Thursday, March 21, 2013

Watch Her Grow...

Bear sitting with us at the table. Q-ball wanted to make sure he had kombucha to drink- not sure all bears are the lucky!
This Week's Focus: Language and Practical Life

  Interactions with Materials
  • For the past two weeks, Q-ball has been deeply involved in pretend play. Her stuffed animals (and a few of mine from childhood!) are invovled in nearly all parts of our life. I'm asked to fix them plates at mealtimes while Q-ball makes sure they are comfy in their chairs; they sleep with us; they wear our clothes and shoes; they go on stroller rides; they take baths in a little bath tub that an aunt gave us; and, of course, they sit on the potty!
  • We are gearing up for Easter, so Q-ball has loved reading her books about bunnies and eggs. I have included some books about the actual Easter celebration in our mix, but this, of course, just don't seem as interesting.  
Interactions with Others 
  • Q-ball continues to slowly open up to others.  She played with another child at the park for a few minutes yesterday and was excited about the attention.  But, after about 2 minutes, was ready to move on.  And, then refuse to have another mother push her on the swing. Small steps.
  • Q-ball does continue to get excited about seeing her closest friends, a set of twins.  We went to dinner with them last night, and I talked with her about ways we can say hi to people when we first meet them.  I didn't think she was listening to me, especially as it was snack time, but, to my surprise, she immediately went up to them and tried to shake their hands when we first saw them!
Critical Thinking
  • Q-ball's sentences are growing incredibly complex! The other morning the first statement out of her mouth was "Mama wash Daddy lightening bolt shirt so Daddy wear it right now."
  • It's funny to hear the phrases she is picking up.  Certainly makes me think about when I use these phrases.  Some favorites- "right now!" "Keep your eyes peeled." (Very important when looking for choo-choos when driving.) "Beep! Beep!" (efforts to teach excuse me have not paid off...)
Interactions with Life 
  • Still focusing on putting on and taking off her own clothes.  We introduced the "Montessori way," and she loves doing it! 
  • The other night, Q-ball couldn't sleep (DST was not made by someone with toddlers.) So, after nearly 2 hours, Mama tapped out, and Daddy came to play.  He told Q-ball that she was a "goofball," and Q-ball thinks it's the funniest thing ever. Now, she'll randomly throw herself on the ground with her legs up and say, "I'm a goofball! I'm a goofball!"
We are linking up with Vibrant Wanderings!  Check out what the other kiddos are up to!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Benefits of Following Your Child's Lead

   A key aspect of creating a Montessori-inspired environment is to ensure that the teacher or parent follows the child's lead.  As I explained in this post, teachers or parents should work not to direct a child's play or routines.  I have read that studies that look at the effectiveness of a Montessori education have found that children in Montessori classrooms preform on par or slightly better than their peers in non-Montessori environments on academic assessments.  However, studies have found that children in Montessori environments tend to foster greater "concentration, confidence, and independence" in addition to more respect for their classmates and even creativity, which is especially interesting as many of Dr. Montessori's critics focus on her views towards fantasy and creative play.  For this Science Friday, I want to focus on a study that explores the relationship between a mother's directing of her toddler's play and future cognitive and social functions. 
   While the study does not focus mention Montessori practices, it compares cognitive and social functions in 4.5 year old children based upon the extent to which their mother's directed their play beginning at age 2. The researchers decided that 2 years-old was an important age to start observations as it is a time when children have the ability to understand basic verbal communications but still require a caretaker's direct instructions to complete and understand most tasks.  By age 4.5 years, however, much less support from caretakers is necessary. 
Toddlers can certainly come up with some creative games when allowed to lead!
   For this study, researchers observed mothers and their children during two home visits that included daily activities and a play session that included standardized toys as well as an in-office visit that included a play session.  The study took place over a period of 2.5 years.  Standardized tests that have been approved for these age groups were used to determine cognitive abilities.  Social behaviors were measured based upon observations of two specific behaviors- responsiveness (i.e. a child's ability to respond to instructions) and initiating (i.e. the child's ability to direct his mother's attention to an activity.)
   I believe that the findings in this study very much support using Montessori methods at home or in a classroom.  The children whose mothers consistently practiced "maintaining" (asking questions or making comments concerning an activity on which a child was working or responding to a child's requests) versus "directing" (giving specific verbal or non-verbal instructions for the child to follow, providing few options) had higher cognitive and language skills between age 1 and 3.5 years.  Additionally, maintaining also proved to have significant positive effects on responsiveness for these same ages.  Researchers believe that practicing maintaining supports cognitive and communication skills in early children as it works within their limited attention spans and current abilities without forcing them to shift focus. 
   The study revealed the children whose mothers practiced maintaining would ultimately have more success in "joint learning situations."  This is based upon two findings: First, at 3.5 years old, maintaining increased a child's social responsiveness, which ultimately seemed to improve his ability to initiate activities. Secondly, by 4.5 years, maintaining was directly related to a child's increased ability to establish and then meet goals. 
   While many parents may believe that being directing will increase responsiveness, this study and others (one additional example- a study that analyzed conversations between toddlers and mothers showed a mother's requests were more often followed when she adjusted the request to acknowledge the child's current focus) indicate that respecting the toddler's thoughts and activities will ultimately lead to greater success for completing immediate tasks and for longer-term cognitive and social skills.

Crain, W. (2011). Theories of Development: Concepts and Applications. Prentice Hall:Boston. 
Landry, S.H., Smith, K.E., Swank P.R., &  Miller-Loncar, C.L. (2000). Early maternal and child influences on children's later independent cognitive and social functioning.  Child Development, 71(2 ) pp. 358-375

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Watch Her Grow...

This Week's Focus: Language and Emotional Intelligence
Over the past week, it seems my little girl has really entered a new toddler phase.  We had several days of 3 more or major tantrums, no matter what I did.  These seemed to be do to her inability to sleep- perhaps because there was just too much going on in her growing mind.  But, this new phase also ushered in some very, very concentrated play, which I'll discuss below...

  Interactions with Materials
  • So far, her concentrated play has centered on stacking or unpacking.  Some of the activities she practiced this week- she self-checked out 8 books at the library for almost 20 minutes, carefully stacking each after scanning; she laid all of Mama's cupcake holder around the kitchen and then re-stacked (most) of them; she has removed and replaced entire shelves of our bookshelves at home. 
  • Of course, stacking involves blocks!  These are items that I rarely remove from her toy rotation as she always finds something new to do with them.  
  • Like blocks, Q-ball has always loved her stacking tree ring, although I think it is supposedly aimed at children younger than her.  With this new interest in stacking, I quickly again brought out her rings. 
Interactions with Others 
  •  Q-ball seems to have found her first real friends- a set of twins.  She practices saying their names, and she is excited to learn when we are going to meet them.  She loves showing them new toys or tricks, and even held the little girl's hand to when they were walking to watch a band at the market this past weekend.
Critical Thinking
  • Q-ball's language skills are always growing.  She can express very complex ideas- describing what makes her happy and working to fill Daddy in on all of the details of her day.
  • This week she seemed to really be practicing prepositions- on, off, in, out, on.
Interactions with Life 
  • Q-ball is really increasingly focusing on doing more and more herself, especially when it comes to getting dressed.  She really wants to put on and off her own clothing and shoes.
We are linking up with Vibrant Wanderings!  Check out what the other kiddos are up to!
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