Monday, May 30, 2016

Welcoming the Weeds: A Practical Life and Parenting Lesson

One of my more recurrent daydreams when I was younger, because it was not always possible and pleasant in the usual warm Manila weather, was having a lovely garden breakfast over at my future home's breezy lanai--always with freshly-squeezed orange juice from--I was dreaming big--from our very own orangery (if daydreams have meanings, too, like dreams; I wonder what's the interpretation for this).

So even if this isn't exactly like that of my juvenile imagination, I'm thankful we have a space like this in our home now--

And even if I haven't exactly had freshly-squeezed orange juice during breakfast here yet, I'm glad we have been peeling orangessqueezing another kind of citrus juice, and we have a different kind of orange around here most afternoons--

But one thing I never really thought about, one thing that don't usually come up in daydreams of perfectly manicured lawns and gardens (which is curious because they just creep out and up of almost everywhere else)--are the weeds! Wild, wild weeds!

Too relentless and indefatigable these weeds are that getting three gardeners once a month to pull them out and trim the grass wasn't quite enough. So while I dreaded it at first, I did the weeding out myself. While our now 21-month-old watered the grass, I pulled out the weeds. But--you may have already guessed--pretty soon, she wanted to do what I was doing herself.

Which was great because as it turns out, pulling weeds is excellent for gross and fine motor and a Practical Life, Care of the Environment activity.

I did wonder though just how good an idea this activity really would be if grass get pulled out, too.

But I was wonderfully surprised to see that our young toddler was mindfully making sure that she wouldn't pull the grass out. Even those weeds that are hidden beneath blades of grass, she would spot and carefully take them out. That's visual discrimination right there!

And that's when I began looking forward and enjoying weeding out our garden everyday.

Some days she does it with me (there was a time we sorted the dried leaves we picked and the weeds we pulled into buckets). 
Other days she's busy with her own work (washing bottles and dishes, cleaning our outdoor table, chairs, and shelf--usually a lot of water work) while I diligently and delightedly (particularly when I'm really able to take deep stubborn roots out) rid our garden of weeds--always still observing our young toddler, sometimes meditating (okay, sometimes daydreaming, too--but let's just call that "meditating", okay).

It was in one of those musing moments when I remembered that welcoming the weeds into our garden, turning weeding from a backache-inducing burden, an extra chore we need to do into an appreciated and anticipated activity, was a lot like one of my take-aways from the Positive Discipline Workshop by The Learning Basket I attended last February. It was mentioned there that often, parents dread or fear disciplining--and I thought understandably so since having to discipline is usually preceded by a situation that needed just that. But Mariel of The Learning Basket said that those usually unwelcome circumstances (much like our weeds) can be turned into opportunities for Positive Discipline, giving us the chance to teach our children "social and life skills for good character".

I used to see in-need-of-positive-discipline situations as "disruptions" to what could have been a pleasant day (much like how I saw the weeds before, "disruptions" to what could have been the picturesque lawn of my daydreams). But now I see them as opportunities.

Opportunities for me to, among other things:
1. Practice, practice, practice Positive Discipline (many positive strategies that are in line with Montessori, my top-of-mind now are "Connect before Correct" and establishing routines and limits)

2. Equip my daughter (and really, still, myself)--with tools and strategies we can use to handle different life circumstances.

Example, one time we were both feeling frustrated over something so we breathed in and out, went outside, and took our frustrations out on, well yes, the weeds.

For more of our Montessori, we're over at Facebook and @montessorionmars on Instagram.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

How We Choose Practical Life Activities for Our Young Toddler

As with most things parenting, the world wide web is also a trove of Montessori Practical Life ideas from all over the whole wide world. For the most part, they're all inspiring--good examples of what even young children are capable of doing; but sometimes they can also be confusing--what Practical Life activities do I really introduce to my young toddler?

A ready answer, a Montessori mantra, is "follow the child". What is she ready for and interested in.

With this in mind, I set-up little Practical Life trays--simpler, but still much like the ones you'd see on the shelves of my previous classrooms and on boards in Pinterest. Examples: 1) Hand transfer (2 bowls and some beans which she would have had to transfer from one bowl to another and back again); 2) Spooning (2 bowls, small spoon, some beans/kernels which she would have had to spoon from one bowl to another and back again); etc. I'm going to stop giving examples here because--

They weren't very successful. Even while my daughter can transfer by hand and with a spoon, little trays with materials such as these didn't get worked on much. Why? One, because children her age are more for explorations (more on this, maybe, another day). And two, I realized that before poring over pins and posts for Practical Life ideas, I should be looking at something else first:

Our life.

Our lifestyle.

Young children look at what we do and want to do those themselves. This is how they naturally work (so/how they acquire our language and culture). My little trays, no matter how cute, sat unnoticed on the shelf because my daughter doesn't see me do those things myself.

So I looked at what we actually do everyday and turned as much as I can into useful and practical Practical Life. Here I remember a recent video that just played on my feed (I have a point, promise) where a girl makes machines to do things for her like pour cereals and milk in a bowl. It was supposed to be funny (the machines just weren't doing what they're actually supposed to), but it stuck somehow because the girl said she wanted to make some parts of her life automated. With now-19-month-old Cara, our efforts involve, to support her work of increasing independence, making more aspects of her everyday life autonomous.

Which aspects?

What work does your child see you do at home? What household chores do you do yourself? What's your routine with your child/ren? Looking into these can give us good ideas for Practical Life activities. Observe your day, go. Leave this post if you must.

But if you want to see examples of what we do in our home, here are some (the ones with * have links to videos of Cara doing the work--watch, they're fun :-)):

Food Prep and Meals

Pouring water into a drinking glass*

Drinking from a glass*

Squeezing citrus to make juice

Setting the table before meals and tidying it up after

Preparing a snack of cereals* (much more efficient and endearing than the cereals-and-milk-pouring-machine from that video I mentioned)

Peeling an egg and making an egg sandwich

Picking moringa / malunggay leaves to use for meals

Peeling an orange*

Washing fruits and vegetables

Our then 14-month-old washing string beans we picked from the neighbor's vegetable patch

Care for Self

Washing the hands

Putting on and taking off shoes

Putting clothes in the hamper

Choosing what to wear (clothes, shoes, hair tie/clips, even citronella patches)

Scrubbing the body with a washcloth during bath

Brushing the teeth

Combing the hair

Putting on lotion

A part of her Montessori-inspired bathroom

Care for the Environment

Cleaning the shelf*

Cleaning materials and other furniture

Packing materials away

Arranging flowers to decorate the house*

Wiping spills

Mopping the floor*

Washing the gate, walls, and windows

Giving the pet some water*

Watering the plants

How do we know we chose the right Practical Life activities--like this, her first time to use a hose to water plants?
We get smiles like that.

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