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Discover the secret of childhood from 0-3 year old:

3-4 years old

What We Did All Summer (of 2014)

Saturday, October 25th, 2014 7:17 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Mackenzie learning the Chinese Alphabet

Mackenzie learning the Chinese Alphabet

Since I haven’t written for such a long time, I keep thinking that the first blog that comes out must be perfect. I’ve been waiting for perfect, but perfect never happens and, really, it’s the wrong way to look at it. So if this blog post rambles on, forgive me, I’m just gonna give it a go. 

What a summer we’ve had! 

This was the most upheaval we’ve gone through together as a family, and I wasn’t ready to write about it till we’ve come out the other end. Our friends and family went through all the ups and downs with us. We’re lucky they still love us after what we’ve put them through!

I last left off in June, when Mark and I both got our AMI certifications in Portland and were on our way to Taiwan. We spent two months there. Brooke and Mackenzie attended my mother’s school, Ms. Lam’s Montessori school, while Mark and I worked in the school. He taught soon-to-be first graders, while I observed and taught in both primary and toddler classrooms. 

I grew up knowing that our family ran Montessori schools. But it didn’t mean much to me because I didn’t have kids and Montessori was just something Mom did. Now that I’ve been trained in two levels (0-3 and 3-6), I’ve taught at a few schools, observed at many other schools and been a parent with children who have attended a couple Montessori schools, I have a lot more experience evaluating schools. As strange as this may sound, I was completely surprised to discover for myself just how excellent my mom’s school is. Mark and I were so impressed, we even decided to forego our own egos and opt to continue what my mom started. What does that mean? We are going to open a Ms. Lam Montessori school here in the US. 

We left Taiwan in August, where we continued the next part of our summer adventure in California. I’ve always thought I would love California – sunny, beautiful and the perfect place for a school. Well, dream and reality did not mesh this time. Because everything was new, it turned out to be extremely difficult for us to accomplish all we wanted to do. I was also pregnant when we arrived in California, and when I had a miscarriage – most likely due to the stress of the situation (more on this later) – I knew this was not the place for us.  One month after we arrived, we decided our future is where we came from: back home in Brooklyn, NY. 

We landed in New York in mid-September and moved back into our own building in Williamsburg. The second we arrived, we were immediately surrounded by friends and family – don’t know why we ever thought we belonged anywhere else. We immediately started working on opening our new school. There’s permits, handbooks, websites, classroom design. We’ve got a long to-do list!

Meanwhile, we did something radical. We decided to send Brooke and Mackenzie (3 years 10 months) to public school until our school opens. Why? The school is right next to our house; there were two open spots; it’s just for 2-3 months; we need to save every penny to renovate our school and buy the best materials for our future school. Sometimes logistics win.

I’ve had moments of doubt, but overall, public school has been an interesting experience. The most surprising thing is this: everyday, when they come home, they don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. Not even the park. They just want to stay home and work. They are totally concentrated and self-sufficient until dinnertime, which is about 3 hours.  I don’t know what they do all day at school, but I think some part of them craves working independently. 

Brooke washed ALL of those dishes in the drying rack with just sponge and dish soap

At home from school, Brooke washed ALL of those dishes in the drying rack!

After school activity - Mackenzie builds with Magnatiles

After school activity – Mackenzie builds with Magnatiles for hours

Well, here we are, at the other end of our summer adventure and settled into our new – hopefully permanent – life and home. It feels FANTASTIC to be writing this blog from a home I can finally call my own.

How to End Bullying Forever

Thursday, June 5th, 2014 8:23 am | By Stephanie Woo

As I was driving B and M (3.5 years old) home from school yesterday, I overheard this conversation.

M calls B “Poopy.” B says, “My name is Brooke, you can call me Brooke.” 

M calls her “Poopy” again. B says, “If you are mean to me, then I’m going to walk away.” 

M turns to her and pleads, “Can you please play with me?” 

B says, “Then don’t be mean to me! If you are nice to me, then we can play together. If you are not nice to me, then I’m going to walk away.”

If every child learned this Montessori Grace and Courtesy lesson, bullies would have no one to bully. And bullying in schools would literally Cease. To. Exist.

**Join Stephanie’s next Long Distance Courses! The next First Year Course starts Wednesday, June 18th. The next Toddler Course starts Tuesday, June 19th. Find out what recent participants have said here.

If Your Child Hits, Bites, Screams or Throws Tantrums – As Told By A Lizard

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 10:38 pm | By Stephanie Woo

You’ve read a lot of blog posts and watched a lot of videos. I hope this format will work better for us sleep-deprived mothers – expanding your screen will make it easier on your eyes, too!

What should you do if your child hits, bites, screams or throws tantrums? Watch the slideshow below and take some parenting advice from a wise ol’ lizard…

Learning Geography Through Fun and Play!

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014 12:03 am | By Stephanie Woo

In November, Mark and I went to our children’s school for “Parent’s Night” so they could show us what they’ve been working on. We discovered that they had started working with the World Map!

Then one day they came home and over dinner, the two of them spontaneously broke into song. Like this:

That was a clear sign to me they were interested in the names of the continents. So I immediately bought a globe on Amazon.

A great way to introduce globes to children is to start with the basics. I would point to a blue part and say, “Ocean.” We’d turn the globe to find more oceans. Then I would point to the colored parts and say, “Continent.” And then together, we would find more continents. Our globe also has raised surfaces for mountains, so I would point to those and say, “Mountain,” then ask them to find several more mountains. 

Whenever I tell them stories about our family and friends who live faraway, like A-gong and A-ma (grandpa and grandma) who live in Taiwan, Grandfather who lives in Austin, TX or Great-uncle who lives in Paris, we would take out the globe to find those cities and countries together. If we travel – for example, we went to Seattle a couple weeks ago – we would look for those on the globe as well. 

I started looking for a way to teach them the Chinese names of countries. I never buy any Montessori material for our home if I know they have it at school, so I didn’t want to buy the wooden Montessori maps. Then I saw this GeoPuzzle Map. I must confess the quality is just above average. It requires adult presence because the puzzle pieces move around quite a lot, so it can be frustrating for a 3-year-old to do on her own. However, it serves my purpose: it is different enough from what they have at school and I can use it to casually introduce the Chinese names of these countries. To them, they don’t know the difference, it’s just a fun puzzle they want to play with a lot! 

Between 0-6, the child is in the Sensitive Period for Language. Between 3-6, the child has an insatiable desire for vocabulary words. There is really no limit to how much vocabulary they can learn during these few years. Learning all the continents and then all the countries within those continents is easy (and interesting!) for them during this age. 

The other day, M picks up a cookie, bites it into a long oval and exclaims, “South America!” She also sings a little song about Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It’s all fun and play – a foundation for geography just happens to come along with it. 

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The foundation of a child’s life starts in the first year. If you set up the first year right, things will be much easier moving forward. Perhaps you have a child between 0-12 months. Or you plan on having a child. Or you are interested in learning more about this age group. Join my next Long Distance Course, starting April 26th! Take the course from the comfort of your home and learn at your own pace!

How to Praise Your Child (and a Great Practical Life Activity)

Monday, April 7th, 2014 11:26 pm | By Stephanie Woo

We live up in the mountains where mornings and evenings get very cold. Whenever we start a fire, B and M are there to help us.  M (3 years 1 month) has experienced the process so many times, she can pretty much do the whole thing by herself, as long as an adult is there to help her light the fire. 

M starts to clean out yesterday’s ashes…

and dumps it out in the trashcan.

She starts scooping again…

…gets a big scoopful, then dumps it in the trash.

After several trips, the fireplace is now clean and ready for new firewood.

She lays down firewood Mark has cut and prepared – starting with one large piece at the bottom…

…and some smaller pieces at top.

She gets the fire starter.

Then she gets the torch. Don’t worry, dear readers – Mom’s the one who lights it!

It’s lit!

Now we have a warm fire to enjoy the rest of the day!

Look around your home and see if there is a task your family does everyday that your child could participate in – and maybe take over. Let them have the choice of doing the activity everyday, but a child under 5 is too young to be required to do it everyday.

When your child starts to help out around the house, don’t feel like you need to reward them or praise them excessively. If you rely heavily on qualitative praise (like, ‘you’re so smart’) or giving your child rewards (like toys, money or cookies) – it will take away from their own sense of accomplishment. Pretty soon, you’ll find that they only do things for your praise or reward. And their joy of doing the activity diminishes.

The best way to praise your child is by using simple phrases like, ‘You cleaned the fireplace,’ ‘You helped wash the dishes’ or ‘You brought your dishes to the sink.’ These descriptive praises tells them you noticed what they did – and your acknowledgement is all they need.

Our Plans for Summer & Fall 2014

Monday, March 31st, 2014 9:39 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Pictures from the summer school we’ll be attending in Taiwan

So much has happened recently, sometimes I don’t know where to begin to share with you all! So I thought I’d give you a brief overview of what we’ve been up to, including our plans for the summer and fall. 

My husband and I are in the final stretch of our training (I’m doing my Primary training 3-6 and he is doing Elementary training 6-12). We will both be student teachers for the next month at one of the best Montessori schools in Portland and then it will be exam time! There is only one word for these AMI Montessori trainings: INTENSE. And to do it with twin 3-year-olds while consulting clients on evenings and weekends…well, it hasn’t been easy. However, it has forced me to do a lot of soul-searching and transformation to become someone who can handle all of this stress! So in that sense, it’s been a great experience. 

This summer, we will be going back to Taiwan. B and M will be attending summer school at Taipei Montessori School. I am sooo excited about this. The program looks AMAZING. I’m not just saying this because I have family ties with that school. Seriously, I’ve looked into so many summer schools these last two years and this one has the best program I’ve seen. 

Summer school starts on June 16th. It runs from 830-4pm Monday through Friday. There is the Montessori work cycle in the morning, followed by extracurricular activites everyday, like Taekwondo, Taiko drumming, mosaic art, cooking, music, gymnastics etc. Afternoons are all cultural extension activities, which means, they explore Taiwanese, Aborigine and the larger Asian cultures through art, music, books, plays and other hands-on, sensorial activities. There will also be outings, including swimming, once a week.

I’m so excited for B and M to finally get fully immersed in a Chinese-speaking environment! I hope some of you will come and spend the summer with us in Taipei. Even if your child doesn’t speak any Chinese, they will learn so quickly. That is the power of the young child’s Absorbent Mind when it comes to language. There are lots of Caucasian children who attend this school and it always shocks me to hear perfect Chinese come out of them! For more information, click here for English and here for Chinese.

Here’s the big news:

Next fall, we will be moving to the Bay Area in California, where we will be starting a Montessori Chinese Immersion school. We don’t have the official name yet, or the exact location, but the details are in the works! It will be a Primary program accepting children between 2.5 – 6 years old. Our anticipated opening date is Jan of 2015. I hope some of you who live out there will come by to check us out!

B and M are now 3 years 3 months and growing fast. They attend a Montessori school here in Portland. I’ve got more updates about them coming up over the next few weeks, so stay tuned…

If Your Child Hits, Bites, Screams or Throws Tantrums

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014 12:05 am | By Stephanie Woo

M (3 years, 1 month) hammering a screwdriver into a piece of plaster to find dinosaur bones

Parents ask me about discipline more than any other questions. What do I do if my child hits, screams, cries or throws tantrums? 

When I address this question straight on, I can offer parents band-aid solutions. We all need something to fix the problem now. However, what I’m really interested in is working with parents to find permanent solutions. Bad behavior is never what it seems – there is always a root cause hidden underneath. 

Dr. Montessori’s own story provides a clue to the conundrum of bad behavior. An Italian physician, who worked with special needs children in psychiatric hospitals, Dr. Montessori became a sensation when her students passed the regular state exams, many of them with flying colors. She questioned how her methods would work with regular children. When a new housing project for migrant workers went up in Rome, the officials couldn’t figure out what to do with the children while their parents were at work. This is how Dr. Montessori came to be entrusted with 40 3-6 year olds children. 

Her methods produced miraculous results. In one year, aristocrats, scholars, teachers and parents around the world started visiting her school at the news of 4-year-olds spontaneously writing. And not just that. The dirty, sullen, timid children of poor, illiterate workers had become polite, self-disciplined, graceful and independent little human beings. 

Montessori writes about her experience in The Absorbent Mind, “The disorderly became orderly, the passive became active, and the troublesome disturbing child became a help in the classroom. This result made us understand their former defects had been acquired and were not innate. But all these disturbances came from a single cause, which was insufficient nourishment for the life of the mind.” (p.199, Kalakshetra)

Herein lies the answer to tantruming, screaming, difficult children: “insufficient nourishment for the life of the mind!” 

So how can we give our children sufficient nourishment for their minds? Let me offer a few places you can start with:

1. Help them do it by themselves. Mackenzie has to constantly remind me with her little shrieks, “BY MYSELF!” That little shriek (and sometimes full-blown crying) is an act of self-preservation.  She needs to learn to do things by herself and become independent. The survival of the human race has depended on our drive for self-sufficiency. If I’ve undone the button for her, opened the door for her or poured the milk for her, I’ll just go back two steps and button the button, or close the door or pour the milk back – and let her do it. That is not spoiling or giving in to her, that is giving her the help she really needs. Do you ever just pick up your child without asking? Do you ever just do things for them because you’re on automatic – serving them dinner, cleaning up after them, putting on their clothes? Yes, it’s automatic for us parents, but if you’ve got a tantruming child, see if you’ve just intruded on their independence and made them into babies. If there is anything they hate, it’s being a baby all over again.

2. Give your children plenty of opportunity to work with their hands. Play kitchens are fine, but pretend cooking with a plastic skillet will never require the kind of hand-eye coordination, care and attention that real pancakes on a skillet would require. Dolls and cars are great, but activities like hammering a nail, sewing with a needle, cutting with scissors are even better for their developing hand and intellect. And your child thrives on perfecting his coordination and abilities. Provided everything is child-sized, those kinds of activities make them happy, independent and trusted. Expect them to become fully absorbed and do things you never imagined young children doing. A child at 18 months and over can start using many kinds of kitchen utensils. B and M used their first pair of scissors at 19 months, cut with knives at 20 months and made scrambled egg here at 22 months. Watch what this Montessori mom does with her little one.

3. Children will do best when activities build on the skills of previous activities. Instructional scaffolding improves learning. If your child has never poured water before, don’t put them in front of a hot skillet to pour eggs. To learn pouring, a young toddler can start with stacking cups in the tub, then given a pitcher and glass at meals to pour his own milk. You can then teach her to pour through a funnel before letting her pour faster, runnier things like eggs. Let your child peel first bananas, then mandarins, then eggs. Let your child help mix things – first something liquid, then something heavier like batter before moving on to salads and spaghetti. Yes, the kitchen is a great place to build skills!

If your child is throwing a tantrum, screaming, hitting, yelling, calling you names, you need to address the behavior. You’re more than likely to encounter resistance though. But a child who is concentrating on doing something with his hands and absorbed in that activity isn’t interested in throwing a tantrum. He’s too busy. And usually, you’ll find that when he comes out of a period of concentration, he’s happier, lighter and more ready to do what you ask. 

I’ll leave you with one final thought: young children need lots of collaboration. If they don’t want to do something in the moment (even though they did it so well yesterday), their brains are not developed enough to have the kind of consistency you want and expect from adults. Today, they may just need a little more help. But not too much help – just enough till they can take over. 

See How Easily You Can Do Yoga with 3-Year-Olds!

Sunday, January 26th, 2014 2:59 am | By Stephanie Woo

With the help of an awesome set of yoga cards we got from my cousin, Daisy – featuring pictures of real children doing yoga, one pose on each card – B chooses Forward Bend as our first pose

B works her way into the Bow Pose

She does it!

Triangle Pose feels great!

M decides to join us in the Child’s Pose

What is yoga without Downward Dog?

We all lay down in Shavasana (Dead Man’s Pose)

We end in meditation. B concentrates hard to get the right hand mudra!

This yoga set is especially good because it features a real child doing yoga. This is better than drawn figures, which can be too abstract for young children. To find out more about this set of yoga cards, visit http://montessoribyhand.blogspot.com/2007/08/yoga-photos.html

Toddler Discipline: How Do I Get My Child To Clean Up and Do What I Ask?

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 1:24 am | By Stephanie Woo

One evening, B and M (3 years, 1 month) decided to take everything off their kitchen shelf and put it into their backpacks. Plates, bowls and utensils jangled around loudly in their backpack as they hauled it around the house. When I announced storytime, they dropped everything in the hallway. Daddy stopped them and said, “You guys need to put everything away!” Mackenzie does as she’s told, with some help from me. Brooke, ever the rebellious one, refused. 

Mark is an amazing dad, but – like all of us – sometimes he doesn’t know what to do when the children don’t do what he asks. He asked first in a firm and respectful tone. Then he gave Brooke choices, “Do you want to go by yourself or do you want me to carry you?” She avoids looking at him, so he chooses for her and carries her to the kitchen. They stand in front of the kitchen shelf for a good five minutes where she still refuses to put things away, so he decides to give her ‘time-out’ on the couch. She somehow falls off the couch and starts screaming. 

It was clear this classic power struggle was going nowhere, so Mark handed her off to me (teamwork, people). I first asked where she hurt herself. She pointed to her head, so I sat and held her quietly for a couple minutes till she stopped crying. Even if she fell trying to get out of time-out, she still needed empathy first. (See Connection Before Correction)

Then I looked her in the eyes and told her the facts, “I’m going to read stories now. You can join us after you put away your dishes and utensils.” I added, “You don’t have to put anything away if you don’t want to, but then you won’t be able to read books with us tonight.” I wanted to convey this was her choice. I put her down and went back to the bedroom. I sat down next to M and started reading. B got into bed with us and tried to pull the book toward her so she can see it. I held the book close to my chest and said in a friendly tone, “You can join us for this story after you put away your dishes and utensils.” She doesn’t move. She tried to pull the book toward her a couple more times, but each time, I tell her the same thing. My tone was friendly, but my stance was firm.

Finally, Mark came to ask her again. This time she got up, went to the kitchen and put everything away, with some of his help (see Collaborating With Your Child). When she was done, she ran back to the bedroom and joined us for story time. 

This kind of scenario happens in our house frequently and it illustrates a few key things around disciplining young children:

1. Understand your child’s developmental age

In this post, I talk about Montessori’s Three Stages of Obedience. Up to 3 years old, children are too young to be expected to obey. They have an inner directive that guides them, and their obedience is to that inner voice only. If they obeyed your request, it’s because it coincided with what they wanted to do. When it comes to cleaning up – if they are not readily willing – you can ask them to help, then hold their hand and model doing it with them by your side. 

Recently, my children have transitioned to the 2nd stage of obedience, where they want to obey, but can’t do it consistently. How do I know this? I’ve observed them doing what I ask more frequently, but still inconsistently. If you’ve notice your child being able to obey your requests more frequently, then you can make more requests, while continuing to offer collaboration. It is appropriate at this stage to provide logical consequences if they don’t do as you ask.

2. Provide logical consequences

Here are few things that are NOT logical consequences:

  • Taking away favorite toys that are unrelated to the situation
  • Withholding sweets, trips to the zoo or anything that will happen tomorrow or a later time
  • Time-outs and other arbitrary punishments. What does sitting in the corner have to do with cleaning up? Nothing. 

A logical consequence is something that is directly related to what is happening. For us, we clean up before storytime, so it is sequentially logical: if you don’t clean up, you can’t join story time. If you throw a fork on the floor or leave the table, it means you are done eating. If you don’t get dressed, it means you can’t go out to play. These are logical consequences that make sense in the context of what is happening. 

3. Don’t take it personally

If you understand the 3 Stages of Obedience, you will see that it is not personal. It is developmental. Your child is not being defiant on purpose, trying to make you angry, or being a bad kid. And you are not a bad parent! Their brain just hasn’t developed all the linkages it needs to follow your requests.

Last words of advice: Choose your battles. Don’t insist on everything. When they get to 5, they will obey your requests much more readily. If you don’t get embroiled in power struggles with your toddler, you’ll enjoy the magic of 2s and 3s so much more!

How I Introduce Music and Movies to My 3-Year-Olds

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 2:52 pm | By Stephanie Woo

M’s first movie

Three months ago, I bought The Sound of Music soundtrack.

How do you introduce new songs to children? The best way is to start by telling a little story about each song.

The first song I played for them from the soundtrack was Doe Re Mi. Here’s how I introduced it: “I’m going to play a song for you. This is a song about a teacher who teaches seven children how to sing. Do you want to hear the song?” That little introduction connected them to the song immediately. 

The next day, I told them a brief story about My Favorite Things. I said,” I want to play another song for you. This is a song about the same teacher and the seven children I told you about yesterday. One night, there was a big thunderstorm and the children were scared. So the teacher sang this song to comfort them. Do you want to hear the song?” 

On another day I told the story about So Long, Farewell: “This is a Good Night Song. One day, the children’s father threw a big party in his house. All the children came to say good night to the guests and they sang this song.”

Children love stories. Each of these little stories gave them an entree into a particular song. This CD quickly became B and M’s all-time favorite and they asked for it in the car by saying things like, “Mama, I want to hear the Good-Night song.” 

During Christmas break, Mark and I decided to watch the movie. At first, they were not interested, but as soon as Julie Andrews started singing, they came flocking over.

I cannot tell you how amazing it was to watch their eyes light up when they heard their favorite songs performed on screen. They weren’t glued to the screen like zombies or scared by what was happening (both are common reactions when they watch children’s shows or cartoons). First they heard the story. Then they heard the music. Now, they are seeing it on screen with real children singing, dancing and performing. This gradual unfolding brought the whole experience together.

Children need guidance when it comes to movies. You can’t just turn it on and think it will entertain them. They may get scared of what they see because it’s happening so fast. Young children – sensorial learners that they are – cannot distinguish whether the characters and storyline they see are real or not. Or they may just get glued like zombies. Neither are good reactions. If you can break it down for them into bite-sized pieces, and add new dimensions over time as they assimilate each piece, then you are helping them understand their experience. Those developing intellects and imaginations need this kind of guidance.  

Here are 3 reasons why the Sound of Music is a great choice for a first movie:

  • It has real people in it (cartoons and imaginary characters are more confusing for young children)
  • The first half has a great a storyline young children can relate to
  • The music is beautiful, as is the cinematography. Because young children are absorbing everything about their environment, feed their little souls with as much beautiful things as you can!