Archive for the ‘montessori’ Category


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.


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.”


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!


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!


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.


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.


Explaining “Why” Is an Investment

June 12, 2008

I recently gave 10 parents a tour of the school I work for.  I explained the concepts that set Montessori apart from other pre-schools, pointed out the materials used in the classroom, and reviewed a typical day in the life of a Montessori child.  During a question and answer session at the end of the tour, a parent asked me how we disciplined the children.  I told them the truth: we don’t.  Children discipline themselves.

The Montessori philosophy requires limits (rules) in the classroom, among them: how to carry a chair, how to interact with classmates, and how to use the materials.  While a few limits are established by the guide (such as when they can eat lunch, the fact that they can’t have cartoon characters on their clothes, etc.), most limits are set by the environment.  

What does this mean?  Take, for example, the limit on how to carry a tray with materials on it.  Children who are new to the Montessori environment are formally introduced to the classroom materials before they are permitted to manipulate them, because a child who lacks self-discipline is likely to carry the tray haphazardly and run through the classroom.  When the child enters the classroom for the first time, the guide will silently demonstrate how to carry a tray correctly and how to walk in the classroom.  She will explain why the tray should be carried gently and with two hands, and she will explain with very few words that we walk in order to avoid accidents.  The child will also be shown how to clean up a spill if he does have an accident.  

At this point, the responsibility to care for the material has passed from the adult to the child.  From then on, the child will become conscious of his duty to carry the materials correctly, and will control his movements in order to prevent any accidents.  He is developing mastery over his body and actions, which is the core foundation of self-discipline.  

If he ignores this limit, the natural consequences will be that the material will fall off the tray, break, and not be replaced for a few days (or even a few weeks!).  The material, by its fragility, is setting the limits to how the child can move.  He will also have to clean up the spill (another natural consequence and a crucial aspect of building self-discipline) and he’ll have to live with the knowledge that his carelessness has prevented others in the classroom from having access to the material (a great lesson in social responsibility and collective consciousness). 

What he won’t ever experience in a Montessori environment are adults who show lack of trust by repeatedly reminding him to be careful.  Nobody will yell at him, nor will an adult clean up after him (unless broken glass is involved).  Thus, he won’t carry the tray correctly to earn points with the teacher or avoid being admonished.  He’ll do it because he knows it’s the right thing to do and he is aware of the natural consequences of his actions.  

Yes, it takes a bit more energy and dedication on the part of the adult to explain why (sometimes more than once) and to allow natural consequences to occur, but if the result is a child who is self-disciplined and can therefore be set free to safely discover the world around him, then explaining why is time well spent.