Category Archives: Preschool

The Unchapter – What the Parenting Books Are Missing

Up above me sits my modest collection of parenting books which are nestled next to my books about California civil procedure (i.e. litigation).  Both basically deal with the same thing – how to address challenging moves.  When I glance above at the books I have a new perspective.  I’m not sure why, but maybe it’s the five years of mommy hood, observing trials and tribulations with my own boys and those of my friends.  The reason doesn’t matter – but here is the thing.  All parenting books are basically the same.

Just think about it.  Using the books on my shelf as an example there is the book on positive discipline, touchpoints on emotional development, and healthy sleep happy child.  Each of these books have one thing in common.  They tout one particular theory and give examples of how to implement it.

These examples seem good in theory.  For example, calmly telling the escaping toddler to come back and using positive reinforcement to encourage results.  But what happens when the toddler is running towards oncoming traffic?  Will calmness work then? Not for me.

Then what are these books?  I think they are ideals.  They set forth paradigms to think about parenting, strategies for dealing with different behaviors.  This has to be checked against the reality that no single theory will work all the time, nor should it.  We are complex beings.

Even typing this makes me question my thought – as these are the books professed by experts to raise happy and healthy kids.  Like there is some sort of recipe – 50 positive affirmations + 0 timeouts = happy child.  But there is no recipe for successful parenting as each child is different.

We live in a culture where everyone has an answer to something.  Hell, even before our children are born, we read books that tell us what to expect. They give detailed pictures, diagrams, charts (ya da ya da), to try and explain the unexplainable.

When I first read those books, I did gain some sort of comfort.  But now looking back, I wonder what they really added.  Those precious hours spent studying different books, parenting philosophies and even educational philosophies, could have been spent just enjoying the then present moment of pregnancy.

This outward direction ensues beyond pregnancy and into parenting.  Maybe it’s technology, the internet or fear of duplicating the mistakes of our own parents.  Everything directs parents outside of themselves to seek external answers – in books, on the internet or experts.

I’m not saying that all expert opinions are bad as I have gotten wonderful advice from behavioralists and professionals. What I am saying is that we ourselves are our own experts.  And sometimes our instincts provide answers.  Take the birth of my second son for example.  The nurse nearly sent me home 45 minutes before he was born.  She was convinced I wasn’t in labor.  If that was the case, then I guess C’s labor was some sort of record.

Sure birth and parenting are two different things, but both give reason to trust ourselves.  We know what’s best for our kids.  On an instinctual level we can read their smiles and body language.  Sometimes we can understand what they are experiencing without them saying it.  And this connection is so so important.

For me, I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I know what’s best for my boys. And if it is questioned, then after fully exploring the rationale for it, then I always reconnect with my instinct.  After all it is about doing what’s best for them, and sometimes the answer to that is within us.

So at least for me the next time that I feel the need to reach above to my shelf of parenting books, I am going to step back and try to find the inner answer.    Maybe yoga, meditation or a walk.  And then if after that I still feel the need to consult the written word, then I’ll peruse the book, but knowing that no book has all the answers and that sometimes the best answer lies within.

 

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Teaching Colors

photo(16)My almost two year old has been rather focused on learning his colors.  He sings songs that go something like this – blue, green, yellow, green, and so on.  He even woke up one night saying “blue, no purple, no blue.”  Clearly colors are on his mind.

If I’ve learned anything from my first son, it’s that these moments of interest can be fleeting.   One week it’s colors, the next it’s diggers, the next it’s skeletons.  So, for me it’s important to jump on the bandwagon while it’s there.  For C’s color parade, I jumped right in.

I put together a fun matching game that he can play whenever he wants.  He matches his favorite toys (cars or trains) to color swatches.  Sometimes he just plays with the swatches, other times he actually does the matching component.  By the way, the color swatches are paint swatches from Home Depot.  But you can use anything.

In addition, we’ve been reading books about colors.  His favorite is Brown Bear Brown Bear by Eric Carle, which teaches the names of animals in addition to teaching colors.  It’s rhythmic cadence makes it fun to read time and time again.  Another book is Baby Colors, which has darling pictures of babies dressed in clothes of a certain color. I like this book because it also has photos of real life objects that C can easily identify.  photo(15)

Since C is into trains, Freight Train by Donald Crews is another winner.  Who doesn’t like a book that combines trains with colors?  Lastly, Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni is a classic.  It begins to teach the idea that colors can combine to make a new color.   When I read this to C, he was speachless.

Lastly, we play the tot version of ISpy in the car.  It goes something like this, “I spy something green.”  C looks out the window and starts talking about whatever he sees.  Then, I ask him if it’s green, etc.   This one works well, especially when he starts to fuss. It takes his mind off of things.

What’s your favorite way to teach colors? I’d love to hear!

Montessori Convert

mornings at our houseAfter literally years of research and trial and error, I have found the right educational fit for my son, Montessori.   Before he could walk, I began researching preschool methodologies and consulting professionals about the right fit for him. Montessori v. Waldorf v. Play Based.  The debate ensued. (See my earlier post) I looked to find him the “match,” somewhere where he would build his confidence, develop his intellect and be able to enjoy his precious childhood.

The consensus was that social and emotional development was important for him and that starting a more structured academic experience had little benefit.  So, we started out at very play-based schools.

The first school was of more of a Waldorf philosophy which aimed to promote social and emotional development through creative play.   B enjoyed it and did well.  The director was extremely well versed in early education and child development, and the teachers were engaging, positive and nurturing.  The children were well behaved, expressive and welcoming to B.

Just when we thought we had it made, a spot opened up at the coveted play based local school.  It’s the type of school where the wait list is a binder.  We thought long and hard about moving him there.  A difficult decision to say the least since he was content.  We were ultimately sold on the progression a different teacher and classroom each  year for 3 years.  We also liked the idea of having B be one of the oldest children in the class – we thought it would teach him to be a leader.  With so many of our friends’ children thriving there, it seemed like a safe bet.  The decision, however, completely backfired.  He regressed from knowing his shapes and colors.  He protested going to school.  Walking from the car with his head low while dragging his feet.  Thinking that consistency might help, we kept him there for a year, hoping that things would change.  They didn’t.

After the play based approach failed, it was time to try something different.  My husband had much success at Montessori.  I was reluctant based on the professional opinions I received recommending a play based approach for B and critiques about the method that it could limit creative and imaginative development.   Having tried the play based model, it was time for a change.  Three of B’s oldest buddies were at the local Montessori.  By some miracle, there was a spot for B.

I was reluctant at first to try Montessori based on critiques that it imposed too much rigidity to early childhood at a risk of stifling creative and imaginative development.  I can say, however, that while this may be true for some children, it does not ring true for B.   Within weeks he started asking to go to school.  Now, he tells stories, sings songs and dresses up as whatever he imagines.  Clearly his imagination is booming.

I have no idea what is going on at his new school, but whatever it is, it is truly magical for B.  in a very short time, I noticed changes in B’s ability to express things in a positive way.  Out of the blue, he’d tell C or me that he loved us so much, calling the sky or falling leaves beautiful and start to sing songs.  He’s more independent – demanding to try things himself first.  Yay!  Whether this is due to his age or the school, I’ll never know.  All I know is that he is blossoming.

I am now a Montessori convert and am looking forward to C joining the ranks when he’s old enough to do so.  In fact, I’ve again started reading Maria Montessori’s books basically promoting an educational approach to follow the child’s development and build independence.  While it didn’t seem a fit years ago, now it is.

I’ve begun to try to incorporate many of the ideas into our routine at home, swapping bookshelves cluttered with toys with more targeted and organized choices.  Both boys are thriving beyond what I could have imagined a year ago.

Don’t take this post the wrong way.  I’m not saying Montessori is right for every-child as I believe that no 2 children are the same, they are unique.  What works for one child may not for another.   All I’m saying is that Montessori works for B.

In addition, there are universally applicable concepts like building independence and instilling confidence.   Whether a child gets that through Montessori or Play-Based, it doesn’t matter.  All that matters is finding a good fit and helping to build the child.

Pick a Pattern

patterns

Mornings around here are magical.  The boys do so well.  On those rare days when both boys get to relax at home in the morning, our day usually goes something like this.  Breakfast, active time to expend that boy energy, snack and then an inside project, puzzle or activity.   So this morning after our exploration down the local trail discovering creatures, caterpillars and chickens, and a nice snack, the boys were ready to dive into something more.

Having had a bin of lacing beads around for a year that have provided little interest, I decided to try something new and create sheets of pattern puzzles for Bobby to solve.  Basically, I took sheets of paper and drew out patterns based upon the beads that I already had.  If you want to try this, but don’t have time to make your own pattern sheets, rest assured that you can buy them online .

Bobby then was able to solve the pattern.  First, he was tasked with matching the bead to the pattern.  Then, I asked him to continue the pattern.  This second part was more difficult for longer patterns, but he was able to figure it out.  In fact, he ended up wanting to draw the color of the bead on the paper first before placing the bead in sequence.

In addition to providing a fun and challenging activity, the patterns teach concepts that are fundamental to learning math.   So, I encourage you to pick a pattern and let your kids have fun figuring it out.   You can use pretty much anything from beads, to hotwheels and legos.  Get creative!

Picking a Preschool

The preschool hunt, for some begins as early as they are pregnant, for others long after the child is born.  For me, the thought process began when Bobby was merely weeks old hanging out in a baby carrier.  I was shopping for apples at my corner market in Oakland when a fellow mom stopped me.  She asked whether baby was on a list for school.  A little shocked by the question – I said no.  At that point, I was really thinking about buying produce, not about preschool options for my little guy.   Since Bobby was not even old enough to hold his head up, I thought it was a little early to start thinking about it.  What I learned was that the waiting lists at some schools start as early as when kids are in utero.  Yikes, I was already behind the ball!

Researching Different Options

With this in mind, when I moved to Sonoma when Bobby was six months old, I began the hunt.  In foreign territory as neither child development nor teaching is my profession, I searched for information.  Looking for expert opinions I consulted books and numerous articles (like these 1 and 2) detailing different educational philosophies like Montessori, Waldorf, Emilia.  There is only so much you can surmise from a book though.

The best advice came from local moms at the playground as they had actual experience with kids at the schools.  As I learned that there were different degrees with which the philosophies would be implemented at particular schools.  From strict implementation to lax, from focusing on daycare to the preschool program, there were so many things to consider.

Visiting the Schools

A shopper by nature, I visited the top schools that I had heard about.  Armed with my lengthy list of questions in hand like student to teacher ratio and schedules, I carefully observed what each school had to offer.  As I became more educated about programs, my list of questions evolved.   What were their goals for their graduates? What approach did they employ? How did the school develop confidence in the child? How did they engage children?

Of course, practical considerations like location and schedule came into play as well.  As one particular school that I fell in love had a very short program.  The short program coupled with the travel time to get there was impossible for my work schedule.

The decision involved other things more specific to Bobby like temperament and handling food allergies.  In addition, Bobby’s reaction to the school was key.  This even required a separate visit for some schools.  When Bobby visited, there were some schools where he immediately seemed comfortable.  There were other schools where wanted to be held the entire time.

Factors to Consider

Ultimately, the following factors helped me compare schools and make a decision:

  • Kids – did the kids seem engaged?
  • Teachers – what was their approach to teaching? How did they interact with the kids? How long had they been there?
  • Structure – what schedule did the day follow?
  • Art – what was the school’s approach to art? Was it free form or worksheets?
  • Curriculum –  what was the curriculum? Was it play based, Montessori, Waldorf or a hybrid like High-Scope?
  • Environment – was it organized, bright & cheery?
  • Play spaces – how did the space seem? Was it safe, clean, inviting?
  • Approaches to Discipline – what was the approach to discipline?  Would kids be in timeout chairs wearing a cone of shame? Or is there another more positive approach?
  • Socialization – how does the school encourage socialization?

Shortcut for Sonomans

With so many great options, picking a preschool can seem like such a tough and even overwhelming decision at times.  The good news is that there are resources out there to make it easier.   Cindy Studdert, owner of FarmTots, put it best when she described her decision not to open a formal school due to the great and numerous child centered programs in town.

In Sonoma, the Sonoma Valley Mother’s Club hosts a preschool fair every other year.  As a past coordinator of the fair, I can say firsthand that it is a unique and fabulous event.  Numerous preschools and other kids’ activities attend to showcase their programs.  It is the event where you as the shopper can comparison shop for preschools under one roof.  Take your list of questions and go booth to booth!  It is a fabulous way to start comparing different schools.  This year, the Preschool/Tot Fair is on Saturday, March 16, from 10 – 12 at the Veterans Building.

If you’re outside of Sonoma, check your local mothers club to see if they host such an event.  If they don’t, maybe start one.

 

Thanks for reading and letting me share my musings with you.  I hope this article is helpful.  I’d love to know what helped you pick a school?

FarmTots – Sonoma’s Version of Sesame Street

Last year, a friend of mine introduced me to a gem of a program in Sonoma.  FarmTots at the Studdert Family Farm is the country version of Sesame Street.  Tucked away, this darling farm offers days of discovery for young kids and adults alike.  With sheep, rams and chickens, kids can get up close and personal with nature. Farm Tots Cover

FarmTots Epitomizes What Sonoma Is All About

Besides the activities of this seven acre working farm, the main attraction is Cindy Studdert.  Cindy is a trained Montessori teacher and an experienced mom.   A natural with kids, her gentle manner guides and encourages wee ones to get their hands dirty while having fun and learning a ton.

One example is the way she taught Bobby how to care for plants.   The patience of her approach is nothing short of amazing.  It went something like this – Cindy took out plants for Bobby to water and handed him a small watering can.  Of course I thought he’d drown the plants with water as he is an expert in doing so.  As calm as a clam, Cindy explained to Bobby how he needed to make sure each of the plants had water.  He listened and did so.  After she saw how much he enjoyed waterinFarm Tots Plantsg the plants, she brought our more plants to let him water.  She then explained to him how the plants needed to be put in the greenhouse, but she asked him if the neighboring chickens looked hungry.   You can guess what happened next.

With a barn fashioned as a classroom and playgrounds galore, this farm is absolutely kid friendly.   The classroom decorated with twinkling Christmas lights boasts activities at every corner, including a sandbox.  The play structure has a steering wheel so young mateys can steer ye ship.

How did this jewel start?  It started out as a soccer program for kids.  As the kids became more interested in nature and the farm more developed, Cindy followed the children’s lead and modified her program to focus on farm activities.  Of course, she offers the typical preschool things like counting.  But what this program really offers is a hands on experience where kids can gain confidence in their abilities through working on the farm.  To me, this program epitomizes what Sonoma is all about.

Montessori Roots – Cindy’s model of engaging and interacting with the children lies with background as a Montessori teacher.  She emulates Mari Montessori’s’ tenet to follow the child.  Flexible as can be, Cindy makes space to create activities for what the child wants to do.  If a child wants to play in the garden, it’s available.  If they want to play fireman, then that’s available too.  Of if they want to steer a ship and play pirates, then off to the play structure.  If they ate all of the Farm Tots Mike Iketomatoes, then Cindy helps the kids plant more.

She follows another of Montessori’s tenets which is to teach practical life skills.  For example, kids learn to rake and sweep.  In doing so, they develop not only fine but also gross motor skills.

It also seems to follow some Waldorf principles as well as the program follows and teaches children about the rhythm of the seasons.  With fruit cocktail trees, children are able to enjoy loads of different fruit.

Most of the kids in the program also are in other programs as well.  So, the program acts as a supplement to those programs.  With all of the child centered programs in Sonoma, Cindy didn’t feel a need to open a school.

With a fabulous ratio of teachers to students, sometimes even 2 to 1, FarmTots can nurture children with individualized attention schools with larger ratios are unable to provide.

Sound good?  The Nitty Gritty – FarmTots is now accepting preschool aged and school aged children.  The program for preschool tots, starting at age 2.5, is on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 -1:00 (during the spring and then again in late August).  The school aged program is on Wednesday afternoons after school.  FarmTots also has a Parent & Tot Class on March 15, 29 and April 19, & 26 from 9:30-11 at a cost of $10.

FarmTots has a summer program that serves kids ages  2.5-10 during the weeks of June 17, 24.  July 8, 15, 22 and 29 (Mondays – Thursdays from 9:30 -2:00pm).

Contact Cindy Studdert for more information cindylane1@sbcglobal.net