Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Demonstrating Successful Behaviors

Respectfully submitted by Julie Bujtas


Just when you finally start feeling like you’ve gotten your life together, you‘re the most stable and organized you‘ve ever been, life throws you a curve.  Congratulations!  You’re a parent!  Now you have to take all of those bits of world knowledge and organizational skills and teach them to someone else!  Naturally, all of the good habits you’ve worked so hard on your whole life will be passed down.  Everything from the proper way and times to brush your teeth, to the healthy foods you choose to put into your body, to your daily exercise routine will be carefully demonstrated for and explained to your young pride and joy.  Just as important as all of these habits that you practice in taking care of your physical self, however, are the little things you may not even realize you do that help you get through the rough times and function successfully as an intelligent human being.  Noted writers/educational consultants Arthur Costa and Bena Kallick have identified 16 of these “Habits of Mind” - common behaviors that successful people rely on when they are confronted with difficulty.  And they do need to be taught!


Success is not just about how much information we retain, but how we react or behave when the answer to a problem is not readily available.  “Persist,“ “take a risk,“ “ask questions,“ or “try to be flexible” seem like common sense behaviors for many of us.  We may not remember how, when, or where we learned and started practicing these skills, but these and many other good problem-solving habits were taught to us at some point along the way.  As mindful parents, we should show our own children how we apply them in tough situations, just as we model or demonstrate other good habits for their benefit.  In order to successfully handle the problems that life throws at them, our children will need every opportunity to practice these intelligent behaviors.  The sooner they are aware of and start using them, the faster these behaviors will become habits.  Knowing and using them will make the many transitions children face through their academic and social development that much easier.


Aside from the “common sense” behaviors mentioned above, there are a few identified habits that we probably do as parents, without even thinking.  “Responding with wonderment and awe” is a favorite of toddler parents; we realize that what gets us excited can also get them interested, so the smallest act becomes a dramatic event, to create excitement.  “Creating, imagining, and innovating” and “questioning” can be brought to the fore at this time, too.  Our child’s choice of toy or playtime activity can help him make sense of the world and build upon it, in his own unique way.  As they grow from toddler to preschooler, “thinking interdependently” becomes more necessary.  They engage in group activities, have play dates, and begin to see the benefits of having someone else their age, with whom they can share ideas.  Perhaps most important at this time, we try our best to “find humor” in difficult situations, because we know that our children will react as we do.  We often look to diffuse what might otherwise be a tear-filled outburst by showing how comical, weird, or ironic the situation can be, drawing attention away from the source of fear or hurt.


Although these behaviors may seem intuitive, they do need to be identified and reinforced, the ultimate goal being that they will be the first reactions when problems arise.  The child can grow to understand that he is in full control over the resulting positive or negative outcome, based on which behaviors he uses to respond.  The simple act of recognizing and pointing out these behaviors at home early on can help children learn how and when to consciously apply them.  Children’s ability to advocate for themselves and move through life’s ubiquitous difficulties at school or with friends with ease can become almost second nature.


It is probable that these skills are worked into the curriculum of your child’s school in some form or another.  Many teachers actually use Costa and Kallick’s Habits of Mind as a way to set the tone in their classroom.  Habits like “managing impulsivity,“ “communicating with clarity and precision,“ “applying past knowledge,“ and “gathering data through all the senses” can help to focus students on the work at hand and maintain a respectful atmosphere.  However, the one place children learn more of their behaviors than anywhere else is, of course, from their parents.  We model “listening with understanding and empathy” when we listen to them.  They notice our facial expressions, where we focus our attention, and how we respond, and they try those behaviors out on the next person they listen to.  Our attention to detail in our own work, as we “strive for accuracy and precision,” is also noted and mimicked.  If a child comes from a household where every new activity is treated as a learning experience, he or she will no doubt “remain open to continuous learning” throughout life.  


These habits are not exhibited in isolation; we often use several at once when tackling a major issue.  Costa and Kallick admit that successful adults may have even more intelligent habits than those included in their list.  As parents raising our children in the best way we know how, it is our duty to share our positive world views and personal habits with them.  The recognition and use of the Habits of Mind offer that sense of stability and organization that are so helpful to have earlier in life.  Making our children aware of these and other “intelligent behaviors” as a positive means of tackling any problem, academic or social, can be one of the most useful gifts we can offer them as parents.


External Links and Further Reading:


Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Habits of Mind Summary. c. 2000

Watts, Graham.  Habits of Mind; Developing skilful learners and independent thinkers.  http://www.habitsofmind.co.uk/the-habits.html

Friday, November 14, 2014

Literacy Development

Respectfully submitted by Colette B. Cross, Head of School, The Westmont Montessori School

We know that the foundation for literacy development begins in infancy.  The early years are the launching pad for learning to read and reading to learn.  Research tells us that early literacy skills are fundamental to later success in reading in children.  When we instinctively speak to our infants, make sounds and communicate with them, we are starting them on the road to literacy.  It is important that we continue to engage our toddlers and preschoolers in experiences that promote and foster literary skills such as oral language, content knowledge, and cognitive ability.  We do this by providing the skills and tools necessary to help children navigate the road to reading, as well as fostering a desire to read. 

Not too long ago, I watched one of our Toddlers sit in the comfortable chair pouring over a book, gently turning each and every page, examining the pictures and, in some cases, verbalizing the story as she saw it.  What an amazing feat, a child who already loves books.  Just imagine, in a few short years, between the Toddler and Pre-K years, our students are exposed to a world of literacy activities.  These foundational tools enable what we call “an explosion into reading” to occur when a child is developmentally ready.   Another amazing feat; the child who says, “I can read by myself.”  I don’t know about you, but I remember that very moment in my own life; and the magic lives on.

At Westmont, we have a specially designed sequential curriculum to aid and support the development of reading readiness and reading skills. Learning to read is a process that relies on specific elements to bring success. We begin with vocabulary and language enrichment, naming objects using auditory and visual discrimination activities to show children that words have meaning.  We then move onto phonemic awareness, teaching children that certain sounds represent certain letters, (this can take a while depending on a child’s development stage), and includes a myriad of lessons.  We then introduce our students to phonological awareness teaching them that words are built by combining the sounds. From there children learn that words make up sentences, that words can be divided into syllables, and syllables can be divided into phonemes. The phonetic approach to reading is the most effective way to teach most children how to read, and because the English language is based on sounds it lends itself to the phonetic approach.

Promoting children’s desire to read is as important as helping them develop the necessary skills to learn how to read.  Without motivation, support and encouragement, children will read very little and often only read what and when they must.  The National Association for the Education of Young Children says that 40% of children read only what they need to read.  Between home and school we must foster wonder and delight in books in our children by providing the materials.  Children who read will always be able to learn.

Bookstores may be closing down and digital libraries may be in vogue but we must never deny our children the joy of turning the physical page of a book to find out what happens next. 

“I cannot live without books” Thomas Jefferson.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Fostering Curiosity

Respectfully submitted by Monica Whitmore, Westmont parent

Why do cats meow? How does it snow? Why do pigs like mud? Anyone who has ever raised a toddler knows that they are innately curious. Curiosity is a quality that urges us to know more and to explore the uncertain. Preschoolers have plenty of it and that’s a good thing. Yes, it does get a bit hairy when your two-year-old asks what feels like 100 questions on the way to the grocery store, but this curiosity serves a noble purpose. It’s how kids learn.

In fact, a growing body of research shows us that children and adults alike learn and retain more once our curiosity is piqued. In an article published in Cell Press last month, researchers shared that not only do we learn better when we are curious, but it also increases our intrinsic motivation to learn in general. Moreover, an article in the Association for Psychological Science noted that curiosity, when coupled with conscientiousness, has more to do with a person’s success than intelligence.

As an educator, my feelings on curiosity have come a long way. I once considered it a descriptive word for students that had difficultly following directions and staying on task. The word had a negative connotation, until I began to learn more about how the brain functions. About six years ago, I was trained on a “new” approach in education called problem-based learning. This method broadened my horizons and taught me that exploration, discovery and choice were immensely valuable in the classroom. Why? Because when students engage in these learning formats, there is a greater chance that they will become curious and feel the need to learn.

As a Mom, I do my best to foster my children’s curiosity at home because I value and enjoy the conversations that come from a simple question like, “Mommy, why do light bulbs go out?” I know how critical the preschool years are when it comes to brain development. I am also aware that once my own children are in elementary school, their teachers’ learning objectives for the day may not match what they feel curious about. In her piece, Children’s Need to Know: Curiosity in Schools, Susan Engel explains that we don’t yet value the quality enough and she also acknowledges that curiosity needs to be promoted in schools so that it not only survives, but flourishes. My hope is that it will become increasingly important to all educators, so that the fire I see in my daughters eyes when we talk about how a building is constructed or a bird flies is always there.

So my advice to any parent who wants to foster this natural quality is to indulge a bit when your child asks a thoughtful question and find a preschool that values it as much as you do.


Association for Psychological Science. "Curiosity is critical to academic performance." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 October 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111027150211.htm>.

Cell Press. "How curiosity changes the brain to enhance learning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 October 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141002123631.htm>.

Harvard Educational Review. “Children’s Need to Know: Curiosity in Schools.” Academia.edu. <http://www.academia.edu/1268822/Children_s_Need_to_Know_Curiosity_in_Schools>