Twin Parks Montessori Schools - Preschool Manhattan, Upper West Side, New York City (NYC)

Kathy’s Insights

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

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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Best Speaker Ever – Bryan Stevenson

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Just Mercy BookAuthor and Social Justice lawyer, Bryan Stevenson brought the 4,000 Montessorians attending the 2016 American Montessori Society Conference in Chicago to TEARS! His remarkable speaking style and stories about incarcerated youth was dramatic and heartfelt. He is the BEST SPEAKER EVER!

Please read his book, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

The best quote, “The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.”

Watch Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk.

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American Montessori Society: Annual Conference Keynote Speaker Highlights

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There are over 3500 Montessori educators descending in Chicago, Illinois, this weekend to participate in the 2016 American Montessori Society’s Annual Conference, and Twin Parks Montessori Schools is joining in. The theme is “Montessori Principles, Values, & Perspectives.” The selection of keynote speakers is awesome!

“Thriving Together with Emotional Intelligence”

While the concept of emotional intelligence (EI) did not exist when Maria Montessori first developed her pedagogy, many of the core ideas and competencies of EI, such as self-awareness, self-confidence, communication, motivation, and innovation, were clearly integrated into Montessori’s principles and values. Emotional intelligence offers a unique lens to understand and explore Montessori’s “education for life.” In order to develop the social and emotional well-being of our children, we must also focus on the parents and educators who engage with them. In this keynote talk, Mitchel Adler will explore how building our own social and emotional competencies enhances our children’s development by offering them effective modeling of relational attunement. Dr. Adler will share knowledge and skills that will help educators and parents alike understand the best choices they have in identifying, understanding, and managing their own emotions and those of others.

Mitchel Adler

Keynote Speaker:  Mitchel Adler Friday, March 11 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM

Mitchel Adler, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, certified group psychotherapist, and the director of MindBody Intelligence (MBI) Consulting in Davis, CA. He has served on the faculty of the UC Davis School of Medicine and is co-author of the book Promoting Emotional Intelligence in Organizations as well as other scholarly book chapters and articles. As a national speaker and organizational consultant, Dr. Adler has presented talks at many conferences and worked with organizations including Genentech, the USDA Forest Service, the Public Health Institute, UC Davis, and the City of Sacramento. He provides training and development to organizations to enhance the performance, health, and well-being of their employees. He has been heard on NPR and seen in Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine. Dr. Adler also has a private psychotherapy practice in Davis, CA where he works with individuals and leads psychotherapy groups. Dr. Adler holds a doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Rutgers University, where he was the recipient of the graduate scholar’s award and other honors.  He received his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor where he graduated with Distinction and was a James B. Angell Scholar. Before becoming a psychologist, Dr. Adler taught 4th- and 5th-grade math and science in a private elementary school in Los Angeles. He also spent 4 years directing a youth program in Marin County, CA.

Online source:  http://amshq.org/Events/AMS-Annual-Conference/2016-Annual-Conference/Keynote-Speakers/Mitchel-Adler

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Beyond Time Out: From Chaos to Calm

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Dr. Beth Grosshans spent an informative evening with nearly 100 parents from Twin Parks Montessori Schools recently. Parents heard about parenting trends and the growing Imbalance of Family Power (IFP).  Parents learned about prevalent parenting styles:  pleasers, pushovers, forcers and outliers. As Dr. Grosshans described scenarios of the different parenting styles I saw smiles and nudging between the parents as they recognized themselves or one another in her often humorous remarks.

The most important take away from Dr. Beth Grosshans, besides a copy of her book, “Beyond Time Out From Chaos To Calm”, was her five steps to raising self-controlled, respectful and cooperative children. Her step by step, consistent process is a strategy and not a punishment. It works well for most children and is consistent behavior for families to live and grow in harmony.

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Montessori Education Week – Time to Celebrate!

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My colleagues and I have been thinking about what the Twin Parks Montessori School community will do to celebrate Montessori Education Week.

Montessori Education Week

February 29 - March 5, 2016

We have pictures of Maria Montessori and books about her life. We have the materials she devised to work with young children in the classrooms. And best of all, we have many teachers who are trained and certified in the Montessori Method.

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

 The Montessori Method is more than just a method of education. It is a philosophy for life! 

President Barack Obama visiting a Montessori classroom.

President Barack Obama visiting a Montessori classroom.

I found an illustration about the 10 Commandments of Montessori. Here they are for you!

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What do you want to know about Maria Montessori?

Here is a great timeline of her life.

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Quantity or Quality – How do you spend time with your children?

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Are you confused? A recent study in the Journal of Marriage and the Family (Volume 77, Issue 2) that focuses on whether you are an intensive or distant parent stated that there is not a correlation with either type of parent and positive outcomes for children (Wolfers, New York Times, April 1, 2015). Or if you follow Ariel Kalil, University of Chicago’s developmental psychologist, you know that high-quality studies of parenting focuses on how often you read to your children, play with them or do homework, over a long period of time is best.

family-time-300x199

The good news is that parents are spending more time with their children than parents in the past, father’s time has tripled since 1965 (KJ Dell’Antonia, New York Times, March 31, 2015). Mother’s time with their children has increased as well, however, it does not help to alleviate the quilt they feel.

My opinion is that quality time is most important. Quality time, not special events and “make-up” treats. Children need your presence, not presents. Time to have dinner together, reading at bed time, singing and dancing while cooking dinner together, chats on the way to school, listening on the way home are examples of quality time. Watching TV together maybe educational, but it is not considered quality time.

I don’t remember my parents reading to me, I think my older siblings did. I do remember that when I was in elementary school I would walk to and from the bus stop from our house. When I returned in the late afternoon, I would come in the back door and shout, “Mom”. She would answer my call from wherever she was, “I’m here”. I didn’t need her, I just liked that she was there. Sometimes she would be hurrying back from an afternoon coffee with a neighbor to get into the house before I arrived. She knew it was important to be there.

It’s the little daily, consistent things that have meaning and lasting effects. It is also  the traditions your family participates in, like walking to a weekly religious gathering, getting bagels on Saturdays, watching for animals on the ride to grandparent’s house, apple picking, snuggling under a blanket while reading books together, or like me, trying to roll my dad off of the couch with my siblings on Sunday after our midday meal.

Rainbow-Dads

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Quantity or Quality – How do you spend time with your children?

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Are you confused? A recent study in the Journal of Marriage and the Family (Volume 77, Issue 2) that focuses on whether you are an intensive or distant parent stated that there is not a correlation with either type of parent and positive outcomes for children (Wolfers, New York Times, April 1, 2015). Or if you follow Ariel Kalil, University of Chicago’s developmental psychologist, you know that high-quality studies of parenting focuses on how often you read to your children, play with them or do homework, over a long period of time is best.

family-time-300x199

The good news is that parents are spending more time with their children than parents in the past, father’s time has tripled since 1965 (KJ Dell’Antonia, New York Times, March 31, 2015). Mother’s time with their children has increased as well, however, it does not help to alleviate the quilt they feel.

Rainbow-DadsMy opinion is that quality time is most important. Quality time, not special events and “make-up” treats. Children need your presence, not presents. Time to have dinner together, reading at bed time, singing and dancing while cooking dinner together, chats on the way to school, listening on the way home are examples of quality time. Watching TV together maybe educational, but it is not considered quality time.

I don’t remember my parents reading to me, I think my older siblings did. I do remember that when I was in elementary school I would walk to and from the bus stop from our house. When I returned in the late afternoon, I would come in the back door and shout, “Mom”. She would answer my call from wherever she was, “I’m here”. I didn’t need her, I just liked that she was there. Sometimes she would be hurrying back from an afternoon coffee with a neighbor to get into the house before I arrived. She knew it was important to be there.

It’s the little daily, consistent things that have meaning and lasting effects. It is also  the traditions your family participates in, like walking to a weekly religious gathering, getting bagels on Saturdays, watching for animals on the ride to grandparent’s house, apple picking, snuggling under a blanket while reading books together, or like me, trying to roll my dad off of the couch with my siblings on Sunday after our midday meal.

 

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Montessori and Peace

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Averting war is the work of politicians; establishing peace is the work of educators. –Maria Montessori imgres-1 An interesting fact about Dr. Maria Montessori is that she lived through two wars. She was living in Italy at the beginning Mussolini’s reign. In 1924 Maria met with Mussolini, and he agreed that the Italian government should support Montessori schools, however, he closed all Montessori schools in 1931 because teachers would not pledge loyalty to Fascism. At that time Montessori relocated to Spain. In 1932, while in Spain, she wrote the book, Peace and Education. Montessori and Peace: Peace education is one of the basic tenets of Maria Montessori. Her vision and goal was the reconstruction of society and the establishment of world peace through education. Montessori classrooms contain puzzle maps of the world and continent maps with political boundaries. Families are invited to share their traditions and customs with the classroom. Children study the basic needs of people:  food, shelter, clothing, transportation, etc. Children learn that all humans require similar things  and depending on the biome of the area in which they live, these things may change. In Twin Parks Montessori School classrooms, our social skills curriculum teaches children to use their words with each other when conflict arises. Learning how to negotiate, compromise, share a point of view, collaborate and problem solve helps to develop skills necessary to be a global human being.

 If we are to teach real peace in this world. . .

we shall have to begin with the children.

Mahatma Gandhi

Visitors to a Montessori classroom observe the quiet “hum” of a group of children working. Visitors remark on the peaceful, relaxed and happy children. It doesn’t happen magically. Montessori schools operate under an umbrella of respect for:  teachers, materials and each other. They learn to watch, wait, delay gratification, how to walk around someone’s work as to not disturb it, and how to interrupt politely. Montessorians call these lessons Grace and Courtesy. Using these lessons Montessori teachers are able to teach children to be proactive rather than reactive. Children practice respectful communications and they are given tools to respond to others. Angeline Lillard, in her book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius, wrote that the lessons of Grace and Courtesy “are on a par with lessons in math, music, and language.” (2007, 198-99) There are no physical material on the shelf to remind us of the importance of Grace and Courtesy; these activities cannot be seen, but they mustn’t be forgotten. These lessons frame the foundation of peace education in Montessori classrooms. Just as in Maria Montessori’s life in 1930s and now in the 21st Century, we need to teach children to be respectful and peaceful, which is something we at Twin Parks Montessori Schools pride ourselves on.

 imgres

If help and salvation are to come, they can only come from the children, for the children are the makers of men. – Maria Montessori

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Dealing with Meltdowns: Strike while the Iron is COLD!

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I grew up with the saying “strike while the iron is hot.” Which means to do something immediately when the opportunity presents itself. It comes from the late 1300s in reference to a blacksmith’s forge. Iron is more pliable when it is glowing red hot and struck with a mallet or other tool. It is one of those idiomatic sayings like “make hay while the sun shines.”

Sometimes children may have the appearance of glowing red-hot in a full out tantrum, but we would never literally strike them, or use that time to discuss their behaviors. We have more success when we approach children when their mood is neutral or cool. Additionally, we need to be cool or neutral ourselves when we approach a child. Generally, after an incident, we are all feeling sorry and helpless in ways that do not help us focus on the situation. Even adults need a time out sometimes!

He is upset because I would not buy him a suit of armor.

“He is upset because I would not buy him a suit of armor.”

Rage is one of those core emotional systems that kicks in when we feel like we are being physically or mentally restrained. Frustration is part of our core emotional system, as is anger. We have the ability to rage from birth as it as a type of energizer to get us to safety. - Maren Schmidt

These emotional states are signals that there is a problem. Children do not yet have the ability to soothe themselves like adults do. We can use self-talk, change our situation, call a friend, or eat some chocolate. Children on the other hand, have all of these emotions without knowing exactly what to do about them.

He is crying because he cannot find his rubber ducky

“He is crying because he cannot find his rubber ducky.”

After a short time, when children return to themselves and are ready to listen, it is helpful to find a quiet space to talk about the situation. Asking a “why” question doesn’t result in a reasonable answer for children under 6 years of age. Children really don’t know why they threw themselves on the ground and kicked and screamed, or threw a block across the room. A better approach would be to state the emotion you witnessed, “You seemed very angry (frustrated) when you threw the block across the room and started crying.” This puts a name to the feeling and helps develop language skills for the future.

She is upset because I told her that I have another name besides "mom".

“She is upset because I told her that I have another name besides ‘Mom.’”

One of our jobs as the adult is to offer options, or suggestions of what the child could have done differently. Things like using their words, asking for help, or waiting for a turn. Another suggestion is to tell a story about a fictional child (or about you when you were little) in the same situation and describing what that child did to rectify the situation – always with the choice that is win-win for everyone. In this way you are teaching lessons about appropriate behavior and giving examples of what to do in a similar situation.

He is upset because the microwave ate his lunch.

“He is upset because the microwave ate his lunch.”

Another helpful, proactive role-playing scenario of “What if?” questions is to start a conversation like “What if your friend took the toy you were playing with? How would you feel? What would you do?” One of the solutions would be to get adult help if you were having trouble solving the problem.

Striking while the iron is cool encourages children to learn from mistakes with help from a calm, understanding adult. Our goal at Twin Parks Montessori Schools is to teach children to name their feelings and to express them in appropriate ways. We want our children to feel safe, talk about their situation, and reduce their feelings of helplessness and meltdowns.

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Kathy’s Insights