Category Archives: Reflecting

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.

Curriculum

Curriculum

A New Bed

If you have read my About Me page you will know that what sold us on the Montessori Method was the idea of the floor bed. When Cam was 4 months old she began having issues with acid reflux that led to a lot of crying at night. Once we got her back to sleep the only way to keep her asleep was to lie next to her. This was difficult with a crib (obviously) and our bed is not big enough for three of us. Not to mention she is a noisy sleeper and my husband is a light sleeper- a terrible combination. So in an act of desperation and inspired by Montessori, we drove out to IKEA and bought a twin mattress. We have not looked back. Best. Decision. Ever.

Co-sleeping on a floor bed, which admittedly sounded really weird to me at first and certainly it isn’t for everyone, really revolutionized how I looked at parenting. The good night’s sleep we all got that night didn’t hurt either. I suddenly looked at Cam and realized that she was a person with her own preferences. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t know that or think that before per se, but it became a very explicit thought in my mind. I didn’t like sleeping alone, especially when I didn’t feel well, so why would she? Plus she was so small and new, why was I relegating her to a big cold room (besides the fact that she is quite a restless sleeper)? Co-sleeping worked for us. I could start the night out in my own bed and when she needed me, I could move into hers. I began to reassess how I looked at every aspect of parenting and began to find my own way.

Unfortunately we just discovered a downside to the quickly assembled floor bed: mildew. Since it is winter we have been running a humidifier in Cam’s room every night. The mattress was up against the outside wall and our house is on a raised foundation. Lots of moisture in warm air + cold air underneath and around + a mattress = mildew on the carpet and underside of the mattress. Whoops. I discovered it the other day and cleaned it up. Mildew isn’t a great substance to be exposed to, but it is by no means dangerous. But we did need to figure out a way to get some air circulating under the bed.

Another trip out to IKEA yielded a mattress foundation on short legs and Cam’s new bed was born. She is thrilled. The first night I was worried about her rolling out of the bed until I read about the proprioceptive sense. This is, in essence, the sense that tells you where your body is in space and allows you to assess the dimensions of your environment. (See here for an excellent description.) This is why adults do not (usually) roll out of their beds. While the sense is still developing in children it is possible that they will roll out of bed, but this is yet another reason the floor bed works so well. Cam has been sleeping on this mattress for over a year now. She is very aware of the size of it and the shape of it. I put down a few pillows just in case, but there really wasn’t a reason to worry. We all slept very well that night.

 

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/>

Reflection

Homeschool Manifesto BannerA recent conversation about homeschooling with one of our friends has led me to do some reflecting. The conversation made me realize not only that I was still on the fence about committing to homeschooling but that, if I was going to, I needed to clearly articulate why.

After a lot of thought and discussion, my husband and I decided our tentative plan would be to homeschool after one year in the preschool at the school where my husband is employed. (I would just like to thank my husband here for being understanding and willing to follow my lead.) I love their program and the teachers and I think being in a classroom with other children will be good for Cam. Even with that plan in place, though, I felt that I needed to go further and really commit my ideas about homeschooling and education to paper. The following is a list of ideas I want included in my manifesto (of sorts):

  • The big question: Why homeschooling?
  • In light of my research on the Reggio Emilia approach, I want to articulate how I define Cam as a child which should include qualities and values.
  • I need to state our values as a family and as a community (or at least, as part of a community). Values I want Cam to internalize.
  • What kind of learning outcomes do I want her to have?
  • What is my educational philosophy? Meaning not how I teach, but what I believe about education.

I’m going to be working on this document this week. Obviously it isn’t something I would distribute to some one who asked about why we will homeschool (although that would be pretty amusing), I will share it here. Mostly I need to internalize these thoughts and ideas so I can refer to them when we get questions.

Toilet Training

One of the first books I read about the Montessori Method was Montessori From the Start. I was looking for a manual that would give me a sense of the philosophy behind the method, some history, and a glimpse at how to go about implementing the principles. For the most part the book did that. But it also piqued my curiosity about toilet training, oddly enough. There was just a passing comment made about potty training around 18 months, but it stuck with me. Eighteen months sounded really early, but also rather appealing. Who wouldn’t want to be done with diapers that early?

I started to do some research, both in books and by asking around. What I learned was that the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends toilet training closer to three years old and outlines some pretty ambiguous readiness signs, but this is a recent change in culture and practice. There is a movement of people, including many Montessori proponents, who advocate “early” potty training (18ish months). I ended up reading the book Diaper Free Before Three, which I found interesting and meshed well with my parenting philosophy/approach.

We began the process of potty training around 9 months which involved nothing more than sitting Cam on the potty from time to time and getting her to associate it with going to the bathroom. We’ve also been using training pants on and off since a year old, especially as we battle some nasty bouts of diaper rash.

I was excited to come across this post on How We Montessori last week that gives excellent advice about how to go about potty training. The post also gave me courage to ditch all of our diapers (except the nighttime ones) and go completely for training pants. I think this is going to be a process, but I can already see Cam beginning to take to it. She never ceases to amaze me and I really need to give her more credit for being capable.

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.