FIRST Observe – Start where the child IS

“I See YOU!”  “Look what you are doing…”  “Wow, that looks fun, I want to try it.”  These phrases are TREASURES in a parent’s tool box.  Every child LOVES to be noticed.  How many times do you hear “Watch ME!”  Every child LOVES to be recognized for what they CAN do, or what they HAVE DONE already.  Every child feels more competent when a significant adult in their life wants to copy them.   These all start with the most important part of connecting with and teaching your child, to watch closely, OBSERVE.

OBSERVE and RECOGNIZE before

TEACHING or TRANSITIONS or PROBLEM SOLVING

Oftentimes, we as parents are in the position of giving our child directions.  Sometimes our children are exploring or learning something new, “Stack the blocks like this.”   Other times, it is due to our schedule, or daily routine. “Sarah, it is time to brush teeth, and get ready for bed.” And other times, we find them needing to solve a problem, “Let me help you.”   Many times we find it easier and faster just to quickly give directions or solve the problem ourselves.  

Aaah, but connecting and teaching take time…  and it starts with the time to observe and recognize. 

Observing starts by simply stopping and WAITING to see what they are doing, or what they will do.   It is certainly human nature to start showing examples when a new object is given to explore, or giving directions first.  Try this.  Do it like this.  But then we don’t get to observe what the child already knows, or, for that matter, what they can teach themselves.   Over 100 years ago, Maria Montessori found out, by intent observation, that given the opportunity, children are very capable of teaching themselves a great many things.  As adults, it is our responsibility to provide them that opportunity and wait to see what they can teach themselves, and to provide just enough support to help that process along.

Recognizing means that somehow we share with the child that we see and care about what they are doing, without judging them.  Sometimes this is through using our words to DESCRIBE (which supports their language skills).  “Sally, I see you tapping your rhythm sticks together end to end.”  Sometimes it may just be letting them see you COPY them.  Someone(?) said, “The best compliment someone could give you is to copy you.”  Without any words at all, the child knows that they are SEEN and RECOGNIZED.  Sometimes it may be a little of both. 

Without judgement means that we refrain from making a vague statement like “Good Job.”  Not that it is a bad thing to say, but that it is not clear what was done well, AND that it infers that the importance is on the parent’s evaluation that it was “good”.  When a parent says, “You did it !  You placed the sticks in the shape of a V !”, the child is able to take ownership of the act, and be proud of himself for doing so.  Ultimately, the child’s inner motivation is what will get her down the path to success.

A whole different benefit to these parenting skills was an eye-opening kick in the pants to me.   I had been having problems with transitions, getting my child to do what I wanted or needed them to do NEXT.  And it specifically was significant when I approached him when he was involved in an activity independently.  My son would be playing his room with his Legos, and I would come in and ask him to wash his hands for dinner.  A fairly simple request really, but it was met with reluctance and procrastination.  After reading much about parenting through Becky Bailey, I learned that my son is heavily invested in what he is doing at that moment.  It is important that I recognize the hard work in which he is engaged.  His mind is busy designing, problem solving, and creating.  Washing hands for dinner seems so insignificant in comparison to the processes currently at work in his mind.  So, it is important to take the time to start the conversation where his mind is presently.  “Wow, look what you are doing with those legos !  You have made some sort of flying machine.  I can see the wings are jutting out here and here.  Tell me more.”   OH, what a difference a few minutes of observing and recognizing can make !!!  Sharing out loud what is “on the table at the moment” allows for a winding down of the brain process, and an openess to what may be next.

This works for young children as well, even those who are unable to talk.  When they are engaged with a toy or activity, the few minute a parent takes to patiently watch, and then describe gives them WORDS to pair with what they are doing, lets them know that there is respect for their ability to focus, and that what they can do for themselves is recognized.  THIS is the starting point for teaching, ie. expanding on their current interest,  or for transitioning to another activity. 

Without getting into a lot of details, the same skills are exceedingly important when a child is faced with a challenge or a problem to solve.  Wait; watch what they will do; ask them questions to help them assess the situation effectively.  If intense emotions are observed, the best support is to allow them (or yourself) the opportunity to find a quiet place to calm down before they tackle the task of solving the problem.  ANYONE who is too emotionally distraught cannot solve problems effectively.  A chemical in the brain screams to fight or avoid – not solve.   When cooler heads prevail, approach the problem like a puzzle, allow them to, or help them describe the pieces of the issue without emotion, wait and listen, and encourage a creative list of solutions, from those based in fantasy, to those based in reality.

A parent’s time to observe and recognize helps children feel confident and competent, and eager to try more things, and more able to solve their own problems.   And it helps US, as their primary teachers, know where to start with the teaching process, and how to support their own abilities to teach themselves.   It is the beginning of the incredibly effective method of teaching called scaffolding, which we will be talking about more over time.

These parenting skills do not necessarily come naturally.  I consider myself a good parent, yet I have to continually focus to ensure that I WAIT and OBSERVE before giving directions (so hard for me at times, esp. in our busy schedule !).  Before I approach my independently engaged child, I often have to give myself a Becky Baily Pep Talk to OBSERVE and CONNECT first !   When my child is struggling with a challenge, it is hard to be patient and let them come up with the solution themselves.  It is an ongoing challenge not to blurt out “Good Job”.

BUT, EVERY TIME I do it RIGHT…  Every time I take the time to Observe and Recognize…  Every time I DESCRIBE instead of Judge…   I SEE how my children respond so well to it, and I KNOW that it is worth the continual effort.  It does get easier.  Just like learning to play an instrument, practice makes perfect.

Do you have a story to share about how observing your child FIRST made a difference?

Sing Peace Around the World

My 5 year old daughter has been singing a beautiful song about peace that she learned at school (Lakeland Montessori).  From the teacher’s weekly email, I followed a link to find all the words, and found a lot more than that.  This song travelled the world in 24 hours – on the International Day of Peace – Sept. 21, 2009.

Sing Peace Around the World dove of Peace

Light a candle for peace,
Light a candle for love,
Light a candle that shines,
All the way around the world.

Light a candle for me,
Light a candle for you,
That our wish for world peace,
Will one day come true

Sing Peace Around the World  (4 times)

This simple song (not rock, pop, or jazz) is being sung by millions of children around the world, and is serving many purposes.  

In this song, this calming melody and these heartfelt words, children are introduced to the idea of peace – placing in their heart a desire to live in a peaceful way.  Throughout the year, during each Montessori school day, they learn specific ways to spend their time peacefully and productively.  They also learn to resolve conflict in peaceful ways.  We all need this.

Children singing in unison create a strong feeling as being a part of a unified group.  This instills a feeling of belonging, and a feeling of a group purpose.  These feelings help children be strong emotionally, and to feel safe.  This allows their psyche to be free of stress and worry so they can concentrate their energies on learning; independently, and from each other.   The same processes occur in our Kindermusik class room as we sing together, and enjoy circle dances with each other.  

The same processes can also occur within the family as you sing together at home or in the car.  These songs you sing together help you share your values with your children, and help the bonds between the family members become strong, creating memories strong enough to last a whole lifetime, and help children overcome life obstacles.

As children realize that the song they are singing is also being sung by children in so many different countries, they start increasing their awareness of, and feeling connected to the rest of the world.  Cora and I enjoyed seeing the videos of children around the world singing the SAME song, and, of course, after a bit of listening, we sang along (when in English).  Her vision of the world is so much larger than mine was a the same age.  The Montessori system is fully developed in countries all over the world, and this world vision is an important part of each child’s ongoing education – at every age level.  We are very fortunate to have such a quality school in our community.

Kindermusik also had a larger world vision.  Cultural music from around the world has been studied and collected, and added to the compilations of quality music on the CDs parents take home, as well as to the curriculum of our class activities.   Kindermusik classes are being taught in 60 different countries, and our semesters coincide.  For example, the Our Time class (toddlers)  is now enjoying the Wiggles and Giggles semester, no matter where you live.  Children in Germany, Canada, South Africa, and Japan are all enjoying moving and dancing with their partners singing “Love Somebody, Yes I do!”

Music truly can make a difference and create a positive impact on people, on so many different levels:  personal, family, community, and globally.   That’s why I am so glad that my daughter is part of the Montessori learning methods.  That is also why I named my business Music Connections, and started teaching Kindermusik over 11 years ago.

Do something special with your child.  Learn this song together, and sing it with all your heart.  Sing it as a family.  Talk about children all over the world singing the same song.  Watch a few of the videos and feel connected.  Together, learn to live in peaceful ways, and share this with others.  Soon, we may all be Singing Peace Around the World.

Do you have a favorite song of peace that you sing with your children?  Please Comment and Share which song helps your family connect and feel at peace.

Music stimulates the brain, at home & in Kindermusik

I recieved an email from Montessori Services last night that had the most wonderful quote about the musicality of children, with great ideas for home activities.   Make sure to note the importance of the “sensitive period for music” during the youngest years.  Following the quote, you’ll see how Kindermusik takes these ideas to a whole new level.

dad & babyExplore the “universal language” of music

                  with your children

Children have a wonderful capacity to appreciate and make music. Early exposure to a music of all types has intrinsic value — it can tell a story, set a mood, and reflect the character of a culture. Music stimulates the part of the brain associated with pattern recognition and mathematics, helping to lay the foundation for later academic success.

Music with Your 18-month to 6-year-old
Music matters. Encourage your child to listen to all types of music and to clap, dance, and sing along.

As your child gets older you can play all sorts of musical games with her. You can sing or hum loudly along with the music, encouraging your child to do so, too. You can clap your hands to the beat, and you can dance free style in response to the music, swaying, twirling gently, or dancing in any way that feels right for the music playing.

Start to teach your child to recognize the instruments that are being played in a particular piece of music, as well as teaching her the name of tunes – “Mommy, Swan Lake is playing on the radio!” – or even composers. Make sure your child has access to lots of instruments that she can play – maracas, xylophone, drums, guitar – and encourage her to sing along with favorite tunes.

Remember that during these years, your child is in a sensitive period for music and has a spontaneous interest in the development of pitch, rhythm, and melody. Musically talented parents who expose their children to live music in their home life tend to find they produce children who are musically gifted, and Suzuki music teachers have shown for years that children younger than age four can learn to play an instrument, such as the piano or violin.”

Amazing ChildThe quote is from a book called “How to Raise an Amazing Child, the Montessori Way”, written by Tom Seldin, the founder of The Montessori Foundation.  I’m ordering the book today, and I will let you know more when I read it.  It can be found at www.forsmallhands.com .

Of course, Kindermusik incorporates all of these activities and ideas, and even more, LOTS more, in their curriculum.  Parents get a chance to learn new activities, and why they are important for their child’s development through a full semester of weekly classes, enabling the parent and child to learn and grow together in the company of others who are doing the same.  A full set of home materials help to bring all these ideas home where the real learning occurs.

Kindermusik is designed specifically to reach children during this “sensitive period for music” through methods proven to be effective by years of research.  And teaches parents to use music to help the development of the whole child.  My degree in Music Therapy, instead of leading me into clinical practice, has lead me to place the power of music in the hands of a child’s first teacher – their parents. 

 Find out more about Kindermusik at www.kindermusik.com .  Or if you live in Polk County, Florida, visit my website; http://musiconnx.kindermusik.net .