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Hooked, aka my first week as a Montessori teacher

August 9, 2008

Mischievous and impish, little 3 year-old Johnny ran across the classroom, delighted with his new-found ability to piss me off.  I walked after him.

“Johnny, please show me how we walk in the classroom.”  He looked at me quizzically, took three steps, and then took off running again.  I sighed and went after him.

“Johnny, we don’t run in the classroom.  Let’s walk together.”  I took his hand but he darted off across the room before I could show him how to walk.  Another sigh.  Thus goes a morning in a new Montessori classroom, but then…

Johnny and several other children lined up to go to the bathroom.  We walked out of the classroom and down the hall, with Johnny scampering after the group.  “Johnny, please come back and walk,” I called out.  Of course, Johnny ignored me and dashed into the bathroom, where he proceeded to horseplay with a couple of boys.

I took his hand and sternly marched him out of the bathroom.  His eyed widened like saucers as I squatted to his eye level.

“Johnny, this is not a game.  The bathroom is not for playing, do you understand?”  He nodded silently.  “Please go back inside and wash your hands.”  He turned and walked into the bathroom to do what I had asked him.  Then he came back out.  I smiled as an idea flitted through my worn-out brain.

“Oh,” I exclaimed in my most dramatic voice. “It would make me SO HAPPY if Johnny could walk all the way to the classroom by himself like a big boy.  Do you think you could do that?”

Johnny’s eyes lit up.  A challenge!!  He turned towards the classroom and walked slowly, calmly, and with utmost control for 60 feet.  I watched him fade into the shadows of the hallway, my heart in my throat.  He turned right and disappeared into the classroom.  I held my breath.

Johnny’s head popped back out and he looked at me.  I grinned and gave him a silent thumbs-up.  He raised his little hand and returned the thumbs-up with a broad smile, before disappearing once again into the classroom.

In my list of moments that make life worth living, that’s in the top 5.  I’m hooked.

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Countering Cooties

August 5, 2008

Last winter, during one of my teaching practices, I caught one of those super-bugs that seem to inhabit the bodies of pre-school children. Personally, I blame the excessive use of antibiotics by drug-pushing doctors for creating a host of super-viruses that will knock you out for an entire month. That, and little ones who will wipe their runny noses with their hand and then grab yours. Or my favorite:

Little boy with a cold: “Ms. L, can I tell you something?”

Me (squatting to the child’s eye level): “What do you want to tell me, Johnny?”

Boy: Ah-CHOO!! (saliva and mucus, right in my eye) “I love you.”

*sigh*

During that time, I was working with 24 pre-schoolers in the mornings, running my wedding planning business in the afternoons, managing the housework, and living in a house without heating (we live in San Diego, but it’s still cold!!). Stressful? Nah, you think? Oh, and did I mention I was addicted to Starbucks soy chais (yes, the ubber-sweet drink with 40 grams of immune system-depressing, bacteria-feeding sugar!!). Needless to say, this lifestyle was NOT conducive to warding off cooties, and one of them hit me… HARD.

I was sick for an entire month, and I normally NEVER get sick! Do you know what it’s like to drag your aching, stuffy body out of bed day after day to deal with 4-year old trantrums during the day and 24-year old tantrums during the afternoon? I would not wish that kind of suffering on anyone, not even George W. Bush. (Well, maybe…)

So, this year I am pulling out all the stops in my quest to remain healthy during the bug season!! Bring on the snotty, sneezing, coughing children… They’re no match for my arsenal of natural preventions!

Here’s my plan of action:

  • Every morning I’m drinking a tablespoon of unfiltered apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”). It really doesn’t taste bad at all! I dilute it in 1/3 cup of water and drink it on an empty stomach. It is supposed to alkalize your body, which means that it creates an environment where bad bacteria cannot grow. Oh, and it has the added benefits of lowering my appetite, curbing my sweet cravings, preventing yeast infections, and helping me to lose weight!
  • I’m also taking a 1,000 mg capsule of Norwegian cod liver oil. It is supposed to prevent depression (a huge cause of immune system suppression) and it provides vitamin D, which strengthens the immune system (especially during the winter, when you get less exposure to the sun).
  • Every morning, I also take a serving of green superfood, a powder composed of grasses (wheat grass, barley, oat grass, etc.), seaweeds (spirulina), green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, etc.), antioxidants, fiber, live enzymes and probiotic cultures, and energizing herbs. While the green concoction looks positively evil in the glass, it tastes quite pleasant and provides me with an amazing amount of energy!!
  • I’ve kicked the chai tea habit and I’m permitting myself only two soy lattes a month. And no pastries!
  • Finally, I am taking meditation and yoga classes to learn breathing and stress-management techniques that also help build a strong immune system.

WHEW!! If all this (plus my normal organic, dairy-free, plant, grain and wild fish-based diet) doesn’t shield me from the cooties (or at least shorten their stay in my body), then I give up!!

The lady at the cash register who rang up the green superfoods powder did a double-take when she saw the price on her screen. “Forty-seven dollars?!?!”, she asked, her eyes popping out of their sockets. I nodded, “Yes, and worth every penny.” (I hope!)

What natural cures do YOU use to prevent or shorten your battle with cooties? I need all the advice I can get!

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How to make two years fly by

August 1, 2008

What happens when you get offered a teaching job in Italy? Well, if you’re me, you sit your boyfriend down and have the dreaded “where is this relationship going” talk. Which is precisely what I did a couple of months ago. I told him about the job offer in Italy, and explained that what I wanted was to work in San Diego for two years and start a family during my third year of teaching. And if he didn’t agree… Well, I was off to Italy!

And wouldn’t you know it, he agreed with my timeline! YIPEE!!

But then it hit me… Two years? I still have to wait two more years??? What torture!

Then, I realized I could approach this in one of two ways: I could sit around and mope because I still had to wait two years, or I could make a list of all the things I won’t be able to do (or which will seem overwhelming) once I have a kid. And do them.

And so, I present to you:

Things to do before I get knocked up

1. Train for and complete another 50-mile bike ride.

2. Learn how to kelp dive.

3. Take ballet classes.

4. Save and invest $10,000.

5. Run a half-marathon race.

6. Write a book about Montessori for parents.

7. Grow my classroom to 36 students.

8. Get married (I need a little help with this one).

9. Learn all I can about Montessori for 0-3 year-olds.

10. Take a French conversation course.

11. Learn how to meditate. For reals.

12. Go to India and spend a summer working in a Montessori school.

All of a sudden, two years doesn’t seem like a lot of time! I’d better get started!!!

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Montessori In a Nutshell

July 31, 2008

Here’s a post I wrote recently on my school blog… I figured I would share it on my personal blog, too!

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As Montessorians, we are often asked a very simple question with a very complex answer:

“What is Montessori?”

We all have slightly different perspectives on the most important aspects of Montessori, but I think the following list can get the ball rolling…

– It is a scientifically-designed method created by a progressive female physician/anthropologist 100 years ago in Italy. Recent scientific and psychological findings are providing validation of Dr. Maria Montessori’s discoveries.

– It is based on countless hours of objective observation of children’s behavioral and intellectual development in carefully prepared environments around the world.

– It respects the child’s individuality by requiring the adult to follow the child at his/her own speed and focus on his/her current interests.

– It promotes independence, self-esteem, and a healthy socialization process.

– It allows for close and personalized teacher/student relationships.

– It offers the child scientifically-designed materials to manipulate and learn from (instead of giving “busy work” devoid of intellectual purpose).

– It provides the young child with mental order, self-discipline, and the ability to adapt and thrive in new environments.

– It promotes acceptance and encourages children to think outside the box.

These are but a few of the many important contributions the Montessori Method can provide for the child and his/her family. In following posts, we will delve into these topics – and many others – to provide a clearer understanding of this philosophy.

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No More Oreos

June 16, 2008

As I stood in line to return an item at my local IKEA, I spotted a four-year old nearby having an argument with her parents.  The adults wanted her to follow them so they could do some shopping, but the child was apparently in no mood to trudge through the enormous store.

“If you give me an Oreo, I’ll do it,” she cockily bargained with her parents.  I couldn’t help but cringe as a look of shock and recognition flitted across the mother’s face.  She realized at that very moment that her manipulation tool of choice had now been used against her!  As our eyes met across the room, she managed a trembling smile and turned back to the child.

“Uh, no honey, that’s not the way it works,” she said meekly, as she took the child’s hand and led her towards the stairs.  The child’s objections could be heard across the room.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as the child turned the table on her parents.  As you have just seen, using rewards (cookies, outings, TV… anything) as a means to manipulate behavior is devious, controlling, disrespectful, and in the end… completely ineffective and enormously damaging.

Sure, in the short-term, the offer of a reward might convince a willful child to acquiesce to the desires of the parent.  But at what price?

I think it all boils down to what phdinparenting calls “short-term” vs. “long-term” parenting.  In the short-term, bribing a child with rewards in exchange for desired behavior is a pretty effective means of controlling the outcome of a situation.  The parent obtains the requested behavior, the child receives the reward, and everyone is “happy”.  But are they, really?  What messages and perceptions will the child take with him for the long-term?

Think about a situation when you were controlled and manipulated into doing something for which you had a compelling reason not to want to do.  Perhaps your boss told you that he would give you a much-needed bonus if you fired three employees you know are a great asset to the company.  Or your spouse told you he would pay for your dream beach vacation if you lost 20 lbs. (although you  know you look and feel fine at your current weight).  You try to voice your opinion, but you’re told: “Come on, I know you really need the money/trip.”  Nobody tells you why, they just want you to do it.  How would you feel: dignified, respected, appreciated, and understood?   Or would you feel controlled, manipulated, voiceless, and defeated?

Very likely, you’ll go along with the request (because we’ve been conditioned to respond blindly to rewards).  How would you feel once you accomplished the task and received the reward?  If you’re even slightly human, you’d be left with a bitter aftertaste and an unnerving sense that you’re not really behind the wheel of your own life.  However, since you’ve been brought up in a rewards-based system, you’d try to brush off the feeling… Until the next time.  Except the next time, you’d want a bigger bonus or a longer vacation because you unconsciously recall the feeling of dissatisfaction you obtained from the previous “transaction”.

Do you want your children to grow up feeling controlled, manipulated, unimportant and powerless?  Because believe it or not, that is how they feel each and every time they perform an action in response to a bribe from you.  A devoted and well-meaning mother I know offered her son $50 if he would cut his unruly, shoulder-length red hair before posing for his Senior picture.  To the teen’s credit, he refused her bribe and posed in all his red-headed glory, but I think the damage was done the moment his mother offered the reward.  Her message to him was: “You’re not good enough the way you are.”

If you’re thinking, “I would never offer rewards for things like that!  I only offer rewards in situations that aren’t damaging to my child’s self-esteem,” consider your actions and their repercussions very carefully.  The problem does not lie in the situation nor in the reward; it lies in the power shift, the destruction of the child’s will and self-esteem, and the loss of mutual respect.

“If you finish your homework you can play video games.”  It’s a phrase uttered in households across the country.  How harmful is this statement?  On the surface, it seems harmless enough.  It even seems like it would be a great opportunity to show your child that he needs to take care of his responsibilities before he can enjoy other activities.  You pat yourself on the back and walk away, while your child grinds his teeth and stares at his Math homework.

How is your child being harmed?  First of all, he’s learning to link a behavior to a reward.  You’re creating an adult whose approach to life will be: “What’s in it for me?”.  You’re also diminishing the importance of homework (or any work, for that matter).  It’s no longer an important part of his intellectual development, but merely a means to an end (in this case, playing video games).  Thirdly, you’re not showing concern for the reasons your child doesn’t want to do his homework.  Maybe he didn’t understand the assignment, feels overwhelmed by his class load, is distracted by personal issues, or has an undiscovered learning disability.  The repercussions are many, but I think you get the picture…

What would happen if, instead of bribing your son, you took the time to ask him what is deterring him from finishing his assignment?  You would be giving him the message: “I care about you and want you to be successful.”  You might also gain some insight into the person your child is becoming, including his social situation and personal goals, and you would be in a better position to offer guidance.  The playing field would be leveled (much to the horror of many parents) and your child would have a much better chance of successfully reaching his goals.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “I’ve asked my child what the problem is, but he won’t talk to me.”  Gee, would you try talking to your boss if he has repeatedly “shut the door on you” by bribing you with rewards?  It’s up to the parents to change their way of educating their children.  It might take time to see results; after all, you have been bribing your child for five, ten, fifteen years.  But just like explaining “why” is an investment, so is finding out “why”.

Suggested reading: Punished By Rewards, by Alfie Kohn.

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Beautiful

June 13, 2008

Yesterday I wore my hair down in the classroom.  A precious 4-year old approached me, stroked my hair, and declared: “You’re beautiful.”

I dare you to find a more satisfying field of work.🙂

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Blame

June 13, 2008

It’s all over the news: one child dies every six seconds from malnutrition and starvation in the developing world.  Their faces stare out at us from countless news articles; eyes wide, longing for salvation, and yet resigned to their cruel fate. Young and frail, they’ve suffered more in their few years of life than we ever will.

I sit at my computer, knowing that the few dollars I can send will do little to alleviate their long-term suffering.  And then I find this.

How is it that we can live in a country where people pay upwards of $15,000 to lose weight at an “it’s all about me” fat camp?  Whatever happened to strapping on a pair of tennis shoes and waddling around the block?  Or choosing the salad over the chicken pot pie?  How on earth did we even get here?  

Maybe we should blame television, with its messages of happiness through consumption.  We could accuse restaurants of serving up gargantuan portions.  We could fault Roosevelt for creating the many highways that turned us into a vehicle-dependent society.  Heck, many people blame their genes.

Well, how about blaming ourselves?  Isn’t it time we took responsibility for how our lifestyle choices affect us and those around us?

How many children could $15,000 feed???  How many lives could we save???  And why are businesses like that one thriving while children are dying?