Adventures in Independence: Packing School Lunch

My children have helped pack their own school (or daycare!) lunches for about two years. It has always been a small, daily way to build practical life skills.  Now that they are 4 and 6, they are expected to pack their lunches with little to no intervention from an adult. They are able to accomplish this goal for the following reasons: We have carefully prepared the environment of our kitchen to allow them total freedom within the set limits, we have invested in a few tools to increase their independence in food preparation, and we have streamlined the process over the last two year.

The Limits

I believe it is important to teach my children what to pack in their lunch and provide only food that is acceptable for our family as choices. I want them to have total freedom to decide what “snacks” to pack and therefore have to make sure I am only buying things I am okay with them consuming.

A properly packed lunch in our house must contain one thing from each category:

  • A “Main Dish”: this is a term we use to mean something with protein like a sandwich, pretzels and hummus, apples and peanut butter, etc.
  • A fruit
  • 2 “snacks”: cheese, yogurt, raisins, nuts, applesauce, etc.
  • A drink

These limits allow the kids to chose what they want to eat without ending up with a lunchbox full of cereal bars.

The Prepared Kitchen

We designate two shelves of the pantry and the lowest shelves of the refrigerator for lunch supplies and food. This means that the kids never have to ask for help in making their food selections. The set-up also helps facilitate snack time and if the kids need water throughout the day.

Examples of food in our "snack" basket. We try very hard to eat non-processed, whole foods.  1. cashews 2. raisins 3. trail mix 4. peanut butter

Examples of food in our “snack” basket. We try very hard to eat non-processed, whole foods.
1. cashews
2. raisins
3. trail mix
4. peanut butter

Special Tools

This is a picture of the lowest drawer in our pantry. It houses all of the kids’ lunch and snack supplies.

 

 

1. small collendar for washing fruit 2. small picture. find it here.  3. small water glasses 4. snack bowls 5. cutting boards and cookie cutters for sandwiches. 6. spreader. find a similar one here. 7. reusable water bottles and our Ziploc lunch containers.

1. small colander for washing fruit. find it here.
2. small pitcher. find it here.
3. small water glasses
4. snack bowls
5. cutting boards and cookie cutters for sandwiches.
6. spreader. find a similar one here.
7. reusable water bottles and our Ziploc lunch containers.

Lessons Learned 

One of the main lessons learned came after I observed a Children’s House lunch period in the cafeteria. I watched the poor lunch monitors zooming from kid to kid helping them open various parts of their lunch. It was then that I decided to make sure my kids could access every part of their lunch without the teacher’s help. This is why we switched to using the Ziploc containers and remove all excess packaging during the packing process. The next lesson is that my kids are totally capable of packing their lunches, but when I hover too much or nag too much they ask me to do much more for them. If I am hovering in the morning, all of the sudden I am being asked to open the peanut butter jar or slice apples which didn’t seem to be an issue for them the day before. I also push myself to say “no” when asked for help. I want to make sure that they have attempted the action before stepping in. Most of the time they surprise themselves by being able to complete the task.

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My 4 year old opening the peanut butter to make his sandwich for the day.

 

Lunch preparation is an important part of our day. Yes, it takes time and a bit of effort, but the payoff is huge!

A note: If you are concerned with time in the mornings, I recommend having children pack their lunches the evening before.

 

 

New (School) Year Resolutions 2014

It’s that time of year again, Back to School! A time to reflect on the previous year and renew focus on the upcoming year. We had a great deal of success with our resolutions from last year. I am happy to report that eating breakfast as a family has become routine, our clutter has remained low, screen-time is lower and outdoor time is higher! By focusing on a few manageable goals for the school year we were able to see results without a ton of effort. I have decided to make this an annual exercise for our family and am excited to share our resolutions for this school year.

New School Year Resolutions 2014-2015:

  1. Keep up our Schedule System: Our summer schedule system has been enormously successful with the kids. They absolutely love it! This year the kids will be picked up by the babysitter three days a week and by a parent two days a week. This type of tag-team pick up routine could become disastrous if we can’t keep it consistent between the three of us! The schedule will be that consistent thread that transcends day and adult. I made two additional cards to add to our line-up one for school and one for homework.
  2. Reducing MY Screen Time: My husband and I do not watch TV when the kids are awake, unless it is football season :). When we reduced the kids’ screen time I became aware of my phone use around them. I am committing to staying off my phone evenings before they go to bed and during most awake times on the weekend.
  3. Focusing on the Wonder and Joy of Learning: My oldest will be in the 1st grade this school year. I am very excited for her to join a new community and challenge herself academically. I am not so excited about her venturing into a more “serious” academic world and ever closer to state standardized tests. It is not that I don’t agree with serious academics or testing. (I have much more of a complicated relationship with them, more on that in a later post). It is more that I know too much. Working in education and diving into student data regularly switches my brain into analysis and intervention mode too quickly. I go from looking at a score sheet to asking, “how can we improve this score?” I DO NOT want to do that to my own children. I have to make a conscious effort to not analyze score sheets and report cards. I plan to just look at the materials to make sure that there is not cause for concern or alarm and then quickly shred them. Yep, shred them. That’s how little I trust myself. One of the main reasons we chose Montessori is that joy and curiosity is encouraged in the classroom. I do not want to kill that vibe at home. I want to be aware of the questions I might ask my oldest about school. Instead of, “Which work(s) did you do today?” I will try, “Teach me something fun/exciting/interesting that you learned or discovered today.” I know this will actually be a challenge for me. I look forward to learning better ways to encourage wonder and joy of learning.

I am excited to put these resolutions into action. Have a great school year everybody!  Leave a Comment: What are your New School Year Resolutions? 

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Parenting: Competence, Confidence, and Self Esteem

One of my favorite things in the whole world is when I am doing research for my job working with adolescents and something resonates so clearly and appropriately to my parenting that it feels almost serendipitous! That is what happened within the first 20 pages of “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings” by Kenneth R. Ginsburg.  Obviously the book is about all ages and stages of children but I began reading it specifically for the teen sections, however the applicable content for my own 1st and 2nd plane children is too much to ignore!

rootsandwings

For six months I had been struggling to write a post about self-esteem and confidence in Montessori children. The primary focus of “Building Resilience” was succinctly laid out and was exactly what I was trying to put into words: Competence leads to Confidence. When children are competent in a task or ability then they have true confidence. Confidence is different than self esteem. Self-esteem is how we feel about ourselves at any given moment. As an adult I find my self-esteem fluctuates depending on arbitrary things like a fresh pimple on my chin or a particularly flattering outfit. I am, however, confident at my job. I have proven my competence at many areas of my work and that gives me confidence to show up and do my job even with that pimple!

One of the many things I love about Montessori education is that Montessori teachers treat every student as competent. The thoughtful way the classroom is setup is specifically done for students to gain competence. The confidence then follows suit.

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I often joke that my children certainly don’t have self esteem problems when they engage in conversations with adults, but that is inaccurate. What strangers and friends are seeing is their confidence. I attribute this confidence to their Montessori education and our Montessori-based parenting philosophy. They know deep in their hearts that they are competent and capable beings and it shows.

How can parents grow children’s confidence through the lens of competence? 

  1. Creating a home environment that allows children to complete daily tasks with little to no adult intervention. Examples included here and here.
  2. Communicating with children with dignity and the assumption of competence. Example “I know you know what to do before bedtime. Let me know if you need any help.”
  3. Consciously shutting down fear-based parenting. More on that here.
Confidence isn't a super power. It is better.

Confidence isn’t a super power. It is better.

Montessori Ideas: The Good, the Interesting, and the Ugly of the 2nd Plane (so far)

As a parent I finally feel like I am getting the lay of the land of the second plane with my six and a half year old daughter. I am decoding what it means for her (and me!) and who she is becoming in this new plane. It has led to several eye opening moments and a few frustrating ones as well.

Here’s what I’ve observed so far:

The Good

I have been blown away by my daughter’s creativity lately. Her brain definitely seems to be visualizing and conceptualizing things in a new way. The other day she was in her room folding paper in various shapes which led to putting the shapes together to make a house which led to making things for the house like little plates with food and a TV showing the World Cup. It was awesome to witness and so fun to hear what she had added when she came into the living room to give updates.

The ever expanding creative house project. She is now determined to add a pool!

The ever expanding creative house project. She is now determined to add a pool!

Another thing that is so great is how she has become “kid funny”. She now enjoys the time honored tradition of bad kid jokes.

Bad kid joke example:

Q: Did you hear about the race between the lettuce and the tomato? A: The lettuce was a “head” and the tomato was trying to “ketchup”!

source: http://www.jokes4us.com/miscellaneousjokes/schooljokes/kidjokes.html

She has told jokes and then literally slapped her knee and chuckled. It is awesome to remember at some point I also liked knock-knock jokes and a good pun. The innocence of the humor is so much fun to relive through her eyes. It is a nice reminder that kids are still kids even in our current times.

The Interesting

There were a few things that I knew about the 2nd plane from general Montessori reading and curriculum that I was interested to see in my own child. One of those things was the idea of research. Most people know that kids are naturally curious and prone to ask ‘why’, but Montessori encourages the child to find out the why with as little adult intervention as possible.

My husband and I have tried to prepare our home environment to encourage research in a few ways. One of the ways is to deflect the ‘why’ back at the child. I will respond to her “why” questions with “why do you think…” I find that she usually has an answer and then we can have a better discussion about the topic at hand or find the answer together. Another way we encourage research is to have a few resources handy. I found out that a few awesome atlases were on the bargain table at Barnes and Noble and snatched up a world atlas and a body atlas. These two books have been enormously helpful in encouraging both curiosity and independent research. For example, a dear friend of ours was moving to Israel. We looked together at the world atlas to discover where Israel was in relation to our house. We talked about how he would have to get to Israel from Houston and if he would be able to visit regularly. Both of my children like to just peruse the atlases. I would really like to get a space atlas to add to our little collection.

 

The body atlas certainly holds their attention and encourages many, many questions. I wonder why...

The body atlas certainly holds their attention and encourages many, many questions. I wonder why…

Another thing I had read about and was excited to observe is the emergence of the ethical self. The idea that the child is trying to figure out what is fair and ethical in our culture and society. I noticed that my daughter was tattling on her brother more frequently and the phrase “that’s not fair” has come up more than once this summer. As parents, my husband and I have to continue on our consistent path. Tattling is a non-starter in our house and forever will be. I try to be consistent and fair in my parenting and when its not possible like when one child is invited to a birthday party and the other is not, I try to explain the reasons as efficiently and without drama as possible.

The Ugly 

In this context I am using ugly in a very southern way, not as an appearance but as an action. And boy has my daughter has been acting ugly recently! She has unmistakably entered the “Age of Rudeness” as Maria Montessori coined it. My sweet kindergartner is gone and replaced by a blunt direct kid. This article by Maren Schmidt certainly helped give me perspective. Yes it is normal. Yes she is exerting her mental independence and sharing her own unique opinion for the first time. The problem I am having is how do I respond to this normal developmental behavior because it makes me nutty! I can’t bite my tongue when she is being rude and so far calling her out on it isn’t really helping! I also have to be careful in my response because I don’t want her to feel like she can’t share her opinion or speak her mind. I think what I am looking to do is teach tact. So dear readers how do you teach a six year old tact? And how should a parent respond to a child acting ugly? 

 

Parenting: The Rhythm of Summer

Summer. The season I love and hate. The season where memories are made and sanity is barely held together. We are doing a bit of traveling this summer and a few camps which are great, but the day to day at home with the kids is always a challenge for me. It doesn’t come naturally to me and I have no desire to set up elaborate crafts and experiments for them. I do my best to schedule fun outings and adventures, but living in a subtropical climate leaves outdoor activities mostly out of the question.

So what to do? What fits with my parenting philosophy? What do I want for my kids this summer?

I want to honor unstructured time. I want to allow them to be bored, but I also don’t want to be driven crazy with the “what’s next” questions. I want to create a rhythm to our day.

The kids are so used to the routine and rhythm of the school day so to go from that to nothing is jarring. To solve these issues and create a summer that honors our family values and keeps me sane, I created a flexible schedule that is posted in our family room.

Words and pictures help even the little one know what's next.

Words and pictures help even the little one know what’s next.

The cards are movable from day to day, but most cards are in the same order from day to day to maintain that comfortable rhythm. We might do playtime at home or a playground or a friend’s house but it usually occurs before lunch and before dinner. Family time always happens after dinner and is the time when all four of us gather to play card and board games, read, or do puzzles. Screen time is limited to once a day and includes all screens that they may choose whether it is a TV show or game on the iPad. My kids do better when they have limited screen time so it is a maximum of one hour.

The kids love the posted schedule more than I ever thought. They refer to it often throughout the day and I no longer get questions about “what’s next”. The unstructured playtime is still my favorite, because even though they bicker more (more opportunities for conflict resolution and peace education, right!?) they always impress and surprise me with what boredom breeds. Already my daughter has cut up most of her coloring books to create puppets for plays. Dance parties, building of fairy houses, and Lego masterpieces have all come out of these times.

One of the many puppet plays I have been able to attend.

One of the many puppet plays I have been able to attend.

It is a challenge to create a summer that is both structured and free for exploration. We continue to work on that balance to make sure everyone, mom included, makes it to the next school year!

**UPDATE**

Per request, attached are the cards that I made using word and clip art. Feel free to edit them to suit your individual needs! I printed mine on regular paper and use painter’s tape to attach to our family room wall. I would recommend using heartier paper if you have it.

summer schedule 2 summer schedule pieces

 

5 Montessori Take Aways

I have officially wrapped up the school year as a Montessori assistant teacher. It was a wonderful way for me to toe-dip into the world of the Montessorian while maintaining a casual work schedule. I will not be returning to the Montessori classroom next year (although never say never to the future). I am going back to my comfortable “home” of High School and counseling, BUT I will be taking plenty of Montessori with me when I leave!

  1. A Focus on Brain Development: Montessori was a doctor and ahead of her time in brain science. We now know that her theories around brain development were incredibly accurate as seen in brain scans. I want to be an advocate in all arenas of education for developmentally appropriate expectations in both behavior and academics. This is an area where regardless of if the school is traditional or Montessori or something else this can be applied and advocated for.
  2. From Teacher to Guide: There is a reason that authentic Montessorians call themselves guides versus teachers the student is the center of learning in the classroom not the teacher. I plan to take this guide mentality with me. Too often as a young first or second year teacher I treated my classroom like a one woman show, parading about and making sure the focus was constantly on me. I now know that any classroom I enter will look much different even in a traditional setting. I will ensure that I am a trusted resource and setter of limits, but it is the students’ show not mine.
  3. Discipline with Dignity: I have always tried my best to treat my students with respect and working in a Montessori environment has only grown that desire. Working with adolescents in particular it is our job as parents and educators to model proper adult conflict resolution. I also plan to continue to ensure that I use logical and natural consequences and encourage my school to do the same.
  4. Promoting Joy: Being a “life-long learner” or promoting a “love of  learning” are education buzz words that are often attached to schools or initiatives that totally zap any joy for learning. I really appreciated my lead teacher’s focus and monitoring of the joy in our classroom this year. Whether or not the students are happy to be at school and happy in the classroom was a priority that I had honestly never seen before, as sad as that sounds. I, too, want my students to feel joy when they come to school and when learning and discovering. Joy is a developmental need for all people. 
  5. Completing the Cycle: My last take-away is as a parent. I was happy to see what staying in a Montessori environment for an entire educational career could produce and knowing I want my children to continue in Montessori for their entire pre-college education. We had three students that had been in Montessori since PreK 3, that’s 10 years of Montessori experience by middle school! While I learned from all the students I taught this year, there was something about these three that struck me. It wasn’t their academic abilities, but rather an intangible quality of self-assurance. The much sought after “non-cognitive” skills of resiliency and grit that educators all over are goo-goo over right now, these students have it just by virtue of having been in the Montessori environment. I was describing my observation to the principal and she described it as “wholeness”. I thought that was a lovely description. The thought that the students leave school as whole beings really resonated with me.

These five things will stay with me forever and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have grown and developed as an educator.

Planting a Mosquito Pot

Happy belated Mother’s Day to all of the wonderful mothers out there! I had a great day yesterday and wanted to share what my children, with assistance and guidance from their father, made for me as a gift. A mosquito pot!

If you live in a region that has mosquitoes then you know how much they can cramp your style during the summer months. It is so hot where we live that the only time we can really spend outside, not emerged in water, is morning and evening. This also happens to be the time that mosquitoes also like to be out and about. When I heard about the idea of a mosquito pot from a friend and from Pinterest I knew it is what I wanted for Mother’s Day! It is a bonus that it is also a practical life activity that the kids can make together.

What is a mosquito pot? It is a large planter filled with a diverse mix of mosquito repelling plants with the theory being that the concentration of the variety of plants will increase the repellent power and provide the user with a nice mosquito free area, in our case our deck.

What type of plants should be used? We used catnip, citronella, marigolds, lemon grass, rosemary, and mint. We mixed the variety in two different pots.

How can the kids get involved? 

 

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Step One: Fill pot with potting soil and break up the clumps.

Step Two: Plant those repelling plants!

Step Two: Plant those repelling plants!

Step Three: Add more soil on top of the newly planted plants.

Step Three: Add more soil on top of the newly planted plants.

Step Four: Water

Step Four: Water

Step Five: Enjoy the finished product!

Step Five: Enjoy the finished product!