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Category Archives: Books

A Little Weekend Watching: Education in the 21st Century

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If you do nothing else this weekend, watch this TEDx talk about education in the 21st century. It’s only 15 minutes and speaks volumes to me about why I want to homeschool Cam and everything I see wrong with the current educational system- even many of those expensive private schools. I found this through one of the library blogs that I follow, Stephen’s Lighthouse. I’m really glad he found it because I don’t think I ever would have come across it, but it articulates so well what I have been thinking about education. Plus it’s based on interviews Grant Lichtman conducted with real teachers and students.

Some of the problems he sees are that subjects are too compartmentalized, that teachers are too proprietary and not collaborative enough, and that there is too much standardization which stymies even the best-intentioned educational system.


For Your Bookshelf: The Classics

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I have come to the conclusion that any politician that runs on a platform seeking to ban the Daylight Savings time changes would win by a landslide. Parents of young children would be the first to vote. It took us nearly a month to readjust to the new time. A month of putting the baby to bed at 9, or putting her in the car, or falling asleep next to her at 8:30 even though the to-do list loomed large and long.

After reading to Cam at nap time one day, however, I discovered that it calmed her down pretty quickly. I had tried this in the past at bed and nap times to no avail and was really disappointed. As a big advocate of reading to children and as a reader myself, I wanted to have this tradition and routine with my daughter, but it just didn’t work for us. So seeing that it might be a possibility now that she’s older, I jumped at the opportunity.

I also decided that instead of reading several picture books, which are too short, can become a negotiation tactic, and can enliven her a little too much (just today she was shouting “egg” at the top of her voice while I read aloud from The Golden Egg Book), I would read from a classic novel. I created a list on my GoodReads account which you can see here if you are interested in the titles I chose.

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Our first selection I had on our bookshelf, so we could start immediately, was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. So far we are all enjoying it, one chapter a night. Cam has decided that she likes to sit in our bed with both of us and the lights turned down low. She will bring one of her blankets and several stuffed friends in and snuggles up. Sometimes she wants to snatch the book out of my hands, so I have taken to giving her a book of her own with lots of pictures so she has something to mimic me with. Usually she looks through her book for the first couple minutes and then lies back to listen.

We don’t do it every night. It’s just not always possible. But she has come to expect it and it has pushed her bedtime back to between 8 and 8:30!

For Your Bookshelf: Push Here

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photoWe bought this book a few months back for Cam, but she’s just now getting to the point where she can appreciate the language and humor of it. This little book has a lot of good components to it. It has a humorous tone and requires kids to think about color, shape, and art. It is also interactive and requires the reader to follow certain directions (as the title suggests). The text is also simple enough and repetitive enough that emerging readers could read it.

A Little Weekend Listening

Weekend Reading.jpgThis week it’s a little weekend listening! Our public radio station has a local interest show called Insight. I don’t normally listen to it largely because it falls near nap time and right smack in the middle of our morning routine. But I made a point of listening this week because they had a segment on Montessori education. The host interviewed a local private Montessori school director and a chair of AMI. It was a very interesting and informative segment. It’s just over ten minutes long and I highly recommend it. Click the link below, it will begin playing immediately so adjust your sound before you click!

Insight’s Montessori Segment

Discovering Reggio Emilia: The Principles

Reggio Emilia.jpgI recently finished the book Authentic Childhood which was a discussion of what Reggio Emilia education is and how it can be applied in American classrooms. And it pretty much sold me on the Reggio Emilia approach to education. It shares a lot of principles and ideas with the Montessori method and I see them as complementary educational philosophies. The thing is Reggio Emilia has some quirks to it that make it both wonderful and frustrating at the same time. But before I follow that tangent let me give you a run down of the Reggio Emilia principles that I have gathered (based on Authentic Childhood and backed up by further research I have done online, in other books, and in discussing it with a Reggio inspired pre-k teacher).

  • Reggio Emilia is very child driven. Like the Montessori method, you allow the child to show you what they are interested in and what they want to learn about. When children show an interest in something you map out where that interest might lead. Birds to bird house or nests or a specific type of bird or habitats. You then provide the children with materials to see which of those ideas (if any) they want to further explore. And on and on. Unlike Montessori this does not apply to “sensitive periods”, a developmental/brain theory that is no longer widely accepted. There is no set curriculum or series of activities. The Reggio experience is different with each teacher, group of children, and environment.
  • Reggio doesn’t have a curriculum so much as it is project centered. Maybe “project” isn’t the correct word to use, but it indicates something that is in-depth and longer-lasting that focuses around a main subject. Students indicate what they are interested in and the teachers allow them to explore the topic(s) by providing materials. These materials should provoke the children to learn more, see connections, and exhaust their interest as they delve deeper and deeper into the topic. Materials should also encourage the children to linger on a topic and really explore it and approach it from many different angles. The curriculum should, however, still remain flexible and not get too caught up in a topic by making it last longer than the children’s interest. I think this also ties into the idea in the Montessori Method that credits children with the ability to maintain interest and focus for much longer than they are normally given credit for.
  • Reggio schools and proponents see children as capable (or strong, as they like to put it). This directly ties into the Montessori ideas that teach children to be independent. You have to see the child as strong in order to confidently let them take the lead on their learning. I think buy-in from children is really important for creating a love of learning and a set or imposed curriculum is much more difficult to get buy-in on.
  • The Reggio Emilia approach encourages collaboration. That happens between everyone. Teachers and teachers; students and teachers; teachers and the students’ families; students and their families; teachers and the broader community; students and the community.
  • Just like in the Montessori Method where you have the prepared environment, the Reggio approach sees the environment as a third teacher. It is very important to have an aesthetically pleasing, interesting, and provocative environment to engage the child. A lot of thought and care is put into designing and maintaining the classroom.
  • Another hallmark of the Reggio Emilia approach is the documentation. Teachers make a point of taking samples of work, recording conversations, taking photographs, etc. and putting it all together to present a picture of the learning process. Some people make posters and videos. I would imagine you could make blogs, vlogs, videos, and myriad other technological presentations to create documentation.
  • Reggio is also very focused on art. But this isn’t art that has an end product. It’s more art for the sake of expression and process than creating anything of artistic value. Which isn’t to say the children don’t produce anything of value or beauty, just that that is ancillary to them using art (in it’s many, many forms) to learn and also express what they have learned. In some ways it’s simliar to the Montessori idea of sensorial activities. Clay can help create a bird bath, but it’s also about the process of feeling the clay, manipulating it, and working in three dimensions instead of the two on paper. Sensorial activities, and the hundred languages in the Reggio approach, work to develop other intelligences and paths of communication (with the self and with the community).


A Little Weekend Reading: Importance of Reading

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Literacy in the home is an issue I feel very strongly about, but, despite being a librarian, I haven’t really addressed it here. This point was hit home for me this week when I came across this study from University of Nevada, Reno (through one of my library blogs) that found that being raised in a home with 500 books is the same as having two parents with masters degrees. That means a child raised in a print-rich home will have much higher educational achievement than one who is not. Of course, not all of us can afford or accomodate 500 books. So how do you expose your child to so many? The library.

In this vein I thought I would give you a few suggestions to help you promote literacy and reading in your own home. None of them are revolutionary or ground breaking, but it can’t hurt to share them.

A Few Book Related Suggestions:

Read to your child every day. Read the paper. Read them your favorite blog. Read them picture books or the classics. It doesn’t really matter what, so long as you read to them.

Let them catch you reading. It’s really important for your kids to see you reading. You are setting an example that they will emulate. This is especially true for dads and sons. Men are much less likely to be life-long readers, so seeing your dad reading can make a real impression.

Use your local public library. Libraries are a treasure trove of resources. Did you know that if they do not have a book you want on their shelves you can request that it be brought from another branch? I use this service all. The. Time. Most libraries have an online catalog that will allow you to browse their collection from the comfort of your own home (and in pajamas!). If they don’t have a book you want you can usually request that they purchase it. It’s not guaranteed that they will, but I’m pretty sure they will do their utmost to get you what you want.

Check out library programs. There are always storytimes for kids. But there are all kinds of other programs too. Summer reading (which often has prizes, and is catching on for adults too). Craft days. Family fun days. Literacy programs. Writing programs. You name it the library has it. If your local branch doesn’t, don’t be afraid to request it. Sometimes librarians are busy and aren’t necessarily aware that there would be interest in various types of programs. This is also a great way to meet other families from your area.

Thrift shops are a jackpot for books. Our local Goodwills have tons of children’s picture books for very inexpensive prices. They have a fantastic selection of good books in excellent condition.

Organize your books. It will make it easier for your child to put them away and take them out. It will also save you from reading the same story over and over again every day because you can’t find anything else. It will not prevent your child from wanting you to read the same story over and over again. Sorry.

So if you don’t already, make time for reading. Ideally you would read everyday, but that isn’t always possible. Even I don’t get to read to Cam everyday and I’m a librarian! Don’t beat yourself up, just make sure you promote literacy with your child.

A Little Weekend Reading: Emergency Planning

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In addition to my New Year’s Resolutions, I have some projects I want to tackle around the house. They’re pretty mundane and boring, like replacing our can lights in the living room with LED can lights, but they need to be done. However, I thought I would share one of them here because I think it’s important for all families to at least consider.

Emergency BoxAwhile back I read an article in Parents magazine that was all about creating a disaster preparedness kit. I thought it sounded a little daunting, but also kind of practical. The idea wasn’t new to me. We have several birds and I am always meaning to purchase travel cages just in case we ever had to evacuate. We also keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.

Now I am not the paranoid type. My kid occasionally touches chicken poop in our yard, eats food that has fallen on the floor, and goes out without a coat (it’s okay we live in California :)). Sometimes she bangs her head or scrapes her knee. But I did take a CPR class through the Red Cross and it really hit home for me the importance of being prepared for something major (an earthquake, a broken bone, a car accident, etc.). Add some of the scary things that have happened over the past year (school shootings, hurricanes, etc.) and I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to be prepared. I don’t expect anything to happen, but with minimal effort we can be prepared just in case.

I highly reccommend you read the article (I’ll post the link below) and consider doing a bit of emergency preparedness this year. It walks you through preparing your kids, preparing a box of supplies, and writing a letter in case you are not present when something happens to your child (say a flood or earthquake while they are in school). It shouldn’t take much time or money, but better safe than sorry.

Are You Prepared for an Emergency?

Photo credit: “Unnamed.” Parents. 2011. Web. 14 Jan 2013. <http://www.parents.com/parenting/better-parenting/advice/emergency-preparedness/>

A Little Weekend Reading: Diaper Free Before Three

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I know this method can be controversial and I want to begin this post by saying: you must know your own child. What works for one, may not work for another. You need to watch for signs of readiness for toilet training and many other things. Only you and your child can decide if and when they are ready for something.

That being said Cam has been ready for potty training for awhile. I read the book Diaper-Free Before Three back in March or April because I was struck by a sentence in Montessori From the Start (see here for more on how we are toilet training). She mentioned something about toilet training at a very young age, which is not the current position most parents take.

If early potty training is something that sounds appealing and you want to learn more, as well as how, I would certainly recommend Diaper-Free. It’s not very long; it’s very readable; and she gives a bit of everything for everyone, from history to theory to practical how-to. I tended to agree with the case she made saying that, culturally, the late potty training that is popular now is a very recent shift and there is not much research to back up benefits of potty training late or back up claims that early potty training is harmful.

The method is rather labor intensive with a very young child, but I think it can really pay off by making your child feel capable and empowered early on.

For Your Bookshelf: Natural History

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On a recent trip to Costco I came across the book pictured below, which I had seen in the library before. It is absolutely beautiful and features thousands of photographs of every type of living thing. Except, oddly enough, for whales and dolphins which are lovely drawings. Go figure.

Natural History

Cam is in love with this book. She flips through it despite its enormous size. She is particluarly fond of the owl pages (big surprise there), the colorful birds, the penguins (another shocker) and some of the small brown furry mammals. In my best attempt at following her interests, we bought her a smaller sized book (also published by DK) that is essentially an abbreviated version of this one. It is more portable and I think she’ll have a much easier time flipping through it. Plus if the pages get torn or worn or rumpled I don’t really care.

I know the book is pricey, although I found it for $20 less than its cover price at Costco and I imagine it will eventually pop up on sale tables, I think it’s worth the investment if your child is interested. I can also see it really tying in well with the Montessori Great Lessons as well as a science curriculum and an introduction to the diversity of life on Earth.

A Little Weekend Reading: Child Development Reading List

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To continue my thoughts on researching the Montessori Method and other child rearing/educating techniques, I asked a friend of mine, who is not only a new mom, but also a doctoral candidate in a child development program, her opinion on a variety of things. She very graciously helped me realize that a child’s brain is complex and it is unlikely that there will be a complete understanding of how it develops. The important thing in selecting methodologies, pedagogies, curriculums, and activities is to assess how it is working for your child. It doesn’t really matter if the developmental theory behind something is 100% accurate or current. Only the fact that your child is engaged and learning matters. I guess I knew this deep down, but I’m glad to have articulated it.

I still plan on reading up on brain development and various methods, but I feel less like I have to “pick” one and more like I can blend them to my heart’s content.

Sarah put together a list of books she recommends that talk about child development and are based in research, but are not overly academic.