Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On Homeschooling No. 001: A Discussion About Perseverance and Details of the 2016 Conference

Much of our talks, my husband and I, these days are about/involve/lead to homeschooling (and rightly so since it's a decision we, for now, are making for our daughter, our family). In one, in our usual discussion format that's sometimes reminiscent of college Philosophy orals or thesis defense, he posed a question/thesis statement: Studying for and taking tests in schools, don't they teach an important value, that of perseverance? And if Cara was to be homeschooled, what about that--about persevering through something even if it was difficult, or even if it wasn't something you liked?

Thinking fast, just as in any orals (and mulling over my answers even long after the discussions and the exams were over) I replied:

1. Children are already naturally persevering, even from the start.

Watching the youngest of children discover their bodies, explore their abilities, and experience and interact with their environment--learn to control their movement--reach, grasp, turn, crawl, stand, balance, walk--there's already so much perseverance there! The newborn/infant's work is that--real hard work. And they do it with unforced determination.

I remember when Cara was around 3 months and she was learning, as per her own inner timetable, to turn from her tummy to back. For minutes and minutes, she'd roll from her back to her tummy (which she learned to do first and could do quickly at that time) only to persistently try to roll to her back again. It wasn't the easiest of things for her, but over and over she'd determinedly do this; even if she was happy and comfortable just rolling from her back to tummy and staying that way just the month before. Why. Because she knew she was ready for it. Because--where did I read this--when a child is ready to do something, he really needs to do it (#SensitivePeriods).

That perseverance, that drive; or to make it more Montessori, that "horme"--us parents don't even have to teach. It's already naturally there! They're intrinsically motivated.

2. Children will naturally encounter challenges that they'll have to persevere through.

Even when children choose their own work just as they do in Montessori environments or even when the curriculum is based on the child's interest just as in many homeschool set-ups; even when we "follow the child" on that path he knows he ought to tread (because of, again, #SensitivePeriods), there will be bumps along the way. For sure. Because if the child is not sufficiently challenged by a task, then he is also not intensely interested to work on it.

Children naturally gravitate towards materials and activities within their environment that will help them develop particular skills. A child who is ready to learn to stand will care more about that couch and that stool and use them to pull himself up more than any other toy you put in front of him. That means children are not just naturally persevering, they are actually essentially looking for a challenge! And they will find it and many opportunities to practice perseverance, hopefully, in a carefully prepared environment that has materials and activities that are tailored to their developmental needs and in real, practical, everyday life.

A photo posted by Mars Medina-Montessori on Mars (@montessorionmars) on

3. Security and Success

Challenging tasks or tests and difficult situations or seatworks per se do not teach perseverance. They provide opportunities to practice it, yes, but what teaches the child to pursue perseverance, its value, that it's something worth doing are security and success.

Security. When children, grown ups even, are in an environment where it is safe to fail, they won't be afraid to test ideas; to explore and discover, or maybe find nothing; to try and try again.

Success. Materials and activities in a thoughtfully prepared Montessori environment are age-, readiness-, developmentally-appropriate. That means there's necessary challenge, yes; but also always, always opportunity for success. Which means that children can work towards mastery (of the material or activity). And mastery comes through repetition, perseverance. And when children have had examples and experiences of success, they realize--they know from experience--that perseverance, determination, hard work works.

Read about one my student's "hardest work" in her "en-taaa-yerrr life".

4. There's wisdom, too, in knowing when to quit.

In previous job interviews, when asked to describe myself; a standard, practiced answer I used to say was that I don't have to like what I'm doing in order for me to do my best in it. It's a good trait to have--to be able to work well and hard despite your opinion of the task (despite not seeing the sense of taking that test which I felt a lot when I was in school). After all, not everything in life works with our preferences.

But there's wisdom, too, in knowing when to quit--or when something is no longer worth our time and efforts; or when something just needs to be put on hold, for a while, for now.

So for now, the decision is to homeschool. I'm sure we'll be needing (and practicing) a lot of perseverance with it, more on some days than others.

But we're excited because--

Here we are standing at the doorway that leads to the media launch for the Philippine Homeschool Conference 2016 that's happening on October 22. Edric, the president of the Homeschool Association of the Philippine Islands (HAPI), said we're at the tipping point of homeschooling in the country (and I have been feeling the exact same way)--so he told us to say to each other just that, "welcome to the tipping point of homeschooling". And I'll echo it here as well, my local friends in the Philippines; if you are thinking about homeschooling/already homeschooling/wherever you are in that journey or however you are doing it, welcome to the tipping point! With all the resources, options, opportunities, support, community, inspiration available now (and the many that are in the works, thanks to our friends from @wearehapi and, it's an even more exciting time to go on this adventure! So, well, as they say, don't just stand there. The door's already open, come in, join us at the conference--October 22, SMX Convention Center, SM Aura Premier, Taguig City. For more details on the speakers, talks, and activities, maps, and how to register, download the 'Philippine Homeschool Conference 2016' app from the App Store (Android version available soon). Or visit (co, not com). #PHC2016 #FromRootsToWingsPHC
A photo posted by Mars Medina-Montessori on Mars (@montessorionmars) on

Here are more details about the 2016 Philippine Homeschool Conference:

There are more things to be excited about! Ivy of The Vine That Writes listed 10 Things We're (if I had to do it too, it would be the exact same list!) Excited About The Philippine Homeschool Conference 2016.

So join us! Register here.

post signature

Friday, September 9, 2016

Our Top 4 Materials from 0 to 24 Months

Some days ago, in my local Facebook group, Montessori in the Philippines (join us if you're from the country), someone posted to ask about where to get organic wooden teethers. To which another member commented that she thinks babies prefer something like Sophie the Giraffe (which her son loves), made of natural rubber; instead of hard wood. I then replied that it should be worth offering both for the baby to choose--because really, even the youngest of them, when presented with manageable options, will choose (one or the other or both). That would make for an interesting observation of the child's natural work and a meaningful way for us to communicate that we value their voices and respect them as a person, from the start.

Then I thought about sharing Cara's top 4 choices from when she was 0 until 24 months. Of course these were not the only materials and activities available for her (we've rotated the materials and edited the environment several, several times), but these were her obvious favorites.

0-6 Months

1. Mommy

I was told, by the directress of a local Montessori training center, to do a little experiment. Get another person whose voice is similar to mine, go behind a blanket (on far ends, left side-right side) with this person, place my baby in front of the blanket cover, take turns talking with the other person, and see if the baby will recognize my voice and look/turn/move towards the side of the blanket behind which I am at. Amazingly, Cara always seem to know Mommy.

This sparked more "little experiments"--I'd hang a mobile on one side above Cara and "hang" myself (sometimes I sing, sometimes I'm silent; but always, I'm smiling) on another side above her and see her choose, much to my delight, her "Mommy Mobile" each time.

It was then that I realized something important: That just as Maria Montessori said that children are naturally equipped to absorb and learn from their environment, mothers are also naturally equipped, especially in those first few months, to be just about every "material" their babies need--a smile to see, a song to hear, a scent to smell, a warmth to feel (and if you breastfeed--taste, too).

So I'm going to claim and cherish that--being my daughter's first favorite "material".

When I needed a quick shower or a hurried meal, other people were her favorites, too. That's (those hands) one of my sisters and Cara who just turned 3 months. (Incidentally, we didn't do tummy time (us putting her on her tummy) precisely because she didn't like it (see, they really have their opinions); but she rolled over from her back to tummy, on her own at 8 weeks and that has been her position of choice since then.)
And we really didn't have any other materials then. Just people--"hanging" over or lying beside or in front of her--faces for her to watch, hands for her to touch, voices for her to hear.

One of my sisters loved reading--because we saw how Cara is intent on hearing--'The Three Little Pigs' from Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes.

2. Sensory Bottles

Because she always liked to be on her tummy then, I had bottles like these standing near her as sensory work, point of interest, and motivation to grasp and crawl.
We didn't have shelves at this time--only laid out materials on the floor near her so she can choose and reach.

3. Things for Grasping

I remember precisely that first time she was able to control her own hand to bring it to something, a set of keys, she wanted to touch. After doing so, she looked at her hand for half an hour or so, turning it over, exploring it--just fascinated with it and what she discovered she can do!

Another experiment. We had a little ring with different colored ribbons. Whenever I held it above her when she was lying on her back or in front of her when she was on her tummy, she always, always chose to grasp the yellow ribbon. No matter how I position the ring, even when the yellow ribbon was the farthest. Her choice.

And these are some of her favorite grasping things.
A soft ball, a maracas, ribbons and balls of yarn, a wooden block, a walnut we put in a small abaca bag, Sophie the Giraffe (which she loved--just as that baby from our local Facebook group), a yellow knitted ball, a Blabla Kids knitted doll rattle.

4. Books

But nothing else holds her interest as much and long as books, which are her favorites, still.

A video posted by Mars Medina-Montessori on Mars (@montessorionmars) on

I'm amused with these photos because it looks like she's copying the cat. 

6-12 Months

1. Space

She began sitting at 5 months, pulling up at 6, walked around while holding the bar/cruising on furniture at 7 months, took her first independent step at 8, walked at 9, even more confidently so at 10, ran before she was a year old--so a safe space to do just those, to move and explore, was her material. You can see more of our Prepared Environment that time here.

2. Pull-up Bar and Mirror; Stool, Bell, and Painting

I'm special-mentioning these things because these were the things she liked using as she was finding her balance and confidence to walk. I have, on my drafts, a post about how Cara worked on her walking entitled "How We Have A Walker Without A Walker". And without the usual walker, we basically had these things--a DIY pull-up bar (which you also see on that link for our Prepared Environment above), a mirror as point of interest, a stool she can push to get herself around when she still needed that support, and a bell and a painting she likes going to.

3. Pegs and Simple One-piece Puzzles

When we first had peg work like these out, the pegs and blocks are on the board or dowel and her work was just to pull them out. Eventually, when she was ready, we had the pieces in baskets so she can put them into the holes and dowels. I thought that way, we also isolate difficulty.

We also did levels of difficulty with the puzzles. One-piece, simple shape puzzle. Just one set first so she just focuses on fitting the piece into the frame; then eventually two, three so she can sort.

4. Plunking Work

With the last bottle with the purple cover, we used short sticks (which I can't find in our storage). But do you see how we did levels of difficulty here, too?
I remember when I had one of these kept away for a while because we rotate materials. Our then 11-month-old discovered the basket where I kept materials that were out of rotation and of all the things that were there, she took one these out, brought it over to the shelf, took out what was currently on its original spot, and put this work back. Her choice.

12-18 Months

1. Water and Outdoors, Pouring and Scooping

If we could do this all day, she would.

See more of our outdoor prepared environment here.

2. Tools for Practical Practical Life

See some of our practical Practical Life work here.

3. Animals--Miniatures, One-piece Puzzles, and Picture Cards

Miniature animals from the Schleich portable barn and cards from the Baby Einstein Animal Discovery Cards set

One-piece animal puzzles

Then eventually, multi-piece puzzles, starting with this 3-piece set.
Note that this material should be under 18-24 months, but I just put it here to show how we progressed with puzzles.

4. Slide

18-24 Months

1. Crayons and Paper and Magnetic Sketcher

A photo posted by Mars Medina-Montessori on Mars (@montessorionmars) on

2. Practical Life

I'm putting Practical Life in again because really, these are her favorite things to do.

Read another one of my posts here, Welcoming the Weeds: A Practical Life and Parenting Lesson.

And watch her prepare dinner here.

3. Building and Pretend Play

Boxes and blocks, pegs and loose parts, clay and soil, toy kitchen, stores, and houses--she's always constructing, concocting, cooking, creating something. One time she slid a ribbon inside a box, leaving a part of the ribbon out; then she walked around the house pulling that creation along, "Walk dog," she said.

Great for nomenclature--which is also one of her favorite work (#SensitivePeriodForLanguage)

4. "People"

And we're back where we started--people. Language, while it has been the work of the child since infancy, becomes all the more obvious as he grows. And Judi Orion, an AMI teacher trainer said, "We must remember we are the most important language material in the environment." So "we need to examine our own language usage and become a better role model from which to absorb language." Here I remember making that conscious effort to use "me" instead of "Mommy" in my sentences when talking to Cara--and soon as I did that, she started to refer to herself as "me", too--correctly using it in her sentences. Then one time I saw her pointing to another person while exclaiming, "Yoo! Yoo! Yoo!" I couldn't understand her at first. Until she said, "Yoo!" Then pointing to herself she said, "Me!" "You! Me! You! Me!"

Another time, our then 20-month-old was eating when our cat came up to her obviously wanting her snack. I told Cara to tell the cat, "Sorry, but this is for people, not for cats." Later on, while we were preparing to sleep she said to me, "People. Mommy people. Cara also people."

These--making logical connections between objects and words, intently choosing words to construct her messages, talking to people she knows--these are her favorite activities as well.

We don't teach her numbers but have mentioned "one" and "two" to her in terms of describing something. For example, I tell her I'm getting one diaper for example. One time, she approaches her Daddy and tells him she has "two cards". She went on to say she has "one juice". So another time, we asked her to please hand over two mats, then one mat. She did.
That's her work. Her choice, her own curriculum. Her drive. Her inner teacher. 

So that was quite lengthy since that was two years worth of favorites, but I do hope you got a thing or two from there, our top 4 materials from 0 to 24 months. But really, what I really wanted to say here is, the operative word on that title is "our". That's our list. And because every combination of child/ren + parent/s + home + culture + country is different, we all would have slightly or largely different lists. Another 8-month-old might enjoy the Object Permanence Box for a longer time, while Cara was only interested with it for a bit (good thing I only DIYed ours which you can see here).

So observe and follow the child. They know their way. As Maria Montessori said, "Follow the child, they will show you what they need to do, what they need to develop in themselves and what area they need to be challenged in." And how will children let us know these things? Through the choices they make, the things they gravitate towards, the tasks they repeatedly do. Would your child rather pull up on the sofa than scoop the colored pasta shells you so lovingly prepared? That's a clue, a communication. Their choices, their work--"they are drawn to it by the needs of their inner life."

post signature