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Bringing Up Be Be & Montessori (not a review)

29 Nov

Photo Credit

 

Recently, I was at the library and on the way out, I passed the “New Non-Fiction” display table and saw this book. I decided to check it out and see what it was all about.

I heard about Bringing Up Be Be: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman when it first came out earlier this year. I do remember that some people who reviewed the book were not too impressed with the author’s research and the fact (that the author also acknowledges) that this “French parenting” is based solely on her observations on the upper middle class families with whom she socialized. So when I mention French parenting or French parents here, I am referring to the families that the author wrote about in the book. Obviously I have no idea if all parents in France follow this parenting philosophy!

Bringing Up Be Be was an interesting read. While I’ve never thought there is a be-all and end-all parenting style, there were definitely some parts that I found a bit off or didn’t agree with (e.g. limited breastfeeding because it is not attractive, keeping the husband out of the birth room in order to keep the woman’s “mystery” alive…ha. Ha. HA.) and I found that some of “what the French do” is pretty much common sense– something we know we should do, but the people described in this book actually do it!

These are the parts of “French parenting” from the book that I did agree with and like, some of which I found aligns somewhat with the Montessori philosophy. (I am writing this a few weeks after I’ve finished and returned the book, so I can’t promise that my memory of the book is 100%!).

 

1. Bonjour, Au revoir!

The author observed that, manners-wise, Americans focus mainly on teaching their children to say “thank you” and “sorry,” (I totally did this!) while French parents also emphasize saying”hello” and “good-bye” to adults. This is so children become more aware of others (and that they are not the centre of the universe) and that they need to acknowledge the presence of these other people. It is also a simple way to acknowledge their presence and a basic gesture of respect.

I found this similar to the routine set in a Montessori classroom. Upon entering the classroom each morning, each student greets her teacher(s) with a handshake, look her in the eyes and says, “Good morning, Mrs. MM.” At dismissal, the student will again shake her teacher’s hand and say goodbye.

This exchange is basic Grace and Courtesy— the child practices greeting others, making conversation (eye contact, appropriate body language, carrying on a conversation– all important life skills!), and it is a nice way to cap off the day.

(There is also a practical classroom reason for this: by greeting the teacher, the teacher can take attendance and check in with each student individually.  It is also an extra mental reminder of who arrived/left.)

I liked this concept a lot. I agree with the thinking behind it and started consciously reminding Freestyle to greet and say goodbye to everyone (not just adults).

Sidenote: I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this before, but one thing I will never make Freestyle do is hug/kiss someone when greeting/saying goodbye. I do not believe that children (or anyone, really) should be coerced to hug/kiss someone if they do not want to do it (even relatives). Kids should never feel obligated to submit to physical touching if they don’t want to, right? Also, I’ve read that if a child is abused, most likely it is by someone he or she knows or trusts. So, when we are leaving, I will usually ask Freestyle, “It’s time to say goodbye! Do you want to hug So-and-So?” Usually she does, but on those rare occasions when she refuses, I’ll just say loudly and firmly (so that that person overhears and hopefully understands), “That’s okay, you don’t have to hug anyone, but you do need to say ‘goodbye’ to her.”

 

2. Le Cadre

En Francais, cadre means “frame.” The author wrote that French parents are stricter than Americans about limiting the amount of freedom that their children have, but within that “frame” of freedom they can do what they like. One example (that I vaguely remember) is that one parent said that for bedtime, they would say goodnight to their child and leave the room. The child does not have to go to sleep immediately, but must remain in the room doing something quietly (read, play, etc.). Eventually, they would find the child has fallen asleep on his own.

In Montessori schools (and homes!), children are given a certain amount of freedom but are expected to exhibit a corresponding amount of responsibility (appropriate for his or her age and level of development).

The concept of freedom with responsibility makes sense, right? It extends to the entire school experience for the Montessori child.

For example, in the classroom, there are no assigned seats. Children work at tables or on a mat on the floor. So, in this situation, here are the child’s freedoms and responsibilities:

Freedoms:

  • He can choose where to sit.
  • He can choose to work alone or with a friend or two.

Responsibilities:

  • He will choose an appropriate place to work (with enough space for the materials, not sitting at an over-crowded table, etc.).
  • If he chooses someone to work with, he will choose someone who will not distract him from completing his work.
  • He will not distract others from doing their work.

If the child does not uphold these responsibilities and does not make better choices after a reminder or two from the teacher, then the teacher may have to limit his freedom by either asking him to choose another place to sit or taking away the privilege of this choice. He may also not be able to work with that particular partner if they are not remaining focused on the task.

The child can always earn back these freedoms by demonstrating that he is able to be responsible to handle them.

This “cadre” works for children because they need (and want) limits. You always hear of kids “testing the limits” with their parent, caregivers, or teachers. This is because she wants needs to know what the limit is– if she has unlimited freedom, she will not feel safe.

Montessori believed that young children (first three years of life) have a strong Sense of Order— they are learning about the world through their senses and are trying to make sense of all this information by creating order. Children want to know the place and function of everything in their environment. This Sense or Order gives them security and allows them to continue developing.

A sense of security…

  • Allows the child to become confident in making choices (since they know where the boundaries are).
  • Promotes independence and responsibility (because they are trusted to make those choices, as long as they stay within the boundaries).
  • This trust that the adult gives them shows a respect for the child as a person, building on their self-confidence.

(This all reminds me of OLG‘s motto: “Know Your Limit, Play Within It!” Ha ha!)

 

 

3. Independent Play

In the book, the author observes an American parent following his child around the playground, going up the ladder, down the slide, on the swings, etc. All the while, the parent is keeping up a continuous narration of the child’s every action (“Now you are going up the stairs! Good job! Now you are going down the slide, whee!”).

French parents, on the other hand, would more likely be found on the park bench, catching up on e-mails or just enjoying a coffee while their child plays independently.

I’m of two minds on this issue. On one hand, I do agree that playing independently is an important skill for every child to have. I’m at home with Freestyle and while I love being with her, we can’t go around attached to the hip all day! So when I am making dinner, I’m happy when she can entertain herself! During the day, if I see her happily playing by herself at home, I will usually leave her to it and do my own thing until she wants my attention again.

However, I do think that it is important for bonding, language development, and general awareness to talk to (and when she learns to speak, talk with) your child during play. Doctors, speech-langauge specialists, early childhood educators, etc. here in Canada strongly encourage parents to do the whole narration thing, especially with babies. I think there’s a balance. It’s important to talk to your child and call her attention to different things in her environment while giving her the language. BUT there is such a thing as going overboard with this, as illustrated with the non-stop (and one-way) chatter of the playground parent above! Just being quiet together is valuable too– it’s a time to rest, reflect, and allow each other time to have your own thoughts.

Also, while I do like that sometimes Freestyle will play independently while I can do something else, there are many times when she wants to play with me and of course I do so unless I am doing something else that is more urgent (see #5 below). And, sometimes I want to play with her which I think that it’s healthy and fun for both of us! I can model positive social behaviours (sharing, patience, Grace and Courtesy, etc.) while relaxing and just enjoying my daughter. 🙂

 

4. National Meal Plan

A love quiche!

 

French parents conform to what the author termed “National Meal Plan.” That is, their children ate at certain times of the day without snacking in between. The times were:

Morning = Breakfast

Noon = Lunch

4:00PM = Snack

8:00PM = Dinner

 

 

Without fail, all the parents the author spoke with naturally followed this “meal plan.” It was about finding the balance of the child’s rhythm and that of the parents and why French children will eat their food at mealtimes (they aren’t full from snacking all day). Even babies’ feedings would slowly but surely conform to the National Meal Plan. The author compared this with American children who seemed to snack more often during the day.

I do like the idea of older children (and me too!) having set mealtimes with limited snacking (sorry, grazers!). I noticed that I would let Freestyle have a snack between breakfast and lunch (second breakfast, hobbit-style!) if she asked, usually around 10:00AM. Whenever we went to playdates there would always be a spread set out by the generous hostess and most of the kids would descend on the snack table like vultures who hadn’t eaten for days (and yep, Freestyle would be right in the middle of the pack!).

After reading this book, I decided to cut out the morning snack. If she asks, I just tell her that we will be having lunch soon. If she keeps asking, I’ll direct her attention to something else until then. Now she rarely asks for a “second breakfast” snack.

I’ve kept the afternoon snack (usually around 4:00, but of course I don’t stick strictly to that time!), which is nice because who doesn’t enjoy an after school/work snack? 🙂

 

Afternoon snack is served!

 

I can’t really tell if Freestyle eats more at meals now because she’s a good eater, as they say. If she doesn’t eat a lot at one meal, I know she’ll just make it up at the next!

I also like the emphasis on eating healthy whole foods from the time they are young, working with the belief that kids do eat vegetables and other healthy fare (as opposed to assuming they won’t like it), and trying foods that are initially rejected again and again in different ways.

 

5. “Le Pause”

Another thing French parents do is “Le Pause.” Instead of immediately picking up their crying baby or tending to their kid’s requests, they will wait for a moment or two. This “pause” is to teach patience so that their children do not expect immediate gratification.

I do believe that immediate gratification is a big problem in our culture (no points for that observation), so I do agree with the idea of having the child wait for non-urgent matters (for an appropriate amount of time for her age, of course).

Reminds me of the Marshmallow Test. A marshmallow is put in front of a child. The adult tells them that he can eat the marshmallow now or, if he can hold off until she comes back, he will get a second marshmallow. If the child can wait, the studies show that that child will be more successful in life. He has the inner self-discipline to wait and the ability to distract himself during the waiting period.

 

 

I’m tempted to try this with Freestyle! 🙂 Maybe when she’s a bit older…

 

Personally, I subscribe to the view that babies cannot be spoiled by being picked up. If Real Baby is screaming, then yes, I will immediately pick her up or do whatever it is that needs to be done to make her comfortable. However, if she is just fussing, I will wait a moment to see if she’ll settle herself. Right now that moment is usually a couple of minutes, but I will let it stretch out longer when she is older.

For Freestyle, I (hope) I don’t immediately give into her wants. I’ve been using the phrase “Please wait” with her lately. She seems to understand this. With Real Baby in the picture now, she will definitely have to learn to wait her turn now!

Have you read Bringing Up Be Be? What did you think of it? Are there any other parenting books that you feel are worth a read?

 

 

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Gather ’round, kids, to hear a tale…

26 Feb
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Snowprints!

 

The King and The Tax Collector 

There once was a king who ruled over a large kingdom. He was a goodhearted fellow who grew up within the palace walls, never wanting for anything. The king was kind and treated his people well and all who knew him, loved him.

The king enjoyed the people’s adoration and would generally grant their requests without hesitation. He would throw large parties, hand out gifts, lend and give without thought, and did what he wanted when the mood struck. The king was young and unpredictable and fun.

Now, the king’s tax collector was a shrewd and careful manager. She did not shirk her responsibilities and expected a timely collection of the people’s taxes. The tax collector made sure everyone knew when the taxes were due and how much they must pay. She would arrive at their doors exactly on the day that she had promised and did not accept excuses for late payment. The tax collector was firm and consistent and yet undeniably fair.

At first the people resented the tax collector’s strict ways and grumbled about her amongst themselves. However, they became accostomed to following her hard and fast rules and soon enough, all prepared their taxes on time. Eventually, the tax collector found that she never had to chase down late payments nor did she have issues with the people because everyone knew what she expected and followed it because they knew that there were consequences for not doing so.

 

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Random photo without context time!

 

Years went by. Instead of grumbling now, the people were prepared for tax season and handed their taxes over promptly. Many would even hand them in early. They developed a respect for the tax collector’s ways because they realized that she was fair, not cruel.

The tax collector was soon able to relax in some ways while trusting that the taxes would be collected in whole and on time. If someone wasn’t able to pay in full, she would take into consideration his or her payment history and allow the occasional late payment (though followed up consistently!). The people understood if a grace period was granted, it was an exception and they were grateful. The tax collector found her work becoming easier and more pleasant, as the essentials of her job were taken care of and she could now stop and have time to exchange pleasantries with the people, building up good rapport and relationships with them.

Meanwhile, the people had developed an indifferent attitude towards the king. They knew if they didn’t do as they were asked, he would be lenient. He thought he was being kind but his ever-changing stances and lax attitude about everything was confusing.

The king decided that in order to garner respect, he would try being strict. He began issuing harsh orders and when people did not comply, the king grew angry and doled out punishment after punishment, no matter how small the transgression. The people became confused. Then they became upset. They felt the king was being unfair and soon the people revolted against the king and demanded that the tax collector, who was always fair and did as she said, be the new queen.

The king, fearing for his life, fled the kingdom. The tax collector accepted the people’s wishes and established a functioning social democracy, serving as its first leader. 🙂

The End.

 

Story retold by Montessori Motherload. Original source unknown.

(If you know where this story originated from, please let me know! I have been looking around for it but can’t find it!)

 

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.

– Les Brown

I heard of the story of the king and the tax collector during my teacher training (I guess that piece of paper didn’t survive my two moves since then!). It was during a session on classroom management. There were three lessons that I got from this story that stayed with me:

 

1. Start off with firm expectations

Most teachers will tell you that they are much more strict (strict as in firm, not as in unflinchingly mean!) in September, sticking firmly to the classroom rules and not wavering from their expectations. As the school year goes on, they will know that they can be more flexible in certain situations.  As in the story, it is much easier to start out with firm expectations and then loosen up when routines are set and the students understand the rules and rhythms of the classroom. Starting out without clear expectations and then try to become stricter later just doesn’t work.

Real-Life Classroom Example 

In my first year of teaching, I didn’t know that I should establish clear expectations on how much work should be accomplished. I was in an idealistic Montessori mindset that the students will love(!) work and do as much as they possibly can in a day for they just love working with the materials so darn much. Each student works at their own level and at their own pace, so it’ll all fluctuate but somehow come up roses in the end!

Yep, so that didn’t work out so well. By October, I could clearly see that some of the students were definitely not working as much as they could have and were not putting in 100% effort. I was teaching Upper Elementary at the time, so by then most were not in the eager to please teacher mode any longer and were much more interested in developing their social lives during class time!

I had to take the problem by the reigns when it got really bad but by that time, it was as if I was late for a race that had already started. It was difficult and I regretted not having those firm expectations in place right on day one.

It took me a couple of years to learn how to really apply the lesson from the story to the classroom, and when I did, I found that the rest of the year went much more smoothly after all the rules and routines were established and the students knew what was expected of them. I found this method especially helpful when I started in a new school or when I was supply teaching– it’s so much more effective to say no if you’re not sure of the usual routine and then later being more flexible with them, than to say yes, find out that that’s not how it’s done, and then have to backtrack. At that point, the kids will have figured out that you’re not sure what you’re doing and you’ll be running two steps behind them from then on!

I think this absolutely applies to the home as well.

I am finding that it is easier if I say no or restrict something for Freestyle at first and then later gradually easing up on that rule once she understands that it is an occasional treat or rare exception to the rule.

For example, I really tried to avoid giving her sweets for as long as possible. Juice, candy, and chocolate are obviously not nutritionally necessary (though super delicious as her hypocritical mother with a sweet tooth knows!), so we just avoided it. Let me tell you, it can be hard to stand your ground when everyone else is having chocolate cake and you are not allowing your 15 month old a piece because you’ve already said no.

Today, Freestyle does have the occasional chocolate (though I am still avoiding candy as much as possible and politely turn down grocery cashier’s kind offers of lollipops at check out!) and definitely has some cake or pie for dessert when we are out for dinner with friends or have company. She has developed a sweet tooth like her mother but seems (knock on wood) to understand that it’s an occasional treat.

Now, I’m not saying that what I’m doing is the “right” way to go about handling sweets for kids. Absolutely not. It’s just what I believe is best for my kids, that’s all. However, my point is, if I had allowed Freestyle to eat chocolate and candy and drink sugary juice all the time and then suddenly, in a health-conscious guilt moment decide that NO, she eats too much sugar and is never allowed to have it again! Well, that would be a pretty tough habit to break and this inconsistency would be very confusing and unfair to her.

 

2. Set clear expectations

This is pretty much an expansion of the above. The tax collector in the story made sure that the people knew her expectations and what the consequences would be if they did not follow them.

In both the classroom and home, knowing what is expected of you is important for children. It makes them feel safe. When I was teaching, I made sure that the students knew the expectations in different situations (work period, lunch, recess, field trip, etc.) and just as importantly, allowed them to practice (what do you do when you need help, saying hello and thank you to to the bus driver, etc.).

Real Life Classroom Example

It is not uncommon for Montessori schools to receive positive feedback about student behaviour during field trips. I have gotten many compliments on my class’ behaviour while we were out throughout the years. I can’t take full credit since their Toddler and Casa teachers worked very hard to establish Grace and Courtesy!

What I did do, however, was make sure they knew what to expect on the field trip. We would talk about the expectations when they arrived at school that day, what they had to bring, how they must behave on the bus, how they should comport themselves when we arrived at our destination, what to expect during the program, and so on.

We would sometimes practice by role playing. For younger children, we might practice “getting on the bus” and saying hello to the bus driver while looking her in the eyes. For older children, practice might mean thinking about what they would say or do if they were sitting beside a person who was homeless on the subway (I’ve taken my Upper El students on the bus and subway for a couple of field trips downtown).

Real Life Classroom Example

I think the best compliment that I got was during a trip to see the King Tutankhamun exhibit at the ROM. My group was just exiting the actual exhibit when two older women stopped me.

Woman #1: Excuse me, we just wanted to say how well-behaved your kids are!

Me: Oh! Thank you. That’s so great for them to hear. (Turning to students) This nice lady complimented your behaviour. Isn’t that nice of her?

Students: Yes! Thank you!

Woman #2: What did you do to prepare them?

Me: (Not understanding her question) We did some research projects on King Tut, read books about his life as a class, we did some Egyptian art…

Woman #2: No! I meant how do you prepare them for the trip? Their behaviour?

Me: Oh! (Thinking) Well, they are expected to behave appropriately and we usually practice and discuss it before the trip.

Woman #1: Well, they’re just wonderful.

Me: Yes, they are! 🙂

I was particularly proud of my kids because I remember that for that trip, although we did go through the expectations as per usual, I remember that I didn’t go into them as thoroughly because it was a trip closer to the end of the year and I assumed that they knew them already. And they did! I have more stories like this one, and I think it’s just a testament to Montessori’s emphasis on Grace and Courtesy and overall respect for others.

I should also add that while you are setting the expectations, you will also need to establish the natural consequences that will follow if those expectations are not met. That might need a whole new post!

 

3. Say what you mean, mean what you say

This goes hand in hand with the first two lesson. The people respected the tax collector because she did exactly that. This is so important to remember when teaching young children. Being consistent can be difficult at times, but if you stop just once, just remember that it’s supposed to take 21 repetitions to make something into a habit and you have just broken that chain and have to start again at repetition #1!

It’s so much easier to just give in, but it is worth the trouble!

Real Life Classroom Example

One thing that I always told my kids was that if I said no, I mean no and they shouldn’t keep asking because I wasn’t going to change my mind. Next time you are about to cave, just remember this:

Student: (Asking for something, doesn’t matter what. Anything. Everything.) Can I, Mrs. MM? Can I, Can I?

Me: I don’t know, can you?

Student: (Rolling eyes because they get that a lot at school…and probably at home!) Okay, may I?

Me: I already told you no and I am not going change my mind, so stop asking.

Student: …Please?

Me: Do you do this to your mom/dad?

Student: Yep!

Me: (Laughs) Does it work?

Student: Yep!

Trust me, that is pretty common! And though it is frustrating to keep repeating yourself when staying firm, it’s worth the effort when the kids realize that you say what you mean and mean what you say!