Tag Archives: child development

Ultrasounds and “Following the Child”

16 Sep

Child development begins at conception, as does our responsibility to protect it and remove any obstacles that will hinder its progress.  Here are my thoughts on ultrasound and child development…


Working with Montessori Materials

13 May

I love surfing the web to see what kinds of creative activities Montessori homeschooling moms come up with.  As a teacher, burdened with a limited budget and endless administrative duties, I sometimes have challenges keeping the Practical Life area interesting – especially towards the end of the year.  The range of activities you can come up with is only limited by your imagination and bank account, and yet it’s crucial to remember some of the tenets that make Montessori so effective.


When the activity is first introduced, is the name of the activity given to the child? Proper vocabulary is crucial at a young age, and the little ones love discovering the names of everything around them.  Is the child shown how to carry the material and then allowed to do so by himself? Letting the child take the material lets him know that you trust him with that work (and also allows you to gauge if the tray is too big, the bowls too heavy, etc.).  When adult and child sit down, does the child know to wait his turn? Most young children will want to start touching the materials right away.  Letting the child know that it will be your turn first and then he can have a turn instills not only the concept of turn-taking, but more importantly, the ability to delay gratification and use the sense of sight to absorb information.  Are your movements slow and precise, and do you use the least amount of words possible? “Economy of movement” is very important because the child’s brain is absorbing each gesture; limiting the number of words you use allows the child’s brain to focus on the movements, instead of becoming distracted by words.

Are you showing proper clean-up? We want the child to be successful and independent all the way through the activity, so it’s important to show how to put the material away, either right after the presentation or when it’s obvious the child has finished exploring.  Does the activity have a clear purpose, or is it just busy work? Practical Life materials should live up to their name and allow the child to develop practical skills, such as independence, care for the environment, and coordination.  A couple of busy work activities (such as beading) never killed anyone, but try to develop purposeful materials that meet the developmental and intellectual needs of your child.  Ask yourself: Is this a skill my child can use to fend for himself in the future?


When you finish presenting the material, do you allow your child to work by himself? Hovering near the child is something that most of us are guilty of.  It’s fascinating to see how the child explores, and it’s normal to want to evaluate how much information he was able to pick up from our presentation.  However, keep in mind that if the child feels judged or tested, he will not be able to focus on the purpose of the material.  He will begin to perform and will expect praise.  Is he allowed to work uninterrupted for as long as he wants? Once the child begins to work, the teacher should become invisible.  Resist the urge to help (unless the child specifically demands your assistance), and don’t interrupt him with praise or suggestions.  Even something as innocent as taking a picture can cause the child to lose concentration. 

Is he being successful? The child can be working with the material in a way that is different from what you showed him, and that’s perfectly fine.  However, sometimes he’ll meet an obstacle and need help.  Observe the child from a distance (while you pretend to be busy with something else).  If he’s struggling mightily and looks frustrated, he is obviously not concentrating and not feeling successful.  At this point, you can quietly approach and ask if he needs help (or let him know ahead of time that he can come to you for help).  Once you get the green light, ask the child to pinpoint the specific part of the activity he needs help with, give the least assistance to get him back on track (with minimum talking and maximum economy of movement), and once again step aside.

Will the clean-up be overwhelming? When young children are working with materials that involve water (such as pouring from a pitcher to a glass), sometimes more water makes it onto the floor than into the glass.  If the child is unaware of the growing spill, he will continue getting water and pouring.  It is therefore essential to interrupt the activity before the clean-up becomes overwhelming for him.  A good time to do so is when the child is standing up to get more water (never interrupt while he’s working with concentration).  At that point, you can provide a lesson on how to sponge up a spill, and let the child know that when he’s cleaned up the water he may return to his work.  Apart from creating awareness, this serves as a natural consequence: If you spill water, you have to clean it up, so it’s best to be careful!


When the child finishes working with the material, is there a specific spot for him to put it away? Young children thrive on order and like knowing that there’s a place for everything.  Does he know he can work with the material whenever he wants? The child might want to repeat the activity later if he feels he hasn’t mastered it, so it’s essential that he be able to have access to it.  Is there a new activity that takes the newly-learned skill to the next level? Children’s brains develop by taking the skills they know and applying them to progressively more challenging activities.  If your child stops using a material, it’s probably a sign that he’s gotten what he needed out of that work and is ready for a more advanced skill set.  Make sure that the materials you make both relate to the ones he’s mastered and offer a new level of challenge.

The joy of Montessori are not just in the materials, but in presenting them at the right time, in the right way, and allowing free exploration.  Following these tenets will allow your child to maximize his learning experience.  Have fun!

Movie Review: Babies

9 May

Part parade-of-cuteness, part anthropological exploration, Babies takes a look at the first year in the life of four children: three girls (from rural Namibia, urban Japan, and urban U.S.) and one boy (from rural Mongolia).  There’s no dialogue, just background noises, baby babble, and the occasional snippet of adult conversation.  Yet it manages to say so much…

I was fascinated by the differences in mothering among the cultures: The Mongolian mother uses breast milk to clean the baby’s face and warms the baby’s bath water in her mouth (both make perfect sense, come to think of it); the Namibian mother practices Elimination Communication with her infant (though for her it’s just the traditional way of attending to her child’s physiological needs); the Japanese mother drops off her not-yet-crawling baby at daycare (much to the child’s dismay); the American mother (or maybe it’s the father) takes the child to Native American music sessions (in which the only people showing any interest or involvement are the adults).

The child-rearing approaches are as varied as the families’ socio-economic levels, and yet all the babies strive for – and achieve – the same things.  They bond with the parents, explore the world around them using all five senses, torment household pets, and work incredibly hard to develop gross motor skills.

I was fascinated by the contrast of the traditional Mongolian and Namibian families against their modern Japanese and American counterparts, proving that there’s more than one way to raise a healthy and happy child.  Regardless of their living conditions, the children were developing at their own rhythm, following Mother Nature’s plan, and pausing only when faced with environmental obstacles.  If anything, the children born in third-world countries seemed to have the upper hand when it came to solving problems on their own, and had more opportunities to learn from their communities.

While I couldn’t imagine raising a child in rural Namibia, it is refreshing to realize that one can forgo all the gizmos, gadgets, and toys we’re led to believe are essential for raising a happy and healthy child.  Behind this movie’s cuteness and novelty factor is an important lesson for all parents (and parents-to-be):  Children are resilient, follow their inner drive, and need only a healthy dose of freedom, love, respect, trust, and tangible experiences to unleash their potential.

Sneak Peek

5 May

Back in the days of my Montessori training course, my trainer (an amazing psychologist who had trained under humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers) recommended a book called Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce.  I jotted down her recommendation and promptly forgot about it.  Flash-forward to a few weeks ago, when I saw it advertised on someone’s blog and checked it out of the library.

Oh.  My.  Goodness.  If you read one book about children this year, let it be this one.  (I’m trying to cut down on my book-buying addiction, but this one was a must-have.)

Some delightful tidbits in anticipation of a book review…

“The mind-brain is designed for astonishing capacities, but its development is based on the infant and child constructing a knowledge of the world as it actually is.  Children are unable to construct this foundation because we unknowingly inflict on them an anxiety-conditioned view of the world (as it was unknowingly inflicted on us).  Childhood is a battleground between the biological plan’s intent, which drives the child from within, and our anxious intentions, pressing the child from without.”

“The brain achieves its clarity of operations only through interacting with or moving into physical touch with the living earth itself… To the extent the newborn is allowed interaction with the earth, to that extent the brain clarifies its own portion of the picture.”

“In our anxieties, we fail to allow the child a continual interaction with the phenomena of this earth on a full-dimensional level (which means with all five of his/her body senses); and at the same time, we rush the child into contact with phenomena not appropriate to his/her stage of biological development.”

“Just as baby teeth come before giant twelve-year molars, so all the ramifications of concrete thought and experience must mature before abstract thought and experience can unfold.  We can force certain forms of abstraction prematurely on the child in his/her concrete stage of development, but the effects are specifically damaging (even though the damage will not be detectable for several years).”

All of these ideas (and many others in the book) were stated by Maria Montessori in her work at the beginning of the 20th century.  Pearce’s book, written in 1977, echoes Montessori’s viewpoints without once mentioning her.  She would be pleased, however, since she always said: “I keep pointing at the child; they keep looking at my finger”.  Pearce’s book does just what she wanted, it looks at the “modern child” (who in many respects hasn’t changed at all) and gives us a road map to guide his potential.

Powerful reading,  worthy of  your time and essential for your child’s healthy development… I hope you agree (and stay tuned for the book review)!

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.