Bringing a Healthy Attitude to Difference

The Childpeace staff invests in supporting all of our families in the challenging task of navigating a complex world. While we master the Montessori approach, we also search for and share ideas that align with, and enhance our work.

My hope is that each person in our community, whether student, parent or teacher, brings a healthy attitude to difference, whenever and wherever they encounter it.

  • Are we able to navigate the world with empathy? 
  • Can we consider and solve issues without a sense of entitlement? 
These abilities are cornerstones to having a healthy attitude towards difference.

When I bumped into the message below, I knew I wanted to share it with all of you. Thanks to A Mighty Girl for always bringing a positive message. I hope you find this as encouraging as I did.

Happy Friday, try to take part of this rainy, “stay at home” weekend to ponder these thought provoking ideas.

Sue Pritzker, Head of School

Finding Our Personal Best

As your child finds their way to maturity, they will inevitably bump into varied and confusing messages about how to live their life. Parents have to work harder than ever to model positive behavior for their children and to help them along their way as they build a solid sense of self and a strong moral compass. Your child’s biggest challenge might lie in staying true to him/herself as they follow their dreams and find their place. More than that, it is to accept and feel good about their authentic self.

On that path, as they master new things, they will compare their successes with those of others. Sometimes they might feel superior or inferior. There will be for them an honest tension with competition. Competition can be healthy if it motivates and gives energy, but it can destroy us if we lose ourselves to it. How do we help our children find a sustaining relationship with competition?

I am a passionate spectator of sports and I recently came across a stunning article by NBA point guard Jeremy Lin. His life experience and his profound words caused me to pause as he discussed how competition had affected him and many others he grew up with. A Harvard graduate, Lin knows about pressure and he was moved to respond to an Atlantic Monthly article about teen suicides in Silicon Valley. Lin wanted to share his struggles to control the pressures of achievement. 
“I remember not being able to sleep well on Sunday nights, waking up covered in sweat from nightmares that I had just failed a test. I dreaded Sunday and now I faced a whole week of immense pressure at school. I felt the pressure coming from all around me -- my parents, my peers and worst of all, myself. I felt that I had one shot at high school and that my GPA, SAT score and college applications were the only barometers of my success." 
He recalled how during his freshman year at Paly (Palo Alto HS)," a classmate who sat next to me committed suicide. I remember having difficulty registering what had happened, then a year later, a friend committed suicide.”

Of course, suicide is not the end result of all the pressures of growing up and certainly an example of the “extreme” outcome, but Lin identified it as a call to action.

In his own growing up, Lin chose to focus, in all aspects of his life, on what swimmers and runners call their PB—personal best. 
He mentioned in his post how "separating myself from my results is not an easy lesson and I've had to relearn this in every stage of my life. The world will always need you to accomplish more, do more, succeed more."

I am taken with the idea of separating yourself from your results. This thinking offers us a way to support our children in finding that happy balance with competition. Competition can be an internal striving to know something we don’t yet know or be a courageous repetition of effort just to see incremental understanding or improvement. Self-assessment is integral to our growth, and the freedom to explore and fail and try again is a building block for our confidence, autonomy and secure sense of self. Every child is unique in how s/he handles emotions, conflicts, and moments of challenge and we can help “stage” a healthy and habitual response. A Montessori approach builds on a foundation of respect for each child as they develop their authentic self. Montessori thinking encourages peer cooperation and support, from the earliest toddler years through the hailstorm of adolescence.

How can you help the children in your life use competition as a positive element in their growth? How do you model “separating ourselves from our results?” Your children are geniuses at reading you as they watch you take action in your life. If this message sparks an interest, it may be helpful to give some thought to these questions:
  • Does your child fully engage in an activity or focus on winning (or losing)?
  •  Is your child aware of and realistic about their ability to control the outcomes of their efforts?
  • Is your child extremely sensitive to teasing or sibling put-downs?
  • Does your child ask you for help on tasks long before s/he needs it? Does s/he seek your approval more than seems necessary?
  • Does your child talk himself through challenges in a positive way?

In the Words of our 40 Adolescents

By Nancy Coronado, Metro Montessori Middle School Program Director

We begin every year in our adolescent program at the middle school with the opportunity for students to voice ideas and desires for their ideal school/work environment.  Over the course of the first weeks of school, we hold brief meetings to allow for this conversation to happen, for the students to hear each other and respond.  They then take these wishes for our community and create the MMM Code of Conduct, which we read every week at our council meeting and refer to when issues come up in the environment.  This code of conduct, created from a place of aspirations for our best selves, guides us throughout the year. 
As I read through it earlier this week, I was struck by the courage and vulnerability of the call to action in the Code.  What our students want is simple, but out in the world it gets very complex.  If I could boil it down to a few words, what they are asking for is a place of kindness, respect and love of learning; a place where they are respected for being themselves and where they will be received with kindness when they make mistakes, and a place where learning is all their own.  
2015-16 MMM Code
MMM students create a sustainable work environment where we each continue to thrive on our own educational path by:
  • Being positive, enjoying learning, and trying new things.
  • Caring for the material environment, keeping things tidy, responding to tasks that need to be done, and using our space and materials productively.
  • Listening actively to others’ opinions, trying to understand where the opposing person is coming from, and using their differing opinions to expand our world views.
MMM students contribute towards a social environment that helps build up other classmates and empower the community to:
  • Respect and celebrate differences, including, but not limited to: race, religion, gender, personality, sexuality, family, academic pace, etc.
  • Embrace the prospect of new friends, and be accepting and see the best in new students.
  • Be comfortable asking for help when needed, making others comfortable by giving help when asked, and understanding if/when help is not needed.
Our adolescents come together every fall to pour their hearts out and ask each other for the kind of place that they want to live in, and then they go about the year trying to live it.  Sometimes it’s clear that they know exactly where the path is, and other times we lose our way and need to be reminded of the importance of the code, and, in essence, of who we want to be and what we want for the world.

The Varied Beauty of Being Human

By Merri Baehr Whipps, Assistant Program Director Childpeace Montessori School

Body image is a loaded topic, isn’t it? As adults, most of us carry some baggage of inferiority and discomfort from our life experiences, messages we’ve received about what’s right, beautiful and normal that are different from what we see in the mirror. We aim to raise our children to be free of this. Like so many social things, eventually it’s not something that parents and educators can control for their children. The larger society forces its culture on children for better and for worse. You have probably chosen Childpeace, in small or large part, because there’s some assurance that your child will be nurtured to feel positively about their unique body and unique abilities, and accepting of others different from them while at school. Influences from other hours in the day are also a factor: media on screens and out the car window and in stores, characters in books, even the news hour all weave their impressions of body image into the developing brains of our children.
Last week’s screening of Miss Representation was a powerful look at the negative effects of advertising and narrow media coverage of women. It shared a convincing message that girls’ body images invariably end up victims of media. There is a huge lack of varied role models, and so the stereotypes (and attendant negative self-images of females) continue into the next generation. (This Friday we’ll be screening The Mask We Live In, addressing similar issues for males). There is the driving profit-motive of media that has lead to a hyper-manipulation of what we (and our children) are exposed to -- an “anything that gets attention” attitude. The film called for actions such as calling out offensive media, challenging stereotypes, educating society about misrepresentation and supporting more reasonable portrayals of females. This is not enough when you are raising the next generation.
We can talk directly with our children about how the media equates thinness with everything positive. Currently in our society, if your child carries average to heavier weight she’ll have more challenges with body image. This link offers some good suggestions to nurture a healthy attitude for that body type. (A few tips in the article are to focus on fitness; be a good role model; reject deprivation; and rethink your views). We can educate them about how photoshop techniques are used to manipulate images. Having a conscious awareness that so many aspects of “photos” we see are fabrications, not reality, is a helpful tool for interpreting those images.
We can refrain from making comments about other people’s bodies; persistently hearing such comments teaches kids that it’s important to judge people’s looks. Children who have a slimmer build (in line with the “perfect” image) also suffer from comments, because they are put in positions of having to defend themselves from being objectified. Wouldn’t we rather have them internalize that being attractive to others is a combination of kindness, helpfulness, good humor and stimulating conversation? 
Most importantly, we can model acceptance of and gratitude for our own bodies; our own body image is something that our children encounter every day in subtle ways. Beauty is a good thing in the world, and it is as varied as the number of humans on the planet.  It’s surprising how hard it can be to actually live out this truth, and yet how integral it is for our children.

Embracing Vulnerability

By Dawn Cowan, Elementary Program Director
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.” – Brené Brown
I thought of Dr. Brené Brown and her work with vulnerability in human relationships, last month, as I read Sue’s Montessori Message about the connection between autonomy and finding one’s passion. When we feel able to show our most vulnerable selves to one another and still feel love and acceptance, it is more support for gathering the personal courage to reach out and give that extra effort. When autonomy comes from a place of self-love and belonging, it has deep roots. As parents, we witness this spiritual connection unfold, as our children become older and less physically needy of our attention and begin moving autonomously in the world and in their choices of how they relate to those around them. When the bond is built in “trust, respect, kindness and affection”, we get to enjoy these young adults immensely. As Montessori Guides, our first work with children when they are new in the environment is to build a relationship with our newest community members and help the children work toward these principles in their relationships with one another.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it's often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” - Brené Brown
Montessori wrote and spoke about the need for friendliness with error and advised adults to “follow the child.” The aim is to support each child’s unique gifts and educational journey and remove the obstacles of expectation and shame.
As Montessori Guides, we are trained, both in the lessons and curriculum, but also to give deep consideration to our interactions and methods. Some common reflections might be: When we speak with the children, do they feel seen and known, even if the way we are helping is by setting a boundary? Are we helping the children to speak with one another respectfully and work through their conflicts by communicating their authentic needs? Are we trying different approaches to help a child gain understanding of a concept? Are we creating that space for healthy striving by challenging the children in appropriate ways?
And then, most importantly, when error occurs, is it handled with grace, and do we model how to move through these moments? The error may be a child’s personal frustration when an art project didn’t turn out as planned, or a group discovering their math process didn’t lead to the correct answer. In the home, it may be when a child offers help and then over pours the beverage. In these moments, we endeavor to celebrate the experience, understand the error and offer encouragement to try again. Both parents and teachers support children by offering a real view of their own imperfections and vulnerabilities. True stories about our struggles, disappointments, and making our way through a difficulty are of intense interest to the children. Recently, my son shared with me that I often put away a cooking utensil in the wrong spot (you can infer who does most of the cooking in my household). His response, “It’s okay, Mom, I know you try, so I just move it over when I see it there.” I found this small moment of acceptance and support moving and hope he offers himself the same grace.
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” –Brené Brown
Occasionally, we are asked if Montessori education is failing to prepare students for the “real world” by striving for unrealistic idealism. Most parents in our community, especially those who have spent some number of years in our programs, find that rather than shielding the children and young adults from the real world, we actually invite them directly into it. They are encouraged to make their own contributions and practice navigating their own time, work, interests, and problem solving, true real world skills. 
Recently, a parent of a MMM alumni shared that the principal had stopped by her house in the second week of his freshman year to tell her son he was “student of the week.” What led to this? The positivity, courtesy and spirit he brought to his large public high school was uniquely noticeable. When a child is unafraid to share they do not understand a math lesson and need help or shines with great joy after a moment of completed work or community connection, we see how the gift of mutual vulnerability actually leads to greater personal development. When we talk with our alumni, the overwhelmingly consistent feedback is our students take both academic readiness and an attitude of genuine enthusiasm and community mindedness into their high schools. They are still open to the world, buoyed by the confidence that comes from self-acceptance, self-love, and the willingness to extend those qualities to those around them.

Kindling the Fires of Passion

By Sue Pritzker, Head of School
Like all Montessori programs, following the child is the foundational method of our work.  We “offer the world”, present choice of activity and encourage exploration.  We set the groundwork to ignite a child’s interest and offer a prepared environment where they can pursue it.
But it is not a given that every child will find their “passion” at an early age because true passion develops on its own schedule and it just may happen long after childhood.  If there is any place in our lives as parents and educators that we just have to be patient, it is in the evolution of our children’s passions.  They are without a time clock or map and they cannot be rushed.
We live in a world where much is expected of our children.  We praise childhood exploits that break age boundaries—in sports, music, philanthropy and art.  Of course it is wonderful to hear of a 9 year old who has started a successful charity or of a 14 year old who has circumnavigated the globe by air, but we should not assume that younger is better. Not always.
What is passion? By definition it is when you put more energy (or uncontrolled emotion) into something than is required to do it. It is more than just enthusiasm or excitement. Passion is ambition that is put into action without reserve.
Passion, in these terms, is not simply a fleeting interest or even a childhood talent.  "Passion comes from a special fit between an activity and a person," said Geneviève Mageau, a psychology professor at the University of Montreal. "You can't force that fit; it has to be found."  Mageau and colleagues completed a broad study on the development of passion in children.  The study focused on what psychologists call autonomy, the basic need to feel like you're acting based on your own values and desires, not those of others. For the individual it means: "I have a say in what happens and can voice my opinions regarding my activity."  To connect passion to autonomy, Mageau and colleagues performed three studies in which they surveyed hundreds of athletes and musicians ages 6 to 38 with different skill levels.
In one study, the researchers followed 196 middle-school students as they picked up a musical instrument for the first time. After five months, the psychologists found that one major variable that predicted whether children developed a passion for music was if their parents allowed them the freedom to practice on their own schedule.  The passionate kids on average scored 9 percent greater on the autonomy scale than the non-passionate kids, which is a big effect in a psychology study, Mageau said.
Passion is one area of our children’s lives that we probably cannot create or control.  But, adult role models can foster the development of passion:
  • Curiosity killed the cat, but makes the child.  The world is a mysterious place, full of puzzles and challenges to be figured out.  We can create the time and space for children to explore their world and to ask the questions that will help them figure it out.  A curious mind will find its passion.
  • Acknowledge what does not interest them.  This helps the child recognize that they are unique in their style and interests.  In this way the child begins to identify with the things that do “give them a buzz."
  • Recognize that real passions are aligned with a sense of autonomy and adolescence is a time when autonomy is a strong developmental need.
  • Don’t jump into every new activity that your child expresses interest in.  It may be fleeting.
  • Don’t pressure your child.  Kids think differently than we do and we can quickly squash their interest or enthusiasm. Use reflective listening to help them discuss their experiences.
  • Give encouragement—but gently.
  • Some passions evolve from an impactful experience.  This can be with another person, activity, or even story.  Observe your child and watch for those moments that create a sparkle in their eye.
The most important thing is to know your child and their personality. Some children do not express their emotions freely or show enthusiasm effusively.  That is probably the way they approach most things in their life.  If you have ever experienced having a litter of puppies, you understand that “every one comes out different”.  Be patient.  Parental effort is not the key to the explosion of a child’s passion, but when the moment comes that your child, young adult, or adult-child intersects with that thing they “want to put more energy into than is required”, you will look back on all you did to make that possible.

Inside the Hive

Sometimes activities happen around Childpeace without much notice, as we always attempt to offer our children experiences that will become lifelong tools. Our School Psychologist, Dr. Elizabeth Schwarz, spends most of her time working with individual students, however conversations with our staff last year evolved into the idea of a group activity for the older children in Lower Elementary. What came from that are coping skills groups that have been meeting over the school year. Once you read Elizabeth's description of these groups, you will probably ask if your child (or YOU) can join! But the groups are organized by the LE Guides and Dr. Schwarz, and are not planned with the expectation or desire to have every child join a circle during Lower Elementary. The work of the groups, in fact, carries over into the classrooms as the participants share their new skills.

From Dr. Schwarz
Over the past year, we have begun to offer a coping skills group to many of the children in Lower Elementary. We have had three groups so far and have received positive feedback from parents and students about what the students have learned. The focus of the group is on increasing awareness of feelings and on building coping skills. Increasing awareness of feelings includes understanding why we have feelings, understanding the parts of the brain that are involved in feelings, and practicing identifying feelings. Some of the general areas of coping skills include relaxation techniques, different ways of expressing feelings, and also ways to counteract negative thinking. The ideas and skills taught come primarily from Cognitive-Behavioral therapy and from Interpersonal Neurobiology.

The group tends to be fun and lighthearted and includes games, art projects, and books. We start each week with a “feelings check in” when each child shares a few feelings that they are having that particular day. This normalizes the fact that we all have feelings, helps them name and express their feelings, and also normalizes the fact that we can have more than one feeling at the same time. Children also learn to rate the intensity of their feelings. Each week a new coping skill is taught, and at the final group, the children decorate a card to take home on which they write their favorite coping skills.

While naming feelings and breathing deeply may be second nature to some of us adults, other people don’t learn these skills until high school, college, or beyond. Having a good understanding of our feelings, how they work, and how we can affect them, sets the stage for healthy emotional functioning for a lifetime.

Sue Pritzker, Head of School
Dr. Elizabeth Schwarz, School Psychologist
Childpeace Montessori School