Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The Bully At School Just May Be A Parent!

As an infant through eighth grade school, and one that holds grace and courtesy and kindness central to being a part of our learning community, we take time to discuss with students how childhood friendships evolve, strengthen, experience upsets, and need mending; this is a normal aspect of childhood and rarely involves true bullying. A 'bully', as it is defined in dictionaries, is a “blustering, browbeating person [who is] habitually cruel to others,” who “badgers and intimidates smaller or weaker people.” 

In our Upper School, we teach our students that all parties in a relationship have to take responsibility for their role and even among the triangulated relationships of true bullies, victims, and bystanders. We prepare them to take charge of themselves should they find they are in any of these three roles in their life.

But this blog, and the article I'm passing on, isn't about childhood friendships or bullies. It's actually about parents who bully their schools. Unfortunately, we occasionally find ourselves in the uncomfortable situation of trying to work with such a parent. In today's educational environment, where anxiety and competitiveness are rampant, it may be no surprise.

NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) states that "the absolute level of concern is not the same everywhere, and in many schools, administrators hasten to say that ‘most of our parents are fine.’ We believe them. But every school we visit — every single one — reports more frequent and more severe problems with parents."

And so, I share NAIS's article, published by none other than our Common Ground speaker scheduled for April, Michael Thompson, along with Robert Evans, whom many of our teachers heard speak last year at the New Jersey Montessori Association Corporation annual gathering.

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

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:
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.
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:

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 - 




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