Category Archives: Personal

Another Chapter

20160908_121248It has taken me some time to catch my breath and process, but things have changed quite a bit around here. I thought it was time that I catch the ol’ blog up to provide some context for the writing I’d like to do in the near future. So, big news here: Our school is closed. The closest thing I can compare that decision to is a really awful break-up. I knew it was the right thing, but it was still painful on so many levels and it has taken me quite awhile to work through the complex feelings I had surrounding the whole thing and feel mostly right again.

Professionally and personally, starting the program was one of my proudest and most rewarding accomplishments and I intended to continue it for at least the next four years, until my littlest aged out at six years old. Over the past three and a half years, I learned first-hand about the joys and challenges of teaching one’s own children and, until this last one, the joys outweighed the challenges and I could honestly say that my ability to meet my family’s needs was enhanced by my role within our little school. This past year, however, the challenges of parenting children with special needs collided with the challenges of running a business and serving as guide, in a way that I did not feel could continue to benefit everyone. I had to let go, either of my plans for my children’s education or my plans for the school. Since my primary goal in starting the school was to give my children an affordable Montessori environment in which to thrive, it did not make sense to continue without them.

So we’ve found ourselves starting a new chapter yet again. Our school space has become a gross motor play area for all three kids and we are unschooling for now, until it no longer works for all of us. Montessori materials come out when they fit in with something one of the children is discovering or experimenting with, and the philosophy will always drive so much of what I do and how I am with my children. With a toddler, plus a four year old and first grader who exist on alternating extremes of the bell curve depending on the skills a situation calls for, however, keeping the full range of materials available isn’t the right choice for us, but we will always be a Montessori family, even if it’s not expressed in an obvious way. Unschooling is perfect for us at the moment, and I’m seeing so much joyful learning take place.

I am itching for a professional outlet, but taking a little breather as I work out how to find that while also being there for my family in the way I feel compelled to be at the moment. Mostly I’m counting the days until the next American Montessori Society Conference, but I toy with the idea of putting myself out there as a substitute or volunteering at one of a couple of programs whose mission resonates deeply with me, among other things. Most likely I’ll start taking some classes in the spring so that when I really dive back into the work, I’ll be that much more prepared for it.

So that’s us. The only other tidbit I’ll mention for those who may have read along in the past is that I have removed a lot of older content from the blog and will share in a bit less detail about the children moving forward. As they grow, I grow increasingly less comfortable with sharing specifics about them and their lives. I want to honor their privacy, even if they’re not at the point of caring about whether I do.

I’d love to know what’s happening in your life, too!

When it Fails

I knew just how I wanted to parent, long before my first child entered this world. When I became pregnant, I immediately began to read and plan in my efforts to flesh things out even further, down to the tiniest detail. I started blogging when she was still an infant, chronicling our adventures and sharing about all of the parenting ideas that, together formed my mothering compass. When growing up myself, I had been a devout Christian. My beliefs guided my every step, and they were of more importance to me than anything. It just so happened that, at the same time that I realized I could no longer believe in God or align myself with the church, I began training to become a Montessori teacher. My religion ceased to be my identity, and my philosophies took over, with Montessori being at the center of it all.

Before I give the wrong impression, let me say that my confidence in and love for the Montessori method and philosophy has not been shaken in the slightest. Here’s the thing, though, in the parenting realm, many of the ideas I hold dear just aren’t working for my children. They might work beautifully for some children – in fact, I know they are, but those children don’t live here.

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There are still plenty of unlocked places in the kitchen, allowing for the toddler shelf to be stocked and rotated regularly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think it was babyproofing, three years or so ago, where I first conceded. I had never really thought it necessary. Of course I kept any chemicals well out of reach and ensured that anything truly hazardous was safe from little hands, but I wanted everything in their reach to be okay for them. I wanted to minimize, as much as possible, the limits that I placed on their exploration. This worked for a long while. The items in our low kitchen cabinets were safe to remove and touch. We don’t really have breakable decor or anything we might take issue with children getting into. Medicine and cleaning products were kept way up high, and all was mostly okay.

Eventually, though, chugging sugary coffee creamer and taking bites out of the stick of butter became a really fun game. Sneaking a tiny bit here and there is one thing, but eating half a stick and drinking the creamer until there’s nothing left doesn’t work for a variety of reasons. Then there’s the pouring and mixing of various ingredients, just for fun, and taking one bite out of every apple. I tried letting the natural consequences do the teaching (“There’s ketchup on the floor. Here’s a towel,” “All that butter made your stomach hurt.”) I tried reason. I told myself it was a phase and it would stop if I continued to not react. 3+ years later, it’s still just as compelling. I put a lock on the refrigerator, and felt something inside of me die, but it worked.

At one point, bolting in public places ceased to be enough and sneaking out of the house and running up the street became the new cool thing. Talking about why this is dangerous did absolutely nothing to deter further goings out, so we put locks at the top of our doors. At the moment, I’m trying to decide what kind of bars to put on our upstairs windows, and living in fear. Natural consequences are still the best teacher, and children still deserve to hear why things are dangerous, but it turns out that my kids don’t have the same amount of impulse control as their peers. They act first, and think later, and if I’m going to do my most important job as parent and keep them safe, I have to protect them from some of their urges. I also can’t afford to buy dozens of apples every week and a new pint of coffee creamer every day so, you know, practicality and all that.

So we have baby-proofed and big-kid-proofed and continue to do as we see the need. That was a fairly small one, but lately some big ones have come up.

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No reward was needed for this one, but the new towel and special spray provided a point of interest.

More recently, there have been rewards. Because they do, really and truly, undermine natural drive, they are not used in Montessori. In Montessori classrooms, the goal is to leave the child free to develop, and trust them to develop intrinsic motivation. I cringe at the sight of sticker charts, and anytime someone congratulates my children for normal acts like eating their meal, I have to bite down very hard on my tongue. As part of a course I’ve recently taken, Raising Your Challenging Child, which is taught by a cognitive psychologist I deeply respect, and one who deeply respects children, I was encouraged to simply give rewards a try. I chose a couple of major problem behaviors and explained to my big kids how, if each of them engaged in their particular target behavior, as opposed to its opposite, during the school day, they would be able to have a juice box after school. Juice boxes, too, are something I never expected to buy other than for a party, which I suppose is what has made them so attractive as rewards. I did frame it as much as possible with the children in control, so they could self-monitor and self-report and then sort of reward themselves, and I could simply gently guide them. No matter the framing, though, these are still most definitely rewards and, as it turns out, they have been a magical tool for some really problematic situations. I still believe that rewards should be used very sparingly, but it’s hard to help children develop something that simply isn’t there. My children are incredibly self-motivated, but there are some things they simply have no natural desire to do and others that are just plain difficult for them, so when family or community life demands these things, options are limited and we do what we have to do.

The biggest one, that I feel nauseated just thinking about, is time out. I refuse to use the phrase, even now, but the practice is more or less the same. There is a special corner of my bedroom which we have deemed the Corner of Power (stolen from the aforementioned psychologist, not my own idea). Anytime someone in our household hurts another person, whether with words or actions, they are showing that they have lost control, or power, over themselves, and so they are asked to go to the corner of power, or wherever they’d like to “take a break” for a few minutes. This isn’t punitive, but it has been necessary for keeping everyone safe and it has done something that no other method I tried managed to do: draw a very clear and concrete line for my children between behaviors that aren’t particularly desirable but can be tolerated, and those which simply are not allowed in our family. Violence, whether physical or verbal, doesn’t fly here, and finally I think that is becoming clear.

With many children, I know that these ideas can work beautifully. I have seen it with my own eyes, as a teacher and as a nanny in Montessori households. Not all children need locks or rewards or separation from a group to get their power back, but guess what? Mine do. It really sucks, but doing the best I can by my kids is what I signed up for, so I’ll continue to do just that.

The Big Dream

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An overjoyed me, with Annabelle on my back, at the site of the first Casa dei Bambini

I tossed many New Year’s post ideas around in my head. I could share my favorite moments from 2012, my list of goals for the New Year, a reflection on what I’ve learned – the options are many, but in the end, I decided that this would be the perfect time for me to chat you all up about my “Big Dream.” Continue reading

An Update and a Promise

I have been writing this blog for nearly two and a half years now, and just over a year here on my own domain. I write for the love of it, and for the community, and have always felt that this was reward enough. I still do, in fact. Writing has been my hobby, my therapy, and so much more. It has saved me on days when I desperately needed a connection to the adult world. It has also taken a good portion of my time, and it has also taken a small slice from our budget. The domain and hosting aren’t free, after all. Continue reading

Real as it Gets

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Blurry cell phone photo, but isn’t she adorable? Playing around at Home Depot.

I have been writing this week’s edition of Keeping it Real in my head since yesterday. I’m going to make an attempt to write it, but don’t have high hopes. A microburst hit our little neighborhood tonight so we’re in hour four without power and I’m writing from my phone in the dark, too hot to sleep. A power outage right at the end of a heatwave is pretty poor timing, but at least we have power most of the time, right?

But back to keeping it real – I love these posts for creating a space for celebration and honesty all at once.

Continue reading