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    Why We Chose Montessori

    Today I'm writing at Natural Parents Network about Montessori Schooling. Here's an excerpt...    

    “…  Children learn through doing: working with their hands, washing, folding, buttoning, tying, building, stacking, filling, pouring. Each lesson builds on another – without a child knowing she’s learning about the cube root of numbers, she’s already learning the basic understanding of why and how to do those skills as she stacks, matches, and fills the binomial cube. As a child is taught to wash a table she’s not just learning how to wash a table (a valuable life skill in itself, of course), but learning about sequence, responsibility, concentration, and muscle action and coordination. Each lesson in Montessori builds on other, previous lessons, that mesh seamlessly with each other – children often don’t realize they are being “taught” something – they are fascinated with the presentation, and the ability to do and practice real skills. As they practice, they’re learning. Just as they do in “real life”.

    There is no grading, homework, or testing in Montessori, rather, observing, learning, and doing. When external motivators like test scores or grades are introduced to a child, children often work to achieve those external rewards (getting an A), or to avoid those external punishments (getting an F or being held back a grade). The natural love of learning is squashed when what matters most is the end result and how it will be judged, instead of encouragement and focus on the process. The end result (reward) of a job well done should be doing the job well, having enjoyed doing it, learning from it, and completing the task. Not how well you can replicate the task artificially in a testing situation or what someone else thinks it should be ranked.

    Montessori guides (teachers) believe that when we pay attention to what our children are saying and doing, we trust that children have an innate desire to learn, and we foster that desire through opportunity, they will choose to take the opportunity to learn more. In this way, I have found Montessori to be much like Attachment Parenting: trusting and believing that your child is an individual and should be honored as such, that she has important things to say (even if she can’t say them yet, like as a baby crying), and those things shouldn’t be ignored, but honored.

    People learn differently. Period. To expect that every child can be taught in the same way at the same time and come out with the same knowledge is a disservice to the child. It can result in frustration in school, and throughout life: feeling like they’re never “good enough” when really, it’s just that they may never have had the opportunity to learn at their own pace according to their own skills and desires, and without the pressure of external punishment or reward. I trust that through Montessori education, we’re giving our children the opportunity to learn at their own pace, to grow through their own experiences, and to direct their learning via their own interests. We’re fostering their natural love of learning, which will serve them throughout life in feeling like they can take on any goal they wish and accomplish it! “

    To read the entire post, please visit the Natural Parents Network site… and stay a while; there are some really amazing mothers writing about all aspects of gentle, intuitive, natural parenting. 

    For more things I've written on Montessori, have a look here.


    For more information on Montessori education:

    Michael Olaf.net: The Montessori Method of Educating & Raising Children to Develop Their Fullest Potential

    Montessori.edu: The International Montessori Index

    Montessori 101: Basic Information Every Montessori Parent Should Know

    Living Montessori Now: Information & Inspiration for Parents & Teachers (on Montessori Homeschooling)

    Posted: Aug 16 2012, 10:48 by kelly | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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    Montessori - Natural Life Learning

    Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing nothing but living and walking about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love.

    ~Maria Montessori


    Children, people, love learning. It’s natural and innate, and happens whether we interfere or not. Why not encourage that natural love of learning? The essence of life is learning, growing, loving, interacting with our environment and people around us. Children need simply to experience life, to be honored and encouraged for their own gifts and love of learning from what and whomever is around them - regardless of age or achievement - and without rewards or punishment. When children are allowed to learn on their own, they find success through personal experience, and build self-esteem and internal motivation: an incentive more powerful than any external reward (i.e. grades). Learning IS the reward.  

    Just as with adults, the freedom to choose what is interesting and thus, what to learn, belongs to each child. As parents, we should foster that freedom by offering a calm, peaceful, and inspired environment in which they can make those choices without hindrance. I don't mean free-for-all chaos, but rather that we accept the understanding that our children to know what to do. We observe and honor our children's interests (even if they may not reflect our own expectations or desires) and support them, offering help and guidance as requested, and teaching only through example - trusting they'll learn at their own pace, in their own time, as they desire and need.  

    Imagine the possibilities if everyone could learn and explore their desires as they are naturally inclined to, without fear of failure, self-guided and internally motivated. It would be like having the world in your hands - limitless. 

    Posted: Jul 28 2012, 18:32 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Nine Parenting Truths

    In my going-on-seven years of parenting, I’ve discovered some things – seemingly universally experienced by parents – from all “sides” of the parenting spectrum: stay at home parents, working out of the home parents, homeschooling parents, attachment parents,  etc. – that no one bothered to tell me, prior to having children. Of course, when you want children, you don’t listen to anyone else anyhow because your pregnancy will be super-awesome, your birth will be a breeze, and your baby will be all sweetness and light, right? Right. So, without further ado, nine things:

    (Me... A mere ten days before my world completely changed)

    1) There is no off switch on children. Volume? Always on, and usually set to high. Movement? Always on the go unless sleeping (& oftimes not even then). Needs/requests? Always present; never ending. Certainly many needs ease a bit as children age, and all but the most urgent can usually be delayed a bit. But, especially when they're young, the urgent needs (see #2) of children really don't let up. The fact of the matter is, in spite of what you might see in pictures or hear from great-grandma’s memories, children aren’t typically quiet, they aren’t usually calm; they aren’t mini adults.  They are always on, and expect you will be as well.  The good part about this is that you learn how patient you can be. Patience, as they say, is a virtue.

    2) Taking care of sick kids is really quite challenging. It pushes the limits of your empathy and innate care-taking qualities (for details, see #3). Most especially when you also are sick (& when you're not sleeping because you're up with sick kids, and being exposed to all manner of germs picked up from every possible play surface in the universe even some that you don’t consider play surfaces but your children certainly do, like grocery store aisle floors – you likely will be), and would rather be in bed, having someone care for YOU.  But, there must be a light at the end of the tunnel.  I think there are two: First, I keep in mind that through illness, children are building their immune systems one cold at a time – getting stronger and healthier. And two, I remember my childhood illnesses with an odd fondness – being home with my mom all day while being allowed to draw and watch as much television as I wanted – I don’t much recall the illness as much as the special attention.

    3) Cleaning throw up out of the car stinks. Literally. As does cleaning throw up out of the bed in the middle of the night, or off of yourself, at any time of day. There's just no good time for puking, really, but it's particularly unappealing when it isn't yours and it's on your stuff, your person, and/or you've had about 2 hours of sleep when said cleaning is required. Trying to think of an upside to this… if there is one, please feel free to chime in.

    4) Appreciation for all you do as a parent is not readily forthcoming. Whether you work another job in addition to parenting or raising your kids is your sole vocation, no one really says thank you – not specifically, anyway. And why not? Because parenting is not really considered a job, and, big sigh, its commonplace: nearly anyone can become a parent; nearly everyone is.  Thanking someone for being a parent is like thanking someone for clipping their own toenails: Great job, keep on being human, you. And children don’t know to thank you because… well, because they’re children and, you’re just doing what you’re supposed to be doing – taking care of them. Thanks, Mom, pass the granola, and can you take me to the playground, please?
    And though it’s arguably one of the most important jobs on the planet – the maintaining of new, and hopefully functional, kind, and creative humans – it’s just a particularly thankless, underappreciated job.
    Yet, there are some periodic bonuses: sweet chubby cheeked kisses, toddler snuggles, lovely drawings with MOM scrawled across the top, spousal recognitions of job well done, strangers’ comments on how "well behaved" your children are, watching your kids achieve their own independence or success – it's enough to keep going at it each day.

    (Appreciation from my 6yo - note that it says love-together-peace-life. Man, she's awesome!)

    5) Parenting can be boring. Like glassy-eyed staring at the ceiling (or the clock counting the hours ‘til bedtime) oh my goodness when will the repetition end kind of boring. Babies are incredibly adorable, and… they don’t do anything (but they sure need a lot) – thankfully they have the big eyes and chubby thighs going for them. Toddlers are sweet as pie, and… they want to read the same book. Over. And over. It’s kind of like that knock knock joke your preschooler memorized that was really funny the first time, but not so funny the eleventy-billionth time she told it.  Boredom is just part of the deal. On the upside, this has made me more creative – both in my kid-and-adult-centered-activity-planning (i.e. finding things that can be interesting to both me AND my kids) and in my clandestine escapism (i.e. learning to tweet whilst doing the dishes), AND more able to slow down & appreciate the boring... because my children's childhood goes far too quickly.

    6) Parenting makes you tired. Bone tired. To the core. No matter that your kids are sleeping through the night or not – by that time your ability to sleep normally yourself has been so altered that you can’t sleep anyhow. No matter if your kids are older – then you’re staying up to make sure they come back home safely at night. Parenting is synonymous with exhaustion. When you go to bed at night you fall into bed. It’s a tired more deep than a day’s hike with a heavy backpack or International travel. Of course, you learn to live with it, you adjust, your kids start sleeping better, you start sleeping better… but the sleep of the parent is never the same as the sleep of the non-parent. Perhaps the good from this is how amazing a morning to myself is – sleeping in while Adam makes breakfast and plays with the children – those two extra hours of sleep never felt so good.

    7) Parenting is huge. Even when you don’t want it to be; it is everything. You are in charge – whether you want to be or not and whether your children “fail” or “succeed” – you are to blame. You make the choices, you carry the burdens. You select your children’s method of birth (or sometimes it selects you, no matter how much you prepared), your children’s method of feeding, schooling, discipline, experiences, etc. etc., and however it works out – or doesn’t – falls on you. The responsibility (as unfair as it may be since we all know nurture – or is it nature? – isn’t everything in how a child turns out. ) can be overwhelming.  It can also be liberating – realizing, as much as we want our children to be a certain way – as much as we try and succeed, or fail – our children are going to be who they are; they are resilient and amazing, in spite of us.

    Of course, the unspoken rules of parenting aren’t all negatives. There are some positives that I wasn’t told, either. Like:

    8) Watching your child figure something out is awe-inspiring. Whether it be learning to speak, crawl, walk, stack blocks, multiply, write in cursive, ride a bike… Just observing your child learn, and develop skills – particularly ones that you weren’t even directly involved in teaching – is absolutely and endlessly fascinating.  
    9) You will feel more love than you've ever felt or ever know what to do with. If you thought you loved your spouse, or your dog, or your mother... you didn't really know how deep love could be until you held a tiny baby, drifting off to sleep, who’s clutching tight to your finger in the silence of the middle of the night in the rocking chair. The smell of your baby's head is the most delicious aroma you've ever experienced and stirs a fondness so strong and lasting and bonding… the love of a parent for a child is infinite.

    So, did I leave anything out? What’s the most amazing – or challenging – thing you’ve discovered about parenting?

    Posted: Jan 10 2011, 15:04 by kelly | Comments (13) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | Parenting

    Changing Education Paradigms

    I was visiting Montessori Matters a couple days ago, where Pilar had posted this amazing video animation to Sir Ken Robinson’s talk on changing education paradigms:

    Not only is the animation worth watching (so cool), but the message is extremely important.


    Here are a few highlights from the video, if you don’t have 12 minutes (though I really recommend you watch it – more than once – to get the full meaning. It’s worth your time, really.)


    On education reform:


    “Every country on earth is reforming education…

    ….the problem is they’re trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past and on the way they’re alienating millions of kids who don’t see any purpose in going to school… and they’re right (kids not thinking there’s a purpose to going to school) particularly not if the route to it (going to school, getting a college degree) marginalizes most of the things you think are important about yourself…”


    On outdated education models:


    “…This is deep in the gene pool of public education that there are really two types of people: academic & non academic, smart people & non- smart people and the consequence of that is that many brilliant people think they’re not because they’ve been judged against this particular view of the mind…”


    …this model has caused chaos in many people’s lives. Most people have not. Instead they suffer…


    On school being boring instead of exciting:


    “An aesthetic experience is one in which your senses are operating at their peak… when you’re present in the current moment… when you’re resonating with the excitement of this thing that you’re experiencing when you’re fully alive….

    An anesthetic is when you shut your senses off… we’re getting our children through education by anesthetizing them. And I think we should be doing the exact opposite, we should be waking them up to what they have inside of themselves….”


    On school being like a factory:


    “…The system of education is modeled on the interests of industrialism & the in the image of it. Schools are still pretty much organized on factory lines: ringing bells, separate facilities, specialized subjects...still educate children by batches.  We put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? The most import thing about them is their date of manufacture?


    I know kids who are much better than other kids at the same age in different disciplines. Or at different times of the day. Or better in smaller groups than in large groups or sometimes they want to be on their own.

    If you’re interested in learning you don’t start from this production line mentality.... essentially about conformity and increasingly about that as you look at the growth of standardized testing and standardized curricula. It's about standardization, I believe we have to go in the exact opposite direction….”

    On humans’ capacity for learning and thinking:


    “… we all have a capacity (for divergent thinking)… [but] it mostly deterioriates…. [after kids] spend 10 years in school being told there’s ONE  answer, its at the back, and don’t look, and don’t copy. Because that’s cheating… outside of school that’s called collaboration, but inside schools [it’s cheating].


    We have to think differently about human capacity…. We have to get over old conception of academic vs. non-academic and see it for what it is: a myth.


    You have to recognize that most great learning happens in groups.  Collaboration is the stuff of growth….”

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


    There is so much good information in this video, so much to think about; and much of it true to what I’ve experienced and believe about education.


    I believe that children can learn to LOVE learning, if they are given the opportunity to do so in a free, open, self-directed environment.  This may be a Montessori school, a homeschool, an unschooling environment, maybe even a public school (though this has not been my experience; if it has been yours, please share!). When children are able to be themselves, to follow what they are naturally interested in and not to not have to worry about homework, tests, or grades, they find that learning, just for the sake of learning – because we know our brains are capable of SO much, not just what a state or country determines we should be learning at a specific period of time in our life  – is amazing and awesome!


    When you get away from the idea that there is only one right answer, and are praised for “thinking outside the box”, children have the ability to come up with the MANY right answers that are out there.  I believe it is so important to foster independent thinkers who are taught how to use their minds, how to think through things – instead of specifically WHAT and HOW to think – because those children will become the adults that will direct change in this world.


    Hope you enjoyed the video!

    Posted: Oct 30 2010, 11:57 by kelly | Comments (7) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | Education