Family life, Montessori philosophy, Peace education

On a bad day

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Recently, I had a bad day.

A late-for-everything, take-out for supper, yelled at my kids, fat lip of the heart kind of day.

The kind of day where it feels like no matter what I got right, forget how many books I read or the art-making or cooking, it still doesn’t feel like I’m really connecting with my kids. The kind where it feels like every time I sat down to eat, or text a friend, or take a shower, it got interrupted.

The frustration and the guilt turned into a vicious cycle.

At some point on this terrible, no-good day, I realized: respectful parenting and Montessori ideas are a useful guide for our home not because I’ve got it all together as parent, but because I don’t. The philosophy offers tools and support when my own go-tos fail.

I’ve written before about creating space for children to experience error in order to learn, and it occurred to me that I rarely hold that kind of space for my self. It seems silly really — after all, it’s not as though I have nothing left to learn.

This week I’m trying to be more gracious with myself, as I aim to be with my children, in order to foster learning and growth.

That same frustrating, messy, human day, I read these words in the beloved book The Tao of Montessori by Catherine McTamaney, and felt both seen and buoyed:

“Abandon fault. Leave behind the blame placing. Even the best teaching is messy.”

May your messy days be days of learning too.

 

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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Family life, Nature, Practical Life, Preschool, toddler

Autumn activities for little people

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Autumn is one of my favourite times of year — a time for circling back, for settling in, and for reaping the harvest. It’s also the time when I celebrate my birthday, our wedding anniversary, and two amazing holidays — Canadian Thanksgiving and Halloween. Looking for ideas on how to make the best of the season? Take a few tips from a pro.¬†ūüėČ

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Plant bulbs now for flowers next spring. During last week’s Milkweed Montessori morning, my toddler friends and I read Planting a Rainbow, and then spent some time digging holes and popping in bulbs for crocus, tulip and daffodils. It’s great way to connect this moment within the flow of moments that make up the days, weeks, months, and seasons, that lead us to a moment next spring when, green shoot pokes through the earth and offers up a bloom.

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Get in touch with the fruits of the season. Part of what makes autumn so magical is that it is the culmination of the warm sunshiny days that came before it, and no where is that better illustrated than in ripe apples and big, round pumpkins. Apple picking, the pumpkin patch or a wander through a corn maze offer opportunities to connect with tradition in a hands-on way, from toddlers on up. These are the icons of the season for a reason, so throw out the cliches, and get out there and see how and where they grow. If your tastes run a little wilder, keep an eye out for high bush cranberry or autumn olive on outdoor adventures.

Ready to take it to the next level? Save your pumpkin seeds for growing in the garden next year. This year our backyard pumpkin patch has provided two perfectly round specimens for two perfectly spooky jack o’lanterns.

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Make a pie! A few years ago, a morning-long Pie 101 presentation from my friend Katie (an award-winning pie baker!) helped to conquer my fear of pastry. Now I always make a few pies when the fruit is at its peak, and I nearly always have help from my helpers, who love to peel the apples, bust up the butter, and roll out the pastry. If you do brave pie-baking with preschoolers, snap a pic and use the #montessoripie hashtag!

Follow along with Fall Outside 2017, an annual online reminder to go outside, and a welcoming online community to share those experiences with. For me, November is one of the hardest times of year — a wistful goodbye to the joys of October, and a grey introduction to the months to come. I’ve enjoyed following along with the prompts since November 2015, and we’ll do so again this year.

What are you up to this season? Share your ideas and tips with me, because there’s still some autumn left!¬†

Related posts: 

Autumn fun Рa bumper crop of apple works 

A whole post dedicated to Planting a Rainbow

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22-24 months, 24-28 months, 3 years old, 3-6 Years, Books, Casa, Family life, Nature, Preschool

Montessori books to celebrate changing seasons

After Mother Nature hit our area with some late-breaking hot hot heat last week, it seems that finally crisp mornings and falling leaves are signalling the seasonal shift from summer to autumn. Feeling these changes as each season rolls on is something that I’m more and more attuned to, both as I get older, and my kids do. Growth, change, forward momentum, life in all it’s many forms ‚ÄĒ it’s a daily celebration on this traveling orb we call Earth.

I love to read books that are tuned in to these seasonal rhythms, and that reflect the times we’re having as a family. Sometimes a book that cycles through all the seasons, reminding of us of where we are in the big picture can be just the thing to remind us to celebrate the present.

Friendly for both toddlers and preschool-age reading times, and full of good curiosity-building possibility, here are a few books that our family has enjoyed reading, no matter the season:

Out and About: A First Book of Poems

Lovely to page through from cover to cover, or to read through the poems that fit today’s season or weather, this book is a treasure. Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes, the creator of the beloved Alfie series, you’ll find these poems are a true reflection of family life lived in season.

To Be Like the Sun

A girl, her sunflower seed, and the glory of the flower it produces… and then, midwinter, a girl, and her sunflower seed once more. This book is beautifully illustrated, with a story told with enough energy to keep even the tinies captivated.

Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights

In our family, we have a particular connection with the arctic, but I think the subtle changes that this book follows through one of the planet’s most unique environments will delight any curious child as each page follows the light.

The Year at Maple Hill Farm

A sweetly-detailed book that follows the calendar year through each month on a busy farm, this is an evergreen book that seems to expand to meet the growing child’s awareness.

When the Wind Stops

A favourite of mine to read, and of Jasper’s to hear, this book is the kind that settles the whole family into the peace of evening after a busy day. It answers those simple and yet big questions every child has in a way that is plain and true and also deeply metaphorical. Where does the sun go when it sets? To bring morning to another place.

Do you have a family favourite for all seasons? Let me know in the comments below! 

 

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3-6 Years, Casa, Montessori philosophy, Preschool

At the end of the day

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Do you ever take a peek at what’s been happening when you pick your child up from school or childcare?

I sure do. Every time. Of course, it’s partly about my own interest in seeing how the Montessori method plays out in real life, with real kids.

And I like to see a lovely prepared environment that has become imperfect in that perfectly child-led way ‚ÄĒ useful to keep in mind when our home space feels askew, too.

But it’s also about seeing the environment where my son spends some of his days, and soaking that in. Getting a sense of what the buzz has been about and how we’ll transition from school to supper.

What do you see at the end of the day?

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18 months, 18-21 months, 22-24 months, 24-28 months, Family life, Montessori philosophy

The toddler question

 

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Life with toddlers: it’s not for the faint of heart.

Toddlers are wonderful humans. They are curious and compassionate, full of energy and emotion. I live with one myself, a little sprite who brings joy to the whole family each day, and who embraces and insists upon independence, choice, and doing it herself!

One of the greatest gifts I received during my Montessori training a few years back was my teacher’s wonderful advice to, in the midst of those inevitable stormy¬†moments with a toddler, step back from the intensity¬†of the storm and ask: what is the child’s developmental need?¬†

I learned that, contrary to our culture’s comments on tantrums and the “terrible twos,” a¬†toddler isn’t developmentally capable of being willful. Toddlers are naturally without motive ‚ÄĒ it’s not until around¬†three years-old that a child’s own will actually even develops.

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What drives a toddler is this forward movement into their own development.

Occasionally, there are limits that interrupt that forward motion ‚ÄĒ whether it’s¬†a parent, who absent-mindedly takes over zipping up a jacket, or needs a child to be buckled into a car seat ‚ÄĒ or even just the physical limits of the natural world, like when a child wants to fit a large block into a small hole. Encountering these edges can mean that joyful child is suddenly frustrated ‚ÄĒ more so than seems reasonable to the parent who has their own set of expectations front of mind.

It’s then, in the moment, that we can step back, take a deep breath, and ask: what is the child’s developmental need? It’s a crucial moment, one in which we take ourselves out of the heat of our own emotion about what’s happening, and try to see the world from our toddler’s perspective. Rather than, say, this one:

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Montessori identified that there are certain times in a child’s life when they are overwhelmingly interested in and able to take in certain developmental stages, called sensitive periods. Sometimes parents see their child acting “obsessed,” repeatedly doing the same thing: taking shoes on and off, climbing the stairs, turning lights off. Whenever that repeated activity is happening, you can bet that it’s because some big learning is happening.

As caregivers, understanding sensitive periods can shed light on what is happening for a frustrated toddler. Toddlers are sensitive to order, they have a need for movement, and for language.

A toddler who is sensitive to order ‚ÄĒ a natural desire that things should be “just so”‚ÄĒ might be like the little guy I met at a party a few years ago. People were gathered around the door, some dressing, some going out, and a little toddler stood in the midst of it all, insisting that the open door should be closed. His mother was getting annoyed, it seemed inappropriate ‚ÄĒ some folks were about to go out. But from his perspective, he saw something that was out of order: an open door should be closed.

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I used to see this chart Maria Montessori created as a sort of report card, to see how my child measured up. Now I understand: it’s a list of needs. What if a child at 15 months NEEDS to walk without help?¬†Game-changing. (Chart from The Absorbent Mind)

I know a sweet little girl who lives in a one-storey home. Get that girl into a house with stairs, and she’s got one focus, every time: up, then down. Up, then down. She’s gotta move! I remember reading somewhere that Maria Montessori suspected that the reason young kids love slides so much isn’t actually about the sliding: it’s all about the stairs.

I’ve faced all kinds of challenges with a child in need of movement: a long flight with a toddler on my lap, a music class for toddlers that expected my 13-month old to stay seated for 30 minutes, or simply a Tuesday afternoon preschool pick-up deadline, with a toddler who didn’t get enough playtime after her nap.

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So what’s to be done when developmental need bumps up against the edges of regular family life?

Sometimes just recognizing what the developmental need is takes the intensity out and gives me compassion for my child in the moment, and that in itself feels like enough.

Sometimes you spend most of a party over on the stairs, letting that eager girl climb.

Sometimes I have to say: “I know you’d like to keep walking, but we need to take the car to get there on time. Do you want to climb in or do you need my help?” And if¬†she keeps on running, I take that as a choice that she needs my help getting into the car (and I make a note: this toddler needs some freedom to move).

This parenting thing is always imperfect, but looking for the developmental need can offer just the type of opportunity I’m always looking for as a mom: to bring¬†a little more space into¬†a stressful moment.

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Montessori philosophy, Peace education

Root and compass

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After all these years, these words anchor us to where we are and keep us moving forward. Both root and compass in this work we do as parents, Maria Montessori’s wisdom is as necessary today as ever. May you, and your children, and your neighbours, and all creatures on this green earth, give and receive love in all its power.

Quote from The Absorbent Mind.

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Casa, Montessori philosophy, Peace education, Social justice

The Montessori teacher at the homeless shelter

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The Montessori Academy at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, Indiana, is exactly as inspiring and unique as it sounds. As a Montessori classroom built to serve children living with homelessness, it’s the first and only of its kind¬†‚ÄĒand yet, it’s also a return to the true roots of Maria Montessori, who began her work with children living in poverty in Rome.

I’ve written before about my love of podcasts, and that’s how I first heard about this amazing school. Scott Carrier, the host of Home of the Brave, met a woman outside a Bernie Sanders rally, and asked what had brought her there. As soon as I heard Porzia Micou say she was the director¬†the Montessori Academy at the Center for the Homeless, I put aside the meal I was preparing, turned up the volume, and payed attention.

Porzia’s story was so compelling, her communication so clear and graceful ‚ÄĒ I needed to know more about her and her work. And I’d love to introduce you to her, as well. Here’s our conversation:

M: How did you first connect with the Montessori philosophy?

Porzia: About 10 years ago my nephew attended the Montessori Academy located in Mishawaka IN. It is the number one private school in our area and the only dually accredited Montessori school in Indiana. The Academy was the second school in the nation to receive AMS accreditation. These facts, along with witnessing firsthand the quality of education my nephew received, brought me into the world of Montessori.

How long have you been at the Montessori Academy at the Center for the Homeless?

Five years ago, I was given the opportunity to work at the Academy’s classroom located at the South Bend Center for the Homeless. I began as an assistant and later received my credentials through AMS as a 3-6 year old guide.

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How many students attend the school?

Due to the nature of the population we serve, we experience a constant shift in numbers. When our parents¬†leave the Center, the children are still able to attend our program. We have a few children who stay to complete¬†the three year cycle. Some are only with us for days, weeks or months at a time. Issues with transportation,¬†family structure and relocation usually determine retention rates. We strive to create a stable, nurturing¬†environment for all who enter the program. Presently, we have 9 children enrolled ‚ÄĒ five who live at the center, four who live elsewhere.

How does the Montessori method support the children who attend at your school?

Throughout my time at the Center, I have seen certain commonalities among the adults living here, and central to these are a lack of independence and a sense of inner peace. Everything that we do in our environment focuses on instilling those traits early on.

During the orientation process, I ask every child ‚Äúwhose classroom is this?‚ÄĚ I¬†usually get the response: ‚Äúyours!‚ÄĚ With that I say, ‚ÄúThis is your classroom, this is your space, it belongs to you.‚Ä̬†Many seem shocked by this as they have never had anything to call their own. There is a different sort of value¬†in caring for something that is your own.

During the day, the upkeep of the environment is the responsibility of the child. They do their own dishes, prepare light meals, clean and fold laundry. These are basic but necessary skills needed to become self-sufficient as an adult.

Everything that we do and say to each other is based on peace and respect. I recognize that many of our children come from places that are not ideal. For some, the classroom is an outlet, a safe place where they get some reprieve from the chaos that is home. The order and structure of the materials and environment is instills a deep security within the child.

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How is your classroom like any Montessori class?

The principals are the same as any other classroom. We achieve normalcy by having a core group of children that have been here for some time. They usually set the standard and model appropriate classroom behaviors.

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How is it different?

Because we are a part of an organization that relies heavily on donations, there is a constant stream of traffic¬†from the community. In order to make this less distracting, we encourage our children to say ‚ÄúWelcome to our¬†classroom‚ÄĚ then continue to work. Many of the side effects of homelessness, as it relates to children, manifest¬†in our environment.

We have to be sensitive to those matters and meet the children where they are. Science has shown us that, in order for people to thrive, their basic physiological needs must first be met. We see children who have experienced varying degrees of abuse aimed at them or towards a parent, housing crisis and insecurities about having enough to eat. Many are suffering from trauma related disorders based on their past. We see these extremes along with intact, otherwise stable family units who are experiencing temporary hardships.

In 2012, at age 29, Porzia found a lump in her left breast. Uninsured and misdiagnosed, over the next three years, that lump eventually grew to the size of a golf ball.

Can you tell me about your breast cancer diagnosis, recovery and the aftermath of that journey?

In the winter of 2014, my fianc√© came home¬†with a piece of mail and stated that he added me to his health insurance. The definition of a spouse has¬†changed recently and I was able to be insured under his plan. Coverage started the next spring (2015). I¬†scheduled an appointment with who I thought was a reputable physician. By this time the mass on my chest¬†was the size of a golf ball. She performed another cursory exam, asked me what the other physician had said,¬†and agreed that it was a cyst. She told me to monitor it and call her if anything changed. My option in the future¬†would be to have it drained‚Ķ Because my pap smear came back normal, new guidelines state that I come¬†back in two years, not yearly as it was before. By June of 2015, I was becoming increasingly worried. I had¬†sharp pains and woke up every night with a voice telling me to go back. Much to her dismay, the doctor agreed¬†to see me again. When she walked in, I opened my gown and she gasped. ‚ÄúHave you ever had an ultrasound,¬†have you ever been biopsied?‚ÄĚ I replied: ‚ÄúNo, you told me everything was fine and to come back in two¬†years‚Ķ‚ÄĚ Nothing was the same after that. I was sent for a mammogram soon after. The attendant confided in¬†me that if something appeared off, I would have an ultrasound immediately after. Sure enough, the¬†mammogram spotted a problem and I was sent to have an ultrasound. The attendant in that department told¬†me that if they spotted anything wrong, the Radiologist would come in to speak with me. After a couple of¬†minutes he entered, looked at the screen and then at me. He demanded to know who my previous doctors¬†were and informed me that I had a tumor ‚Äďnot a cyst. I scheduled a trip to Savannah to be with family and¬†opted not to hear any results until I returned.

In early August of 2015, I was in the classroom getting ready for the start of the year when I received the call from my surgeon. The only memory I have of that moment was walking backwards to find a chair so that I wouldn’t hit the ground. My niece and nephew were with me that day so I felt the need to stay calm. I cried as I told them that it we needed to leave and felt heavy as I lifted myself into the car.

I called my sisters and together we told my mother who collapsed on my kitchen floor. That remains the hardest part of my journey.

We asked my surgeon to come into his office right away. I came in not knowing what to expect. He looked concerned and informed me that I had Stage III triple negative breast cancer. I heard nothing more after that. It was a surreal feeling that day, I felt disconnected. Droves of family and friends came in and out but I wasn’t present. I could not stop crying.

My niece took my hand and reminded me that I promised to take her to the park that day. I remember smiling at her and telling her to grab a sweater, it would be chilly. That one moment defined the way that I would handle the struggles to come. I decided to not be a victim and to fight this with everything that I had in me, and I did! My children who were 11 and 12 at the time handled everything with grace and dignity. They were/ are truly amazing. I started an aggressive chemo treatment schedule which I finished in November 2015. It was everything they said it would be, lost hair, gained weight but it saved me. I opted for a lumpectomy after careful consideration and started radiation shortly after. I had 33 treatments, which were administered to me daily after work. My doctors continue to be amazed at my recovery. I didn’t learn until after the fact that the odds were stacked against me.

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In the midst of your own challenges, how do you find the peace and balance you need in order to go into the classroom each day?

I credit the children in my life for saving me. From my girls to my nieces, nephews and all of my wonderful school kids, I never stayed down for long. I think that attitude plays a role in the recovery process. I understand that children are receptive to emotions. If I am feeling sad or emotionally unwell it vibrates through the environment. I had to change the way that I felt about my circumstances in order to stay in a positive frame of mind.

I informed my parents on what was transpiring and told the children only what was necessary. (‚ÄúI feel¬†tired today, can you work independently?‚ÄĚ I take medicine that makes my hair fall out but look at all the pretty¬†scarves I can wear!‚ÄĚ) I brought in an old rocking chair and sat there reading stories or giving lessons on my¬†hard days. I didn‚Äôt want to miss a day. I was unsure of how my absence would affect the group. Our children, in¬†particular, have issues with abandonment and change. I was obligated to persevere because I had children to¬†support at home and children who depended on my presence at school. I think that all children have an internal¬†peace; I drew a lot of my calm from them.

Porzia’s story ‚ÄĒ and her passion, her poise, her courage, her grace ‚ÄĒ is such an inspiration to me.¬†Through incredible hardship, she has continued to show up for the children in her life ‚ÄĒ both her own, and those she teaches. Though Porzia’s focus now is to look forward to the rest of her life, the aftermath of this battle has¬†been an incredible financial burden on her family. They’ve lost a car, they’ve had to move, and incredibly, Porzia is now saving up to file for bankruptcy.¬†

Porzia’s family have set up a GoFundMe page where you can join me in donating to support Porzia and her family. Many of us raising young children, or working in early education, don’t have a lot to give. But we all have something to share:¬†Please click here and give what you can.¬†

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