Archive | January, 2010

Elementary

28 Jan

I got into the Bergamo AMI training program!  I’m going to be an Elementary guide!  What an exciting adventure… Stay tuned!

Italy, here I come!!!

If Your Kid Is a Picky Eater…

15 Jan

So many parents in the school where I work stress out and worry about their children’s nutrition.  Some force-feed the kids at home, making the little ones sit at the table for hours on end, spoon-feeding them until they’ve eaten “enough”; they expect teachers to do the same at school (we obviously don’t).  Others have simply given up and sustain their “picky” children on a diet of mac n’ cheese, Lucky Charms, and dinosaur nuggets.

If you, as a parent, find yourself caught in this struggle, maybe the following story will change the way you approach your child’s eating habits…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

When I was three years old, my family moved to a small condominium complex in Mexico City.  Our next-door neighbors, a registered nurse and her anesthesiologist husband, also had two young children.  The girl, Lorena, was my age, and we quickly became close friends.

Lorena was a pale and skinny little thing who was afraid of everything (including her over-bearing mother).  She would categorically refuse to eat anything except canned tuna fish.  Her mom would sit with her at the dinner table for hours, forcing her to gulp down cream of spinach or some other healthy food.  After hours of fighting (once she even tied her down in desperation), her mom would break down and open a can of tuna.

Apart from the eating issue, Lorena suffered from a slew of “ailments”, including allergies to cats and mysterious rashes.  She took medicine constantly and was regularly covered in ointment to heal her hives.

When I turned five, my family and I moved to the countryside near San Diego.   My parents bought a beautiful hilltop  house with a swimming pool and two acres of open land.  The first summer we were there, my mom called Lorena’s mom and, after much negotiating, arranged for the little girl to come visit us for two months.

When Lorena arrived, she brought a small suitcase with her clothes, and a larger one filled with medication, ointments, and cans of tuna fish.  A letter from her mom stated: “Lorena is a very picky eater, and frankly it’s a struggle to get her to eat.  When you get tired of fighting with her, feel free to open a can of tuna since it’s the only thing she likes.”

My mom took one look at the quivering little girl, stashed the medications and tuna fish in the closet, and announced that it was lunch time.

“What’s for lunch?” my brother and I eagerly asked.

“Turkey sandwiches and carrot salad,” answered my mom.

“I don’t like turkey and I don’t eat carrots,” said Lorena.

“OK, then don’t eat,” replied my mom calmly.

“Can we eat her food?” we asked, ravenous after playing outside all morning.

“No, that’s Lorena’s food.  She’ll eat it when she’s ready,” answered my mom.

“I’m not going to eat,” replied the defiant five-year old, pushing her plate back and crossing her arms in front of her.  “I want tuna fish.”

“There’s no tuna fish,” said my mom patiently.  “There’s turkey sandwiches with carrot salad.”

My brother and I wolfed down our food, and when we were done, we grabbed Lorena’s hand and ran outside to play in the pool.  My mom put Lorena’s untouched food away and picked up the phone to arrange for swimming lessons, because five-year old Lorena didn’t know how to swim.

That evening, after chasing frogs, riding tricycles, and going down the water slide for five hours, we were called inside for dinner.

“I don’t want to eat any of that,” said Lorena upon eying the chicken, potatoes and vegetables my mom had prepared.

“Well,” answered my mom.  “This is what’s for dinner.”

Lorena sat pouting with her arms crossed while my brother and I inhaled our portions and asked for seconds.

The next morning, we woke up to scrambled eggs and refried beans.

“I don’t like eggs or beans,” grumbled Lorena.

“Well, it’s what’s for breakfast,” answered my mom, while my brother and I piled our plates high.

To make a long story short, Lorena went on a two-day hunger strike.

On the third day, my mom served Lorena her usual portion of whatever was on the menu, and Lorena ate.  And ate.  And ate.

She ate vegetables, chicken, meat, potatoes, rice, eggs, milk, fish, fruit, and everything else my mother served her from then on.

The frail weakling of a child gained 10 pounds, achieved a healthy sun-kissed glow, and learned to swim.  Her allergies never manifested themselves (even though we had two cats) and she didn’t have a single rash during her entire two-month stay.

Towards the end of the visit, my mom arranged for Lorena’s mom to spend a week with us in San Diego before flying back with her daughter.  When Lorena found out her mom would be arriving the next day, she broke into a rash and pooped in the pool.

And she refused to eat anything other than tuna fish for the rest of the stay.

Tomorrow’s Child

13 Jan

Every January, the beautiful mountain town of Nevada City, CA hosts the Wild and Scenic Film Festival, a most inspiring and refreshing marathon of environmental documentaries, covering the spectrum of hot-button topics: organic farming, sustainable housing, wildlife conservation, green technology… You name it!

Arguably one of the most important topics in the environmental movement is corporate responsibility, and few documentaries have paved the way towards elevating environmental consciousness among for-profit companies than “So Right, So Smart”.  This film – featured in last year’s festival – proves that companies are not only capable of being environmentally responsible, but will also profit from their green strategies!

In the film, Ray Anderson, CEO of the carpeting company Interface, talks about the paradigm shift that allowed him to turn his company into a lean, mean, green machine.  Along the way, Anderson has inspired countless others to rethink their selfish ways and make a change for the better – both in and out of the office.

Glenn Thomas, a mill salesman who attended one of Anderson’s talks, understood better than most the force behind the CEO’s drive to raise the collective environmental conscience.  He was inspired to write a poem, and when I first heard it, I marveled at its gentle simplicity and deep truths.

I had forgotten about the poem, caught up as we get in our daily struggles and routines.  Someone who should know better has recently tried to make me doubt my calling, my abilities, and my dedication.

Luckily, a good friend reminded me of the poem just in time; it in turn served as a reminder that the work we do cannot and should not be judged by traditional educational standards.  The true purpose and ultimate impact of our efforts will only be noticeable when we’re no longer around to bear witness to them.

May this poem help guide you if you find yourself in the darkness of self-doubt, and may it remind you why we walk this sometimes thankless walk.

Tomorrow’s Child
by Glenn Thomas

Without a name; an unseen face
and knowing not the time nor place
Tomorrow’s Child, though yet unborn,
I met you first last Tuesday morn.

A wise friend introduced us two,
and through his shining point of view
I saw a day that you would see;
a day for you, and not for me.

Knowing you has changed my thinking,
for I never had an inkling
That perhaps the things I do might
someday, somewhere, threaten you.

Tomorrow’s Child, my daughter-son,
I’m afraid I’ve just begun
to think of you and of your good,
though always having known I should.

Begin I will to weigh the cost
of what I squander; what is lost
If ever I forget that you
will someday come to live here too.

Back To School

4 Jan

My fiancee has a 12-year old niece who has been in a Montessori school since the age of three and whose mother is an Elementary guide.  During a family reunion, we gave the child a gift that consisted of a small bag of assorted rocks (quartz, turquoise, etc.) and an accompanying classification chart.  The simple offering sparked her curiosity, and she spent a couple of hours examining and classifying the rocks.  There was obvious joy in the work she was doing, and a palpable sense of satisfaction – combined with renewed curiosity – when the task was accomplished.

When I observed this child, I knew little about Montessori (other than my own experiences as a Montessori child).  However, it was clear to me that there was something special about this girl: she exhibited behaviors, curiosity and maturity the likes of which I had never seen in the children of my friends and relatives.

Only when I took the Primary Montessori training course did I realize that this child’s behavior was characteristic of a “Montessori child”, and that all children – if allowed to develop to their fullest potential in a carefully crafted environment with purposeful activities and consciencious adults – could be peaceful, orderly, joyful and self-reliant.

I thus embarked on my new life path as a Primary guide, and marvelled at the achievements of my young students.  While I appreciate and delight in every facet of the child’s experience in the Children’s House, one of the stages that caught my attention the most was the surfacing of the second plane of development in the 5 ½- to 6- year old students.

Although I found the transformation in the children of this age fascinating, I also became frustrated.  Their curiosity was blooming, their power of imagination and abstraction was taking hold, and their learning style was merging from one of independent work to one of group effort.  Yet all this had to be put on hold halfway through their third year in the Primary classroom, because the pressures of the traditional school system they were about to transition into trumped the child’s individual interests and learning style.

Due to the limited number of Montessori elementary schools in our area, combined with and a deficit of information available to parents, most of our graduating Primary students are enrolled in public (traditional, state-run) elementary schools.  The quality of education in these schools is defined by yearly national test scores and by how many children are promoted to the next grade level, regardless of their actual knowledge or preparedness.  Our efforts to create parental awareness regarding the benefits of a continuing Montessori education cannot compete with the lure of free schooling, leaving most children destined for a lifetime of factory-modeled, one-size-fits-all education.  Little by little, the joy of learning turns into the drudgery that is compulsory traditional schooling.

I shudder to think that the children I currently work with – each of whom has a particular learning style, talents, and interests – will cease to be individuals and will become just another spoke in the wheel of “No Child Left Behind”.

How will these children be impacted by being in a same-age classroom, changing teachers every year, studying from outdated sources with the sole objective of passing tests, and transfering the role of evaluator from the child to the adult?

Just as importantly, what potentials and abilities could these children unlock – and what impact would they have on our future societies – if we allowed them to grow in a Montessori environment during this next phase of development?

These are the questions I seek to answer, and these are the opportunities I seek to provide children with.  Among other reasons, they are the driving forces behind my decision to go back to school to obtain my Elementary AMI certification in Bergamo, Italy in September, 2010.

My application goes out this week!  Wish me luck!