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!

Montessori Ideas: Entering the 2nd Plane

My daughter is six and a half and entering  her last few weeks in her Children’s House classroom. By June 1st,  she will officially be a Lower Elementary student and fully in Montessori’s second plane of development. (For an overview of the planes, look here.) I have already begun to notice her interests, interactions, and personality change. She is no longer a first plane child trying to get command of her body; she is now far more interested in exploring her mind.

My first clue that I needed to look into what on earth a second plane child is all about came when I began to notice the changes in my children’s relationship with one another. Although the age gap remains two years and two weeks, the gap currently feels much larger. We had at least one full year of the kids enjoying similar things and playing in similar ways. Now they still enjoy spending time together and enjoy some of the same activities, but they approach them differently and my daughter is more interested in separating herself from her brother than she ever has before.

This is completely uncharted territory for me. As a parent I obviously have no experience with second plane children, but I also have no experience as an educator because I work solely with third plane adolescents! So the question burning in my mind is: how can I, as her parent, help her in this new plane?

First we should look at what she needs (from Merry Montessori):

Needs of the second plane:

• Security of home and family balanced by movement out into the world
• Social interaction within a peer group
• Opportunities to explore all aspects of the natural world
• Opportunities to explore human experience in the natural world
• Concrete materials as a basis for abstract studies
• Physical exercise tied to purposeful activity
• Collaborative work
• Opportunities to explore roles in a fixed society
• Opportunities to explore ethics and morality
• Ideal exemplars of behavior and achievement who are excellent and
trustworthy role models

What does this look like in our family’s lives?

  • The number one thing that will not change from plane to plane is our family’s stability and reliability for our children. Our goal is to ensure that we keep our family and home life as a “home base” for our children as their lives continue to change.
  • The approach to friends and friendship will change. My son will continue to explore friendships, but my daughter’s friendships will become even more important. We will need to have discussions on how to choose friends and what happens when someone who says they are your friend sure doesn’t act like it. This is also the time when I feel comfortable having her stay over at a friend’s house for an extended time or even overnight.
  • We will continue to explore the world outside our door, both the natural aspects and those that are man-made. My son will experience these adventures based on the “what” and my daughter on the “why”. As parents, my husband and I need to be aware how they may view a family outing differently and think of ways to accommodate them.
  • We need to encourage her to find her own answers to the “why” through independent research. We are taking a trip to Minnesota this summer to visit some friends. My daughter is very excited about this trip. She developed many questions about the trip and Minnesota. Instead of sitting her down to tell her about my own experience visiting, I directed her to a book we have on the states and she looked up the section on Minnesota. She learned all about the lakes and that it is very cold in winter. She then decided to write about it in her journal. This is such a Montessori thing to do and I know it is being taught at school. I am happy to continue to encourage the same research-minded learning at home.
  • There are many more things that will come up and change in this new phase of childhood. I will write about our experience in this plane as we experience it.

I am eager to continue to learn about this next phase in our lives. This is the beginning of a six year journey and all things don’t have to be implemented at once; but it is important for me as a parent to understand truly that my daughter’s needs are changing and will differ from the needs of my son for a few years.

 

Still a team despite a changing relationship.

Still a team despite a changing relationship.

Learning to Take the Fear Out of Parenting

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about fear and anxiety and how big a role it sometimes plays in parenting. Whether navigating the world of a new baby, the anxiety of school admissions, or the fear of what the next stage will bring, it feels like fear is on the top of many parents’ minds.  With all of that fear around, I decided to add a parenting commandment to my philosophy:

“I will not parent from a place of fear.”

This, of course, is a billion times easier said than done. I am not saying that I will never have fear, but rather I will not let my fears dictate my parenting decisions. Instead of allowing my anxiety of the “what-if”s and “might-be”s to rule the day, I choose to ground my parenting in things I believe. I believe in a Montessori approach to parenting which supports the idea that my children are capable beings. I believe that it is my job as the parent to set the limits, but within those limits I cannot micromanage or unnecessarily help my children. This does not come naturally to me. As a parent, I am a verbal helper. I tend to give unsolicited advice, prompting, and caution that are almost always rooted in my fears. Fear of injury. Fear of judgement. Fear of the unknown. My educator brain knows this is not helpful and even potentially harmful in the long run, but my parenting brain doesn’t always listen.

I read an interview on NPR with Hanna Rossin a writer covering overprotected children and what really struck me is that she pointed out the difference between risk and danger. As a parent we want to protect our children from danger, but can’t and shouldn’t want to protect them from risk. The problem I have as a parent is that I confuse the two or overreact to the idea, the mere idea, of risk. I am convinced, despite logic, that my son is always on the verge of killing himself by doing something “unsafe”. This is the irrationality that sometimes comes with parenting. But the truth remains, risk or even the perception of risk is important.

My daughter has become a bit of climber lately. She climbs the monkey bars, the tops of all the play structures, and trees. She goes as high as she can. Does this fill me with fear? Yes. Have I learned to be quiet about it? Yes. It actually helped me that she did fall one time. She fell from the monkey bars when they were wet and belly flopped onto the mulch. Bruises, mulch in her mouth, and a scream cry all included. It was awful to watch and no fun to console, but the next day she got back on the monkey bars. She discovered a little bit about her limits and the risk of a slick monkey bar. Every time I consciously decide to shut up I know I am giving her room to assess the situation and evaluate the risk on her own terms. You see, I don’t want my daughter to listen to my voice saying, “Be careful.” I want her to listen to her own voice, the one that lives in her gut and is called “conscience” and “instinct”. If she can pull back when she has gone too high now then I know that voice will grow a little and hopefully show up when confronted with larger risks with bigger consequences in adolescence.

For me to stick with my new commandment I need to focus on two things:

1. Shutting up and pausing before letting my own fears take over a decision for my children.

2. Asking myself is this risky or dangerous, before intervening..

If I do both of these things regularly I know that my fear will go down and my children’s ability to manage their own risks will go up.

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Risk versus Danger