Discover the Child

Discover the Child
"There is a tiny light in the unconscious of mankind which guides it toward better things." "We must follow the child, but we must follow the child as his leader." -Maria Montessori

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

After a night of rain, the sandbox was filled with water. "Open it, please?" asked one of the youngest children. Usually, the children figure out a way to open the heavy cover together, but with the water weighing down the cover, that wasn't possible. It took quite some prompting as I asked, "What could we do?" "What could you use to get out the water?" The pitchers and basins are available for porch scrubbing, but they certainly came in handy for this purpose! 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Embrace Joy

“The dark does not destroy the light; it defines it. It's our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.” 
― BrenĂ© BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

I'm only one of the 8 million people that watched Dr. Brown's TED talk on vulnerability, but the truth and clarity of her talk resonated so deeply with me that I sought out her interview and ravenously devoured her newest book, Daring Greatly.

She stopped me fully in my tracks explaining, "Joy is the most terrifying emotion." It took me a second and her astute explanation to take that one in. Take those moments, she explains, when we gaze upon our sleeping child, only to imagine a tragic accident ripping her away in the next moment. Yup, I've done that, have you? Are we all just crazy? Not exactly, we've just learned that letting go enough to fully experience joy often means we open ourselves up to heartache and loss. Even if we aren't recounting or dwelling on these memories consciously, our adult brains remind us, "Watch out! We've been on this thrill ride before, and the free fall that sends your stomach into your throat is just around the corner. Jump ship!" That is when we back away from the joy and dip in our toe instead of jumping with two feet.

Our children don't do this. Only a toddler will stop and smell the flowers, completely immersed in the moment. For a toddler, A moment of joy is all encompassing and he will relish in that moment until he is filled up. Each novel exploration is like a rock falling in a deep pond that creates a loud noise and a splash, then waves, ripples and finally a glassy calm that can reflect the world around him.

The problem- we usually interrupt the child at the splash, never allowing her to fully integrate each new experience. Her day becomes a series of splashes and chaos each time we rush her, interrupt her concentration, constantly correct, direct, or distract her from something that is too loud or too messy for us. The wisest woman I know, my Montessori trainer Judi Orion, spoke words that I live by every day. "Never interrupt a child if the motivation is positive," she told her students. This is not convenient advice, because the result is often messy, loud, rambunctious, but it certainly serves the child. This moment of trust gives her an opportunity to learn from failure and persevere or to experience a moment self realization because she has followed her own interests.

What possesses us to constantly hurry our children, rush through our days and perpetually distract? Could it be this joy phobia? If we aren't comfortable leaning into the joy, is part of us trying to save our child from experiencing the pain of life? We must know deep down that a life lived in the shallow end is the real loss. We must lean into the joy, fully accepting that pain and loss is a part of life for us and for our children.

How can we achieve this seemingly impossible task to slow down, live life fully and jump into the deep end of joy with two feet? We can start by learning from the greatest gurus of joy I've ever met, our toddlers.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Life Lessons From A Great Teacher

We mourned the passing of an amazing teacher today, Mrs. Ellen Mordecai Welles. Her family founded this city, but Mrs. Welles taught it's children to become great people. The family asked us, students, to share with them our stories about this matriarch of Triton Stables in Raleigh, North Carolina. I'm privileged to share my story with Mrs. Welles' children including my most beloved trainer, Shep Welles, but the world could stand to know more about this amazing woman, so I'll share my story with you, too.

After falling in love with horses at overnight camp, I came home determined to take riding lessons. My first day at Triton Stables, Mrs. Welles barked orders left and right, "Heels down! Stop that posting, get in two point and drop the reins!" When the lesson was done my mom asked, "Are you sure you want to take lessons here, that Mrs. Welles is one tough lady?"

"Yes!" I replied emphatically, because I knew, as children instinctively do, when a person truly cares. That is exactly what she did- care deeply for her students.

I'll never forget a lesson I had with one other student, Ashley, riding PD Sherman. Mrs. Welles told us, "Ride over this jump with no reins." "What?" I thought, "That's impossible." As I became more and more discouraged and frustrated, my pony trotting aimlessly around the ring with the reins looped around his neck, Mrs. Welles became more and more determined. Finally she said, "Stop! Just stop and WATCH!" I crossed my arms and watched Ashley look at her jump then slightly pluck the rein before trotting right over. "Well, I can do that!" That's exactly what I did. I forgot to feel two inches tall, and achieved the impossible in that very moment. I think I remember that lesson so clearly because it was one of those rare childhood moments of becoming.

Mrs. Welles taught me many things- to put the horse first, to never complain, to be fearless and tough, but that day she taught me a lesson I'll never forget. The secret of achieving is to stop thinking of the impossibility of the task and start looking for the path to success! I've done so many difficult things since that day, many of which I didn't know I was capable. I just didn't stop to think of it that way.

You can read more about Mrs. Welles here

You can also visit the good ol' folks at the "new" Triton Stables in Durham, North Carolina.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I am so grateful to witness the truth of these words every day. As we nurture and guide children living joyfully, honoring self, honoring others and connecting to our world, I know that we are helping create a more peaceful future. In the wake of senseless tragedy, I find solace in the children. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Joy of Work Freely Chosen

"We cannot know the consequences of suppressing a child’s spontaneity when he is just beginning to be active.  We may even suffocate life itself.  That humanity which is revealed in all its intellectual splendor during the sweet and tender age of childhood should be respected with a kind of religious veneration.  It is the sun which appears at dawn or a flower just beginning to bloom.  Education cannot be effective unless it helps a child to open up himself to life." -Maria Montessori

Thursday at group time I asked the children, "Tomorrow is Friday. What do we do on Friday?"
"Hold the guinea pigs!" they chirped. 
"Well yes, and what else?"
"Picnic day!"
"Yes! It is so warm we can eat outside for snack tomorrow, but the porch is covered in pollen! What could we do?!"

Right at the beginning of the work cycle (the 2 hour time for the toddlers to choose activities in the classroom or on the porch) the children found the pitchers, basins, brushes and brooms and began, without any prompting to scrub the entire porch for hours in a blur of suds and smiles. 

They were delighted to come back to school on Monday to see the porch covered in pollen again. We should all be so lucky to work as joyfully as a toddler. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Toddler Place Setting

Toddler Place Setting

Understanding one material can tell us a lot about preparing an environment for a child. A toddler place setting is a beautiful example of a material that supports independence and the development of the child.

* Freedom and Limits- When we present this material, we demonstrate how to hold a plate with two hands saying, "We carry a plate like this." We then invite the child to carry the plate. The same is done for demonstrating how to carry the glass, the placemat, or how to roll and unroll the placemat. We may remind a child, "We only carry one object at a time." The adult must model the expectations we have for the child. When children are learning how to handle fragile objects, they do break. However, Maria Montessori reminds us that we must honor the development of the child more than the plate.

When he is done eating, the child carries each dish to a dish cart. A laminated sheet with small circular outlines for each child's glass and a large circular outline on the bottom shelf for stacking plates helps a child know where to place each item. A container for silverware is on the top shelf.

* Independence- The dishes are kept in a low cabinet and arranged carefully and in the same order every time. A toddler has a very strong sense of order and can make sense of his environment when we respect that sensitivity. The embroidered outline for each item on the placemat allows the child to set the place setting correctly without guidance from an adult. Every item is perfectly sized for the toddler. A small pitcher of water is placed on the table for a child to fill her water glass.

A material consisting of a tray, sponge and sponge dish and color coordinated cloth on the shelf allows a child to wipe spills. A table sweeper, crumb sweeper, and floor sweeper is provided for a child to clean any food on the table and floor. Dirty napkins can be washed during the work cycle in the cloth washing table and dishes may be washed at the dish washing table. A dish washing station can be set up at home, too, with a large pitcher, two basins, a drying rack, a small container of dish soap, and a small brush. Provide a cloth for drying the surface when cleaning up.

* Sensorial- All of a toddlers senses are still developing. Providing an embroidered place setting rather than merely drawing the pattern enriches the sensorial information. Beautiful objects with rich sensorial information enhances the beauty of snack. We may also guide a child saying, "Can you place the plate down so gently that it doesn't even make a sound?"

* Language- A child absorbs the language of each object through purposeful interactions invovled in preparing for a meal, eating a meal together and cleaning up afterwards. Snack time is also a wonderful time to incorporate oral counting.and to practice grace and courtesy. We often say at snacktime:

"You may say, 'I don't prefer it today.'"
"How could you ask politely?"
"You may say, 'Please pass the bananas."
"Let's save some for our friends; can you count three crackers?"
"Let's focus on eating."
"When we eat over the plate, our clothing stays clean."

* Culture- Children absorb so much about our culture from mealtimes together. Of course, the adult must model impeccable manners at all times. Reusable cloth napkins reinforce a culture of conservation and beauty. Any water that is not used is poured in a bucket for plant watering. In the case of uneaten food, composting is a wonderful option. A relaxed, positive attitude from the adult who is fully present and connected during meals is most important.

Bon Appetit!