Parenting without Spanking, What Works?

After a controversial post on my personal Facebook wall, there was a big discussion on spanking, something I don’t believe in using as a discipline method.  Same goes for yelling.  Now this isn’t an anti-spanking post.  Instead it’s a “how do you discipline if you don’t spank?” post.  The thing is, saying not to spank is pointless if you don’t give a parent tools that actually work instead.  For me it’s not so much about spanking being harmful but about it being an ineffective parenting tool that often makes a situation worse rather than better.  As you’ve seen in my post about parenting advice that annoys me because it doesn’t work, I’m about what works, what is effective, not just in the short term but the long term.  Now I don’t pretend to have it all figured out.  Parenting is a constant challenge and learning processes as our children are always changing and growing and there are always new challenges.  But these are some of the advice and methods I’ve gleaned from different sources that I’ve found to not only be effective, but practical for a busy mother with other children to care for.

  1. Deal with issues immediately, don’t ignore them.  
    It’s so easy to be caught up and busy with something that we ignore our children jumping on the couch and we yell at them a few times while continuing to do what ever it is we are doing and they ignore us until finally we get really angry and scream at them or march over there and spank them or generally it all goes down bad.  And, in the end, what we’ve taught them is we don’t mean it until we’re screaming or spanking and they can ignore us until then.  Instead, what we need to do is stop what we’re doing and go over there and remove the child, get on their level and look them in the eye and tell them to stop.  Then we need to be ready for them to try to disobey and deal with them again immediately.  There can be a consequence like time out.  For young kids consequences should be immediate, not future things like “you can’t go to Tommy’s party tomorrow”.  When we respond right away (which is really hard to do because we’re often busy) we teach our children that we mean what we say and we no longer need to yell or get to the point where we’re about to lose it.  It also shows them they’re important to us.  When we make the effort it is easier in the long run as our child learn to obey the first time and discipline only takes a few minutes rather than 10 mins of yelling and 5 of losing it and 5 of screaming and spanking and then 10 of a crying child in meltdown.
  2. Playful Parenting.
    This is a great tool for young children and doesn’t need to be used all the time.  It works well when you need to get children to do something they don’t want to do.  Make things into a game or fun and suddenly you have your child interested.  Why fight over wiping their face while you try to hold still a sticky toddler who suddenly has 10 arms and the strength of a gorilla.  The cloth is a little bunny that wants to give kisses.  Here’s kisses all over your face.  Muh, muh, muh.  Recently my kids weren’t coming upstairs for their bath and I was too tired to go get them a haul them upstairs.  I started singing “Five Little Speckled Frogs” really loudly and talking about how their toy frogs were jumping into the tub.  They came running and wanted to play with the frogs.  Yes, this takes a little imagination and creativity but that’s really less energy and work than trying to convince a stubborn toddler to do something or physically wrestling them into it.
  3. Keep a child close.
    A child that is being defiant often and seems to be acting out for no reason often needs to reconnect with you.  This is true at any age.  Relationship is so important in parenting.  Something could be bothering them, maybe a bully at school, or a fight with a friend or they’re scared about an upcoming test.  Giving them time to connect with you and talk and feel loved will do wonders.  One on one time with your children is so important.  My children are so happy after I take just one of them with me somewhere.  Even just taking a child who is having a bad day on your lap and reading them stories may be enough to turn around the day.  They feel so special and loved. Now of course as a mother with more than one child as soon as you take one kid on your lap the other one wants to join in.  If you can convince your children one at a time do so, if not move to somewhere where you can call cuddle and read a book together. Family time should be very important. Plan family trips together.  Have family game nights.  Have family dinners.  Make connecting as a family top priority.  The book “Hold on to Your Kids” talks about the importance of spending time with your kids.
  4. Give a child independence.
    Children crave to be independent.  As a parent you know that your child has a mind and opinions of their own.  That’s good.  You are raising someone not to live with you forever, but to one day be independent.  There is nothing more confidence building in a child than independence.  There are many ways to do this.  Simple things like a stool in the bathroom so that they can wash their hands themselves.  Letting them pick out their own clothes to wear.  Who cares if it doesn’t match.  Let them climb the slide at the park.  Teach them to put their dishes in the dish washer or to help empty it.  Teach them to put their clothes away or to put their shoes on.  Give them responsibility.  They can have a spray bottle and wash windows or feed the dog.  Let them help make dinner.  Young children are quite capable of doing many things if they’re taught and given the opportunity.  A child that has more independence is less likely to turn every single thing into a power struggle because they feel that they have some control over their life.   The Montessori approach has lots of information about teaching and allowing our children to be independent.
  5. Take time to step back and think.
    Now this seems to be the opposite of dealing with issues immediately.  But there are so many different parenting situations.  This is for when you’re feeling overwhelmed, or you’re about to lose it or you’re not sure how to deal with a behaviour.  It’s ok to not respond right away at these times.  If you feel you’re about to lose it then walk away.  Go somewhere alone (the bathroom works well) and just try to breath and think clearly.  (of course make sure your child is safe before leaving them alone).  Often when you stop to think you’ll realise a better way to handle the behaviour than your initial response would be.  Maybe you’ll realise that your child is hungry and so giving them a snack would help.  Maybe you’ll realise that they’re upset about something that happened earlier so you can talk about that.  Maybe you’ll realise that they need time alone to calm down and you’ll put them in their room or time out.  Maybe you’ll realise that they need a talk about hitting or they need to learn alternative ways to deal with their anger.  There are so many situations, only a clear head will help you think of the best way to deal with that particular one.  Now I will warn you, if you lock yourself in the bathroom your kids may stand outside the door and scream and bang on it.  But just not having them in the room with you does help.  And I tell my children often that parents get frustrated and angry and sometimes need space.  That sometimes mommy needs to be alone to calm down and I’ll be right back after.  That when mommy needs space you need to leave her alone for just a few minutes.  I let my children know what I’m doing and that I’ll be right back so they don’t feel abandoned.  It also is a great model for your children about how they should handle their anger.  Also be aware of times you’re under stress or tired, these are times you’re more likely to have a “mommy meltdown”.  Be kind to yourself on those days.  Keep your daily plans simple.  Try to get enough sleep or have a power nap, make sure you eat and drink.  Remind yourself that your lack of patience is coming from these things not your children.  Just like it’s hurtful when our spouse’s takes out their work or money or other stress on us, it’s hurtful if we take out our stresses on our children.
  6. Lower, Look, Touch
    When you correct your child you need to get down to their level, look them in the eye, touch them by holding their arms or shoulders (gently but firmly) and speak in a low firm voice.  Yelling across the room is not as effective at all.  It seems like more work (especially when your kids are short and you are tall) but it’s really more work to yell and yell and yell again and then march over there and yell and spank or whatever you end up doing.
  7. Be consistent.
    Don’t discipline your child one day for throwing their cup because they don’t like that colour and then not the next day.  If a child gets away with a behaviour one day but not the next it’s confusing for them.  If you scream at them one time and then ignore them another, they’re going to experiment and see what happens the next time.  You also need to keep a pretty consistent routine.  Bedtime should always be at the same time except for special occasions.  If you let them stay up one day they’ll want it the next and the next.  Routine helps a child feel secure.  They don’t know what the plan is in your head.  They can’t read the calendar and they have little concept of time, so having a consistent routine gives them security and predictability.  And let them know what they can expect.  “Today you have a doctor’s appointment.  After we eat breakfast we’ll get in the car and go there and then we’ll come back and have a snack”.  Give them warnings before a big transition is about to happen.  “In 5 minutes it’s time to clean up your toys and then get ready for bed”.
  8. Always follow through.
    Don’t make threats you’re not going to keep.  Children are smart.  If you threaten that if they don’t go to bed now that you won’t go camping tomorrow, they know that you don’t mean it.  Especially if you’ve been saying it all day long or you make threats like that often and don’t keep them.  Think before you proclaim a consequence.  Do you really mean it?  Are you really willing to follow it through if the child doesn’t obey?  Once a child knows that you mean what you say, then when you make a threat it has a lot of power.  It just takes one time of telling a child, “if you don’t put your shoes on you can’t come grocery shopping with mommy” and then you leaving without them because they didn’t put their shoes on, for them to jump into their shoes the next time.
  9. Natural consequence are best when possible.
    Natural consequences aren’t always practical or desirable, but they do have an important place.  A consequence tied to the negative behaviour is more effective.  Like the above example of a child not being able to go with you because they didn’t put their shoes on.  Or a child won’t put their coat on so they’re cold when they’re outside.  Or they won’t clean up their toys so the toys are taken away (ours go in the basement for a few days to weeks).
  10. Time Outs
    We use time out often.  Tantrums end fast when there isn’t an audience.  We have a gate at the top of the stairs and I always tell them: “You need some time to calm down.  When you are calm you can call me and I’ll come get you.”  I don’t usually time it.  It’s based on their being ready to come down rather than a certain number of minutes.  Sometimes a child just needs to cry and scream.  I know even as an adult there are times I want to just scream.  So allowing them to do that in a safe place that isn’t bothering everyone else can help them let out those emotions so then they can get control of themselves.  I find my kids are much happier after and then want to cuddle.  When I come back I look them in the eye (the Lower, Look, Touch) and tell them the behaviour that is not allowed and give them acceptable alternatives and then I hug them.
  11. Lots of active gross motor play.
    Children are active.  They need to run and climb and jump and roll and throw.  Often they can’t control those urges just like they can’t often control the urge to go to the bathroom until older.  Giving your child chances to meet that need makes them more settled and relaxed.  Also learning to control their body by developing balance and coordination later translates into self control in other areas.  Children need this type of play every day. If you have the space, create an area for active play in your home for days when you can’t get outside.  You can also try indoor play places like at McDonalds or just pushing the furniture back and putting the couch cushions on the floor.
  12. Limit screen time.
    Though TV initially can be a lifesaver and seem to calm a child down, in the long run it over stimulates them and makes them mentally tired and we all know tired children are difficult.  If you do need to put the TV on look for calm shows that don’t have a lot of jumping around and scene changes and noise.  Slow shows like Mr Rogers Neighbourhood or Mr Dress-Up are good.  Little Bear, Franklin or even nature shows.  My daughter loves watching Chris Hadfield’s videos on YouTube over and over again.  It’s similar with noisy, flashy toys that entertain rather than engage a child.  Focus on open ended, battery free toys like blocks, building toys (like lego), simple dolls, playmobile, puzzles, books.  If you feel overwhelmed by a toy that is singing and flashing over and over, your child probably is too but they don’t have the brain understanding to realise that the toy is making them feel overstimulated.
  13. Create a peaceful home
    A cluttered over-stimulating environment can contribute to cranky overstimulated kids.  Your house doesn’t have to look like a magazine but our children often have too much stuff and it’s overwhelming for them.  Purge their toys and rotate others and organize.  Less is more when it comes to calming environments.  The book Simplicity Parenting explains this well.
  14. Work with their brains not against them.
    I highly, highly recommend the book “The Whole Brained Child“.  A child isn’t fully developed.  You wouldn’t punish a 6 month old for pooping in their diaper, so why punish a 2 or 3 year old for behaviour they can’t control?  The book helps you understand their brain development and how to help them make more connections.  Here are some of the tips from the book to help your child integrate the parts of their brain that often aren’t connecting when they’re misbehaving.
    -Connect emotionally with the child by naming their emotions and voicing their feelings.  Now you’ll probably find this often makes the child think that you’re going to give into them and then causes more crying, however it is important that you help a child understand what it is they’re feeling and why.  People who grow up not understanding why they feel and do the things they do often struggle as adults.  A person who can say, “oh, I’m feeling angry with my spouse because I’m sill disappointed that they forgot our anniversary last week”will be be better able to work through their emotions and heal their relationship.
    -Get the child moving.  Movement helps the brain reconnect the parts.  After acknowledging their feelings get them moving by tickling, roughhousing, racing.  Find some way to get them active.
    -Help your kids exercise their memory.  The books gives examples of how to do this but memory helps develop the brain and helps children to learn to use logic rather than emotions when responding to circumstances.
    -Talk about the day with your child.  Talk about the good parts and the bad parts.  Discuss ways they could deal with a situation better next time.  Discussing things when your child is relaxed and open is going to influence them more than yelling when they’re frustrated and angry.  And let it be a discussion not a lecture.  Let them think of ideas and explain their feelings.  The more they exercise critical thinking the better they’ll be able to use those skills when emotional.
    -Teach your kids that emotions change.  Young children don’t realise that in 10 mins they won’t be mad any more.  Tell them what they’re feeling right now isn’t who they are.  They are not sad, they feel sad.  Reminding them of how they felt yesterday when doing something fun shows them that feelings will pass and they’ll feel better.
    -Teach children to direct their thoughts and relax their bodies.  Your physical body has a huge impact on how you feel.  Though the term “mindsight” sounds newagey it’s probably something you already do.  Thinking of a place that you feel relaxed, like a hammock by the lake when you’re feeling stressed, or imagining that vacation last month.  Slowing your breathing or trying to relax each part of your body when you’re trying to fall asleep are all examples of mindsight.  Children can be taught these techniques on a simple level.  Changing what we’re focused on can change how we feel.  It works for us as parents too.  When we’re feeling overwhelmed or furious with our kids, thinking about how cute they looked when sleeping or how they came a gave you a big hug this morning can instantly change your emotions.
  15. Social Stories
    Just telling a child not to do something is only half of parenting.  The other half is giving them alternatives to deal with their feelings and situations.  If your boss yelled at you and told you that’s not how you use the photocopier but then stormed off and never told you how to actually use it, how would you feel?  What would you do?  Stories can be great ways to give our children the tools they need to change their behaviour.  We have a a couple great books about feelings which lets the reader pick different endings for how the child deals with their emotion.  They also give me ideas to suggest to my children when they’re dealing with those emotions.

Parenting is hard.  There isn’t a one size fits all solution to every situation.  But you can parent and discipline your child effectively without spanking or yelling.  You won’t be a perfect parent, I’m definitely not, and you will make mistakes because you’re human and you have emotions and needs too but when you have some techniques that actually are effective, things are much easier.  We have a huge responsibility as parents and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  There are a ton of parenting resources out there and just as in our jobs we do professional development, we should take time to do that as parents.  Here are some resources I have found helpful and I got most of the above suggestions from:

Websites:

Dr. Neufeld’s Hold On To Your Kids

http://www.janetlansbury.com/

Books:

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Why I don’t want School teaching my kids about gender

Now that I’ve caught your attention I want to clarify that by “school” I don’t mean a specific curriculum or something teachers teach.  I mean “school” as a whole.  As an environment beyond lessons.

School is the place where children learn about gender rolls.  It’s where they learn that boys can’t like pink and girls can’t like math.  Where they learn that boys must be rowdy and girls demure.  Where girls must play with barbies and boys with dinky cars.  Where if you still play with groovy girls you’re a baby or you cry you’re a sissy.  Where the backpack you once loved was for babies and the dress you adored was ugly.

Now of course it’s not usually teachers teaching this, but it comes from the children themselves.  Things they’ve learned from their parents or from TV.  School is the place where children learn that there is a “normal” that they must fit into or be an outcast.  I don’t want my children questioning their gender.  I don’t want them to learn to question who they are.  I want them to just be who they are.  I want them to like what they like and play how they play without reference to gender.  I don’t want their dreams crushed because little Suzy said “girl’s can’t be astronauts” or Billy said, “Those shoes are dumb”.  Eventually my children will learn society’s norms for gender but I hope by then they’re confident in themselves.

Why I Don’t Play With My Kids

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It sounds terrible doesn’t it.  “I don’t play with my kids”.  What a horrible, checked out, selfish mother.  She must not love her kids.  Her kids must not be bonded to her.  But I think I’m not alone and I think that there are many mothers out there forced to play Dora for the millionth time while the dirty dishes are piling up or they just want to read the last chapter of that book and they’re sooooo bored.

Yes, I don’t play with my kids.  First, I should clarify what I do do with my kids beyond caring for their needs.  I read to my kids, I take them for walks and to the park and splash pad.  I help them put together their marble run.  I teach them (of course, since I homeschool), I set up and help them with crafts, I snuggle in my bed with them in the morning and giggle, I roughhouse, I sing to them, I cuddle them, I bake with them, I tell them about when they were little, I comfort them, I push them in the swing, when they were babies I played peekaboo and patty cake and occasionally I play a board game with them.  I do many things with my kids and much of my day revolves around them, but I don’t play with them.

So what do I mean what I say “I don’t play with them”?  I don’t sit down and play Barbies. I don’t act out Frozen.  I don’t play tag at the park.  I don’t play in the sand with them.  I don’t line up cars with them.  I don’t play with the barn with them or the dollhouse.  I don’t pretend to fight monsters with them.  I don’t play restaurant.  I do activities with them but I don’t play like a child with them.  And I believe my children are better for it and I’m happier for it.  My children play independently for hours, since they were babies.  They come up with great imaginative games and I have freedom to do housework and do my own thing, yet we have a wonderful close relationship.

Why don’t I play with my kids?  There are a number of reasons.

1) Frankly, it’s boring.  I love hanging with my kids but it’s insanely boring to play Barbies or to drive cars around or pretend to have a tea party over and over and over.
2) I have things to do.  There’s always housework and laundry and cooking and preparing school materials and things I like to do such as crochet.  There’s paperwork and things to research and well, life is busy.
3) My kids don’t need me to entertain them.  They have learned to entertain themselves and can play for hours and hours without me.  This gives me time to do the things in number 2.
4) I don’t like to inject my adult perception of the world into my kids’ play.  Their minds are so pure and innocent.  I find I just can’t play on the same level as them and feel my adult experiences influence things too much when I try to play.  I’d rather leave them to their own child minded, pure, imaginative play.
5) My kids don’t want me to play with them.  If they catch me watching them play they get embarrassed.  They want to play without any judgement, good or bad, from adults.
6) Play time isn’t teaching time.  There are times for teaching, but pure play should be fully child led and full of exploration, not me trying to show them something or teach them something, taking away the chance for them to discover it themselves.
7) My children play longer, with more concentration and focus, without me.  When I’m involved I often have to interrupt the play to make dinner or deal with something or because I’m bored.  Without me they are free to play for long periods without interruptions.

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I do like to listen to my children play, their play makes me smile and often laugh, but I try not to let them catch me watching.  And I have the advantage of having my kids 18 months apart so they have a ready playmate.  Daycare also brings in new friends to play with.  I’ve worked hard on creating an environment that promotes play.  Open ended, battery free, quality toys, an organized playroom, toys that engage, limiting the toys so it’s not overwhelming, a safe outdoor place to play.  Play is very important to me.  So important that I feel my children’s play is better without me in it, only there when needed and creating the opportunity and environment for it.  I’m like the stage hand, in the background of their performance.

What Montessori is really like with a 2 year old….

So Montessori with my kids is very child directed.  It’s often really hard to let go and let them choose what work they want to do but we have to trust their inner needs and processes.  What you see in blogs is only the best parts.  It’s usually skipping the difficult parts, the children being silly, the children being grumpy, the children lying on the floor and not getting up, the children making the Toob figures attack each other, the children throwing a material or insisting on doing it incorrectly.  Here is a good moment with my 2 year old.

 

Here is a real moment with my 2 year old during the same work session.

I didn’t get a video of him trying to walk on them.  He also tried to walk on the Brown Stairs.  He may be a little young still so I’ll keep things light and I put them away when he’s not treating them with care.

Pumpkin 1 also was being difficult today.  Wanting to do the Golden beads and then pretending she didn’t know the names of the numbers or just refusing to talk at all.  It’s so frustrating as a parent teacher because you worry and work so hard and then you’re left trying to figure out why and you always feel like you’re failing somehow and that you have to prove yourself to everyone who may think you’re making the wrong decision.  I’m not sure if the work was too easy for her or too difficult or she just wasn’t interested.  I’m leaning towards it being too easy and am hoping when the wooden cubes and squares for the addition come in she’ll be challenged.

So, I hope this post makes you smile and breath a little easier when your kids are stressing you out.

What makes Montessori materials so special?

I purchased The Keys of the World Montessori albums to help me better understand and implement the Montessori method with my children.  They’re wonderful albums and I’m learning so much.  I’d just like to share with you a quote from the Theory Album

The most distinct difference between Montessori and other methods is in the nature of the materials: Montessori materials are not didactic (teaching tools), but self-teaching tools.  These materials are not for the teacher to teach, but for the children to discover and learn on his own.  The children teach themselves – these materials are developmental materials.

This is really the key of Montessori – the child guides their own learning.  It’s also the hardest part; to step back and allow the child to do and learn without interfering.  It’s even more difficult in a home setting.

If you’re interesting in The Keys of the World albums you can purchase them here.

Reading, Reading, Reading

So, Pumpkin 1 is 2 and half now and I’ve been feeling that I need to get more serious about homeschooling for the fall.  Therefore I’ve been reading and reading.  There is still so much about Montessori I don’t know, especially when it comes to the pedagogy.  I’ve ordered these two books to better understand the theory behind Montessori.

The Absorbent Mind

Secret of Childhood

 

I’ve also decided that I needed a curriculum.  Something to be a guide on what materials to present when, how to present them, extensions for them and the progression between them.  I looked at several different Montessori curriculum.  One was NAMC.  It also offers an online training course and is accepted by most Montessori schools.  However, the materials alone are way out of my price range.  Next I looked at KHT.  It’s a year long course and many people have given it good reviews.  However, at this point in my life, I just don’t have the time to do a course.  I’d hate to start and have to drop out.  It is something I’m considering down the road.  However, KHT is very affordable.  The third option I looked at was Keys of the World (their page is currently under construction).  It was the most affordable.  Also Keys is AMI which is the traditional Montessori (as opposed to AMS which has been adapted to modern times).  I decided to go with Keys and downloaded the Curriculum from here.  I printed two books of the curriculum off but as my printer was acting up (when printing front to back, it just takes one skipped page to throw everything off) and I needed to get it bound at Staples anyway, I had the rest printed off there and everything spiral bound.  Printing is 10 cents per page and binding was about $5 per book (with a plastic cover and back).  So it’d cost around $60 to print and bind everything there.  Probably the same as printing it off at home when you consider ink and paper.

So now I’m reading through the theory book of Keys of the World and it’s fascinating.  The more I read the more I agree with Montessori and find it makes sense.  I wish I had done Montessori from the start with Pumpkin 1 and 2.  I think understanding Montessori theory is important in implementing it.  Without the understanding you risk missing sensitive periods, the importance of self discovery, of choice, repetition, of each material, of not rushing children and it’s so easy to make small mistakes that actually make a big difference.  So it’s lots and lots of reading ahead of me.  I’m holding back on doing Montessori materials as much until I understand the theory better and get a plan in order for the fall.  I’m so glad I’ve discovered the Montessori Method.  I think it is the Key of the World.  

Freedom to Explore

Getting the toys he wants, himself.

Getting the toys he wants, himself.

Today we parents tend to worry, a lot.  Because of media we hear, it seems so often, of children getting injured or killed by some random thing and so we feel like we have to put our children in a bubble of protection lest the worst should happen.  Thus our infants tend to be confined, a lot.  Confined to a crib, confined to a swing, confined in a playpen, confined in an exersaucer, confined in a bouncy seat, confined in a high chair.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with these things, but restricting a child’s freedom for much of the day isn’t healthy.  A baby needs to move, roll, push, crawl, explore.  They need to exercise.  We also often put them in seats that hold them up in a position that isn’t natural for them at that age and can be detrimental if the child is allowed to sit in that position for hours.  Children who aren’t able to stand should not be left in an exersaucer or jumper for more than 15 mins at a time and they should not be placed in one until they’re able to hold their heads up on their own.

I made this mistake with Pumpkin 1.  Because we have dogs and wood floor, I felt safer with her in her swing or her playpen.  She was in an exersaucer a lot from about 5 months.  She was confined to a playpen for long periods of time.  It wasn’t until she was crawling that I let her explore her world as she didn’t want to be confined any more. I began to realize the importance of movement and the importance of not protecting her every second.  When she started to walk I didn’t hover to keep her from falling or bumping her head.  I let her climb on sturdy chairs herself and go up and down stairs.  She learned quickly to duck near the table, how to fall without hurting herself, and she’s been going up and down stair stand since at least 18 months.  She’s only fallen from the bottom step.

I did things differently with Pumpkin 2.  When he was born we had a playroom finally finished.  From the time he was little I’d let him lie on the floor with toys around him.  He learned to roll over several months sooner than Pumpkin 1.  I was amazed that even as a little baby, 4 months, he could get across the playroom and get a toy he wanted.  Now at almost 9 months he gets into everything.

4 1/2 months

4 1/2 months

He has the freedom to move, grab, mouth, discover and explore his environment.  His favourite thing to do is pull the kid chairs down on himself.  I think it makes him feel strong and powerful 🙂  Yes, he still spends time in is high chair watching me cook.  He spends time in his playpen as the rest of the house isn’t as babyproofed.  But I make sure he gets time every day to have freedom.  With obesity rates what they are today, it’s never too early to let your child get moving and exercising their body.

The Montessori method advocates allowing children to explore their environment, to teach a child how to be safe rather than locking everything up, within reason of course.  Many followers of Montessori don’t even use cribs.  Their babies sleep on a mattress on the floor.  Their room is completely babyproofed and so if the child wakes, he or she is free to roll off the bed and explore.  Floor beds are not something I’ve done as we have baseboard heaters, but I think they can be great in a safe room.

So what about your home?  Is there a space that you can make safe and give your baby the freedom to move and explore in?  A young baby may only need a small space, but a moving and crawling baby will need a bigger space.  Babyproof the area, put out low shelves with toys your baby can get out himself, a low mirror on a wall is a great addition.  If your baby is pulling up then a sturdy low table is excellent, or even one of those activity center tables.  And perhaps a floor bed is right for your baby.

Freedom.  It helps foster independence, curiosity and intelligence as well as build coordination, balance, and improve health.  Give your child a daily dose.

Philosophy Part 2

Chapter 2 The Impact of Movement on Learning and Cognition (summary from Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Lillard)

One of the greatest mistakes of our day is to think of movement by itself, as something apart from the higher functions…Mental development must be connected with movement and be dependent on it.  It is vital that educational theory and practice should become informed by this idea  – Maria Montessori

Movement and learning are perpetually entwined in Montessori education.  In traditional schooling, bodily movement is limited and consists largely of reading and writing numbers and letters that abstractly represent the concepts being learned.  This lack of movement fits the model of the child being a vessel, to take in new information and commit it to memory.  Montessori saw the stationary child as problematic, because she believed that movement and thought are closely tied.  Movement is therefore integral to the educational program she developed.  Recent psychological research and theorizing support Dr. Montessori`s idea.

Movement is deeply implicated in Montessori education.  For instance, in learning to write, a child starts with manipulating knobbed cylinders, then traces shapes with his fingers, moving on to trace leaf shapes with a wooden stick.  He traces sandpaper letters, feeling the shapes of the letters themselves, he then learns to use the metal insets and trace them with a pencil and arranges wooden alphabet letters.  “In order to develop his mind a child must have objects in his environment which he can hear and see.  Since he must develop himself through his movements, through the work of his hands, he has need of objects with which he can work that provide motivation for his activity“ Maria Montessori

There is abundant research showing that movement and cognition are closely intertwined (many of these studies are discussed in the book).  People represent spaces and objects more accurately, make judgements faster and more accurately, remember information better, and show superior social cognition when their movements are aligned with what they are thinking about or learning.

A little bit of Philosophy

I`ve been reading a great book.  Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius by Angeline Stoll Lillard.  I`m going to do a series of posts on the chapters of this book as I finish them.

Chapter 1: An Answer to the Crisis in Education.

In this chapter she discusses the two fundamental cornerstone of American schooling today which were placed at the turn of the 20th century.  The school as a factory and the child as a blank slate.  Today we know that these ideas are incorrect but they continue to have a profound impact on how we run schools.  Due to this flawed foundation, traditinal schools have not fared well.  The solutions Americans have devised to fix the problems in our schools repeatedly fail because they do not change these fundamental models.  The educational system should instead draw on scientific study of how children learn.  Early in the 20th century, Dr. Maria Montessori envisioned a radically different approach to education, grounded in close and insightful observations of children.  Modern research suggests that the Montessori system is much more suited to how children learn and develop.

Motessori, who held a degree in both engineering and medicine, was interested in helping mentally retarded children.  She was given a group of children to work with and she developed her Sensorial Materials.  The world marveled when a number of these children passed state educational exams designed for normal children.  However, Dr Montessori marveled at the fact that normal children were not doing better on such tests, given their obvious advantages.  This led her to turn her attention to studying how normal children develop in order to discover how humans could reach their potential more fully than they did in traditional schools. Montessori was given the charge of 50-60 children aged 3-6, a room and a teacher and she set about to begin her experiment.  By testing new approaches and materials and noting children`s reactions, over the next 50 years she developed a radically different system of education.  She left a legacy of a broad, field-tested curriculum covering all the major subject areas for children ages 3-12.  This system was developed by trial and error over her lifetime, with children from all around the world.

A Portrait of a Montessori Classroom

A Montessori classroom is usually a large, open space with low shelves and child sized furniture.  The classroom is arranged into areas with materials for working on a particular subject area.  The classroom is kept neat and orderly, with every material having it`s place on a shelf.  Respect for the needs of others is highly valued.  Children are free to work  where ever they choose, at a table, on a mat, in groups or alone.  Lessons are usually given to individual children as they are ready for them.  The materials are designed to attract the children`s interest and has a primary purpose and often a secondary.  Children must use the materials correctly in order to learn the lesson it is designed to impart therefore children are expect to use the material how they were shown to.  There are no tests, the teachers observe the children at work and repeat lessons if a child is not using a material correctly.  New lessons are given when a child appears to have mastered a material and is ready for the next material in the sequence.

Eight Principles of Montessori Education

1) Movement and cognition are closely entwined, and movement can enhance thinking and learning.

2) Learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives.

3) People learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.

4) Tying extrinsic rewards to an activity negatively impacts motivation to engage in that activity when the reward is withdrawn.

5) Collaborative arrangements can be very conducive to learning.

6) Learning situated in meaningful contexts is often deeper and richer than learning in abstract contexts.

7) Particular forms of adult interaction are associated with more optimal child outcomes.

8) Order in the environment is beneficial to children.