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Imaginative Play

Pedagogy BannerOne of the projects I tackled this summer was working my way through my TBR (To Be Read) pile and, while I didn’t make it through many parenting/learning theory books, I did read one that I found very inspiring.
Reading about the place and importance of imaginative play, however, brought to mind Montessori for me. If this blog is any indication, I am far from being a Montessori purist. I don’t follow all her ideas, I won’t use all her materials and lessons, but this doesn’t stem from any distaste for her methods or any disagreement that I have. Except for when it comes to imaginative play.A Child’s Work was not a title I was familiar with nor was the author (although in the education field that isn’t surprising), but I was clued into it by one of the library blogs I follow. It was a quick read, but well worth it just for the pure joy Paley clearly feels for the relationship between imaginative play and children.

Child's Work

Now my understanding of the Montessori method is that it does not contain any imaginative play (meaning building with blocks, dressing up in costumes, pretending animals talk, playing in a toy kitchen, etc.) in the early years (0-6). I have read that fantasy is discouraged, although how strictly any Montessori program adheres to this I am not sure. However, I can’t help but look both at current research and at the natural inclinations of children and think the Montessori method is wrong to discourage imaginative play and fantasy.

One of the reasons I find myself passing on various Montessori ideas is that I find her to be very much a product of her time. (I’m not as concerned about teaching my daughter how to use a dustpan because we own a little hand vacuum.) Child development was a new concept. Sure, she was a pioneer, but we now have a century of research that she did not have access to. She was also very much a socialist looking to help the poor. I won’t argue that it was a lofty goal and one we should all aspire to in some way, but it also really colored her methodologies. The children she began developing her method for needed structure, needed to feel useful, needed to be a part of a collective, needed to keep the house clean in the absence of one or both parents. I would agree that children of all sorts need that and want that to some degree, but I think they also need to engage in imaginative play and the ideas encapsulated in A Child’s Work really hit home that point for me.

A Child’s Work is a bit light on providing real research to back up any of Paley’s claims. It’s a much more touchy-feely book than a hard evidence sort of book. Really it read more like a notebook of Paley’s thoughts and notes and that was fine with me. It went by quickly and its anecdotes and impressions certainly got her point across about the importance of fantasy. I think next up will be another book that I have on my shelf about play. I’m hoping to get a bit more of the science behind the theory in this next round.

Not only do I remember the joy of fantasy play as a child, but I can see the seeds of it starting to grow in my own daughter. Since Montessori is all about observing our children and following their interests I think I will let Cam lead me into the imaginative play realm.

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 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.

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.

For Your Bookshelf: The Perfect Thanksgiving

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Perfect ThanksgivingThe other day when we were grocery shopping I happened to stop at the table of books Whole Foods has set up (books at the grocery store?). Normally this kind of thing bothers me. Those tables of doodads are there to get you to spend more money on stuff you don’t need from the grocery. I also imagine they tempt many a child and fuel many a grocery store meltdown. However, I happened to see this book sitting there and, for whatever reason, actually picked it up. I’m so glad I did. It’s a sweet little story told by one little girl who compares her family’s Thanksgiving with Abigail Archer’s Thanksgiving. Abigail’s family is perfect in every way. They have a Martha Stewart Thanksgiving. The narrator (you never learn her name) has a Thanksgiving that is more in line with what I imagine everyone else’s Thanksgivings are like – the turkey isn’t perfect, someone sings at the table, the relatives are crammed into the house, pies come from the store. But in the end she points out that her Thanksgiving and Abigail’s are the same in the most important way. They both have loving families.

This resonated with me. Yes, it’s a sweet message that I want Cam to internalize. But, we have a family that resembles Modern Family more than it resembles the “traditional” model. It is no less loving than the “perfect” family, though, and I want Cam to know that and be proud of that.