Guest Blog: Stop and Smell the Roses!

This Immersed post comes to you from guest blogger Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, who recently presented a workshop on mindfulness practices to The New Century School staff and writes about this experience. Dr. Perry-Parrish is Director of Training, Child Clinical & Pediatric Psychology Postdoctoral Fellowship and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins as well as a TNCS parent. As part of Johns Hopkins Expert Team in Pediatric Medical Psychology, “[she] specializes in improving emotion regulation in children and adolescents. Her clinical interests emphasize practicing and promoting evidence-based care, including parent management training for childhood noncompliance and ADHD, cognitive-behavioral therapy for youth anxiety/depression, and acceptance and mindfulness-based interventions to improve self-regulation.”

Stop and Smell the Roses!

Last spring, I was asked to give a parent workshop on mindfulness in parenting. A great group of parents attended and it was a good experience. Several teachers were interested in the topic as well, and this year I was invited back to provide a teacher workshop on mindfulness. Our teachers and staff were another lovely group, very engaged in learning about meditation and mindfulness.

It was Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, so I shared one of my favorite pictures of Dr. King and Thich Nhat Hanh (mindfulness author and monk), engaged at a conference back in the 1960s. Gauging from how many recognized this favorite author of mine, it was clear that several in the group were already engaged in mindfulness in various forms. So what is mindfulness?

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and Thich Nhat Hanh.

Mindfulness has been described as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). As L.A. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson put it, “when [basketball] players practice what is known as mindfulness…not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned to each other.” In essence, mindfulness is the complete awareness in what is happening right now. Therefore, mindfulness instruction is intended to enhance an individual’s innate ability to be aware.

Formal mindfulness instruction entails a range of techniques that help foster an intentional focusing of attention on one’s present-moment experience while letting go of negative, self-critical judgments. As detailed explicitly in many mindfulness programs, this type of training aims to help individuals accept unpleasant and painful experiences without reactively attempting to change the experience. However, as most of us would prefer to reduce or eliminate pain and discomfort as much as possible, some mindfulness-based programs additionally adopt a dialectical position of balancing desire for change alongside intentional acceptance of the inevitability of suffering. As moment-to-moment awareness through the day is the ultimate goal of mindfulness programs, there is also instruction of informal techniques that can be used at any time.

The recent teacher workshop provided an introduction to mindfulness and some suggestions for how to weave contemplative practices to support our children’s development of focused attention. Given the range of daily hassles and life stress we all experience, activities that foster our children’s focused attention are theorized to help them regulate their emotional reactions.

For those of you who have observed in our children’s classrooms, you have probably seen several teachers engage in mindfulness activities—whether or not the teacher had identified the activity as such. You have likely witnessed your own child become absorbed in a favorite activity, whether it was engineering a LEGO construction, collecting wildflowers, or watching the clouds pass by. Awareness training is quite complementary to a central tenet of Montessori philosophy, which is to develop the innate ability to become absorbed in learning. As Maria Montessori stated, “The first essential for the child’s development is concentration” (The Absorbent Mind, p. 202).

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Mind full, or mindful?

Portions excerpted from Perry-Parrish, C., & Sibinga, E.M.S. (2014). Mindfulness meditation. Functional Symptoms in Pediatrics (ed. R. Anbar). Springer.

—Carisa Perry-Parrish

. . . And stay tuned, readers, for teacher reactions to the workshop as well as some of Dr. Perry-Parrish’s very helpful, evidence-based tips on how to (and why we should) mindfully interact with children, whether at home or in the classroom.

TNCS Primary Workshop: Connecting Montessori to Home

A few weeks ago, The New Century School Montessori teachers gave their bi-annual Primary Workshop to provide parents with a firsthand experience of the Montessori approach to pre-K education. But this time, they also added a new twist—how to support Montessori principles in the home.

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Our illustrious panel of Montessori teachers.

Joining teachers Catherine Lawson, Martellies Warren, Lisa Reynolds, and Maria Mosby, Head of School Alicia Danyali introduced the workshop and was quick to reassure parents that they needn’t run out and “remodel the home with Montessori materials”; rather, “this presentation is to show ways that Montessori can be connected naturally to what you already do in the home.”

Although previous workshops, including in the fall of this academic year, have demonstrated specifically what students are learning and doing during their daily class time, this one did not cover teacher and learning with Montessori materials per se. For those parents who did not attend Montessori school as kids, the materials are a marvel—both eye-opening and fun. For those who did grow up in a Montessori environment, the chance to reacquaint themselves with the materials must evoke the most delicious nostalgia. Maria Montessori developed the Montessori materials based on her extensive observation of children ages 2 1/2 through 6 years. Her goal was to put academic success within their reach by setting realizable achievement milestones, so to do that, she tailored materials to be used the way she saw children interacting with their world. Primary students use these materials nearly exclusively, and seeing how the materials are actually used and learning what each does for the child’s development was the focus of prior Primary Workshops.

As such, the Montessori classroom is a very deliberately “prepared environment.” Every nook and cranny is optimized for both the child’s size and the child’s development (accommodating a range of both, of course). Similar child-optimization can also be accomplished with a little careful tweaking of the existing environment, such as in the home, as the TNCS Montessori teachers went on to demonstrate.

To make the home–school connection, they covered the following four areas.

Part 1

Up first, Mrs. Lawson described how to prepare the interior and exterior of the home and the car, joking that “we aren’t going to force anyone to set up this way. No one is coming to your home to check on you! But we’re trying to teach independence, and here are some ways you can further this at home.”

Entryway

  • Install low hooks for children to hang up their own coats or use child-sized hangers so they can hang their coats with everyone else’s (Mrs. Lawson showed an old, well-loved hanger one of her daughters had decorated for this use).
  • Create a place to put wet boots and dirty shoes.
  • Designate a place to keep lunch boxes, backpacks, and other regularly used gear.

Living Room and Family Room

  • Make these areas child friendly so children feel welcome—said Mrs. Lawson: “Children like to be where their parents are, but they need their things handy also.”
  • Make books available in every room, if possible, with a bookshelf or basket to hold them.
  • Keep some toys available for use in an organized way, which encourages easy clean up:
    • Use low bookshelves or the bottom shelf of a television cart to hold toys.
    • Give each particular toy a place on the shelf. Place activities with many pieces in dedicated holders (e.g., shoe boxes, baskets, etc.).
    • Offer limited choices of activities that fit on the shelves provided, and rotate the toys when interest wanes.
    • Use a bathmat, throw rug, or bath towel for the child’s designated activity area, à la Montessori.
  • Although these might be hard habits to break, try to avoid:
    • Using a toy box or big basket that holds many toys because children can get overstimulated with too many choices.
    • Allowing the child to play with many toys and then doing a big clean-up. Instead, encourage playing with one toy and putting it away before moving onto the next.

Bedroom

  • Make books available in every room, if possible, with a bookshelf or basket to hold them.
  • Use low shelves for children’s toys and activities:
    • Each toy should have its own place, and rotate toys as necessary.
    • Only have bedroom-appropriate toys in the bedroom because you will not always be present to supervise. Markers, for example, are not a good choice!
  • Keep a laundry basket handy that allows the child to dispose of his or her own dirty clothes each night.
  • If possible, install in the closet an easy-to-reach rod and child-sized hangers.
  • In the dresser, place season-appropriate clothes in the lower drawers so the child can choose the clothing and dress him or herself.
  • Install a bulletin board at the child’s eye level to display pictures of family members, artwork, postcards, etc.:
    • When they are reading, post reminders about things or just love notes.
    • Add a calendar to mark off days.
  • Consider using a comforter instead of a bedspread on the bed. Let it be the child’s job or to help pull up the comforter each morning.

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    “It hides the wrinkles and looks tidy even if it isn’t perfect,” demonstrated Mrs. Lawson.

Outside

  • Make a place for outdoor toys (not just a big plastic tub for everything), such as a laundry basket.
  • Have opportunities for gardening (i.e., digging in the dirt) available.

Car

  • The car is an extension of home for many commuting families. Make it a happy environment with car-appropriate activities:
    • Books
    • CD of music or stories
    • DVDs
    • Activity books (avoid crayons, which melt)
  • Keep a supply of snacks and drinks on hand. Make a snack bag that allows the child to decide when and how much to eat (this encourages responsible decision making and avoids a power struggle).
  • For longer trips, consider making a goodie bag filled with tissue paper–wrapped activities or toys (they can be new things or things from around the house, e.g., rubber ducks, trucks, sticker books).

Part 2

Mr. Warren spoke next. “My part of today’s presentation is on allowing for mistakes. A huge part of Montessori and overall development is making mistakes.” He read essential parts from “Mistakes and Freedom,” an article published by The Center for Guided Montessori Studies and starting with this famous quote by Dr. Maria Montessori:

“It is a commonplace that the child must be free. But what kind
of freedom has he been given? The only true freedom for an
individual is to have the opportunity to act independently. That
is the condition sine qua non of individuality. There is no such
thing as an individual until a person can act by himself. The
instinct guiding the child to seek his independence thus leads us
to realize what the whole of nature demonstrates – that any sort
of association is composed of separate individuals. Otherwise
there would be no such thing as societies, but only colonies.
Education must foster both the development of individuality
and that of society. Society cannot develop unless the
individual develops, as we learn from observing the child, who
immediately uses his newly won independence to act on a social
environment.”

Read the article in its entirety here: http://www.guidedstudies.com/2011/04/mistakes-and-freedom/.

tncs-primary-workshop-connecting-montessori-to-homeMr. Warren ended with his own classroom tenets of allowing for mistakes:

  • Prepare the environment and step back.
  • Give the child time for reflection, problem-solving, and coming to their own conclusions.
  • Don’t swoop in!
  • Encourage the desired behavior, but understand and accept that mistakes are necessary for growth and development!

Part 3

Next up, tying into Mr. Warren’s theme, Mrs. Reynolds discussed the difference between praise and encouragement and how to allow children to cultivate the courage to be imperfect. “I like praise,” she joked, “it’s like candy.” Audience laughter ensued. “But what is the long-term effect,” she asked? “Children who are praised choose less challenging work.” That might seem counterintuitive—it’s why we praise our kids, after all, to ostensibly build up their self-esteem—but studies are unequivocal in demonstrating that our good intentions are having deleterious effects.

Mrs. Reynolds brought up the example of kids’ art, which parents can tend to gush over, even when what is depicted is basically a scribble. Not only does this signal to the child on some level that he or she doesn’t need to really try hard to make something praiseworthy, but the praise itself also becomes less meaningful.

The upside is, said Mrs. Reynolds, “Children who are encouraged for their efforts are willing to choose more challenging tasks on their own.” Encourage the deed, rather than praising the outcome. “Show respect for and interest in the child’s point of view.” Also, make sure to provide opportunities for the child to develop his or her life skills, such as making the bed. (Recall from Part 1, though, that the idea is to set the child up for success by “preparing the environment.”  See above.) This will help the child develop self-confidence and independence, as well as independence from the negative opinions of others.

“Who doesn’t want that for their children?” she concluded.

Part 4

Ms. Mosby then took up the thread of independence by presenting specific ways that parents can give children these opportunities at home. “Have you ever been approached by your children while your cleaning the house because they want to help?” she asked. Our tendency can be to brush aside these offers as sweet, but not really very helpful because we want an actually clean outcome for our efforts. But, this is exactly the time, explained Ms. Mosby, to tap into that natural excitement and teach them how to tackle some of these household tasks before they become too jaded to want to help. Sure, the results might not be perfect, but the ultimate reward of cultivating independence and a fundamental helpfulness in your child will outweigh this temporary downside.

She went on to tell parents how eager her students are to help clean the classroom and how she seizes those opportunities to both accept the help as well as teach the correct methods. “All of the materials I’m showing you are things you’ll already have around the house, such as dust cloths, dustpans, and plastic bins to wash dishes or other items ‘the old-fashioned way’.” (She gave parents the helpful tip that her students love polishing tables and will rub the polish practically off in their zeal for this task.)

Kids are also natural sous chefs—they love to help make their lunches, for example, such as by spreading ingredients on bread and peeling vegetables. Learning to use kitchen implements also helps them develop their fine motor skills. They can also be recruited to put dishes away. “Let them know you trust them,” said Ms. Mosby, ” and start with unbreakable pots and pans in a low cabinet, progressing as the child is ready to more fragile dishes.”

They can also help with pets. “They love to have another little someone to care for,” said Ms. Mosby. Let them brush the cat or dog and help put out the food and water. They can even help with younger siblings and get practice with gentle care in the classroom with babydoll models.

The garden or backyard is another area where kids can be a huge help, whether with cleaning up or actual gardening. A “pooper scooper,” she pointed out, makes a great child-sized leaf picker-upper.

Resources

Head of School Alicia Danyali offers the following resources “to support your family’s educational journey” with a young learner.

Books

  • The Child in the Family, by Dr. Maria Montessori
  • Positive Discipline for Preschoolers, by Jane Nelson
  • Child of the World: Montessori, Global Education for Age 3-12+, by Susan Mayclin Stephenson
  • How to Raise an Amazing Child the Montessori Way, by Tim Seldin
  • The Whole-Brain Child, by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Farber and Elaine Mazlish

Websites

TNCS Parent Workshop: Making the Transition from Pre-Primary to Primary

This week’s Immersed post is a very special one, brought to you by TNCS Primary Teachers Maria Mosby (main author, photographer) and Lisa Reynolds (main photographer), with additional contributions from TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali and Pre-Primary Teacher Yu Lin.

Their topic? The New Century School‘s Pre-Primary Parent Workshop held January 21, 2016, which was in itself something a little different, focusing on how to make the transition from the pre-primary classroom to the primary classroom a smooth one for our 3-year-old friends. It’s quite a big step for such small children, and many parents experience considerable anxiety about how their child will handle it—a baby in diapers in spring, to a self-possessed student of a multilingual Montessori classroom come fall? Impossible! Yet this is exactly what occurs each year, to the amazement of parents, the delight of the kids themselves, and with knowing smiles by the teachers. And so without further ado, here’s how they do it, as written by Ms. Mosby as well as an excerpt from Lin Laoshi!

The purpose of the Parent Workshop was to give parents an overview of what their child’s experience would be like once they move up to the primary classroom, as well as answer any questions, and perhaps help alleviate any anxiety they might be feeling. It began with Lin Laoshi talking about the difference between the pre-primary and primary classrooms, with the focus being more on independence in primary:

The TNCS pre-primary program is a language immersion program, focusing on foreign language enrichment. Children are exposed to the language 100% of school time. They learn languages through singing fun songs, playing games, doing hands-on activities, and attending cultural presentations. The classroom setting relies mainly on group work with the guidance of the program teacher.

The TNCS primary program is a mixed-age Montessori program, which encourages students to be independent, explore freedom within limits, and learn to establish a sense of order. They are encouraged to choose any activity from within a prescribed range of options and do their work independently most of their school time.

In order to bridge the gap between the two programs, students in the pre-primary program are gradually encouraged to do more things by themselves to enhance their abilities of self-awareness and self-control.”

Mrs. Danyali then gave the parents insight into the placement process and an overview of the primary program, while I walked them through a typical day. From there, it became more of an open discussion and question-and-answer session.

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A quiet, cozy moment with a friend in the peace corner goes a long way to making children feel comfortable and at ease.

What particular challenges the children will face was a big part of the discussion. Separation tends to be the biggest issue in my experience. Even though these students have been to school before, they are entering a different environment with new teachers, new friends, and new routines. That’s a lot for a young child at once. We try to make the transition as gentle as possible, and make them feel at home.

Another difficult aspect for the new children can be understanding that not all of the Montessori materials are available for them to use just yet. Everything is so new and enticing—in fact, the Montessori materials are specifically designed to call to the children. However, a new 3-year-old, though very excited by the movable alphabet or bead cabinet, is most likely not quite ready to use these materials. That’s why it’s so important to go over preliminary lessons, or the “ground rules” of the classroom, several times in group and individual situations to kindly but firmly give reminders to all.

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This group Spanish lesson on rainforest animals shows that little kids really can focus . . . even it means keeping their hands otherwise occupied!

Another point to remember is that we make sure each individual child is ready for this transition. Our administrators are very skilled at making sure that children who move up are both physically and emotionally ready. In the rare cases in which a child has shown signs of not being comfortable in the new environment, we worked with the parents to help the child become more independent and develop the skills he or she needed to feel secure in the primary classroom. Consistency and partnership between home and school is, thus, vitally important, as is respect for the child and his or her individual needs.

The photos below (picturing kids who just moved up to primary this school year) erase any doubt that young children are eager to embark on journeys of independence and self-exploration. They learn by doing at this age, and allowing them this opportunity does wonders for their self-esteem, let alone their physical and cognitive development.

The take-away message is, parents should be reassured that this transition needn’t be a scary experience, and there isn’t much special preparation* necessary. We are set up to welcome all children as they are, and the primary classroom is the next step in the work that they’ve already been working so hard at in pre-primary—developing self-help skills, socialization, motor skills, and working within a community.

*Here are some practical tips for parents to familiarize themselves and their children with the exciting changes to come.

  1. It’s great for parents to prepare their children for the transition by talking about it in a positive way, perhaps choosing new items together for the new school year.
  2. Talk about it—but not too much too soon. Constantly discussing the transition, especially when it might be months away, may create anxiety for your child.
  3. Slowly begin introducing more opportunities for independence (allowing your child to dress himself with support, help to pack lunch, etc.). However, I don’t advise rushing toileting or to cause children think there is a “deadline” for them to be ready. This may have the opposite of the desired effect.
  4. Visit the primary classrooms and read up on Montessori theory. A great introduction is A Parents’ Guide to the Montessori Classroom, by Aline Wolf. It’s a quick read and gives an overview of philosophy and materials. Lin Laoshi also recommended the book, Mindful Discipline, by Shauna Shapiro, PhD. Additionally, Mrs. Danyali provided a Reading List that includes these and other very helpful titles.
  5. Come to the “Back-to-School Meet and Greet” with your child at the beginning of the school year. It’s a great opportunity for your child to meet his teachers, new friends (and likely some old friends!), and become acclimated to the new environment.
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This sweet smile kind of says it all.

 

 

Right From The Start: Talking with Elementary Age Children about Sexuality

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“The Sex Lady” and proud Baltimorean Debbie Roffman.

On November 17th, The New Century School continued its important and informative speaker series for the community with a presentation by renowned author and nationally certified Sexuality and Family Life Educator Deborah Roffman.

Ms. Roffman believes strongly that parents should be their kids’ primary source of information about sex. Although many parents consider talking to young children and even teenagers about sex to be one of the most difficult challenges they face, Ms. Roffman brings her more than 30 years’ experience to bear in de-mythologizing this critical topic.

It comes down to opening the dialogue. Kids are exposed to sex-related information and images through media and other outlets no matter the measures parents might take to limit age-inappropriate material. Becoming the reliable source to help them navigate these often confusing and contradictory messages will get kids off on the right track to a healthy, age-appropriate relationship with sexuality.

Ms. Roffman began her talk with child developmental stages and showed how naturally kids evolve from realizing they are individual selves in toddlerhood to wondering, “How did I get here?” as young children, and ultimately to the logical next question once they can articulate it: “Where do babies come from?” She even provided suggested scripts for how to respond to the inevitable embarrassing questions or to gently correct the misinformation kids might be thinking. With graciousness and many amusing anecdotes, she helped the audience see that we can relate to our kids about sexuality on their level. Again, the emphasis is on keeping the lines of communication open. “Connectedness with parents,” she said, “is the number one factor in avoiding risky behavior.”

Ms. Roffman is a Baltimore native, teaching sexuality education to 4th- through 12th-graders. She has published three books—Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense about Sex; But How Did I Get in There in the First Place?: Talking to Your Young Children about Sex; and most recently, Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ Go-To Person about Sex. Her articles have appeared in countless major journals and newspapers, and she makes regular television appearances to spread the word about how to guide kids through healthy sexual development. My dream, she said, “is that one day in the United States, families and schools will be kids’ primary reference point for sex, gender, and reproduction so that everything they hear subsequently will be filtered through our lens and our voice.”

Her talk at TNCS focused on Talk to Me First. TNCS mom Amy Menzer was on hand and found the presentation “refreshing and very helpful.”

As the parent of an almost 6-year-old, I have been worried about what to say when my daughter asks about whether she and her best friend can have babies, or about what is sex (hasn’t come up yet!). I’ve wondered about what’s developmentally appropriate, and how do I respond in a sex-positive way that is factual, doesn’t convey that this is something shameful, but that also avoids prematurely encouraging her sexualization any sooner than our culture will allow.

Ms. Roffman began by pointing out that our broader culture pressures us to “say nothing,” because we fear something bad will happen, an attitude about sexuality that dates back to the Puritans. But nothing bad is going to happen because we talked about sex and sexuality! In fact, talking about it and being open and honest will encourage your child to see you as a go-to person on these issues as their interests and concerns evolve. Most refreshing I think was her point that we have the opportunity to shape our children’s attitudes about their sexuality and intimate relationships and convey our values. So rather than dreading “the talk,” or fearing that we may say something damaging or that our kids’ friends’ parents will be upset with us, we should see this as part of an ongoing conversation over the years in which different information will need to be discussed at different ages. The danger of avoiding the subject is that our children will learn from popular culture and the playground alone. She brought up some euphemisms many of us may have learned while growing up including “first base, second base….” as an example of how the “knowledge” kids gather from their peers may NOT be how we’d like them to be thinking about gender roles, their bodies, their sexuality, or their relationships with others.

Amy Menzer, TNCS mom

For those of you who were not able to attend the presentation at TNCS, Ms. Roffman’s website SexandSensibility.net (which name says it all) offers an abundance of resources to help you get your conversation started as well as links to order your own copy of Talk to Me First. “I am reading her book Talk to Me First now, and am so grateful to have had this introduction,” said Ms. Menzer.

Thank you, Ms. Menzer, for sharing your invaluable firsthand perspective with Immersed, and thanks also to TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali for continuing to bring thoughtful, insightful speakers to enrich our community.

Cutting Edge Skills at TNCS

A recent Food for Thought article that aired on NPR explored the seemingly counterintuitive notion of letting toddlers play with knives. Sujata Gupta, the author and mother of a 3-year-old, writes, “Both my mother and mother-in-law recoiled when I suggested letting my son try his hand at chopping. Yet research, and the experience of educators, suggest that parents such as me would be wise to hand a tot a knife.”

That “recoil” is understandable, given that maternal instincts are to protect, not arm our children with implements of self-destruction. But, as Gupta discovers, allowing small children to wield real tools is a means of attaining self-efficacy, something that kids these days urgently need.

It may come as no surprise to TNCS parents that The New Century School has always operated according to this principle. TNCS primary classrooms follow the classic Montessori curriculum, a huge part of which is fostering independence, even in the very young. The Montessori philosophy is based on the observation that children learn by doing. They crave hands-on experiences, which is also a form of “play.” (In this sense, there’s a profound difference between “playing with knives” and “playing” with knives. The former is an invitation to accidents; the latter is an absorptive lesson in proper use.)

Of course, TNCS students are not handed honorary steak knives on matriculation. Step by step and through practice with preliminary “works,” they earn the privilege of using knives in the classroom for helping with food preparation in the Practical Life mode of the curriculum. Says TNCS primary teacher Martellies Warren: “I trust students with real tools once they show that they can be responsible individuals in other areas of the curriculum—such as if they have mastered or are working toward mastery in the art of using materials with care, working with materials from start to finish, working independently, caring for the classroom environment, and just overall being gentle and empathetic toward others.”

Catherine Lawson, TNCS’s most senior Montessori teacher, agrees. “Children want to do activities that include using knives; however, they know that they have to show that they are focused and responsible.” Once students have shown this level of consistency, says Mr. Warren, “they are allowed to use such tools as knives, hammers, graters, and peelers to prepare real food as well as serve themselves and each other.”

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A TNCS primary student carefully spreads hummus on mini toast.

TNCS primary teacher Maria Mosby describes her process this way: “We use knives for spreading first (hummus, cream cheese, sunflower seed butter). The kids love to practice spreading butter on their bread at lunch time, and it’s a great opportunity to help out and practice at home with toast or sandwiches.”

Once the children demonstrate responsible spreading, they can move on to slicing, starting with softer foods and progressing to firmer fruits and vegetables. “We always stay nearby, but trust that the children are capable,” said Ms. Mosby.

And that, says Mr. Warren, encapsulates the “spirit and uniqueness of the Montessori philosophy!” He says that this type of “honor system” stems from Maria Montessori’s belief that the child should self-direct. “I often tell parents to ‘let go and trust’ their little individuals. In my experience this has been one of the most challenging task for parents to do.”

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A TNCS primary student cuts cucumbers, slices bread, and spreads cream cheese to make a cucumber sandwich.

Letting go and trusting might come more easily if parents knew just how successful this model is for cultivating that self-efficacy mentioned above. Ms. Mosby offers this explanation: “I have never been let down. I think it’s the fact that the students know they are using real tools that makes such a difference. They don’t use them as weapons. They are very careful and know that tools used improperly can be harmful.”

So, as Gupta says, “Go ahead and give your toddler a kitchen knife.” You might just get breakfast in bed from your aspiring cheflets.

Guest Blog: Back-to-School Transitions

To bring you thoughtful commentary from a variety of sources, Immersed is hereby launching a guest blogging program for the 2015–2016 academic year. You can expect to read and enjoy posts from members within The New Century School community as well as from professionals from the greater Baltimore community and beyond who have words of wisdom to share in areas related to education and parenting.

For our very first guest blog post, however, what could be a better way to start this new initiative off on the right foot than with a message from TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali? By the way, it’s also the first post of the 2015–2016 academic year!

Top 10 Back-to-School Transition Tips from Alicia Danyali

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Starting the school year off right can be made easier by establishing and sticking to routines.

Beginning-of-the-school-year traditions are something many families cherish. Whether it’s the obligatory first day of school picture, to picking out a special backpack or lunchbox, parents like to show that going back to school is an important occasion to be honored. However, making that transition out of summer back into school can be a challenging adjustment. The start of the school year initiates more regimented routines, whereas, for many, the summer schedule was often more relaxed and easy-going.

Here is my Top 10 List to help parents ease the transition from summer break to the school year:

  1. Starting the school year is an important event and support and modeling a consistent positive attitude goes a long way. Learning to like school and liking to learn are closely related.
  2. Keep routines consistent, including some after-school down time, family time, and a reasonable bedtime. Being on time to school offers an abundance of security for an anxious or shy child.
  3. Listen to stories about your children’s day without interruption or judgement. Letting them talk about their experience will encourage further sharing and smooth adjustments to a new or existing group, as well as open them up to trying new things.
  4. If you show enthusiasm about school, your child probably will, too.
  5. Volunteer in the classroom or school when time permits. Seeing the classroom in action will help you gain a better perspective on how your child spends the day and will additionally reassure your child that you are involved in his or her day-to-day life.
  6. Allow and encourage your child to be involved in the daily routines of getting ready for school. Preschool-aged children can help choose their lunch options, for example. Older kids can create a checklist (e.g., make the bed, pack lunch, get the backpack ready, etc.) that supports independence and nurtures accountability.
  7. Read to your children and/or have them read to you daily for at least 15 minutes. Encourage the importance of their daily multilingual experiences by reading in more than one language, if possible.
  8. Stay abreast of school policies from the parent handbook. Confusion and frustration can result from lack of awareness of school policy, which feelings children readily internalize, possible creating anxiety.
  9. Be part of the community and get to know your children’s friends and families by attending school events, such as the quarterly Pot Luck.
  10. And please be thankful, supportive, and grateful for the hard work your child’s teachers and support staff do everyday!

In addition, please check out the websites below for some additional resources.

  • Adjusting to Preschool
  • Transitioning to Elementary School
  • Smooth Transitions to a New School Year

Become an Immersed Guest Blogger!

Have an idea for a guest blog post? Please don’t hesitate to send your inquiry via private message to the TNCS Facebook page (and please remember to like the page if you haven’t already done so) or by emailing thenewcenturyschool@gmail.com. We would love to hear from you!

Mindful Parenting: A TNCS Workshop that Could Change the World

Dr-Carisa-Perry-Parrish-TNCS

Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, a developmental clinical psychologist and faculty member at Johns Hopkins Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, specializes in emotional regulation strategies for children and adolescents.

Last month, The New Century School hosted the latest workshop in Head of School Alicia Danyali’s parent enrichment series. This helpful, enlightening presentation on Mindful Parenting was given by Dr. Carisa Perry-Parrish, a developmental clinical psychologist and faculty member at Johns Hopkins Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry—and a TNCS mom herself! The workshop was very well attended, but many who expressed interest were unable to be there. This synopsis of the event includes lots of Dr. Perry-Parrish’s published research, with her permission.

“Dr. Perry-Parrish specializes in improving emotion regulation in children and adolescents. Her clinical interests emphasize practicing and promoting evidence-based care, including acceptance and mindfulness-based interventions to improve self-regulation, parent management training for childhood noncompliance and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and cognitive-behavioral therapy for youth anxiety/depression.” For this particular presentation, she shared mindfulness practices to help children and parents alike cope with life stressors and improve their interactions, thereby decreasing the stress in the whole family’s life. Although she does focus clinically on emotional disorders, these positive parenting techniques are applicable and promise enormous benefits to everyone along the continuum of emotional experience.

For a bit of background, “mindfulness training is becoming increasingly popular in the United States as a way to reduce stress, improve attention, and cope with challenges,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. “This form of awareness training is being taught to adults, parents, and youth with promising results.”

So let’s get to it, right?

Emotions

The presentation began with an eye-opener right off the bat, which is that emotions are not simply arbitrary reactions to catalysts or reflections of our inner states but serve real functions. We evolved to be emotional beings, after all. So when our kids display emotion, they really are telling us something about their current needs. In a nutshell, we consciously and unconsciously use our emotions to fulfill particular goals. Emotions are social cues. Kids face a lot of stress—academically, socially, recreationally—but that stress, and the emotions it elicits, can be positive in some ways. “Every day is full of emotional challenges and opportunities for emotional growth,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. Here she drew a parallel between TNCS’s emphasis on child self-advocacy and independence, noting that mindfulness is certainly a very complementary practice.

Slide09When emotions are not regulated, or cognitive disruptions lead to intense emotional states, these disorders not only present tremendous challenges for the child, but the parent also, who is, for example, trying to get the child out the door to school on time.

Even in the absence of a so-called “problem,” parenting is stressful for any number of reasons, including that on-time-to-school bugbear. Dr. Perry-Parrish next described three parenting styles we commonly adopt in such situations: Dismissive (“Get over it!”), Disapproving (“You shouldn’t feel that way.”), and Laissez-Faire (“Anything goes.”). The message implicit in the first two examples is that the child’s feelings are not valid; however, recall that emotions serve very important functions. What underlies the emotion is what is important here (for example, “I don’t want to do what you’re asking me to do.”). In the third approach, no limits are set for misbehavior, which does not help the child sort out his or her feelings.

A fourth style, called “Emotion Coaching,” validates and accepts kids’ feelings while balancing the need for limits. This philosophy is backed up by decades of research and testing by psychologist John Gottman (among others), who found that children who were emotion coached were more successful as adults in peer friendships, gainful employment, and academic performance than were children parented in ways that focused on misbehavior without taking the emotions and why they were happening into account. A parent using emotion coaching is empathetic without condoning negative behavior.

Inherent in the concept of emotion coaching, as the word “coaching” gives away, is that regulating our emotions is a skill we can be guided in and cultivate. Heard of Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Study? In it, kids who were able to delay the gratification of eating a gooey, delicious marshmallow for a period of 14 minutes, grew up to be socially and professionally well adjusted, have a lower body mass index and greater psychological well-being, and be less likely to misuse substances.

Dr-Carisa-Perry-Parrish-TNCS“Children were most successful when they tried to occupy their attention with something else—make up a song, say, or turn their back on the marshmallow—or transformed the object of desire in their mind, perhaps by imagining it as a piece of cotton or pretending it was smelly or dirty. How children were paying attention could mean the difference between an automatic response and a delayed response reflecting self-regulation,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish. “We each have different capacities, but I think there’s a way to optimize what we’re naturally endowed with . . . And that’s where I think mindfulness can play a nice role,” she said.

 Mindfulness

Mindfulness is, basically, practicing awareness/paying attention with three key components: it’s moment-by-moment, it’s non-judgmental, and it’s intentional. It is in sharp contrast to the mindlessness of automatic responses and assumptions, which is a waste of our already limited resources and energy. To illustrate, she walked us through a brief mindfulness exercise—noticing all of the sensations involved in eating a raisin very slowly and using all of our senses to experience it. This not only helped us see how much of the experience of eating a lowly raisin we were probably usually missing, but also demonstrated how challenging paying attention can be when we are so used to our brains spinning like hamster wheels during the waking hours. “But specific exercises give us opportunities to practice noticing without judging,” said Dr. Perry-Parrish, who was emphatic about not liking raisins or dried fruit in general.

She proceeded to explain a much broader application for this exercise. “There are things I look forward to in my day and things I don’t look forward to, like diaper-changing. Starting to notice that I’m pulled to want to do some things and pulled toward not wanting to do others is very helpful on a primitive level. But if I look at it through the lens of parenting, if I’m overly focusing on how much I don’t want to do x, how does that change the dynamic between me and my child—does it help me to be more effective? Or . . . not?”

Slide28“When we are not fully present in the moment, we miss opportunities to discover what works,” she continued, followed by providing the list of mindfulness qualities shown at right, that we can try to cultivate. “Beginner’s mind” is akin to looking at something with “fresh eyes,” but the other terms are self-explanatory (albeit not all that easy to practice regularly!).

From there, she led us to motivation. When we like what we are doing, it’s easy to put forth the effort, but it’s hard to find the motivation when it’s a task we perceive as boring or unpleasant. The same goes for kids, naturally, so how we pay attention to them is the trick—notice and appreciate their efforts while acknowledging that some tasks are just difficult is going to increase their desire to keep trying. But, let’s face it, sometimes we are caught up in our own problems or can’t get off the hamster wheel, and we resort to a more reactionary response, what Dr. Perry-Parrish calls “parenting traps”:

  • Repeating commands (How many times do I have to tell you to…!)
  • Focusing more on negative behavior than positive
  • Praising and punishing the same behavior (Well, it’s about time you cleaned your room!)
  • Lack of consistency
  • Empty threats
  • Arguing
  • Unfair or delayed consequences
  • Letting stress dictate parenting style

Mindfulness in Parenting

Dr-Perry-Parrish-TNCSAnd here’s where it all comes together: interrupting our habitual reactions to stress to communicate in a chosen and more effective mode. “Stress hijacks the moment and cuts us off from our internal sources of wisdom,” she said. “Mindfulness is going to be the best supporting actor for what we already know how to do as parents.” She used yelling as an example. We already know that yelling isn’t effective, so why do we do it? Mindfulness can give us the reset to handle the situation calmly and attentively.

Dr. Perry-Parrish gave some very useful techniques to begin cultivating your mindfulness skills, including starting a “meditation diet,” pausing to attend to your child with all of your senses, putting yourself in your child’s shoes, deep breathing, having 10–15 minutes every day of one-on-one time with your child, and doing yoga together.

She also provided this very helpful reading list:

  • Full Catastrophe Living, Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Everyday Blessings, Myla & Jon Kabat-Zinn
  • Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children, Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and their parents), Eline Snel
  • Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman
  • Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child: Heart of Parenting, John Gottman

Immersed also offers several mindfulness websites and articles under the Resources and Links tab. When parents engage in healthy human interactions, children reap those benefits and then pay it forward. The implications for society are huge. . . and quite wonderful.

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