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Monthly Archives: May 2013

Follow/chasing the child

I do not consider myself a very observant person. One of the core tenets of Montessori is, however, to follow the child. Observe what the child needs, what can further the child’s fulfillment of self. Naturally, as the mother, I find my child much more interesting and worthy of my observation. So I try. To understand. It is like observing an alien creature. And I have to constantly remind myself that he is a new human being who does not come with all the structure and knowledge that I have accumulated over the years.

I imagine that, though he will likely not remember most of the events before 4 or 5 years old, his mind is building the shelves for which future memories and capacities will rest. So this time is critical – for him to establish a sense of calm, order, and love. For him to experience touch, smell and light in a way that he never will be able to again when he is all grown up and used to filtering sensations.

Anyway, today after breakfast I was showing and asking him to wipe up his table with me. I know that toddlers are not goal oriented and need to practice at their own pace, but I still want to have things cleaned up quickly. I took a towel and showed him how I dabbed it in water from the sink, then I went to wipe up the sticky food bits on his table. I asked him to try, but all he wanted to do was take the towel and walk away. And he got very upset when I wouldn’t let him. When I finally did (after scrubbing off the most egregious sticky bits), he walked away with the towel, went to his little sink (what might be a bidet), and proceeded to wet the whole towel, then came back towards the table, calm, satisfied, with a dripping towel.

I realized at this point that he was ready, had probably been ready a while ago, for proper cleaning exercises. From reading stuff, and the Montessori consultation by Stephanie Woo, I had learnt that we needed some small tools for him to clean up: a small bucket that he could easily get water with (or we get water for him, until he knows to not put too much water in), a small sponge or scrub, and a basket of folded, clean cloth towels (we already have a bucket where he puts dirty cloth diapers and towels in).

It is amazing how many towels this kid goes through, what with potty training, water fascination and food.

I had actually been waiting for until we get his little dining cabinet, where he can have his eating utensils, placemat and cleaning up stuff all stored together. But his growing up can’t wait. So I’m going to get together as much as this stuff as possible now, and introduce them gradually.

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Day 1 West Bay Montessori Play

Today I had a Montessori inspired playgroup in my home. The ladies who attended it were so lovely and Knox was so excited to greet each new guest at the door! (and happy to hold other people’s toys, apparently!) We sort of had too many people in this one session, but despite the crowd it was relatively calm and I got to talk to some mothers at a time. Here is a summary of our exchanges in case some moms missed it:

Demonstrating Montessori at home: Scooping activity-

Materials: 3~6 Ping pong balls (can be styrofoam), one large container with water, one smaller dry container, one scooper (can be a small sieve, a spatula with holes…etc for the water to runout)

Step 1: Take the dry container with the balls in both hands and tip carefully into the water bowl.

Step 2: Scoop each ball slowly into the dry container, until all are in it.

Step 3: Put scooper down and pour balls back into water bowl.

Retrieving materials from his cabinet

Retrieving materials from his cabinet

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When you demonstrate it, as with all Montessori activities, you demonstrate an entire cycle. And you do it the same time every time, until you feel like the child has mastered it and perhaps you want to play with it in a different way. This helps with children’s need for order.

Usually I have him put his activity back on his shelf. In this case I take it to dump out the water.

How to know your child is finished? He/she will start playing with the project in a messy manner: splashing the water, throwing the balls around…etc. Tell them “Okay, you are finished.” and take it away. If they do this too much they will cease being able to work with this object in an orderly fashion in the future. Always keep an eye out for when this sort of thing happens. This activity will likely amuse them up to 10~15 minutes a day. Our goal is not to have them do something so we can go do something else for ourselves (I wish!), but to build up their capabilities and concentration gradually, so they will be able to work in a focused and constructive manner. I have read that one does not expect children under 3 to be able to work too long. But one will be rewarded later on with a calm, proactive child. Indeed, from the Montessori classroom I observed, it is lovely to see the 3+ year olds go about purposefully getting an activity from the shelf, laying it out, working on it for a long while by themselves, and then going to put it back. I have also heard that there are Montessori activities that foster team-work, and research shows that a Montessori classrooms foster a “greater sense of community” among kids. http://www.montessori-science.org/montessori_science_journal.htm

*Demonstrating cycles: Children this young may be impatient for your entire demonstration to be finished, they may try to grab it before you finish and start. Try to limit this, but if they become very anxious let them go ahead and do as much of the routine as you just demonstrated. And next time you demonstrate it again with more of the routine. If there are multiple steps this is even better, as a child may not remember all the steps that is required on the first get-go. Remember to not be anxious and not rush. As before 12 children’s brains operate at half the speed of adults, and they have all the time to master skills that seem simple to us. They are not goal oriented – they do not see cleaning up as the goal, but they enjoy the process of imitating you wipe. Be very consistent in your demonstrations and think it through before you commence it. What may seem obvious to us may not seem so to them. Example: Today when I was demonstrating the scooping activity. When I was done I should have put down the scooper before using two hands to pour the pingpong balls back into the water.

Questions asked:

Imagination/ Reading real stories

One mom said that she had read that Montessori says children should mainly read stories that are based in reality (as adverse to make believe). I found this passage from “To Kill a Mocking Bird” congruent of children’s real attitudes towards make-believe:

“Miss Caroline began the day by reading us a story about cats. The cats had long conversations with one another, they wore cunning little clothes and lived in a warm house beneath a kitchen stove. By the time Mrs. Cat called the drugstore for an order of chocolate malted mice the class was wriggling like a bucketful of catawba worms. Miss Caroline seemed unaware that the ragged, denim-shirted and floursack-skirted first grade, most of whom had chopped cotton and fed hogs from the time they were able to walk, were immune to imaginative literature.”

Children want to learn what is real about this world. Make-believe/fantasy/myths are part of the tools we as humans utilize to make sense of a world we do not understand. But we are no longer living in the stones-ages. I think it would be disrespectful of them as little humans not to allow children access the wealth of information that is already known about our world.

Update June 5th, 2013: A great post summarizing Montessori points about books for toddlers. + 1 tip I recently learned: Try to find books that display the whole picture of something, and not just part of it. For example, the whole animal, a whole person…etc. 

What does Montessori say about sharing?

I haven’t read anything about it yet (there is a lot I need to learn) so if any moms have suggestions, ideas please do share with us all!

From what I understand though there is usually enough materials in a Montessori space for all the kids to choose their own and work on. You shouldn’t feel anxious for them to get off one project and try to ‘distract’ them with another if there is another child waiting for it, as if they are focused at the moment the best thing is to allow them the space to work. One of the cool things about the Montessori method is that there are no recesses, no 45 minute time limit intervals. This allows the students to work at their own pace, to switch activities as they like while maintaining the flow. They do not have to anticipate that they will be interrupted after 15 minutes (Don’t you hate that?) so they can truly concentrate on what they are doing.

*Update: New Post on sharing On Toddlers and Sharing

Today the play was less structured than it could be, as there were too many kids! The moms who were here were great and I wish I could invite you all again! Unfortunately we’ll need to keep strictly to 8 moms per playgroup in the future, so stay tuned for RSVPs! (Next week we will be on vacation, so perhaps the following week) Feel free to start your own at your home too! A lot of the info I looked up myself, there are a lot of resources in books, articles and blogs to be inspired by. Just keep learning! (and sharing!)

Also, feel free to check out my Facebook page, where I regularly post new things I’ve learned about Montessori, and pictures of doing it at home. https://www.facebook.com/WhenTheDiaperLeaks

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Should I let my child use an iPad? A response

Recently read this article from Children’s MD blog. They usually have very good posts, but I disagree with this mom doc’s opinion on allowing children to use ipads.

Children’s short attention span and immature working capacities often make it difficult for adults to do the tasks that need to be done. Offering them a distraction may seem like the way to go. I am sure there are electronic programs/apps that are quite good, I have simply not met any yet that I have found truly challenging in a way that has helped me learn in a lasting manner.

As archaic as it is, our minds are used to learning by doing, by feeling the rough grooves in the alphabet blocks….etc. Children feel and remember these sensations much more strongly than we as adults do. It is the building blocks of their memory and their connection to our world and humanity as a whole. It is our duty as adults to facilitate these contacts for them as much of this as possible; so they can experience more than the smooth texture of an ipad, the perfectly contrasted colors and lights of a screen. The window is small. When we are grown our minds are used to ignoring these things. Yet these sensations, and the memories of these sensations, are what makes the world real to us, and makes living joyful.

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I don’t believe that educators who are against electronics say so because they are afraid of being replaced by electronics. In fact, some nurseries and daycares that do not fear parental disapproval find it the best way to babysit children without the need to engage them in otherwise manpower intensive activities (set-up, guidance, cleanup).  Ask yourself: If you send your toddler to a nursery, would you be happy with them having ‘computer time, TV time’? Or would you prefer they prepare materials for them to explore with their hands, songs for them to practice singing? Is the use of digital objects just something that only YOU allow yourself to use as a distraction/education for them when you are the main caregiver? I am not saying that more labor-intensive work with a child makes you a better educator/parent (this seems to be a frequent argument made in the case of sleep-training, but let’s not get into that). The main problem is: because digital programs are designed to be so engrossingly perfect, it leaves little room for the imagination to blossom. And, this may sound counter-intuitive, but children need to learn to tolerate ‘boredom’, to deal with the frustration of not being able to do things. Only in this vacuum can they learn to create for themselves. And that is the height of human experience. We are not all consumers of what is sweet and lovely, but makers of our world and our reality. We may feel like we are having them ‘miss out’ on vital stimulation when other children are already ‘mastering’ the skills of apps on the iPad. But these things can wait. That they are designed for children’s maturity level doesn’t mean that they fulfill children’s holistic developmental needs at their current age. And the fact that there will always be new technology makes the ability to master the technology we have today a moot skill.

One strong indicator of whether electronics function effectively as educational tools are the numerous parents who work in these fields who allow their children to use them. My husband used to work in entertainment law, he says none of the people who work in the TV business allow their children to watch TV. And the news from silicon valley is that charter schools there that Do Not introduce computers before high school are extremely popular among the wealthy families.

What to do, then? A toddler can be impossible in the kitchen. At that age, they have a strong desire to see what you are doing and participate. There are simple ways to allow the child to participate in food prep that can be deeply satisfying for both parent and child: Have your child stand on a safe higher surface like The Learning Tower and have them transfer cut up peas for you into the prep bowl, stir mixtures…etc. Sometimes simply observing your work can be satisfying to them. When their attention has come to its limit they will signal this to you by “messy play” – throwing food bits around, banging things. Then it is time to take off their apron and put them back on the ground. This sort of involvement in everyday life work takes patience though, and can often make work take a bit more time than parents are willing to invest.

Electronics are made to be ‘intuitive’: easy to master. We are frequently amazed that children learn to operate and navigate them. Does that mean that it is a greater aid for them to learn? Or will it lower their tolerance for learning disciplines and skills that require more patience and have less accessible interfaces? I would argue the latter. When I was much younger, my parents allowed me to watch a lot of tv while they were busy (dad getting his degree, mom baking/socializing/busy with new baby…etc). I still find my patience for the hard work and constant time that is required for learning certain skills (maths, languages, practicing an instrument, working in a lab…etc) very limited, and as such my abilities in such areas have not been as in-depth as I would have liked. My attention goes from one subject to another, so that some may call me broadly learned, but what our society needs are more focused individuals in specialized fields making advances in the fields of knowledge, of public policy, and industrialized goods, not simply people who are entertained and entertaining. In this manner I am crippled.

We like saying that computer-ish devices are more interactive (and educational) than TV, but does that hold up to research?

Multitasking using ubiquitous, interactive and highly stimulating computers and phones, Professor Anderson says, appears to have a more powerful effect than TV.

– from This NY Times Article

We have yet to get complete results in from the effects of electronics on this generation. It may be that we can evolve different forms of acquiring information and utilizing it. It may be a sentimental hindrance of a habit to our learning when we enjoy paperback books rather than digitalized publications. Time (and studies) will tell.

For more inspiration, check out this amazing article about

a boy with no toys http://lauragraceweldon.com/2012/02/20/the-boy-with-no-toys/

how Montessori viewed technology as a tool for children. http://thefullmontessori.wordpress.com/2013/03/20/protecting-the-natural-mind/

and Kathy von Duyke explaining how videos can be used, but why and how they should be limited  http://www.home-school.com/Articles/how-to-tame-the-video-monster.php

I understand that being a working mom can put quite a squeeze on one’s time, however, so my opinion here on the issue could be easier for those who can make the time in engaging and establishing steady expectations for their children.

If you give them space, they will grow.

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Knox using the juicer

https://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=628454563839141

Saw another mom do this with her child. First I showed him how. Then he wanted to participate but didn’t know how to press down quite yet. So I pressed on his hands, then he got it and started doing it himself! Freshly squeezed grapefruit juice for daddy! (and Knox)

15 month Knox using juicer

Had health test done for renewing Qatar Family Visit visa

So this past week I had a health test done to renew my family visit visa. Knox went with and he got pricked in the big toe. He saw it coming too! Immediately started to pre-cry when the man in the lab pointed at his shoe for me to take off. And then when it was all over, Knox pointed at his toe saying “Eh!” He’s an expressive kid, truly. The pricking seemed to be for a blood type test on a smear plate. I am O+. This was conducted in a clinic. The rest of the test was done at the Qatar Health Commission. Women went off to a different section of the building than the men. We paid 100 QAR for the health test (Mike’s company footed this) and I had blood drawn (bruiser! I never saw a nurse prick up your skin when drawing blood!).

My bruiser blood draw, day 5 (it was even worse yesterday!) :

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They were supposed to do an X-ray for tuberculosis but since I’m pregnant they did a Tuberculin skin test instead. Cool facts I learnt about this test:

  • It’s called the PPD test, or Mantoux test, derived from non-infectious molecules of the bacterial culture that tests for previous contact with the agent.
  • Considered safe for diagnosis during pregnancy.
  • Dr. pricked my skin upwards with the needle to inject this under the skin, creating a welt upon injection, which very quickly dissipated and in 3 days is now a red irritated circle. We are not supposed to rub/scratch it.
  • A positive result usual results in a welt, diagnosed within 50 hours of injection. The doctor had me come in again in two days for her to inspect it. Positive result measures the diameter of the welt (not the irritated red part). False positives are possible, and has to be interpreted according to the person’s history (did he/she come from a high prevalence region? …etc)

This is my negative result:
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It does feel a little swollen and sore though, This is day 3.

I hear that I will need to go in for another health test for the residency. Wonder if there’ll be same procedures… probably more extensive? We shall see. Am excited about our upcoming Turkey trip! Cappadocia and Istanbul! Some fun time before I get too large to move. We’ll be needing an exit visa for that (so we can come back to the country!) Hopefully Mike’s company’s HR will get that sorted soon.

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