What The World Needs Now: Ethical Leadership

What The World Needs Now: Ethical Leadership

The sand beckons them. One child reaches for a shovel and kneels, prepares to dig. The other takes off his shoes and swishes his bare feet back and forth. “A sand angel!” he exclaims. His whole body is in the game now, back flat, head still, arms flailing. Again and again he returns to recreate the form his body makes in the sand. Each time, more sand is kicked up into the air, his vigorous movements creating a spray in the blue sky above. As the sand flies higher, the digging child, the neighbor caught beneath the storm, must make a choice. Sand is getting into his hair and into his carefully dug hole. But what should he do?

Advice for the Beginning Homeschooler

Advice for the Beginning Homeschooler

Dear beginning homeschooling parent,

Welcome to homeschooling! Are you feeling excited? Meditative? Apprehensive? I can't speak for all of us in the homeschooling community, but I guarantee that because homeschooling is a trial by fire adventure, none of us - even those of us who intend to use Montessori philosophy - really know exactly what to do or what's going to work for our children. We all have to reinvent education from the ground up. We're our own Start Ups!

The Best 24 Ways to Say I Love You To Your Child

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The Best 24 ways to say I love you to your child
The Best 24 ways to say I love you to your child
  1. Cuddles, kisses, and hugs. Lots.
  2. When your child is talking, give your FULL attention. Look right in his/her eyes!
  3. Take some time to watch your child. No, really watch. What interests him/her?
  4. Prepare your food together. Nutrition is about so much more than just eating!
  5. Can you laugh every time your child laughs? Try it! Share the joy in life, even if (especially if) it's completely and utterly rediculous!
  6. When your child is resisting bedtime, try to remember what it was like to be little and wanting to stay up. Tell your child you understand how he/she feels.
  7. Write a love note and leave it some place your child will discover it. If your child isn't reading yet, read it out loud together.
  8. My mom always put little notes in my lunch box. They didn't always say "I love you" but they always meant it, and I felt it. If you have to be away from your child at all, this is a really nice tradition.
  9. Tell a silly joke to your child, and then when he/she repeats it back to you a million times over the next several months, KEEP LAUGHING!
  10. Before making blanket decisions for your child about clothing, food, ask his/her opinion and come up with reasonable options you are both happy with.
  11. Allow your child the freedom to move at will - as long as it is a safe space for him/her to do so.
  12.  Don't expect your child to clean up or do for himself All The Time. Everyone deserves a little leeway now and then. Don't you like it when someone offers to take your dish to the sink or refill your water?
  13. When your child is throwing a tantrum or is out of control, think to yourself - what is he/she frustrated about? How can I help?
  14. Be silly and unexpected. Run and chase your child the house around sometimes. You might be surprised that you like it!
  15. Tickle when your child wants to be tickled and STOP when your child asks you to stop.
  16. Read stories over and over and over. What might be boring to you might be fascinating to your child and worth listening to again and again.
  17. Share what you love, whether it's music or math or tech. Taking the time to share with your child your greatest joys in life is so meaningful to children.
  18. the best 24 ways to say I love you
  19. Go outside and just BE together exploring nature. When your child is fascinated by a tiny slug or leaf on the ground, express great interest in the moment.
  20. Let go of the expectation that your child must immediately comply with your requests all the time. If your child is not complying right away, ask yourself why and make note of it as something to discuss together in the future. This doesn't mean you don't follow through with logical consequences when necessary. Children need to know that someone is there to protect them.
  21. Use a respectful tone of voice. You don't have to talk to your child like an adult, but try not to overdo the baby talk. When children hear you talking in your normal voice with clear sentences while giving lots of eye contact, they feel like you are taking them seriously and not belittling them.
  22. When things go wrong and everyone is crying, just give up the ghost and snuggle it out (or do whatever it is your child is most comforted by). Life is too short to hang onto things that are hurting us. Giving up lets your child know that you value his or her feelings over activities and possessions.
  23. When your child is concentrating on an activity - whether it be picking up peas with fingertips or drawing with crayons, take care to step back and not interrupt unless it's absolutely necessary.
  24. When your child really wants to do something for him/herself, try your best to allow it. Whether it's picking ingredients for the morning's smoothie or putting on one's own coat, it's worth a little patience to see your child full of joy at life's little accomplishments.
  25. You notice I didn't say anything about buying gifts for your child. Buying gifts is fine! But it doesn't necessarily show love. The really important stuff is not in the possessions your child owns but in your relationship.

This blog post is now available as a PRINTABLE. 

To print this list as a 2-page PDF file, click here: The Best 24 Ways To Say I Love You To Your Child

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Want to learn more Montessori tips for parenting? This easy, self-paced e-course is designed to give you three full weeks of tips straight from Maria Montessori's own philosophy on raising independent, happy children.

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Is Your Child Too Old for Montessori?

What does a teenager need? Montessori discussions about the third and fourth planes of development.

"I'm a fourteen year old girl looking for a pen pal. I love fantasy, Star Trek/TNG, playing my clarinet, walking in forests, poetry, and writing." 

The Third Plane

Before the internet, there were fanfiction 'zines, and after I published the above entry, I received hundreds of handwritten letters in the mail. I didn't know any of their real names, and I didn't share mine either. I wrote stories with someone named Shadow from Minnesota. I started my own newsletter with a girl from NYC named Jenna. A boy named Sebastian came out of the closet to me in a letter and said I was the only one who knew. I promised to keep his secret. I spent hours and hours weekly, ravenously penning both letters and stories, lost in this world where certain special people had magical powers and horses could talk. While this world was very a very innocent and seemingly safe playspace for me to explore my emotions, sometimes violence seeped in.

The letter looked like any other introduction to a new pen pal, and I wrote back an equally benign form letter introduction of my own. This was only one of hundreds of similar letters I'd received in the past several months. A few weeks later when the next letter came in, to my horror, it was full of drawings of big-breasted women without clothing and a long, handwritten story involving quite a bit of sex, using my name as the protagonist. I took it to my mother right away, and using calm words, careful not to scare me too much, pointed out what I had missed the first time: the address on the envelope was from a local prison.

This was my first experience with a child predator, which is now a very well known internet danger, but it didn't end my affair with writing people I didn't know. As a child of the 80's with a father who built computers as a hobby, I had access to the first of everything tech. I frequented the first chat rooms with a variety of fake names. I turned down offers for virtual sex every time I logged on.

You heard that right.

I wasn't the first girl to fall in love through letters, but I'm pretty certain I had one of the first online romances the year before graduating high school. Over the dissection of a shark, my biology partner and I could barely breathe more than a few words to each other, but through email, we communicated effortlessly and flirted with abandon. This off and on relationship continued for a couple of years into college. Finally, we were laying on my dorm bed together in silence after fight that involved me sobbing until exhaustion. He blew out air and turned to look at me, a sense of finality in his eyes. "You need to find someone else," he said, "someone creative who loves music and literature like you do." It hurt, but he was right. It was time to let adolescent love go.

I kissed my copy of The Hobbit and put it in the back of my closet.  It would stay closed for many years.

The Fourth Plane

The next week, feeling weak and small with the ache of rejection, I walked in the door of the University Writing Center. I was applying to work as an English tutor for $5.00 an hour. I really wanted this job, so naturally I made myself available to work for free. Working a certain number of volunteer hours for free was a requirement for being hired. Generally, adults are hired first and paid for their hours in training, but college students are vulnerable and often grateful to be considered competent enough to work for money at all. It seemed fair compensation.third plane of development pin

I was sitting on a stool in the back, hoping no one would notice how hard I was trying to blend into the wall among the odd pieces of art and ivy. Suddenly, I looked up and there was David, sitting there at a computer a few feet away telling his friend jokes and laughing, blue eyes twinkling until he caught me staring and went back to his work.

I don't think he remembers this moment, but I always will because the feeling hit me like a brick. I'm not saying it was love...not yet...but there was definitely a shift inside: a readiness for the next step. My life was going to change, including the way I felt about myself and the way I fell in love.  Something big had just happened, and I although I couldn't put my finger on what it was exactly, I knew it was big.

It rained on our wedding day. I was twenty three. It was a beautiful, glorious cleanse from the sky: tears of joy to match my heart. Two not quite grown up, nervous humans looking toward spending the rest of their lives in close proximity. A shift toward adulthood. This time we took those steps in growth together, graduating, pursuing jobs, traveling, buying a house, having children.

It's been sixteen years, and we feel like different people altogether now. We've changed. We've meshed. Some of his peculiarities, anxieties, and strengths have become mine, and vice versa. I wonder if we would have connected at all at age thirteen or twenty five. There's no way to know. The fact is that at age nineteen, we were momentarily in sync and then we became us.


Which brings us to this.

Is your child too old for Montessori?

It's never too late. In fact, while each plane of development builds upon the previous one, however old your child is right at this minute is the perfect time for you to start. Maria Montessori helped to give us a holistic framework for life by explaining the characteristics of each plane of development and designing a method of education to support the child's needs at every age.

Adolescence, the third plane of development, is a time of great transformation. First, around age 12, a burst of creative energy propels the stable young bodies of elementary children into a growth spurt mirroring that of early childhood. Hormones surge, bringing with them a body on fire and mind practically incapable of anything but looking inward.

During this time, when we observe young adolescents between the ages of twelve and fifteen, we often see them wallow in self loathing, leap without looking, and sleep until lunchtime. They seem self-centered and egotistical: the center of the universe. They are highly susceptible to both addiction and mental illness. There is a shockingly high risk of suicide.

These are children in a crisis of development, and it is no wonder that many adults roll their eyes at even the word "teenager", a word that begins with a whine and ends in raging growl, two characteristics both associated with this plane.

Let's play a game, shall we? Just think of the word adolescent compared to these other words that end in -escent: effervescent, luminescent, fluorescent, incandescent, phosphorescent, iridescent, opalescent, convalescent. Through these related words, we get a general feel of something that is beginning to change, a flickering, a movement, a shifting, a burning, a shining. It's just as accurate as the feelings we get from the word teenager, but somehow it feels more respectful of the transformative process these young people are engaged in.

It is a becoming.

"Young adolescents should not be forced to study because it is a dangerous period." - Maria Montessori, The 1946 London Lectures

We tend to think that children develop at a steady growth rate; that a thirteen year old has a higher intellectual ability than a ten year old and thus should be given harder coursework and a more rigorous schedule. This is the view of the child and thus the curriculum we offer in traditional elementary, middle schools, junior high schools, and high schools. However, from what we know about the nature of adolescence, what a child needs at age ten is vastly different from what a child needs at age thirteen. The younger child does need very challenging tasks and a wealth of information to study. The thirteen year old needs for us to give him or her a break! The teenage brain is not focused on academics in this period but is dealing with very intense physical and psychic (social/emotional/spiritual) changes. Is there room here for rigor and high expectations for achievement? Absolutely not. No wonder so many young people crumble under pressure at this age. What is needed is a strong support system.

The child of this age must be given a very special type of education: one that is unhurried and allows for studying whatever it is they'd like to pursue without the pressures of our adult expectations. Maria Montessori envisioned a school on a farm, where these children could get connected with the earth, strengthen their developing muscles through the intense physical work, and have a space to get away from it all. She saw the way they were driven to socialize and their growing need to not just study but actually do something meaningful for the world. Running a farm would encourage collaboration as they figured out money management and gained real-life problem solving skills. I do wonder...would a farm still be relevant for adolescents today? Or is the startup culture of a today's tech-obsessed world real life at its best?

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By age fifteen or so, the fire is still burning, but the transformation is becoming more peaceful; the creative inner work that was done in the first half of this plane is being perfected. All of life shows this pattern. An ebb and flow. Ages fifteen to eighteen are the "flow" of the third plane. You are likely to look at a seventeen year old and see a great gain in decision making skills and a resurgence in academic interest compared to a few years earlier. This is a sign that while not fully developed, the child is seeing himself more as an adult, looking outward into the world, the universe in its proper place again.

In like a lion, out like a lamb.

The fourth plane is a calm and steady rate of growth, mirroring the second plane in mental capability. It is from here that the leap into adulthood is finally made. Recent research puts the end of this passage somewhere between the ages of twenty four and thirty. Many do not feel that there has been a noteable transition at all. It is seemless. The aching and stretches of childhood have simply become part of the past and are no longer relevant.

You might be reading this with a toddler in your arms. You might ask me why you would want to be reading about adolescence right now instead of troubleshooting tantrums. The answer is simple. The planes of development build upon each other. Look forward into the future and know that your little one is going to be throwing tantrums again someday and be at peace with that. If you are prepared, you can help make this transition as easy as possible.

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Take care of this life, this little being who has such great potential! How? Cuddle your baby as often as she wants to be touched. Put trust in your two year old's ability to teach himself. Give your four year old clear answers, helping to discern fantasy from reality. Do not rely on rewards or punishments to goad your child into compliance. Give your seven year old the entire world - as much cultural knowledge as you can explore together. Put your full effort into strengthening your relationship and communication skills. Problem solve together. Experience joy together. Be prepared for and accepting of the developmental shifts. Let the storm of adolescence rage on. Be there for to offer guidance along the way.

It is a long road to adulthood for humans, my friends. If we want the possibility of helping young adults create a better life for humanity in the future, we must be ready to aid their development right this minute. If there is one thing I can impress upon you it is to have patience and understanding and faith; at the end of every sweaty hike up a mountain, there is a beautiful view making the heart cry out for joy, and then a skip in your step on the way back home.

Navigating adolescence.

"Roads go ever ever on      Under cloud and under star, Yet feet that wandering have gone      Turn at last to home afar. Eyes that fire and sword have seen      And horror in the halls of stone Look at last on meadows green      And trees and hills they long have known."

- J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit Aubreysignature

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The Four Planes of Development: In Admiration of Childhood

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kitten first plane Kittens are only kittens for a short time. Little nothings with sharp claws and silky fur. While growing up, I raised a lot of litters of kittens. Within just six months they have changed into long, sleek almost-adults capable of having litters of their own. With the exception of the fuzzy cuddles and the backs of your hands looking a bit scratched up occasionally, it's easy to think of a cat's childhood as a quick and steady growth up to adulthood.

We like to think of growth as a straight line, the steady consumption of calories that makes one's flesh thicker and height taller. The information and skills acquired that make the brain smarter. We want this to be true.

The truth is that growth happens not in a steady trickle but in waves of passion, long periods of lethargy, occasional bouts of depression and changed interests. Growing is push-pull, grab and release, ache and exaltation.

The eating frenzy and the purrs of a contented belly are but one tiny part of his development into adulthood. The time spent in the womb and the effort made in his own birth is just as intense and miraculous.We forget that when our kitten's eyes were sealed shut, it must have felt like for ages he was reaching out in the darkness to seek nourishment. We overlook the energy it takes to lift one's entire body in the air and - pounce - learn the physical skills needed to hunt for food. Childhood involves great struggles and enormous changes for good reason.

It is the same with humans, but since our childhoods are so much longer, imagine how long the darkness in the womb must feel. The ache in muscles involved in learning to stand upright and walk. The years spent yearning for independence but subject to all of the whims of the surrounding adults. When we take it all in, from conception to maturity, it is a long road worthy of our admiration.

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I'd like to share with you one of two charts developed by Maria Montessori back in 1951 (for more info, refer to The Four Planes of Development). I love this one because it so very clearly distinguishes the different planes of development from one another, particularly showing how infancy and adolescence mirror each other, and likewise for the elementary child and the college age almost-adult. What I don't like as much about this chart is how sharp the points of the triangles feel, how solid the lines. We know that growth is more like the gradual lift and decline of a hill, not the stiff peak of a mountain. If I were to redesign this chart, I'd keep the distinctions but soften the edges. Maria must have felt the same hesitation because she did develop another way to visualize the planes of development that has a more organic feel. I'll talk more about this other chart in another post.

The flame at birth represents the beginning of life: the spark of existence. As the child grows up and passes into and out of each plane, different characteristics emerge. They are surprisingly consistent across the board of humanity regardless of culture. Planes of Development triangle chart Right now in the Montessori 101 tour, we have several discussions going, which is very exciting! Come join us and comment with your opinions, interpretations, reactions, and questions, whether you're experienced or new to Montessori.

2. Tour second plane

Discuss the second plane with us! What do you notice about 6-12 year olds?

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The Four Planes of Development: The First Plane

First plane of development
First plane of development

In Montessori, we recognize that there are four stages, or planes, of development for all humans which require extraordinary efforts and inevitable regressions before we are virtually reborn into the next. They are markedly distinct from one another and they are important to understand when we look at designing an environment and teaching strategies to meet the physical, cognitive, and spiritual needs of each.

Today we'll look at the first plane, ages 0-6.

This plane can be broken up further into two subsets, 0-3, in which learning is unconscious, and 3-6, where children become susceptible to direct adult influence. We consider the mind of the child in this plane to be "absorbent", learning about the world around them primarily through the senses.

Montessori teachers trained in this age group place great importance on preparing the classroom environment with carefully selected "materials" (you could easily call them "toys") that lend themselves to exploration. The teachers encourage the children to freely move within this environment, trusting that the children will be drawn by instinct to engaging with the materials and with each other in a way that best supports their individual needs for growth.

Since the children are learning from everything they are in contact with at this age, the teacher is well aware that as a constant "on stage at all times" role model, the children are likely to copy his/her behavior and actions. The children do not need to be externally rewarded for their learning. The desire to grow up is plenty enough reward. The teacher's primary role in the classroom is not to shuffle the children through mastery of a series of skills but to step back, observe, and aid these natural desires.

What are the four planes of development?
What are the four planes of development?

Further reading:

Chapter 3 of The Absorbent Mind: The Periods of Growth, pages 18-28 (aff)

This article from Montessori Northwest is very well written and worth a read.

For insight into the two charts designed by Maria Montessori to illustrate the four planes, read this article by Camillo Grazzini printed in the NAMTA journal

Maria Montessori observed much and applied it to her classroom experiences, but your own observations as teachers and parents are just as important. What do you notice about children in the first plane of development? What does your child seem to need or want at this age? Come join the conversation here.

Montessori theory: The First Plane of Development
Montessori theory: The First Plane of Development
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A Guided Tour in Montessori 101

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a guided tour of Montessori! Come join the fun! I have to confess to you, I'm not the most organized person. As a child, I was diagnosed with That Disorder we prescribe too many meds for (none for me, thankfully).  I always had a desk at my public school crammed full of bits of paper, old gum wrappers, and last month's homework that I failed to turn in and had to rewrite, due to it being in shoved into the back of my desk. I carried home a backpack with every single book I used at school because I never had enough time to complete assignments during classtime. I failed a lot of tests because half the answers were blank - unfinished.

My room was a continual disaster zone and I kid you not - at age 38, my parents still complain about finding old peach pits on the furniture. Every. Single. Time. I. Visit. Those stories about my messy childhood self will never leave me. I would never leave a peach pit on an end table now, I swear.

Well, maybe  if the doorbell rang.

As a teacher, I rarely turned in my daily attendance to the office. The receptionist at my school really loved me. I can still hear her voice, ever so professionally polite, over the intercom and feel the burn starting at my temples as my face flushed and I realized an hour had passed since I'd last looked at the clock. "Mrs. Hargis? Is anyone absent today?" I'm pretty sure my mother must suffer from similar personality traits because she's the only one I know who literally safety pins post-it reminders onto her clothing. It's safer than tying a string to your finger and is just short of embarassingly noticeable (a good thing!).

The Montessori classroom is the absolute perfect prepared environment for someone like me. Why? As a child attending Montessori through the third grade, before I was issued a standard desk to cram papers into, I was allowed the freedom to move at will, read to my heart's content, and daydream. What a gift it was, the freedom to daydream! Why so important? Because daydreams can be where creativity and inventions are hidden. A child who yearns to daydream and is always hustled along might never reach his or her full potential. Just ask the ghost of Leonardo Da Vinci. Daydreams are soooooo important. Even for us regular, non brilliant folk.

As a teacher, the Montessori Method allowed me to move at will, observe to my heart's content, and spontaneously decide to give lessons. Teaching Montessori made me feel alive. My "let's learn about this right NOW" lessons were received by the children with surprise and delight. My messy notes about the children belonged to me and me alone.

Freedom, beautiful, beautiful freedom!

The fact that I am a forgetful, creative, spontaneous person by nature has led me to my current predicament: an obsession with organizational tools, reminder apps,  cleaning schedules, and minimalism in general. Every three months or so I reinvent myself. New notebooks full of reminders, new dry erase board colors, new calendars both printed and digital, new apps. New PLANS. This year I am implementing something I've wanted to do in 2015 for Montessori 101 my Facebook group but was too scatterbrained to flesh out. Happy New Year to me!

To follow, just make sure you're subscribed to this blog, like my Page, and join 101 if you want to hang out with me over the next year and study Montessori according to The Plan! A Yearly Plan to Study the Montessori Method

Montessori for the win in 2016! If you choose to join me, you'll want these three books at your disposal: The Absorbent Mind, The Secret of Childhood, and The Discovery of the Child (afflinks).

          

So now I'd love to learn from you. What's your Montessori story? Where are you on your journey? Click here to comment and introduce yourself.

tour introductions

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Tips for Keeping Kids Happy During the Holidays

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Tips for Keeping Kids Happy Druing the HolidaysThe kids are hyped up on too much sugar, singing Jingle Bells at the top of their lungs. Cookie dough is all over the floor and also in everyone's hair. Stressed yet? And there are so many questions to ponder: Should you play Santa or tell the truth? Is that Elf on the Shelf a healthy tradition? How much is too much?

Here's a short video giving you three tips for keeping the kids (and yourself) happy during the holiday season.

Today our family woke up and immediately began perusing the web for Holiday-related activities in our local area. We live in a big city, and we have a choice of not one but three or four different tree lighting ceremonies! Santa will be practically everywhere available for photo-ops, and we immediately started to feel overwhelmed. We may yet pick a family activity, but we decided that today, instead of rushing out of the house, we'd put the train set under the tree and play some holiday music. I make these videos and write posts giving these parenting tips not just for you, lovely readers. I'm writing "Tone It Down" on my whiteboard today as a reminder to myself! Now let us all take a deep breath and be present just for a minute.

More tips for low-key, developmentally appropriate activities can be found in my e-book, a Christmas Lesson Pack, available here.

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Happy Holidays! 

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Christmas Lessons Pack and Parenting E-Course

Cyber Monday has me lazily clicking through Amazon Deals. You, too? On one hand, the Black Friday craze, now extended practically through Christmas and beyond is something that I abhor. Can we tone the consumerism down a bit? Just a bit, yeah? I'm hollering through a megaphone at the whole world "DON'T BUY JUNK YOU DON'T NEED!" and I'm digging my own heels in against the urge to spend for the sake of holiday gifting. Get rid of all that junk. Keep what you love. Give not out of obligation but out of gratitude. On the other hand, since my brand of minimalism is to fill my children's hearts with family experiences that aid their own natural development, I thought...why not participate in the madness for my readers? After all, it's zero waste intellectual fulfillment! I'm into that.

Merry Montessori Cybermonday

A Merry Montessori Christmas is a PDF e-book with 25 Montessori-inspired activities, carefully created by yours truly as a curriculum supplement for the holidays for the home or classroom. This is regularly availalbe for $4.99. Today, 15% off! Why? For fun, of course! In this e-book, you'll find art, practical life, sensorial, language, and math lessons for the 2 1/2 to 6 age group. These are real deal Montessori lessons with a little holiday glitz thrown in for seasonal fun. New takes on the same old, same old. Why? Because we're throwing around glitter anyway this time of year, and I find teaching most exciting when I'm keeping the shelves fresh and thinking creatively. Unlike many e-books online, this is not repeat blog post content. You'll find a few of these lessons on the blog, but most of them were written specifically for the book and with my own young children in mind.

Buy it here for $4.99. 

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Montessori Parent Cyber Monday

Parenting gently and effectively takes patience, practice, and self-reflection. This course aims to give you a Montessori "awakening" - to open your eyes to your child's perspective and to give you the confidence to handle those tough parenting situations as they present themselves, and in some cases, avoiding the frustrations altogether! In 21 days, you'll meditate on Maria Montessori's 3 big tips for parents. Thoughtful questions, activities, videos, articles, and links will guide you through in a low-pressure, "let's learn together" way.

Buy it here for $30.00. 

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Happy Holidays!

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How to Get a Five Year Old Out of the Car

How to Get a Five Year Old Out of the CarIt was an unexpected detour up into the hills, although I should have expected it since our weekends typically involve seeking out some sort of trail on the outskirts of the city. I had left my hiking boots at home. The dusty, berry colored  beauties I'd gifted myself earlier this year were under a jumble of flip flops in the wicker basket by the front door. I slipped off my new ankle boots and laced up a pair of old tennies I found on the floor of the car. If there's one advantage to never cleaning out your car, its that there's always extra clothing hanging around to give you that much-needed layer when the temperature drops. And in this city, depending on what hill is currently in front of or behind you, the temperature can drop a good 10 degrees without warning, leaving you a shivering mess. I grabbed an extra layer for good measure.

We scrambled out of the car and onto the little parking lot at the mountain top, the radio towers all around us reaching skyward, lessening the emotional impact of being up so high above the land. Even so, the city glittered below us in the sunlight and the buildings downtown reminded me of a model train village. I gazed for a minute, admiring the day.

With a start, I realized that my husband and eight year old were up ahead on the trail already charging out into the hills. My five year old was laying face down next to the rear window of our hatchback. I cajoled him. "Come out, little one. We'll be on top of a mountain! It's so beautiful out here." There was a gorgeous, clear blue sky overhead with a misty haze off in the distance. Can children even see these things?

"I don't care," he mumbled.

"We'll look for rocks and sticks along the way." This is like only his favorite thing to do, ever. It's my constant enticement. Usually all I have to do is say is "Sticks!" and bodies fly out of the car, ready for action. I imagine that someday they'll wise up, but I think we have a few years left. No need for magic, Harry. Sticks are good enough for us just as they are.

But this time he didn't bite. "Nah." He squirreled further in and curled his fists in defiance.

Should I reach in and haul him out of there? I've done it before, launching myself into an awkward pose, then wrestling with a scratching, biting feral creature. Usually the parent wins, breathing hard, battle wounds dripping, victory marred by the wet blanket of a child who visibly hates you. Sometimes my five year old even says it to my face. "I hate you," he mouths, barely uttering the words with chilling intensity, "I hate you." I bear those scars not with pride but with the determination to just get him through the next few years.

In parenting books, we call this the "power struggle". It's not fun. Avoid at all costs. "Don't get into a power struggle," the haughty book authors say, while looking down at you from much higher ground - a ground which is typically stood upon by people who have children already in college. "There are better ways to get children to do what you want." Ok, then.

So I wait a bit. And as I wait, I'm reminded that sometimes waiting works, and sometimes waiting becomes what parenting book authors call "permissive". By allowing him to stay in the car for longer than I like am I giving him ample opportunity to make the right choice? Or am I letting him know that he can prevent our family from having adventures by choosing to be surly? What happens when our family needs or wants to do other things that are important? Will he think he can get away with this behavior?

Sometimes we aren't able to meet our child's needs and the needs of the rest of the family at the same time. That's life. Sometimes we have to try several strategies before we find something that works for us, and guess what? The same words are not going to work all the time for every situation. In the end, there's just you, your child, and your relationship with one another.

It was time to be honest. Honesty is, after all, usually the best policy.

Biting  my lip and looked out into the hills again where my husband and older son were fading from view. My favorite five year old's bright blue eyes were narrowed and lips still pulled together in a pout. There was nothing left but to dredge up what was left at the bottom of the barrel, the gritty truth. "Daddy is way out there. I'm getting worried. We need to get to Daddy now. I want to be with Daddy." The tension melted, and his entire body went limp. I almost felt guilty for using his complete and utter gooey-eyed adoration of my husband for personal gain, but relief won out as he clambered toward me and slammed the door.

Together, we faced the land.

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I love writing about parenting using Montessori philosophy. If you're interested in learning more about Maria Montessori's tips for parents, click here to view my affordable, self-paced e-course for parents.

Rethinking Traditions

Montessorians for Peace!
Montessorians for Peace!

Old forest, new flowers. The sunlight, bringer of life on Earth, shines on all. 

In a recent post about how some advice written about Montessori advocates for early weaning from breastfeeding, I've recently been quoted - and correctly - as saying, "It's time to change "traditional" Montessori!" Since it's come to my attention that my words may have been misinterpreted, I'm feeling the need to clarify my statement. When I speak of "traditional", I'm not talking about Maria Montessori or sound Montessori teacher training.

Maria's advice - in all regards - is to follow the child. And this doesn't mean just doing whatever the child wants to do or literally walking around following the children. ;) This means, in all seriousness, that we constantly need to be observing, debating, analyzing, and researching child development. We need to be aware of and interested in modern science just as Maria Montessori was in her time.

The Montessori Method is timeless. What we know about the child right now at this moment is not timeless.

We humans are all still learning more and more about our little ones - and thus ourselves - every second that time passes on Earth. So in essence, what I'm referring to above is that "traditional" is constantly changing - evolving - just as humans are, and it is true with every subject area. Even history changes with modern perspectives and cultural awareness. As Montessorians, it is not our duty to stick to dogma just because it's the way things have always been done. We need to understand and believe in why we are doing them.

Maria Montessori was a system bucker herself! She was constantly challenging convention. She wanted us to look deeply within our hearts to truly see the child, and we can only do that if we are aware of our own child raising traditions and we are challenging them often in order to come to a deeper understanding of our practice.

There are many, many interpretations of Montessori's work, but if you want to understand Montessori education on the deepest level, there's no better place to look than in a copy of one of Maria Montessori's own books. If you are wondering what real, authentic Montessori "looks like", I encourage you to pick up that copy of The Secret of Childhood or The Absorbent Mind and study it. I don't think I've ever read a more insightful commentary on the nature of and future of humanity.

That's where you'll find authentic Montessori.

Montessori traditions are always evolving as new generations of Montessorians discover the method, but the real deal, what Maria Montessori herself actually believed, is blessedly preserved for all of us to meditate on.

To come completely clean, here are a few popular interpretations of Montessori education that many people seeas "traditional Montessori" that I believe need to change in the Montessori community:

* The idea that newborns (or a child of any age for that matter) must be taught to sleep alone, apart from their parents - in order to develop independent sleep habits.

* The idea that extended breastfeeding - past 9 months - has no benefits.

* The idea that babywearing or carrying one's child once the child is able to walk automatically creates an unnatural dependence.

* The idea that a Montessori education begins and ends in the classroom and has no relevance for parents.

* The idea that one must be formally trained and certified in order to touch, use, and understand Montessori materials.

* The idea that all technology must be banned - because Maria Montessori did not have iPads in her classroom.

* The idea that Montessori cannot be fully implemented in the public sector, and if it is only partially implemented it must not worth the effort at all.

I'm not here to tell you that these ideas are all completely false. Every tradition has some good sense in the background! Yes, we want our children to eventually become independent beings. Yes, we want children to have lots of opportunities to move in order to develop their muscles. Yes, Montessori teacher training is important. Yes, too much technology and at the wrong age can be harmful. Yes, it's difficult to implement Montessori techniques into public school classrooms that are used to different methods.

What I am doing on this blog - and on Facebook - is saying that these are some things I think are worth challenging so that we can decide if they are relevant for today's children, parents, and teachers. We don't know until we look at the research, and research is always giving new insight.

Everyone is entitled to have their own interpretation on how Montessori works in practice. Just because I have my own does not mean that I do not respect the opinions of others.

Instead of becoming a Montessorian in order to do what Montessori did, for me, becoming a Montessorian means aspiring to live as Montessori lived - with a deep admiration for the development of children and the desire to constantly re-evaluate preconceived notions about the nature of humanity.

A Reminder: Observe Your Child

observation sand dollar Try to notice the little things. It's hard to do as parents, busy as we are with making sure the household is kept in order, siblings are getting along, little people who cling to our legs so often that we cry for just a moment alone. We take it wherever we can get it - that first sip of coffee in the morning before the children wake, in the car turning up the radio loud enough to drown out any whining, even in the bathroom with the door closed. Sometimes we just want to scream because we need the space!

All of this is natural. But I want to take tiny bit of time to give you a Montessori reminder. In order for the household to run smoothly, to bring peace to the sibling fights, to get that much-needed moment of privacy, we need to be tuned into our children's interests and abilities right at that moment. It might feel silly, but in today's video I give you one goal. Just watch. Take notice. Watch the video below or click here.

In peace,

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P.S. For more parenting tips, you might be interested in checking out my e-course where I walk with you through 21 days, meditating on the advice Maria Montessori gave to parents.

Can You Really Find Montessori on Pinterest?

finding Montessori on Pinterest2Visual learners unite! The use of Pinterest is spreading Montessori in a way the world has never seen before. But is it for real? Or is it all fluff? A lot of people are finding Montessori on Pinterest, and when you do finally jump on the Pinterest bandwagon, you realize just how much there is about Montessori out there. Finding Montessori activities seems easy as pie, but today we're going to contemplate the question of whether you really can find authentic Montessori on this social media network.

Watch the video below or click here to go directly to YouTube.

 

...and if you do decide to embrace the madness of this fast paced social media network, you can follow me on Pinterest here.

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How to Give a Hug: A Grace and Courtesy Lesson

How to Give a Hug: A Grace and Courtesy Lesson
How to Give a Hug: A Grace and Courtesy Lesson

Sometimes there's just too much of a good thing.

You're squatting on the balls of your feet near the playground where your two year old has just performed an amazing (in his mind) trick, and coming right for your smiling face, he races toward you for a big open-armed hug, toppling you over backwards onto the ground. You laugh, a bit embarrassed, as the other parents watch you right yourself and try to remain smiling at your little charging bull. You can't help but murmur, "That was a bit too much of a hug for me."

Or maybe you're at home hosting a play date, and your three year old, who has played so sweetly all afternoon, is saying goodbye to visitors. "Maybe you could give each other a hug," you and your friend suggest to your children. You oooh and awww as the three year olds put their arms around each other. Then the moment takes a turn for the worse, and your smiles turn upside down. Your child appears to be squeezing your friend's child as hard as possible! Your friend's child looks terror stricken. "That's enough hugging now!" you say quickly, a bit panicked, as you pull your child's arms away. Your friend puts on a small, fake smile. Her child hides behind her. It's an embarrassing moment, and you cover it with a big wave. "See you soon!"

These scenarios are not uncommon! Hugging is something that we adults find so natural, we tend to expect our children to just know how to do it appropriately. However, the truth is that there are subtle cultural differences in all human social interactions, and children must be taught what is acceptable in order to know what to do.

Here are four tips to help you teach your child how to give just the riiiight kind of hug. 

1. Model giving the types of hugs you want to see. If you are ending every single one of your hugs with a big tickle and chase around the house, your child is likely to do the same to others. Make sure that when you hug your child, you resist the urge to capture her for longer than she desires. Hugs are a two-way street: even for parents and children! Whenever there is an opportunity for you to hug another child or another adult while your child is in the room, just know that your child is probably secretly observing you. Make sure you are hugging the way you want your child to hug others.

2. Give a lesson. A bit of information about how hugs work might just do the trick. Take a few minutes with your child to talk about how to give a hug. Do notdo this during or just after an embarrassing hugging moment. Wait until later on in the day, or even on another day altogether. Depending on the child, you can either use words or just actions. If you do use words, keep it simple, but talk about what you are doing and thinking.

Example: "I would like to give Daddy a hug. Daddy? May I give you a hug? He said yes! I'm going to gently put my arms around him just like this. I'm patting his back. Not too tight, just right. Gentle. And now I look in his eyes and see if he is happy. Does he like the hug? He does! The hug is over and I'm steppping back."  

A real-live person is best, but if one is not available for the lesson, it's perfectly okay to use a stuffed animal, or even the family dog, if he's willing!

3. Practice. Children will not absorb the teaching moment from the lesson without a bit of repetitive practice. Take turns role-playing the hugg-er and the hugg-ee. You might find the books (below) helpful for a practice time that comes naturally with a story.

4. Prepare & support. If your child is a habitual over-hugger, it might help to give some support just before and also during the hug. "We are about to say goodbye. Does Aiden want a hug? Ask him. Ok, it looks like he does. Gentle touch. Look at his face. Is he happy?"

Books to support your emphasis on appropriate hugging techniques:

How Do You Hug a Porcupine? is the kind of book I will happily read over and over.  The writing is linguistically appealing; the rhymes actually rhyme. A child wonders how each animal could receive a hug, but is perplexed when it comes to hugging such a prickly creature. "Can you hug a horse? Of course! But how DO you hug a porcupine?" The answer turns out to be just exactly the gentle mindset you want to encourage in your child.

Time For a Hug: This sweet story encourages you to give your child a hug after every page! It gives great opportunities for practicing using a gentle touch. Walk with Little Bunny and Mama through their day and hug along with them. After every activity they do together, they take a little break to reconnect emotionally. It's 10:00! Time for a hug!

Hugs to you and your loved ones today,

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P.S. For more Montessori parenting tips, you can check out my e-course What Every Montessori Parent Should Know, taking you through 21 days to jump start your Montessori parenting adventure.

Can Montessori Change Your Life?

montessori lens When you see a puddle on the ground, do you look inside it? You may find a new perspective on the world. So it is with Montessori. There's seeing the child. And then there's seeing the child.

My friend Beth from Our Montessori Life, (a blog  you should definitely be reading!) posed the question, "How has Montessori changed your home?" For myself, the answer is one that leads out down quite a rabbit hole!

We begin here:

"The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind." - Maria Montessori

All of life can be viewed through the Montessori lens, and the philosophy encompasses all of human life - from conception through death, we are reaching to better ourselves, to reach a state of peace and gratitude in all we do. To find a future without need for violence of any kind - and it is through the child that we can see our collective potential as humans. We are all one.

The beginning of life....the newborn. We fill our hearts with love and seek to see him for not just who he is but who he will become. The child who shows an act of defiance during the preschool years is trying to tell us something very, very important! If only we can take the time to listen! The elementary child's ability to devour facts - as many as he can cram - and the wild imaginations of the fantastic that do not (yet) exist shows our insatiability for studying our own history and looking directly into the impossible. The turbulence of adolescence strikes fear into our hearts - and yet that very recklessness we find unnerving propels us toward innovation.

Through the child, we see ourselves, and inside our hearts, we can view the entire universe.

Yes, "doing Montessori" has changed the look of my home. Probably in minor ways, like how I lined my kitchen drawers with red felt to bring out the shine of our steel utensils, and how I always double check to see if the stool is still in our bathroom so that my five year old can reach the sink. It has changed my home, no doubt. But I find it has changed my spirit that much more.

Making Montessori mischief first is a bit of simple fun, but it quickly becomes something much more serious, and if you stay with it long enough, it can literally change the way you view everything! Do me a favor, my friends. Look inside the puddle and tell me what you really see.

In peace,

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P.S. Looking to learn more Montessori philosophy as it applies to parenting? To challenge yourself to view your child and yourself through a Montessori lens, you can check out my new e-course What Every Montessori Parent Should Know, taking you through 21 days to jump start your Montessori parenting adventure.

 

E-Course: What Every Montessori Parent Should Know

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It is a popular myth that Maria Montessori developed a method of education only for a classroom setting. Far from it! The wisdom found in Dr. Montessori's method is truly applicable to children of any age, in any environment. Maria Montessori did, in fact, give advice directly to parents, and (surprise, surprise) it's fantastic! The three easy, effective tips she gives can help parents immensely.

I'm very excited to present to you an e-course designed to teach you these very techniques and also how to apply them to a child of any age in your home. I'd like to say it's as easy as 1-2-3, but we all know better than that, don't we? There's nothing as humbling as trying to make all of the right decisions for a little being whose brain is not quite developed yet enough to understand adult logic and reason. We have to just do our best in each and every moment, and seeing your child through a Montessori lens can help you to do your very best!

Parenting gently and effectively takes patience, practice, and self-reflection. This course aims to give you a Montessori "awakening" - to open your eyes to your child's perspective and to give you the confidence to handle those tough parenting situations as they present themselves, and in some cases, avoiding the frustrations altogether!

Note: Apologies! Registration is currently on hold for this course. 

 You'll Receive:

  • A video lesson, article, or tip per day for 21 days (3 weeks) - that's $10 per week
  • A printable study guide
  • A clearly outlined 3 step approach
  • Instructional videos (via YouTube) giving examples of Montessori parenting principles in practice
  • Original articles on topics such as Respecting Your Child's Instincts, Raising a Secure, Independent Child, and Cultivating Strong Relationships
  • Excerpts from Maria Montessori's writing with guided questions
  • Printable activities (PDF form) to deepen your understanding
  • Links to relevant websites and articles
  • Access to the Free Montessori 101 support group

You'll Learn How To:

  • See your child through a Montessori lens
  • Evaluate whether your child's behavior is reasonable
  • Support your child's desire for independence
  • Implement respectful, gentle discipline techniques

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Note: If you are a Montessori classroom teacher or school administrator who would like to purchase this course for the parents of your students, I am offering a significant discount for schools purchasing in bulk. Contact me at montessoriwithaubrey@gmail.com for details.

Pssst. Want a little preview first? No problem. The first instructional video in this course is available for FREE right hereAlso, you can check out some samples of my writing here.

I can't wait to work with you!

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What Color Mixing Actually Teaches Children

What does color mixing actually teach children? A LOT! I watched from several feet away as his fingers pinched, released, pinched, pulled, and hovered the eyedropper over the tray. There was no smile; instead, a slightly open and relaxed mouth, tight brows, eyes glued to the current endeavor. I watched as he watched.

The first drips were blue sky. Back again. Changed to lime green. Back again. Changed to swamp green. Back again. Brown. But not just brown. That brown you see when you go outside without your umbrella just to play and squish your toes in the yard and the mud that arises between each one mixes with rain and bits of grass and the glistening surface reflects a bit of sky. That kind of brown.

I'm guest posting today! Go visit the Montessori By Mom blog to read the rest of this post, where I talk about why a simple Montessori work like color mixing represents so, so much more than you might have ever thought.

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The Continent Song

continent song pic

One of my favorite things about teaching the 3-6 age group using Montessori philosophy is the heavy focus on cultural studies, including geography.

We want children to understand not only that they live on a planet called Earth but also that humans are just one piece of a complex web of life. Teaching them the names of the continents will open up their eyes to the entire world they live in. The new awareness will lead to questions about different climates, landforms, animals, and cultures.

Click HERE to watch The Continent Song video on YouTube, or you can just watch below.

The Song Lyrics:

Tell me the continents, tell me the continents, tell me if you can.

North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. Don't forget Australia. Don't forget Antarctica.

Tell me the continents, tell me the continents, tell me if you can.

The Three Period Lesson: (work on 3 continents at a time at first)

1. This is North America. 2. Point to North America. 3. What is this?________

If your child answers, "North America," that's great! And if he/she does not, don't worry! Just keep talking about the continents in a fun, no-pressure way. Talk about the animals that live there. Talk about how far away it is in relation to where YOU live. Say the names of the continents in a silly voice. Make mudpies in the shapes of the continents. Just remember to have fun and be patient if your child doesn't seem to remember the names for a while. Share your love for our planet Earth daily and act very interested in inspecting your map; your child will catch Continent Fever before you know it.

Making Tantrums a Positive Experience

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Making Tantrums a Positive Experience
Making Tantrums a Positive Experience

When your child is having an emotional meltdown, it's hard to keep your cool!

What if your child is crying uncontrollably or is kicking and screaming on the floor? What then? No matter what, realize that it is your job as the parent to push your own emotions aside as much as possible in order to help your child. But how? It takes practice and a lot of determination.

In this video, I ask you to turn your thinking about tantrums around. Instead of seeing the tantrum as something negative to nip in the bud, look at it from an educational perspective...a positive learning opportunity for both you and your child.

What do you think? Can a tantrum become your best friend?

Watch Making Tantrums a Positive Experience HERE or just view it below.

Tips for Success:

1. Children do not always know how to communicate their frustrations to you. Your job is to help teach them how.

2. There are two times when your child is more likely to be in a receptive state: before the tantrum starts (watch the video on preventing tantrums here) and after the tantrum is over. If at all possible, use those times to your advantage.

3. During the tantrum itself, remain compassionate and patient until it's over. If your child likes to be hugged, provide physical comfort. If your child prefers to be left alone, just hang out sympathetically nearby until the tantrum is over.

4. Keep firm. If you said no to something your child wanted to do, really mean no and stick to it. Don't give in just because there is a tantrum. Giving in will not solve the problem. Discussing feelings and coming up with solutions and compromises will.

5. Be kind to yourself. You're only human. Every tantrum gives you the chance to grow and change as a parent to meet your own unique child's needs. By putting a positive spin on the situation, you are not only empowering yourself, you are raising a child who will learn how to put life's hurdles into perspective.

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Video: Preventing Toddler and Preschooler Tantrums

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Preventing Tantrums
Preventing Tantrums

For some parents, dealing with and trying to prevent emotional meltdowns are a daily occurrence. There's nothing more frustrating as a parent when your little one gets super upset (and sometimes destructive!) because of the lack of communication.

It often takes a bit of guesswork, but sometimes children are in a receptive state just before the tantrum starts. If you see the signs, don't hesitate to jump to the nearest conclusion you can come up with and state your child's needs right there and out loud so your child knows you understand what's so frustrating. In this video, I talk about how to prepare your child for an event to avoid a tantrum in the first place, and also how you can anticipate and vocalize your child's needs, letting that almost-tantrum fade away as you use the moment as a teaching opportunity.

Watch Preventing Tantrums by clicking HERE or viewing the video below.

The takeaways:

1. Always prepare your child before entering a situation where he/she may encounter a frustrating situation. Before going in the the grocery store, state your expectations of what you will buy and how you both will behave. Make sure your child has access to the independence he/she is seeking at this developmental stage.

2. Tantrums are indications that your child is frustrated and has an unmet need. You won't always know what it is, but your efforts to guess will show your child that you care.

3. Remember, relationships come first. If you are not able to prevent the tantrum, have compassion and patience. It's a learning opportunity for you, too.

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