Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Introducing a Second Language

Here "Madame" teaches the toddlers about the rooster, frog, and goat using lots of songs in French.
When I was a small child, my parents paid an international graduate student to come to the house each Saturday morning and teach us kids some Chinese.  The theory was that if we could learn to recognize tones early on we could recognize them later, when our brains weren't so "plastic."  I grew up with a facility for languages and even took a year of Chinese in high school.  Studies now show that learning a second language improves our brains' executive function and makes them more efficient.

Hands on with the bell....
Whatever language you introduce to your young children, they will soak up the sounds like a sponge!  Here my friend "Madame" has been coming for the last 15 minutes of each class, singing songs and speaking in French to the children.  She is great with children (she's a mom of five girls herself) and very playful.

....and the ladybug.
She doesn't use any books or CDs or flashcards or worksheets--and yet the children are learning to say "au revoir" or repeat after her the words for colors or animals.  One mommy reported that her daughter was singing "the froggy song" at home after class (the frog has been a returning character in Madame's short lessons), and when I saw another toddler yesterday while on a walk she was able to say, "Bonjour!"

Madame is on the floor, on their level.....
...and highly engaging.
Since we mommies are in on the classes we are learning along, too.  After just four sessions I have finally overcome my confusion at French pronunciation and can see that there are many, many cognates--making the language much less intimidating!  Since the French written words may not seem to go with the spoken sounds we hear, maybe it's a big advantage that these children are learning the language before they are reading and writing.

Because she is playful herself, the lessons are fun!

Learning the names of colors...

....and introducing the horse!
There's a song about a ladybug.
I certainly wouldn't compare this to a systematic language lesson, but it is a wonderful introduction for toddlers.  I also wanted to try some more "one on one" language instruction for Alleluia, so Madame has given her a couple of individual lessons.  Here they were trying out a new work which is better used with slightly older children (but it's so adorable I wanted to see them try it!).  They are available in English and Spanish, too.

Here Alleluia learns some of the words for things at the zoo from the "Labeling the Cloth" work.  This is the company that makes these.
The black sheep is from the Nursery Rhyme cloth.
How do you say "adorable!" in French?!?

Here's a short article about the benefits of being bilingual.  It turns out to be good for our brains--even if we are learning later in life--and the benefits extend into old age.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Seeing Each Other as "Gift" -- A New Montessori Work!

Another simple but profound -- and free! -- Montessori work.  This could be considered part of the "Grace and Courtesy" curriculum or an Atrium work, and it's for children from the toddler years on.

Look the child straight in the eyes and say, "Susie, you are a gift from God."  (insert his or her name)  

Do the children in your home or in your classroom know that they are a gift?

We heard an awesome homily on Sunday (which was Ascension Sunday AND Mother's Day).  Among other things the priest told us to greet each person as a gift.  That, together with the title of my friend's new blog--"Blessing Not a Burden"--was a reminder that in today's world children need to be reminded that they ARE a gift!  This inspired a new "Work" in our classroom this week.

Eventually we teach children that God has a plan for each one of them; that giving of ourselves is a universal call; and that we must always treat each other as gifts.  Children are a gift from God.

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Good Shepherd Calls Us By Name

Jesus is the Good Shepherd

The main message of the Montessori catechesis for toddlers is that Jesus calls each of us by name.  We know His voice and follow Him.  This message will last a lifetime!

The first lesson can even be given with materials made from cardboard.  Here, the sheep, shepherd and sheepfold are made of wood, but it's the children's work with the material that's important--not the material itself.
In only 10 minutes the children took in the most important lesson of catechesis:  Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who knows us and calls us by name.  Afterwards each child had a chance to work with the material.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

For Mother's Day: Everything is Grace!

We met this caterpillar at the cemetery yesterday when he landed on our windshield!
One of the jobs of being a mother--and of being an educator--is to show children, by our example, how to handle the ups and downs of life.  I love St. Therese's phrase:  Everything is grace!  By this I think she means that God can bring good out of anything, even tragedy.

Yesterday we went to visit the cemetery where our son is buried.  He died just before birth, just minutes before Mother's Day.  The timing might seem ironic, but it's a reminder that the children entrusted to us have a home in heaven, and we hope that they will all make it there some day.  We have no idea how long we'll have with them.  On Earth we prepare them to meet their creator as best we can, and they help us, too.

What does this have to do with Montessori?  It has everything to do with it if we remember that the children in our care (even if they are "ours") belong to Him.  Like the Madonna, we help them to grow in grace and knowledge.  We teach them to have goals--including eternal ones.  Maria Montessori wrote:  "Man's growth is not just an increase; it is rather a constant metamorphosis....."  

"Alleluia" came to visit the grave with us, although she didn't understand why we were there (John died 20 months before she was born).  She was excited to see pinwheels and stuffed animals on the graves around us, and she wasn't interested in getting back in the car when it was time to go.
That's when our little friend the caterpillar landed on the windshield!

Yikes!  He just couldn't be contained!
I grabbed some clover and grass, and we put them inside my coffee mug along with him.  It was a nice distraction for Alleluia and since he was a VERY active caterpillar, he gave us something to watch and talk about during the long car ride back.  He also reminded me that, just as caterpillars are creatures that go through an enormous transformation to become a moth or butterfly, we human beings live on in a very different way after death.  This insect will build itself a chrysalis and be hidden from our eyes for a while, but then he will be a beautiful, graceful, aerial creature.  Imagine how we will be transformed!  We hope to leave this "valley of tears" and live with Love Himself.

Saying goodbye to Mr. Caterpillar.....
The caterpillar was a simple unexpected gift.  Children are gifts, too, and are not, as Montessori wrote, to be regarded merely as possessions, something to be acquired according to one's inclinations. 

[Parents with a deep respect for children] will no longer consider the child as something begotten by themselves alone and, as such, their property to do with as they please.  They will rather be vividly conscious, instead, that the child belongs to God rather than to them, existing for God rather than for them, and that they have received from God's own hand this dependent and helpless infant..." (p. 13 The Child in the Church)

"Bittersweet" is the simplest word to describe mixed emotions.  Children see and experience "bittersweet" every day, so we shouldn't be afraid for them to witness our encounters with it, too.  It's okay for children to see us cry or be sad, and they watch us very carefully to see how we handle our emotions.  It takes humility and trust to face suffering and turn it over to God, and this is just what children need to see in us.   We also need to share with them our beliefs about death, which teach them so much about life!

In the end we delivered the caterpillar to this statue of Our Lady behind school.  It's surrounded by flowers and bushes--a reminder of Mary.  Who better to understand suffering and joy than she who stood at the foot of the cross and experienced the first Easter?  May we enter her embrace one day in paradise!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Simple Science: The 3 States of Matter for Toddlers (It's FREE!)

I still remember the simple demonstration I saw 40 years ago:  My teacher put an ice cube on a metal spoon, held it over a flame, and the ice melted.  I was mesmerized!

The three states of matter:  liquid, solid, gas.
It's THAT EASY to give your small children a simple science lesson, and it's free to boot.  Start by showing them water (liquid), ice (solid) and an empty jar (gas).  Explain that these are all the same substance, but they are all present in a different form.

For this demonstration we put a small cookie sheet in the freezer for about 5 minutes.  Then we boiled water, showed the children the steam, and "Gandalf" held the cold metal sheet above the pot.  Right away the steam condensed into water on the cookie sheet, and some even froze!

Finally, I held a metal spoon containing an ice cube over the lit candle you see above.  The ice melted, the water dripped down (causing an exciting "sizzle"), and the water eventually put the candle out!

This took less than 10 minutes, but the 5 toddlers present (ranging in age from almost 20 months old to 3 years old) were all captivated!