Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Montessori with Siblings

 One of the best gifts that I could have given my eldest, was making him a sibling.

I truly believe that having two siblings close in age, while it could be very toxic in some situations is a gift. 

They always have someone to play with even when we are away visiting family or when they are both sick.

Sometimes, they know how to share. 

And other times I have to remind them that kicking each other in the face is not a good choice.

It depends on the day. 

Well, here I wanted to dive into how Montessori parenting at home is different with siblings. It's harder, but it is a richer journey. The flavors of every day lessons are overarching. 

Harder to Follow the Child

First, it is much harder to pay attention to two kids and their inner world. Each child's motivation can become muddled as they play of off each other's influence. One day the eldest started to like cars more because the youngest started to like cars. One day the youngest started to like plushies because the eldest developed a love for them. Now there is a teddy that gets treated both better and worse than an American Girl doll. 

The Siblings Learn from Each Other

The siblings learn the good and the bad from each other. There will never be a day where one is not teaching the other something. And I hate to say it, but here I am trying really hard to have the eldest not become the "third parent" figure because that really affects their dynamic. 

And a bit of learning from each other is a very big positive outcome from Montessori classrooms with the large age ranges. The kids can learn from different kids. Then, this lesson becomes underscored when they teach what they learned to someone else. 

Most siblings who live with each other know everything about each other and can figure out what other has learned, and where there are gaps. 

Harder to Work with Some Learning Tools

One of the biggest issues that has come up has been figuring out is a tool is just as safe or accessible for a younger sibling, or if that tool should be put away. 

Before the mental load of the pandemic got the best of me, or just being a human, got the best of me, I had enthusiastically got an apple slicer for my preschooler that has yet to be used by that same preschooler all because the youngest should not be trusted. And let's face it, unless we are watching for it, we will not give a tool to a child unless it's a habit. And using it had never developed into a habit. I feel that right this moment, this apple slicer is actually my tool more than the children's.

I could say the same thing for some of the more advanced Montessori knives. I think it will take a long time before I will let my preschooler have a normal butter knife and that is because I don't want it to become a toy of harm during mealtime. 

While leads me to my last and key point...

You Cannot Just End a Lesson or An Activity if You Get No Cooperation

Let's dive into this. In the earlier example, if my child did start playing with a butter knife as if it was a sword, the activity would be over. The meal would be over. All of the food would be placed back in the refrigerator or would have to be thrown away. That would be the end and the child would know the natural consequences. My child would then get a snack later or that same meal or another meal later depending on his hunger level when he is no longer playing with the butter knife. 

Well, that's almost impossible with siblings. It's impossible to do because what is bound to happen is one child might be ready for an activity to be over, while the other child is focused and learning. And then it become even harder for you as the parent to then juggle multiple activities or multiple natural consequences. 

You also don't want to foster toxic sibling relationships and water those seeds of sibling rivalry. They are not learning good things if they are learning that the competition is outward, the expectations are outwards, the motivation is outward. 

You End Up with More Stuff

I remember I celebrated my little basket storage method when my children were not able to go on a home treasure hunt where they open box after box to find a "new" toy that they previously had no interest in. 

Preparing a good space is harder because each child, at different stages of interests and developments will have their own things. 

Sometimes, I simply reuse old tools like glasses, spoons, forks, etc. Sometimes, kids have completely different interests and there is a toddler toolkit added to the mix of toys.

 

 


 

Montessori Parenting on Low Spoons

"Is Montessori parenting just for the good days?"

Healthy and informed discussions rely on the good definitions. So to start I wanted to site where I’m taking the term spoons from. I love this term because it’s inclusive of any causes be they weather, personal mental health, or another external situation, it’s covered and it’s not the cause that is the subject of this discussion. Please learn about it here.

My interpretation of “spoons” are units of physical and emotional labor that equate to the smallest task. And different tasks can require different quantities of spoons. 

Charging a phone or paying a bill might be one spoon each. Doing a 2 hour workout might be 2 or 3 spoons. Some tasks just require more. 

So how does that relate to Montessori? 

I will tell you. As a parent and if you are doing this at home, maybe full time, part time, in bits and pieces, on weekends, during vacations, whatever your walk of life insists, you cannot take a day off from parenting on a consistent basis. There are no nights off, no sick days, you know the speech.

If you let the kids make their play kitchen wet, messy, or sticky, is that really conducive to your home life when the parents have no spoons left to facilitate these activities safely and comfortably? And then cleanup the home to avoid longstanding issues like water spots on the wood?

These past two years have been an ongoing test of mental and physical endurance. So the number of spoons we have had has been much fewer. And the Montessori approach to education has still helped!

Our Secret is We are Doing a Lot Less

We are doing a lot less against our will. Sometimes when I am in consistent pain, stress, sickness or exhaustion, I am just not my best version of parent, mom, person, anyone or anything. It's just bad. 

The best thing that I have learned to do on low spoons has been to just act like a hall monitor for the kids, making sure that they are not in danger and relatively happy. 

Instead of Montessori food preparation lessons that are intense because they require FOOD SHOPPING, meal planning, preparing instruments, making sure that the kids have the attention span, and then making sure that the kids eat and clean everything up to the best of their abilities in the ecosystem of our home, I just give them fruit pouches or something just as simple. 

And it is worth it!

One the other hand, other lessons lend themselves very well to low spoon days. Art, reading, writing, and building with blocks are pretty awesome because they kids get to help themselves. And you get a picture or a doodle or a tower at the end. You take a picture and share it with grandparents. It's great. 

There are plenty of low spoons Montessori lessons you can try that include matching socks, brushing hair, scrubbing nails with a nail brush, writing, art, reading, dusting, putting things away, using a dust pan, building with blocks, etc. 

If you are adjusting to intermittent times of low spoons, you might want to recognize that and anticipate not having the spoons later. 

Right now, I am looking for a period with more spoons to be able to potty train my toddler. I want to be able to teach my child to read. I know I cannot do those things if I am constantly in a fog of inattention, pain, or exhaustion. 

How Montessori at Home is Different

I am writing this because I love the variety of Montessori classrooms whether they are stationary, whether they move, or whether they are in your own home. When the class is in the home, you are both a parent and a teacher.

So I wanted to write exactly how Montessori at home has transformed my home.

Clutter is the Enemy

While it is a mess right now since life has been too stressful (more on that later). I found that I was no longer in love with accumulating things and I was more comfortable with letting go of clutter. 

Kids learn the functions of things. Having a bunch of stuff around to add to the mess, clutter up the home, or have things that only work half-way can be good lessons, but they complicate the lessons, remove focus, and almost train the child to be desensitized to a mess. And let me tell you, they will not clean up their toys if they are normalized to a mess. 

So that’s the biggest challenge, a classroom is not completely controlled, but it has defined contents. Where is the lesson on using things from the junk drawer in the Montessori classroom? Where is the lesson organizing the mail by recipient and junk mail? 

You are Actively Doing Two Jobs

"You are actively doing two jobs?" You might think.

"Trust me, I do more than two jobs all day long, 24-7." You might respond. 

And all of that is true. It is true actively, passively, it is true all day long. 

What I unique to the "teaching experience" for some of the sensitive periods or just activities that relate to the Montessori approach of following the child, is that while you are a unique wonder-human who takes care of another, younger, wonder-human, these lessons are "excerpts" that could technically fit well into a lesson plan or list of goals. 

I am not saying anyone can do it, but the task that you are performing is teaching. If you wanted to outsource this task, you would be looking for a teacher, not a nurturer, a cook, or a musician.

You are both a guardian and a teacher. And in this situation it is harder for the parents to divide their time between teaching, caring and nurturing, but the kids love it! Kids are sponges for everything and even if you just do something on the weekend, they know and they are learning.

Less Variety and Less "Learning Centered Tools"

The next way that Montessori at home is different is that you have less variety of tools and toys to figure out if your child likes something. Say a classroom might have 10 different brooms and mops, but your home has 3, and if there’s a variety that works better for your child, you might not find out! You might think that your child doesn't like the water poring activity, or the washing and hanging activity.  

Home Atmosphere Instead of Classroom

Montessori classrooms come in all shapes and sizes, but each follows the child and different stages of development. That is difficult to do when you are in the real world because quite frankly, reality can ruin the ideal timeline of lessons. Kids learn about things pretty fast based on their surroundings. While I wish I did not have to talk about germs until my kids could actually use a nail brush effectively, I have to talk about at home COVID tests. Trust me, I rather talk about what snowflakes look like underneath a microscope instead of what viruses are, each and every time. 

So you cannot avoid the much needed topics, lessons, and conversations. To do so, would be a great disservice to your child. 

And here is something even better. Why not strive to have a home that is more welcoming than a classroom? Why not feel fine about deviating from learning tools readily available, and instead have things that spark joy? Each child will have different things that spark joy. 

What if that thing that sparks joy is some kind of flashy animatronic dinosaur? Yes, let this live in your home if you have the means and the patience for it!

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Gentle Parenting Examples: Natural Consequences

 I wanted to expand on gentle parenting because a big component of it is having conversations. These conversations cannot be too complex or too minimal, there is a goldilocks zone. What has worked for my family is the use of natural consequences, or events that can or will happen if the behavior is not changed.

So much of Montessori revolves around natural consequences, and not giving more to the mind than you give to the hand. And that's why right now, with limited attention spans, natural consequences are the way to get my children engaged and cooperating. 

My toddler's word recognition is amazing, his attention span not so much. So everything must be short, sweet and uncomplicated. My eldest is starting to dabble in imaginative play as preschooler are known for. And if a conversation is not too direct, a dinosaur, an elf, or a dragon will enter the narrative.

To me, the bones of gentle parenting are boundaries, natural consequences, specific options, and empathy. While I do not know what boundaries my kids may come across in their schools  or other environments, I do know that natural consequences are typically the same, when they are natural? Boundaries are constructs that we make as people, natural consequences are not. I cannot make a glass unshatter itself because I did not mean to drop it. 

I think this is the best and easiest route because kids are generally interested in the natural consequences of the world. And these natural consequences are independent of what I may think on any given day. By introducing natural consequences into gentle parenting, the kids know that you are not just making up the rules as you go, but are helping your child live in a dynamic and exciting universe.

  

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Everything Needs a Little Maintenance

That old cliche of "only change is constant" is terrible, ugly and beautiful all at the same time. I wanted to reflect on the fact that whether because of life or the pandemic, most people are not where they want to be this coming January. 

Many people are ambivalent about this new coming year and what it might bring.

I wanted to reflect on the fact that had we had a stellar several years by achieving our goals more, further, and better than before, I would have probably taken on more baggage than I can handle right now. And that is because everything needs a little maintenance. 

That new car requires maintenance. That new wardrobe that I still don't have would have required maintenance. 

Even something quintessential to the ideal suburban life as a house with a yard requires so much maintenance that the house basically owns you and all of your time. And here I am, trying to add whole new rooms to my cleaning routine.

Those new career goals, had I gotten to where I wanted to be this year would have required many sacrificed evenings, weekends, and the worst possible thing in the world to sacrifice, early mornings of lost sleep. 

The new person people constantly want to become is most commonly one with more abundance. This abundance can be in the form of new people in our lives and richer relationships, better jobs, bigger homes, faster cars, more education, more fitness, more intellectual stimulation, more stuff. And all of those things require time and effort that cannot be ignored. 

I wanted to get into the maintenance that everything requires and really celebrate getting to those proverbial goals or "new year, new me" and also not getting that chapter.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Taking Care of Your Kid and Teaching Your Kid are Two Very Different Jobs

We are nannies, teachers, chefs, coaches, doctors, pharmacists, custodians, historians, storytellers, orators, photographers, chauffeurs, craftsmen, seamstresses, and so much more. We are parents of guardians. We have to do a little of everything and some days are filled with more practicing professions than others. We also don't need to be good at all of these things, just good enough, for our time, place, and culture. 

This is how I wanted to start. To me, most of the above tasks have a combination of taking care of children and teaching them how to take care of themselves. Those are very different aspects to full tasks. For example, I am taking care of my child by making him a grilled cheese sandwich, but I am teaching my child when I am instructing him to get two pieces of bread out of the bread bag, and one piece of cheese from the refrigerator.   

And let me tell you, I get so many comments and suggestions that seem to revolve around just teaching. And to be honest, many of the resources that have helped me be a parent are those that are recommended for teachers and produced by experts in the education industry. And I am here to say, that as a parent, most tasks when kids are young include a combination of the two until they kids are fully self-sufficient in something, like eating with a spoon by themselves. Until good spoon to mouth coordination is developed, I am cleaning up spills left and right. 

So if some days momming or parenting seems too hard, it's because it is. You might be doing the same routine, doing the same thing, but one day, your child will be becoming more self-sufficient in something and will require you to be so many different experts in one body, in one parent or guardian.  

Sunday, December 26, 2021

How Gentle Parenting Changed Me

 I am used to critical or malicious interactions being mistaken for “tough love.” 

And at first it seemed like my tough love upbringing paid off. I got awards, scholarships, stayed out of trouble, and was self-motivated and self-reliant. But there was a dark side to all of those “good on paper” achievements. Emotionally unhealthy situations were not a red flag as they should be each and every time. And I did not learn to be assertive until my mid-twenties. 

Now as a parent myself, I dove into gentle parenting methods, different early childhood education techniques, healthy discipline techniques, I must have listened to countless podcasts, read books and articles, and am constantly trying to provide a reality for my family that makes emotionally healthy households. It takes a village and lots of resources, only then does it become a choice. 

And it changed me for the better. In a way that’s better than I ever imagined. I started being gentle on myself. 

I realized my inner voice and inner monologue that I reserved for myself echoed emotional abuse and devaluing. Talk about bad boundaries. 

And that voice was definitely not good enough for my children. I developed a gentle parenting voice, with reason, concrete examples, and logic. This voice breathed in and exhaled slowly instead of getting angry. Is this my permanent voice? No. I sometimes regret speaking with fear instead of the tools above. So it’s a journey, but one that I’m happy with right now. 

This new mom voice is now how I’m starting to talk to myself in the inner monologue too. I’m being gentle because the previous voice wasn’t doing any good for me. This new inner voice reminds me that I shouldn’t waste my time to impress people committed to being disappointed in me. This inner voice has also taught me to value my effort instead of it’s efficiency or results.  



 


What We Are Teaching About Consent Through the Pandemic

Kids are like sponges and whether we like it or not, they learn so much from ACTUAL EXAMPLES WE GIVE THEM. And I don't want to bring this up, but we need to talk about consent during the pandemic. 

And let me tell you, we have not been doing a very good job with consent and having good, full conversations. We have just been reacting in our home and echoing the CDC recommendations.

And, honestly, how can we not. It's very hard navigating public spaces, updates to our usual routine, and an overwhelmed medical system. We avoided crowded playgrounds, and we sanitized and washed our hands.

We did not talk about consent, although it has been a topic of great importance in the parenting circles that aimed to raise self-aware children. We have not conversations about how our behavior affects other people and how defeating this virus depends on people having many good options to stop the spread.

A big part of consent is saying yes to the conversation and having the conversation with transparent facts, goals, and focus. Will it bring up questions about vaccine mandates if your kids are old enough, yes, as it should. Are kids required to have other vaccines in order to be in public school unless there's a faith based exception, yes. Are kids making these choices about what is going into their bodies? Most often they are not. 

How do you as a human being feel about vaccine mandates for professionals in specific fields or even a blanket mandate? I am all about individuals consenting to what goes into their bodies at their own accord. It seems in line with the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. And while, yes, I do feel that the risk of transmission increases when there are more individuals choosing and consenting to the risks of not getting vaccinated, I don't think anyone should be forced to have any medical procedure against their will. Will I change my mind about this? I am not sure, but I do know that I am trying really hard to teach good consent rules to my kids, and this seems in line with rules of consent. 

Now do I think that masks should be required in some public or private spaces? Yes, yes I do. While they may be uncomfortable, they are also similar to already existing requirements, such as seat belt laws. Did people think that seat belts were uncomfortable? Yes. We also wear a lot more protective equipment than we let on in our society. We constantly choose to wear rubber gloves when we wash our dishes. We choose warm clothes to protect our bodies. We choose to wear sunglasses when it is sunny. These choices can also be required, like when my husband had to wear scrubs to be at the operating room with me. That was not an option. He chose to be in that space, and he chose to wear the scrubs to meet those requirements.   


   

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Why I Stopped Doing Chores When My Kids are Asleep

It was not a decision by choice. My kids just stopped sleeping altogether. I know, I know, it has not been fun, and we have been spread far too thin to address it now.

There was no reprieve some nights between the late night diaper changes and stressful early morning meetings. I'm surprised I am still here in one piece. 

More on that later. 

But I used to love making my home clean on Friday nights so that weekends were mostly fun times. It was great. And then I had a second child. And it became 200% harder to do the very things that seemed more manageable before. 

So this is where I quit, or had to quit my nightly cleaning routine. Putting away dishes and running the dishwasher during weeknights and doing that mid-week laundry just made no sense if I was going to be interrupted by one child who keeps procrastinating actually falling asleep and the other child keeps waking up. 

And that was better for my family. My kids are learning by example. They know that homes need to be cleaned. Homes, like everything else, need a little maintenance. Things don't just automatically become clean, no house elves are involved.

Now here, if you have a cleaning service, that is great. I have several friends who are fans, and while I wish that was right for my family, there is too many toys to put away to even prepare the space for a professional. After that much effort, it just makes sense to do the easier part yourself.

My toddler was starting to pick up on routines and was absorbing, "what was normal." I hate to delve into zodiac signs here, but although he is an Aquarius, he acts like a Virgo.

I often think back on the activities that are outlined as perfect for different life stages in the Montessori classroom and I try to follow this at home. Does it always work? No, my kids do not understand that spilling water on a hardwood surface, or any surface is a terrible idea. But we do other things.

My kids love spray bottles, wiping things with microfiber cloths, using that swiffer, pretending they are vacuuming, and much more. The other day I was cleaning the oven, the whole thing due to a bacon grease spill. There was the baking soda paste that dried overnight, a vinegar and water spray bottle, a scraper for the glass, brushes, soap. My toddler loved all of it. He is starting to even understand that one size does not fit all for cleaning utensils. 

And while they cannot do many of the grownup chores by themselves, they are super helpful. They had spent a good deal of their rainy day weekend energy on throwing things away, recycling, and putting things in the sink. It is marvelous because they are helping by choice, not by chart, not by routine. They are fostering their curiosity. 

How do you teach your kids on taking care of their spaces? I would love to learn more. 

 


Monday, June 7, 2021

The Great Outdoors with Toddlers

 The Great Outdoors with Toddlers


 

One great way to ensure that toddlers appreciate out beautiful planet is by giving them increasingly more outdoor and wilder experiences.

I want my kids to try to leave the world better than it was. This is what I try to do, although things get hard day to day to be mindful like that. 

One way to get them motivated to save the world and to conserve the wild spaces and the plants and animals that inhabit them is to show it to them, and in time immerse them in it. 

Where the Wild Things Are

I am here to step on my soapbox and declare that you don't have to go far, from vegetable garden and the front steps to local puddles and parks, the wild things are right there. And right now, the cicadas are having some notoriety in Virginia with brood X. That's the magical thing about toddlers, if you just point out how "close" the wilderness happens to start from your front door, they will get it. 

And I am here to also say that I hate bugs, but they are a part of nature. There will not be an ecosystem that we know today that does not rely on a bug, or a bug looking creature to do something very important. It takes all kinds. 

What I love about these wild spaces, as limited as they can be at times in suburbia, is that it shows children how much we and our actions are in balance with nature. They don't have to go far. 

And unlike the zoo or farms, the creatures are free to do as they please. 

It's Harder to See Creatures in the Wild

One thing that I have taken away exploring local parks with little ones is the appreciation for little creatures and their ability to play hide and seek. 

My oldest had a hard time at seeing frogs, snakes, and turtles in the wild because their bodies blend into the background of pond, dirt, and leaves. Here is a turtle that was a lot more obvious!


 

I think it's a matter of safety to keep the little ones aware of what may be especially dangerous growing in the local area and how to avoid it. 

My overall goal is to eventually see most of the national parks in time as a family; however, the little ones will not get much out of it if they are not prepared to look at the details. 

For this reason, I love the different day camps and classes offered to tinker in nature and really get close to the funny creatures lurking under leaves and in shallow ponds. 

Teaching Children Outside

In fact, one of my favorite aspects of the great outdoors is showing my kids the things in real life that they normally see in books, art, toys, and movies. 

It's one thing to see a fox on a page, it's another thing to see one down the street!

One consistent theme of the Montessori method seems to be to avoid adding too much fiction to children earlier on. It is one thing to help preschool children broaden their imaginations, but it is not useful to have cartoon-like animals in baby books since they are not like that in real life. I think that by removing what kids will unlearn later on, we are saving them and ourselves trouble for later. However, following learning of the "real" animals, the books and cartoons are super enjoyable and I don't mean any harm by this delay in using them. 

Another aspect of teaching children outside is that not every animal is like it is in the books and some animal are not your friends. We as grownups avoid wasps and snakes and it is important that children learn to do likewise. 

You Don't Have to Go Far

I wanted to end this update on a note to say that you don't have to and should not go far in order to have a good time. Kids can only walk a handful of miles comfortably and this number gets much smaller with higher temperatures and hill inclines. If you wanted to conquer some personal records, it might be a good idea to leave them with a babysitter and head for the great outdoors on your own for now.

Staying close will not eliminate their sense of discovery. They will enjoy looking under rocks, lifting up leaves, and following every dead-end trail. In fact, one of the things that I enjoy is that they are easy to keep track of when they are not running around my home or the backyard, but instead concentrate on looking at a new bug or plant. It's quite nice and I don't have to carry tired kids as a result. 




Montessori with Siblings

  One of the best gifts that I could have given my eldest, was making him a sibling. I truly believe that having two siblings close in age, ...