The Great Screen Time DebatePosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 8/19/2019 7:00:00 AM
Screen time for children remains a hot-button topic in our country. Ten years ago it was essentially a non-issue, yet today we find ourselves faced with a technological parenting dilemma. Our children are the first generation that have strong access to portable devices that are connected to the internet, thus providing them with potentially unlimited content. They can use so much of what’s available not just for entertainment, but for learning as well. Technology can provide us all with an enriching experience, but there is high potential to overuse or misuse it. This is an especially tricky time in our history. As technology is advancing at exponential rates, we are embarking through uncharted territory. What’s a parent to do? As with so many things, it’s all about balance. Consider the following and find the balance that is right for your family.
Generally speaking, the younger the child, the less time they should spend in front of a screen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children younger than 18 months avoid screens altogether with the exception of video-chatting. Children aged 18 months to five years should have very limited time exposed to screens, and any time spent should only involve high-quality programming alongside a parent who can help explain and interpret what’s happening. For ages six and beyond, the Academy stresses the importance of ensuring that media use does not impede or take the place of critical developmental and health needs such as quality sleep, physical activity, and other important areas.
What about older kids? They still need guidance and boundaries. Thinking about our kids’ developmental and health needs might help guide our stance on screen time.
With an unlimited supply of information, it can be easy for children to stumble upon content that they’re not equipped to understand and which could potentially be harmful. Your first line of defense is to be actively engaged while your children are accessing screens. Filters are a good backup, but be wary of considering them fail-proof.
The very best way to make sure your child is accessing appropriate content is to sit beside them during device use. Consider this a time to teach your kids how to use the internet and devices responsibly while making sure they don’t accidentally stumble into something they’re not ready for. Many families keep devices public: computers face outward into a room and handhelds and laptops are not allowed in bedrooms. This allows parents constant access to view the content their children are engaged in.
Looking to utilize parental controls? There are many options out there. If you haven’t already seen, PCMag has a helpful chart detailing the features of what they consider the best options of the year. At just under $50, the highest recommended option is Qustodio which boasts such features as access scheduling, social media monitoring, and remote management. See the full list here.
Our children are constantly seeking out the edges of their boundaries. While we aim to give them as much choice as possible, it’s important to provide necessary structure to keep them safe and feeling secure. Setting limits on screen time is yet another area in which we need to do this.
As mentioned, consider your child’s developmental needs. Is there time built into their day to play outside/engage in physical activity, read, interact with others socially, and pursue independent interests like art, building, and games? Is your child getting enough sleep and following a regular bedtime schedule? If all of those needs are met and there’s still some time leftover in the day, decide how much time you feel comfortable letting your child utilize devices.
Another consideration: you may already know but many experts feel that we should all unplug at least an hour before bedtime, while some believe two hours is a safer bet. The reason? Blue light emitted from our devices confuses the body’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep. We can teach our children these scientific findings at an early age and instill good habits while they are young.
Aside from setting time limits, we can all stand to talk to our children about device usage, the pros and cons, and particularly about content. Encourage an open dialogue with older children so they understand you are there to help them navigate tough situations in the digital world. Teenagers who are beginning to use social media will need frequent check-ins and encouragement to make safe choices.
Examining our own use
One element of kids’ screen time we don’t always consider is how our own use serves as a model. Our phones are so good at serving so many different functions it can be hard to put them down at times. While deciding what is best for your child is a very personal decision, the following questions may be helpful to consider:
- How often do you find yourself idly swiping or scrolling in front of your child?
- In what ways might your devices enrich your life?
- In what ways might your devices get in the way of real interactions?
- Does your phone make you feel more connected or disconnected?
If you’re one of the many adults who suspect they might stand to decrease their own screen time, there are (believe it or not) fun apps to help you be more aware. One simple and free app called Checky keeps track of how many times per day you glance at your phone for updates. Using it for just a few days or a week can be eye opening! If you’re looking to make a change, there are many other great apps that aim to help adults curb phone obsession.
We hope this post served as a helpful way to reflect on your screen time, your children’s, and how you can all make the best of these amazing resources we have today.
Engaged or Bored? How to Tell What Your Child is FeelingPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 8/12/2019 7:00:00 AM
A familiar scenario: your child comes home, and you, the interested parent, eagerly ask them how their day was and what they did. While some children will happily relay the day’s events, most shrug and say, “Good” without offering any details. Don’t worry - this is totally normal and related to their fatigue that time of day. Give it a few hours and ask at dinner time.
Did you know that you can learn a lot about your child’s day without them saying a word?
There are plenty of ways to tell how your child is feeling (and we will share them below). Ideally camp, school, or enrichment activities should spark wonder and curiosity, and not feel like a necessity that must be endured. Read on for clues as to how your child’s learning experience feels to them.
What engagement in children can look like
- They will make connections to their learning in everyday life. As you prepare lunch one Saturday they may tell you all about the food preparation activities they have learned over the past month or so. Or they may surprise you with extensive background knowledge as you watch a nature show together. Making connections is a clear sign of real understanding.
- They may blurt out seemingly random (but interesting) bits of their learning. “Did you know that if our intestines weren’t all squiggled up they would be the size of a baby blue whale?!” These moments let us know that children are thinking about what they’ve learned long after they first hear the information, and that it is fascinating to them.
- They complain when they have to stay home sick. Of course, no one likes to be sick, but for children who really love going to camp or school it’s doubly awful. Not only do they feel bad physically, but they have to miss out on all the fun for a day.
- They surprise you at drop-off. Maybe they hastily jump out of the car, ready to run for the entryway. Or maybe they even forget to say goodbye once in a while. Don’t take it too personally - this just means they feel really excited about where they get to spend their days.
- They have meaningful friendships. This means different things at different ages, but if they have mostly positive interactions with their peers, it’s likely they are happy in the environment. Good camp and school programs encourage supportive relationships and acknowledge that our connections with others is part of who we are as whole people.
- They display signs of independence and confidence. A positive environment lets children feel empowered not just in their learning, but in who they are as people. If your child wants to do things for themselves and take positive risks, they have probably been encouraged to do so in their learning environments.
What disengagement in children can look like
- They are reluctant to go to their camp, school, or activities. We all have days like this, but if you notice your child seems like they’d rather stay home every day, it’s worth noting.
- They are displaying problematic behaviors. There can be many reasons for a child acting out, but one of them is a feeling of disconnect. This feeling of disconnection can lead to children make poor choices.
- They complain that the work at school is too hard or too easy. These statements may be true (or not), but they are indicative of an internal unmet need.
- The difficult-to-describe spark has faded. Children are naturally excited about life, so when you see the moments of curiosity and wonder becoming less and less present in your child’s days, it might be time to figure out what’s going on.
- They tell you they feel bored. It can be easy to shrug these types of comments off, especially if we accept our own negative experiences as normal. If your child is able to articulate that they are not feeling positively about their camp, school, or enrichment experiences, it’s important that we listen to them.
What can you do?
Keep in mind that the signs we described can be viewed as guidelines; every child is different and there are many reasons a child may feel negatively about their experience. If you notice a pattern of avoidant, problematic, or apathetic behavior, it’s worth paying attention and taking a closer look. Some suggestions:
- Learn about the educational philosophy of the program. Is learning individualized or standards-based? Are lessons exploratory or directive? Upon what does the program place value? Is it obvious that independence (including independent thinking) is valued? How are peer social conflicts handled?
- Find out if your child’s program provides adequate opportunities for movement. Many conventional programs feel extreme pressure in regards to scheduling and content they must cover on a daily basis. Children need unstructured movement, playtime, and/or time outdoors to be able to focus when it is time for learning.
- Involve your children in the conversation, to the extent that is appropriate for their age. Ask them how they feel and let them know they can be honest with you. Ask them what they wish was different about their experience. Based on their responses, support your children in problem-solving about how to make their experience better meet their needs.
- Schedule a meeting with your child’s camp counselor, teacher, or instructor. Share your children’s perspective and explore ideas. This is a great time for information gathering and collaborative brainstorming. Whenever possible, see if your children can be involved with at least part of this process.
We hope this post has been informative. We believe that Montessori is the answer for so many children. Curious to see what joyful, engaged learning looks like? Schedule a tour today. We would love to show you our classrooms in action.
Montessori at Home: The Secrets to Successful Toy RotationPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 8/5/2019 7:00:00 AM
Have you ever walked into your child’s bedroom or playroom, taken a look at the state of affairs, and quietly backed out to temporarily avoid dealing with the chaos within? We know the feeling.
In this post we will share tips and tricks to help you take a Montessori approach when it comes to your children’s toys. The secret lies within rotating toys, much like Montessori guides rotate at least some of the materials on their classroom shelves.
Why bother rotating toys (or Montessori materials, for that matter)? The benefits are numerous and wide-ranging: your children will engage more fully with toys that are available to them, cleaning will be easier for children to complete independently, and children will likely appreciate what they have in a new way. As a bonus benefit, you will become more mindful about what toys are really useful in your home and what your children do not necessarily need or want.
Follow our handy six-step guide to creating a gorgeous, inspiring, peaceful, and fun space for your children to play at home.
Step One: Observe
While you may be eager to jump right in and purge, take your time in making informed decisions. The first step is to find a notebook and pen and sit quietly aside as your children are playing. Try not to engage with them too much and encourage them to play independently. After a bit of time this will allow you to observe their play in a more authentic way. Resist the urge to intervene or question their choices, unless, of course, they encounter a safety hazard!
As you observe, consider the following:
- Is there a particular toy or type of toy toward which your child tends to gravitate?
- Are there obvious developmental skills your child is working on mastering?
- Are there toys your child seems disinterested in using?
- How is your child interacting with the environment as a whole?
- Notice the space itself and how it suits your family’s needs or doesn’t.
Continue this observation for a few days. Keep your notebook handy during the day so that you can make a quick note of any thoughts or observations you make elsewhere in your house. Really think carefully about your child’s interests and needs.
Step Two: Assess
This is perhaps the least pleasant step for many of us and is best done when the children are not around (while they are at camp, school, or asleep). Grab a cup of coffee, put on some music that you love, and commit to muddling through!
Clear a large floor space and lay out all your child’s toys. As you sort through, set aside any that could be passed along or donated, recycled or thrown away, or boxed up and stored elsewhere. Going through all the toys at once will give you a clear picture of what your child has and better prepare you to create the ideal play environment.
Step Three: Prepare
In this step we focus on the environment itself. As your child grows and changes, needs from the environment will change as well. Consider what your child needs for now and envision the space you think will serve this best. Some ideas:
- A clean space, preferably with natural colors and soft lighting.
- Hidden storage for toys not currently in use: perhaps bins in a closet or baskets on high shelves.
- Low, open shelves. Avoid toy boxes as they become dumping receptacles.
- Comfortable, delineated areas for different uses or ages. For example a comfy reading nook, a low table for creating art, or a desk for an older child.
- Baskets or trays to contain small objects or toys with multiple pieces.
Step Four: Select
Now for the fun part! Look back over your observation notes. Consider the toys your child has and think about which ones your child would appreciate most at this time.
The most important piece of advice we have here is to keep the options minimal. Rather than neatly putting all of your child’s toys on the shelves, select only a few. This will vary depending on age and how much time your child spends at home, and you will get a better feel for the selection process as time goes on. Just remember: less really is more.
Step Five: Guide
Once the room is prepared, invite your child(ren) in to see the changes. Discuss your expectations for cleaning up; all children should be able to pick up after themselves with the exception of infants. They will, of course, require modeling and reminders from time to time, but a more minimalist play area will make cleaning up easier for your child when playtime is over.
For at least the first few days, guide your child(ren) through the cleaning up process. Be sure they understand that toys should go back to the space they were originally retrieved from. If there is any potential for spills in the room, keep child-sized cleaning supplies handy so that they may pick up after themselves independently.
Step Six: Repeat
One of the biggest questions parents ask is: “How often should we rotate the toys?” There are so many variables, but a good basic guide would be about once a month. In the days leading up to your next toy rotation, sit with your notebook and observe a bit. You may notice there are toys your child is very interested in using. Those are the toys you may wish to leave out. Any toys that have been forgotten in recent weeks are, for whatever reason, not appealing to your child at this time. These can be replaced with toys from storage that may meet the current needs and interests of your child.
Looking for inspiration? Check out these links to see some beautiful Montessori-style play spaces. Keep in mind your home does not need to look like these to function in the same way. True minimalism relies on using what we already have in our home, so don’t feel pressured to go out and buy anything fancy!
A Peek at the Montessori History CurriculumPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/29/2019 6:00:00 AM
Montessori elementary classrooms certainly do lots of work with math and language, but they also rely heavily on what is often referred to as cultural studies. These cultural studies include geography, science, and history, and today’s post will focus on the latter.
Think back to when you first learned anything about history. Perhaps your earlier lessons were based on holidays we celebrate, or on the political history of the nation. Later (in high school), you may have been introduced to more about the history of the world.
The Montessori study of history is much like all its other subjects: we start with the largest, overarching concepts, then gradually zoom into the smaller details. With that said, we begin formally teaching history in the first grade, and it all starts with the birth of our universe.
It starts with a bang
Imagine this: one sunny morning, very early in the school year, the guide gathers a group of younger elementary children around her. The older students see some of the items before the guide and know there is an exciting surprise in store. Some ask to join the presentation, while others watch from around the room. They do everything they can to contain themselves so as not to spoil the magic for the younger children. The guide waits for the children to settle into silence, then begins her story.
She tells of a time when our darkest night would have seemed blindingly bright, and our coldest winter would have been warm in comparison. She continues into tales of particles forming, connecting, and repelling away from one another. She incorporates information about states of matter and density of liquids, giving demonstrations as she speaks. They talk about the vast quantity of stars in the universe, the incredible distances, and eventually, the formation of earth. The children hear how the particles on earth heated up and cooled, how the water filled in the crevices, how storms raged and volcanoes exploded (they see a model revealed from beneath a black cloth!), and how eventually all was calm and our planet was ready to support life.
In addition to the scientific view of earth’s beginnings, the children may hear creation stories from cultures around the world in the weeks following. The stories may be read to them, or they may read them or perhaps even act them out. They will have a sense that there is always more than one version of history.
Following the creation story, there are several materials that give the students a deeper understanding of time.
The Long Black Strip is just that: a strip of fabric that is nearly 100 feet long. (Dr. Montessori’s original was much longer and had to be unrolled by teachers holding it on a dowel and riding bicycles!). As the guide unrolls the strip she talks about the beginning of the earth, how the planet changed over time, the coming of the first single-celled organisms, early plants, the evolution of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and mammals. By the time she gets to the end of the long black strip, the children will notice a tiny bit of red fabric at the end, just a fraction of an inch wide. She tells them that this tiny strip represents the time humans have spent on earth. This can be an amazing lesson, even for adults, when they see it for the first time. What a concept to grasp!
The Clock of Eras gives the children their first look at how life began to evolve over the course of time. Earth’s geologic time periods are represented as if all of our planet’s history were on a 12-hour clock. The circle chart shows representations of the various eras via colored pie slices. Check out this fun stop motion video made by some Montessori students.
Time through an evolutionary lens
The Montessori guide may introduce various timelines in the classroom to spark curiosity among the children. Through a series of discussions, research, reading, and other activities, children learn about the evolution of life on earth. This history work connects directly to a large portion of the elementary science curriculum, which is based in botany and zoology.
These lessons, often times stemming from a material called the Timeline of Life, give children a deep understanding of the connection between our physical world, the living things on it, and how species have changed throughout history.
Human history is put in context of through timelines and other impressionistic materials. There is an emphasis on how humans have changed over time and to the contributions different groups of people have made.
Much like the Timeline of Life, Montessori classrooms use a timeline of early humans. There are also several other areas of human historical study that are covered, oftentimes connecting children to other areas of study in the classroom:
- The history of writing
- The history of mathematics
- How different civilizations have met the fundamental needs of humans
You may be wondering why Montessori schools begin teaching such deep concepts at such a young age. Our reasoning lies in the readiness of the children and a deep respect for the elementary child’s capacity to grasp larger concepts. Our methods rely less on what has been traditionally taught to children in schools (as well as the traditional timing), and more on what is developmentally appropriate and engaging to children. We know that elementary aged children, even those as young as six, are incredibly eager to learn about the world and their place in it. By giving them a larger historical framework in which they can place the immense amount of historical, geographic, and scientific information they acquire, we are providing them with a better understanding of themselves and the world (and universe!) around them.
Curious about our methods? Want to learn more? Please contact us with questions or to schedule a visit today.
Creating Family RitualsPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/22/2019 7:00:00 AM
Think back to your own fond childhood memories. What sticks out the most? For many people, it’s the little things that leave the big impressions. Perhaps it was the cookies you made together for the holidays, or staying up late to watch that special movie that only came on once a year, or maybe even the silly song your parents would sing when it was time to wake up for school. No matter what rituals you remember from when you were young, they meant something to you. As parents, it’s both fun and important to create some for your own children.
First, let’s define ritual. Rituals are based on routines, and routines are a necessary component to raising children who feel safe and loved. While children do need some element of choice in their lives, they benefit greatly from structure as well. For example, a bedtime routine may include starting at the same time every night and completing tasks in a certain order. Doing this allows children to know what to expect so they can focus their learning and energy on other things. Routines set expectations for the way a household operates.
The shift from routine to ritual is really about the identity of a group of people (in this case, a family). Having dinner each night at 6:00 pm is part of the routine, but sitting together at a table and each sharing one good thing about the day turns it into a ritual. Rituals create deeper connections between family members, allowing everyone to feel good about the time spent together.
Looking for some ideas? Try a few of the following:
- Make eating dinner together at the table a priority as often as your schedules allow. Even if the meal doesn’t last very long, it can be a nice way to make time for each other.
- Add special touches: light a candle each night or use pretty cloth napkins. Little details that make everyone feel special make a big difference.
- Find a way to get the conversation going. Some families share their “roses and thorns” or “best parts, worst parts, and silliest parts”. Other families take turns sharing something for which they feel grateful or one thing they learned that day. This sharing allows everyone to hear about and reflect on what’s going on in each other’s lives.
- Is there a silly element you might add to the morning routine? Sing a song about toothbrushing, dance to a song that gets everyone moving, or make up a handshake.
- Meditate together. For kids the key is to keep it short and sweet. Try breathing buddies with your little ones or loving-kindness meditation with older children.
- Be sure to sneak in some family cuddle time!
- Have a special bedtime routine. Consider having a few special songs to choose from, a special light to use while reading together in bed, or a sweet saying when you tuck them in (your own modern version of “Sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite!”).
- Mealtimes are often the easiest way to build in regular rituals. Think Taco Tuesdays, breakfast for dinner day, and ordering a pizza on Friday nights.
- Find something local that you can do every weekend: go for a hike, visit the farmer’s market, take a trip to the town library.
- Make a fun time out of cleaning the house together (really!). Even your toddler can have a blast with a dustpan or small damp mop, and elementary-aged children and teenagers can be so helpful. All family members will have a sense of contribution and togetherness. Play some upbeat music that you know will get everyone moving!
Most families have these rituals in place already. Holiday rituals are often sacred to us; they’re the ones we carry on from our own childhoods and are eager to share them with our children. Consider whether you already have some of the following rituals in place:
- Special foods for different holidays
- Songs that you can sing together in celebration
- Movies that you watch each year
- Gatherings you host or attend together
- Go camping together once or twice a year. The whole process, from packing to setting up the tent is packed with unforgettable rituals.
- Stay up late to witness special astronomical events outdoors.
- Volunteer together. Shop for a can drive, help out at an animal shelter, or spend time at your local soup kitchen.
- Enjoy seasonal outdoor activities together. Go apple picking every year, make a snowman, hike, or go swimming.
We would love to hear more ideas. Please share any unique ritual ideas your family enjoys together!
Want to learn more?
Montessori: Not Just for ChildrenPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/15/2019 7:30:00 AM
Montessori is a method of education that was created with children’s development in mind. Educators honor each individual child and make every attempt to create an environment in which children may learn and grow with as much independence as possible. In recent decades, many people are recognizing that basic Montessori ideals might support all people and shouldn’t be reserved for children alone. Dr. Montessori herself described a fourth plane of development which stretched into young adulthood.
Did you know that there has been an interest among researchers who study the effects Montessori methods have on elder care patients? In the past six years there have been at least eleven separate studies focused on just that. It makes sense if you think about it; as we age we often require support, but caregivers typically want to find ways for aging adults to remain as independent as possible.
In this post we summarize just a few of these experts’ findings. To be taken to an article's full text, click the title.
Roberts G, Morley C, Walters W, Malta S, Doyle C
In perhaps the first widely-recognized study of its kind, researchers focused on the ABLE model of person-centered dementia care as it was first implemented in Australia. The model “incorporates Montessori principles and activities. These aspects were designed to build on the capacity and inherent abilities of residents through a number of system changes at an organizational level”. The system changes included changes in the physical environment, as well as training and introduction to new philosophies for all caretakers involved (who in this case are taking on the role as Montessori guides).
Additionally, the model requires gathering knowledge of patient backgrounds in order to better understand their individual interests and needs. The results of the study included dramatic decreases in both antipsychotic and sedative medications, as well as significantly reduced aggressive and agitated behaviors. Family members of residents provided enthusiastic and positive feedback to the changes, and researchers visiting the facility were able to observe the residents engaged in meaningful daily activities. Staff expressed positive feelings toward the changes that were made, and measures indicated that they had a better understanding of dementia and patient care.
Bourgeois M, Brush J, Elliot G, Kelly A
This article introduces a new approach called DementiAbility Methods: The Montessori Way, an approach that “focuses on the abilities, needs, interests, and strengths of the person and creating worthwhile and meaningful roles, routines, and activities for the person within a supportive physical environment.” The research sought a way to actualize goals of allowing autonomy and choice within elder care facilities; they were hoping to measure shifts toward “person-centeredness” of care provided. DementiAbility Methods expands on the abovementioned ABLE approach. One such addition includes the use of large-print name tags for staff, residents, and visitors. Staff also connect with families to create memory books for each resident. Lastly, there is a focus on routine and contribution to the community that has allowed residents to feel more engaged and have a sense of purpose.
Volland J, Fisher A
Volland and Fisher highlight the increasing needs of dementia care in the United States, as well as providing specific, easy-to-implement ideas for caregivers. They summarize the work of Dr. Cameron Camp of the Myers Research Institute, who developed Montessori-Based Dementia Programming (MBDP). MBPD creates a bridge between traditional Montessori education for children and adults with dementia by applying the philosophy and methods to older people in need of memory care. Some of the suggestions they present include:
- Focus on the process of an activity rather than the product. They suggest that it doesn’t matter if the person completes a puzzle, but rather the level of engagement with the activity.
- Include Montessori activities in waiting rooms. They note that it is important to provide a variety of activities in order to meet a wide range of needs. They also suggest that a clipboard with a one-page idea sheet can be given to caregivers upon arrival.
- Incorporate music into acute care facilities. The music can be calm and peaceful, or it might be music that will be meaningful to the residents.
- Create hospital welcome kits that include Montessori-style activities.
- Create an activities cart that can be wheeled from room to room, providing patients with activity options.
The authors also emphasize the importance of fully understanding the Montessori method when employing MBDP. They highlight principles such as “observing the individual to determine needs and interests...allowing freedom to explore within a safe environment in a positive manner...emphasizing practical life activities that promote sensory stimulation, control of movement, concentration, and coordination...providing choices in the selection of activities with the ability to repeat the action as often as needed.” Sound familiar?
What do you make of the connections between traditional Montessori education for children, and its use in dementia care? Are there specific materials or activities that you can see that would be particularly helpful for older adults, especially those in memory care?
Books to Love the EarthPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/8/2019 7:00:00 AM
Our planet is a beautiful, magical place. As our children move through their young lives at a different pace and with different eyes than we have as adults, they often remind us to notice all the small and special things. Whether it be a ladybug on their bedroom wall or the way leaves make shadows on the lawn, we get to appreciate earth in a new way.
This book list is meant to open their world even further. Our planet is facing challenges for sure, but we believe that encouraging our children to love all that it is, as well as teaching them how to care for it, is perhaps the greatest step we can take to take care of the biosphere.
Click the book's linked title to view the book on Amazon or visit your local library. These titles are sure to be a hit.
by Todd Parr
Parr’s work may seem familiar because his simple text and bold illustrations are loved by young children everywhere. The Earth Book is no exception and provides children with ideas about how small changes can add up to make a big impact in caring for our planet.
by Wendy Pfeffer, illustrated by Steve Jenkins
The sweet book is great for toddlers, primary-aged children, and even younger elementary-aged children. It gives a view underground and teaches how worms contribute to creating healthy soil, which, in turn, nourishes plants. The text includes terminology that children will be interested to learn, and the paper cut out illustrations are perfect for this particular book!
by Lynne Cherry
A man enters the rainforest with the intention of cutting down a large Kapok tree. Exhausted, he rests against its trunk and falls asleep. While he sleeps, he is visited by a range of rainforest inhabitants who whisper into his ear and give him a different view of this sacred place. He awakens a changed man and walks carefully out of the forest.
by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
As a girl, Isatou noticed a plastic bag floating past her while she walked. It’s novelty was beautiful to her, but as time went on and the discarded bags began to pile up around her village, it was clear that their beauty was overshadowed by their wasteful ugliness. When local goats began ingesting the bags and dying, Isatou took action. She and other local women found a way to turn the bags into something beautiful, giving the plastic a new purpose.
by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Wangari Maathai is an environmentalist we can all look up to. Her work with the women of Kenya led to the reforestation and revitalization of a country and community. Proof that one person really can affect measurable change, this story of Maathai’s life is perfect for young children. The gorgeous illustrations add to the story’s appeal as well.
by Byrd Baylor
Sometimes it’s hard for children to understand why their parents do the things they do. In The Table Where Rich People Sit, one child simply cannot understand why her parents aren’t willing to work a little harder to earn money that will pull them out of poverty. Throughout the course of the story, the child realizes that perhaps there are different definitions of wealth, and that her family may be wealthy in the best possible way.
by H. Joseph Hopkins, illustrated by Jill McElmurry
Kate Sessions grew up much like many children: fascinated by the world around her. Her love of trees carried on through adulthood, and when she found herself living in treeless San Diego, she decided to do something about it. Through careful research, hard work, and the support of her community, Kate managed to turn a desert town into a lush oasis.
Blog title: Montessori Basics: Respecting the Child as an Autonomous PersonPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 7/1/2019 7:10:00 AM
The title of this post may seem a little unnecessary. You may be thinking, “Of course the child is an autonomous person, and of course we respect that!” If you are here reading this, chances are you care deeply about your child’s education, and more importantly, you care about your child as a person. When it comes to parenting, however, our inclinations are often to protect and guide. There is nothing inherently wrong with this (in fact, we can all agree that those are critical tasks), but our good intentions can sometimes get in the way of our child’s individual path.
You’ve probably heard Montessori guides talk about how we “follow the child”. What this means is that we suspend our own assumptions about how things ought to be done and instead observe the child to see what is actually needed and/or what the child wants. Sometimes we forget that children are capable of doing more than we realize, or that they have interests that are vastly different than our own.
We want to show our children that we trust them. We trust them to learn, to do things for themselves and for others, and we trust that they know what they need.
What does this look like in the classroom?
As a teacher, especially if one is trained in traditional methods prior to discovering Montessori, there is a sense that we are obligated to engage with the child at all times. Our society leads us to believe that stepping back and allowing the child to work without us must mean that we are not doing our jobs.
Dr. Montessori, however, had other ideas. She said, “The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”
We want to guide the children in such a way that they are eventually able to direct their own learning. Our job is to present new material in a way that drives curiosity rather than conveying ready-made answers. We want to create a classroom environment that supports children in every stage of development to do as much for themselves as they are capable of doing.
When a child doesn’t need us, we consider that a win. Of course, as they grow they will need help in other ways, but the long-term goal is to gently help them reach their potential as they work toward adulthood. We want them to trust themselves and their abilities, so we show them that we trust them.
Some examples of honoring a child’s independence in a Montessori classroom:
- Open shelves at an appropriate height for the children using them.
- Real (not toy), child-sized cleaning supplies like dustpans, brushes, sponges, buckets, and mops.
- Clearly defined spaces to store personal belongings on hooks and shelves that the child can easily access.
- Freedom to use the restroom whenever the need arises, without having to ask permission.
- Snacks and water available to serve oneself whenever the child feels hungry.
- Freedom to choose work that feels important and meaningful.
- Freedom of movement; children may sit wherever and with whomever they like.
- Work occurring at an individual pace. Children are not expected to all learn the same thing at the same time, but rather progress through skills at a pace that is right for them as individuals.
- Children using materials that are not typically seen in other settings: glass cups and containers, knives for cutting, and so forth.
What might this look like for families?
Some moments to consider:
- Let your child (even your toddler) choose his or her own clothing. Perhaps you wouldn’t pick the cow-print pants and the polka-dotted dress, but does that make the choice any less valid? Relish in their delightfully unique sense of style! It’s okay to set some parameters; for example, requiring pants instead of shorts on a cold winter day is perfectly reasonable.
- Show your child how to do something rather than just demanding it be done. Remember, even if you have shown something once (or even five times), learning requires repetition. For example, instead of telling your six-year-old to make his bed, give him a short lesson on how to do so.
- Consider your child’s physical autonomy. Don’t force her to hug and kiss relatives if she is uncomfortable. Talk to your child about how we are all in charge of our own bodies, and that she has the right to say no (even to you!) if she does not want physical affection.
- Make sure your child has access to toys and supplies around the house. This might mean having a low shelf in the kitchen stocked with his own bowls, cups, utensils, and even snacks. A designated area in the refrigerator could hold a small pitcher of water, milk, or juice for the child to pour independently. A small dustpan and a basket of rags should be accessible to allow him the ability to clean up his own messes. You will be surprised at how often your child will be motivated to take care of himself rather than asking you to get or do things for him.
- Create routines. If your child knows that in the morning she is to use the toilet, wash her hands, brush her teeth and hair, and get dressed, then she knows what to expect every single day. Support her with reminders as long as she needs them. Some families find a visual reminder helpful - a small note can have a list with words or pictures to keep your child on track.
- When the urge to intervene strikes, remind yourself to pause and observe. When we see our children struggle, it’s natural to want to help, but jumping in and fixing their problems all the time does little to convey that we trust they can do it for themselves. If you see their frustration building, try saying, “I’ll be over here if you need anything.” They will ask if they really need you.
Questions? Interested in seeing one of our classrooms in person? Contact us today. We would be happy to help!
5 Reasons Your Child Should Journal This Summer (and how you can get them started)Posted by Meagan Ledendecker on 6/24/2019 9:00:00 AM
Whether you have a major family vacation this summer or you plan to take a more low-key and local approach, your child is sure to have some fun experiences and adventures. Capturing these experiences can be done a variety of ways, and one way is to write them down! Journaling has many benefits for children (and adults, if you would like to join in on the fun). Even very young children who are not yet writing can journal!
First things first: it’s important to make sure you get the right journal for your child. If your child is a writer, go to your local bookstore or office supply store and have your child select a journal or notebook. This small act of choice will make your child more likely to use the journal than if you pick it. Keep in mind the size of the lines on the pages should be a consideration; early writers often need slightly larger lines to make handwriting a bit more comfortable.
For children as young as three-years-old who have not yet started writing, a drawing journal is the best bet. We love this one, as its large, spiral-bound pages hold together well and provide plenty of space!
In addition to the journal, you can just use whatever pencils, markers, or other writing utensils you have on hand.
Journaling can be done daily, whenever the child has experienced something special, or just as the mood strikes. Remember to encourage your child to date each entry, or date it yourself if your child is on the younger side.
On to the benefits…
1. Journaling is an excellent creative outlet.
Whether the journaling consists of drawing, writing, or a combination of the two, having a designated place to record our thoughts is a perfect way to encourage creative thinking. This is a space that is truly children’s own, and they get to write their own perspective in a way that is pleasing to them. They are likely to explore rich language, dialogue, or testing out phrases they have heard others use. Use of color can help convey different meaning and feeling, and they will experiment with this!
Exploring our creativity allows us to come up with new ideas, explore ways to solve problems, and take risks in ways that feel safe and supported.
2. The practice can help children observe the natural world.
Maria Montessori was a scientist who believed strongly in the power of observation, and as educators who follow her methods, we hold this practice in high regard. Taking the time to notice what is going on around us, using our senses, and recording these observations helps us make sense of our experiences.
Did you and your child move worms from the sidewalk after a rainstorm? Did your child discover pieces of a crab shell on the rocks by the beach? Did you spot an interesting mushroom while walking in the woods? If it sparked something, encourage your child to write about it as soon as you get home. Important learning likely happened in that moment, and writing about it will solidify the learning, and perhaps lead to even more.
3. Journaling is a great way to explore emotions.
Children experience the same range of emotions we do, but they have not yet developed all the skills for making sense of or regulating these emotions. Having a place to write down feelings is a healthy habit to build, and a positive way to work through difficult situations.
There is something to be said for getting our thoughts and feelings down on a piece of paper. Even if no one else ever reads it (and your child may prefer it that way), finding words that express our emotions can feel validating.
The next time your child is feeling sad, angry, frustrated, or even joyfully elated about something, suggest the journal as a great way to feel these feelings and figure out what to do with them.
4. Using a journal helps children record important memories.
What would you give to have a childhood journal detailing your summer vacation adventures? Perhaps you do, and it’s a treasure you will hang on to and share with your own children. Starting a journal while we are young is a gift that keeps giving. In the moments that children write in it, they reap so many positive benefits. Months or even years later when they return to their writing, they will be able to relive the memories.
So many of the small moments we experience are fleeting. If we don’t take the time to acknowledge them, they are gone forever. A written record helps us enjoy those moments forever.
5. They will become better writers (even if they’re not writing yet).
Just the act of retelling what happened - in words or pictures - is great practice for writers. Features such as logical sequencing, main events, and supporting details will become naturally woven into the pages of your child’s journal. Like anything in life, the more we practice, the more proficient we become.
For those who are beginning to write words, they will have unlimited opportunities to experiment with vocabulary, punctuation, and sentence structure. Without the pressure and confines of standardized conventions (like a teacher correcting spelling), they will feel free to stretch and take risks as writers. While conventions are important in formal writing, the development of unique and authentic writer’s voice is just as difficult and perhaps even more important. Having a journal all their own creates the perfect space to learn what their own voice sounds like.
We hope your child enjoys trying out journaling this summer. If you find the idea inspiring, give it a try yourself and journal right alongside yo. Happy adventures!
How to Handle Challenging BehaviorsPosted by Meagan Ledendecker on 6/17/2019 9:00:00 AM
This post goes out to the frustrated parents. (So, likely all of us at some point.)
Challenging behavior is a part of growing up and parenting. We know that it’s normal, we know our children need to experience it to grow and learn, but that does not make it any easier in the moment. If you are anything like us, you might pause from time to time and ask yourself, “What would Montessori do?”
There are no perfect answers, and Dr. Montessori would have recognized that what works for one child will not necessarily work for the next. We can, however, rely on our knowledge of human development and typical child behavior to help guide us. We hope this post will provide you with some helpful tips!
As Montessorians, we tend to follow a hierarchy when we address issues with children. We look at:
- The environment
- The child
Environment affects us all, and as adults we can carefully craft an environment that suits the needs of our children. This is why Montessori teachers (or guides) meticulously create classrooms with a specific order and flow to them, and why the teachers are constantly observing and analyzing what should remain the same and what should change.
We feel confident in saying that most of the time, a change in the environment can change the behavior. Some examples:
- Does your toddler enjoy dumping the contents of whatever they can find? While this is a very normal stage for them to go through, it can cause a lot of extra work for us as adults. Limit their options! Keep dumpable baskets and boxes up higher where children cannot reach them and rotate reachable items on a regular basis to keep interest alive.
- Have you noticed your three-year-old spilling snack and frequently leaving crumbs behind? Leave a small dustpan and brush in a space where the child can access it. You will likely need to show how to use it many times, but your child will get it! When this happens, the joy your child will feel from sweeping will be adorable.
- Are mornings with your seven-year-old rushed and chaotic? Make a list and post it in a highly visable area (perhaps the bathroom mirror). What do you expect the child to do independently in the morning? The list may contain items like: brush teeth, get dressed, brush hair, eat breakfast, and so on. Make sure everything needed to get ready is in one centralized space. Have your child prepare as much as possible the night before to ease the pressure in the morning. Children can pack their own lunches and lay out their own clothes.
- Is your teenager having a hard time focusing on homework or household responsiblities? Create a distraction-free zone. Have a clutter-free desk in a quiet area of the house. Make sure devices like cell phones are left to charge in a completely different area of the house.
This is perhaps the hardest part for many of us, but sometimes children’s undesirable behavior is tangled up in our own actions and/or perceptions. Some questions you may want to ask yourself and reflect on when you feel frustrated include:
- Is this behavior truly a problem?
- Are my expectations appropriate for the child’s age and developmental stage?
- How might my reactions be contributing to the behavior?
- Am I well rested/fed/de-stressed/fully able to work with my child without letting my own problems be a factor?
- Are my reactions based on my own experiences as a child?
We realize that these can be some pretty deep questions. Our jobs as parents are hard enough and there is no need to be judgmental, especially of ourselves, but reflection can be helpful. We also know that it’s not always possible to deal with a child’s behavior while being completely stress-free, well-rested, etc., but it can be helpful to recognize when we might be playing a role in what is going on.
Sometimes there really is something going on within the child that needs to be addressed, and it can be a simpler explanation than we might expect! Some possibilities to consider:
- Is the child getting enough sleep?
- Is the child hungry?
- Is the child getting sick (coming down with a cold or the like)?
- Is the child entering a growth spurt or new developmental phase?
- Has there been a recent change in the child’s routine?
- Are there changes occurring in the family?
Sometimes a child might be upset about one area of life and behaviors manifest in a completely different way. For example, an eight-year-old may be facing friendship challenges at school. Instead of talking about the problem, she may unintentionally take her frustration out on the parents. This is a common occurrence when children do not fully understand why they are upset, are unable to articulate the issue, and yet feel safe to be themselves fully at home. Of course we must set expectations that our children are to be kind, but having this insight may help get to the root of many issues.
Regularly talking to our children, especially as they get older, can be very helpful in helping them navigate through the common (yet sometimes painful) experiences of growing up. Many families find that bedtime tends to be when their children speak freely about what’s bothering them. Even as your child gets older, set aside time in the evening to be together. This can be time together reading, cuddling, or talking about the day.
Two last bits of advice that are perhaps the most important: do not expect perfection and find a supportive group of parents.
We know our children will not always be perfect, and neither will we. Children will push boundaries and make mistakes - lots of them - and as parents we won’t always know the best way to handle things. We will learn together.
Having a group of parents that you can vent to and celebrate with is so helpful. Whether you meet up for coffee, chat on the phone, trade tips through social media, or sit on the sidelines together at soccer games, remember to reach out to others. We are all in this together.