Thursday, February 28, 2013

Who Are Our Kids and What Can They Do?

I used to be a mom to a 1 year old and 3 year old and a 5 year old and 7 year old and then a 10 year old and 12 year, today, I am a mom to a 15 year old and 18 year old......wowzee~how did that happen?  Time really does fly, life goes by so quickly....I used to always think, I can't remember my kids younger and I can't imagine them older, then, voila-here we are!  In some ways I have learned a lot being a parent, in other ways, I know nothing.  ;)

I have such a strong belief in children.  In the classroom, our view/beliefs of children are so heart felt and dictate how we are and how we function.  As a parent, it's more difficult to carry that through day to day, living out the hard stuff of parenting, the ups and downs of development, challenges, etc.  But, as I have continued on my faith journey, God has shown me so clearly how uniquely He has created my boys (and all of us!) and that He has given them such gifts and strengths and that as a parent, I want to encourage.  Unfortunately, the world has such a narrow view of people/children.  The world views children in a certain way and dictates what determines a 'good' kid over a 'bad' kid.  The world looks at behavior, grades, performance, looks, accomplishments, who they are associated with etc.  In our classroom, the belief is that every child is valued and has something to offer and brings gifts to the classroom.  We believe that, even if/when we don't see it.  The truth about our children is that they are strong, capable, resilient, flexible, creative, compassionate, helpful, bright, inclusive, insightful, patient, intuitive....need I say more?!

So, if/when these qualities are not being demonstrated (or, if a child is not yet 'normalized' as Maria Montessori says), what can we do to encourage them and how can we help a child bring those qualities to the forefront?  As a Montessorian, I believe that encouraging independence and allowing children to freely develop and become comfortable with who they are, knowing themselves and really stepping out in what interests them is the way to help these qualities develop. I have a couple of examples that may bring these things to light:

*  Try not to move in on your child too quickly when they are feeling frustrated.  In the classroom, we allow children to work through many things that they may be having difficulty doing.  Children at school are working on getting their coats etc on independently.  Allowing them to work through those challenges is giving them practice doing it themselves.  A child may work on zipping their coat for a minute or two and not be able to get it, but the work they do trying is valuable.  If we were to move in quickly and do it for them, that takes away the opportunity for them to learn how to do it themselves.  Sometimes, a child may try and then start yelling or crying or getting upset.  We encourage them to use their words. We may say, 'Let me know if you need help'.  It's amazing how they can pull it together and ask for help.  Our tendency is to move in and stop the frustrating moment or stop them from crying, but that isn't helpful to their independence.  And, the small areas of independence a child can have can actually decrease overall frustration because they are able to manage themselves in some situations.  This process is slow and happens over time as new skills are learned and mastered.  Thinking about our long terms hopes for our children can help us be strong in the small moments that are difficult.

*  Think about how you manage your time and the time you allow for your children to get ready.  Our environment at school is prepared, intentional and tended to multiple times a day to have our classroom ready to promote success and independence for the children.  At  home, you can think about how you can arrange your schedule to allow for the time needed for children to be more independent.  Are they able to reach their items to get ready?  Are their shoes/coats etc in a place where they can get them w/o help.  It would be great if those things are consistently kept in the same place and they can learn to return them to the same place.  Can you set up your kitchen in a way that children can get snacks/drinks independently?  You can place plastic wear in a drawer or on a shelf that children can access easily.

*  Listen more, talk less.  As adults, we can assume a lot about what a child wants/needs based on their behavior.  But, it can often times be inaccurate.  Allow/encourage your child to talk to you about his/her needs.  Help them figure things out by communicating with them vs moving in and doing for them based on what you think is going on.  Taking a child by the hand, walking them to another area, outside or away from the immediate situation can allow for a breath to be taken and the situation to be assessed.

*  Take emotions out-this is very difficult to do with our children. We love them so much that we are deeply emotionally connected.  But, not over reacting on either end keeps things peaceful and calm.  Our children will be sad, they will be frustrated, they will be angry.  Don't be afraid of these emotions.  Helping children develop strategies and communicate effectively during these times are important life skills.  If we swoop in and try to just 'fix' things quickly or apply a temporary band-aid, our children are not learning to manage themselves and their emotions.  If they can learn to do that, work through conflict and frustration, they are on the road to being an independent, functional adult.

Taking this road to allow your children to become more independent, confident and capable is challenging, takes patience and requires us to face some of our own 'stuff' as we deal with our children. But, I promise you, it will be the most fruitful.  We see amazing things in our classroom all the time-the children being focused, attentive, and orderly.  We see great strides in children as they learn how to do new things, communicate, and go about their day managing the processes and procedures of the classroom.  This is GOOD stuff!!  Bringing in that same philosophy to your home will no doubt bring you peace and help to build a loving, encouraging relationship with your children.

Friday, February 8, 2013

"Powerhouse Problem Solvers"

I recently viewed the following video

Anna Lee is the Director of Meadow Montessori School in Maryland.  She said, 'Children are powerhouse problem solvers'.....LOVE this!  Got me do we know what great problem solvers our children are if we don't allow them to sit in a problem, work through a challenge, or come up with solutions to a struggle.  As parents we love our children so's almost painful at times.  Often times, our instinct is to run and rescue them, save them from themselves or their problems.  For some reason whether it's our own childhood experience or even just our culture that says, don't struggle, don't fail, or don't go through difficult times.  However, these challenges, failures and difficult times can be such wonderful learning opportunities.  As adults, we can all recall times in our lives when things were hard, we had a challenge that didn't seem could be overcome, or we were very sad or hurt.  But, I think, if we're honest, we would also say those times were wonderful times of growth, times we realized we were stronger,more capable, or better prepared than we ever thought.  What does this look like for our children?  In our classroom, we see children struggle everyday with a problem or social situation that is difficult.  I have a couple of examples from just this week:  A new puzzle came out in our geography shelf.  It's indeed a challenging puzzle.  Two children were doing the puzzle-they took out all the pieces, worked about 2 minutes, then came to me asking for help.  Knowing they hadn't worked very long, I said go back and keep trying. They once again came to me asking for help.  I went to their rug and gave them a bit of verbal encouragement w/o touching their work, and they continued working.  They began having some success so I moved away, then voila,they finished!  They were so proud.  If I would have moved in and done the puzzle for them, they wouldn't have experienced or known their ability to push through and figure it out.  

Another example is that we have a handful of newer students who just started CMS in January. They have been learning how to get their snow clothes on to go outside.  This is BIG work!  If a child needs support, typically the teacher will give very detailed verbal suggestions as to how to put on a hat or coat.  Yes, this takes a lot of time and often times, many days and even weeks for kids to become independent.  We encourage our parents to allow their children to dress themselves as much as they can.  Again, the tendency is the put things on your child rather than be patient while they dress themselves.  If we put their snow gear on each time, they will not learn to do it themselves.  It is often times a big struggle and can take a lot of trial and error.  We have had kids go outside with their coats on upside down, but they are so proud that they can do it themselves.  Sometimes, we can hinder a child's independence by doing too much for them; therefore, making them think they actually can't do those things.  The fruit that comes from allowing our children to face their challenges  take the time to problem solve will outweigh the time it takes to help our children do it themselves. 

Allow your children to show you what problem solvers they can be~they really will blow you away!