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.

 

“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.

 

 

 

child-brain-development

We have recently had a most challenging child at school: very, very bright, and struggling very hard to self-soothe during adjustments or transitions.  Any transitions at all, including things that the child wanted to do, like get out his lunch and eat a cookie, caused crying.

What I have learned from this child: patience, empathy, respect for hard work, and also, when the child can be calm, it is his brain which does the most to help him.  Not that a lap, or a hug, or a empathetic look or remark does not help him calm down, a lot.  But, ultimately, it is when his mind is engaged, when he is intrigued or fascinated or curious or observant or amused, and his brain is working, that he is the most calm, during turbulent times.

This does not mean that we try to distract him with flashing lights and funny clowns, but calmly demonstrate something intriguing, and sit back.  We model our own enjoyment, and invite.

There has been a lot for me to learn in watching this process unfold.

Maria Montessori

2nd November 1946: The founder of the Montessori Schools, Maria Montessori (1870-1952) in a classroom in Acton, London with a group of children. Original Publication: Picture Post – 4244 – The Woman Who Made School Fun – pub. 1946 (Photo by Kurt Hutton/Picture Post/Getty Images)

“Whoever touches the life of the child touches the most sensitive point of a whole, which has roots in the distant past and climbs towards the infinite future.” Maria Montessori

Image and quote put together by Dirigo Montessori School

I had someone report a comment made about me by a former parent at school; something like “Mary X, but yet my children just love her.” 🙂  Yes, I have thousands of faults (another chapter!), and I have learned a lot about how to be with children, by watching wonderful people be with children. *

What I have learned: be honest, be real, think about how they see things and how they see you, answer the question you think they don’t know how to ask, have clear boundaries, give attention, or do not (don’t try to be “always on”), get down low, sit down, look in their faces and listen.  Ask for help.  Apologize.  Thank them for their help. Take them seriously.  Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Be prepared to be wrong, and to correct yourself.  Assume that a child who is “misbehaving” doesn’t have a needed skill, then teach that skill.  Correct a child’s negative self talk : “I forgot to….”; “It looks like you remembered about it.”  Be respectful of emotions, if not opinions. Decide  what is negotiable, and what is not, and don’t coach what is not as a question.  Allow natural consequences, when appropriate.  Be empathetic, without rescuing.  Set up routines, and let them be the boss.  Be prepared to keep learning.  Don’t take things personally.

This is comforting to me, that I don’t need to be the most beautiful, charming, witty, funny, entertaining or fun person, although it would be nice to be all of those things.  I can learn to be myself and be with children.

* Barbara Carter, Jerome Berryman, Martha MacDermott, Cheryl Smith, Jon Durham, Terri Reddick, Virginia MacLeod, Vivian Lawson, Jennie Millsapps, Mary Williams, Cinda McGuinn, Carolina Elliott, Mary Boyer, Carole Towers, Erin Kirby, Joy Flint.

 

 

Parenting goals

capable child

Another Positive Discipline activity I love is called: Two Lists.  It helps you remember the bigger goals behind parenting, separate from “getting him to brush his teeth”, or “getting her to listen.”  Imagine your child as an adult.  What do you want him/her to be like?  What attributes would you love to recognize in them?

Jane Nelson has a list of seven, to help you focus:

Strong perception of personal capablilities: “I am capable.”

Strong perception of significance in primary relationships: “I contribute in meaningful ways and I am genuinely needed.”

Strong perception of personal power or influence over life: “I can influence what happens to me.”

Strong intrapersonal skills; the ability to understand personal emotions and to use that understanding to develop self-discipline and self-control.

Strong interpersonal skills; the ability to work with others and develop friendships through communicating, cooperating, negotiating, sharing, empathizing and listening.

Strong systemic skills; the ability to respond to the limits and consequences of everyday life with responsibility, adaptability, flexibility and integrity.

Strong judgmental skills; the ability to use wisdom and to evaluate situations according to appropriate values.

So, when you are teaching, modeling, correcting, inviting….think about what skills will be taught, directly, or indirectly, by your methods.

Words to use

KIND-WORDS

I have been asked for suggestions for phrases to use to invite cooperation and that can be respectful.

Age 3 and up:

  • “Did you have a question for me?” (“How can I help you?”) when child makes a demand (“I want JUICE!!!!”)
  • “Check yourself” (are you doing what you need to be doing?”)
  • (When child is wrong, factually), “Well, that is another answer”.
  • When there is a problem: “What will you do next time so that this doesn’t happen?”

All ages:

  • “I am not available. I can help you (after you, when you, when I…).”
  • “THAT is not available; (the baby is using it, she has it). You can ask her to give it to you when she is done.”
  • “Next time… (I want you to wait until I am done to talk).”
  • “Say some more … (about what is going on; child is upset).
  • (When child makes a mistake, but was trying) “Thank you for taking a risk.”
  • “If I were you (I would walk away, find my pajamas).”
  • The words “choose, decide, pick, and act” puts the responsibility on the child, where it should be: “I see you chose to leave your raincoat at home”; “I noticed you decided to let your sister use that first.” “I wonder why you are picking to cry instead of using your words?” “How did you decide to act when she hit you?”
  • “You decide, or I’ll decide.” (Two choicesJ)
  • “Please make a decision.”
  • “Thank you for telling me, but this is not a choice/option.”
  • (I can’t find my shoes) “It sounds like you have a problem to solve.”
  • (Alternatively) Parent: “I want you to help me solve a problem; I don’t like dirty clothes on the floor in my house.”
  • “Do you want some help, or do you want more time?”
  • “I don’t like what I just heard.  What is another way to tell me/ask me?”
  • “Make a picture in your mind.” (Visualize how to do something before trying it.)
  • “Touch him gently” (tell child what TO do instead of what NOT to do.)
  • “Walking feet.” (When child resists) “Thank you for letting me know you need help; I will help you_______.”
  • Only ask once, then act, without talking, or simply saying: “Thank you for letting me know you need help. I will help you (put that away, let go of the baby, give me the scissors, hold my hand in the parking lot.)
  • “I would love for you to be here, but I need you to stop (whining/crying/complaining….).”
  • “Would you be so kind as to…?” (Who would say no to being kind?)
  • Repeat back to child the words that they used so that they know they were heard and understood. (“You are saying…. I hear you and I will help you in a minute.  You don’t need to tell me again.”)
  • Give the child in fantasy what you cannot give in reality: “I know that you like your friend so much that you wish you could play together for days and days.”
  • “Even though”: “Even though you wish you could play outside all day, it is time to go inside and make dinner.”
  • Describe what you see: “Wow, you are really crying loudly. And you are kicking your feet, too.  You are really sad and upset.”

These last are notes from an early Montessori observation:

  • “Whoever gets it out, puts it back.”
  • If a child is mishandling something: “Let me help you put that back.”
  • “Let me finish showing you this, and then we’ll talk.”
  • Focus the child’s attention (often silently) on the sensations of what you are doing: slowing down to walk, feeling the soap on their hands as you help them wash, looking at something silently.
  • Response to a child who is not using something correctly/carefully: “There is a special part of this that I want to show you.”
  • “I’d like to give you some help.” (Resists) “That’s not an option.”
  • If child is being focused and respectful, and time is not pressing, they have the right not to be interrupted.
  • Precise movements are attractive to a child and invite them to repeat what you are doing. Language is an abstraction of the action, so it is important that the child does the thing repeatedly before too much language is given or expected.
  • Children cannot report what they did before around age 7, as 1) the work is internal, and 2) the work is meeting a need and therefore is subjective, not objective.
  • “Come and get me when you are done.” To get child to finish something without your presence.

Reframing

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Sometimes you need a new frame (=context).  A new point of view.  To see things from another angle.

My husband bought me some rain boots for Christmas.  The cute ones with flowers didn’t fit, so I got the leather ones.  Kinda cowboy-ish, but water proof, which is the point.  I love them.  They are great for mowing wet grass, walking on wet playgrounds, all things wet, which, In the mountains, is a lot of the time.  They are really comfy; no blisters, ever.

To me, they look very functional, like leather work gloves, and not fashionable at all.  But, one day, I wore them with a dress.  I wanted to wear the dress, and it was raining.  And I am a preschool teacher, not a model.

And got lots of compliments because: boots are fashionable.  Who knew?  Now I can wear them all the time, with anything.

As usual, this is a metaphor, as I certainly am minimally gifted in fashion.

Reframing, or redefining, is something I find myself doing, or attempting to do, with young children.  With boots, it seemed that, if boots are fashionable, I can wear them with a dress.

In Positive Discipline, we say that children’s “bad behavior” is an attempt at getting real needs met: needs for belonging and connection.  But, because they have not been alive very long, they are not always good at getting their needs met in appropriate ways.  And they, often cannot even express their needs.  So, we need to be the grown-ups (sorry!) and try to see thing from a different angle.  A new frame, or lens.  And maybe from their point of view. 🙂

We cannot change other people, only ourselves. Young children are irrational, often, and cannot explain themselves well, at times, or clearly.  And that is okay; it is one of the things we enjoy about them.  (I asked a 2 year old to repeat something her grandmother told me: “Where did your Yaya say you got those pretty curls?” Answer: “Poopypants.” This falls under : “I am not a performing dog, thanks.”)

So, instead of leaping to conclusions about motivations in young children, some open-ended questions can be very helpful for re-framing.

First, take a deep breath, and try to suspend your reaction for 20 seconds.  Long sigh.

Try these: ” How did that make you feel?” (“Did you like that?”); “Let’s see if we can find something good in this.”; “Would you like to try that again?”; “Is there something you want to ask me?” (in response to a demand; phrased poorly.); “What could you try next time so that this doesn’t happen?”; “I am not available.  I can help you (after you, when you, when I…).”; “THAT is not available; (the baby is using it, she has it). You can ask her to give it to you when she is done.”; “Next time…(I want you to wait until I am done to talk).”; “Say some more …(about what is going on; child is upset); (When child makes a mistake, but was trying) “Thank you for taking a risk.”; “If I were you ( I would walk away, find my pajamas).”; (The words “choose, decide, pick, act” puts the responsibility on the child, where it should be:) “I see you chose to leave your raincoat at home”; “I noticed you decided to let your sister use that first.” “I wonder why you are picking to cry instead of using your words?” “How did you decide to act when she hit you?”; “You decide, or I’ll decide.” (Two choices); “Please make a decision.”; “Thank you for telling me, but this is not a choice/option.” (Response to : “But I don’t WANT to…….”); (I can’t find my shoes) “It sounds like you have a problem to solve.” (said, please, with no sarcasm, but with trust that they can solve it.);(Alternatively) Parent: “I want you to help me solve a problem; I don’t like dirty clothes on the floor in my house.” (again, not said in anger, but in a spirit of shared interest.); “Do you want some help, or do you want more time?” (when there is more time to have!!”); “I don’t like what I just heard.  What is another way to tell me/ask me?”; “Make a picture in your mind.” (visualize how to do something before trying it.); “Touch him gently” (tell child what TO do instead of what NOT to do.): “Walking feet.”;  (When child resists) “Thank you for letting me know you need help; I will help you_______”; (Only ask once, then act, without talking, or simply saying:) “Thank you for letting me know you need help. I will help you (put that away, let go of the baby, give me the scissors, hold my hand in the parking lot.”); “I would love for you to be here, but I need you to stop “whining/crying/complaining….)”; and, many times: “Do you need a hug?” or “I need a hug after that.”

There.  From many, many sources.  And remember, not talking, or attempting to solve, and giving a “Hmmm” might get you to a deeper level.  Sometimes complaining, or crying, or yelling is just an attempt to connect; especially if it has worked before.  Or it may be an invitation to solve a problem themselves “”Where are my shoes?”; “Hmmmm”; “Oh, they are in my room!”

Less jumping to conclusions, less talking, often, more questions.