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Kathy’s Insights

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

What is Montessori Peace Education?

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There is a saying that “history repeats itself.” Many people are equating past times of social concerns about violence, ethnic hatred, racism, and abuse, to the current unrest in our country and others. It is a confusing, frightening time to live and raise children.

How can parents and educators teach the next generations about peace?

Peace truly begins in our homes and in our classrooms. The basics of peace include providing day-to-day environments which operate under an umbrella of respect, where members can freely share concerns, be productive, be creative, and enjoy one another without punitive or violent results.

Between the First and Second World Wars, there was a movement to teach more subjects about international relations so that students would not want to wage wars against people in other countries. Perhaps this was the start of educating “global citizens.” It was a time of teaching tolerance that had the potential to contribute to peace. During this time, Maria Montessori was instructing educators throughout Europe to replace authoritarian pedagogies and replace them with a curriculum that allowed students to make choices. She saw authoritarian teachers like some rulers, and she believed if children had choices, they would not automatically follow rulers who waged war.

Montessori’s philosophy of education was the first that demonstrated the importance of freeing the child’s spirit, to promote love for others and by developing prepared classrooms to remove unnecessary restrictions. Her initial work in the slums of Rome facilitated a love for learning for children while they were living in extreme poverty. It was not just about teaching peace it was about changing the paradigm for the way teachers teach and the importance of the prepared classroom. In addition, Montessori encouraged teachers to nurture characteristics of a healthy family. Montessori found that if parents, children, and teachers all work together to help develop the child more consistent progress will follow.

Montessori teachers are instructed in the importance of preparing the classroom to ensure that each child has activities that provide comfort, creativity, challenges, and joy. Children are able to move about the classroom freely, make choices, converse with peers and teachers, immerse with concentration in meaningful work, and to relax at will. Children are taught important executive function skills such: as how to wait, persevere, how to watch, how to interrupt politely, how to take care of their belongings and the classroom, how to plan, and how to solve conflicts peacefully.

Using a peace rose and peace table in a Montessori classroom

Using a peace rose and peace table in a Montessori classroom

Impromptu lessons in grace and courtesy happen throughout the day. Grace and courtesy impact all interactions in life – with the environment, with peers, with adults, with family members and new acquaintances. These lessons empower children to be self-aware, empathetic, responsible and independent. Again, the umbrella of respect is ever present.

Many Montessori scholars believe that lessons in grace and courtesy are just as important as lessons in math, language, or music. Children in a Montessori school help to establish and keep the ground rules of the classroom. When undesired behavior does occur the manner in which this is handled involves honoring the humanity of both the child who exhibits the behavior and any victims. Children are taken aside, spoken to in a calm manner, given an opportunity to reflect on what could have been done differently and then showing compassion and kindness towards any who have been mistreated. Montessori teachers are role models of the expected behavior with all classroom community members. In addition, mistakes are considered opportunities for learning to take place.

Maria Montessori not only produced the theory of peace education but she also made major contributions to concrete lessons for peace. Montessori education is still thriving after 110 years and continues to grow in popularity throughout the world. Her focus on the development of the whole child including creative and critical thinking skills as well as interpersonal skills leads to the development of people who are equipped to enable lasting peace.

Maria Montessori said, “Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of educators.”

Children around the world in peace

Children around the world in peace

Resources

Duckworth, C. (2006). Teaching peace:  A dialogue on Maria Montessori. Journal of Peace EducationISSUE NUMBER  39-53.

Harris, I.M., 2002.  Peace Education Theory. Available online http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED478728.pdf

Lillard, A. 2005. The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford University Press.

Miller, A. 2011. Cultivating Peace in the Classroom.

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Montessori and “Follow the Child”

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“Follow the child, they will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in. The aim of the children who persevere in their work with an object is certainly not to “learn”; they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life, which must be recognized and developed by its means.” – Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori used her advanced skills of scientific observation to understand how children learn. She learned many useful lessons that hold true today. The first lesson is that children learn through their senses and they absorb knowledge through their surroundings. Children have an incredible interest in manipulating materials and tools with their hands. Given time to explore and discover, they can teach themselves more than adults imagine.

One of the first Montessori classrooms

One of the first Montessori classrooms

The second discovery Montessori made was that children have sensitive periods when they are at their peak learning capacity and are tuned into certain skills like learning to walk, talk, toilet, skip, read, write, and learn mathematical concepts. The development of materials for each curriculum area came from her knowledge of sensitive periods. Sensorial materials help develop the senses. Practical life work develops eye-hand-mind coordination, control, concentration, independence ,and order. Language and math areas continue the work on discrimination skills that begin in sensorial and practical life. Using the sense of touch with Sandpaper Letters develops muscle memory for later writing. Math concepts begin with one-to-one correspondence and objects of varying sizes promote the concept of greater than and less than which leads to linear counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Montessori teachers prepare the classroom with each student in mind and to anticipate the next steps that each child will take and the materials necessary to assist with those steps. Children are encouraged to follow their interests and independently make decisions about the work activities they will do. However, the teachers also have a plan to introduce the next steps in the child’s learning. Montessori followed each child’s interests and growth and development. Children were permitted to work with the same activity until they determined they had completed the work.

A Montessori classroom today.

A Montessori classroom today.

Following the child for teachers follows a cycle of observation, analysis, planning for the child and then observation again. Through observing the actions of children, teachers can determine what children need to do. If a child is throwing things, give him objects that are safe to throw and a container to aim the throw into. If a child is climbing, encourage a time and place to climb safely. As long as children are interacting with the materials in the environment and being respectful of the materials and others, the teacher can stand back and observe without interfering. Following the child gives her the freedom of choice and the ability to be independent.

 

“Trust in the child, take your lead from the child, support the child, entice the child, don’t rescue the child.”

Margot Garfield-Anderson, The Montessori Foundation

 

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What is Montessori Sensorial Education?

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Maria Montessori was a trained scientist. Her ability to observe children’s behaviors and their responses to materials in classroom environments led to the development of Montessori Sensorial Education materials. Montessori understood that all learning comes through our senses. Most of the activities designed by Maria Montessori focused on training children to discern similarities and differences in size, shape, composition, weight, sound, taste, temperature, and feel.

For instance, the Pink Tower and Broad Stairs are both geometrically and mathematically perfectly proportioned cubes and rectangular prisms that change in size and stack on top of one another. Children learn the descriptive language to use with words like larger, smaller, longer, shorter. A teacher may ask the child to find “the next largest one” from the cubes remaining.

The Montessori sensory materials are designed to help children focus their attention more carefully on the physical world and their ability to discover subtle variations in the attributes of objects. The absolute beauty and joy of the Montessori sensorial materials are in fact the discovery that many of the materials have attributes in common or can be linked in some way. For example, the Pink Tower and Broad Stairs share common dimensions. The cubes have equal sides, the rectangular prisms have two equal sides and a third that is longer.

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The Pink Tower and Broad Stairs side by side.

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The Pink Tower and Broad Stair in combination.

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Some of the ways children discover how they put the Pink Tower and Broad Stair together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The pieces of various triangles in the triangle box match the pieces of the skittles in the fraction skittles.

A child working with Montessori triangle box.

A child working with Montessori triangle box.

• all of the sensory materials were designed with the same conceptual learning in place.

• all of the materials isolate one quality to be presented, explored and learned

• all of the materials have control of error built in so children can make mistakes and learn from the mistakes to correct their work

• all of the materials are beautiful, they are attractive to children and children can manipulate with ease within their hands

• the teachers prepare the classroom making sure all materials are complete so children can work from beginning to end

• all of the materials can be extended with additional related activities

The Montessori fraction skittles.

The Montessori fraction skittles.

Through work with the sensorial materials at Montessori schools like Twin Parks Montessori, children are able to classify things around them and experiment with the environment. This work helps children organize their intelligence which leads to increased comfort and adaptation in the classroom, and in the world.

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Why We Chose Twin Parks Montessori School for Our Child

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Every family and every teacher finds Montessori education through different paths. We all have our own stories about our discovery of this magnificent educational method. I interviewed a parent, Marianne T., from one of our schools to learn about her families story.

Marianne T. and her daughter

Marianne T. and her daughter

KR: Why did you choose Twin Parks Montessori School for your child? 

MT: As the parent of an adopted little girl, I wanted to have her grow under the Montessori approach [by] letting our little ones find what interests them the most and then following their spirit and instincts that way. I felt that [Montessori] would help me learn more about her since we don’t have the biological tie-in. I also wanted a gentle, sweet, nurturing and respectful environment for our little girl to first go to school so that she could learn and trust going somewhere other than home. We chose Twin Parks because of the program, facilities, and [the] staff that we met. We fell in love the first time we came – and in fact, we chose Twin Parks for our girl and then moved from Brooklyn (where we did not like our Montessori prospects) to Manhattan to have her attend. It is also pretty amazing to have Central Park right outside the school door – our daughter knows so much about nature, and this from a kid who lives in Manhattan!  We also chose Twin Parks due to the diversity in the school, both in terms of staff as well as students. There are students from all over the world, and as a transracial family, it was important to us [that our daughter] have a racially diverse classroom. I grew up in NYC and attended public schools in Queens as well as The Bronx High School of Science back when it was very racially diverse. Diversity is something I think benefits all children, no matter their race or ethnicity – I wish more private schools in NYC cared about diversity the same way Twin Parks does.  

KR: What about Montessori has been most surprising to you?

MT: I can’t say I am surprised by anything about Montessori other than I am always delighted by the endless patience and kindness of the teachers. Goodness – how they can maintain their beautiful energy and equilibrium all day with little children is a true skill set that I, as a parent, am grateful for every day (and wish I had the same aptitude!). Actually, I am surprised sometimes when I hear about things my daughter does in school that she doesn’t tell me about (I have one of those children who doesn’t normally talk about what happens during her school day). The creativity, passion, and thoughtfulness of the programs – which change all the time – are so impressive. I’m always surprised to hear about the foods she has tasted at school because at home she’s a super-picky eater!  

KR:  What would you tell a parent who is thinking about enrolling his or her child in Montessori?

MT:  I would say they should definitely go observe a Montessori classroom and the children within it, like at Twin Parks. When you see how children are so self-possessed, respectful, independent, creative, inquisitive and playful (yet polite), it reflects on how the teachers interact with them with such respect and care. I think parents should always trust their intuitions about where to place their children because there is no shortage of opinions out there. I just know that for my family, I wanted to leave my daughter at a school where I didn’t have to ever worry about her once I left her at her classroom door. In fact, I know that she would have so much more fun and would learn so much more than hanging at home with me. That is the best feeling as a parent – knowing that my little girl is in the best hands possible and surrounded by people who love her.  

KR:  How has your child flourished/grown since attending our Montessori school?

MT:  Our daughter attended Twin Parks since she was 2 and a half, and now she’s 5 – so she’s grown in all ways possible! However, I do have to say that our daughter has always kept that playful spark in her eye, and you can tell she is a child that is surrounded by love. Even when she has had issues in the classroom, or has experienced consequences related to classroom conduct, she knows she will be treated with respect and understands there are repercussions to behavior. Our daughter is also a very compassionate child and dotes on the younger ones in her classroom. It has been so lovely to see that part of her spirit and her heart nurtured and supported in her classes.

One thing we also really appreciated about Twin Parks is that because [the staff] knows our daughter so well, they were very supportive in terms of helping us choose a kindergarten environment where we knew she could thrive. Not only did we make a decision related to what was right in terms of our family, but what we know from teacher and administrative input would be best for our daughter’s academic growth. We are so sorry to be leaving Twin Parks, but it’s time for her little wings to fly even higher! 

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Learning at Twin Parks Montessori School

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10 Tips for a Montessori-Inspired Summer

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Children’s brains are working all of the time. Learning doesn’t stop just because children are not in school. Math skills especially tend to be ignored during the summer break 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 still enjoy the summer with your children? Here are a few tips for a Montessori-inspired summer from Twin Parks Montessori Schools:

Twin Parks Students Summer

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

• chapter books to challenge the imagination

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, such as knitting, sewing, tie-dye, bead work, weaving

• painting

• pottery

• woodworking

• photography

• playing a musical instrument

• dancing

• cooking

6.  Establish daily chores:

• 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

• get involved in your community

• explore cultural opportunities by attending local parades and festivals

9.  Engage in activities that foster independence:

• dressing and undressing

• help prepare snacks and lunches

• be responsible for belongings

• create an “Ideas Jar” where you write down new activities to choose from, and pick one when you’re avoiding screen time

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

I have heard children say, “I am bored.” I recommend responding with “What does that mean?” Many times they do not know. Children often want parents to be their main source of entertainment. Know that it is okay for children to be “bored”. That is exactly the time when creativity can be encouraged! Instead of feeling guilty, ask, “What can you do about that?”

Enjoy your summer! Share ideas that are successful for your family in the comment box below.

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Artist Studies with Young Children

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One of the many projects Twin Parks Montessori teachers work on with students is studies of a variety of artists. Modern artists are especially fun because children can imitate techniques without trying to be representational or realistic. For instance, Matisse-like projects can be accomplished by creating a collage of colored paper. Jackson Pollock –like

Pineapple still life watercolor paintings

Pineapple still life watercolor paintings

projects are created by a group of students using very large paper or vinyl on the floor and splatter painting various colors onto it. Wassily Kandinsky’s style can be demonstrated with markers and blocks with circles. Picasso is fun to re-create by cutting up and rearranging a self-portrait.

Recently, one of our teachers was hanging a pineapple field in her classroom. Each section was a watercolor still life paintings made by 3-5-year-old students. This project was part of a thorough study of the artist, Georgia O’Keeffe.

In 1939, the Dole Company paid O’Keeffe to travel to Hawaii. Her assignment was to paint two pictures from her travels. O’Keefe painted Pineapple Bud in oil on canvas.

Georgia O'Keefe's Pineapple Bud

Georgia O’Keefe’s Pineapple Bud

Lei's made of straws and various paper

Lei’s made of straws and various paper

Students in the class learned about O’Keefe’s life and the different subjects she painted. In honor of her trip to Hawaii, the class made leis, and a field of poppies using coffee filters.

On the classroom shelves are a variety of art activities the students can choose to work with. Each activity had a medium that O’Keeffe used in her various art:  pastels, watercolors, and drawing instruments. Each activity is arranged attractively on a tray with all of the materials a student would need to complete the art project.

What is the purpose of teaching young children about art and artists? Artists are role models for children and help develop creativity. Looking at art helps children to think deeply and that skill translates to other studies like math, science and social studies.

IMG_4913Visual Thinking Strategies  is a method initiated by teacher-facilitated discussions of art images and is documented to have benefits for teachers as well as students. After a group of students views a work of art, the visual thinking method leader asks three questions of young students:

• What’s going on in this picture?

• What do you see that makes you say that?

• What more can we find?

Deep thinking skills transfer from lesson to lesson and expose students to the oral and written language and visual literacy. It also facilitates collaborative interactions among peers.

Artist studies are not limited to visual artists. Musicians are excellent examples to study and help develop auditory skills. Listening carefully helps students to learn to discriminate nuances of tone, scale, instrument variations, and notes. Various genres of music and beats are very interesting to children. Some examples of music to listen to with children are:

  • Carnival of the Animals by Saint-Saen,
  • Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev, and
  • Four Seasons by Vivaldi.

These are excellent examples of music that tells a story. The voices of instruments in all of these selections are easily distinguishable from one another. What a fun, family activity to do while driving in the car or on a rainy afternoon!

Hawaiian Song from Twin Parks on Vimeo.

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Come When I Call You

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Over the past couple of weeks, I have had conversations with several adults about how important being outdoors was to them during their childhood. When I was a child, during the summer, the instructions my mother gave to my 4 siblings and I was “go outside and play, I will call you when lunch is ready,” or “come in when it gets dark”. I realize that it was a different time when neighbors looked out for one another’s children, and it was the suburbs equipped with fields of grass and backyards. However, we also went camping in tents, dug in the dirt, climbed rocks and played in the mud. These are some of my fondest memories and the source of some of my childhood roots of adult happiness.

Children are natural explorers. Given a few basic boundary rules, they will use their senses to explore and learning will come. Spring is a gift to our olfactory sense. The flowers on the trees and on the ground make us pause to smell the fragrant aromas. Their riot of colors is also striking – especially against the background of thick green grass. Children notice everything new – from buds on branches to the insects crawling on the ground. Children love to poke around and look under leaves and rocks.

Richard Louv, the author of national bestseller, Last Child in the Woods, has a new book titled, Vitamin N 500 ways to Enrich the Health & Happiness of Your Family & Community. Richard is also the co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, an organization helping build the international movement to connect people and communities to the natural world.

“The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.” – Richard Louv

During the next couple of weeks, the weather will be perfect to go to the trees and explore. Children love impromptu picnics and rendezvous outdoors. Adults need time outdoors also. When was the last time you laid in the grass looking up at the patterns clouds make or the shapes of leaves overhead? Do you know where the Hallett Nature Sanctuary is inside Central Park? It is a four-acre peninsula, mostly closed to the public since the 1930′s. It was created as a sanctuary for migrating birds. It is now open on a limited basis. What are you waiting for?

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Frank Leto Celebrates With Music

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Let’s all to join Frank Leto in the crusade to keep music in schools. Twin Parks Montessori teachers and many students participated in three days of Frank Leto being a part of our schools. The mornings we spent observing Frank teach infants through 6-year-olds music lessons. The afternoons were spent in workshops with Frank. We are so fortunate that our schools provide us with excellent professional development.

Twin Parks Montessori School Infants Enjoy a Lesson with Frank Leto

Twin Parks Montessori School Infants Enjoy a Music Lesson with Frank Leto

Frank Leto is a musician who practices his craft of writing songs and music, playing and perfecting his music on a daily basis. Frank has been a Montessori certified teacher since 1975. Frank recently wrote a book, Method to Music, as a result of many years of classroom teaching and observations, and figuring out what works in teaching music curriculum.

Below is one of Frank’s favorite songs to sing with children. Watch this video with your child and sing along:

 

Music in various forms has been around as long as humans have been on our planet. Singing and music are an important part of every culture. Today we see it in theater, on TV, during worship, holidays, celebrations, ceremonies and when we are by ourselves and expressing joy and contentment.

Frank Leto and his ukulele

Frank Leto and his ukulele

From birth, many parents instinctively use music or their voice to calm children. Music is used with children to express love and joy, and to engage with one another. Toddlers and preschool children learn about music in group settings as a way of bringing everyone together to learn to cooperate, be creative, engage in gross and fine motor activities, and to learn vocabulary.

Music is a way of knowing. According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner (1983), music intelligence is equal in importance to logical – mathematical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily – kinesthetic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. According to Thomas Armstrong (1994,5), “Intelligence is galvanized by participation in some kind of culturally valued activity and that the individual’s growth in such an activity follows a developmental pattern; each activity has its own time arising in early childhood.”

Making music is a basic life skill in our early childhood classrooms. Our teachers provide many music activities like playing different types of music in the classroom. They also use child-sized instruments for children to experiment with and play together. Rhythms are clapped out in an echo activity with the leader adding additional beats to challenge the students.

 

Here is a Frank Leto classic he sang with Twin Parks Montessori School Students:

10 Ways Music Benefits Children (via Susan W. Caron)

1. It will boost their brain power

Want to give your child a mental advantage? Music can do that. “More and more studies show a correlation between higher academic achievement with children who are exposed to music,” says children’s music specialist Meredith LeVande of MonkeyMonkeyMusic.com. “Music simply stimulates parts of the brain that are related to reading, math, and emotional development.”

2. It will improve their memory

Where did that shoe go? That’s a question asked far too many times in far too many households with kids. Help your kids remember more (and learn more!) with music. “Further research has shown that participation in music at an early age can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development,” says Maestro Eduardo Marturet, a conductor, composer and musical director for the Miami Symphony Orchestra.

3. It helps them socially

Picking up an instrument can also help your child break out of their social shell too, experts say. “Socially, children who become involved in a musical group or ensemble learn important life skills, such as how to relate to others, how to work as a team and appreciate the rewards that come from working together, and the development of leadership skills and discipline,” says Marturet, who also oversees the MISO Young Artist program in South Florida, which allows young musicians to hone their musical skills as part of a professional orchestra.

4. It’s a confidence builder

Are there any areas of life that aren’t enhanced by having good confidence? Probably not. And if you want your child to develop their confidence, learning to play a musical instrument can help.

“They find that they can develop a skill by themselves, that they can get better and better,” says Elizabeth Dotson-Westphalen, a music teacher and performer.

5. It teaches patience

We live in a world of instant gratification, but real life demands patience. When you are playing in a band or orchestra (and most musicians do), you have to be willing to wait your turn to play, otherwise the sound is a mess. That inadvertently teaches patience. “You need to work together in a group to make music,” says Dotson-Westphalen.

6. It can help them connect

Who doesn’t sometimes feel a little disconnected from their lives? Music can be a much-needed connection for kids (and adults too!). “It can satisfy the need to unwind from the worries of life, but unlike the other things people often use for this purpose, such as excessive eating, drinking, or TV or aimless web browsing, it makes people more alive and connected with one another,” says Michael Jolkovski, a psychologist who specializes in musicians.

7. It’s constant learning

In some pursuits, you can never truly learn everything there is to know. Music is like that. “It is inexhaustible — there is always more to learn,” says Jolkovski.

8. It’s a great form of expression

People pay a lot of lip-service to expressing themselves. But how can kids really do that? One great way is through the arts – like music. “It gives pleasure and expresses nuances of emotional life for which there are no words,” says Jolkovski.

9. It teaches discipline

There’s this old joke that begins “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer? “Practice, practice, practice.” To improve in music, you have to not only do well in classes but devote time to practicing outside of the lessons too. That requires discipline. “Exposing kids to musical instruments is the key. They are naturally curious and excited about them — and the discipline that parents AND kids learn by sticking with it is a lesson in itself,” says Mira Stulberg-Halpert of 3D Learner Inc., who works with children who have ADHD.

10. It fosters creativity

Above all, playing music — particularly as kids get to more advanced levels in it — is a creative pursuit. Creativity is good for the mind, body and soul.


Join Frank in singing, “Come on Everybody!”

 

Resources

Armstrong, T. The Foundations of the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

Caron. S. March 23,2010. Available online http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/814331/10-reasons-why-your-child-should-play-a-musical-instrument-1

Gardner, H. Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books, 1983.

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How Do You Answer Difficult Questions Your Child May Ask

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Every year Dr. Anne Colantuoni and I present workshops for Twin Parks Montessori School’s  parents that address the need to prepare for answering questions children ask. Beginning around 2.5 years and ongoing, children ask questions like, “where do babies come from?”, “why do you pee sitting down?” or “what happens when someone dies?

Where do babies come from?

Where do babies come from?

Thinking about these questions and how you might answer them requires consideration of them before you are asked. These questions are not difficult for children to ask, they are difficult for parents to answer.

We always want to be a source of truth for our children. This simple statement, if followed, will serve you well for the remainder of your life’s work of raising your child to adulthood.

There are a few key items to remember:

• use the correct nomenclature for all body parts (penis and vagina are the big ones)

• consider the developmental and cognitive age of your child when considering the words you will use when answering

• don’t over talk the answer, keep it simple, if you are not clear your child will ask again

• know that you will answer the same question again and you will add more details as your child ages

• keep your cool, if you are sensitive to the issue, your child will sense that and may misinterpret your response

• if you make a mistake, you can revisit the conversation to admit you made a mistake and change or add to your answer

One question that children ask is “what happens when ____ dies?” Parenting partners need to be on the same page with the answer. The answer will depend on the religious and traditions of the family. Most important is not to equate death with being asleep. This is where the cycle of life lessons learned from having pets at home or observing a dead bug in the park come in handy. Teachers at Twin Parks Montessori talk about the cycle of life in our early childhood classrooms. We have classrooms pets like fish, hermit crabs, and frogs.

Pregnant-mother-with-children1-242x300The other big one is “where do babies come from?” When talking to children 4 years and under, you can answer that “when two people love each other they put their bodies together and a baby grows inside the mother’s womb.” This statement is very matter of fact and delivered without emotion. You are sharing biological information. Of course, be prepared for “How?” Depending on the age of the child you can add something like this, “The penis goes inside the vagina. Sperm from the penis meets an egg inside the mom and a baby grows.”

Of course adopted or otherwise conceived children will have their own story that parenting partners share as soon as the child is verbal. Some parents make a book about the adoption with early pictures of the child and emphasis is place on love and desire to have a child.

Always remember to talk about love and relationships. Parents must help children understand relationships and intimacy when they are young. This will help pre-teens understand that genital contact without love is hollow and not appropriate. I recommend a great book, The Talk: What Your Kids Need to Hear From You About Sex, written by Dr. Sharon Maxwell.

 

In addition, I recommend this article that appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, March 19, 2016. It is titled, “When Did Porn Become Sex Ed?” by Peggy Orenstein. Parents must be the source of truth for children. The questions will get more difficult as the children get older, however, it is aways better to learn from you rather than on the playground or by watching porn.

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Doors, Windows and Mirrors in Children’s Literature

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There are many different genre of books written in children’s literature every year. Each year several of those books join the ranks of the best and win awards like the Newberry and Caldecott Medals. Most children enjoy all types of books with rhyming and predicable words, excellent art work and stories they can relate to. Children will sit for a long time listening to someone read to them and beg for “just one more” at bedtime.

When choosing books for children it is important to keep several things in mind. Is the book a window, a door, or a mirror into the world? A window-type book is one that engages children into imagining what the world looks like in places and circumstances that they have never experienced. For instance, children living in New York City can imagine what children living in Mumbai enjoys and how they play and how they live. There is no limit to what children can experience while reading window books.

“Books and doors are the same thing. You open them, and you go through into another world.” Jeanette Winterson who wrote those words  is an award-winning English writer who wrote the book, Oranges are not the Only Fruit” about a sensitive girl rebelling against conventional values. Books that open doors often invite children to challenge their imagination. Books that focus on fantasy, science fiction, ethic and moral issues awaken the thought processes that children use to question reality, figure things out, and determine their particular tastes in reading material.

Mirror-type books are those that reflect an image of the reader or the children being read to. It is extremely important for children to see characters they can identify with. Things like physical appearances and personal characteristics that are similar to themselves must be in the books you choose to share with children. Carlos Ruiz Zafòn author of The Shadow of the Wind said, “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside of you.”

Today, there are books with stories about different types of families, inclusion and diversity, behavioral and moral issues that other children are facing. Children should be exposed to stories that occur in homes, schools and places in urban, rural and suburban communities where families live, work and play.

I admire Marley Dias who loves getting lost in a book. She was determined to find children’s books that had black girls as the main characters. She set her goal at 1,000. Over time, she exceeded that goal by thousands. Take a look at her work at #1000blackgirlbooks.

Marley Dias and her collection of books.

Marley Dias and her collection of books.

Help keep books alive by choosing windows, doors and mirrors for the children you read to. Your children will have a magnificent imagination, well-developed problem-solving skills and a healthy sense of themselves.

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Kathy’s Insights