on and get out the door?

Make some clear boundaries around listening. It is a(another) life lesson.

1) Try the phrase: “I’m not available (right now).” Yes, you’d think that they could tell that, as you are covered in poop from their sister’s leaky diaper, but they can’t. If they were good at everything, they could move out. It might be followed with ” I will be available when…” Then, remember, you are not available. (I.e., follow through)

2) Or try: “You are not available right now, (because your shoes are not on, your bottom is not wiped, you are picking up your books, we are leaving, etc.)” Again, do not listen until they have done the next task, or you are in the car, or whatever.

3) Remember to become available, and make that clear. You may need to set a limit: “I can now listen to your story about rabbits, but that is the only story I can hear until_____.” Try to make your “availableness” very obvious (sitting down, lean toward child, gaze into their eyes, put down phone, do not continue cooking, or listening to NPR, or reading that article.)

It may seem that you are supposed to be “available” every minute, but by the time someone can sit up (and before), they can start to wait, and can learn to be able to give others both the freedom and attention that we all deserve.