Monday, November 27, 2006


Not a great day today. The kids fought during breakfast, something they've been doing a lot lately. It seems to be a bad time of day for them. Then Josiah got upset when he learned that Tessa is ahead of him in the sequence of geometry presentations.

The children started the Montessori 9-12 geometry sequence together about a year ago. Josiah moved ahead to begin with then Tessa got ahead recently because she had a burst in interest which coincided with Josiah taking a break from the sequence to work on origami mathematics instead. The issue arose today because Tessa was asking me for another presentation, which would put her even further ahead. I argued with Josiah, pointing out that no one doubted his maths ability and that what Tessa did had no effect on his progress. He remained upset. He copes very well with the fact that Tessa reached fluency in reading about a year before he did and that she writes more easily than he does but I think the idea that she could pass him in a subject he considers his speciality was a knock to his dignity and self confidence. The truth is that he will fly ahead in geometry within a few days, whenever he feels like it – he has no need or inclination to linger over the presentations as Tessa enjoys doing.

The origami maths has been fun and Josiah and I have both learned a lot. I'd like to carry on with it but will have to find time to make the origami maths presentations as well as, rather than instead of, Montessori geometry presentations.

I don't like that Josiah compares himself to others, especially his sister, so much but am not sure how to help him. Will have a look at Alfie Kohn's book No Contest: The Case Against Competition when I've finished with Punished by Rewards. This morning, conveniently for me, Tessa suddenly remembered she wanted to bake biscuits for the tramp we hope to go on this weekend and asked to do that first, which defused the situation.

Later I gave Josiah a geometry presentation, during which he complained unceasingly that the presentation was boring, though he didn't want to stop. I probably should have stopped and declined to work with him while he was being negative; I felt very discouraged. What do others with an interest in Montessori do in response to negativity?

As a long term response, I will adjust the presentations to suit Josiah better, leaving out parts of them. I would like a good immediate response too.

All in all I was ready for a lie down after lunch ;)

My other blog and the new site feed

I have found myself wanting to write posts about aspects of life not directly connected to Montessori homeschooling or parenting. I don't think many of my fellow Montessori homeschoolers will be interested in these so I have decided to start a separate blog for them.


So far I have been irregular at posting here; I think that will continue. Therefore, I've put a link to a site feed at the bottom of the left hand column for your convenience :)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tightening up the work session

I wrote an earlier post about our current morning schedule. Over the last few weeks, our morning work session has shrunk as Josiah and Tessa have become later and later being ready to start. Also activities like reading novels and playing on the computer have crept into the work session. So, at our latest family meeting on Wednesday evening, I suggested some restrictions. The kids agreed enthusiastically. Which I find interesting. I guess they know now the rewards in satisfaction and enjoyment of a good work session, hence their agreement with my proposals, but that knowledge is not in their consciousness when they wake up in the morning. Instead their thoughts revolve around immediate gratification: “Hmmm, I think I'll finish this Asterix comic before I get up.” Or their consciousness is not engaged at all and they follow whims: if Josiah comes across a ball on his way to breakfast, he stops for ten minutes to kick it around. Hence they need assistance from me to keep them to their chosen plan.

We start our work session at 10am. This may seem late ... I appreciate having the time beforehand to do an hour's exercise, check my emails and do a few admin chores. In theory, starting late means that the children have time to get their household chores out of the way but in reality, they lie in bed reading and then get up and play games.

Both children are night owls – full of energy in the evenings and slow to start in the morning. For that reason, I feel fine about keeping the late start that suits me so well but hasn't been ideal for the kids recently. They can have some time reading and playing when they wake up. What I think will make a positive difference is having a deadline after which there is no more reading and playing, only having breakfast, clearing it away, having a wash and brushing teeth. We've agreed on 9am as a deadline, with confiscation of books and toys being the consequence of any transgression.

We've also agreed that during the work session (10am - 1pm) there will be no:
  • fiction reading
  • toys
  • unapproved games
  • unapproved websites

Maybe I should put “unapproved” in front of the first two items too – Shakespeare and others might be exempt from the ban on fiction reading :) By toys, I really only mean Tamagochis; I can't think of any other toys Josiah or Tessa is interested in just now.

I've been reluctant in the past to exclude fiction reading from the work session because in my opinion fiction is as valuable as non-fiction – I have learnt as much from reading fiction as from reading non-fiction. But when Josiah spent an entire morning reading Harry Potter the other day, I don't think it was because he was loving every moment and didn't want to stop; I think it was because he couldn't be bothered thinking of something else to do. He agrees – he wants to do something a bit meatier during the work session.

Like so much in the life of my family, the state of our work sessions seems to go in waves. We have productive work sessions for a while, generating much satisfaction and enjoyment, then our motivation wanes – usually after a break from our routine such as a week full of commitments or a week of illness – and the children become disinclined to attend my presentations. Then something jolts us to make a decision to put more energy into the work session again. The instigation for change doesn't always come from me as it has this time. Sometimes Tessa will say, “I want things to be more school-like!” and she'll write up a timetable of subjects and activities for each day of the week. Sometimes one of the children will be inspired by work their friends are doing. Sometimes a topic will absorb one of the children so deeply that it takes over everything for a while.

Friday, November 17, 2006


Junkfood. Children's screen time. Everyone agrees the former is unhealthy in anything but a small amount. And many of us think the same of the latter. Yet in both cases, there are so many definitions of “a small amount” that our apparent agreement is illusory.

To our family, junkfood is anything with:
  • refined sugar
  • refined flour
  • non-naturally occurring trans fats
  • high salt
  • high fat
And to us a small amount is about one serving in a day, four or five days a week - plus the odd piece of chocolate :) One serving might be a muffin, a slice of cake, a biscuit, a muesli bar, an ice cream, a sugary drink or a couple of handfuls of potato crisps or salty crackers.

In reality we probably have nearer two servings in a day than one, partly because everything has been supersized in recent years so that a slice of cake in a cafe and an ice cream on a stick are twice the size they used to be. Now and then we buy pizza, Indian takeaways or supermarket instant meals, probably containing every item in my junkfood definition above :( (Cooking is possibly my least favourite chore; I wish there were such a thing as healthy fast food!)

Most of the time, we don't wish to eat more junkfood. Even the kids agree in principle that they are happier with our current amount of junkfood consumption than they would be with a greater amount. When we find ourselves in situations where larger amounts of junkfood are on offer, as we frequently do (such as when visiting friends), Josiah, our budding athlete, is the strongest willed at resisting it. The rest of us struggle and I really feel for Tessa, who - not surprisingly considering she is only nine - can't say no, then suffers the after effects: short temper, low energy and depression. (The rest of us suffer as a result of her short temper too!)

What motivated me to write about junkfood this week is that Tessa spent a good part of last weekend visiting friends who, as they usually do when she visits, offered Tessa lollies, an ice cream, potato chips and a sugary drink. I'm absolutely certain that family believes they consume junkfood in “a small amount” but I can't comprehend how they work that out LOL.

Junkfood seems to be an ingrained part of socialising, so that even people who ordinarily eat very little junkfood serve it up to their visitors. I've done that myself: baked a batch of muffins or a cake because I was expecting visitors, though in the last year I've begun to come up with healthier alternatives such as grapes, watermelon, crackers and hummus.

I don't like it that junkfood is handed out in large quantities at events for children. At the Hutt City Council holiday programmes Josiah and Tessa used to attend, the children are given a steady stream of lollies throughout the day as a reward for “good” behaviour. On two occasions this year, Josiah's Boys' Brigade group played games which involved scoffing large quantities of food – once ice cream, the other time potatoes. Another game involved coke being poured into the player's mouth – though Josiah did say it was hard to swallow any. (You gotta be grateful for small mercies :) ) I'm sure some reading this are thinking, “It's only occasional. What's the big deal?” My question is, why have the games at all? What is gained from them? The answer is obvious: they're fun. Well there are surely countless equally fun alternatives that have the additional virtue of not making the participants feel ill.

It seems to me that the rhetoric around junkfood focuses on the damage junkfood does and the need to avoid it but people's action is a long way from reflecting that sentiment. Children, most of whom have not yet developed the willpower to self-regulate their consumption, are offered large amounts of junkfood in all sorts of situations. Often it's offered in a way that makes it hard for parents to step in and restrict their children's intake.

I'd love it if junkfood handouts disappeared from children's groups and events but I can't imagine what it would take for that to happen.