Monday, May 24, 2010

8 Ways To Ensure Safer Breast Milk

Just getting ready to post a short lesson, ran across this article, and wanted to share it.

The excerpts below are from an excellent article by Ronnie Citron-Fink With All the Toxins Found in Breast Milk, Is Breastfeeding Still the Healthiest Option?
8 Ways To Ensure Safer Breast Milk
1. Quit smoking or never start, and keep others from smoking in your house or car?
2. Avoid alcoholic beverages?
3. Avoid use of pesticides in the home and garden or on pets?
4. Avoid exposure to solvents, such as paints, non-water-based glues, furniture strippers, gasoline fumes, perfume and nail polish?
5. Avoid dry cleaners and recently dry-cleaned clothes?
6. Eat a balanced diet low in animal fats and high-fat dairy products?
7. Avoid fish that may have high mercury or PCB levels, such as swordfish, shark, tuna and locally caught fish (NRDC's guide to Mercury Contamination in Fish)?
8. Eat organically grown food, if available?

What more can be done?

Will it take a campaign of collective outrage that exposes babies to the contamination of insecticides, PCBs, PBDEs, flame retardants, fungicides, wood preservatives, termite poisons, mothproofing agents, toilet deodorizers, dry-cleaning fluids, gasoline vapors, and dioxins etc. be what is called for? Fahey ascertains that moms need to be enraged and rise up and assert that their babies have a right to untainted breast milk. She believes that "Until green chemistry gets here, the best thing we can do is pretty much what we're already doing: trying to push for laws to restrain the worst industrial and agricultural sources, push industrial design towards non-toxic components, and build compact cities with more greenery and many fewer cars (since the auto industry's one of the prime culprits)."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Drop-Side Crib Alert: Did Everyone See This?

Congress is moving to ban drop-side cribs, which have caused a number of infant deaths when the mechanisms malfunctioned. But the cribs will still be available in stores for a while as well as on eBay, so we wanted to make sure our readers heard about the malfunctions!

The article by Jennifer C. Kerr Move afoot in Congress to ban drop-side cribs gives details on the crib deaths:
The baby crib, usually a safe haven for little ones, became a death trap for 6-month-old Bobby Cirigliano. The side rail on his drop-side crib slid off the tracks and trapped his head and neck between the mattress and the malfunctioning side rail. His face pressed against the mattress, the boy suffocated.

We encourage everyone to read the full article and pass along the information!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Montessori Equipment for Infants: Affordable & Handmade Mobiles

We are thrilled to find beautiful handmade Montessori equipment for infants on Etsy. This simple Bell on a Ribbon hanging toy is created by goosedesigns, a wonderful Etsy shop.

The Bell on a Ribbon provides both attractive and attention-grabbing color with sound, so your infant can focus his or her energy on reaching and grasping the bell as well as batting at it to make sounds. In addition to sound, the ribbon on this toy is meant to stretch, providing some give when your infant grasps and pulls.

If you are bringing home a newborn or looking for material for your infant, search for materials that help your infant satisfy his or her curiosity, urge to touch and handle, and desire to be able to influence his or her environment.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Environment for Infants

If you are working on putting together an environment for infants, focus on the room from the ground up:

1. Think of adding a little cushion bed on the floor provides support for your infant without being so soft that your infant sinks down uncomfortably.

2. Add shelves with equipment provide visual stimulation as your infant eyes what he or she would like to touch. Keep the low shelves stocked with material that your infant can handle and use now at this stage of development.

3. The spaces between the shelves allow your infant to see and hear what is happening in the rest of the room, so that he or she is not isolated.

Learn more with our Montessori teaching album for infants and toddlers.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Infants and Mobiles: Video

I love this short video!

If you have a sturdy mobile, attach a rope pull to it with a wooden handle, so your child can make the mobile pieces clang together and move by tugging the handle.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Montessori Curriculum and Brain Development

A lot of parents ask if we can provide them with a Montessori teaching curriculum album that concentrates solely on math or reading because they view the rest of the Montessori curriculum such as music, art, and sensorial work as extraneous to "real" learning.

But what is real learning? Montessori education focuses on overall brain development as key to the whole spectrum of learning, ranging from social skills and gross motor function to reading and math. So, we encourage everyone who buys our Montessori teaching albums to fully engage and use all sections of the albums from the practical life and sensorial work to the math, science, and reading lessons.

If you are looking for a quick discussion of the concept of brain development in different spheres of learning, here is an excellent video clip from a middle school that discusses some basic principals in use:

Brain development and Montessori has been well-discussed in Lori Bourne's article, The Neurology of Montessori:
"It is amazing to me that Dr. Montessori was able to develop her materials without the benefits of today’s technology. She could not view a child’s brain to see which areas lit up when they were using the Cylinder Blocks, and yet through observation she knew that a child’s fine motor skills, shape and size discrimination, and hand/eye coordination were being strengthened through this work."

One of the more interesting discussions her article brings up is the work by Dr. Steven Hughes, PhD, L.P. Dr. Hughes is a pediatric neuropsychologist and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and a diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Neuropsychology.

Countryside Montessori School in Illinois has posted a very useful presentation by Dr. Hughes for AMI-USA News that is well-worth reading in its entirety. Some useful excerpts for Montessorians are included here:
"Why do young children, who are still developing the ability to understand language, spend so much time sitting and listening to teachers at a conventional school? Wouldn't it be nice to design an educational model around hands-on activity, physical manipulation, and engagement in the world? Maria Montessori did just that.

There is a model of the way the brain is organized and how it works which I refer to as the nuggets and networks system. Areas of the brain do not function in isolation, they communicate with other areas through networks of active fibers. Brains need healthy nuggets and healthy networks in order to function.

Nuggets can be defined as small, circumscribed areas of the brain that perform a specialized function is reading. Reading is a cognitive function that requires the coordinated use of more than one nugget. Reading does not happen in one spot in the brain; it's the coordination of multiple spots that cover things like letter and word recognition, phonological processing, and language comprehension. Somehow, Maria Montessori knew about these nuggets. The Montessori reading curriculum is astonishingly dead-on in helping developing brains condense the nuggets that perform these certain functions."

In an article, The Science of Education, Informing Teaching and Learning through the Brain Sciences, Johns Hopkins educators Mariale Hardiman, Ed.D., and Martha Bridge Denckla, M.D discuss this complex and vital linkage between brain development and learning:
"...the next generation of educators will need to broaden their approach—focusing not just on teaching math, for example, but also on how math reasoning develops in the brain. Meanwhile, scientists should take the needs and concerns of educators into account as they continue to investigate how we learn. Such crosstalk is already occurring in collaborative efforts focusing on learning, arts and the brain.

Research shows that learning changes the brain. The brain is “plastic”—it makes new cellular connections and strengthens existing ones as we gain and integrate information and skills. In the past decade, the enormous growth in understanding brain plasticity has created an entirely new way to consider how learning and achievement take place in the education of children.

Whether or not a teacher understands fundamental concepts derived from basic brain science, such as plasticity, can have a profound effect on how he or she views the learner. Many classroom teachers today, for example, were trained at a time when scientists thought the brain was fixed at birth and changeable only in one direction: degeneration due to aging, injury or disease. Such a misunderstanding of brain anatomy and physiology would limit a teacher’s view of the learning capacity of children, especially those who enter the classroom lagging behind their peers. For example, a teacher may think that a fifth-grader who has failed to master basic mathematics skills will always struggle with math because of limited cognitive capacities.

Contrast this view with contemporary knowledge that the brain constantly changes with experience, makes new brain cell connections (synapses), strengthens connections through repeated use and practice, and even produces new cells in certain regions. Imagine how differently a teacher armed with this information would view students’ capacity for learning. Knowing that experiences change the brain might encourage this teacher to design targeted remedial lessons. Engaging the student in multiple, creative math-oriented tasks might do more than increase achievement scores: It might actually change brain circuitry."

For all of you teaching at home or in schools, we highly recommend reading the rest of this article.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Toddler Montessori DIY: Developing Gross Motor Skills

If you visit the Nienhuis Montessori equipment site, you will see lots of beautiful and expensive Montessori equipment for toddlers. We have here an amazingly popular and very cheap DIY replica for one of them...

Material needed:
1. A basket
2. Large sponge balls or sponges

Cut a hole in the bottom of the basket. Store the balls in another basket or box. Hold the basket as your toddler throws the balls or sponges into it.

Try this project and see how long your child amuses him or herself with this exercise!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Should I Buy Montessori Equipment for Home?

Well, it depends....

If your child attends Montessori school outside of the home, it is better not to buy duplicates of the equipment that he or she uses in school. The presentation you give will be different from that given in the classroom and, besides, your child will have plenty of time to use it at school.

If you are homeschooling, you absolutely need the equipment! A few pieces of age-appropriate equipment plus a one or two pieces of material that will be at your child's next level will provide a basic platform for creating a full range of material at home. Mix in DIY equipment and you are done. If you have a talent for DIY, then you need to purchase almost no equipment.

What is hard to make? The Golden Bead and other bead material for the math section can be tricky and the Movable Alphabet can be tedious to make in cut-out form, but almost everything else can be made fairly easily. Visit Montessori for Everyone for some great Adobe PDF material.

Learn more about making equipment and using it with our Montessori Teaching Album for Infants and Toddlers.