five + two =

1-2 years old

Thanksgiving With Our Cousin Sam

Monday, November 26th, 2012 10:46 am | By Stephanie Woo
Sam Helping Mackenzie

Sam helps his little cousin on the horse swing

For Thanksgiving, we flew down to the high desert of Albuquerque, NM to visit Mark’s family. There, B and M discovered a new love – their 5 1/2 year old big brother and cousin, Sam.

Sam has a half-sister who is much older than him, so in many ways, he’s like an only child. But he was a pro when it came to taking care of his little cousins. For example, the morning after we arrived, Mackenzie got her hands on Sam’s battery-operated tonka truck. He was trying to show her how it worked, but she wouldn’t listen and just kept on doing what she was doing. Sam said aloud to the rest of us, “She thinks that will work, but it won’t.” But he didn’t interfere. He just let her try it out. Lo and behold, minutes later, Mackenzie cries out – frustrated over the toy – “Help! Help!” Sam was then able to show her how to play with it properly. How many adults do you know who has the patience and wisdom of letting the little ones make their own mistakes?

Later, we were outside playing in the backyard. Brooke goes up to Sam and says, “Sam, help.” Sam starts walking. He sees that Brooke is just standing there, so he comes back, takes her hand and then says, “Show me what you want help with.”  Brooke taps on the seat of the plastic horse swing (see picture) and says, “Here.” Now if I were helping Brooke, I would just pick her up and put her on, but I’m pretty sure Sam would have a hard time picking up his 30-pound cousin. As it turned out, it wasn’t necessary. Brooke was able to bring one leg onto the horse’s back by herself, and Sam only had to lift her up a little bit for her to get on. As Montessori says, “Any unnecessary help is a hindrance.” Picking her up all the way, like we adults would do, is unnecessary. Sam, on the other hand, was able to give her just the minimum amount of help necessary for her to be successful. The kind of help Sam gave her is what we Montessorians spend years trying to master.

In case you’re wondering, Sam goes to a Montessori school and is in the last year of his 3-6 primary class. Montessori mixed-age classrooms make so much sense. The older children take care of the younger ones, show them the ropes and then gradually, as the younger children get older, they start to take care of the new children that come in after them. You cannot ‘teach’ a child to do this, but when they’ve had the experience of being taken care of by older children, when it’s their turn, they do it naturally.  The little society that’s created within the classroom doesn’t require much adult intervention, in fact, the more invisible the adult, the better. Older children make better teachers than adults (look at Sam) and the little children are eager and attentive to whatever the older ones are showing them. This makes me think of a traditional classroom I visited a couple weeks ago where the teacher stood in the front of the room ‘teaching’ while her kindergarteners sat cross-legged on their designated spots on the floor. The teacher asked questions and the children raised their hands to answer. If you got it right, everyone clapped, if you got it wrong, the teacher moved on the next hand. That’s the kind of learning environment I grew up in, and now I see how mechanical and insular it is.

So B and M had a great time in Albuquerque, discovering tonka trucks, building train tracks and swinging on swings with their new favorite playmate. And thanks to Sam, I was able to relax this Thanksgiving too!

We cook this dish every monday

Monday, November 19th, 2012 6:03 am | By Stephanie Woo

Every Monday, I cook a traditional Taiwanese dish, called 魯肉飯. It’s like spaghetti bolognese, except we use soy sauce instead of tomato sauce, shallots instead of onion and we eat it over rice instead of spaghetti. We also put hard-boiled eggs in it. Every Monday afternoon, you’ll find B and M in the kitchen helping me do the following:

After cutting off the ends of the shallot, I hand them over to M, who loves to peel pretty much anything

After she finishes peeling them, she puts them in the food processor for dicing later on

She picks up the cutting board with all the shallot skin…

and throws them in the dirty dish basket (this is where they put all their dirty dishes and food-related trash)

Later on in the afternoon, B and M help me peel the hard-boiled eggs that go into this dish

M helps me put cinnamon sticks and other spices into the pot

Time to eat dinner! It’s no accident – their favorite foods are the ones they help cook!

魯肉飯 Recipe

6 shallots – peeled and finely diced

4 shitake mushrooms – soaked and diced, separate mushroom and the mushroom water

1.5 pounds ground pork

6 hard-boiled eggs

oil for sauteeing

4 tbsp soy sauce, 3 tbsp rice wine, 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp five spice powder, 3 star anise, handful of rock sugar

Add 2 tbsp oil in wok. Add shallots and saute for 20 minutes on low heat, making sure it doesn’t brown. Remove from wok. Put mushrooms in wok with 3 tbsp of oil, sautee, then add 1 tsp salt and sautee some more. Add shallots and ground pork. Add soy sauce, rice wine and sautee till most of the pork is brown. Add 5 cups water. Add mushroom water. The water should cover the meat, if it doesn’t, add enough water till it does. Let boil. Add cinnamon, five spice powder and star anise. Turn to low heat. Cook for 40 minutes. Add hard boiled eggs and handful of rock sugar. Cook for another 30 minutes. Serve hot over rice.

Collaborating With Your Child

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 12:44 pm | By Stephanie Woo

Daddy Helps Brooke

Most adults just want to do things FOR the child. Why? It’s so much easier than teaching them to do it.

Let’s take cleaning up after meals for instance. You have two choices, you can clean the table for them, that takes about 30 seconds. OR you can have them do it. Then you have to figure out where to put the dirty dishes, how they will wipe the table, where to put the sponge, how they will clean their hands. And then once you’ve got the logistics down, you have to show them how to do it and then enforce it over and over and over and over and over…

One is clearly easier than the other. But one will make you feel like it’s Groundhog’s Day and you are playing the role of the slave, while the other gives your child the opportunity to practice motor skills, develop attention to detail, learn sequencing and give him a sense of independence that lead to happy, secure, confident children.

So you pick.

For those of you courageous and conscientious enough to take the second route, I have a piece of advice. When you are teaching your child to clean up after meals (this really applies to everything, but I’m just using this as an example), collaborate with them. Young children cannot do it all on their own all at once. They will be able to eventually, but it can be overwhelming at this age. So I’ll say, “Let’s clean up together. I’ll put the bowl and the plate  in the dishcart and you put the spoon in the dishcart.” OR “Let’s clean up together. You put this bowl (I’ll pick it up from the table) in the dishcart.” Then I’ll hand them the plate for them to put in the dishcart, the spoon, etc.  As long as they are doing something toward cleaning, that is what you’re looking for. Even if at the end, you feel you did most of the cleaning, if they participated, then you are on the right path. Gradually, over time, you can pull back and they can do more. There will be regression on bad days. If they are tired or cranky, don’t force it. Don’t punish them for not cleaning. Instead, use these words often, “Let’s do it together!” Even if you end up doing most of it that day, let it go. Tomorrow, when they are in a better place, they will do more of it.

I have a lot empathy for little ones. Transitioning from a baby in mama’s arms where everything is done to becoming your own little person – it’s a big transition. If you’re willing to collaborate with them, it’ll make their life –and yours – a little easier.