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Kathy’s Insights

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

When Children Ask Difficult Questions

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Children are curious about the world. They explore and discover through their senses and when they are verbal they ask questions. “How?” and “Why?” are typical questions that are asked, sometimes several times in succession. If a child is seeking attention by asking questions, they can be redirected. However, when they want answers they will persist. Parents need to be prepared to answer these questions – both the easy and the difficult questions.

 

I want to know everything!

I want to know everything!

 

Parents must always be the source of truth.

A child must be able to trust that parents can give answers. This process will serve families well as children age and questions about serious matters present themselves. Better to learn information from you than from the playground or on the Internet!

Keep in mind where your child is developmentally. For instance, you wouldn’t talk about the pleasures of sex with a two-year-old when asked: “where do babies come from”. You could say, “when two adults love each other and put their bodies together, a part from the dad and a part from the mom comes together and a baby starts growing in the mom’s womb.” Simple. Truthful. And often enough for a few years. An older child, 4 or 5 years can handle additional details included correct names for anatomical body parts.

Developmentally, children under the age of 6 or 7 are very egocentric. Anything new is filtered through with the question, “can it happen to me, to you, or to our family”. When someone is very sick or dying young children’s first thoughts are relative to their safety, health, and well-being. This is a great time to reiterate that it is important to take care of our bodies by eating healthy food, exercising and getting enough sleep. It is also appropriate to build trust for doctors, who can help a person get well.

Why? Why? Why?

Why? Why? Why?

Explaining death to children

When elderly family members are nearing the end of life or die, it is good to use the words, “Grammy was very old and her body stopped working”.  Mechanics are easy for young children to understand. “No, this will not happen to your parents for a very, very long time.” What about hospitals and funerals – should young children attend? The answer is, no, if you can avoid it. And, yes, for a very brief time if you cannot. Your family’s culture and traditions will dictate how you explain where the body goes after death. Please, do not say the person went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Who would want to go to sleep with that fear in mind?

Let me tell you about. . .

Let me tell you about. . .

Hospitals can be very noisy, unpredictable places. Witnessing an emergency or multiple hurt people can be disruptive to a child. This is one of the only circumstances I would recommend using technology with young children to FaceTime or Zoom in a relative in the hospital. Wakes and funerals are difficult because seeing multiple people mourning can be alarming. Witnessing some grief is fine and a part of life, however excessive grief is not so good.

How about when parents separate or get a divorce?

The best all-around scenario is when parents have an amicable, organized split and stay civil in the presence of young children. For young children, the message can be, “we will always be a family and love each other, but, we will be happier if mom/dad and I don’t live together anymore.”

Children need to be reassured that they are not the cause of the separation. Quickly work out a consistent custodial plan and share the schedule with classroom teachers. What is more disorienting than a child being unsure who will pick them up each day and where they will sleep each night?

I will share a personal story of a divorce done right: One of my family members separated from her spouse when her child was 2-years-old. She worked out the custodial schedule and stuck to it. Even though her ex-spouse was very frustrating, she never spoke poorly about him in front of her child. When her child was 4 or 5, she said, “I am the luckiest girl in the world because so many people love me!”

Families are all about love.

We are fortunate to live in New York City where we have all kinds of families and our children are learning about the inclusion and diversity of each.

“Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter.” ~ Brad Henry

 

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What Message Will Your Children Hear?

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One of my areas of interest is learning about the differences in the generations of workers in the United States. School settings are particularly fascinating to me because there can be three or four generations of people working together. From an administrator’s perspective, it is important to know how people receive and give information and how to best communicate with our community of teachers. I also want to know the characteristics that are generally socially inherent within the groups.

My parents’ generation was referred to as the Silent Generation. They were born during the Great Depression and WWII. They are also called the “Lucky Few” because they became the first generation smaller than the one before. They experienced the most stable intact parental families in US history. The home environment was predominately paternalistic and children were raised to respect authority. One of the messages they heard from parents, religious affiliations and educational institutions was “because it is the right thing to do.”

Each generation compares themselves to the next generation. And surprisingly they think the new generation is the “me” generation. Even Boomers like myself were once the “me” generation. Those of us in our 50s through 70s today, born 1946 to 64, were the first group to be raised in a permissive paradigm of parenting. We tend to be rebellious (at least during our college days) and had no parental reservations about screen time! We may not have had computers but we sure had TV. My husband’s first words were, “New, Blue Cheer” —an advertisement for laundry detergent! We were the first generation really studied and marketed to. We surpassed previous generations with an increase in the number of people who attended college. Baby boomers are the generation with more workaholics and this may be attributed to one of the messages we heard in our formative years— “good things come to those who work hard.”

Generation X, born 1965-80, are in their 30s and 40s today. This group came of age with two-income families and more women in the workforce. They are the first “latch key kids.” And they were the first generation to grow up with computers. They are generally independent, and they enjoy freedom and responsibility in their work. One of the messages Gen X heard while growing up was “good things come to those who figure it out.”

Once thought to be the Peter Pan generation, the Millennials, born in the ‘80s and mid ‘90s, are holding manager level positions and rising rapidly. What I admire about Millennials is that many seek purposeful work. Many are supporters of gay rights and are environmentally conscious. Raised in diverse family combinations and in a permissive parenting mode, Millennials had more opportunities growing up. Many participated in sports and other team groups. They had parents and coaches helping them develop their best selves. One of the messages Millennials heard was “good things come to everyone.”

Generations-Healthcare

Now we have Generation Z or Homeland Generation, born sometime in the early 2000s. One aspect of this generation is the wide use of and comfort with the Internet from a very young age. Their parents could be Gen X or Millennials. Some think that they will be the first generation not to believe in the American Dream. Their childhood years included the September 11th terrorist attacks and the economic recession of 2008. They have seen parents and older siblings struggle in the workforce. They have concerns about student debt, a shrinking middle class and increased stress in families. They are loyal and cautious. Is their message “be alert and help change the world?”

What about the next generation – perhaps named Generation Alpha? At this point, social analysts are still busy profiling Gen Z members. The children born after 2010 have already seen aggressive turmoil in various parts of the world and at home during the 2016 Presidential election. They will see India and China be the center of gravity. They will definitely have mobile devices integrated into their lives and will be transferring thoughts within seconds. Perhaps they will hear “people with grit make it in the world.

What Generation am I?

What Generation am I?

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Parents: The Importance of Being You

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The characteristics associated with being a great parent, like all important tasks, goes through cycles. In the 50s when the outside world was perceived as a safer place, children were permitted to play outdoors without direct adult supervision. Parents set the limits and children were free to discover activities on their own. Parents were free to do other things while children entertained themselves.

Today, many parents are watchful and vigilant when children are playing outside. Parents plan after school activities, playdates, and family time with the children’s interests, or “what’s good for the children” in the forefront. Many parents’ worlds are overwhelmingly focused on the daily lives of their children.

In 2009, Lenore Skenazy wrote a book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. In 2012 Skenazy offered parents an opportunity for children to play alone outside in Central Park for a fee. Does this horrify you or sound like a good idea?

Think for a moment about what parents need. Most often their days are focused on work and children. This is not a bad thing, it is actually quite selfless and demonstrates that parents take their responsibilities seriously. However, it is critical that parents take time for themselves to renew, refresh and recreate. Parents need to be healthy, rested and interesting people, it is then that they can be their best selves for their children.

What is it that you really enjoy doing: reading, writing, running, painting, boating, knitting, woodworking, or volunteering? Many hobbies help to relieve the stress buildup of everyday life. Parenting partners also need to have regularly scheduled personal time together without children. Date nights and afternoon outings help keep adult relationships healthy and interesting. Children need to observe their parents enjoying themselves, too. That is what will model the future adult that parents are raising.

Creating these opportunities can be challenging for single parents. Forming a babysitting co-op can help with time for yourself at a low cost. Finding like-minded adults at your children’s schools will lead to adult friendships as well as those for children.

Maintaining time to do what you enjoy and talking about it with children shows a side of you that is passionate and interesting. Your dinner table conversations will be livelier, when you answer the question, “What did you do today?”  You will also role model the essence of being an individual. Keeping ourselves in balance keeps our worlds in balance. Remember the importance of being you!

For more debate about Free-Range Parenting watch the video below:


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Are you a Lifelong Learner?

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Admittedly, sometimes, I fall into a passive, visual trap. There are so many interesting, historical or fantasy series on public and commercial television that it is easy to fall into a visual mind habit. I can justify it to myself by working hard during the day and “deserving” a stress-free evening. The background noise also helps me feel like I have company. No matter how I try to justify it – am I gaining any knowledge from the programming and am I using my free time wisely?

It’s the time of year when we ask teachers to self-reflect on their practices and think about their personal professional development goals. Montessori education values the development of lifelong learners – and how we role model that goal for our students. I was thinking about the professional development that Twin Parks Montessori Teachers participate in throughout the year. We have many health and safety classes with face-to-face and online options. We also offer curriculum and child development options. Our goal is to provide opportunities to facilitate lifelong learning.

Here is what I have learned about different generations and being a life-long learner:

  • Not long ago, I attended a 70th birthday party for my friend, Eddie. I was told to wear my dancing shoes. I did and I was honored to dance with Eddie’s 94-year-old aunt. Yes, 94 years young and she had some smooth moves. In conversation, I learned that Eddie is learning Kung Fu and Tai Chi as a way to be in tune with himself and the world.
  • Recently, I was catching up with one of my former employers, Patty. It was inspiring to listen to a member of the Silent Generation (born during the Great Depression and WWII). Patty has been retired for 20 years from the education field, but immediately became a travel consultant – a second career in her 60s. Patty lives a full life dating, traveling, enjoying dinner and movies, and going out with friends. She also leads a support group for single women. She told me about a book her group is reading. It is called The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully.
  • I also learned about the Quest program at City College of NYC comprised of retirees who teach classes to one another from computer technology, philosophy, and the arts. It is a peer-to-peer adult education community. Surely these individuals are lifelong learners.

Baby Boomers (born 1946 – mid-1960s), like me, always heard that “good things come to those who work hard.” Of all of the generations, there are more workaholics in this group than any other. One way Baby Boomers can avoid work burnout is to make a commitment to be lifelong learners. Boomers should consider opportunities to participate in classes that are non-work related.

Most of the teachers at Twin Parks Montessori Schools are members of Generation X (born mid-1960s to early 1980s) or Millennials (born early 1980s to 2000s). Research shows that both groups are fairly optimistic about the future and use multimedia to stay connected. Opportunities for learning is at their fingertips. According to the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey, work-life balance and opportunities to progress are among leading factors for millennials who are evaluating job opportunities. They appreciate professional development and collaborative work environments. Good to know!

Learning doesn’t end at the end of a college degree or when a certificate is earned. Learning helps you feel relevant, engaged and vital for a very long time!

Learning for a Lifetime

Learning for a Lifetime

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Lessons for Your Younger Self

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If you could go back in time and have a conversation with your younger self, what would be the one lesson you would share?

Would it be:

  • To spend time thinking about what you value most – what is important to you?
  • Be more optimistic?
  • Learn to play a musical instrument or a second language?
  • Learn from your mistakes, rather than consider them points of failure?
  • Be more empathetic?
  • Be kinder?
  • Be more honest?
  • Be more loving?

When you make your list, you will see the lessons that you will want to share with your children while they are still young. The first magical decade of a child’s life is when they develop their personality, their sense of justice and moral compass, and begin to mold into the kind of person they will become as adults.

Now is the time to start teaching these lessons!

Learning to play a musical instrument

Learning to play a musical instrument

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Begin with the Senses: How it Helps With Math Skills

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Everything we learn comes first through our senses. Babies are able to discriminate the sound of their parent’s voice, the shape of their family’s faces, the smell of milk, and the touch of skin. This is the beginning of learning about the world.

So much of what is taught in school, especially in math is rote learning and many students have little idea of how to put their skills to use in everyday life. Montessori education works with concrete educational materials first and later introduces abstract concepts once the understanding of the process has been internalized. For instance, in the Sensorial Area, we have materials called the Red Rods. The Red Rods are 10 graduated rods, each 10 centimeters longer than the one before. Three-year-old children learn to carry these rods with two hands, one rod at a time to a work rug. As their small arms stretch to carry the last rod that is 100 centimeters long (one meter), they learn the terms short and long, longer, longest as they compare and contrast the 10 rods. This is the very beginning of measurement and base 10 system.

The Montessori Red Rods

The corresponding materials in the Math Area are the Red and Blue Rods. These rods are identical in size to the Red Rods; however, every 10 centimeters they are painted red or blue, alternating to distinguish their segments. The children are familiar with arranging longest to shortest in a stair. They count each segment. This material helps them visualize the concept of quantity first and the numeral second – concrete to abstract.

Montessori Red and Blue Rods

 

Later, in a follow-up lesson, they can put the corresponding numeral card next to the correct rod. In addition to nomenclature, the students learn about hierarchical inclusion. One is part of two; two is part of three, etc. They can also learn about addition. If I put the one-rod and the two-rod next to each other, they are the same length as the three-rod. They are able to explore similar relationships with all of the rods.

Similarly, the Spindle Boxes provide a way for children to count the correct number of spindles to go into a box with the number indicated. The boxes are labeled 0 to 9. As the child picks up each spindle with one hand and transfers it to the other hand, and then into the box, the number grows. One spindle is easy for a small hand to manage. Nine spindles are not. Again, this material teaches a very concrete lesson of quantity getting larger. No spindles are put into the box labeled “0”. At a very young age, children are taught that “0” is the empty set.

Montessori Spindle Boxes

If the child has counted correctly, there will not be any spindles left over. If there are leftovers or not enough, somewhere a mistake has been made. The additional benefit of Montessori materials is the control of error. No person has to tell the child a mistake has been made, the child discovers the mistake and can recount. Part of Montessori’s genius was in the well thought out design of materials and the built-in control of error that allows children to learn from their mistakes.

All of the carefully designed activities that Montessori teachers put on the shelves for children to discover, enjoy, and learn have elements of sensory inspiration. The pouring work with jingle bells in the Practical Life area teaches fine motor skills, preparation for pouring dry and wet materials, and makes an enjoyable tingling sound when the small bells fall into the dish.

Pouring Activity

 

 

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Children’s Literature Reflects and Opens Windows to the World

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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 reality 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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Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

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I was first introduced to Dr. Andrew Solomon in March 2014 when he was a keynote presenter at the American Montessori Society annual conference. It is not often that a speaker talks for over an hour without a teleprompter or notes. Dr. Solomon and his story telling style of sharing family challenges mesmerized me. He brought tears to our eyes, smiles to our faces, and to our feet for a standing ovation when he finished.

I heard Dr. Solomon speak again on November 1, 2016 as part of a Parent League Speaker series hosted by Trinity School in NYC. His book, Far From the Tree, tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also their profound love and meaning in doing so. He draws on 40,000 pages of interviews and with more than 300 families. Dr. Solomon’s research began with an assignment to write about the Deaf Culture. This started his journey in researching families with extreme challenges: dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple disabilities, children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape and who are transgender. One of his discoveries is that it is diversity that unites us all. Challenges within families are universal as are the struggles towards compassion and the triumphs of love. Solomon began a journey to accepting his own identity, which resulted in becoming a parent himself.

I highly recommend Far From the Tree. And I look forward to Dr. Solomon’s new book, Far and Away, essays about places undergoing seismic shifts – political, cultural and spiritual.

Watch the trailer from Far From the Tree by Dr. Andrew Solomon below:

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From a Family of Educators: One Teachers’ Story

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Here is another addition to my series of teacher interviews. Xixi Deng came to Twin Parks Montessori School during the 2015-16 school year. She completed her early childhood Montessori certification and is now a teacher at our Riverside campus. Xixi’s story is fascinating!

Xixi demonstrating an art project

Xixi demonstrating an art project

Where did your journey begin? 

I was born in the city of Nanning, Guangxi province in southern China but grew up in Hainan Island – the ‘Hawaii’ of China.  I originally moved to the US in 2012 and lived with my aunt who resides in Atlanta. I moved to New York in 2013, where I live today with my husband who is a film producer, activist and Internet entrepreneur.

What influenced you to become a Montessori teacher?

My earliest and fondest memories are of being with young children. When I was 2 years old, my mother and aunt started their own pre-kindergarten schools in China. Back then, some of the children would actually live at the school during the week and I would share a room with them at night; up to 10 of us, including some teachers, crammed into small but cozy rooms. Then in 2001, when I was 13, my mom and aunt were the first to introduce early childhood Montessori teaching methods to Hainan Island. Growing up I was immersed in every aspect of the school and I simply loved teaching and taking care of the children.

Being from a family of educators (my grandparents were elementary school teachers as well), I knew early on that I was destined to follow this path that is the teaching profession. While I ended up graduating from Tianjin University of Commerce with a major in Computer Science and Technology in 2011, my heart drew me back to Montessori studies here in the US, where I completed the AMS early-childhood teacher program at Westside Montessori School in June this year. I am so blessed to be able to work as a Montessori teacher here at the Riverside Montessori School. Young children are so pure of heart and have such an absorbent mind that it is truly a privilege to be able to help them flourish based on their unique talents and interests. Following my calling and passion is why I’ve become a Montessori teacher!

Xixi with a student and the World Puzzle Map

Who were your childhood heroes?

My childhood heroes were my extended family who looked after me – my grandparents and aunts and uncles who taught me about life and the importance of being kind to others. My father passed away suddenly when I was about 1 year old and my mother ended up needing to work in another city to make a living. I saw her infrequently but later on I realized how difficult it must’ve been for her and the heroic sacrifices she had to make given the circumstances.

Who do you consider your role models?

Throughout my adolescence I have always looked up to wise and kind teachers.  And of course Dr. Maria Montessori is no exception! Her lifelong dedication and pioneering work with regards to early childhood development is, and will continue to be, a source of great inspiration.

Do you find working with Early Childhood children rewarding? Why?

Yes! Working with young children is such a joy! They truly bring a smile to my face with their bubbly innocence. After completing my Montessori teacher education program training at Westside Montessori School, I can better apply what I have learned to my daily teaching. Giving children the appropriate guidance and helping them in their daily learning has been so gratifying. At the same time, seeing them literally grow up right before your eyes where they become independent and happy children, is most pleasing and satisfying for me.

What do you hope to share with your students?

I believe during the early childhood development phase, the most important thing we can impart on children is the cultivation of their sense of right or wrong. As an old Chinese saying goes, “one can see how his adulthood could be when he is still 3 years old, and how his old age could be when he is 7 years old.” My understanding is the critical years of early childhood should be focused on cultivating a child’s character, which will affect them for the rest of their lives. I hope that through my guidance I can not only inspire the children in my class to develop a love of learning, but also give them a good moral cultivation environment – one filled with kindness, compassion, honesty, patience and tolerance!

Anything else you would like to share?

I truly hope more and more people will learn about the Montessori Way. Let’s all work together to help spread the word!

Thank you, Xixi, for sharing your enlightening story! You have inspired me as well!

Xixi on a walk to Riverside Park with her class

Xixi on a walk to Riverside Park with her class

Xixi with a student and numerals and counters. "Is this odd or even?"

Xixi with a student and numerals and counters. “Is this odd or even?”

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New Year’s Resolutions

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Do people make New Year’s Resolutions anymore? Weight loss has been on the list of most popular resolutions, along with going back to school, getting a better job, and making a difference for someone or something else. Throughout the year we make appointments, set goals and do our best to correct our imperfections. There is something to be said about starting fresh during a new year.

Sometimes our resolutions are not realistic and most are broken by the end of March. One resolution that may be easier to continue is to spend more time parenting. Regular conversations with your children can go a long way to figuring out what they are thinking or curious about. Looking away from electronic devices and sharing a story on the subway ride is time well spent. A little time goes a long way. Adding 5 minutes to what you do now without trying to teach, correct or criticize will help develop a long lasting relationship with your children.

Creating and keeping resolutions can be a family affair. We can help keep each other accountable to our goals. A list of everyone’s goals can be hung in a prominent place as a reminder. Preschool age children can set realistic goals of cleaning up belongings more regularly, brushing teeth longer, being kind to siblings or work on listening and helping skills.

I was inspired to write this message after watching the video below. Please take a few minutes to see the message that a 4-year-old and her dad created.

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Kathy’s Insights