RSS Feed

Category Archives: Montessori

蒙特梭利國小環境的三個工具 Montessori Elementary 3 Essential Tools

These are notes I took while reading this article:  for the purpose of sharing with Mandarin reading friends in Taiwan who are interested in how Montessori functions at the elementary level. For the English version of these notes, please scroll down to the bottom. or just read her excellent article! : )


#1. 紀錄本


  • 孩子得到的演示
  • 孩子自由選擇的工作


  • 之後的計畫
  • 孩子對於某個指定學習項目的心得


  • 日期、時間(某個工作)、工作/演示名稱、結束時間
  • 休息時間如何運用
  • 選擇性的塗鴉



  1. 一開始是老師手作的精美記錄本,只有足夠一週紀錄的。
  2. 一個(美國經典黑白)筆記本 composition style notebook,可以讓孩子自己裝飾。這應該由孩子來購買,賦予孩子對本子有責任感。


  • 監督(檢查記錄本):可以每天用一種友善、幽默的態度去檢查記錄本,讓孩子知道這很重要。
  • 老師應該以身作則,自己有用一本記錄本。


  • 你最有意思的工作是什麼?
  • 最具挑戰的工作是什麼?
  • 你今天有什麼發現嗎?
  • 你在X時候在什麼?
  • 你今天跟朋友做了什麼工作?
  • 你最後一個(生物)工作是什麼?



#2. 社會的期待



  • 社會的期待應該被整理成一個讓孩子可以懂的形式。
  • 如任何其他工作一樣跟孩子做演示(每年小組演示)。在適當的時機提起。如:『對於社會期待你能在年底前了解的分數工作,現在做的怎麼樣啊?』



  • 給正確的孩子種下足夠的責任種子。
  • 工具主要是由孩子來監督的。



  • 幫助我們的自由有架構
  • 對探索有一些指引的方向
  • 幫助緩和家長的疑慮

#3 與孩子開會 


  1. 日常的:規律的檢查紀錄本、跟孩子交集。孩子可能不會意識到這是開會,不過老師對於這些都應該要做紀錄。
  2. 正式的:每兩個禮拜做一次,有著清楚地先前預期(要做什麼)和開會的時間有公佈


  • 檢視記錄本並討論學生的時間運用
  • 全觀完成且進行中的工作
  • 孩子是否有責任的運用他所得到的自由呢?
  • 工作是否是期待的品質?
  • 孩子是否有探索了環境的各領域?還是只有在最喜歡的領域?
  • 有哪些示範有帶給孩子了(同儕和老師)?
  • 對社會的期待很重要的課程,孩子是否有效跟進?
  • 孩子有負責任的選擇嗎?


開會後,老師一定要再跟進follow up(孩子是否有執行)!



Reading notes on The Three Essential Tools, by Melinda Nielson

#1. The Journal

Introducing children to The Journal is the 1st great lesson given to children on their 1st day of class. It is an account of how the child spent his/her day, including:

  • Lessons that were given to child
  • Freely chosen work.

Not for recording:

  • Planning ahead
  • child’s feelings about an assigned topic

CONTENTS of The Journal:

  • date, time (of certain work), name of work/lesson, end time.
  • How downtime is spent
  • illustrations (optional)

Goals: “specify, clarify, quantify, & beautify”.

Suggestions for how the journal is made:

  1. Initially a teacher made booklet with just enough pages for a week at a time. Beautifully bound.
  2. a composition style bound book (can be decorated by child) This should be purchased by child to embrace responsibility.

Teacher’s responsibility:

  • Monitor (check journals): can check in daily in a kind, humorous way just to let the child know it is important.
  • Teacher should set an example by keeping a journal too!

Questions that can be asked to community (children):

  • What was your most interesting work?
  • What was your most challenging work? or, What did you find challenging?
  • What did you discover today?
  • What were you doing at X time?
  • What work did you do with a friend today?
  • What was the last work done with (biology)?

Montessori: “Recognize the child as an individual, and the children as a group.”

Make journaling a part of the community culture. Help each other who have difficulty with this responsibility.

#2. Societal Expectations

These are local and national curriculum…etc.

Societal Expectations should be considered as a tool to assist child is self-construction; evaluate themselves.

Teacher’s work:

  • These expectations should be synthesized and rewritten in a form accessible to the child.
  • Offered to child as any piece of material is (present to small groups yearly). Make reference at opportune/appropriate times. ie: “How are you doing with that fraction work society expects you to know by the end of this year?”

As a community, the confident leaders will enable the younger members to self-evaluate with this tool.

Teacher’s work:

  • Plant enough seeds of responsibility to the right children
  • tool will essentially be monitored by children

Important: Societal Expectations should not detract from Cosmic Education!

Instead, we use Societal Expectations as a tool:

  • Helps provide structure to freedom
  • offers guidance to explorations
  • ease parental anxieties

#3 Meeting with Child

There are 2 types of meeting that are conducted regularly:

  1. CASUAL : regular journal check, check-in conversations, children may not be aware that these are meetings but teachers should record all of these.
  2. FORMAL: done every two weeks with  – Clear Prior Expectations & – Schedule posted of meetings

The Agenda of Formal Meetings

  • Scrutinize work journal and consider student’s time use
  • Overview of completed & in-progress endeavors
  • Is child responsible for freedom given?
  • Is work of expected quality?
  • Has child explored all areas of environment, or just favorite?
  • What lessons have been given to child (by peers & teacher)?
  • Has child followed up appropriately on lessons that are essential to Societal Expectations?
  • Has child made responsible choices?

Work is quickly reviewed, always listening to child’s self-evaluation.


Personal thoughts:

This rather reminds me of productivity planning, and some of my husband’s management strategies that he shares with me time-to-time based on his corporate experience.

I think I know some underachieving verbally gifted children…

Just came across this helpful article to considering motivation for some children in classroom management/design, shared by the Ultimate Montessori Parents Guide:
Signs of verbally gifted children: higher competency in language than peers, easily acquire language, good ear for sound of languages, good at manipulating symbols (letters), can often be heard ‘playing’ with language. – making jokes with language, experimenting with sound (making nonsense sounds), getting rhymes and poetry quickly…etc.
    Aside from this, very young children also have a sensitive period (Montessori) for language that makes it easier for them to absorb languages.
Takeaways from that article:
   1. Verbally gifted children tend to be holistic learners – they want to see the big picture (why should I learn this?) before getting details esp. cosmic education>
2. Because of need for holistic learning and challenge, tend to see rote memorization as pointless. This will present as saying something is ‘hard’ when they mean that something is ‘boring and uncomfortable to learn – tedious’ (not necessarily beyond the child’s capability, as we adults would define the word ‘hard’).
3. For the sake of challenge (to stay interested), these children will often choose difficult tasks over easy ones at the risk of getting a lower grade. Thus presenting with underachievement.
4. Tend to want to be able to be in charge of their own learning (intrinsically motivated)
     Note: being verbally gifted is only one aspect of a child so one verbally gifted child will appear different in temperament and other capabilities than another child. Something I have noticed about gifted children is that their learning often appears asymmetrical – this includes not being very good at certain things, can sometimes present with behavioral issues (due to asymmetry), and does not necessarily follow learning scope & sequence because some things are ahead of others (such as Montessori found that children can often write before they can read. A gifted child may be ready to learn reading before they are able to write, due to under-developed fine motor that is related to their focused interest on non-fine motor related areas.)
     For example, today I noticed a child in the class I am teaching practice at who, for an almost 4 year old, is showing pretty good mastery of the moveable mandarin alphabet (bopomo), compared to peers. I do not think he has enough control for writing yet but he is definitely good at blending. This is one of the children (most of them tend to be boys!) who at various other times can present with behavioral challenges. Could this because he is undershooting in certain areas? Something to find out!
     Another child I know who I realize is verbally gifted (Has high attention span for being read to compared to peers. Can memorize picture book dialogue upon first being read to. Will make puns with words. Easily find and fills in gaps when reading things that rhyme, likes to find new ways of doing things) – keeps complaining and avoiding language work, will dither when working with language. I believe this is because the way these particular language works are presented with limited scope, and the children have been constrained not to use them in a spontaneous way. However, to teachers to follow clear scope & sequence, this child can seem to have ‘not yet mastered’ more basic concepts, and so can be held back because teachers want them to finish one step successfully before moving on to another. While the child is one who seeks novelty and challenge.
     So I think for this child : 1.material for earlier steps needs to be regularly refreshed so child will be interested in working with ‘old’ concepts in new ways. 2. Occasional bridge work (forays) into more advanced work should be used, and allowed, but not to the point that child is introduced too early and frustrated. 3. Sometimes it is okay to experiment so child can see value of earlier work as foundation. 4. Freedom and opportunity for initiative should be allowed. The need for creativity can be satisfied with other materials/activities if purposeful use needs to be maintained for certain materials.

     It is possible for Montessori schools and teachers to accommodate for the needs of gifted children because the inherent philosophical learning environment design allows individualization. However, it is also possible for Montessori teachers to miss these positive aspects and potentialities of a child’s learning. So I really love all these new studies coming to the fore that explore differentiated learning needs!

Montessori on Attachment


Attachment Theory was developed after Maria Montessori by Bowlby, beginning in 1969. So imagine my surprise to find Montessori speaking of Attachment in her 1946 London Lectures!

Little children between three and six years of age have a special psychology. They are full of love. They are only without love if they are ill treated. If they are badly treated their real nature is altered. Children are full of love and need to be loved in order to grow. All mothers naturally love their children and so the children get this love that they need.The love of the parents is the security of the young age. Their joy in life depends on the love for each other of all the people around them.

The sense of security that comes from having loving parents is necessary, too, for success in school; children of united families are more successful. Little children need to feel that their parents cannot live without them – that if they are not happy, their parents suffer. A psychologist gae a lecture here in London showing that harm was done to small children who had to be left behind by their parents when they went to work in the Colonies. He gave a striking example of a businessman who went to Australia, leaving his wife and little son in England. The child felt that he father was not so attached to them and then one day the mother told him that his father needed her and that she would have to join him. The child was broken-hearted. he had had the security of thinking that his mother loved him better than anyone else and then learnt that she, instead preferred the father. This meant the loss of all security for him.


By seven years of age, the child has a different psychology. He is no longer dependent on his parents’ love.

— Lecture 28 Religious Education, The 1946 London Lectures

I had previously written briefly on Montessori’s viewpoint on attachment here through the words of her student, Margaret Humfray. Half a year later, I wrote an essay that particularly focused on Attachment, as part of my Montessori training requirements, where I was not to quote Montessori. Here I had the opportunity to delve into the science of the theory of attachment. Where I found some surprising things. I think it is useful for parents to be aware of the findings of these attachment studies in the past half century, which I have summarized below.

  1. John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory (1969) was inspired by various animal studies : Harlow’s cloth mother/iron mother rhesus monkey study, and Konrad Lorenz’s discovery of imprinting in grey lag goslings.
  2. Bowlby’s timeline for attachment:
    – Infants begin to exhibit preferential communication with primary caregivers around 5~7 months of age
    – Attachment behaviours (clinging, upset when mother figure is absent…etc.) at around 9 months.
    – Attachment behaviours peak at 12~16 months.
    – Attachement formation has a sensitive period up to 2 or 3 years of age.
    – Child becomes able to accomodate for other people’s needs around age 3. This is the next stage in the attachment relationship. Child exhibits less need for proximity and can now operate on more abstract needs such as affection, trust and approval.
  3. Mary Ainsworth discovered that parenting style influences attachment style. It is important to note that infants, and later children, are shown to express different forms of attachment behaviours (or types) when presented with different adults in their life. Ex: the child may express type B when interacting with father, and type D to mother.
  4. Attachment style has ramifications for parent-child relationship into adulthood. Afterwards, other researchers found that:
    – Attachment styles can continue to be propagated into the next generation.
    – Children can change attachment category through life (Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2003)
    – Mothers who experienced deprived parenting, but were highly reflective individuals, tended to raise securely attached infants (Fonagy etal., 1994)
  5.  Further into his career, Bowlby had modified his statement from ‘mothers’ to ‘primary caregivers’. Attachment does not have to be the mother, or female. Can be small constellation of primary caregivers.
  6. Later studies have also shown that there is no absolute prediction of the child’s ability to relate to others based on the attachment type they displayed in the lab during infancy. There are two ideas about how this may be: 1) that some children may be more resilient than others. And 2) that later trust relationships that were formed may also be influential to the child’s social outlook.

    Keywords: Internal Working Model (Bowlby, 1969), Concept of Self (Bowlby, 1988), Secure Base, Strange Situation (Ainsworth), Parenting Styles (Ainsworth, 1978), 4 Types of Attachment (Ainsworth et al, 1978; Main, Solomon, 1990), Adult Attachment Interview (George, Kaplan, Main)


Update Knox 47 months, Quin 28 months

As we’re not a commercial enterprise, we’ve finally reverted our blog name to the free

After having put some of their activities and all of the jigsaw puzzles into an accessible cabinet, they have been getting some things out to work on. The other day Quin got out the box of beads.

As a beginner, one-year-old Knox had previously worked on a ‘bead threading box’ where there were only 3~5 large beads, and a stiff, short thick string that was knotted at the end. In his 3 year old class, he periodically brought home threaded straw necklaces and bracelets. Working on the supposition that she has some experience from her toddler class with beading work and that she wouldn’t have selection anxiety (too many beads! Should I throw them?), this time I had the whole box available for Quin in her cabinet.

Also, at this stage I have a reasonable amount of confidence in what these two kids might do given a certain type of setting. Being in a cabinet with a wooden door, the likelihood of them passing by whilst restless and hitting upon it as a mess-around activity is diminished.

And oh boy was I so pleased when she did immediately recognize it as a threading activity, and also seemed inclined to view it as a sorting activity! She saw that certain colors went in certain compartments, and with some frustration and a gentle tip was able to see that certain strings went with certain bead sizes. I had taped the ‘starting end’ of most of the strings that were too soft when I saw her struggle with it.

In other news:

Recently I had the opportunity to be secret Santa to two children, 6 & 8.


For the 6 year old I chose a put it together plane kit. I am estimating this sort would be a good activity for Knox starting maybe around 5. Though I have reservations as I’m not sure that it can be made into anything else. I am hopeful by that time Quin will be stable enough for Knox to not live in fear (of having his projects wrecked) as he gains capacity to build with Kapla blocks, and cuboro, perhaps even circuits! Right now he builds mostly with sets that have magnets, such as magnatiles, magformers, and tegu (less popular due to polarity and limited shape). Or blocks that fit together (duplo, Gigo junior engineer, tube locks). The interest in these basically started with the capacity to make vehicles. The tegu one doesn’t have any wheels so I suspect that may be part of why it has not yet held his interest. I am so in love with his sudden burst into making symmetry these past few months – planes, boats, race cars, race-car airplanes, fire engine airplanes…etc.

For the 8 year old I chose a 3D drawing kit. When I saw it, it reminded me of the one time our high school tech teacher had us do exercises in isometric projection: drawing an item in 2D from frontal and lateral viewpoints, and switching to drawing it in 3D as well. I loved it. It is one of those things I consider ‘adult secrets’ that only people in the trade know, and for us to be able to experience it was such a fun revelation for me! I believe this toy would best be used in the following sequence : For the child to first do exercises in 3D drawing on paper. And then to use the kit to draw and assemble designs she had pre-designs. I recall, as a child, visiting the homes of friends who had very generous relatives. Their rooms would be like a treasure chest (to me), various components of various kits and board games would be scattered here and there. And my friend would often be complaining that she’s bored. I think if you really do give one of these kits to kids, with no preamble, then it is truly very easy to be bored quickly, as the child does not have the sense of order or discipline to plumb the potentials in these toys, and would ‘abuse it’ to the point that it is not considered precious at all.

Good article on not losing your head this holiday season (if you haven’t already, hahah!):

This is my new favorite intro to the Montessori environment video, it’s one of the rare ones which focuses not on the physical environment, but on how the community operates in accordance with rules that foster mutual respect.

and I love how thoughtful this mother is about sending her child to school:


Update: So our kids got their secret Santa gifts. Knox got a hot wheels race track. Quin got a huge Frozen Elsa doll.

Unfortunately as we had already gotten her a baby doll, I have had to hide her Elsa doll (still in packaging). There was something I read in Montessori From The Start a while ago that resonated with me:

The reality is that very young children can only truly love one doll, one stuffed animal, and a few toys at a time. This experience provides a basis for adult life where one must learn to cherish one spouse, one family, one life, instead of fantasizing that it is possible to “have it all.”

I have found this inability to love too many to be my own experience. For a while in Taiwan, before elementary, I had only one stuffed doll. I would sleep with it. One day a friend of my mom’s gave me another stuffed doll. Now I had two dolls to love. I was confused. The concept of equality entered my mind. I must love them both. But one was obviously more superior in appearance than the other! I should love the uglier one more than …etc. I eventually found this somewhat stressful and let go of the concept of ‘loving them both’. At that point, I was able to see them as ‘only dolls’. And thus ended my baby doll stage.

As an aside, I also had barbies, about 2 or 3 I think. And despite being used for role play, dressing up (this helped me understand when I read, later on, how difficult it must be to dress corpses), and having an interesting experience in trying to wash their hair, they do not inspire the same maternal instinct as baby dolls. Also, I do not remember the baby dolls of other little girls inspiring maternal instinct, as I knew these belonged to other little girls and I did not have the right to care for them. If you think about it, the internal worlds of children are really quite complex and (for those of us that remember) has the potential involve many many billable hours in the counseling office if we’re not careful. Part of my natural hesitation to take the lead in children’s play is my understanding that I cannot really understand them if I’m talking at them all the time.

Knox does not appear to have a strong inclination towards dolls one way or another. There was one time when he took someone’s doll, walked a good distance away from the rest of the children, and sat down to ‘nurse’ it (with an expression as if he were in a trance! I still wonder what he was thinking).

From Feb, 2014

From Feb, 2014

However, Quin seems to enjoy holding dolls more, referring to dolls as ‘baby’, pushing doll in toy stroller, looking at babies, and pretending herself to be a ‘baby’. Now she will have one doll to love. We will see how it goes.

On their shelf this week:

the subtle art of creating an environment

A few days ago while Knox was laid up with the fever I made food coloring paint for Quin in bottles. The paper I gave her was flimsy. Very quickly she became absorbed in squirting the paints into a tray.


I haven’t been doing too much arts and crafts with the kids, since Knox has been the ultimate minimalist and it often feels that I spend more time setting up the activity than it occupies him. Quin, on the other hand, seems slightly more interested. As I watched her experimenting with the squeeze bottles, I noticed how the paint would quickly disperse into the other colors, turning the whole into the predictable mud. She seemed interested, however, to see the initial brighter color contrast on the already muddy background.

It made me wonder about the subtle differences in working material which drives behavior. I constantly think of the ‘genius’ that is Aelita Andre, after having seen a mesmerizing video of her at work. I do not question that she is gifted, but I do question how much our cautiousness and stinginess as adults hamper children’s natural expressions. For example, if I gave Quin acrylic and canvas to work with, would this better quality material increase her concentration?

But it is so expensive! and how to protect the room/her clothes??? It may be that I will never discover what she would be like working with this material. And this aspect of her at this age will never be explored.

This is true also for the beautiful heavy wooden letters, and those custom-made sensory tables (just the right height, just the right size) vs the hodge-podge of items I can make with cardboard and home goods items. It is one of the reasons why I value my children going to a well-established classroom more than my paltry at-home resources. At the very least, I can supplement their experiences with things I think the school lacks, but I cannot create everything they have.

Our capacity as child carers are hobbled by our resources, a lot of which includes our own memories of childhood. If we do not remember in ourselves the delight of smearing nobbly salt paint across a glassy surface, it is rather hard to see the act as anything but a damn nuisance and mess. And what more, we ourselves do not encompass the spectrum that is the individual interests of diverse personalities.

So as I loved my bare feet on dewy damp grass, I feel rather annoyed to find my son crying over getting his toes wet. The necessity of offering diverse experiences, resources, and environments thus becomes crucial to being able to find the right medium for a child. To observe children without too much assumption of what they do or do not need, and then tailor the approach accordingly.

I feel that it is as presumptuous to say that children should not have letter instruction before the age of 7, as it is to dictate that toddlers should all sit in chairs to learn else they should be left behind in the academic track. Both of these perspectives fail to consult the child. And while it may not be possible for us to ‘interview’ the child, what we do have is the power of observation.

I say the above because I was recently recommended to look up Nathan Mikaere-Wallis. I enjoy finding new people. There is never enough to learn. I could only find reviews on his speeches though. I found most of the points on ages 3~7 salient, though not too new to me, his mentioning the unnecessariness of children learning to read before age 7 I personally found annoying. The reason that he gave was that reading skills plateau later on so that a child who read at 3 does not perform better than a child who learns at 7. And besides, it takes precious time away from social skills.

Now the reason why I was annoyed was that both my husband and I were early readers. He at age 3 and I at age 4. It is something we still love today. It was not forced on us. It was simply something available in our environment (being read to) that we picked up on. While I cannot say that I am the most evolved creature in my social graces, neither can I say that, if I were kept from being able to read at that age, I would today be more socially adept.

This perspective of not teaching children to read and write before age 7 is problematic in that it reverses the issue – the problem is not that children are diminished by the instruction, rather that the standards for children’s education should be set at the more general one (most children are able to grasp reading and writing at age 7), while at the same time still offering all children the rich resources for them to pick and choose according to their innate time-schedule.

It shows that we still have the problem backward: we consider children products, whom we must mold with the most efficient resources to the most efficacious result in a short time (we will begin reading and writing instruction in first grade. Most of them will learn it within the year. Why waste resources on writing and reading material for the lower grade then?). It is silly that those that who speak for the children must scare parents from giving their children too much pressure, by making up a bogus reason for it being detrimental for them, instead of simply saying: “If he’s not ready, these are the signs that he’s not ready, and it doesn’t mean he’s stupid. Your pressuring expectations are what kills his neurons.”

I feel that having read Montessori’s texts on children seem to have increased my expectations of what childcare texts should look like. For often I get the distinct feeling, in reading modern texts on childcare, of being considered rather dim-witted and thus must be spoken to in very simple terms, particularly if I’m considering the study of such a profession. With Montessori, multiple re-reading only serves to remind me of the wonder that a child is, and what a worthy and careful work it is that I as an adult must consider.

For example, this passage on The Small Child’s Interest in Small Objects (a sensitive period) from E. M. Standing’s Maria Montessori: Her Life And Work

We adults miss many such things in our environment because, the contents of our minds being immeasureably richer, we tend to project our own synthesis into what we see. the above trait in children so young may surprise some people, for it is commonly supposed that children under two are attracted only by rather violent stimuli such as flags, bells, gay colours, singing, bright lights, and so forth. Certainly it is true that they are attracted by these things; but Montessori maintains that these are not the characteristic objects of their interest. Supposing, she says, by way of an illustration, that a man was sitting absorbed in reading a book, and then a band went by in the street, or a voice began shouting, and the man looked out the window. You might argue that the was more attracted to such sounds than his book, whereas in reality he is more interested in the latter less obvious and less violent stimulus. Similarly with these small children, the deep formative current of their mental life is not so easily discernible as their reactions to more obvious stimuli.

(bold emphasis my own)

also this:

Montessori discovered – or rather the children showed her – that the best age to learn to write is from three and a half to four and a half. The child, at the beginning of this period, is not interested in writing sentences, or even words. As a matter of fact, paradoxical as it may seem, he is not interested in writing at all. What interests him are certain purely sensorial aspects of the matter – the shape of the sandpaper letters (especially when he feels the contours with his two writing fingers). He is also interested by the fact – again a purely sensorial one – that each letter has a corresponding sound. He is at a stage when the world of touch means enormously more to him than to us. Indeed, it commonly happens that a child at this age who cannot recall the phonetic sounds of a letter by looking at it, will at once remember if he runs the tips of his fingers over it, touch conveying more to him than sight.

People who maintain that children should not be taught to write till they are six or seven years old have not realized that there exists this purely sensorial aspect of language. They are thinking of it rather in terms of writing and reading whole words or sentences, or even of the ideas they represent. That is why they are so astonished when they see children of 4 1/2- 5 1/2 composing long words like “Panama” or “Atlantic” with the movable letters, even before they can read. It was the children who had had the opportunity of learning the shapes of the individual letters by feeling them, and who knew their corresponding sounds, who “exploded” with such a dramatic suddenness into writing and still do when the right circumstances are present at the right age.

and this:

It may seem strange to the reader that a child can recognize (and name) the various regular polygons – pentagon, hexagon, octagon, etc. – before he can count properly. The reason is because, at that age, he can recognize these figures sensorially, by their look, without counting their sides or angles at all. In fact as soon as the child can count, and becomes interested in counting and comparing the number of sides, he has passed beyond the purely sensorial stage: and – says Montessori – “when we have passed to a higher stage we are no longer able to take what is accessible in an earlier.”

and finally:

When persons unacquainted with the Montessori system hear of these prodigious labours, or see them with their own eyes, they are so astonished that they sometimes change their tune altogether and go to the opposite extreme. They say, “I think it must be dangerous to push the children on to these precocious efforts. ” Such a criticism is of course unfounded; because no one is “pushing” the children at all. They are quite free to stop at any moment and change their occupations; or just take a rest if they feel like it. Such critics do not realize that working under the urge of a sensitive period is a vital function, and therefore does not tire one any more than does one’s breathing, or the beating of one’s heart.

Update Quin 2 Years Old, Knox 3.5 Years Old

<<This post is long and rambling. May I suggest you read it while listening to this?>>

We have a Christmas themed rotating musical cookie jar that the Co-op parents had given me before we left Doha. It is rather a delightful object – I suppose a British thing : The creation of such lovely and durable tins for cookies that are gone in a trice. I use it to store the kids’ Christmas stockings. Knox discovered them the other day and asked me what they were. Naturally I wanted them immediately put back into the tin. But I calmed myself and told him they were Christmas stockings, for Christmas chocolates, and they must go back in the tin so they will be available for Christmas, which happens a few days before your birthday.

“Remember the chocolate santa that Oma gave you? And how you had found out how to open it up and was eating it happily. And Quin saw you eating it and wanted it and didn’t know how to open it, but I didn’t help her. And so she discovered how to open it herself? And you guys both really enjoyed the chocolates?”

I do not know if he remembers, but he may have seen the video of it. He asked why the stockings should be returned to the tin. And I told him “because they are for Christmas, for the Christmas chocolates. And not used before then.” Which he accepted cheerfully and immediately set things back to rights. Intermittently in the following days he would proclaim to me, and to others who would listen, that the stockings are for chocolates. He seems to quite look forward to it.
This rotation of toys has been particularly successful. For Quin. She has just turned two and we had a week of dessert celebrations: Chocolate cake on Sunday, candy necklaces from Ikea the next day, pudding on Thursday. She blew out the candle herself. At least, she would have done if Knox hadn’t insisted on helping. I have had to intercede on her behalf a few times due to Knox’s eager ‘assistance’ to her work.

candy necklaces from ikea. Quin turns two.

candy necklaces from ikea. Quin turns two.


We have recently deployed a bubble gun. Knox has yet to tire of it. One time we went to the park and some children were there blowing bubbles. I was afraid of Knox’s bubble gun ‘showing up’ on them and went around to the other side, telling Knox we should avoid competing with their efforts. A boy about 4 years old came up to Knox and invited Knox to chase him around with his bubble gun, which of course Knox was happy to oblige. After a while the bubbles ran out. The boy immediately came over and offered to refill with his own bubbles. And then they went round again.

I feel like an inflexible old codger next to their agile brains. While my mind is filled with worries of equity and fairness and avoidance of violence their game is quite simple. I hear around elementary a stronger hierarchical tendency may emerge. This is the age I recall of cliches and exclusion. I suppose in Lord-of-the-Flies situations primitive humans generally do tend towards such behavior. But I have also read of classrooms where teachers are trained to notice such things, and though not redirect forcefully, to guide elementary students to consider their actions and view their maligned classmates not as others, but rather in partnership. I find this fascinating. For in my elementary experience the teachers were mainly charged with the academic performance of the students. And as long as physical or sexual aggression did not occur, teachers did not interfere in social torture. In middle school there were even teachers that actively encouraged antagonism between students to deflect aggression towards themselves. It was definitely a world of them v.s. us. Eavesdrop on any conversation ‘high achieving’ academic track high school students in Taiwan, and the conversation will inevitably turn to The Game – acing the test, predicting what the teacher shall test next, staying in the teacher’s favor while critiquing their lecture skills behind their backs. There is a culture of worship for those who test well in Taiwan. And I have had the good fortune to come close to some of this rarified air. But listen in on the conversations and you will be astounded by the narrowness of scope. And I truly feel – what cost this is to our human capital, to direct our young brains to a narrow pursuit at the necessary exclusion of other values? And the currency of the reward so situation specific?

Knox said next time he would like to play with that boy again.


Another beloved spraying day.

I would like to note that Knox is very good about not using the bubble gun indoors after I informed him it is only an outdoor toy. He is able to simply hold it when we are in the MRT. This I also find interesting. I am hopeful that this is due to him having a stable environment, and Quin will eventually display as much as her brother, though she seems more impulse driven than he was (at that age) in relation to delectable morsels.

DSC00824 DSC00825

I really like the linked experiment above because it also suggests what we might employ in means of public policy. It is often said that Economics operates under the (false) presumption that people make rational choices, so the invisible hand will maximize societal prosperity. The disproof of this argument is that voters are shown to often make self-defeating, irrational decisions.

I believe this is a false premise. The fact is the function of society and government acts as environmental impetus for us. We still make rational decisions, but the maturity of our decisions, I would suggest, is dependent on the security of our environment. The more secure and involved we feel, the more likely we are to make broadly altruistic decisions that may not benefit us short-term. Removing social security creates narrow-minded constituents that are actually acting in a rational manner as best they know how within their environment: For there is no guarantee that more community-minded decisions will come back to benefit them. Worship of the invisible hand is a simplistic viewpoint that ignores the influence interest groups and individuals have over the the market, eventually skewing it towards dysfunction. I would also state that, in this scenario, wealthy groups and individuals are also acting rationally in rapaciousness. For individual restraint does not deter others in your field for being rapacious.

And I do not believe that flaming antagonism between rich and poor makes change more likely, considering human nature. Unless we wish to stomach violent social upheaval, which is an uncertain shuffle of resources that involves uncertain physical security for most of us who do not have the reflexes of post-apocalyptic super-heros.

But I was talking about this rotation of toys being particularly successful for Quin. She has been observed to take these out individually, work on them, and put them back, working steadily through most of the items on the shelf. I have rarely seen this in Knox at the same age. Her concentration face is most beautiful.

Note the several activities in one cubby hole. I am trying not to overdo it but space is limited...

Note the several activities in one cubby hole. I am trying not to overdo it but space is limited…

I am wondering how to reestablish Knox’s confidence for building tracks, of which he is capable of but keeps whining for assistance. Perhaps playing this vid of another 3 y/o building tracks in the TV screen. It is calm enough to be just background. So he feels like he is doing it alongside another small person?

One day when Quin was napping, and I was pretending to nap, Knox was very quiet. I peered out and saw that he had taken out the jigsaw puzzles by himself and was working on it.

and then there was the time Quin spontaneous lined up blocks.


“Like a train” Knox said.

Knox seemed to have read something in mandarin the other day: “時間到了。”  I am not sure, for he would not say if he guessed it or read it. I am pretending nonchalance in his presence as I eagerly spy on him.

DSC00940 DSC00947

Happy sewing! See you tomorrow! Grace

Sharing: The magic words

I was looking back on my post on sharing and realized something: I hadn’t mentioned the magic words in there! These are words that I learnt from Knox’s Montessori nursery Directoress in Taipei. And here they are:

You can use it when s/he is done.

Sometimes you say: “X is working on it now, you can have it when she is done with it.”

Use this consistently, between siblings at home, in school. The rule is that the person who is working/playing has the right to not feel interfered with, harried and anxious when they are working on something. It is a key component to children’s ability to concentrate and feel sociable with each other. Once they understand that there are rules to a civilized society, that they take turns benefiting from it, and that it is not an arbitrary rule but one that is always there, they will be relaxed and ready to learn.

I need to mention that this is part and parcel of the Montessori ecosystem. This is only one component among several that helps foster a child’s concentration and sociability. The best results come when it’s combined with various other components, including: an accessible environment, appropriate materials, consistency and routine (work period), non-busy design (not overstimulating), adults as guides…etc.

And consideration must also be made for a child’s ability to follow orders. It is not fair, for example, for a kid who’s into building things constantly have his projects destroyed by a toddler sibling. Nor for the sibling to be constantly cordoned off in a pen so her elder brother can play. Offer a time and/or a place where the child can play undisturbed: baby’s nap time, a higher table, their room, shutting themselves up in the playpen. When the younger one is not yet able to obey orders, it is up to you as the adult to protect the elder child’s right his/her developmental needs.

DSC00455 DSC00551 DSC00509