I'd like to begin by honoring the amazing candidates in this year's elections. Not only does each and every candidate bring a unique and impressive skill set, they bring forth a sincere dedication to Nia House. On behalf of the entire community, thank you for your commitment to service and to upholding the mission of Nia House.
Meet your Nia House Board of Directors for 2017-2018!
- Jeff Vincent
- Katy Love
- Loris Mattox
- Monica Parran
- Nicole Dixon
Aleishall Girard Maxon
The children at Nia House recently took the time to nominate names and cast votes for our chick. The name Fluff won!
It is now your turn, parent community, to cast your votes for the Nia House Board of Directors.
Vote on Wednesday (tomorrow), June 14th from 7:30am-5pm.
For information on your candidates and to cast your vote, click on the voting guide below.
Thank you for supporting Nia House!
There's an easy way to raise money for Nia House without any cost to yourself. It's the Berkeley Bowl gift card program - or scrip, as they call it. The Bowl gives $4 to Nia House for every $100 you spend there using their gift cards. It's pretty awesome.
The way it works is that you tell me how many cards you want. Just email me (Carol Ness, Djuna's mom) at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and tell me how many you want. Each card is $100, so you can buy one, two, three etc. Then when you shop, they work just like any gift card at checkout. You can just buy then when you need them, or set up a regular amount per month.
You can pay by check to Nia House and note "Berkeley Bowl" on the check. Or you can do bill pay from your bank. Then email me and I'll get the cards to you within a few days.
GETTING YOUR CARDS: I’ll leave them in the office. They're setting up a dedicated box for pickups.
THE 4 PERCENTS ADD UP!
Parents who have been doing this for the past couple of years have bought around $2,000 a month worth of cards. That’s $80 a month for Nia House — or almost $1,000 a year. The more the merrier!
SO THE BOWL JUST GIVES US MONEY?
Yes! It’s the store’s way of giving back to non-profits in the community - schools, churches, etc.
Just email me or flag me down at school. firstname.lastname@example.org
Components of children’s development of identity includes gender and race. Nia House teachers and staff spent a Tuesday evening meeting unpacking the interplay of gender and race as a social construct and delving into the role we as educators play in children’s identity development.
We began by generating a list of stereotypes associated with gender, notions of what it means to be a “boy” or “girl”. The list looked as you might suspect- boys were classified as physical, math-minded, and tough while girls were emotional, meek, and care-takers. Together we reflected on what opportunities a child might miss out on if we subscribed solely to these social constructs. Next, we considered the roles implicit biases, or our automatic and unconscious motivators of how we treat people, play in the way we interact with and structure the school experiences of Nia House children.
Often, the opportunities, commentary, or praise offered to young children reinforces gender stereotypes. Girls are noticed for their clothing and boys are encouraged with sayings like “big boy” for doing physical tasks. When a child gets hurt, girls might be gently nurtured and boys supported for brushing it off. The list goes on and on. So, the Nia House staff asked the important question- What can we do (or do we do already) in our school community to ensure that each child has access to the full range of human characteristics?
Here is some of what the Nia House staff came up with:
· Clothing for all. Children at Nia House can choose from clothing bins that are open for all children and whatever choice they make is accepted.
· We refer to children as “friend” or “children” instead of as “boy” or “girl.”
· Children sit with mixed ages and genders at lunch.
· Bathrooms for all.
· Works are open for all children: dolls, purse, baby washing, care of environment- folding, cleaning, gardening, building etc.
· There are opportunities for leadership and care-taking for all children.
· Objective observations are made for all the children.
o Instead of saying, “What pretty red shoes.” We might say,“I see your red shoes, they look ready for running.”
o Rather than say “What a big boy you are,” We will offer, “I see you are being very helpful by carrying that lunchbox.”
The truth is, offering children access to the full range of human characteristics seems to come very naturally to the Nia House teaching team. Yet, implicit bias is unavoidable. We are guided by the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori who tells us,
“The real preparation for education is a study of one’s self. The training of the teacher who is to help life is something far more than the learning of ideas. It includes the training of character, it is a preparation of the spirit.” (The Absorbent Mind)
Montessori implored us to be spiritually prepared as educators. In the current contemporary educational climate we understand this preparation to include self-study on our implicit biases related to gender, class, race, and other identity markers.
At Nia House, we take Montessori to heart and find her teachings poignant in an educational climate where implicit bias is apparent and school success resolutely linked to gender and race. Yale University Child Study Center conducted a study in September of 2016 titled, Do Early Educators’ Implicit Biases Regarding Sex and Race Relate to Behavior Expectations and Recommendations of Preschool Expulsions and Suspensions? The answer to this question- yes.
“…boys in general, were endorsed as requiring the most attention by 76% of early education staff (52% more than expected by chance alone), consistent with research showing that boys (regardless of race) are at greater risk for classroom removal. Regardless of the nature of the underlying biases, the tendency to observe more closely classroom behaviors based on the sex and race of the child may contribute to greater levels of identification of challenging behaviors with Black preschoolers and especially Black boys, which perhaps contributes to the documented sex and race disparities in preschool expulsions and suspensions.”
Berkeley is not immune to this trend. In 2014-2015, Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) looked squarely at the disproportionate rate of suspension, expulsion and special education placement of students based on race and gender. In that year, 477 students were suspended in Berkeley grades K-12. Of these 477 students, 323 were African American. Yet, African American students make up only 17% of the student population in BUSD. The Daily Californian reports that “Berkeley Unified School District and other organizations are working on programs that explore alternatives to suspending students, such as behavioral support and counseling.” Thankfully, the efforts of Berkeley Unified are working with suspensions on a rapid decline. Efforts including Restorative Justice, family engagement, self-esteem and healthy relationship development were all cited as efforts impacting the decline in suspensions. While Nia House supports these efforts whole-heartedly, we also take very seriously the work of self-study, acknowledging implicit bias of the teacher and educational institution.
Gender and race identity are forming in the lives of Nia House children. Also included in this staff meeting was a quick look at a fascinating CNN study which attempted to understand race relations from a child’s vantage. Though complex in analysis, this video highlights the grave nature of race identity and relations from children’s perspectives.
Though no one is immune to implicit bias, the Nia House teachers and staff are committed to an education of equity and this includes access to empowerment and expression within the full range of human characteristics. Children’s greatest obstacles towards the aim of empowerment and positive identity development just might come in the form of the teacher! Montessori writes, “The teacher’s happy task is…removing the obstacles, beginning first with those which she herself is likely to present (for the teacher can be the greatest obstacle of all).” (Discovery of the Child) The teachers and staff at Nia House exercise great humility, self-awareness, and commitment to Dr. Maria Montessori and to social justice for all the children in our care- indeed, we recognize this as our ongoing work of self-study and spiritual preparation.
Our team hard at work:
Baby Moss leads our staff meeting:
Thursday, May 11th is Bike to School Day
Here are two fun ways you can participate:
Nia House is an Energizer Station.
Bike to school!
We'll have goodie bags from Bike East Bay, Acme bread/toppings. and Highwire Coffee, plus, special for Nia student cyclists, frozen melon balls!
Join the evening Kidical Mass bike ride from Nia House to San Pablo Park.
We'll leave at 5:15 pm and bike as a group to the playground at the south end of the park, where we'll have a picnic dinner.
Please RSVP to me (email@example.com) for the ride (or just the picnic). The more merrier!
We'll be joined by the owner of the Spokes Family Bike Collective. He will bring along several kid bikes for children to try at the park!
Show your Nia House pride by wearing a new Nia House shirt for the event. On sale in the office.
Looking forward to a great Bike to School Day!
A heartfelt thank you to everyone that came out to the Nia House Yard Sale on Saturday!
Parent community- You are amazing! Thank you to all that pitched in. Your help made the event a success.
Alum and friends of Nia House- it really warms our hearts to have you return and to see your children grow.
Community at larger- thank you for buying our stuff!
This year the Yard Sale raised $7,000.
If you missed the chance to purchase our new Nia House t-shirts, swing by the office to get yours. Each shirt is $20.
Let's continue to show our Nia House love!
If you haven't already gotten your 5 books of raffle tickets to sell to friends and family, please come by the office. You don't want anyone you know missing out on the chance to win these amazing prizes! Further, if each family sells 5 books, it will raise over $7,000 for Nia House.
Here is a list of the winnings to be had on Saturday, May 6th at our Yard Sale! Thank you so much to all of our local donors.
GRAND PRIZE - "SUPER SCIENCE" Bay Area Discovery Museum - 2 x family pass Lawrence Hall of Science - family pass Lindsay Wildlife Experience - four tickets CuriOdyssey - Three Month Season Pass ($298 value)
Berkeley Symphony - Two Tickets ($96.00 value)
East Bay Nursery - Gift Certificate ($30.00 value)
Rain or Shine - Gift Certificate ($25.00 value)
Pet Food Express - Gift Certficate ($25.00 value)
Shotgun Players - Two Tickets ($70.00 value)
Pegasus Books - Gift Certificate ($15.00 value)
Habitot - Family Guest Pass ($45.00 value)
GRAND PRIZE -"DATE NIGHT" California Jazz Conservatory -two summer season passesBeach Blanket Babylon - two tickets ($1000 value)
Alma Acupuncture - Gift Certificate ($135.00 value)
Gaumenkitzel - Gift Certificate ($30.00 value)
Oakland Ballet - Two Tickets ($100 value)
La Mediterranee - Gift Certificate ($25.00 value)
Arbonne Gift Bag ($105 value)
San Francisco Symphony - Two Tickets ($230 value)
Books Inc. - Gift Certificate ($20.00 value)
GRAND PRIZE - "FAMILY FUN" Albany Bowl - bowling party for 10 people Oakland Ice Center - family fun pack Brushstrokes Studio - five passesHappy Hollow Park & Zoo - four passes ($350 value)
The Golden Skate - Gift certificate for five people ($65.00 value)
Takara Sake USA - Tasting for two ($20.00 value)
Takara Sake USA - Tasting for two ($20.00 value)
Builders Bookstore - Gift certificate ($20.00 value)
San Francisco Zoo - Two Tickets ($38.00 value)
Ruby's Garden - Gift certificate ($25.00 value)
Pier 39 - Family Fun Pack ($313 value)
Berkeley YMCA - One Month Membership ($64.00 value)
Nia House has been graced with Serah as a teacher at Nia House since 2011. We have been blessed to know her as a parent to Nehla, as an amazing alternative baker, a songstress, a seamstress, a linguist, and a love of a teacher. To her colleagues she is both friend and family. We will miss Serah and are grateful to have been a part of her path. Good luck and thank you.
In case you missed Nia House's emergency planning parent meeting, or would like online access to some of the very useful forms/resources supplied- this blog is for you!
City of Berkeley Emergency Services: Find all the information you need on supply kits, gas shut-off, community resources, family emergency planning and more.
Thank you to Rachel and the City of Berkeley for helping Nia House to reflect upon and refine our emergency preparedness plan. Please use these resources to get your family prepared.
Our Nia House community should be proud! We have so many committed bike commuters. Bike to Work Day or Bike to School Day has a standing history of celebration here at Nia House. Eve declares it her favorite holiday! On this celebratory day, the children count with tally-marks the bikers that pass by, play instruments and pass out baked treats (Nia House style- sugar free, gluten free, vegan and somewhat palatable) to those that pass by.
This year, we have the exciting opportunity to be a legit, on the map, pass out bags and goodies, Energizer Station. Alas, to make this happen, we are going to need your help. Here is a great opportunity to get some parent hours and participate in a really meaningful, earth affirming, and healthy living event.
We need help staffing the Energizer Station on Thursday, May 11th.
Any early birds out there? Can you set up at 7am? We need folks to greet bikers and hang out between 7:30-9:30. Sign up in the office.
Bike East Bay also needs someone to attend a Bag Stuffing at Sports Basement Berkeley on May 4 or 5 for two hours. Details coming soon. For more information on Bike to Work/School Day click here.
Has your child ever played Nia House at home? The parents of Julian recently shared some pictures of Julian’s Nia House work at home.
Julian has been asking his parents for trays at home. With these trays, paper, markers, and his amazing memory, Julian has replicated math works from his Nia House classroom.
Though Julian is able to replicate specific works from his classroom, he is also demonstrating the internalization of order that comes from a Montessori learning environment.
Julian started Nia House at 18 months and is now nearing his fifth birthday. For the past 40 months, Julian has encountered organization in his learning environment. Trays in our Montessori classrooms, from the toddlers through the preschool, come prepared with all the items necessary to complete the given task. Every tray encountered accompanies a presentation. The organization is replicable and predictable. Though the materials change, the systems stay the same.
When Julian asks for a tray, his mind assembles all the required items to effectively execute his math operations. In these pictures, we see Julian arranged the materials from left to right, in the order he needs to use them. Every tray is modeled in this precise way. “These movements are arranged into precise sequences. Children learn… to engage in precise sequences of actions on classroom materials.” (Lillard 301)
Julian’s repetition with the materials has made him not only able to act with mastery on the classroom materials, but also recreate them- precisely! Maria Montessori writes, “Repetition is the secret of perfection…”
It is a joy to see Julian practice, play, master, and perfect his work at Nia House!
Lillard, Angeline Stoll. Montessori The Science Behind the Genius. Oxford University Press, 2005
Montessori, Maria. The Montessori Method. Schocken Books Inc., 1964.
As you clean through your closets, under your bed, and into your garage this Spring, think of Nia House.
Nia House's Spring Fun Raising Yard Sale is on Saturday, May 6th.
Nia House will happily accept your household donations from clothing, toys, furniture, and equipment.
Donations should be bagged in plastic bags (in case it should rain) and stored in area through the fence to the right of the preschool Quiet Area. More sizable and costly donations will be advertised in advance on Craiglist. We will begin accepting donations in April and will let you know weekend drop off hours too.
Rachel Newman (Stella’s mom) will coordinate this effort. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with a picture and description of the items by April 28, 2017.
Thank you for your support of this fun for the whole family event.
Our very own Kerstin is offering a Family Yoga class right here at Nia House!
Love and Live Yoga
Family Yoga at Nia House
Saturday March 11th
Nia House Yard
$40 per family
All proceeds go to Nia House!
In case you didn't know, Kerstin Phillips is a certified Next Generation Yoga teacher and E-RYT 200. As a mother, Kerstin has cultivated her patient and nurturing presence. She brings these with her to every class that she teaches and loves to help new and continuing students experience something deeper.
To find out more about Kerstin's yoga instruction, visit her website: loveandliveyoga.com
At Nia House we want to help support the healthy development of children in all aspects of life, including gender. We recognize that this is a formative time in children’s life, a time of exploration, curiosity, experimentation, and of making sense of the world around. As we embark in supporting children in their development of a healthy understanding of gender, we look to children’s stories that can expand, mirror, or introduce gender in diverse and affirming ways.
Book List Provided by:
About Chris Nina Benedetto. 2016. A young child knows he is a boy, despite the fact that he has a female body, has the strength and courage to be himself.
Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress, Christine Baldacchino, Groundwood Books (2014). 4-7 Years old. Beautifully illustrated picture book about gender expression and how parents can help children combat the teasing that often accompanies gender expansive youth at school.
Not Every Princess, Jeffrey Bone and Lisa Bone, Magination Press (2014). Ages 5-7. A book that uses art and poetry to play with gender stereotypes. Silly and imaginative, it invites children to laugh along.
The Different Dragon, Jennifer Bryan, Two Lives Publishing (2006). Ages 2 and Up. The story of dragon Noah who doesn’t want to be fierce and happens to have two moms introduces young children to family diversity.
Be Who you Are, Jennifer Carr, AuthorHouse (2010). Ages 7 – 12. A book that helps frame the type of respectful explicit conversations we must have with our children and schools about gender identity, gender expression and social transitions. The book also discusses the process of working with counselors to help the social transition process if children transition after kindergarten. A wonderful and positive book that helps empower children about their gender expansiveness.
The drum dream girl, Margarita Engle, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2015) Ages 4-8. Illustrations and rhyming text follow a girl in the 1920s as she strives to become a drummer, despite being continually reminded that only boys play the drums, and that there has never been a female drummer in Cuba. Includes note about Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, who inspired the story, and Anacaona, the all-girl dance band she formed with her sisters.
10,000 Dresses Marcus Ewert and Rex Ray, Triangle Square, (2008). Ages 5-10. Despite family concerns, Bailey continues to dreams of dresses. With the help of a friend, Bailey’s wish comes true.
When Kayla was Kyle, Amy Fabrikant Avid Readers Publishing Group (2013). Ages 5 and up. A great book that discusses gender expansive children and specifically transgender children. This book is unique in discussing female to male gender transitions and handles the topic with sensitivity and kindness in order to building social inclusivity and identity safety in schools.
Artistic Expressions of Transgender Youh Tony Ferraiolo, Ferraiolo (2015).
Made by Raffi Craig Pomranz Frances. Lincoln Children’s Books (2014). Ages 5-9. As a shy boy, Raffi is a loner and teased at school until one day he discovers knitting and decides to make a scarf for his father and a cape for the prince in the school play.
Call Me Tree, Maya Gonzales, Lee & Low (2014) Gender Neutral book about the role of nature in the lives of young children. Bilingual English and Spanish. Beautifully illustrated.
Gender Now Coloring Book, Maya Gonzales, Reflection Press (2014). Coloring book about the history of gender expansive people and gender expansive youth. Empowering and respectful for children.
I am Jazz Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, Dial Press (2014). Wonderful book about the story of Jazz Jennings explaining in child centered and developmentally appropriate ways what being transgender or gender expansive means.
Jacob’s New Dress Ian and Sarah Hoffman, Albert Whitman & Company (2014). Ages 4-7 years. A wonderfully illustrated and rollickingly funny book that celebrates gender expansive children. Jacob is a boy who wants to wear a dress to school, much to the chagrin of a boy at school! Jacob has the support of his parents and a strong allies at school.
Roland Humphreys Wearing a What? Eileen Kiernan-Johnson, Huntley Rahara Press (2013). Ages 5-8. A book that helps expand gender stereotypes around gender expression. Another book about boys and dresses, and this book has colorful illustrations and fun verse.
My Princess Boy, Cheryl Kilodavis, Aladdin (2010). Ages 4-8 years old. One of the first books to celebrate princess boys who wear dresses and pink. The book provides a window of family and gender diversity and the loving support of parents and siblings of their princess boys. It continues to be treasured!
One of a Kind, Like Me / Único Como Yo by Laurin Mayeno (2016). Bilingual storybook about a very special young boy.
Truly Willa Willa Naylor and Bex Naylor (Illustrator) Willa Naylor (2016). The Story about Willa Nayor a 8 year old trans advocate from Malta, Europe. Her family’s journey of advocating for gender diversity led to the 2015 law in Malta “Gender Identity, Gender Expression & sexual Characteristics.”
Mommy, Mama and Me Leslea Newman, Carol Thompson (illustrator), Tricycle Press (2009) A board book about a typical, fun family day. (Preschool – K)
Daddy, Pappa, and Me Leslea Newman, Carol Thompson (illustrator), Tricycle Press (2009) A board book about a typical, fun family day. (Preschool – K)
All I want to be is Me, Phyllis Rothblatt MFT, CreateSpace (2011). Ages 5-7. A beautifully illustrated book that celebrates gender fluid and gender expansive youth.
The Family Book Todd Parr, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, (2003). Ages 3-8. A lighthearted book that celebrates different families. Comical illustrations make this book entertaining for a wide range of ages.
It’s Okay to Be Different Todd Parr, Little Brown Books for Young Readers (2001). Ages 3-8. A colorful, silly book that honors how we are all a little different.
In Celebration of Harvey Milk, Angela F. Luna, AuthorHouse (2011). In Celebration of Harvey Milk offers educators materials to teach about Harvey Milk in a way that honors his memory and his important contributions to our society while providing support and instructional materials that cultivate compassion and understanding for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in our communities.
What Makes a Baby Cory Silverberg, Fiona Smyth (illustrator) Triangle Square Press (2013) This modern, gender-neutral story explains how babies are made. (Preschool – 2nd grade)
King and King Linda De Haan, Stern Nijland (illustrator), Tricycle Press (2001). Ages 3-8. The traditional fairy tale is turned upside down when a young prince falls in love with another prince.
Red: A Crayon’s Story Michael Hall, Greenwillow (Harper Collins, 2015). Ages 4-8. he star of the show is Red, a blue crayon who mistakenly has a red label.
Uncle Bobby’s Wedding Sarah S. Brannan, Putnam (2008). Ages 5-8. A young girl is anxious to maintain her special relationship with in her favorite uncle who is getting married to another man.
And Tango Makes Three Jusin Richardson and Peter Parnell, Henry Cole (illustrator), Simon & Shuster (2005). Ages 5-10. The true story of two male penguins who were given an egg to care for, raise and love.
The Harvey Milk Story Kaarie Krakow & David Gardner, Two Lives Publishing (2002). Ages 7-10. This book tells the true story of the first openly gay elected official in the U.S. who was assassinate in 1978.
Parts & Hearts: A kids (& grown-ups) guide to transgender transition. Jenson J. Hillenbrand and Quinlan Omahne (Illustrator). Lulu Publishing (2016). Ages 4-8. Kid appropriate book helps readers understand transgender transition, both male to female and female to male.
Introducing Teddy: A gentle story about gender and friendship Jessica Walton and Dougal MacPherson (illustrator). Bloomsbury (2016). Ages 3-6. A sweet and gentle story about being true to yourself and being a good friend, Introducing Teddy can also help children understand gender identity.
When Kathy Is Keith Wallace Wong, Xlibris Books (2011). Ages 4-8. An illustrated book written by a psychologist about a female to male transgender youth. Although it discusses the ftm social transition, some have criticized the often negative terms (which parents and guardians can edit out for the very young). It is a powerful book for some to see their reality reflected in pictures and text!
William’s Doll Charlotte Zolotow, Harper & Row (1985). Ages 4-8. A classic book from the classic children’s book author that challenges gender stereotypes and gender expression. Why is it so difficult for a boy to want a doll and why is it so hard to buy a doll for a boy are the central questions of the book.
More book lists and resource:
We all want to belong. We want our children to belong and form long lasting friendships. And they will! On this road to belonging, there are important considerations to take into account from the vantage of the child and their needs. The way in which children navigate and meet their need for belonging looks entirely different than an adult’s. As you observe your child(ren), we invite you to suspend your adult judgements on what belonging should look like and instead contextualize your child’s behavior based on Maren Schmidt’s outline on the four basic goals of belonging.
Maren Schmidt offers valuable insights into the unconscious motivations that direct our children’s behavior as they aspire to belong. The unconscious goals she describes are:
When we do harbor adverse reactions to our children’s behavior, when we feel angry, irritated, or hurt by the actions of our children, these feelings are an invitation to better understand what unconscious goal of belonging in our child is being unmet. For the reality is, our children want to cooperate, they want to opportunities to be responsible, they want to forgive and share. At times, children’s behavior will be the antithesis of behavior that we think might encourage belonging. This unruly or off-putting behavior is our window into understanding. Is our child seeking more power, protection, withdrawal, or contact?
Car seat safety is the real deal. There are so many nuances that can have serious impacts on your child’s safety in the seat that we want you to be informed about.
Did you know that as of January 1, 2017, children under 2 years of age are required to ride in a rear-facing car seat unless the child weighs 40 or more pounds OR is 40 or more inches tall.
Safe Ride 4 Kids states that three out of four car seats are installed incorrectly. Please check out this link for some of the most common mistakes when it comes to car seat safety.
The California Highway Patrol offers up to date laws and resources for proper installment. Click here for more information.
Please check it out to ensure your child is as safe as can be!
On Friday, January 20th while the nation observed the changing of presidency in our country, the children of Nia House gathered to sing songs of peace, community, and to bring light to the dark night with a parade of lanterns. It was a tremendous comfort to join as community and to feel promise in the words of the children's songs:
Stand together and the people will find a way. Stand together and the people will find a way. Stand together and the people will find a way. People will find a way, I do believe.
The staff of Nia House was honored to celebrate as a community the light in each of our children and for the opportunity to put into practice Dr. Maria Montessori's vision of peace through education.
As we begin a new year, many of us have set intentions we hope to attain. Often, these intentions are aimed at making our minds grow in a new way, test the limits of our bodies, and involve some degree of discipline. Perhaps we aim to learn a new instrument or run a 10k. You know that feeling when you learn your first song or cross the finish line of your first race?! This is a feeling the children of Nia House have the opportunity to experience just about daily.
Challenges and setting goals are a part of the daily life of the older children at Nia House. Each day, children are emboldened to begin works that offer a challenge. I recently asked some of the older children- “What do challenges feel like?” Sophia replied, “Challenges are really tricky and sometimes it feels like I can’t finish.” Talula chimed in, “Challenges, like reading books, are hard.”
I followed up with the inquiry, “What makes a work a challenge?” Etienne said, “The pieces of the work.” Sophia added that “a challenging work sometimes will take many days.”
“Why,” I probed, “do we do challenging work?” Jun emphatically answered, “Because we like to learn about stuff.” Daphne agreed, “We need to learn.” Matiz shared, “We like them because they are hard. I like to do hard things because then I can learn them.” Etienne embellished on this idea, “They are good for your body and good for your heart.” Talula concluded, “Challenges help your brain think.”
Finally, I asked, “How do you feel when you finish a challenge?” Jun said, “I feel like I can do the whole thing.” Sophia crowed, “I feel proud.” Matiz echoed this sentiment, “It feels good. I am glad when I am done.” Etienne reflected, “You work on a challenge everyday until you finish. But you can have breaks. When you are done, you feel happy and good.” In The Discovery of the Child, Dr. Maria Montessori noticed this in children’s work, “A child who has become master of his acts through long and repeated exercises, and who has been encouraged by the pleasant and interesting activities in which he has been engaged, is a child filled with health and joy and remarkable for his calmness and discipline." (92)
In this reflection, children named that challenging work can be daunting, tricky, and hard. The work is relentless and requires breaks. Whether it is tracing and labeling each country of Africa or completing a book of subtraction, there is a knowing that even when it feels hard, challenges carry the benefits of learning and nurturing your being. Through work, comes a feeling of accomplishment, pride, and mastery. "The satisfaction which they find in their work has given them a grace and ease like that which comes from music." (Discovery 87)
Though not necessarily with the same cognizance nor with the same identifiable aim, the youngest of children too are engaged in achieving goals, repeating, practicing and mastering important life skill sets- walking, climbing, cutting, or talking. The way some of the younger children go about their challenges and goals often looks a little different and can be perplexing to an adult. Montessori reflects,
The child of this age sets out to do a certain task, perhaps an absurd one to adult reasoning, but this matters not at all; he must carry out the activity to its conclusion. There is a vital urge to completeness of action, and if the cycle of this urge is broken, it shows in deviations from normality and lack of purpose. Much importance attaches now to this cycle of activity, which is an indirect preparation for future life. All through life men prepare for the future indirectly, and it is remarked of those who have done something great that there has been a previous period of something worked for, not necessarily on the same line as the final work, but along some line there has been an intense effort which has given the necessary preparation of the spirit, and such effort must be fully expanded - the cycle must be completed. Adults therefore should not interfere to stop any childish activity however absurd, so long as it is not too dangerous to life and limb! The child must carry out his cycle of activity. (Education of a New World, 45)
Montessori and the elder children of Nia House name the fruitfulness of completing their challenge. Though we may not always understand the nature of the aim, task, or challenge that the youngest of our children are undertaking, we can trust that their urge is one that will aide toward indirect preparation for life and that the sensation of completion, as Etienne poignantly described, makes one feel “happy and good”, it is a “preparation of the spirit.”
As we support the children in realizing their challenges, aide them in setting goals, and honor their achievements, we wish everyone all the best at, in the words of Dr. Maria Montessori, finding a challenge in which “such work is fascinating, irresistible, and it raises [us] above deviations and inner conflicts… gifted with such an extraordinary power as to enable [us] to rediscover the instinct of their species in the patterns of their own individuality.” (The Secret of Childhood, 196)
Montessori, Maria. Discovery of the Child. Fides Publishers, 1967.
Montessori, Maria. Education of the New World. Schocken Books, 1964.
Montessori, Maria. The Secret of Childhood. Ballantine Books, 1972.
At Nia House we recognize this time of year as a special one for many families, faiths, and customs. As the season changes, many settle into warmth, light, and celebration. At Nia House, we love to join in, honor, and investigate this season and it’s celebrations.
Chanukah, Solstice, Kwanzaa, and Christmas are all a part of the Nia House curriculum. Nia House’s approach to each holiday is academic, inquisitive, and places the celebration into a historical and contemporary context.
What, you might wonder, do we do about Santa Claus?! Since we honor a plurality of experiences and celebrations, Santa Claus falls right in place with a history, a cultural context, and an honored space in the lives of those that incorporate Santa into their holidays. Our storytelling of the Santa Claus ritual stems from the history of Saint Nicholas, “a kind and generous man who left gifts of gold in the socks of a family in need. He was so kind and so generous that some Christian people named him a Saint- the highest honor of all! Christian people around the world believe that Saint Nicholas, also called Santa Claus, magically delivers presents to people on Christmas each year.” The story continues with global traditions around Christmas trees, lights, gifts and other specific Christmas rituals.
The attached article “Santa Claus: Making The Invisible Visible” by Maren Schmidt offers a unique approach to Santa Claus. Schmidt muses on who picked her coffee beans or built an airplane, thus honoring the invisible labor that brings great luxury and comfort to her life. She shares, “I see Santa Claus being all these people in the world, who strive to serve humankind, to make life more enjoyable, more comfortable, more magical.” Maren Schmidt brings forth an interesting social economic concept during a holiday season that can be laden with materialism. No matter what holiday a family celebrates, there are people that work, sometimes invisibly, to generate comfort, enjoyment, and magic. Some of us may incorporate Santa into this holiday season, and even if we do not, we can all gather around the value Schmidt describes in a developmental framework,
Thank you to the Nia House families that modeled this spirit of giving and service with donations to Standing Rock. As Nia House recognizes the many holidays of this season, we remain committed to instilling the value of service and of caring for one another and our environment. We always strive to honor each child and family’s truth and customs and by doing so the children at Nia House become aware of multiple truths, diversity in celebration, and a rich awareness of the winter holiday season.