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

How Parents Teach Children about Philanthropy

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There have been so many opportunities for parents to teach children about giving a part of themselves to others around the world and locally. There are local organizations collecting toiletry items for survivors of the hurricanes in Texas and other southern states, as well as the Caribbean Islands.

Philanthropy is a big word for a child to pronounce and it may seem like a challenging concept to comprehend. Quite simply, it is a gift of yourself that you give to others. It can take the form of simple acts of kindness, cleaning a neighborhood park, sharing food, or giving money to an organization. Philanthropy programs for young people provide authentic, positive opportunities for children to develop skills and knowledge that will make them better students and human beings. Teaching young children about philanthropy is also about demonstrating and teaching empathy and justice. Empathy comes from imagining what life would be like in other circumstances and being humble for the privileges that one enjoys.

No-one has ever become poor by giving. ~ Anne Frank

Parents who want to raise philanthropic children are teaching them to be aware of others’ needs, but also to be in tune with their own shareable abilities. Parents who talk about their own passions and philanthropic giving with their young children are helping to create a lifelong habit. In addition, children learn other executive functioning skills such as organization, communication, teamwork, collaboration and problem-solving skills. Children receive a boost in self-esteem when they perform selfless tasks. This begins the development and growth of empathy.

At Twin Parks Montessori School, we strive to develop classroom communities where feelings are validated, and empathy is modeled, learned and shared. Teaching children to be empathetic now, whether offering an upset friend a tissue, or inviting others to play, will have a lasting effect on their citizenship in our global community. Each year at Twin Parks Montessori Schools, children participate in two philanthropy projects; one local and one global.

Little gifts mean a lot!

Twin Parks Montessori School’s local philanthropic project will be happening in just a few weeks. We will collect food for City Harvest. This project is very relatable to young children. They can imagine what it feels like to be hungry. Children enjoy choosing non-perishable food items to give to others. They watch the classroom and schools’ collection grow. This is a clear demonstration of how one small donation can become a larger gift.

Giving can be a year-round activity for your family. If everyone demonstrated empathy and helped others, our community would be a wonderful place to be.

Sharing a bit of yourself can change your world.

One must know not just how to accept a gift, but with what grace to share it.
-Maya Angelou

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How Does a Growth Mindset Help Student Achievement?

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Thanks to Dr. Carol Dweck and her colleagues for their research on students’ attitudes about failure. They questioned why some students rebound and try again while others are devastated by small setbacks. After studying thousands of children, Dr. Dweck came up with the terms Fixed Mindset and Growth Mindset to define some thoughts about learning and intelligence.

When children think they can get smarter, and they will put in extra effort to help themselves – this is a Growth Mindset. Dr. JoAnn Deak also said that the brain is malleable and flexible like stretching rubber bands. The more you work at something, the connectivity between neurons increase and change. Dr. Deak’s book, The Fantastic Elastic Brain describes how the brain works and how you can work your brain!

Practice, along with using good strategies, asking questions, and eating and sleeping well do help us become smarter. If you believe your brain can grow, you will increase your motivation and achievement.

The following chart gives examples of what children can be taught to think and say to themselves during times of challenge and frustration. I also think they are wonderful messages adults can use, too.

Growth Mindset statements for everyone!

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The Day I Pushed an Empty Stroller Home

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“My daughter’s phase-in is going really well. I have been released. I am going home. This is the first time I am pushing an empty stroller home,” as told to me by a parent of a two-year-old. “Congratulations! She did it!” was my response.

A happy child waves goodbye to his parent.

We know about separation anxiety in children. The symptoms are:
• distress and reluctance to do anything when separated from a primary caregiver
• trouble sleeping, eating, toileting
• physical complaints like stomach or headache

Adults may also feel separation anxiety. The most common age range for separation anxiety in adults is between 30 and 44 years and some between the ages of 18 and 29 years across all genders.
What are the symptoms for adults?
• excessive stress when separating from home or loved ones
• persistent worry about potential harm to a loved one
• troubling sleeping
• repeated headaches, stomach aches when separated from a loved one

At the start of a new school year we see separation anxiety in both children and adults. You are not alone if you cry or cannot concentrate after dropping off your child at school. One in 6 parents are feeling stressed and 1 in 4 children are feeling stressed. One way that we help individuals is to teach coping skills.
Here are some ways to help:
• talking about feelings is a good way to alleviate anxiety
• preparing children ahead of time
• don’t drag out goodbyes, parents holding their emotions in check helps the child separate
• gradually widen your community of friends so your child get used to a variety of people
• practice separation for a short time building up to a full day
• let your child know when you will return, not in hours, but in activities, “after your rest and snack, I will come for you”
• get to know your caregivers/teachers well
• have faith in your child and take a deep breath

At Twin Parks Montessori School, please trust that we will comfort your child when you leave and that your child is safe. This is the first opportunity for your family and our teaching team to work together to make your child’s school experience a joyful one!

Saying goodbye at the door is a great start to the day!

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First Days of School

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The bus was crowded this morning. It was a sign that schools all over the city are opening. Children are visiting classrooms or attending their first day – for some it is their first time ever attending school. The buzz on the bus was definitely one of excitement. Friends were greeting one another, parents were reacquainting themselves with other parents. There is a dual language school on the route so conversations were happening in French, Spanish and English. The bus driver was telling us to “move on back”, just like the song “Wheels on the Bus”! It was an interesting commute to school.

There were some also anxious feelings. I observed one elementary student in tears trying to explain something to her mother while her mother was conversing with someone else on guess what? Yes, her cellphone. There are better ways to help an upset child rather than give the strong message that the person on the cell phone is more important than the child. But that is another topic.

At Twin Parks Montessori School we offer parents multiple opportunities to learn more about first days of school, what separation will be like, and how we conduct phase-in for new students. Phase-In refers to the initial time period of transition for children as they begin to attend school. During this time children become familiar with the new environment, new people and new routines. The key to a successful phase-in process is that it’s done gradually. It may begin with you and your child spending an hour in the classroom and gradually working up to the full work cycle, lunch, rest and then the full day. Teachers observe the children carefully to see what interests they have and remind them of the activity the next day. Building connections early is essential.

Give an encouraging message before the day begins.


Depending on the age of the child, the phase-in process will differ. Babies sense the warmth and caring emanating from other adults and feel content when their needs are met. Young toddlers are experiencing a newfound sense of independence and are learning that they are not a physical part of their parents. Object permanence is a lesson that is not fully mastered at this age. Toddlers do not have a sense of time to know their parent will come back after rest or at the end of the workday. Children who are in the 3-6-age range are eager to try new things, meet new friends and discover how things work. Their acclimation often takes a short amount of time.

At Twin Parks Montessori School, we phase-in children slowly and follow the child’s lead and comfort level. Parents are notified that phase-in may take two weeks or longer. Teachers make home visits for babies and toddlers to become familiar with the physical space the child lives in. Attention is paid to noise level, feeding schedule, lighting in the room when the child sleeps. It is also helpful for the child to see the teachers for the first time in their own home with their parents and get the sense that teachers are friends.

For all children, returning and new, we email a picture of the teaching team. It helps to learn names and faces before school begins. One parent shared that they framed the teachers’ picture and each night the child said goodnight to teachers before going to sleep.

A few key tips for successful separation:

• Walk by the school before the school year starts so your child becomes familiar with the route and hears the words, “your school”.
• Schedule some down time before school begins, family time to be together taking walks, reading books, playing together will help ensure your child is well-rested and ready for a new beginning.
• Tell a personal, positive story about your experience in school.
• Be positive; your child can sense your own separation anxieties; if you’re enthusiastic,
your child will be too.
• Read books about school when you’re home.
• If your child cries, remain calm. Instead of saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” or,
“There’s no reason to cry.” It’s best to address your child in a positive way: “It’s
okay to be afraid. Your teachers will take care of you.”
• Never sneak out or “slip away.” Tell your child that you’re leaving the classroom.
Make sure you are consistent and give one quick goodbye, each time you leave.
• When you leave, tell your child where you’re going, when you’ll be coming back, and
what you’ll be doing. Please follow the teacher’s instructions on when to come back,
when to leave, etc.
• Do not ask your child for permission to leave the classroom. For example, “Is it okay if I go now?” This can be confusing to your child. Be matter of fact instead.
• Please trust that we will comfort your child when you leave and that your child is
safe.

Sometimes separation is harder for parents than it is for children.

You and your child are not alone in experiencing some trepidation. The first days of school are exciting and full of unknowns for everyone, children, parents, teachers, and administration. Teachers have told me they pick out their clothes the night before, have their bag all ready to go, and still they lose sleep thinking about the first day of school! You are in great company!

Some people are happy on the first day of school.

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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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Enjoy the Road – With Young Children in Tow

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I clearly remember our family station wagons. One was red and one was black. With a family of 7, we needed extra seating space in the back. In a bygone era without seatbelt and car seat requirements, my siblings and I were sitting all over the place in the car. Sometimes we would go to my grandparents’ house late at night about 100 miles away in our jammies with the back seats folded flat. The bumps of the road and hum of the tires would lull us to sleep until we arrived. Often times the car would break down and my dad who could literally fix anything would be working on the car with us hanging out on the side of the road. We knew that trip by heart and about 30 minutes on the road, we would start to ask if we could stop and get Dilly Bars. Vanilla ice cream on a stick coated in chocolate available at Dairy Queen. On most trips, we did stop and get a treat, sometimes the answer was “no”.

We had some favorite activities to keep us occupied. My mother had a beautiful soprano voice and sang in our church choir. We had words to songs in the glove box and sang for hours while driving. We fought for the opportunity to have our thoughts and ideas heard. When we got too loud, my dad would threaten to pull the car over. One look (you may know the warning look) in the rearview mirror was enough to settle us right down. We also played a game kind of like I Spy, except that we were only looking for animals and graveyards. The passengers were divided by sides of the car. We counted cows, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, deer and other wild life. I remember a fox was 50 points. If you passed a graveyard, you had to bury so many points. There was some double checking if those boulders were really buffalo or steer! Of course, those of us who didn’t get car sick would read, draw, or color. We were all quite the artists in our own way!

Fast forward 30 years, now a family of 4 on road trips from Texas to Pennsylvania to see grandparents. Singing was less, but drawing and reading kept pace. We also listened to books on tape. I remember one time we drove 1500+ miles to my sister’s house but had to sit in the car for a while until we finished a chapter of Harry Potter. Travel size games and cards were also popular in addition to maps of the road to located interesting places to stop and stretch our legs. Conversations were interesting and fantasy was alive with made up stories. We would just pull out of the driveway when the question would be, “Are we going to stop for snacks”. Even though we had a cooler and snacks in the car, there was nothing like getting beef jerky from a Texas ice house. And “the look” still had its effect.

Fast forward another 30 years. Things have changed a lot. Conversations are at a minimum because every minivan and car has movie watching capabilities. Hand-held electronics are the norm for every passenger. Adults and children alike are focused more on screens than the scenery outside the window or each other. Voices aren’t telling stories and singing songs, they are at most settling arguments on who gets to choose the movie, game, iPod or dvd player. Treats are in abundance. Do people even give “the warning look” to their children anymore? Does it work?

If you are planning a road trip this year, consider some of the baby boomers car activities:

  • Sing along to a CD.
  • Create your own words to the music from Frozen. (It isn’t such a bad song, really)
  • Make up a game that requires passengers to look out of the window.
  • Look for signs with the letters of the alphabet from A to Z and then backwards.
  • Tell your children made up stories. Or do story starters and let each passenger add something to the story.
  • Take breaks at points of interest.
  • Teach your children how to read road maps – the paper kind, not GPS.

Try to go for a day without screen time – adults, too. Some of your family’s fondest memories will be from your trip on the road. Keep on Truckin’!

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Summertime: Montessori Style

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Children’s brains are working all of the time. Learning doesn’t stop just because children are not in school. Typically, math skills do tend to be ignored during the summertime because it is easier to pick up a book to read rather than figuring out a math problem.

So how can you assist continued learning and enjoy the summer with your children?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Keep a consistent schedule for meals, play and rest

2. Mix up the activities of the day, choices may include:

• time outside,

• stimulating work inside,

• listening to music,

• work with a variety of art materials,

• time for quiet and reflection,

• trips to museums and libraries

3. Read a variety of books daily including:

• non-fiction,

• poetry,

• joke books,

• as well as chapter books that will challenge the imagination

Read Outdoors

Read Outdoors

4. Explore Nature

• go camping!

• if you travel, read about the biomes before you go, learn about the plants and animals you may encounter

• make a botany map of your favorite area of the park

5. Take up a new hobby with your child:

• fabric arts like knitting, sewing, tie-dye, beadwork, weaving

• painting,

• pottery,

• woodworking,

• photography,

• playing a musical instrument,

• dancing,

• cooking

Enjoy Outdoors!

Enjoy Outdoors!

6. Establish daily chores like watering plants, setting the table, dusting folding laundry, feeding pets

7. Create math activities to do together:

• measure everything, count everything, sort everything

• comparison shopping (keep a pad and pencil handy)

• graph daily activities like when you go to bed, how far you walk each day, how many ounces of water you drink

• measure things around the house, map them, and rearrange the furniture,

• learn to play chess

8. Be social:

• invite friends for dinner, include children in the conversations

9. Engage in activities that foster independence:

• dressing and undressing,

• help prepare snacks and lunches,

• be responsible for belongings

10. Reinforce grace and courtesy: “please” and “thank you” go a long way!

Summer can be a time for children to learn more about their world and their place in it. Get involved in your community. Exploring cultural opportunities by attending parades and festivals is a wonderful way to explore the world at home.

Create an Ideas Jar: Write down new activities to choose from and pick one whenever the urge strikes to allow children to have extra screen time. All members of the family can participate in what goes into the jar.

I have heard children say, “I am bored.” I respond with “What does that mean?” Most of the time they do not know. Children often want parents to be their main source of entertainment.

Know that it is ok for children to be “bored”. That is exactly the time when creativity can be encouraged! Instead of feeling guilty, or feeling a need to “fix it”, ask, “What can we do about that?”

Enjoy your summer! Share ideas that are successful for your family!

Enjoy your summer! Share ideas that are successful for your family!

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Kathy’s Insights