Tag Archives: Montessori

The Joys of a Pen Pal

I was eight years old when I was introduced to Mrs. Jenkins. She was a teacher from Manchester, England who had come to my elementary school in Milwaukee to participate in a cultural exchange. Mrs. Jenkins was warm and engaging, and she had many interesting stories about life in the UK.

As a third grader with a vivid imagination, I was pretty sure she was the sister of Mary Poppins and had a purse full of magic.

Before she left our school, Mrs. Jenkins asked if any of the students in our class would be interested in having a pen pal in England. My hand shot up immediately. The thought of writing to a child who lived on another continent was thrilling. So on a piece of construction paper, I scrolled my name, age, interests and home address in magic marker. Mrs. Jenkins put it in her magic purse and promised to find me the perfect match.

Some months later, an envelope arrived from overseas from a girl named Sarah. She sent me a short letter and a few photographs. She had blonde hair and a brother, just like me. In third grade our letters were rather simple, filled with questions like, What is your favorite food? Do you also find your brother annoying? Do you have a favorite song? And every letter ended the same way: Please write back.

I remember going to the mall with my allowance in hand so I could stock up on stationary and stickers to make my letters special.

In elementary school we wrote about friends, books and Michael Jackson. In middle school our letters were about the boys we had crushes on. In high school we shared our thoughts about the Gulf War and the fall of the Berlin Wall. There was no Skype, Facebook or email back then.

Having a pen pal made us better writers, and it made us more curious about the world. I loved reading Sarah’s thoughts and opinions, and I dreamed of meeting her in person.

Then high school ended.

When college began, life got hectic and I moved to another city. My childhood was boxed away in my parents attic, and finally, one of us forgot to write back. That was two decades ago ago.

I still think about Sarah often, and wonder how she is doing. Is she still in England? Is she a mom? Has she been to the United States? I have tried to find her on social media, but no luck so far…

I am grateful that Mrs. Jenkins found my perfect match all those years ago. And I am thankful to Sarah for being such a faithful friend for so long. Our letter exchanges were a very special part of my childhood.

This summer my daughter turned eight. One day, as I was telling her about my pen pal, she asked if she could have one, too. I was delighted! I got right to work investigating websites that pair writers based on age and interests.

Then I remembered that I had a more direct route to a pen pal!

One of my friends is a teacher in London. I messaged her on Facebook and asked if she could help me find a match for my daughter. Well, within a matter of days, we had a name and an address. Today, 35 years after being introduced to my pen pal, my third grader is writing to a friend overseas. In fact, she just sent a letter in the mail last week. This wonderful tradition continues…

“MOM, she loves cats, just like me!”

I don’t know how long they will write, but I am glad that my daughter has this experience. And this summer our family is stopping in London on our way to the Baltic, so perhaps these girls will have the opportunity to meet!

This will be my first time in England, though I’ve been dreaming of it since Sarah’s first letter arrived in 1983. For me the experience will be bittersweet.

So many of us have friends in other parts of the world. If you are interested in pairing your child with a pen pal, those connections are a great place to start. If you have questions about the pen pal experience, don’t hesitate to ask!

 

Making A Day At The Art Museum Fun For Kids

Art museum security guards tense up as soon as they see my six-year-old coming. She is a disastrous mix of loud, bouncy, and unpredictable. I, of course, delight in her spiritedness and curiosity, but not those who have been entrusted with protecting national treasures worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They do not find her the least bit adorable.

But listen here, friends! Those suspicious gazes and narrowed glances won’t deter us from developing my daughters appreciation of art! After all, the security guard is just doing his job, right?

The Milwaukee Art Museum 1

So, before we go any further, allow me back up and explain why art appreciation is important to me as a parent, and as a person….

I am someone who has always been surrounded by art. My family is a motley crew of painters, designers, writers and toilers. When I was a child, my mother’s favorite line was: “Creative children are never bored. If you’re looking for something to do, go draw.” Best. Advice. Ever.

As an adult, I apprenticed under a master artist, learning to draw and paint in a classical style. Eventually I studied art in various parts of the world before getting my master’s degree is in Art History with an emphasis on ancient Chinese archaeology. Because art has been such an important part of my existence, I want to share this passion with my little one.

However (and maybe you’ve noticed this, too) very few art museums scream “kids zone!” Many have hushed hallways, objects that MUST NOT be touched, the aforementioned scrutiny of security guards, and artwork that is hung for people 5 feet and taller. Some art museums do have children’s galleries and art stations, which are lovely and appreciated. But, at the same time, I want my daughter to experience important collections from Egyptian antiquities to Flemish portraits – from German Post-Impressionists to American modernists. I want her to walk the same halls that I do, with a shared sense of wonder. And so we have learned how to create a kid-friendly day at the art museum!

Here are some tips for making an art museum visit engaging for your little one:

The Milwaukee Art Museum 3

Move at your own pace.

Some people feel that they need to take in the whole museum in one day, or view a gallery frame by frame. Not in our family. We believe in quality over quantity. If our daughter only has the attention span to take in three paintings and a photograph, that’s fine with us. I would rather have her passionately study a few works, than mindlessly take in a thousand. At this age, it is not about teaching her to distinguish a Rembrant from a Renoir – it is about developing her inquisitive mind.

Feel it (but don’t touch it).

I once had a boyfriend ask me what he was supposed to feel when he looked at a painting. What in the world? I thought to myself. After all, feelings are deeply personal. Your reaction to a painting and my reaction to a painting may be incredibly different. I can’t tell you WHAT to feel. We broke up.

Learning from that experience, I encourage my daughter to get emotional about art. I ask her to walk through the gallery halls until she finds a piece that moves her. When she sees it, she stops. Then we talk about the artwork, how it makes us feel, and why.

Laugh.

If you want a child to remember an experience with a certain level of fondness, make it fun! On our trips to the museum, we like to create silly background stories for some of our favorite works. Or see how many paintings we can count that have an apple or a crow as part of the subject. Or sometimes we choose to recreate a pose from a Rodin sculpture. Little ones deserve to have fun and play injected into everything they do!

Be kind to the security guards, even if they don’t trust your kid.

“Hello! How are you today? You spend a lot of time in this gallery – do you have a favorite work of art?” Nothing wins someone over like a little bit of kindness. It doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try.

Share your enthusiasm.

In advance of our trip, I choose one masterpiece to show my daughter on our visit. I will do research on that piece and then, once we get to the museum, share what I’ve learned in the form of a story (so that it holds her attention…no lectures, mom). It is rewarding to be able to share my passion with her.

The Milwaukee Art Museum Art Center

Do take advantage of the kids spaces.

If your art museum offers a kid’s gallery or activity center, take advantage of those areas. After exploring the galleries, there is nothing that our family enjoys more than creating an art project inspired by our favorite masterpieces.

Follow up at home.

Sometimes my little one will ask me a question about symbolism or style, and I don’t know the answer. We will make a note of it, and then do internet research when we get home. Other times, we may be moved by a style of art (Fauvism or Cubism, for example) and then go home and create artwork inspired by that creative movement. It is fun to continue the adventure in our own space.

We obviously also let her wear a princess crown to the museum, which never hurts! I must say that most places become extra-extraordinary when you’ve got a crown…

I hope these little tips will help you on your next trip to the art museum. If you move at your own pace and tailor the experience to your child’s interests, you won’t get tantrums and boredom – you will get engagement, excitement, and active learning. Most importantly, it will be a trip that is enjoyable for both children and adults.

For more parenting fun, check out this post on inspiring books for children.

Inspiring Books for Children: Must-Haves for Your Library

Happy holidays, my dear friends! Today’s post gets away from the hustle and bustle of the season and focuses on a really fun topic…children’s literature. So take a deep breath, relax, and enjoy!

As adults, I think that one of the greatest gifts we can give children is a well curated book collection. Really great literature helps youngsters develop vocabulary, build imagination, and explore the possibilities of the Universe. I have read countless books with my daughter and today’s post shares our very favorites.

Each of the books below has been selected based on the beauty and importance of its message, and the quality of its images. As a mom I have picked books that will not only be interesting for the young people in your life, but will make reading out loud a pleasure for you as well. In fact, you will actually look forward to reading these over and over again. And with each turn of the page, you will know that you’ve given an amazing gift to the young person in your life.

1.) The Zen Series by Jon J. Muth

These beautiful books (Zen Ties, Zen Shorts, Zen Ghosts, and Zen Socks) follow the adventures of a Giant Panda named Stillwater and the human children who live next door. Stillwater helps his young friend’s navigate the ups and downs of childhood by sharing lessons derived from Zen Buddhism. These books teach about compassion, kindness, sharing, and letting go of the things that don’t matter.

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2.) This is the World by M. Sasek

Is there a more stress-free way to travel than taking your child on vacation through the pages of a book? This is the World compiles some of M. Sasek’s greatest travel books in one masterwork. The illustrations and stories – which are now at least 50 years old – continue to teach children interesting facts about some of the world’s most famous monuments, cities, and spaces. It has gotten my daughter interested in traveling to new destinations and learning more about foreign cultures.

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3.) Journey by Aaron Becker

Aaron Becker has created a timeless work of art. Some people may be skeptical about this book at first because there are…gasp!…no words – but that becomes a part of the enchantment. The stirring and emotional images help children create their own narrative. This book helps kids understand and express emotions and it puts them “in the driver’s seat” as they become the story’s author. Adults can help guide young storytellers by asking probing questions that dig more deeply into each image.

Every time a child opens this book, they are creating a new adventure.

Journey Cover

Journey

4.) Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz and Miriam Klein Stahl

The ABCs are so much more fun when you are learning about feminists that have changed the world! Angela Davis, Dolor Huerta, and Billie-Jean King are just some of the “rebels, trailblazers, and visionaries” captured in this important book. My daughter and I love reading the biographies together and then taking time to have deeper conversations about what we’ve learned. But rest assured, this book IS NOT JUST FOR LITTLE GIRLS! It should be on the shelf of every family that believes in equality – and every family that wants to raise interesting children (boys and girls) who feel empowered to change the world around them. Thanks, Aunt Masha for such a great gift!

A is for Angela

A Hike In The Snow

In the Midwest, we’ve just celebrated the first snow fall of the season!

There is something dreamy and ethereal about the first dusting of snow. It makes the world look and sound different…colorless and hushed.

For kids, the first snow represents an opportunity for magical play and exploration. Snow: a cold substance that can be packed into balls, sculpted into figures, or moved into angels. Oh, what fun!

One of our longstanding family traditions has been to take a winter hike after the first snowfall.

Well, when my daughter found out that flurries were moving into our area overnight, she made me promise to fulfill this tradition. That evening, as she was getting ready for bed, she asked me to write the promise on her hand so we wouldn’t forget.

A promise is a promise

She woke up before the sun, squealing with joy that the world had been painted white. “Mom, mom, let’s go on our hike!” she cried. “Honey, it’s not even 6:00 a.m.,” I replied, folding my head deeper into my pillow. But she wouldn’t take no for an answer. As a compromise, I helped her get dressed in all of her winter gear and let her run around outside while I sipped coffee in the comfort of our warm home.

Eventually, the sun was up, I was caffeinated, and we were all ready to go. My husband, daughter, and I set out on a winter wonderland adventure!

Girls hiking

Over the river and through the woods

First sled ride of the season

Love birds

Urban waves

Sledding

Hiking with a sled

Boots in the snow

Burrrr

The river in white

Hiking in the snow

Wintery staircase

 

 

 

 

Family “Field Trips”

I’ve noticed that sometimes busy families get stuck in ruts….parents working all hours, kids plopped in front of screens, fast food served on dinner plates…everyone is together but not really together at all.

To keep our family playing, talking, and bonding, each weekend we take family “field trips.” Just like the exciting, fun-filled trips we took in grade school, these outings are designed to get us exploring and playing together…really together. They get us out of our daily routines, help us facilitate rich interactions, and allow us to build lasting memories.

We usually head outdoors and visit our community’s natural resources, living museums, and free play areas. During these “field trips” there are only five rules: 1.) no electronic devices, 2.) have fun, 3.) get messy, 4.) try to learn something new, and 5.) run wild! And yes, princess dresses are perfectly acceptable attire.

Our daughter loves the uninterrupted time with mom and dad…and we love sharing our passion for nature with our little one. We’re creating healthy traditions that, we hope, our daughter will continue when she has her own family.

Here are some photos from a trip we took this past weekend…a forest hike followed by playtime along the shores of Lake Michigan. Free, fun, and fabulous.

Entertaining Family wants to know, what does your family do to stay connected?

Waves along the shore

Chair in the woods

Butterfly

Father daughter bonding

Paths in the sand

Rocks on the shore

Standing on the tip of the world