Thursday, August 28, 2008

Developing Resilient Children

A recent article in Montessori Life looks at the work of Dr. Robert Brooks, Harvard Medical School professor. The article, "Developing Resilient Children," by Meg Drake, lists his "10 guideposts that form the foundation of a resilient mindset."
  1. Teaching Empathy
  2. Effectively communicating
  3. Believing in the worth of a child
  4. Creating opportunities for ownership/developing a sense of community
  5. Setting realistic goals/orchestration of success
  6. Teaching children to learn from mistakes
  7. Developing responsibility, compassion for others, and social conscience
  8. Teaching children to make decisions and solve problems
  9. Disciplining in ways that promote self-discipline and self-worth
  10. Creating a close alliance between home and school
Beyond Dr. Brook's work, Howard Gardner (Montessori Life Winter 2003), Jane Healy (Your Child's Growing Mind), Alfie Kohn (Independent School Spring 2008), and Jonathan Kozol (keynote speaker at 2007 AMS Annual Conference), to name a few, are today's education leaders . What strikes me most is that their work, research, and prominence, which guide our world, education, and ideas, eloquently capture much of Dr. Montessori's work that was developed over 100 years ago.

Monday, August 25, 2008

What is it You Want?

There are times when one has to think "out of the box" with a 12-month-old child, or a 12-year-old child, or for that matter, an adult, in order to figure out what it is he/she wants.

A while ago I had occasion to walk past the Parents Room when a delightful little girl, of the 12-month-old variety, caught my eye. I made my way into the room, sprawled myself on the floor within googling distance of her, and attempted to be recognized. She was intent on completing one of those bulky wooden puzzles with mom coaching her from the side, and it took a little time for her to pay me heed. Once we locked in eye contact, however, she made my day with a beautiful smile. This invited me to begin some animated conversation.

Not long (maybe 20 seconds) into our chatter, my little friend’s face crinkled into fear and she began to cry and withdraw from my presence. Flummoxed, I backed off and said to her mother, "I guess she doesn’t like bow ties." I was about to make my exit when I noticed that the girl’s left hand was tucked under a puzzle piece, her leg was pushing down on the piece, and her tiny fingers were being pinched. Ouch! Once I repositioned her leg and freed her captured hand, she smiled, we reconnected, and I decided I would continue to wear bow ties. She wanted her hand to be free from pain.

It is a perpetual challenge to figure out what children want. This can be especially so with the 12-year-old, emerging adolescent. There are several books that I have relied upon when I am attempting to understand young teens, and I recommend them highly to you. Anthony E. Wolf’s Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?, and Laura Sessions Steppe’s Our Last Best Shot: Guiding Our Children Through Early Adolescence are both must-reads. For reading matter pertaining to children of other ages, I suggest you talk to your child's program/division head.

Unfortunately, I have no books or methods to recommend for adult conundrums. . . in that area, I discover new challenges every day!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Respect and Caring for One Another = Keys to Diversity

If you are a parent or teacher of young children, you must read Patricia G. Ramsey’s Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World, 3rd Edition (Teachers College Press, 2004). 

Early intervention in helping the human mind grow thoughtfully with compassion and understanding is essential in today’s world.  Ramsey states “In short, caring is a powerful emotion that energizes concern for oneself and others and our willingness to confront and change inequities. Thus, it is an essential component of multicultural education.”

Ramsey looks at the context of learning diversity in the life of preschoolers and early elementary children through race, social class, consumerism, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and abilities and disabilities.

Drawing on the work and sensibilities of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Robert Coles, Ramsey states “To develop connections with each other and with the social and natural world, children must learn to be caring and respectful. They need to make room in [their] mind[s] for others’ — a space for others’ ideas, wishes, and perspectives — and develop a willingness to learn from people with experiences and backgrounds dissimilar to theirs.”

Monday, August 18, 2008


This is one of those non-fiction books that keeps you turning page after page. Better by Atul Gwande emphasizes three elements required to make things better - diligence, doing right, and ingenuity.

At a lecture given to medical students, the author gave five suggestions for how one might make a worthy difference:
  • Ask an unscripted question
  • Don't complain
  • Count something
  • Write something
  • Change
Listen to this NPR interview or watch a YouTube interview to catch a glimpse of this brilliant and articulate doctor, author, and humanitarian.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Music Moving

Even now as I write this post, I am listening to Pandora. Try it. The site streams music without interruption, and you can create your own "stations" by selecting a favorite artist or song.

Music has always been an inspiration to my work. Be it classical, jazz, reggae, rock, easy-listening, or movie/play sound tracks, I am often moved by lyrics and melodies. From time to time, I will pass on music through YouTube that has held my attention when I am listening to the radio, iPod, or computer stream. As an example, here is a favorite, Cats in the Cradle by Harry Chapin; the lyrics are powerfully prophetic.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Robins and Crows - Flying Beyond Labels and Groups

A long, long time ago in a land of brick school buildings with desks lined up in rows and teachers wagging yardsticks for attention, I was one of many students at East School, a kindergarten through eighth grade grammar school. Sitting in a straight-backed chair, which was attached to my desk, I was in a reading group with six other students. I propped up my red Open Highways book, a basal reader that was a staple of many reading programs in the 50s . . . or was that the 60s?

I distinctly remember wishing I were in the other basal reader - the green one that the robins reading group used. I wasn’t even a blue jay, the name of the second reading group; I was a crow; that was the name of my reading group, the third reading group.

I knew I was in the slowest reading group. The name of the group was a dead give-away, and it was pretty obvious, one could tell by the slow speed and cumbersome pronunciation with which members of my group read. I was pretty self-conscious, heck I still remember it 44 years later. Maybe this experience is what caused me to be a proponent of heterogeneous grouping. Now, working in a school where children are sectioned in multi-aged groupings is my idea of a safe, sane, and sound educational practice. It makes sense to have children of differing ages, abilities, and skills in the same classroom because children grow at different speeds – fast and slow – at different stages of their lives.

I have grown to rely on Dr. Montessori’s philosophy and pedagogy that look at children in three-year developmental stages. Children need that time for freedom of growth without fear of not meeting a rigid predetermined standard. Too often we confine our children to single years as we ask them to perform intellectually, emotionally, and physically. “Not reading by the end of first grade?” “Didn’t make the travel soccer squad?” “She would rather go to the movies with mom and dad instead of the middle school dance?” Children have many years in which to grow, learn, and develop. It is up to us as parents and teachers to give them ample encouragement and time.

There are no crows here, only birds feathering their own nests, in their own fashion, at their own pace.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Cute 8s Conversation

Take 68 seconds to listen to the opening of this morning's "The Takeaway" show on NPR. Sixty-eight seconds, that's all. When you get there, click on the August 8 Stream.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Stuart, Charlotte, E. B. White, and Anne Carroll Moore

I'm sure you know of Stuart, the mild mannered mouse in Stuart Little, and Charlotte, the spider in Charlotte's Web, and E. B. White, the wonderful author of those books and more. But, who is Anne Carroll Moore? To find out - and it is well worth the read - click to a recent, delightful New Yorker article, "The Lion and the Mouse", by Jill Lepore.

Friday, August 1, 2008

I must confess . . .

. . . while navigating to the ten o'clock news, I clicked on "Super Nanny," you know, the show where a British nanny transforms a dysfunctional group of parents and children living in the same house into a repaired, warm, and loving family. Along with reminding me why I don't watch network TV with its four minutes of programming for every seven minutes of commercials, I was taken by the common sense advice from the nanny. For the episode and family I watched, it came down to the parents - especially the father - modeling good behavior to help their son and daughter interact with each other respectfully and thoughtfully.

Under no circumstances am I recommending that you watch the program; I only pass the experience on to parents (and teachers) to say how important our behavior is to the children we serve. I will recommend Teaching and Learning in a Diverse World (Third Edition, Teachers College Press, 2004) by Patricia G. Ramsey to get a fuller understanding of how our adult behavior impacts our children, particularly as it pertains to understanding the lives of those around us.