Twin Parks Montessori - Largest Accredited Montessori Program in Manhattan

Kathy’s Insights

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

Is 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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Bullying Still Exists: Please Pay Attention

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In 2012 a movie called, Bully was released. It is a film highlighting the very real problem that is bullying, which is happening in schools all across the U.S. In recent years, there has been a lot of press about bullying, and now licensed teachers in NYC are required to have specific training to help identify and stop it. Below is a clip of the movie that will touch your heart. It just takes one kind action for children to feel safe in our community.

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Your Gifted Child: Why Montessori May Be The Answer

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All children are gifted and unique in so many ways.

Each individual shares a part of themselves with the world a little differently than everyone else. A more formal definition of giftedness is children who give evidence of high-performance capabilities in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, leadership or specific academic fields who require services not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities. Sometimes a child’s mind develops at a more rapid rate than their physical growth. The estimated number of gifted children is between 6 and 10% or 3-5 million students.

Traditional, general education schools make accommodations in the regular classroom like advanced projects and studies, pull out advanced group sessions, acceleration or grade advancement. Grade advancement is difficult because social-emotional development is not always advancing at the same rate as academic abilities. How does the Montessori method address these gifted students?

Montessori early childhood classrooms are multi-aged and contain a range of curriculum materials from 2.5 years to 7 years of age.

Students can enter the classroom and with an assessment by teachers, advance at their own pace. If a student excels in verbal and language arts abilities he can progress through all of the letter/sound recognition, blending, creating words with the movable alphabet and be reading within a short time.

Teachers rely on a students’ ability rather than age or grade for placement.

Children who are interested in numbers and math can advance rapidly through 1-10, teens, tens and thousands using golden bead materials. Students learn about cubing by using a variety of prisms, some square some rectangular inside cube-shaped boxes. One is called the Binomial Cube and the other is the Trinomial Cube. These prisms ard put together to form the solution to (a+b)2 and (a+b+c)3. When I was a high school algebra student, I had to learn the Binomial Cube and the Trinomial Cube formula. I did not know that each of the cubes squared or cubed made a larger cube – did you? I didn’t visualize math formulas. Montessori math materials define a solid foundation for later abstraction.

Binomial and Trinomial Cubes

Binomial and Trinomial Cubes

The Montessori Math materials are mathematically perfect in construction with attributes that enable students to make comparisons between materials. Mathematics is sensorial, seeing a thousand golden beads in a cube, feeling its weight, comparing it to one unit bead or a ten bar or a hundred square gives a firm foundation of number relationships and quantity. (Can you tell that I adore the Montessori Math material?)

Every area of the classroom has advanced materials.

The youngest children in the classroom can experience the materials sensorily without learning the concept. When they are ready for more advanced experiences the teachers can present specific lessons to the children. In addition, there remains the joy in discovery to see that the pink tower cubes are the same size and shape as some of the elements of the binomial and trinomial cube. That the geometric solid shapes can be seen in features within the classroom.

We remember 10% of what we read

20% of what we hear

30% of what we see

50% of what we see and hear

70% of what we discuss with others

80% of what we personally experience

95% or what we teach others

– Edgar Dale

In a multi-aged classroom where older children are role models for younger children and older children help to teach younger students – they do retain an exponential amount of information.

Authentic experiences also increase the amount of information retained. For instance, if a child learns how to tie a bow by using a dressing frame, she will be able to tie her own and other’s shoes. A child who serves snack, one napkin and cup for each child will understand one to one correspondence. Children who learn to take care of and respect the classroom will take care of their belongings at home.

Montessori classrooms are safe spaces where mistakes are opportunities for learning to take place.

Children experiment, make their own choices and plan their morning work cycles. Children also set their own learning goals. I worked with a 4-year-old student who loved Geography. He set a personal goal to learn every country in the world. He worked one continent at a time. He made his own set of continent maps with countries labeled with colored pencils. They were beautiful works of art. Once he accomplished the countries, he started on the capitals. It was his own personal independent project based on his interests.

Montessori classrooms have large blocks of uninterrupted work time.

What this means is that children do not change classrooms or have specialty teachers teaching during this prime learning time. Teachers do organize one-on-one time and direction and small group lessons. This allows students the time to work through various tasks and responsibilities at their own pace. It is vitally important for building concentration, coordination, independence, and order. Executive function skills of problem-solving, perseverance, working memory, mental flexibility and self-control all need time to develop.

The Montessori method of education meets the needs of all types of learners. Gifted learners excel in a Montessori classroom!

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The Treasures We Take With Us

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We know that parents are the greatest influence in a child’s life. Teachers run a close second.

Research has shown that teachers who have high expectations, who teach with respect and love have a long lasting impact beyond social and academic influences. Teachers are role models who inspire and encourage children to strive for greatness, live up to full potential and see the best in themselves. Teachers can change children’s lives.

What children learn in these early years are the building blocks and scaffolding of the moral beings they will become as adults. We are proud that we shared these milestones with so many families.

This time of year is always bittersweet for teachers and school administrators. We are excited about finishing another year, and anticipating our summer plans. And we are sad to say goodbye. Our goodbyes are many: to children who are aging up and going onto elementary school; goodbye to children leaving our classroom for another; goodbye to team members who are moving onto another school or job opportunity; and, goodbye to families leaving New York City.

We hold many treasures in our hearts and minds. The smiles and happy faces of children who have grown and learned so much during their time with us and their families who have given us their trust in the care of their child. I have a special place where I keep the handmade cards and artwork that children have given me. Each classroom has a memory book of the children for children to enjoy in years to come.

We treasure so many little things, too. When a child says our name for the first time. When a child exclaims, “I did it!” We treasure the laughter. When an assistant understands that Montessori really works. When a parent recognizes and thanks us for our work.

We thank you for sharing a wonderful year!

One of our best-kept secrets is that working with young children helps keep us young in body, mind, and spirit. ~ Kathy Roemer

Twin Parks Montessori School

Twin Parks Montessori School

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How to Teach Children Patience

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Many parents experience a whining child or a child throwing a tantrum. These are not pleasant experiences for the parents or for the children. One of the main reasons for these responses to a situation is that children have not learned how to “wait”.

Adults do a lot of waiting in doctor’s offices, in line at the grocery store, for the train, or recently for me on jury duty. As an adult, we have many ways to keep occupied while we are waiting. Besides using our ever-present technology, we read books and magazines, knit, play Solitaire, or think. How do we teach children how to occupy themselves in times when they have to wait?

If you have read books by Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, or Pamela Druckerman’s book on French parenting, Bringing Up Bebe, you will know that some of our American issues are related to lack of affordable child care help and public assistance for new parents. However, the way America handles maternity leave, daycare and public education are topics for another essay and won’t help you when your child is pulling on your clothing to get your attention when you are just trying to finish your coffee before it gets cold. Whew!

Children do need to learn expectations, family and home ground rules, and  how to be respectful and appropriate. This requires Face-To-Face Interactions with adults to learn how to do and be. For instance if a child is throwing books off of a shelf, this is a perfect time for an adult to demonstrate how to put them back in place – and that activity is fun, too. Instruction has to be firm but with love. Children who are given only love without expectations and limits become the whining, obnoxious little people who embarrass and harass adults. Spending time to teach and practice skills with children when they are young sets the stage for thoughtful, peaceful responses to life’s stressful moments.

Cooking teaches patience!

Children can be taught to have patience and the key is that it takes Parental Time to Teach and for the children, Time To Practice. And children need to understand what it means to “wait”. You have plenty of daily examples, for instance, “when I am talking on the telephone or to someone else” or “when we are at a doctor’s office”, or “when we are waiting for a train”. Parents have to be present in these moments in time to teach the concept of waiting. Parents can give examples of what they do while waiting, hum or sing a song, read or look at magazine, observe your surroundings and play I Spy, count objects, etc. And parents will have to practice these techniques with their children until they can do it alone – the key is that they can do it alone.

One of the observations that I and other Montessori educators make is that often adults underestimate the potential of young children. If adults expect children to operate at the top of their intelligence, respect possibilities and plan and allow for more time, many skills are attainable. Some of adult pitfalls to avoid include: nagging, rushing and sarcasm. None of these tactics work with young children. Modeling patience, using reflective listening, timers, teaching coping skills and doing activities that require patience with your child are golden. Cooking together is a perfect example of an activity that requires being organized, following directions and waiting. Try baking a cake together!

Bake a Cake!

Bake a Cake!

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Homework for Young Children

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This essay won’t be about the school work children bring home from school, instead it will focus on the kind of work children can do at home.

Doing chores is a tradition in many families. The benefits include learning about responsibility, being independent, increasing confidence, making a contribution, the feeling of adding value to your family. Chores also give children the message that these tasks need to be completed for the household to run smoothly. Young children naturally want to be a part of the family and help.

Sometimes we wait too long to introduce them because we don’t think children are ready.What are age appropriate chores for young children?  As Infant and Toddler Guru, Dr. Virginia Varga told me, “Toddlers can do anything you prepare them for”. Young children learn by doing! There are many wonderful ways children can help. Look at this graph for ideas when choosing chores for young children.

Age appropriate chores

Age appropriate chores

A relaxed approach is best so chores are not a struggle. Role modeling the activity will be necessary to get started. And perhaps a “I’ll do one and you do one” turn taking activity will help facilitate rhythm of the work.

Chores were a part of my life as a young child with 4 siblings. I remember my first chore was to clean the leaves of all of our houseplants. Later, I folded clothes, dried the pots and pans (my oldest sister always washed the dishes), cleaned the bathroom and my bedroom. My favorite thing to do was help my mother with the cooking. My husband grew up on a farm in Texas. He was always helping his dad with chores that included fixing and making things out of those items you don’t throw away cause you may need them some day. As a teenager, he could rebuild engines of all types of vehicles, take care of the livestock, prepare the fields on a tractor, repair fences, etc. He has often remarked that he enjoyed tinkering with machines with his father.

Practical Life in a Montessori Classroom

In our Montessori classrooms, children take care of their own belongings and classroom materials. They water the plants, take care of classroom pets, straighten the books in the library, bus their table after lunch and snack and sweep and mop the floor after spills, sort and fold towels, put away dishes. Many of these activities are located in the the Practical Life area of the classroom. All of these activities translate into work at home.

Perfection will not happen every time or even consistently. Encouragement for effort and completion of a task goes a long way to help children repeat the task. Job charts can work well as a reminder. Money should not be attached to chores. Money does not mean that much for young children and can be a de-motivator as the child ages. For teenagers, allowances can be earned for going above and beyond the established chores.

Siblings helping with laundry.

Siblings helping with laundry.

Children who do chores learn responsibility and learn important life skills that will help them throughout their lives. It is not too late to start a plan now!

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Kathy’s Insights