Twin Parks Montessori - Largest Accredited Montessori Program in Manhattan

Kathy’s Insights

Insights on the Montessori method and Early Childhood Education from Dr. Kathy Roemer

Alone in the Big City: Making Friends With Other Parents

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Recently, we hosted a breakfast for our new families who will join our community in the 2017-18 School Year. Everyone had a name tag with the word: “Infant, Toddler or Early Childhood” on it. There were other name tags that said, “Current Parent”. Parents carefully wrote their name above the label that identified them by the group their child would belong to next year.

The quiet hum in the room rose to a glorious symphony of happy voices. Most of the conversations started with a favorite topic – children. Then quickly talk moved onto what people did for work, where they lived, Central Park, where to take swimming lessons, new projects and excitement for the year ahead. We ended the event by having a live performance by three and four year old children singing two songs that included hand motions. This added treat prompted another round of conversation around the song choices, the children who had rhythm and were dancing and the lovely teachers.

We were off to a great start in helping new parents find friends within our Twin Parks Montessori School community.

Many of our new parents are in NYC without family member support. Many have moved from another country and are still learning the nuances of the English language. How do parents make friends in a big city? Making new parent friends (with kids the same age as yours) that you can laugh with, and share your deepest parenting fears with, and just click with, is not an easy task. Let us help you!

The most important thing to remember is that no matter how isolated or awkward you feel, there are other parents feeling the same way. You need play dates just as much as your children do. Here are a few easy things to do:

  • Our schools are situated near Central Park and Riverside Park. Take a walk with your child in the park.
  • Find out where the playgrounds are that are a match for your child’s age and size.
  • Bring extra toys or bubbles to play with.
  • Watch and see which children your child gravitates towards and strike up a conversation with the child’s parent.
  • Ask some questions to learn what you may have in common especially if you live close to one another.

Before you leave mention a time in the future that you can meet for a play date. Find a way to stay connected whether it is a time you plan to be in the park or share contact information.

Play dates are for parents, too.

Play dates are for parents, too.

Play dates are great and can be simple to plan. If you meet in your home, have snacks and water available. Plan an activity the children can do together and make sure the other parent understands that you would like them to stay with their child. A good play date should not last more than 2 hours or be planned during nap time. Keep a positive attitude if there are mishaps or it does not go as perfectly as you imagined.

If you joined Twin Parks Montessori Schools’ community, make a deliberate point to attend all classroom “happenings” and parent education events at the school.

In September, teachers plan and host a Classroom Orientation. This happens before school starts. This is an opportunity to meet the parents of children in your child’s classroom. It is also a time when teachers share the intricacies of how the classroom functions. This event is not to be missed!

A few weeks later the teachers host parents for Curriculum Night – another event to reserve time for. Teachers go into depth about Montessori curriculum, materials and observation of the children. Teachers spend a lot of time preparing for both of this beginning of the year opportunities for you to get to know them and other parents in the classroom. Honor the teachers by attending these events when possible.

There are many additional classroom activities and socials throughout the year. Our Parents’ Voice also plans for families to get together informally outside of school hours. You know you already have things in common with the parents in your classroom because you chose the same school and educational method for your children.

The people you meet at your child’s preschool will become friends for the rest of your life. No matter where you move or school your child attends later. You will bond with fellow parents, share triumphs and disappointments, and learn and grow as parents together.

Dads have fun on play dates, too!

Dads have fun on play dates, too!

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Hope and Possibility

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Montessori education has come into its own as an educational method for life. Teachers can be trained to educate people from infancy through high school. The American Montessori society is working on a certification for Montessori and special needs programs. The International Montessori Congress, to be held in Prague from July 27 to 30, 2017, is hosting The First Montessori Aging and Dementia Symposium. This will be the first conference on how to use Montessori principles in aged care and with people facing dementia. Montessori education truly is for life.

Last year a Montessori educator, Annie Daly, started a volunteer program called Montessori Worldwide. This group works directly with Achilles Kids, a subset of Achilles International. Achilles is an organization that provides physical activity for adults, teens, veterans and children with disabilities. We have a New York City chapter that holds walking and running work outs for disabled athletes and guides that enables a strong community of friendship and support among members and volunteers. Achilles Kids provides training, racing opportunities and an in-school program for children with disabilities. While the organization is primarily focused on running, that is simply one tool to accomplish the main mission: to bring hope, inspiration, and the joys of achievement to all.

2016 Hope and Possibility Race in Central Park.

2016 Hope and Possibility Race in Central Park.

 

I helped at the Montessori Worldwide volunteer table last June and plan to do so again for the Hope and Possibility Race on June 25, 2017 at 9:00 AM.  We had several people from Twin Parks Montessori Schools participate in the race.

Montessori Worldwide table.

Montessori Worldwide table.

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Tuesday evening in May, I had the opportunity to observe the gathering of the Achilles NYC chapter athletes and volunteers. The NYC chapter meets every Tuesday from 6-7:00 PM at the 90th Street and 5th Avenue entrance to Central Park. There were many athletes and volunteers present. The chapter organizer paired up runners and walkers. Many of the athletes arrived early, waited, and patiently watched for the group to trickle in. It was the most amazing demonstration of people making a difference in another person’s life that I have ever witnessed. The benefits were evident for all.

Achilles Work Out Group in Central Park

Achilles Work Out Group in Central Park

Hope and possibility is what is needed for everyone. When joy can be shared with people with challenges, hope and possibility are amplified. For readers looking for a volunteer opportunity or a way to join something larger than your current sphere, please consider volunteering. If that commitment is too much, plan on attending the Hope and Possibility race on June 25th and cheer for the participants!

Guides and Athletes paired up and walking in the park.

Guides and Athletes paired up and walking in the park.

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Montessori Management For Your Home

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Parents often ask, how do teachers do it? How do they manage 12 toddlers or 20 early childhood students at the same time? Where is the magic? Will I ever be able to do it too?

I will share a few time and experience-tested techniques that Montessori teachers incorporate in the classroom that you can try at home.

1. Ground rules

Montessori teachers establish reasonable ground rules based on respect that helps the community work together. Teachers respect each individual child. Children are taught to respect the teachers, the work materials, the environment and one another. Teachers accomplish this by stating the ground rules in a positive voice and modeling the expected behaviors themselves. For example, “We use inside voices” or “We use walking feet”. As children age and can communicate verbally, it is very powerful to include them in the creation of classroom rules. At home, you can do the same. An example of a positive ground rule at home would be, “We eat dinner together sitting at the table”.

2.  Consistent scheduling

Young children thrive in an environment that is predictable. Routines and expectations help children self-regulate. Having a consistent schedule enables children to have the beginning knowledge of telling time. Consistency is important in the home during those times when all family members are getting ready for the day and on their way to school or work. Bedtime routines are also crucial for evenings to flow smoothly. We all need more sleep. Starting with an ideal bedtime of 7:00 or 7:30 and working backwards to include reading together, self-care bathing and brushing teeth, free play time and dinner should help you establish your nighttime routine – and still allow for some alone time with partners.

Reading before sleep can be a family activity.

Reading before sleep can be a great family activity.

3.  Giving choices

There is a basic tenet of Montessori, “freedom within limits”. What this means is that after the teacher carefully prepare the classroom with appropriate choices of activities, children can choose what they would like to start with and do next. Making choices leads to independence and self-reliance – skills that benefit an individual throughout life.  At home a choice maybe, “Would you like cereal or eggs for breakfast?” or “Choose two books for bedtime” or “Do you want to wear this outfit or this one tomorrow?” Just as in the classroom, all of the choices at home need to be appropriate. For instance, summer clothes and flip-flops are not available to wear in the winter.

Children are more likely to try new food if they help prepare it.

Children are more likely to try new food if they help with food preparations.

4.  Allowing mistakes to lead to learning

Mistakes and accidents happen daily as children learn how to maneuver their bodies in space and their gross and fine motor skills are developing. We prepare the classrooms with all of the child-size tools necessary for cleaning up dry and wet spills, toileting mishaps, and material repairs. Children who are taught natural consequences and ownership for mistakes are more likely to find a solution the next time all by themselves. Montessori teachers do not hover or “fix” everything for the toddler who is showing signs of frustration over a task. Children are given time to try a variety of solutions to a problem which leads to perseverance and grit. Children are also given the words to use to ask for adult help, “Help, please”.

Every child can learn to clean up spills.

5.  Consistent response

Perhaps the most common error a parent makes is giving in under pressure. Children are excellent interpreters of body language and what behavior parents will respond to immediately or eventually. Parenting partners must present a united front for managing behaviors. It is advisable to have “what if” conversations before the challenging behavior happens.

Are there exceptions? Of course, there are exceptions to all of the points in this essay. Families go on vacation, have relatives visit, have sickness in home, or a new baby. The goal for all of these events is to remain consistent as possible. Parenting is a life-long task and one willingly and anxiously awaited. The skills that your children learn directly from your role modeling, and your household management will last a life time and influence the adults – and parents they will become.

Family projects are one example of time well-spent.

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When Dreams are Encouraged

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about the messages your children will hear that will encourage them to succeed. I predicted that the message will be “people with grit make it in the world.” Grit as I define it means courage and resolve as a strength of character.

As a child, what did you dream of becoming when you were an adult? For a time, I wanted to ride a horse and have a pet monkey just like Pippi Longstocking. I also played school a lot with my sister’s dolls. Then I vividly remember wanting to be a detective and figure out mysteries. I did work as an archeologist in the US and Central America for about 15 years – which  somewhat fulfilled my dream to be a detective. My graduate education and second career allowed me to be the teacher I played at being as a child. Although I didn’t get a horse and monkey, I do feel that my dreams came true.

What do your children dream of becoming when they are adults?

How are they encouraged? Some of the ways that children can be encouraged is to talk about their ambitions and how to get there. If a child wants to be President of the United States, encourage them to work out how they could do that. Talk about what it takes to be president. Challenge them by encouraging academic risks, and celebrate successes no matter how small.

Giving children opportunities to see new things, and meet new people is important for developing social skills for life. Many families do not have the means to travel the world. Your children can see the world reflected in the books they read. Reading to your children, with your children, and role modeling reading is the most important thing besides love that parents can do for children.

Many children choose fantasy or animated characters to focus on during their play. A much healthier dose of exposure to real-life heroes and learning about their lives is a gift and a positive way to focus ambitions. What about doctors, authors, firefighters, pilots, veterans, and teachers? Encourage your child to learn more about the people they come in contact with on a daily basis. Children can be heroes, too!

The dreams of Elon Musk

This morning, I was watching a TED talk conversation with a remarkable man, Elon Musk. Elon was an avid reader. He was also bullied throughout his childhood in Pretoria, South Africa. He has since become an American citizen. At age 10 he was interested in computing and by 12 years taught himself computer programming. He created a BASIC-based video game called Blaster and sold it to a magazine called PC and Office Technology.

Today, Musk has a long line of companies from Zip2, PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla, Hyperloop, OpenAl and The Boring Company that he has been involved with. Not to mention his co-founding of Neuralink, a company to integrate the human brain with artificial intelligence. Musk’s dreams included building electric cars, electric trucks and an underground tunnel that will allow skates to transport cars under the freeways around Los Angeles in a fraction of the time that people sit in traffic today. I watched the following video before reading more about Musk’s background. He is definitely a person who has worked hard to follow his ambitions, ideas and dreams.

 

I am also reading the series The Expanse, written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pen name of James S. A. Corey. The Expanse is currently a Syfy television series. I don’t read a lot of science fiction, however, when my son recommended it and I found that they are well-written I was hooked. In this series, there are people living on Mars. The connection to the rest of this essay is that Elon Musk has ideas about people living on Mars. Maybe not in my lifetime, but maybe in your children’s lifetime. . . . add astronaut to your list of real life heroes!

 

 

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Quality Preschool Education

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There are pros and cons to every new education initiative in the United States. Universal PreK in NYC is not an exception. For children who would otherwise not experience preschool opportunities, the short-term benefits include better vocabularies, more regulated social and emotional skills, and motivation to keep learning. Follow up long-term studies show that children are less likely to engage in risky behavior, stay out of the penal system and are able to hold jobs as adults. Children who have the advantage of quality preschool can help lessen the achievement gap.

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These wonderful benefits depend on children receiving a high-quality preschool experience. The indicators of high-quality preschool are:

• interesting projects and emerging student-directed curriculum,

• children making choices that hold them accountable for their time,

• open-ended tasks and play,

• children are responsible and respected,

• children have time to share their experiences,

• opportunities for outside play,

• children develop confidence,

• social and emotional skill development is emphasized

The most important factor in high-quality preschool are the adults, administrators, and teachers who are spending the day with the developing children.

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High-quality teaching requires specialized education focused on child development and specific curriculum and instruction for the age of the child. In NYC, the Department of Health (provider of permits for preschool operation) and the New York State Department of Education requires lead teachers to have a New York State Teacher License to teach Birth to Second Grade and a Master’s of Education degree. Teachers with this level of advanced education have knowledge and experience observing children and analyzing and assessing children’s progress. With these skills, teachers can plan a curriculum that meets every child’s needs.

There are additional educational methods that go beyond quality to enhance early learning. Montessori, Reggio Emilia, Waldorf are just a few. Teachers working in these certified programs have specialized training above and beyond what the state requires to increase executive function skills in addition to academic skills. The teachers with specialized training meet all of the requirements that a high-quality preschool requires.

Teachers working in Montessori schools have chosen preschool education as a professional career – not just a job.

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They are committed to individualized instruction and creating an education environment that enhances all areas of development:

• practical living skills – care of self and environment,

• learning through senses – visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and taste,

• social-emotional,

• executive function skills,

• gross motor and fine motor development,

• language development – oral and in writing,

• mathematical understanding and use,

• learning skills and work habits,

• grace and courtesy,

• empathy and care for others and their community.

Parents considering the many options for preschool, whether private, public or UPK, need to consider the full program and the options available at each before making a commitment. After all, studies have shown that preschool is important in developing the adult the child will become.

“It is true that we cannot make a genius. We can only give to each child the chance to fulfill his potential possibilities.” ~ Maria Montessori

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Kathy’s Insights