Archive for February, 2011

February 28, 2011

I wanna go home!

by Decemberbaby

You know, it’s not that I don’t love the weather here. And it’s not that I’m anxious to get back to paying bills and doing the school run. But I’m done here. I’ve been to the beach maybe 6 times this whole trip, eaten out a handful of times (and only once without the kids), and been woken up at sunrise every single morning because apparently nobody here believes in blackout curtains.

Yeah, I’m ready to come home… to my regular babysitter, my own washing machine, my own bed. I’m cranky and I’m irritable, and I think that I’m homesick.

Just four more days.

February 23, 2011

changing of the guard

by Decemberbaby

Mr. December has now joined us on our island. So have his parents (yep, the in-laws). My mom leaves today.

I’ve become accustomed, these last few weeks, to being the “good cop” – my mum is pretty old-school. Now I’m suddenly the bad cop again, with Mr. December the good cop and the in-laws barely qualified to be rent-a-cops. All things considered, I’d rather be the good cop. It’s tiring always having to be the vigilant one.

In good news, K has been wearing panties since our last post (except when she’s sleeping) and we’ve only had one or two accidents. I’m thoroughly impressed with her. She’s even woken up dry the past couple of mornings and run to the potty on her own. Now, if I could just dissuade her from emptying the potty into the toilet by herself, I’d have it made. As it is I have to mop the bathroom floor a few times a day so it doesn’t smell like a public men’s room.

I wanted to include some recent photos, but this connection is taking too long to upload them. Picture us on the beach, our colourful diapers waving on the line at our apartment, and K building huge towers of blocks.

February 20, 2011

Confusion my backside!

by Decemberbaby

Have you ever heard someone say, “once you put your kid in underwear, don’t go back to diapers – it confuses them!”? Well, I’m here to call bullshit. The kid is not confused. The kid knows exactly when he can get away with peeing on the spot.

We’ve been trying to potty-train K for a while now. When we got down here my mum started encouraging her to go to the potty frequently, promising K that she’d be allowed to wear panties when she could keep her pull-up dry all day. It never happened… but something else did. I noticed that K never peed herself when she was naked. So we let her run naked, and sure enough, she ran to the potty every time she had to pee. Then we put her in a pull-up for a long-ish road trip, and – like magic – the pull-up was full of pee by the time we got to our destination. My mum is more squeamish than I, but I insisted that the only way we’d make any progress was by nixing the pull-ups during all waking hours.

So far K’s been wearing her polka-dotted big-girl panties all day, with no accidents. No confusion. Pull-ups = pee, panties = keep ’em dry. Take that, conventional wisdom!

February 17, 2011

google me…

by Decemberbaby

I was (obsessively) looking at my site stats today – another reason I love WordPress – and decided maybe it was time to share the google searches with all of you. I don’t promise to be nearly as clever as everyone else who does this sort of thing, but I’m gonna do it anyway.

Without further ado, here are this week’s google searches that led you to me:

Kybo Crunchies

Um, no. Just no. For those of you who don’t know, a Kybo is a toilet in the woods (acronym for Keep Your Bowels Open). “Kybo Crunchies” sounds like the name of a recipe, and no recipe should involve a Kybo. EVER.

Vitamin E

Sorry, wrong letter of the alphabet. I’m much fonder of writing about my utter lack of Vitamin D and the resulting craving I have for sunshine.

Montessori My Home

You’ve come to the right place, and I promise there will be lots more posts like this, as soon as I’m back in my home. In the meantime, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on “Montessori” (in the category cloud) to see all my Montessori-related posts. Happy Reading!

February 15, 2011

Vacation posting

by Decemberbaby

Hi all,

Just wanted to let you know that I don’t have the amount of web access I’d like, and that’s why posts have been (and will continue to be) kind of thin. I’ll be back to posting almost daily when I’m back home… around March 6. In the meantime, yer gets what yer gets.


February 14, 2011

Demystifying Montessori – part 3

by Decemberbaby

The preamble:

A few weeks ago Mr. December and I attended a parents’ information breakfast at K’s school. The topic: “Your tuition and the economics of eduction”, or as we termed it, “why our school costs so damn much”. It gradually turned into a discussion of how to attract more students, which in turn became a discussion of what makes us different from the other Jewish day schools in the city. It dawned on me that even some of the parents with kids in our school really didn’t seem to understand that it’s not just another private school – it represents a significant shift away from the average educational model. If parents of montessori students don’t understand that, why would we expect anyone else to?

I came home on a mission – to figure out what the average person knows or assumes about montessori. I turned to Facebook and posted the question in my status. Four friends were kind enough to answer. I want to use their comments and questions as a jumping-off point for a bit of an explanation about Montessori – what it is, what it isn’t, and why I’ve chosen it.

Disclaimer – I am writing about montessori from my point of view. I am by no means an expert, although I have borrowed some books from the library and I do intend to read them :p Please take everything I say with a grain of salt. As Mr. December always says, “trust but verify”.

So, how does the actual teaching and learning take place in a Montessori classroom?

When you walk into a Montessori classroom, you’ll see something like this:

There are child-sized tables and chairs which seat various numbers of children, the classroom is broken up into several smaller areas by low shelving, and the shelving is home to numerous trays and boxes filled with objects and tools. These trays and boxes contain the basis of the curriculum, the Montessori materials.

(Quick sidenote: the materials are grouped into different areas that correspond to curriculum areas, but this is just to provide a sense of order and facilitate locating the materials. The kids are free to take the materials to any place in the classroom while they are using them.)

There are a few different curriculum areas, and the materials are grouped accordingly. The curriculum areas are:

  • Sensorial – in which the children learn to differentiate shape, size, weight, length, pitch, tone, colour, etc.
  • Math – in the youngest classroom this begins with number recognition, proceeds through the introduction of zero, and ends somewhere around the division of four-digit numbers (with no remainders).
  • Language – letters, phonics, writing, grammar
  • Sciences – a lot of zoology, biology, nomenclature, nature study
  • Social Studies – map puzzles, types of water and land formations, international flags, etc.
  • Practical life – skills such as pouring, spooning, washing (clothes, dishes, hands), cleaning, polishing, etc.

There is also a curriculum area called “grace and courtesy”, but I’m not going there right now.

Anyhow, each tray or box contains all of the materials needed to complete one activity from the Montessori curriculum. If it’s something that involves liquid, it will not only contain all of the requisite pitchers/bowls/cups but also a small sponge for cleaning up spills. When a child chooses a material, she also takes either a placemat or a floor mat. All of the work is contained in the area of the mat, which helps the kids to delineate their workspace. Everyone knows not to walk across a mat.

When it is time for a child to learn a new lesson, the teacher will invite the child to work with her. The teacher then demonstrates the proper use of the materials, step by step, from taking the work off the shelf all the way through the task to cleaning up and putting it away. Then the child tries the activity.

The teacher watches, but doesn’t correct – she doesn’t need to, because the materials are self-correcting (a very basic example – in one pouring activity, the child must fill a small jug to a black line, then pour from that jug into two glasses up to the red line on each. If the water isn’t at the line, or if some water has spilled, then the child knows that he has to try again). If the child asks for help, the teacher will model some strategies or demonstrate the task again, but otherwise she is a silent observer for the child’s first use of the material.

After the initial lesson, the child is free to choose the same material as often as he wants, as repetition cements the learning.

What are the other kids doing while the teacher is working with one child? Why, they’re working on their own tasks. The group-friendly tasks (division, for example, or some of the language and geography materials) might be presented to a few kids at once. Also, older children sometimes work together with the younger students to help them cement a recently presented skill.

So… yes, the children learn from experiencing a task, and from touching, seeing, lifting, carrying, hearing, and sometimes smelling the materials. But it’s not a “trial and error” kind of experiential learning. Rather, the youngest kids (ages 2.5 – 5) are using what Montessori termed their “absorbent mind” to learn a structured sequence of actions that gives them the skills and knowledge they need.

February 11, 2011

Shabbat Shalom – From the Future!

by Decemberbaby

Yes, I’m an hour ahead of many of my usual (local) readers. Shabbat Shalom!

February 9, 2011

Demystifying Montessori – Part 2

by Decemberbaby

If you haven’t already read my first post in this series, you may want to.

In order to address the issue of choice in the Montessori classroom, you first have to understand the structure of the day.

Dr. Montessori believed that, given long stretches of time in which to work, children will gradually lengthen their attention spans. In her opinion, shepherding the children along to a different activity or a different subject every 30 minutes made it impossible for the kids to become engrossed in any one task. It makes sense to me – if I’m in the middle of a really good book, or sewing a project, I loathe being disturbed.

This observation resulted in the establishment of the three-hour work period in Montessori schools. That means that for three (sometimes two and a half) hours, the children work with the materials of their choice. Snacks or short breaks are taken on an individual basis, when each child is ready.

So here we are, at the question of choice. Many (uninformed) critics of Montessori complain that the children have too much choice and too much freedom. I see how it can appear that way, what with the children entering the classroom and gravitating to the work they want. On closer inspection, though, it’s pretty obvious that what we have here is choice within a rigid structure.

When the child has their choice of materials, they are not really free to choose any material. Each child is restricted to the materials appropriate to his or her level – that is, the activities that have already been presented by the teacher. Sometimes the child will choose materials that she has not yet learned. If those materials are the next in a progression of skills, the teacher may present it to the child. If not, the child is redirected to other materials.

And out of the materials on his or her level, the child must choose from among the ones on the shelf. If another child is already using a material, it is (obviously) unavailable. Some materials are for work in small groups, but most are not. Children can (and do) watch each other work and offer encouragement, but they can’t step in and do the work for a classmate.

So imagine that a kid is doing his work, and then he wants to do something else. While that’s certainly his choice to make, he doesn’t get to abandon the task at hand – if he does, he’ll find the teacher gently guiding him back to the materials and encouraging him to put everything back the way he found it before moving on.

When they get hungry, the kids can go to the kitchen area (every classroom has one) and sit down at the snack table… if there’s a seat available. Otherwise they must wait until someone else has finished before they can sit down. When they do sit to eat, they have to first spread out a napkin on the table, and then they can take as much as they want – up to the amount written and drawn on the small board. And of course, when they’re finished eating the kids must clean up after themselves and leave the snack table usable for the next child.

There is a “peace corner” in every classroom. It’s usually a small space with comfy chairs and a small selection of books. The children are free to sit in the peace corner, read, or even doze off.

The argument goes that by being given an opportunity to govern their own time (within a structure), the children learn self-regulation (apparently this has been proven by studies, but I haven’t read them yet). They are also able to delve deeply into their work when they are so inclined, and able to rest and refresh themselves when they need to.

Maybe the strangest effect of this approach is the one we discovered when we took our first tour of the school. As we watched the children quietly working, replacing materials and choosing others, negotiating with other students, and taking breaks without disturbing the other kids, the principal whispered, “You probably haven’t noticed it – I just realized it myself – but both teachers are out of the room and the kids are still doing their own work.” And they were.


Do you have any thoughts or questions about this? Need clarification? Leave a comment and I’ll respond to it in a future post!

February 8, 2011

Island in the sun

by Decemberbaby

Lazy post today – some pictures of how we spend our days here.

N spends most of his days this way: look into the bucket, take things out, chew them, put them back in. Repeat.

Pure joy.

All dressed up for a grown-up party.

N is very comfortable in the ocean - one of the delayed benefits of water birth?

K wanted to climb this tree. Sadly, a sign - and some crochety old people - stopped me from letting her.

We play hard. Then we crash. G'night!

February 7, 2011

Menu Plan Monday – February 7 edition

by Decemberbaby

Another Monday, another menu plan. We’re on “vacation” this week (it’s never a vacation with two little kids, unless you have childcare. Anyhow, this week we’re planning meals for two adults (me and my mom) and two kids, one of whom only eats babyfood… so one kid, really. And we’re far from home, on a tropical island, so the options for produce are different but limited. Did you know that the papaya trees had a disease four years ago and still haven’t bounced back? I’m really missing all that fresh papaya for breakfast.

Anyhow, here’s the plan for this week:

Monday – Dinner at aunty’s house. Leftover lamb, pumpkin fritters, and a sadly unripe papaya.

Tuesday – Quiche with tomato, onion, and New Zealand cheddar. Crispy flatbreads. Israeli salad.

Wednesday – Roast chicken, brown rice, broccoli

Thursday – Chicken sandwiches on focaccia, baby carrots

Friday – Shabbat dinner at aunty’s. I’m making challah.

Saturday – I think we’ll go out. Either pizza at Cheffette, grilled fish at Just Grilling, or something at Mulligans, which is a lot closer to home.

Sunday – Homemade burgers, pumpkin mash, sweet potato oven fries.

… so that’s it. What are you eating this week? If you’re stuck for ideas, go check out some of the other bloggers over at Organizing Junkie