How do you keep your cool? part 1: home

You’re my favorite

Of my saviours

You’re  my favorite

Who knows

 

Yes you’re my favorite

Of my favors

You’re my razor

Oh no

 

Hey!

 

And the situation wasn’t quite

As intense as I thought

I need you around

To remind me what not to become

 

Calm, calm, calm

 

Nirvana-”Blandest”

I bet you’re wondering why I haven’t posted in a month. I KNOW! I’ve been over my head busy with school and also with mom duties. I now know what my mom meant when she referred to herself as a glorified taxi driver and short order cook.

I work at a school that is all day, year round. So school is open 7am to 6pm, five days per week,  all year long. In April and November, I meet with the parents of my students. We fit the parent meetings in among my already-busy day with the Montessori work.  I enjoy the time to connect home and school and touch base with the parents of the people I see each day. It is, however, so very hard to intermingle 2 or 3 meetings within an already-full day. May is coming to an end so I am not sure that April parent meetings can excuse me from such a long blog absence! Cub scouts, Boy scouts, gymnastics, Karate, nightly family dinners, allergies.  Excuses and explanations abound.

I just joined the Amazon Affiliate program, which I am hoping will hold me accountable to posting more regularly.  The affiliate program allows me to put links in this blog for products that I recommend.  I personally vouch for every single product for which I provide a link.

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I asked my husband, my closest girlfriend, and my assistant, who is a young mother of a toddler, what insights I could offer to my blog followers. They all had the same answer: I want to know how you keep your cool. The answer: I work at it every day.  I want to share my journey along that subject in two parts.

 

Part 1: home

In December of 2014, I was the lead teacher of my first classroom. We were still working on Normalization and I was doing my best to keep my head above water.  When I was struggling in those first months as lead, it was pointed out to me that my attitude at home with my husband and my boys was what you may call “less than desirable.” I was stressed and I was taking it out on my loved ones.  I was so focused on problem-solving school dynamics that I was neglecting myself and I was neglecting the needs of my family. My house was a mess.  I lost a lot of weight.  I wasn’t sleeping. My fuse was short and my temper was high.  Work was so taxing that I didn’t have anything left to give when I got home from work.

On January 1st, 2015,  I made the resolution to balance home and work.

I needed to look for triggers.

I needed to get my emotions in check.

I needed to work on yelling less.

Some of the changes I made at home were simple techniques that made all the difference.  

I just took a close look at the parts of the day that were triggering me to lose patience. I scrutinized those times and used tips I had heard here and there to prevent problems.

Prevention was the key.  I needed to be PRO-active rather than RE-active.

I asked my husband to help me figure out ways to get more sleep and more exercise.  He added me to his gym membership, suggesting that I use exercise to “sweat out the stress.” He would send me off to the movies by myself or suggest that I make a date with my girlfriend, Kim, who lives in South Austin. He’d send me to bed at 10 pm each night.  He also suggested I see an allergist recently, thinking that my sleep was disrupted by seasonal allergies.  I resisted the allergist for a long time, like an idiot.  When I finally went, turns out I am allergic to everything! Once my antihistamine cocktail was adjusted, I slept more consistently. My husband  also encouraged me to “leave work at work.” I still struggle with this one, although I would like to think that I am getting better at it.  When my work is people, it is hard to leave them at work when I carry then in my heart and in my mind each evening.

As I looked for times at home that stressed me out, I found one major culprit:

The morning routine was hard.  I felt like I was always yelling because we were always in a hurry.

1: I had to think about food.

  • Pack lunches for the boys and myself
  • Make sure everyone had breakfast
  • Plan something for dinner
  • Is there enough coffee?!?

2: I had to think about clothing and gear.

  • Jackets, hats, etc…
  • Always on the search for shoes and socks
  • Is that homework assignment in the backpack?
  • Library books?

3: I had to think about time.

  • What time do I wake up?
  • What time do I wake the boys up?
  • Am I allowing enough time for independence?
  • Is there enough time for transitions and travel?

I reluctantly set my alarm 15 minutes earlier. I started the coffee maker first! Priorities! I love coffee.  Summer Moon Blue Blazes is one of my favorite coffees right now. I consider it a treat, however. My standard every-day coffee is Ruta Maya. If we’re really feeling fancy, we go to Texas Coffee Traders and get honey process coffee beans from Costa Rica…

While the coffee was brewing, I got dressed and then lined up  lunch boxes and filled them with food I hoped my kiddos would eat. It was so much better to make the lunches BEFORE waking everyone up for the day when the kitchen is quiet.

As the morning routine became our typical rhythm, I realized I enjoyed getting up earlier. It wasn’t a big deal. I felt no more or less tired. After awhile, I began to express my urge to be creative by incorporating some bento box style ideas in the boys’ lunches.  I would spell the boy’s name in cheese with these cute little cutters.  I separated the ingredients with colorful silicone cups.

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the Pop-Chef is the strange-looking orange thing on the right

 

Instead of forks, I’d send adorable animal picks. I cut the sandwiches and watermelon with this neat thing called Pop Chef. I wish I had taken more photos of my creations, but I didn’t know I’d be blogging about it one day! Back then, the process was just for me to have a bit of fun with a creative outlet, by myself, early in the morning.

Finding this little bit of fun just for me was an eye-opener: I needed to take care of myself so that I could take care of others. (I am still CONSTANTLY working on this one!)

When lunches were completed, I set them by the front door. If I had enough time after preparing the lunches, I would put 2 cups of water in a saucepan with 3 TBS salt, 2 TBS sugar, 3 cloves of garlic, and a dozen peppercorns on to boil before I headed to wake the boys.

I tried to make the wake-up part of the routine the slowest and the most playful of the process.  I would come into the room the boys share singing the words, “morning smooch patrol.” I would gently wake each boy with loving kisses, waking up different parts of their bodies. “Good morning kneecap. Good morning earlobe, good morning shoulder blade.” My younger son, with eyes still closed, would pucker up and scootch to the edge of the bed for a kiss.  

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“morning SMOOCH patrol”

Most days,the gentle approach worked (if they went to bed on time). If, on some days, they were less responsive to a gentle approach, I would firmly say their name, tell them to wake up, and ask if they wanted my help by picking out their clothes. Sometimes, after several minutes of the gentle approach, if they were still falling back to sleep, I would use a friendly, lighthearted, and yet firm warning. “I’ve allowed time for you to wake up slow.  Get up and get dressed.  I know you’re tired, but I am afraid it’s time. I’m going to the kitchen to prepare breakfast. I expect you dressed and in the kitchen in 10 minutes.” If they struggled a lot, once they were awake and in the kitchen, I would tell them they’re showing me that they may need an earlier bedtime when they have such a hard time waking up and then I would set myself a reminder to move bedtime up 15 minutes. It’s rare nowadays, but occasionally, one of the boys is behind schedule and he’ll have to walk to the car barefooted with his shoes in his hands.

IMG_8272Here’s a great article by one of my favorite parenting authors, Dr Laura Markham,  about why routines are so important for children. She says, “While helping children feel safe and ready to take on new challenges and developmental tasks would be reason enough to offer them structure, it has another important developmental role as well. Structure and routines teach kids how to constructively control themselves and their environments.” My boss and I are constantly suggesting Dr. Markham’s book Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. It helped me understand my children’s emotions. Dr. Markham also offers strategies for getting your own emotions under control.

 

 

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reading at breakfast 

While the boys ate breakfast, I would take a few minutes to prep for dinner. I would pour the brine from the stove into my favorite prep container. It fits a whole chicken with room to spare! I would add enough ice to cool the brine before adding a roasting chicken. I would snap on the lid and put it in the fridge. Having a plan for dinner relieved the stress that comes in the evening.  I would put the chicken in the oven when I got home from work and fix a few sides while it cooked. Nightly family dinners were a priority in our house when I was growing up and they are still a priority now that I have a family of my own.

 

 

I played around with the amount of time we needed in the morning. It turned out that the boys needed one full hour to wake, dress, eat, gather their gear and head out the door. The boys had fun picking out the alarm tone on my phone that would signify that it was time to go. The playful robotic ringtone they picked once made me crazy; however, it made them giggle and then walk like robots to find their shoes. I observed that both boys should NOT go to get socks at the same time.  They will start to play and NEVER come back! Send them one at a time, and they are more successful. If the alarm goes off and they “don’t hear it,” then it’s time to pick a different ringtone.

Carrie Contey is someone to follow. Her blog and her lectures have helped me to understand how young brains work, and how to acknowledge and control my own emotions when interacting with my children. She often suggests that laughter and being playful during transitions helps re-frame typically stressful times of day.

Just observing and changing the morning routine helped me so much to balance work and home, and to be proactive rather than reactive.  I have since used the same strategies with other hectic parts of my day with success. I recently added a backpack corral so that the boys have a place to put their school gear, jackets and shoes when they come home from school. We’re still getting used to it.  I regularly have to walk my 2nd grader through the process of putting his stuff where he will be able to easily find it when the alarm goes off in the morning.

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This is the backpack shelf with drawers underneath for shoes. Clean karate uniforms sit on top ready to go in. Hooks for coats hang above.

 

When we all pile into the car to head to the elementary school, I do the check:

“Everybody have shoes?”

“Everybody have a lunchbox?”

“Backpacks?”

“Does everybody have pants?” (hoping for backseat giggles)

“Did you remember your smile?” (met with sarcasm from the 5th grader)

“Anybody need a smooch? You were so fast today we have time for kisses!”( the little one always falls for this one)

 

I think it’s important to “catch” kids doing the behavior you want.

When we acknowledge children for doing what they should be doing, they are more likely to do it again. Sometimes I acknowledge my own successes too, like, “hey, that was pretty good. I was worried that we were behind schedule and still, I didn’t yell even once.”

I found my resolution to yell less a success (and still going strong!). I am human, however, and I still occasionally raise my voice when it looks like I am going to be late for work .

But by looking for emotional triggers, as well as by working on self-care, I am able to more successfully balance home and work while staying calm and centered.

settling into normalization

"Only You" ~ Dean Jackson (behappy.me format):

Four and a half years ago, I was hired to co-teach with another trained Montessori teacher. She had the lead position and I taught lessons and supported her by managing the classroom (I like to equate it to being an air traffic controller).

She was hired 3 months before I was and she had carefully arranged the furniture in the classroom to fit what her training had taught her. I didn’t question the layout of the classroom at that time because I was her subordinate and she had 5 years more experience as a lead teacher than I did. Along the long wall of windows, my lead teacher arranged all of the shelves in rows perpendicular to the wall (like a ladder). The wall opposite the windows had a large area for walking and for working on rugs. Again, because the lead teacher had more experience, I accepted the classroom setup as it was, although secretly, the configuration looked—and felt—odd to me.

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The first few months there were so hard.

The children were out of sorts.

They were rude to each other, they were dismissive of the adults and disrespectful to the classroom and everything in it.

The school had only been open for 4 years, and there had been a number of different adults that had come and gone. At the time, I thought maybe the children just needed consistency. After all, children need time to build relationships and to trust the adults who care for them. The relationship building process takes time.

So I waited.

I watched. I took notes. I looked for patterns of behaviors. I worked on building relationships with the children. I modeled appropriate behaviors and gave lessons on Grace and Courtesy as I wrote about in a previous post. I showed lessons about control of movement like the ones found in Beth Phillips’s Walking the Line in the 3-6 Classroom.

I looked to my lead teacher for guidance and I watched her struggle.

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And then I began to notice something.

The children did not have work that met their need for challenge and purpose, and therefore, they flit from activity to activity without sinking into deep concentration.

As I observed the children at work, I noticed that the open layout of the classroom—with the tables and shelves all up against the one side—allowed for a long runway through the space. The children literally ran through the room. There was no reason to slow down and walk with intention. There was a huge free space to unleash their boundless, frantic energy.

The lack of purpose and intention spilled out into the backyard, too. The children dangerously tested boundaries and pushed limits. They didn’t respond to the adults at all. The whole situation was concerning and overwhelmingly exhausting.

And then, something unexpected happened It had been building for several weeks unbeknownst to me. The lead teacher and our school director had a difference of philosophy that required a parting of ways.

Our boss pulled me aside one day after she and the lead teacher had struggled with their differences and asked, “Are you ready to take over this classroom?”

It felt like a left hook to the jaw!

The lead teacher was leaving the school, and it was going to push ME into the lead position!

Yikes! I was immediately faced with a huge responsibility. Although I was worried that I lacked experience and that I might be in over my head, the school director had confidence in me, so I decided to trust her judgment and step up to the challenge.

The first thing I did was rearrange the furniture. I arranged the shelves and tables in the classroom to somewhat resemble rooms and areas, like in a home. The children would have to walk through the environment with care not to bump the tables and shelves as they made their way, meandering through the space. I would show the children how to carefully walk around a friend who has work on a rug on the floor and how to be mindful of their own body within the space.

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Careful to walk around a friend’s work

Again, I waited.

I watched. I took notes. I looked for patterns of behaviors. I worked on building relationships with the children. I modeled appropriate behaviors and gave lessons on Grace and Courtesy. I gave lessons based on what the children seemed to need.

Most importantly: I set limits.

I love this quote from Montessori Northwest, a teacher training center in Portland:
“Maria Montessori recognized that when allowed freedom of choice within clear, firm and reasonable boundaries, children act in positive ways that further their development. Freedom is frequently misunderstood, and many people take it to mean that children can do whatever they want. Montessori believed that freedom without boundaries was abandonment….But this freedom within limits allows for the natural development of self-regulation.”

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In chapter 14 of Dr. Montessori’s book The Absorbent Mind, she wrote,” One of the mistakes of modern times is to consider movement separately from the higher functions.” Control of movement starts in infancy as a baby learns to hold up his head or learns to grasp a toy. Montessori taught us that the child’s “work is inseparable from movement.”

 

Many of the learning materials that she designed have movement built into the lesson. The long red rods for example, are designed to be carried one at a time with care and concentration to the work rug.null Indirectly experiencing the decimal system, ten times the child walks to the rug. Ten times the child walks back to the shelf to restore the rods.

Not only is the concept of length learned, self control, body awareness, concentration, muscle memory are practiced as well.

 

 

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Staying organized

It took about six months as lead teacher for the children in my class to normalize. And although we had our ups and downs (and still do, in my current classroom), when we divert from normalization, I always look at how children move through the classroom. I show the children how to walk the line. I revisit the lessons of grace and courtesy. I take time to make personal connections with the little people.

When things in my classroom are, as my mother-in-law says, “fruit basket turnover”, again, I return to the foundations, including grace and courtesy, personal connection, and control of movement.

Young children need freedom to move and yet they need purpose, guidance and limits. Taking time to connect and build relationships with each of the children, showing the children lessons on the work that is just the right amount of challenge will settle them in a way that is remarkable.

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