Category Archives: Reflecting

My Mantra for 2013

Never do for the child

Cliche Alert

Happy New Year, everyone. In light of the season I decided to commit to paper (so to speak) a few things for our family to focus on in 2013 . I, personally, really hate the idea of resolutions. I think it makes you sound as if you have been bad and are now resignedly changing your ways. I also don’t like to call them goals because I’m not really looking for an end product, just a process of becoming more engaged with life. So, without further ado…

1. Cut down on waste.

We aren’t an especially wasteful family, but I think we could focus on being sure food isn’t spoiling in the fridge and that we’re thinking about purchases before making them. I also think we can be sure we’re not wasting water and are being as energy efficient as possible. I especially like the idea of conscientious spending as it ties into our next goal.

2. Give more. Create a culture of giving.

I recently came across Giving What We Can through an NPR piece about the founder. I like their philosphy that you can give 10% of your income to some very effective charities and that will help alleviate a lot of suffering. They have a very scientific method for assessing the effectiveness of charities and give very detailed information on why they haven’t evaluated or recommended various types of charities. I really want Cam to grow up knowing how lucky she is to live in a first-world country in a middle-class family. I also want her to grow up helping those that are less fortunate, not in a condescending way, but in a genuine, caring way. If this is going to happen, Tom and I need to lead by example.

3. Get that garden going!

Cam was so little last year in the spring- she couldn’t even sit up on her own much. This year she can help! I also want Cam to know and love nature and the rhythms of the year. I think there is no better way than to get your hands dirty in the garden. She can see farm to fork, where her food comes from and how labor intensive it is to produce. She can also see how rewarding it is and how exciting each season is when you garden.

So, those are the things I want to focus on this year. I’m sure there are other projects and the like, but these are really the major points. I will try to check back in with them in a month or two to reflect on how these things are going and to offer any suggestions and advice for sticking to these ideas.

Waldorf

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This past week I finished reading a book about the Waldorf method and surprisingly, or not so surprisingly, I noticed a lot of connections between it and the Montessori Method. I knew very little about the Waldorf method except that the only Waldorf kids I knew growing up were a bit odd. However, in hindsight, that was probably more a function of the kids and their families than the educational method they were exposed to, so I picked up a copy of Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out.

Understanding WaldorfWaldorf schools teach based around a three dimensional philosophy: head, heart, hands. The child is guided to develop their thinking (head), their emotional engagement (heart), and ability to act with purpose (hands). So far so good. While my point in researching these other methods is not to find the superiority of the Montessori Method or to convince myself that I should use another method, it is hard not to see how many of these “alternative” educational methods tie into one another. It seems they all share some of the most positive ideals that I find lacking in many of our current school environments.

A Waldorf preschool, like a Montessori preschool, focuses on work and play as work. Children are actively engaged in physical activities that range from imaginative play with blocks or tree stumps to cleaning and making snacks. Like a Reggio Emilia classroom, Waldorf classrooms have a food prep area where children are taught about nutrition and how to make their own food.

This is actually something I am adamant about including in Cam’s education. I love to cook (and occasionally bake) and to garden. I believe that connecting children to the kitchen and the garden fosters positive food relationships and also helps them better understand nutrition. I don’t want to grow all our own food, but I think a year round garden that provides some of our ingredients is a fantastic way to show Cam all about the process of farm to fork.

Waldorf schools also do some interesting things with the set up of their school day. I will say, they are much more traditional in their approach to teaching, but I think if you are really tied to a hands-off-teacher approach you could still easily adapt the ideas. They begin the day with a large block of time spent on their current topic of study while the afternoon is spent on less academically taxing subjects like outdoor play, handicrafts, etc.. I see the Reggio Emilia approach here in their themes, although I know very little about that still. I also see child development theory here. (Most) Children are freshest early in the morning and are most easily able to focus on a main lesson at the start of the day. Later in the day they lag and have less focus. By placing your main lesson in the morning you can ensure their best work and minimize frustration and fatigue on their part. And by placing more kinesthetic and active activities in the afternoon you can ensure you get their best at that time of day as well.

Another aspect of Waldorf I was really impressed with was how they tend to integrate their subjects. Art into math into reading into everything. Math into reading into art, etc. One thing I find particularly distasteful about the current educational system is how disjointed the subjects are/can be. You close up your math book to move onto reading and the two don’t overlap. But we all know that isn’t true. I think the Reggio Emilia method also integrates subjects better, mostly through art, but I’ll get back to you on that.

Finally, the Waldorf method has its students create what they call text books, but what I would call documentation of their learning. As the children progress through their topics they write and draw responses and record their lessons. They do this in notebooks that, by the end of the unit or year, show the progression of their learning. Documentation is never a bad thing, but it’s even better when it is created by the child and for the child.

I am aware that the Waldorf method can involve some less mainstream ideas, especially in regards to spirituality. This book really didn’t touch on that much except to highlight how emotional engagement supports being connected to others and to the world. I think it would be possible to like the method and even use it when teaching your children without getting into the less conventional aspects.

The book, in all, was quite informative and I certainly would like to know a bit more. I think it would be easy to adopt aspects of the philosophy into what I am doing with Cam. But, I wish the book had more of a history of the method, a historical context, and more of the actual philosophy created by Rudolf Steiner. Understanding Waldorf was perfect for what I needed now, an excellent, readable introduction to the method. I suppose like all good books, it raised more questions for me than gave answers.

Drawing and Scribbling

I have been trying for months now to interest Cam in putting marks on a page. I have given her blank paper in a variety of colors and lots of marker, crayon, and colored pencil options. She put down a few half-hearted lines and squiggles and a dot or two, but she just wasn’t into it. Until just last week. I’m not sure how she got ahold of it, but Cam found one of my ball point pens and has begun to scribble like mad.

Shortly thereafter, she located a No. 2 pencil and has colored on our kitchen tile. Whoops! I don’t know why all of a sudden she is so interested in and intent on “coloring”. Maybe it was just a developmental leap. Maybe it was that the pen and pencil were thin enough for her to grip easily. It certainly isn’t because they are colorful (although, maybe she takes after her father whose favorite color is gray).

It doesn’t really matter, though. She is into it, so I am following her lead. To encourage her I have gotten out blank sketch pads, various stacks of paper, and even note cards. She is particularly taken with scribbling over words and even some pictures. I find it very odd, but she loves it. I also rolled out some art paper on the floor of our kitchen to give her a giant space to color on.

For those of you wondering, ball point ink is very easy to remove. Simply place a rag under the stain and then blot with a cotton ball or Q-tip soaked in rubbing alcohol. The rag underneath is there to absorb the alcohol and the ink as they come through. You may need to move the rag around to find a spot that is not soaked or covered in ink. Blot until the stain is mostly gone, then soak in an enzyme detergent before washing normally. I suggest checking the spot (or spots!) prior to placing the item in the dryer as the dry heat of the dryer will set the stain if it is not completely removed.

Reggio-Emilia

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If any one has read my FAQs page or deduced this from my blog posts, you will know that I am not totally tied to the idea of the Montessori Method. I think educational philosophies and methods are a lot like parenting methods, there is no one silver bullet. You can, and should, cherry pick from them to find the right balance of lessons, activities, methods, etc. that works for you and your child.

I think, based on my classroom and educational experience, that there is a lot of value in the Montessori Method and its approach, but I also have some hesitations when it comes to implementing it in its entirety. I like that there is a focus on using and developing all the senses. I like that it’s directed by the child. I like that it has a practical aspect that fosters independence in the child. However, I wondered how current some of the brain development ideas were in it, so I asked a good friend of mine who happens to be studying early childhood development. I don’t want to be basing Cam’s education on debunked or out-dated developmental theory.

One educational theory I have been hearing a bit about and was brought up by this friend was the Reggio-Emilia Approach. It’s a newer approach to education developed in the Reggio region of Italy. (Italy seems to have cornered the market on early childhood education.) I haven’t done too much research yet, but it seems to incorporate a lot of sensorial learning with art as well as extensive, creative documentation of student work. It also uses a child-driven selection of study. I am curious to see if Montessori and Reggio can be integrated because I especially like the idea of the atelier that it uses. Based on my, thus far, extremely limited knowledge of the Reggio-Emilia Approach I think there is some overlap, as well as some new ideas to look into.

If you are interested here are some resources I am looking at as a jumping off point:

There is this general bibliography of Reggio Emilia books.

In all honesty, the Wikipedia article gave me a good, quick overview of the philosophy and its history. I wouldn’t rely solely on this article, but it’s a good place to start.

You can also check out my Reggio Emilia Pinterest board. I have my booklist on there plus ideas for classrooms inspired by the approach. You can also click over to blogs and blog posts that focus on Reggio Emilia from the pins.

Sadly my local library system only has one book on Reggio Emilia, but Amazon came to my rescue and I found a couple books that I added to my wishlist. I think this is the direction my research is headed in next in my eternal quest to cobble together a curriculum and educational philosophy for teaching my daughter.

 

Traditions: Advent Calendar

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Last year I was reading through my Martha Stewart magazine and came across a little article about Advent calendars. I was familiar with the little picture calendars and chocolate Advent calendars, but this article was talking about calendars that didn’t look like those at all. Each day had a box or envelope that contained a tiny “gift” for each day instead of a chocolate or picture. The article was not only a how-to, but was also a fond remembrance of the author’s mother who carefully crafted these Advent calendars for years.

So when I decided to use the holidays to create some meaningful family traditions for Cam, I decided I would like to create her a homemade Advent calendar each year. I didn’t begin the tradition last year, mostly because I was still overwhelmed with a three month old baby, but also because she was a little small to understand the tradition.

Over Thanksgiving my grandmother got Cam a nice wooden bird house that came with three stuffed birds. She thought, based on the picture in the catalog, that the birds would fit into the hole in the bird house, but they turned out to be much too large. Cam still liked to put things into the bird house, though, and that gave me the idea for her Advent calendar. I made up a little pattern, based on a felt bird I had seen on Etsy, and stitched up 24 little felt birds (with the help of my mom since I started the project last week!). They aren’t as lovely as the one on Etsy, but they didn’t turn out too badly.

I placed each bird in a little muslin bag and placed all the bags in a basket. Instead of numbering each bag, a concept I didn’t think would make a lot of sense to Cam yet, I just put them all in the basket. Each day she can reach in and take one out. And so far, she has absolutely loved the little birds. After kissing them, she immediately begins putting them into the bird house. Excellent fine motor practice and fun for Cam! Traditions Banner

Scope and Sequence

There is something I have found very frustrating about the Montessori Method. I can find a hodge-podge of ideas for activities, but I can’t find a scope and sequence of these activities or really even an appropriate time to introduce the activities. I understand it’s when the child is ready, but should I have the materials on hand for land forms at 15 months or 3 years? I don’t even have a place to start from or an idea where to jump in exactly, since I don’t have a list of potential activities that I could just move through sequentially. I have read quite a bit about the history of the method and about the philosophy of the method and this was a great place for me to start. But it isn’t what I need now. It doesn’t provide the day-to-day information I need. Ultimately I don’t have a big picture of the actual method and am finding it to be nearly impossible, or at least extremely daunting, to work with. I think having a scope and sequence will make me a better teacher and will impact the quality of my daughter’s education.

With this concern hanging over my head, I finally took time last week to sit down and write up a plan for homeschooling Cam. It’s mostly a checklist with a lot of research. I would like to mix and match curricula and educational methods in a way that creates a program that is ideal for my daughter. After all, this is the biggest perk of homeschooling. To do that, however, I need a clear sense of where we are going and what skills and accomplishments we are striving for.

The overall goals of my plan are:

  • Research and write a scope and sequence for 0-3 & 3-6 age groups.
  • Create themed monthly units for 1-2 that integrate skill development.
  • Research curricula to use for various subjects to begin at 5 or 6.
  • Research early reading curricula to begin around 3, especially Montessori and Lindamood Bell.
  • Create elementary/primary scope and sequence using chosen curricula.

The first order of business will be to find Montessori scope and sequences and read up on the Method. To that end I have found a few free and a few priced materials. I began reading David Gettman’s book Basic Montessori: Learning Activities for Under-Fives. So far it’s got what I have been looking for and my local public library had it so I was able to avoid buying it. Montessori Print Shop also has a set of teacher’s manuals for the 3-6 set. They do cost, but I don’t find the cost to be exorbitant. Montessori for Everyone has a set of comprehensive skill lists but so far as I can tell they are not connected to the Montessori activities that build the skills. I also find them a bit pricey. Maitri Learning has a couple of resources that look like they may help me. There is a sequence and order of activities for various areas of “study”. There is also a record keeping log that looks especially helpful. Even better, these resources are free.

So that is where I am this month and this week. Cam is enjoying her activities and new schedule (hooray for one long nap!) so I’m not inclined to introduce anything new just yet. We’ll see how my research goes.

Snack Table

Snack Table

Snack Table

About a week ago my husband and I were at the craft store where he spotted this little lap desk. It’s essentially a plastic tray with pockets on either side that can sit on your lap as you work. My husband’s idea was to use it as a little dinner table for Cam by slinging it over a stool and placing it near our table. We tried it out, but it wasn’t nearly as helpful or popular as we thought it would be. In a moment of inspiration, though, I set it on the floor next to our cabinets, placed Cam’s water cup and a little snack bowl on it and turned it into her snack table.

It has been a huge hit with everyone. Cam is able to get herself a drink and little snack whenever she wants. I can monitor when she is hungry and thirsty, but allow her some independence and choice. It has also cut down on a lot of fussing that went on when she would try to communicate that she needed a drink or a little pick-me-up snack. I can still control what she’s snacking on, of course, but she really seems to like it.

Toilet Training: Early Stages

When Cam was about six months old I read the book Diaper Free Before 3. The woman that wrote the book advocates early potty training and I agreed with her ideas and her method. I should note, it is something that fits well with my parenting style, so sticking to it hasn’t been too difficult despite the fact that it’s a bit labor intensive.

You begin by having a small potty chair either in your bathroom or the nursery and just sit the baby on it from time to time. She suggests starting young (six-ish months) in order to get a habit and association formed, plus they can’t run off yet. Slowly you work up to sitting them on the potty each time they wake up, after every meal, and whenever you notice them going. This continues to build the association of going potty in the potty, as well as building “potty breaks” into their routine. At a year or so, you put the child in training pants to begin teaching them the sensation of when they have gone pee.

This is where we are now and I’ve been gradually introducing the training pants (we don’t wear them outside of the house). Sitting Cam on the potty is like trying to pin down a cloud now, but there are times when she picks up the books we keep in a bin by the potty and she spends some quality time on the pot. It’s pretty funny to see actually. To support the potty training we’ve installed little potties in each of our two bathrooms and I set up a “getting ready” area in her bedroom. This is where we change clothes and sit on the potty in the morning and after naps. As a precaution, I laid down an old bath mat to prevent accidents from occurring on the actual carpet. Her clothing drawers are near by and the hamper is behind her. I’m hoping this transitions into the toddler years for teaching her to dress herself.