Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Value of Practical Life Exercises

In every new Montessori class, there are a few parents who wonder, "Why am I paying thousands of dollars a year for my child to learn how to polish shoes?"

Why indeed? Well, polishing shoes are part of the assortment of Practical Life exercises that are a staple in the Montessori classroom for children under six because these early years are the time in which the relationship between the brain and body needs intensive nurturing.

The fine motor skills, refined hand movements, hand-eye coordination, and gross motor skills practiced in these simple exercises are key to preparing your child for the next phase of life.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Child's Environment: No TV in the Bedroom!

A key part of the Montessori method is the environment we provide for children, both at home and in the classroom. While child-sized furniture and a touchable home (meaning few or no items that require "Don't touch!") are staples of the concept, issues such as television in the bedroom are even more important. Just to get this straight, no television in your child's bedroom!

There is a pithy article by Tara Parker-Pope (March 4, 2008, NY Times online) with a few excellent discussions of data to back this up with scientific findings. Should Children Have Television in Their Bedrooms?

If television watching is an important staple of your home life, reap the benefits by making it family time...and remember to comment cynically on things onscreen that deserve it. Teaching your child how to manage his or her television time can best be shown by example. Watch your favorite family program or the news, look at your watch, and announce that the television has been on long enough!

Television also keeps the brain awake, so it is detrimental to your efforts to help calm your child before he or she reaches that magical bedtime hour. Even if everyone has been watching television, you can show your child how to wind down with a pre-bedtime hour of reading and a bath.

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Autism and Asperger's: A Great Video and Article

Midway through this video, Amanda Baggs, the woman shown here, begins to speak using a voice synthesizer for her typing. Wait for her "translation". For those of you working with children with autism or asperger's, this is a must-see!

In "The Truth About Autism: Scientists Reconsider What They Think They Know" in Wired online by David Wolman on 02.25.08, there is a great quote:

Mike Merzenich, a professor of neuroscience at UC San Francisco, says the notion that 75 percent of autistic people are mentally retarded is "incredibly wrong and destructive." He has worked with a number of autistic children, many of whom are nonverbal and would have been plunked into the low-functioning category. "We label them as retarded because they can't express what they know," and then, as they grow older, we accept that they "can't do much beyond sit in the back of a warehouse somewhere and stuff letters in envelopes."

Does Montessori work for children with autism and Asperger's? I have never seen it work well in a classroom setting, but that may be because the constant movement and noise of children with autism and Asperger's leaves traditionally-trained Montessori teachers at a loss for what to do. For parents who are considering Montessori, this is definitely something to consider because traditional Montessori teacher training focuses on achieving a certain type of classroom environment, one with quiet and self-discipline that shows itself through lack of noise and absence of physical distractions. Obviously, if you watch the video, it would be a horrible disservice to children with autism and Asperger's, if you did try to enforce a standard Montessori classroom environment on them!

Montessori equipment and presentation methodology is, however, successful when presented differently with an open mind. (If anyone is looking for specifics, please post a comment and we'll respond.) For Sensorial material such as the Pink Tower or Colored Tablets, be ready for things to be handled and tasted. Expect the Pink Tower to be possibly destroyed after or before it is built. Did you know Maria Montessori intended the tower to be knocked over when it was finished being built? Montessori classrooms present a careful deconstruction of the tower these days...probably due to the price of equipment. What an unfortunate change!

You will need to take care that small pieces of equipment, such as the Golden Beads, do not get choked upon, but generally good quality material can take a bit of a beating.

I think this video is wonderful because it reminds us not to judge what we do not know.