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.


Getting the Message Across

June 11, 2008

Last night, Tom and I were discussing the most effective ways of getting messages of awareness and change out to people who have been blinded by mass media and the government.  He argued that light-hearted videos such as The Meatrix and Grocery Store Wars were more likely to be a catalyst for change (or at least awareness) than more hard-core videos like Earthlings,because the general public would find them amusing and would tolerate watching them (even I haven’t been able to get through Earthlings in one sitting).

He has a point. The hardest part about exposing the truth is getting people to listen, and these animated videos put forth important messages without making you queasy.  But… Will these videos prove effective for inspiring actual change??  

I think most people in our society are unwilling to transform how they live or modify what they believe in until they are personally impacted and/or shaken to the core.   What is getting SUV drivers to re-think their means of transportation?  It isn’t warnings about global warming (after all, who cares if polar bears are dying?!).  It’s “the pinch at the pump”!  

I don’t exclude myself: I dated Tom – a vegetarian of 20+ years – for almost four months before I became convinced to give up all meat.  What was the catalyst?  The astounding, courageous book Fast Food Nation.  I had watched all the requisite cow cartoons an intergalactic store wars videos that Tom is a fan of, but nothing convinced me prior to reading the book.  

Would I have been as receptive to the book’s message if my mind hadn’t been primed by these deceptively cute videos?  Perhaps they play a much more important role than I give them credit for.  What do you consider the most effective means for getting your message of change across?


TB, or not TB

September 14, 2007

When you work with children, you’re required to get a tuberculosis screening.  After doing extensive research on the horrors of vaccines, I was hesitant to get the test done.  Nonetheless, it’s a requirement for my Master’s degree training, so off I went to the clinic.

The test is quite simple: a human strain of inactive tuberculosis bacteria is injected into your forearm.  If you’re a carrier of the bacteria, the area will swell like a spider bite within 72 hours.  The procedure is mostly painless and quick.

However, less than 10 minutes later as I was getting on the freeway, I started getting really faint and dizzy.  My forearm started cramping slightly and I had to pull over!  I was ‘thisclose’ to fainting… ALONE… IN MY CAR.  I cranked up the air conditioning, poured some water on the back of my neck, and sat with my head between my legs for what seemed like forever but was probably about 10 minutes.

When I had recovered, I drove over to my acupuncturist’s office.  I explained what had happened to me and she said that most likely my body had had a reaction to the toxins in the shot.  TOXINS???  This was a TB “test”, not a vaccine!

I got home from the test and got busy with school and work and life.  No time to do research, right?  Well, last night I started having MAJOR menstrual cramps.  And I do mean MAJOR.  As in “wake you up in the middle of the night” MAJOR.   This is VERY abnormal for me, and I had an inkling of what had caused them.

Well, I did a tiny bit of research this morning (better late than never), and LOOK WHAT I FOUND in the VERY FIRST search result that appears after Googling “ingredients in tuberculosis test”.  It turns out that one of the chemicals used to stabilize the bacteria causes mutations in the reproductive organs of female rats.  Additionally, the preservative used is “an extremely poisonous antiseptic, germicidal and disinfectant”.



CSA – The Healthy Way

September 5, 2007

Yesterday was CSA day, which for me is like Christmas every two weeks (but without the family drama).  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a fabulous program available in many cities around the country. You sign up with your local organic farm, and every one or two weeks (you choose the schedule) you pick up a box full of delicious produce.

During the Winter months, we get butternut squash, chard, turnips, beets, apples, oranges, mandarins, fennel and kale, among other things. In the Summer months, we get delicious heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, mixed salads, zucchini, collard greens, peaches, and green beans, to name but a few items.

The benefits – to your family, the community, and the planet – of joining a CSA program are many. Through your membership, you are supporting local organic agriculture and actively pumping money back into your local economy. Organic farmers face many challenges and hardships in order to bring us quality produce, and this is a great way to thank them. At the same time, because you skip the assorted middlemen and costs involved in bringing produce to a grocery store, you can save a considerable amount of money!

While you’re saving money, you could also be doing your part to save the planet. According to the PA Department of Agriculture, the average vegetable travels nearly 1,500 miles from the farm to the grocery store before you even see it on display. That’s 27 times the mileage of foods purchased from local farms! Join a CSA, and not only will you be reducing your carbon footprint, but you’ll be limiting the amount of money that goes into the pockets of Big Oil. We all like that!

Much shorter travel times mean that your fruits and vegetables will last longer in the fridge. How many times have you been forced to throw away partially-consumed bags of salad because the vegetables spoiled after only two or three days in your fridge? We receive a large amount of produce every two weeks (enough to fill two large crisper drawers and one shelf in the fridge). Many of our veggies have lasted us up to three weeks without special handling or packaging! Try that with supermarket produce.

And speaking of supermarket items, have you noticed how bland and insipid fruits and veggies have gotten in the past years? Many people remember growing up with sweet, juicy strawberries and plump, flavorful tomatoes. Now, all you get are crunchy, dry, flavorless foods with reduced nutritional value, wax coatings, and elevated prices. These fruits and vegetables have been picked while still unripe, resulting in lower nutritional values, and impaired flavor and texture. Taste a strawberry from a CSA or a farmer’s market and I guarantee that you will NEVER buy grocery store produce again!

Now, let’s face it, if you feed your family fruits and vegetables, it’s with their health in mind, right? Well, if you buy your produce in the supermarket, you might be surprised to see these statistics:

Reviewing 41 published studies comparing the nutritional value of organically grown and conventionally grown fruits, vegetables and grains, certified nutrition specialist Virginia Worthington has concluded that there are significantly more of several nutrients in organic crops. These include: 27% more vitamin C, 21.1% more iron, 29.3% more magnesium, and 13.6% more phosphorus. In addition, organic products had 15.1% less nitrates than their conventional counterparts.

See the complete article here.

And finally, there’s the fun of receiving a bunch of unexpected items, and creating or researching great recipes to bring the flavors to life! Yesterday, it was so hot in San Diego that I decided to make a cold dinner. I combined cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, basil, and red onions with a generous squeeze of lemon, a dash of extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and coarsely-ground pepper. This salad accompanied a mixture of quinoa, lentils, parsley, and radishes. Hummus and pita bread rounded out this well-balanced vegetarian meal. It was ready in less than 30 minutes, and I only dirtied two bowls in the process! Who says healthy cooking has to be laborious and time-consuming???

For more information on your closest CSA or farmer’s market, visit http://www.localharvest.org

Here’s a GREAT six-minute video about choosing organic produce that your entire family will enjoy! Share it with your kids and teach them the way to better health.


Here We Go…

September 4, 2007

I had wanted to start this blog for a few weeks, but “life” kept getting in the way. However, I finally got my priorities in order a few days ago, when I went for an ob-gyn checkup.

Before I continue with my story, perhaps a little background would be in order. I was raised “normally” until the age of nine. By “normally”, I mean that I had recurring sinus infections, colds every year, and made regular visits to the pediatrician. Change “sinus” to any other infection, and this sentence could apply to a large majority of the children in the Western world. My mother was very conscious of our diet, providing us with healthy doses of dairy products, meats, vegetables, and tropical fruits throughout the year, believing that in this way we would be getting plenty of nutrients, vitamins, and calcium essential for proper growth.

My grandmother became deathly ill the summer I turned 9, and the doctors told her she was as good as dead at the age of 63. My mother kidnapped her from her hospital room and took her to see a “miracle Chinese doctor” her brother had heard about. This doctor turned out to be a talented Japanese acupuncturist – and a life-saver. Six weeks later, after adopting a new diet for life and receiving acupuncture treatment ONLY, my grandmother played volleyball with us in the pool.

My mother was amazed by the doctor’s abilities and vowed to learn all she could from him. She started studying the nutrition of the ancient Far East cultures and modified her family’s diet accordingly. We adopted an eating plan based on whole grains, legumes, green vegetables, sea vegetables, local seasonal fruits, and a little fish. We also started receiving acupuncture treatment to balance our energy channels.

My grandmother is still alive 22 years later and doesn’t take ANY medications. She recently tripped and fell on a sidewalk, but didn’t break a single bone. She’s 85 years old. I have not taken antibiotics or gone to see a Western doctor (other than an ob-gyn) in 22 years. My mother is now a certified acupuncturist with a thriving practice where she combines this ancient healing technique with diet modification. I’ll write more about her later… She’s my hero and my inspiration.

So, back to my story and why I finally decided to start this blog. I hadn’t been to the ob-gyn in three years and my boyfriend suggested I go for a routine check-up. The doctor I visited was highly recommended by a friend, but the experience I had with this so-called “professional” reminded me why we should all be empowered to heal ourselves.

When I entered the office and sat down, she asked me a few routine questions, barely bothering to glance at me as she wrote. She then examined me for all of five minutes, determined I had a mild infection (which she didn’t bother to name), and told me she would give me a prescription for some medicine.

I pressed her for more information on the infection, so she grudgingly gave me the name and told me that it was probably due to wearing tight pants (which I don’t, but she didn’t bother to ask). She summarily dismissed me, and I was left to investigate the causes of the infection, as well as the ingredients in the medication she wanted me to unquestioningly stuff my body with.

I got home, ripped up the prescription, and jumped online. I soon found several natural remedies for the very common infection I had. A quick dash to the supermarket’s produce section, and I was armed with all the tools I needed to cure myself of this simple ailment. Not only that… Through my research, I had discovered that a leading cause of the infection is an unbalanced diet. Looking back, I had gotten careless with the types of foods I was eating, and I know now that this is what brought the imbalance about.

This experience with Western medicine reminded me of the crucial importance of taking your health into your own hands. I have spent the entire weekend doing research into the rampant deterioration of our collective health at the hands of “professionals” and pharmaceutical companies. I will post much more on this topic in the near future, but for now I’d just like to remind you that they can only continue to destroy our health while we let them.

While my imbalance was easy to fix, I know that many illnesses are much graver and require professional guidance. Instead of going first to your Western doctor and pumping yourself full of chemicals without ever tackling the root causes of your illness, why don’t you consider visiting an acupuncturist and giving these ancient and well-proven methods a try? You might just save your own life and change the futures of your entire family.