Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Trust in the Child

Here is the fundamental question in education, one that Dr. Maria Montessori was completely sure about, but that most people struggle with. When it comes down to it, do you have 100% trust the child? Do you think that the child has everything within itself for maximum growth?

According to Montessori and the "triangle", if you have a properly prepared environment, a properly trained adult, and the child, s/he will learn what they need, when they need without any direct instruction or prodding from the adult. Now, this might not be according to the government, or even society, mandated list of when and how things need to be learned. However, it IS within the realm of what THAT child at THAT time needs to learn.

Of course, if you take away any of the two things the adult has control over (the environment and trained adult), you wouldn't necessarily see these results.

This is why I feel like, if we were to put Dr. Montessori in a political party in today's America she would be a Libertarian. So, that each individual needs what each individual needs when they need it, without a top down government agenda that needs to be fulfilled by the child. Also, Ayn Rand stated that the only education method/philosophy she could endorse was Montessori (if you haven't read her manifesto on education "The Comprachicos," I highly recommend it. She discusses Montessori at length.)

I hear the arguments that people give about getting students to comply to an outside "authority" so that they know how to. The other side of that coin is why should they? Why are we presuming that this authority knows more about where the child should be going than the child him/herself knows? Why aren't we wanting to have that student that is forging the new world outside of the chains of authority? I think when Dr. Montessori spoke of learning societal norms and whatnot, she meant it more in terms of grace and courtesy, rather than academic norms and authority (with the exception of religion, for her). Do we not trust the child to reach their potential on their own? If not, aren't we actually thwarting that potential by enforcing what WE think they should know upon them at a time they aren't interested in it, when they could be going down the path that they truly should have been on if we hadn't gotten in their way? Why are we setting them up to be in a position where they have to comply to authority, rather than setting them up to BECOME the authority (of themselves)? If the child NEEDS to, say s/he decides to be a doctor and must go to medical school, they will comply to that authority to get to THEIR goal. But that is a means to their end, not being forced upon them by the adult "who knows better". They don't need to be trained in that.

Friday, February 14, 2014

The Crying Game?

Crying is something that all humans, and many other mammals do naturally. It is something that for babies is a way to communicate needs, for older children and adults crying is a way to communicate big emotions. Sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, happiness, and almost every other other big emotion will result in crying.

For adults, we are sometimes either uncomfortable with a child's crying or feel like crying is an indicator of something that needs to be fixed. In both cases, adults will try to stop a child's crying or even worse, make the child feel bad for crying. Both of these actions, though, do not help a child. So, what does help a child when he or she is crying?

1) Validate the child and their feelings. Use language like "I see that you are crying. If I can help you to feel better with a hug or something else, please let me know what I can do." If you think you know more specifically what is causing the crying, you can address that more specifically. "I see that you are upset because you wanted to run inside. I understand that can be frustrating when you don't get what you would like. But I can't let you run inside because that would not be safe."

2) After you have validated the child's feelings, give the child choices. Ask if the child might like to go to a very comfortable space to have crying time, or the child can cry beside you if that is preferred.

Things NOT to do with a crying child:

1) Tell them they are OK, or it is OK, or they are going to be OK. In their head, no matter how small you think the problem is, they are not OK and to tell them otherwise is condescending.

2) Shush them or tell them to stop crying. It is OK; however, to ask them to be quieter if they are disturbing others, or take them to a place where they are less of a distraction and to tell them why you are doing it.

3) Solve their problem for them. Children need the ability to be able to work through these big emotions in their own time and space. They also need coping mechanisms that are not adult dependent, so that they can learn how to do this in the future (an important executive function that needs development).

4) Allow the crying to sidetrack what truly needs to happen. For instance, if the child is crying because you needed to leave the house at a certain time to arrive somewhere, then you still MUST leave at that time, whether or not the child is crying. You can use words like, "I see that you are upset because we are leaving in a rush. Next time we will work on giving you more time to get ready, but for today we must leave now to arrive on time. Either you can walk to the car, or I will carry you." Then follow through, if the child isn't moving towards the car on their own, you must take them to the car.

5) Lose your temper or become frustrated with them. They need to feel safe in that you can handle their emotions, if not, who can they depend on? Stay very calm and matter-of-fact when dealing with the child.

After the child has stopped crying:

1) Ask the child what solutions they have to fix that problem in the future, what would better meet their needs/desires? If it is possible, work that into your life. If it is not possible, let them know that you appreciate their suggestion but it won't work because of X, Y, Z. Together brainstorm other possibilities and reach a compromise.

2) Evaluate your own responsibility for the situation. Did you let the child become overtired/overstimulated/hungry? Where you inconsiderate of the child's feelings/needs? If so, acknowledge that to the child and APOLOGIZE. This is how the child will learn to do the same, and it lets the child know that adults aren't perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Then, work on yourself to try and not repeat the situation again. Maybe that means giving time warnings before a transition ("We are going to need to leave in 10 minutes, please wrap up what you are doing."), earlier nap/bed times, or having a healthy snack available in the car on busy days.Maybe it means making days less busy if possible, or having some down time between errands.

Our goal needs to shift from not letting a child become upset ever, to guidance in teaching a child how to get through an upset. Building these executive functions are proving to be some of the most valuable tools we can give children.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Getting Your Child to Eat Healthy Foods

I hear from parents so often that they cannot get their children to eat anything healthy. "He won't eat anything but chicken nuggets and french fries." "She only eats buttered noodles." The problem in these scenarios is not the child, why do they have these unhealthy choices to begin with? This is more about a family's lifestyle change, than it is about getting your child to eat their vegetables. To start, families must model healthy eating habits for their child. When your child is only surrounded by healthy choices, they WILL start making them for themselves. Ideally, it is best to start this from birth, actually prenatally, but the sooner this change can be made, the better for the entire family.

As in all things, your child is more likely to follow if s/he is an active participant instead of it being forced upon her/him. You can open the conversation with a family meeting about how worried you are about your families' nutrition. This should not be about weight, or getting "fat." While coming to a healthy weight is a side benefit to a healthy lifestyle change, it should not be the goal, and not be why children are taught that eating healthy food is important. At the meeting, try offering that s/he can plan your menu and then help shop for it and help prepare it. Give her/him a guide like:



    Afterschool Snack:

        Starch Vegetable:
        Green Vegetable:

Let him/her fill it in with what s/he'll eat, and after s/he has been successfully at it for about a month or so you can start encouraging her/him to try new even healthier foods. At first, allow your child to choose whatever food properly fits that category, and while at the store get the most healthy version of that food. So, while Macaroni and Cheese isn't the best choice for the rest of your life, but while tastebuds are adjusting you can choose whole wheat mac and cheese (like http://www.iherb.com/Back-to-Nature-Harvest-Wheat-Cheese-Dinner-6-0-oz-170-g/31795?gclid=CMmc_Mv_87sCFSLxOgodUnsAQw&gclsrc=aw.ds). Similarly, hot dogs aren't the healthiest choice, but you can choose fat-free all white meat turkey franks while weaning off of unhealthy, processed foods.
Main guidelines for the start:
Any grain chosen should have a minimum of 5 grams dietary fiber. 
Any dairy should be fat free (as cancer causing toxins accumulate in the fat of dairy).
Any meat chosen should be the leanest cuts possible, and should be organic and grass-fed. Try to keep meats to a minimum of two servings per week, as most carcinogens are found in animal products.
No refined sugars/high fructose corn sugar. Date sugar and agave are great to sweeten foods and low on the glycemic index.
No oils, butters, margarines, etc. Fat should come from nuts, seeds, avacados, olives, and other natural unprocessed sources (oils are highly processed and removes the healthiest parts of the plants they are sourced from!).
Add very little salt to foods, and buy no salt added foods when possible.
When you talk about why a food choice isn't acceptable (say s/he picks a cookie for a grain) instead of saying anything about weight, say "That doesn't give your body the nutrition it needs go be healthy, and it will give your teeth cavities. When your body doesn't get proper nutrition it can become sick. Mommy/Daddy loves you and as a parent it is my job to help you make good choices for your body. I know sometimes that is frustrating and difficult for you to understand when you really want something." Maybe even get some books on those topics for her/him to read.
And keep in mind, it is physically impossible for a child to starve themselves (except in rare cases where food aversions exist, and those should be treated at a feeding clinic that specializes in food disorders). If they refuse the healthy foods you offer give other healthy choices, but do not introduce any of the unhealthy choices just so they will eat something. Empty calories do nothing for the body but hurt it. You do your child no good by giving her/him food that does not benefit the body.
A must-read for parents is Dr. Joel Furhman's "Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right" (http://www.drfuhrman.com/shop/ChildBookReviews.aspx). It is an eye opening book about how the root of nearly every problem a child has is the food the child eats. It contains recipes and stories of how parents even avoid doctor recommended surgeries (like ear tubes) by changing nutrition, which most current medical practices do not even bring up the subject of nutrition!

Good luck!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Freedom with Limits...Essential in Montessori AND Parenting

One of the key parts of Montessori is that is freedom with limits (responsibilities, boundaries). This is a Montessori quote I came across:

"Do not apply the rule of non-interference when the children are still the prey of all their different naughtinesses. Don't let them climb on the windows, the furniture, etc. You must interfere at this stage. At this stage the teacher (parent) must be a policeman. The policeman has to defend the honest citizens against the disturbers." (The Absorbent Mind)

Children must never be permitted to misuse materials, be physical with each other, or be disrespectful. Broken objects due to misuse is unacceptable.

Boundaries are important, not only to teach responsibility and respect. While that is important, it is also crucial for showing them that someone cares enough to care about their safety and the safety of others around them. It is the #1 way children process love.

Children should be using materials properly or in a manner that will not break the materials or hurt anyone. Sometimes this takes a judgement call. For instance, while in our grassy field at my school the students began making mudpies with the materials set out for water painting the fence. While this was not the intended use of that material, it did not hurt the materials and they were diligently using them. I allowed that to continue, with the caveat that the dishes must be cleaned and put away properly at the end of their use. However, if they would like to dig with the rainbow streamers (used in dancing), this would most certainly break the plastic. This I would not permit.

Some things, that could be dangerous if misused I would never allow creative use. For example, gardening tools can only be used for their intended use AND used in a very precise manner (never raised above the head, for instance).

Breaking any item on purpose, even if it was already broken and on the way to the trash can can never permitted.

From Smithsonian magazine (September 2002 issue, article "Madam Montessori"):

"The Casa dei Bambini, or Children’s House, opened January 6, 1907. At first, Montessori just observed. She noticed that the children came to prefer her teaching materials to toys and would spend hours putting wooden cylinders into holes or arranging cubes to build a tower. As they worked, they became calmer and happier. As the months passed, Montessori modified materials and added new activities, including gardening, gymnastics, making and serving lunch, and caring for pets and plants. Children who misbehaved were given nothing to do."
Let me repeat: children who misbehaved were given nothing to do. Getting to work in the classroom/at home and outside with the materials you provide them is a privilege. If they cannot handle doing so with manners, and they know how to, then they do not get to use them. If they do not know how to use the materials, then they need to be given a demonstration on how to use the materials.

I know it is becoming very popular in our culture to never tell a child no, to never hear them cry or allow disappointment. What does this teach them about life? Rules are important in every walk of life, no matter what position you hold. It does children a disservice to not prepare them for how to cope with this, and research shows that if children do not learn how to cope with this as a child (ages birth through age 6) they have far more difficulty learning this later. The brain connections change by this point and much of their wiring is set. Executive functions (coping with disappointment is one of these) are established primarily before age 6.

As educators and parents we are searching for that perfect balance between freedom and limits, between authoritarian and permissive (this middle ground is called authoritative). Research shows that children of authoritative parents/education become the most successful adults and exhibit the most happiness in life. And isn't that what we all want for our children?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Our Family Needs Martial Law!

A question by a parent was asked:

My children, ages 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1, have absolutely no sense of how to work together. I'll have the older two work on dishes/cleaning the kitchen together, and all they do is argue and sometimes it gets so bad that one of them starts kicking things, stomping around the house, etc. Each of my children are only concerned with what they want, when they want it, and how they think it should be. We can't run a family this way and my husband and I are at a loss as to how to fix it other than instituting "martial law" which only works for as long as it's in effect and then they go right back to the original problems.

For example, as I was writing this my 2 year old threw a 2x4 scrap of wood at her 4 year old brother because they were arguing about who got to play with a toy car (we're in the middle of a huge house project, which I know has just increased the intensity of the problems, but we already had these problems -- daily! -- before the project).
The only way to fix these problems is either "martial law" or I have to be entirely focused on nothing but the kids, literally every second. The second my attention is taken away from them (even to load the dishwasher) everything starts up again. What can I do????
A little background:We homeschool all of them. We live in a working-poor neighborhood with a crime problem so if they're outside they have to stay within the confines of our yard. My sister-in-law's children are very self-sufficient, to the point that she can be upstairs for hours working and they will watch each other, follow the rules, etc. With my children, if they are not under
constant supervision they steal candy, fight about toys, refuse to do their chores, refuse to play, but constantly say they're bored, etc. We have tried to give them more latitude with what they can do...if my oldest wants to paint, I say "okay" rather than "not now". So, we've gotten better with that, but I don't feel I can say "okay" if he's refused to do his chores first.If it's not what they want to do, they don't do it without a fight :(

Here was my answer:

I'd see where the current fights are happening. Fighting over candy? Remove candy from the house. Fighting over a toy? That toy gets thrown away (or donated, but I wouldn't tell them that, so they do not see donation as a bad thing). Basically, if they do not respect something they cannot have it.

It also sounds like there is a big concern over chores. I am personally very anti-chores. I feel like it is fair for everyone to take responsibility for there own mess, but it is unfair to make people clean up after others. Of course, there are things that must be done by only one person (like taking out the family's trash, mowing, etc), but you can make a list of these in a family meeting and see who volunteers for which task, or if no one does you can make a schedule to rotate those. But as far as dishes, laundry, etc they can be responsible for their own. And-in my opinion, their room is their private space. If they want it messy, that is their business. If they cannot make you clean your room-you can't make them clean theirs. It is a good basic rule- any rules the children must abide by, the adults must abide by as well.

I'd probably start with a big family meeting and let them know that the house has not been peaceful and things need to change. Ask for their opinions on how they think it should change, and of course you and your partner give your opinions as well. No one is permitted to poo-poo anyone's ideas (this includes you-you are not permitted to shoot down ideas during the brainstorming phase, if they say go to DisneyWorld everyday, you write it down seriously). Then you can talk, as a family, about what ideas will work for your family and which will not. Then make a family plan. Meet every week thereafter to tweak the plan as things work out or don't, and to discuss any new problems that have come up.

In addition, when children are feeling squirrelly, it is generally because some need that is not being met. It will take a lot of observation, but try to see what that is for each of your children. When are they working together nicely and cooperatively? When are they fighting? Try to make more space in your lives where the cooperative work is occurring, and less of the times when the fighting is occurring. Put yourself in their shoes. If you didn't feel like doing XYZ and were being made to you'd be in a bad mood. Then have someone push against you (even accidentally), it is going to lead to a volatile situation.

I'd also advise just getting them outside for unstructured time. Dishes can wait, laundry can wait. Meeting there current physical and emotional needs (which many studies show that being in nature fills that need) will cure many of these ills.

I hope this helps any of those out there struggling with the same problems!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Alison's Montessori Giveaway

Living Montessori Now is hosting a Giveaway for 3 $100 gift certificates from Alison's Montessori. See the link below.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The question I get most often from parents is how to "discipline" their children (read: correct/punish/make them stop). Or the "What do I do when my child does...?" (please see my previous post of that title, written by my friend Jill Wilson). What I want to cover in this post is BEFORE your child does XYZ, that causes you to search out my advice. And the answer is so easy, yet so hard because it is simply not done very often in our society.

Most of any "problem" a child has is caused by a lack of self-discipline. How does a child have self-discipline?  The key way is to allow your children to just BE. They are then allowed to listen to their own inner cues, which every child has from birth. They do not need adults telling them when and how to do things, it is in the genes. When an adult interferes with this inner guide, the child doubts it and becomes dependent on the adult. Then the child has no choice but to only take external cues, like adults. They have no judgement on their own, it has been usurped by the adult. Children are at a true advantage when they can still follow their inner-guide in their 0-6 years, after that the voice becomes so buried it is difficult to find again (not impossible, just difficult). When a child follows his or her inner guide they are engaged, and engaged children almost never need external discipline. This does not mean abandonment, but adults in a child's life should assume their proper role. A guide (hence, why Montessori teachers are called this).

Here are the main things you can do to foster self-discipline in your child:

-include your child in the runnings of your household, as far as their interests and abilities allow. If you are making dinner, doing laundry, raking leaves, etc, allow help. Children are FAR more interested in doing this than in any toy or television show. Make them responsible for themselves and their actions.

-allow your children to be bored. In their "boredom" they will learn how to occupy themselves. A hugely necessary and undervalued skill.

-allow you child to be heartbroken, to be disappointed, to cry, to not get their way, to struggle and be frustrated, and to be upset with you. Bonus points if you allow them to see you feeling those same things. No person is happy all of the time. Children need to see that emotions, even strong emotions, are ok. By needing to have children that are "happy" (read: never upset) we are signalling to them that that is how life is. They do not learn the valuable skills needed to cope with those feelings and rise above them.

-put yourself on the list. Many parents do not have a minute to themselves because they must always entertain their child. You have my permission to indulge yourself in a shower, maybe even a luxurious bubble bath. Ooo, read a book! Tell your child(ren) that you are taking some time for yourself and while you do they are to be playing. Then do it, mess be darned. If they try to suck you into their play, remind them you are having time to yourself. This will give them the opportunity to HAVE to learn to entertain themselves. CAVEAT: No television permitted. If you have a fenced in backyard have them just be outside playing, set an art studio up in the kitchen (where the tile can be easily cleaned by them). The key here is open ended explorations so that they do not become bored with the activity. If this is a rarity in your house, you may have to wean your children off of being constantly entertained. Start with fifteen minutes and then work your way up. But, if they are still exploring, by all means, do not interrupt. Do not interrupt for anything, including dinner, bedtime, or cuddles. Their inner guide will tell them when they are done and ready to eat/sleep/be cuddled.

-When you are with them, be with them. As much as possible: no phone, internet, iPad, etc. Be present in their world, open to looking at things through their eyes, having new experiences for you too. Play family games, fly a kite, build blanket forts, go on a bike ride, watch a movie together (my dd is going through a Rocky stage with dh right now). The possibilities are endless.

-scrap toys. I know that if you really think about it, your child spends very little time with toys. So get rid of them. They are something that we adults think children like, but they do not occupy children for very long at all. Why? Because children are uninterested in them. Instead, do projects. Sometimes you can join in the fun, sometimes they can do it on their own. These can be from things you have laying around (recycled crafts, anyone?), art projects, or using open-ended more traditional toys such as Legos, Tinker Toys, K'Nex, etc. The general guideline is: if there are batteries or a preset way it is supposed to be played with, scrap it!

-notice television, computers, and other technologies aren't on this list? Talk about not occupying their time! Childrens' brains aren't ready for these until the second plane of development, after age 6. They need more active brain connections, not passive ones. So, if you are not doing it as family time, scrap the technology.

If you follow your child, they will respond. You will see any problems, what we in Montessori call deviations, melt away.

Great blogs about letting children be:
The Boy with No Toys: http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/02/20/the-boy-with-no-toys/)
Be outside (see: http://www.childrenandnature.org/)
The Hands Free Mama: http://www.handsfreemama.com/)