Confidence

Nailed-ItI have a wonderful quote on a cabinet at school that says something like: “Knowledge comes from experience, and experience comes with mistakes.”  I would add, that this is also true for confidence.

As a parent, we all want our children to be confident.  Not foolish or reckless, but willing to walk in, sit down and try.

As a teacher of preschoolers for a long time, this is something I expect from all preschoolers.  They may be afraid/angry (crying), but they are also curious and intrigued by new activities and people.

I remember one little girl, years ago, who came for a visit with her dad. She made it very clear that she wanted no eye contact or conversation with me, and sat behind her father.  He, of course, kept trying to coax her out.  This is not my first rodeo, so I knew to get something out, put it on a rug, and enjoy exploring it.  It almost doesn’t matter what I got, it is my interest that is intriguing.  Of course, she eventually crept out and joined in.  I knew not to try to “make friends” unless she initiated it.  That was not what we were doing.  We were exploring together. My job was to present the opportunity (“create the environment” is what Montessorians say) and then wait, but not passively.  In a Montessori classroom, the children are attracted by the materials, and the activity of the other people, particularly the other children.  That is why it is so important to have “experienced” children; i.e multi-aged grouping, but that is another essay. 🙂

We create an interesting environment, with busy people in it, and there is so much to watch and touch, we hope that the child will be drawn in, without any coersion from any of us.  It happens, with time, for almost everyone. (For those who are not interested in anything, there is not much I know to do.)

Back to confidence.  It takes confidence to enter in, and it takes entering in to build confidence.  This is a hard one.  It would be nice if we all learned confidence with every move we made, from birth, but that cannot always happen, for many reasons.

So, sometimes, we have to create the environment and wait.  Not everyone likes the stretching it takes to take that first step; it is uncomfortable.  This reminds me of a time in a new school.  I was about 12.  For many reasons (some to do with my lousy eyesight, and how long I went without glasses before anyone noticed how blind I am!), I felt terrible at “sports” or games.  In a new school, I had a new game (hockey), which I was sure I would hate as much as every other game (kickball, softball, dodgeball…..)  My stance was to stand as far away from the action as possible, and endure.  Fortunately, I had a wonderful coach.  She took the time to put me in a position and explain to me what my job was.  And to make sure it was very simple: “If you get the ball, pass it to this person.”  That’s it.  Then, she followed along a bit, and told me again, when the time came.  After one success, my confidence grew, of course, and the fun of being part of a team was evident, for the first time.  I never was a hockey star, but I loved every game I played from then on.

I will say, she didn’t give me the option of sitting out every game until I graduated.  She didn’t give me pity or too much help.  She didn’t say that, since I was skinny, nearsighted, and terrified looking, I should just give it up, even though everyone else had been playing since Kindergarten. She certainly didn’t offer to do it for me.  She gave me a simple task, and expressed confidence that I could do it.  Then she let me go.  She didn’t give me a trophy, either, but a smile. (Thanks, Mrs. Callahan!)

So, sometimes creating the environment includes expressing faith and then leaving them to it (How much instruction is needed?  It is often hard to know….”Every unnecessary help is a hindrance.”  Maria Montessori. That one is a moving target.  We do get better with practice, and, observing.  One answer might be: “Less than you think.”)

The goals: confidence, independence, new interests, joy.

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The “Freakanomics” of Montessori!

18k2c4bjygau8jpg +MariaMontessori

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

Video of the Day: Transformation Tuesday, Handwashing

Child-Washing-Hands

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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Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius

montessori-child-1
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 :)

Game-of-Thrones-Toilet-Decal-1
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

Giving comfort, escaping shame

mf-seeking-comfort-on-her-shoulders
http://www.purposefairy.com/72173/brene-brown-speaks-on-shame-6-types-of-people-you-should-never-confide-in/

If you have not read the work of Brene Brown, or seen her TED talk, please do.

If you haven’t noticed yet, parenting pushes all of your buttons; especially the buttons you didn’t know that you had. 🙂 Of course, it is very hard to reflect on your childhood and the assumptions in your family, but it is part of the work, I think, of parenting.

One comment that I hear often from parents is: “I don’t want to be THAT PARENT!‘” I think this comes from our past, and that we can mean different things by it. What is our biggest fear as a parent? And where does that come from?

Our children are more resilient than we can imagine, and, if we are honest with them, the way Brene Brown describes being honest in this video, your children will stay in relationship and learn something about what to do with their own shame.

(She describes the difference between shame and guilt this way: “Guilt is when you know that you did something “bad”; shame is when you believe that you are bad. Shame leads to bad outcomes on every level.)

So, whatever you fear, please face your fear, or you can pass on your shame to the next generation.

if you are afraid for your child not to be pleased or entertained, to be angry, or to stand your ground, your child may feel unable to cope with difficulty.

If you are afraid of a child who is “spoiled”, you might be too strict, and fail to express your empathy, leaving your child anxious.

If you are afraid that your child is not learning enough, you may keep them too busy, and not give them enough time to discover on their own.

If you are uncomfortable with structure, you may leave your children hanging about what to expect.

If you are afraid that they will get emotionally or physically hurt, you may not let them explore relationships and environments on their own. We learn best when the learning is our own discovery!