Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Montessori enough

This isn't really about Montessori, but it somehow fits so I decided to make a post about it.

I just started watching Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution and, wow, is that some powerful stuff! For those that don't know, Jamie Oliver is a British chef who's taking on the American obesity epidemic by introducing whole foods to schools. He implemented a similar program in south London with great success. The idea is getting a bad rap in the States, which is really awful if you ask me. How is it controversial to feed kids nutritious food? Isn't that what we all strive for?

There was one part of the episode last week that really struck me as a Montessori mom. Jamie asked for knives and forks to be set out for the kids to use and it caused quite a stir. The lunch staff was appalled that anyone would let preschoolers and kindergartners use knives and forks because they are too young to know how to use them. Jamie's response? "This is school. You teach them to spell, you teach them to read, you teach them to write... you teach them how to use a knife and fork."

How easy it is to forget there are some things children need to learn that are more important, more basic, than what is in a standard school curriculum.

The clip below is very poor quality, but the only clip I could find! If you want to check out the whole episode, you can watch the series on Hulu.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring cleaning with a toddler

Oh, yes, it can be done.

Now, no two-year-old I know is going to organize your sock drawer (in any way you might call organized) or alphabetize your CDs, but that down and dirty deep clean you've been putting off all winter? Little kids have you covered.

Last week (yes, last week, it takes me awhile to formulate posts) we spring cleaned our bathroom. I had been meaning to do it for a few days, putting it off because I thought Ryann would need to be asleep or at her dad's before I could do any "serious" cleaning. I had already cleaned out the bathroom cabinets a week earlier, a little at a time, but how would I clean the tub and mop the floor with a "helper?" I had previously tried to scrub the kitchen floor with her help. I tried to have her watch how I did it: Dip a sponge in soapy water (Dr. Bronner's soap and baking soda is my magic cleaner), wring it out, and clean small sections at a time. This ended with one small section of clean floor, a large puddle (I thought I added so very little water too) and a very hyper, very slippery little girl.

I was trying to think of how to include Ryann in my cleaning while still allowing her to explore the tools on her own terms and not drive me batty. Then it hit me -- the bathtub! She could wash the bathtub, while IN the bathtub to contain messes, and I could wash the rest of the bathroom. And this is what we did. It was a great success. She had plenty of freedom to play with the soapy water bucket and after a few minutes she asked me to show her how to wring out the water and all the things I had tried to show her before to great frustration.

The only downside was that she didn't want to stop. Ever. I had every. single. surface. clean and she still wanted more! Unfortunately, her work was long done, in reality and in her ability, so spring cleaning turned into a bit of a mess. She threw quite the tantrum. Which I ended by suggesting a game of Memory. I've realized that Ryann has a hard time realizing when she is done with an activity and often drags it on until she is miserable. So when the Memory game reached a logical conclusion I firmly suggested she stop and things went much better. Observation is such a powerful parenting tool!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The prepared environment at home

According to the Association Montessori Internationale, there are four characteristics of the prepared environment:

Beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility.

Children must be given freedom to work and move around within suitable guidelines that enable them to act as part of a social group.

Children should be provided with specifically designed materials which help them to explore their world and enable them to develop essential cognitive skills.

Mixed age groups (eg. three to six, six to nine, nine to twelve) encourage all children to develop their personalities socially and intellectually at their own pace.
All of these things are easily accomplished at home. As a family with both children and adults, you already have a household of mixed age groups that your Montessori child can learn from even though it might not be the age groups as outlined above. Sometimes you just have to work with what you have ;)

If your home doesn't already have beauty, order, reality, simplicity and accessibility for you, it should! We all want these things in our homes and we should expand this to an awareness of how our children experience the space as well. Keep your house well organized, clean and don't collect a lot of stuff that will interfere with the simplicity and beauty of your home. It should be easy for your child to understand how to run your household and to be able to emulate your routines. To be honest, this is an area I have a hard time with. I have a tendency to let things pile up (mail, work, toys) and I don't always have an orderly place for everything I use regularly. Ryann has too many toys (still, I'm trying!) and it's hard for her to understand where they all go, and there are too many to keep in an orderly fashion. The goal here isn't a minimalist household, but an organized and easy to use household that everyone can appreciate.

Freedom of movement can be a challenge depending on the age of the child. When they are young, you really must babyproof everything and not rely on restrictive playpens and baby gates to keep them away from danger. Instead of keeping toddlers out of the kitchen and bathroom, keep safe supplies down low and dangerous things up high. This will likely take rearranging over time as the child's skills change. I kept a lot of my low drawers in the kitchen and bathroom empty until Ryann got past the dump everything stage. You want to create a "yes" environment, where the child can touch and interact with everything within their reach. So if it's not dangerous, they should be able to use it. If they can't use it, teach them!

Finally, we get to the specifically designed materials. This is where the low table, child-sized brooms, little cups and saucers and the like come into play. Everything that you use every day should be accessible to your child in a size that is easy for them to manipulate. This isn't always possible at home with each and every item, but it is important to try and make it as easy as possible for your child to do things for themselves. Keep their dishes, food, toothbrushes, clothes, coats, etc. in easy to reach places. Keep a stool or two handy so the child can reach the sinks and counters without any restrictions. Ryann has a stool her Grandpa made her a couple Christmas's ago and it is used many, many times a day. Unfortunately, it is not quite tall enough for the kitchen sink and I haven't found one that is other than the Little Partners Learning Tower, which is (more than) a little out of my price range.

My house is far from perfect, but I do strive towards all these things and have even before I started researching Montessori schooling. It just seems right to include my daughter in everything I do. As a result I have a fully capable, independent child who sees accessibility problems as the highest form of injustice.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Montessori school open house

There are two Montessori schools within a reasonable distance from my house and work. One is a public school that gets awful reviews and test scores, not a "real" Montessori school. The other seems to follow the methods fairly strictly and I've been obsessed with the thought of it since Ryann was born. She will be three in September so if she's going to a Montessori school, now is the time to enroll. Ack! When did she get to be old enough to go to school?

The school held an open house last weekend so I went to check out the facilities and ask some questions about tuition. I had a fairly good idea of what to expect after dissecting their Web site over the last couple years, but I have to say it was really amazing seeing the facilities. The classroom was just beautiful, with clearly defined areas for each type of work. They had lots of pets, Degus, frogs and a tortoise. Ryann mostly liked the pets but she was also allowed to work with the materials. She got to make a yarn picture with paste and scissors to take home. And she made a big mess out of the other materials.

The only thing I didn't like was that the teachers would just say, "if you have any questions let me know." I asked a couple questions here and there, but I couldn't think of anything really probing to ask and I really wish they had interacted with the parents more proactively. I did, interact with one teacher a bit and I loved the way she talked to Ryann, like she was a person who could understand everything that was going on, which is how she is treated at home.

I also talked to a couple parents of students at the school and of course they raved about the methods and the school. It was really neat to talk to other parents who cared so deeply about their children's education and had the same goals I did. Before then, I hadn't realized that one of the perks of a Montessori school would be that the children Ryann went to school with would have similarly hands-on parents. The school really reaches out to parents and has lots of community events, one of the parents said it's like a big family atmosphere.

Overall, I *loved* the experience and I hope Ryann will be able to attend in the fall. I plan to continue with our at home Montessori activities and lifestyle, but I'm excited about the new learning opportunities she will have at this school.