Thursday, December 29, 2011

create a vision board

Here is a fun project for the kids on New Year's Eve of New Year's Day.  I have been seeing a lot of "buzz" about this simple activity.  There are lots of websites and apps to help you design one on the internet.  The funny thing is, my sisters and I used to make these with magazine pictures, glue, posterboard and our imaginations.

If you want to try this the way we did it in the "old" days, here are a few pointers.
Each family member can make their own and you can make one as a family.

You want to create a VISION.  Think of the things you want in your life, the things you want to accomplish, the things that are important to you. 
Use words that inspire
People you admire,
And goals to which you aspire!

The rest is easy, look for pictures, photos, magazine pictures that represent these things, cut them out and glue them on the board.  Find words that are important to you, cut them out and glue them on the board.  Personalize it with your name, glitter, stickers, scrapbook stickers, etc.

Put it in a place where it will be visible to you every day.

When working on a family vision board.  Everyone needs to be in agreement or willing to compromise.  Everyone should participate.  Focus on your family values and your dreams.

This can be a powerful tool and is so much more fun than writing a list of resolutions.

Thank you to all my readers in the last year.  I hope to expand and grow this blog in 2012.  Please send me your feedback and suggestions. 

Happy New Year, I wish you the very best in 2012 and lots of wonder and excitement~DV

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Fun and Easy Appetizer the Kids can help make.

This is easy and fun.
Appetizer Tree
You can use any appetizers that can be put on a toothpick.
I used 3 different types of olives, gherkins, cheese, pepperoni.
You can use fruit, veggies, shrimp etc.
Buy a styrofoam cone in the Floral section fo Walmart.
Cover it with aluminum foil.
Use decorative toothpicks to skewer the appetizers to the cone.
Easy, Fun and eyecatching.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


I believe in miracles. 

First of all, it is a miracle that we are all here, living on and sharing this planet at this point in time.
Whatever our differences, it is up to each one of us to create and live worthy lives.  Our lives should in some way benefit others.  Many people are doing just this.  This is a miracle.

The stars are a miracle.  The fact that they exist, that mankind has always been dazzled by them, and that they create all the elements that make up you and I is a miracle.  We are made of stardust so shine brightly.

The water cycle, the life cycle of a frog and a butterfly, the cycle of the seasons, are all miracles.  If you look at these cycles, you can see the sense in the saying "what goes around, comes around."  Cycles are miracles, so be mindful of what you put out to the universe every day, it may come back to you.

Happiness is a miracle.  Life doesn't guarantee joy.  So find the things that bring you joy.  Moments and memories, friends and family, holidays, hobbies, service to others.  I highly recommend service to others if your life is lacking in the miracle of happiness.  You will find it, if you give it.

Finally, Love is a miracle.  Give this miracle away to everyone you meet.  Lead your life by putting love first and you will spread miracles.

Happy Holidays to all of you.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What I think Christmas is about

I was in my car headed home one day, Christmas music on the radio, not thinking about much.  The song "Do You Hear What I Hear?" was on the radio.  My nephew, Dylan had just had a birthday.  Our family had gotten together to celebrate my niece, Katelyn's birthday a week or so before.  And I was thinking about the upcoming Winter Break and the things I would do.

Christmas is usually celebrated as a combination of the following:
  • Jesus' birthday
  • St. Nicholas (Santa Claus)
  • Winter Solstice
  • A time to feast with family and friends
  • Gift giving
  • Crazy, hectic cooking, cleaning, baking, decorating, traveling, shopping, wrapping, spending
  • The stores, parking lots, roads, and post offices are crowded and filled with long lines.
  • Everyone talking about "Christmas Spirit". 

That magic that Christmas holds for children is the true delight of the holiday.  So as I was singing along to the Christmas music on the radio, the reason I think Christmas is meant to be celebrated came clear.  Maybe some of you feel the same way as I do, but I have never heard it expressed quite this way.

I believe Christmas should be a celebration of the child.  Every child who is born has the potential to be the next "savior."  Will this child be a peace maker, a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker?  It's possible.  With children, anything is possible.

So the giving of gifts should be thoughtful.  What gifts can you give that will help a child be the best he or she can be?  Your time, your experience, your wisdom, your love seem to be the most importatn gifts.  Find out what they are interested in doing, what talents can be fostered? Wrap up your experiences and give the children in your life the keys to develop into self actualized human beings with endless possibilities.

Every child can be the one who makes the world a better place, imagine if they all grew up that way.
That would be something to celebrate!
Enjoy the holidays with your family.  Be grateful, be centered, be present.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cake Balls are FUN!

This past weekend I had 9 students come to my house.  We made chocolate cover pretzels and Cake Balls.
It was fun for me to work with the students (who also helped me decorate my Christmas Tree!).  They were helpful to each other.  My nieces, Genevieve and Lily came as well as my nephew, Dylan.  I loved how Genevieve treated her younger brother and offered to help him when he became frustrated.  All the students shared and worked together.  It was a lovely afternoon and everyone went home with tasty treats.

In previous blog posts, I have posted my "kitchen rules."  Clean up is part of the activity and when students work together it can be lots of fun.

Here is the Cake Ball recipe.
1 cake ( made according to package directions)
1 can of Frosting
Chocolate Almond Bark or Chocolate Coating chips
sprinkles, coconut or other items for decoration
I use a large piece of wax paper for the students to define their workspace.  I also use 2 plastic table cloths for easy clean up.
Bake the cake and let cool completely.  Use a food processor to turn it into crumbs.
Add the can of frosting.  Mix well.
Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  It is easier to form the balls when the mixture is cold.

Using a melon ball scoop, form balls of the mixture.  Put on wax paper and freeze for a few hours.
When ready to dip, melt the chocolate bark in the microwave. 
Dip each ball in using a toothpick or plastic fork to hold the ball.
Keep some frozen while working on others.  Decorate with sprinkles, coconut or other fun things.
Refrigerate until coating hardens and enjoy!

We made 3 different kinds
Chocolate cake with chocolate mint icing
Red velvet cake with cream cheese icing
Spice cake with cream cheese icing.
Use your imagination,  Go wild in the kitchen.

But remember to clean up!

Friday, November 25, 2011

So grateful for my Family

Friday, November 25, 2011

What I am Grateful for.

When I look at the way I was brought up, I am grateful for the things I learned from being in this family.

Everyone loves my mom. She is kind, gracious, beautiful, funny and wise. My mom had me at the age of 20, so I feel we grew up together. She is a great organizer and planner, I feel I have inherited those skills from her. I love being around my mom. I admire how she handles the triumphs and the tragedies of life. My mom gave me the skills I needed to seek my own truth and the pathway of my life. I am proud to be her daughter.

I know my dad gave me my love of theater and music. I grew up listening to Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Robert Goulet and Broadway Musicals. My dad always suggested movies he thought I would love and he was always right. From my dad I inherited a bit of a competitive streak when it comes to playing games. I loved when he played Scrabble with mys sister and me. I secretly love it when I play chess at school and the students beat me! I remember arguing with my dad as a teenager, he taught me strategy and how to think before I present my case. My dad has inspired many teachers and students to become the best they can be. He inspired me to work with children and choose to teach. I am proud to be his daughter.

I am the oldest sibling. I have learned so much from being a part of this family, much of it from my sisters and brothers. From my sister Karen, I have learned that dreams do come true. She is successful and has 2 beautiful daughters who are the loves of her life. She works hard, is a terrific mom, and doesn't give up on what her goals are. I am proud of her and proud to be her sister.
From my sister Vicki, I have learned to count my blessings and enjoy every moment of life. Vicki has always been the life of the party and is so good about keeping in touch with family and friends. People trust her and tell her everything. She is a peacemaker. Vicki's eyes light up whenever she looks at our nieces and nephews who adore her. She is compassionate, funny, and lights up the world. I am proud of her and proud to be her sister.

My brother Ron has always been the sweetest and most caring person. He works hard and spends his "free" time with his family. He adores his children and is introducing them to the world with wonder and a positive outlook. Ron has taught me to appreciate those you love and to treat them well. He tirelessly pitches in whenever someone needs help. He has an altruistic side and can be selfless when called upon. I am so proud to be his sister and I am so proud of him.

From my brother Kevin, I have learned to be courageous. When we were younger, Kevin would call to order the pizza because his big sister was too shy. Kevin has had to make choices in his life that require true courage and the ability to be honest with yourself. He is, like our brother Ron, a great dad. He is patient, soft spoken, calm, and loving. He is devoted to his children and they are happy and thriving because of it. I am so proud of my brother Kevin and I am proud to be his sister.

I am a product of this family. What I know, I've learned from them. I am grateful for every moment of joy, every learning experience, and every struggle we went through. I know they are always in my corner and I will always be in theirs. It hasn't always been easy but I am who I am because of our shared experience.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Thanksgiving is an important holiday to talk about and study in class.  In our class we research the history of the holiday, make paper turkeys, write sentences and paragraphs about why we are grateful for the bounty we have in our lives.  This year, our 6-9 class focused on the “giving” of Thanksgiving.

Each month our school has a “Casual Day”.  Elementary and Secondary students do not have to wear the usual uniform.  This year we have implemented a program where each class gets to choose a cause or a charity and those who wish to dress “casually” donate to that cause.  When our class was asked to choose a cause for November, it was easy to make a choice.  We decided to collect food for All Faith’s Food Bank in our town. 

Our third year students formed committees and divided the types of food they expected to collect into different categories.  They decided on “Pasta, Soups, Meat and Fish, Fruits and Veggies, and Miscellaneous.”   The five third year students put together a flyer which went home to the families in our school.

We decided that we would collect food for one week.  Each morning students stood outside our classroom with their handmade signs during “Drop off” time.  The first day did not yield any items and the students were disappointed.  We pointed out that it was a good day for reminding everyone about our Food Drive and tomorrow things would surely pick up.

The next day the food started to come in.  The committees collected the cans, bags, and boxes of items that fit their categories.  They organized the items, made lists of what types and quantities of food they collected, they boxed the food up and by the end of the week we had collected 343 items!

There were discussions about which category some items would fall into.  Would barley go with the pasta group or miscellaneous?  Do we count a six pack of tuna as one item or as six?   Are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable? Is juice a fruit or is it in the miscellaneous category?  Can we keep the box of chocolate chip cookies?

Students worked together cooperatively to answer these questions and box up the food.  On the Monday before Thanksgiving we loaded it onto the school bus and then traveled to the All Faith’s Food Bank to deliver our bounty.  We were greeted by the volunteers who worked at the food bank.  Jill, a registered dietician gave us a tour of the warehouse.

We found out that we collected 372 pounds of food.  One pound of food feeds a person for a day.  The students were able to get on the scale and we found out that they weighed 949 pounds!  We were able to help sort the food we brought to the food bank.  We checked the dates on the can and then put a line through the bar code.  We sorted the cans into the appropriate boxes.

Students walked up and down the aisles and learned what types of food were needed.  We walked into the “cold rooms.”  In the first room it was 44 degrees, that is where they keep fresh fruit and veggies.  Next we went into the dairy room which was about 32 degrees.  Finally we entered the meat room which was 11 degrees.  That was where they keep the turkeys and other types of meat they have collected.

The students had a great learning experience and walked away feeling proud that they were able to help other families and children in our community. 

Remember, Thanksgiving is a time for being grateful for your blessings and a time to give to help your community!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Just say "No!"

Saying "no" does not a bad parent make.  As a parent your responsibility is to raise a responsible, independent adult who has common sense and skills that will help them thrive.  Dealing with disappointment is a skill that actually needs to be taught.

Face it, none of us has gotten everything we have ever wanted.  From Barbie Dolls and Bicyles to college admissions to dating to job applications to rainy vacations, disappointment is a daily occurance.  What helps us get through life is how we deal with the inevitable.

When I look at the students I have had over the years, some have taken disappointment in stride, some have had tantrums when things don't go their way, some relentlessly persevere and pursue other avenues to get what they want.  There are as many reactions to disappointment as there are children.

So, as a parent, what can you do to help your child develop skills that will allow them to handle disappointment, regroup, and pursue other options?

Children like to be prepared for situations.  When you take a child shopping, have a conversation first.  We are going to the grocery store.  You and I will buy the things on our list. I will hand you each item and you can put it in the cart. I want you to know that today we will not buy anything "extra."  If you do forget and ask me for something special, please know that today the answer will be no.
*Then if the child does ask for something you can refer to the conversation you had prior to the shopping trip.  It is nice to give your child a specific task to do such as putting the items in the cart.  Children like to help.

Before playing a game, have a converstaion.  I would be happy play checkers ( or any game) with you.  You are one of my favorite people to play with.  Let's talk about what a good winner does.  If you win, tell the other players that it was fun to play with them and they did a good job.  If you don't win, tell the winner "Congratulations."  It is good to know how to win and how to lose.
* A child needs to practice being a good loser, I advise you not to let them win every game they play with you.  You should model being a good winner and a good loser.

Before a playdate, have a conversation.  Your friend is coming over to play.  He is our guest so he will get to choose the first game you play.  If you play nicely, you get to choose the next game.  You are a terrific friend and a terrific friend lets others choose first.
*Be close by to remind your child about courtesy when being with a friend.

Before birthday parties, have a conversation.  You are going to be in someone else's home.  You will be the representative of our family.  This is an important job.  Say please and thank you.  If you don't get your way, be calm and wait till you get home and tell me all about it.  Do not ask for "seconds" wait until you are offered seconds.
*The "seconds" thing is a point of politeness and should be practiced at home.  Be sure to ask your child how things went and if they are not enthusiastic ask if there was a disappointment and talk to them about how we don't always get everything we want but you are always loved and important.

When children are very young saying no happens frequently.  You may want to offer another activity or distraction so the child realizes there are other options when things don't go your way.

I have seen many parents give in to children who have wanted something they clearly were not ready for.  Face book accounts for 9 year olds, cars for 16 year olds, i phones for 7 year olds given out of love.  But what seems like love can just be indulgence.  Learn to say no but do it with a conversation.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Taking a Break!

What do you do when everything goes awry?  The kids are fighting, the science projects are due but not yet begun, the baby sitter cancels, the dishwasher overflows, and the phone doesn't stop ringing!  These are just some of the things that can pile up on you during the day.  Hopefully only one situation occurs at a time but there are days when it seems everything happens at once and you want to scream and tear your hair out.

Well, there are a few strategies that help us get through these rough patches. 

In the midst of a multitude of chaotic events you must deal with the ones involving safety first.  So take a few deep breaths and diffuse any situation that could involve injury or safety.

After that I recommend taking a BREAK!

B - spend a few minutes focused on breathing,  take deep, slow breathes and concentrate on the air coming into and out of your body.  Fill your whole body up with air.

R - recognize and regroup, look at the individual components and assess what needs your immediate attention and what can be saved for another time.

E - evaluate, at a neutral moment, evaluate how you were feeling.  Did that play a role in the escalation?  Evaluate the environment, is it conducive to peace and tradquility?  Were you trying to take on too much?  What can you change?

A - attention - pay attention to how these situations began.  Are your children acting out because they are hungry, tired, or need time apart from one another?  Take a moment to focus on how it all began and then provide alternative activities, exercise, snack, or quiet time depending on the need.

K - kindness, be kind to yourself.  Don't beat yourself up over the events that have occured.  Observe and see what changes are possibe and implement them.

You can take a BREAK at least once a day (it is not only for disasters) and it will help you feel more in control of your life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Here is a post from Penelope Trunk

Here is an interesting post.  Sending your child to a Montessori school is a good way to encourage these important traits in your child.  I am happy to share this:

How School Affects Future Earnings

The best way to understand earning power—no matter what your age—is to understand the factors that go into it. For example, most people who have careers that are plateauing usually have a learning problem that manifests itself as an earning problem.
And for parents, schooling discussions are really earning discussions. Because you can say that kids with a love of learning are lifelong learners (essential for workplace success today), but truly, who wants an unemployed Ph.D candidate? You don't want a lawyer who can't get a job because of poor social skills, you don't want a kid with perfect SAT scores who marries for money because supporting oneself seems too hard. Every parent wants to raise a kid who is capable of supporting himself and capable of finding engaging work for a stable life.
Here's how schooling affects earning power.
1. Focus on pre-K through third grade.
Why focus on pre-K? There is very solid data that the earning power of kids who attend a pre-K program is so much higher than kids who don’t that Head Start is one of the most sacred of all publicly funded programs in the US. So the school impact on one’s earning potential starts in pre-K.
Why third grade? Research from Project STAR shows that after third grade, the quality of one’s classroom has little impact on one’s future earning potential. There is clear data (spanning 25 years and researchers at six universities) that shows that test scores after third grade are not indicators of future earning potential.
2. Ignore standardized test results, obsess over self-confidence levels.
This means, of course, that it doesn’t matter how one performs on national standardized tests since those test scores do not have impact on the sixty years one spends in the workforce.
And this conclusion is consistent with one of my favorite studies in the whole world: It is from Alan Kreuger, professor at Princeton, that shows that while it is true that kids who go to Harvard and Princeton have advantages over others when it comes to future earning, you can get those same advantages just by applying to those schools. It’s having ambition and believing in yourself that are the real harbingers of success. The fancy diploma is a red herring.
3. Teach kids to find mentors.
Faye Crosby, professor at the University of Santa Cruz says that the two most important factors in a person’s earning potential is quality of schooling and quality of mentoring. Now we know that the schooling part of this equation is up to third grade. So maybe, starting in fourth grade, we should be teaching our kids how to get the best mentors.
Let’s consider what life would look like if you took all fourth graders out of school and started teaching them how to get mentors. First of all, the act of finding a mentor is very consistent with what current research on education reform says that kids should be doing: Following the paths that interest them and finding someone to guide them.
4. The best schooling after third grade is unschooling.
Here is a fascinating article from Psychology Today about why school reform will not work because schools are so incredibly ill-suited for teaching kids. In fact, the formula for school—telling kids what they should learn and how they should learn—is a method only for killing their creativity.
Lisa Neilsen, who manages teacher training for New York City public schools, also comes down hard on the classroom structure. She tells parents that kids should learn in a project-based program where the lesson plans are dictated by a child’s current interests. Neilsen says that if the school won’t do that for your kid, take your kid out of school.
5. Aim for out of the box. Way out of the box. That's when things will look right.
So let’s say you take the advice of people whose job is to study what is the best way to teach your kid. Let’s say you take the advice of the reams of research about what factors influence a child’s future earning potential.
What you are left with is waking up every day, asking your child what he or she wants to do, and then finding someone to help them, if you are are not the right person. Some days you will offer up some ideas, some days your kid will say no to everything and decide to play video games.
Here’s what I’m doing to increase my fourth-grader’s earning potential: Pottery.
He told me he wanted to do clay. He said he’s upset that each year of school he got to do a clay project, and this year, since we’re homeschooling, he’s going to miss it.
So I did a little Googling, and I found a pottery studio: Bethel Horizons. (It is Christian, of course. Everything in rural America that has funding is either government or Christian.)
The minute I walked into the studio, I knew we were so lucky. Krista is the pottery teacher, and she took incredible care to make sure each step was a way to focus mentally and "connect with the clay."

She showed him how to use machines and tools and she showed him that part of the process is keeping the workspace neat and clean so the brain and the hands can work in peace.

Then Krista told my son he'd make a pot each time he sits at the wheel. I thought about the study about pottery in Malcolm Gladwell's book Outliers. Students who were asked to make one, great pot, learned much slower than kids who made a terrible pot each time at the wheel. Greatness comes from lots of terribleness, so I liked that we were on that path.

I coach so many people who want advice about their career, but so often, these people really just need to learn how to figure out what they want: experiment, find what might be fun. Try it for a bit. People need coaching on how to take risks and not worry if they fail. People need coaching on how to find a mentor who is invested in their particular path. I see that all these things are related to earning power, and all these things are what kids learn when they direct their own curriculum.
So, my son probably will not grow up to make expensive pots to sell. But I know that while he's skipping school and managing his pottery-learning himself, his earning power is going up, and it's a joy to watch.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Preparation of the Parent

This past week conferences were held with students,parents, and teachers.  It is always a joy to meet with all of the families in our classroom.  I truly believe that the whole family comes to school with the child each day and that the teacher needs to be a team member with the parents in the development of the child.

Maria Montessori spoke of the preparation of the teacher, the preparation of the environment and the  preparation of the spirit.  She emphasized that the teacher should stay in background, allowing the child to develop with guidance, developing his or her own character,  The teacher is there to prepare the environment so that it calls to the child.

Maria Montessori spoke of preparing the teacher's spirit.  As teachers we are taught to observe our students and the environment, present new lessons, to stand back and allow children to work on something until they achieve understanding, to be patient, and to renew our commitment to our students daily.

It occurs to me that parents really don't have the same type of preparation.  How do you prepare to be a parent?  Taking on this job is a lifelong commitment.  It will bring you joy and heartache.  Your spirit needs to be renewed daily so that you can provide the best for your child.

Take time for yourself.
Date your spouse.
Pursue a hobby.
Reflect, keep a journal.
Be grateful.

Find what you love to do and make time for it.  You and your child will benefit from this.  Your child is a gift and will develop his or her character according to how you see yourself.  Love yourself and your child will learn to love himself as well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How to create the next Steve Jobs

I have been thinking about the passing of Steve Jobs.  And although I mourn the loss of this visionary, I have to wonder how he got to be who he was?  How can I help my students become visionaries?  How can teachers and parents foster the creativity, confidence, and vision it takes to change the world?

Well, this got me thinking about other great visionaires.  They seem to have a few attributes in common.

Here are the qualities I want to foster in our children:

  1. Embrace mistakes and failure, learn from them.
  2. Simple is better.
  3. Find your passion and pursue it wholeheartedly.
  4. Don't let anyone tell you, it can't be done.  Don't tell yourself it can't be done.
  5. When working makes you happy you are working on the right thing.
  6. Time is limited, don't wait, do it now.
  7. Trust your heart.
Giving your child a Montessori education is a good start.  Help them learn to celebrate mistakes.  I see so many children who fear doing it "wrong".  I tell them that I make more mistakes than anyone.  That's why they make erasers.

Simple is elegant.  Simple is timeless.  Simple leads to successful.

Love what you do.  Love it so much you don't even know time is passing by while you are working on it.  Everyone has a passion although I must admit it is harder to find in some.  I see it in my students, some love to draw (the artists and the engineers), some love to play chess (the CEO's and the game creators), some love to argue (the lawyers), some love to talk (the communicators), some love to read (the authors and researchers).  Help your child find his or her passion.

Be a cheerleader for your child.  Let your child try as many things as they want.  Cheer wildly and believe in their dreams.

Banish the word "can't" from your vocabulary.  

Notice what keeps your child busy and happy.  Nurture these activities.

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today!  Who knows how many tomorrows we have?

Trust the child, trust that she has everything she needs to learn and grow.

Last but not least, turn off the TV.  Children cannot be creative when they are passively entertained.

Steve Jobs, you will be missed.  God speed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Grace and Courtesy ( by Peter Davidson)

After observing in toddlers or primary, prospective parents invariably comment upon how civilized it is, how the children get along so well and are so respectful of each other and their teachers.  “How do Montessori children know how to wait for a turn, respect someone else’s space, walk in the classroom instead of run, ask politely for help or offer to help someone else?” they want to know.  “It’s not magic,” I respond.  “They have learned each of these skills, and many more, in the lessons of Grace and Courtesy.”
These lessons are a regular feature of the toddler or primary classroom, especially at this time of year when new children are being introduced to the classroom.  In primary, these often happen at a group time, first thing in the morning.  On of the first skills introduced is simply “How to walk around a rug.”  The teacher will unroll a small rug on the floor in the middle of the circle of children, and invite them to watch.  With elaborate care she will place her foot just beside the rug with every step she takes.  Each time she comes to a corner, she will accentuate going all the way around and not cutting the corner by stepping over it.  She will then announce, “Now you know how to walk around a rug,” and invite several children, one at a time, to have a turn.
When the group time is over and children are excused to move about the classroom and choose their own activities, she can observe the results of her handiwork, as the children pay special attention to walking around each rug they encounter.  If anyone forgets and steps on someone else’s rug, she has only to remind them:  “Do you remember when I showed you how to walk around a rug?”
It seems so simple, doesn’t it?  And yet, consider this — without this one skill, children who knew no better would blunder into and across each other’s spaces, causing disturbance and hurt feelings.
Another early lesson is “How to watch someone’s work.”  Again the teacher will role play this important skill, emphasizing her closed mouth and the placement of her hands by her sides or behind her back.
With the introduction of just these two skills alone, the teacher has eliminated a large percentage of the frictional elements that plague the average “preschool.”  In this same way we teach each of the social skills that allow a group of children to function independently but also respectfully:  how to excuse yourself when stepping in front of another; what to do when you come to the water pitcher and someone else is already there getting a drink; how to serve the carrots that you have just peeled and sliced;  how to blow your nose;  how to walk in a line;  how to wait rather than interrupt.  The list goes on and on.
Last year as I was substituting in a primary class, I noticed a social skill that the children lacked.  In one area of the classroom two shelves jutted out, creating a narrow passage between.  Children coming from opposite directions would bump into each other coming through.  Rather than admonishing these children for their lack of social awareness, I made a mental note instead.  The next morning I gathered the whole group around the space in question.  The assistant and I role-played what to do in this situation.  We each picked up a tray and entered the narrow space from opposite directions.  I made a deliberate show of stopping, stepping back, and inviting her to go first.  Following this group time, as children went about their independent activities, I noticed any number of them looking for an opportunity to pass through this same narrow space.  If someone was coming from the opposite direction one of them would stop, move back, and in a little piping voice say, “Oh, excuse me.  Please go through first.”
In this way the children gradually build the social skills of a polite society.  As they find activities that meet their inner need for self-development and as their space and autonomy are respected, a sense of calm and purposefulness settles over the classroom.  Perhaps it is magic, after all.

Peter Davidson was the founding Head at the Montessori School of Beaverton, an AMI school in Portland and currently serves as consultant for Montessori in Redlands, an AMI school in Southern California.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The School Year is now in Full Swing

I haven't written for awhile due to the fact that I have been assessing, planning, listening, exploring, creating, tracking, adjusting, accomodating, discussing, reviewing, cajoling, consoling,nurturing, refereeing, guiding, helping, and countless other "ings" that go into "teaching".

But I am happy to say progress is evident in our classroom.  Students are gaining confidence, acquiring new skills, and forming new friendships.  I predict that it will be a successful year with a few little bumps in the road, but that's what keeps it interesting.

When i was studying to become a teacher, one of my professors told us a story about a cocktail party she had attended.  It was filled with high powered attorneys, doctors, CEO's and other go-getters.  She was introduced to a gentleman who said, "And what do you do?"  She replied, "I have the most amazing and important job."  She slipped off and joined another conversation and inevitably was asked what she did?  (It is amazing how many people define their whole lives by their job,  the question we should be asking children is, "What qualities do you want to possess?"  not "What do you want to be when you grow up?"  But that is a topic for another day.)

But I digress, back to the story....
 Eventually, she ran into the first man later in the party.  He said,  What is this amazing and important job that you have?" 
The party is a buzz with laughter and chatter but at just that moment there was a drop in the noise level and she said, "I am a teacher!"  Everyone turned to look at her as she was the loudest in the room (and she had told everyone what an amazing and important job she had.) 
The gentleman said, "Teaching? how can that be amazing and important?"
 My professor asked, "May I ask what your job is?"
The man replied, "I am a brain surgeon."
My professor said, "Well, I think it would be important for you to have had amazing teachers."
And she left the party.

The point of this is to let you know how seriously the teachers in your children's lives take their jobs.  Teachers don't do things lightly, they often agonize over reporting information that may be uncomfortable for parents to hear, they try to find different ways to reach every child in their class, they read, plan, (well, you saw the list at the beginning of this piece.)

Every child is a gift, every child is important, every child is beautiful.  Teachers know this and hold these lives in their hands for a short time.  They are not always appreciated, respected, and treated fairly, but they will work hard to find the spark in your children and help them develop the tools needed to pursue their passions.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Healthy Fruit Pies

This recipe comes from the chef at The White House.  These pies are delicious and easy to make.  Enjoy!
Healthy Fruit Pies
Whole wheat white bread
Unsweetened applesauce
Canola oil
2 tbsp. sugar

Put a spoonful of apple sauce and some berries in the middle of a slice of bread.
Add another slice of bread on top.
Cut off the crusts
Use a fork to seal the edges by pressing the tines of the fork down around the edges of the bread.
Brush with canola oil
Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar
Bake at 350 for 18 minutes.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Frisco Taught Me

Baby Frisco
This was taken a few days before he crossed the Rainbow Bridge to be with Bucky.

My beloved Frisco silently slipped away on Wednesday night.  He left this world the way he lived his life, quietly, peacefully and without asking for attention.

Frisco was a friendly, happy dog.  He was happy just to be who he was.  He never competed for attention or demanded much.  He loved to be outside digging or laying in the dirt.  He loved treats, and he gave love and affection to everyone he met.

Frisco was only 10 years old.  He did have an enlarged heart and an ineffective valve.  He was on four medications.  But he lived each day with the same sense of love, affection, playfulness and peace.

His last day was a really good day.  We went for a long walk, a ride in the car, he chased lizards out back.  He ate a good dinner and did his business before bed.  As I got into bed, Ziggy hopped up with me and Frisco lay in his favorite place on the cool tile.  He gave what sounded like a sigh of satisfaction after a pleasant, well lived day.  Ziggy hopped down immediately and sniffed Frisco all over, then jumped up and stood with his paw on my shoulder staring at me.  So I got up and poor Frisco was gone. 

We are heartbroken.  When Bucky died we had lots of time to tell him we loved him and that he would always be in our hearts.  Frisco was gone in the blink of an eye and then there was no time to tell him all the loving thoughts we have about him.

Yes, I know he knew.  And I was telling him day by day but I want 5 more minutes to really let him know.

What I've learned from this experience is not to wait.  You cannot get back any of the time you let slip by.   So,
  •  if your child wants you to play, drop what you are doing and play.  Childhood will not last forever.
  • if your partner wants to spend time with you, do it.  The opportunity may be lost.
  • if you love someone, tell them every chance you get.  Tell them when you wake up, leave the house, go to bed, during a disagreement, whenever you have those 5 minutes I want back.  You can never say it enough.

We often say we don't want our children to grow up too fast, but they will whether we take the time to enjoy their childhood or not. 

Savor every moment with your children.  They will remember the time you spend with them and the expressions on your face.  Love them every second of the day.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Letter to Former School Aged Self.

Dear Debbie,
It's time for school to begin.  A new year lies ahead and it will be full.  Full of the adventures, triumphs, memories and experiences you choose to engage in.  I have some advice for you since I am further down the road and can look back fondly at the child I was.  Here are 10 things I want you to remember:
  1. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.  The most important lessons I have learned came from the mistakes I made.  Pack a big eraser, keep practicing until you master whatever the lesson might be.
  2. Make friends with everyone.  Be kind to everyone and they will respond to your sweetness, your compassion, your helping hands, and your sense of humor.
  3. Have courage.  Take advantage of every opportunity to try something new.  Take sensible risks.  Enjoy all experiences that come your way.
  4. Discover your passions.  Find the things you love to do and don't let anyone stop you from pursuing your passions.
  5. Have faith.  Know that you have all you need to succeed inside of you already.  If you are kind, safe and doing your best you are already successful.  Believe that you are right where you are supposed to be in life and that you possess the talent that will take you where you want to go.
  6. Speak up for yourself and "the underdogs".  When someone is in trouble or being picked on, stand up for what is the right thing.
  7. Be in nature.  Everyday you should go out and experience the beauty of the natural world. 
  8. Find time for silence and reflection.  Everyday should contain sometine when you can be alone with your thoughts.  Time spent with yourself is valuable to your inner peace.
  9. Be grateful.  Appreciate the people and the experiences around you.  Be thankful even when you are having a tough time or something seems unfair.  You create a positive atmosphere by being grateful.
  10. Never doubt that you are loved.  Enough said.
Enjoy every second.  You have no need to worry, all will be well.  Remember that you are wise, you are beautiful, and you are loved beyond your wildest dreams.
Your older self

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Does Silence Matter?

I was on my morning walk with Frisco and Ziggy, listening to my Ipod when it occured to me that the music was a distraction to the world around me.  I am not saying that music is a bad thing.  I love music, I love to sing, and I think music has a sacred place in our culture.  But what about silence?  Does silence have a sacred place too?
Have you ever felt relieved when your children go to sleep because you can finally hear your own thoughts?  I have read that many people fear silence because they equate silence with death.  When children are born they learn early on that sound is the easiest way to get attention.  Giggles, squeals, cries, shouts all get your attention and the comfort of your presence.  So the child equates the sounds they make with getting your love.
Is the TV, computer, radio, CD player on at your house all the time?  There is constant input to our ears.  Input that we can control.  It can be challenging to hear your own thoughts when there is a lot of noise already coming into your head.
Silence is important.  In silence we can quiet our minds and listen to our hearts.  You don't have to "meditate" and sit idly in one spot.  You can have silent time at your house when everyone is doing something but all media is off, talking is discouraged, and children and families learn to enjoy the peace and tune into their own hearts.
We play the silence game at school.  Maria Montessori created this game and it is played with reverance.  The value of silence is hard to measure, but it brings with it a variety of benefits.  Among these are peace, creativity, critical thinking, connections to the universe, and an open heart.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Let's Hear It For Legos, Dolls and Wooden Blocks!

How many of us have given in to our children's requests for a certain toy and found it did not live up to your child's expectations?  Have you observed how a toddler is more interested int he box the toy came in rather than the toy itself?  Do you have a closet full of toys that do not get any attention?  Maybe it's time to rethink the type of toys that help children develop focus, creativity, discovery, and problem solving abilities.  Toys should be used by the child to stimulate brain development not merely keep them entertained.

Are You Buying Toys That Stunt Your Child's Brain?
Posted: 8/3/11 08:42 AM ET  from The Huffington Post
I recently watched Terrence Malick's Tree of Life. The film is centered on a family with three young boys growing up in Waco, Texas during the late 1940s. It chronicles their childhood, the ups and downs of their family life and the long, languorous days that seem to stretch on interminably as the years go by. They play in nature, wade in streams and entertain themselves for hours on end with old tin cans. I was struck by the contrast of their "play" to that of my 8-year-old nephew and 4-year-old niece who recently came for a week-long visit. They spent a good portion of their time staring at tiny hand-held screens that were screeching and flashing. They sat next to one another, but were so riveted by their individual experience that they did not interact with each other. On this same visit, I gave my four-year-old niece a new doll for her birthday. She opened the box with great zeal, and professed her love immediately. Fifteen minutes later, her new doll was placed nicely in the corner and she was back on her device. When I asked her if there was a reason that she was not playing with the doll, she shrugged her shoulders and informed me that the doll "did not do anything."
Enter any toy store and you will find that most toys do "a lot." They beep, buzz, and have flashing lights and screens. They have everything your child needs in order to be entertained, mesmerized, bombarded and distracted. Toys that do "a lot" are actually doing "too much" and unfortunately, your child is doing "too little." Most importantly, what they "do not do" is develop creativity and imagination. Children must be active participants in order to exercise and grow their imagination and creativity; it cannot be downloaded or uploaded. The simple act of thinking is very challenging when the background noise is so invasive and the pace is preset at whirlwind speed. The collateral damage of inattention is immense. It affects the ability to learn, to think, to read, to study, to concentrate at school and to form deep and connected relationships. As a psychotherapist, the psychological harm I have seen is enormous!! A child's self-esteem takes a huge beating when they don't "get" what is going on around them, when they do poorly in school or when they can't connect with other kids.
Although there is no single cause for the epidemic of attention disorders, it makes intuitive sense that over-stimulation on a constant basis cannot possibly be helping matters. According to the Center for Disease Control, the number of children 3-17 years of age diagnosed with ADHD is 5.3 million to date and that number is on the rise.

That number is extraordinarily high, however, I believe that it profoundly underestimates the number of children that are having difficulties paying attention, but do not meet a level that is significant enough to diagnose. When the threshold for excitement is so high, the ability and desire to concentrate on nuanced and subtle aspects of life become uninteresting and in the words of my two daughters, "annoying."

The sharpening of attention skills develops over the course of many years and essentially the brain needs to practice paying attention in order to become proficient. Research has shown that computers and computer games often conflict with the brain activities needed for the development of these "attention" skills. Too much sensory input makes it difficult to pay attention to only one activity and eventually impairs the overall ability to stay focused. It is imperative that parents encourage play that nurtures focus and attunement. You can accomplish this through choices of toys and games that you allow your child to play with, and most importantly, through the time you take to connect and attune with your child.

If you are living a fast-paced and busy life, the downtime you get from a seemingly innocuous "device" that passively entertains your kid, is probably a welcome respite. However, Gameboys, computers, cell phones and the plethora of over-stimulating toys should not be your babysitter. I am not advocating a militant, anachronistic journey back to the days of handmade wooden toys and found objects. What I am advocating is that you as parents take a conscientious look at how your child is spending his or her playtime. Make sure that all of your child's free time is not screentime. Choose toys and games that inspire creativity, artistic development, musical ability and physicality. Try to choose activities and games that motivate children to relate with each other. For babies, sometimes even simple objects like stacking cups and wooden spoons can be used imaginatively in multiple ways. For older children, think about toys that do not do "a lot" such as dolls, action figures, blocks, trains, instruments, art projects and books. Beware, you may encounter some resistance when you choose Legos rather than PlayStation, but stay the course.
The window for creativity and attunement that is open during childhood is vital to the development of the person, so give it plenty of thought before you plop your child down with an electronic toy that totally consumes him for hours and turns him into a zombie. Give your child's brain a chance to work, and not be worked on.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Helping children with compassion

I am including an article that was on Oprah's website.  We have done some simple quiet meditations in class, but this gives it focus.  There is actual science to show that meditation can change the brain.  I am hoping to implement this Compassionate Meditation in my own life and in the classroom on a more regular basis.  Children can usually do this for a minute at the beginning but will build up the concentration to meditate for a longer period of time.  It improves focus, redirects excess energy, and creates an atmosphere of kindness.

Compassion meditation involves silently repeating certain phrases that express the intention to move from judgment to caring, from isolation to connection, from indifference or dislike to understanding. You don't have to force a particular feeling or get rid of unpleasant or undesirable reactions; the power of the practice is in the wholehearted gathering of attention and energy, and concentrating on each phrase. You can begin with a 20-minute session and increase the time gradually until you are meditating for half an hour at a time. If your mind wanders, don't be concerned. Notice whatever has captured your attention, let go of the thought or feeling, and simply return to the phrases. If you have to do that over and over again, it is fine. 

  • To begin, take a comfortable position. You may want to sit in a chair or on cushions on the floor (just make sure your back is erect without being strained or overarched). You can also lie down. Take a few deep, soft breaths to let your body settle.
  • Closing your eyes or leaving them slightly open, start by thinking of someone you care about already—perhaps she's been good or inspiring to you. You can visualize this person or say her name to yourself, get a feeling for her presence, and silently offer phrases of compassion to her. The typical phrases are: "May you be free of pain and sorrow. May you be well and happy." But you can alter these, or use others that have personal significance.
  • After a few minutes, shift your attention inward and offer the phrases of compassion to yourself: "May I be free of pain and sorrow. May I be well and happy."
  • Then, after some time, move on to someone you find difficult. Get a feeling for the person's presence, and offer the phrases of compassion to her.
  • Then turn to someone you've barely met—the supermarket checkout woman or UPS man. Even without knowing his or her name, you can get a sense of the person, perhaps an image, and offer the phrases of compassion.
  • We close with the offering of compassion to people everywhere, to all forms of life, without limit, without exception: "May all beings be free of pain and sorrow. May all be well and happy."

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Back to School Timeline

It's August, the countdown to the first day of school begins this month.  Whether your children start school in August or September it helps to have a timeline to help get back into the school routine.  This is meant as a general guideline, you can tailor it to fit your family and school. 

Two Weeks Before the First Day

  • Help your child clean out closets, dresser drawers, desks, bookshelves, and organize their rooms.  You will need to make room for backpacks, school supplies, books, school clothes and other necessities.  It is helpful to have separate spaces for school clothes and play clothes, this will help children with getting dressed in the morning.
  • Make a specific spot for children to store their backpack.  Children can be forgetful and you will need to check the backpack for homework assignments, notes from school, permission slips, etc.  After the child completes the homework assignment he or she should put it in the backpack right away so it is ready to return to school.
  • Designate a spot in the kitchen for lunchboxes.  Have them practice packing and unpacking their lunchbox and putting things in the sink after school.  You will want to monitor the lunchbox to make sure your child is eating lunch.  At our school we have the children bring home any uneaten food.  Please clearly mark the lunch box, thermos, reusable containers and other items with a sharpie.  Both tops and bottoms of reusable containers should be marked.  It is an environmentally sound idea to use these types of containers instead of ziploc bags.  Be sure to include a cloth placemat and napkin for your child.  You will want a barrier betwee,n the lunch table and your child's food.  Children often drop things on the table so it would be healthier if it fell on their placemat.
  • Mark all removable clothing items (including shoes) with the child's name.  This will be very helpful to the teacher and items are more likely to be returned to the proper owner if they are easily identifiable.
  • Consider visiting the school, helping the child find his or her classroom, bathrooms, water fountains, where they will be dropped off and picked up, where the playground and the school office is located.
One Week Before the First Day
  • Buy school supplies.  Take your child with you so that they can make some choices. When you get home, unpack and store supplies in appropriate areas.  Label with a sharpie any supplies they take to school unless the teacher says otherwise.  Sometimes teachers ask students to bring in pencils and they become classroom supplies so they do not need to be labeled.
  • Buy a new toothbrush while you are buying school supplies, it is a good time of year to start with "new" things.
  • Place items that need to go to school in the backpack and set it aside so everything is ready to go.
  • Practice packing lunches in the lunchbox with your child.  What things can he or she do without your help.  Have a "conference" with your child about foods you both agree are acceptable and healthy for lunch.
  • Start the school bedtime routine.  We all tend to get out of the routine over summertime.  It is best to get back into the routine a week or so before the big day.  Some children will not be able to sleep before the first day of school so if the bedtime routine is established parents and children have an easier time.
  • If possible, take your child with you to meet the teacher.  As a teacher I always want to meet the families in my class before school begins.  It may ease your child's anxiety to stop in and say "hello".
  • Be sure the school has all of your phone numbers and email addresses.
The Day Before
  • Help your child pick out the "First Day" outfit, from underwear out.  Set all the clothing aside so your child knows to get dressed in the am.
  • Explain to your child the time schedule for school.  What time you will drop them off, pick them up etc.
  • Talk about the child's feelings, with younger children be sure to let them know that you have complete confidence in their abilities, that this is a great adventure, and that you will be looking forward to hearing all about it after school.
The First Day

  • Keep the routine low key, calm and happy.
  • Drop your child off, give him or her a big hug and tell them you will see them at (whatever time school ends).  Do not prolong the goodbye.  Leave them in the care of the teacher even if your child is nervous, scared or tearful.  The teacher will know how to deal with this.
  • Go to work or go shopping, something to take your mind off leaving your child in someone else's care.

I wish you all a very successful school year!