Monday, October 31, 2016

Update on Montessori For All

Those of you who have been around these parts for a while have heard me talk about my dream to start a non-profit organization that would open Austin's first public Montessori school and then open other public Montessori schools in diverse cities across the U.S. I wrote many posts about "dwelling in possibility." If you're interested, you can read all about it (along with other cool public Montessori stuff happening) in an article from One Day Magazine called: "How a Montessori Movement is Reinventing Public Schools." It's been a lot of years in the making and has required a lot of sacrifice, but I'm so honored to get to do this work. 

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Montessori Books

Simone from The Montessori Notebook e-mailed me about a great new resource she just created. You can find a link to 100 Montessori books for children under four here. Thanks, Simone!

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Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How to Stop Siblings from Fighting

Life just keeps getting better and better as our boys get older (I am definitely not an infant/toddler person). 

During our last trip as an immediate family (during Spring Break to Flagstaff) before our Fall Break trip to Los Angeles, I had to start reading Siblings Without Rivalry because the bickering was so bad. Since that time, we have been working hard to teach our children not to fight with each other. Instead, we try to teach them to use their words to find solutions with each other. And it has helped so much! 

We flat out told them, "If you can't learn to stop fighting with each other, we won't be able to go on family vacations. It's not fun for us to go on vacation when you guys are fighting with each other, and if it's not fun, we won't want to do it." I have no idea if this was the right approach or not, but it seemed like a very logical and natural consequence. 

Every car trip since Spring Break has been a chance to practice how to talk through problems (versus whine, scream, hit, etc.). In the beginning, we had to pull over frequently. We tell them that it's not safe for us to drive if they are fighting and that we need to pull over to help them figure out how to find a solution in a better way. Once we even missed a movie because we had to pull over, which got us there late, and the IMAX theater wouldn't let us in. Now we can reference that event, and it helps the boy figure out how to find a solution before we have to pull over.

We try to teach them to use their words to say things like, "Please stop" or "I don't like it when...", as well as to come up with strategies, "How about if I take this and you take that?" or "What if we set a timer to take turns?"

This strategy works for us because the boys love vacation so much. Even Tate (3 years-old) will say, "Henry, stop fighting with me so we can go on vacation."

I have no idea if this is the best strategy or not. Parenting still feels like one big science experiment with no control group. But it's making our trips together more fun and it does seem like the boys are learning transferrable life skills. Fingers crossed! 

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Our Family Vacation: Los Angeles!

What a fun adventure!

We picked LA because of the beautiful weather and the plethora of things to do. It's funny how we keep gravitating toward the west coast for our vacations: San Diego, San Francisco, Portland/Seattle, and then the San Juan Islands.

We arrived early on Sunday morning and headed straight to the PCC Flea Market. What fun! We stuck to the outside vendors and enjoyed the sunshine. Then we headed to Dog Haus for delicious veggie dogs and then to Grant Park. I brought a big sheet with us on the trip, so Matt and I were able to relax in the shade and play Quiddler while the boys played independently on the playground. We headed back to our AirBnB early in the afternoon for swimming and hot tubbing. Matt's brother joined us (he lives in the area), and we ordered Chinese food for delivery. This was the first time I've ever used the delivery feature within Yelp, and I am hooked! It was so relaxing to be able to spend every afternoon at our rental house without having to pack everyone back into the car and sit for dinner. Instead, we had all kinds of food delivered (from pizza to Indian), and the biggest delivery fee was $2. We dined on the back patio every night and watched the sun set.

On Monday we went bike riding in Santa Monica and then played at the beach. We grabbed tacos at Tacos Por Favor and cupcakes at Sprinkles (I definitely recommend them; they are right behind my absolutely favorite cupcakes from Crave in Houston). Then it was back to our "house hotel" for swimming, hot tubbing, reading, and dinner.

On Tuesday Matt dropped the boys and me off at the Los Angeles Zoo while he went for a two-hour run. Then we went to eat at UCLA (what an amazingly diverse student body!). Then it was back to the house for our evening ritual.

On Wednesday we took the ferry to Catalina Island. We rented a golf cart and drove around the entire island. We stopped at a park and then a beach (and had the most amazing pretzel rolls from this restaurant). That night, Matt's brother watched the boys so Matt and I could go on a date. We picked a rooftop showing of High Fidelity. So fun!

Thursday was a beach day and then Pepperdine University for lunch (we like taking our boys to eat at college campuses, so they develop a positive association with college; plus, it's just really fun!). Pepperdine has got to be one of the most beautiful campuses in the US. It sits atop a hill that overlooks the ocean.

On Friday we took a tour of our friend's kombucha factory, which was so awesome. Then we headed to Venice beach to check out the canals and Muscle Beach (and get organic Mexican food). We also grabbed amazing ice-cream before heading to the airport.

Although the traffic in LA was pretty much terrible all the time (and it's such a sprawling city, so we found ourselves needing to drive a lot), we had an awesome trip. The boys are so much fun, and it was relaxing to play games with Matt and read library books on my Kindle app.

I'm glad we're able to prioritize family vacations at this time in our lives. When we were saving up money to build our house, we didn't really travel. Now that both Matt and I are working full-time, we have a very reasonable mortgage, our cars are paid off, and we are able to prioritize vacations.

P.S. If you want real-time updates, check out @saracotner on Instagram!

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Update on Teaching Cursive

Henry and I have started working on his writing before bedtime. It's a delicate balance because I both want to provide him with individualized attention that helps him make academic progress, but I also don't want to a) teach him something in a different way than he's learning it at school, b) teach him something before he's ready for it (in Montessori, concepts are intentionally very scaffolded and the children move from very concrete experiences to more abstract understanding), c) do too much and end up leaving him overly exhausted (I believe that children do a ton at school and should have ample time to decompress at night), d) squelch his love of learning by making work with me feel tedious, or e) strain our relationship in any way by introducing an unnecessary power dynamic. 

Wow, it's even more complicated than I realized!

I address problems A and B through communication with Henry's teacher. I make sure that I'm only working on things that she thinks make sense for Henry. 

As for C, D, and E, it's really about observation. I back off whenever I need to. For example, there was a long period of time when Henry didn't want to read at all. I didn't force him. Fortunately, now, he wants to read a BOB book every night before I start reading him a chapter book

Now that I want to work on writing with him, I'm trying to follow his lead as much as possible. He's very excited about writing out his Christmas list, and he understands that it has to be as legible as possible so that his grandparents understand what he wants! He's very motivated to practice the same letters over and over again to get them right. Right now he's working on the word "drone." 

As I'm working with him, I remembered a very helpful strategy from my former teacher days: If you first teach a child how to properly form the letter "c," you unlock a bunch of other letters for them because "c" is the basis of d, g, o, and q. It's five letters for the price of one! 

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Habit for Life

A while back, I wrote about purchasing a five-year diary. I've been using it pretty consistently since March. At first it was difficult for me to remember to write in it each evening, but then I moved it to the top of my nightstand, and now it's really easy to remember. The process literally only takes two minutes a night, but I love it. I already feel like the time with my boys is slipping by so fast, and I have a built-in way to reminisce each day. I loved bringing it on our recent vacation, so that I could capture our days.

I wish I would have started this when Henry was born! Maybe I'll start buying people this journal as part of their baby shower present. 

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Monday, October 10, 2016

How to Teach Cursive

The Montessori method is a little peculiar in that it starts with cursive as opposed to print. Henry has been working on cursive for the past two years in PK3 and PK4. He's never been particularly interested in a lot of fine motor activities, so his writing is coming along slowly. My hope is that he has a strong command of cursive writing by the start of 1st grade (but not at the expense of loving writing). 

Here are the things we are doing to support the development of his writing:
  1. We asked his teacher for lined paper so we can encourage him to continually add to the list of things he wants for Christmas and his birthday. Writing for authentic reasons is so motivating! 
  2. Try to see if he'll spend a little time each day practicing with this cursive dry erase board
  3. I'm thinking about getting him some more art activities (like stencils) to continue to develop his hand! 
In case you're interested, here's an article about why Montessori teachers cursive first.

P.S. Henry's story reads: "In the morning, we eat breakfast."

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Monthly Self-Care

I want to get in the habit of these self-care rituals monthly:

  1. Car wash
  2. Massage 
  3. Pedicure
Obviously, these expenses can add up quickly. To keep costs down, I go with the most basic and inexpensive car wash, I get massages as a massage school (the cost is $40 flat), and I try to get inexpensive pedicures. 

All of these things are indulgences, but they bring a lot of happiness into my life. At least I save money by rarely going to places like Starbucks, not buying alcohol, and not having cable! 

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Energy Audit

I've been feeling such a lack of energy lately! I hate this feeling, and I need to do some introspection to figure out what's causing it and what I can do to regain some energy.

  1. Matt and I are inconsistent about turing the lights out at 10pm. We really need to do this! Getting adequate sleep is integral to having higher levels of energy. 
  2. I need to regularly take my multivitamins. As a vegetarian, I think I need the extra little boost of iron.
  3. I need to pick up the clutter around our house. I'm someone who is very impacted by my surroundings, and disorder leaves me feeling unsettled. 
  4. I need to stop working by 9pm every night. I need that time to decompress before my 10 o'clock bedtime. Lately I haven't had any time to respond to e-mail during the day, so it's taking me several hours at night. Also, I love falling asleep with Henry, which is pushing back the start of my work time by about 30 minutes. And this little nap is terrible for me because it means I'm not tired by bedtime. I'll save this habit for the weekend! 
  5. I need to resume my exercise habit. I did such a good job for the first third of the year, and not I'm out of the habit. It's so interesting that exerting energy leaves me with more energy! 
That's a good list to start with! 

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Fall Books

Fall is officially here. We don't have a whole lot of seasonal change in Austin, but I will say it was pretty awesome this year that the first day of Fall was noticeably cooler than it had been all summer. I guess we should call them Subtle Seasons here. 

We are gearing up for the Fall season! Our Halloween costumes are in progress. We sent out evites for our 4th Annual Halloween pizza and trick-or-treating party. Fall travel has been booked. 

And now it's time to pull out our Fall books! I love this tradition around our home. These are the books we pull out only during the Fall season:

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