Tag Archives: parents

Intentional Community Preschools- Bigger Bang for Your Preschool Buck

Recently a friend referred to our childcare center as an intentional community model.  Unfamiliar with the term, I soon discovered intentional communities are planned communities defined by teamwork encompassing a group of people sharing a common vision or ideal.

Here, Magda Gerber’s parting words in  Your Self-Confident Baby best describes the shared value system of MMP School:

A respectful beginning is an investment in the future of the relationship between your child and you, your child and others, and in your child’s exploration of the world. A RIE beginning helps to develop a competent, confident child.

Irregardless of where your children attend preschool or where you choose to make your childcare profession- adults caring for children invest significant time, resources, and preschool dollars towards the endeavor.  According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), financing early childhood care  averaged $11,500 annually- and that was in the mid 1990s.

Applying Intentional Community Principles in choosing a preschool program for your child can help parents get the most bang out of their preschool bucks.  Here are some tips:

1.  Define your family value system- identify the characteristics of the people you would like to see involved with your family.  Young children absorb the attitudes and culture of the adults around them; what would you like these attributes to be?  Are these traits congruent over time?  In other words, what kind of person do you see your child as a young adult and can these attributes translate in what we provide him at infancy?

2.  Research opposing view points and find the one that fits best with your individual family parenting style- does one approach advocate scheduled feedings and another not?  What do you feel is “right” for your baby?  Avoid asking friends and family for their advise at this juncture as it tends to cloud your own investigation as this will afford a baseline for later evaluation.

3. Tour and observe a multitude of childcare facilities even if you think you already know where you would like your child to go- you may be surprised by what you discover.  Use your value system and research to drive your query on how the center implements theory into practice; recruits, trains and supports caregivers; and involves parents as a community.

4.  Ask about the leadership and future vision of the centers you are considering-  knowing how a school is planning for the care and well-bing of its program in the next three, five, and even ten years will allow an understanding on how the program manages its resources.  The management of a preschool’s resources either in securing equipment, providing for teachers, or enhancing curriculum offerings will affect your child’s experience and is also a way to better gauge likemindedness between school leadership and parent values.

5. How are parents connected with school life?  A multitude of opportunities exist to connect families with what is going on with your child during her preschool hours.  What measures are in place to keep parents informed on child development, in communication with their teachers, connected as a community, or involved during the day?  It’s helpful to ask prospective preschools why they chose the activities in place and how it enhances their preschool offering.

6. Ask to see a copy of the Parent Handbook prior to registering your child- It is impossible to gather all of the information necessary to ensure you are making the wisest longterm decision for your child in a few short meetings or one observation.  Understanding the policies and procedures you will be asked to adhere to as a member of the school community before you register or enroll your child will assist the communication process.

Children do not separate where they learn and play during their absorbent period of learning (the preschool years).  Parents are THE primary source of a child’s learning during early childhood, which is why it is critical that preschool offerings are consistent with home expectations.  Otherwise, your child will not be secure in his knowledge of what is expected at home OR at school.  The result? Well, children are wired to test the limits in order to internalize expectations.  Which means, when school and home life are drastically different, a child will TEST LIMITS at both home and school until she reaches a certainty on understanding “the rules.”  This is trying for both parents and teachers and in some ways, is throwing your investment out the door.

When choosing a preschool that represents your family core value system, do it with intent.  Current research supports It All Starts Here.

Putting out the Elf on the Shelf

It can’t be just me- that Elf on the Shelf is just a bit scary, no?

And what a tattle tale.

There’s  Santa at the North Pole in crunch time.  By now he’s already checked his list twice and he’s moving on to wrapping and loading the sleigh.

But first, he has to deal with  these CONSTANT interruptions by his American elf helpers.

This child didn’t eat all her peas…This little boy didn’t want to share his truck…or maybe they didn’t brush their teeth…. Come on- we already knew that and have reserved the bags of coal accordingly.  “It’s GO! time!” an exasperated Santa must be thinking, “Don’t these elves have something better they can be doing?”

The history of the Mother/Daughter Trio who wrote, self-published and marketed this new family tradition is indeed amazing and inspirational, so before you worry- I’m not about to entirely knock the Elf totally off the Shelf..   I’m all about FAMILY TRADITIONS be it tried and true or new to you- especially during the holidays.  These yearly rituals are a part of our social fabric that marks each family as unique while also celebrating our connectivity.

And while the story of the Elf on the Shelf seems harmless enough- its implementation by some well-intentioned adults as a form of behavior modification does have potential for some long-range ramifications.

Consider what the early childhood developmental theorists observed about motivation and what current brain research now concludes:  extrinsic incentives may work in the short run, but over time, they actually interfere with the very behaviors adults are working to promote.  Not to mention, they can cause a child to disengage from her own method of learning- which, yes, involves testing limits- to hide her authentic self.  The mask gets put on.

And that Elf in particular- hiding, lurking, always watching- reporting back- is that truly the emotional climate we want to train our young children to expect in their own homes?

Things at the school seemed to be status quo without the Elf, so I asked Head of School, Megan Nordoff, how she was faring at home during the holidays with her own young children and what she thought of Elf on the Shelf.

“I sometimes feel that I’ve given birth to a pair of little monsters when I get home,” she said half jokingly.  “Parents are often surprised to discover that I also face many of the same challenges at home as a Mom with setting limits and following routines while at the same time adjusting for spontaneous moments and holiday activities breaking from the norm.”

Megan concurred that based on the stories shared by the children in her care from two years through Kindergarten, that when used to direct a child’s behavior, the Elf seemed to be more beneficial as a band-aid perhaps quickly stopping a temporary flow of noncompliance and attributed its rise as a new holiday tradition contrived from commercialism and consumerism fueled by an unrelenting advertising and media campaign.  Used as a way to control your child’s behavior, The Elf robs your child the opportunity to “behave” for the common good- to learn to control his own impulses and will in order to collaborate towards to common good of society- a process of learning that takes all of his efforts this first six years of his life.

As things begin to unravel at home as they often do during what can be an over-stimulating holiday season, Megan has invested in some pre-planning to help avoid a stressful meltdown.  They include:

* building in unscheduled time at home at least once a week when nothing is planned

* starting bedtime routines a bit earlier and lengthening them to ensure little ones get to bed on time

* keep diets balanced – limiting holiday sweets to earlier in the day- and drinking lots of water

* make a holiday tradition with project oriented, hands on activities such as cookie making or gingerbread house building rather than screen time

*find something you can all do together to celebrate this time of year and when limits are tested, take them as learning opportunities to instill long-range family values

*care for yourself!  Have you been on a date lately?  Need a little pampering?  During this time of year, adults often forget to take time alone or with their partner to refuel.

These added measures proactively help Megan’s family avoid misbehavior often resulting when physical needs are not met or due to overstimulation.  And, in the event that redirection is in order, Megan feels better prepared herself being refueled to take TIME IN, be fully present, and help guide her children socially and emotionally through a learning opportunity.  For it to be COOPERATION it must be a request- coercion and demands provide little of the required scaffolding necessary for young children to learn pro-social skills often reflected upon as ‘being good.”

Will Ms. Megan be getting an Elf on the Shelf for her family for the holiday season?  “I’ve learned that as a parent never to say ‘I never…’, but right now there doesn’t seem to be room for it on our mantle.”

“The prize and the punishment are incentives towards unnatural or forced effort, and therefore we cannot speak of the natural development of the child in connection with them.” Dr. Maria Montessori

Metacognition and Time to Eat

METACOGNITION – my new favorite word!

I love all three of its components as described by my trusty Wikipedia:

  1. Metacognitive knowledge (also called metacognitive awareness) is what individuals know about themselves and others as cognitive processors.
  2. Metacognitive regulation is the regulation of cognition and learning experiences through a set of activities that help people control their learning.
  3. Metacognitive experiences are those experiences that have something to do with the current, on-going cognitive endeavor.
Every time I find myself trying to understand children and their full potential- I am amazed by what I see.

Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach Compliments the Montessori Experience

I’m a 3-6 Montessori certified Early Childhood specialist and, yet, I continue to be drawn  to the work of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) and the methods in infant care first introduced by its founder, Magda Gerber.

I’d like to say the interest results from our school beginning at infancy and continuing through the first developmental plane ending with Kindergarten graduation.  Knowing about infant care in addition to my Montessori 3-6 education allows me to more fully support the mission of our entire school program.

Which is true- but it’s not the whole story.

What I’ve found is that in integrating the key components of RIE at the 3-6 level, I am better able to implement the principles of the Montessori educational approach.

And I’m not alone in this discovery.

As interest in RIE grows within our own school community and as more certified Montessori faculty members at the 0-3 and 3-6 level choose to undertake RIE training in Theory and Observation, we find ourselves agreeing-  KNOWING RIE MAKES FOR A BETTER MONTESSORI GUIDE.

Upon re-reading Magda Gerber’s Your Self-Confident Baby: How to Encourage Your Child’s Natural Abilities- From the Very Start I am reminded of the approach’s basic principles and its congruency with my Montessori learning.

1. Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner

I personally love the story as told via The Clio Montessori Series Volume 7 entitled The Child, Society and the World: Unpublished Speeches and Writings when Dr. Maria Montessori spoke directly to parents in 1930.  Montessori writes:

If a foolish mother frog said to her little tadpoles in the pool, ‘Come out of the water, breath the fresh air, enjoy yourselves in the young grass, and you will all grow into healthy little frogs.  Come along now, mother knows best!’ and the little tadpoles tried to obey, it would certainly mean the end of the tadpoles.

Angeline Lillard’s research in Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius supports that people learn better when they are interested in what they are learning.  Furthermore, rewarding children based on their activity can negatively impact motivation.

How important is BASIC TRUST?

Magda advises that basic trust is essential in the infant developing good judgement, trust and security.

2.  A physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing environment and Consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline

Many programs acknowledge the importance of physical safety when preparing child environments.  Few, however, can speak clearly on the implementation of cognitive and emotional safety to the extent of the RIE Approach.

Although Montessorians pay particular attention to order in the environment and its relationship to the child’s learning, (in her teachings, Dr. Montessori points out that for the child to be free to initiate, the environment’s physical order and that provided by the warm- yet authoritative adult’s consistency regarding discipline must remain intact) the individual nature of cognitive and emotional needs of each child in our care challenge the adult in the role of environment prep.

I find RIE’s approach in assessing, evaluating and implementing tools in providing not only a safe physical environment, but one that is emotionally and cognitively challenging critical in first establishing an intimate relationship with each of the children under my care and then in providing interesting objects to speak to his/her temperament, interest and development.

3.  Time for uninterrupted play

When telling the frog story, Montessori addressed the question, “shall we leave our children to do as they like?  How can they know what is best for them when they have had no experience?” with “Have you ever given your children a chance even for one day of doing what they like without interference?” In doing so, Montessori believed that the child would fall into concentration, develop perseverance, and teach himself the valuable lessons of life to his satisfaction.  Adult interference would result in dissatisfaction, disappointment and possible deliberate mischief.

Magda Gerber agreed that adults do not teach play, but rather allow for it to unfold.  During this “wants nothing time” the adult observes, smiles upon eye contact, or when graciously invited- participates in the child’s exploration and discovery.

4.  Freedom to explore and interact with other infants

Both RIE and Montessori believe that children learn not only from adults and the environment, but also from other children.  Socialization is multi-dimensional and works best when it involves relationships with individuals from infants through elders on a regular basis and throughout the child’s very first interactions with others.  Both, also, point out that this freedom comes under the guidance and expectation of certain “rules” respecting the needs and rights of others.

My understanding of RIE has enabled me professionally to raise my expectations at an earlier level regarding the infant’s ability to learn from each other.  This deepened understanding, respect and opportunity for both child and adult enables the children at Little Learner’s Lodge and Montessori of Mount Pleasant to engage earlier and form cohesion sooner- continually amazing us not only in their abilities as a group, but also at the onset of collaborative efforts.

5.  Involvement of the child in activities allowing for her to be an active participant rather than a passive recipient

This RIE principle is congruent with Angeline Lillard’s findings that learning and well-being are improved when people have a sense of control over their lives. Learning best takes place with the involvement and cooperation of the child.

Through my RIE training, I became more sensitized to my verbal and non-verbal cuing when engaging a child and to the TIME given for the child to process, internalize and respond to our relationship.  Over time, these engagements became emotionally refueling and pleasurable encounters for both me and my partner.  And I’ve found that my lesson for the child would reveal a more profound lesson for myself.


6.  Sensitive observation of the child in order to understand her needs

Both Gerber and Montessori relied on the information received during the adult observation of the environment when developing their approaches.  Observation continues to be an integral tool in assessing personal and child success on a daily basis within a Montessori or RIE program.  Parents, likewise, benefit from allocating a protected window of uninterrupted observation time to deepening their understanding of their child’s abilities, needs, interests and also in preventing problems before they develop.

Our school success depends so heavily on the information received during sensitive observations that we have developed monthly interactions to continue to develop these skills.  Each month, parents and caregivers meet before school opening with our babies, to socialize, discuss child development and what is going on in the classroom.  A ten minute window is built in during our gathering to silently observe the children which is followed by discussion.  It is an amazing tool with each morning ending in a new discovery!

7.  Consistency and clearly defined limits and expectations to develop discipline

With so much trust and freedom going on, it’s easy to overlook the underlying fabric of clearly defined limits and expectations which provides the means for RIE and Montessori children to develop discipline.

Through role playing, group lessons, and individual reminders I was able to manage my 3-6 environment. But I have to say- developing the skill set to support discipline at the infant level through consistency and routine has enabled me to arrive at a normalized 3-6 classroom almost effortlessly.  And well before my six week goal.

Think about it… if we were able to take what we know as a best practice in Montessori and develop the skill set to better integrate our knowledge and apply it an infant ability- how could we not become better guides regardless of the child’s age or ability?