Tuesday, 27 March 2012

On the other side of the fence

Before my son was born, I worked for a couple of years at the local Montessori school, mostly in the two-year-old classroom, plus one term in the children's house (three-six year olds).

When my son turned two, it was a given that he would be going to the school.  I don't think that the school is perfect by any means, but I'm aware of what its faults and strengths are.  I knew the daily schedule, the usual songs and stories and most of the work. 

There had been some staff turnover since my time there, but the head was the same and my old colleague was still in the toddler room.  I had an established relationship with the people who would be teaching my children.  I had also worked/helped out off and on since my son had been born anyway, deliberately maintaining my connection with the school.  I had an inside track, so to speak.

This made it very easy for me to pick a school.  I don't know how I'm going to manage for their next school!  For what it's worth, having worked as a teacher, my number one advice for a preschool is to choose one where you feel you've got a good rapport with their teachers.  At this age, I think it's very important to have a back and forth conversation about where they are with their needs and skills (not just the academic ones)--and both you and the teacher need to be able to be honest.

The transition from teacher to parent has been an interesting one.  After two years of monopolising my son's life and knowing exactly what he was learning every day, it was bizarre to say goodbye to him and let him spend three hours without me.  Three hours that would become a void in my knowledge of him. 

It was also weird to go from being "Miss Sarah" to "Toby's Mom."  Actually, some of the older children at school still call me Miss Sarah, which I take great pride in.  However, I used to know the name of every child there, and that's no longer the case... although I imagine I still know more than most parents. 

For the most part though, I'm comfortably settled into the parent-role now.  I still get agitated about what he's doing.  I went in to observe him in January, when he moved down to the children's house, and I might just have to do that again soon, but I probably shouldn't get into the helicopter-parenting habit!  When I was teaching, I always felt a little silly doing parent/teacher conferences--how much academic assessment does a two year need?  As a parent, I've been so grateful for the insight into just what my son is doing all day.

Perhaps my biggest problem now is remembering that my husband isn't as familiar with Montessori as I am and thus doesn't necessarily understand what we're talking about at these parent/teacher conferences.  We had our second last week, and the teacher was explaining that our son had pulled out the moveable alphabet of his own accord.  I chattered away to her about his abilities with sounding out words, but my husband had no idea what the moveable alphabet was.  We took him into the classroom afterwards to show him.

Sidenote, I am so appreciative of my husband making the time to come to the PTCs.  I know a lot don't, and it's important to me that he stays involved in the kids' education.

Let's just emphasise a point here: my son is working on the moveable alphabet.  That definitely came as a surprise, since I didn't think he had figured out how to break a word into its component sounds yet.  I knew he knew all his sounds (i.e. the alphabet in phonics), but it turns out he can pull out the letters to write 'man', 'hat' and 'bat'.  He can't read, but he has made that leap to writing.

At home, he sometimes rearranges the magnetic letters on the fridge, but only in a random order.  Still, today, I was sorting out a box of language stuff, and he pulled out some phonics cards I'd bought, saying he wanted to do those (not that he had the faintest idea what they were).  The card on top was 'ar', and it showed a picture of a car in a barn with a star painted on.  He said 'farm' rather than 'barn' but that worked as well.

I dug out some letters from the same box and gave him 'a' and 'r', and we arranged them in order.  Then I tried pulling out 'c', 's', 't', 'f' and 'm'.  He got 'car' and figured out 'star' much quicker than I expected, considering 'st' is a blend.  We never progressed to 'farm' because my daughter started pulling letters out of the bag and putting them on the table.  She does like practising her transferring skills.

Considering my previous anxiety on how best to teach him to read, I'm thrilled by this development, and now I've got to try very hard to sit back and not push him on it.  He's definitely early on this, but that's OK.  He's not a genius by any stretch of the imagination and even in literacy he might average out in another few years.  But as his mother, I am so proud of him right now.

And as a teacher?  Well, we'll see what next year brings.  My hope is that when my daughter starts school, I'll be making a new transition to both teacher and parent.  That should be interesting!

Monday, 26 March 2012

It's not walking, it's falling with style

My daughter (thirteen and a half months) is on the verge of walking.  Then again, she has been since Christmas, so we're cautious about getting our hopes up.  Cruising, walking while her hands are held, standing unassisted... all those she can do.  She can even walk with just one hand being held, although she tends to start grabbing for the other hand if this keeps up for more than a few steps.

For the past two weeks, she's been faking us out.  She will stand, unassisted, and stare at her destination, poised to take that first step... and then she'll drop down to all fours and crawl.  Alternatively, she will might be just out of reach of her desired support, so she will dive towards it, and as she falls she takes a step to propel herself closer.  Since she's making no attempt to keep her balance, I don't think that counts!

My son walked at fourteen months, which is late-ish, but not remarkably late.  At the time, it seemed like an eternity, because I had a number of friends who had babies within a month of his birth, and all of them were walking by ten months.  I used to joke that he was thrown off-balance by his disproportionately large head... perhaps this is true for my daughter as well!  Her doctor seems to think that her old hip issues might delay her a little, which isn't something I'd thought about.  I forget she ever had hip dysplasia most of the time.

For the most part though, the beauty of the second time around is that I'm less fussed by the wait for those first steps.  She'll get there.  I'm getting impatient, because she weighs over twenty pounds and that's a lot to carry, but on the plus side, I am stronger than I've ever been!  Still, with the warmer weather arriving, it would be great if she could run around and join in the outdoor activities more fully.  And there's a part of me that frets that she might take after me and not walk until she's almost two!

It does, however, look like she's beaten both me and her brother.  Today, she turned away from me and took a definite step towards him.  She then pitched herself forward onto the stair we were sitting on, but she held her balance while taking that step. 

As far as I'm concerned, that counts.  She's not quite a walker yet, but we've had the first step.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mothering Sunday

In the UK, today was Mother's Day.  In the US, it doesn't happen until May.  This gives me something of a dilemma about which one to celebrate (I have floated the idea of both to my husband, but as Father's Day is the same in both countries, he wasn't having it).

Honestly, it's a fairly simple choice: I go with the UK one, because I try to keep hold of my Britishness as a general rule, what with the plan to go back there someday.  I also like the way that nobody else around me is celebrating Mother's Day today, which makes it a little more intimate.  This is something just for our family!  Less commercial too.

From my husband's point of view, it's a pain in the backside, since there are no Mother's Day cards out at this time of year (I always tell him I'm happy with a blank one).  Also, he doesn't get the benefit of a school-supplied crafted gift from the kids, so he has to arrange something himself.  Obviously, I still get the school Mother's Day craft in May, our one concession to the US celebration.

Also, we have no reminders of when it's coming.  I normally try and have a British calendar in the house to check such holidays, but this year we don't, so we're using Wikipedia. As it happened, I completely forgot this year until yesterday, when I discovered it was today.  I realised that either my husband knew and was going to surprise me, or it was too late to remind him to get me a card from the kids, so I didn't say anything.

He was much better prepared.  He'd ordered me a card from the UK, that even said 'Mummy'!  I also got an enormous hanging basket of pansies that my son had picked out.  Full points to Daddy!

Perhaps because it was on the wrong day from my perspective, Mother's Day was never something that hurt me when I was trying to conceive, but that isn't the case for many people struggling with infertility.  I can't express a sentiment better than a friend's facebook status, so I'll pass that on: "Happy mother's day to all who celebrate. For those who wish they could but can't I send a special hug."

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Spring Cleaning and Growing Up

I've been quiet on the posting front lately, because I'm spring-cleaning.... taking my valuable kid-free time, and instead of idling/typing furiously on the computer, I'm clearing out boxes and boxes of stuff, trying to cut down on all those things we've accumulated and put by for when they come in handy.

Truth to tell, there's not much cleaning going on, but there's a lot going out.  Including the baby stuff.

Now that my daughter's a year old, and we have no plans for more children, it's time to say goodbye to the baby equipment.  She's weaned from the bottle, she's out of the infant carrier and into the convertible, she was never in a crib anyway, and I can't remember the last time I put her in the Exersaucer.  The stroller, changing pad, nappies and highchair are likely to stick around a bit longer, but everything else?  That can go.

I vaguely remember how dramatic it seemed as we gradually acquired all the baby paraphernalia at the end of 2008 when my son was born.  This influx of equipment taking over the house, and even after he outgrew it, we carefully put it to one side, hoping we'd get the chance to use it again.  Now it's gradually exiting the house via Craigslist.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that I don't feel many pangs as it leaves.  Since we're ever in danger of becoming hoarders, I always feel a sense of triumph when we get rid of things anyway, but this is saying goodbye to a whole phase of our lives: the baby phase.

Then again, I've never been a baby person, and neither has my husband.  I was talking with another mother recently who has a son the same age as mine, and she said her favourite part so far was from 0-1; I replied that my favourite part was 1-2.  I'm toddler-centric.  I never felt sad about my son growing up until he reached 3, and since then I've often had little flashes of baseless fear that he's going to grow into somebody I don't like or just the overwhelming comprehension that someday he's going to be bigger than me, and that very soon, I'm not going to be somebody he wants to cuddle up to.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I discouraged my son from being carried, knowing that the baby would take over my arms soon.  Now that both the children are a little older, I'm carrying my son more again, knowing that I won't have much longer to do it.  He occasionally likes to pretend that he's the baby, which I'm sure is a normal older sibling reaction.  I've no idea whether that sort of behaviour should be permitted or discouraged, but I'm indulging him, because I still can!

So I've no regrets about my daughter turning one, and saying farewell to such infant staples as our co-sleeper bassinet or the boppy pillow, but I think when she's three, it will be a very different story....

Monday, 12 March 2012

Book Review: All the World

This is one that I picked up at the library this week: All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee.  I'd not heard of it before, but it had received a Caldecott Honor (an award for illustrations) from 2010.

I assumed when I picked it up that it would be a book about the physical world, showing many different locations, but in fact it's more about society: the world as we experience it, or rather, as a child does.  It follows different families through a day in a rural community, through settings like a beach, a farmer's market, a park which is hit by a sudden storm, forcing several characters to seek shelter in a cafe.  The day ends with a cosy party at one house, complete with roaring fire and musical instruments.

Youtube trailer:

The story is a poem, which is certainly lovely, but what really stood out to me were the illustrations, which tell the story.  They are both beautiful but incredibly detailed, repeating the same characters on different pages (my favourites are the two elderly ladies on the tandem), and I've gone back and forth through the book several times, looking for who appears where!  No characters are ever referred to in the text, which tends to stay abstract.

It's too old for my one year old daughter.  The story is too abstract and the illustrations too busy for her.  She's patted the pages with some interest when I've been reading it to her brother, but she's not stuck around to pay attention.  My three year old son has enjoyed it, and likes discussing the pictures, but he's not demanding it be read over and over.  He has picked it up independently to look through the pictures--his favourite is the tree with children climbing through the branches.

I think a year ago he would have loved it, and when he's old enough to follow the detail in the illustrations himself, he'll be more fascinated again, but right now he likes books with characters and humour.  This is definitely not a funny book!

However, it's one I'll remember for when I go back to teaching, because it would be a great one to read at circle time in school.  It's beautiful, peaceful, inclusive and inoffensive without being stiltedly politically correct.

Notes for the Parent

There really isn't anything controversial or worrisome in this book, which tends towards a wholesome view of life.  If anything, I'd warn people that it's too idealised, and very much on the crunchy side.  The activities of the people in the book are virtually technology-free--save for one image of a child on a phone near the end.   No computers, televisions, video-games or stereos!  There are a handful of cars, but most characters walk or pedal.

Educational Stuff

The loose moral of this story is responsibility and love for the world around us.  Young children obviously have no concept of prejudice, so this is a lovely illustration of how to teach tolerance and acceptance without having to teach the bigotry that exists.

While the story takes place within a single community, the art avoids any sort of cultural designation.  There are many things that strike me as distinctly North American in feel, but there aren't any obviously American traditions.  The setting feels contemporary, but there's little to date it either.  Some of the characters are clearly white or black, but most are ethnically ambiguous, and at least one family is multi-racial.  There is no suggestion of any religious practice during the day as shown, but the double-page spread showing the community does depict a building that looks like a church.

The real beauty of the illustrated storylines is that so much is open to interpretation, allowing the reader to relate things to their own child's world-view.  There's a picture of a young woman holding her baby in a perfect latching position.  Her top isn't raised (or lowered), so she'd need some concealed opening to be breastfeeding, but that's exactly what it looks like she's doing.  But it's not something a child unfamiliar with nursing would pick up on.

That same young woman appears three or four times holding her child, but there's never a father in evidence.  Clearly, there could be a father somewhere off-camera, as it were, but equally, she could be pointed out as a single mother--a hardworking single mother, who is studying while breastfeeding.

That's the kind of thing I love about this book... there's nothing so obvious as two men pushing a stroller (although I think it would be fantastic if there was), but the tandem-riding ladies co-habitate.  At the end, they're shown on a garden swing, their cycling helmets beside them and the older woman's arm around the younger (age determined only by hair colour--neither looks young).  They could be a mother and daughter, or they could be closer in age: a pair of spinsters or a longstanding couple.

For more conventional literary skills... it's a nice vocabulary builder.  The poem's stanzas tend to begin with a couple of lines listing things that can be found in the pictures.  There are more than a few opposites as well and several more abstract concepts.  The text appears in different places, depending on the images, but it's always going from top to bottom, left to right, and shouldn't confuse an early reader.

All in all, an absolutely beautiful book, and one I will likely buy so that we have our own copy to keep.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Forbidden Cupboards of Mystery and Curious Three Year Olds

Yesterday, the children disappeared into the bathroom together, followed by the sounds of giggling and sundry articles hitting the floor.  This is not the first time it's happened... they've decided that getting the bath toys out of their basket and throwing them on the floor is a fine game.

Clearly, this makes a big mess, but the clean up is simple and they're quite willing to do it.  As we don't exactly have prescribed uses for the bath toys, I had decided that this was a 'permissible mess', with the advantage that they were also playing together without wanting me to be in attendance which freed me up to get on with something else for ten minutes or so.  And since they're the only ones who use that bathroom, there was really not much other than baby soap for them to get into.

'Not much', however, included a Febreze aerosol.  I kept it at the back of the counter where I fondly imagined my son couldn't reach it.  Well, yesterday, they decided to extend their throwing game to everything on the counters.  Then my son discovered how to spray the Febreze and presumably felt it necessary to repeat this new skill over and over.  Usually, we have a detangling spray in that bathroom, which I use on the children before brushing their hair.  As it happened, it wasn't in the bathroom yesterday, but my son logically concluded that the Febreze must have the same purpose and started spraying it on his sister's hair.

Thankfully, when I spray their hair, I spray from the back of their head, and I'm guessing he did the same thing.  Certainly, she never cried and had no signs of eye irritation.  The only evidence of what had happened was her wet hair and an overpowering smell of Febreze.  She still smells of Febreze today, although the bathroom has finally aired out, 24 hours later.  Serendipitously, Febreze seems to be a wonderful conditioner too, although perhaps it would be best to consult the manufacturers before you try this at home...

So, luckily, no real harm was done, but I was freaked out when I first discovered what had happened.  I've moved the Febreze out of the their bathroom altogether now, but it's becoming more and more apparent that we can't just rely on things being out of my son's reach anymore.  He's got wise to that little trick and has lately got into the habit of moving his stools to peer up onto out of reach shelves to see exactly what curiosities are being denied him.

I did give him a long talk about why he shouldn't spray the Febreze and how it could have got into his sister's eyes and hurt her--which hopefully won't inspire him to find another spray and see what exactly would happen if he sprayed in his sister's eyes.  He can be very responsible about most things, but the Montessori practice of letting children discover the consequences for themselves doesn't exactly extend to bleach, for example.

It seems the most sensible thing to do would be to suggest that if he doesn't know what something does, he should ask Mummy.  But I can guarantee that he'll be asking me at the most inopportune time, and will get a frazzled "Wait a moment!" or "Not right now!" in reply.  This is still happening a lot lately, despite my efforts to be more available.

Oh, well.  Never give up and all.  And being more conscientious about where truly dangerous things are is probably a good idea too....