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……...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Five-Year-Old in Montessori: A Bird's Eye View of Language and Math

Wow, this post got way too long.  Please admire Alleluia's birthday cake--YUM!
This post is for you if:
  • you often wonder if you are on the right track with your Montessori kid
  • you feel overwhelmed by all of the separate works you need to learn about and don't know what comes next
  • you like chocolate (oh, sorry!  how did that get in there....)
  • you secretly wish you had a stack of tacky worksheets to prove that your child is learning 
"Alleluia" just celebrated her fifth birthday.  School-wise she's made it halfway through my Language Album and has been doing Math for about six months.  Because it's been a while (!) since I've taught a 5-year-old, I am constantly consulting my Albums to see which works come next and to check that she's progressing okay.  If you are new to Montessori it can be confusing!  And if you are setting up your shelves as you go, this age can feel overwhelming--there's so much Math and Language being presented simultaneously.  I'm going to try to simplify things so you can breathe easier.

Children schooled in the traditional way and children taught using the Montessori method all end up at the same destination--literacy, ability to work with numbers--but their paths are VERY different. 

The iconic "Farm," with which you can teach parts of speech, but which most of us secretly want to play with.


The Montessori child has been steeped in Language works and games since 2 1/2 (or even before!).  By 5, there has already been a huge amount of work, including (brace yourself):
  • I Spy Game ad nauseum
  • Enrichment of Vocabulary (Name Game, 3-part cards, give language with Sensorial lessons, etc)
  • Stories, Rhymes, Self-Expression, I Wonder....
  • Preparation to Write (usually around 4 1/2, if the child's hands and mind are ready)
  • Sandpaper Letters (including digraphs like 'sh' and 'ch')
  • Moveable Alphabet (3)
  • Metal Inset (3-5)
  • Writing with Chalk (4-5 1/2)
  • Phonetic Object Game (4-5)
  • Phonetic Reading Cards (4-5)
  • Phonograms (4 1/2 - 5)
  • Sight Words (4 1/2 - 5)
  • Reading Classification (4 1/2 - 5)
  • Parts of Speech (4 1/2 up)
Language:  Parts of Speech boxes along the left...

Your little whippersnapper is working on three aspects simultaneously:  phonics, sight words (words that aren't spelled phonetically), and phonograms (2-3 letters that can't be sounded out).  If things have been going pretty well, Junior might be writing simple words phonetically now, starting with short vowel consonant-vowel-consonant words like hot, cat, sis, etc.  "Writing" means using the Moveable Alphabet.  

Huh?  Isn't that cheating?

Many 4-year-olds don't have good control of the pencil yet, even if they do have a good pencil grip.  Finger strength is another issue.  While the Metal Insets and other works focus on good pencil control, using the Moveable Alphabet helps to isolate the child's ability to spell phonetically.

Here's a couple of works all squished together:  she used the Moveable Alphabet to write words that I read aloud (then I gave her the printed word to check her work).  She also wrote the words in her journal, following the letters I wrote for her in yellow marker.  
The classic use of the Moveable Alphabet is to make up stories.  An adult can copy them down in the child's journal afterward, and the child may even like to illustrate.

Yes, Montessorians spell first, read second.  And yet it's common to put a Bob book (or other simple reader) in the hands of a child this age, if he or she is sailing along well with writing.

In the Phonetic Object Game the child sees you actually write (gasp!) with a pencil and paper.  This may be a rare occurrence these days, but important modeling for writers-to-be.

Metal Insets help practice writing with a pencil without tearing up the paper.  Plus, it's good practice for staying within the limits of lines.  The tray is just for carrying the materials to the table,  not for working on.

Function of Words/Parts of Speech

Learning about the function of words (noun, article, adjective, verb, etc) is introduced at 4 1/2.  If you don't have the materials for these works, they are super easy and cheap to make.  (Readers, please let me know if you'd like more info on that.)  Also, you don't necessarily teach your child terms like "Article" during the lesson (only in naming the lesson), but if he or she happens to remember that term, imagine all of the super fun games of MadLibs you can play!

Those colored triangles are Grammar Symbols.

A Note on Sounds:

With the Sandpaper Letters and Sandpaper Digraphs the children learn 40 basic sounds (26 letters in the alphabet plus 14 double letter sounds, like 'th'). When you begin to teach the Phonograms (which include the 14 digraphs), the number of non-phonetic sounds goes up to about 25.  I am being vague because I only kinda sorta get it myself..........

Digraphs like 'th' are two letters that make a unique sound.  Phonograms can be 2 or 3 letters together that make a freaky, non-sensical sound, like the "-all" in "ball," "call," "tall," etc.  Yikes, English is weird!

Moving Right Along.......

At 5, you're just building on the foundations.  Your child identifies verbs (action words), learns syntax (what sounds correct and what just sounds strange), and basically becomes a total Grammar Ninja.


If the child has been progressing well in Language before his or her 5th birthday, you may have already introduced:
  • Number Rods (once the child is well advanced in Language and is beginning to read and write)
  • Sandpaper Numbers (same as above)
  • Number Rods and Cards (4-5)
  • Spindle Boxes (4-5)
  • Cards and Counters (4-5)
  • Memory Game of Numbers (4-5) 
If you introduce Math before your child has a good start on Language, you are ignoring what we know about the sensitive periods.  Alleluia seemed to be doing fine with Language, so she had done these basics.

Chalkboard numbers aren't listed in my album, so I just squished them in along with Sandpaper Numbers.  (Too bad you can't see the extremely cute baby I'm holding on my lap!)
If things seem to be purring along well, then these can also be introduced:
  • Decimal System:  Presentation with Beads (4-5)
  • Decimal System:  Presentation with Cards (4-5)
  • Teens and Tens:  11 - 19 Beads Only (4)
  • Teens and Tens:  The Teen Boards (4-5)
  • Teens and Tens:  11 - 19 Teen Boards and Beads (4-5)
  • Teens and Tens:  11 - 99 Ten Boards with Beads (4-5)
  • Linear Counting:  100 and 1000 Chains (up to 5 1/2)
  • Teens and Tens:  Skip Counting--Number Chains with Squares and Cubes (up to 5 1/2)
  • The Formation of Complex Numbers with Beads and Cards (4 1/2 - 5)
Teen Beads

The Decimal System:  Introduction to the Bead Material
Forming Numbers with Beads and Cards

Skip Counting with Number Chains

Anyhoo, ...

You get the picture.  This is what a normal progression for a brand-spanking-new 5-year-old might look like.  The only sense in which specific timing matters is knowing the sensitive period that your child is in (Language comes before Math) and knowing the progression of works (which comes first, then which comes after, etc.).

I hope this post was helpful!  Please correct my mistakes, make silly comments or share ideas for 6-year-old birthday cakes with me!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Homeschooling, Mixing It Up, and Montessori Enrichment

A Little of This, A Little of That.....

The Tree of Life work from Waseca is pretty to look at and is a good way for "Peel" to visualize the plant, animal and fungus kingdoms.
With my older kids in school and just one fifth grader and one Pre-K child home three days per week I feel like I'm finally getting into a good rhythm this school year.  Both homeschooled kids are out of the house two mornings per week, and I'm using a mixture of "canned" curriculum and Montessori for both.  It finally feels right, and I wanted to share our mixture in the hopes that it could help others out there struggling.

Whether you are struggling to balance your children's school work with their social life, or balance the time you wear your "teacher hat" with the time you wear all of your other hats, the perfect combination isn't easy to find.

I love it when siblings can share an activity!

Mixed Ages

Montessori classrooms are always comprised of children of mixed ages.  This works well for families who homeschool children of various ages, and it's very convenient when you must chauffeur your kids to outside activities.  For us, Tae Kwan Do and piano are "one stop shopping" for both girls, and many Montessori works we do at home can be done together.

5th Grade--"Peel"

Canned Curriculum:  Kolbe
Montessori Enrichment:  Animal and Plant Kingdom works, some Level 2 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd works, Math review and Grammar review
Co-op:  Math and English are done twice per week in the mornings
Music:  Weekly Suzuki violin and weekly piano
Physical Education:  Tae Kwan Do three times per week
Art:  Online, live art class for homeschoolers
Religion:  Weekly CCD class at our parish
Extracurriculars:  Weekly Jr. Legion of Mary group with children from local Catholic school and with homeschoolers
Other:  When our computer is working, a little Spanish (which is review for her) on CDs.  We dropped some Saturday classes for gifted students.  Though several were very good, our last was a total dud.

"Peel" can work very hard on her own, but after a few hours wants to do something different, whether it be go to the creek, play cards with kids her age, or do Mad Libs with a friend.  Staying home all day every day is not an option for her!  She also gets "blah" and sleepy if she's not moving.  In addition, she benefits from learning things in different ways, like through videos, songs or board games.

The co-op has a great teacher, nice kids and animals!

Mixing It Up

I recently bought some episodes of Horrible Histories on iTunes and spent $5 for all 40 episodes of Liberty's Kids on DVD, since they pertain to the history she's been studying this year (we already have the awesome Horrible Histories book set and my kids love it!).  This seems to improve the mood around here.  I also am trying the Kindle Free Time app on the new Kindle that Santa brought me.  While I hadn't ever heard of this child-friendly app, I'm so glad I decided to try it!  It's dramatically increased the amount of good, outside reading that Peel does.  I set her daily goal to 75 minutes of reading, and she's hit that goal almost every day since.  And these are not just junky books--these are good books, mostly classics, that I have wanted her to read.  For some reason the classics don't seem as boring and hum drum when they are on the Kindle!  Here's an article about that app.

Don't worry--the nerdy charts are only on the refrigerator temporarily.  We're not THAT nerdy!

In addition to these small changes, I've also ordered some expensive Montessori materials I've been wanting for a long time.  Waseca makes the yummiest products, and since Peel has had an enduring interest in animals, plants, fungi and dinosaurs/geology, I splurged on the Tree of Life, Plant Kingdom chart, and the Fungus Kingdom chart.  We've used them already and I hope to go back to them from time to time.

Finally, my husband has dusted off some of his board games that correspond to the subjects Peel is studying.  For instance, her study of the Civil War is coming up, so they've been playing Battle Cry.  There are 15 different battle scenarios that the players can work through.

As far as hobbies go, Peel got a book about sewing felt animals for her birthday, and she's doing that in her spare time.   She is also cooking dinner once per week or so, and has recently discovered a TV show called "Master Chef Jr." that has her even more excited about learning to cook.

As far as life skills go, Peel and her older sister are learning the fine art of cleaning the bathroom every Saturday morning.  Hurray for bushy-tailed New Year's Resolutions!


Canned Curriculum:  Pre-K two days per week at a Catholic parochial school
Montessori Enrichment:  Two to three days per week of Primary work and Level 1 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
Music:  Weekly piano lessons and one music class per week in the Pre-K program
Physical Education:  Weekly Tae Kwan Do
Art:  Once per week in the Pre-K program
Religion:  Weekly afterschool Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program at a local Catholic school
Extracurriculars:  Weekly Jr. Legion of Mary group

Even though I run a small mother-child Atrium in my home each Friday, it's nice to get out and join another Atrium with school kids at an after school program once per week.  I learn a lot, too!
Alleluia's life is more streamlined and simple, with plenty of sleeping in and playing and just hanging out.  While there doesn't seem to be as much "mixing it up" with her schooling, she is still adjusting to being away from Mom two days per week and ever-so-slowly becoming more independent.

Alleluia still does 2-3 days of Montessori basics at home with me.
It's taken me a year and a half of homeschooling these two--with a lot of trial and error!--to find a good balance.  I hope some of you will find helpful ideas here.  Do you have any additional thoughts?  Things that have helped you find a good homeschooling balance?  Please share!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Liebster Award!

I am so excited to be nominated for the Liebster Award!  Still pinching myself that anyone (besides my mom and my husband) actually knows my blog exists, and I am humbled that the blogger who nominated me is one of those larger-than-life stars, in my eyes.  Thanks,  Suzanne Wilhelmi from Teaching from the Tackle Box!

So first I answer Suzanne's questions....

1. What's your blogging story? When and why did you start blogging?
I love photography and really missed it since my days as a journalist and my college days in photography classes.  I also missed writing, adult conversations, being able to finish a thought, etc.  That, combined with the coming-of-age of my toddler to the Montessori primary years, was the perfect storm:  I was driven to take lots of photos and go on and on about one of my favorite topics:  Montessori.  I started in April 2012, just to keep myself sane and to help other moms and grandmas home with their toddlers.

2. What's the favorite/greatest gift you have been given by someone else?
When he was alive, my father used to give me three things:  great food (he was very good cook), wonderful books (remember those?) and the occasional compliment.  I hadn't realized how much I missed the compliments until, recently, a family friend praised the job my husband and I are doing raising our children.  It suddenly hit me that I missed getting that yearly pat-on-the-back for the thankless work we do!

3. What is your favorite board game?
Sorry, I hate board games.  My husband and our 6 children LOVE them, though.  I don't even think they could pick a favorite.  We literally have hundreds.  (My husband has interrupted to tell me that the exact count is 207).

4. What would you do without electricity for 48 hours? and what would you miss the most?
I love it when the power goes out!  The only thing I start to get anxious about is whether I can still get a cup of coffee (the elixir of life, or of my life anyway).

5. Do you name your vehicles and if yes share why you named your car(s) as you did?
Yes!  I am hyper weird about this and always insist that other people in my life name their cars, too.  My first car was Francis, because he was teal blue like the water and the sky and reminded me of St. Francis, one of my all-time favs.

6. How do you network/promote your blog?
Um, I don't.  I'm very lazy.

7. What is your favorite /and your least favorite social media site and why?
I am a big doofus when it comes to social media.  I keep forgetting my passwords and have to ask my kids what they are.  I get information overload when I try to learn new things online.  I want to go suck my thumb and curl up in the fetal position until my teenagers get home and help me navigate the big, scary web.

8. What was your favorite craft or DIY project from 2014?
I am trying to make all of the materials for Level 1, 2 and 3 Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atria.  This year, with help from a nice retired engineer from church, I made a 3-D model of the old city of Jerusalem.  So.  Much.  Fun!

9. What's your blogging niche? What do you like most to write about?
I'm struggling with that one.  I began writing about affordable, simple Montessori activities for moms, grandmas and teachers, but more and more my Catholic faith is a central part of what I want to write.  There are several blog posts in my head that I've never written because they are so specific to my faith.  So I'm sort of stuck not knowing what to do--start a second blog?

10. What is your favorite blog post from 2014 - yours or someone else's?
Well I'm not sure it's from 2014, but I loved this one on a cheap version of the Montessori bells.  I've been stalking the Montessori bells for years, but they are so expensive and take up so much space that I just kept hemming and hawing UNTIL I read this post and created her version myself!

11. What are your plans for blogging in 2015?
I hope to finally use dozens and dozens of photos I've taken for short, informative posts on Montessori at home.

Next I List 11 Random Facts About Me...

1.  Before marriage I spent two months in the Nashville Dominicans as a postulant.  I loved it, but not once did any of the sisters break out into song with, "Climb Every Mountain!"

2.  I am a twin (older by two minutes.  I love to rub that in.).

3.  I am addicted to coffee.  There.  I said it.

4.  I start books and then never finish them.  I don't see a problem with this, but my husband is constantly teasing me about all of the books in our library with bookmarks still in them.

5.  I am a militant napper.  Every day after lunch.

6.  I briefly worked in a morgue.

7.  In college I played a little bit of underwater hockey.

8.  I'm shy, but I have found that interviewing people is a great excuse for talking to someone!

9.  I love Downton Abbey.

10.  I love thrift shops and garage sales.

11.  I got to meet Mother Teresa and attend an audience with John Paul II.

And then I nominate some other awesome blogs:

Why Do You Ask
Second Hand, Second Thoughts
What Did We Do All Day
The Beautiful Music Challenge

Here are the 11 Questions for THEM to answer:

1.  What's your favorite word or sound?
2.  What's your most pressing new year's resolution?
3.  What's your favorite blog post (written by you or someone else)?
4.  What is the last movie you watched in an actual cinema?
5.  What book are you currently reading?
6.  Who was your favorite teacher and why?
7.  From whom or from what have you learned the most?
8.  What random thing makes you happy?
9.  If I had the courage I would __________ (fill in the blank).
10.  What is your favorite way to spend a Friday night?
11.  On a vacation, would you rather relax and read a book or get up early and try something new?

Thanks again to Suzanne from Teaching from a Tackle Box!  

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Montessori's Epiphany: A Play on Words

Did she say, "Follow the child" or "Follow the Child"?
My Montessori Philosophy album reads:  "On Jan 6, 1907, as fellow Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, she [Maria Montessori] opened the first Casa dei Bambini.   Montessori, a Catholic, read aloud the Gospel reading for that day, an excerpt from the Book of Isaiah 60: 1-6."
"Rise up in splendor!  Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.  See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples;  but upon you the Lord shines, and over you appears his glory....."
Montessori is often quoted as saying, "Follow the child."  Observe the needs of the child's inner life, this is what drives him or her.  Looking for answers to the big questions--Who made me?  Why am I here?  Why is there suffering?--is one of those drives we see in children.  So why don't we recognize it more?  Why don't we, following the example of Maria' life, follow the Child?   The Epiphany was the manifestation--the physical showing--of God with us, the divine here with us, as a baby.

It's hard to imagine that many parents who are believers themselves won't bring their children to church (or to their place of worship).  In this recent article in First Things magazine the author makes some good points.
We—the Christian parents of America—should not leave our kids to make up their own minds about religion. We need to go against the grain. If we really believe the Gospel, we ought to join the shrinking ranks of those pushy parents who insist their children attend church with them. We make our children eat their vegetables. We make them brush their teeth. Let’s make them go to church.
Honestly, it doesn't matter to me if you are Jewish, Christian, Buddhist--please impart to your children your faith.  You may not be around forever, and what could be more important?  It's looking more and more like we aren't allowed to mention God or a Creator even in online groups, much less in a classroom.  So how exactly are the inner needs of the child addressed?  And if we as believers are chased off of social media, then we aren't part of the conversation.

I write about this now because many parents and teachers who love the Montessori approach to education don't realize that Montessori was practicing Catholic and that her faith was very important to her. She wrote a beautiful book on the Mass for children and this book includes writings of Montessori on God and the child. If we have embraced her philosophy and approach with children, we owe it to ourselves to learn more. We as parents and as Montessorians are fooling ourselves if we think that connecting our children with their Creator is not part of our work. It is essential. Our children our like sheep among wolves. When we are gone, what then? Have we helped to answer their questions on who made them? About their purpose? About good and evil? About suffering?

Back to the child and the Child. If Maria Montessori followed the Child Jesus and found the child, maybe it wouldn't hurt to allow some divine seeking, in ourselves and in the children. Could we as Montessorians have a epiphany of our own--an eye-opening discovery that Maria's faith was central to her work, that she wanted to much to share her insights with others.

Only this week I made a comment on a Facebook group for those interested in the Montessori philosophy.  There was an article listing the most basic needs of children, and I commented that it was missing just one thing:  connecting the child with his or her Creator.  This immediately caused a stir, with one reader angrily writing that she didn't find that important at all and, from the moderator, a gentle reminder that I read the group's new rules (apparently words like "the Creator" are a red flag!).  I confess that I didn't read the group's new rules, I just "unjoined."

And finally, a word of warning.  G. K. Chesterton is often quoted (though there is some disagreement about his exact words) as saying, "He who does not believe in God will believe in anything."  If we don't give our children at least some direction, aren't we leaving them vulnerable?  Only the Good Shepherd would risk His life for the sheep.  Watch out for the wolves.