23 October 2013

Giving Concentration Room to Grow

Despite being a 'stay-at-home' mom we spend surprisingly few days completely at home.  Usually we run errands or see friends, and there is our weekly trip to the library.  But today we stayed home.  All day.  It was a nice break from running around, but I also noticed how differently Cora's played today than on days when a trip to the store breaks up the morning.

Her favorite question these days is: "What can I do Mommy?"  She will ask it as soon as I get her down from breakfast.  Often it is when I'm making a meal and I'll try to direct her to play by herself.

Today, I barely heard it.  After getting dressed said she wanted to do buttons.  (One of her new fascinations.)  So we pulled out her sweater with big buttons.  She stood with the sweater resting on a chair and carefully pushed the three buttons through the buttonholes.  She proudly showed me what she had done, then promptly unbuttoned the sweater and started again.  Nearly twenty minutes later she was still buttoning.  Eventually she lost interest and the sweater sat on the couch until the evening when she again stood with the sweater and carefully buttoned and unbuttoned it many times over.

It reminded me of the time we dressed and undressed her baby doll 6 or 7 times in a row.  We carefully lined up each of the eight snaps and after the last one was snapped she pulled them all apart and asked to do it again.  And when Cora was finished, Baby still didn't have her jammies on.

Why?  Why do children do that?  Repetition.  Dr. Montessori said the hand teaches the mind.  All the ideas and philosophy floating around in my head becomes reality when I watch my daughter.  Repetition and concentration.  How do you build your child's concentration?  Don't interrupt them.  I'm not saying the child rules the roost.  But if they are engaged in an activity (especially by themselves) and it is not harming anyone or anything, there is no emergency and you aren't trying to get out the door to a doctors appointment - leave them alone.

When I was a newbie teacher I would walk around the classroom touching the children's shoulders, 'checking in', asking how they were doing.  I thought I was being a great teacher.  Finally I realized I was interrupting them.  The child who is working hard to count beads to find out how much 8 + 5 equals will be thrown off by a touch on the shoulder.  He will forget where he was, perhaps have to start counting all over again and could become frustrated.

How will a child learn to concentrate if we (the adult, parent or teacher in their life) don't allow them time to work uninterrupted?  Even by the video camera to capture the cuteness.

There is another confession: I have interrupted Cora because I wanted to save the adorable.  It wasn't on purpose.  I try to be discreet, but as soon as she realizes I'm there and sees the camera her concentration is broken.

Today was a good reminder.
To step back, to just watch, just listen as she 'reads' to her Baby, to let her be.

15 October 2013

The Curious Thing About Curious George

I took a break from blogging.  Grad classes have lots of reading and writing, which are hard to do when it’s not naptime or bedtime.  I decided not to return to teaching this fall so that I can be home full time with my adorable daughter, and yet I’m still busy.  I’m determined to write more though; and so I find myself back at the blog.  Here we go...

I read an interesting blog post (read it here) this week about teaching reading through the classics.  It was good.  It described how important it is to read to your children above their level so their vocabulary is expanded.  I totally agree and credit Cora’s large vocabulary to the massive (for a two year old) amount of books we read every day.

One of the book recommendations caught my eye, especially because it is one we have out of the library right now.  Curious George by H. A. Rey.  The original.  The first one written.  Unabridged.  Do you know the story?  It’s about a curious little monkey who lives with the man with the yellow hat, right?  Hmm, sort of.  See the book opens on George eating a banana in his natural habitat, the jungle, then the man with the yellow hat enters with rifle slung over his shoulder and decides George is cute and that he wants him.  The man with the yellow hat tricks George and into the bag he goes.  On the boat ride to the big ship the book even mentions that George was sad.
Then there’s the pipe smoking.  The man with the yellow hat smokes a pipe.  The sailors smoke pipes.  George smokes a pipe!  That’s right, Curious George smokes a pipe after having dinner complete with wine (though I suppose the glass could have been the man with the yellow hat’s, but even then...).

Move on to the telephone scene.  Why is the man with the yellow hat calling the zoo?  Is he selling George?  Does he go around collecting animals from remote parts of the world to sell them to the highest bidder?  You never know.  But George is ever curious and plays with the phone, accidentally calling the fire department.  When they realize there is no fire the fireman go berserk.  A fat fireman and a thin fireman catch George (I guess it’s teaching kids opposites).  So kids, what do you think the punishment is for accidentally calling the fire department?  A stern talking to?  A slap on the hand?  A fine?  Nope.  Prison.  George is thrown in prison.  But it’s okay, because he escapes when the big and heavy prison guard tips over the bench.  The rest of the book includes a misadventure with balloons, but nothing too bad, until George is reunited with his ‘friend’ the man with the yellow hat who takes him off to the zoo.

My how times have changed.  First copyrighted in 1941 the Curious George franchise has changed a lot over the years.  It is more politically correct, not pointing out the girth of fireman or portraying the man with the yellow hat as an imperialist.  The books are shorter too.  Older children’s books like this one are much longer and wordier than their modern counterparts.  (This book for example might be split into three books: Curious George is Abducted, Curious George goes to Prison and Curious George is Scared of Heights.)  In all seriousness, I don’t think the trend of shorter, simpler books helps our children, and I think it can hurt them.  Longer, wordier books aren’t always appropriate, but they are needed to expand the child’s vocabulary and to grow his concentration.  If only short books are read to the child, how will he learn to sit and listen to longer books?

I am not against this book.  It’s weird and strange, but I will not stop reading it to my child, nor will I abridge or modify as I am reading.  At this point, she is not asking questions about what is going on.  Someday she might, and then I hope we can talk about how times have changed.