Who am I as a communicator?

•September 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment

ATTENTION BLOG FOLLOWERS: This blog post is an assignment for grad school. It isn’t interesting, fun, or worthwhile for you to read. I will add a post you might actually care about here soon. Thanks!

As I said in my Application paper, I thought that this week’s assignments were bad. They didn’t make sense and the quizzes were especially poorly designed. Asking someone else to rate us on our level of anxiety and how our heart beats and body tenses seemed bizarre to me. Nobody else can really kn ow those things. I couldn’t understand why someone else would be asked to rate us on such things.

I wasn’t surprised by anything because I don’t think that any of it was useful or worthwhile. I would have been much more challenged and interested in this assignment if we had been asked to engage in a conversation with a person we knew using a list of prepared questions to guide us.

I found out that I am a moderately aggressive communicator according to the answers of my husband’s quiz. This was not surprising as the description, “you maintain a good balance between respect and consideration for others’ viewpoints, and the ability to argue fairly by attacking the facts rather than the person holding that position.” I think that this describes me quite well as a communicator. However, I don’t trust the results of the quizzes because I suspect that they were not scientifically designed.

I wish that I could say that I gained insights about communication this week, instead I just gained frustration at completing assignments that weren’t serving to grow me in any way.

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A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

•September 21, 2014 • Leave a Comment

There are so many reasons that being a parent is a wonderful thing. A lot of the moments I appreciate are ones in which I am observing my daughter from afar, watching her play by herself or engage with other people. One of the observations that I have made is that she effortlessly communicates with people across culture, gender, and age. She finds a way to engage with them on their level while still staying true to her authentic help. I sincerely hope that she finds a way to hold on to this incredible skill. I know that it will serve her well in her life.

Our neighborhood offers our family many opportunities to engage with individuals from other cultures. We live on Denver’s southwest side, an area with a heavy immigrant population. Most of the immigrants in our area are from Mexico, Central America, and Southeast Asia. There is also a heavy sprinkling of white, black, and Latino families that are Americans by birth. This is one of the reasons I love our neighborhood so much. All of the amazing ethnic food restaurants don’t hurt either!

We live on a block that is representative of the diversity I referenced above. We have several elderly neighbors, several families with children who speak English, and several families with children who do not speak English. We do our best to be neighborly and friendly with all of them because that is the kind of block we want to live on.

We are closer with some of our neighbors than others and we communicate with those individuals on a very friendly and familiar level, we even have them over for dinner! I speak a bit of Spanish, so I take the opportunity to practice it with my Spanish-speaking neighbors when we talk. However, I usually speak English with the children because I know that they are leaning English in public school.

My daughter approaches everyone in the neighborhood the same way. She is friendly and talkative. She stops to talk to various neighbors as she rides her scooter up and down the block. I think that i could get to know my neighbors even better if I took more walks in the neighborhood and stopped to talk to folks sitting outside their houses. Usually, I just wave at them.

For a while now I have wanted to take refresher Spanish classes. This would help me communicate better with some of my neighbors and help us feel more comfortable with one another. I know that the more I talk to my neighbors the more we will develop a caring and supportive community. I would like to improve our communication by being better about inviting our neighbors to gatherings at our home.

If everyone on the block does a little bit to improve communication, we could go a long way towards creating a close-knit community in our little corner of the big city. What do you to facilitate community in your neighborhood?

Fred Rogers

Michael Gurian: A Model of Public Speaking

•September 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

On September 6th, 2014 the Colorado Montessori Association  and the Montessori Education Center of the Rockies sponsored a speaking event at Naropa University  featuring Dr. Michael Gurian‘s talk about the differences between the male brain and the female brain based on neurology and brain scans across time, geography, and culture. The event was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Jarrow Montessori School in Boulder, CO and Dr. Gurian’s effective communication style as a public speaker ensured the event was a success.

I have been doing public speaking and professional workshops for a couple of years now and I felt that I learned so much from Dr. Gurian. My learning was not only about the human  brain and how it functions, but also about strong public speaking and how to keep a large audience engaged. Dr. Gurian was well-informed on his topic as well as humorous in his approach. I find the use of humor to be very engaging when used appropriately. He also used a differentiated instruction approach that worked to keep people of all intelligences locked into the presentation. For example, he combined humor with differentiated instruction when he showed the following video to demonstrate the differences in how male brains and female brains communicate.

This event was energizing and left me with a lot to ponder. I couldn’t wait to share what I had learned with my husband and other early childhood professionals. Dr. Gurian has done fascinating research that he has translated into over twenty-five books designed to help parents and teachers related to children and each other. He shared science with the audience in a way that kept us wanting more. As I continue to develop my pursuits as a public speaker and workshop facilitator, I will use Dr. Gurian as a model for approaching brains on the gender spectrum as well as for how to engage a crowd and keep them drawn to information that is important for them to hear.

To meat or not to meat? That is the (very personal) question.

•August 7, 2014 • 8 Comments

I was approximately twelve-years-old and I wanted a snack. I skipped onto the brown carpet of our very 1970’s kitchen and grabbed a piece of fruit from the fridge. There was an unconscious, almost robotic nature to my movements because I was at home doing something that I did almost every day, I barely had to think about it. I turned quickly on my heel to the sink behind me so that I could give my snack a quick rinse before eating it. This time, though, I was stopped in my tracks. There in the steel bins lay several skinned rabbits in a bath of water. I dropped my fruit and ran to my room in tears swearing to myself that I would never eat rabbit again.

Meat and hunting have been a part of my life and my family culture for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a family that was stable, but I know my parents always struggled to make ends meet for our family of six. One of the ways they made that possible was by growing a garden for fruits and vegetables, keeping chickens for eggs, and hunting for meat. While I find hunting for sport/trophies completely despicable, I have a great deal of respect for hunters who make good use of the animal they cull. They obtain their meat in a way that, to me, seems honest and respectful. There is a personal relationship between hunter and prey that is meaningful. I will take hunting any day over the industrial meat complex. I just don’t want to participate in the act, which is one of the reasons why I don’t eat meat.

When I was sixteen-years-old I declared myself vegetarian. I lived in a small community in Colorado with an economy powered by two things: ranching and hunting related tourism. My news was not well-received amongst the locals. My family on the other hand, was much more accepting of my decision. I spent the first couple of years as a vegetarian feeling horrible. I had no idea what I was doing and my body was a mess. Apparently replacing ribs and turkey with snack cakes and cola doesn’t really pan out well for the body. (If you would like to know more about why I became a vegetarian, click here).

In college, I got serious about learning how to be a vegetarian. I learned how to incorporate beans and legumes as well as whole grains and tons of vegetables into my diet. This helped me feel better and stronger than I did at the start of my vegetarian lifestyle. It was empowering to be in control of my diet and I realized that a lot of people thought that it was “cool” that I didn’t eat meat. That was certainly a motivator to keep up the lifestyle!

Unfortunately, while I learned a lot about how to be a healthier vegetarian, I was also making some very unhealthy choices as well. During the first few years that I was veggie, there really weren’t a lot of options for me other than vegetables and junk food. However, the food scientists caught up to me quickly. Suddenly I found myself surrounded by the possibilities made available to me by the amazing technology of products such as “soy grounds” and “chik’n”. I embraced these new food-like products with fervor and cooked with them almost every night.

Slowly, I began to feel sluggish and I often found myself hungry late at night because my dinner didn’t satisfy me. As my husband and I negotiated our way through a hard time in our marriage, we found our way to common ground in a shared love and respect for food. We began the process of slowly eliminating most of the processed food in our home, including the cellulose-filled and incredibly expensive packages of “meat.” It suddenly seemed super gross to me.

Our hens peck the yard with the coop in the background.

Our hens peck the yard with the coop in the background.

We established a robust garden and built and chicken coop. As a family, we moved closer to my childhood roots and it felt amazing! Eliminating these processed foods helped a lot, but not completely. I did manage to get rid of the persistent headache I had for nearly three years that had me convinced I was growing a tumor behind my left eye. We were also able to cure ourselves of the inordinate expenses associated with eating processed vegetarian and vegan foods. Unfortunately, the digestive issues I have had since puberty not only persist, but they seem to be getting worse. As I want you to continue reading I won’t share the gory details with you, but I can certainly say that the situation with my belly is unpleasant at best.

The blessing and curse of the internet is that I have been able to thoroughly research the digestive issues I experience. There are an awful lot of opinions about the exact diet that will save my life and make me my best self ever. I just don’t know if I buy into most of it. However, I have come across some information consistently that tells me that, in order to truly feel well, I might need to start eating meat again. This is a prospect that causes me untold internal conflict.

Many of the symptoms I experience that point to a general lack of wellness in my being have also been tied to protein deficiencies. There are also those who subscribe to the belief that the fact that my blood type is O negative means that I should be a voracious consumer of meat. A lot of science consistently points to the Mediterranean diet, with a fish and vegetable rich base, is the optimal path to whole-body health. I have explored the possibilities that my dietary challenges could be related to dairy or gluten, and I just don’t think that is the case. I cannot detect any distinct pattern between those foods and the digestive mess I find myself in.

At 34-years-old, my metabolism has slowed significantly. I can’t seem to shake the feeling of sluggishness and the heaviness in my mid-section is on display and growing by the day. While I know that dairy and gluten are not likely to be the source of my issues, they are contributing factors. One of the problems with being a vegetarian is that the options available to me are often heavy on those two ingredients. Instead of the flank steak and steamed vegetables, I am offered gourmet macaroni and cheese (a food I love but I realize does not serve me well). This is often the case for a veggie at a restaurant. Our choices are limited and the choices we are given usually rely on dairy and gluten to save the day. I’m over it.

Dinner, anyone?

Dinner, anyone?

After eighteen years of faithful vegetarianism, I find myself questioning my choice. Am I doing this because it is what I deeply and truly believe that it is right for me or am I doing this because it is what I have done for over half my life? I don’t really know. What I do know is that my husband is a hunter and I am not bothered by the meat in our freezer. I know that I make a turkey every year for Thanksgiving that is met with rave reviews and I have never tasted it. I know that industrial farming is disgusting, horrible, and completely misaligned with my values. I know that I wear leather belts and shoes. I know that I want to feel well. I know that I want to have normal bowel movements. I know that I want more options when I go out to eat. I know that I believe in rational thought over passionate dogma. I know that I love animals. I know that the food chain is necessary and powers the world’s ecosystems.

What I know is that I do not know the right thing to do in this situation. Does it make sense for me to let go of two decades worth of intentional practice on the hope that I might feel better. Do I value my own personal wellness over the belief system I have used to structure my life? To meat or not to meat? This is the personal question to which I do not have the answer. What do you think?

It’s So Hard to Say “Goodbye”

•August 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Over the years, many parents have told me that the hardest time of the day for them is when they drop their child off at school. This is understandable as the morning is full of transitions and saying “goodbye” to the precious person whom you love more than anybody else in the world can be difficult. This difficulty can be exacerbated by a child that cries when you leave or cries during the process of getting ready for school. That can be truly heartbreaking!

There are a number of factors that can play into how a child starts off his or her day, and it all starts at bedtime.  Be sure that your child has a predictable night-time routine as well as a bedtime that allows him to get 10-12 hours of sleep. If your child is put to bed feeling peaceful and in control and she is able to get a full night’s sleep, she will be able to start her day off positively.

As with bedtime, children also need a predictable routine in the morning. For toddler and primary age children, this routine must involve the child in making choices and doing things for himself. If you find yourself engaged in battles with your child in the morning, take a moment to reflect on what is causing the tension. You can let go of some of the tasks (such as brushing hair or getting dressed) that your child can do for himself. Remember that just because they cannot do it as well as you, doesn’t mean they cannot do it.

Even small gestures, such as offering your child a small pitcher of milk so that he can pour it into his cereal independently, can go a long way in helping him to feel as though he is in control of his morning. When your child awakes, he should know what to expect next.  Your child will be less prone to battles and tantrums if she already knows that when she finishes her breakfast, she will get dressed, then she will brush her teeth and hair…etc. Within each of these steps for the morning routine, offer your child a choice. “Would you like cold cereal or oatmeal?” “Do you want to wear your red pants or your blue pants?” Just be sure that you are comfortable with both choices so that you are able to follow through.

The drive to school is a perfect opportunity to help your child feel prepared for the next transition in his day. Be careful to avoid talking about topics that may “trigger” your child, such as a new teacher or a friend with whom she has a complex social relationship. Stick to simple topics that excite your child, such as music class or having snack.

Arriving to school at an early time  is one of the best ways to set your child up for success in the school day. They can build a lot of anxiety about school and the classroom when they arrive late or at inconsistent times. When you arrive at the building, be sure that your child leaves all toys, jewelry, and other treasures in the car. Have them put it in a special place where they know they will find it when they get picked up. Bringing these items into school can cause a lot of difficulty for your child as well as the teachers.

If your child is able to walk allow him to walk into the building independently. This is another means of empowering your child. Have a routine for dropping your child off at the room so that she can predict what is expected during this transition. If your child is able to carry his belongings in independently, allow him to do so. Remember that a quick and loving “goodbye” is always the best method, even if your child is crying. Prolonged goodbyes cause children to experience anxiety, especially if the parent is showing signs of stress. If your child cries and it causes you to linger, she will quickly figure out that a big fit is the way to get you to stay. If you give a loving but brief goodbye, every single day, he will learn that fits will not get you to stay. Although we encourage your departure to be brief, please know that sneaking out while your child isn’t looking is also not a desirable choice. This behavior will cause your child’s anxiety to be even higher and it will breed mistrust in you. Your child deserves to know that you are leaving and that you are coming back.

Every early childhood teacher knows that mornings can be difficult. They are here every morning to support you and your child during this transition period. Take comfort in the knowledge that your child is truly loved and well cared for in their school (or start looking for a new one if you don’t believe this). Great teachers believe that every family in the school can have a successful morning. Please approach your child’s lead if you are feeling as though you may need extra support in the mornings. They are here for you!

 

“We must help the child to act for himself, will for himself, think for himself; this is the art of those who aspire to serve the spirit.”  -Dr. Maria Montessori

Grow With Me

•June 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Maria Montessori believed that there is a fundamental connection to nature that is possessed by all humans but is most pronounced in the young child. In Montessori schools we work to nurture that relationship and help children form a deep respect for nature that they can carry with them through adulthood. This is very easy for programs with space and land. It is a lot more challenging for urban schools, though it is certainly not impossible.

The same is true for urban families. Our opportunities to connect with nature are diminished by our relative proximity to the natural world. However, there is still a lot that we can do to help our children connect to nature whether we live in a condo downtown or a farm in the countryside. Spending time outdoors and developing an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things on this Earth is a wonderful learning opportunity for your child as well as a wonderful opportunity for your family to bond. Fortunately we live in Colorado, a state that fosters a connection with nature. Skiing, camping, and hiking are a few of the wonderful ways for us to teach our children to value the natural world, but they aren’t the only ways. Below are my top tips for connecting with your child by connecting to nature:

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Observe the Outdoors

From the earliest stages of development children show great interest in observing nature. If the weather is beautiful, go outside with them without an agenda other than seeing nature. If you tend to go to a certain park to play, I encourage you to pick a different place that your child doesn’t associate with “playground time.” Instead, find somewhere new with interesting trees and flowers or possibly a pond. Describe what you see, hear, smell, and feel if your child is showing interest in having conversation. If your child is staying silent, I encourage you to do the same. Follow their lead in the nature exploration and intervene only when safety is an issue. Just take the time to “be” in the outdoors with your child.

 

Experience the Weather

This one is hard for me. Although I have lived in Colorado my whole life, I really dislike being cold. If you are like me, I have good news for you! Porches, balconies, and windows all present wonderful opportunities to sit with your child and quietly observe or describe what you see. For those of you who like being out in the weather… go play! Fly a kite, splash in a puddle, catch snowflakes on your mittens, do whatever it is that brings you joy when you are out in the weather and share it with your child.

 

Sprout a Pit Together

                Pit fruit is a downright magical way to help your child see and understand the miracle of a hard, wood-like seed turning into a soft, delicate sprout. Mangoes work well for this experiment. Enjoy a mango with your child. Discuss the skin and the flesh using the most descriptive language you can muster. Have your child help you scrub all of the remaining fruit from the pit with a rough sponge. Lay the pit to dry on a paper towel for roughly twenty-four hours (this prevents rotting). Wrap the pit in several moist paper towels and slip it into a plastic bag. Place the plastic bag in a cool, dark place such as a kitchen drawer. Pull it out and check on it about every five days. Eventually a sprout with leaves will pop out! You can transplant it into soil in a pot and see if you can make a tree!

Give Your Child Space to Grow

We are fortunate enough to have a large yard and garden at our house. Because we have so much space we give our daughter a 4’ x 8’ garden plot in which she is allowed to plant whatever she chooses. I have been amazed at how well the plants in her garden do and how excited she is about what she grows. If you don’t have a whole garden bed to give up, try giving your children a corner of a garden or even a large pot on a porch. Let them choose what they want to plant and teach them how to care for it. Model for them by growing and caring for fruits and vegetables yourself. Observe the flowers closely to help your children know how to witness the amazing process of a flower becoming a fruit.

 

When your children feel connected to nature, they will become more connected to themselves. When you spend time connecting with nature with your child, you will become more connected to one another. Nature is a wonderful place in which to build lifelong family memories. Let’s get out there together!

 

“The child who has felt a strong love for his surroundings and for all living creatures…gives us reason to hope that humanity can develop in a new direction.”  –Maria Montessori

 

 

Social Justice in Early Childhood

•April 27, 2014 • 1 Comment

Issues related to culture, equity, and social justice are woven throughout the field of early childhood education. I suspect that this is one of the reasons that ECE is such a hot-button issue in the current policy climate. Americans hold a variety of perspectives on the meaning of culture and equity as well as the definition of what makes a worthy social justice issue. Building consensus and understanding around these issues is necessary in order for our society to properly support children and families.

My goals as a professional in early childhood education are tied to the goals I have for the early childhood profession as a whole. I want to help influence a sensible approach to this necessary facet of our communities that includes a two-generation support system for children and their parents. I have been dismayed at some of the rhetoric I hear from some politicians regarding early childhood education.

It appears that there are some leaders with a sincerely held belief that early childhood education programs are an assault on the traditional American family. Just this week a state senator from Colorado spoke to this in a committee hearing on proposed reforms for the Child Care Assistance Program that helps to subsidize child care for Colorado’s low-income families. Senator Kevin Lundberg spoke of this “belief” that children are better off if they aren’t at home with their parents and we are all subsidizing it. I found this perspective to be strange. I don’t think many people think that, except in the most extreme situations, children are better off with anyone other than their parents. However, it is simply not the reality in America today that parents can stay home with their children.

According to the US Department of Labor, in 1968 a full-time minimum wage job as enough to support a family of three. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this isn’t even close to possible anymore. For those families that are fortunate enough to have two loving adults in the home raising the children, few are in the position to have only one of those adults bringing home an income. Two income households are a majority reality in America today. Furthermore, many households are headed by a single parent. In the event that someone finds themselves raising their children alone they often have two choices: to either work or go to school while getting some subsidized help as they improve their family situation or go on full-blown welfare and do their best to stay on it. Occasionally there are single parents who can make everything work without any help, but this is simply not the reality.

When I hear people say that the government has no business funding or supporting early childhood education programs, I feel disappointed. We have a responsibility as a society to make sure that we are taking care of our children and we are helping our citizens be empowered to work and contribute to our economic vitality. There is no assault on the traditional American family underway. Instead, we are working towards a shift in societal perspectives that allows for recognition of the fact that there are a lot of acceptable constructs of the American family that lie outside of the expected construct of one man and one woman with a handful of typically developing biological children. Our families are varied and worthwhile. It is in the best interests of our society that we find ways to support children and families so that everyone is learning and working purposefully. These are admirable goals for a community.

My professional path is one that leads towards greater understanding and justice for our tiniest citizens who do not have a voice for themselves and their parents who are to immersed in supporting their families to be actively involved in public policy issues. I am grateful for all of the early childhood professionals who are on this path with me and are helping me discover how to understand and advocate to the best of my abilities. Together we will be able to do so much to change the landscape for the better for our children and families.

 
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