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What Is Indirect Preparation? How Does It Work?

3 Nov

Just about every activity in a Montessori classroom has two purposes: one direct and the other indirect.  While the direct goal aims at providing the child with a skill he can use in the present, the indirect goal focuses on abilities he will put to good use later in life.   This is one of the geniuses of the Montessori method: Use the child’s current interests to help him develop future abilities in a way that respects his psychological needs and physiological abilities.

My new article on www.MariaMontessori.com follows three-year old Wyatt and his parents as they experience one of the myriad benefits of a quality Montessori education.  Enjoy!

Has the Bread Become Our Master?

15 Aug

An old Iranian proverb says: “Eat your bread in such a way that the bread does not become your master.”  In modern times, we’d be wise to say the same thing about our relationship with technology.

If you were born between the 1940’s and the 1970’s, you’ve experienced first-hand how important technology is for getting ahead in the workforce.  Those in our generation who obtained the necessary technology training to keep up with industry trends have been able to move ahead in the workforce, while others who were stumped by computers have been left behind.  We stand in awe of tech wizards who do with computers what most of us could only dream of (I should know, my husband is one of those brainiacs), and society rewards them handsomely for their abilities.

Not surprisingly, we believe that the secret to our children’s success lies in early exposure to technology.  After all, if we’d been born with a laptop in our hands, we wouldn’t have had to undergo the scary technology learning curve most of us experienced in high school, college, or worse: on the job!  I still remember being in my first year of college (1994) and opening a web browser for the first time.  I had no idea what to do or what to type after arriving at mtv.com (the only website I could think of!).  I also remember working in the corporate world with people only a few years older than me who had no clue how to use basic office technology.  “I’m about to get fired” was written all over their angst-ridden faces as they cringed before the monitor.  Relate those experiences to the current day, when four-year-olds are giving their parents lessons on how to use an iPhone, and it becomes clear why parents are so eager to encourage their pre-schoolers’ impressive computer skills!

However, we are doing young children a terrible disservice by exposing them to computers at an early age (even those computers with so-called educational software).  We are stealing from our children the short window of opportunity for developing CRUCIAL neurological and intellectual skills that ONLY come through real-world experiences.

Am I afraid of technology?  That’s like asking if I’m afraid of tools.  Both are marvelous inventions when used correctly!  Computers are a tool, and like every tool, they should be handled responsibly and used for the right purposes.  An electric drill is a very useful tool for hanging a painting, but it can have dire consequences if used incorrectly.  So can computers.

Here are (a few of) the facts:

  • Computers rob children of outdoor playtime.  Playing outdoors greatly benefits their physical health, encourages socialization, and develops problem-solving skills (read on to find out why computer software fails to provide truly useful problem-solving opportunities).  Physical activity also increases oxygen supply and balances chemical secretions in the brain.  Children with balanced brain chemistry are more capable of dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression, and show an increased ability to learn and retain information.
  • Computers take time away from experiences with real-world items (be it toys, art supplies, or a basket full of laundry).  These physical experiences provide the child with important clues about how the world REALLY works (i.e. gravity, cause & effect, self-control), drive him to find out more, and allow him to control of his environment.  Computer programs decide what the child is going to learn; they don’t provide useful multi-sensory feedback (e.g. banging your finger with a hammer in real life is a lot more educational than the same experience in the virtual world); and they breed a passive learner who is dependent on machines to provide experiences and solutions.  Additionally, if a child is stumped on a computer problem, he can shut down the machine and walk away with no consequences.  Not so when he has to figure out how to load the dishwasher so all the plates will fit and the door will close!
  • Computers rob children of valuable child-adult interactions.  In a very large study, researchers found that interactions between children and adults were the primary determinants of children’s intelligence, academic success, and emotional stability. What did these interactions look like?  They were “relaxed explorations guided primarily by the child and supported by helpful and emotionally responsive but not overly intrusive adults.” (Healy, Failure to Connect)  Can computers be “helpful and emotionally responsive”?  No, but you sure can!
  • Computers discourage the type of problem-solving scenarios that create lasting intellectual growth.  When a child is stuck on a problem in real life, a subtle suggestion or question from an adult can be just what he needs to solve the problem himself.  Even the most sophisticated computer programs cannot do this, so children who work with computers learn that the only way to find out the right answer is by waiting for the computer to show them (if they’re patient and interested enough to wait that long).  Gone are the feelings of satisfaction and triumph that come from solving a problem, and gone too is the embodiment of that new knowledge through the experience of figuring it out.
  • Computers don’t provide clear “if-then” experiences, thereby impairing a child’s ability to judge situations.  Psychologists now know that children need physical experiences that they themselves can control (e.g. if I do x this way, then y will happen – What happens if I do x differently?).  This phenomenon is especially important between the ages of three and four, when the brain takes a giant leap in causal reasoning.  And this is exactly when many parents choose to introduce computers to their children – computers that are ripe with software that provides confusing and unnatural cause-effect relationships.  Not surprisingly, elementary and junior high school teachers report a growing number of older students who struggle with applying “if-then” concepts to math, science, and social relations.  Even my husband, who teaches at the college level, has noticed this growing trend among his undergraduate students.
  • Computers confuse children about what is fact and what is fiction.  While young children have a hard time telling the difference between fantasy and reality, by age seven most can tell the two concepts apart.  However, studies have shown that the more screen time children are exposed to when they’re young, the more they struggle with correctly identifying something as fact or fiction as they get older.

In summary: The tech geniuses and titans of industry of today did not achieve their success by sitting in front of a computer at age four.  Their impressive creative and entrepreneurial abilities come from the real-life experiences they had as young children.

Let a pile of laundry be your children’s software and the sandbox be their Silicon Valley.  Allow them to care for a real mouse and “byte” into carrots and radishes straight from the garden.  Invite them to connect with the world and behold the true genius that’s just waiting to burst out.

*******

For a fascinating look at how computers affect our children, as well as a more in-depth explanation of the specific points discussed here, refer to the wonderful book “Failure To Connect” by Dr. Jane Healy.  If you don’t have time to read the entire book, at least check out Chapter Seven – Cybertots: Technology and the Preschool Child.  Get a free preview through Google Books!

Dealing With Conflict the Montessori Way

25 Jul

If you’ve ever wondered how conflicts are resolved in a Montessori classroom, or are looking for a kinder and more effective to help your child deal with disagreements and even fights, then visit www.MariaMontessori.com to read my newest post!  Enjoy!

Nature Week part 2: First Impressions

23 May

Age: 3+

Vocabulary: first impression, undecided, feeling, fear, reaction

Classroom/Outdoor activity:

1. Mark off three sections of the classroom: one showing a picture of a happy child, one showing a picture of a scared child, one showing a picture of an indifferent child.  Talk about these feelings with the children.

2. Hold up a photograph of an animal, ask the children to say its name, and invite the children to go to the feeling that animal inspires in them.  Once there, they can sit on the floor and make the face that corresponds to how the animal feels.

3. Encourage children to fully discuss their feelings regarding the animal.  Why do they feel as they do?  What do they already know about this animal, and what would they like to find out?  Record their responses and use them as a guide for future animal themes.

3. Invite children back to a central gathering place and repeat with as many animals as their attention span allows.  Choose a mixture of easy-to-spot animals (dog/cat/ladybug) and more exotic animals found in the zoo (lion/gorilla/camel).

4. Over the next few days, take time to find answers to their questions about the animals.  Provide books, share pictures, tell stories, and bring “animal ambassadors” into the classroom (make sure to release any wild creatures like spiders or snails ceremoniously after a few hours).

5. After the children have learned about the animals they were curious about, take a walk around the neighborhood to see if they can spot those animals.  When they see an animal they felt scared or undecided about, encourage them to observe it without touching or bothering it.  Provide a nature notebook for each child and encourage them to record what they observed.  Ask: How did it make you feel?  Take a trip to the zoo and repeat the activity with the exotic animals they learned about.  Encourage them to share their new discoveries with friends and family.

Art: Animal/feeling collages

-Provide a variety of magazines, scissors, paper and glue.  Invite children to cut out pictures of people expressing different emotions.  How do children think each person is feeling?  Why do they think so?  Allow children to cut out pictures of animals.  Encourage them to arrange and glue down the pictures of people and animals in a way that makes sense to them.  Allow them to explain their collages.

Music: Choose fun songs about animals the children might be scared of.  For example: “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “The Rhino Song“, or “The Lion song” (get up and dance to the Lion Song!!).  NOTE: I would not show YouTube videos of songs to children younger than 5, but it’s a good resource to find songs and lyrics (just my opinion…)

Snack: Use prepared bread stick dough to create snakes, spiders, worms, or other misunderstood creatures.  Decorate the dough with raisins, nuts and seeds.  Bake with the children, and while they eat you can discuss why they are so important for the ecosystem and why they are misunderstood.

Nature Week Part 1: M-ant-essori (I couldn’t resist)

22 May

This is part one of Nature Week!  There are many activities that can stem from each concept I will blog about, so feel free to post your own ideas in the comments section as inspiration for other teachers and Montessori moms!

Age: 4+ years (Can be done by one child or a group)

What child isn’t buggy about bugs?  Go outside with your child, discover the world of ants (or other common insects), and use the tiny creatures as a springboard for science, art, language, math, and music!

First, educate yourself and your child about ant facts.  You can go online to find child-friendly ant information or check out a book from the library.  Children aren’t afraid of “big words”, so you shouldn’t be either!  Use the correct terminology and include it in the context of your activity so your child gains a hands-on understanding of her new vocabulary.  Here are some words to consider for the following activities: colony, antennae, thorax, abdomen, harvest, exoskeleton, pupa, hypothesis, conclusion.

Activity: Ant Buffet

Items needed: magnifying lenses, paper plates divided into fourths with a marker, potential ant food items (ripe fruit, bread, cheese, dead leaves, grass, meat, sugar, salt, etc.),

1. Ask the child which foods the ants are most likely to be attracted to, and why she thinks this is the case.  Incorporate the term “hypothesis” by telling her: “What you think will happen is your hypothesis.  Now you’re going to test your hypothesis.”  Let her place her four food selections (about a tablespoon is enough) on the four sections of the plate.  (If working with several children, they can each make their own selections and have different assortments on their plates).

2. Go outside and conduct an “ant hunt”.  Great places to look are cracks in the sidewalk, under rocks, or near water sources.  Show your child how to roll logs or rocks towards you so that any inhabitants (spiders, centipedes, etc.) will crawl away from you.  Talk about not harming any animals.

3. Place the plate nearby and wait.  While the ants find the food, you can talk about what you learned from the book/online resources.  What do ant bodies look like?  How do they move and communicate?  How does their behavior change when they find food?  Observe the ants as they arrive for the food, help your child count how many visit each type of food, and help her record her results.  The easiest way to do this is to write the name of each of the four foods on a paper, and make a check-mark next to that food for each ant that visits it.

Note: It’s OK if your child doesn’t do this perfectly.  The purpose of this project is to help develop observation skills and introduce the Scientific Method.

4. Restore the habitat and clean up when you’re done!!!

5. If you wish, you can help your child graph the results by writing the four foods at the bottom of a page and pasting an ant picture above each food for each ant that visited it (older children will love this).  Discuss your child’s findings with her.  Was the hypothesis correct?  What does the graph tell her?  Talk about how scientists sometimes have to test their hypothesis several times to confirm their conclusions, and sometimes have to refine their testing methods.

FOLLOW-UP ACTIVITIES

Art: Make thumbprint ants by using a stamp pad or washable markers.  Allow your child to experiment with the size of her fingers to see which are best for making a realistic head, thorax and abdomen.  Show her how to add eyes, legs and antennae.  Talk about the ant’s body parts and what they’re used for.  She can also make an anthill on her paper by “painting” with glue and sprinkling sand over it.  Talk about what the ants in her painting are doing.  NOTE: This is art, so there is no “right” or “wrong” way of doing it.  Allow the child to create based on her impressions of the insect she studied.

Music:

– Sing “The Ants Go Marching…” (You can find several other options for lyrics on YouTube and iTunes, but the one I linked is my favorite version because it shows the movements associated with the verses.  My students LOVE doing this song marching around the ellipse and crouching down during the “down to the ground” part.  It’s a great way to wear them out!!)

– Sing “Head, Thorax, Abdomen” to the tune of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”

Language:  For older children (6+), pose open-ended questions that encourage them to use their imagination.  Writing topics might include: “If I were as small as an ant…”, “If I had six legs…”, and “If I were waiting inside a pupa, I would think about…”.

Snack time:  Make “ants on a log” by spreading cream cheese on a celery or carrot stick and putting a row of raisin “ants” on top.

Chumiles (ant larvae), a tasty Mexican delicacy!! (I'm serious!)

Culture:

– Talk about cultures that eat ants and ant larvae, and show them pictures of these foods.  Discuss how foods that might seem strange to us are common-place and even delicacies in other countries (and vice-versa).
– Discuss how some cultures use ants for medicinal purposes (sutures, anti-inflammatory medicine, etc.)

Stuff to buy (if you’re so inclined):

– Insect eye kaleidoscopes allow children to see the world as an insect would (found in science stores)

– Ant farms are a great way to study the hierarchy and team work of an ant colony (just be careful it doesn’t open up in your living room or classroom!)

As always, when working with animals it’s imperative to discuss and model ethical treatment of all creatures and their environment.  Be kind to ants, they play a crucial role in our ecosystem!!!

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!  🙂