Saturday, January 28, 2012

Secret Valentine

Every Valentine's Day at school our class has a "Secret Valentine" lunch.  Each child chooses another child's name and becomes his or her "Secret Valentine."
Here is a guideline for this project:

A week before Valentine's Day I send a notice home with the students.  This notice lets the parents know that students will be making lunch and decorating a shoebox for another child in the class.  It also has a tear off to return to class.  This includes the student's name, any food allergies, and 2 choices for a main item, a fruit, and a drink.  There is also a line in case they wish to "opt out" of this activity.
(If they decide to "opt out" I suggest to parents that they put their child's lunch in a specially decorated box with a theme of their choosing.)

The Friday before the scheduled lunch students choose another child's name and form randomly.  I fold them up and ask the child to point to one.  I always check to be sure they have not picked their own name.  I secretly keep track of who has picked whom in case of absence, mix up, or other unforeseen event.

Then I glue the edges of the form closed and attached a note to the parents.  I ask that they keep the name a secret until the morning of the lunch.  They can tell their child that they have chosen a boy or a girl and decorate the shoebox accordingly.  The reason I ask them to keep it a secret is because I have seen the look of disappointment on the faces of children who have found out ahead of time.

The parents and child choose the lunch menu from the child's list and put it all in the box,

I also ask that the top of the box be wrapped separately from the bottom for easy opening and that they send the box to school in a bag so that no one will see who walks in with a "particular" box.  If it works for your class, you can ask that a small but special Valentine treat or gift be included as well.

The name of the child for which lunch is made is put on the box, the child who makes the lunch can put a note inside the box.
On Valentine's Day, before lunch, we set up all the tables in our garden (we can do that in February in Florida), the boxes have been laid out in front of each child and they get to guess who made their lunch.  We sit together at the long table and "ooh and ahh" over the treasures in the box. 

After lunch we put the boxes around the tables and the students put their Valentines into the boxes. They take their box home filled with Valentines, treats, and memories.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Changing Patterns

All teachers teach students to recongize, continue, repeat, and create patterns.
In math we find patterns;  2+1=3, 2+2=4, etc.
In reading we teach patterns:  Words that end in "ump" rhyme, jump, bump, pump, stump, etc.
In science we teach patterns: The seasons are a pattern, the life cycle of a frog or a butterfly, the pattern of cloud formation, etc.
In geography we teach patterns:  land and water forms, natural borders, the needs of humans, etc.

As teachers we spend time observing the patterns of our students.  These can be subtle patterns but when they are repeated we can take note of them and possibly head off the effects before they occur.

For instance:
If a student loses concentration and has a hard time focusing on his or her work, we note the time of day.  If it occurs at the same time every day, we suggest that a snack be eaten.  If this works we keep an eye on it and remind the student to have a snack around the same time each day until he remembers to do so on his own.

If a child comes to school and has a hard time settling down to work, we note a number of things:
Did he come to school late?  Who dropped him off?  What did he eat for dinner and breakfast?  Did he get a good night's sleep?  Is he wearing something that is uncomfortable?  When we keep track of this we often see a pattern develop and then we can speak to the parents about making changes in the routine.  I cannot emphasize this enough - Routine is necessary for a child's security.

If a child always has a conflict with another child, we note this as a pattern and work with both until the pattern changes.

As a parent, you can note patterns you see and work with your child to change negative ones.  Many patterns in children have to do with time of day, fast food or junk food, excessive sugar in the diet, and changes in routine.  Keep notes on your child's behavior.  If you work at changing some of the elements that occur prior to a negative pattern, you can change it to a positive one.

If your child continues to engage in negative patterns, what we call tanturms or meltdowns, take your notes to your pediatrician and your child's teacher, they are there to offer guidance or suggestions.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Helping your Child cope when a Best Friend Moves Away

For the last 18 years, I have been a teacher at New Gate School.  NGS is a private school so over the years I have seen many families move on to other places, other schools, other adventures.  It is challenging for everyone.  Here are a few tips for dealing with this type of transition.

  • I have found that before summer vacation and before someone leaves our class, students begin to pick fights with one another.  I believe this is a coping mechanism so that the actual departure will not be so painful.  Realize this may happen.
  • Busy children (and adults) have less time to worry about upcoming events and they stay more present in the moment.  Involve your child in activities.  Perhaps start your child in a new venture; guitar lessons, cooking workshops, sports teams, etc.
  • Have your child make a special memento to give to the one who is moving.  Scrapbooks, photo albums, friendship bracelets, or just a simple heartfelt card.  It is important that your child be involved in the planning and creation of this special gift.
  • Know that your child may grieve.  Grieving is messy and can look different for different children.  Acknowledge your child's feelings, echo what he or she says, and listen to what is said.  It may be hard for a young child to articulate his or her feelings.  Help them by saying things such as, "I will miss _______'s parents too."  "I am sad they are moving away."
  • Set up a play date with the child who is moving.  Encourage the children to have a great time so they feel their friendship will last even if they don't see each other every day.
  • Set up playdates with other classmates too.  Your child needs to know there are other friends who will still be around.
  • Encourage your child to make a journal about his or her feelings.  These days you can journal on the computer or even make a video diary.

Children thrive when they have a routine, so keep your routine going.  Love and trust your child.  Children are very resilient.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Let your child's teacher know how they are dealing with the change.  Teachers are there to help and often have good insights into your child's feelings.

Remember it is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.  Having a friend who moves away is better than never having a friend at all.
You will know what to do and how to help your child, trust your instincts and remember that it may take time before your child is ready to move on.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

From a teacher's perspective...

The new semester has begun.  I am happy that the students in our class have come back ready to work.  In the two short weeks that we were out of school subtle changes in the students have occured.  Some lost teeth, some grew taller, and some of them matured.

I have been working on mid year evaluations.  We don't give grades at our school at the elementary level.  We take a look at the progress children have made in their journey to becoming self confident, self sufficient, and self actualized adults.  It is about developing character.

As a teacher I spend time observing children's behavior.  The teachers in our school allow the students a certain amount of freedom.  We call it "freedom within limits."  We allow students to make reasonable choices within a range.  When they step off the appropriate path we gently nudge them back on to it.

I was a public school teacher before I became a Montessori guide.  One of the most remarkable differences is how well we get to know the students in the Montessori classroom.  When in public school I often heard teachers say about a challenging student, "Well, I only have him for a year, he will be someone else's problem next year."

In the Montessori tradition, children remain with the same teacher for 3 years.  It is an incredible responsibility.  The teachers help children develop academically but also personally, emotionally, morally, psychologically, and even spiritually. 

Montessori guides or teachers know their students better because of the three year cycle, the time allowed for observation, and because they develop long term relationships with the student and the family.

I was lucky enough to see some of my former students over the Winter Break.  What a treat this was for me.  Each one has developed passion, is pursuing dreams, and is courageous, confident, kind, comfortable in many situations, and on the road to an amazing life.   Isn't that what we all want for the children in our lives?

Many schools prepare students to get into college.  Montessori schools prepare students for life.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Mail is Here!

When I go to the mailbox these days, it is not with anticipation and joy, it is a routine.  What I usually find, especially in January, are bills, solicitations, flyers and other things I have to shred.  I'll admit, December was a bit more exciting.  Holiday cards make me happy, especially they include a photo or a note.  This year we got many cards and photos but very few personal notes.  For convenience friends and family have their names and greeting pre printed.  I understand that in this day and age of instant communication, email, twitter, facebook, that the art of writing letters has been lost.

So when I went to the mailbox yesterday, I was surprised, delighted, and downright touched to get a letter.  A handwritten letter from a mentor and friend was waiting for me.  It felt like a gift or something to treasure. 

I came in and put my things away, cozied up on the couch with Ziggy and Ollie, and opened this unusual pheonmenon.  The letter was not long, but that did not diminish the joy it gave me.  Someone cares enough about me to sit down, write a personal note, address the envelope, put a stamp on it and get it in the mail.  This used to be the "norm".  People tied treasured letters in ribbons and saved them.  We don't do this enough.

When is the last time you sent or received a letter?  Feel lucky if you have.  Web communications feel impersonal.  I have never felt "cozy" with my computer or ipad or phone or nook.  But that cozy feeling you get from reading a real letter or a real book does not compare to anything else.  Don't you want your children to have that experience?

Think about the people who are important to you.  Sit down and write a letter to send to one of them.  It will bring immense  joy and a feeling of fondness for the sender.  It is an easy way to makes someone feel special.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year, Happy New Day!

It is the first morning of the new year.  I love mornings.  I love waking up early and watching the sunrise.  This is the time I take for myself.

I let the dogs out, I make tea, I sit and watch the sunrise.  I breathe consiously. Long, slow breaths going in and out.

I focus on the person I want to be today.  Each day is a new start, I like to take it one day at a time.  It is good to have long term goals (looking at the whole year ahead), but short term goals matter too.

First I do a quick body scan.  Do I have any aches and pains?  Sorry to say, the older I get the more often this holds true.  I consicously stretch that area and try to send my breathe to my achy spot.

I take the next few moments to relax.   I send thoughts of yesterday, worries, anxiety and deadlines away and close my eyes and just be one with the universe.

Then I chose three words to focus on for the day.  Words that focus my energy for the what shape I want this day to take.  Some of the words I like are:
A catalyst
Hard working

The list goes on and on.  I only try to focus on 3, although they all play in to who I want to become.

Your life is a work in progress.  You can choose to let life happen to you and react to the circumstances or you can focus on who you are, knowing that life will unfold with all it's wonders, surprises and challenges, and you will be ready for them every new day.