DH is a Montessori preschool alumnus and I have always liked the Montessori approach, not knowing very much about it. When it was time to sign Amie up for a preschool, I started reading up on it, because we wanted her to go a Montessori preschool

(She didn’t get in because of a stupid breakdown of communication. We visited the school in October and the director told us we could let her know as late as January, even February. Wen we called in December, she was already putting people on a waiting list! Bummer! No worries, we found a cozy little preschool just around the corner instead.)

In any case, long story short and all that, I love the approach and plan to implement a lot of it at home. Today we made a real breakthrough.

One of the tenets of Montessori is to let the child do as much for herself as possible, and she and her commentators suggest a wealth of activities that children might do themselves and feel good about.One of these is letting the child pour her own milk at breakfast and water and juice throughout the day.

I didn’t even finish the sentence suggesting this, but jumped up and asked Amie if she wanted some green juice (her only source of veggies, people!). We proceeded to the kitchen table where I gave her her glass and then poured some juice into a small pitcher. I could see she was intrigued. Then I asked: “Will you pour it yourself? Would you like that?”

Well!

She was surprised when I asked, fascinated when I showed her, very careful when she did it herself, and very proud when she succeeded.

Then I poured some water into her little (tiny!) porcelain teapot and showed her how to play Tea. Caution turned into confidence, concentration into glee. She got the hang of it so fast. Look how she used both hands, to hold the cup, and to steady the teapot.

Amie pours tea, 26 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander StraetenAmie pours tea, 26 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

What a treat for all of us!

I’m currently reading Lynne Lawrence’s Montessori Read and Write and Elisabeth Hainstock’s Teaching Montessori at Home: The Preschool Years

cover of Montessori Read and Write, Lynne Lawrence    Elisabeth Hainstock’s Teaching Montessori at Home: The Preschool Years.

I’ll let you know what I’m working on.

  1. I’m researching how best to teach reading. Fascinating that whole Whole Word – Phonics war. So much of the history and psychology of writing is involved, and then throw your own toddler and her talents and interests into the mix. I love a complex challenge!
  2. In advance of my making up my mind about the letter vs. sound approach, Amie and I started a consistent project with the sounds-letters she already recognizes: a, b, g, m, o, s, and t. We’re having a blast! The moment the fuller than full memory card on my camera can be emptied, I’ll take a picture of our “Corridor Project”.
  3. Two weeks ago we inaugurated the cash box. At the end of the month we were always shocked to find that we had saved nothing. Where did it all go? So we are taking out $200 in cash a week and from that pay for our food, gas and small purchases (so not the fixed costs like mortgage, electricity, cable, etc.). It is so much easier to see it going-going-gone. Two weeks now we’ve made it!
  4. I’m writing the final chapters of my novel, the ones where everything comes together. It’s so exciting, too exciting sometimes. But Amie has been home sick all week, so I haven’t been able to work all week. The suspense is killing me!
  5. I’m dreaming again of the ole homestead… but keeping it small: a little structure to build. What will be its function (live there, guest space, study, workshop, kids’ house), structure (how big, how many floors, windows, what kind of roof and floor), materials (I’m leaning towards cob), energy source (solar, wind, composting toilet). We don’t have any land yet to build it on, but we’re looking! I got the magical Home Work Handbuilt Shelter book from the library and will accidentally leave it on the kitchen table to once more entice DH to share the dream.

Cover of Home Work, Handbuilt Shelter

I’ll report on all of these (but 4) soon!

Amie drawing, January 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie has been making strides with her drawing.

She has been grouping little tadpole figures together on one page – my suggestion, that we use the “white” on the paper a bit more. She has also been mixing the mouth inside with the mouth outside the face figures.

Amie’s two tadpoles mouth outside face, 18 Jan 2008 (c) Kartien Vander Straeten

But overall, the figures had become formulaic, as you can see from the following drawing (notice her signature in the bottom right corner):

Amie’s tadpole drawing 18 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Perhaps she thought it was time for a change. Chaos ensued:

Amie’s figure tadpole struggling with body? (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

And:

Amie’s figure tadpole struggling with body?, 18 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

At first I couldn’t figure out what was happening, and neither could she! She couldn’t explain what was what in these protozoic creatures. Until, a couple of days later, I realized (wondered) that she was probably struggling with the body. Because this is what happened next:

Amie’s Sulley WITH body 24 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

- Is that a body, Amie?

- It’s Sulley’s body. And there is Boo.

As you can see, Sulley has a body, “big hairy arms” and lots of “hair all over”. Both he and Boo have feet (Boo has shoes too), ears and hands.

Yes, that’s Sulley’s smile underneath his body. The big part was at first the head, with the smile underneath. But then she reconsidered and added a new head on top!

She wasn’t totally convinced yet, though. For instance, Boo’s body, she said, is that smaller circle inside her face. Still, her next drawing was quite clear:

Amie’s Sulley WITH body 24 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Sulley again, with his name “spelled out” on the top left and her signatures below it.

Is this the end of the tadpoles? She’s drawn a couple more since then, but they might be stragglers, like the hapless Neanderthals, doomed to extinction.

Amie drawing tadpole 21 January 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

The pressure’s on when there’s a Big Girl (6-year-old L) watching you!

And despite Baba’s efforts, the smiles as you can see still go underneath. And she still hasn’t made up her mind whether she’s a leftie (like Mama) or a rightie (like her Baba).

Amie drawing left-handed 21 January 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

The “look L is eating all her vegetables!” didn’t work, though. Amie has sharpened her logical thinking on the vegetable issue. Last week:

- You have to eat your vegetables if you want to grow and become a big girl.

- When I am a big girl, then I’ll eat my vegetables.

- Noooo, you won’t become a big girl if you don’t eat your vegetables [the speaking in emphases is contagious]

- [Thinks for a moment] Then I want to stay small.

Amie has been having nightmares about a dinosaur coming into the bedroom at night. It has spurred us to investigate whether she understands the difference between what is real and what is not, or “fake”. It is a good idea – we agree with several child developmental specialists – to make sure she does understand.

Baba was convinced she knows the difference already, but I wasn’t so sure. It’s not because she knows the words that she knows what they mean. So he asked her.

- Baba: Amie, is Monsters, Inc. real?

- Amie: Yes.

- Baba: Okay, yes, the movie is real. But is what happens in the movie real, or fake?

- Amie: Fake.

- Baba gestures triumphantly: See?

- Amie adds spontaneously: Boys are fake too.

Ha!

The next morning at breakfast we broached the subject again.

- Baba: Amie, am I real, or fake?

- Amie: You not real and you are not fake, you are just a boy.

We have a lot of work ahead of us and I so look forward to it!

Amie took special care with this one: it’s for a friend who is ill.

We talked in advance about the plan to put two figures on the page, and how it would be best to turn the page horizontally (landscape) so they would fit. She began with the head of the left figure, taking care to place it sufficiently to the left so there would be room for the other figure. She also spontaneously drew the head up on the page, but I don’t know if she was aware of the fact that it wouldn’t have to lie on its side that way.

To my surprise, she gave the first figure ears. She also suggested she give it hands, only she seemed at a loss as to where to put them. I helped by saying: “Look, Amie, where is my hand? At the end of my arm, yes?” And she got it right away, even glancing over at my arm and hand again to make draw the other hand. Same with the feet.  She got the hands and feet right straight away on the drawing to the right. Their mouths are still hovering underneath their chins, which we think is supercool.
Amie’s tadpoles 12 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Amie has been drawing her tadpoles consistently, but for one major change. A week ago she started drawing their mouths underneath, that is, outside the head. Consistently. I asked her one day, when she was about to put down the mouth:

“Amie, look, where is Mama’s mouth? Is it inside my face or outside?”

I even pointed at my mouth.

“Outside,” she said, and she drew a biiiiig smile underneath the head.

Strange, no? I am thinking of two possible and related explanations. 1. Mouths and especially smiles are very important to her, the most important facial features (the eyes and nose are three hurriedly placed dots). So they deserve a special, separate place. 2. She may not have drawn a circle (head) big enough to contain that all-important mouth. So it needs to go outside it.

It makes her drawings look very funny, since the legs are still attached to the “chin” and are now drawn through the mouth.

Amie’s tadpole drawing mouth outside face, 9 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten
The above represents Number One from the movie Monsters Inc. Number One, or Roz, is a snail, so perhaps the wavy line underneath is her slimy trail. Amie couldn’t enlighten me when I asked.

She drew the next one in the same session:
Amie’s tadpole drawing mouth outside face, 9 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

They often get to lie on their sides because she draws the circle for the head first and she doesn’t yet think ahead to the legs. It doesn’t really bother her, though.

For the next one, also from the same session, you don’t need labels.

Amie’s tadpole drawing mouth outside face, 9 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She isn’t exclusively drawing tadpoles, however. There is still her ongoing experimentation with color and the sheer motor experience of drawing:

Amie’s crayon drawing, 10 Jan 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

Turns out Baba is just as much a softie as I am. When we went to bed after yesterday’s ordeal, I found Amie had finally fallen asleep in her own little bed. We lay there on our big bed for a minute or two, then I whispered: “I wish she were here with us…” He said, without hesitation: “You pick her up and I’ll get her pillow.” Soon we were all snuggled up together. Back to normal.

And today, this:

Amie playing Memory 7 January 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

She calls it “Membery” or “Rememory”. It’s the first and so far only board game Amie has played!

Someone gave it to us. I am not fond of Dora – I don’t like the art (call me a snob), and while reading a story to another child I found careless gaps in the plot, while it was supposed to teach logic! So I hid it.

Unfortunately, Amie’ discovered an episode of Dora on the plane to Singapore, and during that ride she must have watched it 20 times (curiously, she didn’t want the headphones). Not since then: not on tv or in books – I’ve managed to keep Dora away.

Of course Amie found the game in my “squirelly cupboard”, where I keep books and games that are too old for her still. She wanted to know what it was.

I told her: it’s a memory game. With Dora.

“Let’s play it!” she called.

I was skeptical about whether she would be interested in anything more than the cards, and if so, whether she would get frustrated because it is too difficult for it. But it was worth a try.

I told her the rules of the game – so simple: “Find the match and you get to keep the cards!” Then I taught her to point to each card in a pair, naming them (“Dora, Dora! Monkey, monkey! Chicken, chicken!) and then to take one last hard look before they are turned around. I ask her: “Ready?” She looks with burning concentration, then says: “Yes!”

First we played with 6 cards – 3 pairs in 2 rows. Way too easy! Soon I added a pair: 8 cards – 4 pairs in 2 rows… Well, you know the rules are that the youngest begins each game and that she loses her turn only if she makes a mistake. Let’s just say that in the end, she had nearly all the cards (of which there are 72) in her box.

Then she got careless – we had been playing nonstop for over 30 minutes – and didn’t get the match. She gladly let me take my turn, but when I found the match and wanted another turn, oh no!

Funny how they dazzle you with their intellectual skills, their fabulous memory, intense concentration and grownup language at the age of two… but they fall apart when such little things don’t go their way. It truly reveals how there are so many sides to a child’s development, not just if she knows her letters or can draw between the lines. As for the matters of the will, or emotional development, or character: aren’t they matters of experience, of maturity?

Amie has been around for a little over two years, how could I expect her to be mature about it? I gave her a big hug, let her take over again, and we decided that, for the time being, Amie has all the turns in Memory.

Picture of Amie and Mama taken by baba, 7 January 2008

I’m sitting in the living room, it’s 9:30 pm. And I am listening to Amie screaming that she wants Mama to lie next to her and that she wants to go see Mama.

DH has been ill for a week so he has been sleeping in the guest room/study and has also not been putting Amie to bed at night – I usually do the nap. This evening is the first time he is putting her back to bed and she is hysterical.

The first time she climbed out of the bed I heard him say: “Mama will be angry with you.” This seemed to stall her – the thought of angering me?! – and she stood in the corridor, at the bedroom door, screaming pathetically, not knowing what to do.

I went to her, gave her a hug and explained calmly that it was Baba’s turn to take her to bed and I was right nearby. I carried her to the bed and she resumed her crying. Baba was a bit upset that I hadn’t been angry like he had said.

I felt I shouldn’t be angry with her. I wanted to be supportive (“I know you can do it”) and sympathetic (“I know how you feel”), but also decisive (“I am not coming to bed, you have to go to sleep with Baba”).

I feel Amie and I have become very close this last week, perhaps due to Baba’s semi-absence, perhaps due to her having a high-fever flu over the weekend and spending a lot of time close to me. She comes to give me hugs and kisses more often, more intensely too – harder squeezes, bone-crushing snuggles, softer kisses, the expression on her face always almost one of pain and worry. I hadn’t thought she would also have separation anxiety. Her babysitter came this morning and she let me go off to work without a thought…

Now she is coming out again and I am resolved to sit here in the sofa and not give her a hug. Can I smile

I didn’t give her a hug, kept a neutral face, and told her to go back and no, not climb onto the sofa next to me. Baba was right behind her and for a moment we were at an impasse. Amie sobbing in the middle of the living room, me on the sofa trying to keep my cool, Baba in the corridor looking in not knowing what to do.

I could tell he didn’t think I was being firm enough. I told him to pick her up and hug her – as I was evidently prohibited from doing – and to carry her up and down the corridor a couple of times.This seemed to work: she calmed down, probably because she could see me each time they passed by the living room. But then she began to insist she sleep next to me on the sofa – which she did when she was sick – and we were back at square one.

Baba carried her back to the bedroom and closed the bedroom door. She is now screaming even more hysterically and I heard her pulling on the doorknob but Baba must have brought her back to the bed.

Now it’s 10:10 and she is still crying, but calmer, or more exhausted. It reminds me of along period months ago, when she was having such separation anxiety it was almost debilitating to herself and all around her. She screamed when she was dropped off at daycare, when Baba tried to put her to sleep, even when I left the room, and we couldn’t get a babysitter…. She screamed so badly at nap in daycare that we changed her to a mornings-only schedule, which helped tremendously (sleep seems to be a factor here). We stopped the Baba every-other-day bedtime to an only-Baba-bedtime, and after a couple of bad evenings (never as bad as this), it became her routine. We went to Singapore and India where she was kind and open to so many people… When she came back to daycare they called her “a different Amie!”

She needs to be up early to go to daycare. The practical part of me says to just go in and take over and, exhausted as she is, she will be asleep in 5 minutes. The wife part of me feels for Baba – though it is also somewhat upset at his berating me for being too soft – and wants to respect Baba’s belief that if I do that, it will give her the message that screaming will get her what she wants. That’s a belief I subscribe to… but in this situation? The Mama part of me says: just go, go! Then: no, wait! If you go you might precipitate another bout of separation anxiety…

Now she is quiet. Is she asleep?

How to love and nurture your child and also make sure that her love is not so exclusively of you? I want her to love others, for their sake, of course, but for hers first of all. Because what if something happened to me? What if one day I’m not there for her, and the only way she could stop crying is from exhaustion? I think of that possibility every day. I know it happens. But why do I feel that I have to be prepared for that – that I have to prepare her for that?

Why is it is so damn painful! How can something so soft be so damn hard!

It’s 10:20 now and still quiet. Can I go in yet and hug her?

We were on the phone with my parents-in-law and I or DH made a passing reference to watching movies on a big screen tv when at our friends’ place in New York. Amie had been eating her O’s peacefully (more or less), but when she heard that, she piped up:

“We’re gonna need a big screen tv at some point.”

Me: “Where did you get that idea?!”

Baba: “Good girl.”

Really.

The place with the big screen tv also had a three-and-a-half-year-old who received a set of beads for Christmas. Amie with her attention and occasional reverence for what the bigger kids do, was immediately into it.

Amie Beading December 2007 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

 

I got her the same set today and she has the patience for stringing about 15 beads. I am so amazed at her little fingers working like busy bees, the intense concentration on her face!

Amie Beading jANUARY 2008 (c) Katrien Vander Straeten

There is something about this picture… I feel I get a glimpse here of what she might look like in a few years time, maybe even in a decade or two…

Anyway, Amie doesn’t however get the point. All the beads need to be taken off the string and be returned to the box at the end. It’s a relief actually: that one box will last a long time!