Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Montessori Home-schooling and You

Thank you to Ivy, who writes this in the comment area.  I think it should be put to you readers broadly, as it is a topic of much discussion these days.  I hope you'll post opinions.

... what do you think about homeschooling Montessori-style? Does it work, or is it a contradiction of terms? With respect to practical life curriculum, I don't see why not. Also, art, math, literature, etc. curricula could be covered by an intelligent adult, no? I stumbled upon your discipline blog, and the statement that the Montessori method relies on peer pressure for normalizing stuck in my mind. Does this mean that a group of kids is necessary for what seems to be a very important ingredient of the learning that goes on in a Montessori environment? And further, I wonder, if peer pressure is considered to be a key influencer, what does this imply for individuality? The thing I regret most from my childhood was in fact the concept of wanting, no, needing to be like others in my group. This worked great in terms of discipline, but not so great in terms of self-esteem. In my teenage years I struggled with the idea of being "average" and did my best to live that down. Luckily, most of the time these efforts were productive, rather than destructive, but it could have gone the other way.

I have a certain bias toward a school model for several reasons.  I believe in school for kids older than two, and I think Maria Montessori did, too.  I come from a school-based model and a school-based training.  I suppose it is possible to find a training program that prepares Montessori teachers for home-schooling, but I don't know of any.  (Do you?  Did anyone train in one?)

The particular problem I would expect, though, is mostly one of creating an appropriate context.  The Montessori classroom is necessarily a space apart, especially "for the children".  It does seem a contradiction in terms to have a "children's house" within the confines of the "family house" and operating within the family relationship dynamic.  I would think it would be very hard to create such an environment--with the necessary level of remove on the part of the adult--within the family unit.   I guess the point is that it is necessary for the child to be very independent of the adult, and especially of the adult's desires and opinions, for a true "Montessori" class to emerge, and it's hard for me to imagine a small child-- whose life, well being, and sense of worth are all utterly intertwined with those of her parents-- being able to isolate her goals effectively from the goals of the parent (to say nothing of the parent's ability to do the same) to a degree that the kind of motivational independence we aim for in a Montessori environment is achieved at home.

I DO think that a Montessori environment can be achieved at home for children two years old and under, because that early time is one of bonding and forming attachments to significant adults, who should optimally (according to Montessori herself) be the parents.  The Montessori infant/toddler classroom, however you come down on the particulars,  really attempts to re-create such attachments in a group setting while preparing the child for greater independence--which the parent would naturally be doing also.  There is not so much separation expected in these very early years.  The primary curriculum, however, is built on a school model.

This is not to say that Montessori philosophy can't be used at home.  In fact, it has to be for the school program to be optimized.  However, what Montessori schools ask of parents is not more Montessori school at home, but reinforcement of principles in a family context, which is not at all the same experience, even if the ultimate goals are one.  I do see the difficulty with the idea of "normalizing" a child at home--the one place in the world where every child should be made to feel special, and be allowed to need to be treated specially.  Children at home should be showered with affection (I think), and should be exuberantly loved above all others, but this is not really the optimal Montessori teacher-child relationship in school.

I know that many readers are doing Montessori-style home school, and are having success, so please tell me how you do it?   What does it look like?  What is the same?  What is different?  What is easy?  What is hard?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Angel-Human Continuum: The Nuvian Theory of Existential Continuity

Yes, this is a bit off-Montessori, but I couldn't resist posting--at the suggestion of one of our more dedicated lurkers--about Nuvy's Angel-Human life cycle theory, hereafter referred to as NTEC (the Nuvian Theory of Existential Continuity)

According to NTEC, human entities exist at all times as either Angel or Human.  Which form is the ground state has not, at the time of writing, been identified.  Angel-form populations and Human-form populations intersect at critical periods of life, called "birth" and "death". 

"Birth," according to NTEC, is defined as the transition from Angel form to Human form.  This transition occurs at a specific point in time (the time of birth), and space (the vagina--she is quite specific on the anatomical point-- of the human mother).  No mention has yet been made of Caesarian births, but these can be easily assumed.  All human beings are angels until they pass through the mother's body (at the specified point), and become human. 

"Death," similarly, is defined as the transtion from Human form to Angel form.   The leaving transition, viewed as it is from the human perspective, seems more variable than birth, but she readily allows that, on the angel side, the appearance may be similarly skewed to regular entry, followed by varied circumstances of exit.

Hazards to the family unit have been identified during transition, so that it is imperative that all angel-form family members remain in close contact post-death, to ensure that timely births maintain the family structure.  Provisions must also be made for the house and personal effects of the dead (angels), to ensure that those effects are not misappropriated to other living humans during the absence (angelhood) of the family.  This is of the utmost importance if family continuity is to be achieved.

It is of further interest that angels must be carefully differentiated from fairies (small, humanoid creatures that exist in the human geometry but just outside the spatial-temporal plane of humanity).  This is important to note as there may be, at times (often at the edges of sleep, or in shadowed doorways), angel-human or fairy-human proximity sufficient to produce sensory phenomena.   Angels and fairies are easily differentiated, even with relatively little training, by wing structure.  Angels are possessed of feathered wings, much like those of a bird, which are sufficiently sturdy to support flight in normal-human-sized organisms.  Fairies, on the other hand, have membranous wings more like those of an insect.  The obvious physical limitations of such wings may point us to reasons for their small stature.

The duration and experiential specifics of the angel-form phase remain opaque, and will perhaps be the subject of future discussions.  There was also something in there about diamonds, and a persistent interest in Van Eyck's depictions of angels.  Perhaps for another post.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mat Sat! Sam Sat!: What to do with Bob Books

Nuvy Sat.  Nuvy read Bob books.  Mom and Dad Sat And Tapped.
 Why are Bob books so awfully dull?
When the first Bob book came home, I was reminded of all the parents who didn't understand how we use Bob books at school.  They would say "why did you send this one home?  She can read this one already!  Please send home a new book for us to work on."
We didn't, and your child's teacher probably won't either, because that is not what Bob books are for.  If you want to read with your child at home, and I hope you do, pick a nice story you both enjoy and read it.  When the Bob books (or Mac and Tab) come home, they are for showing off mastered reading skills--not for homework, and parent, be glad!
See, Bob books are boring as hell to read, but they are an awesome reading diagnostic tool.  The teacher can tell if your child is associating the right sounds with letters, and can make other assessments about your child's reading by going through the bob books, but we don't use them to "teach" children to read.  The rest of the curriculum does that.  The books are just there to show us how we're doing, and help us find any problems. Bob books are designed to strip down narrative as much as possible, so that there is some sense to the sounds, but that's all.  The pictures help the child self-correct, but are not overly engaging, so as not to compete too much with the text for attention.  We send them home because your child is proud of her accomplishment, and wants to share it with you!
When a Bob book comes home, the thing to do is listen to your child as she reads it, and thank her for sharing the story with you.  She might make mistakes, but you needn't correct her.  She's learning to read!  Feel free to be amazed!!
In short, please do not, when "Mat" comes home for the first time, go out and buy all the Bob books and push your child to read them all through.  This is a recipe for frustration on all sides, and probably not a good way to encourage a love for reading.  She will read them all in time, and probably less time than you think.  Instead, read books you love together.  Read poetry!  Read comic books!  Let your child see how much fun written words can be. 

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pastries of Mass Destruction: the V-III

Van is three.  This is his red-eyed tree frog cake.  When I asked him what kind of cake he wanted, he said "I want a frog cake", so that's what he had.

I gave up the fondant for buttercream, which is not as pretty, but much yummier.  For birthday cake bakers, I'll tell you.  It's one stick of butter for every cup of confectioner's sugar, blend it together (easy going--speed kills) and flavor it with whatever you like.  With this recipe, you can tell Duncan Hines to go to hell.

The frogs are marzipan, and he ate every one.  The boy does love marzipan. 

Monday, December 06, 2010

Slate on Tummy Time

The folks at Slate wrote an article on why babies need more tummy time. In short, they're missing milestones because they are placed on their backs to sleep and mothers don't put them on their tummies at all.

There are plenty of comments about evolution, chemicals in bedding made in china, how nature made us co-sleepers so we wouldn't facilitate dingoes eating babies, "This article is spot on!", "This article is crap!", "Doctors are idiots!", "Mothers are idiots!"

Pretty much exactly what you would expect.

I'm still waiting for someone to say what I always say...

Why don't you take him out of the automatic baby swing with the spinning toys hanging eight inches in front of his face, put him on the floor, back or tummy, whichever makes him happier (I have a guess!) for a few minutes at a time, and see if he doesn't start trying to check off the boxes on your milestone chart?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Elizabeth Grievium

"I have a very funny number I will tell you about. 'Elizabeth Grievium', that's the name of the number at the end of forever."
--Nuvy, at bedtime, December 1, 2010

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Owning Turf vs. Making an Entrance

Why are teachers so hell bent on everyone getting to school on time? Also, as we recently learned, there's "on time" and there's On Time. The difference can be amazing for some kids (er... like my kid.)

At our house, morning dropoff is a finely calibrated machine. Nuvy's school has a car line between 8:00 and 8:15. Van's school, 10 minutes' drive away, has an early-drop off time of 8:30. (why so late? It's a co-op, which usually means at least one parent--or the au pair girl--is at home with the kids in the morning. Families with two early morning workdays and no nanny need not apply.)

My habit, until recently, had been to get Nuvy to school at the tail end of car line, then swing around and be the first kid to show up at Van's school. Sounds good, right? Like clockwork. Then we had parent-teacher conferences with Nuvy's teacher.

Nuvy, it seems, was very interested in socializing during morning worktime, and less interested in working. Further, she seemed a little insecure about challenging herself at school, and tended to need an audience to support her and motivate her, which disrupted the work of her friends. She had trouble finishing assignments (witness a stack of unfinished picture stories). In teacher speak, this roughly translates to, "your kid is bright and sociable, but unmotivated, and is disrupting our class." Her teacher and I discussed various strategies for motivating and supporting her, including language that demonstrated how much we value her choosing challenging work. The teacher seemed genuinely perplexed, as was I, about how this smart, engaged child could be so academically scattered.

Then I thought about her mornings. Was she eating the right foods before school? Was she adequately prepared? Was it all that TV? Then it occurred to me--she is a latecomer. Every morning she misses, not just 15 minutes of playtime in the morning, but the chance to ground herself at school before worktime begins.

I am, sadly, a habitual latecomer. I am not early for many things in life. I push deadlines, meeting times, theater curtains, everything. I often enter rooms filled with people who are already doing something when I arrive. I am used to making an entrance--being greeted by a crowd--and transitioning into whatever is already in progress. I realize now that this dynamic is not working for Nuvy. So, I have started taking her in 10-15 minutes earlier, and arriving at Van's school annoyingly early.

She is, by all accounts, a new child. She greets her friends in the morning, one by one as they arrive-- whereas before, she came in to a gaggle of children and seemed to behave in an outsized way to announce herself. This more measured approach to social life seems to be carrying through for her during the day. She is still sociable, but seems more confident at school, and more open to academic challenges.

Amazing what 15 minutes can do!!