Friday, April 30, 2010

Taxonomy and the Animal Kingdom: Arthropods- Part Two

Hurt no living thing,
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.
-Christina Rossetti

Our study of Arthropods continued today with an exciting visit from the University of Colorado Discovery Science Program's "Bug Mobile".
The CU Discovery Science Program is an award winning outreach program that began as a pilot program run by Fiske Planetarium; it collaborates with CU faculty to bring cutting edge and inspirational science programs to Colorado classrooms. The program serves over 30,000 Colorado students annually and has helped to raise the caliber of science instruction in the state.

Our knowledgeable guest facilitator, Samantha McBride, came to discuss the characteristics of arthropods, their life cycles, uses as pollinators, and adaptations like camouflage. She did an amazing job of adapting the presentation to the interests and abilities of the children.

The children got to experience the vast diversity of arthropods by examining a large assortment of mounted specimens, including the molted exoskeleton of a tarantula (with quite impressive fangs)!

The children also got an up-close and personal view of eight live specimens that were on loan from the Butterfly Pavilion and Insect Center. It was really amazing to be able to view them in such a small group setting and see them at a pace that really invited inquiry and deliberate observation.

I was particularly pleased by the politeness and self restraint demonstrated by the children; I know that CU generally does not do this program with children under the age of three and a half. Nevertheless, the class listened to the presentation with rapt attention and asked insightful questions. The facilitator remarked that their respectful behavior was more impressive than that of some third grade classrooms she had been in! Needless to say, I was very proud of them.

The living specimens included a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach,

a huge centipede from Parker, Colorado!

a beautiful millipede,

a brazen Chilean Rose Tarantula,

a beautiful and inter-active walking stick (he waved his arms around trying to scare us away, before getting very still and eerily rocking back and forth),
a shy hermit crab, a scorpion, a black widow spider, and a terrarium that was practically over-run with large, playful roly polys.
The program afforded the children the opportunity to have a concrete, first hand experience with arthropods that they would not have encountered otherwise; additionally, I have no doubt that it will help to peak their interest in the life sciences and the amazing diversity of life on Earth. Perhaps there were even some future entomologists in the room!
Our sincere thanks goes out to Samantha McBride for her interesting and enjoyable presentation and to the CU Science Discovery Program for making the experience possible. For more information about their program, please visit their website at:

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The First Taste of Spring: Garlic Scallions

(Photos: Bloom! CSA pick up site and garlic growing in the Bloom! garden)

Our CSA farm, The Family Table Farm, will be delivering an unexpected Spring delight to CSA shareholders tomorrow: Garlic Scallions!

Garlic Scallions are the immature, pre-bulbous state, of garlic. Similar to garlic scapes (the yummy flowering shoot of the garlic plant), they infuse dishes with a mild, delicate flavor of garlic, and are very versatile and fun to cook with (they can be used in place of scallions or green onions in dishes).

The Family Table Farm will be using the garlic scallions to do a CSA delivery practice run. They will be delivered in reusable bags in a white cooler which will be placed on the back patio of the school. Next to the cooler, you will see a wooden crate labeled "CSA Bag Return." If you have signed up to receive a CSA share, please find your bag, take your share home, and return your reusable bag to the CSA bag return the following day (the farm will collect them and reuse them).

Need some inspiration? Here are some suggestions:

Roasted Lemon and Garlic Scallion Herbed Pesto

by Rita Calvert

1/2 lemon washed and quartered
1 cup coarsely chopped garlic scallions (the white and tender green parts)
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
olive oil for tossing and 2/3 cup for sauce
2 T mixed herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, anise)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the lemons with olive oil and salt. Place on foil and roast on the top rack in the oven for 10 minutes. Add garlic scallions and roast 10 minutes more. Remove any remaining seeds and place the entire mixture (including whole lemons) in a food processor with the walnuts. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Process until combined; do not puree.

Sauteed Greens and Salmon

by Rita Calvert

3/4 cup of garlic scallions (greens and white parts- thinly sliced)
10 cups of collard greens (stems cut off- sliced in ribbons)
1/4 cup of water
1 T olive oil
1 chili
1/4 cup dried raisins or cranberries
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
salmon fillets marinated in citrus vinaigrette

In a saute pan or wok, heat the oil and water over high heat. When boiling, add the scallions, greens, and chili. Steam saute for 4 minutes over high heat. Add fruit and salt and pepper to taste. Cook 2 minutes more, until water has evaporated. Cook salmon fillets to taste. Place salmon on the bed of greens and sprinkle with sunflower seeds.

Spring Herb Citrus Vinaigrette and Marinade

by Rita Clagett

1 T minced garlic scallions (green and white parts)
1-2 chilies
1/2 t sea salt
1/4 cup orange juice
1T lime juice
3 T white wine vinegar
1t honey
1T herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme, anise)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 t ground pepper

Combine chilies, scallions, and salt to form a paste. Whisk in remaining ingredients (except olive oil). Add olive oil in a slow stream until emulsified.

On a less health conscious note...

Garlic Scallion Noodles

7 oz. skinny dry egg noodles
1/4 cup chopped garlic scallions
3 garlic cloves (finely minced)
2 T brown sugar
1 t fish sauce
1 t oyster sauce
3T butter

Soak noodles in cold water for 2 minutes. Drain. Soak in hot water for 3 minutes. Drain.

In a saute pan or wok, heat the butter over medium-low heat; add scallions and garlic. Fry slowly (do not let butter burn). Add remaining ingredients. Stir.

Add the drained noodles; fry for 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Green Garlic and Leek Risotto

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
3 garlic scallions (thinly sliced)
1 leek (finely chopped)
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

In heavy, medium pot, heat butter and olive oil. Add garlic scallions, leek, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender- about 3 minutes. Add rice; cook until translucent (about 2 minutes). Add wine; cook until absorbed (about 2 minutes).

Stirring frequently, add 1 cup of simmering broth; cook until absorbed. Repeat by adding 1/2 cup of broth at a time, stirring constantly and waiting until the previous amount has been absorbed. Continue until rice is tender (but not mushy). Stir in Parmesan and serve immediately.

If you find a great use for your garlic scallions, feel free to post the recipe here!

For more information about the Family Table Farm, or to see what's growing, please visit their website and blog at:

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Virtues of Prudence

"Solicitous care of living things affords satisfaction to one of the most lively instincts of the child's mind. Nothing is better calculated than this to awaken an attitude of foresight."
- Maria Montessori

How do we observe specimens that are too fragile to handle?

With our hands behind our backs.

I took this picture, not because I was surprised by the children's interest in the new collection of classroom arthropods (a praying mantis egg case, six ravenous Painted Lady caterpillars that hatched this past week and have already molted twice, and a jar of fruit flies to feed the praying mantis nymphs), but because I was particularly pleased with their self control.

Between the age of two and three, a child begins to develop the ability to inhibit actions. Prior to the age of two, when a child is hungry, tired, or over-stimulated, it is the adult who must work out a solution and the child is unable to be patient and understand that it may take the adult time to do what they are asking. Young children become increasingly cooperative as their neurological system matures and allows them to control their behavior.
Dr. Montessori had a fascinating approach to helping young children develop patience, prudence, and self control; she believed that children learn to govern and discipline themselves by the use of reason by being entrusted with the responsibility of caring for themselves and for other things (participating in their family and community and caring for plants and animals in their environment):
"Children are inspired with a feeling for nature... He stands in respect to the plants and animals in relations analogous to those in which the observing teacher stands towards him. Little by little, as interest and observations grow, his zealous care for the living creatures grows also, and in this way, the child can logically be brought to appreciate the care which his mother and teacher take of him."
The Montessori classroom contains numerous motives for children to practice "Care of the Self" (preparing independent snack, putting on one's own clothing, learning to blow one's own nose, wash one's own face and hands, etc) and "Care of the Environment" (watering plants in the classroom, taking out compost, setting the communal tables, sweeping, mopping, caring for classroom animals, etc).

No matter how many times I see it, I admit that I always marvel at the self-restraint of children educated in this manner. Groups of excited, joyful, children, some of whom are barely two years of age, can be entrusted with the most fragile objects imaginable in the Montessori environment because the classroom provides a level of structure which is appropriate to the age-level of the students (giving them freedom within clearly defined limits) and because they receive direct instruction in grace and courtesy and examples worthy of imitation (the adults in the room model the behaviors they wish to see imitated).

In a world where children are constantly being handed a myriad of plastic substitutes for cups, plates, and playthings, it is easy to imagine the delight and increase in self- respect they experience in the classroom where we constantly share and entrust them with beautiful, breakable, and fragile materials (like this Praying Mantis egg case).

Montessori's revelation was that the opportunity for character development (to practice stewardship and self-discipline by controlling their own behavior and applying their talents and intellect to worthy purposes) provided by lessons like these is even more important then the cognitive/curricular aims of the lesson.

Researchers at Stanford appear to have confirmed her belief, finding that the degree of self-control acquired by children in pre-school is an accurate predictor of their level of self control and positively correlated with higher cognitive and social skills at age eighteen. Self-control (and, particularly, the ability to delay gratification) is also the best predictor of future educational and vocational achievement (David Brooks, NYT, May 7, 2006).

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Happy Earth Day!

"May there be only peaceful and cheerful Earth Days to come for our beautiful Spaceship Earth as it continues to spin and circle in frigid space with its warm and fragile cargo of animate life."
-U Thant, UN Secretary General, 1971

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Doing To" vs. "Working With" Alfie Kohn's Lecture on Threats and Bribes

Yesterday, we went to hear Alfie Kohn speak at the Montessori Centre Internationale (Denver, CO). It is always a pleasure to go to events like this, where you find yourself surrounded by like minded people and listening to a speaker you find intelligent and thought provoking. You might think that the influence of behaviorism and "discipline techniques" would be limited to parenting books and television reality shows, but attend even one continuing education lecture or early childhood education seminar not put on by Montessori professionals, and you will find that it continues to be the modus operandi of our profession- which isn't really that surprising, given how prevalent rewards and punishments are in society (merit based compensation, performance bonuses, public schools that reward everything from reading books over the summer to "paying" children with to sit quietly through class and allowing them to redeem their payment for prizes).

For example, a few weeks ago, I spent an entire weekend at a continuing education seminar essentially devoted to nothing other than different ways of setting up token economies (find out something a particular child really likes- say, stickers, M&M's, or in one case study they provided, a string of beads, then deprive the child of that and use it as an inducement for getting the desired behavior or stopping a "problem" behavior) for children with developmental differences. The seminar was put on by clinical social workers and "experts" in the treatment of this disorder, and it was really disappointing to find that they had nothing better to offer (as a side note, Montessori would have said we should observe the particular child closely to try to discover the reason for their behaviors and "follow the child"- which seems particularly insightful with this disorder, given that the children often have differences in their emotional regulation and vestibular processing that causes them to have "bizarre" behaviors like spinning, chewing incessantly, etc- behaviors that are not problems, except perhaps for us, but help them with self-regulation). I guess her insights into developmental differences are radical even by today's standards! Anyhow, I digress.... back to Alfie Kohn.

One of the things that I really enjoy about Alfie Kohn is that all of his books are supported by a vast body of scientific literature (reading his footnotes and endnotes is as exciting as reading his books); additionally, his approach has rather obvious affinities with the Montessori method (respecting the liberty of the child, her aversion to both punishments and rewards, giving the child freedom of choice, engaging the child with purposeful activity, and the importance of an aware adult). Alfie Kohn also explicitly gave permission for notes from his lecture to be disseminated and shared. So, in that spirit, I am sharing them here with you as a little thank you to our parents who were inconvenienced by having to find other childcare arrangements so that we could continue our education. I hope that it inspires you to pick up one of his excellent books (most of the information contained in this lecture is covered in depth in his book, Punished By Rewards), check out one of his articles on his website (all of his articles can be accessed from the site for free), or re-examine how we (as parents or teachers) respond to children and how we can reach out to them and interact with them in a more compassionate, authentic, humane manner.

Alfie Kohn is speaking again today at Naropa University in Boulder (I believe tickets are still available, although the topic is "The Case Against Homework," something less germane to our age group).

For more information, please visit his website at

Notes From Alfie Kohn's Lecture: Beyond Threats and Bribes
4/16/2010 at Montessori Centre Internationale (Denver, CO)
(I have tried to reproduce these with fidelity to his lecture; however, it can be hard to separate what you hear from your reactions to it. Phrases or thoughts may include my own embellishments; errors, misspellings, and omissions are my own).

I. Introduction

It is a well established fact that learning is not merely absorbing information, but the process of actively constructing meaning around information (Piaget, Vygotsky, Montessori); as a result, the best teachers are the best listeners.

There is a metadiscourse to his presentations; A.K. likes to begin his lectures by allowing participants to construct their own meanings (not merely absorb facts and opinions). He begins by presenting a study in which the researcher got unexpected results and giving the audience time to formulate a hypothesis which would explain them.

A.K. cited two studies, one from Arizona State University and one from the University of Toronto, which concluded that children whose parents offered positive reinforcement regularly (whether the reinforcement came in the form of stickers or verbal reinforcement) were less caring, less sharing, and less helpful than their peers. The negative effects on helpfulness were most pronounced when the positive reinforcement was directed at sharing (when they were rewarded for sharing). These children were the most selfish and least likely to help others.

When we speak about "goodness" in adults, we are usually talking about people who are ethical, honorable, or altruistic. By contrary, when we speak about "goodness" in children, we mean compliance/obedience (children who do what they are told). Over the past few years, the "techniques" to get obedience have shifted from punishments, especially corporal control (spanking), to verbal inducements (the ubiquitous "good job"). However, few people have considered that these approaches often backfire and encourage defiance or excessive compliance and capitulation.

To take one example, Illinois researcher Leanne Birch has done several studies on food and control (parents who force children to finish their plate, eat only at specific times, eat this before that, etc). Her research has discovered that children have a good natural gyroscope (homeostasis) of nutritional regulation except when over-controlling parents fetishize/ interfere (which causes them to be more likely to be overweight). This doesn't mean that children always eat what is best for them, but in homes where nutritious (not excessively processed, sweet, salty, or fat -laden) food is offered regularly , children may eat less at one or meals, but over time they tend to self-regulate to get the calories and nutrients their body needs.
What is true for food, is true for other things. Additionally, how do children learn to be moral if people are always telling them what to do?

II. On Punishment
There are two fundamental techniques for control. The first is punishment. Is punishment effective? Research shows that if the punishment is severe enough and the probability of it being used is high enough, then punishment can be effective in getting temporary compliance.

Kohn likes to begin by looking at punishment logically and asking these questions:
1) By making children suffer in some way, by making them unhappy, how likely is it that we will make them better people?
2) If punishment is a good idea, why do we have to keep using the same punishments (sometimes, even for the same infraction), over and over on the same kids?
3) What are the alternatives to "doing to" (his word for punishments)?

Kohn also likes to remind people that the euphemisms we use for punishments, calling them "consequences" or "logical consequences" does not change the fundamental nature of them. They just make us feel better.

The research is very clear. Behaviorism only works for temporary compliance. Additionally, studies show that punishment emerges as the cause of many universal behavior problems. In fact, punishment is a more unique variable contributing to problem behaviors than all other factors. So it is somewhat ironic that we know many behavior problems are caused by punishments at home, and yet we respond to these same children in the schools with more punishments.

The research is strongest against corporal punishments. Children who are recipients of corporal punishments are more likely to be aggressive, depressed, and to grow up to repeat the cycle (using corporal punishments on their own children). Punishment teaches children that when they have more power, and can hurt others, they can do what they want (voluntarism- the strong do what they can; the weak do what they must). It is destructive to relationships as these children often harbor resentment and feel dis-trusted and un-loved.

In fact, Hallis Miller, argues that we don't do it (punishments, especially corporal) to children in spite of the fact that we had it done to us, but because it was done to us. On an unconscious level, we desperately need to believe that our parents hurt us/did that to us out of love or concern for us. We do it to our children to make it so and to fill our own psychological need.

What is "time out?" It is forcibly isolating a child from their peers. Exiling them when they need to feel part of a group or social community. It stigmatizes and humiliates them in front of their peers. Many early childhood professionals have issued a mea culpa for inflicting this on children when they reflect upon how they want to be treated if they make a mistake in judgment. A self-imposed time out is good for adults who are out of control and might be a good way to teach children a positive coping strategy- but only if the child decides where to go during their time out, what to do, and when to come back.

Unconvinced? Consider the etymology of this euphemism. The term "time out" hearkens back to BF Skinner and refers to a time out from positive reinforcers used on lab animals (for example, when an animal isn't doing what we want in spit of the administration of positive reinforcers, we plunge them into darkness for a period of time).

Why does punishment prove to be so destructive and ineffective beyond temporary compliance?
1) It makes the recipient mad. It fills them with rage, defiance, and a desire to get even. It is not a coincidence that victims often go on to become victimizers.
2) All that it teaches is a lesson in power distribution. It distorts the intended lesson (be kind to your friends, etc) and instead what the child learns is how to use power to make others capitulate.
3) Eventually it loses its effectiveness. Consider a teenager who cannot be physically controlled.
4) By staking everything on power (a foolish strategy), you lose your opportunity to develop a relationship based on influence.
AK quotes Thomas Goodman (developer of Parent Effectiveness Training): "The more you use power to control your kids, the less you influence them."
We want to be a child's caring ally, to offer them guidance and support, not an enforcer. Punishments erode a child's sense of security and trust. They encourage children to lie and keep their distance (not to solicit help and advice when they need it).
5) They distract children from dealing with important issues. Rather than thinking about the problem to be solved, but as something that will be punished. Punishments cause children to think about avoiding detection, lying.
6) All "consequences" (even "logical/natural" ones) make children more self- centered. Where we should be teaching children to consider the consequences of their actions on other people (we don't hurt people because we don't want to hurt them), punishments cause children to think about their own self- interest (what will happen to me).

So, if punishments are so destructive, why do we use them at all? They are perceived to be efficient (particularly in group education settings- we believe that working through the issue would take too much time so we banish the offender instead), they may serve as a release valve for out own tension/serve our own psychological needs, we don't know what else to do, they are easy, we are afraid of what will happen if we don't, and because our society, especially parenting advice, is bound by dichotomous thinking (ignore or punish, be permissive or punitive, etc). Whereas "working with" (A.K.'s alternative to punishment) takes time and talent; punishments are easy and formulaic (often, they can be reduced to repeatable "techniques").

A.K. then cited a study that showed that most 2 year olds will repeat an unwanted behavior regardless of the intervention used (whether it was a smack on the bottom or a conversation) hours later. However, there is a double standard here. When the parent tried to "work with" the child and it didn't work to change future behavior, we often say that it is because the parent was too lenient and didn't punish the child (we blame the parenting approach); on the other hand, when the child was punished and it didn't work, we say that is a reflection on "how bad" the child is (we blame the child).

So-called "natural consequences" can be used in a way that makes sense (a child stays up too late so they are tired the next day or doesn't clean their room and cannot find their belongings), but most of the time, parents use them as a euphemism for punishment (for example, you are running late so now I won't give you a ride); in most cases, it boils down to mom/dad could have helped me but didn't.

III. Rewards

Do rewards work? If the reward is great enough and the probability of getting it is great enough rewards are effective, but only at a significant cost.

Two dozen cross-cultural studies prove that if people are given a task and one group is offered a reward for completing it, the group with no reward will do a better job. This was well-established as early as 1971 when Janet Spence of the University of Texas (now head of the American Psychological Association) concluded that "rewards have effects that interfere with performance for reasons we are only beginning to understand." No long term improvement in performance has ever been discovered from use of rewards! Research shows that when rewards are offered (including grades and merit based pay), people remember facts for a shorter period of time, are less creative, lose their intrinsic interest in the thing being rewarded, are less likely to do the thing being rewarded on their own (without the reward), and the quality of work is more superficial.

At best, incentivizing does not work; however, often is is worse than doing nothing. Bribes, like threats, are counter-productive. Why are rewards so harmful?
1) Rewards are sugar-coated control. Rewards are not the opposite of punishments, they are two sides of the same coin.
2) Rewards create a focus on doing things for your own self- interest.
3) Rewards can generate feelings of inadequacy when you don't get them (if all that is important is getting an 'A,' but you can't, why strive for a 'B'?)
4) Rewards create a glass ceiling. There is no incentive to strive beyond the reward (if you have an 'A' in the class, why pursue your study farther?)
5) Rewards teach risk avoidance (why push yourself to read a really challenging text or write a challenging paper, if you can get the 'A' by doing something easier, why bring an important problem to your employer's attention if your bonus is focused on the appearance of things going well).
6) Rewards reduce the likelihood of playing with possibilities that might pay off (if the mouse knows one path to get to the brie, why look for a shortcut), reducing creativity.
7) Rewards pervert relationships. Rather than seeing your teachers or bosses as a caring ally, you begin to see them as reward dispensers. They create a culture of 'pleasers.'
8) Rewards depend upon surveillance (being seen doing the desired behavior); as a result, they encourage people to be superficial (it is not important to be good, but to appear to be good). They teach the form of morality, without it's substance.

We discussed how rewards hurt vertical relationships; now, let's discuss horizontal relationships. What's worse than a reward? An award. Making a reward artificially scarce so that children actively hope for the failure of their peers.

Little kids are so desperate for our approval, it is abhorrent to use it for our own convenience.

Here is Kohn's Law: The number of times you see or hear the words behavior in a resource (whether a teaching or a parenting resource), the less useful the resource is.

Rewards don't work because they ignore reasons. The problem with behaviorism is not the use of reinforcers, per se, but the belief that we are nothing but behavior. Behaviorism is formulaic; it doesn't ask why. It portends to be able to address perceived problems without knowing the underlying causes (or even caring about them). For example, a behaviorist doesn't need to know why a child isn't falling asleep, they just put the child to bed and slowly lengthen the amount of time between the child's cries and the adult's response or they give the child a new toy if they sleep without crying every night for a week. But shouldn't our response be different depending upon the reason? Is the child hungry? overtired? being put to bed too early? afraid? too busy processing something from their day? lonely? wanting more time with mom/dad? etc. To "work with' on the other hand, we need to know why, we need to understand the child's needs and values. A.K. is interested in the child- in how things look from the child's perspective.

People tend not to do as well when they are trying to get a reward because their motivation has changed; the extrinsic motivators undermine the intrinsic motivation (which is more powerful). Additionally, research shows that the more you reward people for doing something, the more they lose interest in doing it for it's own merits. For example, kids who are trying to get good grades are intrinsically less interested in what they are learning. A.K. cited a study in which children were rewarded for drinking kefir. The children in groups that got verbal rewards (the ubiquitous "good job") and tangible rewards drank more kefir during the study than the control group, but reported liking kefir significantly less than the control group when they study was finished. Similar results in other studies show that rewards make kids less likely to do the thing being rewarded on their own. A.K. jokes that he doesn't care if kids like kefir, but substitute reading or math as the thing being rewarded and the problem becomes immediately apparent.

The research is clear: the more you want you kids to do something, the more you should avoid rewarding them for doing it.

A.K. says he is not saying that praise is morally equivalent to child abuse, but it is important to acknowledge that they are on the same continuum.

IV. Alternatives to Threats and Bribes- "Working With" vs. "Doing To"

The starting point for "working with" is to think of your goal; it depends upon our own beliefs about the child and about human nature ("Begin with the End in Mind"). A.K. wrote a book called The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Generosity about teaching children generosity.

There is an empirical correlation between people with cynical beliefs about human nature and greater use of punnishments and rewards. People who believe that when kids do something nice it is a fluke, tend to feel the need to swoop in with an artificial reward; whereas people with a balanced or positive view of human nature, merely feel they need to support children and their natural generosity.

Nell Noddings (Stanford University) says: "We should attribute to children the best possible motivations consistent with the facts."

If a young child is not behaving the way we think they should it is possible they do not have the memory, skills, etc to do what we are asking.

How Can We "Work With?"
1- Attend to the relationships among kids; foster a caring community
2- Observe and identify things that get in the way or peaceful relations.
3- Eliminate competition- see for lovely games that involve figuring things out together; Terry Orlach from the University of Ottawa has a great book Cooperative Sports and Games. Avoid teaching children that other people are obstacles to their success.
4- Think in the plural ("we" "our community"); be inclusive and don't isolate or alienate.
5- Find engaging stuff to do! The curriculum matters! If it isn't interesting and engaging to them, children get into trouble. When schools become standardized test prep centers, children tune out, burn out, act out, and drop out.
6- When kids don't do what you want, stop and ask yourself: What am I asking them to do? Why- for what purpose? Is it developmentally appropriate? Are they engaged or bored? What do I want them to learn from doing it? What is the consequence of them not doing it? Is it more important than my relatioship with this child? Does the child know that I care?
7- Respond to problems in a way that reflects your care and concern for that child ("I wouldn't let anyone in here do that to you, so I can't let you do that.")
8-Talk less- ask more; ask questions and avoid judgments. Seek first to understand then to be understood.
9- There has to be an unconditionality. No matter what they do, children need to know that you will never, ever, stop caring about them. Your care and concern do not have to be earned.
10- Give them choice! Children learn to make good decisions by making decisions, not by marinating them in praise.
11- Don't be afraid to give up control and attention to the children- abdicate control gracefully. Involving them in the process of deciding what to do or how to solve problems supports their social, emotional, anc cognitive development.
12- A colleague once told A.K. "My job is to be as democratic as I can stand." Push yourself to stand more every year.
13- Don't steal their own pleasure with their accomplishments by praising or substituting your own judgment.
14- If someone does something nice, rather than praising them, consider directing their attention to how their actions made the recipient feel ("Wow, it looks like ___ is smiling; she really likes that sandwich you shared with her.")

Friday, April 16, 2010

Taxonomy and the Animal Kingdom: Arthropods- Part One

For weeks, the children have been joyfully searching for small insects in the yard; so, I knew that the upcoming unit on arthropods would interest them.

The children began their unit on arthropods by reading the books What is an Arthropod? by Bobbie Kalman and Under One Rock: Slugs, Bugs, and Other Ughs by Anthony Fredericks and with a trip to the garden. A few weeks ago, our CSA farmer, Mike Record, suggested that we remove the mulch from our garlic bed; when we began, I realized there was such an interesting variety of arthropods living in the mulch that we decided to hold off on this task until we began our arthropod unit.

Even the youngest members of our community loved collecting arthropods and hauling loads of mulch around the garden with the wheelbarrow. The children found millipedes, centipedes, bean beetles, milkweed bugs, earwigs, and pill bugs/roly polys.

Afterwards, they got the opportunity to closely examine their specimens in specimen jars.

During line time, the children had the opportunity to view a small selection of aquatic arthropods, or crustaceans. The children examined a live lobster, barnacles, and a shrimp. In addition to helping the children to understand the amazing success and diversity of arthropods (they have been around for 500 million years and are still evolving, account for more than 90% of life on Earth, and live successfully in practically every habitat on Earth), beginning with crustaceans is a great way to give children the opportunity to learn about anatomy (it is much easier to see and feel the exo-skeleton, head, thorax, and abdomen on these larger creatures). The children were very interested!

I'm sure you can't guess what I might have had for dinner.... (but I hear arthropod risotto is quite tasty).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Taxonomy and the Animal Kingdom: Annelids and Vermicomposting: Part 2

"It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures."

- Charles Darwin, 1881

Montessori guides consider a presentation to have been a "good match" when the child chooses to repeat the activity independently. Using that as my criteria, the presentation on earthworms in the garden was very well received. Not a day has passed without children racing out to the digging plot in the garden in the hopes of discovering worms, or inquiring of me "Don't you want to dig for worms in the garden?" (which translates into "Please use the pitchfork to turn over some dirt for me").

The children are equally excited about plucking wriggling worms from the vermicompost bin and feeding the worms lunch or snack scraps has become a highly coveted task.

Our unit on Annelids concluded with the children playing some line games in which they imitated worms, a demonstration in which they created a model of a gizzard using pebbles and a plastic bag,

by making and illustrating booklets showing the anatomy of an earthworm,

making worms out of playdo, by enjoying some earthworm non-fiction,
and with independent lessons in which the children matched Annelid cards or sorted different species of earthworms into anecic and epigeic worms.

If studying the diversity of earthworm species doesn't sound that exciting to you (I admit, it initially didn't to me), try imagining Driloleirus Americanus (the Giant Palouse Earthworm). It is an albino worm that lives in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and grows to be a meter long. It burrows more than five feet below the ground, gives off a scent similar to that of lily flowers, can spit in self defense, is too fragile to be handled by humans, and is extremely sensitive to ground vibrations (making it very hard to catch). In fact, there have only been four confirmed sightings in the last 30 years! The soil is a more interesting place than I ever imagined!

In addition to introducing children to the earth sciences and helping to orient them in the world, these activities expose them to the basic of scientific classification, scientific nomenclature, the principles of basic anatomy, and provide additional motives for children to develop their powers of observation and description, conceptual matching (a pre-reading skill), and language arts activities (reading and working on pencil control and handwriting).

Finally, it is really amazing to see how much less waste (particularly food waste) we have at the end of the day; between the vermicomposting and the thermophilic composting, we are well on our way to our goal of achieving zero waste lunches!

*If there are any other Montessori teachers reading this, I would highly recommend including this unit for your primary class. Unfortunately, the main manufacturers of three part taxonomy cards, Maitri and In-Print, don't have an annelid set (I emailed Julia Volkman in the hopes that they were planning to create some soon); in the meantime, if you would like to use the ones I made, send me an email. I am happy to share the cards and the lesson plans (our cards use the Getty Dubay font, as that is what we use in the classroom, so they should be easy for children learning both print and cursive to read).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

School Picture Day

School Pictures for the 2009-2010 School Year will be taken on Tuesday, April 27th at 10:00am!

We would really like to have everyone included in the group photo (we think it will be a nice keepsake for the children and hope to have all of their friends included). As a result, it is important that all children be dropped off at Bloom! no later than 9:45 am if you want them to be included in the group photo; additionally, if your child is not normally scheduled to attend on Tuesdays but you would like to have your child present for the photograph, we will give you the option of bringing you child at 10:00 am for the photo or bringing your child for the entire day at no additional charge (this option will probably not be available next year because of our enrollment). If you would like to take advantage of these options, please inform your child's teacher in advance.

Photographs will be taken by professional photographer Mark Quentin of Studio Q Photography (Boulder, CO). For more information about his studio, please visit his website at:

All Bloom! families will receive one complementary group photo. Individual pictures and additional group photographs can be purchased from Studio Q Photography. More information will be coming soon!

Taxonomy and the Animal Kingdom: Annelids and Vermicomposting

"These ambiguities, redundancies, and deficiencies recall those attributed by Dr. Franz Kuhn to a certain Chinese encyclopedia called the Heavenly Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge. In its distant pages it is written that animals are divided into: (a) those that belong to the emperor; (b) embalmed ones; (c) those that are trained; (d) suckling pigs;(e) mermaids; (f) fabulous ones; (g) stray dogs; (h) those that are included in this classification; (i) those that tremble as if they were mad; (j) innumerable ones; (k) those drawn with a very fine camel's-hair brush; (l) etcetera; (m) those that have just broken the flower vase; (n) those that at a distance resemble flies."

-Jorge Luis Borges, The Analytical Language of John Wilkins


"Worms are the intestines of the earth."

-Aristotle, The History of Animals

I believe that Montessori's method for presenting the natural sciences to young children may be one of her most important discoveries and really demonstrates her respect for their intelligence, aptitude, and competence. One of the things that I particularly like about it is the comprehensiveness and systematicity of the curriculum. Montessori believed that the 3-6 year old child is in the process of making sense of the world by organizing their sensory impressions. She envisioned the young child in much the same way that we might envision a philosopher who begins by exploring the world (ontology) and then seeks to establish a logical order and arrangement for what they have discovered by classifying various modes of "Being" according to the ways in which they are different from and similar to one another.

To aid children in this process of exploring and understanding the natural world, the 3-6 Montessori curriculum presents children with a comprehensive overview of the natural world by moving through the biological taxonomy and by offering children concrete sensory experiences with the objects of their study. In addition to providing children with a strong foundation in science, this method also teaches very young children to employ a very high level of logical reasoning. At a very young age, children are taught to make repeated observations, to compare and contrast experiences, make and check predictions, and to interpret and communicate their findings. Additionally, children are able to sort specific objects based upon abstract principles into a complex classification scheme and children are familiarized with a tree structure of classifications in which reasoning proceeds from the general to the specific and all the concomitant logical operations (e.g "Dogs are mammals; all mammals have live offspring. Therefore, dogs have live offspring").

This April, the children have just concluded their unit on the Fungi Kingdom and have begun learning about the Animal Kingdom. We have begun our study of animals with they Phylum Annelida (segmented worms). Worms are a perfect object of study for children this age because they are ubiquitous. As a result, the children have ample opportunities for empirical observation.

We began our unit of study with a trip out to the garden. We dug up a small plot of dirt to learn about the animals that live there. The children were very excited to find earthworms, millipedes, pill bugs, and even baby worms and earthworm cocoons! Our mini- oligochaetologists used magnifying glasses and rulers to closely inspect and measure their specimens before releasing them back into the garden to watch them squirm into their burrows.

Afterwards, we went about assembling a classroom vermicompost bin. Vermicomposting is composting using worms. Worms can eat their own body weight in organic waste every day; in fact, one pound of worms can convert 1.3 million pounds of waste into high quality fertilizer in about 60 days. The waste that worms produce (referred to as worm "castings") has five times as much nitrogen, 7 times as much phosphorus, 11 times as much potassium, and 1,000 times more beneficial bacteria than the soil or organic matter they consumed in the first place. Research shows that plant yields benefit tremendously from vermicomposting (broccoli as much as 40%, tomatoes as much as 80%, and carrots as much as 259% according to new research in The Ecologist); additionally, the castings prevent plant diseases (such as the dreaded blossom end rot that got our tomatoes last year) and fix heavy minerals to reduce leaching in the soil. Scientists have even found that their digestive systems are so remarkable that they can consume hazardous waste (volatile organic compounds) and yet emit toxin-free castings.

It turns out that vermicomposting is en vogue at the moment. We bought some wholesome Midwestern vermis and a pre-fabricated vermicomposting set up from La Verme's Worms, a little family cottage industry in Duluth Minnesota.

To set up the bin, we mixed peat moss, sand (worms have no teeth and have to depend upon sand in their gizzards to grind up their food), limestone, blackstrap molasses!, and "worm juice" (a concentrated liquid fertilizer consisting of worm effluent, which is high in symbiotic microorganisms) together to use as worm bedding.

Then we added one pound of Eisenia Fetida (a.k.a "Red Wiggler" worms). There are more than 3,000 known species of earthworms. Scientists like to classify earthworms according to their function. Large earthworms, like the ones the children dug up in the garden, are called anecic worms. These worms build permanent burrows in their soil, depositing their castings at the openings. They can burrow as deep as eight feet and do an excellent job of tilling soil and increasing drainage. Our little red wiggler worms are significantly smaller; they are considered epigeic worms. They live near the surface, in the leaf litter layer of the soil, where they are highly efficient decomposers and deposit nutrients that help plants germinate and grow.

Finally, the worms are covered with a layer of dry leaves and a black sheet (to help keep out the light).

And voila! Meet the newest class pets... over 1,000 voracious vermis!

I must admit that I wanted to incorporate the study of Annelids primarily for the sake of comprehensiveness (it would have bugged me to cover the taxonomy and leave them out) and because they are such simple creatures, thereby providing a very basic introduction to anatomy, and not because I really loved worms. Honestly, Josh had to practice with me a few times before I could hold them in my hands without getting a mild case of the heebie jeebies.

What changed my perspective on worms? Charles Darwin.

Over Spring Break, I happened to read a very interesting book entitled The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart. It turns out that after travelling for five years around the world on the Beagle, and studying beautiful, exotic, specimens, what captured Darwin's attention for much of the remainder of his life was the lowly garden variety earthworm. In fact, Darwin wrote a nice little treatise about earthworms entitled On the Formation of Vegetable Mould, in which he meticulously recounts his experiments on earthworms (everything from placing them on the piano so that he could determine whether they responded to vibrations, to pulling 227 worms out of their burrows to see if they were dragging dead leaves in by their tips or their bases, to reconstructing pine needles and cutting paper triangles and coating them with fat to study whether the worms would pull them in by their apexes or bases). Based upon his research, Darwin credited earthworms with conscious problem solving abilities (more than 80% used the apex, as Darwin determined they should, with very little fumbling or trial and error) as well as being highly beneficial to the earth and preserving much of antiquity for archaeologists. As if that was not enough, earthworms have been used to help substantiate the theory of transcontinental drift (the presence of like species on different continents follows the pattern of the theory, and because worms live in the earth, and cannot get across bodies of saltwater by themselves, they are uniquely suited to document the theory in a way that other creatures are not).

One of the pleasures of being around children is that we are re-introduced to the things around us and we get to experience a little bit of that wonder that is unique to childhood. After finishing the book, which I highly recommend to anyone with a spare afternoon, I must say that I find myself both intrigued, and even quite fond, of them.

The children were very interested in them. It is rare that more than a couple of hours goes by without one or more children opening the bin, holding a wriggling worm in the palm of their hand or feeding them scraps from the compost bin. I was particularly amused by two of the little girls who rarely observe them without whispering "Aren't they cute?" to each other.

Indeed, I ask you... "Aren't they cute?"