Monday, October 20, 2014

Traditions and Holidays

Girl posing with a large pumpkin for Halloween
Young children learn about the passage of time in its earliest form from the daily cycles of morning, afternoon and night. As they grow, they begin to become aware of the yearly seasonal rhythms and cycles. As we now enter Autumn, we enter a time of year where there are many holidays and religious and cultural practices which often have a deep and intense feel about them. Perhaps this ties into ancient practices around the harvest and preparing for the harsh winter. The hours of daylight wind down and cold approaches. Seasonal rituals are important as ways to celebrate the seasons but also as a marker for the passage of time. These rituals give us comfort and create bonds within families and communities.  As adults, we often reflect on the past but as children become aware, they often begin to look forward and to anticipate favorite holidays.
We sometimes forget that we don’t have to automatically follow traditions in quite the same way as our family, friends or neighbors. We can create or revive traditions for ourselves that enrich us or bring more depth and meaning to our experience. Now is a good time to reflect and ask ourselves a few questions: What is my favorite part of this holiday? What do I look forward to? What do I dread? What gives me meaning? What interferes with my enjoyment? What do I want to get rid of?

Each leaf lists something that the child is thankful for. Look for new and creative ways to alter, add or pare down, and especially look for ways that children can participate such as helping to make simple homemade gifts of cookies or bath salts. Establish rituals such as eating with lit candles on the table once or twice a week or saying thanks for food before each meal (or singing a song at the end of each meal or before bedtime). In the Autumn, you can create an area where you cut out simple leaf shapes on construction paper and each family member writes what they are thankful for on a leaf and display the leaves. As the weather turns toward winter, my family enjoys cutting snowflakes. We have a stack of prepared white paper cut into 5 x 5 inch squares where each family member cuts out a few snowflakes at a time and we tape them on the dining room windows to display them.  As December progresses, our snowflakes multiply in wonderful and elaborate shapes. As we do this we often reflect upon the snowflakes we created in previous years.  This triggers emotions of times past and helps us to feel a connection to those times and to each other.

So take this opportunity to reflect and choose what matters the most to you and your family and create a holiday season that gives you joy.                     Happy Holidays!

Marla Nargundkar is a Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, GA. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Focus and Concentration

So many children today are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or variations of this theme. This disorder is tied with a difficulty in the child to focus and concentrate.  Drugs and a change of diet are usually prescribed. Perhaps what is being missed is that focus and concentration are actually skills which must be developed.  According to Montessori philosophy, the best way to do so is to set up the correct environment (and experiences) which provide the child with the opportunity to develop concentration him/herself.
The first step toward building concentration is to find what attracts and interests the child and introduce him/her to some kind of activity that contains a goal in it. For parents, this isn’t difficult since children are naturally drawn to what they most need to learn. The adult should model any steps (and use of tools) and present the goal that is desired. Then the adult must STEP BACK and allow the child the space and time to deeply engage with the activity. It is critical at this stage for the adult to not interrupt, even with praise and encouragement, because this disturbs the child’s inner development.  (Acknowledgment of a child’s accomplishments can be saved until after the child has completed the task.)  Of course, if a task is too difficult, then the adult can give hints or suggestions, but the goal is to let the child work on his/her own. In our hurried, scheduled world, it can be difficult to give children the full amount of time they need to develop this essential skill. As parents and teachers, we must observe for budding signs of focus and then work to protect those delicate (and fleeting) moments.   

Marla  Nargundkar,  AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta.

Consumerism and Children

We live in an age of consumerism. Advertising messages bombard us to buy, buy, buy! Surrounded by so many messages that tell us our value is tied to a particular product, how can we as parents and teachers help our children be resilient under such onslaught? I was recently asked this question and it made me stop and think about how I help my own child (and students) to not be caught up in rampant consumerism. One activity that I realized is really helpful in this area is to completely step out of the consumer role and instead become the producer for a least a little while. When we experience making something by hand we begin to see the amount of work and skill that went into creating that object. It frees us from having to fit some pre-ordained model of what we should be – we create according to our own whims and desires of what we ourselves value. The process of making something ourselves often leads us to question where the components and raw materials come from. We become aware of natural resources and may strive to reduce waste or recycle materials.  When we make something ourselves, especially as a gift for someone else, we forge personal connections and tend to cherish and keep those kinds of gifts that we receive.   Handmade objects no longer are disposable because we have seen how much work or creativity went into making them.  Items of quality take on more importance and we strive to make them last longer, rather than buying something cheap and treating it as disposable.

So where can we begin? Make something, anything! Be creative! Start small and make items with your children that you can “consume” yourself such as food or objects that you or your immediate family can use. Cook, make bread from scratch, sew, knit, crochet, hammer and repair objects. Decorate something that already exists such as bedazzling jeans or painting old canvas tennis shoes with acrylic paints.  Experiment with gardening - grow flowers, herbs or vegetables. Find something that resonates with you and your family that you would like to make.  If you lack the skills, then slowly teach yourself or take a class. It doesn't have to be perfect or professional. The goal is to participate and create, to open up creativity and connections.  For example, I like to make yoghurt at home. It is easy and reminds me of how past generations made everything themselves. While some of us might remember the awkward sweater or clothes made for us by relatives as children, we can now as adults value how much time and work went into making those items.  Past generations often had no choice, if you didn't have the skill to make it, you often went without. Now we have choices, but let us make wise choices – those colored by our own values and not those of the marketing and advertising industry.

Marla Nargundkar is an AMI Montessori Guide at Tree of Life Montessori School in Atlanta, GA