Archive | March, 2010


31 Mar

So, my fiance had sent me a video of seven year-olds in a school play, acting out a very violent scene from the movie “Scarface”.  I posted it, but then removed it because I don’t want to give them more publicity than they deserve (none, IMO).  Viral marketing video or not (thanks fitforakid), anybody who exposed these children to the themes in the movie should be arrested and sent to jail for child endangerment and for being a menace to society.  Sick, sick, sick.


What Teachers Make

29 Mar

One of my favorite “nothing-to-do-with-Montessori-but-somehow-strangely-related-to-everything-I-do” blogs is the one written by Seth Godin.  He combines all of my passions – entrepreneurship, organizational psychology, writing, and just plain common sense – into short blog posts that pack a punch.

He posted this video, and by the end of it I was standing on my chair, yelling “YESSSS!!!!!”  I dare you to watch Taylor Mali recite his poem without getting at least a little excited and pumped up.

(Warning: there’s a crude, if common, finger gesture towards the end of the video.  You’ve been warned.)

Mali also has a book, in case you’re interested.

Book Review: Mindset (Part I – The section for parents, which teachers will also find useful)

24 Mar

“Much of what you think of as your personality actually grows out of your ‘mindset‘,” writes Dr. Carol Dweck in the introduction to Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  “Much of what may be preventing you from fulfilling your potential grows out of it.”

Dr. Dweck defines mindset as the way you view yourself and your life experiences.  People with a fixed mindset believe their personality, intelligence, and talents are set in stone.  They confirm these traits by evaluating their successes and defeats as pass or fail, win or lose.  Fixed-mindset folks are very concerned with how others view them, so they surround themselves with people who will shore up their self-esteem (aka, suck-ups).  Deficiencies are hidden and successes are trumpeted as confirmation of their beliefs.

On the other hand, people who adopt a growth mindset see their traits as the jumping-off point for development.  They believe that effort is the key to growth and conclude that each individual’s potential can only be discovered and reached through dedication, passion, and training.  The growth mindset is evident in people who learn from their mistakes, accept feedback, and stick with it when the going gets rough.  They surround themselves with people who help them grow and discover their potential.

The first 167 pages of Mindset show how the two frames of mind can affect performance, outcomes, and enjoyment in the world of sports, business, and personal relationships.  Dr. Dweck identifies the mindsets of famous (and not-so-famous) people and discusses the impact their viewpoints have on their lives and those of others.  It’s an interesting read, but in the interest of brevity, I’m going to skip to chapter 7 to find out where mindsets originate and how to keep our children on the right track.

“You learned that so quickly!  You’re so smart!”

“Look at that drawing!  Martha, is he the next Picasso or what?”

“You’re so brilliant, you got an A without even studying!”

Apart from the exclamation points, what do these sentences from the book have in common?  They are all supposedly encouraging messages that parents send to boost a child’s self-esteem.  Have you heard similar phrases being used?  Sure, we all have.  Have you uttered them?  Probably, and you had the best intentions in mind (I know I did!).

Unfortunately, here’s what the children hear:

If I don’t learn something quickly, I’m not smart.

I shouldn’t try drawing anything hard or they’ll see I’m no Picasso.

I’d better quit studying or they won’t think I’m brilliant.

How did Dr. Dweck figure out that this is what the children were hearing?  She realized, while conducting seven research studies, that the children she had identified as having a fixed mindset were obsessed with these concepts.  The children would take great pains to prove how smart and talented they were, and would rarely take the opportunity to learn something new during the research studies if it meant stepping outside their comfort zone.  It stands to reason that the more we insist on praising these qualities, the more obsessed they will be with proving them true.  The problem comes when they hit a bump in the road. To the fixed mindset children, “if success means they’re smart, then failure means they’re dumb,” explains Dr. Dweck bluntly.

At this point you must be thinking: Well, if I can’t praise my child, then what do I say to let her know she’s on the right path? Dr. Dweck suggests that we praise “the growth-oriented process”.  In other words, put into words what the child has accomplished through hard work, practice, and good strategies.

“I see you’ve been practicing your cursive handwriting.  I can tell you are being very careful about spacing your words.”

“You chose many beautiful colors to make that picture.  Can you tell me about it?”

“I noticed that you rolled the apron very neatly and cleaned the protector before putting it back on the tray!  Thank you for keeping our materials tidy.”

If improper praise hurts children, improper criticism is the nail on the coffin of the fixed mindset.  Sure, we all want to provide what the corporate world euphemistically calls “feedback for success”, but most of what we consider constructive criticism is heavy on judgment and light on support.  In Mindset, we’re reminded that constructive means “helping the child to fix something, build a better product, or do a better job.”  Therefore, our approach should be empathic and should open doors towards success.  For example, if a child does a sloppy job on a test and misses a few questions, dad could ask: “Son, is there something that wasn’t clear to you when you prepared for the test?  Do you want to go to the library to do some more research or would you feel more comfortable asking your teacher for additional review material?”  Hitting the roof and grounding the boy is not the right approach here!

Dr. Dweck’s research also confirmed that the fixed mindset stems from a situation where parents place conditions on their approval.  All parents want the best for their children, but what if your child’s idea of “best” is different from yours?  Most people (including yours truly) have faced conditional approval from their parents in some aspect of their lives: academic, professional, social, or cultural.  Most of the time, parents pass judgment unknowingly, thinking that they are setting up their child for a future of happiness by pushing for their own ideals of success.

In Mindset, we learn that some ideals are helpful while others can do terrible harm.  Growth-mindset parents encourage their children to choose a career that will have a positive impact on society or remind them to choose a romantic partner that will respect and support them emotionally.  Fixed-mindset parents will let their child know that they expect her to be a doctor or want him to marry a beauty queen.  Which ideals work best?  Those that provide respect for the child’s individuality, offer inspiration, and allow the child to slowly work towards the goal.

At the end of the chapter, we are challenged to “Grow Our Mindset”.  Dr. Dweck suggests:

“Tomorrow, listen to what you are saying to your kids and tune in to the messages you’re sending.  Are they messages that say: You have permanent traits and I am judging them? Or are they messages that say: You’re a developing person and I’m interested in your development?”

I’m ready to take this challenge!!  Will you take it with me in the next few days and post your honest thoughts? (Anonymous comments are welcome!)

“Mindset” was written by Carol S. Dweck, Ph. D. and is published by Random House. Copyright 2006.

My Heart Broke Just Now

24 Mar

If your child ever complains that he/she doesn’t want to go to school (or if you ever start to grumble when stuck in traffic), just show them this (especially picture #2):

Thanks go out to my darling sister-in-law, for sending me this link.

A Royal Flush

21 Mar

A mom whose daughter is in another classroom struck up a conversation with me recently.  “I’m worried,” she confessed.  “When my daughter was four and I used to ask her what she wanted to be when she grows up, she would say ‘doctor’ or ‘pilot’ or ‘astronaut’.  Now that she’s almost six, I’ve been asking her again and all she ever says is ‘princess’.  It’s really disconcerting… What should I do?”

I’ve found that parents are often more receptive to stories than to in-your-face advice, so I shared the following story with her…

Four year-old Haley discovered the joy of writing with the moveable alphabet at the beginning of this year.  Sure, she had written the requisite phonetic words such as “cat”, “flag”, and “rug”, and had taught herself how to read.  This, however, was different.  This was writing for the joy of self-expression.

“I can write about anything I want?” she asked in disbelief.

“Anything,” I replied.

Her eyes widened.  “Even… princesses?”

I restrained a groan, silently cursing Disney and its putrid pink-and-purple princess campaign.  However, I wanted Haley to write and I needed to follow her interests, so I consented.  “Yes, even princesses.”

“Wow, my sister’s teacher never let her write about princesses,” she confessed.  (Her sister had graduated from our school a year earlier.)

I wondered if I had done the right thing by allowing her to write about the “characters” we so strongly discourage in school.  The way I saw it, if this child was being bombarded and indoctrinated by Disney princesses during the 80 waking hours she spent outside of school each week, then it was only natural that she would be obsessed with them.  And the more I forbade the topic, the more all-consuming it would become for her.

She started writing immediately, covering the rug with names of fictitious female characters, from Ariel to Snow White.  I hoped this would be a passing trend, but after a couple of weeks of princess-mania, I knew I had to do something.  I thought back to my own childhood.

My mother and grandmother are Spanish, and as a young child in Mexico I was fascinated by the lives of the Spanish royals.  My grandmother always had the most current edition of Hola! (the Spanish version of Hello! magazine) lying around, and I would spend hours looking at the glossy pictures of European princesses in their wedding gowns, evening wear, and sparkling tiaras.  As I got a little older, I realized that these real-life princesses had real lives that revolved around the support of charities and the championing of various social causes.

Mind you, I dislike monarchies as much as any informed person living in a democratic society: their arcane traditions, insulting wealth, and blatant social oppression are infuriating.  But I’m sure I dislike Disney even more (if you haven’t yet noticed) for its destruction of children’s imaginations and self-worth in its quest for profits and market dominance.

While I would’ve preferred that Haley be obsessed with a more inspirational set of female role models – perhaps Florence Nightingale, Helen Keller, or Marie Curie – I had to start where her interests lay.  I therefore made princess cards (Click to download the PDF!).  Haley drooled expectantly for an entire week as my assistant pasted, laminated and cut the cards under her very nose.  When the material was ready, she got the privilege of getting the first presentation.

I’m delighted to say that these humble cards had their intended effect… I happily escorted the Disney princesses out of our classroom and welcomed in a group of educated and well-bred women.

Haley’s new interest in real-life princesses has allowed us to learn about geography as we explore where each princess lives.  We’ve talked about altruism and philanthropy, etiquette and cultural traditions, blood relatives and in-laws, and even about mining (as in: Where do all those diamonds come from?).  The main characters of her stories – now several sentences long and written on paper with carefully crafted handwriting – are Diana, Grace, Victoria, and Letizia.  This summer, she’s traveling to Paris with her family.  Her one request is to go to the Louvre to see Marie Antoinette’s bed.

Bye-bye, unwitting pawn of Disney.  Hello future historian!  🙂

Great Expectations

19 Mar

Nowadays, we treat children in a way we normally reserve for guests and quadriplegics.    We make their beds, cook their food, set their spot at the table, clean up their toys, spoon-feed them, wipe their bottoms, scrub their necks, and put on their shoes!!!  The reason parents do this is because they love their children and want to give them all the comforts of life.  But what message are we really sending?  How do the children interpret our actions?

Wow, mom thinks I’m not capable of pulling some bedsheets, fixing myself a sandwich, carrying a plate and fork, cleaning up my toys, bringing a fork to my mouth, wiping my bottom, scrubbing my neck, and sticking my feet into shoes.  If mom, who is all-knowing and perfect (you KNOW they see you this way), thinks I can’t do these things, then she MUST be right!

Years later, we’re frustrated because our children are “lazy” and “unmotivated”.  Funny, they weren’t born that way!

Take a few minutes to read this most charming post about a five-year old girl whose home environment mirrors her Montessori school environment.  While you’re reading, consider that this is a normal child with busy modern parents.  It’s not too late to raise the bar for your children!!!  Not only will they become more responsible, involved, and self-reliant, but you’ll have enough free time to go get a mani/pedi (or at least another cup of coffee).  Enjoy!

The Psychology of Success

17 Mar

Here’s what I’m currently reading…

Amazing book, not only for helping children, but for changing my own perspectives and thought patterns!  Stay tuned for the book review and Montessori perspective this weekend!