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

Is Your Family Over-scheduled?

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Well-intentioned parents want their children to learn life skills, build confidence and experience new opportunities. We all want the best we can provide for our children. When you live in a bustling community you fear your child may fall behind. And yes, we want to impress others with the success of our children. It is natural! We all do it!

Ask yourself, “how many days a week is the whole family having dinner or breakfast together?” If the answer is less than 4, your family is overscheduled. If your family fits the less than 4 family meals you may wonder, so what’s the big deal about eating together, anyway?

The benefits of eating a meal together are numerous. Young children learn the art of conversation at the dinner or breakfast table. Conversations are a group project with each person interspersing a tidbit here and there. Even babies will interject a babble or two. Children learn to take turns listening, really listening, and talking. They learn what interruption means. People reflect on their day, share their hopes and verbalize their fears of what’s to come.

Babies join the conversation, too!

Eating together becomes more important as your child ages. In addition to maintaining relationships, it enhances empathy, understanding and love. Children learn to make positive dietary choices that last well into the future. It also provides time to be together – QUALITY TIME.

Children and families become overscheduled. There are detrimental outcomes of children being overscheduled including:
• not having time to do nothing, to think, or be creative
• just not feeling well, or sleeping well, moody or anxious
• less enthusiasm for life in general
• older children dropping grade point averages
• no time for best friends
• YOU are tired, too!

What can you do? Start by eliminating one activity a week. Limit the extra-curricular activities during the school year to be two per person. Let your children make the choices to make sure the motivation is from them and not entirely from you. Make a commitment for one session or one semester at a time.

Learning the art of conversation is a life skill.

Make your family meals an activity. Each can take a turn planning the meal, making a list and shopping for ingredients. Preschool children learn executive function skills and math concepts by planning, and organizing a meal and by setting the table. Making table linens choices, matching patterns, and organizing utensils is all preparation for reading and math. Family meals can become a highlight of the week. Your family will be healthier and happier as a result.

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Is My Child Anxious?

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Anxiety is on the rise in the United States. Many adults would agree with that statement due to our tumultuous current events. Just watching the news for a few minutes makes me wonder where our country is headed and how will our current leaders take care of our country. I ask myself, “Should I be doing more? How can I help?”

When adults feel anxious, children do, too. Young children learn everything through their senses and a major sensory input comes from their observation of non-verbal cues and tone of voice exhibited by the adults around them. “Too much information” should be a sticker children wear each day to remind us that even the most precocious child cannot cognitively interpret adult worries correctly.

Sometimes you need something soft to hug.

All children experience anxiety in specific times of development. Children from 8 months through preschool show distress when separating from their parents. Or they can experience short-term fears from storms, animals or strangers. Feelings come in all sizes and shapes. When you help children express and understand their emotions and challenges you are helping them to understand others and communicate. You can help them deal with little feelings, big ones and everything in between.

Talking helps.


Children are egocentric and believe they may be the cause of worry or unhappiness their parents feel. What a tremendous burden to bear at a young age. Anxiety affects both working memory and efficiency and can lead to meltdowns. It is our job as adults to help children be carefree and enjoy childhood for as long as possible. If a child does become anxious and we encourage him to “calm down”, we are assuming he knows what that means and that he has the skillset to do so.

What are some signs of anxiety in children?
• Somatic complaints like stomachaches, nausea, light-headedness or frequent trips to the bathroom
• Distorted thoughts like preoccupation with failure or perfectionism
• Behavioral like avoidance, shut down and refusal to participate in schoolwork
• Frequent tears
• Trouble sleeping or nightmares

The goal isn’t to eliminate anxiety, but to help a child manage it. These tips for helping anxious children are helpful for all ages!
• Respect feelings, validate them, without empowering them
• Talk about transitions before they happen and give realistic expectations
• Ask open-ended questions rather than leading questions
• Keep anxiety situations short rather than avoiding them
• Start the day with meditation – or relaxing yoga exercises
• Provide small breaks like getting a drink of water or cognitive breaks like working on a puzzle
• Make it manageable – every thing in small steps
• Talk about what it feels like before anxiety escalates – body checks
• Teach how to recognize when a break is needed
• Check in frequently
• Give private encouragement for efforts
• Model healthy ways of handling stress or anxiety and talk about feeling good

Children can learn to recognize when their anxiety is growing as well as learning what it feels like to be calm. Adults observing can quietly suggest that a child describe what it feels like and to emphasize the feeling of a peaceful body. It helps everyone when adults remain calm and peaceful, too.

Take a break to talk about it.

“Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”
Charles L. Swindoll

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Children’s Literature Reflects and Opens Windows to the World

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This post was originally posted on February 1, 2017.

All students deserve a school experience that mirrors themselves and their own lives. But school curriculum should also include the fresh look of windows to peer into the lives of others. Just as we work on inclusion within our school community, differences do exist and should be learned about and celebrated.

In 1996, Emily Style first wrote about “providing students with windows and mirrors. Curriculums can serve as a mirror when it reflects individuals and their experiences back to themselves. At the same time curriculum can serve as a window when it introduces and provides the opportunity to understand the experiences and perspectives of those who possess different identities.” Curriculum and literature should provide a balance of both. Style goes on to share an illustration using a Peanuts cartoon. Snoopy was pictured sitting at his typewriter, writing the cultural truth ‘Beauty is only skin deep.’ When the dog looked in the mirror, however, it made more sense (to the dog) to write ‘Beauty is only fur-deep.’”
Toddlers sharing a book with their teacherWhen children cannot find themselves in the books they read or the images that they do see are negative or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how society views them. They will get the message that they are not important. Books also serve as places for children to be introduced to people who are not like them and offer an alternate view of the world. Viewing literature as a window or mirror helps us understand that in addition to being a source of stories to enjoy, books are also tools of social justice. Multicultural children’s literature helps children see that despite our differences, people share common feelings of love, sadness, and fear and common goals like what they want to be when they grow up.

Disney and Thomas the Train books have tantalizing stories and beautiful illustrations, but do they have real stories about people? Children need an abundance of real books rather than a diet of only fantasy books. Children begin to learn the difference between fantasy and reality between the ages of 3 and 5. They are still learning about the real world and can apply what they learn from a realistic story as opposed to a fantastical story.

In 2015, the Progressive Education Conference held in Brooklyn featured a conversation with several children’s book authors. Jacqueline Woodson, Andrea Davis Pinkney, and James Lecesne all shared their love of literature as children but the lack of mirrors in the books that were available to them. Whether they were looking for faces of color, gender neutral characters and clothing, the power of children, cultural or family experiences resembling their own, they didn’t find it, so each wrote about it. Their picture books and young adult fiction are great examples of outstanding children’s literature.

Children’s author, Grace Lin, was the only Asian child in her elementary school and was often excluded from activities with other classmates. She wanted to be just like the other curly-haired girls in her community. She ignored her heritage and didn’t want to speak her family’s native language. As an adult on a trip to Europe, she was asked about her parents and why they moved to the United States and realized that she did not know the answer. As a result, Grace began writing books about Asian children and families. Her award-winning books are a wonderful addition to any child’s library. Grace believes, “Books erase bias, they make the uncommon every day and the mundane exotic. A book makes all cultures universal.”

Grace Lin, author

 

During Twin Parks Montessori School’s professional development time with international speaker, Dr. Derrick Gay, we reviewed children’s picture books using a rubric to determine the book’s viability for inclusion into our library collection. In groups, we reviewed books in terms of the following:

  • distortions or omissions of history – were various perspectives represented?
  • evidence of stereotypical or loaded words containing negative or inaccurate representations of racial or ethnic group portrayed
  • lifestyle and dialogue accurately and genuinely represent the people in the story
  • the roles of females, elders, and family portrayed accurately for the culture
  • positive child self-image – does not contain embarrassing or offensive messages
  • standards of success are evident, characters are strong and independent
  • illustrations are of genuine individuals with a variety of physical attributes

Take a look at your child’s book selection. Is there a balance of reality-based books? Are there books with mirrors and windows? Is there a balance of both? Here is a selection of book sources for you to use. You will enjoy reading time as much as your child will.

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Color Blind or Color Brave?

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*This post was originally published on January 21, 2016

Twin Parks Montessori Schools faculty and staff continued their work with Derrick Gay, an international speaker on issues of diversity, inclusion and global citizenship. We worked together on case studies about gender and race.

 

Teachers from all Twin Parks Montessori School campuses learn togehter

Teachers from all Twin Parks Montessori School campuses learn together

One of the key concepts we talked about is that children are not color blind. Research clearly shows that children not only recognize race from a very young age but also develop racial biases by ages three to five years! (Winkler, 2009). Developmentally, we know children learn to make sense of their world by examining and comparing attributes of new things to others they already know. For instance, while sorting items, they look at the shape, size, color, density, etc. When they meet new people, they categorize the same way. They may assume that they should avoid or dislike people with who look different than their family or have different skin colors than their own – a cognitive puzzle for children to solve (Bigler & Liben, 2007).

In order to address issues of racial bias and prejudice with children and help them understand our society, we must first self-reflect on our own socialization and culture perceptions that we have been exposed to. Educating children “requires that we rethink our ideas about several dimensions of everyday life, including the nature of racial and ethnic oppression, the intellectual capacity of children, our willingness to effect changes in oppressive social conditions, and the extent of children’s social skills” (Van Ausdale & Feagin, 2001). This important work can be difficult and parents and early childhood educators play a crucial role in the development of young minds, perceptions, and attitudes.

Mellody Hobson gave a thoughtful talk on this topic about being Color Brave, not color Blind. Mellody states “it is time for us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable conversation about race. If we truly believe in equal rights and equal opportunity in America, we need to have real conversations about this issue. We can’t be color blind, we have to be color brave.” It is the smart thing to do because our next generations need role models in order for children to think about possibilities and to dream big.

Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L.S. (2007). Developmental intergroup theory: Explaining and reducing children’s social stereotyping and prejudice. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 162–166.

Van Ausdale, D., & Feagin, J. R. (2001). The first R: How children learn race and racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Winkler, E.N. (2009). Children are not colorblind: how young children learn race. Pace vol.3, no. 3.

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Kathy’s Insights