Thursday, February 8, 2024

20 years: Doubt everything, find your own light.





I've been teaching Montessori for 20 years now. This year, I don't know what it is about it, but I feel like I've strayed. Gradually, but wildly. Maybe it's this point, after the scrambling of the years of Covid. I don't know. I just revisited the beginning of this blog and saw photos of our beautiful young school, and read some of the enthusiastic early posts, and it gave me a sense that I need to Mary Kondo the whole building- on a week with no school take every single thing out of every closet and corner, and decide if it still belongs. I'm no hoarder but 20 years of accumulating stuff... 

But not just Mary Kondo the closets, Mary Kondo myself too. Take out all the parts of myself, put them out on the sidewalk, the habits, the beliefs, the mannerisms, and then inspect each one and decide what is worthy of keeping. I feel like re-taking my whole AMI training. A need to touch base with the core. To get back to the beginning. 

 And then I think, have I really lost touch with the core? 
Where do 20 years of experience take you? Away from the core or closer to the center? 
Why is it the most difficult to measure progress, to acknowledge all that has gone well, to celebrate longevity, and so easy to see all the places that require more work? 

Given that I am clearly in a constant state of self doubt, what keeps me going at work like this for 20 years?

What are the main sources of encouragement on this long road? 

One thing is the philosophy. It is so deep and inspiring. And part of what I mean when I say to Mary Kondo the whole school including myself is that I'd like to spend a week just also rereading all of Montessori's writing which is a flame when the lights are getting dim around me. It works every time. So at this time I am reminded to keep one of her books on hand, even if I manage only a paragraph at night before falling asleep. To rest in Montessori's vision. 

In some ways every school is an island, and in our case, our island is almost like a remote desert island with only 3 teachers in it. But there is still a feeling of community. The community of extended Montessori teachers here, especially my friends who are Montessori teachers, especially my friends who studied Montessori with me 23 years ago, when I meet with any of these people I am invigorated and inspired. I am reminded of making time to connect with them, as a root source of encouragement. 

To write as a source of processing has been a help too. I could see it when I was going back to the early days of this blog, now 17 years ago. I am reminded to write, for myself mostly, and to put it out here in case it is remotely helpful to anyone else. 

So, clean the closets, yes, 
re read the albums, yes, 
get in touch with the philosophy, yes,
but also   

relax 

it's not a competition, 
it's not a race, 
there's no report card, 

but it IS a marathon,
a process, 
a path,
and one in which a mind that understands that the road is long and meandering and beautiful and terrifying and exhausting and renewing will serve much better than one which is fixated too intently on to do lists.






Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Summary of Book Club Discussion “Siblings Without Rivalry”




Since the beginning of our school (13 years ago!) we have been conducting bi-annual book clubs for parents. We read a variety of parenting books on a variety of particular subjects and I always learn as much from the book as I do from our gatherings. I appreciate using a brainstorm method, where paper gets passed around a group and different people's ideas get recorded, because it allows for quieter people to get their ideas across, and a better distributed participation from the group. We take turns reading the papers we have passed around which also allows for all voiced to be heard and keeps the discussion centered around the reading. 

"Siblings Without Rivalry" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish was chosen because this year we have 5 sets of siblings concurrently in our classroom. This means the children are exposed the whole day to each other in at least two different environments. 

We took a month to read the book and came together last Saturday to discuss the reading at school.


We started our session with a personal reflection: 

How many of us are siblings? How many siblings were in our household? Was our birth order important in how our roles were formed at home? Did our birth order inform our parents way of raising us?

What was the role cast to us by our parent? By our siblings? What role did we carve out for ourselves?

Are we still perceived that way by our parents? By our siblings? Has that changed? How?

How do we wish we had been perceived if we wish we’d been seen differently?

Is there anything we wish was different about our current relationship with our siblings that was directly caused by our early years?

We then reflected on our own parenting:

What roles do we currently assign to our children?

How do our children see themselves, what roles do they put themselves into?

How are those roles encouraged or affirmed by different family members?




We then moved to a collective brainstorm of study questions I had chosen for us. We each had a clipboard with one question written at the top and were asked to answer it, and then pass the clipboard along to the next person. There were 9 of us, so at the end of the exercise there were 9 separate answerswritten on each clipboard. We took turns reading what everyone had written and discussing it further.

Following is a transcript of the written answers provided in the exercise, which we expanded on in discussion.


1. How can we help children solve their own problems?

By giving them enough time to solve them and giving them the opportunity to each give their version of what happened. If they still don’t have a solution, you can state the facts of what you see and offer some ideas for solutions. Giving attention to the injured party instead of the aggressor puts emphasis on
caring for each other instead of punishing whoever did something wrong. Being an example of a problem solver (solving problems between us when they happen) is a way to help as well.
Acknowledge each person’s feelings when the problems occur, so that they feel firstly heard. And be confident that they CAN solve their problems, even young children can do this. Remember it’s not OUR problem, so we don’t have to take responsibility for it.


2. What can we do when children fight?

Hard and acknowledge each child’s version of what happened. State what you see. Don’t take sides. Be calm before stepping in. If they are very worked up, separate them and once they are calm bring them back together and listen to each child. Don’t have a huge reaction unless there’s danger.3. What is an idea from the book that you might try at home? Describing what you see when there is a problem. Treating children uniquely, not equally. Use words to describe children’s feelings. Stop comparing the children. Treat them uniquely and not equally, instead of showing equal love, show children they are loved uniquely. Acknowledge their feelings and refrain from taking sides when issues arise. Treat them as individuals with their own needs. Letting there be more space for negative feelings. Discuss our perceived roles openly, that way the roles may lose their power over us. Become aware of the roles we place on children and try to allow them to be different and change and be themselves.


4. What did your parents do that drove you and your siblings apart?

Praise one child and not the other. Compare children’s ability. Always being looked down on because of being oldest and having to take responsibility for what the others did. Was not allowed to make mistakes. Academic ability and ability at school was compared. Venting thoughts about another sibling felt like gossip. Spoke negatively about our siblings openly. Established constricted roles. Trusted in older siblings but not in younger ones. Treated us very differently depending on our gender.


5. What did your parents do that pulled you and your siblings together?

We had dinner together. Allowed us to have lots of friends over that we shared among siblings.
Vacations together. Going out together with friends. Going out to dinners and lunches together. Made us share bedroom our whole life. Family night with board games was always nice. “Happy hour” when
we were together and “were happy”. Left us siblings along a lot of the time, we have to solve our own problems because nobody was there to help, that kept us from doing dangerous and stupid things. A lot of time together at grandparents house (our roles were different with our grandparents). No phone allowed rules at the table.


6. What was one story from the book that you identified with?

Not to give the attention to the aggressor. “Not until all the bad feelings come out can the good ones come in.” Giving the children roles without being aware of it. Letting them express all their negative feelings without censoring (The Story of the New Wife). How to talk to the child instead of compare (the illustrations). The role my parents gave me is still affecting me today. How much sibling
relationships defined adult insecurities and self perception.
 
 
7. How can comparing children (whether favorably or unfavorably) affect them?
 
It is harmful to their relationship. It can program the child to think that they might be good at something but that there’s always someone who can do better. When you say something positive it still feels like a judgment and puts pressure on them to perform for your approval. It affects how they see themselves. Can create a lot of rivalry between children. It can create long term self esteem issues.
They may feel that they always have to be a certain way for you to love them.


8. Why is equal treatment not better?

Children’s needs are different. If we offer equal treatment it may cause children to fight to always get “the same” although it might not be what they actually want or need. It puts the emphasis on equal instead of what is needed. Because more importantly everyone wants to be individually recognized, equal undermines uniqueness.


9. How can we free children from the roles we and others impose on them?

Firstly by being aware of the roles we are limiting them to. By allowing them to be different and to make mistakes. Trying to appreciate their individual characters and actions. Try to be aware of our gender and birth order biases, reflect on how things were for us as children, make an effort to change.
Talk to them about it, be open and listen. Childhood affects adulthood, self reflection is key.


Extra questions:

How do imposed roles affect children’s relationship with each other?
Why is it important to let children express negative feelings about their siblings?
What can we do instead of comparing children?

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Prompts for great conversations with young children


 

"Let's talk about when we feel mad with our friends."


"Let's talk about when we feel mad with our brothers or sisters at home."


"Let's talk about when we feel scared at night."


"Let's talk about when our moms and dads are angry at each other."


"Let's talk about when we feel like we don't want to come to school."


"Let's talk about when we feel lonely."


"Let's talk about when someone does something hurtful to us."


"Let's talk about when we don't get what we want and we feel disappointed."


Perhaps the best way to disarm difficult feelings is by first welcoming them in and making them a part of our normal conversation. Bringing up the conversation with a prompt like this, and then just taking turns talking, without censoring, without problem solving, without judging, and letting the point of the conversation be to share and be open to listen to and say what we wish. It can be a very powerful opportunity for such young children. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Parent Night: Parenting for Self Regulation

 This is a transcript from a parent night given virtually, through Zoom, last night. We had great attendance from our parent community. If you'd like a transcript that includes the community building activities, group discussion questions, beginning ice breaker games, feel free to email me. 






Parenting for Self Regulation

A famous test was conducted in the psychology department at Stanford in the 70’s. They gathered a bunch of 4 year olds and put them in a room one at a time and gave them one marshmallow and would say “I’m going to leave the room now, and if when I come back you haven’t eaten the marshmallow, I will give you a second marshmallow.”

What happened when the experimenter would leave the room? Let's see!



Two out of 3 children would invariably eat the marshmallow. Most of them right away. But one out of the 3 would not. They would use all kinds of strategies to keep themselves from eating it: singing to themselves, looking away, covering their eyes, smelling it, one child even rested her head on the table and fell asleep.

The experimenters at Stanford observed these children and followed them for the next fourteen years. At the end of the study they found that 100% of the children who had not eaten the marshmallow had good grades, were happy, had good relationships with friends, and were considered generally “successful”.

Sure, there are some flaws with the marshmallow test. It cannot really predict what level of “success” your child will have when they are older. It only seems to work when children trust the adult’s promises, and what about children who don’t like marshmallows? More importantly, it has been proven that brains change and are flexible for longer than science believed possible.

It is a fun experiment though that gives us a glimpse into just one of the aspects that make up Self Regulation.


What is Self Regulation?

Self regulation is a whole set of skills that has to do with control in the brain (for example when you can positive talk yourself into succeeding through a difficult situation), control of feelings (like being able to calm yourself down when you get angry), and control of actions (like being able to delay gratification for a bigger reward- like the marshmallow test).

Sharing, listening, waiting for a turn, managing your emotions, problem solving, are all skills that require self regulation.

There are some aspects of it that are genetically determined at birth, but it is very teachable as well. It develops differently in every child, just like rate of growth, or like learning to read. It is a developing skill in children, and the ages of 3-6 are particularly good times to lay the foundations for this important skill.

Parents at our school receive a weekly photo album of children at work and play, and they must wonder, “Why is my child so exhausted by the end of school when all they do is play and eat snack and play outside?” Others may ask their child what they did that day and their child might respond “Nothing, I played.” or “I had lunch", further baffling them. The children are not aware that they are busy all day at school exercising the skills of self regulation that are built into so much of what we do.

Let’s have a look at some of the moments in our first 6 weeks at school of children practicing self regulation:



Putting your hand on the shoulder of someone who is working, or on a teacher's shoulder and waiting to be acknowledged before talking.



The snack waiting chair, waiting until a place becomes available at the snack table.



Respecting the boundaries of the climbing tree.


Watching a group lesson.


Taking turns talking and listening during a group meeting. 


Choosing a work, finishing it, and putting it away. Concentrating on your work.


Leading or playing a group game with friends which involves taking turns, following rules, and being a good sport at the end of the game.


Eating only the allotted amount of snack. 


Observing small creatures without hurting them. Not picking the flowers or breaking the leaves of plants.



Finding a friend to play with after someone has said "no" when you asked them.


Keeping people safe indoors by wearing masks.


Collaborating with a partner on work. 



Solving problems together by talking.


Cleaning up when we are finished eating.


Observing or carrying out food preparation without putting ingredients in our mouths.


Only hands may go into the mud pit.


Finding a safe place for insects.


Observing a friend work without touching their materials.


Rolling up rugs, putting work away, keeping the environment in order so everyone can find what they need.


Waiting to have a drink of water or to wash hands.


Why is it important?

I had a realization when I was putting together this presentation that self regulation is very similar to “mindfulness”. It is basically being mindful of yourself and others so that you can control the impact you have on the world around you. It has to do with awareness, accountability, and with respect. Respecting yourself, respect of other living beings and of your environment.

It has to do with self discipline too. The skills we are hoping the children will develop come directly from the child, not from fear of the adults or from fear of punishment, but from a place of love for themselves, others and their environment. Self regulation doesn’t diminish the child, it is the child rising to a standard of love for the common good.

In order to be able to learn socially, emotionally, and academically, we have to be able to exert some control over ourselves. To enjoy life and solve problems and have good relationships we have to be able to regulate ourselves. Learning to self regulate is the hidden backbone of much of what the children are learning at school. Even though it may not be explicitly written in the curriculum, if there’s any valuable skill you want your child to learn, it’s this one!



How to support self regulation development at home?

The home environment is the most important environment in your child’s life, and the place where they do all their primary learning. Their relationship with their parents is their most instructive model of how to be in this world. In order to foster self regulation in children at home, you can consider some of the following suggestions:



*Make sure their basic needs are met. No learning is possible is the children are tired, hungry and stressed out. On the same token, no teaching is possible if you yourself are tired hungry and stressed out.

*Remember this is a skill in development. Children are not meant to be perfect at it yet. They need your help to coach them and to understand where they are in their development. Having realistic expectations will help you temper your own response to your children’s behavior.

It is a skill in development.

*Structured environments go a long way in supporting the development of self regulation. Predictable routines at home, especially bedtime, mealtime, and after school routines help children understand the pattern of their day and be able to anticipate what’s coming ahead.

Clear rules and boundaries that are established together as a family also help a child with self regulation. Understanding why certain rules are in place and how their actions affect others, is the foundation for good citizenship. Natural and logical consequences are helpful in learning about accountability and responsibility.

*Acknowledging children’s feeling, talking about feelings, and being comfortable with their whole range of emotions can help them regulate themselves as well. Understanding that all feelings are accepted, but not all behaviors is a good distinction to make here as well. (see part about rules and boundaries).

*Coaching children by preparing them for difficult situations, practicing different skills, role playing, and brainstorming solutions to problems together not only build the skills for success in children, but also help them develop a growth mindset mentality. I can get better at something by practicing. Self regulation is a teachable skill.



*You cannot help your child or make good parenting choices if you yourself are overly stressed. Developing a strong partnership to raise your children, cultivating a support group around you that can step in when you need help, and recognizing when you need some time out for yourself are key elements in modeling self regulation for your child. It is demonstrated that parents who focus on improving their own coping and calming down skills build their own self regulation and provide a more calming influence on the children in their care.



What can we learn from the children?

In Montessori we strongly believe there is as much for us to learn from the children as they have to learn from us. I found this lovely piece written a researcher/parent Dr. Ashley Soderlund in her blog "Nurture and Thrive":

"I loved it when I would return to the room as a researcher in those delay of gratification studies and the kids who had waited would stuff both marshmallows in their mouth as happy as could be, no restraint at all. They waited until I came back and then they reveled in the fact of being able to enjoy those marshmallows. At a young age, they had learned how to really savor, enjoy, and also when to let go.

In other cases, kids would do a good job waiting, but when I came back in the room they were overcontrolled and anxious. Those kids could hardly enjoy the marshmallow. So, it isn’t just about waiting or controlling, it’s about being flexible in that control.

Having the control so you can choose when to use it, and when to let go.

Ultimately, we want our children to have the ability to control impulses when needed and to be able to let loose when they can."



Home Work

We’ve created a “Parenting for Self Regulation Checklist” so that you can see what areas of your parenting you might want to strengthen. Once you fill it out, it may clarify what skills you can work on at home and also help you recognize in which areas you are already doing well.




I encourage you to begin even with small steps. We can do this!








Friday, July 17, 2020

Full Set of Montessori Classification Cards FREE.

It was due time to refresh our much beloved classification card sets. I wanted to change their script to cursive and the task was on my to do list for years. I'm so overjoyed at having finished them, all of them! What better thing to do than share them with anyone who they can be useful to as well. The sets include cards for:

Bathroom
Kitchen
Bedroom
Classroom Furniture
Clothing
Weather
Parts of the Body
Parts of the Face
Instruments
Tools
Feelings
Transportation Vehicles
Fruits
Vegetables
Flags of the World (these include general countries, but also the countries of origin of our School Community- so they may seem random to you)

And pertinent specifically to Aruba, our:

Amphibians
Reptiles
Birds
Mammals
Fish (together with Submarine Field Trip cards)
Shells
Insects
Flowers (these are ones we can find in our garden at school specifically)
Trees
Butterflies
Rocks and Minerals
Mangroves
(most of these are species/specimens that can be found in our immediate surroundings)


Please download them HERE. 
Enjoy.
Be well.
Don't work too hard.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Protocols and Changes



For administrators or school owners or teachers to whom this could be useful I'd like to share our school's protocols and classroom modifications. They are largely based on the guidelines set by Aruba's Health Department, and I understand that in every place the situation may vary. When sharing this with parents at our school I tried my best to help everyone understand that this is a work in progress, that adjustments may be called for at any time depending on our greater environment as it evolves. I found it so useful to read what other schools in other places were doing, and especially to see photos of the changes in the classroom, since at the beginning I was resistant to making any change at all to our beloved Montessori classroom. We must adapt, just like the children, to our time and place and what is called for. This is the reality of our times. I think so far we have been fortunate to be able to maintain our group all together and have school five times a week. A week into these changes, I can say that the children, when introduced to the changes step by step as we do in Montessori, accept and roll with them without issue.
Our classroom is a one room Primary schoolhouse with two outdoor environments. We have 24 children enrolled, and 3 staff members. Typically, one of the staff members works in the kitchen and garden, but given the changes, she is now with us in the classroom especially in case one of us other two cannot be at school.



Protocols for Opening During Covid Pandemic


These guidelines are subject to change at any time depending on how the children respond to them, how the pandemic evolves, and as more information about children's role in spreading the virus becomes available. We will honor our calendar schedule and hope to be open through June 24th.

Modified Daily Schedule

Our school day will be from 8:00 to 12:00pm.

Daily Schedule:
Arrival 8:00-9:00 (to allow for staggered arrivals)
Work Period 8:30- 11:30
Outdoor Play 11:30-12:00
Departure 12:00

(We shortened our day in order to limit hours of contact with children and also because we eliminated our lunch program at school for the moment. Not wanting to have to handle all the equipment that bringing lunch to school would entail for the children, we shortened our day to 12:00. )

(We've made a visual chart to introduce the children to our new daily routine.)

Arrival

Adults will maintain social distance and wait in their car so that only one child and adult are at the gate at a time.

Children are greeted as they wish with a foot kiss, air high five, air huggie, wave or just a big smile.

Children will be visibly screened for symptoms (cough, extreme lethargy, fever). 

Children will be given hand sanitizer when entering the school for during the play period.
An arrival time from 8-9 allows children to arrive in staggered times.


(We've asked parents to let us know ahead of time if their child or anyone else at home is ill, if they have received any visitors from abroad, or been in contact with any infected person. For the time being we are not taking children's temperature upon arrival. This may be mandated eventually.)



Departure

At 12:00 we ask that parents line up in their cars at the departure gate, and drive up to the school gate one by one. We will bring your child up to the gate as you drive up. You will have to make the FIRST LEFT TURN when driving into Balashi Web so that you can enter the “carpool line” in the appropriate direction.

(The first days, the pickup carpool style felt somewhat awkward especially for parents who were used to receiving their children out of school at the gate together with other parents. Now the line is flowing smoothly, I think more parents are appreciating the efficiency of the pickup time- many of them have to return to work right away.)


Sickness

Children will not be allowed to come to school if they have even mild cold like symptoms including: cough, fever, runny noses, drowsiness, diarrhea, sore throat, chills.

Children will only be allowed to return if they have been symptom free for 48 hours without the help of fever reducing medications.

The reasoning behind this is to not only protect that child and the other children's immune systems but also the teachers at school. Teachers may not come to school with any of the above symptoms and this may imperil our daily functioning.

Children with sick immediate family members with Covid-like symptoms may be asked to stay home for a period of time.

When airports re-open, children who have traveled or whose immediate family members have traveled may be asked to stay home for a period of time.

Outdoor Time

We have an extended outdoor playtime in the morning and have added an extra "necklace" for children to play in our back garden. These necklaces are like a classroom work that a child can take and use for as long as they want. We may add more "necklaces" so more children can be outdoors at once. For the time being, 2 may be having picnic snack outdoors and 2 may be playing outside during the work period.

Indoor and Outdoor shoes

Children will switch into indoor shoes before coming into the classroom.



Work Period

Social distancing will be indirectly supported but not demanded among the children. It will be maintained as much as possible between children and adults, and enforced consistently among adults.

During work period staff will observe, be on hand to help, and to ensure hygienic practices among the children.

The classroom is modified to indirectly support social distance among the children. Tables are placed with larger distance between them.



Only one child will be allowed at each snack table at a time.



Small group lessons given by the adults will have a limited amount of children at a time and larger space between the adult and children. Children will be spaced out with place markers.


When children need adults assistance, marks will be placed on the floor so they can stand at a distance and wait.


Large group lessons (meetings) will be given in our lunch room with distancing among the children and adults.

We will maximize ventilation with windows open when conditions are favorable. Airco filters will be cleaned every week.

Hand washing provisions

Hand washing will be required on entering the classroom, before snack, before lunch and after using the bathroom. It will also be asked of children who have placed their hands in their mouths or noses, or who have coughed or sneezed into their hands. 


The hand washing procedure will involve washing hand with soap and water for 20 seconds, drying hands with a paper towel and following up with hand sanitizer.

All materials that are mouthed will be sanitized immediately.

Food and Beverage Related

Lunch:

For now, the lunch program is suspended. This will ensure we have Kylie available in the classroom, outdoors, for help sanitizing at the end of the day, as well as in case any of the other adults get sick.


Food Preparation:

Food preparation in the classroom is suspended for now.

Water Station:

Children have their own water bottle that stays at school. It will be placed at the water station for whenever a child needs a drink of water and brought to the table for snack time.
Water bottles will be run through the dishwasher at the end of the day and refilled with cold water the next morning.


Snack:
Snack will be provided by the school daily throughout the work period. The children will use their own water bottles at the snack table. Children will wash their hands before snack and clean their table after snack with alcohol wipes.



(These are our handy reminders for washing hands and getting your water bottle before eating snack. Children place them on the table as a place marker before serving themselves snack to mark their spot.)


One child at a time will be allowed at each snack table. We have provisioned for 2 snack tables in the classroom plus the 2 tables outside.





Staff and Sanitation

At the end of the day, staff will sanitize the classroom thoroughly with Mikro Guard. Including all high touch surfaces, materials used by the children, tables, chairs, and materials used by staff communally. Floors will be mopped daily. Sanitation of the classroom will be done with windows open.

Staff must wash hands upon entering the school, after physically touching any child, before and after meals, and after handling any equipment children have used.

Staff will refrain from touching their own face as much as possible and wear a mask if they deem it necessary.

Gloves and mask will be worn when helping children in the bathroom, in very close quarters, or when handling any children's bodily fluids.

Airco filters will be cleaned every 7 days.

Staff Sickness

Staff that has cough, runny noses, sore throat or any other Covid-like symptoms must stay home and possibly get tested before returning to school. Parents will be notified immediately if there are any changes in staff due to illness. 

If any staff member is exposed to someone who has tested positive for the virus, they will have to self quarantine for 14 days.



Parents and Visitors
Parents and other adults will not be allowed into the building for now to minimize the amount of people coming into the school and being in contact with school surfaces. All external vistors/maintenance personnel will be asked to come when the children are not present.