Archive for the ‘montessori’ Category

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I think this article, “‘Not Rescuing’ Our Kids Shouldn’t Mean Letting Them Flounder” by Catherine Newman in The New York Times is making such an important point. (Thanks to Lara for the link). In spite of my love of all things Montessori and independence, generally, I am still very skeptical of independence as an end goal. Independence, as a goal needs to be combined with compassion or it is nothing.

That is not an unreasonable approach to shepherding your children into the pasture of responsibility, and we’ve certainly practiced various forms of it over the years with our own children. No, you can’t spend our money on Cheez-Its from the school vending machine because you left your peanut-butter rice cake at home.

But if you’re cold on the hike that I begged you to take with me, yes, I will give you my jacket. Not because I’m the depressed and obscene giving tree. But because you’re my darling. Because you’re so lovely to take this walk with me. Because your father, just yesterday, put his sweatshirt around my chilly shoulders at a bar.

I understand why so many of the smartest women I know are proudly carrying the no-rescue flag. Mothers have been the coddlers, historically speaking: the bringers of forgotten things, the tenders of the beleaguered. “I am sick of doing everything for everybody,” we may be saying. “And I don’t want my kids to be hapless dependents.” Fair enough. Except, not to sound like a bad capitalist, independence may not be such a great goal either. Everyone taking good care of themselves, efficiently separated from the needs of others — is that the best possible world we can live in?

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Yes to all of this over at projectophile. I love modernist architecture (and mid-century, particularly), with all my heart and it is absolutely not child-friendly. And for anyone wanting to contemplate this further.. here is a tumblr site with lots of photos of families looking miserable about their truly glorious homes. (The site includes bonus Montessori jokes – gosh, we’re predictable types).

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You can’t just fake community, you have to build it with actual trust and connections. This is something I think about a lot because my kid goes to a very diverse school. It’s a relatively poor public school that one day, not so long ago, opened up a Montessori stream within the school to run in parallel with its regular classrooms. So, between its mainstream school families and its Montessori school families it now has this super diverse school population – there are hippies, army families, surgeons, homeless parents, grandparents with custody, teenage parents, drug dealers, a quite famous street artist, Christians and Muslims (and atheists), Aboriginal families and recent immigrant families, and lots of overlap between groups.. and all these different cultural backgrounds just bobbing about in the population there. It is fascinating, and it mostly works very well as a school community, although it must have been a hell of a transition for the old school community when it first started taking in Montessori families.

There’s still some caution between various groups of parents but overall it’s very cohesive. I think the secret to its cohesion is not so much its warm school spirit, though there is some of that, but more that everyone is forced to tolerate one another because no one particular group of parents is big enough to dominate the school culture. Long may that balance be held. (And it may be difficult to do that, because the Montessori stream has been very successful in attracting students). But we’re also all sharing space and having repeat interactions with one another, so we have to get on with tolerating one another, too. And we’re all doing something annoying to someone in that school population.

The moment that stuck out for me was the time I saw one of the mothers standing and breastfeeding her three year old in the middle of the school grounds in front of everyone. No big deal for me, at the time I was still secretly breastfeeding my own three year old at home, but this school isn’t a particularly ‘crunchy’ school, believe me, you’re just as likely to see a parent feeding a can of Coke to their kids. Everyone has to try and tolerate one another so no-one bothered scowling at the breastfeeding, they got on with their day instead. Maybe parents have had enough to do with this mother before that they also saw her as an ordinary person in their school rather than an Extreme! Breastfeeder!

I don’t know for certain.

Anyway, having my kid at this school has made me realise how much I am otherwise absent from my local community – I work and socialise mostly in the inner-city, for instance. Now suddenly, I have got to know and care about families in the local community whom I otherwise would never have met. And suddenly, I am aware of prejudices and stereotypes in myself that I didn’t admit I still carried. Classism, it runs deep.

This interesting article in The New York Times about people trying to help one another in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy talks about some of these issues. Basically, you can really fuck this ‘community’ thing up easily and hurt people with your big opinions if you’re not really part of a community.

As volunteers with the makeshift relief efforts have applied their own rules on how to dole out relief — telling people where to wait and enforcing limits on how many blankets or food items storm victims receive — some have entered the more fraught area of applying their own values to those they are helping.

As she gave out diapers and cases of infant formula to storm victims, Bethany Yarrow, 41, a folk singer from Williamsburg who has been volunteering with other parents from the private school her children attend, said she was shocked by the many poor mothers in the Arverne section of the Rockaways who did not breast feed. The group, she said, was working on bringing in a lactation consultant.

“So that it’s not just ‘Here are some diapers and then go back to your misery,’ ” she said.

That sort of response has rankled Nicole Rivera, 47, who lives in a project in Arverne, where the ocean sand still swirls up the street with every passing vehicle. “It’s sad, sometimes it’s a little degrading,” she said as she stood in line in a parking lot waiting for free toiletries.

Ms. Rivera said that she was thankful for the help, but that its face — mostly white, middle- and upper-class people — made her bitter.

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Back by popular demand (yes, really).. here is some more of the children’s art.

Cormac (the 3 year old) is in what Montessori refers to as a ‘sensitive period’ right now, and it is for cutting shit up with scissors. Everywhere we are finding vandalism and little scraps of things.

This one is quite nice because it ended up looking like origami. It was a school notice I had not yet read.

Cormac must be doing a lot of ‘parallel line’ work at Montessori, too (ie. an exercise to teach kids how to be able to write) because I found him practicing them on paper towels at home.

Lauca (the 7 year old) really likes to practice drawing techniques like those you see illustrating children’s books at the moment. She’s quite interested in cartooning, so it’s all quite stylised at the moment and with storylines.

This is our family, I know, we’re so nuclear.

Here is her illustration of a house of chaos. I like how the hen and chicks have come inside the home and that I am having a sleep-in. A lot happens when I sleep-in.

Views of our kitchen garden.

Our beehive.

My sister has moved back here with her partner to have their first baby. I’m very excited.

And they’re renovating their house. Poor things.

Last weekend we went with some friends to wander about in the vegetable gardens of strangers. We found it quite amusing but the kids were bored silly. Oh kids, I can recall about a billion weekends just like this growing up, where we tramped about looking at boring stuff our parents apparently found interesting. Tradition.

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Intrinsic motivation is a big part of Montessori education but this link is not about my Montessori cult worshipping so feel safe to click on it. This is a pilot program looking at an independent learning high school in the US. One of the best bits starts around the 8 minute mark where the students talk about how they problem-solved making maths interesting for themselves. There are too many terrific quotes in here to pick just one. Just so much going right here.

(Thanks to Buffalo Mama for the link).


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Here is a lovely message of solidarity from (the very crunchy) writer of Sew Liberated on that ‘Mother Wars’ thing. This is a particularly important message because Meg McElwee of Sew Liberated is the creator of a very successful sewing, crafting and Montessori parenting publishing business, as well as being a much-loved mother blogger.

I just want to add something here – an apology of sorts – if this post made any other mama feel overwhelmed in any way. My dear friend commented to me today that some people might feel worried that, if they’re not teaching reading at age three, then they are not “up to par” as a mother. Let me tell you something – we mamas need to stick up for each other. Breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, co-sleeping, crib sleeping, no TV, media-rich, public schooling, private schooling, homeschooling, working, or stay-at-home. Being a mother is the hardest job out there. We all have ideals that, at times, we can uphold with ease, and at other times, life just throws us curve balls. You totally don’t need to homeschool to be the best mama for your little one, nor do you need to teach them to read – it’s just as acceptable to wait for that to happen in school! This reading stuff is a teeny tiny part of our days. Most of it is outside, unstrucured, and – like many households with young children – chaotic. Also, Finn goes to a Waldorf home nursery two mornings a week, and my parents care for both boys those afternoons. I’m a mix between an working mama and a stay-at-home mama, and I have the odd advantage of having a partner who is in the same boat as me.

She is the kind of mother who can easily get painted as the Über-Mumming type, the kind that critics of ‘attachment parenting and homesteading’ sites love to rubbish. I have had my own suspicions about these sites from time to time. But after following a number of them for several years I have come to the conclusion that, generally speaking, these mamas are trying to find ways of celebrating and articulating the joys of motherhood and domestic life. That’s not to say that they don’t understand or experience the crappy bits, too, but in a world lacking good representations of mother-love, beyond those wince-inducing attempts by Hallmark cards, they’re doing something significant on their blogs. And I like it; I like seeing beautiful expressions of parenting because I love mothering and I need to celebrate the good as well as protest the bad.

Mother-love is a big part of most women’s lives, it should always be a part of the discussions of our lives; that it is so often reduced to something seen as self-absorbed and stupid tells us something about how anti-mothers we continue to be. To quote myself from the comments on a recent post:

” .. I think there is a gross tendency to lean towards seeing mothers as smug or full of themselves or preachy or whatever when we need to consider that mothering is one of our jobs and everyone tends to sound a bit full of themselves and a bit self-absorbed when they’re talking about their jobs and their work. I mean, take a workaholic and engage him in a conversation about how he does his job and you will hear the same..”

There’s still good reason for questions and analysis and opinion about these movements – any movement that influences women’s lives so profoundly deserves feminist review – but let’s not throw the baby (and its mama) out with the bath water.

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It is so Montessori to let your children cook with you but oh my fucking gawd.. ‘what it is like to cook dinner without your kids versus with your kids’ from Adrienne Hedger over at nickmom is absolutely perfect.

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Cormac just turned three. I got his hair cut, not his first but definitely his most boyish haircut. I thought it might make it easier for me to see him start Montessori kindergarten if he didn’t look so very little.

That’s tomorrow and I’m not feeling that it will make much difference now.

So, I promise I don’t normally dress him quite so hipster. Cormac really looks like he is on his way to reunite The Libertines.

Also, for the curious here’s a photo from the birthday party that his dad ran.


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We do these lists from time to time. See also, here. They might bore you silly, feel free to ignore them, they’re just a time capsule for us.


  1. That you make your own lunch for school every day and that sometimes you even make my lunch for work. (Montessori winning!).
  2. Lately you’ve been interested in disability. You like to feel what it might be like to be blind and you ask about the lives of people with various disabilities..  and for a while you gave your dolls physical disabilities and converted their strollers into wheel chairs. I loved how effortlessly you explored all that – I loved that it was matter of fact for you, that it wasn’t playing with pity, just difference and variation in the world.
  3. I love that you can sleep in your own bed the whole night.. quite a bit now. I love that this meant you had your first successful sleep-over on the Xmas holidays.
  4. You really rise to a challenge these days. If work is set for you then you pretty much give it your best shot even when it is really hard work, like once you mistook an entire term’s worth of homework for one week’s homework and you just methodically worked away at it, morning and evening, until finally at the end of the week you burst into tears while we were getting ready for work and confessed that you didn’t have it all finished and that’s when I realised what you’d been trying to do, you poor darling little thing.
  5. You brush your hair and wipe your face this year, after years of me complaining about it. I really appreciate the effort.
  6. I like your hair. A lot. I just think your ponytail is the bees knees. You’re beautiful, little one. Your face is changing and sometimes you remind me of my best friend in high school. You have her pointy chin and her eyebrows and her dimple and her sparkly eyes. You mostly look like your father, but maybe there is a bit of this friend of mine in you, too. I don’t know how that works.
  7. You’re very resilient, you’re very adaptable. I feel like we’re doing well with you right now, like we haven’t totally broken you through our incompetence.
  8. You’re incredibly responsible and compassionate about animals. You always remember to feed and water your guinea pigs, and you get quite hysterical if your father is being lazy about closing the front gate in case our hens get out or dogs get in.
  9. I’m having this lovely peaceful moment with you as a parent right now. A lot of parenting feels like you have some balls in the air but not all of them at the same time, but right now, you’ve got it all going on and I am just enjoying this feeling so much. You’re really well-rounded all of a sudden – really enjoying your academic work and taking the challenges of being accelerated a grade in your stride, you’re developing all these new physical skills from your circus class (and envy-inducing flexibility), and you’re reading novels by yourself now, and you’ve got this happy little circle of friends you hang out with… and then you come home and make beautiful art and craft things.
  10. You’ve got amazing comic timing and you’re very perceptive. Like the time we were both crying – you, because you were upset for me and me, because I was feeling hurt and stressed out by something (completely separate to our little family) – and then we were talking about stress and worry and you said “well, you would know” with just this deadpan, perfect timing of yours and we both just laughed and laughed.
  11. We’ve talked about sex and drugs and rock n roll, when you’ve asked or we’ve come across something you need to know about (like used syringes in the park ) – but you’re still the kind of kid who refuses to watch PG rated movies in case they upset/scare you. It is people feeling sad or lost that you’re scared of seeing and I like that about you. You have such a combination of social justice worldliness and sweet, little kid innocence. You point out sexism and racism to me all the time when you see it. But you wouldn’t want to see a cartoon fox get its tail shot off.


  1. You are finally reading. And you prefer it to being read to.
  2. Seeing how much stronger and physically able you are becoming after starting circus class.
  3. It has taken nearly seven years but we finally have you a (nearly) regular bedtime.
  4. You sometimes now give us a little bit of credit, as your parents, for not being completely ignorant. There was a period there where you seemed to disbelieve anything we said.
  5. I love all the magical little craft things that you make and your ability to whip up these amazing gift cards overcomes my ability to remember to buy any.
  6. I love how witty you are and how we can make and share jokes together.
  7. I love how unaffected you still are by appearance and I am dreading that passing one day in you.
  8. I love that you are such a lovely big sister to your brother and that you are so patient with him.
  9. I am really enjoying how much you are my little mate while your little brother is still so close to your mother. I suspect I will lose this shortly when your brother grows out of his toddlerhood and your mother is more available to you.
  10. That you remind me to pay our two speeding fines and that even remember how much they are going to cost.

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