Cooper the cat doesn't mind the post-holiday mess.
Is your house a mess? Mine is.
Even though my youngest daughter is 20 years old, my post-Christmas house looks no different than it did 15 years ago when she and her sister had lots of toys. Now, we no longer have Barbie dolls and Lego pieces lying about, but we have plenty of grown-up projects waiting to be finished over our remaining vacation days.
Sorting through all of this stuff today got me thinking about how difficult it can be to share space with others without resenting the mess those "others" leave behind. I want my daughters to be able to work together on the puzzle they picked out, and I'm happy they still (mostly) enjoy each other's company, but I don't want the puzzle to still be on the kitchen table next week.
Now that my girls are grown up they are able to respect and care for the spaces we all share. I know that puzzle will be put away before I have to ask, but when they were little it was a different story. I was constantly nagging them to clean up. And the need to nag them really frustrated me. Perhaps you can relate? The most common question parents have after observing their children in our Montessori classrooms is, "I see she puts everything away when she's done using it at school. Why doesn't she do that at home?"
Children put their work away in a Montessori classroom because everything in the classroom is designed to make that an easy thing to do. For example, lockers are child-sized so the children don't need help hanging up their coats. The daily schedule is consistent, so the children are not surprised when it's time to put their work away. And, when a child's work is very important to her and she cannot finish it all today, she puts her name tag on it to remind everyone that she will be working on it first thing tomorrow morning. Also, the guidelines for the classroom are the same every day and everyone follows them (eventually) so cleaning up is just a normal part of the day.
A nametag on a child's unfinished activity shows ownership and that the child's work is valued.
If you would like to learn how to use these and other Montessori practices at home, please join us for the upcoming "Bringing Montessori Home Parent Development Course on Practical Life" on Wednesday, January 27th from 6 to 8pm. This event is open to the public so you can invite your friends and you can follow the link above to sign up online. Learn how to improve household organization by creating child-friendly spaces and nurturing your child's independence in the areas of self-care and food preparation.
In the meantime, check out these articles that offer alternatives to nagging kids to clean up. In "Here's an Idea...Don't Clean Up!" Rachel Cedar invites us to look at a child's play as his work, much as we do in our classrooms.
In "Why I Stopped Asking My Kids to Clean Up," this mom describes what happened when she stopped resenting clean-up time and allowed her kids to follow her lead.
Finally, Sandra Gordon offers sound advice for teaching children to take on different household tasks based on their age and level of ability in this post for The Children's Trust.
Do you have ideas to share about living with and cleaning up after your family? Please share them in the comments below!
"I think I can, I think I can, I think I can" said the little blue engine as she chugged faster and faster to the top of the mountain. And she could, of course. She did. The little blue engine saved the day by successfully pulling the stranded train full of good things for girls and boys over the mountain and into the valley where the children lay sleeping. Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could, published in 1930, was my favorite picture book as a child and the little blue engine my favorite heroine. Sure, she was kind and a lovely shade of blue, but more importantly she was a strong female character. She was useful! She did important stuff that helped children! And she did it at the end of a long day even after all of the self-important macho engines said, "I pull the likes of you? Indeed not."
It never occured to me until preparing this post, that The Little Engine That Could, which was read to me over and over again - as many times as I wanted, by my devoted babysitter Arnetha Trent - might have been key to the formation of my beliefs about society. Perhaps it was this determined little engine that opened my eyes to the truth that not everyone wants what's best for children. After all, if three out of four engines are not willing to pull a train filled with fresh milk, veggies, toys, and candy (just enough for an after-dinner treat, mind you) over the mountain to the children in the valley? Something's not right in the world. Four-year-old girls notice things like that.
I use this newly discovered self-knowledge as a metaphor because our school, the Montessori School of Greater Lafayette (MSGL), has been called by some, "The Little School That Could." We are small and we operate on a tight budget, but do a lot with what we have. We offer 10 different programs for over 200 children, ages one to nine years, and we make it all happen in seven classrooms on our five-acre campus. We are a non-profit, parent-owned school which means when something needs to be done, whether it's adding an elementary program or building a new sand box, the families and staff work together to make it happen. This willingness to collaborate and create the best possible environment for children is the source of our strength. It's why we are known as the scrappy little school that's brought respect, independence, and a love of learning to the girls and boys of the Wabash Valley for over 42 years.
Clearly, I'm proud of our little Montessori school. It's been my extended family since my daughter started preschool here in 1998. And it has chugged its way up more than a few metaphorical mountains. But I'm especially proud today as I share news that not only is MSGL still making a difference in the lives of its families, it's poised to make a difference in the lives of families across the country. Our accrediting organization, the American Montessori Society (AMS), delivered three such helpings of good news this week. First we learned that we were featured in the quarterly publication Montessori Life for our parent development program, "Bringing Montessori Home." This event took place in January and will be offered again this year. You can read it here:
Then we learned that we were selected to present "Bringing Montessori Home" at the AMS National Conference in March. All of MSGL's lead teachers will be traveling to Chicago, March 11 - 13th, 2016, to take part in this presentation to other Montessori teachers, administrators, and parents from all over the United States. You can read more about the conference here:
Finally, the AMS Board of Directors officially approved our school reaccreditation this week. The two-year reaccreditation process involved a lengthy self-study of our educational philosophy and practices, business practices, and plans for growth and improvement. An on-site team visited the school in March to verify that MSGL's practices are in-line with the AMS standards and our own self-study documentation. The team reported that their visit to MSGL was the most organized they have experienced mostly because of the work of our own Lena Atkinson, Office Manager and Parent/Infant Teacher. Lena organized all of the school's documents online so the reaccreditation team could simply follow links to view documents instead of sorting through file cabinets. Now, Lena has been asked to host a webinar to show other schools how she used tech to improve the tedious reaccreditation process. Reaccreditation with AMS occurs every seven years. Congratulations to the staff, board, and families who have been working toward reaccreditation since August, 2013 and to all future MSGL families who will benefit from it! You can read more about the value of the AMS accreditation process here:
So, it's been a big week and we are pleased with the school's good work. We are excited that others in the Montessori community appreciate that good things can come in small, scrappy packages. But I can't say we are surprised by the news. Just like my favorite little blue engine, we always thought we could.
Thanks for reading, Heather