Tuesday, July 28, 2009

what do you do when they just want to touch everything?

I'll keep it short on this one, but I invite you all to give us suggestions--especially all the teachers out there. A reader asked this about the handwashing lesson, and this is such a good question, I had to get into it. I want to give the handwashing lesson, but my child just wants to play in the water and touch everything! What do I do?
One of the challenges of a home environment, is that it is more than a carefully constructed children's environment, it is YOUR environment. Everyone in your house has to live there, and chances are, everyone in your house will not, at all times, conduct himself or herself in the manner of an astute Montessori teacher. This will, of course, have implications for your child's interaction with household materials.
Raise your hand if this has yet to become apparent to you. That's pretty much what I suspected.
This is hard, especially at home, because our ambitions for our children's independence often have more complex motivations than their schoolteacher's would. Montessori teachers invite the children to discover new and wonderful things they can do on their own. WE want them to be able to do things for themselves that will otherwise have to be done for them. Their teacher has the luxury of inviting them to explore a world that is all their own, where WE are inviting them to explore OUR world--a world made by us, for us, and into which we have brought them. It's not wrong, it's just different, and I think you have to respect that difference, and understand that it is going to alter your ability to be your own child's Montessori teacher. So, in short, adjust your expectations for Montessori lessons at home. Teach your child to do the things you do at home, in the way you do them at home. Unless you are homeschooling, leave the academic lessons at school, and create enrichments in your home environment. The magic of Montessori school is, in part, that everything there is just for the child. If it is at home, it is also for Mommy/Daddy/Brother/Sister, and so a little of the glitter falls away, see? But on to handwashing, which I think can and should be done at home, along with much of the practical life curriculum.
I don't know if this will help or not, but I think that if the child just wants to touch everything instead of observing the lesson, the lesson is being given at the wrong time. Handwashing is complicated. If the child wants to play with water but can't make it all the way through handwashing, I think you should try a simpler water lesson. Transferring with a sponge is a favorite of mine for manipulating water. Be sure you set it up on a rugged surface, and on a towel. The eyedropper lesson is a nice one, the work is detailed, and the instructions are short.
if you don't know the eyedropper lesson, it is this:
tiny pitcher or vessel for water (maybe the jar the pipette came in?)
rubber soap holder (you know, the one with the little suction-cup thingies on it?)
small eyedropper or pipette.
tiny sponge
on top of the tray goes the placemat. arranged from left to right are:
soap holder
water is drawn from water source into the vessel and is returned to the table (it should be a really tiny, transparent vessel. you do not need a lot of water for this. The water is drawn from the vessel into the pipette, and transferred, drop-by-drop, onto the little cups of the soap holder. When all of the cups are filled, the water is removed from them with the sponge. The child repeats this until he is satisfied, then the work is put away.
anybody who would be willing to post a picture of this from your album? Please do!
Remember, handwashing is complicated. It's a big lesson. If you are doing handwashing, pick a time when your child is really ready. Otherwise, help her wash her hands according to the procedure, and don't try to give the lesson. It'll just frustrate you both. Start smaller.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Surprising Quirks of Dr. Montessori: She was into AP!

Move over, Dr. Montanaro, Dr. Montessori is IN!

I'm not sure where I've been all this time, but it sure wasn't reading Montessori's chapter on "The First Days of Life" in The Absorbent Mind.

I remember this chapter being sort of glossed-over in my infant-toddler training. As I recall, it was glossed over in no more than a few sentences, something to the effect that, "Montessori clearly believed that the first two years of life should ideally be spent with the mother. However, as we are charged with the care of children under two, we believe that this is the next best thing." The only further information about extended nursing and babywearing was from Montanaro and others writing after. The admonitions to wean at the first sign of readiness for other food, and against wearing the child in a "contraption" seem directly at odds with Montessori's sentiments in The Absorbent Mind. I'll pull a few choice quotes for you.

Montessori discusses "the many peoples of the world who live at different cultural levels from our own (eek)." She states that, " In the matter of child rearing, almost all of these seem to be more enlightened than ourselves--with all our Western ultramodern ideals. Nowhere else, in fact, do we find children treated in a fashion so opposed to their natural needs."

Elevating the "primitives." This is getting interesting...

She goes on to say,

"In almost all countries, the baby accompanies his mother wherever she goes. Mother and child are inseparable. All the while they are out together, mother talks and baby listens....And this lasts for the whole period of maternal feeding, which is the reason for this close alliance. For the mother has to feed her child, and therefore she cannot leave him at home when she goes out. To this need for food is added their mutual fondness and love. In this way, the child's need for nutrition, and the love that unites these two beings, both combine in solving the problem of the child's adaptation to the world, and this happens in the most natural way possible. Mother and child are one. Except where civilization has broken down this custom, no mother ever entrusts her child to someone else. The child shares the mother's life, and is always listening."

Well, knock me over with a feather! I mean, yes, you did say that Montessori believed mothers should be with their babies and all, but certainly she would not go in for such primitive practices as babywearing and extended nursing, right?


"All the great human groups, nations and races, have their individual differences; for example they have different ways of carrying the baby....In most parts of the world, mothers put the baby in a small bed or a large bag, they do not carry him in their arms...some hang the child from their necks, others tie him to their backs, and others again put him in a small basket; but in all countries mothers have found a way of taking their children about with them."

Now before you say that Montessori is just reporting that all this primitive business goes on and is not really advocating it, I submit to you this:

"One observes, too, that the little one, going about with his mother, never cries unless he is ill or hurt in some way. Sometimes he may fall asleep, but he does not cry....Yet the crying of children is a problem in Western countries. How often do we hear parents complain of their children's incessant crying? They discuss what to do to quieten the baby, and how to keep him happy. The reply of modern psychology is this: "the baby cries and becomes disturbed, has screaming fits and rages, because he is suffering from mental hunger." And this is the truth. The child is bored. He is being mentally starved, kept prisoner in a confined space, offered nothing but frustration to the exercise of his powers. The only remedy is to release him from solitude and let him join in social life. this treatment is naturally and unconsciously adopted in many countries. With us, it must become understood and applied deliberately, as a result of conscious thought."

Of course, this is only the babywearing part. I feel validated in my decision to go against my training and wear my little babies. But my favorite part is Montessori's distinctly non-judgmental view of the late weaners:

"Another point is the custom of prolonging the period of maternal feeding. sometimes this lasts for a year and a half; sometimes for two, or even three years. This has nothing to do with the child's nutritional needs, because for some time he has been able to assimilate other kinds of food; but prolonged lactation requires the mother to remain with her child, and this satisfies her unconscious need to give her offspring the help of a full social life on which to construct his mind...watch how his face lights up when his mother argues at a booth about the price of fruit. You will readily see what a depth of interest the words and gestures arouse in him."

Why have I missed this before? Can it be that Montessori herself is more aligned with the Dr. Sears set than with her own proponents in Montanaro, Gerber, and all the rest? Or is it that she holds up these examples as lofty ideals, to which real western women of certain means or ambition should look for inspiration, rather than as concrete examples of how to get by without wet nurses.

Is it that Montessori's actual ideas on infant life are at odds with the idea of women in the professional workplace? There's a real dilemma. I can see where that would present a problem, particularly for people trying to organize child care for women who choose not to live according to Montessori's "natural" ideal of mother-child unity. Clearly, as a professional woman herself, she would have advocated some kind of compromise, and might even have made some outline for how that should look. I do think it's interesting, if this were the case, that the pendulum has swung so far the other way as to suggest that to wear a baby around in a sling, or to wean later 9 months of age is to compromise the child's progress toward independence. Call me crazy, but did I not just read that Montessori herself held these practices up as not only acceptable, but superior?

Somebody please straighten me out on this! I'm starting to think that Dr. Montessori wants me to wear my baby and nurse him as long as I want!!

Also, thanks to Chris for backing me up on the tummy time thing. (comments on "Motomontessori"). This comment is a really interesting developmental perspective from someone who deals with musculoskeletal problems in adults. It agrees with both my training and my instinct. Boy, I was beginning to feel a little lonely out here...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Ciao Time! The Montessori Table

The weaning post precipitated some discussion about Montessori and food. As with just about everything else, Montessori has pretty strong opinions about how children ought to eat.

This is not a post about table setting, at least not yet, but about Montessori's ideas about food. NOLA mom remembered "something about broth"--which I had to look up. What I found was a really nice article by Jan Katzen-Luchenta detailing Montessori's writing on the subject.

She points out what preschool teachers have noticed for as long as I can remember, that the kid who's bouncing off the walls in your class is very likely the one who had a Pop Tart for breakfast, and the one who's focused and busy is likely to be the one who had an egg. The one who's a puddle of tears by 10am is often the one who woke up late that morning and came to school on an empty stomach.

At the time of weaning, Montessori points out, it is important to make sure there is adequate fat in the child's diet as breast milk is removed. Breast milk is very fatty, as we know, and Montessori worried about crashing levels of fat in the child's body at weaning time. (Nice segue, eh?)

I am a big believer in this, and I have often peered into children's lunchboxes when looking for the causes of behavior problems. As Katzen-Luchenta repeats: you are what you eat. This is true in a big way for kids, in my opinion.

Want some more of my opinions about kids' nutrition? Here they are.

I think that the uptick in preschool ADD/ADHD diagnoses based on school behavior (I don't mean the real ADHD kids, I mean the regular kids who are being called ADHD. I realize there is a big difference), can be attributed to two things: 1)the marketing explosion surrounding sugary breakfast foods and quickie substitutes for real breakfast and 2) the conflation by parents of the fear of childhood obesity and the idea the eating fat is what makes you fat. In my opinion, and the opinions of many nutrition specialists, kids need fat in ways that adults do not, and use it differently in metabolism. Building a body is not the same job as maintaining one, and so does not require the same raw materials. Kids need to eat fat. Fat slows stomach clearing, provides the metabolic precursors to myelin, a critical part of brain development, and helps stabilize blood sugar. Yes, your body can make fat out of sugar, but it's not the same, and eliminating fat from a child's diet alters the whole schedule of the body's metabolism, and in a way that makes the child less likely to conform to what we usually consider an appropriate eating schedule.

Montessori's "thing about the broth" was the suggestion that fat should be added to broth made for children, rather than removed. She observed (like we all do) that people are born predisposed to eat sweet things and salty things, and she cautions that many of the things that satisfy these cravings (refined sugar candies, salty pretzels) will immediately satisfy the child's hunger, but will not help the child to be stable in mood, and focused in her work. She considered it a real disservice to the child to feed him improperly, and thus to set him up for failure in his work--a failure caused by an inability to concentrate due to unstable blood chemistry. I can find little reason to disagree.

So what about childhood obesity? Are we supposed to feed our kids cheesecake and fried chicken every day and expect them to grow up to make healthy food choices? No, but this is not really as far off the mark in my view as you might think.

First, I think we can all agree that overeating and underactivity are the fundamental causes of overweight in everyone--but here, especially children. Young children are still following their bodies' signals to eat, and we pretty much agree that they should be allowed to eat when hungry and be given adequate opportunity for physical activity. So tell me what you think of this:

If the fat content of a child's diet is inadequate, her blood sugar (and the associated signalling chemicals) will be unstable and will cause the child's period of satiety to be shorter than normal. Thus, the child will feel the need to eat more frequently. If the child feels the need to eat frequently, and is given calorie-rich, but fat-poor foods (how many "fat free" snacks are available in the supermarket these days?), the child will end up eating more calories than she needs, and will gain excess weight. Couple that with a few hours of screen time every day, and you can see where you're headed. Fatty foods in a child's diet help the child develop better eating habits.

Can you believe it?

A child who has eaten a fat-rich meal (something with cheese or cream in it) will stay full longer, and in a better mood longer. Now, watch me tie this to ADHD. Ready?

Remember when your kid was a little baby, and all the baby books said "crying is a late sign of hunger." What they meant was that, if your kid is crying from hunger, you have missed some earlier signals, and now your baby is REALLY hungry. Anyone remember the "early" sign you were supposed to look for?

Right. Heightened alertness, increased activity, irritability. I believe that was the order. These are early signs of hunger in children. They are nature's way of inducing the body to get up from whatever else it's doing and feed itself, and they come on before the child is able to articulate that what she needs is to eat. If the other thing it's doing is, say, school activities, and food is not offered, that extra activity will be seen in other ways. Things we would consider misbehavior, lack of focus, hyperactivity.

I rest my case.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Crisis of Weaning

So, it's come down to this. My dear, sweet, beautiful boy has got to be weaned if he's to live to see his second birthday. Van, alas, is a nipple biter. It's fun to bite them, and funny to have Mommy scream "ouch!" and push him away by his face (yes, I know the smother-him-with-your-boob trick, but when I tried this with Van, he nearly bit it clean off.) This is not the loving, respectful interaction I always imagined.

As many of you know, we have, to date, been living the joy that is tandem nursing. If you want to know my opinion about tandem nursing, it's don't do it. Friends, I have loved, and do sometimes still love, nursing my children. It's sweet, snuggly, and oh so convenient, but I must tell you that after three years plus of nursing, and a year and a quarter of nursing two, a lot of the time I just wish the little parasites would let me go. If you're enjoying your tandem nursing experience, please let me and everyone else know how you did it. I'll raise my glass to you. If know what I mean when I say I want to go hide somewhere where nobody is touching me, you can come over here and sit by me (but not too close!). If you're knocked up and on the fence about this, my humble advice is to wean the first one while your milk is out. You'll be supermom anyway. Trust me.

La Leche League Ladies, I love you, and I love your work. I'm just saying...

And yes, I know Montessori is outwardly opposed to extended nursing. Nursing past about 9 months, according to Montessori and Silvana Montanaro (Understanding the Human Being--my post about it here) prolongs the child's dependence on the mother unnecessarily, and both agree that weaning to a cup should take place immediately after solid foods are introduced, I don't know if I would go that far. Montessori was weaning orphans from a bottle, and Montanaro extrapolates this to weaning a baby from the breast. I do think there is some emotional bonding that occurs after 9 months for extended nursers that is valuable, even if it's not indispensible. So, while I have already made several posts as an extended nursing apologist, the time has finally come for me to cry "uncle".

So here I am ready to sit down across the table from Drs. Montessori and Montanaro for another crow sandwich and a slice of humble pie. As I've quoted before, Montanaro asserts that we late weaners hang onto nursing out of fear that that children will take off into the environment and leave us, unneeded and cast-off, in a corner somewhere to wither and die. I must admit that I live with another fear: I am afraid of the hell my peaceful house will be with two screaming weaners in it. Patience with shrieking infants is not something that comes naturally to me. That, fundamentally, has been the driving force behind my extended nursing. There is a lot I am willing to do for peace in the house.
I left off the last paragraph at least three weeks ago, and we are still nursing--all three of us. Peace reigns, more or less, and we have sort of worked out a way around the biting. Even now, in my better mood, I would caution all you girls who are pregnant with a second one and still nursing the first, this is no small feat, nursing two. I'm doing it now, but I would have done it differently. We'll continue to work the wean in our own way, and if it's ever done, I'll let you know. The minute...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Montessori and The Two Week Shark Tale Marathon

So, after all that static about TV, we have a TV crisis.

It started on a rainy afternoon when the babysitter had called off or something, and Nuvy said, innocently (or so I thought), "Maybe I could ask T.T. (next door neighbor--9 years old) to come over and watch Shark Tale. Can I, Mommy?

T.T. and I hang out a lot together. She comes over to bake, borrow cups of olive oil, make macaroni and cheese, clean mirrors (her favorite housekeeping task, and one that never even comes up on my radar unless T.T. is around). All very Montessori-friendly activities. So, I thought, "I won't fight her on this one. A little cartoon movie won't hurt anything, and we'll be back to making braided breads tomorrow." That's how it started. After they watched it, I turned off the TV and they went up to the playroom to make imaginary tea or write on the chalkboard or something, and I thought everything was copacetic.

Heh. Don't ever think that.

It crept in on little cat's feet. We went out to dinner and left the kids with the babysitter, came home and they were watching Shark Tale. Then I went to yoga (repeatedly), came home, Shark Tale was on (every time). Some days I turned it off and endured the screaming long enough to find a book or some other activity, some days I made a few phone calls and looked the other way. Then, about a week ago, the bottom dropped out.

We have had the plague at our house for about a week. Everybody got snotty noses, junky coughs, high fevers and secondary infections. In short, it was the sort of thing that nailed our feet to the floor. Between doses of Tylenol and Motrin, I thought, Hey! We have a copy of Shark Tale, and Nuvy's sick and entitled to a little indulgence, so I'll prop her up on the couch and pop it in the DVR and presto! Some healthy cartoon entertainment for a feverish three-year-old. (We actually have a long and checkered history with Shark Tale, starting, as so many tumultous relationships do, in the back of my Mom's car.)

Nuvy watched Shark tale four times that day, Then four times the next day, then, for the rest of her illness, we pretty much had it on a continuous loop. I felt sick, but Nuvy felt sicker, and this was keeping her entertained and distracted both of us from her misery. After three days of straight Shark Tales, I started to worry that I was scrambling her brain, but my Montessori logic bent and twisted so as to hold up even in the face of this insult. I reasoned (rationalized?) that, as we all know, repetition is very important to 3-year-olds in the Montessori classroom. She was clearly working through something with the endless repetition of this show, so I decided I would not introduce any other TV, and I would not try to dissuade her from watching it over and over. I would wait her out. Nobody can watch the same show over and over forever, right?

On the fourth day, an interesting thing happened. She stopped just watching. She insisted that I sit with her, and was suddenly full of questions about the motivations of all the characters. She asked who was good and who was bad, and why, why, why at every line of dialogue. After a day of this, She started asking to replay certain segments that particularly interested her. She was especially fond of the part where Lola (the Angelina Jolie fish) enters the movie with a sort of pole-dance/MTV sex appeal, to the tune of "Golddigger" ("She's dangerous/super-bad/better watch out she'll take your cash/she's a golddigger/she's a golddigger), which our neighbor, Destiny (15) helpfully sat with her and replayed for--well, I don't know how long, but a long time. I found it interesting that she so fixated on the sparkly, red, icon of cartoon feminine identity that was the sexy golddigger fish. I don't even read Vogue magazine around her.

Yesterday, her last day home sick from school and a snow day to boot, I watched one round of Shark Tale with her, and was stunned to find that she accompanied each scene with her own little discourse on what was happening and why. "Frankie's bad because he wants to eat Oscar./Lenny is sad because the anchor fell on his brother and he died/Leno is mad because Lenny is not a good shark, but Lenny IS good, because he doesn't eat people!/the worm is scared because he thinks Lenny is going to eat him, but Lenny will not eat him because Lenny is nice and doesn't eat anyone/Lola is mad because Oscar loves Angie. She is bad, but Angie is good). She did this all through the movie.

Where she still seems confused, even now that Amoxicillin has made everyone feel better, she went to school, (we only saw the movie once today. Let's call it a wean) is with the character, Luca the Octopus-who is the Don's sidekick (comes in for schtick-y things like picking up the phone to order a pizza during a threatening call, or mistakenly replaces the creepy godfather music with "I like big butts" in a scene where the big shark is talking tough to an underling). Nuvy just cannot get her head around what is funny about an incompetent and laughable henchman, who undermines all the Don's intimidation tactics. I am at a loss to help her understand this subtlety, and it frustrates her.

They say there's a lesson in everything...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Horse of a Different Color

I wanted to do that thing that you're not supposed to do in this post--in all the infant developmental posts, really--compare your children to each other. I wanted to do it in a sort of academic way, rather than in a "why can't you be more like your brother/sister" way. In that spirit, Van is a horse of a different color (I know they look the same color to you: very, very vanilla, but they have vastly various flavors on the inside!)

Van's 14 months old, and I posted about Nuvy's development during this stage , but sparsely. By the time I got her all posted, she had largely outgrown the stage. Now that Van is in early Stage 5 (stage 5 is 12-18 months), I want to take the opportunity to explore this stage more fully.

Reading my previous post on this stage (link above), I can see that I missed a lot of the emergence of skills in my writing about her. Let's take a look at Van:

Neurological and Physical Development:

Significant specialization occurs in all areas the brain at Stage 5, and of particular interest is the specialization of the hemispheres (the old "left-brain/right-brain" thing all those Signals t-shirts are always chirping about). This specialization and coordination between hemispheres precipitates:

evidence of hand-dominance ("lefty" or "righty")

Van is still pretty ambidextrous, but seems to lean more left than Nuvy ever did. Interestingly, he picks up finger foods with the left, but will move the spoon to his right.

heterolateral movement--

meaning alternating movement evenly on both sides of the body, such as stair-climbing with both legs, swinging arms while walking, and other left/right/left/right activities.

Van does not yet walk, but he climbs stairs and swings his legs alternately. His crawling is rhythmic and even, very different from the one-legged crab crawl Nuvy had from the very beginning of her crawling.


or the ability to reach across the center of the body to do something, like shaking hands, opening doors, or grabbing a spoon from the left side of your plate, using your right hand. Follow?

he is beginning to do some definitely diagnostic cross-patterning things. He has a wagon and a shopping cart, both of which he likes to push, and he can now maneuver himself, hand-over-hand from the front of the wagon around to the back where the bar is, for the purpose of pushing it.

Cycles of activity are getting established, and with this come the old sleeping and eating routines. You might get some speech at this stage, but many times it comes a little later.

With Van, we are having more trouble with sleep than we had with Nuvy. Maybe that's it, or maybe I'm more sleep-deprived now, having TWO children who don't sleep through the night, but there are some marked differences, and some remarkable similarities. Both children take substantial daytime naps. If I'm lucky, they'll both sleep for two hours at the same time!

The big disadvantage with Van is that he does not suck his thumb. I didn't give him a pacifier (by which I mean, I AM his pacifier), and I started nursing him to sleep very early. This is a big no-no, I know, and I also know first hand why. I had some excuse I used when he was very little, and still on Phenobarbital (anti-convulsant from his peri-natal rough patch. He doesn't need any seizure medication anymore, and has not had seizures since we left the hospital a week after his birth), which interrupted his sleep. So, for whatever reasons, he still does not sleep through the night, and I still nurse him down a couple of times between midnight and 5am.

Their eating patterns are similar for the age: She also refused breakfast at his age, and she also went on a three month blueberry binge, after which she would not touch a blueberry for almost a year. Van has recently ended his blueberry binge. He has also, generally, started eating less. End of a growth spurt, as I understand.

New Physical Skills

undressing--a variably convenient skill for parents. Van is still pretty much limited to hats, socks and shoes, though he "helps" when I'm undressing him.
walking steadily and carrying objects while walking

opening and closing things (doors, jars, boxes...)
I had forgotten about this one. Man does he like to open and unpack things. His particular obsession right now is a tube of peachy-pink sparkly lip gloss with some minty/orangy flavor and ostensible lip-plumping properties. I think he likes how it makes his tongue feel like it's asleep. I like champagne for the same reason.

resisting any new barriers--such as newly placed baby gates.
Kent is going to test this theory this weekend by installing a new gate on the stairs from the second to the third level of our house. I will spare you the details of how I broke the other one, but my excuse is sleep deprivation.

Stage 5 children abhor any kind of physical restraint, so if it's not too late for you, go ahead and get those baby gates up long before you think you'll need them. A barrier placed before Stage 5 is likely to be viewed as a natural part of the environment (at least for a little while) while one placed during Stage 5 will probably become an object of resistance.

jumping on both feet -- not yet, he's still not walking.

catching and throwing things -- He does have a pretty good arm. As I recall, Nuvy did, too.

leaning forward on tiptoe -- another walking skill we haven't achieved yet.

digging and building -- he stacks and builds much more than his sister did. I haven't observed a whole lot of digging, but it is the dead of winter...

Van is also an avid self-feeder. He does not much go for the spoon anymore. He really wants to feed himself, but hasn't had much success navigating the spoon to his mouth, unless it's peanut butter or mashed potatoes. So, he quickly digs in with his hands, abandoning spoons altogether. He does seem more interested in spearing things with a fork than I remember with his sister. Perhaps it's because I was less willing to let her play with forks at this age...

Cognitive Development

An interesting cognitive milestone is reached at about this time--the Stage 5 child begins to learn from trial and error, and to alter her strategy to accomplish a goal. If she has a goal, and her current strategy for reaching it isn't working, she'll try it another way. Just a few months ago, she would keep trying the same thing over and over until she either succeeded or abandoned the goal altogether.

She can also go back to an interrupted task--another development that is variably useful for parents--at her next opportunity. Just a little while ago, she would have forgotten all about the interrupted activity and gone on to something else.

Repetition continues to be important, but the sequences become more and more comples, so you see building and stacking. She is gratified by creating tall things or lifting heavy things. She can identify familiar objects and people in a picture, and can categorize based on a simple common feature (e.g. same color, different color).

We are seeing the persistence at a task, but not so much the sorting and categorizing. He does seem to recognize pictures, but it's hard to tell what he's identifying, as he's not demonstrating much expressive language yet. He does delight in familiar books and pictures, though, so I'm confident he's recognizing things.

Emotional and Social Development

The Stage 5 child's interpersonal skills acquire remerkable subtlety. She starts to consciously regulate her emotions, and realizes the influence her behavior has on others--particularly her parents. She can curb her anger if there's positive incentive to do so, tests limits, and enjoys applause. She loves an audience and tries on various roles to see how they feel.

We are seeing this kind of behavior with Van to a degree, although he seems generally more committed to his emotions than Nuvy did. He seems somehow less distractable.

She has a strong sense of self and ownership. She can take turns to some degree, but is a long way yet from sharing. She begins to take an interest in other children, often preferring them to adults.

This is definitely evident in my experience with Van. He likes to pass things back and forth, "sharing" in his way, but only on his own terms. He absolutely loves our neighbors' children (9 and 15 respectively) and adores his baby cousin, Gracie.

Speech is emerging, and she will name things and remember their names. She experiments vocally with animal sounds and rhythms. she enjoys rhyming as a linguistic point of interest.

Here he is developing rather differently from Nuvy. He does not talk, and makes only the "cow" sound. Oh, but he sings! He loves rhythm and songs with fingerplay (itsy bitsy spider, twinkle little star, pat-a-cake) and mimics the sounds of the words in the songs. This imitation does not seem to be as pronounced in speech, though. He doesn't really repeat sounds. He does, however, mimic the rhythms and inflections of speech with a degree of sophistication that continues to impress me. Of course, I may be a little partial...

Here are the Stage 5 environmental supports, for those who are setting up environments. In the next post, I hope to discuss our second-child adaptations/abandonments. You know, for your amusement.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The End of the Beginning

After any decision is made, there is a pause for breath. In part, it is a breath of relief--perhaps the removal of anxiety making space in the chest for air. Perhaps it's a sigh of resignation, and the extra breathing room comes from letting go of a fight. Or it could be a deep breath before the dive into a new adventure.

As I contemplated my decision about Nuvy's next year of preschool, I had a parallel imagination of the future of this blog. It was sure to take one of two courses. Either we would stay with our lovely neighborhood co-op school, and my writing would shift to a discussion of how my Montessori sensibility would comingle with an excellent non-Montessori early childhood experience, or we would spend the next few years discussing the finer points of primary Montessori education from my triple-mirror perspective as parent, infant-toddler teacher, and primary administrator.

So, I went to visit the Neighborhood Catholic Montessori (hereafter referred to as NCM). I did not get what I wanted. What I wanted was for NCM to help me make the easiest possible choice, the choice to stay right where, happily, I was. I wanted NCM to be nice, but not too nice. Not nice enough to leave the co-op for. Not nice enough to be missed. No such luck.

Everything was picture perfect. Practical life was full of coordinated yellow trays topped with various vessels of green-dyed water for transferring activities, full of peacefully busy children. Children pouring, sponging, eating snack three at a time at the snack table, washing hands in a ceramic basin, hanging paintings on the wall, introducing themselves to me with direct gazes and outstretched hands, I was home.

Geography was populated with children punching and filling in maps of South America. Language housed a small child (maybe an older three or a young four?) surrounded by a bevy of five year old girls giving him sound lessons with a box of tiny objects. In math, someone was tracing the hundred board, and another child was doing coin work (a material my school did not have). As many Montessori teachers would expect for 11am, the sensorial area was a ghost town, but it was devoid of dust, and clearly all the materials had regular use.

I toured the elementary 1-3 class, which was equally delectable, taught by a sister of Saint Joseph who wore pants and a black turtleneck sweater, an arty sort of cross necklace, and a demeanor that indicated a lifelong devotion to doing just what she was doing--just then and there. If there were such a thing, she seemed like my kind of nun. In this class, no fewer than four children came to me, apparently unbidden, to introduce themselves, ask my name, and shake my hand with the same confidence with which they met my gaze. I raised my impressed eyebrows to their teacher , and she beamed and shrugged saying, "oh, they're the welcoming committee." Oh, let me tell you, I was sunk.

So, we are going to catholic Montessori school next year. Yes, there will be Hail Marys and Our Fathers to be sure, and there will be no celebrations of Diwali or Eid or Kwanzaa or Purim. I will miss those. But we will have the pink tower and the broad stair and the banker's game and the map cabinet. We will have sandpaper letters and the hundred board. And yes, Virginia, we will have line time and the birthday ritual and constructive triangles and knobbed cylinders, too.

As excited as I am, it is a wistful excitement. I love our preschool. Nuvy has been so tenderly loved and nurtured there this year. And though she may have only the faintest windswept memories of this place, I will remember. It's hard to leave the co-op, with all its parent control and home-made snacks. I felt a hitch in my breath at NCM when I saw the anonymous, ubiquitous animal crackers and juice provided for snack--easy self-service items for the snack table. I will miss my monthly co-op day, and everyone else's, too. It's a great community, and a great place for children, but having seen what I've always imagined I wanted for my child, I just can't let her miss it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Where's Waldorf?

NOLA mom, who's always got a useful question (if this were a paying gig, she'd be hired!), asked what I think of Waldorf. In short, I like it, but not for me. I like it for people who like it. Let me explain.

Waldorf and Montessori meet philosophically at a point on the horizon that I agree is where we all want to go. It is a place where we have happy, well adjusted, engaged, creative independent little kids who love school and life. They differ substantially in how we get from here to there, largely because they don't quite agree about where "here" is. Caveat: I am a Montessori person, not a Waldorf person, so my point of view is skewed. If you are a Waldorf teacher (or Waldorf parent who knows the ins and outs of the method) I invite you to post, just so we can have an accurate picture.

Here's my understanding from touring my local Waldorf, and having a lovely and fascinating dinner with a very enthusiastic Waldorf proponent. Waldorf and Montessori have different takes on following the child, but they both maintain this as a core value. Both are disinclined to try to "teach" preschoolers anything, rather they set them up to "discover" things. Both approaches involve a degree of controlled freedom within the classroom. both involve ample engagement with a prepared immediate environment, and both are partial to simple wooden toys over noisy plastic ones. Both eschew screens (tv or computer) as learning tools, and both are typically taught by peaceable young-to-middling-aged women partial to dansko clogs and organic produce. However, Waldorf teachers seem to do more needle felting than Montessori teachers, and to use more batik and tye-dyed textiles to create a soft, diffuse comfort in their classroom decor. Montessori teachers seem more inclined to watercolors than needlecraft, and prefer sun-drenched rooms with glossy polished shelves and neat and spare interiors.

Rudolph Steiner (the Waldorf guy) created a very open early childhood curriculum based pretty rigorously on age readiness. Reading and math are introduced formally much later in Waldorf classrooms than in Montessori classrooms, with the reason that no lesson should be presented before the child's mind is fully ready to receive it. From this point of view, Montessori is essentially "hiding the vegetables" in math-and-reading driven activities that young children enjoy, even if they cannot yet synthesize them. From a Montessori perspective, the young child absorbs concrete information, to be abstracted and synthesized later. Waldorf argues that this is an unnecessary preparation of an immature brain, and that the child's energy is better spent in imaginative fantasy play and games of his own creation, and in largely unguided exploration, particularly in the very early years. Waldorf develops more structure as the child gets older and, like Montessori, becomes somewhat more teacher-driven as the mind develops readiness for greater abstraction.

The imagery that illustrates my understanding of the differences is this. Waldorf seems to endeavor to encircle and encourage free exploration, gathering the child's consciousness from the edges and spiraling it upward toward abstract thought. It begins with largely unbridled experience, and focuses it through the grades through manipulation at the edges of a mind that is left as free from intrusion as possible. Montessori, on the other hand, feels to me as if it prefers to infiltrate the developing mind, following the child's discovery of the pieces of intellect, and leaving markers in the places where it meets the child's free exploration. The child then draws those markers together through her unique experience and discovers the order inside and outside herself at once.

I think my preference for Montessori has something to do with my education, and a lot to do with how I'm wired. I'm a tinkerer and a dissector of things and ideas by nature. I like that the curriculum anticipates the interest of the child in a variety of directions, and waits to see how the child will discover it, and how she will bring it all together. The Waldorf method feels, to my Montessori sensibility, a little too timid. It feels as if it is always a step behind the child, rather than waiting for the child's arrival. Waldorf feels more like a gentle push, where as Montessori feels like a gentle pull.

Also, while both Montessori and Waldorf are very environment-focused, Waldorf seems to invite a more sweeping sense of wonder, an artists sense. Montessori feels like a more penetrating sort of wonder, a scientist's sense. It invites a more experimental kind of exploration, where Waldorf seems to invite reflection more than experimentation. I think I just have a rather analytical mind, and so the Montessori curriculum speaks to me, and Waldorf feels too passive. Where Montessori steps forward with curiosity, Waldorf steps back in awe.

Choices: Observations in the Co-op Preschool

As you all know, I am busy agonizing over Nuvy's next year in preschool. Do we stay at our current sort of "non-denominational" (in preschool terms) school, or do we make a change to the local Catholic Montessori, and take our Montessori with a side of Catholic?

I have crossed the Grande Dame school out in the main line off our list because of the commute (30 minutes each way= 5 extra hours a week in the car for her, 10 for me), and honestly, I think the tuition is outrageous, and not comparable to other quality Montessori programs in our area. Yes, Montessori schools can be expensive, but when preschool tuition starts pushing $2000/month for a 9-3 program that includes a two-hour nap (that's with a "finance charge" of 7.5% for not shelling out your $15,000 all at once in August--when they say poverty is expensive, this is akin to what they mean!), I have to ask myself what I am willing to give up in other life enrichments to send my daughter (and son!) to this school. After all, I'd also like to send them to piano lessons, college and abroad at some point in their lives...

So we are back to our own neighborhood and our two choices. This morning I had an "observation day" in the four-year-old class at our current school, and I have a tour Wednesday of the Catholic Montessori up the street. Here's what I observed.

I Loved:

I loved what I always love about this school. I loved the dad who was on co-op today, hanging out at the sand table chatting up the boys.

I loved the cardboard boxes that had become bear caves for hibernation. This is very Waldorf to me, and is one of the things I like about Waldorf.

I loved the calm atmosphere and the languid, quiet voices of the teachers giving almost imperceptible guidance--leading the children with the lightest touch, with the utmost respect, but with absolute authority. You don't see that everywhere.

I loved the freedom and peace with which the children moved in the space. It is the hallmark of a well designed environment that there is no "track" that calls children to roar past their work choices with undue speed to some attractive destination across the room. The room is arranged to invite lingering over one's choices from the first steps into the environment.

I Noticed:

I noticed that the teachers deftly redirected individuals and groups when their play became chaotic, but that the chaos might have been put off a little longer by more careful planning of the smaller elements of the environment. The foods that the bears pretended to eat were presented in big plastic bags without any obvious orderly way to play with them (no feast to arrange, or matching work, or plastic bush to gather the berries from), so they became projectiles pretty quickly. At one point, I saw that the teachers started a little guided imaginative play in that the concept of a park ranger was introduced, and an idea of bears eating "natural foods" rather than things stolen from park visitors came up--which seemed to move the whole natural bear environment into a more human-controlled arena. Not necessarily bad, just not where my mind tended to take the scenario.

I noticed that the room was dominated by "art" work, and that the children were not particularly drawn to the painting area. In Montessori classrooms, we often struggle to keep kids away from the drawing materials and guide them to the Montessori work--because it is seen as rather an undefined activity--which may be what draws the children to it in the classroom. In this room, the painting area was available and attractive, but I was struck by the degree to which the children failed to flock to it. Other areas of the room seemed to hold equal appeal.

I noticed that morning cleanup was a big job, but that the children willingly participated itn it. Because everything was left out for the children to use, they had no concept of taking something out, using it, and putting it away for another person's use. In a Montessori class, this is something four-year-olds do pretty well. The teachers made a game of the cleanup (assigning objects to put away by color, and coordinating the color with something the child wore), and the children cooperated well. It was a pleasant, creative approach, but it seemed a little foreign to my Montessori sensibility.

I noticed that the children went outdoors even with icy mud on the playground. You don't see that everywhere, either. I admire the teachers for that.

I noticed that everyone was very, very polite. That was nice.

I Missed:

I missed order. I missed the children's lessons in care of the environment. I missed trays and mats. After my observation, I bored my husband to tears (I'm sure) with a discussion of the benefits of presenting individual portions of play-dough on trays on a shelf for each child to manage, over the more usual preschool presentation of a "play-dough station" where a table is laid with portions of play-dough at each chair for children to come to, play with, and leave where they found it. (If anyone wants more discussion of that, let me know in the comments)

I missed depth in the planned curriculum. The children made bear caves for hibernation, and imagined that they were bears, and hibernated inside. This is a theme for the time of year. Good start. Now, I want to see fruits and berries that bears would eat available with matching/labeling cards. I want to see available activities for identifying different species of bears, different places a bear might hibernate (do they find a cave? dig one?)I want to see other animals that hibernate inside a cave to be taken out and discovered. I want activities about snow and cold weather, zipper frames for learning to close jackets, and bear costumes. I want more choices for the hibernating bear activities.

I missed the mixed age group. I wanted to see five-year-olds working at complicated things, and three-year-olds working at simpler things side by side. I wanted to see more opportunities for children to teach and learn from each other. Yes, I love the long chain bead work and the banker's game, but wow. I really love young children learning from older children, and miss it more than I'd realized.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Graduate

She's three now. This means she's outgrown my Assistants to Infancy training and poised for primary. Now we have a decision to make.

Right now, Nuvy's enjoying our neighborhood co-op nursery school, which is sweet and lovely, very play-centered and child-centered, and lots of parent involvement (with the co-op thing and all). She is there because she was too young this year for the area Montessori primary programs, and I didn't find an infant-toddler Montessori program within half an hour's drive. It was an easy choice. It's very well thought of in our area, and with good reason.

The next choice, however, is not so easy. We love our preschool, but it is not a Montessori program. The philosophy combines some traditional elements, some Montessori-appropriate elements, lots of Waldorf-appropriate elements, and a lot of attention to detail, which makes for a really lovely preschool. However, I'm wondering if I will be able to square my Montessorian educational philosophy with this approach. No Montessori handwashing, no beautiful lunch, no long chains, no practical life, no work mats, no birthday ritual, no gardening, these are the elements of the Montessori Curriculum that made me fall in love.

On the other hand, she's happy. It's very close to home, so the community is made up of our neighbors. It feeds some very nice elementary schools. The nearest Montessori program that is like the ones I'm used to is half an hour's commute away (but it's fantastic!). The nearer program is well reputed, but it's a religious school, which I'm not sure is what we're looking for. (we had our ups and downs as non-catholics in a catholic school as kids. If we're doing religion, I think I want it on my own terms.) There are a few other "Montessori" schools nearby, but none has passed my sniff test. (One "lost its accreditation and is working toward restoring it" um...no.)

So now I'm torn. Do I take a chance and move her to the local catholic-infused Montessori school (yes, I know Montessori was a catholic--but she was not running a Catholic School.)? Do I haul her out to the main line every day to attend the grande dame Montessori in town? If I leave her where she is, will I squander her absorbent mind? Will it just be absorbent, and get all the good stuff regardless? Can I fill in the practical life at home? Will I make her teachers hate me with all my Montessori crap? Could I ever forgive myself (no matter what I decide) if she has trouble in high school?

The re-enrollment form is due at the end of January. So I have a few weeks to think about it. Oh, wouldn't you rather just talk about Van's infant-toddler development?