Thursday, June 29, 2017

Summer Reading for Children AND Parents



At the start of each summer, I gleefully create a 'summer reading list' for myself composed of light summer fiction, professional reads I never got to during the year, and at least one biography of a historic figure, usually a past president.

For older children, often they head into those first days of summer with a reading list from school and frequently a looser list from parents who want to ensure summer reading includes some comprehension challenge or perhaps passing on a favorite from their own childhood.  Even our young children, who are used to being read to regularly, probably see an uptick in book exposure during the summer months due to parent vacation schedules and a slower pace, in general, compared to the rest of the year.

These trends are all positive as any reading is a gift - it helps develop literary skills, opens new worlds to us, and is usually a restful, peaceful retreat from the world around us.  However, it's important, among those readings already selected, to include space for children to make their own book selections.

How many of us remember what it was like to be a kid in your local library?  Carefully selecting books whose covers appealed and attracted, skimming pages, looking for that particular book a friend talked about, or just meandering through the book rows observing the quiet readers and browsers and breathing in that book smell mixed with heavy air-conditioned effect all added to the allure of self-selected reading.

Infant and Toddler Reading
Recently a colleague shared a video of her young toddler son 'reading 'aloud to himself 'The Hungry Caterpillar'.  Believe it or not, toddlers and even older infants are actually ready to do some selection of books for themselves and it's helpful to assemble a reading corner in their bedroom or another room in your home designed in the Montessori fashion, with tantalizing materials for them to explore in a safe setting just their size.  Being read aloud to is great to.  If done with love, animation, and frequency, it develops language, caregiver bonding, and a very sensorial experience with non-virtual books.

Primary Reading
Primary age children need little help imagining and wondering or finding a reason to chatter away about what they're experiencing.  Selecting a book that calls to them anchors that natural curiosity for a few blissful moments of focused concentration and a very personal relationship with the content and characters.  When my son was this age, his little library was in his small walk-in closet and I used to find him in there, half-dressed, having what I can only describe as a 'conversation' with a book.  Precious moments, indeed.  This is a great age to share the books you enjoyed at that age; Primary age children love hearing about what mamma or papa did and liked when they were little and a shared book opens the door for conversations about stories, characters, and facts galore.  Another idea for this age is to explore a book together about the natural world and then go out and use that knowledge to investigate, observe, and awe at the living creatures in your own backyard or area.  Remember, Primary-aged children like to 'do it themselves' and book selection is no exception!

Elementary Reading
With our summer program underway, I recently watched an elementary-aged boy walk in to school with his nose 'stuck in a book' as we often say.  He was so engrossed he hardly noticed when I opened the door for him and greeted him.  Such concentration!  Such enjoyment. To the elementary student, the world is opening up!  Non-fiction books appeal, particularly on subjects they have developed a new fascination for.  They may already have a favorite series or character they want to continue following now that summer allows for free time.  Instead of sharing a favorite of yours with your child, this is a great age to ask them to share a favorite with you!  Whether you popcorn read or read in parallel, the opportunities for sharing a love and a conversation are endless.

Middle School Reading
Parents sometimes lament that during these years, their habit of reading together or to their child shows signs of ending, at the child's apparent disinterest.  Yet if you are persistent, flexible, and adaptable, you can find a new way to share literature.  A parent at this year's end of year picnic told me that their family has a tradition of picking out and listening to a book on audio during their long drive to Maine each summer.  What a clever way to connect together instead of into our own devices on a family car ride!  With pre-adolescents, they won't be shy in telling you what they think and certainly will expect to have a say in any 'new' tradition you begin, but isn't it great our children at this age are learning who they are, their tastes, and how to convey their preferences.  Besides, a quiet audio book shared is often a needed respite from overly-animated drama in many a pre-teen conversation!

For the parents, we're just lucky if we get one or two of our summer selects finished by Labor Day.  At least that's how my summer usually ends; my pile of summer picks wait patiently for a crisp fall day when I can get back to them again.  In this month's Mindprint Learning blog, there is a reading on the year's most important k-12 education trends; always a parenting favorite to learn about, right?!  If you have the time, check out this link to learn more:

Mindprintlearning -trends-smart-summer-reading-for-teachers-parents

Resources for summer reading:
(though remember to allow them some choice!)




Wednesday, January 11, 2017

College Admissions Anxiety



Recently, two succinct and timely articles have been published addressing the damaging misconception of many anxious parents that if they can only puppeteer their child's entry into an Ivy League College, the child's life will be set and happiness, financial security, and career success will be guaranteed.  This same phenomena is true in the independent school world relative to high school admissions.

I share the links to these articles below.  Even parents of young children should take time to read them as they offer sage advice to keep your eye on what really matters in raising happy, healthy, highly functioning, independent, active members of society.  


The deepest fears — and hopes — parents harbor about their kids applying to college

Brennan Barnard, The Washington Post

In this season of college admissions, parents' own expectations and uncertainties are playing out in real time, as admission decisions have become the repository for 18 years of parental hopes and fears.

Deepest Fears



Kids of Helicopter Parents Are Sputtering Out


Recent studies suggest that kids with over involved parents and rigidly structured childhoods suffer psychological blowback in college.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Taking the Long View as Parents



Our staff and I had the pleasure this week of hearing HOS Pam Dunbar, of Montessori Academy of Arlington (Texas), speak about the parent and school relationship in a Montessori environment.  She compelled us to ask parents to paint a visual image of the adult they hope their child will be at age 22.  For most, she stated, the focus is on personal attributes rather than job or social status obtained.  Parents want their 22 year old child to be independent, caring, self-reliant, hard working, happy, able to maintain healthy relationships, and to have passion for their profession and personal lives.
Yet, it is so easy to get hyper-focused on the details and the 'in the moment' challenges for our children.  Often, we end up panicking over their exact academic status, friendship issues, and other factors that take on distorted significance through our eyes, out of concern for their well being.  That often leads to over protection of our children, robbing them of the experiences they need to gain confidence, insight, real skills, and internal motivation.
In Montessori, as most of you know, we are striving to develop this internal motivation, determination, grit, responsibility, kindness, and a life-long love of learning.  We take a holistic view to education and know we are teaching much more than academic subjects.  We are partnering with you to provide experiences your child can have in a safe environment, to learn life lessons.
It seems I am not the only Montessori HOS to be writing on this topic.  Beth Heller Atencio, Head of School at Montessori School of Evergreen, Co, recently blogged on the topic, stating:
"Parenting for the long view is the classic case of knowing in our rational brain what we should do and not giving in to our emotional brain’s desire to protect our child from difficulty....
Parents have good intentions, but that good intentions can have disastrous consequences. Nationally, students entering college are making poor choices because they haven’t had the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them. They haven’t gained the experience that comes from bad judgments. Recruiters at college job fairs have even begun bringing kits for parents since they are now key in the job search process."
Essential Parenting newsletter, written by a pediatrician and parent educator, informs us that 3 stages one goes through in developing self-discipline are: 1) being ruled by instinct and impulses, to 2) developing some behavioral control through an internal judge who sets rules to follow, to 3) finally growing into the capacity to read situations and people in real time and make heartfelt decisions about how to act in the face of conflicting needs and complexity (the authentic self).
If we rob our children of experiencing and learning through their own actions, we need to be prepared to take responsibility for them well after the age of 21.  Although we each do our very best everyday as parents, it's important to stay focused on the long view.  After all, we are raising adults, not children.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

How to Raise Successful Kids Without Over-parenting

I encourage you to take fifteen minutes to watch this powerful TED Talk by Stanford University's Dean of Freshman, Julie Lythcott-Hames.  An advocate for unconditional love, but not micromanaging our children nor envisioning their adult lives for them, she gives experiential evidence of the fall out from over-parenting.

How To Raise Successful Kids Without Over-parenting - TED Talk

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Parents and their Relationship with their Children


BACK TO SCHOOL READING FOR THE PARENTS!
Montessori trained educators believe in creating learning environments, curriculum, and relationships with children based on scientific knowledge of how children learn, thrive, and grow into healthy, highly-functioning adults.
Below is a new book recommendation for parents with children of all ages, on the latest research related to an equally important topic, the parent and child relationship.
Recommended Reading:
THE GARDENER AND THE CARPENTER
What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us About the Relationship Between Parents and Children
By Alison Gopnik
302 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.
Overview:
Research tells us that children are naturals at learning, playing, and innovating and that those actions need to be allowed to happen rather than forced to happen.  The author's advice to parents is to "loosen up and let them do their thing". “We can’t make children learn,” she writes, “but we can let them learn.”  

NY Times Review:
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/28/books/review/gardener-and-the-carpenter-alison-gopnik.html?_r=0

Thursday, July 14, 2016

And yet again....science supporting a Montessori approach to learning!




Highlighted in this article are the 6 C's for 21st Century Learning that have been evident in Montessori education for over a hundred years - 

collaboration

communication

content, 

critical thinking, 

creative innovation,

 and confidence!  

Read to learn why the outdated model of teacher-focused education is best replaced wtih student-focused learning environments.


How To Raise Brilliant Children, According to Science

Monday, July 4, 2016

What Does It Mean to be Educated?


"Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself."
John Dewey


This is a question for which there are many opinions, shapred by cultural influences, personal experiences, historical thinking, and philosophical beliefs. It is a question that is worth pondering as it helps us as educators, parents, and learners to match our learning environments with what rings true for us. Recently, two experiences made me revisit this question - 'What does it mean to be educated?'.

First of all, our middle school program is in the candidacy phase of becoming an IB (International Baccalaureate) Middle Years Program as we pursue authorization as an IB World School for this age level.  One of the courses in IB Diploma program, offered at the high school level, is 'Theory of Knowledge'.  Reading the text for this course was my first exposure to an IB education and now that we are on this endeavor I am brought back to the question this course raises, 'What does it mean to be educated?' The second experience that has me revisiting this idea on this 4th of July holiday weekend, was stumbling upon an article I had saved from Forbes Magazine in 2011, titled by this question.  (Yes, I am cleaning out drawers and closets on my holiday!)  Below, I share this article but also some thoughts on the response to this question in a Montessori context, from my own cultural influences, personal experiences, and philosophical beliefs.  I hope to hear from you as to your definition of 'an education'.  After all, it's the conversation that helps us broaden, deepen, and reconsider our beliefs, and isn't that part of the process of the lifelong pursuit of becoming educated?


Timeless and thought-provoking reads:




A Traditional Goal of Education
To produce future workers and citizens in alignment with a culture's values through mastery of basic academic skills and memorization of facts and processes in the area of reading, writing, science, and mathematics, with general exposure to the arts.

By this traditional definition of the goal of education, to be educated means to be useful to society and well-prepared to meet that obligation, while being respectful of authority.  This education is delivered primarily through a teacher-centered environment.

A Montessori Goal of Education
To foster children's natural inclination to learn and aid in their development of self so that they can go out into the word a lifelong learner who uses their passion, knowledge, and skills to not only fulfill their own dreams but make the world a better place.   

By this definition, to be educated means to be able to acquire knowledge and apply it through critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and for the deeper purpose of advancing humanity and preserving the earth.  Learning is a continual and personal process dependent on self-motivation, initiative, an understanding of how one learns best, and a familiarity of the tools available for learning.   This education is delivered primarily through a student-centered environment.

Getting to ‘Educated’
Even if all educators, parents, and administrators could agree on what it means to be educated in terms of the content and skills one needs to know and the timing in which those lessons should be given, there is still the matter of how to deliver this education and account for individual learning differences.  Below are some of the more progressive, effective methods of encouraging learning, which Maria Montessori advocated for in her method and now are universally accepted.

Inquiry-based learning
student investigation where the teacher is a ‘guide on the side’ charged with setting up learning experiences as opposed to a ‘sage on the state’ so that students play an active and participatory role in their own learning process
http://www.edutopia.org/topic/inquiry-based-learning

Socratic dialogue
for developing critical thinking and communication skills as well deep understanding of content

Hands on manipulatives
for conceptual understanding of abstract concepts
https://www.hand2mind.com/pdf/learning_place/research_math_manips.pdf

Collaborative Learning
emphasizes group work and strong sense of a collaborative community
http://www.cte.cornell.edu/teaching-ideas/engaging-students/collaborative-learning.html

Real-world application
finds opportunities for students to apply their rudimentary knowledge and skills to contribute to real-world problem solving
http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2012/10/05/should-kids-schoolwork-impact-the-real-world/

Montessori schools use these methods across each developmental stage while incorporated innovative proven methods through modern day brain-based research.

Why is education becoming more progressive?
Although change is slow in coming in large, bureaucratic systems of education, most educational organizations acknowledge a need for change, and are striving to inject life into an outdated model. Educators know that research proves deeper learning occurs when there is freedom of movement, multiple learning experiences, an emphasis on critical and creative thinking, educators who are specialists in the developmental needs of the age they teach, a culture of civility and collaboration, and leaders of educational institutions who protect such learning environments against the fear-based demand for force-feeding education in a 'faster, harder, more competitive' race mentality.  

The more I read, learn, and witness, the more I am committed to a Montessori outlook to the question, "What does it mean to be educated?.  Maria Montessori was not only ahead of her time, she was timeless in her thinking.