Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Montessori Summer

By end of May, it seems most camps are full in enrollment and parents in the Princeton area, at least, have mapped out each week of June through August with meticulous care to ensure there is a degree of dependablity to the season for their family.  Some have a camp tradition, while others look for opportunities for their children to explore interests and develop hobbies, while still others envision a summer with time for academic review and exploration.  In my day, the community summer pool and tennis court sufficed, along with biking endless loops through the neighborhood, and figuring out what to do with yourself when bored.  Summer offered, unlike the school year, a chance for independence, choice, self-initiative, and practical life skill development - all the personal development attributes a good Montessori school strives to develop.

Whatever your family tradition and habit for the season of summer and childcare, June through August is a wonderful time to bring new experiences to your children while still developing those life-long tools we so value in Montessori.  As May comes to a close, it's a good time to review that meticulous summer plan you have for your children and ask yourself how you can work in time, experiences, and expectation for the development of self.

If you are really brave, consider allowing your child to help plan, budget, and execute your vacation week!  Can you imagine the pride, self-confidence, and practical skills that would result?  Recently a Montessori-dedicated mom in our school community shared the following article from Slate magazine with me, which inspired me to write this blog.  I encourage you to take a moment to read the article; if nothing else, it will put a smile on your face!

What sort of things do I have in mind in creating a Montessori summer?  See the list below, by age group, and perhaps you can renegotiate June through August plans to include one of these true life-long 'gifts' for your child.  Of course, summertime reading is good for everyone, parents included!

Challenge:  Send me a picture of at least one summertime 'Montessori' experience you have as a family this summer and I will create a Princeton Montessori School 'Summer Fun' video to share with the community come September!  Send digital photos to  Let the fun begin!

Infant / Toddler
the age of sensorial exploration

Backyard Exploration - Take a blanket outside when the sun isn't too direct and strong, say early morning or evening, and lay down with your little one.  Let him or her take in the sights, sounds, and texture of the outdoors. Allow crawling or walking barefoot onto the cool grass, touching the leaves and rocks, smelling the flowers.  Supervision, of course, is necessary but as much as you can, just take out all the distractors and enjoy a pure moment with your little one without guiding or directing. Nature is a wonderland to little ones, and if we let them remind us, to adults as well.

Water Play - There is an absolute freedom  in water for the littlest of our children. The body moves gracefully and easily, the sensation of cool, smooth water on the skin refershes and stimulates.  A simple 'baby' pool at Target goes for $10 and this small investment will allow you to give your little one daily pleasure in the great outdoors, where not many play things are needed, just the power of one's own body splashing and swooshing through the water.

the age of order

Assistant Chef and Party Decorator - Grilling with friends in the backyard?  Primary-aged children are ready for some rudimentary kitchen lessons that allow them to 'do things all by myself'.  Have you seen these children in their Montessori school environment?  They can cut, chop, peel, and make a mean fruit salad snack.  Empower them to be in charge of one aspect of your food preparation or even table decorations.  These little ones can cut flowers, fill a vase and arrange it, set a table, and draw beautiful pictures for the walls.  These simple empowering and participatory acts of inclusion make them feel capable and allow for some creative expression, fullfillment in their need for order, and simple summertime fun.

Outdoor Forts and Tents - This age group loves to play with peers and outdoor material allows for those creative minds to create!  Pruning trees or gathering dropped branches from the yard?  Let your little one pitch in on yard clean up and those sticks and stones may prove the perfect building material for an outdoor fort.  Still have that old tent from bygone camping days?  Have your primary-aged child help you pitch it in the backyard in a shady spot and the interior decorating will become a perfect task for this busy and imaginative age.  Of course, a few friends add to the fun.

the age of friendship 

Plan the Family Fun- Just as the article I mentioned suggests, elementary-aged children LOVE getting to be in charge; just ask the elementary teachers!  What better way to turn that into a positive than letting them select a few day trip destinations or even an entire 'pack the station wagon (now know as 'SUV') and get going adventure'.  Providing paper or digital maps, a child-friendly search engine, stating a budget, and limiting the choices for reasonable success are the job of the parent. Allow for a few mistakes as there is no greater teacher than experience!

'Bored' Games - Do you remember being bored as a kid?  I do and it was in those moments that inspiration struck; I once decided to start a babysitting 'club' where all the babysitters in my neighbordhood would work together to create an amazing play area in one of our basements or garages and pay a membership fee to get in when they had several young ones to entertain.  Okay, so it didn't really pan out, but that rainy weekend I spent hours designing the area on paper and calling fellow sitters to get them onboard.  Great things happen when we're bored.  We learn to rely on our imagination.  We return to the world of books.  We stare out windows and go inward, getting to know ourselves.  Yes, we bug our parents and siblings but we figure things out.  Not every moment of the summer should be structured and designed to entertain and not every bored moment should result in screen time!

Middle School
the age of self-construction

Earn It - Believe it or not, and often your middle school-aged child prefers you don't believe it, this age group is quite capable.  They aren't employable in the 'real world' but that's a shame because they are at an age where they need to feel they can contribute, have skills, and can see themselves as part of their local economy.  After all, they certainly contribute on the spending end of it!  A great idea is to hire each other's middle school-aged kids for house jobs, like cleaning out a basement, weeding, watering or mowing a lawn, and yes, babysitting.  Beyond that, it's a great time to teach your kid how to wash a car, change the oil in it, give the interior some detailing.  They dream of driving so why not start with getting them acquainted with the responsibilities of owning a car?  The YMCA, and other organizations, have CPR / First Aid courses for kids of babysitting age and even offer a babysitting certificate they can earn.  There are junior lifeguard positions at some pools.  In this digital age, there's the possibility of making money posting your parents' unwanted items on EBay or Craigslist and getting grandma's computer to 'work'.  Kids gain real self-esteem from becoming capable.  Give your teenager the opportunity to learn the value of a dollar and the feeling of a good day's work.

Community Service by Choice  - This is an age where kids try to make sense of the larger world that is becoming theirs.  Why are things unfair?  If the adults don't have all the answers, who does?  How do I fit in to this new and larger world?  When any of us are rolling up our sleeves and being of service, giving back or lending a hand, it takes us away from our worries.  Community service does many things for this age group - it gets them out of their ego-centric thinking, it makes them feel capable of making a difference, and it shows them optimism in the face of a pretty scary presentation of the world via the news and social media.  How to get them interested in it?  Let them choose.  In our middle school program, the kids vote on which philanthropic organization their business profits go to, they design their own end of year community project, and they help out with our school-wide endeavors to give back.  Participate as a family and you will also get a chance to have a really great conversation with your pre-teen!

I wish all of us a 'Montessori Summer' and better weather than the 'scorcher 2016 summer' predictions from Farmer's Almanac!