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

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Embracing Spring: 10 Invitations to Encounter Nature

Departing from the week-to-week format is a list of ways to embrace spring for young minds, hands and spirit. 

1. Feast the senses! 

  • Find a place where it is safe to walk barefoot on grass, dirt, or sand. We forget that the feet are incorporating sensory information, too. Did you know that toe-walking can be a sensory avoiding behavior? Remember, your child's sensory experiences are wiring his brain. Combining self-guided movement and senses integrates the the mind. 
  • Set up a kitchen outside- Your kitchen will need old pots and spoons, mud, dirt, sand, plants that can be picked, sticks, containers, milk crates, buckets, rocks a table, a water source and no adults interruptions. The only rule- hose off before you come inside. 
  • Build a fire outside and set clear, positive boundaries about being safe with fire. Cook foil packs in the fire, roast food on a stick and enjoy a dessert. Burn orange peels. Read the poem "Kneel Reverently When You Light A Fire" sing songs and play instruments around the fire. Tell stories. Look at stars. Name constellations and planets. 
  • Provide heavy objects like stumps to carry around or push in a wheel barrow.
  • Set up a hammer with nails and a stump for hammering with safety goggles (3 1/2 years and up)

2. Take a Hike: Hiking 101: Resist the impulse to guide, direct, or point things out. Let your child's own interest be the guide. When he points something out to you, reflect the joy you see him express. When he notices something, name it! Take a field guide with you or try to learn names yourself so that you can give specific names of the type of trees, flowers, insects, animals or rocks. 
    • Let your toddler guide you on a "hike" in the most natural woods you can easily access. Toddlers are not linear so your hike may look more like the the trail of a spinning top. Relish the opportunity to relinquish control.
    • Let your preschooler guide you on a hike. A child can usually walk her age in miles if she can progress at her own pace. You'll notice your child won't complain when she's the leader. She's in charge. If she does complain, remind her, "It sounds like you're feeling uncomfortable. What would you like to do about that?" Before you declare her the leader of your hike you can set the ground rules: "We stay on the trail", "We can't pick flowers or leaves" (in a park), and "We know we're on the trail when you see the blue triangles," for example. Let your child know ahead of time that you'll let them know when it's "halfway time" to turn around and go back unless they want to turn around earlier. 
    • Find a perfect climbing tree and let your child climb and swing and hang on branches! Of course, we must assess safety. One of the most important ways you can help keep your child safe is to NOT HELP so that he can assess his own movements accurately. The goal is not that she doesn't fall. Falling is ok. It's just our job to make sure that falling is safe enough. Scrapes heal, a spirit starved of encounters with nature and sensory integration challenges are much harder to overcome.
3. Plant seeds for edible plants and flowers. Whether it's a container garden or a plot of land, start some seeds. A mister may be best for continued watering. 

4. Have a potty party! If your child is walking and isn't diaper free, it's very important to have a potty party right away. Toileting is as simple as establishing a new sense of order for where to void. Your child's sense of order, though it is not conscious, is "I pee in my diaper" just as plainly as his sense of order is "I sleep in bed." You could establish the sense of order "I sleep on the kitchen table" just as naturally as "I sleep in bed." Diapers make just about as much sense as sleeping on the dining table, but it's our cultural norm. Children under six have a VERY STRONG sense of order. It's the nature of tantrums, rigidity, and it's what allows a child to adapt to this new, strange world of his. Often, putting on underwear isn't enough to change your child's sense of order because it's too similar to a diaper. Something radical must happen so, take advantage of the warm weather and have your child go naked! Spend as much time pants free and near a potty. Have something novel and delicious to drink to increase learning moments! Over and over I have witnessed this transform a painful toileting process into an easy one! It works!

5. Pick leaves out of the yard, naming the plant. Names for a child are food for the growing spirit. 
    • Make a leaf rubbing, name the leaf shape (i.e. ovate, linear, reniform etc.)
    • Trace the leaf and invite your child to embroider the leaf shape (ages 4-6)
    • Dry and press leaves and flowers
6. Disect a flower into it's parts and decoupage them onto a piece of paper. Here's a crazy hint. Decoupage is just 1/2 water and 1/2 Elmer's glue!

7. Pick herbs outside (1 to 6 years), have your child cut the herbs in a small bowl with small scissors (2 to six years), scramble eggs (2 to 6 years), and cook an herb omelet (2 1/2 4 years with supervision, 4+ independently). Remember child sized tools (

8. Embrace spring cleaning!
  • Watch the eruption of joy while your child scrubs all of the pollen off of the porch or deck! Just set up and model one time the following: a basin (add some liquid soap), a push broom, and a plastic pitcher (restaurant supply or Model getting water 3/4 full in a pitcher and carry with two hands from an outdoor water source preferably (draw a line on the pitcher or place tape if your child needs it), pour water carefully and low down inside the basin, put the pitcher in it's place, dip the broom, lift, shake some drips with defined motions, and scrub away! Have your child rinse the basin and broom and put away the items. 

  • Set up window washing (indoors and out), leaf washing, table wiping (a tray with sponge and cloth), and indoor plant watering.
You'll need to model squeezing the sponge, supporting the leaf underneath with a flat hand, and wiping carefully along the leaf with the tiny sponge. 

For tiny hands, you'll find the perfectly sized spray bottle at Sally's Beauty Supply

The tinier the person, the smaller the "watering can" needs to be for watering plants inside. This toddler plant watering work utilizes a coffee creamer!

Traditional style sweepers work best
  • Get watering cans for outdoors and some observation jars for dead bugs : )
9. Sleep outside
  • If your child is at least 4 1/2 years old, invite her to plan a family camp out in the yard by asking questions. This is an important mental challenge that involves planning what to eat and what to pack! When you want your child to grow up and learn how to plan, think ahead, and employ pretty much any life skill, you'll be glad you invited her to plan the family campout in the yard. What if she forgets something? It's fine! You're in the back yard. Keep repeating until she has an opportunity to become an expert at planning a campout without any help! 
  • Toddlers will love to explore a tent in the yard! 
10. Set up a place outside with lovely containers for your child's collections. The containers help guide categorization, which resonates with young children because they have a strong sense of order. Think of all of the learning your child will naturally absorb just through the categorization of his own discoveries. Containers can contain categories like types of rocks, seeds (think pinecones, sweet gum fruit, maple seeds (whirly gigs), shells, sticks, dry flowers, leaves, feathers, nests and even dead bugs!  
  • Need extensions? Set up an exploration of sink and float. Note the word explore, not "teach"! 
  • Magnetic and non-magnetic is a fun exploration, too. 

This is only the beginning of nature exploration! If there was anything that is closest to a Montessori classroom environment, it's nature! Nature is a laboratory for mathematics, biology, physics, geology and a gymnasium for the spirit, mind, body and senses. Your child is a natural observer, with powers of observation we no longer possess as adults. Our fixed minds have filters to process the world, but the developing minds of children can absorb the patterns of nature through every sense exactly as it is. Here, your child is the expert, the scientist, the connoisseur. Our soul's can grow a little bit each time we experience nature through the eyes of the child. 


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Marching On: Model How To Take Care of You This March!

Thinking back on my childhood, the landscape of parenting today is almost unrecognizable. We were outside playing everyday with no supervision, expected to come in when the street lights turned on. Today, the police are called when children walk down the street to the park without an adult. 

What does this mean for parents? We are getting the message today that we are expected to actively parent as human doings, not just human beings. This mindset can make us feel that we are failing if we are not DOING something for or with our children at all times. The internet is replete with parents screaming out for a reprieve from the endless string of snow days. Would we have the same level of fatigue if we didn't feel the constant need to entertain and edify our children around the clock? 

This month, do you!

1. The golden rule of parenting: Treat yourself like you'd like your child to treat herself

Are you taking time to nurture yourself physically and mentally? Create a routine and practice regularly, even if your child is with you. 

    • Play when your children play. Read a book you love, craft, garden. Whatever your play is, put your energy in it. When you model enjoying life, your child will understand, "I can be my own best company." 
    • Carve out time to care for yourself. Create a routine to maintain your physical, mental and emotional hygiene. When it's time for yoga, belly dancing, meditation or whatever your thing is, make this time sacrosanct. Make yourself unavailable! Set a timer if your children need a concrete reminder, but you can send the message, "I'll be available when I'm done." What if your child is upset or doesn't like waiting? It's ok, you are modeling how to care for yourself, your child is learning that it's important to put self first at times. 
2. Try the "Child's Game." We get caught in the trap of feeling we need to help, guide, teach, and entertain our children all of the time. Our children need time to explore without instruction and guidance. Setting out time to just be with your child while he plays is a wonderful way to be together. Set aside 15 minutes to sit down with your child while he plays. Don't guide, direct or praise. Instead of pray try mirroring. When your child says, "Look at the tower you built," you can say, "Look at that tower you built!"

(The Child's Game came to me through Monessori veteran, Gini Emigh. She had learned it from a local psychologist, Brenda Ball)

3. Human Be, Don't human Do- Rather than helping your child to the other side of the finish line, remember- the process is the finish line.

What is perseverance? Perseverance is a skill that children must practice by completing what we call a "cycle of activity." Often we step in to help our child to the finish line, forgetting that the process is the finish line. What is this cycle of activity? 

  • The child has observed an activity and has something in mind, whether it is conscious or unconscious. Maybe he has watched someone climb up and slide or maybe he has been taught how to wash a window.
  • He chooses the activity
    • this means that he must have the freedom and time to choose and all of the items he needs must be within reach
  • He attempts to recreate the task
  • There is a result that may not be the result he had in mind
  • He attempts it again and again, making a change each time until he's reached what he has in mind
  • He achieves the result he had it mind
When we don't give the child time to choose his own activity, he doesn't have an opportunity to practice self-direction. 
When the objects a child can use to care for himself and his environment, he doesn't have an opportunity to experience independence. 
When we correct or direct, he doesn't have an opportunity to experience self-control or self assessment. 
When we praise, he doesn't have the chance to compare the result to the outcome he already had mind. 

4. Observe and yourself, your partner and your child to notice all of the positive things that are already happening without praising them. Dr. Haines would tell us in training, "Don't water the weeds, put your energy on what you DO want to see." You'll be amazed how transforming this simple exercise can be, but the most important part of looking for the positive in the people around including ourselves, is that we realize the amazing people we already are. We practice acceptance and unconditional love. 

This month, let us embrace ourselves as human beings, not human doings. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Self Care: Helpful Tips for a Focused February

Last month I put forth a challenge to focus on examining the relationship between connection and separateness. I find this to be a constant challenge of parenting. Because our children are constantly growing, we continually support their growing and developing independence while honoring who they are becoming. 

If we ask most parents of college aged students today, they may share with us an all too apparent truth that independence doesn't just happen. It is a process and it should begin in the first years of life. Even in infancy, we can support our children's awareness of self care by creating routines for dressing, washing, toileting, changing and feeding so she can begin to learn what is coming next. When she is ready, she can participate rather than constantly orienting to new routines. An infant to collaborate when ready if we prompt, "Pull!" while guiding a tiny hand through a shirt sleeve. 

Once a child is walking, his hands are free to work and he is ready to begin participating in his own care. Allowing a child to care for himself is a wonderful gift and it does come at a cost to the parent. It requires a huge investment of time and patience and trust in the child, but it is a priceless gift. It can feel scary to give up the nurturing of caring for your child, but it begins just a little bit at a time and with great love.

Each week, spend some time focusing your attention on one goal at a time. 

1. Observe your home and yourself to notice: 
  • How do I feel about my child's independence? How do I feel about allowing my child to feed, clean and dress himself? Do I have mixed feelings about my child becoming independent in caring for himself?
  • Write down the tasks of self care that require adult assistance and evaluate how these tasks could be completed independently. If the toothpaste cannot be within reach can the toothbrush and hairbrush? Can your child get a drink of water without help? Can she prepare an afternoon snack without help? 
2. Simplify!

This week create a dressing area for everyday clothing. Define a space in the closet with a low hanging bar, a low shelf, or even a child sized armoire. 

Above is a beautiful example of a child's dressing area from 

To set up: 
  • Choose everyday clothing that your child 
    • can easily take on or off without help. 
    • is weather appropriate
  • Provide as many of each item as your child's age. For example, you'll provide two socks, pants, shirts and underwear for a two year old and three for a three year old. 
  • Give a lesson on how to hang clothing saying, "This is how to hang a shirt. I'll have a turn then you can have a turn." Without talking, lay the shirt flat on the floor, lay the hanger at the bottom of the shirt, pause, place your hand at the neck of the shirt, pause, reach through the shirt to grab the hanger, pick the shirt and hanger off of the floor, then pull the shirt down over the hanger one side at a time. 
  • Give a lesson on how to fold clothing. However you present folding is great! Introduce the lesson, pause between movements, and don't speak while your hands are moving!
  • Provide a laundry basket for dirty clothes
In one step you've provided your child with an opportunity to experience successfully choosing his own clothing, eliminated arguments about wearing weather appropriate clothing, and created a space that your child can manage without any help! While you'll need to manage the remaining wardrobe for your child for a while and swap out the clothing with your child when necessary, your child can independently put away his own clean laundry!

For children five and up, a travel sized iron and ironing board can be provided with a very careful presentation and supervision as you deem appropriate. 

3. Set up a snack area and water source. 

Toddler Place Setting
Food Preparation Set Up
  • Clear out a low cabinet in the kitchen or provide a small shelf for your child's dishes. Provide a few small plates, utensils, glasses, napkins and placemat. Designate a place to put dirty items like a dish bin within reach.
  • Give a lesson to show your child how to carry a plate or glass carefully.  
  • Brainstorm a way your child can access water without help. There will need to spill bucket (small bucket with a splash of water and tray with small sponge and designated cloth) for spills. 
  • Clear a shelf or place a tray on a low shelf of the refrigerator and a basket in the pantry.
  • Place a daily snack option on the designated tray in the refrigerator or the basket in the pantry. Provide tools like apple slicer, vegetable knife (Montessori Services or For Small Hands is a great source) and egg slicer so your child can help prepare his own snack.  

4. Splash in to Self Care! 
  • Is your child toileting? If not, now is the time to begin healthy toileting habits! If you need a resource on toileting, check out Diaper Free Before Three by Dr. Jill M. Lekovic.
  • Ensure your child can reach the sink and toilet without help. Hang a low mirror on the door or wall, if possible.
  • Give a lesson on how to squeeze just a little bit of toothpaste on the toothbrush! Place a toothbrush and hairbrush in a basket so your child can practice whenever he chooses in addition to daily routines. Young children may need help with toothpaste and toothbrushing, but it doesn't hurt to practice!
  • Does your child have oral sensory seeking tendencies? An electric toothbrush can be a great way to provide oral stimulation that can curb behaviors like biting or mouthing objects. 
  • Examine bath time and note how much your child can do independently. It's a great bonding time with your young child, but it can be ok to just be with your child while he runs his own bath and cleans independently!

Congratulations on helping your child take huge steps towards his own independence! 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Helpful Tips for a New Year: Parenting Resolutions for a More Peaceful Year

There is so much parenting advice floating between the blogosphere, in-laws, and media that it can feel entirely overwhelming. I work with children as a career and I cannot possibly keep abreast of every article or filter through all of the advice.

You can begin your year knowing that you are already providing what your child needs most- love and security. Your child knows he will be cared for and he feels loved. Above all, that is most important.

If you are like every other parent I’ve met, you also want to know what more you can do. If your child is between birth and six years of age, it is the most important time of her life. In the first years we see the personality, skills, movement, abilities, intelligence and senses all emerge. In the next few years these skills continue to evolve, become more refined and develop all before the child begins first grade. She won’t remember much of this process of becoming, but the person she becomes, the skills she develops and the intelligence she creates will stay with her for a lifetime. How does this happen? This intelligence grows through each experience the young child has in the environment during the most active period of synaptic growth and pruning during the child’s lifetime.

It is amazing to observe this process as a parent and teacher. Our goal is to help provide an environment that can support this growing child at school and at home and to allow experiences for learning, growing and becoming. The beginning of the year is a wonderful time for introspection and good intentions. As we know, it can be difficult to keep a New Year’s resolution, despite our best intentions. Here is a list of weekly goals that can give your best parenting intentions some focus and achievability with monthly themes that can help you observe and learn more about your child’s needs. 

January Focus- Connection and Separateness

One of the most difficult tasks for parents to achieve is to honor their child’s growing independence and separateness, which is no surprise considering a child and mother were once physically joined, then joined through holding, carrying and nursing or feeding in the first months. As the infant begins to crawl away from the parents and eat solid food, the physical connection weakens. It’s the love and security of the parent that allows the infant to feel secure exploring, but the crawling infant still doesn’t have an idea that he is a separate person. It isn’t until 18 months when the left side of the brain comes more fully online, the more logical and linear side, that the child develops a sense of self, and idea that he is an “I.” This is the root of the toddler's incessant “No!” He just figured out he’s his own person and he needs to make choices- as many as possible. 

When a parent can honor this separateness, the child can feel secure in his growing independence. Over the next years, the goal is to allow the child to have the freedom to make choices while setting the very clear boundary, “You choose for you; I choose for me.” It’s a big enough job to begin feeling responsible for oneself, and feeling responsible for another person, especially a parent, is stressful and overwhelming. Rest assured, a child will try to choose for others! He’s just discovering he’s his own person and he must explore where he begins and you end. Make that boundary clear!

Connection and Separateness- Weekly Goals

Week One
Practice observing- Make mental notes or write down your observations daily, if possible this week.

It’s important to understand that actions and emotions are separate from who we are. We quickly turn, “I feel sad,” into the statement, “I am sad.” We see a child snatch a toy and say, “He’s a bully,” or we see a our child tell someone what to do and worry that she’s going to become “bossy.”

Notice your child’s actions, statements and emotions, and accept them and realize these are separate from who your child is. Notice if certain actions are repeated and others are isolated. Analyze your observations and try to determine if your child has a need that is not being met. Do you have strong feelings about certain actions or emotions? However you feel is ok, but noticing your own feelings without acting may be most helpful.

Week Two
Receive your child wholeheartedly

Close your eyes and picture the moment you pick up your child after a long day at school. Notice how you feel just thinking about this moment. Every time you greet your child this week let go of your curiosity about her day at school, the stress of your day, or your worry of what you'll cook for dinner and just say, “I’m so happy to see you!” Focus on this happiness of seeing your child, even if she hops into the car in the carpool line and blurts out right away, “I’m hungry, I want snack!” Just turn and tell her first, “I’m so happy to see you!” 

When your child walks into the room this week and says, “Moooooommeeeee” and you know he is going to ask for a snack even though dinner is in 15 minutes or he wants help getting a toy that’s on an impossibly high shelf for a very good reason, try not to brace yourself when he walks in. Before you say anything, look in his eyes and smile. If he comes in with tears streaming or he’s as frustrated as a t-rex with an ice cream cone, take a breath, look in his eyes, and empathize with what he’s feeling. Before you utter his name or say, “I see you’re so mad!,” show him with your eyes and your body that you can feel what he’s feeling. When you empathize with your child, he feels felt.

Week Three
Practice Choosing

This week, see how often you can give your child a choice. As a general rule, it’s good to give your child the same number of options as his age. In the grocery store, let her pick if she’d like bananas, apples or clementines. Ask him if he’d like to go to Pullen Park with the trains or Shelly Lake to feed the ducks. Ask her if she wants to take her bike or scooter and lead the family on a walk. Ask him if he’d like to bring in the mail or feed the cat today. Ask your toddler if he wants to eat with a blue plate or a red plate. In these choices, make sure your child is not choosing for you. He cannot choose where you sit at the dinner table or if mom or dad drives to the store. Just as diligently as you pay attention to offering choices this week, make sure you are just as clear with your limit, “I choose for me; you choose for you.”

Week Four
Practice Separateness

Is your child uncomfortable with separation? Do you feel nervous just thinking about separating from your child at school? Does your child have a hard time playing on his own at home? The amount of freedom depends, of course on his age and maturity. You are the best judge of what is a safe amount of freedom, but whatever limits you set, it is important that you both feel comfortable.

You are the anchor for your child’s exploration. What does that mean? It means you are background music for your child’s own action sequence. Are you sending out calming and happy background music, or is your energy more like the soundtrack to “Jaws”? Notice your own feelings about separation and practice feeling calm, relaxed and positive when your child is exploring independently.

Whether you are in your yard, a park or the grocery store, set limits that are clear so that your child knows what you expect, whether it’s an understanding that he stay on the same aisle in the grocery store or that she never go past the end of the driveway or into the street in your yard on her own. These limits mean that play is over without warning or a lot of fanfare if your child doesn't follow these expectations. You can merely mention, “I see you are done, you can play outside when you can remember to stay in our yard” This may mean you have to leave the store before you’re done shopping or a huge meltdown when you leave the park, but the consequences are the teacher.

If your child is uneasy with separation, let him practice separating from you. Go to a safe place like an empty baseball diamond in a park. Set down a home base with a blanket and something to occupy yourself. Let your child separate from you as far as he is comfortable. Notice how far he goes, how often he looks back for you, and when he returns and leaves again. Stay calm and relaxed, but separate from what he’s doing.

When it is time for you to separate from your child, come up with a routine and follow it religiously so your child feels more secure about the separation. Acknowledge that saying goodbye is hard, but some things can help. The older your child, the more he can help to brainstorm a routine.

If your child is going somewhere new like a birthday party, make sure to let him know what to expect ahead of time. If he is older and expresses concern about getting in a pool at a swim party, for example, listen, acknowledge that new situations can feel scary, and guide him through coming up with a plan for feeling comfortable in the new situation.  

We naturally feel nervous about our children separating from us, but it’s very important to convey confidence. Remember, the child who feels confident about her own decision making who is safest out in the world.   

Week Five
Ask Before Helping

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is adjusting to your child who is constantly changing and growing. As soon as you seem to have figured it out, she’s changed!  This week, practice how to ask before helping.

It’s hard to watch our children struggle and we are often too quick to jump in and help. Young children who are still developing movement skills are developing a sense of how their bodies are moving through space. Helping a child walk down a step or negotiate an obstacle on the playground gives incorrect information about moving in challenging situations. When he comes to a challenge on his own, he may not take the precautions he needs. Even young children can be very careful, but they need to figure out how to negotiate their environment independently. You may get some strange looks on the playground, but it’s important that your child be allowed to explore independently, even when she is struggling. If you absolutely must help, ask first. Remember, perseverance is a skill that develops through practice. If your child is struggling, your goal is to help her keep struggling! If she’s about to give up, try offering suggestions like, "What happens if you put your foot here?" before offering help.

If your toddler is mid-tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, announce first before you move him by saying, “I’m going to help your body,” or “I’m going to pick you up.” Even with our own children, it’s important to model that we respect their body and they are responsible for their own bodies.

Congratulations! You’ve invested this month in fostering a stronger connection with your child. Sometimes it’s all we can do to get through the day and sometimes it’s the little things that can make the day easier.