Thursday, April 16, 2009

What age should we start school?

A question from a prospective parent:

When do I feel children should begin school?

How I feel about when children enter school is very dependent upon the home life and the quality of the school. If children are exposed to a Montessori home life (children are self-directed, independence is encouraged, etc), then waiting until they are older, two and a half or so, to enter a true Montessori program is fine. If the home life is not structured in a Montessori way they should begin in a Montessori program earlier, at 18 months or so. This is not a judge of the home life, but children of this age acheive more in life when they are stimulated in the Montessori way at any early age. Montessori is the only scientifically studied method of education. If they are to be going into traditional preschools or daycares, studies have shown that these do not benefit children in the long run (throughout their school years) and the benefits when they enter Kindergarten are slight. Of course, having them in some social settings before Kindergarten is helpful, whether it is playgroups, workshops at museums or zoos, provided that proper social learning/encouragement is provided (which in these types of settings generally needs to be provided by the parents, the workshop facilitators usually do not run this type of interference).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Socialization difficulties

A question from a parent about socialization...

Socialization is one of the hardest things for parents to help with, just because of the nature of the relationship. As parents, we do not want to see our children upset so to ostracize them for inappropriate behavior is difficult for us, even though in a social setting that is what naturally occurs when inappropriate behavior occurs. Also, parents have a relationship with children that is very different from that of peers.

He will naturally pick up social cues from other classmates and with the teachers guiding him. You can help with this. Instead of time-outs, which we do not use in Montessori because it fails to teach any lessons but is a punishment, try asking of him that he treat you and everyone else he comes in contact with the respect that they deserve. When he does not, use an approach that would be more of a natural consequence of that action. For instance, if he spits on you, you refuse to speak to him until he can show better manners. Do not ignore the action, address it and the fact that it is extremely rude and if he is going to do things like that then others will not want to be around him. When he has calmed down you can ask him why he has spat, and help him think of alternatives to the behavior. Did he spit to get your attention? Then suggest he calmly place his hand of your leg to get your attention. If he is spitting just because he thinks it is cool, he can always do appropriate spitting (in the bathroom sink). He may come out of the bathroom when he is done spitting.

He seems to not understand how to enter situations where he wants to interact or wants attention. Instead he is disturbing work or doing inappropriate things to catch attention. This is not a skill children instinctively have, it is a learned skill. Up to this point, these things have gotten the desired attention so he is continuing to do them. He must be taught how to enter these situations. For instance, at home if he wants yours or your husband's attention, he must gain it properly. When he does, may sure you let him know how much you appreciate that. Always model proper behavior for him as well. If you want his attention (or your husband's and vice versa) make sure it is gained in a way that would be appropriate if he was doing the same things.

My child is stealing!

We had a student that was taking things off of the shelves at stores, opening and eating them before purchasing. This was a strategy I suggested to the family, who wanted to do a coupon system for good behavior:

I know you are thinking to do a coupon reward system, and I congratulate you for wanting to see her progression. I would stay away from extrinsic rewards; however, as all the Montessori research (and traditional education research as well) shows that rewards programs actually impede true learning of behaviors. Rather, the children are doing what they need to do for the rewards, without true understanding about the reasons they need to have the proper behavior. Also, behaviors usually revert when the reward is no longer given. Instead, I would suggest a system to help her learn why she needs to have proper behavior. Her reward is the benefit that you find going to the store with her a joyful and fun experience, and she will see that.

Before going to the store, remind her of the expected behavior and why you expect that behavior ("We haven't paid for it yet, and that was not on our shopping list today. Maybe we can put it on the list for next time" (or "that isn't something on our shopping list because it isn't healthy for us"). That way she knows her expectations ahead of time. Eventually she won't need reminded, but while she is still learning the reminders help.

If she does take something off of the shelf, and if you catch that before she opens it, have her return it to the shelf and explain why she has to return it. Say the same things you said before you went into the store to keep consistency in your message.

If she does open it, then you can give her the money to buy it (or you can take money out of her savings from birthday money, etc) and she has to go to the front of the store purchase the item and then she has to give it to the store to throw away. She MUST admit her wrongdoing to the clerk. When she goes home she forfeits a snack because she helped herself to snack at the store.

There seems to be a misunderstanding in her concept of ownership. You can work to explain to her that only things the she buys or are given to her by another are hers. To pay for things she takes she can do chores around the house. This should come before any play time. This should not be things that she should responsible for herself (like making her bed, it is her bed, she should be responsible for making that herself as she is the one sleeping in it, dishes, because she also uses dishes, etc), but things such as making your bed. Things that have nothing to do with the care of herself, but would help you out. Essentially, you would hire her and she can earn the money to pay for her habit.

Outside of the actual occurrences of the behavior, perhaps setting up a "grocery store" at home. She can practice how to take things off of the shelf and then "pay for it" then take it home. Then she can reset and play again. You can also work with her and real money, learning first the different monies (penny, nickel, dime, quarter, dollar) and when that is mastered the values of the monies. This is a pre-kindergarten skill. Allow her to pay when you go shopping, so she can become familiar with the fact that money has to exchange hands before they belong to her.

Finally, be very wary of purchasing treats or gifts when you go to the store. She will then feel entitled to receive something when she goes and this may lead to her taking matters into her own hands when she doesn't (then returning to taking things again, because she feels she should have them).

Baby questions on sleep and other...

I was answering a parent's (5 month old child) question and though I would post the answers I gave her. One was about sleep problems and the other was about just general developmental guidelines. Hope this helps others...

We coslept with our baby from when she was 2 weeks old until just this past Christmas, but I know not every family is up for that. I had never intended to, at birth we had her in a bassinet by our bed but we couldn't get her to sleep for more than an hour at a time. Then one night I had pulled her in bed to feed her and I accidentally fell asleep. She slept through that whole night! Voila, a family bed was born! There is a great book about sleeping, Elizabeth Pantley's The No-Cry Sleep Solution (she has a for babies version and a for toddlers and preschoolers version). I would suggest reading through that to find the solution that fits your family best. It coveres almost every sleep problem that is not medically related. It also covers naptimes. If you decide to cosleep there is a great book, Sleeping with Your Baby: A Parent's Guide to Cosleeping. It goes over all of the dos and dont's. I used both of these. Good luck! One thing to keep in mind is that at this age you still can't spoil him, so I would go ahead and provide the comfort he needs.

At five months they are starting to do such cool things! Definitely provide him with an abundance of the things he is interested in, whether it is looking in boxes, balls, whatever (not necessarily store bought things, they usually prefer things that are already in their environment). Try to have him be as much a part of your lives as possible. By this I mean keeping him at conversation level, or bringing conversation level down to him. Social skills and vocabulary develops much more quickly when they are "incuded" in the conversation. You could be talking about nuclear physics, but if you look at him and let him have turns babbling back to you it teaches him how conversations happens. It is much better for them than looking at adults' feet all day. Dr. Montessori discovered this when she was with a baby who was crying while the adults were conversing. As an experiment she "included" him in the discussion and he was instantly soothed. Because the warm weather is coming it is great to try and get him outside as much as possible. Dr. Montessori found that when children are connected with the natural world learning comes at a faster rate, she surmised because they are fasinated about what is in their world and want to explore and discover what is happening there.