Books for the Holidays

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Books and Children!  What a great combination!  Books offer so many opportunities for conversation, connection, and creative thoughts.  Reading with your child helps him hear and experience formal and rhythmic language.  He also explores the creative illustrations and photos, helping him connect ideas and experiences.  Choosing books based on realistic ideas helps him identify with the subject matter and connect his own experiences with what is happening in the story.  

This can be a difficult idea for parents looking to raise creative and independent thinking children.  Our culture often tells us that our children need to hear and experience fairy tales in order to be creative thinkers.  This is actually contrary to how their creative minds develop.  In the first six years, children need to hear stories and ideas base on the real world.  It is this foundation of understanding reality that lets their imaginations explode into unique, independent, and creative thoughts later (after age six).

 

This waterfall of creative thought comes pouring from them.  Through their love of words and stories, they start to imagine what could be.  Not because they read it in a book or saw it in a movie, but because they understand reality and they can now think abstractly and imagine the possibilities.

As the season of many fantastical stories is upon us I would like to offer a few books that might help your young children connect and make sense of their world.

Dream Snow by Eric Carle

  A story of a farmer who dreams of snow and then wakes up to find snow fell while he was asleep.  He then rushes out and decorates his tree and says Merry Christmas.  This is a simple story based in reality, has animals, and beautiful illustrations.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht

 I love this story about picking a pine tree from a tree farm, bringing it home and decorating it. Each page has a rhyme, and the pages flow with a great rhythm. The illustration has a beautiful vintage washed look and are very relatable.

The Little Reindeer by Nicola Killen

 A little child by the name of Ollie, wears her reindeer pajamas and has a night adventure flying through the woods on a reindeer.  This story is written as if it really happens, however, it leaves the suggestion that it may be a dream, and hints at the idea of Santa and his reindeer.  I like the mystery of this book and leaves space for a parent to help interpret what might be happening.  Few words and beautiful washed illustrations.

Finding Normalcy

Many of us are still in the throes of cleaning out, cleaning-up, and supporting neighbors. We may be for quite some time. It is difficult to pause to look at what our children need next.  This is an important pause, however difficult it may seem.  With the start of school pushed back a week, we are piecing together childcare, playdates, and camps.

Just like we may not know what is coming next, our children do not know what we have planned for them.  Returning to routine and normalcy is important to their sense of security, community, and trust in the world.  Here are some steps that might help your family get there.

Take time.  Take time to plan your next week, and if possible the next two weeks or month.  Adding in a class together, or a special stop for ice cream will help.  I told my children that today I will pick them up and we will go to the bookstore together.  This helps them keep focus on what we know and not get lost in what we don’t.  This helps keep the trust between us, and the calm as they see me as a decision-maker.

Don’t say what you can’t guarantee.  At this point, our children have been through quite a few surprises.  It is best if we stick to telling them what we do know about our routine.  You can say, “You will go to school on Monday September 11th.”  Show them the calendar, even if it’s just the one on your phone.  Point to today.  Count the number of days until Monday.  If your child is not in school yet, plan a date at the park with them.  Use your calendar to show them which day, always showing them today and then counting to the scheduled event.

Find your normal.  If you have a yoga class, space for meditation, or a route you like to run, take time to do it.  Not only does your body need to release this energy, but your mind needs the time and space.  We can help ourselves to process our feelings through physical exertion.  Returning to part of your routine that you can count on will help you feel more centered and then that feeling will carry to your child.

Flood of Feelings

Now that Harvey has left our city, we are faced with recovery.  We, as a community have lost so much.  Houses, schools, businesses, friends, pets…

We have seen how strong we are as a community and quickly we move  to take care of each other.  This is important, especially for our children.  

When I walked in to see that my Studio had flooded, I was overcome with sadness and started to cry.  During the storm I was able to stay calm and connected with my children, now, in this moment of grief, I balled and was unable to stop the tears.  

My children instantly became so worried about me.  They knew I was overwhelmed and they too started to feel out of control.  They look to me for strength and guidance and now I was the one unable to be strong.  I need to cry.  How do we attend to our children when we are feeling so full of sadness and grief?

We want our children to have a natural connection with these feelings so we do not want to hide it, on the other hand, we do not want to be so consumed by our own feelings that we can’t help them deal with their own.  Here are some thoughts that may help you.

  1. Breathe.  Show your children that you have your own ability to calm yourself when you are overwhelmed with emotion
  2. Be honest.  Name your emotion.  Say, “I am sad that our furniture was damaged in the flood.  I just need a little time to be sad and then I will be ok.”
  3. Let your children comfort you. Children are very compassionate and want to help.  Let them hold you and pat your head if they are naturally inclined to do so.  They want to return the love and care you have given when they have been sad.
  4. Take time for yourself.  The community has done a wonderful job of putting together some free activities and care for children around town to help families.  Here are some resources:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Free Camp

Aurora Kids Day

5 THings to Do This Weekend to Find Fun After Harvey

Use these moments away from your child to grieve so you will be ready to be present when they return to you.

Free Fall and Surrender

When I first began my journey as a Montessori teacher I had the privilege of hearing a talk by Molly O’Shaughnessy  titled “Free fall and Surrender”.  I worked closely with Molly and I talked to her many times about how I didn’t understand how one could free fall without first surrendering.  It seemed to me that the title was in the wrong order.  

Living through the Harvey devastation is teaching me what she really meant.

Friday August 25th, 2017 started my free fall.  I went to my Studio and carefully stacked every piece of furniture, material, and toy that I had.  I made sure that the only things touching the ground were the items I was willing to let go.  I knew that the building had flooded before with six inches of water, so it was important for me to get things up.  After doing all I could, I went to the grocery store and stocked up on food that we could eat if we were trapped in our house for a week without power.  

I then picked up my kids from school at noon as all the schools were closing early because the storm was on its way.

At home, we were glued to the news and weather reports and over the next four days we watched out the windows as our city filled with water.  We stayed close as a family and closest as we sat in the hallway for the tornado warnings.  I couldn’t answer my children’s questions with factual answers about why, where next, and will it be us?  I could only reassure them that we were safe together as a family and we would stay together.  

We were so fortunate.  Our house did not take on water and we maintained electrical service.  We watched on TV as family after family was evacuated by boat or air mattress from their home, taking with them only a backpack.  Everything in their house was lost.  I found myself watching the drone images of the neighborhoods around me, including the one my Studio is in.  The water was so high it was difficult to even recognize the streets and buildings. I was holding my breath not knowing if the water had flooded my business. I didn’t know when I would be able to leave my house and go see for myself if there was anything left. I was in free fall, swirling in the unknown and out of control.  Life happening around me in a sort of slow motion.  The storm was parked over Houston and the minutes seemed like hours as we watched the 4”/hour rainfall.

I needed to surrender.  I needed to let go and know that even with all my planning, I could not have planned for this.  What was going to happen was going to happen, and I would do what needed to be done when it was all over.  I didn’t know when that was going to be, and that was O.K.

On Tuesday morning we were able to leave our house and see my Studio.  It had taken on two and a half feet of water.  The water had all receded and now everything was covered in a layer of scum.  All I could do was look at it.  I didn’t know where to start and what should happen next.  I did know that what was done was done and we would go from there.  I had stacked most things starting above three feet so were were able to get that out and to a dry facility.  Perfect.

As I looked around to see what I should take next, I opened a chest that I use to store infant toys.  It was full of water and the toys were all destroyed.  I instantly welled up.  So many happy babies have used those toys, learning to coordinate their hand movements, grasping and reaching, laughing and giggling as they learn about the world.  Our walker wagon and pull up bar were also lost; so many babies have learned to stand and walk with these.  The pride and joy on their faces forever captured in my memory as I moved the wagon to the pile of debris.

I know these are just things, and I can replace them in time.  I know that when I prepare a Montessori environment I am not supposed to get attached to the items in it, knowing that they may break or get lost.  This is part of the teacher’s’ preparation of her classroom, we provide the best for the littlest and we trust them to do their best to take care of it.

When I prepare an environment I choose each item with care, imagining the little hands that will hold it and user it.  I imagine that it may be broken one day and it will serve it’s purpose as a natural lesson for whomever is caring for it in that moment.

When I prepare an environment, I don’t prepare it with the idea that a flood will come and take these away from the children.  It is their environment.  It is their joyful place to work. Now this one is gone.

The amazing news is that for the past two months I have been working on a new studio space and the day before Harvey hit, they finished installing the floors.  Not a drop of water got into our new Studio.  It is dry and beautiful and since Tuesday, my construction crew has been doing everything they can to get it ready for the children.  Studio June will open its new (and dry) location on September 11th!  

Thank you, Molly, for your presentation 20 years ago that prepared me for Harvey.  I found myself in a free fall and was able to surrender and move toward recovery.

Talking about Harvey

One of the most difficult situations we face as parents is helping our children cope with stress. How do we share difficult news with them? How much do we share? How do we answer their questions? And how do we comfort them? Right now, in Houston, we are experiencing a catastrophic tropical storm and flood. It has been days of rain and flooding and not knowing what is to come next.  We have to help our children process this experience.  Not just at some point in the future, but today. Now. As it is happening.

Every child is different and the amount of information they need or can handle is different.  For children under the age of six, they need basic facts and acknowledgment their concerns are being heard. Here are some tips that can help guide you and help you figure out the right conversation for your family.

  1. Stay calm, your child will look to you for the appropriate reaction.  Make sure they see you in a calm and thoughtful state.  If you feel overwhelmed, take a moment to step out of the room, breathe deeply, and then rejoin the conversation when you are ready.  Remember, you are their guide in understanding how to react to the situation so it is important to be your best self in this moment. It is ok for them to see your tears, let them know you are not physically hurt, but your tears are because you are sad.
  2. Be honest; it is important to be honest with your child.  State what is happening such as; “There is a tropical storm over our city and there is a lot of rain.  The rain has not drained and now the water is in our street, (or our yard, or our house)”  Say this calmly and then finish with “I love that we are safe and together.”  They may have questions but remember that as adults, we often offer more information than they need.  Try answering questions like, “what will happen to our toys” with “they might get wet.” and if they press on, “will we get them again?” reply “We will check on them once the water has time to drain.”
  3. Be present; be in the moment with your child.  If you are evacuating or waiting for rescue, you can just be together in the moment.  Give them hugs and keep them close. When they have a story or question, look them in their eyes and listen.  Answer the best you can, but try to keep them present in the moment with you so they do not feel an overwhelm of “out-of-control”  These moments can make a difference in their ability to cope and follow direction.
  4. Help others. If you are fortunate enough to be in a situation to help others, let your children know what they can do to help.  Show them what you are doing and how they can be a part.  They can help choose canned goods from the pantry to donate.  They can help choose towels and clothing to bring to shelters, and they can help wash laundry of those affected by the flooding.  Let them know it is important that we all help each other, that you are helping because you are in a position to do so and that other people would help you if you needed it.  They have a natural sense of empathy and can feel comforted by the message that people are willing to reach out and help. Connecting to this situation in a meaningful way will help them process what is happening and help them feel purposeful in their actions as well as a stronger connection to their community.

Mr. Rogers had great advice for our little ones, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”   The Fred Rogers website has more helpful tips and information.

I will write more as we continue to cope with Harvey and it’s after effects.  Once the storm passes, we will need to all work together to cope and help our children grow through this.

Movement and Exploration

Your baby was born with reflexive movement and has been strengthening his muscles and nervous system in order to develop purposeful movement.  This intentional movement takes time, practice, and coordination.  Montessori education creates opportunities for children to solve real problems, as the adults provide support as needed, but are restrained in helping to solve the problem.  This can be difficult as a parent.  It is hard to watch your child struggle, especially when you see how close a solution is.  However, this is an important factor in his development and growth.  As he struggles and then feels the sense of accomplishment as he moves through the frustration and into a solution, he builds a strong sense of “I can do it”.

At Studio June we offer a Studio that is designed for your child to challenge his movement and learn to coordinate his body with materials that are appropriately sized and intellectually challenging.  In our Movement and Exploration class children challenge themselves to move over, through, and around obstacles.  Some of the materials we offer include:

The Bridge: this iconic Montessori Material allows each child to pull themselves to a standing position and balance themselves as they walk up three steps and then cross the bridge.  The confidence and joy we see on their faces is indescribable.  They feel their efforts and often celebrate by giving a speech at the top of the bridge.

 

The Kiosks and Bar: This materials is designed to engage your child’s need to challenge himself physically and intellectually.  The bar creates an opportunity for your child to pull himself into a standing position, all with his own strength and effort.  The kiosks serve as cabinets of curiosity; the contents in the drawers and behind the doors changes regularly and keeps your child’s interest piqued.  Your child will be challenged to use his developing pincer grasp to open the doors and discover what is inside.

Mirrors: We have mirrors placed in several places in the environment for your child to explore. One favorite mirror is located in the mirror pyramid.  Here a child can see himself from many angles as well as other points of interest around the environment.  Other mirrors mounted on the walls allow your child to see his body movements. 

 This visual feedback allows him to explore how his body moves and see his full body in motion.  As he starts to become aware that the person he sees in the mirror is himself, he begins to see that he is a separate person and has his own thoughts and ideas.  He blossoms into the beginnings of self-awareness and starts to declare his autonomy (usually this is marked by using the word “no”).

All of these activities and more are offered weekly in our Studio.  This is the perfect class for children learning to move, working on their coordination, and parents looking for guidance during the new and exciting time of development.

What is Practical Life?

Once children are walking well, they want to start using their hands for purposeful work.  They have been watching you and the others around them all their life, and now they can actively take part in all the activities they have been witnessing.  In Montessori Environments, we offer children the opportunity to choose Practical Life activities. You may have noticed that your little one loves to help out around the house.  At Studio June we have an environment that is sized just perfectly for your child’s success with Practical Life.  This area of our environment has three main areas: taking care of yourself, taking care of the environment, and taking care of your friends.

Taking care of yourself includes such activities as washing hands and wiping your nose.  When a child learns to take care of himself he becomes more independent, more coordinated, and more invested in his own ability to teach himself.  He moves about his environment with ease and comfort, taking care of his own needs as he is aware of them.  This type of self-awareness strengthens as he grows and can be very helpful as he learns when he is hungry and when he needs to use the bathroom.

Taking care of the environment includes washing tables and watering plants.  Children are naturally drawn to work with water, and these activities do not disappoint.  With many opportunities to fill and pour small pitchers, a young child increases his eye-hand coordination, concentration, and awareness of how his world works.  All of these activities and more are offered in our Studio June classes.  Children are offered real opportunities to take care of their classroom and connect with their work as they prepare food, paint pictures, and wash windows.

Learning to care for friends is an important part of developing empathy and strong friendships.  In Montessori Environments we help children understand how to greet someone, how to ask for help, how to wait, and we show them to shake hands when we say goodbye.  These skills help a child feel comfortable in new situations and welcoming new people. Having the words to say and understanding the expectations of socializing gives them confidence and positive self-esteem.

To learn more about Practical Life activities and how you can bring more opportunities for Practical Life into your home, join us at Studio June for our classes for children 14 months through 6 years.  We offer Montessori for Young Children (14m and walking-3yrs), The Primary Experience (2.5yrs-6yrs), Bake with Me (18m-3yrs), and Pastry School (3yrs-6yrs).

Repetition Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

workingI know, I know…it’s absence.  I do think there is some truth to that.  However, I am talking about the child under the age of three, and it is definitely Repetition that makes their hearts grow fonder.  They just love routine and consistency.  We see it from week to week at Studio June and parents as well as instructors comment on it.  Some children will start on their first day and go from shelf to shelf grabbing items that catch their eye, others will quietly stand to the side watching the busy group of children before them.  After a few weeks of this, they are all engaged in a meaningful way; choosing a full basket from the shelf and finding a place to work, able to set the table and join the others for snack, or even joining in the singing at the end of the morning.  These are all signs of their growing comfort and engagement.  Each class has a predictability that brings joy to young children; the same faces, the same spaces, the same expectations.

If you create the same predictability at home, you will find your child able to concentrate and play independently for longer periods of time.  Here are some tips to create an atmosphere of consistency and engagement:

  1. Create a predictable routine. Build a daily routine and try to follow it as often as possible, even on the weekends.  Focus more on the order of activities than the time of day.  For example; playtime, walk, meal, nap (rather than 9:00am, 10:30am, 11:30am, noon).  Your child will learn to anticipate what comes next and feel comfort in the routine.  With a routine like this playtime could be at home, at the park, or a scheduled class.
  2. Clear the clutter.  Remove clutter from the spaces where you spend time with your child.  Clutter can be distracting for them and make it difficult to concentrate.
  3. Go with the flow.  You may see that your child starts to recognize the routine and stops playing with his toys and goes to get his shoes for your walk.  Go with it.  This may mean you take a longer walk, but this is a sign that your child is internalizing the routine and is taking ownership of it.  This is a great step in his developing independence.
  4. Don’t move the furniture.  This may sound strange, but try not to move your furniture around in your living spaces.  Children are very sensitive to the order in their environment.  This doesn’t mean you can never rearrange your furnishings, just be sensitive to how it may disrupt your child’s experience and know that he may need a few days to cope with the change.
  5. Don’t blow the surprise.  Ok, this one is more about how we let children play than it is about routine.  We often feel we need to show a child how a toy works or how fun it can be.  Your child may find an activity interesting in ways you never imagined. Let him explore and discover on his own.  Don’t reveal any of the toy’s secrets and act surprised if he shows you something new.  Discovery is an important part of the developing imagination and drive to keep learning.

Looking to add more consistency to your summer routine?!  Join us at Studio June for Summer Camp.  Our camps meet daily Tuesday through Friday and are full of fun language activities, independence building experiences, and engaging puzzles and songs.  Check out our new Summer Camp Schedule.

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