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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tuesday's Truth or Fiction: Things Children Say When Upset

So your kid just screamed, "I HATE YOU" in the middle of a restaurant. Or you're desperately trying to put the child to bed for the ninth time of the night and he is wailing profusely about being afraid. What about the kid that just mutters, "you're mean" or "that's not fair" as she stomp out of the room? Or the child who insists that school is too scary? What are we, as parent, to do with such statements?

In truth, most of it needs to be forgiven and/or dismissed. We must learn to neutralize, not engage.

Myth: What my child says when angry or scared must be true.

Fact: People will say all sorts of things when they are full of emotion.

Remember, part of raising a Montessori child is that key component of innately respecting them as human beings. Yes, they are young children, but they are still people with the full range of emotions and needs of grown-ups yet with fewer of the necessary tools. If we, with all of our adult logic and coping skills still say things we don't always mean when we are upset or afraid, how much more true is this of our children?

Parents need to learn to neutralize (not engage in) a child's arguing, especially when the child is angry. Certainly we should not respond to things they say when angry. There are several Love and Logic phrases parents can use when dealing with an angry child:
  • You seem upset. Let's talk again when you are calmer.
  • I listen to people who don't shout at me.
  • I'll listen as soon as your voice is as calm as mine.
  • I'll be glad to discuss this when respect is shown.
  • I'll be glad to discuss this with you as soon as your arguing stops.
  • You are welcome to stay in the room with us when you give up that behavior.
  • I love you too much to continue arguing about this. I am done talking.
It can be trickier to deal with a child who is scared. As parents, our heart strings are really tugged when we see our child struggling with fear. Still, it is best for children if we address their fears in a factual, understanding way without becoming emotionally involved, the goal, again, being to neutralize (not engage in) the child's fears. Parents need to defuse a fear-based problem by not making a big deal about it. Some useful phrases are:
  • I love you and would never willingly put you in a dangerous situation. You can trust me.
  • It's so sad that you're scared, but I know you will be fine.
  • I would hate for you to miss out on fun things because of your fear, but that's your choice.
Overall, successfully navigating a child's emotional outburst of anger or fear hinges on remembering that people (of all ages) say all kinds of things when they are upset. Just because our child says something does not make it true. In anger or fear, children will use an innate tool to try to make the situation better in their mind. This innate tool is manipulating the adults in their lives with their words. But we are constantly reinforcing life lessons for our children and we want them to learn to use other, more effective tools so it is paramount that we neutralize rather than engage. We want the overriding message in every situation, even those tinged with anger or fear, to be one of telling them that we believe in them to make good choices and that they are going to be okay. 

Friday, February 22, 2013


Normally when such a beautiful snow comes we are out of school or are letting school out early, but on Wednesday we had an absolutely gorgeous snow falling and kids who wanted to play...

We hope you were able to enjoy the wonder of nature as much as our kids did. Here are a few pictures and a peacful video captured by our staff.


Make sure you watch the video in full screen. For some reason, it just stirred our hearts. To us, it captured the spirit of Montessori: peace, nature, respect, calm, solitude, reflection, and much more.

Thanks to Mrs. Glendenning for being such a talented photographer!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail

As children get older, they need the freedom to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Without the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, children will grow into incomplete adults who don't know how to adequately face adversity, make difficult decisions, weigh pros and cons, and adjust their attitudes and behaviors in order to be successful in situations where "try and try again" may become necessary.

The following link is a quick read written by a teacher who has too much experience with students not being allowed to fail.

Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail

Remember, as Montessori parents you are buying in to the philosophy that independence and self-confidence lead to better academic outputs that simple intelligence. Without these basic skills, children will always struggle to feel capable and competent.

Give them the grace to goof up and grow.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The following acrostic poem was written by one of our sixth grade students and presented by our elementary after school care group at our Commitment to Peace Celebration held on September 11, 2012.

Peace is Possible
by Allison Ousley

Peace is possible, it's
Equality. It's everyone
All together, making a

It takes love,
Sincerity and

Out with
Selishness and hate.
Show some
Integrity and kindness.
Believing is all it takes.
Leaning on the hope that
Everyone can find peace within.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

My Best Teacher Ever

This essay, written by a former Montessori student, was submitted to our alumni update email. Congratulations, Mrs. Clayton, on this honor. You can truly tell how much Paxton learned from her and we are honored to have her working with our children.

Mrs. Jo Clayton was my teacher for both 4th to 5th grade. She taught me for two years simply because the school I attended had an extremely small amount of students, and therefore abnormally few teachers. Fort Smith Montessori, the school I attended, is not even ten percent of the size of Chaffin. This woman taught me all of the fundamentals for every subject, and also how to study properly. The best teacher I have ever had would undoubtedly, hands down, be Mrs. Clayton.
The deciding factor whether a student likes a teacher or not is if the subjects being taught are fun and interactive. Her class offered quite a bit of freedom, and although there were only five kids in my class, I still had an amazing time. One Friday, as a reward for having good behavior each month, she let us make a fort out of blankets! We could always talk with our peers as long as we finished our work. In keeping with the well-known Montessori teaching method, we did not have assigned desks and could freely walk around the room to do our work. I loved this element of freedom in the classroom because if I found myself sitting next to somebody I did not get along with well, I could simply get up and move somewhere else in the room.

Additionally, Ms. Clayton’s teaching style had an extremely unique twist to it, unlike any other teacher. She taught us in a hands-on manner; consequently, she was able to more easily capture her student’s imagination. For each week, she would give us a set of “works”, and we had to take the initiative to plan and decide when and in what order to complete them. This teaching strategy taught us how to plan our work, control our schedules properly, be organized, and use our time wisely. Mrs. Clayton knew us all extremely well because she talked to our parents, and to us, about personal matters. The fact that she knew us all individually helped her to teach us better because she knew how we learned and how to actually hold our attention. We had undeniably interesting power point projects and research papers which we worked on for an entire semester. We worked on these projects as teams, and the older kids helped the younger kids with creative ideas. For example, we were assigned a project on a specific country and my team chose Egypt. Throughout the semester we displayed various aspects of Egyptian life. We brought examples of Egyptian food, clothing, music, religion, and weapons. These were vivid examples that allowed us to learn about our country much better than just writing a paper about it.

Although she allowed us to have fun, she was also pretty strict and always required us to apply ourselves. She would discipline us by making us write sentences for saying mean things or acting out. Sometimes we would even have to clean the toilets! I used to be a rowdy kid and seemed to get into trouble a lot. Sometimes I would have to write so much it felt like my hand was going to fall off. She gave us little room for error on our work, but would always help us if we asked for it.

Overall, Mrs. Clayton places as my number one teacher in the way she could hold a student’s attention and develop their learning skills. She just understood me and was generally amazing, knowing the way that kids worked and how to teach them in both a fun and helpful way. I cannot thank Mrs. Clayton enough for encouraging me and giving me confidence in myself, and I will never forget her diverse way of teaching. It is true a teacher can impact a student’s life in so many ways, and Mrs. Clayton certainly made a strong impression on mine.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Stop Stealing Dreams - What is School For?

The link below will take you to a manifesto written by Seth Godin. I know most of you won't read much of it (it's 30,000 words and 191 pages), but it embodies a lot of what many of you already innately know about traditional schools and why you choose Montessori, although his ideologies are not specifically about Montessori schools. Without trying to make this about anything other than what it is, I defer to Seth's own words:

"The economy has changed, probably forever. School hasn't. School was invented to create a constant stream of compliant factory workers to the growing businesses of the 1900s. It continues to do an excellent job at achieving this goal, but it's not a goal we need to achieve any longer. In this 30,000 word manifesto, I imagine a different set of goals and start (I hope) a discussion about how we can reach them. One thing is certain: if we keep doing what we've been doing, we're going to keep getting what we've been getting. Our kids are too important to sacrifice to the status quo."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Turn It Off

I've labored over the idea of writing about screen time for a while, but I've honestly been very worried about how it would be received. Then suddenly the courage came to me in this form: there has been much research done and many articles written documenting that the amount of screen time children are exposed to should be limited. I don't need to rewrite all that information. And if you've ignored all that research and all those articles, you're going to ignore this - not be upset that I wrote it.

This post is for the rest of you who are looking for ideas somewhere along the spectrum of when and how to limit your child's screen time in a way that suits and works for your family. It's not a mandate, it's a launching point for you to initiate change or to share what changes you've made.

First, let's clarify. This isn't just about television. As technology advances, we must continue to refine what is and isn't a good use of our time. So we've adopted the term screen time to represent just that - time spent using anything that has a screen including televisions, computers, cell phones, video games, iPods, iPads, etc.

Let's start with where we can assume a good portion of your child's time goes. If you're reading this it is likely your child is a student at FSMS, spending at least seven hours a day with us and, depending on age, sleeping approximately eight to ten hours a night. That leaves around nine hours each weekday filled with various other activities such as chores, extra curriculars, civic or religious duties, and, of course, screen time.

Despite what I said earlier, I must reiterate all the research that proves how passive screen time can be. And don't delude yourself; playing a video game or games on your iPhone isn't educational for your child no matter what you think - at least not in the Montessori sense of "educational" where the child is responsible for constructing new knowledge for himself by actively doing something. Anything involving a screen is a passive activity - yes, even the Wii or Xbox Kinect. (Now's your chance to google "too much screen time children" and surf some of that research.) Once we agree that screen time is a passive waste of time, the question most of us face is "so what do we do?" My answer is simple - turn it off. But here's where the "what works for our family" question comes in to play as well.

I know of two families who have no televisions in their houses. At all. Um...well although that may work for them, it would never work for me. I love football. And my husband is on the news a lot and I think he's cute and like to see him when he is. And I have five kids and sometimes, (just sometimes) it's nice to put in a movie and say "be still and quiet and know that I am Mom." So although that works for them, it wouldn't work for us. But it's certainly an option you could consider. Are you television addicts? Maybe like drug addicts, you need to go cold turkey. I don't know, I'm not you. But it's an option.

I know another family that does T.V. Free Tuesdays. This night of the week is reserved for board games and reading and cooking together. They purposefully set aside one night a week to say "we are going to be together and aware of each other and develop our relationships." I love this. Maybe it would be enough for you. It's another option.

Our family is screen free Monday through Friday. We've been doing this since August. The children are not allowed to play video games, watch television, be on her (12 year old only) cell phone, play with iPods, or play on the computer at all until after 6pm on Friday evening. Friday evenings usually consist of family movie night and nachos or homemade pizza. "Technically" our kids can do screen things on Saturdays but most Saturdays we can be found in the woods hiking, so it's a natural limit. Sunday afternoon is the most common time to catch my kids watching television and that's usually at Gram's house because she has cable (we just have an antenna and get six channels) and they get their fix of Disney Channel for the week. What I've noticed with these boundaries in place is that even when given the chance, my kids are a thousand times more likely to say "can we play outside" or "will you play Go Fish with me" than they ever were before we went screen free for portions of the week. And the imaginary things my kids can now create with Lego's amaze me when before they were most likely to spout the phrase "I'm bored" at me when told to go play. Our screen free time has allowed them the opportunity to relearn how to play and be active. They climb trees. They chase birds. They build forts. They ride bikes and skateboards, and play baseball. They found a rabbit nest (awesome) and then found a book on our bookshelf about animals so they could learn more about how and why rabbits build nests.

Our "screens in the car" rule is three hours. If we're going to be in the car for longer than three hours they can take their games and iPods. If we're going to be in the car less than three hours, too bad, because we'll be playing the license plate game or the ABC game or singing or playing I Spy or practicing being still and quiet (and knowing that I am Mom). The car is a great time for conversation. They're trapped. I force them to talk to me. I try very hard not to waste these precious moments letting them watch a video or play a game.

The hard part about what we chose to do (what works for us) was modeling this behavior. Before we went screen free I loved to unwind by watching Jeopardy and then the 5 O'clock News. I can't do that anymore. Now I have to wait for the 10 O'clock News (long past the kids going to bed) to see my cute husband (on television, that is). I was always texting or checking Facebook on my phone. I can't do that anymore. Now if you send me a message between the hours of 4pm and 8pm you're less likely to get a response. I had to give up watching some of my favorite television shows. But just as I've seen changes in my children, I've seen more changes in myself. I'm more present with my family. I'm "fully present" so to speak. What I've learned about myself is that I'm doing a good work with my family - shaping the next generation and impacting the world. I can't do that well if I spend my life watching reruns or wasting time on social media. I've also learned to cherish the quiet. Now, when the television is on, it seems so loud and noisy. I prefer the quiet nights where the littles (that's the four kids under the age of nine) are all in bed by 8pm and the quasi big (the 12 year old) and Steven and I sit and read and she will quietly say "Mom, what does this word mean?" I love that.

So I've given you three examples of limiting screen time and they fall all along the spectrum of choices you could make.

Here's my question - what have you done to limit screen time for your family or what are you thinking about trying? I think we can start an important dialogue that will help our families find a fit that works for them and makes them stronger, better families. By being honest about what we do (even if it's admitting that sometimes we use the screens as babysitters) we can support and encourage one another on our journey along this path of parenthood.