Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Someone to Look Up To: Mother Teresa


Our young people need heroes +  Mother Teresa's canonization is coming up = This inexpensive download would be great for your grandkids!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Grandparents' Corner


We don't have to tell you what a ginormous influence you have over the life of your grandchildren.  Whether you are:
  • raising them yourself or parents are in the picture
  • live in the same town or a world away
  • watch them on a regular basis or just get to Skype on major holidays
…….. you know that your words and example have a strong influence!

Last year Pope Francis spoke about the importance of grandparents, and in this short video we learn how he saved the message his grandmother wrote to him on the day of his ordination:  video
In Grandparents' Corner we'll explore ways you can contribute in a positive way to your grandchildren's lives.  Let's start with one idea from Barbara, who recently took care of her 4-year-old granddaughter and found a way to simultaneously teach her how to make her bed and make a simple morning offering.

Sing Your Bed Made (or how to make your bed while still in it!)

1.  "I rise in the arms of my Father..." 
     Hold the top sheet with your arms outstretched and pull the top sheet tight

2.  "…to walk in the steps of His Son…"
     Pull your feet apart, stretching the sheet straight at the bottom of the bed

3.  "…and rest in the heart of the Spirit till all of my days are done."
     Fold the top of the sheet over the top of the bedspread

4.  Turn the corner back, slip out of bed on your knees and add any other prayers you'd like.

More from Pope Francis

Our current pope has a lot to say about your role.  Click here to check it out!

And from Benedict XVI

Click here to read his address at the assembly called “Grandparents: Their Witness and Presence in the Family.”

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Practical Strategies for Positive Parenting

Our speaker, at left, is a mother of four children, ages 4-14.  At our fifth parenting discussion she talks about common sense parenting skills she learned while participating in the RIP program.  It's free, and in it she learned and practiced the skills necessary to handle problem behavior. She calls the program "a lifesaver."

Yesterday, as I walked past the Health and Beauty aisle at Target, I overheard a fight among siblings.  I kept walking past, though I couldn't help but rubberneck:  there on the floor were two well-dressed young children fighting over a toy.  One punched the other hard in the stomach, while the stylish mom turned to say, "Seriously?  We're doing THIS now?"  The mother wasn't young and she wasn't old, and the children--who I had observed earlier throughout the store--appeared normal in all respects.  It was the mother's reaction that wasn't normal.

What happened to behaving yourself in public?  What happened to treating other human beings with respect?  What happened to correcting behavior that is dangerous, disruptive or destructive?  Yikes.  Is this the best we can do?  I wonder if the past couple of generations of families have suffered parenting amnesia, forgetting how to navigate the extremes of too lax and too strict.  I wonder if we are too proud to take a parenting class or two?

Unfortunately, common sense parenting skills are rare to find these days, and it shows.  That's why we could all benefit from programs like RIP, a Regional Intervention Program that teaches parents basic parenting skills.  That was the topic of our fifth parenting discussion, led by my friend Meredith who is a Catechesis of the Good Shepherd instructor with an Atrium of her own, former mommy from our Montessori Mornings, and who went through the RIP program herself.

Yes, I said "all" parents could benefit.  Even with 20 years of parenting six kids and extensive experience both teaching and learning HOW to teach, I learned quite a lot from this lecture.  Of course it's best if both Mom and Dad can come, but any help is better than none!
Luckily, she shared a handout.  Now you, too, can get back to basics!

RIP's Basic Strategies 

  • State Expectations in Advance:  Give one clear instruction.
  • Catch Your Child Being Good:  Give specific, positive attention to the behavior that you want to occur again.
  • Present Limited Reasonable Choices:  Learning to take personal responsibility takes support and practice.
  • Use "When…..Then":  Give a simple instruction that tells your child what he must do in order to earn a desired consequence.
  • Plan Ahead:  Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
  • Know What is Reasonable:  Keep your expectations realistic.  (Part of this is understanding child development, part is knowing your child.  If you suspect that your child may have special needs, seek the help of a qualified professional.)
  • Stay Calm:  The more out-of-control your child becomes, the more self control you need to use.  (If you have problems with anger management or depression, seek professional help.)
  • Use Neutral Time:  The best time to talk is when everyone is calm enough to listen.

Extra Stress

Not all couples are on the same page when it comes to parenting.  Understandably, problem behaviors can drive a wedge between you two and create terrible stress.  If you are struggling while your spouse/partner is oblivious, there are good books and websites that can get you started with parenting help, and you may want to seek help as a couple, as well.
  • Mayo Clinic  Has information on parenting a child with ADHD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, etc.
I wish that all parents and teachers who struggle with problem behavior (um, I guess that's all of us!) would participate!

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Tea Time is Time to Practice Food Prep, Manners and Conversation

We celebrated the return of Downton Abbey today with teatime!

Teatime Comprised of Several "Works"

Think of it:  Flower Arranging, Silver Polishing, Food Preparation, Folding Napkins, Grace and Courtesy, and Washing Dishes.  These are all works that can be part of an afternoon tea.  Extensions can include making your own butter, baking biscuits, growing the chives and parsley for the cucumber sandwiches, dipping candles, and making jellies and jams.


We really liked these frozen biscuits with clotted cream:

Cucumber Sandwiches:

We cut the bread the night before using this sandwich maker we already had.

Even if you aren't a D.A. fan, this activity could be a great way of introducing another culture (if you are studying England, for instance).  Who knows, maybe it could become a "new tradition" at your house or school, or you could try this for Mother's Day?  Enjoy!

P.S.  We also have a ducky and an elephant creamer left over from our Practical Life days in the classroom.  If you'd like to find those, click here and here.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

WARNING: This Rant Will Ruffle Feathers!

Photo by Eric Kilby

The Busy/Happy Myth

Over the holidays my husband and I attended a small get-together, five of our six children in tow.  It wasn't long before we were asked something like, "How do you manage to keep all of them happy and busy?" to which my husband snorted, "We don't!"  We have never seen that as our JOB as parents (see this post).  Plus, my husband had just written a piece for the Wall Street Journal about the importance of boredom in a child's life and about the sad lack of free time.  Little did these new acquaintances realize what a loaded question they had just asked……..

It's not unusual to be asked about our parenting style.  Oftentimes it's just a way to break the ice, but sometimes it seems like a genuine inquiry coming from a flustered, frustrated, overwhelmed parent.  In a nutshell:  we believe children are a gift from God (see this post); they come with their own temperaments and personalities "pre-packaged" at birth; they need to know that they are loved unconditionally; and the greatest gifts that we can give to them are to work on a strong marriage, to pass along our faith, and to be open to any siblings God sends us.  Depending upon your outlook, this may sound very boring or downright reckless.  Note:  maximizing the educational potential or ensuring that one of the children becomes a doctor/lawyer/dentist wasn't on our list.

Many educated parents of young children today have a sort of "chicken with the head cut off" syndrome, bouncing from one parenting fad to the next, living in fear that their children will become bored, behind, or unhappy (or all of the above).  The fear fuels a constant push for improvement--FASTER!  MORE POPULAR!  SMARTER!  This is not an atmosphere conducive to joy, calm, or acceptance, and it leaves children hungry for unconditional love.  From helicopter parents to tiger moms and 3-martini playdates, we've lost balance in our parenting lives.

When I was young and energetic I made a lot of parenting mistakes because I either feared my own boredom or my children's.  Now that I'm older and wiser (and have a lot less energy), I have a little more common sense--enough to realize that boredom can be your friend and that too many activities can stress families out.  Earnest parents need to protect their family time, nourish a family culture and make sure their home is a haven where everyone feels accepted.   Instead, today's children feel like they have to earn our acceptance and may worry about reaching the limit of our love.


If your parents were perfectionists, perhaps you never felt unconditional love growing up.  I'm sorry--every person should feel such love from his or her parents!  One of my favorite messages--"You are enough"--comes from this organization, which reminds us that we are all made in God's image, regardless of how others treat us.  Ideally our parents love us through bad grades and failure, but if you didn't feel accepted at home it's time to acknowledge that YOU ARE ENOUGH, strive to overcome those failures in your upbringing, and vow to do better with your own children.  Maybe one of your kids needs far more cuddling than you seem to have time for.  Make time for it.  Maybe one of your kids needs to talk, talk, talk your ear off.  Find a way to listen--whether it's shutting off the radio on the car ride home, chopping veggies together before dinner, doing the dishes side-by-side or giving a back rub.  Be receptive.  Be available.  These things will make a world of difference.  The trick is to slow down enough to recognize each person's needs.


What I've just said may sound like a promotion for free-range parenting, but it's not.  A Montessori approach encourages independence, recognizes the God-given dignity of each soul, and emphasizes the Prepared Environment--an orderly place that allows a child to function and learn on his or her own with freedom.  Montessori also takes into account a child's stage of development.  But "free-range parenting" is one extreme on the spectrum that can have dangerous implications, such as when, in my upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, three children, ages 4 and under, were playing unsupervised in the street.  No parent in sight.  That's.  Just.  Nuts.  Not only does good parenting require love and commitment, but it also requires common sense.  Along these lines, parents who provide good doses of boredom and free time must also prohibit internet access (when parents aren't around), provide for a suitable environment, and enforce basic ground rules for behavior.


I have made the mistake of judging another family run from one activity to the next.  I thought I knew enough about the personalities involved to pass judgement on the parents' decisions.  I was wrong.  Especially when it comes to children with special needs (whether officially diagnosed or not), there may be all sorts of behind-the-scenes scenes of which you are unaware.  You may be blind to some burden that colors their whole world.  If you feel annoyed or irritated or threatened by the prospect of "keeping up with the Joneses," just pray for them.  You may wonder how and why they live like they do, but don't judge.  Just love.

In closing……...

So that's it for my busy/happy rant.  I am not totally against kids' activities outside the home, but let's use some common sense.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas on the subject!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Labels and Patience and Denial, Oh My!

Somewhere between 5-10% of American children have Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD).  Their intense reactions to sights, smells, sounds, etc. are so strong that normal daily living is disrupted.  Oftentimes therapists can help, but a good diagnosis comes first.
Patience is a virtue.  But sometimes, when we are in denial about an issue with our child's behavior or development, we hide behind phrases like, "Oh, it's just a stage," or "He's got a lot of quirks--I'm sure he'll grow out of them."  We wait and hope for the best.

Even when relatives, friends and teachers are voicing concerns we already may have in the back of our heads, we remain in denial.

Why?  Lots of reasons.  One I've heard many times is, "We don't want to label our child."  That's valid--there are some down sides to "labeling" a child, even if your label is a positive one, like "gifted."  But we need to balance pros and cons, constantly asking ourselves as parents and teachers if we are letting pride, laziness, or friendships get in the way of addressing problems.  And although you may not want to label your child, you'd better believe everyone else in his life--classmates and peers, siblings and grandparents, even the child himself--will label him!

There's a letter on the web going viral, written by a young man who wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's until he was 23.  In it he expressed his relief when he finally received a label.

Burying your head in the sand can take the form of refusing to acknowledge that a problem exists,  avoiding facts, and minimizing the consequences of a situation.  As parents and teachers, it's our job to get to the bottom of abnormal behavior that is disrupting normal development.  The sooner, the better.
Unfortunately, evaluations are not always as helpful as we would hope.  It's not like there's a genetic test for autism or SPD, and if our child is high-functioning, he may not qualify for services or classroom accommodations.  Still, in this article by a New York education evaluator the point becomes:  are you neglecting your child's needs by turning a blind eye?

"You aren't doing him any favors," is a phrase that comes to mind.  If a child had a broken arm or strep throat or pinworms, you would try to fix things right away. Otherwise, serious complications or lifelong  problems might result.  Likewise, don't ignore warning signs in behavior.

Finally, we should be honest about why we avoid evaluations.  Sometimes mother and father have opposite views on whether their child's behavior is normal.  It can cause so much tension that avoiding things altogether seems like the right thing to do.  But the reverse is often true:  when a child is finally diagnosed, oftentimes the parents feel relief and can finally be on the same page.

We should get the best professional help we can get, and even get a second opinion if need be.  These days it is SO easy to search online for things we can do with a child who has Asperger's or SPD or dyslexia or dysgraphia or……….the list goes on and on!  But what we need first is a good diagnosis.  And once we have that, we can look back on all of those years where well-meaning friends and teachers and relatives tried to help us and thank them for their concern.

Addendum:  Here is a great, short piece on acknowledging a problem and finding other avenues where, as she says, "different kinds of intelligence can bubble to the top."  This is not the same as ignoring advice; it's a way to encourage strengths to come out while working on weak areas.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Good Advice and How to Avoid Common Pitfalls

Here's "Peel" with the one and only fish she ever caught.  Thanks to family friends who own a boat, she had the opportunity to go fishing with people who actually know what they are doing, and she had a great time!  (My husband and I barely know how to put bait on a line.)   A robust community of friends and family have not only helped us survive tough times, but it has also offered fun "extras" like this.
Today I read a great post by another mother of six about how she and her husband thoughtfully built a community in which to raise their children.  Please read!

Having a community of helpful, loving, trustworthy people is so important--whether you live near your family or not, whether your parents work full-time or not, whether you live in the town where you were raised, or you live far, far away from anyone familiar.

Why?  Tons of reasons:

  • You need the example and encouragement of people who share your values
  • Your kids need the same
  • You need a sounding board outside of your own head on which to bounce ideas, impressions, goals and dreams (sometimes just a sanity check!)
  • You need an extra pair of eyes or two on your children, to let you know if there are issues that you are blind to
  • You need to constantly improve your store of common sense, which is in short supply these days
  • In case of emergency, there must be people that can help you out with the logistics of survival
We moved about five times in our first 10 years of marriage, and the only time we lived near family in that first decade was during a 9-month sabbatical out of state.  In places where we couldn't find the community we were looking for, we created one.  For instance, while living in a 2-bedroom apartment on sabbatical I started a newsletter for moms and weekly story time in our housing complex.  Later, when we couldn't afford Montessori schools for our children, I converted our basement into a schoolroom, invited over several families a few times per week, and paid a Directress to teach.

Some of the mistakes I see young parents making these days include not thinking ahead about these things when purchasing a house, for instance.  That topic is ripe for a blog post in itself, but just to focus on schooling and homeschooling for a minute:  if you have never homeschooled before or if you may have a child with special needs, re-think that house in the country.  Because if homeschooling is a disaster, you need to have a back-up plan.  Or if your child needs OT and PT and has sensory issues, make sure you can still access the care he or she needs.  Better yet--make sure you are in a school district that can provide those services.  Remember that even if you have no plans now to send your child to public school, you may change your mind later, or you might need to use their services without enrolling your child there.

When we are raising children--especially if we are taking the responsibility of schooling them ourselves--we have to think through all of those things.  So please read the post by Jennifer Fulwiler and share with any young couples you know who may need it!  Jennifer Fulwiler

Next time, maybe I'll write about the importance of children spending time with family and friends of another generation……...